An American Editor

February 24, 2016

Cooking & Baking With An American Editor II

Filed under: Cooking & Baking with AAE,Pies — Rich Adin @ 4:00 am
Tags: , , , ,

I like a slice of a fruit and berry pie with my lunch. I used to buy the pies but never really found a store-bought pie that was satisfactory. They were always “gelatiny.” I like to bake, but always thought that pie baking would be difficult and time consuming; I like to take the easy road when it comes to cooking and baking.

To meet my needs, I had to find a better way. The result is the following recipe.

Fruit & Berry Pie

Preparation takes but a few minutes and you don’t need great baking skills to be successful with this recipe. This makes a nice 9-inch pie.

I. Ingredients

The recipe uses the following ingredients:

  • 3 10- to 12-ounce bags of frozen fruit and/or berries completely defrosted and at room temperature (see comments below for suggestions regarding the fruit/berries); do not use fresh fruit with this recipe
  • 1 package of prepared pie crusts (2 crusts — a top and bottom — are usually found in a package) at room temperature
  • ¾ to 1 cup of sugar (depends on your taste and the fruit/berries used; I like the pies to be less sweet and so rarely ever use more than ¾ cup)
  • ¼ teaspoon of salt
  • 4½ tablespoons of instant tapioca (do not use pearl-style; something like Minute Tapioca® works best)

That’s all the ingredients.

II. Choosing the Fruit & Berries

Before going further, let’s discuss the fruit and berry mixture. You can go wild here. You can use an already prepared berry mix, which usually has a mix of raspberries, strawberries, blueberries, and blackberries (or similar combination), or you can create your own mix or you can use just a single fruit or berry type (e.g., only raspberries).

I happen not to be a fan of raspberries, so I try to avoid them. Carolyn, however, loves raspberries, so when she wants, I make a raspberry pie for her. I prefer black cherries, so I often mix black cherries with other fruits and berries. Some of the combinations I have made and have enjoyed are these (numbers indicate the number of bags used):

  • peach (1), pineapple (1), and blueberry (1)
  • peach (1), pineapple (1), and black cherry (1)
  • blueberry (2) and pineapple (1)
  • blueberry (3)
  • pineapple (3)
  • strawberry (1), blueberry (1), and black cherry (1)
  • black cherry (3)
  • peach (1) and black cherry (2)
  • strawberry (1), blueberry (1), and peach (1)
  • strawberry (1) and peach (2)
  • black cherry (2) and pineapple (1)

Experiment with different combinations. Some you will like better than others, but all should be good.

III. Preparing the Filling

  1. Pour all the fruit, including all the liquid in the bags, into a single bowl and mix with a spoon.
  2. In a separate small bowl mix the sugar, salt, and tapioca.
  3. Mix the dry ingredients of Step 2 with the fruit of Step 1. Be sure to mix thoroughly.
  4. Let the fruit mixture of Step 3 sit at room temperature for at least 30 minutes (I usually let it sit for 60 to 90 minutes). Stir the mixture a few times. I usually stir the mix every 15 to 20 minutes.

IV. Preparing the Pie Crust

The recipe makes a generous 9-inch pie. Use a 9-inch pie tin or plate; I like a glass pie plate but I have also used the aluminum pie tins you can buy at the grocery. If you use a disposable pie tin, I have found the nonstick ones work best.

  1. Preheat the oven to 375°F.
  2. While the oven is reaching temperature, take 1 of the pie crusts and carefully unroll it while holding it in the air. If you lay it down, it may well tear or fall apart when you try to pick it up.
  3. Once it is unrolled, lay it in the pie plate/tin. Try to lay it so that a roughly equal amount of the crust folds over the entire rim of the pie plate. This is difficult to do so don’t worry too much as long as the crust is covering the bottom and sides of the pie plate.
  4. Gently press the crust into the ridge where the side and the bottom of the pie plate meet.
  5. Take a fork and prick the pie crust numerous times over the bottom and the side.
  6. IF YOU HAVE pie weights, place them on the bottom crust and when the oven reaches temperature, put the pie plate in the oven for about 3 minutes to cook the bottom crust a little bit. IF YOU DO NOT have pie weights, skip this step.

V. Adding the Filling and the Top Crust

Now it is time to get the pie ready for baking.

  1. Give the fruit mixture one final stir and then spoon the fruit  and some of the liquid into the pie plate. You want to create a mound that is higher in the center than at the edge. Do not make it level because there will be more fruit and liquid than the crust can hold and liquid will boil over. Mounding helps prevent the boiling over. DO NOT include 100% of the liquid in the fruit mix bowl; DO include all of the fruit pieces. You know when there is enough liquid included when you can see the liquid near the top of the rim of the pie plate.
  2. When done adding the fruit mixture, unroll the second pie crust. Like the first, do not lay it down. When it is unrolled, lay it over the top if the pie. Try to get an even amount of the crust over the entire rim. This is difficult and close is good enough as long as the entire pie is covered.
  3. Now you need to fold the edges of the top and bottom crusts together. It is best to fold the bottom over the top and toward the pie. Pinch the crusts together to make a sealed edge. I use the flat edge (side) of a butter knife to help me lift the edge of the bottom crust away from the pie plate. You may not make the neatest edge, but that doesn’t matter — the taste will still be great!
  4. Once the edges of the two crusts are folded together, take a fork and pierce the top crust in numerous places. Make a pattern of some type, if you wish, because these pricks will be visible when the pie is baked. Be sure to pierce the top crust through to the filling. These pricks act as steam vents and help prevent the liquid in the filling from boiling over (and causing a mess).

The pie is now ready for baking.

VI. The Final Steps

  1. When the oven reaches temperature and the pie is ready for baking, place the pie plate on a baking sheet covered in aluminum foil (preferably the nonstick type). It is much easier to throw away aluminum foil than to clean the oven in the event of boilover. This I know from experience.
  2. Place the pie in the oven and set the timer for 45 minutes.
  3. At the 45-minute mark, take a look at the pie. The crust should be a golden brown. If it is, the pie is done; if it is not, give it another 5 minutes, but no more. Be sure to look at the edge where the top and bottom crusts were brought together. You don’t want it to burn. If the edge is already well done (not burned), take the pie out — don’t add any time. If the edge is brown but not close to burning, you can add the additional 5 minutes but keep an eye on the baking pie.
  4. Let the pie cool before cutting and serving.

That’s it. There seems like a lot of work to do, but there really isn’t. I tried to cover every detail for those who have little to no experience making and baking pies. The actual active time is less than 15 minutes; most of the time is waiting.

VII. The End

I make these pies regularly. When company is coming to dinner, I make a couple of pies so that they have a choice (and I have leftovers). If no company is coming, I generally make a pie once a week so that I have fresh pie to enjoy. At the holidays, I will make several pies for dessert and a couple of pies that guests can take home.

I am able to do this because this is the easiest recipe for making a fruit and berry pie.

I occasionally like to add Chambord to the fruit mix. I drain some of the liquid from the fruit and replace it with some Chambord, usually 2 to 3 tablespoons, but sometimes less; it depends on how much of the Chambord flavor I want.

If you try the recipe and use a different fruit or fruit combination and like it, let us know. In the meantime, enjoy!

Richard Adin, An American Editor

 

February 3, 2016

Cooking & Baking with An American Editor I

I thought I might do something different and add a bit of variety (and spice :)) to An American Editor by adding the occasional cooking and baking column. After all, even editors need to eat and deserve to eat well.

I like to cook and bake. At one time in my youth I thought of going to culinary school, but that meant I would have to become a night person. I was dissuaded after I experienced working the midnight (third) shift as a short-order (diner) cook during college. I quickly learned that I really am an early morning person, not a night person.

I never lost my interest in cooking and baking, and for years Carolyn and I argued over who was going to do the dinner cooking or the cooking for guests. Now, instead of arguing, we share the cooking based on our personal interests. We still occasionally argue over who is going to bake dessert, but for the most part we have settled into a division of labor based on the type of dessert.

Recently we had guests for dinner and the question was what to make as the main dish. It had to be something that would appeal to everyone, which meant that it couldn’t be pork or beef or fish, leaving chicken, if we wanted a meat dish as the main course.

We settled on chicken, which led to the next question: How would we prepare it? Meat dishes are my job (Carolyn is more interested in vegetable dishes) and so I thought about it and decided to make chicken with cheese and olives. It is a quick-and-easy recipe that is easily modifiable depending on your preferences. The following recipe will serve at least four adults (the number of servings depends on the amount of chicken and whether you want seconds available; I like to always have seconds available, so a recipe that is designed for more than four becomes a recipe for four) and takes about 45 minutes total (that’s preparation and cooking).

Note that the recipe has two parts. The first part is the basic recipe; the second part gives some suggestions for variations.

Chicken with Cream Cheese & Olives

I. Basic Recipe

Ingredients:

  • 1 teaspoon flavorful extra-virgin olive oil (or butter; do not use margarine)
  • 1 2.25-ounce can of sliced black olives, roughly chopped
  • 1 8-ounce package of cream cheese, softened (leave at room temperature for a couple of hours)
  • 1 cup of finely chopped parsley (including leaves and stems) (NOTE: If you are  a parsley lover like me, you can add more parsley to the recipe. I often like to have some extra chopped parsley that I can sprinkle over the finished chicken just before serving. Sometimes I put a small bowl of chopped parsley on the table so guests can add more if they want.)
  • 6 to 8 skinless and boneless chicken breast halves
  • 1 cup sugar (light brown sugar is preferred)
  • ½ cup Dijon or other dark, strong mustard
  • 1 to 2 cups (start with 1 but you may need to have more available) of roughly chopped nuts (walnuts, pistachios, or cashews, or some mix of these; pistachios are particularly nice)

Steps:

  1. Preheat the oven to 450° F (230°C).
  2. Prepare an oven pan for the chicken. I use a baking sheet with low sides on which I put no-stick aluminum foil (no-stick side up). You can do that or use a regular baking dish. I find using the no-stick aluminum foil greatly eases cleanup.
  3. Finely chop the parsley, including stems. Much of the flavor that parsley has can be found in the stems, so no need to waste them.
  4. Chop the olive slices roughly.
  5. Chop the nuts roughly and put in a bowl large enough that the chicken can be rolled in them.
  6. In a separate bowl (one large enough to dip the chicken in), mix the sugar and mustard. Mix until smooth.
  7. Pound the chicken breasts until they are “flat” and approximately ¼-inch thick. I put the breast in plastic wrap when pounding; some people prefer putting the breast between pieces of wax paper. I find that wax paper shreds too easily, so I prefer the plastic wrap. I often find that the pounded breasts are too large, so I cut them in half after the pounding.
  8. In a skillet on medium-low heat add the olive oil (or butter). When heated, add the olives and parsley and mix/stir constantly for about a minute.
  9. Reduce the heat to Low and add the cream cheese. Stir constantly until melted and well mixed with the parsley and olives.
  10. Remove from heat when well-mixed and melted.
  11. Take 1 pounded chicken breast and lay it flat. On half of the breast spread the cream cheese-parsley-olive mixture. Then roll up the breast. (I sometimes find that I can’t really roll it up, so folding it works, too. Just fold the half without the mix over the half with the mix.) Take the rolled/folded breast and dip it into the sugar-mustard mix so the breast is covered. CAUTION:  If the cream cheese mix is leaking out, do not dip the breast in the sugar-mustard mix; instead, spoon the sugar-mustard mix over the breast and spread it with your fingers or a spatula to make sure the whole breast is covered. Then roll the breast in the nut mix.
  12. Repeat step 11 for all of the breasts.
  13. With the breasts in the pan, I find I usually have leftover sugar-mustard mix. I usually take a spoon and drizzle some of the sugar-mustard mix over the breasts in the pan. Not too much, just a little.
  14. Bake the chicken breasts for 15 to 20 minutes. The time depends on how thick the breasts are. Just be sure that the chicken is cooked — no pink juices flowing.
  15. Serve fresh from the oven.

II. Variations

One of the things I like about this recipe is that it is easy to modify and create a different taste. What follow are some options.

  1. Add a layer of Swiss cheese to the half of the chicken breast on which you will put the cream cheese-parsley-olive mixture in Step 11. The addition of the Swiss cheese makes for an interesting flavor combination.
  2. Add some turkey bacon. This would be Step 5a. Cook some turkey bacon (1 strip of bacon per chicken breast) in a separate fry pan on medium heat. Do not let it get overcooked/overcrispy in the pan. When cooked, place on paper towel to absorb the excess fat and to crisp. When all the bacon is cooked and “dried,” roughly chop the slices so that you have crumbles. Set it aside until Step 8. Add half the bacon to the olives and parsley in Step 8 and blend the parsley-olive-bacon mix with the cream cheese in Step 9. The rest of the bacon should be put in a small bowl and placed on the table so people who want more bacon flavor can add additional bacon. Whatever bacon is left over can be used with other meals or frozen for future use.
  3. Like spicy foods? There are a couple of options. (a) Add ½ teaspoon of Tabasco or other hot sauce to the parsley-olive mix in Step 8. If not spicy enough, add more Tabasco to taste. Or (b) add 1 teaspoon of crushed red pepper flakes to the parsley-olive mix in Step 8. If not spicy enough, add more red pepper to taste. Or (c) add some hot pepper, like jalapeño, to the parsley-olive mix in Step 8. Use 1 small jalapeño pepper finely chopped.
  4. Use different olives than the black olives. Avoid very salty olives.
  5. Use several types of olives.
  6. Add 1 teaspoon of dried mint (be sure to crush the mint to get the most flavor) and 1 teaspoon of dried dill weed to the parsley-olive mix in Step 8.
  7. Add 1 tablespoon of Chambord liqueur to Step 9. The Chambord adds a nice raspberry touch.
  8. Add a small amount of a flavorful cheese, such as blue cheese or French feta (Greek feta is too salty), to the mix in Step 9. You want to add just enough to give a hint of the other cheese flavor, not to replace the cream cheese.
  9. Combine two or more of the above variations.

Leftover chicken reheats well in the microwave. As is true of most recipes, the dish is best when first made, but a dish that is still enjoyable, like this one, when reheated is a treasure.

I hope you enjoy the recipe. It is easy to make, so give it a try.

Richard Adin, An American Editor

Blog at WordPress.com.

%d bloggers like this: