December 21, 2012

Risotto with Artichokes, Peas and Lemon

Risotto with Artichokes, Peas and Lemon
Winter is just risotto season, isn't it?  I love risotto, so creamy, rich and satisfying!  It's like polenta or grits- a blank canvas you can use to show off any of your favorite flavors- in this case, artichoke hearts, peas and lemon, yum!  I LOVE artichoke hearts!  Making risotto is more about visual cues as opposed to cooking time- so depending on multiple factors, your amount of liquid and cooking time will vary from mine.  But, once you know how to make it, you'll use it again and again!  And you can add anything to it!

Risotto with Artichokes, Peas and Lemon
4 Tbsp olive oil
1 large yellow onion, finely chopped
2 large garlic cloves, finely chopped
3 cups risotto rice (i.e. arborio, but there are other varieties)
1 cup white wine (not a sweet variety)
9 oz. package frozen artichoke hearts
4 cups chicken stock
3 cups water
2 Tbsp unsalted butter
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan
1/2 cup freshly grated Pecorino Romano
1 oz. fresh lemon juice
1 cup frozen peas ('petite' or 'tender,' meaning younger and sweeter)
sea salt
white or black pepper, freshly ground

I use a large round dutch oven to make this- so get a pot that has some depth, this makes a fair amount.  Maybe 6-8 servings.  Heat the olive oil over medium heat.  Add the onion, let it cook for a few minutes, stirring occasionally.  Add the garlic and cook a few more minutes.  You want the onion to begin to look both yellow in color and somewhat wilted, but not browned or caramelized.

Risotto rice
Add the risotto rice and stir well, allowing the grains of rice to be coated by the oil.  Continue to occasionally stir, until each grain has a center that is still white and opaque, but the outer edges look translucent (total time for this about 2-3 minutes).  Add the wine and allow the liquid to be absorbed.

For this next section, adding the liquid (chicken stock and water), you have two choices.  You can either add them at room temperature, or you can heat them in a separate pot.  Heating the chicken stock and water will make your overall cooking time shorter (but you don't have to).  Add the liquid, one cup or so at a time, reduce the heat to medium low, stir occasionally and allow the liquid to absorb.  Repeat this, adding liquid, stirring, until about 6 cups have been added, then start to taste it to test doneness.  You'll know by it's texture whether or not it needs more liquid.  If you use a different variety of risotto rice, this will vary.  I use arborio and it was about 7 cups of liquid for 3 cups of rice.

Once the risotto has absorbed the liquid, add the butter, freshly grated cheese, and peas (I use frozen peas).  By this time, it will look creamy and smooth.  Stir, and allow the peas to become heated through.  Add the lemon juice.  Add generous amounts of sea salt and freshly ground pepper- my guess is that you'll need quite a bit of both- taste it as you go along so you achieve a level you like.  With regard to the lemon juice, I was able to get one ounce from a large lemon, but not all lemons are the same size, juiciness, etc., so it's better to measure the liquid.  You may need more than one lemon.

Enjoy!  You can have this as a weeknight dinner or as a side dish- why not with a seared rib eye and a salad of arugula and lemon?  If you make it ahead of time and it seems dry or stiff, just add a little water and reheat it- it should once again have a nice consistency.

Happy holidays!




October 19, 2012

A Hiccup in My Disney Princess Half Marathon Training...

Well, all was going well until I encountered what appeared to be a lovely steak frites at a local bistro with a fellow mom- lovely dinner, dazzling adult conversation, a delectable glass of cremant- and I'm afraid the next morning at 6 am, I was certain that that steak frites had been evil.  Food poisoning.  Let's leave the detail at that.

Well, it's not part of my plan to lose the baby weight, and I certainly don't recommend it, but four pounds disappeared that day.  In any event, I felt in no condition to run on Thursday, which I was scheduled to do.  I took a nap instead.  Which felt blissfully guilty!

A special thank you to Cheryl K- I LOVE your comments, especially the last one, it was so helpful.  It hadn't occurred to me to go to a running store to do that- and now I will.  Since I have zero experience as a runner, I really did think it was simply putting one foot in front of the other.  Now I don't think that so much :)  Truth be told, by legs have been quite sore, but, the soreness appears to be symmetric, so I am not sure what areas might need help, but I'm sure they will present themselves.

Although I am temporarily off my training schedule- I will persevere and training will resume soon!

Just an update on my Disney Princess Half Marathon training- for more real time updates, visit the page: http://ladolceduchessa.blogspot.com/p/disney-princess-half-marathon-2013.html
and to read about how this all came about, visit the blog post: http://ladolceduchessa.blogspot.com/2012/10/mama-needs-to-get-back-in-shape.html

October 11, 2012

Pea Soup with Pancetta

Pea Soup with Pancetta in a Tea Cup (Woodland Spode)
This is some good, good soup.  It's delicious because a) you use pancetta, b) you cook pancetta, onion and carrots low and slow and c) you add petite green peas at the end and don't cook them much, so you get the complexity and home-y flavors of the bacon, onion and carrots and the brightness of tender petite green peas...  And there's cream.  Did I mention the cream?

Pea Soup with Pancetta
3 pieces pancetta, about as thick as regular bacon, chopped coarsely (about 3/4 cup)
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
1 large carrot, peeled and chopped
1 medium yukon gold potato, peeled and chopped
4 cups chicken broth (I use 1/2 strength of 'better than boullion' brand)
1/4 cup white wine (I used Clean Slate 2011 Riesling from Germany)
1 lb. bag of frozen petite peas (yes, has to be 'petite,' they are younger and sweeter)
3/4 cup heavy cream
sea salt
freshly ground pepper

Pancetta
Let's talk about pancetta for a second- first of all, good, good, stuff.  It's the Italian version of bacon and while it's extremely similar to bacon, it's not bacon.  The seasonings are similar, but, the pancetta is rolled into a tubular like shape and dry cured.  (Bacon as we know it, is partially cooked at low heat in an oven)  What is dry cured?  It means the meat is 'cured' or cooked, with salt over time.  Dry curing often involves compression, for example, prosciutto is made using a dry curing mixture and applying pressure to the fresh ham to achieve the desired shape.  When meats in the deli say 'uncured,' it drives me slightly crazy, because they don't mean salt curing wasn't involved, it was, it just means the method of finishing the meat involved cooking it (usually).  For more charcuterie musings, read my meat curing adventure at http://ladolceduchessa.blogspot.com/2010/11/charcuterie-class.html

Pancetta
So, when we say 3 pieces of pancetta, it will be 3 round pieces, as you can see from the picture.  Heat a nicely sized dutch oven over medium-low heat.  Add your chopped pancetta.  You can add your oil after you brown it, it doesn't really need any cooking oil since it's fat content is quite high.  You want it to brown, but not at a fast rate and not unevenly, so stir it from time to time while you prepare your onion and carrots.  This soup is going to be pureed, so nothing has to be too pretty, but you want things to be relatively even sizes in order to cook well.

Pancetta, onion and carrots
Once your pancetta has nicely browned, go ahead and add your olive oil.  Let it heat up a little, and then add your onion and carrot.  This you also want to cook low and slow, and a little browning here and there is good.  There's not really a time guideline I can give you for this part of the soup, it's more visual cues.  When you have some nice browning, add your wine and allow it to cook down by about half- some thoughts on white wine here- it's more difficult in my opinion to cook with white wine than red wine, because white wine tends to be sweeter.  So you can make the mistake of adding too much white and ending up with too much sweetness.  That's why it might seem like a relatively small amount of wine.  But, what that wine is doing, is getting all our lovely browned bits off the bottom of the pan.  After your wine is reduced by about half, add the chicken stock.   Now, I like to use a brand of chicken stock called 'better than bouillon,' it's refrigerated and it is 1 tsp to each cup of water.  But, it always seems pretty strong and salty to me, so I use about half the recommended amount.  A note here- this made a relatively thick soup, so if you want it to be more liquid, use more chicken stock.  Once your chicken stock is heated, add your potato pieces, and simmer for about 10 minutes, you want your potatoes to be nice and soft.  Now, we add our peas.  Only simmer your peas for 8 minutes.

Pea Soup in an ice bath
While the soup is simmering, prepare an ice bath for your soup.  You want to a) cool it down to keep the peas as bright as possible and b) the faster it cools down, the sooner you can blend it, serve it and most importantly, eat it!  (We are cooling it down so that it doesn't make the top fly off your blender, which can happen when things are really hot.)  I like to make ice baths in mixing bowl sets, since they were designed to fit inside one another.  I put lots of ice cubes in the larger bowl and add some water, but not a lot.  So, once you've simmered your lovely peas for 8 minutes, place the soup in the smaller bowl and place it in the ice bath in the larger bowl.  Once it's cool enough, blend it in batches.  This soup, at least with the amount of chicken stock I used, gets somewhat smooth, but it's not a completely smooth puree.  Perhaps with longer, more vigorous blending it could be, but just to let you know, that's not what I achieved, it was more thick.  Once you've blended it, combine it with the heavy cream and season it to taste with salt and pepper.  Why haven't we added any salt before into the soup?  Because our pancetta is already a salty product and we want to have the option to make it saltier, as opposed to be having an problem with too much salt.

For fun, serve it in a tea cup and saucer with a demitasse spoon!  Or in a lovely soup bowl with my garlic bread:  http://ladolceduchessa.blogspot.com/2010/11/simple-and-delicious-garlic-bread.html

Thoughts on AuPairs

I had the funniest conversation with a girlfriend of mine today- it was her birthday and I was calling to wish her a happy birthday and see how her day was going.  It sounded like she was having a lovely, lovely day- now she has a little boy that will be two in January, and had a baby girl about 2 1/2 months ago- so- it is still a sleep deprived struggle!  I could feel her beaming through the phone as she described her day- "I got up and got to take a shower, and my husband and I went out for coffee and walked along the main street in our town,"  If you are a mother of young children reading this, you're thinking what I'm thinking- that you love your children so, so dearly, but the idea of a) taking a shower when you'd like to and b) having a coffee and a leisurely stroll with an adult sounds pretty much like the most luxurious thing you've ever heard, right!?

Well, making it all work- and having a moment every now and then to yourself is a great thing.  How do different moms achieve it?  Well, I haven't found one template that fits everyone, and I'm sure you haven't either.  For starters, some moms may work, some moms may have other activities that require their time, or simply the number and ages of the kids is quite a lot for just one person- granted that person is a mom and therefore on par with a superhero, but still, one person!

The AuPair option is an interesting one- if you're unfamiliar with the term, it is French for 'on par with' and refers to an arrangement where a young foreign student helps with childcare and lives with the family.  This means they live with you, so you need an extra bedroom- which, I do not have right now, so it's not an option.  But, I have a girlfriend that got one a year or two ago, and she has said such positive things about it.  She and her husband had been interested in having a Spanish speaking AuPair- and this is interesting, in the past AuPairs were primarily from Europe, but in the last few years there has been an increase in the number of AuPairs available from South America, Asia, Africa and Australia.  My friend had already gotten her child involved in a school that also taught Spanish, and so having an AuPair that could reinforce it at home would be great- and it was, I remember her describing how she decided on the agency and found her- she used skype to meet and interview the candidates and after two skype sessions with the young lady they chose, she felt comfortable and chose her.  She also tried to use an agency that had a good representation of AuPairs in her area- for a few reasons, first, the AuPair would have other AuPairs to ask questions to, spend time with, etc., and the support for the young ladies from the agency would be good since they were well represented in the area.  In the middle of the AuPair's placement, my friend learned that she had to move her family across the country for her husband's job, and the AuPair was able to move with them, which, if you've just moved down the block, sounds heavenly, doesn't it?  Help while moving into a new house!  Did I mention that she had an 18 month old and was expecting her second when the AuPair started while at the same time starting her own company?

The bilingual aspect of having an AuPair I find very appealing- I heard about a study recently where children that were monolingual and bilingual were tested in problem solving.  The experiment tested the ability of the children to solve a problem, then have the parameters of the problem change, and be asked to solve the problem again.  The children that were bilingual had no issue with a new set of parameters, while the monolingual children struggled with the concept of rule changes.  I LOVE that- the bilingual children inherently understand that there is more than one way to skin a cat- which, I don't know about you, I feel like that's one of the best things I could help my children be able to do.  So, if you wanted to get an AuPair and have her teach your children her native language, you could!

Ok- so how does it work from a nuts and bolts perspective?  Here's how it works- the AuPair lives with you and your family, so you provide them with room and board.  You pay them a small stipend each week, and you work out a schedule with them in terms of hours- for example, my girlfriend did 9-5 each weekday and sometimes also on the weekends.  Obviously, this set up isn't for everyone.  For example, I don't have a spare bedroom, so it's not an option.  Or, perhaps you really value your privacy, obviously, each family has to make their own decision.  And if you do decide to take the plunge, choose your AuPair carefully, and, remember that they are young and may need to be guided in things that you might take for granted- let them know what you need and expect.  If there are problems, deal with them immediately and involve the agency- perhaps it's a simple misunderstanding, or perhaps it's not a fit.  We all know that finding the right people to help you in your home, especially with your children is an art as well as a science, and involves good skills at communicating and managing expectations on both ends.  If it is a great fit, imagine the impact it will make on your children, they'll have a friend that they can stay in touch with and potentially visit in their home country.  It just might inspire your children's interest in something that they never would have been exposed to otherwise.  As an example, I will tell you that one of my nannies growing up was a belly dancer.  So, every Wednesday night, I put on a coin belt and make some noise :)  Never would have done it without her.  She also read us the Princess Bride aloud and that is still to this day one of my absolute favorite books- and I can't wait until my children are old enough to have it read to them.  Maybe it will be by me, maybe by a nanny or an AuPair with even more interesting hobbies, only time will tell.

Who should you contact?  AuPairCare is one of the largest and more established agencies.  Check out their website at:  www.aupaircare.com  What does an agency do? It's their job to pre-screen candidates, deal with different countries' visa and travel requirements, placement of the AuPair, monitoring the success of the placement, and they connect AuPair families within the same area.  They have lots of experience and have dealt with issues you may not expect, such as taxes and health insurance (the structure of the program includes providing health insurance for the AuPairs).  So obviously, it's good to have an expert on your side :)

October 3, 2012

Say Goodbye to Bitter Iced Coffee- Cold Brewed Coffee

Straining Cold Brewed Coffee
I have three issues with iced coffee- first, it's bitter, and second, because it's cold, sugar is not going to dissolve.  It's a rare coffee shop or restaurant that has considered this and readily offers up some simple syrup to help you with this conundrum- rare yes, but not nonexistent (thank you to those establishments that do!).  Finally, my third complaint, which is because I am usually either pregnant or breastfeeding lately, is that I need decaf (for those of you that may not know, it's advisable for pregnant and nursing mothers to not consume a lot of caffeine).  This creates more of a disappointment than a problem- there usually aren't any flavored coffees available at coffee shops that also happen to be decaf.  The sad little decaf supply is usually not getting much love, while the chalkboards explode with exciting flavored options of regular coffee!

But, a few weeks ago, while at Whole Foods, I spotted, drum roll please- Hazelnut Decaf coffee!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!  My immediate thought was- I can cold brew this and have some flavored decaf!  And because it's cold brewed, it won't be bitter!  Hooray!

So what is cold brewed?  It means you use cold water, and the process takes a little time.  My sister is the person who taught me how to do this, over text message.  'Hey, I want to cold brew some coffee, how do I do that?'  She responded, 'Put it in a pot with some cold water, stir it if you remember, leave it overnight, then strain it.'  To which I responded, 'Do I have to refrigerate it?' Text message back, 'No, not really, but probably yes once you've strained it.'  Well, two little people's bedtimes took priority and I forgot about this, so I did it during the day for 5 hours, and it still worked well!  I used a screen-like strainer for the grounds, and I'd advise straining it twice, otherwise it is a little silt-y.  Will it still be a slightly but bitter?  Yes, because it's unsweetened coffee- but vs. regularly brewed coffee, you'll see a big difference :)  I like mine with a little cream and a few ice cubes.

October 1, 2012

Mama Needs to Get Back in Shape / How I Decided to Run the Disney Princess Half Marathon

Nursing Pajamas...  Post Pregnancy Body!
Here are words I never thought I would utter- I'm running a half marathon!  Did I mention that it is a Disney, princess themed, run through Disney world half marathon?!  About a week ago, my sister called me and suggested it- it's in February, she found a training plan for beginners (that is both of us) and the training starts in October- tomorrow (10/2/12) to be exact.

This is truthfully just what I need- for several reasons.  First of all, I have pregnancy weight that needs to come off.  Not just from a health or vanity perspective, but also because I refuse to buy new clothes.  So, I've been wearing the same couple of nursing outfits over and over and over, and, not only are they starting to disintegrate from excessive washing and wearing, this charming little situation happened.  I really enjoy volunteer work and fundraising.  One of my current committees is helping our local hospital raise money.  There was a meeting of our committee, followed by a really beautiful fashion show a few weeks ago.  There were some pictures taken of our meeting and our viewing of the fashion show.  Now, obviously to an event like this I did not wear 'nursing pajamas,' which is what I wear otherwise and am in fact wearing right now.  I wore the only sort of dressy outfit that fits me right now, which is a boucle skirt and a silk jersey wrap top with a pair of wedge heels.

Fast forward one week.  I have a group of friends up here, who are just so charming and adorable, and also happen to be Southern, and one of them had the delightful idea of us forming a bridge group.  None of us, however, know how to play.  So, she planed a beautiful lunch at her home, which, I wish I had brought my camera to and been able to blog about!  (Next time, I will!)  Her home is beautiful and the lunch spread was divine.  There was a salad with green grapes, roasted pistachios and asiago cheese, and the miniature sandwich I had (two of) had fresh mozzarella, balsamic dressing, fresh tomato and basil on ciabatta.  (Did I mention that she also has a one month old baby and had flawless hair and makeup?!  Loving her!)  Her mother was visiting from  Little Rock and is herself a very accomplished bridge player, and following a lovely lunch, we all had our first bridge lesson.  Well, it was just a lovely afternoon, and what I often romanticize being a stay at home mom is like- and every now and then you get those moments, some free time to yourself, some time with friends, a lovely lunch and stimulating conversation, a break from the chaos that being a mom of little ones can sometimes be...  Well, I get home that night and one of the ladies had emailed me, complimenting the pictures of me from the previous week's fashion show.  Well, are you ready for this?  I was wearing the EXACT SAME THING in the pictures that I was wearing at that exact moment.  Wow.  Just wow.  If that is not the saddest little cry for help my wardrobe has ever issued, I don't know what is!  I called my sister and said, sign me up, we're running this thing!  (As a side note, the friend that had emailed me did so in complete sincerity and was so kind as to not point out I was wearing the same thing.  When I emailed her back laughing about that, she said another kind thing, stating that considering how recently I had a baby (4 1/2 months ago) at least I was not wearing something with an elastic waist!  I didn't have the heart to write her back and say, 'that skirt used to have an elastic waist but gave out a while back...')

Interested yourself?  Check out the website at:  http://www.rundisney.com/princess-half-marathon/   The more the merrier!!!

We are using the beginner training plan that's available on the website.  It's 13 miles and you need to complete it in 3 hours and 30 minutes- and if your pace is too slow, they might pick you up with a golf cart to hurry you along.  I have two goals- I want to finish, and I want to do it without being picked up in a golf cart.  I'm creating a page to track my progress in my training- http://ladolceduchessa.blogspot.com/p/disney-princess-half-marathon-2013.html you can check back on it to see how I'm doing!  And if you're training too, please let me know how you are doing!

I have already had two workouts this past week, and, although I have not lost weight yet, two meaningful things have happened.  First, I was able to wear my pre-pregnancy jeans to a party on Friday night (hooray! Ok, so I could get them on- which is a first, they didn't fit great, but I could close them.) and second, I have honestly felt really great for the past few days.  More energy, less stressed, and more able to honestly handle my daily stresses as a stay at home mom- and- did I mention that my first day of training involved some projectile vomit?  Didn't phase me at all.  Because I am a princess half marathon runner.  And, did I mention my sister is going to make me a Snow White costume?  Yes, we will be running in tutus and tiaras.

You should, too!  Your training starts tomorrow :)  I'll see you in February!

September 20, 2012

Favorite Lasagna

Favorite Lasagna
This might be my husband's favorite thing that I make- and every new baby meal I have ever taken to a friend, this has been it!  This lasagna is great- mostly because of the sauce, and because it uses fresh mozzarella and freshly grated Parmesan and Pecorino Romano.  Yes, I have a slight Pecorino Romano obsession- it's just so deliciously salty, can't help it!

I've experimented with this sauce over the years, and this week, I made a surprising discovery!  My discovery was that the sauce hinges ENTIRELY on the inclusion of carrots and celery, and using diced tomatoes instead of crushed.  Really?!  You say?  Well, yes, and this is how I found that out- With my regular sleep deprivation and general Mommy brain, I went to the grocery store to buy the ingredients for this dish.  Carrots and celery did not make it into the cart.  I decided to go ahead and make the sauce anyway.  I also hadn't paid much attention to what kind of canned tomatoes I had in the pantry, it was crushed, instead of whole or diced.  I used crushed.  Well, the sauce was edible.  That's how I'd describe it.  When my husband came home from work and asked what was for dinner I said, 'Well, there's some meat sauce.'  He looked at me a little confused.  'Is it good?' He asked.  'It's edible,' I shrugged.  Who knew carrots and celery were the key.  Go figure!  (And the crushed tomatoes are a) too acidic and b) too much liquid vs. the diced tomatoes, where the liquid simmers off and you're left with a lovely, complex sauce that hasn't become overly tomato.)  Anyhow, THAT sauce wasn't used for this lasagna.  I went back to the store and got the correct ingredients and here they are- just in time for fall.

Favorite Lasagna
This is roughly enough for 8-10 people.  I make two lasagnas, a large one in a 10x14 dish and a smaller one in a 3x6 dish that I freeze.

Sauce
1 Tbsp olive oil
2 pieces raw bacon, cut into 1/4" pieces
1 yellow onion, finely chopped
3 stalks celery, finely chopped
2 whole carrots or 10-15 baby carrots, peeled and finely chopped
1 clove garlic, through a press or finely chopped
1 lb. sweet Italian pork sausage
1 lb. ground beef, 80 or 85% lean
1 tsp sea salt
freshly ground black pepper
1 Tbsp tomato paste (from a tube, sometimes labeled 'double concentrated')
1 cup red wine
1 or 2 cans (28 oz each) diced tomatoes (1 can for a less tomato focused sauce, 2 for more tomato flavor and content)  If diced tomatoes aren't available, get whole tomatoes and cut them in pieces, then add both the tomato pieces and the juice to the sauce.

Other
2 lb. fresh mozzarella
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan
1 cup freshly grated Pecorino Romano
1 15 oz. container whole milk ricotta
1 box lasagna noodles (I usually use about 15-17 noodles)

Bacon, onions, carrots and celery
This is sort of a long process, so sometimes I make this over two days.  I make the sauce one day, then I assemble and bake it the next day.  Let's begin and make our sauce!  In a large stock pot, heat the olive oil over medium low heat.  Add the bacon, allow to brown, stirring occasionally.  Add the onion, carrot and celery once the bacon has browned nicely, and allow to soften for a few minutes.  Add the garlic.  Let this cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is translucent and there are a few instances of browning- but there doesn't need to be a lot.  Now it is time to add the meat.  If the sausage is in casings, just squeeze it out and add it to the pot in small pieces, no bigger than a gumball.  Add the ground beef in similarly sized pieces.  Allow to brown, use a wooden spoon to stir as well as break down pieces of meat that are too big.  Add the salt and pepper.  Once the meat has browned roughly all over, add the tomato paste and wine and stir to incorporate.  Allow this to simmer until you can tell the liquid has reduced, it doesn't have to be completely, just enough so that you notice it.  Next, add your can of diced tomatoes.  Reduce the heat to low, partially cover, and simmer for 1 hour.  Check on it occasionally and stir it, you don't want the heat so high that the bottom will burn.  If you're making it ahead of time, allow it to cool slightly, then transfer it to something that isn't hot to store it in the refrigerator.  If you're making the lasagna all at once, just set it aside, you'll use it shortly.

Finished meat sauce
Partially boiled lasagna noodles in moist towels
Put a pot of water on the stove and get it to a boil, we are going to boil our lasagna noodles ahead of time, not all the way, but enough so that we won't have uncooked pasta in our lasagna.  I don't bother to salt the water for this since the cheeses used in this dish already have a fair amount of salt.  I have tried making this lasagna with several different lasagna noodles- some of which promised that I didn't have to boil them ahead of time.  Sorry, this step is unfortunately needed.  Maybe it's the way the rest of the lasagna is put together, but I promise that if you don't boil them, you'll be sad :(  and have crunchy lasagna...  who wants that!  Ok- this is how I do my pasta here- I boil four lasagna noodles at a time in the pot, once it's reached a boil, and I remove them after about 3 minutes, when they are starting to bend in the water.  I remove them and place them on moist paper towels in layers, this keeps them separated and moist for you while you go about the rest of your work.  You may also use moist kitchen towels.  The reason I do this in batches of four noodles is that I find they stick together if there are too many noodles, and I've burned my little fingers many times trying to pull them apart!

To assemble the lasagna, you'll need to slice your fresh mozzarella into pieces- I can never get them thinner than about 1/4" thick since the texture is so soft, that's fine- also, go ahead and grate your cheeses.  You do want to grate them as opposed to buying them grated, the flavor is superior.  Now we'll go through your layering steps- and while you put the lasagna(s) together, go ahead and preheat your oven to 400 degrees.

Step one- a layer of sauce- as you can see, the sauce is very chunky and not much of a 'sauce,' this is partially because this example used only one can of diced tomatoes.  If you use two, it will appear a little differently.  In addition, I was assembling with cold sauce, so it appears thicker and to have less liquid than it really does.

Step one, layer of sauce
Step two- a layer of partially cooked noodles.  How you lay them out will depend on the size and shape of your pan.  This pan needs six noodles per layer, but I have pans that only need four, or less.  You can either arrange them all whole, or cut them as needed.  If you cut them, they won't come apart cleanly, so just be prepared for that.  Will still taste good, just won't be as pretty.

Step two, layer of noodles
Step three- ricotta, I use a fork and my fingers for this, first I put some on with a fork, then I spread it out with my fingers.  A spoon would also be just fine.  If you feel like the ricotta is really, really firm and it's having trouble spreading out, mix it with some of the used pasta water.  (Or, if you already poured it out, just water is fine!)  Whether or not you need to do this depends on your ricotta.

Step three, ricotta
Step four- grated Parmesan and Pecorino Romano

Step four, Parmesan and Pecorino Romano
Step five- pieces of fresh mozzarella.  Some thoughts here- this layer shown is a healthy layer, if you are less of a cheese fan, put less of this.  This variable is what will make the inside of your lasagna seem particularly cheesy or not.  The ricotta and grated cheeses disappear a little more during the cooking, this is partially because they are not a 'pulled cheese,' the way mozzarella is, whereas other cheeses have the ability to melt and become a part of something else, pulled cheeses have more difficultly doing this, you know what I mean if you've ever tried to add mozzarella to macaroni and cheese.  Just plain stringy!

Step five, Mozzarella
Step six- we are back to sauce- a nice layer of sauce here.  This amount shown in the picture is on the conservative side.  For a more sauce heavy and tomato flavor heavy lasagna, use more sauce.

Step six, layer of sauce
Step seven- back to noodles- you get the picture here.  Keep creating layers using this order and how many layers you have will depend on your pan.  This large pan that I'm showing you with is rather shallow, so I was only able to use two layers of noodles.  After I put the sauce layer on top of the second set of noodles, here is the final step-
Step seven, layer of noodles
Final step- mozzarella and grated cheese.  This layer needs to have significantly more coverage than your internal mozzarella layers.  It's ok, though, to have some sauce peeking out.  Try, though, to have no noodles peeking out, they will get crispy or potentially burned.

Final step, Mozzarella and grated cheese
Now, put your beautiful creation in the oven for 20 minutes, then, if you have an uneven oven like I do, turn it around and leave it in for another 10 minutes.  If you have a nice even oven, there's no need to turn it.  How do you know if your oven is uneven?  If things brown unevenly or cook unevenly, you do, but it's a very easy fix, just turn things from time to time during the cooking time.

Baked lasagna
In addition to this large lasagna, I make a small one with the leftovers and I bake it using the same instructions, then I freeze it.  To get a frozen one ready to eat, I would put it in the refrigerator overnight, then you can most likely cut it in pieces and microwave it.  If you'd prefer not to microwave it, cover it with foil and heat it at around 300 until it's heated through, depending on how frozen it still is, this will depend.  But, I'd recommend covering it with foil to prevent additional browning and keep moisture inside.  Enjoy!

September 5, 2012

Short Ribs in Red Wine with... Polenta!

Little baby girl is ready for short ribs!
I know it's still warm, despite it being September, and I realize I am jumping the gun a little here!  But!  I LOVE comforting, slowly braised short ribs in a flavorful sauce, and serve it over some polenta- we have a weeknight winner!  The very wonderful thing about a dish like this, though, is that it can be made ahead of time and then just pulled together quickly, making it a GREAT weeknight option.  That's precisely what I did here- I made this on a Sunday afternoon (while doing other glamorous Sunday tasks- laundry, dishes, catching up on everything...) and then I put it in the refrigerator.  We ate it the next night and all I needed to do was to warm the meat in the oven, reheat the gravy on the stove, and make some polenta, which, if you read the post on polenta you know it only takes a few minutes, and there you have it!  Open a lovely red, put the littlest baby in their Bumbo seat, and you have a great meal!

Short Ribs in Red Wine
(serves 3 adults and one presently finicky toddler)
2 large carrots, peeled and coarsely chopped
1 medium yellow onion, coarsely chopped
5-6 stalks celery, coarsely chopped
2 cloves garlic (through a press or just peeled)
fresh thyme (3-5 sprigs)
fresh rosemary (1 small sprig)
1 bay leaf (small to medium sized, mine are Turkish)
1 tsp. sea salt
freshly ground white or black pepper
2 cups chicken broth (I use 'better than bouillon')
2 cups red wine
3 long or 6 short short ribs (this will depend on how your butcher prepares them- the 'short' are about 3-4" long and the 'long' are double that)
canola oil
olive oil

Browned short ribs
Let's begin!  First, pat your short ribs dry with a paper towel, this allows them to brown nicely.  Heat some canola oil at high heat in a pan on the stove- you'll only be using this pan to sear the outside of the short ribs. Brown all sides of the short ribs, just a few minutes on each side, then set aside.  You won't need to keep the fat from this that will now be in the pan (although if you'd like to use it for something else, you can!)

Coarsely chopped carrots, onion and celery
Now, in a large dutch oven, heat 3 Tbsp olive oil over medium heat.  Add the carrots, onion, celery and garlic.  All of these ingredients just need to be chopped coarsely, they won't be served, so it does not have to be pretty.  We're just getting all their wonderful flavor here.  Cook these, stirring occasionally for a little while, it may be 10-25 minutes depending on the heat and the surface area of the pan, you want the onions to be translucent and for there to be a small amount of browning occurring.  You don't need to cook these for such a long time that caramelizing starts.  Go ahead and add the salt and pepper.  Now, add the remaining ingredients- place the short ribs on top of the vegetables, add the stock, wine, and herbs- I've included pictures of the amount of thyme and rosemary because sometimes I find it hard to judge from written directions only.  This is the amount I used- I find that thyme is sometimes a bit shy and rosemary can easily overwhelm, so be sure to be prudent in the amount on that one!

Fresh thyme
Fresh rosemary
Let's bring this beautiful pot to a simmer and cover, on my stove that is 'low,' you want this low and slow, completely covered, for about 2 hours and 45 minutes.  If your liquid doesn't completely cover the meat, turn it with tongs at about the half way point.

Removing the membrane that attaches to the bone
Now, remove it from the heat after the 2 hours and 45 minutes and remove the meat.  One or more of the short ribs may have come unattached from it's bone, that is fine, we're going to remove them anyhow!  If you've eaten short ribs before, you may or may not have come into contact with the membrane that surrounds the bone.  What I like to do it remove that and just reserve the top portion of the meat that doesn't have any unattractive funky parts like that (and I don't think this part is very appetizing). Anyhow, your meat is nice and soft and you should be able to easily do this with a knife and fork, but, you'll need to be very gentle to keep the rest of the meat in tact- like I said, it's nice and soft!  Try to keep them in tact as best you can and then refrigerate these pieces of meat until you are ready to serve them.

Everything added to the pot before braising
For the sauce, you are going to say thank you to all these lovely ingredients and you are going to just strain this and reserve only the liquid.  Don't worry, it has PLENTY of flavor on its own.  In a small pot, boil the liquid for about 15 minutes, or until it's about half of the amount it was.  Now we refrigerate it until we need it!

Fast forward to the next day, when you are going to save the day and pull together a delicious dinner in a snap.  Preheat your oven to 225.  Place the meat in a foil covered dish and place in the oven for 45 minutes.  When you are about 15 minutes away from eating, start heating your gravy on the stove and let's pull together a nice basic polenta!

Polenta
Between 3/4-1 cup of freshly grated parmesan and or pecorino romano
2 cups chicken broth
1 cup whole milk
1 cup polenta
freshly grated white or black pepper

In a medium to large pot, heat the milk and chicken broth.  Once it's simmering, add the polenta in a steady stream while stirring.  Depending on the polenta, it will take between 2 and about 10 minutes to absorb the liquid.  You want this to have the consistency of mashed potatoes, so add liquid as needed (in equal amounts water and whole milk).  Once it is the consistency you'd like it to be, turn off the heat and add the cheese and the pepper.  You won't need salt because both the chicken broth and cheese have significant amounts of salt.  But, taste it to make sure it's to your liking.

Adding gravy to polenta and short ribs
You have your meal!  To plate this and present it, place some polenta in a dish, I use soup plates, place the meat on top, then pour some of the gravy over this- delicious!

For another take on polenta, and musings on its origins, check out:

http://ladolceduchessa.blogspot.com/2012/08/stellar-side-dish-polenta-with-pecorino.html


August 31, 2012

Stellar Side Dish- Polenta with Pecorino Romano and Oven Roasted Tomatoes

Polenta with Pecorino Romano and Oven Roasted Tomatoes
Polenta is a wonderful blank canvas, that can be infused with flavor in three ways- first, the cooking liquid you use, second, the addition of cheese and third, a sauce or topping can bring this simple side dish to great new heights!  I think it might be even better than mashed potatoes, in terms of being able to take on flavors.  While we usually have polenta as a tasty side dish, there is nothing anywhere that says it can't be the star of your meal- a terrific lunch or vegetarian option could be to serve this polenta dish with a salad.

Polenta- what is it?  Well, it can take on many forms.  To start, it is made from ground corn and in dried form, it looks like cornmeal.  It can be cooked, as we are doing it here, to make a semi-solid, and, depending on how much liquid it is mixed with, it can be very loose, or very firm.  When it is on the firm side, and cooled, it can be transformed further, either cutting it into slices, squares, or smaller pieces (like french fry shapes) and fried or pan fried, or, you can even make it into a napoleon like structure with layers of sauce and cheese and bake it.  Polenta, as you can see, truly is a blank canvas!

The origins of polenta are fascinating to me- as corn is a 'New World' food- originating from North and South America.  So, it was only introduced to Europe after discovery of the New World.  Same thing with tomatoes- it's amazing to me, since we associate tomatoes especially with Italian food.  It's my understanding that polenta is eaten more in the North of Italy.

How is polenta different from grits?  Grits, as you may know, are part of America's Southern cuisine, and let me tell you, grits can be AMAZING.  I once went to a dinner party where we were served Chilean sea bass provencale and a four cheese grits casserole and I am still thinking about those grits...  If you've ever had shrimp and grits, you know what I mean!  Anyhow, according to some packages at the super market, polenta and grits are the same thing.  Nope, not true.  Grits are processed differently, and, there are three varieties of grits, and the way they differ is by cooking time.  There's instant, then there is coarse ground and stone ground.  These last two have longer cooking times.  Well, now I live up North and I can't really get grits too easily, when I ask for them at the supermarket I get kind of a blank stare...  But, I love polenta, too, so it's ok!  I noticed, actually, that polenta is appearing on more menus in the South as kind of a grits alternative- both of them work beautifully as side dishes that can be infused with delicious flavors.

Let's cook!

Polenta with Pecorino Romano
2 cups chicken broth
1 cup whole milk
1 cup polenta
freshly ground white pepper
1 cup freshly grated Pecorino Romano (using a microplane grater)
as needed: additional amounts of 1/2 water 1/2 whole milk, will depend on your polenta and desired thickness

Oven Roasted Grape Tomatoes
2 1/2 cups grape tomatoes (or cherry, or just really small)
2 Tbsp olive oil
pinch sea salt
freshly ground white pepper

Oven Roasting Grape Tomatoes
To make this dish, you'll need to oven roast your tomatoes ahead of time.  I did this in the afternoon while both my toddler and infant were napping at the same time, hooray!  Preheat your oven to 250.  Rinse your tomatoes and dry them- you'll want to dry them so the olive oil will coat them nicely, the same concept as to why we use salad spinners- dressing adheres better to dry salad greens.  In a small bowl, combine the tomatoes, oil, salt and grind some fresh pepper- white or black- a general rule of thumb I use is I try to include about 1/2 the amount of pepper as salt.  It's hard to give you direct guidance on that since every one's pepper mill is a little different.  I find that I can be pretty liberal with the pepper.  Mix well to combine and coat.  Spread the tomatoes evenly in a single layer on a jelly roll pan or a shallow casserole dish- what is a jelly roll pan?  It's just a baking sheet that has very low sides.  I use these instead of flat, side less baking sheets, because I find they are just better athletes in the kitchen.  Roast these beauties at 1 hour.  Remove from the oven and refrigerate until you are ready to pull the polenta together.

Adding polenta to simmering milk and stock
When you're very close to eating, because polenta like this is best when it is just made, heat the chicken broth and milk together in a medium to large sized pot on the stove.  At this time, you may also slowly reheat your tomatoes in a small pan over low heat.  When the chicken stock and milk is at a low simmer, add the polenta in a slow stream, stirring constantly.  This stuff cooks fast, so you'll need to have your cheese already grated and ready.  Continue to stir the polenta, and you'll see it quickly absorbs the liquid.  Now, I like my polenta not too firm, but this is where your personal preference comes into play- I add an additional 1 cup of liquid, half water and half milk, but, if you like it a littler firmer, don't worry about it.  Also, different brands and origins of polenta will behave differently, as some corn does not have the same protein / starch ratio as others.  Anyhow, once it's come together nicely and absorbed the liquid, turn off the heat and stir in the cheese.  It will melt very quickly.  Add pepper to taste.  You won't want to add salt here because this cheese is on the salty side.  But, taste it to make sure it is salty enough for your liking.  

Adding cheese to polenta
You're ready to serve it!  Just mound some polenta onto a plate, either with your main course or by itself, and top with some of your juicy, beautiful roasted grape tomatoes that are bursting and a little caramelized.  I think you'll be delighted with this and hope you enjoy it!

xo



August 22, 2012

Milk Chocolate Cream Panna Cotta

Milk Chocolate Cream Panna Cotta

Doesn't that sound delicious?  I've been working on a good chocolate panna cotta for a while- and I've been through multiple variations.  I made it with dark chocolate and put it through an ice cream maker- (ok, but not great, although my son and I ate it after dinner for about a week!) but what I kept coming back to is that I'd like to have a chocolate panna cotta that tastes like really creamy, not too sweet chocolate milk!  This is it!  I hope you enjoy it as much as I do!

Panna cotta, which means 'cooked cream' in Italian is a very simple dessert, with lots of room for experimentation- either in the panna cotta itself, or the topppings.  You might recall I made one with goat milk and lychee syrup, which is also delicious and I highly recommend it, you may find it here:  http://ladolceduchessa.blogspot.com/2010/12/panna-cotta-with-goat-milk-and.html but if you're in the mood for a creamy milk chocolate version, this is for you!

Milk Chocolate Cream Panna Cotta
(makes 6 servings)
1/4 cup water
1 packet of unflavored gelatin (1 packet from a Knox unflavored gelatin 1 oz box containing 4 packets)
1 cup heavy cream
1 1/2 cups whole milk
1 tsp vanilla
3 Tbsp sugar
5 oz milk chocolate
1 oz 60% bittersweet chocolate
generous pinch of sea salt

Softening unflavored gelatin
Place the gelatin in a small bowl.  Pour the 1/4 cup of water over the gelatin.  Set aside and allow to soften for about 10 or 15 minutes.  Meanwhile, in a pot on the stove, heat the cream and milk over low to medium heat.  Stir occasionally, you don't want it to form the 'skin' that milk and cream can form over the top when heated.  Add the vanilla and sugar to the milk and cream, stirring to combine.  Heat the milk and cream gradually to between 200 and 210 degrees Fahrenheit- you want it to be hot enough but not boil.  You can use a thermometer for this, or, as soon as you see part of the pot boil, turn it off.  Immediately add the softened gelatin and stir with a whisk, allow several minutes of waiting and stirring for the gelatin to dissolve.  This step is probably the most important of the whole process, if your milk and cream aren't hot enough, your gelatin won't fully dissolve and you'll have a grainy consistency to the finished product.

Milk and bittersweet chocolate in a metal bowl
While that dissolves, measure your chocolates and place them in a metal bowl.  I like to use a kitchen scale to measure the chocolates- I find I use my kitchen scale a lot!  Once the gelatin has had a few minutes to dissolve, pour the milk and cream mixture over the chocolates in the metal bowl.  This will also need a few minutes to dissolve and mix, using your whisk every minute or two to help it incorporate smoothly.  Add the salt.

Panna Cotta ice bath
You'll need a slightly larger bowl for this next step, we're going to create an ice bath to cool down the mixture.  Mixing bowl sets that have graduated sizes are perfect for this- I use two metal bowls from the same set for this.  In the larger metal bowl, place several handfuls of ice cubes on the bottom.  Next, place the smaller metal bowl with the mixture inside on top of the ice cubes.  Carefully pour cold water into the outer bowl (I use a measuring cup with a little spout so I don't splash water into the milk chocolate cream mixture) until it reaches about 75% up the sides.  Now, we're going to wait 30 minutes, stirring about every 10 minutes or so with out whisk.

After the 30 minutes have passed, you may pour this into 6 small ramekins.  Don't have ramekins?  Improvise!  This would be charming in tea cups, juice glasses, smaller servings in espresso cups, or, you may  pour it into a rectangular small casserole dish, and then you can cut it and serve it in squares.  There's no need to butter the dishes before you pour it in.

Now, we're going to refrigerate it- some thoughts on that- sometimes putting plastic wrap on top of these vessels causes condensation, and then it falls onto the top of the panna cotta, which is fine, but can be unattractive.  It's not an issue if you are going to invert the panna cotta onto a plate to serve it, but if you are going to serve it in it's little cup or vessel, here are some tips.  Because we've cooled it down in an ice bath, you are ultimately in better shape to avoid this, and, if you place the cups in a larger, deeper dish and then put plastic wrap over that, you'll likely fare better.

This will be somewhat solid after a few hours, overnight provides the best 'setting' and will allow you to invert it onto a plate to serve.  To do this, use a sharp knife to loosen to edges, then invert on to a plate.  Enjoy!  I think you'll find this smooth, creamy and delicious!

August 11, 2012

We Have a New Page! Stylish Movie Recommendations!

http://ladolceduchessa.blogspot.com/p/stylish-and-intelligent-movies.html

Check it out!

Do It Yourself: Storing Your Silver Serving Pieces

Round tray on top of storage pouch
Silver and silver plate pieces are so lovely- but require some extra care.  However, you may not have the right storage for them!  You might have family pieces that didn't come with storage bags or boxes, you may have purchased some at an antique store, or what may have worked previously may have lost its effectiveness.  While working on this post, I discovered that silver cloth is intended to be used for 5 years, then the effectiveness of the chemical treatment of the cloth starts to decline.

What inspired this post is that while in Maine, I picked up some lovely antique silver and silver plate items at a few antique stores, but I don't have the right storage for them.  So, why not make my own?  First I ordered silver cloth.  What is silver cloth?  It just means a cloth, most often a flannel, that has been treated with chemicals similar to silver polish.  Protecting your silver from the air, and with silver cloth, will help keep it from tarnishing.  Why is tarnishing a big deal?  Two reasons, the first is that once something has tarnished, it starts 'pitting,' these look like little holes on the surface of the silver.  There is nothing you can do about them once they are there!!!  Second, you'll have to polish less!  And everyone likes that- less work!

So let's get started!  First, determine what you need to make storage pouches for- I had several items, and a few of them were rather large and three-dimensional.  So I estimated the yardage I would need before I ordered my fabric.  I went to Amazon.com to order my silver cloth, the search yielded a lot of different choices.  You can get several different colors, so have fun with it!  Take note of what the fabric says in the notes, I noticed that some of them listed the duration of effectiveness in years, some did not, and some had one side of the fabric that was more effective, so keep track of what you end up with.  I chose maroon, which came from Vogue Fabrics, they had several colors.

Hand sewn seam example with a modest 1/4" seam allowance
We'll go through two examples here, a flat tray, and a rectangular dish that is 3" tall and required more adjustments.  Basically, the more three dimensional the object, the more thought you'll need to give it.  To begin, let's start with the tray.  First, I measured this round tray, which was 13.5" in diameter.  I wanted to cut out a piece of fabric that would leave me enough room for seam allowances and a flap to close it with.  So, I cut out a piece that was 29" x 14".  I like to use a yardstick for this type of project- a tape measure is not as reliable, because you aren't sure if you are a very straight line.  So, you might consider using a ruler or a yardstick, or something that has a firm, straight edge.  If you're unfamiliar with the term 'seam allowance,' that simply means the difference between your seam and the outer edge of the fabric.  In this case, the fabric is somewhat thick and plush, so you can have less of a seam allowance than if the fabric were thin and prone to unraveling- if that were the case, we'd be having a much different conversation about finishing the seam!  Thankfully, we are not, because that is more work.

Wrist pin cushion with quilting pins
On to construction!  Fold the piece of fabric with the wrong side out- meaning that the side of the fabric that you want touching the silver on the inside of the pouch is on the outside.  For the silver tray, where we want extra fabric at the top to fold it over in a type of flap, arrange the fabric so that is the case.  Next, we want to pin the fabric where we intend to sew it- some thoughts on pins.  I like to use quilting pins when I sew, their heads have little round ends that show up well against the fabric.  Regular pins that have small heads can be hard to see.  In addition, I also like to use a wrist pin cushion, that way, I can wear it on my wrist while I sew and remove the pins and place them there.  In this post, I didn't want to use a sewing machine because I wanted to encourage everyone to feel that they could do this, even if you don't have a sewing machine.  You can do this with just a needle and thread!  If you do have a sewing machine, though, the project will go a little faster if you use it.  But either way, you'll have a practical finished product.  Using a needle and thread (and the thread does not need to be special), sew, using relatively small stitches the two sides of the pouch.  This is a good thing to do in front of the TV!

Finished silver tray storage pouch
Turn your sewn pouch right side out.  Now, to finish the silver tray pouch, I sewed two ribbon ties at the top, to hold the flap down.  The ribbon is just basic ribbon, you may use any color.  Make sure the ribbon pieces are long enough to tie.  To make the ties secure, you can either double bow them, or, this is a fishing knot trick my husband uses on our son's sneakers, proceed as if you are tying a regular bow, and when you get to the part where you make the bow, instead of pulling the loop through once, wind it around twice before pulling tight.  This stays very securely, and is easily released by pulling (both at once) of the non-bow ends.  Seriously, we use this fishing knot on so many things!!!  Toddler sneakers, baby clothes, silver storage pouches, hair bows...  There you go!  A wonderful, functional silver storage pouch for a tray!

Closure on rectangular dish pouch
Next, let's tackle something a little more challenging.  This dish is 13.5" x 7" x 3" and will need a little more thought in how we measure.  What I want to create is a pouch that is long enough, tall enough, and has enough fabric at the opening to be tied with a ribbon to keep the air out.  Therefore, I cut out a piece that is 36" x 10" to provide enough space.  Then, I sew both sides of the pouch, as we noted before.  I provide only about a 1/4" seam allowance.  Once the seams are sewn, I turn it right side out.  Now, I only need one long piece of ribbon and I sew the center of it to the center of the opening of the pouch on the underside, a few inches in from the edge.  Now, all I need to do to close it is tie it around all of the fabric that makes up the opening of the pouch.  There you go!  Easy and functional!

Rectangular dish pouch
As you can see, these are simple and do-able, and whatever shape or size item you have, you should be able to make a functional and helpful storage pouch for it!  Happy sewing- by hand or by machine!

This item's storage will take some thought!

August 6, 2012

Raspberry Pie

Raspberry Pie
What could be more seasonally stunning than a delicious, comforting raspberry pie?  With homemade flaky crust, brushed with egg white and dusted with sugar, filled with fresh, sweet raspberries...  I see I have your attention!  I was reminded of my love for raspberry pie this past July in Maine, where I ordered it every time I ate dinner at The Lobster Pound in Lincolnville Beach.  They served it with unsweetened whipped cream, which was the perfect accompaniment!  My Grandmother used to make delicious homemade raspberry pies.  I found some vintage pie tins at Rockland Marketplace- an antique mall in Rockland, and while they were just fun to get because they had so much character- they actually appealed to me because of their size.  They are about half the size of a regular deep dish pie dish, the bottom is 5" in diameter and the whole diameter is 8".  They are somewhat shallow, making your pies very petite, modest sized finished products.  And while I love to use my full sized ceramic deep dish pie dish, sometimes it's too much pie!!!!  So anyway, that's why I thought these were cool...  I have a few of my Grandmother's baking pans- one is a bundt pan that has been used so many times I probably don't have to grease it anymore!  Well, it's just fun to have things like this in your kitchen to inspire you, isn't it?

Vintage pie tin
Raspberry Pie
(for a smaller pie dish, measuring 5" across the bottom and 8" across the top)
Filling:
2 cups fresh raspberries, rinsed
1/4 cup plus 1 Tbsp sugar
1 oz lemon juice, freshly squeezed
zest of 1/4 of a lemon
2 tsp arrowroot powder (a thickening agent)
pinch sea salt

To finish the pie:
1 egg white, slightly beaten with a fork
sugar (to dust the top of the pie)

For the pie crust, you will need a half portion of the pie crust found in the Amazing Apple Pie post (and yes, it IS amazing :)  almost time to make it with the fall coming!)  Please go to this post to find that recipe: http://ladolceduchessa.blogspot.com/2010/11/amazing-apple-pie.html  What I'd recommend is that you just go ahead and make the whole portion of the pie dough, and just reserve half of it in your freezer for future pie making!  Or, make a full sized pie and in that case, just double the filling recipe for the raspberries (above).  Either way, there is pie, and therefore EVERYONE wins, yes?

Pie dough 'coarse meal'
Here's a little glamour shot of the pie dough being made in a food processor (how much do I love my food processor for making pastry dough, it is easy-peasy, I tell you), this is the step where we talk about it looking like coarse meal- after you've started to add the butter and shortening but before the ice water.  Some thoughts on the ice water step- the amount depends on a lot of things, and the amount in this recipe I'd say you should start out with using about half that, and if you have to use the full amount, do, but you may not need it.  It will depend partially on the temperature of your butter and shortening.  Some further thoughts on shortening- don't use butter flavored.  I have used both plain and butter in frosting and the butter artificial flavor is not something desirable.  Anyhow, there is plenty of butter in this pie crust recipe, so you won't be without the fine flavor of butter.

Moving on!  In a bowl, combine the raspberry filling.  What is arrowroot powder you might ask?  It's a thickening agent, the same way cornstarch or something similar works.  It's pretty flavorless and texture-less, though, so it's good to use in things that are sort of one star ingredient items, like hot chocolate, for example (yes, use it in that, too, and you won't need to use as much heavy cream to get a nice thick result).  You'll be able to find it in the spice section of supermarkets that have a good selection.  It shouldn't be hard to find.

Remove your pie dough from the refrigerator- half of the recipe if you're using a smaller pie dish like mine.  Reserve the other half for your next pie masterpiece.  Using a floured work surface, like a cutting board or a nice clean counter, after it's had a few minutes to get a tad warmer, you'll want to roll it out.  Now, if you're doing the smaller pie, immediately separate the dough into 2 halves again, and put one of them back in the refrigerator.  If you're doing the full sized pie, proceed with the full half.  Using a rolling pin and plenty of flour, roll out the dough until it's about 1/4" to 1/3" thick.  It will be kind of crumbly a little bit, that's the nature of this type of dough.  However, if it's moist and sticky, it's gotten too warm and needs to be chilled again.  Once it's sticky, you can't really salvage it.  So, if that's the case, pop it back into the fridge or the freezer until it's harder and not sticky.  Flour it like crazy, too!

Creating the pie shell
Once you've gotten your dough nice and rolled out, go ahead and preheat your oven to 475.  Take your pie dish and butter it, or spray it with Pam.  Then, using your rolling pin- and you'll probably recall I like a French rolling pin, the kind without handles, just graduated tapered sides, you get more surface area this way, roll the dough around it (using flour along the way), and then unroll it over the pan.  You'll at first have it be somewhat straight across, then, the weight of the dough will start to sink to take the shape of the dish.  Help it do this gently, by lifting the outside edges.  Cut away the excess dough and reserve it.  Pour the raspberry filling into the pie and go ahead and place this lovely pie shell into the freezer.

Creating the crust pattern with the tines of a fork
Take the other dough for the top- (either the 1/4 amount for the smaller pie dish or the full other 1/2 for the full sized pie dish) and roll it out using the same technique.  Again, roll the flat, rolled out dough around the rolling pin, and unroll it over the top of the pie.  It will also begin to sink a little and shape itself to the filling and dish.  Cut the excess away at the outer edge.  To create the pretty, pressed edge of the pie crust, just use the tines of a fork.  You can just do it straight and traditional, or you can get creative and either do it at an angle, or alternate angles, or even do a cross hatch pattern, do whatever you want, it's your pie!

Decorating your pie, this uses a pig cookie cutter
Ok, you will need to cut four pretty long slits in the pie crust.  Now- raspberries and a lot of other fruit have high moisture content and you need the slits to let enough of the moisture evaporate.  The slits and the arrowroot powder are both attempting to get you an end result that is not too liquid-y but still nice and moist.  You may use the extra dough to decorate your pie- use cookie cutters or anything you like- on this pie I used just one little cut out of a piggy and put it in the center.  You could do something like that over the whole top of the pie, or just on the crust (like leaves for a crust), or anything else you can think of.

Protecting your crust with foil
To finish your beautiful pie, brush with slightly beaten egg white and then sprinkle with sugar.  I also like to sometimes protect the crust of my pies with tinfoil.  Just tear the foil so it's in about 4" wide strips, and just mold around the outer edge of the pie.  This prevents it from getting too brown.  Now, we're about to put this beauty in the oven, place it on a baking sheet, make sure your rack is pretty low in the oven (I use second to the lowest position) and reduce your heat to 425.  Bake for 15 minutes.  After 15 minutes, reduce the heat to 375, turn the pie 180 degrees, and bake for an additional 20 minutes.  After 20 minutes at 375, remove the foil.  Bake another 25 minutes.  Remove from the oven and the baking sheet (carefully!  don't want to damage the crust!)  Allow to cool for at least 4 hours before serving or refrigerating.

I once went to a Shaker art exhibit and was really enthralled by an item called a 'pie safe,' it was a box made with a wooden frame and screen sides, and it could hold 4 pies and there were little doors to get the pies in and out.  It hung from the ceiling.  I loved it :)  I totally want a pie safe :)

Enjoy this pie by itself, or with unsweetened whipped cream, or slightly warmed in the microwave (this is what my husband likes to do, and I'm reminded that one of his relatives once told me, 'I like two types of pie, hot and cold!' love that, me too!) or, as my Dad likes it, with a small piece of sharp cheddar cheese.  However you like to eat it, you'll love this fresh berry pie to hang on to summer!