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Southern Pies by Nancie McDermott — Review

Note from Chef Gwen: Just in time for pie-baking season (who am I kidding…every season is pie-baking season) Linda Avery returns with a review of the new Southern Pies cookbook, from the same author of Southern Cakes.

Southern Pies: A Gracious Plenty of Pie Recipes from Lemon Chess to Chocolate Pecan

by Nancie McDermott

photos by Leigh Beisch

Facts: Chronicle, 168 pages, $22.95 (or Amazon at $15.61)
Photos: 26 photos
Recipes: 69
Give to: Southern Belles, baker friends, pie lovers

Reviewed by Linda Avery:

After conquering the world of pastas and noodles, curries and mu shu, Nancie McDermott turned to sweets. Nancie authored seven or eight books on the cuisines of Asia, so I was surprised when, in 2007, she came out with Southern Cakes: Sweet and Irresistible Recipes for Everyday Celebrations.

There was no surprised in the quality – or the high YUM factor – of those cakes. I specifically remember Cornelia Walker Bailey’s Pear Bread, a versatile, spice-infused batter that turned out tea breads when made in loaf pans or presented as a cake when made in a Bundt pan.

And I wasn’t surprised to see another Bailey recipe in McDermott’s new book Southern Pies: A Gracious Plenty of Pie Recipes from Lemon Chess to Chocolate Pecan. This time, Bailey’s recipe is Sapelo Island Pear Pie – that lady loved the pears from Sapelo Island, Georgia.

McDermott’s recipes are user friendly; she’s okay with store-bought pastry. Her research is evident and her headnotes span mini-biographies to historical accounts to Southern travelogue – all of which are intriguing.

The book has a concise glossary for those who don’t know what a sonker is (the abbreviated definition is a deep dish cobbler with ties to Surry County, North Carolina) as well as a listing of sources for authentic Southern ingredients (mostly located below the Mason-Dixon line).

I wrote to Nancie when I was having a difficult time narrowing which pie to make – too many temptations, diverse flavors (should I make the Vinegar Pie just because I’d never heard of it?). Perhaps it should be the sweet potato pie, based solely on the time of year? McDermott wrote:

“I came across Dr. Carver’s recipe several years back, during my research for “Southern Cakes.”. I was looking for Southern cakes using peanuts and was delighted to find that Dr. Carver’s writings included recipes using peanuts and sweet potatoes to use in the kitchen. Sweet potato pie is one of my favorites — if I’d had room for it in the book, I would have given sweet potato pies their very own chapter.

I love this particular pie because Dr. Carver calls for slicing par-boiled sweet potatoes lengthwise and layering them into the piecrust, rather than mashing them up into a custard. He also cuts loose with the spices, calling for allspice, cloves, ginger and nutmeg, and includes molasses and cream, all giving this pie an antique aspect that makes me feel like I’m flipping the calendar backwards and carrying on good kitchen customs that got left behind over time.

Even by old-time standards, this pie takes more effort than such everyday pies as egg custard, buttermilk and chess pies, and more than even peach or apple pies, using uncooked fruit piled up in a heap. But there’s a time to take a little time in the kitchen, and as Leigh Beisch’s gorgeously understated photograph conveys, this one is a beauty and a keeper.”

So take the time, enjoy the process and share with friends and family.

— Linda Avery


photo © Leigh Beisch



From Southern Pies: A Gracious Pleanty of Pie Recipes from Lemon Chess to Chocolate Pecan

Dr. George Washington Carver’s Sliced Sweet Potato Pie

Makes one 9-inch pie

When Dr. George Washington Carver wrote his Agricultural Bulletin #38 in 1936, his goal was to provide African American farmers with much more than just guidance for raising sweet potatoes as a cash crop and food source.

Already in his seventies, and more than four decades into his work as a research chemist, botanist, educator, and author, he tirelessly presented practical, focused information on agriculture, nutrition, and business practices, so that his readers could choose crops that might bring them financial benefits as well as nutritional ones.

His bulletins began with notes on agricultural varieties and how to plant them with success, then moved on to dozens of recipes, including several for sweet potato pies. This one is my favorite.

Carver liked spices as much as I do, but if you don’t have all these in your pantry, you can simply season your pie with cinnamon, or a combination of your choosing. You could prepare this in advance by cooking the sweet potatoes and slicing them in one session, and then assembling and baking the pie the next day.

Pastry for a 9-inch double-crust pie (store-bought or recipe below)

4 medium sweet potatoes (about 3 pounds)
1/4 cups sugar
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
2 tablespoons cream, evaporated milk, or half-and-half
1/3 cup molasses, sorghum, pure cane syrup, or honey
1/2 cup hot water, reserved from the sweet potatoes* cooking liquid
3 tablespoons cold butter, chopped into small bits

1. Line a 9-inch deep-dish pie pan with dough, draping it over the edge of the pie pan with a 1 1/2-inch border of pastry extending beyond the rim. Refrigerate until needed.

2. Place the whole, unpeeled sweet potatoes in a large pot with water to cover by 2 inches. Bring to a rolling boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to maintain a gentle boil, and cook until the sweet potatoes are tender enough to be sliced, but not so tender that they fall apart. Depending on their size and shape, this should take between 15 and 30 minutes. Remove any smaller sweet potatoes as they reach the right texture and let larger ones cook until they reach the correct texture.

3. While the sweet potatoes are cooking, prepare the seasonings. In a small bowl, combine the sugar, flour, allspice, ginger, nutmeg, and cloves. Stir with a fork to mix them together well.

4. In a medium bowl or a heatproof measuring cup, combine the cream and molasses. When the sweet potatoes are cooked, measure out 1/2 cup of their cooking water. Add this to the molasses and cream and stir to mix these liquids well.

5. Drain the sweet potatoes and set them out on a platter to cool enough to be handled. Peel and trim the sweet potatoes. Slice them lengthwise into slabs about 1/4 inch thick (see Note). You will need about 4 cups; enough slices to generously fill the piecrust.

6. Heat the oven to 350°F. Roll out the top crust to about 11 inches in diameter.

Have the spice mixture, molasses mixture, and butter all ready. Place two layers of sweet potato slices in the bottom of the piecrust. Sprinkle about one third of the spice mixture over this first layer. Add another two layers of sweet potato slices, another third of the spice mixture, and finish up with a final two layers of sweet potato slices, filling the piecrust almost to the very top. Add a few slices of sweet potatoes to the center, to build it up a little higher. Sprinkle all the remaining spices over this third layer.

7. Pour the molasses mixture evenly over the filling (you may have extra, just use what you need), and place the bits of cold butter around the top of the pie. Cover the pie with the top crust. Fold the edges of the bottom crust up and over the top crust and press to seal them together well. Using the tines of a fork, work your way around the piecrust, pressing to make a handsome parallel design on the crust as you seal it. Use a sharp knife to cut eight slits in the top of the pie, so that steam can escape and the filling can bubble up through the crust.

8. Place the pie on a baking sheet on the center rack of the oven. Bake until the crust is nicely brown, the filling is bubbling, and the sweet potatoes are tender all the way through, 45 to 55 minutes.

9. Place the pie on a cooling rack or a folded kitchen towel and let cool to room temperature.

Note: You’ll slice the sweet potatoes lengthwise into “planks,” not crosswise into rounds.

Sandra Gutierrez’s Butter Piecrust

Makes two 9-inch single piecrusts or one 9-inch double pie crust

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup very cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
4 to 6 tablespoons ice water
1 teaspoon white vinegar

1. In the work bowl of a food processor fitted with a metal blade, combine the flour and salt; pulse for 10 seconds. Add the butter cubes and pulse until the mixture resembles coarse sand with some small lumps, 30 to 40 seconds.

2. Add 3 tablespoons of the ice water and the vinegar and pulse 5 to 7 times, until the dough just barely holds together in the work bowl. Add another tablespoon or two of ice water if needed just to bring the ingredients together. Turn it out onto plastic wrap and pat the dough into two separate disks; refrigerate them for a least 1 hour. Set one or two disks out at room temperature for 10 minutes before rolling.

3. Roll out one of the dough disks on a lightly floured surface, to a circle about 1/8 inch thick and 10 inches wide. Carefully transfer it into a 9-inch pie plate. Press the dough gently into the pan and trim away any excess dough, leaving about 1/2 inch beyond the edge of the pie pan. Fold the edges up and over, and then crimp the edges decoratively. Or press the back of a fork into the pastry rim, working around the pie to make a flat edge marked with the tines of the fork. If not filling the crust soon, refrigerate it until needed.

4. To make the crust in advance, wrap it well in plastic and refrigerate it for up to 3 days, or freeze it for up to 2 months.

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Steak with Friends: At Home with Rick Tramonto – Review

Note from Chef Gwen: Linda Avery ponders “chef ink” before diving into the newest cookbook from celebrated Chicago Chef Rick Tramanto. Read on, and then head to the kitchen to make the “to-live-for” melon & tomato gazpacho with grilled shrimp.

Linda Avery Reviews Steak with FriendsSteak with Friends:
At Home with Rick Tramonto

By Rick Tramonto with Mary Goodbody

photos by Ben Fink

Facts: Andrews McMeel Publishing, LLC, 290 pages, $35.00 (or Amazon at $23.10)

Photos: 240 photos plus illustrations

Recipes: 150

Give to: Meat lovers, Rick Tramanto fans, budding chefs, that friend who throws dinner parties

Reviewed by Linda Avery:

What is it with chefs and artwork? Not what they hang on the walls of their restaurants but body art.

Have you noticed? Some of the most colorful, creative art now graces the limbs of star chefs.

Is it a necessary outlet for all of those overflowing creative juices? (The subject didn’t escape Melissa Lavrinc Smith, who actually wrote a book that targets the constantly growing group of “Inked Rogue Chefs).

Rick Tramonto’s latest cookbook Steak with Friends: At Home with Rick Tramonto has a lovely cover photo of his family in their home with an array of food spread before them. But, your eyes immediately go to the words Chef and Faith written in a medieval script on the chef’s forearms.

(Yes, I’ll review the book in a minute but bear with me; it’s fascinating and gives insight to this James Beard Award winning chef).

Tramonto has 24 tattoos, those on the left side of his body are about his faith, and those decorating his right side are about cooking.

He likens the restaurant kitchen to the military i.e. strict and regimented: this is a release. Beside that he likes the art.

Last summer, I attended the 10-year anniversary celebration of his restaurant Tru (from which he recently departed). His wife Eileen was at our table and we had had a brief chat about tattoos, so when he stopped by the table she had him rolled up his pant legs to show off the new knife images which took a couple years to finish. Wow – ‘nuf said.

Okay, now the book! And it is a fine one with far more than steak recipes and while instructive, it’s not a how-to-grill book. Tramonto chose steak as the centerpiece because it’s a hallmark of Chicago and it represents an indulgence.

He wants you to know how to cook it perfectly to your taste because “if you overcook it, there’s no going back.” The grilled steak section includes numerous cuts with tomahawk (aka Cowboy cut – a bone-on ribeye), flatiron, skirt and hanger among the lot, and then he moves to classics like Steak Diane, Beef Wellington, and Filet Oscar.

There are 150 recipes and the variety beyond beef is superb (fewer than 30 recipes are actually “steak”) including Peekytoe crab salad, cioppino, garlic sausage, lemongrass duck, even the ubiquitous mac & cheese.

Desserts like Killer Chocolate Pudding and Key Lime Brûlées are mouthwatering. The headnotes are charming, informative, and insightful and you’ll find the sidebars and tips useful. Don’t overlook the Sources section to learn where the pros buy when local isn’t available.

Not to be outdone by fellow Chicagoan Rick Bayless’ inclusion of music, Tramonto recommends Aerosmith, U2, The Rolling Stone, The Beatles and Santana for high energy when grilling up steaks.

Since farmer’s markets are brimming with tomatoes and melons, I decided to try this fabulous gazpacho. Although Tramonto calls it a perfect little appetizer, I think of it as a light dinner or great summer lunch.

Pen and Fork Review Steak with Friends

photo © Ben Fink

From Steak with Friends: At Home with Rick Tramanto

Melon and Tomato Gazpacho with Grilled Shrimp

Serves 4

I must have made a hundred different gazpachos during my career and never tire of the fresh, uncooked vegetable soup. When I decided to make a version I knew everyone in the household would like, I turned to perfectly ripe melons and tomatoes for the basis of the soup and then garnished it with grilled shrimp. What a perfect little appetizer before a grilled chicken or steak dinner!

1 pound medium shrimp, deveined with shells on (20 to 25 shrimp)
Extra-virgin olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 ripe heirloom or other tomatoes, seeded and cut into large cubes
2 ripe red beefsteak tomatoes or 4 yellow tomatoes, cut into large cubes
2 ripe yellow beefsteak tomatoes, cut Into large cubes
2 cucumbers, peeled, seeded, and cut into large cubes
1 small red onion, diced
1 rib celery, chopped
1/2 ripe cantaloupe, seeds removed, flesh scooped from rind and diced
1/2 ripe honeydew melon, seeds removed, flesh scooped from rind and diced
1 teaspoon minced jalapeno pepper
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1 tablespoon sherry vinegar
2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives, divided
Pinch of smoked paprika
1 red tomato, finely diced, for garnish
1 yellow tomato, finely diced, for garnish

1. Prepare a clean, well-oiled charcoal or gas grill so that the coals or heating element are at medium-high heat. Alternatively, you can use a stovetop grill. Soak 4 bamboo skewers in cool tap water for about 20 minutes. This will prevent them from charring.

2. In a mixing bowl, toss the shrimp with enough oil to coat lightly. Season with salt and pepper. Thread the shrimp equally on the skewers. Grill, turning once, for 2 to 3 minutes total, until the shrimp turn pink and are cooked through. Remove 4 shrimp from the skewers and set all the shrimp aside to cool.

3. In the bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade, mix the 3 types of cubed tomatoes with the cucumbers, onion, celery, cantaloupe and honeydew melons, and jalapeno and pulse until nearly smooth but with some chunks remaining.

4. Transfer the soup to a bowl and add the lemon juice and vinegar. Stir in 1 tablespoon of the chives and the paprika and stir well. Season to taste with salt and pepper and a little sugar, if needed. Cover the bowl and refrigerate for at least 1 hour or until well chilled.

5. Ladle the soup into chilled bowls. Chop the 4 reserved shrimp and sprinkle over the top of each bowl. Garnish each bowl with the diced red and yellow tomatoes, remaining 1 tablespoon chives, and a drizzle of olive oil. Serve, with a full skewer of shrimp next to or balanced on top of each bowl.

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Fiesta at Rick’s – Cookbook Review

Note from Chef Gwen: Linda Avery takes us for a spin through the newest cookbook from Rick Bayless. Read on, and then head to the kitchen to make the scrumptious chocolate pecan pie bars.

Fiesta At Rick’s:

Fabulous Food for Great Times with Friends

by Rick Bayless with Deann Groen Bayless

Facts: W.W. Norton, 350 pages, $35.00 (or Amazon at $21.95)

Photos: Over 140 pics of food, people, settings, fun

Recipes: 150

Give to: Rick Bayless fans, Mexican food lovers, a host in need of a party planner

Reviewed by Linda Avery:

Top Chef Master Rick Bayless has added another cookbook to his arsenal, Fiesta At Rick’s: Fabulous Food for Great Times with Friends – just released July 5th. This is a how-to guide for the best Mexican party you’d ever want to throw.

Don’t know where to start?  Bayless suggests themes like a pozole party or a mole fiesta. He lays out “game plans” which begin about a week ahead of your party, and timelines (to make sure your plantains are perfectly ripened).

There is no disputing the fact that Rick Bayless brought Mexican food to a new level across the country over the past few decades. He has a talent for ramping up flavors with exquisite balance. I must say that this book is akin to having a Vulcan mind meld with him. He tells all.

Even the most accomplished host could pick up a pointer from the serving strategies. Decide your number of guests and choose from eight mouthwatering guacamoles like Tomato and Bacon, Mango or Toasted Pumpkin Seed (one of his suggested parties happens to be a Luxury Guacamole Bar Cocktail Party for 12).

If you don’t want to hire mariachis who might steal your show, you can rely on the playlists included for consideration – think Tito Puente, Bebel Gilberto, Lila Downs, and Buena Vista Social Club among others. And, he peppers the book with how-to guides for everything from “How to Have a Tequila Tasting” to “How to Build a Temporary Brick Fire Pit (Hornillo).”

And then there’s the food. In the words of the author “while there are dishes in this new book that don’t require a lot of time to make, a good number of them do involve forethought or dedication.”

If that’s intimidating, recruit a friend or two and cook together (probably best to have wine while cooking and save the tequila for prime time).

I don’t allow myself Mexican food very often because that “everything in moderation” rule flies out the window. This was an opportunity to let ‘er rip. Until now, flan was my go-to Mexican dessert recipe so I knew exactly what I wanted to test from this book: the chocolate pecan pie bars.

The golden rule of testing is to follow the recipe exactly, i.e., no substitutions, no halfsies. The result: this is a 5-star additively rich, delicious dessert and it is HUGE. Don’t hesitate to cut this recipe in half – I hope it freezes well.

Photo © by Paul Elledge

From Fiesta At Rick’s: Fabulous Food for Great Times with Friends by Rick Bayless

Frontera Grill’s Chocolate Pecan Pie Bars

Makes thirty-two 2-inch bars

This recipe is a bar version of the Chocolate Pecan Pie that’s been the sig­nature dessert at Frontera Grill for well over two decades. We’ve replaced that flaky crust with a sweet-salty-buttery pretzel crust that I think is perfect for these luscious bars. Come to think of it, with these bars being so gooey-rich you may want to cut the squares crosswise into triangles, so people can enjoy just a biteful at a time.

9 ounces (about 2 cups) pecan halves
One 9-ounce bag pretzel rods
1 pound (4 sticks) unsalted butter, plus extra for buttering the pan
1/2 cup granulated sugar
8 ounces semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, chopped into pieces not larger than 1/4 inch
3/4 cup (about 4 1/2 ounces) finely chopped Mexican chocolate (such as the widely available Ibarra brand)
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
6 large eggs
1 1/2 cups firmly packed dark brown sugar
1 1/2 cups corn syrup, preferably dark (or use a mixture of corn syrup and molasses, sorghum, Steen’s cane syrup or most any of the other rich-flavored syrups)
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract, preferably Mexican vanilla
Powdered sugar, for garnish

1. Toast the pecans and prepare the crumb crust. In a 325° oven, toast the pecans on a rimmed baking sheet until noticeably darker and toasty smelling, about 10 minutes. Let the pecans cool to lukewarm (but keep the oven heated), then coarsely chop them by hand — 1/4to 1/2-inch pieces make luxurious-looking bars. Scrape into a large bowl.

2. Use a food processor to chop the pretzels into fairly fine crumbs. (You should have 2 cups of crumbs.) In a small saucepan over medium heat or in a microwave at 50% power, melt 2 sticks of the butter. Scrape into the processor, along with the 1/2 cup granulated sugar. Pulse until everything is combined.

3. Butter the bottoms and sides of two 8 x 8-inch baking pans. Cut a piece of parchment to fit the bottom of each pan, then press firmly in place. Butter the parchment paper. Divide the crumb mixture between the two pans and pat into an even layer covering the bottom completely.

4. Make the filling. To the pecans, add the two chocolates and the flour. Stir to combine, then divide evenly between the two pans. In the small saucepan or microwave at 50% power, melt the remaining 2 sticks of the butter. In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine the eggs, brown sugar, corn syrup or corn syrup mixture and vanilla, and beat at medium-low speed (if your mixer has a choice, use the flat beater). Slowly add the melted butter, mixing until the batter looks smooth. Divide the batter between the two pans, pouring it slowly and evenly over the surface to ensure even distribution of the chocolate and pecans through the batter.

5. Bake, cool and serve the bars. Slide the pans into the oven and bake for 45 to 55 minutes, until the center is almost firm. Let cool to room temperature. Cover and refrigerate until firm for easy cutting. Use a small knife to loosen the sides, then turn out. Cut into 2-inch squares. Keep your Chocolate Pecan Pie Bars stored in the refrigerator until just before serving. Transfer to a serving platter, dust with powdered sugar, carry to your guests and await the moans of pleasure.

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The SoNo Baking Company Cookbook – Review

Note from Chef Gwen: Linda Avery’s back with another review. And all of a sudden, I’m adding another book to my wish list.

The SoNo Baking Company Cookbook:

The Best Sweet and Savory Recipes for Every Occasion

by John Barricelli

Facts: Clarkson Potter, 288 pages, $35.00 (or Amazon at $19.95)

Photos: Over 90 as only Ben Fink can shoot

Recipes: 125 not counting variations

Give to: A new homeowner as a housewarming gift (bake something from the book to accompany the gift) or as a shower gift for the bride or groom.

Reviewed by Linda Avery:

Acronyms abound! NOMI… TRIBECA… SOBE… and the great grandfather SOHO are just some of the “geographic” abbreviations we’ve come to recognize.

(I have to interject here that one of the most curious t-shirts I’ve seen read “Ride the SLUT”. Hmmmm… Turns out that one of Seattle’s streetcars was named South Lake Union Trolley – it has since been changed to South Lake Union Streetcar but the acronym stuck.)

SoNo of The SoNo Baking Company Cookbook by John Barricelli is short for South Norwalk, the town in Connecticut where he opened his bakery in 2005. He is a third generation baker with experience at River Café, Le Bernardin, and the Four Seasons Restaurant. He is now a regular on Martha Stewart Living and hosts Everyday Baking on PBS.

I’d give his book four stars. Flipping through the pages of sweet and savory items, it was easy to envision an old fashioned bakery where the aromas melt together… morning smells of bread, coffeecakes and scones, then transitioning to the aromatics of focaccia, quiche and tarts. Remarkably, his recipes are written for the home baker – nary an intimidating one.

Maybe it’s my left-brain approach to life but I like it when the steps are numbered. He includes some variations on recipes and some technique tips like “blueberries in this are tossed with flour to keep them from sinking to the bottom” (that one never really worked for me but some people live by it.)

I had a difficult time choosing recipes to test. Choosing a recipe should be about more than the appeal of the photograph, but when Ben Fink is the photographer, it’s difficult to not be swayed. Plus, having a goal to shoot for – i.e., can I make this look as appealing? – is a nice thing.

When summer fruits are abundant, this book will have plenty of sticky splashes on the pages, but for now, I was able to talk my husband – Mr. Cereal & Bananas – out of a couple bananas to make Banana Streusel Muffins. Wow! Wow tender and wow tasty. Next I had to make Apple Spice Cake with Brown Sugar Frosting. I hesitated when the direction plainly stated that the buttercream “mixture will break but become smooth again as you continue to beat.” Oh, me of little faith – but it worked.

Watch this MSNBC.com clip showing the affable Barricelli making Blueberry Nectarine Buckle with Al Roker, and at the end, there’s a money shot of the gorgeous SONO cheesecake.

Photo © 2009 Ben Fink

From The SoNo Baking Company Cookbook by John Barricelli

Apple Spice Cake with Brown Sugar Frosting

We put this dense, moist spice cake on our menu at SoNo Baking Company in late August, when local Connecticut apples are just starting to come into season. It’s an ideal choice to bring to a picnic or potluck meal, as it can easily be transported in its pan. Here the cake is frosted with a brown sugar buttercream frosting. For more intense flavor, you can use dark brown sugar, rather than light brown as written here. This cake can also be removed from the pan and then iced on the top and sides with the buttercream, and decorated with Apple Chips.

Makes one 8-inch square cake; 16 servings


For the apple cake

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon coarse salt
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg
1/3 cups light brown sugar
1 cup vegetable oil
2 large eggs, at room temperature
2 cups grated peeled and cored apples (from any red baking apple, such as Cortland or Rome), about 1 pound
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
2/3 cup toasted walnuts, chopped (optional)

For the buttercream

2 large egg whites
1/2 cup light brown sugar
Pinch of coarse salt
3/4 cup unsalted butter, firm but not chilled, cut into cubes
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1. Set the oven rack in the middle position. Preheat the oven to 350°F (175°C). Spray an 8-inch square cake pan with nonstick cooking spray. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a nonstick silicone baking mat.

2. To make the cake: In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg; set aside.

3. In a large bowl, whisk together the brown sugar, oil, eggs, grated apples, and vanilla. Add the dry ingredients and fold with a rubber spatula until the flour has been absorbed. Fold in the walnuts, if using.

4. Pour the batter into the prepared cake pan. Bake on the prepared baking sheet, rotating the sheet about two-thirds of the way through the baking time, until a tester inserted into the center of the cake comes out with just a few crumbs adhering to the bottom, 50 to 55 minutes. Let cool completely in the pan on a wire rack.

5. To make the buttercream: Bring 1 inch of water to a boil in the bottom of a double boiler. In the top of the double boiler, whisk the egg whites with the brown sugar and the salt over (not in) the simmering water until warm to the touch, 1 to 2 minutes. (Be careful to not let the bottom of the top of the double boiler touch the water.) Transfer to the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the whisk attachment and beat until stiff peaks form. With the machine running, gradually beat in the butter, piece by piece. By the time all the butter is added, the mixture will break, but it will become smooth again as you continue to beat. Beat in the vanilla.

6. Spread the buttercream over the top of the cake. Cut into squares.

Bonus recipe:

Banana Streusel Muffins

Makes 12 muffins


For the streusel

1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon coarse salt
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 cup cold unsalted butter, cut into small cubes

For the muffins

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons coarse salt
2 large eggs, at room temperature
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
2 very ripe bananas
1/2 cup buttermilk, sour cream, or whole-milk yogurt
1 1/2 cups whole walnuts, chopped (optional)

1. To make the streusel topping: In a medium bowl, use a fork to stir together the flour, brown sugar, salt, and cinnamon. Add the cubes of butter, and using your fingertips, work it into the dry ingredients until pea-size crumbs form; set aside in the refrigerator.

2.Set the oven rack in the middle position. Preheat the oven to 375°F (190°C). Spray a standard 12-cup muffin pan with nonstick cooking spray, or generously butter with softened butter; set aside.

3. To make the muffins: In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and baking soda; set aside.

4. In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter, sugar, and salt on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, 2 to 3 minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl halfway through. Add the eggs one at a time, beating after each addition. Then add in and beat the vanilla and the bananas.

5. With the mixer on low speed, add the dry ingredients, beating until the flour is absorbed. Beat in the buttermilk. Fold in the walnuts, if using.

6. Use a 2-inch (1/4 cup) ice cream scoop to divide the batter evenly among the prepared muffin cups. Sprinkle the streusel topping over the muffins, pressing some of the mixture into pea-size clumps with your fingertips, for added texture.

7. Bake, rotating the pan about two-thirds of the way through the baking time, until the tops of the muffins spring back when touched and a cake tester inserted in the center of a muffin comes out clean, 18 to 22 minutes.

8. Transfer the pan to a wire rack to cool for 10 minutes. Use a small offset spatula or a table knife to gently lift and turn the muffins on their sides in the muffin cups. Let cool completely in the pan.

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Thirty Minute Pasta: 100 Quick and Easy Recipes – Cookbook Review

Note from Chef Gwen: The multi-talented Linda Avery delivers another solid cookbook review for Pen & Fork. I have Giuliano Hazan’s The Classic Pasta Cookbook on my shelf, and just ordered this one.

Thirty Minute Pasta: 100 Quick and Easy Recipes

by Giuliano Hazan

Facts: Stewart, Tabori & Chang, 2009, hardcover, 176 pages, $27.50 (or Amazon at $18.15)

Photos: About one out of four recipes have finished dish photos

Recipes: 100

Give to: Busy people who aren’t worried about carbs, Italophiles and beginning cooks (Hazan is an award-winning teacher)

Reviewed by Linda Avery:

Pete Wells, New York Times Dining Editor, writes a column in the Sunday NYT magazine section, usually sharing cooking adventures with his five year-old son Dexter.

Dexter is amazingly curious about food and inventive. It’s charming, real, and along with Dexter, I usually learn something.

In an article titled The Boiling Point (December, 2009) Wells quotes from Edouard de Pomiane’s (1875-1964) French Cooking in Ten Minutes: Adapting to the Rhythm of Modern Life

“The first thing you must do when you get home before you take off your coat is go to the kitchen and light the stove. . . . “Next, fill a pot large enough to hold a quart of water. Put it on the fire, cover it and bring it to a boil. What’s the water for? I don’t know, but it’s bound to be good for something, whether in preparing your meal or just making coffee.”

I found it curious because I never gave thought to anyone needing a time-saver in the 1930’s.

But the reference immediately came to mind when I saw Giuliano Hazan’s Thirty Minute Pasta book.

Why? Because each recipe begins with “fill a pot for the pasta with about 6 quarts of water, place over high heat…”

Hazan is the consummate educator. In 2007, he was named Cooking Teacher of the Year by the International Association of Culinary Professionals, and is the author of four cookbooks (not to mention he is the son of prolific Italian cookbook author, TV cooking teacher Marcella Hazan).

Considering Giuliano Hazan’s educational background, it’s not surprising his newest book opens with a glossary of pastas, giving a translation of the name (cavatappi means corkscrew) and suggesting the type of sauce it is best suited for (“their twisted shape wraps itself around chunky vegetable sauces.”)

I patted myself on the back a couple pages later when a quick inventory showed I had everything he suggested for a pasta pantry. Maybe you do, too.

His recipes include soups with pasta, seafood, vegetarian and meat pasta dishes, but unfortunately no pasta salads (does standing in front of the refrigerator’s door eating leftover pasta qualify as a salad?)

I decided to test the Fettucine with a Savory Veal Sauce for a couple reasons. I couldn’t imagine a savory veal sauce being ready in 30 minutes, and, I’ve never seen green olives incorporated into pasta – it may be a Sicilian practice but my nonna is rolling in her grave watching me do this. (My family came from Le Marche on the Adriatic coast).

The tasty recipe came together in the allotted time. I used a quality Italian brand of canned plum tomatoes since I didn’t have great fresh tomatoes.

The green olives are key – they add the necessary kick and balance to the recipe since there is no addition of cheese.

Photo copyright by Joseph DiLeo

From Thirty Minute Pasta: 100 Quick and Easy Recipes by Giuliano Hazan

Fettuccine with a Savory Veal Sauce

Fettuccine al Sugo di Vitello Saporito

Veal is quite mild and goes very well with green olives, which give it a little kick. I usually cook veal with butter, but olive oil is better suited to olives, so I make this sauce with olive oil but add a little butter at the end when I toss it with the pasta. Half a bouillon cube adds depth of flavor.

Serves 4

1/2 medium yellow onion
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 pound fresh tomatoes
3/4 pound ground veal
Freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup dry white wine
1/2 large beef bouillon cube
8 large Sicilian-style green olives
10 ounces dried egg fettuccine
1 tablespoon butter

1. Fill a pot for the pasta with about 6 quarts of water, place over high heat, and bring to a boil.

2. Peel the onion and finely chop it. Put the olive oil in a 12-inch skillet, add the chopped onion, and place it over medium heat. Sauté until the onion turns a rich golden color, about 5 minutes.

3. While the onion is sautéing, peel and coarsely chop the tomatoes.

4. When the onion is ready, add the ground veal, season with salt and pepper, and cook, stirring often, until the veal is lightly browned, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the white wine and let it bubble for about 1 minute to evaporate the alcohol. Add the tomatoes and bouillon cube, lower the heat to medium, and continue cooking until most of the liquid the tomatoes release has evaporated, 10 to 12 minutes.

5. While the tomatoes are cooking, slice the flesh of the olives away from the pits and coarsely chop it.

6. When the tomatoes are ready, add about 2 tablespoons salt to the boiling pasta water, add the fettuccine, and stir until all the strands are submerged. Cook until al dente.

7. Add the olives to the sauce and continue cooking over medium heat until the pasta is ready. When the pasta is done, drain well, toss with the sauce and the butter, and serve at once.

Recipe © 2009 by Giuliano Hazan

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My Bread: The Revolutionary No-Work, No-Knead Method — Cookbook Review

Note from Chef Gwen: Introducing Linda Avery’s 1st cookbook review for Pen & Fork. Hope you enjoy & please leave a comment.

My Bread:

The Revolutionary No-Work, No-Knead Method

By Jim Lahey

Facts: W.W. Norton, hardcover, 224 pages, $29.95 (or Amazon at $19.71)

Photos: Lots! Beautiful full color images of the breads and helpful step-by-step technique pages

Recipes: 68, not counting variations

Give to: Those who are especially skeptical of this new-fangled way of making bread or to a neophyte bread maker who needs their confidence pumped up.

Reviewed by Linda Avery

I never was able to strike up a friendship with yeast or at least it wasn’t a friendship I was able to rely on. I thought I was saved when bread machines were introduced way back when, only to have my efforts result in something akin to cannonballs.

Later I found that was due to using well water and switching to bottled water made all the difference. But I wasn’t satisfied with the method—it was cheating.

I re-gifted the machine, studied the science of it all and finally turned out a passing loaf of bread.

Then in 2006, NYT columnist Mark Bittman introduced Jim Lahey’s no knead bread to the world — it was an awesome phenomena; everyone was talking about it. I don’t know why it took Lahey three years to get a cookbook out, but it may have been to insure that his no-knead bread recipes were fool proof.

My Bread is indeed revolutionary. No-knead bread is based on the premise that if you work the dough less, you have to ferment it for a longer period of time so that the structure is as strong as if it were kneaded with a shorter rise period.

Lahey nailed it.

His layman’s approach to explaining the whys and wherefores is refreshing (I didn’t see the word autolyse once) – and, okay, the photos help, too.

Pane Integrale (whole wheat bread) is a great “everyday” bread and while I’ve made that bread a few times, the loaf that I’ll make over and over again to rave reviews is Pane all’Olive; a simple, basic olive bread. (see recipe below.)

I’m not the sort to cook through an entire book but the baguettes (studded with sun-dried tomatoes or olives), ciabatta and focaccia are on my to-do list.

If you start with this olive bread, you’ll be hooked. Because the rising time is so long, I let my dough rise in a cold oven just so that it’s off the counter.

Word of caution: put a Post-it on the oven door so that you don’t accidentally fire it up for something else and ruin your work-in-process.

Photo © 2009 Squire Fox

Photo © 2009 Squire Fox

From My Bread: The Revolutionary No-Work, No-Knead Method by Jim Lahey

Pane all’Olive │ Olive Bread

When I first opened Sullivan Street, with Roman baking in mind, this slightly pungent olive loaf immediately became my signature bread. As a result of the brine the olives release during baking, this recipe calls for no salt.

Yield: One 10-inch round loaf; 1 1/2 pounds

3 cups (400 grams) bread flour

About 1 1/2 cups (200 grams) roughly chopped pitted olives

3/4 teaspoon (3 grams) instant or other active dry yeast

1 1/2 cups (300 grams) cool (55 to 65°F) water

Wheat bran, cornmeal, or additional flour for dusting

1. In a medium bowl, stir together the flour, olives, and yeast. Add the water and, using a wooden spoon or your hand, mix until you have a wet, sticky dough, about 30 seconds. Cover the bowl and let sit at room temperature until the surface is dotted with bubbles and the dough is more than doubled in size, 12 to 18 hours.

2. When the first rise is complete, generously dust a work surface with flour. Use a bowl scraper or rubber spatula to scrape the dough out of the bowl in one piece. Using lightly floured hands or a bowl scraper or spatula, lift the edges of the dough in toward the center. Nudge and tuck in the edges of the dough to make it round.

3. Place a tea towel on your work surface and generously dust it with wheat bran, cornmeal, or flour. Gently place the dough on the towel, seam side down. If the dough is tacky, dust the top lightly with wheat bran, cornmeal, or flour. Fold the ends of the tea towel loosely over the dough to cover it and place it in a warm, draft-free spot to rise for 1 to 2 hours. The dough is ready when it is almost doubled. If you gently poke it with your finger, it should hold the impression. If it springs back, let it rise for another 15 minutes.

4. Half an hour before the end of the second rise, preheat the oven to 475°F (245°C), with a rack in the lower third, and place a covered 4 1/2 – to 5 1/2 -quart heavy pot in the center of the rack.

5. Using pot holders, carefully remove the preheated pot from the oven and uncover it. Unfold the tea towel and quickly but gently invert the dough into the pot, seam side up. (Use caution—the pot will be very hot). Cover the pot and bake for 30 minutes.

6. Remove the lid and continue baking until the bread is a deep chestnut color but not burnt, 15 to 30 minutes more. Use a heatproof spatula or pot holders to gently lift the bread out of the pot and place it on a rack to cool thoroughly.

Note: For this loaf, any pitted olive will yield something worth eating. (You don’t want to go to the trouble of pitting them yourself, because it is tedious and the results will not be as neat.) But what I turn to most often are pitted kalamata olives soaked in a pure salt brine—nothing else, just salt. A commonly available kalamata that I’m very fond of is made by Divina and can be found at many supermarkets and gourmet stores. You might think that because they’re black they will change the color of the bread, but they won’t, unless you carelessly dump some of the brine into the dough. Green Sicilian colossals, sometimes called “giant” olives, packed in pure salt brine, are another good option; they’re often available at Italian food stores.

Recipe © 2009 by Jim Lahey.


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