Cheese Blintzes for Sochi!

The Sochi Olympics have started and I really couldn’t be more excited.  For me, everything pretty much stops for the Olympics fortnight and I focus all of my time and energy on watching the games.  I cry at every medal ceremony, I fill our DVR with coverage, I refrain from the news to avoid spoilers, I wikipedia the official rules for curling – it’s really an obsession.  Ten years ago, for the opening ceremonies of the Athens games, my extended family had the brilliant plan of having a party to celebrate the opening ceremonies wherein we ate the host country’s cuisine (or at least our interpretation of it).  From that, a tradition was born and last night we celebrated our sixth opening ceremonies party.

Admittedly, when Russia was announced as the host country a few years ago, we were a little concerned about the meal because really, Greece, Italy, and China all have seriously good cuisine, but all we could think of for Russia was borscht, potatoes, and vodka.  However, tradition is tradition, so we planned a Russian meal and were pleasantly surprised that the meal was one of the best yet.  I’ll be sharing several Russian dishes over the next two weeks, but I feel like you need a really awesome Russian dessert to start things off.

The blintz has 3 parts – the crepes, the filling, and the topping.  You start by making the blintz, then you fill them, roll them up like burritos, and fry them.  For a topping I just cut up some strawberries and added a little sugar and vanilla and drizzled chocolate syrup, but I you could use any sweet fruit (berries, pears, apples).  Give them a try – you’ll feel so authentic watching ski jumping while eating blintzes.

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Cheese Blintzes

For the shell:

6 eggs

1.5 cups flour

1T sugar

1/4tsp salt

2 cups milk

butter to grease the pan

For the filling:

1 cup ricotta cheese

8oz. cream cheese, softened

1/4 cup sugar

1 egg yolk

1 tsp vanilla

juice of 1 lemon

for topping:

chocolate sauce

fruit

1. To make the blintz, whisk the eggs, flour, sugar, and salt until smooth with no lumps.  Stir in the milk to make a thin batter.  Heat a small frying pan (8″) over medium heat.  spread a bit of butter into the pan (I just use the stick and run it around the pan once in a circle.  Pour about 1/4 cup of batter in the pan and swirl it around to coat the bottom.  Allow the blintz to cook until the one side is done, then carefully flip to finish the other side.  It should be solid, but not brown.  It may take you a few trials to adjust your pan to the right heat and get the hang of frying and that’s OK – the batter will make a few more blintzes than you’ll need.  Set the finished blintzes on a plate to cool.

2. Stir the ricotta cheese, cream cheese, and sugar.  The filling can be a little lumpy.  Stir in the sugar, egg yolk, vanilla, and lemon to complete the filling.  To assemble, spoon a few tablespoons of batter onto one side of the blintz in a line.  Fold in the ends and roll like a burrito.

3. Once all blintzes have been assembled, butter a frying pan and brown the blintzes on both sides over medium heat until golden brown.  Serve warm topped with fruit, chocolate sauce, or both.

 

 

Crunchy Apple Pie

This week I had a special request for a recipe.  A neighbor from 20 years ago, one of my very favorite babysitting clients, contacted me for a recipe for apple pie to make for her boyfriend’s birthday this week.  I love a challenge, so of course, I had to make an apple pie this week.  The thing is, for being a mainstay in piedom, I haven’t made all that many apple pies in my day.  See, apple pie is my grandma’s pie.  Her signature – the one she always makes for holidays and always is amazing and so delicious that there would be no use in me making one.  In our family, we have a strong respect for one’s signature pie – my sister-in-law makes an amazing pecan bourbon pie, my grandma does apple pie, and my signature is cherry.  So basically, I have no business replicating my grandma’s apple pie, which is a classic 2-types of apples, cinnamon, sugar, and double-crusted.  Instead, I sought out a recipe that was very different, but still fit the bill of an awesome apple pie.  This pie truly delivers.  It tastes amazing, is pretty easy to put together, and the topping gives it a nice texture.

I made this with an all-butter crust, which is different from my usual crust.  It turned out really well.  I’m planning on doing a step-by-step tutorial on making your own pie crust in the future.  Obviously, a homemade crust is fabulous with this pie, but certainly not required.  Also note that the pie starts out looking ridiculously tall, but as it cooks, and especially cools, it will flatten down significantly.

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Crunchy Apple Pie

1 prepared pie crust (unbaked)

6 granny smith apples

1 lime (for juice)

1/2 cup sugar

4 T and 1/2 cup of flour, divided

salt

12 T cold butter (1.5 sticks)

1 cup brown sugar

1/2 cup oatmeal

1 cup pecans

1.  Preheat your oven to 375.  Peel and core the apples.  I use a vegetable peeler first, then one of those apple slicers that cores and cuts the apple into 8 slices.   This is the most time consuming part of the recipe.  Slice the apples into 1/4″ to 1/2″ slices (I just cut each of the 8 pieces in half).  Squeeze the lime over the apples and toss with the sugar and 4T of flour.  Set aside.

2. Cut the butter into the 1/2 cup of flour.  I slice the butter into 1cm sized cubes first, then mash it up with a pastry cutter.  Stir in the brown sugar and the oatmeal.  This mixture will be crumbly and dry, but that’s the way it’s supposed to be.

3. Arrange the apple slices into the pie crust.  Spoon the brown sugar/oatmeal/butter topping over the top.  You may have to use your hands to press the topping into the apples to make sure it stays put.  This may cause your pie to look really tall and precarious, but I promise it will flatten down.

4. Carefully transfer your crust to the oven.  Bake for 25 minutes and then check on the pie.  If the crust is beginning to brown, add some foil around the edge.  Rotate the pie 180 degrees (especially if you have an oven that has a hot spot).  Bake the pie for another 25 minutes.  During the second baking session, chop the pecans.  After the pie has baked for 50 total minutes, scatter the pecans over the top of the pie (I used an oven mitt to sort of pat them in).  Bake for 5 more minutes (55 total minutes of baking).  Allow the pie to cool for several hours and serve, ideally, with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

Eggnog pie

Full disclosure: I’m a serious pie snob.  As in, I don’t count it as “making a pie” if you don’t make your own crust.  As in, I have extended conversations about pie crust with my grandma.  As in, I plan my Thanksgiving pies a month in advance.  As in, I have serious opinions as to which pies can be served in which seasons.  As in, we served pie instead of cake at our wedding.  I take my pies very seriously, so my resolution to try a new pie every month was not flippant and it should be known that I already have a pretty vast repertoire of really good pies that I can make.

In my quest to add new pies to the repertoire, I invested in some resources, the first being the Four & Twenty Blackbirds Pie Book.  It’s a really stellar collection of authentic pie recipes, organized by season, with creative flavor combinations.  The authors of the cookbook, and owners of an adorable pie shop of the same name, take pie snobbery to a whole new level.  I decided my first pie should obviously come from their “Winter” chapter.  Eggnog immediately caught my eye.

See, I’m not really an eggnog fan, but my husband is a huge eggnog fan.  It seems that there are really two camps as far as eggnog consumption and it boils down to whether or not you find the idea of melted ice cream appealing or not.  Personally, I say, I’d prefer it frozen.  My husband would say “drinkable ice cream? Awesome!”.  This pie is not nearly so divisive – it’s enough like eggnog to please eggnog lovers, but not enough so that it would turn eggnog haters off.  To me, it has a really nice cheesecake quality without the work (and extreme richness) of actual cheesecake.

Although this pie took me 3 days to make, it’s not really very difficult and you can knock it out in 2 hours (including baking time), which is great for a pie.  It took me 3 days because on Monday I decided to make the pie and added the ingredients to my grocery list, including gingersnaps for the gingersnap crust.  On Tuesday, I went to the store and they had no gingersnaps, so I decided to make my own.  Tuesday night, I made gingersnaps (and they were awesome, I’ll blog about them soon!), but realized I was a cup short of flour so I stuck the dough in the freezer until Wednesday, when I went back and got flour.  Wednesday I baked the gingersnaps, and Friday I finally baked the actual pie.  Then I went to Trader Joe’s where they sell gingersnap cookies.  Alas, storebought would work fine (I mean, the homemade cookies were REALLY good, but I’m not sure how much better).

So I say all of this to say – try this pie.  It’s really good.

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Eggnog Pie

For the crust:

1 cup gingersnap cookie crumbs

2T sugar

4T butter, melted (I used salted, if you have unsalted, add a little salt)

For the filling:

3/4 cup cream cheese

3/4 cup sugar

1/4 tsp salt

1/2 tsp vanilla paste (which is delicious, but if you don’t have it, vanilla extract would be fine)

1/2 tsp nutmeg

1/4 tsp allspice

1/4 tsp cinnamon

1/8 tsp ground cloves

3 eggs

1 cup heavy cream

3T rum

1/4 of a lemon

1. Take the cream cheese out of the refrigerator to soften.  Preheat the oven to 375.  To make the crust, use a food processor, crush the gingersnap cookies into a fine crumb (to get a cup, I used 13 2.5″ homemade cookies).  Transfer to a bowl and stir in the sugar, salt, and melted butter.  Press the mixture into a pie dish, using the bottom of a glass or measuring cup to distribute.  Bake the crust for 10 minutes, then turn the oven down to 325 after you remove it.

2. To make the filling, beat the cream cheese, sugar, spices, and vanilla together until smooth.  Beat in the eggs one at a time, scraping down the sides between to make sure you don’t get a big glob of cream cheese at the bottom.  Add the heavy cream and rum, continuing to beat until incorporated.  Squeeze the wedge of lemon in and give it a few more seconds of mixing.

3. Pour the filling into the prepared, cooling crust.  I had slightly too much filling, so you may have a little excess.  Bake the pie at 325 for 25 minutes, then rotate it to make sure it bakes evenly.  Bake another 20 minutes, until the edges are set (45 minutes).  The middle will still not be set, but it will after you remove it from the oven.

4. Let the pie cool for a few hours before serving.  I found it really set up well after an hour in the refrigerator.  You could sift a little cinnamon over the top, but warning that it may come out in a big blob, which you’ll try to scrape off and leave a big hole and cinnamon smear in the side of the pie, which is why the picture is cropped way close.

Source: Barely adapted from The Four & Twenty Blackbirds Pie Book by Melissa and Emily Elsen

Chocolate Chip Cookies

I find few greater joys in life than spending my afternoon baking an impressive dessert.  From a homemade pie to macarons to cheesecake – I love a challenge.  But about once a month the men in my life (husband, dad, brothers, probably soon my son) request that I just make chocolate chip cookies.  They’re a comfort – and what they lack in fancy they make up for in deliciousness.

When Ross and I were first dating (nearly 10 years ago!) we decided one night that chocolate chip cookies would be delicious, but Ross lamented that we had no dough, so cookies were out.  I remember trying very hard not to laugh at him when I explained that you can actually make dough.  To be clear, his mother made homemade chocolate chip cookies all the time – he was just oblivious to the dough making process.

Don’t let the oatmeal deter you from this recipe – it just adds a little weight and you don’t truly taste it.  Give it a try.  I also exclusively use Ghirardelli bittersweet chocolate chips (in the brown bag) – they’re slightly bigger than standard chocolate chips and a little melty, but they taste absolutely phenomenal.

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Chocolate Chip Cookies

makes about 40 cookies

2 cups flour

1 Tsp. salt

1 Tsp. baking soda

1.5 sticks of butter

1 cup light brown sugar

1 cup oatmeal

1/2 cup sugar

2 tsp Vanilla extract

2 eggs

2 cups chocolate chips (most of the bag – you can either use the whole bag or save the last 1/4 cup for a snack later on)

1. Preheat oven to 325.  Sift flour, salt, and soda together.  Melt the butter and beat with both sugars until smooth (1-2 minutes).

2. Add both eggs and vanilla and beat until incorporated.  Add in flour mixture slowly.  Fold in chocolate chips and oatmeal.

3. I use a cookie scoop to drop 2T blobs of dough onto the cookie sheet.  Bake for 15-18 minutes until golden brown and allow to cool a few minutes on the pan.  Store any leftovers in an airtight container, but they’re obviously best straight from the oven.

Source: adapted from America’s Test Kitchen’s Family Cookbook

Pecan Tassies – tiny pecan pies

When I was growing up I had no idea that you could actually purchase pecans at the grocery store.  Since my grandpa had a pecan tree that produced tons of pecans, I thought that pecans were just something that existed in large ziplock bags in the freezer.  If only.  Because pecans were always in plentiful supply, I put them in everything from cookies to casseroles just because they were there.  Now that I buy my own pecans, I’m a bit more judicious with my use.  These tiny pies really showcase the greatness of pecans without requiring you to buy a ton.  I only learned about these recently, and after some quick googling, I’m really shocked – the recipe is everywhere and basically doesn’t change much except for quantity.  It’s a classic that you might find in an old Junior League cookbook, but probably overlooked (like I did) because you weren’t quite sure what it was.  Pecan Tassies are not to be overlooked  in the three weeks I’ve known about the recipe, I’ve made them three times.

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Pecan Tassies

makes 24 (easily doubled to 48), adapted from multiple iterations of the same recipe.

Crust:

1/2 cup butter (1 stick), softened

3 oz. cream cheese

1 cup flour

Filling:

1 cup chopped pecans

1 egg

3/4 cup brown sugar

1 T melted butter

1 tsp vanilla (or almond) extract

1/4 tsp salt (a bit more if you’re using unsalted butter)

1. Preheat the oven to 325.  Locate mini-muffin pan (this usually takes me 15 minutes).   Beat the butter and cream cheese together for a minute or two until combined.  Add in the flour and beat until it forms a soft dough.  The dough will NOT be like pie dough, it has an odd, firm elastic consistency.  Roll the dough into 24 small balls – about an inch in diameter.  Smash the ball between your palms to make a flat disc and place them into the ungreased mini-muffin pan.  Use your fingers to make sure it comes all the way up the sides.  They don’t need to look perfect, but if you have holes the filling will drip and you’ll have a hard time removing them from the pan.

2. Using about half a cup of the nuts, place a spoonful into each individual pie.  Melt the butter and whisk in the egg, brown sugar, vanilla, and salt.  Pour the mixture over the nuts, putting a bit less than a tablespoon in each.  I melt the butter in a glass pyrex measuring cup with a spout and whisk the ingredients together in there to make pouring less messy, but you could spoon it in, too.  Top the tassies with the remaining pecans.

3. Bake for about 20 minutes, until the tops are set and the pecans are toasty.  Let the tassies cool in the pan for about 10 minutes before removing.  I use a toothpick to pop them out.  Enjoy, make more!