Saturday, June 29, 2013

Fresh Cherry Pie ~ Quick and Easy Version

With the abundance of summer fruit, I regularly make pies.  We are particularly fond of cherry pie and as such I've developed a quick and easy method when I don't have the time for my fully homemade version.  If you don't tell your guests they will not realize you didn't spend hours on it. But when time permits, I make it all from scratch.  So today I wanted to share the recipe for the quick and easy version as I most often hear from readers that they just don't have the time to cook or bake. With this version, you really have no excuse!

Julian's "Scratch" Version or "Quick & Easy?"  You decide!
As in all things cooking, the real key is to select good quality ingredients and here I'm speaking mostly of the cherries.  You are not looking for traditional sour pie cherries, but rather the easy-to-find big, dark red, Bing cherries that most every grocer carries.  They are good for snacking raw and equally good for pie if you use this method.  I know we were all taught that sour cherries are best for pies, but really they were used for pies because they were abundant, cheap and grew on the tree in your backyard or neighborhood. When cooked with sugar they also produced a strong cherry flavor. They really weren't good for anything but cooking because they were so tart and small. So trust me when I tell you that the Bing cherry works great when added to a sour cherry base. They are naturally sweet and are very firm so hold up well in baking.  And as a bonus, Bing cherries are high in anti-oxidants that are said to help sufferers of arthritis and gout. Who would have thought cherry pie is a health food!

Use a cherry pitter to make the job easy!
Of course, with any cherry you have to remove the pit and for this there is a special tool that makes the job easy and efficient.  If you are going to make anything with cherries, make the small investment for this handy little gadget.  Unless you are going into cherry pie production, I would suggest you invest in one of the less expensive models like the Oxo version. You simply insert one cherry at a time and push the pit out. I have a device that pits four cherries at a time, which I use regularly.

With regard to quantity, I usually make a deep dish pie, and this requires about 2-3 pounds of fresh, stone in cherries. The below recipe makes one pie.

1 package 'ready' pie crust dough or your own homemade crust
          (a top and bottom crust are required)
2-3 pounds fresh, sweet Bing cherries (before pitting, see note above)
3-4 tablespoons flour for dusting the work surface
3 tablespoons corn starch
2-3 tablespoons of pectin (Sur Gel or Instant Clear Gel or potato starch)
1 20-21 ounce can cherry pie filling/topping (generic works well)
1 teaspoon almond extract
1 egg
1 tablespoon milk or water
2 tablespoons (sanding) sugar

Bring the crust to room temperature if using the boxed crust, while you wash and pit the cherries.  Preheat the oven to 400F degrees with the oven rack placed in the lowest position.   Place a metal baking sheet on the lowest rack during preheating. This will help to cook the bottom crust. 

Pillsbury Ready Crust makes pie baking simple!
Unroll one pie crust on a lightly floured work surface.  Press together any broken pieces of the pie dough.  Use a little water for this if necessary.  Sprinkle with the remaining flour and spread it evenly over the crust.  Gently place the crust in a glass pie plate and fit it into the dish.  Trim the dough so it stands up just above the edge of the pie plate.

Mix generic pie filling with fresh Bing cherries.
Place the pitted cherries in a large mixing bowl and dust with the corn starch and pectin (or other starch. King Arthur Flour Instant Clear Jel works best for berries and cherries). Toss to coat evenly.  Use more/less starch depending on how juicy the berries appeared during pitting. Let them sit 15 minutes after you mix them and see if they need more starch. Add the almond extract to enhance cherry flavor along with the canned cherry pie filling and stir to combine.

Pour the cherries into the pie crust.  Press down gently to even out the pie filling.  Unroll the second crust over the filling.  Moisten the bottom outside edge of the crust and pinch together the edges of the two crusts, folding any excess top crust under the edge of the bottom crust (to seal in the filling).  Make a decorative boarder by pinching it together with your fingers or a fork.

Finish the crust with a nice edge and sanding sugar.
Click to Enlarge
Lightly beat the egg with the tablespoon of water.  Brush the entire surface of the top crust with the egg wash and sprinkle generously with the sugar.  Cut 4-6 slits into the top crust to vent.

Bake on a hot sheet to improve bottom crust and
cover the edge after it's browned.
Place on the preheated baking sheet on the lowest level of the oven and back for 40-50 minutes, until the juices are bubbling.  About 30 minutes into baking, check for browning and cover the edge of the crust with a pie crust rim protector or piece of foil if becoming too brown.

When the top crust is lightly browned and the cherries bubbling, remove from the oven to a cooling rack and let cool to room temperature.  Serve with whipped cream or ice cream. 

They'll rave about your pie!  Quick or from scratch?
Only the chef will ever know! 

Saturday, June 22, 2013

BBQ Slow Roasted Pork Shoulder

Does anything taste better in the summertime than a pork shoulder slowly roasted on the grill? Even better when smokey wood chunks are used?  I think not and so today I'm making this delicious cut of meat on the grill. I do so love to smell it roasting over a fire with hickory wood smoke, that I sit outside with it as it slowly cooks.

If you haven't purchased one previously you're looking for a cut of pork usually named boneless or semi-boneless pork shoulder roast.  Either bone in or out will work but I like bone in for additional flavor.  Sometimes these are marked Boston blade roast or Boston butt roast.  Most roasts are cut from the front shoulder of the pork and if slowly roasted make for a delicious and easy-to-prepare summer dinner.  While cooking time is long, preparation is easy and affords you plenty of time to prepare side dishes or desserts as you desire.

Bone-in Pork Shoulder            With BBQ Rub           Mounted on Rotisserie
I'm using my Weber grill's rotisserie function as well as the smoker box, but neither one is essential.  In fact, you can prepare an equally delicious pork shoulder in your oven. I like to use the rotisserie when I can, as I think it helps to keep the meat juicy from self basting.  I also like the taste the smoker box infuses into the meat, so I added more chips several times throughout cooking so the roast had a constant source of smoke. Whatever equipment you use, simply start with a high temperature (500F degrees) to sear the outside (about 15 minutes), then lower the temperature to approximately 250F degrees and slowly roast for 2-3 hours until done.

Note that I'm not using this for pulled pork, but rather I want it to be tender yet still slice nicely. A pork shoulder cooked even longer (and not generally on the spit) will make delicious pulled pork if cooked long enough to easy shred. For that add an additional hour or even two to the planned cooking time.

Today I'm using a six (6) pound bone in roast, and it should take about three hours of low temperature roasting.  For a four (4) pound roast, plan on two hours of low temperature roasting.  Use an instant-read thermometer to ensure the center is cooked to 145F to 150F for a juicy roast that will slice. Remove from the grill or oven and let rest for 30 minutes tented with foil before carving (or removing the rotisserie skewer.)  Some red juices will leak onto your cutting board while it rests, so use a board with a drainage rim or place your cutting board onto a rimmed cookie sheet to avoid a kitchen mess.  Don't be concerned as the pork inside will be cooked through yet succulent.

Below I give you the recipe for my rub, although you could purchase one at the store.  But why bother if you have the simple collection of ingredients on hand.  You'll avoid all of those stabilizers and other preservatives they add to packaged foods.  This makes a batch which you can use throughout the summer or enough for one Costco pork shoulder which I saw today weighing in at 15 pounds.  Great for a big party but otherwise who needs that much pork?

2 Tablespoons dried crushed red peppers
4 Tablespoons brown sugar
4 Tablespoons Kosher salt
2 teaspoons ground white pepper
2 teaspoons granulated garlic or garlic powder
2 teaspoons ground ginger

Simply mix all of the above ingredients together and store the unused portion in an air-tight container.  Rub the pork shoulder with olive oil on all sides, then sprinkle generously with the rub.  Make sure to do the ends and sides as well.

So flavorful and juicy, no sauce required!

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Fresh Raspberry Cream Bundt Cake - Light Version

With berries in season I'm always looking for ways to serve them.  While they are delicious fresh and served over ice cream and cakes, today I'm baking them into a lower-calorie Bundt cake recipe. The last time I posted about my lemon Bundt cake I also gave you the history of the pan, so I won't go into that again here.

Raspberry Cream Bundt Cake ~ Perfect for Summer
I'm using fresh raspberries into today's cake, but you can alternatively use blueberries, blackberries or strawberries* or some combination.   And while I call it 'cream' in the title, it's actually made with yogurt, to reduce the fat content.  I further reduce the caloric impact by using sucralose (SPLENDA) instead of sugar, although I give you the substitution if you prefer just using real sugar.

I serve the cake without telling guests it's low-fat and low-sugar, and to date none have guessed.  It tastes quite good and makes a great summer dessert.  It is dense and moist because of the yogurt and the berries are tart and perfectly balance the sweetness of the cake.

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon. baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
Zest of 1 lemon (How To)
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
1 cup SPLENDA sugar blend**
3 eggs
Juice from 1 lemon (approximate 3 Tablespoons)
8 ounces plain low-fat Greek yogurt (not non-fat)
12 ounces fresh raspberries, whole
1 cup powdered sugar (for optional glaze)

*If you use strawberries, slice or quarter them.  They can also be quite juicy and this can make your batter thin, causing the berries to sink to the bottom of the pan during baking.  To counteract this let the berries sit sliced for about an hour sprinkled with just a bit of sugar.  Drain off the expelled liquid and then add the flour noted in the recipe.  If they continue to weep, add a bit more flour just before incorporating the berries into the batter.

Lemon Zest
**SPLENDA® Sugar Blend is a mix of pure sugar and SPLENDA® Brand Sweetener (sucralose).  If you do not want to use SPENDA, substitute it for 2 cups of sugar.

  1. Preheat oven to 350F degrees. Grease and flour a Bundt pan (8-10 cup volume). Do not use food spray.
  2. Sift together 2 1/4 cups of flour (setting aside the other quarter cup), baking soda and salt. Stir in the lemon zest and set the flour mixture aside.
  3. Using an electric mixer on moderately high speed, cream together the butter and SPLENDA (or sugar.) Turn the mixer off and scrape down the bowl. Return the mixture to a low speed, and beat in the eggs one at a time, then mix in 1 tablespoon of the lemon juice. Alternate mixing in the flour mixture and the yogurt, until fully incorporated scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed.
  4. Gently coat the raspberries with the remaining 1/4 cup of flour. Carefully fold them into the batter.  The batter will be quite thick.  Spoon it into the prepared Bundt pan and smooth out the top.
  5. Place in the preheated oven and bake for 60-70 minutes, or until a pick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean.
  6. Allow to cool 20 minutes in the pan, then turn out onto your serving plate and cool completely.
  7. For the optional glaze, whisk together the remaining 2 tablespoons of lemon juice and the powdered sugar. Drizzle over the top of the cool cake.
Julian's Raspberry Cream Bundt Cake

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Honey Garlic Grilled Pork Chops and Fresh English Peas

With summer finally getting underway in Chicago, tonight I'm making a favorite dinner that works particularly well when you are short of time.  Pork chops cook quickly on the grill and fresh English peas are easy to prepare.

If you have not ever made fresh peas, they are in season only for a short time and you really should try them.  They are so tasty and easy to make.  Note that one pound of peas in the pod equals about one cup of shelled peas, so purchase accordingly. As peas are a bit starchy I'm not serving the meal with any potato or rice, as later I'll be serving fresh strawberry shortcakes. To prepare the peas, simply pop them out of the shell, rinse and cook them in chicken broth with a pinch of salt and pepper.  Bring them to a boil in the broth, reduce heat to simmer and cook for about 5-7 minutes.  Taste test for doneness.  Drain and stir in a teaspoon of butter for every cup of peas.  In the time it takes for the chops to cook, the peas will be prepared.  Yes, a delicious homemade dinner in under 30 minutes!  (Check here for my recipe for spring pea soup.)

This is an easy dinner and the sauce is equally good on any meat.  Use this instead of bottled barbecue sauces, which often are filled with a wide range of chemicals and artificial ingredients.  The full recipe below is plenty for 8-12 pork chops or pieces of chicken.  So make this recipe once and use it for several meals.  Just remember to separate out just the amount your need for your dinner as you will be basting it onto raw meat and you don't want to contaminate the entire batch, which you will be keeping on hand for a future dinner.

I used boneless pork loins in these photos, but any thick cut pork chop will do.  These were about 1 and 1/2 inches thick (about 6.5 ounces each) so I grilled them over medium-high heat about 20 minutes in all, turning them and basting them with the sauce about every five minutes.  Adjust your cooking time based on the thickness of the meat and checking the temperature with an instant read thermometer to ensure the center is approximately 145-150F degrees.   You'll also notice that I had run out of fresh garlic, so substituted with granulated garlic.  It wasn't bad, but fresh garlic is better if you have it on hand.

Honey Garlic BBQ Sauce Ingredients
1 cup ketchup
1/3 cup honey
1/4 cup soy sauce
2 garlic cloves (minced)

olive oil
salt and pepper

In a medium bowl  stir together ketchup, honey, soy sauce and garlic. Set aside the amount you will need for this dinner and refrigerate the remaining sauce in an air tight container.

Above is after the first turn. When turning again, turn
them vertically to achieve the crosshatch grill patter.
Preheat the grill until hot. Season both sides of the chops with salt and pepper. Brush each chop with the sauce to coat both sides and edges.  Fold a paper towel down to a 2 inch square and wet with olive oil.  Using tongs, grease the grill grates with the oiled paper towel where you will place the pork chops. This will help reduce sticking.  Place pork chops onto the grill and cook without moving them for five minutes.  Turn and baste with sauce again.  Baste at each turn until the chops are done.  Let rest approximately five minutes and serve with the buttered peas.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Light Fettuccine Alfredo

When you think of the classic Alfredo recipe (a cream and cheese sauce), you don't think light.  In fact you usually think that it will be so rich you won't be able to eat much of it.  So this week I decided to try and lighten up the recipe.  Kevin and I had been at Trattoria No. 10 in Chicago recently and had a similar dish and I thought I could recreate it at home.

Spinach Linguine with Langoustinos in a Light Alfredo Sauce
A creamy, delicious traditional Alfredo sauce is made with a handful of ingredients that add up to a wonderful flavor and texture in the mouth but landing heavily in the stomach.  The original recipe  was created by restaurateur Alfredo di Lello in Rome in the 1920's.  His now classic dish, Fettuccine Alfredo, combined fettuccine noodles with a sauce made of butter, heavy cream, and Parmesan cheese, with a generous grindings of pepper to help offset all that richness. While Fettuccine Alfredo is still a classic dish in Italian restaurants, the sauce is also used in many other recipes, from casseroles to pizzas.

Now you are probably thinking that you can buy jars of Alfredo sauce at your local grocery and that these will be just as good as what you could make at home. Au contraire!  Check the label on these products.  Some use cream cheese or food starches as thickeners, which changes the sauce's hallmark butter, cream, and Parmesan flavors. And these sauces are far from light. If you follow my recipe below you will find you can have a homemade dish that delights your family and friends in under an hour.

Below I give you my recipe for a complete dish with shellfish and spinach linguine.  But you can use this same light sauce over any pasta and you can easily remove the shellfish or substitute it with broccoli florets or any other item of your choosing.

Spinach Linguine with Langoustinos in a Light Alfredo Sauce
16 ounces cooked langoustinos or similar shellfish
4 tablespoons butter
1/2 medium onion, finely chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1/2 cup white wine
3 tablespoons flour
2 cups chicken broth
2 cups milk (2%, whole or half and half)
1/2 cup shredded Parmesan cheese plus more to sprinkle when served
16 ounces dry pasta, spinach linguine
Salt to taste 
Pepper, a large fresh grind about 1/8 teaspoon

If your shellfish or broccoli florets are frozen, thaw them and drain any liquid.  Set a large deep skillet over medium heat.  If using shellfish, saute for a minute or two in butter.  Remove shellfish to a separate dish and set aside.  Add the onion and saute for about 4-5 minutes and turn up the heat to medium high heat and cook stirring regularly until soft.

Start a large pot of water over high heat in which you will boil the pasta.  Add two tablespoons of olive oil to the water and a generous portion (about 3 tablespoons) of salt.  When the water begins to boil, add dry pasta and cook according to package directions.

Add the chopped garlic and saute with the onion for a minute.  Add the white wine and stir to remove any bits from the bottom of the skillet.  Stir in the flour and cook for a minute or two and then whisk in the chicken broth and milk.  Reduce heat to medium and cook until thickened, stirring regularly.  When the mixture just begins to bubble stir in the shredded Parmesan cheese.  Taste and add any salt as needed.  Grind the fresh peppercorns into the sauce.

Move the pasta into the sauce using tongs being careful not to transfer too much of the pasta water.  Add the shellfish and toss together.  Remove from heat and serve with a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese.