Pecan Squares and Class

No matter what we do in life, we all need to continue learning our craft.  It only makes us better at what we love..  I started this blog a year ago, jumping in and not really knowing what I was doing.  And if we’re really being honest here, I still wonder if I know what I’m doing!

A friend and local food expert teaches a class in food writing, called “Expressions in Food”.  It’s instructional in writing blogs, journals, and food reviews so I thought it might give me some insight and help improve my blog I share with all of you.  (you’re still out there….right?)

Our first class suggested we bring snacks to share.  I had a weekend of Super Bowl, moving into a new office and this class so I decided to bake Pecan Squares, courtesy of Ina Garten.  The recipe makes so many I could cover everything with one dish! So I trudged in with my plate of bars, everyone brought their food of choice and our instructor, Patrick brought wine.  Now that is my type of class!

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For two and a half hours, we shared our interest in the class, drank wine and ate our snacks, all while learning how to describe what we were eating.  It was a cornucopia of smells, textures and flavors, from creamy onion dip that jumped off the salty crunch of the potato chip around the plate to the sweet caramel and sandy texture of the pecan squares.  What a tasty way to spend my Sunday afternoon!

I left the class, happily anticipating the next one and I hope it helps me to relay to you my love of food and recipes in such a way that you will love to read my blog even more than you do now.

Happy reading (and eating everyone)!

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Pecan Squares and Class

20 large or 40 small squares

Course Dessert
Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 45 minutes
Total Time 1 hour 5 minutes
Servings 20 large

Ingredients

  • 1 1/4 pounds unsalted butter at room temperature
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 3 extra large eggs
  • 3/4 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 4 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • Topping
  • 1 pound unsalted butter
  • 1 cup good honey
  • 3 cups light brown sugar, packed
  • 1 teapoon grated lemon zest
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream
  • 2 pounds pecan, coarsely chopped

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

  2. For the crust, beat the butter and granulated sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer, fitted with the paddle attachment, until light, approximately 3 minutes.

  3. Add the eggs and the vanilla and mix well.

  4. Sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt.

  5. Mix the dry ingredients into the batter with the mixer on low speed until just combined.

  6. Press the dough evenly into an ungreased 18 x 12 x 1 inch baking sheet, making an edge around the outside. It will be sticky, sprinkle the dough and your hands lightly with flour.

  7. Bake for 15 minutes until the crust is set but not browned. Allow to cool.

  8. For the topping, combine butter, honey, brown sugar, and zests in a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan.

  9. Cook over low heat until the butter is melted, using a wooden spoon to stir. Raise the heat and boil for 3 minutes.

  10. Remove from heat and stir in the heavy cream and pecans.

  11. Pour over the crust, trying not to get the filling between the crust and the pan.

  12. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until the filling is set. **NOTE**

  13. Remove from the oven and allow to cool.

  14. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate until cold.

  15. Cut into bars and serve. (at this time if you wish to make your bars a bit more decadent, dip or drizzle with warm chocolate.)

  16. **NOTE** This filling may bubble over the edge. Place a large baking sheet or aluminum foil on a lower oven rack to catch the drips.

Tomato and Onion Pie

There is nothing better than tomatoes.  I love walking to the garden and picking a sun-kissed tomato off the vine, sprinkle it with a little salt and bite into it, tasting the acidic sweetness and feel the juices run down my chin.  Or, I slice them and place them between two pieces of bread with gobs of mayonnaise.  I purée them into sauce or bake them into a dessert tart tatin.  There are just so many ways to enjoy ripe tomatoes.

And now we have tomato pie.

I remember a few years ago at a girls’ night having my first taste of a tomato pie.  A friend had brought it and I’m ashamed (or happy?)  to say I went back for seconds and wanted thirds, it was that good.  After that night I never really thought of it again unless I’d see a recipe about it.  I would rip it out of the magazine and add it to the stack of “someday I’m going to make this” pile.

This year was different.  From the moment we planted the garden, I decided I was going to make a tomato pie.  Of course every time I thought about it we were eating something else or not at home.  Finally however, last weekend I put my foot down and I made ” The Pie.”

It was like the sun had risen, the stars came out and fireworks lit up the sky.  I don’t think a word was spoken between us because we were just too busy eating.  In fact with my son and husband at the helm, leftovers didn’t exist since the entire pie had been eaten.  This definitely is one of those recipes that you will make over and over and always get rave reviews on.

So, while you’re standing in your garden and feeling the warmth of the sun,  tomato juices running down your chin and staining your shirt, remember to save yourself a few of those tomatoes so you can make a Tomato Pie.  It will be well worth the sacrifice.

Tomato and Onion Pie

Prep Time 50 minutes
Cook Time 1 hour
Total Time 1 hour 50 minutes

Ingredients

PIECRUST

  • 1 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup cold vegetable shortening, cut into pieces
  • 4 Tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces
  • 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 3-4 Tablespoons ice cold water

(optional- you can add 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese)

FILLING

  • 6 or about 2 1/4 pounds large tomatoes, sliced
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons kosher salt, divided
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper, divided
  • 1 Tablespoons oil
  • 1 small onion, sliced thin
  • 2 leeks, whites only sliced thin
  • 10 sundried tomatoes chopped
  • 1 cup Gruyere cheese, shredded and divided
  • 1 cup Parmesan cheese, shredded, and divided
  • 1 cup Fontina cheese, shredded, and divided
  • 1/4-1/2 cup mayonnaise
  • assorted herbs, minced (basil, thyme, chives, oregano, etc)

Instructions

  1. TO PREPARE PIE CRUST

Process first 4 ingredients in a food processor until mixture resembles a coarse meal. With processor running, gradually add 3 tablespoons ice-cold water, 1 tablespoon at a time. Process until dough forms a ball and leaves the side of the bowl. Add up to 1 tablespoon more water if necessary. Shape dough into a disk and wrap in plastic wrap. Chill 30 minutes.

  1. Unwrap dough and place on a lightly floured surface. Sprinkle lightly with flour and roll dough to 1/8 inch thickness.

  2. Preheat oven to 425°F. Press dough into a 9-inch pie plate. Trim dough 1 inch larger than the diameter of the pie plate. Fold overhanging dough under along the rim of the pie plate. Chill 30 more minutes until firm.

  3. Line pie crust with aluminum foil. Fill with pie weights and foil. (this will keep the crust from bubbling up) Place on an aluminum foil lined baking sheet. Bake for 20 minutes. Remove weights and foil. Bake 5 minutes or until browned. Cool completely on a wire rack. Reduce oven temperature to 350°F.

  4. ***see note below

TO PREPARE FILLING

  1. Place sliced tomatoes in a single layer on paper towels. Sprinkle with 1 teaspoon salt and let stand for 15-20 minutes.

  2. Meanwhile, sauté onions and leeks and 1/4 teaspoon salt and pepper each in hot oil over medium heat until they are tender and lightly browned.

  3. Pat tomatoes dry with a paper towel. Layer tomatoes, onions, sun-dried tomatoes, 1/2 of the cheese and herbs. Repeat.

  4. Combine the remainder 1/2 cups of cheeses with the mayonnaise and spread over pie.

  5. Bake at 350°F for 30 minutes until lightly browned. Serve hot, warm or at room temperature.

  6. ***note*** for a quicker process you can use refrigerated dough or frozen dough by following package directions.

  7. you can also drizzle pie with a pesto sauce or vinaigrette if desired.

Mini Blueberry Pies

I’ve never made pie crust.  Ever.  I was the girl who would buy it in the grocery store, unroll it and bake.   My mom always made good pie crust.  Everyone loved her pies because the crust was always good and flakey. I just never learned.

I don’t know what made me decide to try it after all these years but I thought I finally would.  I wanted to make these little mini pies that looked so cute….but I needed to learn crust in order to do so.  Crust was my nemesis.

I thought I was going to lose this challenge.  It was almost an epic fail.   However, to my surprise, mixing the crust turned out to be the easy part.  It went together so effortlessly and it appeared to turn out as the instructions directed.  However, when I went to roll it out, it was like the crust was fighting back.  It was sticking to everything!  The cutting board, the granite, the rolling-pin, my hands…!Perhaps I was afraid to use too much flour or perhaps it didn’t go together as well as I thought….  whatever the reason, it got to the point I wanted to trash everything and quit.  I almost cried.

I’m so glad I didn’t.

This being my first time in making the crust, it wasn’t pretty.  I really thought it was going to taste like a big handful of flour. But it didn’t. The texture and the flavor were just like I had hoped.  Flakey and light, not tough and thick like I expected.   I know I have a lot more to learn with making a perfect crust, but in the end I’m glad I challenged myself.   Perhaps it was a little difficult, but certainly not as hard or as scary as I thought it was going to be.

What did I learn from this?  Don’t be afraid to use flour, and don’t give up.  It might not turn out exactly like you had hoped but nothing ever does the first time.  Practice makes perfect and I hope there will be a lot more practice with this recipe.  I loved it and everyone else did too.

Mini Blueberry Pies

Prep Time 2 hours 30 minutes
Cook Time 20 minutes
Total Time 2 hours 50 minutes
Servings 16 small pies

Ingredients

Blueberry Filling

  • 2 cups fresh blueberries
  • 1/2 cup plus 2 Tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 1 lemon
  • 1/2 fresh vanilla pod

Pie Crust

  • 3 2/3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1 1/2 cups plus 3 Tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 1/2" cubes, frozen (3 sticks)
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • raw sugar

Instructions

Blueberry Compote

  1. In a saucepan over low heat, add about one-third of the blueberries, the sugar and juice of 1 lemon. Reserve the remaining blueberries. Using the back of a knife, scrape out the vanilla seeds and add the seeds and pod to the saucepan. Stir and continue to cook until the blueberries break down and the compote has a syrupy consistency, 5 to 10 minutes.

  2. Create an ice bath by placing a mixing bowl into a larger bowl filled with ice. Pour the compote into a strainer over the mixing bowl. Use a rubber spatula to help work the compote through the strainer. Let the compote cool until it's cold to the touch.

  3. Once the blueberry compote has cooled, add the compote to the remaining blueberries and gently mix together to create your pie filling.

Pie crust

  1. Pulse flour, sugar, and salt in a food processor to combine. Add butter, pulse until mixture resembles coarse cornmeal (no big pieces of butter should remain.) With motor running, slowly drizzle 1/2 cup ice water through feed tube. Pulse until dough just begins to come together.

  2. Divide dough in half. Form each half into a ball, flatten into disks. Wrap each disk tightly in plastic. Chill for at least 2 hours.

  3. DO AHEAD: Dough can be made 2 days ahead. Keep chilled. Let stand at room temperature for 15 minutes to soften slightly before rolling out.

  4. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper, set aside. Working with one disk at a time, roll out dough on a lightly floured surface until very thin, about 1/16th inch thick. Using a circular cutter, cut out into 16 circles.

  5. Brush edges of 8 circles with beaten egg. Place 1 heaping tablespoon filling in center of each egg washed circle. Top with remaining circles to form 8 pies. Using a fork, crimp 1/4" around edges to seal. If desired use cookie cutter to clean edges. Repeat with remaining dough, egg and filling.

  6. Divide pies between prepared sheets, chill for 45 minutes. Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Working with 1 baking sheet of pies at a time, score dough, forming a small X int he center of each pie. Brush tops with beaten egg and sprinkle with raw sugar.

  7. Bake pies until crust is golden brown and filling bubbles out of X's, 17-20 minutes. Let cool on baking sheet for 5 minutes, transfer to a wire rack and let cool completely. Repeat with remaining baking sheet of pies.

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