Saturday, December 14, 2013

Four and Twenty Black Birds Pie Book

As some of you might know I have a particular sweet spot for pie. So, when my dear friends showed up at my 40th birthday party with the new Pie Book from the famed Brooklyn pie shop Four and Twenty Blackbirds, well, I was pretty darn happy. Conveniently, this occurred the week just before Thanksgiving, so I thought I'd swap out my favorite pie dough this year and try out theirs, and let's just say I we were not disappointed! It is a very similar recipe, including the vinegar, but theirs has a bit more, and they spoon the ice water in 2 tablespoons at a time. The dough is tender, flaky and delicious. (If you want to check out my other favorite pie dough recipe click here.) What is amazing is that they make all ther dough for their pie shop by hand, including cutting in all the butter! I found that I could cut the butter in with a paddle attachment to my mixer just fine, but adding the water by hand a tablespoon or two at and time works great. 

Here is the link to the Four and Twenty Blackbirds shop: and their new new Pie Book which would make a wonderful gift for any avid or aspiring baker. The step by step instructions and photos are extremely well done. 

Four and Twenty Black Birds All Butter Pie Crust:
Author Notes: This is one of our staple crusts used at the shop. It's also featured in a variety of our pies included in THE FOUR AND TWENTY BLACKBIRDS PIE BOOK. - ElsenEM
Makes dough for one single-crust 9- to 10-inch pie or tart

  • 1 1/4cup unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1/2teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 1/2teaspoon granulated sugar
  • 1/4pound (1 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 1/2cup cold water
  • 2tablespoons cider vinegar
  • 1/2cup ice
  1. Stir the flour, salt, and sugar together in a large bowl.
  2. Add the butter pieces and coat with the flour mixture using a bench scraper or spatula.
  3. With a pastry blender, cut the butter into the flour mixture, working quickly until mostly pea-size pieces of butter remain (a few larger pieces are okay; be careful not to overblend).
  4. Combine the water, cider vinegar, and ice in a large measuring cup or small bowl.
  5. Sprinkle 2 tablespoons of the ice water mixture over the flour mixture, and mix and cut it in with a bench scraper or spatula until it is fully incorporated.
  6. Add more of the ice water mixture, 1 to 2 tablespoons at a time, using the bench scraper or your hands (or both) to mix until the dough comes together in a ball, with some dry bits remaining.
  7. Squeeze and pinch with your fingertips to bring all the dough together, sprinkling dry bits with more small drops of the ice water mixture, if necessary, to combine.
  8. Shape the dough into a flat disc, wrap in plastic, and refrigerate for at least 1 hour, preferably overnight, to give the crust time to mellow.
  9. If making the double-crust version, divide the dough in half before shaping each portion into flat discs.
  10. Wrapped tightly, the dough can be refrigerated for 3 days or frozen for 1 month.
This Pie Party blog post has some great links to fun pie recipes too. Below is a cherry berry pie based on this cherry pie recipe form Melissa Clark. Mine is a mix of raspberries, blueberries and cherries cooked in a tart pan.  Hope you make some time for delicious pie baking this winter! it's a great excuse to turn the oven on!
And...please share your favorite pie recipes!

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Easy Cheesey

I kid you not when I say this is the easiest cheese to make ever! I whipped this up in just a few minutes before my guests arrived, so keep it in mind for a last minute pot luck dish or special addition to a holiday party. The recipe had been hanging on the side of my fridge for nearly 9 months. My son had brought it home from his after school program at Common Ground- urban farm and school (it was written in crayon in huge letters, if that helps you overcome the idea that cheese making has to be hard). This fresh cheese is a type of farmers cheese, soft and un-aged (as in it is only minutes old!).  To make this, all you do is heat milk to 180 degrees, stir in vinegar, pour the curds through a thin clean dish towel, chill and enjoy. That's it!
Easiest Fresh Cheese 
1/2 gallon milk
1/2 cup vinegar

1. Heat milk to 180 degrees F
2. Add vinegar, stir. Milk will curdle and the curds and whey will separate. 
3. Line a colander with a thin clean dish towel and pour the curds and whey in. Let the whey drain off. You can gently squeeze the remaining whey from the curds by twisting the dish towel, or just let it hang for a while. 
4. Separate cheese into two balls and season as you desire with salt, pepper, or any spices or herbs. 

For this party I made two small balls, one surrounded by roasted cherry tomatoes and thyme (the last from my garden a little while back). The other cheese, I seasoned with salt and pepper and smothered with honey. Citrus zest would be a great addition to this cheese as well. For winter when tomatoes are lacking, you could also pair this with chopped spiced nuts like these Orange Pepper Almonds or roasted delicata squash

The only downside to this cheese is that it uses a lot of milk. An entire half gallon of milk only yields two small rounds of cheese...which makes me think deeper about why cheese is so expensive.....

Do you have any homemade cheese recipes? Ideas for fun party appetizers? Please share!

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Holiday Cookies & Treats

Not being Christian is a small hurdle to overcome when holiday sweets are at stake. I love that Christmas time brings about mass cookie making around the country. Family recipes, regional specialties and old time favorites emerge. Many years ago when I first met my husband we visited his mother's family in upstate NY; tins of cookies filled the house, old Swedish favorites, with lots of butter, nuts and cardamom, and much like my first evening spent in Brazil many years before, where I was handed a bowl of thick dulce de leche caramel and a spoon, my heart was overcome with sweetness and I was in love. 

This year for a holiday party I decided to make my all time favorite cookie, which conveniently happens to be of the Jewish variety, and one I haven't made for years. This recipe for rugelach (the cookie pictured above) comes from the first bakery I worked in in Brooklyn in the mid '90s: Margaret Palca Bakes. We made cookies and cakes in a tiny kitchen and shop on the ground floor of her family brownstone in Carol Gardens. The treats were sold at places like Dean and Delucca, and the rugelach were by far the most buttery, chewiest, most wonderful rugelach I had ever had. Her secret is using powdered sugar in the dough, along with the usual cream cheese. I hope she doesn't mind me posting the recipe here, all these years later!!

I put chocolate in some of these (see below), but I think they were better with only the jelly and nuts for the filling!

adapted from Margaret Palca Bakes
makes 80 cookies

14 tablespoons butter
8 ounces cream cheese
2 cups flour
1/2 cup powdered sugar

1 cup Jam or jelly  of your choice (apricot or raspberry are the classics)
1 1/2 cups walnuts or pecans finely chopped
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon (optional)

  1. Line 3 baking pans with parchment paper or butter very well. Cream butter and cream cheese till very fluffy, add sugar and flour until well combined. 
  2. Split into 5 rounds*, wrap in plastic wrap and chill for at least 1 hour, or overnight. Lightly flour one dough round at a time and Roll out between two sheets of wax paper, about 10 or 12 inches in diameter. 
  3. Mix nuts, cinnamon and sugar together. Blend jam in a food processor or melt and cool it to make it easy to brush onto the soft dough. 
  4. Working with one round at a time, brush with a thin layer of jam, and sprinkle with crushed nuts mixture. Cut round into 16 wedges (like a tiny pizza), roll them up from the outside edge inwards and place on baking sheet. 
  5. Bake at 350 till very golden. I didn't time these, but I think about 18 minutes or so... Must cool completely to come off of parchment paper.
* You can make 2 or 3 rounds in a batch and keep the rest in the freezer for later if you like. 

Here are some other great holiday treats from years past:

Cardamom bread - this recipe could be made even more delicious by adding a layer of almond paste to the center before braiding. 

Cocoa Walnut Raw Truffles - a delicious, beautiful and healthy sweet, just nuts, cocoa and dates. Again, you could alter this recipe by adding some spices like cinnamon, clove or cardamom, citrus zest, or by switching the type of nuts for a wide variety of fabulous truffles. 

Honeycomb Candy - an all around amazing sweet. 

Do you have any fabulous cookie recipes or family favorite holiday treats? Please share!!

Monday, December 2, 2013

Sufganiyot - Hanukkah Doughnuts

The synchronism of Hanukkah and Thanksgiving this year, was really just a bit too much for me. As much as I love pie and latkes, I don't really need to eat them together, or even in the same weekend. So it is pretty crazy to think that at this very moment on the 6th night of Hanukkah, a Monday evening, only 4 days after Thanksgiving, I am preparing doughnut dough and re-setting my Thanksgiving table for 12. An impromptu party with some of my childhood friends and their kids for a fun Hanukkah night. 

I couldn't really bring myself to make latkes again, and I hadn't made any doughnuts yet (Sufganiyot are the Israeli jelly doughnuts often made on Hanukkah).  I invented this doughnut recipe a few years back by altering a basic challah recipe, which is pretty similar to a yeasted doughnut dough. If I can muster any more energy, I just might thaw some of my summer strawberries and make fresh jam to fill these bad boys.

If you are still in the mood for Latkes this year, here is my recipe.

Happy frying.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

The Amazing Pomegranate Trick

If I hadn't tried this myself, I'm not sure I would have believed it, but it really does work! A simple technique to get the seeds out of a pomegranate in just a few seconds, with no mess!!! You just cut the fruit open, only through the skin, and then whack the back of it with a wooden spoon. Yes seriously, it's that simple. Watch the videos for the precise technique (the guy is a little over excited, but it's worth it). 

Despite the complication and high staining potential of these lovely fruits, I have never shied away from them. I even remember my Jewish mom sending me to school with a big chunk of one when I was a kid. However, now that I have learned this, I think we'll be eating a lot more of them!! They are an amazingly delicious and healthy winter fruit, and will certainly be gracing our Thanksgiving table...maybe on the salad..... 

Let me know if you try this!

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Purple Popcorn=Pure Joy

The kernels from this lovely corn were a gift to me 5 years ago, by a wonderful student at the Yale School of Forestry. He came to meet me at my house, shortly after the birth of my second child, and brought this beautiful heirloom Japonica corn seed as a gift. Needless to say, between having two children, working, and having a small yard with only 6 hours of sun (not nearly enough for corn)...five years went by and this seed sat dormant in my kitchen drawer not seeing the light of day. This year, I finally thought to pull it out and plant it at my kid's school garden; a lovely garden with southern exposure and not a drop of shade all day long. Miraculously the two little rows of five-year-old corn seed sprouted stalks and grew to about 6 feet tall. We harvested a few ears of corn, pealed back the husks and discovered purple, and garnet colored kernels, hard to the touch, and realize we had no idea what to do with this corn. I couldn't imagine that it was only ornamental, after all, it was given to me by a food lover. I figured it could be ground for corn meal, but since I don't have a grain mill, and didn't much feel like doing it by hand, I went for popping first. And, to the great pleasure of my popcorn loving family, it worked. Purple popcorn=pure joy.

To pop your own corn: pick the kernels off the cob, put 1/2 cup to 1 cup of them in a heavy bottomed pot with a few tablespoons of oil, cover and shake over high heat until the corn starts popping. Shake vigorously so the corn doesn't burn. If it sounds like there is not enough room for the corn to pop (muffled sound) pour some of the popped corn into a bowl, and continue popping the rest in the pot. When the popping stops, the corn is done. Wipe out the pot with a towel, toss in a few tablespoons of butter, the heat of the pan will melt it. Drizzle over popcorn, toss, sprinkle with salt, toss some more and you are done! For a fun variation, try a little Sambar curry powder and a pinch of sugar or honey. 

Inspired? Please share!

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Roasted Tomato Sauce

September brings the start of school, lots of Jewish Holidays and not enough time to deal with all the tomatoes in my backyard. My quick and easy solution is this roasted tomato sauce. It can be done in a frying pan or a big roasting pan, depending on how many tomatoes you have. If you have a few extra minutes you can take the time to sauté the onion and garlic first, if not, just chop it up, toss it with an assortment of tomatoes (whole or cut), some olive oil, salt, pepper and some fresh basil, or other herbs like marjoram, oregano or thyme, and pack the whole thing into the oven at about 425 degrees. If you are in a real rush to get dinner on the table, do a quick sauté of all the ingredients on the stove top and then stick it under the broiler. Stir occasionally so the tomatoes don't burn, and in a few minutes, you have sauce. Enjoy it as is, tossed over pasta, in rice, greens, meat or beans or puree it a bit for a more traditional tomato sauce. If you happen to have an over grown zucchini lurking in the backyard too, split it open, remove the seeds, and dice it up for sauce.  
Frying pan version: I sautéd the ingredients before sticking them under the broiler.

Roasting pan version: I split the larger tomatoes, tossed all the raw ingredients with olive oil, salt and pepper and put the whole pan in a 425 degree oven. Siting occasionally until the tomatoes were very soft with lightly browned edges, about 45 minutes. 

The sauce is great with the roasted whole tomatoes as is (in the photo at the top), or give it a quick puree in a blender or with a stick blender, and enjoy.

If you want to grow tomatoes next year, all you need is a sunny spot, a big bucket, some good dirt and a little $3 plant (try a sun gold orange cherry tomato, it's especially prolific).  If you are fortunate enough to have lots of tomatoes to work with, what do you do with them? 

Friday, August 23, 2013

Pie Contest In Photos

What an incredible night this was! We thought we might get 40, maybe 50 pies, but no, we got 86 pies for the first ever CitySeed Pie Contest to benefit the SNAP (Food Stamp Double Value program). The event was an amazing partnership with On9 and so many generous donations were made from 116 Crown, Ashley's Ice Cream, Amity Wine&Spirits, and so many others!! We can't wait for next year!!
(Although I don't know if I can say the same for the poor judges who had to taste 86 pies!!!)

Thanks to the fabulous Dj Toot-Skee, who had us all jammin' in the street (working off the calories, as we put them on!) The pie above was made by the 4 year-old group at Creating Kid's preschool, and won best pie made by a kid!
 The judges deliberating!

 The fab folks at 116 Crown, mixed up a great blueberry lemonade cocktail with berries donated by Jones Family Farm (and picked by me!), and fresh herbs from Common Ground School Farm!
And what would we have done without the amazing chalk art by Amy Christensen of Elm City Market (and the crew of kid artists!!)  
Many thanks to all the incredible New Haven community members of all ages who baked delicious homemade pies! You all helped to make this event an incredible success for our the Food Stamp Double Value program, and also for the pure blessing of people coming together around good food. Here's to YOU and here's to PIE!!  

Friday, August 2, 2013

Pie Contest Block Party Friday August 2nd!!

It's Here! The Pie Contest and Pie Party to raise money for CitySeed's Food Stamp Double Value Program. It's gonna be a fabulous party in the street with tons of pie, Ashley's Ice Cream, Dj Tootskee, a Cash Bar by 116 Crown and some fun kid activities!

If you didn't buy tickets online, you can still get them at the event (cash or credit card).

If you want to help out, serve pie, paint faces or serve drinks...come on down to 71 Orange St in New Haven, CT Friday August 2nd. Party is 6-8pm, Volunteers come around 4:30 to help out!

Our celebrity judges include Mayor DeSetefano, Nadine Nelson of Global Local Gourmet, Colin Caplan of Taste New Haven, Matt Finer of Devil's Gear Bike Shop (he can handle eating all that pie!), Joanne Sculli of Solar Youth (a self proclaimed pie lover), and Alex Biker of Marjolaine Bakery.

There are lots more details on our website if you are interested in making a pie, or just want to know more!

It's the hottest party in town tonight! Hope to see you there!

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Cold Brew Iced Coffee

I love good coffee. Espresso especially, but good coffee with hints of chocolate and a smooth rich finish is like heaven to me. In the summer I keep a jar of iced coffee on hand for my morning (or sometimes afternoon coffee). Many coffee shops these days make cold brewed iced coffee, and I thought I'd finally try it at home. Cold brewed iced coffee, when done right has all the delicious rich flavor of coffee without the acidity, that's the appeal (also, you don't have to boil water in the 100 degree weather). I had seen some crazy contraptions for this brewing method, but a google search made me realized you don't need anything special to make it at home.  I found this excellent post from a chef at Cooks Illustrated, America's Test Kitchen. He seems to have tested the heck out of this recipe and includes great instructions and photos. I will summarize and simplify it here, but check out his post for more details: - photos and description   and: - recipe (I altered this a bit).

His recipe uses 1:1 coffee to water ratio. I'm sure this makes great coffee, but it is a bit too costly for my wallet, so I used less coffee, and still got a great result. I suggest you play with this recipe, trying different roasts of coffee (medium or dark) and different amounts of coffee. The variables I wouldn't change are: 
1. grind your coffee very fine (espresso or turkish coffee fine)
2. let it steep for 24 hours. It may look dark and ready to go, but it really won't have enough flavor until it steeps for the full 24.

Cold Brew Iced Coffee

2 cups (or up to 3 cups) finely ground coffee (medium roast is recommended)
4 cups room temperature water

  1. Stir coffee and water together in a french press or other jar. Let stand covered for 24 hours. Stirring once or twice, especially in the beginning.
  2. After 24 hours: If using a french press, press the solids to the bottom of the press. Pour the coffee through a paper filter set in a strainer (this will take a while). If you don't have a French press, pour the coffee through a strainer to remove large solids and then through a paper strainer to remove the fine grinds. 
This will result in a concentrated coffee which you can pour over ice and add a desired amount of water to get the richness you like and enjoy. (His recipe dilutes the coffee with an equal amount of water, pours over ice, and adds a pinch of salt.....I enjoyed mine with a bit of cream...)

If you are interested in some other fun summer drinks check out:

Farmers' Strawberry Lemonade (this has cream in it)

And then there are the spritzers....juice or fruit syrups with seltzer....I love summer drinks!

But, back to coffee. For you die-hard coffee heads out there, what are your cold brew techniques?

Monday, July 8, 2013

Frozen Fruit to Beat the Heat

I am a true northerner, I love the cold, and can't really take the heat. So this summer has been rough, and it's only early July!  It's days like these that I am so thankful for electricity and my freezer. Homemade popsicles using juice or smoothies have taken up residence at the top of my freezer. Popsicles take very little effort, but for an even easier delicious frozen treat, I often freeze grapes and bananas straight up. These two fruits don't freeze solid like a strawberry, they stay slightly soft in the center so you can enjoy them right out of the freezer without breaking your teeth. The perfect healthy antidote to the heat. 
Frozen Grapes: Wash and dry grapes (I use domestic or organic grapes).  Place in a single layer on a flat surface in the freezer. Freeze for a few hours or over night. Enjoy. You can transfer grapes to a bag once they are frozen. For an elegant take on this treat, freeze tiny champagne grapes on the stem, and serve them right out of the freezer.

Frozen Bananas: Slice a ripe banana in half. Poke a chop stick or popsicle stick into the cut end of the banana. Place on a pan or container lid in your freezer. Freeze and enjoy. For a little more fun, you can dip these in melted chocolate and nuts, but I love them just as is. 

What frozen treats are you making this summer?

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Strawberry Season Has Arrived!!!

It has been raining an unbelievable amount this past week, but somehow the strawberries seem to be surviving! Today I collected my kids after school and headed off to the country side to pick berries. It was a welcome change from the usual daily grind. My heart was literally racing as I approached the berry fileds and knelt down to start picking. The thrill that nature (with the help of some good farmers) produces these delicious fruits for us to eat is just incredible. We came home with 19 pounds of berries. Now it's time to clean, cut freeze cook and enjoy them.

Here are some great strawberry recipes from years past:

Best Ever & No Pectin 

Strawberry Farmers Lemonade
Strawberries with Lemon Verbena Cream

Salad with Strawberries, Goat Cheese and Salt & Pepper Almonds
Strawberry Coconut Milk "Ice Cream"

I picked my strawberries at Jones Family Farms again this year (and a few in my backyard). If you are looking for a place to pick, check: or in CT go to

What are you planning to do with your berries?