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Fresh Cranberry Pie with Marzipan and How to Make Pie Crust

Cranberry Pie Whole
You guys!  I made this pie because I was looking for a double crust pie so I could revisit my pie crust tutorial (a few things have changed in my go-to technique since the last one I posted), and most of my fruit pie fruits are not in season, but now I’m kind of obsessed.  Fresh cranberries!  In pie!  Why is this not a thing?  Cranberries might be the perfect pie fruit — they’re tart and juicy, but have a pretty high pectin content, so your pie filling doesn’t run all over the place.   The flavor is a lot like fresh sour cherry pie, but fresh sour cherries are only available one week of the year, in very small parts of the US, and cranberries can be gotten EVERYWHERE for at least two months when most pie fruits are out of commission.    And just LOOK at the color:

Cranberry Pie Slice

It’s great, is all I’m saying.

Now on to pie crust. I like to walk my readers through making pie crust, because I feel like so many people are like “Pie crust?  Who has the time for that!  It’s too hard!” and I want to pat your head and say, “No, it’s OK – you can do it.”  You don’t have to own a walk in freezer or live in the arctic to make your pie dough (though it is a bit tougher on a warm day.)  You don’t have to source special kinds of lard or NOT TOUCH IT OR IT WILL BE OVERWORKED.  Pie crust is pretty forgiving.  If it cracks? Patch it.  If you can’t roll it out in a perfect circle?  Nobody cares.  At the end of the day you will have pie, and people will love you.  This is the way I’ve been making my pie crusts, and it works pretty darn well.

Continue reading Fresh Cranberry Pie with Marzipan and How to Make Pie Crust

Top 25 Thanksgiving Recipe Roundup

Dry Brined Thanksgiving Turkey

Halloween is over, and we’ve all recovered from our sugar highs (theoretically). Now is the home stretch for home cooks – less than three weeks until Thanksgiving, and then the sprint through the December holidays into New Year, when we all collapse in a faint of exhaustion. I know you’re already planning your Thanksgiving menu, so to make it easy, I collected the The Domestic Front Thanksgiving recipes into one easy place. The best, most foolproof, most delicious, juicy, crisp-skinned roast turkey? We’ve got that. Instructions on making your own pie crust (with a bonus recipe for silky smooth, perfectly spiced pumpkin pie)? You’ll find that here. In the next few weeks I’ve got a few exciting new recipes coming up — another savory sweet potato dish, a refreshing fall salad, and new twists on old favorites like stuffing and cranberry sauce, but in the meantime, here’s the roundup of Thanksgiving recipes for your inspiration:

Easy, Dry-Brined Roast Turkey

You’re serving vegetarians?
Quinoa Stuffed Acorn Squash
Kale and Cabbage Gratin
Butternut Squash and Goat Cheese Gratin
Onion Tarte Tatin

Your favorite thing is, of course, stuffing:
Old School Sage Stuffing

What vegetable side should you make this year? (see also, cooking for vegetarians, above)
Bacon Braised Brussels Sprouts with Cream
Creamed Kale
Creamed Spinach with Jalapenos
Slow Cooked Green Beans
Creamy, Spicy Sweet Potato Gratin

It’s not Thanksgiving without pie:
Maple Walnut Pie
Vegetarian Mincemeat Pie
Nesselrode Pie
Perfect Pumpkin Pie, and a tutorial on homemade pie crust
Rice Pudding Pie

You don’t like Pie:
Cranberry Pecan Upside Down Cake

You’re stuck with the cranberry sauce but you still want a chance to shine:
Spiced Cranberry Sauce with Oranges and Pecans

You’re on Salad Duty:
Arugula Salad with Persimmons and Gouda
Homemade Salad Dressing

You’re keeping the relatives happy (aka mixing drinks):
The Perfect Manhattan
Champagne Cocktail

Aunt Helen won’t let you set foot in the kitchen, but you still want to help:
Polishing Silver
Five Easy DIY Holiday Centerpieces

You’re panicking:
Last Minute Tips on Hosting Thanksgiving

Back to Basics: Homemade Salad Dressing

Vinaigrette 101
Despite what my husband thinks, I do try to avoid foodie preciousness. I’m short on time, like everyone else, and I make liberal use of shortcuts in my cooking. I get that premade ingredients make cooking easier and more accessible. But there are some things that making from scratch is such a deeply ingrained habit that I wouldn’t think of buying them premade. For example: I never buy bottled salad dressing.

Salad dressing may not seem like a hill to die on, but homemade is so simple (once you know how), and it tastes so much cleaner. It’s free of the gums and sugars and preservatives you get in even high-end bottled dressing. And it’s pretty infinitely variable.

Making salad dressing has become like breathing to me, but as I’ve been trying to put my feet up lately and assigning the salad making task to the husband, I realized that it’s not universal knowledge. The key is knowing what ingredients to use and what ratio to use them in.

I didn’t always grow up on homemade dressing. Sure, my mom always made Caesar from scratch, and my dad was a dab hand with blue cheese, but I remember a parade of bottles of Italian dressing marching through my childhood. Then balsamic vinegar came on the scene, and we started to dress salads with oil and vinegar. But it never had the feeling of “salad dressing.” I remember sitting at a little cafe in the South of France one summer when I was in high school, and wondering why my oil and vinegar dressing wasn’t like the perfect vinaigrette you find on every green salad in France.

And then I discovered the secret.
Continue reading Back to Basics: Homemade Salad Dressing

Perfect Pumpkin Pie and Pie Crust 101

Pumpkin Pie

My darling husband is not a picky man. He will cheerfully eat just about everything I put in front of him with nary a complaint. There is, however, one thing that he insists on: pumpkin pie at Thanksgiving.

In the early years of our marriage, I struggled with this. I made pumpkin chocolate tarts and pumpkin bread puddings, pumpkin panna cotta and pumpkin cheesecakes. He always took a polite bite and reached for the plain pumpkin pie (that someone wiser than me always provided).

Now I’ve wised up and have come to realize that he was right all along — there’s something really marvelous about a perfect piece of pumpkin pie — the smooth pie filling with its faint vegetal flavor warmed by spices, the crunch and plainness of the crust contrasting with the creamy flavorful filling. Now I can’t imagine a Thanksgiving table without plain old pumpkin pie.

Pumpkin Pie 3

But since I’m me, I wasn’t satisfied with plain old pumpkin pie. It had to be perfect plain pumpkin pie. The best pumpkin pie you’ve ever tasted. And when I tasted my aunt Sally’s pumpkin pie last Thanksgiving, I knew this was it. And I begged her for the recipe, so I could share it with you. (Together with step by step photos of pie crust making — read on!)

Pumpkin pie 5

Of course, no great quest comes without its trials. I made the pie last weekend — the crust got too dark. Armed with a pie shield and shortening the blind baking time, I baked another crust on Tuesday, and it shrunk and warped horribly. Thanks to some internet advice and more pie weights, I tried again Thursday night — nailed the crust, but the filling curdled and the top got too brown. Finally, on Saturday, I invested in an oven thermometer, lowered the heat significantly, moved the rack down in my oven (I think this was key), and managed the pie you see above.

Pumpkin pie 2

It really is perfect — dreamy creamy, it slips on the tongue like a French kiss. The spices add warmth and that “holiday” aroma without becoming bitter or overwelming, and the pumpkin flavor shines through. When it comes out of the oven, it has just a little jiggle to add to the excitement. Nobody could call this pumpkin pie plain.

Continue reading Perfect Pumpkin Pie and Pie Crust 101

Gifts from the Kitchen: Pear and Vanilla Preserves

Pear Jam 1

I was very sad to have missed the summer jam season this year. With all the craziness around buying the house and moving, I never got around to putting up plum jam, or strawberry balsamic, or peach and basil, and my stash from last year is getting dangerously low. Fortunately, I still have a few seasonal fruit tricks up my sleeve. Like this pear jam with vanilla beans, which will make your heart swell with domestic pride and impress anyone you care to give it to.

Pear Jam 3

Jam seems terribly intimidating, but really, it’s not. Yes, there are a few basic steps you need to go through to make sure it’s safe to eat (or really to store) but the risks of contaminated jam are much lower than for canned vegetables because both the acid and the sugar in jam act as preservatives. You don’t need any special equipment, other than jars (I get mine at the local hardware store — you can reuse jars, but make sure to get new lids, which you can buy separately) and a big pot to boil them in. An hour’s worth of effort (and not MUCH effort, really – most of it involves occasional stirring or waiting for the water bath to boil.)

Pear Jam 2

And the result? Golden jars of sunshine, lined up in your pantry, making you proud, waiting to be doled out to deserving friends and family this holiday season.

Pear Jam 4

And if you think that you or your family and friends don’t eat jam, here are some serving ideas:

Stir it into oatmeal
Top crackers with brie and a dollop of pear jam
Spoon it atop ice cream
Plop into pastry shells to make jam tarts

And there’s always toast. We’re quite fond of it in our house.

Pear and Vanilla Jam
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 8
  • 3 lbs ripe Bartlett pears
  • 12 oz. granulated sugar
  • ½ vanilla bean, slit lengthwise
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 1 pouch liquid pectin
  1. Peel the pears, core them and cut them into small chunks. Place in a large saucepan with the remaining ingredients. (I like my pear jam chunky to preserve some of that grainy "pear" texture -if you don't, mash them a bit in the pan). Cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, until the jam begins to gel --test it by dropping a spoonful on a cold dish and dragging the spoon (or your finger, after it's cooled a bit) through it -- if it leaves a trail that takes a few seconds to be filled in, it's ready.
  2. Meanwhile, heat 4½ pint jars in a stock pot full of boiling water. When your jam is ready, pull the jars out of the boiling water and fill them with hot jam. Leave ¼ inch space between the top of the jam and the top of the jars, and run a clean (pref sterilized) knife around the edge of the jars to let any air bubbles escape). Wipe the top of the jars with a clean damp towel to ensure a seal. Cover the jars with the lids and the rings, and return them to the boiling water, making sure the water covers the jars entirely. Cover the pan, and let boil briskly for 10 minutes. Remove the jars from the pan, and let them cool to room temperature.


Easy Pie Crust and Maple Walnut Pie

Walnut Pie 5

Fall themed desserts are all over these days – pumpkin bread puddings, cranberry panna cotta, pecan trifle. And those of us with a confirmed fear of rolling pins grasp at these desperately. But now it’s time to get real. You and I both know that Thanksgiving is about pie. Preferably multiple types of pie. The table should be GROANING with pie. Pumpkin pie, mincemeat pie, apple pie … Panna cotta, while a very lovely dessert, just doesn’t cut it.

Walnut Pie 4
Which means, fair readers, that if I’m going to do Thanksgiving right by you, I need to get over my fear of rolling. I need to summon the reserves — the wisdom of the elders, nerves of steel, hands of ice, and my own experience of parenting a three year old, and tell that pie dough, “You are NOT the boss of me. I am the boss. And don’t you forget it.” And then I’m going to fill it with something wonderful — in this case, a variation on the Thanksgiving classic pecan pie made with walnuts and maple syrup and no corn syrup in sight. And then I’m going to tell you all about it.

Walnut Pie 1

Let’s start with the crust, shall we? I am tired of feeling anxiety about pie crust. I just want to make it and be done. Which means, for me, ignoring the tips and tweaks, and going back to basics. Armed with Michael Ruhlman’s ratio for 3-2-1 pie dough, Julia Child’s food processor method, Amanda Hesser and Dorie Greenspan’s plastic wrap rolling technique (though Amanda might never forgive me for calling her an elder — sorry Amanda!), I made pie crust. And it took about 3 minutes. Freeze a stick of butter, cut it into cubes (I cut it into about 24 cubes (you can reverse these steps), then pulse it in the food processor with flour and some salt until it’s coarse and uneven (about 9 pulses should do it). Add water in one fell swoop, pulse a couple of times more, then dump it all out onto some plastic wrap, pull the wrap around it until it looks like a disc of dough rather than a pile of crumbs, and chill for about 30 minutes. Then roll it out between two sheets of parchment (Amanda and Dorie use plastic wrap, but mine wrinkles like crazy) using your favorite rolling pin (and I will add that the acquisition of a French Rolling Pin has improved my rolling technique immensely). Peel off one piece of parchment, arrange the dough dough side down over the pie dish, peel off the other piece of parchment, press it in, trim the edges, and use the trimmings to replace any holes or divots. Voila. No gimmicks. It might not be perfect, but a) it will taste good (thank you butter, not Crisco), b) it will be tender and flaky and c) it won’t give you a panic attack.

Walnut Pie 2

Now the filling. I love a traditional pecan pie, but it is so sweet my teeth ache just thinking about it. I also don’t love all the corn syrup because it’s messy and has a funky flavor and questionable health effects (though frankly, pie isn’t health food.) When I saw the French Canadian maple sugar pie recipe in Richard Sax’s Classic Home Desserts (which is my desert island dessert book (dessert island?) and should be in your library), my interest was piqued. Instead of pecans, it features walnuts, which give it a lovely bitter edge, and instead of corn syrup, the pie gets texture (and a lot of flavor) from maple syrup (use Grade B, which is not only cheaper but more flavorful.) It has a few other additions which cut the sweetness — apple cider vinegar, which adds an acid bite to counter the sweetness, and brewed tea (I used PG Tips), which adds some more bitterness and also flavor. The combination is a little more layered than the traditional pecan, which is just SWEET and nuts. (Not that I don’t love both sweet and nuts.) Plus, my family is French Canadian, so I was just tickled to have a “heritage” pie in my repertoire.

Walnut Pie 3

The best thing, too, is that the filling takes no time at all to mix up and dump into your pie crust, which we’ve already established takes no time at all. So this becomes a quick and low stress dessert. And yes, this is pie we’re talking about.

Now for the other six varieties …

Easy Pie Crust and Maple Walnut Pie
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 6
For the Crust:
  • 6 ounces all purpose flour
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 4 ounces butter, frozen and cut into ½ inch cubes
  • 2 ounces cold cold water
For the filling:
  • 1 cup walnuts
  • 3 eggs plus 1 egg yolk
  • ¾ c plus 2 Tablespoons sugar
  • 2 teaspoons molasses
  • ¾ cup Grade B pure maple syrup
  • 6 Tablespoons butter, melted
  • ¼ cup brewed black tea
  • 2 Tablespoons apple cider vinegar
  • ½ teaspoon salt
For the Crust:
  1. In the food processor, combine the flour and the salt. Throw in the butter, and pulse 9 times -- the mixture should look like uneven crumbs. Add the water all at once and pulse a few more times until it's incorporated. The mixture should resemble dough at this point, but a semi-pebbly dough rather than a homogenous mass.
  2. Dump the entire mixture out onto a sheet of plastic wrap, fold up the sides of the plastic to mush it all together so it is a homogeneous mass. Shape it into a thick disc, and chill in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.
  3. Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Roll out the dough between two sheets of parchment until it's about a 12-14 inch circle. Peel off one sheet of parchment and transfer, dough side down, to your 9 inch pie plate. Lay the dough on top. Peel off the second sheet of parchment and press the pastry down into the pie plate. Trim the edges until there's about a ½ inch overhang, then fold that under and pinch it to the pie plate to crimp (the crimping is not just decorative- it helps keep the crust from shrinking down the side of the plate). Use the trimmings to fill in any holes or divots in the dough.
  4. Line the pie crust with foil, then fill with pie weights or dried beans and bake for about 20 minutes. Let cool.
For the Filling:
  1. Toast the walnuts (I use a toaster oven) then roughly roughly chop them.
  2. In a bowl, whisk the eggs, add the sugar, molasses, maple syrup, melted butter, tea, vinegar and salt and whisk until combined. Add the walnuts and stir.
  3. Set the prebaked pie shell onto a baking sheet lined with aluminum foil. Pour the walnut mixture into the pie crust.
  4. Bake at 450 for 10 minutes, then reduce the heat to 350 and bake for an additional 20-25 minutes, or until the center has just a slightl slight wobble. (Watch the top in the last 10-15 minutes of baking - if it seems to be getting too browned, cover with foil.)
  5. Let cool to room temperature and add to your groaning pie board.
Filling Adapted from Classic Home Desserts by Richard Sax


How to Roast a Chicken, the Zuni Cafe Way

Chicken 2

I was roasting a chicken the other night, and I realized that I’ve never posted a roast chicken recipe on my blog, which I really should. It’s my go to Sunday night supper, one we have at least once or twice a month. It’s elegant enough for company dinner, but simple and casual enough for a kitchen supper (if you had an eat in kitchen, which we don’t. Say it’s casual enough to eat while curled up on a couch, with a glass of $4/bottle Tempranillo and a DVD of Mamma Mia. Don’t judge.) It appeals to kids, picky eaters, those who don’t eat red meat. It doesn’t require fancy ingredients. And it creates wonderful leftovers which can be repurposed into all sorts of great things — chicken salads, chicken curry, and chicken stock (more on all of those, later). In short, roast chicken might just be the perfect meal. And as such, it’s my duty to share a recipe with you.

I’ve tried many different roast chicken recipes — Martha Stewart’s Chicken with 40 Cloves of Garlic, Thomas Keller’s Roast chicken (which, incidentally is almost identical to my family roast chicken recipe, which was given to us by the Moroccan cook at my godmother’s in-laws’ villa on the Cote D’Azur), and the standard rub with butter and roast at 350 until it’s done recipes, but I always come back to this one, which I found in Judy Rodger’s marvellous Zuni Cafe Cookbook (incidentally, this is one cookbook I think every serious cook should own. The techniques are amazing, the recipes flawless, and the dishes wonderful). Judy Rodgers has converted me to dry brining — sprinkling the chicken with salt well before you want to cook it — which yields a tender and juicy chicken with a crisp, salty skin that is seasoned all the way to the bone. Dry brining can yield great results in any meat (even the Thanksgiving turkey), but a dry brined chicken is a thing of beauty and should be in everyone’s repertoire.
Continue reading How to Roast a Chicken, the Zuni Cafe Way

A Turkey You’ll Want to Gobble — Dry Brined Roast Turkey

Dry Brined Roast Turkey 2

Hosting Thanksgiving dinner can be awfully anxiety producing. First, there’s the worry about seating logistics – is your table big enough for your number of guests? Do you have enough chairs? (Here’s a tip — don’t seat anyone who has graduated from high school at the kid’s table). Then there’s the anxiety about what to serve — Uncle Jim insists on green bean casserole but Cousin Imogen hates mushrooms. Your husband always had mashed potatoes when he was growing up, your brother prefers roasted potatoes and your great aunt Cassie (who isn’t really your aunt but everyone calls her aunt anyway because she went to summer camp with your grandfather’s sister) thinks potatoes have no place on the table, only parsnips. But nothing creates as much anxiety as the traditional centerpiece of the Thanksgiving table: the turkey.

When I was a kid, nobody really liked turkey. I remember many Thanksgivings of tasteless Butterball birds, on the dry side, that you politely took a slice of before digging into the stuffing. When I started hosting my own Thanksgiving dinners, I, armed with this newfangled thing called the internet, set out to make a delicious, juicy turkey that would be a pleasure to eat — a true centerpiece. I read all of the literature — I tried flipping the bird halfway through cooking (have you ever tried flipping a hot turkey? No fun), Tenting it with foil (the bird was very juicy — so juicy it fell apart in the oven and couldn’t be carved), lathering it with butter (great, crispy skin, but the meat was still decidely blah) and finally the current conventional wisdom, a wet brine, which involves immersing the turkey in a salt water bath for a few days prior to roasting, assuming that the water will seep deep into the turkey’s core. The wet brining was quite a daunting proposition — finding a tub big enough to hold a turkey and the brine, finding a place to put it in the refrigerator (because you don’t want to leave a turkey brining at room temperature), and then roasting it only to discover that the turkey was juicy and flavorful, but the brine really cured the turkey, giving it a slightly watery texture and a flavor closer to ham than the roast turkey of my dreams.

Luckily for you all, though, I have discovered the secret to flavorful, juicy and EASY turkey, and it doesn’t require an industrial walk in refrigerator — the dry brine. I learned about the dry brine from Judy Rodgers in the fantastic Zuni Cafe Cookbook. A dry brine — which involves salting the meat well in advance of cooking, which first draws the juices out of the turkey due to osmosis, then draws the seasoned juices back in — is the secret to my favorite roast chicken recipe, served at the Zuni Cafe in San Francisco. I reasoned — if the method delivers a delicious, juicy, flavorful roast chicken, then why shouldn’t it work on turkey?
Continue reading A Turkey You’ll Want to Gobble — Dry Brined Roast Turkey

Small Celebrations — Almond Banana Cake with Salted Butter Caramel Icing

They say you are either a cake person or a pie person. While I think that this is a somewhat loaded dichotomy, and the “cool” answer is nearly always to be a pie person, since pies represent down home cooking and Americana and real cooks and cakes are Frenchy or something, I am unequivocally a cake person, both in the eating and the making. Pies are fraught, with all that rolling and transferring, and the end result is pretty much what you put into it, but cakes are magic. Butter, sugar, flour eggs and you end up with celebrations, or nostalgia, or dreaminess. Did I ever mention I made my own wedding cake? That’s a story for another time, but suffice it to say I love baking cakes.

When family birthdays come around, I eagerly jump on the cake making occasion. For me, cakes are best saved for parties, because it’s dangerous to have leftover slices of frosted layer cake on the lam in my kitchen. But sometimes the party is small, but the occasion is still worth a full on celebratory multi-layer cake. That’s when my favorite cake cookbook comes in handy: The Wedding Cake Book by Dede Wilson. I love this book because not only does it have multiple interesting and delicious recipes for different flavors of cake, each recipe is given separately for the individual tiers, which means you can make a 6 inch cake, or a 12 inch cake, and you don’t have to make the whole thing. I particularly love the 6 inch cakes — they’re perfect small celebration cakes for just a few people.
Continue reading Small Celebrations — Almond Banana Cake with Salted Butter Caramel Icing

Hazelnut Praline Paste — Not your Mama’s Peanut Butter

Hazelnut Praline Paste
Prep time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 6
  • 2 cups raw hazelnuts
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1-2 T walnut oil
  1. Toast two cups of hazelnuts at 325 degrees until the skins have darkened and the hazelnuts are giving off a wonderful toasty smell. Then wrap them in a dishtowel and let them steam for about 10 minutes (don’t skip this step!)
  2. After steaming, use the dishtowel to remove the hazelnut skins.
  3. When the hazelnuts are skinned, mix 1 cup of sugar and 1 cup of water in a heavy saucepan. After you’ve stirred the sugar and water, leave on medium high heat, and DON’T TOUCH. After about 10 minutes, it will reach a lovely golden brown in its darkest part, and that’s when you add the hazelnuts. Immediately pour the hazelnut pralines onto a baking sheet lined with greased parchment.
  4. To make the praline butter, break the caramel into pieces that will fit into your food processor. Start running your food processor, and add the pieces of broken caramel one or two at a time, and process until they’re ground. The ground mixture will look like graham cracker crumbs, but keep processing. It will start to get smooth, like thick peanut butter. At this point add a teaspoon of kosher salt, and keep processing. Start adding oil – hazelnut oil is best, but walnut oil will work too. Any neutral oil will also work in a pinch (but I’d avoid canola – I think it has a nasty aftertaste). Add a tablespoon at a time, and process until the mixture reaches your desired consistency. (I used two tablespoons of walnut oil for mine)

Note: My favorite café is actually one of an international chain based in Belgium, Le Pain Quotidien, which translates to “the daily bread”. Despite the general McImages that the word “chain” conjures, I think this is a very good one and is generally worthy to stand alone. I’ve eaten at three locations in New York, four in Los Angeles and one in Bruges, Belgium, where it’s called Het Dagelijksbrood (Flemish lesson of the day). The locations are remarkably consistent in terms of food and décor, and the bread and the praline paste are very good. They also make the world’s best egg salad sandwich, open faced, with anchovies on top. If you should desire to experience this for yourself, my favorite location is on Melrose in West Hollywood, where there’s an enormous patio under a large tree which is a very pleasant place to sit and enjoy a morning treat.