Miniature Blueberry Pies

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It is a well-established truth that mini makes things better. Miniature blueberry pies are no exception. Using my Breville Pie Maker (great birthday gift Mom!) I used some of my preserved blueberries from last summer (preserved summer bliss details) but fresh or frozen could work too. You would need to make a blueberry syrup by boiling the fruit in a simple syrup first (equal parts water and sugar). I made eighteen of these pies for a dinner party. It started to become more challenging towards the end as the puff pastry was warming up – it starts to shrink, making for some “precious” tops. I did eventually cook a few in the Breville without tops and they turned out just fine. To note: from one premade pie crust, I was able to get 6 bottoms by cutting four then rerolling and cutting two more. I was able to get four tops from a sheet and try to keep it as cold as you can. I have not had luck rerolling the puff pastry, but feel free to try. You could stretch the blueberries by using more syrup and less berries, but be careful in the Breville if too much liquid. I personally like a hearty pie. You can bake these ahead and rewarm in the oven at 165 F on a baking sheet before serving with a generous scoop of your favorite vanilla ice cream. Other berries or preserved fruit would work just fine too.

Miniature Blueberry Pies

Ingredients to make 18! (yikes… that was a lot)

  • 3 premade refrigerated pie crusts (e.g. Pilsbury)
  • 5 sheets of frozen puff pastry (e.g. Pepperidge Farm)
  • 5 cups of preserved blueberries (recipe here, scroll), drained but reserve the syrup
  • 2 cups reserved blueberry syrup
  • 2 tablespoons of cornstarch

Instructions

  • Follow the directions for basic pie included with the Breville, but basically, plug it in to heat it up.
  • Make the filling by draining the preserved blueberries and reserving the syrup.

  • In a saucepan, combine the reserved 2 cups of blueberry syrup with 2 T cornstarch, bring to a boil, stirring until the sauce thickens. The cornstarch box will have some guidance if you need it.
  • Combine the thickened syrup with the blueberries and set aside.
  • For the crust, use the included cutters to make the bottom circle out of pie crust and the top circle out of puff pastry. Don’t cut them all in advance, unless you can pop them into freezer to keep it cold. I recommend doing just four at a time.
  • Press dough into pie slots, add filling (~ ¼ cup or so, don’t be shy), place the top crust and bake for 8-12 minutes until nice and golden. If making pies without top crust, do the same thing. While a batch of pies are baking, prepare the next set up crusts.
  • Serve warm, ideally, with ice cream.

Here are some of the more “precious” pies I made, but they still were delish….

Open face inspiration and picture proof of my quality assurance program. But alas no photos with ice cream… it starts melting right away.

 

What else have I baked in my Breville? Savory empanadas!

Reach & Read: Bees – Nature’s Little Wonders

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Bees – Nature’s Little Wonders By Candace Savage

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This well researched book about bees is a must read for anyone, beekeeper or not. Ms. Savage presents a very well researched book covering four big buckets: world, home, field and life lessons. Intertwined are lovely and varied illustrations, prose, wit, wisdom and of course, more reasons that I can shake a hive tool for people to champion or keep bees. It is also a “required” reading for you to achieve Intermediate Merit Badge for Bees. I will definitely bee reading more by Candace Savage, she has quite the library.

Bees of the World

“The life of bees is like a magic well. The more you draw from it, the more there is to draw” – Karl Von Frisch.

Hey! Remember him? He and others came up in my research about Nazi idealism prompted after reading the Zookeepers wife (review and ramblings here). This chapter goes into even more depth on his research but pulls in interesting twists from Aesop, reminds us of the many varied species of bees and shares Ralph Waldo Emerson’s The Humble Bee poem. Von Frisch appears throughout the whole book.

Where to do bees come from? “Out of the tears of the god Re” – Ancient Egyptian religious text

Bees at Home

Building on the research of von Frisch, enters Lindauer, who clocked countless hours staring at the bees (observing “real” bees). Mundane as this must have been at times, Lindauer contributed greatly to our understanding of how a hive maintains a working order. Before Lindauer and von Frisch, there was Shakespeare’s 1599 description of the roles in the hive, from king (queen) to drone:

…. They have a king and officers of sorts […] Others like soldiers armed in their stings, make boot upon the summer’s velvet buds; which pillage they with merry march bring home to the tent-royal of their emperor, who, busied in his majesty, surveys, the singing masons building roofs of fold, the civil citizens kneading up the honey, the poor mechanic porters crowding in […] the lazy yawning drone….[excerpt]

Bees of Field

“The fragrant work with diligence proceeds” Virgil, Aeneid, 29 BC

This chapter introduced me to the wild world of Emily Dickinson and her poems about bees and gardens. While poking around a bit learning about Emily’s “A Bee Experience“, I found a new blogger penned by someone in the same great state as I.

Life Lessons

“Go to the bee, then poet, consider her ways and be wise.” George Bernard Shaw.

This chapter is just that….life lessons. It goes into a little more depth about swarms as learned from Thomas Seeley’s research (swarm is always smarter than the sum of its parts) but ends on how you too, can nurture your “inner insect.”

Three basic characteristics of a swarm

  • “house hunting process is open to the widest possible input of knowledge and ideas”
  • “each individual […] makes her own independent assessment of situation”
  • “process is structured not as a search for compromise but as a friendly contest”

Or as the author proposes, “Three Habits of Highly Intelligent Groups”

While very little in this book talks about the disappearance of the bees, it ends with a rather ominous poem by Betty Lies (1998), titled End Notes for A Small History.

… Nobody wrote an elegy for to apricots……Of concentrated grape juice and orange juice, stores stocked with artificial flavoring….

Other ramblings

 

Strawberry Honey and Lemon Ricotta Tart

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Fresh ricotta cheese is nothing to fear. Very little investment in terms of money, time and emotion, yet pays in spades with pride, flavor and possibility! If you haven’t made your own ricotta yet, here is one approach that I recently shared. Ricotta is incredibly versatile, from plain to savory to sweet recipes. I pinned quite a few ideas on my Say Cheese! board, so check them out and share your favorites. For this strawberry tart inspired by bell’ alimento, I actually didn’t have a tart pan and used a pie plate, which worked just fine, just adjust the crust height. Next time I might use ramekins for mini versions or just acquire myself a nice proper tart.

Strawberry Honey and Lemon Ricotta Tart

  • 1 cup whole milk homemade ricotta cheese
  • 3 large egg yolks (save the whites for my favorite coconut macaroons)
  • ¼ to 1/2 cup honey (Are you feeling more sweet or less sweet?)
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 small to medium lemon – zested
  • 1 pound strawberries – topped and sliced to about ¼ thick, could also mix in blueberries for a more patriotic version
  • Powdered sugar to dust on top
  • 1 premade pie crust, get crazy and try a chocolate one, graham cracker crust would be tasty too.
  • Mint or basil for garnish

Instructions

  1. Preheat your oven to 350 F degrees.
  2. Unroll or defrost (or however you need to get your premade crust read). Be sure to prick with a fork about 6 times, to minimize it puffing up. Bake just the crust in the pan for about 10 minutes. Remove from oven and let it cool while you make the filling and slice the berries.
  3. Into a large mixing bowl combine the ricotta, egg yolks, honey, vanilla extract and lemon or citrus zest. Mix together with a spatula or whisk to combine.
  4. Pour your filling into prebaked crust.
  5. Bake the tart for approximately 30 minutes OR until center is just set and it begins to ever so slightly brown. If it puffs up when cooking do not worry. When you remove it from the over poke it once with a toothpick and it should settle back down.
  6. Place the pan on a wire cooling rack and let it cool down before placing the fruit on top.
  7. Arrange the sliced strawberries to your liking. Dust with powdered sugar. Maybe top with a sprig of mint or basil if you have any.

This is quite easy an easy recipe, that will fool many of your friends! Enjoy.


Simple Homemade Ricotta

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Second homemade cheese adventure – ricotta! Arguably much easier than my maiden mozzarella batch but does not have the “play with your food” step. This ricotta needs just three ingredients (milk, citric acid and salt) and about 45 minutes. Once done though the uses and recipes are limitless – to corral some current and future favorite recipes, I started a Pinterest board – Say Cheese! Feel free to send me some of your cheesy ideas to pin or just ask to be added as a pinner to the board. Here is how to make you own homemade ricotta. Recipe can be easily doubled or halved, just adjust the proportions.

Simple Homemade Ricotta – Makes 2 cups

Ingredients

  • ½ gallon or 8 cups, whole milk, try to not use ultra-pasteurized
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon citric acid OR 1/3 cup lemon juice (from 1 1/2 to 2 lemons) OR 1/3 cup distilled white vinegar
  • Optional: some recipes also had a 1 cup of cream to the mix

Tools

  • Thermometer
  • Large sauce pan (not aluminum or cast iron)
  • Wooden spoon or spatula
  • Cheese cloth
  • Colander
  • Large mixing bowl
  • Jar, for storing
  • Ladle or slotted spoon
  • Twine or yarn to tie the muslin

 

  1. HEAT! Pour the milk salt and acid (citric acid, lemon juice OR vinegar) into saucepan. Heat on milk until it reaches 195 – 200 F. Stirring frequently to prevent it from scorching or burning. When the curds separate from the whey (which is pretty obvious) turn off the heat and let the contents of the pan sit for about 5 minutes. Resist the urge to stir!
  2. DRAIN! Line your calendar with muslin or cheese cloth and set it in a large mixing bowl. Spoon or ladle all the curds into the lined colander. Tie up the muslin full of curds and hang a few inches over the mixing bowl. This will allow more of the whey to separate and drain from curds. I tied my muslin to a wooden spoon and suspended it lengthwise between to open drawers in the kitchen (see photo below).
  3. WAIT! Let the curds drain for about 30 minutes, less if you want the ricotta creamier. Check it after 15 minutes to check the consistency to see if it matches what you desire.
  4. ENJOY! The cheese is now ready to eat or store. Place it in a lidded container and store in the refrigerator for about 2 weeks. Ricotta can also be frozen but I doubt it will last that long in your home.

Resources and other Rabbit Holes:

Reach & Read: Casual Vacancy

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Casual Vacancy By JK Rowling – A book review

So, I might just be the only person able to comment on this book without comparing it to the Harry Potter series. Why? I have never read any of the books, nor seen the films. My only experience with Harry is riding the ride at Universal in Orlando (peer pressure and free park pass). No Potter baggage here! Casual Vacancy is an adult book in the category, tragicomedy, of which I have never heard of but fits it perfectly (would also put the Death of Bees in this category too-now that I know about it). The book’s chain of events could take place in any small town on the globe, but occurs in suburban Pagford England. Following the death of a revered and loved city councilman, Fairbrother, the town of Pagford really begins to unravel with each of the character past and present rearing their ugly heads. Although, the one character whose full backstory is missing is Mr. Fairbrother, which makes you wonder as everyone else’s dirty laundry is aired, what other secrets he held. His wife reveals some failings initially, but this is overshadowed by his reputation. It is really a sad, dark book about broken families, heroine, cutting and bullying, abuse, infidelity, gluttony yada yada yada. There are a total of thirty four characters, some more developed than others, all revealing entangled in the Pagford web. That does make it a slower read as you have to keep track of names and backstories. I did find a great list of all of them here on The Telegraph. My favorite character is Parminder Jawanda; most redeemed character Fats Walls. I read the whole thinking hoping for some redemption or a silver lining, and I am not about to spoil the book. I promise you will enjoy this well written book. It will certainly expand your vocabulary (best word learned – a·man·u·en·sis) and you can work on your inner English accent as the written words reflect the dialect.

Good news for those of you who don’t like to read, the BBC is planning a TV adaptation this year. No due date yet though.

 

 

Simply Healthy Kale Potato Soup

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Inspired by my continued soup successes and the food in my kitchen, I cooked up a quick recipe for healthy kale potato soup. After topping it with homemade yogurt and some truffle oil, it was still pretty darn healthy, full of flavor and a nice smooth mouth feel.

Simply Health Kale Potato Soup Recipe

Ingredients – makes about 5 cups

  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 pound potatoes, chopped and peeled (parsnips would work too)
  • 1 cup chopped onion
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 4-6 cups chopped kales leaves (about ¼ lb but this is flexible)
  • 3 cups chicken broth
  • 1-2 tsp kosher salt (depends on taste at end)
  • 2 tsp garam masala
  • Topping ideas: yogurt, sour cream or crème fraiche, truffle oil, olive oil, cracked pepper, crab, herbs

 

Instructions

  • Prep the potatoes, onion, kale and garlic. Peel and chop the potatoes, I chopped them pretty small so they would cook faster. I also used fingerling potatoes because that is what I had handy, but baby red potatoes or just about any other kind would be fine. Parsnips would work too. For the kale, I cut off the really course bottom stems.
  • Heat a large sauce or fry pan over medium heat. Add the butter, onion, potatoes and garlic. Cook for a few minutes, about 5, until just beginning to brown.
  • Add about 1 cup of chicken broth, keep cooking for another few minutes.
  • Add the chopped kale to the pan and stir around, continuing to cook for a few minutes.
  • Add the garam masala, or whatever other spice you might want to add. Pour in the rest of the broth.
  • Cook at a boil for 10-15 minutes, until the potatoes begin to soften and kale is wilted. Test the potatoes with a fork
  • Add about a cup of mixture in the sauce pan to the blender. Starting with just easier on my pour little blender. Blend on high until pureed. Continue to add ingredents, about a cup at a time, blending inbetween, until you have all the contents from the pan in the blender. Once it is pretty well blended, stop and taste the soup. Here is when you will add the salt. I would add 1 tsp first, blend for another minute or two, then taste again. If it needs more to your liking, add some more and blend again.
  • Once you have blended it nice and smooth, to a texture that suits you, it is all ready to serve.
  • Serve with a variety of toppings, maybe with some bread or crackers. Enjoy!

I would love to hear about your go to kale recipes!

Reach & Read: The Death of Bees

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The Death of Bees by Lisa O’Donnell – a book review

Probably first and foremost, this isn’t a book about bees. Yet, the topic of the Colony Collapse Disorder does make an appearance early on the book. The unfortunate circumstances of the book are shrouded in some mystery, much like why bees are declining in numbers. However, the more we learn about the bee decline and the more pages you read of this book, you realize that it is all about the toxic environment we live in. It is set in modern Glascow Scotland and has some pretty dark themes with flashes of life that you would hope no one, especially kids, ever had to experience (sex for drugs, molestation, drinking, drugs…). While the main characters, Marnie and Nelly, didn’t create their own toxic environment, they are stuck with the consequences and subsequent decline, despite being just children. The story of them burying their dead parents in the back yard under some lavender bushes will totally captivate your attention, make you wonder if you ever want to live in Scotland and remind you that even seemingly bad apples can know and demonstrate love and kindness. I read this book in one day and only paused to eat lunch – unstoppable! The cover bills it as “witty, funny ….. unsettling” and the pages truly deliver this. Just laugh out loud, even if you feel uncomfortable. The author has second book out now, Closed Doors, which I will indubitably be reading.

NPRs interview with the author: http://www.npr.org/2013/01/05/168558333/death-of-bees-captures-a-grim-gory-coming-of-age

Book Club/Discussion guide: http://www.litlovers.com/reading-guides/13-fiction/9038-death-of-bees-odonnell?start=3

Smoking Gun: Cigar Smoked Oysters

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Oh bivalves, how I love you! At least several times a year I proclaim my feelings in a public forum, today is no different. However, I am including accolades for the Smoking Gun, portable food smoker by PolyScience. Scouts honor they aren’t paying me anything for this post, this was actually a Christmas gift to the hubs after we saw a chef use it at a local gastropub. I picked one up at Amazon but looks like Williams and Sonoma among others have it available too. It is easy to use and really, you could probably smoke just about anything. We cold smoked (meaning that it isn’t cooking it) fresh oysters and some Hainanese chicken the MIL brought over. Next in line for smoking: cheese (homemade mozzarella!), sashimi, pork loin, pasta, honey (why not?), vodka, beer, chowder, potatoes, sugar and eggs……. We will also play around with different smoking mediums, such as loose leaf teas, spices and herbs. The Smoking Gun comes with a few varieties of wood chips included. It is safe to use inside and doesn’t get hot per se.

How to prepare cigar cold smoked raw oysters

Ingredients & Supplies

  • Fresh live oysters, small to medium in size
  • Smoking Gun
  • Shucker, gloves, towel
  • Cigar, only need about ½ inch or so, good use for
  • Plate and bowl or Pyrex dish with lid
  • Additional flavoring or sauces to try:
    • Lemon zest and wedges
    • Ginger soy and rice wine vinegar (one of our favorites!)
    • Tabasco
    • Bourbon (just a splash)

Instructions

  • Shuck your oysters. Easier said than done the first few times. Here’s a how to straight from Washington State, or you can invite a friend over that you know can shuck with the best of ‘em. Be sure to save the bring (salty liquid inside). Place them on a plate

  • Prep any additional sauces or toppings, such as tabasco, lemon zest or a ginger soy dipping sauce (grated ginger and about 2:1, soy sauce and rice wine vinegar). Do a few oysters with nothing but their tasty brine.

  • Decide what you flavor you want to smoke with oysters with. We wanted to try cigar/tobacco, which I highlight recommend. Cut off about ½ inch of the cigar with a sharp knife. Set up your Smoking Gun and put a pinch of tobacco leaves in.

  • Put some of your shucked oysters on the plate under the bowl. Be sure that the bowl lays pretty flat on the plate, as you don’t want smoke to sneak out. Turn on the Smoking Gun, place the tube/hose under the bowl, fill it with smoke, remove tube and let the oysters “clam bake” (hee hee) under the bowl filled with smoke for a few minutes. Maybe read the instructions for the Smoking Gun first. J
  • You could also use a baking dish with a lid to smoke the food inside. Worked pretty good too.

  • Here’s how we smoked the chicken too…..

What ideas do you have the Smoking Gun? Love to hear them!

Some other resources:

Reach & Read: Where’d You Go, Bernadette?

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Book Review: Where’d You Go, Bernadette? By Maria Semple

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Seriously, one of the funny books I have consumed in a while. I enjoyed this in its audiobook version, which suited it quite while as there are several character voices that really shone with the narrator’s skill and Sempl’s epistolary delivery. Set in Seattle, with plenty of local references and jabs at our beloved Emerald City. Written so convincingly, that I had to Google, this top rated TED talk, and no, it doesn’t exist.

Seattle references turned into a word cloud (not proportional to mention however):

Like almost always there is at least one funny connection with my life. Seattle aside, the daughter’s name is bee (slightly partial) AND a pretty funny compounding pharmacy scene. This book was enjoyable, with interesting characters, a couple twists, a blackberry removal lesson and plenty of laughs. Enjoy!

Great lines!

“You’re bored. And I’m going to let you in on a little secret about life. You think it’s boring now? Well, it only gets more boring. The sooner you learn it’s ON YOU to make life interesting, the better off you’ll be.”
― Maria Semple, Where’d You Go, Bernadette

“Hovering over me was the Chihuly chandelier. Chihulys are the pigeons of Seattle. They’re everywhere and even if they don’t get in your way, you can’t help but build up a kind of antipathy toward them.”
― Maria Semple, Where’d You Go, Bernadette

Quintessential Slow Cooker Beef Burgundy

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Savory and satisfying – perfect for cool weather dinners with the added slow cooker bonus – coming home to the smell of homemade hearty goodness, near ready to eat. Do not be lead astray, there are extra steps in the recipe that add to the final overall quality. It is not a dump and run type recipe. Sure you could skip ahead but it will come at a sacrifice, as each adds a subtle layer of flavor. Recipe based on Lynn Alley’s The Gourmet Slow Cooker recipe.

Slow Cooker Beef Burgundy

Enjoy with a rustic crusty bread or wide noodle pasta. Serves 2-3.

Ingredients:

  • ¾ cup flour
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt, another teaspoon plus more at the end
  • 1 ½ pounds beef short ribs or beef stew meat (cut into 1 to 2 inch cubes)
  • 3 tablespoons butter or canola oil (for browning beef) plus another 2 tablespoon for sautéing
  • 2 cups full-bodied red wine such as a Pinot Noir or bold red table wine. Buy something you would drink.
  • 1 cup beef stock (freeze the rest of the can or box for next time)
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped or crushed
  • 2 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 1-2 sprigs fresh rosemary
  • Feel free to add other herbs, such as oregano, and extra thyme and rosemary for garnish
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 20 baby white onions or boilers
  • 1 pound button or other mushrooms, halved
  • ½ cup grated parmesan, asiago or romano cheese
  • Additional items to possibly add: quartered baby potatoes, pearl barley (cook according to package directions)
  • Additional salt and fresh cracked pepper as needed at the end to match your taste

Helpful items: slow cooker liners (link to my affiliate store here) and plastic bag

Instructions:

  1. In a plastic bag or on a plate, combine flour and salt then add in the prepped beef and toss to coat. If using short ribs, do not worry about cutting smaller, leave the meat on the bone, it add flavors and the meat will just fall off.
  2. Heat the butter or oil in a large sauce or sauté pan over medium to medium high heat. Add the beef and brown on each side, turning every few minutes with tongs. You aren’t cooking it all the way. Should take about 10 minutes. When browned, set aside.
  3. To the pan add the wine (and pour yourself some too), beef stock and stir over medium heat for a few minutes. This step is “deglazing” the pan or soaking up the browned tasty bits off the pan and into the sauce. Continuing cooking and stirring for 10 minutes until the wine begins to reduce and the sauce seems thicker. Add another teaspoon of salt at this point. Taste your sauce.
  4. Put your liner in your slow cooker, or don’t use one (but don’t cry to me when you have to wash it). Place the beef in the cooker and then add garlic, thyme, rosemary and bay leaves. Pour in wine sauce.
  5. Cover and cook on low for 4-6 hours. Or refrigerate the crock and contents until you are ready to use. I like to prep mine the night before.
  6. While beef is slow cooking, peel onions and cut off the ends and if using boiling onions, halve or quarter. Heat a sauté pan (you could even use the same one from above) and add 1 tablespoon butter and cook onions over medium to medium high heat until just browned. Put aside. You will add these in to the slow cooker about 30 – 60 minutes before ready to serve. They will continue to get tender.
  7. About 45 minutes before serving, sauté the mushrooms in butter, about 5 minutes. Add the mushrooms to the slow cooker about 30 minutes before ready to serve. If adding pearl barley, do so
  8. Taste your beef burgundy after adding the mushrooms and if it needs more salt add some. It might not though as the stock has salt and your butter might have, depending.
  9. Before serving remove the sprigs of herbs and top with grated cheese. Serve piping warm with bread for mopping up the sauce.

 

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