Thursday, June 21, 2012

Recipe: Blueberry Cream Cheese Pie with Shortbread Cookie Crust

You may recall that last year Facebook foodies were all abuzz about the Pie Party hosted by Shauna of Gluten Free Girl and Garrett of Vanilla Garlic. This was the party that forced me to venture out of my savory cooking comfort zone and finally tackle seemingly frightening things like crust. Well, they're at it again this year, bringing along new friends and inviting everyone and anyone that will play. The rules are simple: Make pie, take picture, post. Easy as... well... pie.

I didn't always think pie was easy to tackle. A nice slice of it on a plate, perhaps accompanied with a giant scoop of ice cream - that's easy enough to handle. It was the pie crust making, with all its little nuances of cold butter here and ice water there; that scared me. It was just way too precise.

I got over it, though, and while I still prefer the easy magic of savory cooking, it did help remove some of that unnecessary anxiety that surrounded my baking things other than muffins. Last year I made wee peach pies for my first official pie-making attempt, and they were a huge success. This year I felt a little more confident, so I decided to try something a little different.

Anytime I'm faced with making pie, I get all sorts of quaint, Norman Rockwell-esque ideas and this time was no different. I had originally set out to make a simple fresh cherry & berry pie with all the cherries my favorite vendors have been throwing at me lately, but then summer arrived. About a week early. With a vengeance! For the past couple years we've had some really mild summers, but this year the traditional triple-digit Sacramento summer came back in full force, and let's just say that 104° weather + upstairs apartment + subpar windows that let in all the heat ≠ an ideal pie-making scenario.

Not wanting to torture myself with more heat from my oven, I had to come up with a new plan. And that plan included the least amount of baking time possible, while still keeping with making my own crust from scratch (not a requirement for the Pie Party, but A) it's better than store bought, and B) I also wasn't about to go buy crust when I could just make it. 'Tis the PGEW way.).

Because my schedule nowadays is all over the place, large chunks of free time are few & far between, so I decided to save making regular pie crust for another day. Playing some mental food math in my head, I figured it would be nice to incorporate a more shortbread cookie-esque crust to go with my berries (narrowed down to blueberries & blackberries, since I had other plans for my strawberries). But that seemed like it could be too dull on its own, so I decided to add an easy but delicious cream cheese filling, on top of which I could spoon all those sweet, luscious berries.

Yo, Poor Girl: Blueberries and blackberries are NOT cheap! Why is this on your blog?

For one, I love pie, and I don't celebrate it nearly enough, so if there's an unofficial holiday for it then I darnit, I'm making pie. But I also chose this to showcase the beauty - and affordability - of eating seasonally. It should come as no surprise to anyone that fruits & vegetables that are enjoyed in season are far more delicious than those that were picked eons ago and left to "ripen" in some warehouse. With that awesome quality comes the added bonus of lower prices. Because there's no need to incur storage or transportation costs for produce that is not in season, there's no need to pass on all those extra costs to you, the paying customer.

Granted, there are many places where certain fruits & vegetables aren't available, or if they are, it's only for a very small window of time. And there are places where even seasonal produce can cost a lot, just depending on where one is located. So believe me when I say I understand if you can't trot on down to your local farmers' market like I do, grab a bunch of cheap & sexy (oh, that sounded bad) produce and go about your merry way. But eating seasonally is good to keep in mind, regardless of how limited your store selection is. Even at major chain grocery stores, you will notice a difference in both quality and price when it comes to certain items.

So what if your boyfriend loves blueberries and you want to make this for his birthday, but he has the nerve to celebrate his entrance into this world in December, when there are just no blueberries left? No problem. These things happen. You can get around this in one of two ways: try to stock up on summertime berries and freeze them so you'll be able to use them throughout the year (the best way to solve your dilemma), or B) buy frozen berries (not as awesome, but they'll get the job done).

Again, eating seasonally is best, but I personally don't feel the need to deny myself something like blueberry pie just because it's wintertime (watch me get slammed for that one; but really, it's not the end of the world to eat something out of season. Unless it's a fresh tomato. Those things are sacred.). Don't stress; this is pie and it's supposed to be fun.

And hey, guess what? You're still allowed to have fun even if you're broke. Just do so in moderation (as most things should be done). This isn't an everyday thing, and you're certainly not going to sit down and eat this entire thing in one sitting. Just save this sort of thing for a special occasion or for when you already have most (if not all) of the ingredients on hand. Running out and buying stuff for a recipe, especially when you're having a rough time financially, is not necessary. If you're really set on making a certain recipe, try to see where you can make substitutions with ingredients you already have on hand. This way, you won't be spending too much extra just for one dish.

Speaking of costs, not sure you can afford to make this entire pie? Most of the time, I can't either! But again, this is not an "everyday" recipe and we can still solve this problem a couple different ways. You can cut the recipe in half and use smaller pie dishes to make something a little more user & pocket friendly, or you could make mini pies in muffin tins. Either way, you can really stretch out your ingredients so you can make the best use of them. If all else fails, ditch the crust and make dessert shots! The cream cheese and blueberry fillings make a super simple parfait that you can use in shot glasses or small juice glasses, and make a lovely summertime treat.

Okay, no more babbling. It's time for PIE!!!

Blueberry-Cream Cheese Pie with Shortbread Crust (makes 10-12 servings; total cost per serving $1.25)

I wrote this recipe according to the 9" pie I made for the Pie Party, but please feel free to adjust it to fit your needs. If you have smaller pie pans, you can divvy up the crust & fillings among those. You can also cut the recipe in half and make one smaller pie and a few dessert shots. Because each element of the pie stands on its own quite well, it's easy to adjust the amounts you use for your finished product according to your budgetary and equipment needs.


For the crust
1/2 c (1 stick) of butter
1/4 c sugar
1 c flour
1/8 t baking powder

For the cream cheese filling
1 eight oz. package of cream cheese, softened (light or Neufchatel also work beautifully and have fewer calories)
1 can of sweetened condensed milk
1/3 c freshly squeezed lemon juice

For the blueberry topping
3 c fresh blueberries (frozen is also fine)
1/2 c sugar
3 T lemon juice
2 T cornstarch

1. Preheat the oven to 350°. In a small bowl, mix together the flour & baking powder. In a separate, larger bowl, cream the butter & sugar until light & fluffy. Add the flour a couple tablespoons at a time, and mix until thoroughly incorporated, taking care not to overwork the dough. Carefully press the dough into a 9" pie plate or pan (this will take some effort as this isn't a "rolling" kind of dough; just be patient and make sure all sides are covered evenly). Poke a few shallow holes at the bottom of the crust with a fork, then place in the oven and bake for 10-15 minutes, until the edges are a light golden brown. Remove from oven and set aside to cool on a rack.

2.Prepare the cream cheese filling by whipping the cream cheese with an electric mixer until light & fluffy. Add the condensed milk and mix until silky smooth, about 2 minutes (on a medium speed setting). Finally, add the lemon juice. Mix for another 20-30 seconds, until the mixture starts to gel a bit.

3. Prepare the blueberry filling: Combine the cornstarch & lemon juice in a small bowl and mix well to create a quick slurry. In a medium saucepan, combine the berries, sugar and cook over medium heat for a couple of minutes, until the berries start to release their juices and break down slightly. Add the lemon juice-cornstarch slurry and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for another minute or so, until the berry mixture starts to thicken. Remove from heat and set aside in a bowl to cool completely.

4. By this time, your crust should be cool enough to start assembling your pie. Pour the cream cheese filling into the pie crust. Tap the dish a couple times to make sure the mixture settles evenly and smooth the top with a spatula. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.

5. Remove pie from fridge and carefully spoon the cooled berry mixture onto the pie. Using a spatula, gently distribute the berry mixture over the pie, taking care not to squish the berries into the cream cheese filling (we're making layers here). Cover and refrigerate for another 30-60 minutes, or until ready to serve. Garnish with extra fresh blueberries, and enjoy!

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Recipe: Double Mushroom Burger

Despite all my kale-lovin', quinoa-eatin' ways, there are days when nothing sounds better to me than a good, juicy burger. That craving has been coming up more often as of late, possibly because barbecue season is now officially under way and the smell of burgers on the grill wafts by fairly regularly around Midtown. And possibly because I've been busy racking my brain to come up with an outstanding burger recipe for my book (Rodney, a fantastic foodie friend and awesome Kickstarter backer, is one of the lucky 25 that gets to choose a new recipe for me to develop. Since he pens the Burger Junkies blog, naturally he chose a burger. : ) ).

But I definitely have burgers on the brain because of Father's Day, and I know one of my daddy's (and most dads') favorite things on the planet is enjoying a good, juicy burger.

Because my dad lives out of the country, I don't get to spoil him with fantastic meals for Father's Day or his birthday the way I wish I could. Hopefully I'll be able to do so soon, because I haven't seen him in about seven years and I not only miss him so much it hurts, I kinda want to show him what his little girl can do now. Growing up, he was always the parent I was allowed to watch in the kitchen, but never help out (and I turned out the same way, lol), so I'm sure he'd be thrilled to try some of my dishes.

Alas, I only have the phone and the interwebs to help me spoil my main man, so I dedicate this burger recipe to him.

I'm a huge fan of mushrooms on my burgers, so I knew they'd be featured heavily in this latest dish. But I didn't want just another burger topped with mushrooms; everyone has those so they're not all that hard to find. I wanted my burger to have mushrooms in it, and so into the burger they went. For more reasons than just a simple craving.
The mushroom's meaty texture and rich, umami flavor make it a natural pairing with beef. Combining mushrooms with the ground beef used for your burgers not only amps up those delicious qualities, it cuts down on the fat of each individual burger, and helps to yield more finished product. And since mushrooms cost less than meat, you can really stretch out that meal without spending too much extra.

There are a lot of mushroom-stuffed burger recipes that seem pretty awesome, but my goal was to have the mushrooms become part of the actual burger. What I did for my recipe was to add finely chopped mushrooms into the ground beef and seasoning mixture, much in the same way I did for my Garbanzo & Mushroom Burgers. The trick is to make sure that your mushrooms are very finely and evenly chopped - one stray chunk larger than the others can make your patty prone to breaking apart.

I kept the seasonings fairly simple in this one, since the whole point is to let the burger - and all those magnificent mushrooms - shine. Granted, I've been using the amazing, quality meat offered by Lucky Dog Ranch (it's my monthly $5 splurge, lol), so a lot of seasoning isn't needed anyway. Naturally, the sauteed mushrooms that top this little piece of umami heaven add even more flavor to the finished product, which is another reason not to go overboard with seasoning the meat.  As much as I love a ton of different seasonings in certain dishes, when it comes to burgers, I'm kind of a purist.

While this one falls under the PGEW Splurges category, it's definitely more cost effective than getting a similar burger at a restaurant or fast food chain. You also know exactly what's going into your burger, which is important to know, especially in this day & age. Depending on how large or small you form your patties, you can make up to six burgers with this recipe. Granted, that leaves you with two extra burger buns in the package, but you can always save those for another kind of sandwich. Lastly, when it comes to toppings & condiments, feel free to use what you normally would. I like a lot of produce on my burgers (can ya tell?), but having this with a simple garlic aioli spread on the bun is also quite delicious.

Oh, how I wish I could be with my daddy to make him a low-carb version of this! Alas, I will just have to enjoy one in his honor (which I know he will give me hell for once I describe this to him in a few minutes. "That's not fair, hija," he's going to say, lol). But this burger's great for anytime of year, so when you're having a craving and don't feel like forking out too much for a restaurant burger, you can give this one a shot. I think it's worth it. :)

Double Mushroom Burger (makes 4-6 servings; total cost per serving: $3.05)

Not sure you'll need all those burgers? Split the meat & mushroom mixture in half and make meatballs with the second half. Then use them in pasta or a sub sandwich, and voila! Totally different meal from one recipe. 

Also, regarding cooking method, I cooked mine in a skillet on the stovetop, but I know a lot of you like to grill. I am not good at grilling (yet), so I won't give you tips until I feel more confident in that area. Instead, check out the grill master himself, Bobby Flay, and his Perfect Burger recipe  for tips on how to cook the perfect burger on any cooking surface. It worked for me!

1 lb ground beef
1 8 oz package of mushrooms
1/4 c + 1 T finely chopped red onion
1 clove of garlic, minced
1 T soy sauce
Salt & freshly ground black pepper
1 1/2 T light cooking oil (canola, etc.)
4-6 slices of cheese (optional)
Burger buns
Lettuce, tomatoes, onions, mayo, and other fixings
1. Take about 2/3 of the mushrooms from the package and slice into 1/4"-1/2" thick slices. Set aside. Take the remaining mushrooms and chop very finely (pieces should only be about 1/4" in size). Place in a separate bowl and set aside.
2. In a large bowl, combine the ground beef, garlic, 1/4 cup of red onion, the chopped mushrooms, soy sauce, and salt & pepper. Mix everything together until the mushrooms, garlic and onion are evenly distributed throughout. (At this point it may look like way too many mushrooms, but that's the goal.)
3. Divide the meat into 4-6 equal portions, depending on how large you like your burgers. Carefully shape each one into a 1/2"-3/4" thick patty, taking care not to overwork the meat. Heat the oil in the skillet over high heat until iridescent. Carefully place the burgers in the pan and cook for about 3 minutes, until golden brown on the bottom. Flip and continue cooking for another 3-4 minutes, until they're nice & golden brown (and slightly charred... Bobby's right about that part! Tastes so good!). Top with cheese if you're using it, allow the cheese to melt by covering the pan with a lid for just a couple minutes, and remove from pan.
4. In a small saute pan, heat about 1/2 tablespoon of oil. Add the onions and saute for about 30 seconds, until they start to turn translucent. Add the mushrooms and cook until tender, about 3 minutes or so, making sure to add a pinch of salt at the end. Remove from heat and set aside.
5. Assemble your burgers by adding your favorite condiments to the buns. Place the burgers on the bottom bun, top with plenty of sauteed mushrooms, and keep adding your tower of toppings. Serve with chips or a salad, grab plenty of napkins, and enjoy!


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