Ricotta & Wheat Pies [start of a new Easter tradition]

Ricotta & wheat pies are not an Easter tradition in my own family, but I have declared it a new tradition from here on out. They are crusted with a pasta frolla (a kind of shortbread), and then filled with a sweet ricotta filling, either adding chocolate or wheat berries at the end. My grandmother always made Sicilian Easter Rings growing up, and next year I’ll tackle those as a new project.

I made a total of 8 pies for Easter to give away as gifts and bring to the various households (both my boyfriend and I come from split families, so there’s always double to dish out) It was not a small feat considering my sad excuse for a kitchen and erratic stove. They turned out fabulous to my surprise. I used two different ricotta bases, and the version with the wheat was the general favorite. The wheat pies turned out lighter and creamier, whereas the ricotta pies were thicker and denser.

SO, I’ve adapted the recipe so that the base is the same, and you can simply add the wheat or chocolate chips at the end.

This recipe makes two pies. Go ahead and make the dough 1 full day in advance. It softens very, very quickly once you begin handling it. Make the wheat berries in advance too (takes about 1 hour or so).

Pasta Frolla- The Dough

  • 4 sticks of butter, room temp.
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 teaspoon lemon zest
  • 1 teaspoon orange zest
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon honey
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 cup water, room temp.
  • 4 cups flour

1. Cream together the butter and sugar in a large bowl until light and fluffy.

2. Add the zests, the honey, the baking soda and baking powder. Mix for about 1 minute until everything is really incorporated.

3. Add the water, beating at medium speed until you’ve created a liquid batter.

4. Add the flour and mix until you’ve created a nice little ball of dough. Do not over-mix or knead it like you would if you were making pizza dough.

5. Wrap it in plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight or for a full day.

6. Prepare your pie pan with a cooking spray or grease. Set aside 1/4 of the dough for the lattice strips on top. Roll out the bulk of the dough so it can cover the pie tin/ plate (about 13-14″). Gently lift and drop the pie tin/plate so the dough settles, and then trim off the edges.

Tips:

  • Work quickly with the dough, because it begins to soften immediately.
  • Use plastic wrap above and below the dough while rolling it out, so it won’t stick to anything. Pull off half of the plastic wrap when you’re ready to place the dough, and then after you’ve folded it over the pie tin, peel off the remaining wrap.
  • If you’re going to use metal, disposable tins, either bake the pie with three of them stacked up OR place the tin on a pre-heated baking sheet. This will help it cook more evenly.

The Filling

  • 2 pounds ricotta
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 6 tablespoons of orange blossom water (optional) 
  • 1 teaspoon lemon zest
  • 1 orange
  • 5 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon orange zest
  • 6 extra large eggs
  • 1 pound wheat berries (prepared) or 2 cups mini chocolate chips (both optional, depending on the kind of pie you want)
1. Prepare the wheat berries (if you’re making a wheat pie) by soaking them for 10 minutes in warm water. Fill a large pot with enough water to cover the berries (as if you are making rice) and bring to a simmer. Add the drained wheat berries, along with the zest, juice and rind of an orange and some honey, brown sugar and a pinch of salt. Cook for about an hour, until the berries are still chewy but soft. Stir often so the bottom doesn’t burn and then drain, and set aside to cool.
2. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
3.  Incorporate the ricotta, the two zests, the sugar and the orange blossom water.
4. Add the eggs one at a time until everything is thoroughly mixed and fluffy.
5. Fold in either the wheat berries OR the chocolate chips OR leave it plain!

6. Pour the mixture into the pie shell until it is about 3/4 full. Top it with a thin layer of pasta frolla or a lattice design. Use an egg wash and brush egg over the pie. Bake until it is golden brown, set but not too hard (it will continue cooking for a while). It took mine about 45 minutes to an hour.
7. Chill it and serve!
Tips:
  • It was a PAIN to find wheat berries. I went to Target (obviously futile), Sprouts/ Henry’s, Albertson’s and finally Mother’s Market, which of course has every random nut and flake you could ever dream up.
  • Be sure the wheat berries are cooked and ready to go before starting the mixture, because the actually filling takes minutes to stir together.
  • Wheat berries are cooked like rice, and make a fabulous breakfast. Swap out oatmeal for wheat berries!
  • If the pie is beginning to brown too much on the crust, cover it with foil.

Now bring us some figgy pizza!

I should totally be going to bed right now, especially since tomorrow I’ve sworn to wake up at the crack of dawn and begin damage control. The past two weeks have been pure overindulgence excused by Easter and the big news that I will be attending UCLA in the Fall on a full Fellowship! I’m in a constant state of shock. This will mean a new apartment and completely new life in L.A. come September. I plan to savor my last few months here in Costa Mesa, for as much as people love to complain about Orange County, I’ve really enjoyed my life here over the past couple years.

 Some of the food highlights from the past two weeks include an exorbidant amount of See’s Scotchmallow eggs, lunch out today at The Counter in Marina del Rey (see below!), dinner with Leah at Paco’s, pasta night with Iris, dinner at Mozza’s in Newport Beach, salmon eggs benedict for Easter at Dad’s, Nana’s Ham & Yams, and oh yeah….  8 pies I baked as gifts in my small kitchen the Friday before Easter [post to follow later this week].

So anyhow, back to this pizza! Two weeks ago, we literally ate pizza four nights in a row… we are complete pizza addicts. Dhiren made a pizza with goat cheese & figs and it was SO good that I made it again the following day.

Ingredients:

Basic pizza dough
Figs (fresh are the best, but since they were out of season, I used dried)
Goat cheese, crumbled
Honey
1/2 Onion
Olive oil
Mozzarella, grated

1. Prepare your dough! I will put a basic pizza dough recipe up in a couple days for those of you who are curious. For years I bought Trader Joe’s dough, but now we make our own. Not to knock Joe’s, but it always seemed impossible to get a crunchy, perfect dough with their pre-made, refrigerated kind…

2. Caramelize the onions until they are sweet and a deep golden color.

3. I recommend soaking the dried figs for a while prior to heating them up. I didn’t have time to soak them, so I just threw them on a skillet for about 5-8 minutes and heated them with about a tbsp of honey prior to putting them on the pizza.

4. Preheat your oven to about 400 degrees.

5. Roll out your dough as you like it, and brush with olive oil. Crumble goat cheese on top, and grate mozzarella on the entire pizza. Arrange the onions and the figs.

6. Stick it in the oven until the dough is crunchy and cooked (our dough doesn’t LOOK ready in this photo, but it was perfect!) I always use the touch-test with doughs, since looks can sometimes be deceiving.

I love combining sweet and savory flavors, and this is the PERFECT pizza for that. Hope some of you try it out!

Maple Syrup & Brown Sugar Parfait

Label this under “fast, simple & decadent.”

Ingredients:

  • 2/3 cup nonfat, plain yogurt
  • 1 1/2 tbsp maple syrup (pure)
  • 1/4 cup cereal (I used raisin bran)
  • 1 tbsp brown sugar
  • strawberries
  • blueberries

Take a clear glass and fill the bottom layer with 1/3 cup of organic, nonfat yogurt. Then top it with 2 tsp of pure, maple syrup. Crush 1/4 cup of cereal, or granola and sprinkle on top. Then add a layer of blueberries, followed by more yogurt, maple syrup, strawberries and then the brown sugar. Brûlée the brown sugar with a torch (I know… I’m obsessed with the torch. It makes everything 100 times more amazing though, I swear…)

This has 6 Weight Watchers points, and is a delicious snack or dessert.

Anyhow, life took over last month with grad auditions, lots of practicing and working on my eating habits. Met my 5% weight loss goal two weeks ago, which was no small feat since I have a lot of weight to lose. I neglected this blog all last month, but no more. Next up is a spinach quiche I made earlier in January that turned out amazing, as well as my first multi-tiered layered cake (and fondant!!) Excited to get back on the boat and dedicate more time to this.

How to Poach Your Eggs with Pride

I’ve been a little obsessed with poached eggs lately. They are so delicious & healthy and have a softer consistency than a fried egg. Whenever I fry my eggs, I always feel a little vulgar as well, even though I don’t actually fry them in fat. Eating a poached egg however, always leaves me feeling very refined.

Directions:

  • Bring about three inches of water close to a simmer in a large saucepan.
  • Drop a splash of vinegar in the water (this will help “tighten” up the egg- or at worst, give you a false sense of confidence). Crack one egg into a small bowl (this makes it easier).
  •  Carefully slide the egg into the water.
  • Using a spatula, help the egg keep its shape and allow the white of the egg to envelope the yolk.
  • Boil for about three minutes.
  • Use a slotted spoon to gently scoop up the egg, and set it in a bowl. Wait for about 30 seconds, and then using a paper towel, swirl the bowl around to drain the water “run-off” (sounds appetizing, huh?) and dab. Some people like to drain the egg on the paper towel, but I always worry that it’s going to stick to the paper!
I usually do about three-four at a time for the boyfriend and me, using a large, wide saucepan. I haven’t encountered any problems doing this. I just use a spatula to help the eggs stay in their place and fold over.

Goodbye little Poachie. I mean, you’re cute and all, but I can poach four eggs in three minutes on my own, and well…. you’re just holding me back.

Decadent, Creamy Chocolate Coconut Smoothie

Let me start by saying that I really wanted to make chocolate chip cookies instead of a smoothie for my post-lunch snack. I REALLY wanted to. While browsing Pintrest I found a recipe that looked amazing and different than my favorite chocolate chip cookie recipe. But then the angel on my right shoulder kicked in and told me not to. “Make yourself a healthy, filling and nutritious smoothie instead,” it whispered to me.

It wasn’t tough to change my mind. I walked 4 miles today and have been on-target all week with my points and nutrition. Why blow it the NIGHT before my weigh-in? The whole point of Weight Watchers in my eyes, is to learn how to make smarter choices. You don’t have to feel deprived, but it also doesn’t mean you should give in to every craving and whim on a weekday afternoon. So I’m saving the cookies for tomorrow night. 

Smoothies have a supernatural ability nonetheless, to convince my taste buds that what I am drinking is a dessert. So, it’s a win-win.

Here’s the recipe I made up, and I’ve included the Weight Watchers Points for those of you who might be on the plan. Most of you who know me know that I am a little coconut obsessed. If you don’t like coconut, you can replace it with regular milk, or even almond milk if you’re feeling snazzy. 

Ingredients:

  • 2/3 cup light coconut milk (3 points)
  • 1/3 cup low-fat milk (1 point)
  • 1 cup ice (0 points)
  • 1 banana (0 points)
  • 2 tbsp sugar (3 points)
  • 1 tsp vanilla (0 points)
  • 1 tsp shredded coconut (0 points) *optional*

Combine everything in the blender & sprinkle with shredded coconut. Total count: 7 points. It’s extremely filling, and makes 2 large cups worth. More importantly it provides real nutrients instead of butter, sugar, flour and chocolate chips.

Granted, the 2 tbsp of sugar is… not ideal, but it tasted too chalky with only 1 tbsp, and I don’t like Splenda or artificial chemical sweeteners. I’d rather have a little of the real thing and feel satiated. Hope you enjoy this.

Sweet Crepes with Sautéed Cinnamon Bananas

This will be my last post until the weekend. I’ve been posting daily because I’m trying to catch-up on my long list of ideas and recipes that are standing by. I’m finding that blogging is taking up too much of my very limited time though. I have two auditions for grad school in t-minus three weeks, and so I need to be channeling all my creative efforts into that. I will be posting on weekends and scheduling posts to publish during weekdays, but I am banning myself from logging onto this blog or on Facebook on weekdays until February 18th.

Yesterday I woke up and thought that crepes with bananas sounded like a great idea. Crepes are easy to make, lighter than normal pancakes, and they make you feel oh-so-fancy. While in Paris in November we ate some amazing crepes, and some… not-so-amazing ones. The best one we tried was at the Sunday Market by the Bastille. It was delicious and stuffed with bananas and caramel sauce. I totally regret not buying a tub of $15 caramel from that stand. I also regret losing my camera which held pictures of it. 😦 (I still get sick thinking about how we left that camera on the plane…)

This was our favorite street performance we saw that day:

http://www.facebook.com/v/10100719818509791

I’ve tried lots of crepe recipes. Some require a blender, an hour of waiting time, etc. But then there are times when you’re in an “instant gratification” mood and in that case, this recipe works extremely well! I’ve been following Weight Watchers since September and so I’ve modified this a little to make it healthier (albeit, not as tasty). If you don’t care about caloric content, use butter and regular flour. Otherwise, you can stick with this recipe.

Ingredients for crepes (makes about five large crepes):

  • 1 cup whole wheat flour (or all-purpose), sifted
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup milk (I used 1%, but whole milk will make it tastier)
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 3 TBSP sugar
  • 2 TBSP light margarine, melted (or butter)

Whisk the eggs until frothy in a medium bowl. Add the milk, water and butter and whisk until combined. In a separate bowl combine salt, sugar and flour with a spoon. Add the dry ingredients to the wet, and fold in until just incorperated. Add the vanilla but take care not to over-mix.

Heat up a large skillet on medium-high heat, and when ready toss in a pat of margarine or butter.

This is the fun part. Working quickly, pour about 1/3 cup of batter onto the hot skillet and quickly pick up the pan and rotate it in a circular motion so that all of the batter spreads out to fill the width of the pan.

Roll them, and keep them wrapped in foil.

Ingredients for Sautéed Bananas:

  • Two bananas
  • White sugar (about 1/4 c.)
  • Butter or margarine (about 2 TBSP)
  • Cinnamon (about 1 tsp)

Melt butter in a skillet set on high. Toss in the bananas, sugar and cinnamon and let them fry for about 2 minutes, constantly scraping down the sides and bottom of the pan with a rubber spatula.

Arrange bananas inside the crepes, sprinkle with sugar, maple syrup, caramel sauce or nutella and enjoy!

 

Many thanks to Dhiren for helping me take photos on this post. Up next: Vegetarian Fiesta Burrito, Bread Pudding, Angelini Osteria Review & Homemade Ravioli & Pesto.

So-Simple Berry Vanilla Smoothie

I don’t know about you, but there’s nothing that makes me happier about eating healthy than smoothies. They are refreshing, filling AND they satisfy my sweet tooth. But, smoothies can be extremely unhealthy, especially when loaded with preservatives, sorbet and sherbet or worse: ice cream. I’ve tried some of the low-calorie smoothies at places like Jamba Juice and Juice It Up but they taste like chalk, and leave me $4 poorer.

This has become my favorite smoothie of all time.

Ingredients:

1 cup frozen blueberries or mixed berries
1 banana
1 cup 1% milk (you can use fat-free… but I just can’t do it… might as well use water)
1 tbsp vanilla

Blend them all in a blender until smooth & enjoy. It’s that simple. I probably drink this every other day in the morning or after a workout. It has 3 Weight Watcher Points because of the milk and it fills me up while helping me get in my dairy and 2-3 servings of fruit.

Pumpkin Pie Brûlée

This Thanksgiving I made 20 crème brûlées for my mom’s side of the family for our get-together. I normally just use the broiler to melt the sugar, but this time I decided to simplify it, give in and get the torch. I started going a little crazy that week with torching things and this recipe is one of those consequences.

I know it’s January and we should be putting the pie and pumpkin behind us, but I couldn’t help sharing this (very tasty) dessert. I hate to admit, but this was just a recipe on the back of an extra large vat of Libby’s pumpkin pie mix, neatly written out HERE. I won’t bore you with an exact replica of it on this blog. It’s a great recipe and a delicious pie.

BUT, now comes the fun part! Once you make the pie and are ready to serve, take out your brûlée torch, sprinkle your pie with a thick layer of sugar and let your inner pyro out!

Let the pie cool for a bit and then you have a crunchy, sugary crunch! Enjoy!

Dressing Table & DIY Makeup Board

Today is going to be the first of many non-food, lifestyle-related posts this year. I don’t know what’s come over me, but I’ve been seized by my inner feminine side and yesterday I went on a mission to finally organize my makeup & jewelry collection.

The catalyst was actually a comment from a client. While leaving her house I casually mentioned my love of makeup, and this client exclaimed “Really?? Because you don’t wear that much of it.” It was an innocent reply, but in an odd way I felt kinda embarassed. I realized that I don’t put much effort in putting myself together. And when I do, it’s  inconsistent, half-hearted & often dangerous.  It usually involves me quickly smudging on eyeliner at intersections,  interrupted by someone honking at me as I miss green lights. I can’t tell you how many mascara and eyeliner  marks I have on the ceiling in my car….

I’ve never liked doing my makeup while standing up in my cramped bathroom. I end up having to lean over to get close to the mirror, I get stuck in one pose for too long and then my feet hurt and something inevitably gets dropped too close, or even inside the toilet. It’s just unpleasant. So, I decided to put an end to this potential deadly habit by making it more alluring to get dolled up before I leave the house.

I recently noticed a small, beautiful, antique-looking vanity at World Market (a.k.a., the happiest place on earth) and lucky for me it was on sale! Hip-hip-hooray!

Finally, I have somewhere where I can store all my makeup and sit down to get ready. I couldn’t be happier with the outcome.

I also decided to make a jewelry board since two of my jewelry boxes are overflowing. I stole the idea from an Ikea catalogue. When I went to Ikea to buy one, I was told they didn’t actually sell them– it was just a decorative touch for their catalogue.  Typical. So I bought a cork board for about $5, got $4 worth of material, and used a basic stapler.

You can make your own as well. Here are the steps:

1. Spread out your chosen material on a clear workspace.
2. Arrange the cork board on top of the material. Make sure the material extends about 3″ all around. Cut off any excess fabric.
3. Fold the material down on the first side and fold the corner over towards the center to create a clean line and no overlap in the corner (as if you are folding wrapping paper around a present).
4. Staple it down all the way across. I used a basic stapler, but it’s easier if you have a heavy-duty stapler gun.
5. Repeat on all four sides, making sure the material is pulled tight. That’s it!

I’ve seen people use ribbon in a criss-crossed pattern for a decorative touch as well.  Anyhow, time to get ready to go out and enjoy the rest of the weekend. Happy Sunday!

Cheesy Garlic & Mushroom Calzone

I’m trying to catch up on some of the recipes from 2011 that I left in the dust on my hard drive. This was a really fun recipe and a delicious dinner. It’s economical and easy to make, and you can make it into a healthier calzone by simply substituting lighter cheeses, whole wheat flour and putting more vegetables in it.

The first step is making the dough. This, for me personally, is a lot of fun, and easy to do. I think dough is always better when made a couple hours ahead of time. You definitely need at least one hour for it to rise, so this isn’t a fast dinner.

*Note: this recipe yields two large calzones!*

Ingredients for 

the dough:

  • 1 (.25 ounce) package active dry yeast
  • 1 cup warm water
  • 2 tsp olive oil
  • 1 tsp white sugar
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 1/2- 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp olive oil
I always combine the yeast, water, 1 teaspoon of olive oil, sugar and salt for about ten minutes before adding in the flour. Then I mix it together, using a fork at first and once it clumps together, I knead it on a lightly floured chopping board. I knead the dough for about 10 minutes, turning it over, pressing in, and so on until it feels soft ( some people say it should feel like skin). I always do the poke test. Once the dough pops back after being poked, it’s ready. Then, set it in a bowl with 1 teaspoon of olive oil. Coat it in the oil, cover with plastic wrap, and then let it rise for about an hour, until it has doubled in size. 

Preheat the oven to 375 when you are ready to roll out the dough. Separate the dough into two portions. Roll both of them into circles.

To make the filling for one calzone, simply combine 1/2 to 1 cup ricotta cheese, 1 1/2 cups shredded Mozzarella cheese,  1/2 cup sliced fresh mushrooms and 1 tablespoon dried basil leaves. Now, you can fill it with anything you like. I personally love a four-cheese calzone, but you can fill it with more vegetables to make it healthier. I also used light ricotta in this one. Arrange the filling on half of the calzone.

Fold the calzones in half and secure with a fork. Using a baster brush, cover the whole thing with an egg wash (beat one egg in a bowl). This will give it that gorgeous color and crisp!

Bake for about 30-40 minutes. Enjoy with your favorite sauce!