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.

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Chocolate Chip Vanilla Ice Cream & Frozen Yogurt with Cream

I got an ice cream machine for my birthday two weeks ago, and I’ve used it twice with success. It’s so addicting, and not just the ice cream itself, but the process.

The first recipe is for Chocolate Chip Vanilla Ice Cream. I stole the recipe from the famous Jenni Britton Bauer off of Food & Wine. You can get it HERE. I simply followed the directions and during the last ten minutes of churning, added some chopped chocolate from a Godiva dark chocolate bar. I’ve always been a fan of chocolate slivers in vanilla ice cream, as opposed to chunks. It was DIVINE, although now I am more aware of why ice cream is so calorie-dense. You literally use 4 cups of a mix of whole milk and heavy cream. The consistency of this ice cream was very creamy, although fast-to-melt.

Yesterday I realized I had a carton of 0% fat Greek Yogurt in the fridge and I probably wasn’t going to eat it, so I decided to use some of the left-over heavy cream, whole milk and yogurt, to make a tart yogurt cream. It turned out delicious.

Recipe:

-1 carton of 0% Greek Yogurt (or 1%)
-1 cup whole milk
-1/2 c. heavy cream
-1/2 c. fine sugar, sifted
-3 tbsp light corn syrup
-1 tsp. vanilla

1. Whisk all ingredients in a large bowl. This recipe is faster than a normal  ice cream, which normally requires boiling, and an ice bath.

2. Pour ingredients into your ice cream machine, according to the directions for your specific machine. I was given the Cuisinart, and so far, I love it!

3. Press on, and wait.

4. It will thicken. Let it churn to your liking. This recipe is thicker than a normal ice cream, because of the yogurt and the fact that the ingredients are all cold when poured in. I loved the instant gratification of this particular recipe.

This didn’t need any extra freezing time, and was ready in about 30 minutes.

I had some sad-looking strawberries that needed to be used ASAP, so this was perfect. This recipe has a tanginess that I love from frozen yogurt, but is still rich and creamy. Enjoy!

Healing Cherry Chocolate Chip Cookies (& Milk)

So the story goes like this: Dhiren was sick yesterday with the “flu.” (I personally think he had mild alcohol poisoning [read: hangover] from last night’s lemon drop, wheat beer and glass of wine he ordered while out at tapas, but he insisted he had the flu…)

After pampering Dhiren with some Thai soup, liquids, a salad, coconut water and a couple thermometer readings, I decided to try something else: cherry chocolate chip cookies. I know what you’re thinking: “Cookies and illness shouldn’t have anything to do with each other. Sugar and flour are inflammatory, etc.” But when I asked him if some freshly-baked cookies would make him feel better, he lit up like a four year-old and it was too late to turn back.

I made my normal chocolate chip cookie recipe, and just added a cup of reconstituted dried cherries. Cookies and milk  have always been an all-time favorite dessert of mine. While I love tiramisu, crème brûlée and elaborate pastries and cakes, nothing is quite as nostalgic as a freshly baked cookie dunked in a neon plastic Ikea cup full of milk and a twisty straw. Plus, I LOVE summer produce. Plums, cherries and nectarines are some of my favorite fruits and we live right around the corner from two of the best farmer’s markets in Orange County. I eat them all summer long and have them constantly in the fridge and counter. I’m always looking for new ways and uses for seasonal produce (even if it is dried, seasonal produce), particularly if they involve butter.

Well, these were amazing.

Needless to say, Dhiren felt better.

I’m willing to admit that I think his miraculous recovery had more to do with the liters of liquids, coconut water and rest he got, but I think the cookies mended his spirit.

Nostalgic Connecticut Blueberry Crisp

Dhiren and I got a knock at the door at 11am a couple days ago to find a huge package from his mom in Connecticut waiting for us. We quickly opened it, and inside we found pounds and pounds of organic blueberries from his grandmother’s farm in Kent, CT, freshly picked by his mother less than 24 hours ago.

These berries are extremely nostalgic for Dhiren.  Since I’ve known him he often talks  about how he used to work on his grandmother’s farm, setting up tents (I don’t know the actual term) and picking them (most likely eating more than he picked). The farm also produces equally-as-delicious peaches and maple syrup.  When we visit, it’s always fun to wander through the orchards and see how things used to be done, before mass agricultural industrialization and pesticides came to town. (Produce just doesn’t taste as good when it’s plumped with water, genetically modified and then sprayed down with gallons of chemicals.)

Berry bushes from 2009 on his grandmother's farm

Farm boy at heart

So Dhiren glowed when he opened the package. What a crazy, but amazing birthday present! I quickly got to work researching some recipes for the berries. Martha Stewart has some great slide shows of berry recipes, and after a good amount of drooling, I finally decided to go with a simple crumble, which highlights the fresh berries better than something with lots of flour and ingredients.

I used good ol’ Martha’s recipe, along with a tasty, homemade whipped cream and it was fantastic. I even cooled the crumble by the window to make the neighbors jealous…

If you want the recipe, go HERE. I’m too lazy to type it out, especially since I didn’t modify it (actually I only used 5 cups of blueberries, not 6 of them)

Simple recipe, but SUPER delicious.

Thank you Wendy!!! From Dhi & Dee

Revision: How to sabotage your diet with a delicious coconut cream pie

Based on a true story. I’ve completed seven days of SBD Phase 1, not counting two days of cheating caused by this recipe (and some other delicious food… more on that later).

This is one of those, oh-my-god-I-never-knew-I-liked-pie kind of pies.

Wish I had taken a better photo of this, but the family was hungry and waiting.

  • 1 can coconut milk/cream
  • 1 cup half-and-half
  • 2 eggs
  • 3/4 cup white sugar
  • 1/3 cup corn starch
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cups flaked coconut, toasted
  • 3/4 cups flaked coconut, not toasted
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 teaspoons coconut extract
  • 1 (9 inch) pie shell, baked (or make your own if you’re feeling Martha Stewarty)
  • 2-3 cups whipping cream (depending on how much topping you want)
  1. In a medium saucepan, combine coconut milk, half-and-half, eggs, sugar, corn starch and salt. Bring to a boil over low heat, stirring constantly (should take about 15-20 minutes). Mixture should thicken to a pudding. Remove from heat, and stir in 3/4 cup of the grated coconut and 1 tsp. of coconut and vanilla extracts. Pour into baked and cooled pie shell and chill 3 to 4 hours, or until firm (leave it in the fridge covered overnight if you really want a flavorful pie).
  2. When ready to serve, beat the whipping cream on medium-high speed with an electric or stand mixer in a large bowl. Beat for 10 minutes until it thickens and holds soft peaks on a spatula. Add 1 tsp. coconut extract and resume beating until stiff peaks form. Top the pie with the whipped cream and toasted coconut.
  3. To toast coconut, spread it in an ungreased pan and bake in the oven on 350 degree until golden brown, stirring occasionally.

This is probably one of my favorite desserts and I’m getting cravings just thinking about this recipe… I’ve been in a coconut mood lately and am thinking of baking some South Beach-friendly coconut macaroons tomorrow, especially since I have a fresh coconut sitting on my counter.

The dinner with the family last weekend was a great success. The ribs came out tender, my first stab at mashed potatoes got the approval of my Dad, and Nana’s macaroni & cheese was delicious, even though I forgot the salt.

I will update tomorrow about the South Beach Diet itself. I’ve had a couple people ask me what it’s all about, and I think it’ll be good to shed some light on what I think is one of the healthiest “diets” out there.

Enjoy!

One last dessert (for now…)

I’ve been whipping up way too many desserts lately, and it’s gonna stop. Yesterday I taught the boyfriend how to make brownies. We made a 9×9 round pan of them, and they were shamefully gone by the following morning. They were probably the best brownies I’ve had in years, but no– this honeymoon from health has to come to a stop for a while. I’ve noticed an unwelcome change in circumference and so I think I best lay off the dessert recipes in exchange for the healthy ones. BUT, before we delve into weeks of healthy eating, let’s have one more indulgence: Affogato, otherwise known as the adult version of a root beer float.

Make about 1/4 cup of DARK & BOLD coffee or espresso. I used a cloth tea strainer filled with finely grounded espresso bean and piping hot water, and it worked like a gem. Then pour that over a high-end vanilla ice cream or gelato and top with whipped cream if you have it lying around (or make it yourself if you’re feeling especially snazzy!)

It tastes better if it’s in a Morris cup too… none of this pretentious martini glass BS that you get in Italian restaurants.

Enjoy! Next up: healthy dinner, a special guest entry AND for an off-topic post, how to give yourself a rockin French manicure at home.

crème de la crème brûlée

I decided to make crème brûlée today, despite my better judgment. It’s not that it’s a horrible dessert for you, aside from the crippling cholesterol of 8 egg yolks, 3 cups of heavy cream and a cup of sugar… Back in the day I used to make crème brûlées for staff at my old high school, charging them $50 for a platter. I used to get a lot of raves over my crème brûlée, but not having made it in two years I wondered if I still could produce a decadent batch. Back then I used to use The Joy of Cooking recipe, but since I couldn’t find my good ol’ JOC I used Parisian chef Paule Caillat‘s recipe, sans real vanilla bean because TJ’s didn’t have it. You need 7 egg yolks, 1 whole egg, 3/4 cup granulated sugar, 3 1/2 cups heavy cream, 2 tsp pure vanilla extract, brown and white sugar for the sugar coat.

The endeavor was in short, sloppy.  I am a REALLY messy and impatient cook, which is something that must change because it makes the process chaotic and difficult. My small kitchen was filled with a day’s worth of dishes and all the pans and ramekins I needed were dirty. Odd papers, books and groceries cluttered the island, and stains from last-night’s pasta dish still clung to the counters. I should have prepped like real chefs do, but instead I just started separating egg yolks like crazy. I even forgot to cover the separated egg whites and they fell over in the fridge. It was a mess.

Crème brûlée is really simple though it has a lot of steps. People get intimated because it has three accents and is often listed in overpriced restaurants. In short:

1. Separate egg yolks from egg whites and save egg whites for a healthy scramble the next day.
2. Beat the yolks with sugar.
3. Heat up the cream with vanilla in a large pot until hot, but don’t let it boil. Pour the cream carefully and gradually into the egg mixture and whisk it together.
4. Let it sit for 15 minutes to an hour t let the flavors fuse together.
5. Put into a water bath of hot water.
6. Bake for 45 minutes to an hour at 350. It should be firm around the edges, but jiggly in the middle.
7. Let stand at room temp. for 15 minutes, then cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for a few hours until cold and firm (this dish is best cold- not lukewarm, in my opinion)
8. When ready to serve, sprinkle with a combo. of brown sugar and granulated sugar and then place in the broiler for one or two minutes, close to the heat or flame. Alternatively, you can torch it with one of these.
9. Refrigerate for 10-15 minutes to cool off.

I am about to undo three miles of walking and a group yoga session from this morning, but it’s totally worth it.