Time for pie! A collection of pies for Thanksgiving.

img_7235Each holiday seems to have a specific dessert associated with it.  For me, Easter always brings visions of coconut cakes smothered in shredded coconut, Christmas calls out for cookies of all kinds and Thanksgiving is the day that pies are front and center of the dessert table.  No pie is more synonymous with Thanksgiving than Pumpkin Pie and with the current proliferation of all things pumpkin spice, I have decided not to include it in this small collection of recipes and instead, focus on a few others that are guaranteed crowd pleasers!

Right about the time of the onslaught of pumpkin spice laden goods, apples come into season.  While just about every pumpkin pie is based on a creamy, custard based filling recipe, apple pies are much more flexible.  Pumpkin is pumpkin but each variety of apple has its own characteristics and by simply switching out varieties, you can completely change the flavor of the filling.  Personally, I prefer to blend apple varieties to create a full flavored pie that has plenty of juice to keep the pie from being dry and enough heft in the slices to prevent them all from falling apart while they bake.

img_7243The skins of an apple contain pectin, which will make wonderful sauce or jelly, but is tough and chewy once baked, so be sure to peel and slice the apples as you make the filling.  Do not worry about the browning that might occur because the sugar and spice will camouflage the color.

img_7244For this pie, I chose Rome, Cortland and Golden Delicious.  Each one had flesh of a slightly different color.  The yellow hue of the Golden Delicious apples made the slices resemble rutabegas!  The Cortlands were a bit green and the Romes were bright white.  The texture and flavor of each was also different and ranged from crispy and tart to soft and sweet with a lovely scent.  If you aren’t sure of what varieties are suitable for pie, this comprehensive chart from Pick Your Own will be very helpful.

img_7250With my kitchen packed up for the move, my options were limited and I decided to skip the top crust and just go with a streusel topping.  That dome of apples looks a bit ridiculous but the truth is that the apples used for pies always juice out and collapse a bit in the baking.  For this monster, I had two and a half pounds of apple slices in the fillings-something I do not recommend for a 9″ crust!  For a pie that size, don’t go over two pounds.

One other thing I would like to mention, if you are intimidated by the idea of making your own crust or simply do not have the time or desire, don’t make one-buy one!  Usually, I mix up a large batch of dough divide it into the portion, roll out what I need for the pie I am baking and then freeze the leftovers.  This way, I always have a stash of dough to pull from the freezer any time I want to bake a pie.  Because we are in the process of a long distance move, I have run through my stash and had to purchase a crust for this pie.

img_7258A spicy crumb topping is a quick way to dress up a pie and to add a little crunch to the texture along with flavor.  It is also a lot easier to handle than a top crust which makes it the perfect solution if you are not keen on working with pie dough.  The recipe included  with this post is one of my favorite crumb toppings and it works just as well on cobblers, crisps, muffins and coffee cakes as it does on this pie so be sure to keep it handy!

img_7257Crumb Topped Apple Pie

makes one 9 inch pie, serving 8-10

2 pounds fresh apple slices-any variety suitable for baking

8 ounces brown sugar

2 tablespoons of apple (or pumpkin) pie spice or you can blend your own spices by combining 1 tablespoon cinnamon, 1 teaspoon nutmeg, 1 teaspoon ginger, 1/2 teaspoon cardamom and 1/2 teaspoon cloves

1/4 cup all purpose flour or 2 tablespoons corn starch if you prefer starch to flour

Preheat the oven to 350.  On a sturdy baking sheet that will not warp and buckle in the oven, place a sheet of parchment paper and give it a spritz of grease.  Toss the apple slices with the sugar, spices and flour and pour it into the crust.  Cover it with the crumb topping, pressing it down lightly to pack it and to prevent it from falling off.  Put the pie onto the prepared baking pan and bake the pie until the juices are bubbling and have thickened, about 1 hour to 1 hour and 15 minutes.  Allow the pie to cool until room temp so that the juices set and it will be much easier to slice.

My Favorite Crumb Topping

1/2 cup unbleached all purpose flour

1/2 cup rolled oats

1/3 cup dark brown sugar (honestly, can be light or white, I just prefer dark)

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon or apple/pumpkin pie spice blend

1/8 teaspoon baking soda, optional-using it will make the crumbs lighter, omitting it will keep them crunchy


To call this a collection, I must include other recipes and these are two of my absolute favorite pies!  Rather than print the recipes here, I am including the links to my food52.com page;  Masala Spiced Pear Pie with a lattice top and Roasted Butternut-Maple Pie with Smoked Pecans

img_4740For the adventurous bakers, this gem from my days as the pastry chef of the Loveless Cafe, a Goo Goo Cluster Marshmallow pie is an unbaked pie but it does require making the crust, a ganache and a cooked marshmallow filling.  While a little time consuming, it is well worth the effort if you are a marshmallow fan, the recipe is also posted on my food52.com page and can be found here.  If you can’t find Goo Goo Clusters, visit the website and stock up or search for a store that sells them near you!

lawn likker; it’s a southern thing

a sample of the flowers from our yard with the common purple violet on the bottom right 

Spring rituals vary from region to region but throughout the south, gathering violets and turning them into jam and liqueur is a popular activity.  Pay enough attention to it and you will also hear stories of red bud blossoms being gathered for jam making as well.  Personally, I love the look of a lawn full of violets and I am tempted to pull out the weeds and just let the violets fill the space but my husband has other ideas.

Most violets found in lawns are viola sororia and are an herbaceous perennial plant that can quickly become a weed due to the fact that they spread through rhizomes as well as seeds.  In my yard, they are allowed to fill spaces that we do not use for gardening, generally the lawn areas, and my husband mows them over along with all of the other weeds that make up the green sections of our yard.  The only exception to this is the two weeks in spring that these lovely little flowers are in bloom; he does not mow until I pick as many as I can!

All my life, I have always thought that violets were always purple.  White violets were not as common but I can recall seeing them on rare occasions and assumed they were a mutation.   It is also worth noting that on even fewer occasions, I encountered yellow violets.  However in our yard, here in Virginia, the vast majority of the violets are white with purple veins, lavender or a lighter shade of purple.  These are a variety commonly referred to as Confederate Violets and regardless of the color, all violets have edible flowers.  IMG_5541Making liqueur is a bit tedious because you must pick large quantities of the blossoms.  For the batch I made this year, I must have picked about 3 pints.  For a single pint of liquer, I placed 2 cups of blossoms into a pint sized jar and added 2 cups of potato vodka and allowed the flowers to steep for a couple days, shaking it once a day.  After it had sat and the flowers faded and grew limp, I strained them out and filled the jar with another 2 cups of blossoms.  To this, I poured the previously infused vodka over the blossoms and allowed it to steep, shaking it daily for a couple of days and then I repeated the process a third time.  My goal was to get a nice dark liqueur and a strong floral flavor.

IMG_5543Having allowed the last batch of flowers time to infuse the batch, I strained them out and this was the result.  If you look at the top of the liquid, you can see that it is a deep violet color, almost grey.  Despite everything, it still had a strong alcohol taste but the aroma was all flowers-and honestly, I am not much of a vodka drinker so it was hard to not taste the vodka in the background but there was definitely a floral flavor there as well.  And now that it has aged for a couple weeks, it has mellowed a bit.

This was an experiment for me, whether or not I try it again is hard to say.  While crawling around the yard picking cup after cup of blossoms, I managed to get a tick bite and that and my nearly broke back may have me think twice.  Although, I would like to try making some jam…violet jam, redbud jam, maybe even some redbud likker…


When we were living in Nashville and working with the Master Gardeners, an extension agent once described the weeds found in a winter/spring lawn as the native winter wildflowers.  He went on to describe how these plants were the only nectar and pollen sources for pollinating insects during the season.  It was those words that convinced us to leave them in the lawn where our bees might benefit from them.  As a result, we often leave the lawn a little longer and shaggy in comparison to our neighbors.

IMG_3396This beauty is henbit and is commonly found in lawns.  It is also edible and last year, I made a batch of wildflower liqueur with violets and other wildflowers growing in our lawn and dubbed it lawn likker.  If you think violets are tiny, henbit is even smaller!

IMG_3401A close up shot of the flower; look at the hairs on the back of the bloom and the tiny little stamens!IMG_3408Dead Nettle is a close cousin of Henbit, both are in the mint family, but if you look closely, you will see that these leaves are heart shaped and gradient in color from the top of the plant to the base while Henbit has round leaves with teeth.  Another thing, Dead Nettle flowers make the blossoms from Henbit look huge!IMG_3410Dead Nettle flower on the top, Henbit flower on the bottom.

IMG_3416A third player in this game, Ground Ivy, also called Creeping Charlie because it trails like a vine and can quickly cover an area.  These blooms are the largest of the three.  While some publications will tell you that it is best to make teas rather than eat the leaves, I don’t think there is any real danger in adding a handful of blooms to a batch of likker-although, your back may cry foul!

IMG_3427My first batch of lawn likker from last year, it has since changed color and is now a bright golden yellow and looks more like a bottle of urine than likker but trust me, the flavor is still floral and so is the aroma!

Want to give it a try?  Here are a few links I am bookmarking for future attempts.

Kell Belle Studio

Life in Mud Spattered Boots

A Gardeners Table

stop-light tomato pickles

IMG_4797Having a garden means you have a tremendous amount of patience.  How else can you explain the process of waiting for the right time to put seeds in the ground, waiting for them to germinate, waiting for the plant to mature; wait, wait, hurry up and wait.  Participating in this process also makes you an optimist.  Gardeners are always looking ahead to the harvest, convinced that they will be blessed with an abundance.

Composting is a vital part of gardening.  It enriches the soil and replaces what is removed every time we harvest food from the beds.  As a gardener, I cannot imagine not having a few piles aging for future use.  One important rule of composting is not adding seeds unless you want those seeds to sprout and grow in your garden.  We do our best to follow this rule and I always compost weed plants in a pile by themselves.  Usually, the only seeds that make it into the compost are from foods we eat or grow.

My love affair with cherry tomatoes falls into this category.  As a devoted salad eater, I always have cherry tomatoes on hand and when they are not ripening in my garden, I pick up the little plastic containers from the store.  My favorite pick is the miniature heirloom tomatoes from Trader Joe’s.  A rainbow of color ranging from green to yellow and orange to brown, these beauties actually taste like tomatoes when compared to the large ones.  Sadly, I usually end up with more than I can eat and some end up taking a trip out to the compost pile.

IMG_4800As a result, we have an endless stream of tomato seeds germinating in our compost piles.  We always let a few of them grow and because we never know what they are, we generally call them surprise tomatoes.  This year, we had quite the haul: miniature plums, red cherries, full sized plums and brown kumatos.  As the frost approached, we made the decision to pick as many as we could.  Actually, the first real frost came late here, and on November 20th, we finally had the full freeze to kill the vines.

With the holidays approaching, we decided to pickle a large quantity of the cherries so that we could give them as gifts.  It was a fun way to spend a Sunday in the kitchen with Darry.  With this easy recipe courtesy of my good friend Melissa of Corbin in the Dell, we gathered the ingredients and supplies.

IMG_4805Darry is a reluctant hand model but he also likes to humor me.  Here he is peeling cloves of garlic to place in each of the jars.

IMG_4811We picked and sorted the tomatoes by color so that we could pack each jar with a variety of colors, just like a stop light.  (Sounds better than traffic light)

IMG_4813Each of the jars has fresh basil leaves, lemon peel, pepper corns, chili flakes and mustard seeds to flavor the pickles.

IMG_4814Vinegar and water are heated with salt and a little sugar and then poured over the tomatoes.  The jars are topped off with a little olive oil and then heated in a waterbath to seal them.  Ours are ready to go and we are hoping that  we have enough for everyone on our gift list!

the stockings were hung by the chimney with care: a hand-knit family tradition

My stocking for baby Matthew on the left, the stocking Joan made for me when I was born is second from the left and the others she made for my husband and daughters.

Every year as we decorate the house for Christmas, our stockings become a focal point.  While I am sure that we are not the only family that decorates with Christmas stockings, ours are truly special and they are part of a family tradition that dates back more than 50 years.  Each member of the family, mine and all of my cousins and their families, has a hand knit stocking with their name on it.  My mother’s sister, my Aunt Joan, knit one for each of us as we were born and then as each of us married, our spouses were also given stockings.  It became a right of passage in a way, if you were gifted a hand-knit stocking from Joan, it was a big welcome to the family!

The tradition continued on and as the grandchildren came, so did the stockings.  When my aunt passed away, we all wondered who would continue the tradition of hand-knitting the stockings!  My mother, who is a knitter herself, was not up to the task; she simply did not think she could make one due to the color changes.  Knitting with multiple bobbins of 6-8 colors per row can be tricky and if you have color blindness, it can be nearly impossible.  What am I talking about?  My mother actually has color blindness which is something that men are more commonly affected by.  Needless to say, the tradition of a hand knit personalized stocking for each new family member was in question and it was quite possible that it was finished.

However, as my mother will tell you, I am not one to shy away from a challenge and I quickly offered to make one when one of Joan’s sons, my cousin Tim and his wife Laura, welcomed Sara into their family.  Can I just say that I had no idea what I was getting myself into?  Knitting with bobbins and lots of color changes…Had I lost my mind?  This was so beyond my knitting skill!  Somehow, I managed to complete that stocking for Sara.  Then came one for Ed, the new husband of my cousin Mary, Joan’s only daughter.  To get some practice, I decided to knit a set for my closest friend, her husband and their son.  With each one, my skills improved and the process became easier.  Then, nothing.  No additions to the family until late this summer.

In September, another of Joan’s sons, Chris and his wife Rosemary, welcomed little Matthew into the family.  Suddenly, I had a stocking to make!  Quickly, I went out to purchase the needed yarn to make the stocking.  Sounds easy enough but truth be told, yarn colors change just like fashion trends change and finding the colors I needed was not easy and in the end, I went with colors that are notably different from all of the stockings Joan and I had previously made.

IMG_2076My stocking is over 50 years old now, and yes, it pains me to say that.  When Joan made mine, she used wool and angora and over the years, moths have damaged it.  Several years ago, I had to have mine repaired because moth larvae had eaten patches of the angora.  These days, the acrylic yarns available make avoiding wool and angora pretty easy which means that the stocking I knit will not become a target for moth larvae.  To make the beard and fur trim, I used a ball of Bernat Boa yarn and it was a little challenging to work with.  Not only is it fluffy and bulky, it gives off a lot of fibers and it is difficult to actually see the individual stitches which is an important part of following a graph to knit a pattern like this one.  In the future, I may try to find a yarn that is a little less textured.


Every knitter using the same pattern is bound to have different results.  Like handwriting, how you hold the needles and the tension you keep on the yarn can have many different results.  The different yarns can only further change things.  All I know is that it is a tradition I am glad to continue and I hope to keep knitting them as the family grows.  It makes the holiday a little more special to look at the collection of stockings hanging in our house and I can only hope my work lives up to Joan’s!

IMG_2086Before I sent the newest member of the family his stocking, I hung it from the mantle in our living room with the collection of stockings Joan knit for us.  Looking at the stockings hanging there together, knowing that I made one, a certain feeling of satisfaction came over me.  More importantly, I was excited to send it on its way so that Chris and Rosemary could hang a stocking for Matthew.  Then a thought occurred to me, I missed one.  It seems that someone in that small family is missing a stocking; don’t worry, Rosemary, I’m on it!

Merry Christmas everyone!

shepherd’s pot pie with chicken

The drop in temperatures outside has made it perfect for turning on the oven.  One of my favorite cold weather, comfort food meals is a pot pie.  Who doesn’t have memories of them from childhood?  Little boxes pulled from the freezer, mini pies baking on a tray and a bowl of gravy to dunk biscuits in?  Certainly not a healthy meal when you stop to think about it and that is precisely why you should make your own.  While a pie crust is the traditional topping for a pot pie, the use of a mashed potato topping has less fat and more fiber but even so, this isn’t something you should eat regularly.

To keep it a little healthier, try to put a rainbow in the mix; use lots of hard vegetables of many colors in the filling.  To help keep vegetables such as broccoli from turning to mush, add them to the filling raw and allow them to cook as the pie bakes.

Boil the potatoes and mash them with a small amount of butter and use lowfat milk or even soy milk to keep it lean.  My mixture contained a single egg yolk which I am thinking could probably be omitted without consequence.

This is one of those dishes that can be cobbled together with leftovers.  We had a previously roasted chicken in the fridge and I simply chopped the breast meat from half of it to make the filling.  However, you could easily make this with turkey or any other meat, even a steak or a loin roast and for those of you who prefer it to be meat free, just double the veggies.

The filling was made with vegetable broth because that is what I had handy and to thicken it, I added a small amount of flour.  Mix and match to your heart’s content, I know I will be making this again, and who knows what will end up in it-depends on what is in the fridge!

Shepherd’s Pot Pie
Makes 1 (10″) or 2 (6″) pies
serves 4
Potato topping
1 1/4-1 1/2 pounds russet potatoes, peeled and cut into cubes
1/4-1/3 cup lowfat milk or unsweetened/unflavored soy milk, warm
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 egg yolk
salt and pepper to taste
Place the potatoes in a sauce pot and cover with water.  Bring to a gentle boil and cook until very soft, about 10-15 minutes.  Drain the water from the potatoes, mash them by hand or with a mixer.  Add the milk and butter and mix until creamy.  Add the egg yolk and seasoning, combine thoroughly and set aside while you make the filling.
2-3 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup sliced leeks
1/2 cup sliced carrots
1/2 cup sliced celery
1/2 cup corn-thawed if frozen
1/2 cup mushrooms, quartered
1-2 cloves garlic
1 teaspoon poultry seasoning
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme (or 1 teaspoon fresh)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika
2 tablespoons all purpose flour
2 cups broth-vegetable or other low fat broth
1 cup cooked poultry or meat cut into cubes, omit if this is vegetarian and just add extra veggies
1/2 cup broccoli florets
1/2 cup cauliflower florets
Preheat the oven to 375.  In a large saute pan, heat the olive oil.  Saute the leeks, carrots, celery and mushrooms until softened, about 5 minutes.  Add the garlic, poultry seasoning, thyme and the spices and saute for an additional minute.  Add the flour and stir to coat the vegetables then pour the broth in while you stir the contents in the pan.  Bring to a gentle boil, stir in the meat and then scrape the mixture into a deep-dish pie pan.  Sprinkle the broccoli and cauliflower over the top of the mixture.  Starting at the edge of the dish and working towards the middle, carefully spread the potato topping over the vegetables.  Place the dish on a heavy duty baking tray that will not warp in the oven and bake until the topping is golden brown around the edge and the filling is bubbly, about 30-40 minutes.  Allow the pie to sit for about 15 minutes before serving.