Saturday, December 31, 2011

Ring in the New Year With a Glass of Pie!

New Year's Eve is a time for glitzy celebrations, making determined proclamations about resolutions you're never going to achieve, and kissing the stranger next to you at midnight because hey, it's only New Year's Eve once a year!

While Champagne is clearly the big winner in the NYE drinks department, there is no law that says you have to spend your entire evening sipping flat bubbly served to you out of giant magnums (or maybe that's just how I spend my NYEs...and this is the part of the post where I discover the true meaning of a new year's eve resolution.) There are a million fun cocktails to make and serve, and if you're hosting a party tomorrow night you've probably already set your drinks menu and purchased all the ingredients, but just in case you like to live on the edge and turn your nose up at "planning" and still have no idea what to serve your's a fantastic suggestion!

I give to you the Key Lime Pie Martini.

Disclaimer: this drink is a direct ripoff of a martini served at Room Service, a swanky Hell's Kitchen eatery my friends and I tend to frequent. I have never been able to watch the bartenders make the drink or get their exact recipe (Room Service seems to employ the city's slickest bartender ninjas), but after consuming many professionally made Key Lime Pie Martini's and spending a large portion of my evening measuring and tasting different liquors from my father's fantastically stocked cabinet, I have come up with a pretty darn close copy of the martini I have come to know and love. Enjoy!

4 parts Vanilla Vodka
2 parts simple syrup
     *If you don't already have some, bring equal parts sugar and water to a boil, remove from heat and cool
1 part Citrus Vodka
1 part Triple Sec
1 part Frangelico
Squeeze of a lime
Squeeze of a lemon
Graham cracker crumbs, lime wedge to garnish

How to:
Pour all the alcohols, syrup, and lemon and lime squeezes into a cocktail shaker, add about four cubes of ice and mix well.  Run a lime wedge around the rim of your glass and then dip the glass in the graham cracker crumbs. Pour drink mix into the glass, add the lime wedge to garnish.


I had an assistant for this project! Many thanks to Matt for helping me!

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

So. Much. Holiday.

Never fear, Pies Etc. is still here! I haven't gone astray, the holidays just haven't ended yet. Family, friends, and battling insane lines at outlet malls in Wisconsin have taken up more time than this pie blogger imagined - but rest assured that 2012 will bring such wonderful, awe-inspiring, mouth-watering, phantasmagorical pies of every shape, color and size that you won't know what to do with yourself.

Until then, I wish each and every one of you lovely readers a continued Happy Holidays and a wonderful New Year.

Seriously. I wasn't joking about the Too Much Holiday. Did any other families spend their Christmas Eve staging pictures of Crazy Christmas Socks? Probably not.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Home for the Holidays

I am spending the holidays at my parent's home in Chicago, which is good for a few reasons - free food, loving family, spacious childhood bedroom, old friends, and of mother's kitchen. Her giant, fully stocked, appliance-rich, beautiful kitchen, complete with: (da da da dummm!)

The KitchenAid mixer.

The sleek curvature of the bowl. The easy hinging of the head. The rapidity with which things get mixed. The not having to do any physical labor save for cutting a few cubes of butter.

I dream of a day when my personal living situation can accommodate (i.e., has enough counter space for) such a luxury.

But that's neither here nor there. Well, actually it is here in Chicago where my mother and I set out to begin the Christmas Baking Extravaganza this past weekend. I regret to admit that we are not really a big pie-for-the-holidays family, and as a result our menu is a bit cookie-heavy. But (and here's how I'm going to tie this all together), the first cookie we set out to make was one of my personal favorite - pizzelle.

An Italian waffle cookie often flavored with lemon, vanilla, or anise, the word pizzelle comes from the Italian words for "round" and "flat," which is coincidentally also where we get the word for pizza. Pizzelle = pizza = pie.

Whatever, they're good, they taste like my childhood, and making them with my mother brought back many fond memories of watching my grandmother make them every Christmas. Enjoy!

6 eggs
2 cups flour
1/4 cup butter
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/4 cup Crisco
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp flavoring (we used anise, but vanilla, lemon or almond extract also work)
**Pizzelle iron - this is basically a waffle maker that presses decorative circles instead of squares, and I suppose you could use a regular waffle iron if you needed to; we used my grandmother's pizzelle iron

How To
Mix all ingredients together, adding one at a time until a batter is formed.

Drop about a teaspoon of the batter onto the center of each cookie section. Close the lid and cook for 45-60 seconds (cook times will vary according to how hot your iron is and how much batter you've dropped).

Lift the cover to remove the cookies. They won't be perfect circles yet (the design of the press will form them into more square-like shapes) and they might be stuck together, the best thing to do is take a knife or metal spatula and quickly transfer them to a cooling rack. While the cookies are still hot cut off the excess cookie with a pastry scissors, forming the perfect circles. It's best to have a second person do the cutting so you can continue making more cookies (it needs to be done immediately after they're removed from the iron). Let the cookies fully cool (this is one instance that a warm cookies isn't necessarily better), and dust with powdered sugar to serve. 

Oh, and I personally feel that the best way to enjoy pizzelle is by dunking them in your morning coffee :)

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Grasshopper Pie

A grasshopper walks into a bar, takes a seat.

The bartender says, "Hey, did you know there's a drink named after you?"

The grasshopper says, "There's a drink named Steve?!?"

The other day I found myself with a lot to do in a little amount of time. Among a million other things, I needed to quickly make a pie in the morning that wouldn't be served until a social engagement in the later evening, so I came up with a yummy minty chocolaty creation that only took about a half an hour to make. I have will admit, though, that it's pretty much a throw-a-bunch-of-prepackaged-ingredients-together pie - haute cuisine this is not. But, unless you're cooking for The Culinary Institute, any friends you serve this to will be pleasantly receptive to this pie.

Grasshopper Pie
**It's called Grasshopper Pie because it's chocolate and mint, and someone, somewhere, once decided that all things chocolate-mint are to be described as grasshopper. I have yet to figure out the exact relationship between mint and grasshoppers, unless you consider that grasshoppers are green and so are minty-flavored things (sometimes), but that seems silly, because why not give some love to other green-colored animals? Lizard Pie? Anaconda Pie?


1 package Philadelphia cream cheese
~20 Keebler grasshopper cookies (you can substitute Mint Oreos if those are more readily available)
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup heavy cream
Peppermint extract or peppermint liqueur if desired (I used Boulaine creme de menthe)
1 package instant chocolate Jello pudding
1 cup cold milk
9-in chocolate graham cracker pie crust

Grasshopper Pie ingredients

How To
Begin by crushing the cookies into crumbs (I found that breaking them up inside a Ziplock baggie works well). Then mix together the cream cheese, sugar, cookie crumbs and cream. Add a splash or two of the extract or liqueur (but pick one, and a little goes a long way.) Pour the mixture into the pie crust.

Bottom layer

Then, make the Jello pudding, but don't make it according to the directions on the box - use about 3/4 to 1 cup of milk to mix with the pudding powder. Add a splash or two of mint extract or liqueur (again, a little goes a long way), and stir until smooth. Gently pour the pudding over the bottom layer of the pie and refrigerate until ready to serve.

Top layer

A classier chef than I would probably add decorative things like whipped cream dollops and/or candy pieces to the top of the pie,  but I unfortunately was not able to be that creative due to time constraints. Nonetheless, it was still a delightful minty treat for all!

A slice of Grasshopper Pie

Monday, December 12, 2011

Astoria Test Kitchen: Pie Crust

It's happened to us all: you're standing in the grocery, pouring over your list of ingredients that are about to become a pie and getting really excited about the deliciousness that is about to happen. You are cool, confident, and certain about every culinary choice you're making, sure your future pie will be spoken of for years to come. But then, as you're checking your list one last time, you have a sudden, nagging fear: I'm about to buy a pre-made crust. Will anyone notice? WILL ANYONE CARE???

This worry has plagued me one too many times, and yesterday I decided to end to my troubles by taking a very scientific approach to the Pie Crust Debacle - when directly compared to one another, which of the three types of pie crust (scratch, box, frozen/refrigerated) is the best?

The makings of three different pie crusts

The Method
1.) Prepare the three crusts at the same time under the same conditions (room temperature, humidity level, etc.) according to their individual directions (i.e, follow the rules on the back of the box)
2.) Fill each of the pies with the exact same filling
  2a.) Use the exact same pie plate for all three pies
3.) Bake all at once, at the same temperature, on the same oven rack level
4.) Taste and rate each pie across five criteria: Taste, Texture, Color, Prep Time, & Price

The Crusts
A.) Scratch (Homemade)
     For this recipe I called upon a friend who, for many years now, has been assigned the task of making all the pies for his family's Thanksgiving. Since I know his family to be ones with very critical taste buds, I decided that this was reason enough to use his Great Gramma Chrissy's Pie Crust Recipe (that, and any recipe named after someone's great gramma is good enough for me). I also wanted to use a recipe that was as personal and varied as any special pie crust recipe, because that is the very nature of a scratch pie crust - whether it's passed down from older generations or it's one that is made up on the spot, no two homemade anythings are the same.
    For this particular experiment, this is the recipe we followed:
1 cup flour
1/3 cup Crisco shortening
Dash salt
- Combine ingredients, add very cold water and stir the mixture until it is of a tacky, play-dough consistency. Refrigerate for at least one hour.

Mixing the scratch crust

B.) Crust from a Box
     The middle ground of pie crusts is one that comes in a box - all the dry ingredients are already mixed together, you just have to add ice water (3 or 4 tablespoons, according to the box's directions) until you achieve your desired consistency. For this experiment, I used Jiffy Pie Crust Mix, which has been a baking-section staple in American grocery stores since the 1940's.

C.) Pre-made, Frozen/Refrigerated Crust
     At the other end of the pie crust spectrum lies the entirely pre-made crust. Sometimes it's frozen, sometimes it's refrigerated, but it's goal is for you to simply unwrap, add the filling, and bake. For this experiment, I used Pillsbury Refrigerated Pie Crust (you'll see in the picture above that I show the frozen Pillsbury crust - I started with that one, but it completely fell apart when I tried to take it out of it's original pie tin and transfer to another pie plate. I had to run out and get the refrigerated crust, not the frozen one. Whoops!)

The Filling
It was my goal to keep constant as many factors as possible, using the different crusts as the only variable (this is where I pay homage to my middle school science teacher who taught us the importance of constants and variables and such during those never-ending science fairs. Thank you, Ms. Kreiling...oh, and I'm sorry for super-gluing your chalk to the chalkboard ledge. It was all Terri's idea.) Therefore, I made one giant batch of apple filling to evenly distribute amongst all three pies - chopped Granny Smith apples, dashes of flour, cinnamon and nutmeg to season. I didn't add too much spice (actually, I could have added much more) since I wanted to ensure that nothing would mar the ability to taste the crusts - this was an exercise in pie crusts, not making a fantastic apple pie.

Apple filling

The Process
I first made the scratch crust, following the directions I outlined above, and put the dough in the refrigerator. Next I prepared the apples, and the Jiffy crust after that. Nothing on the Jiffy box instructed me to refrigerate that crust, so it remained in the bowl while I dealt with the aforementioned Pillsbury crust issue (running out to buy a new crust only took about 15 minutes, one of the perks of living in New York is finding a full grocery store every seven blocks). Once I had the right refrigerated pie crust, I was ready to make the pies. I used identical 5-inch ceramic pie plates (purchased at my most favorite of all kitchen stores, Fishs Eddy), opting for smaller pies so that I wouldn't end up with an obscene amount of food (three small pies was already two too many for my two-person apartment).

Jiffy crust

A - Scratch  B - Jiffy  C - Pillsbury

The Judging Rubric
I employed three fellow pie lovers to act as my fellow judges (it's amazing how agreeable people are when I ask them to help me eat pie. But ask them to help me put together the Ikea furniture...). We couldn't do a blind taste test like I had originally wanted (my friends arrived during the beginning of the baking process to "advise" and "comment"), but we nonetheless ate and graded a slice of each pie on a 5-point scale (1 = low, 5 = high) across three criteria - Taste (too overpowering? nonexistent?) Texture (too doughy? not flaky enough?) Color (golden brown, please). We also rated Prep Time and noted the monetary cost of each crust, but did not factor the last two into the final score.

The finished pies!

The Results (average scores)
A.) Scratch Crust
    Taste - 3.9
    Texture - 4.5
    Color - 4.5
    Prep Time - 2.3
    Cost - $2 (1 stick of Crisco is about $1, the rest of the ingredients you probably have in your cabinet already, but they'll cost you another $1 or so)
    TOTAL - 4.3

B.) Jiffy (box) Crust
    Taste - 1.5
    Texture - 1.3
    Color - 1.5
    Prep Time - 3
    Cost - $2/box
        **It should be noted that one box barely made enough for a 5-inch top and bottom crust; any regular sized pie would require two boxes
    TOTAL - 1.4

C.) Pillbsury (refrigerated) Crust
     Taste - 3.8
     Texture - 3.8
     Color - 3.8
     Prep Time - 5
     Cost - $4.50
     TOTAL - 3.8

Scoring sheets

Jiffy boxed crust was the clear loser. It was unanimously decided that it was doughy in taste and had a texture closer to French bread than pie crust. It was lighter in color than the other two pies and looked almost like an over-processed bakery pie rather than a homemade creation. It was completely wrong for a lighter, sweeter apple pie, but might be alright for a pot pie or breakfast pie (it had such a strong Bisquick taste that I was reminded of the pancakes of my youth). It also wasn't a time-saver when compared to the scratch crust, since it does require some preparation on the cook's part (mixing, rolling, etc.) The only redeeming quality was the the apples on the inside remained perfect wedges and looked like a beautifully stuffed pie. Regardless, I had never used a Jiffy crust before and I'm not likely to use one again.

Apple pie with Jiffy crust

The pie made with the Pillsbury crust came in as a close second. It was thicker than the other two crusts due to the lack of rolling, and had a very flaky consistency and very buttery taste, almost more like a layered biscuit (not surprising, it is Pillsbury brand after all); one of the judges suggested this would make a great baklava. Personally, this was the crust I most preferred and would have declared the winner, but my preferences were outnumbered by the other three judges who felt the crust's taste overpowered that of the apples. While this was the easiest crust to prepare by far, it was also the most expensive at more than double the cost of the other two crusts. However, no one was turned off by this crust as they were the previous Jiffy crust.

Apple pie with Pillsbury crust

The winner of Astoria Test Kitchen: Pie Crust was Great Gramma Chrissy's Homemade Pie Crust. Personally, I found this crust to be a little too light and subtle for my taste, but after expressing this to my fellow judges I quickly learned that I was in the minority. It didn't have an overwhelming buttery or doughy taste - in fact it barely had a taste at all, allowing us to fully taste the fruit filling.  It looked like the perfect pie on the outside - golden brown and not sunken in like the Pillsbury crust. The apples on the inside though were the mushiest of all, the filling looked more like apple sauce than the wedges of the Jiffy crust, but no one seemed to mind the unsightly insides.

Apple pie with Scratch crust

Did we put the pies on Olympic pedestals? Yes. Yes we did.

Bottom line: if you already have a favorite scratch pie crust recipe, then no pre-made crust, no matter how good, cheap, or convenient can replace that. However, if you're in a pinch then there is no shame, culinary or otherwise, in grabbing a frozen or refrigerated pre-made pie crust - your guests might, but if they do they won't be disappointed.

I had a lot of help with this project! Many thanks to Andrew, Caskey and Amanda!

Thursday, December 8, 2011

It's gonna be huge, kids, huge!

Pies Etc is now on Twitter! If you're a regular ole' tweeter, know what # does, and want to stay on the absolute forefront of social pie eating, the make sure to follow Pies_Etc on Twitter.

(And seriously, if you know what # does, please tell me...I spend way more time in the kitchen than I do in front of the computer and tend to be a little late to the technological game).

Happy (tw)eating!

photo courtesy of

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

A Slice of Childhood

"Every birthday is one step closer to a more adult tomorrow, it is therefore necessary to embrace childhood at every possible opportunity" *

"Eating this pie is like having a slice of my childhood." *

"Oh my god, this pie is amazing! I'm having another slice." *

*These quotes are recorded with 87% accuracy from a friend's birthday party at which I served a Peanut Butter and Jelly Pie.

Here is the recipe:

1 package cream cheese, softened (I used Philadelphia Cream Cheese. I'm not usually a brand snob when it comes to food, but the one thing I do not mess with is my Philly cream cheese)
1 cup creamy peanut butter (I used Skippy)
1/2 cup confectioner's sugar
1/4 cup heavy cream
1 tsp vanilla
10 oz. jam or jelly, flavor of your choosing (I used Smucker's Strawberry Jelly)
1 pre-made graham cracker pie crust
Chocolate graham cracker crumbs

How to:
Stir together peanut butter and cream cheese. Add sugar, cream and vanilla, stirring until your mixture is light and fluffy. Pour batter into pie crust, and refrigerate for one hour.

Peanut butter batter

While the bottom half of your pie is chilling, you can do two things: First, put about 4 or 5 graham crackers into a ziplock baggie and crumble until crumby (if you have kids this might be a fun part of the process for them to "assist" on. I say "might" because I don't have kids and don't really know. But if I did have kids I might let them make graham cracker crumbs.)

About to be smashed to pieces. Literally.

Then, empty your jelly into a sauce pan and whisk continuously on very LOW heat. It's important that you don't burn the jelly, so do not let it boil - just keep whisking until it turns back into what looks like liquid jello. Once you have achieved this constancy, remove the jelly from the heat and let it cool at room temperature.

After the peanut butter mixture has chilled and you've crushed your graham crackers and liquified your jelly, it's time to finish up the pie. Spread the jelly on to the peanut butter (it's up to you how thick you want to make it), and then sprinkle the graham cracker crumbs over the whole pie. Let the pie chill again in the refrigerator until you're ready to serve it.

Peanut Butter and Jelly Pie

It's yummy, it's fun to make, and really, it's basically eating a slice of childhood. I served it at my friend's birthday party last night, and I barely had time to take a picture of the served pie before it was completely devoured.

Bad lighting is due to the fact that we were in a bar for the birthday party. My apologies.

It was a hit!

Discovery: 20-somethings love still love peanut butter and jelly. Especially if it's in pie form.

Sometimes I make up my own recipes, sometimes I pull from others. Find my inspirations for Peanut Butter and Jelly Pie here and here and here.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Slice of the Week

Last night, some friends and I went to see Hugo, the new Martin Scorsese movie (a delightful fantasy that you should definitely see by the way, but not the 3D version, which wasn't worth the extra $4, especially because the glasses were a bit headache-inducing for those in my party (me) who wore eye glasses along with the plastic 3D glasses)

But I digress. After the movie, we went wandering around Midtown Manhattan for some Friday night dinner, and ended up eating at Peter's Since 1969, a small home-cookin' joint in Hell's Kitchen. As far as I can tell, it's basically a (slightly?) classier version of the giant Boston Market chain, serving a small menu of rotisserie chicken/meatloaf/pulled pork and soul-food sides (potato salad, creamed spinach, baked beans, mac & cheese, etc.). I had never been to or even seen this place before (there are a LOT of restaurants on 9th Ave, hence the name Hell's Kitchen, and new places pop up and/or close down all the time), so I tried to get a little backstory from those behind the counter. Unfortunately, the two people I asked couldn't tell me how long this restaurant had been at this location, or anything else about the place, so I got a little dejected (and hungrier) and abandoned the interview project and commenced the eating project.

My dinner was great (pulled pork sandwich with some potato salad on the side) but again, I'm a pie blogger, not a pulled pork blogger. Luckily (for this blog), I had ordered a giant slice of sweet potato pie to accompany my dinner.

I was pleasantly surprised. While I again wasn't asked if I wanted it heated up (is this becoming a trend in the larger, casual dining world? I sure hope not. That would be sad.) I didn't mind as much as I did with the apple pie, purely because I tend to like my pumpkin and sweet potato pies not heated up. Still though. A girl likes her options. Especially when it comes to pie.

The pie itself (heated or not) was very spiced and flavorful, almost to the point of not being able to taste the sweet potato amidst the tangy tones of vanilla and nutmeg. I thought this was a nice change to a pie that can often just taste like a mushy, milky sweet potato, but their spice parings made it taste so much like a pumpkin pie that I almost forgot what I was eating. The bountiful flavorings also made tasting the crust near impossible, as they overshadowed everything else about the pie. The pie's texture was great, though. Sometimes pies made with squash family vegetables are so pureed and over-processed that they taste more like baby food than a pie, but that was not the case with Peter's pie, as it was hearty and almost chunky.

My two friends with whom I split the pie slice (Pie Blogger StayFit Secret #1 - share your pies) also thoroughly enjoyed it, but I need to do a little more consumer research on what effect eating free pie has on one's critique of said pie, before I accept their reviews as anything other than cursory considerations.

Peter's Since 1969 Sweet Potato Pie