Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Of Desserts and Disaster Movies

*jaws theme here*
pie for everyone at Rhinehaus!
 Last week we discovered the comically bad made-for-TV movie Sharknado returned to the small screen. There was only one option for Thursday Pie, and it was bloody delicious. Perhaps you've heard of Sharknado? A freak storm sweeps over LA, and a few brave souls (and their myriad of weapons) are the only ones who can save the city from being destroyed by thousands of flying sharks. Sounds bad? It was terrible.

Some movies are so corny and ridiculous they must be celebrated. Sharknado falls into this category. The Sour Cherry Pie was a perfect fit, and was a great use for the GIANT jar of sour cherries purchased at the Meditteranean store at Findlay Market. It was also an actual pie - with a double crust and everything. Slowly but surely my pie-making skills are improving.

I gave myself enough time to let the dough chill - Liz and I went to go give blood (only appropriate - and it's really easy at Hoxworth!) before putting it all together. I briefly considered making little sharks and people out of the crust, but the final result made great use of the negative space. A quick and easy hour in the oven, and it was time to head to the bar for our own personal feeding frenzy.

My buddy Jack owns the local hipster sports bar, and Sharknado viewing fell after a 1pm Reds game and a slow soccer day. As I don't have cable, watching in public was our only option (and a fun one at that!) We ordered pizzas, let the pie cool, and turned on the closed captioning to better experience the terrible dialogue in the bar.

There's only one way to successfully get through a bad movie, and that is with a drinking game. We would NEVER drink to excess, but with some local brews and reasons to watch this silly movie, by the time it was over the entire bar was getting into the spirit of the game and shouting out whenever there was a newscast, someone got killed (not by a shark), or Tara Reid was being belligerent (which happened more often than you'd think.)

The pie was good. Really, really good. The crust held the filling well, it wasn't mushy or spilling juicy cherries everywhere, and it served a good thirteen or so of us. The sour cherries were just tart enough. This was maybe the best pie yet.

If the movie ever comes back to TV, gather some friends, pie, and brews - you'll be in for a really fun night.

Special Sharknado Shot and Official Rules
Sharknado Drinking Rules (for those responsible and of legal age):

Yell loudly and take a sip every time...
  • The camera angle is from the Shark's Point of View
  • There is a news broadcast
  • Someone is killed mid-sentence
  • There is stock footage
  • There is terrible CGI
  • Someone is killed, not by a shark
  • A shark is killed with something that's not normally a weapon
  • There is a bad pun
  • Tara Reid is belligerent
Take the Sharknado Shot in memory of the Rather Young and Fit Elders in the Nursing Home who get Sharks Rained Upon Them (spoiler, sorry...)
  • Blue Curacao
  • Sour Mix
  • Absolut Citron
  • Grenadine Floater
Sharknado Sour Cherry Pie - adapted from this recipe
takes 1 hour 45 minutes, plus chill time for dough
serves 10-12

This is what you need:
  •  1 3/4 cups plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour, more for rolling out dough
  • 3/8 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 15 tablespoons unsalted butter, chilled and cut into pieces
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 5 tablespoons tapioca starch
  • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 2 pounds sour cherries (about 6 cups), rinsed and pitted - one 54 oz jar works nicely. Drain most of the juice. 
  • 1 tablespoon brandy
  • 3 tablespoons heavy cream
  • Demerara sugar, for sprinkling.
This is what you do with it:
  •  To make dough: in bowl of a food processor pulse together flour and salt just to combine. Add butter and pulse until chickpea-size pieces form. Add 3 to 6 tablespoons ice water, 1 tablespoon at a time, and pulse until mixture just comes together. Separate dough into 2 disks, one using 2/3 dough, the other using the remaining. Wrap disks in plastic and refrigerate at least 1 hour (and up to 3 days) before rolling out and baking.
  • Heat oven to 425 degrees. Place larger dough disk on a lightly floured surface and roll into a 12-inch circle, about 3/8-inch thick. Transfer to a 9-inch pie plate (sprayed with non-stick cooking spray). Line dough with foil and weigh it down with pie weights. Bake until crust is light golden brown, about 30 minutes.
  • While pie crust is baking, prepare filling. Place cherries in a bowl and add sugar and tapioca starch - more tapioca = firmer filling. Drizzle in brandy and toss gently to combine.
  • When pie crust is ready, transfer it to a wire rack to cool slightly and reduce heat to 375 degrees. Remove foil and weights. Scrape cherry filling into pie crust.
  • Place smaller disk of dough on a lightly floured surface and roll it 3/8-inch thick. Use a round cookie cutter (or several round cookie cutters of different sizes) to cut out circles of dough. Arrange circles on top of cherry filling in a pattern of your choice. like, say, the mouth of a shark.
  • Brush top crust with cream and sprinkle generously with Demerara sugar. Bake until crust is dark golden brown and filling begins to bubble, 50 minutes to 1 hour. Transfer pie to a wire rack to cool for at least 2 hours, allowing filling to set before serving. Goes well with disaster movies.          

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Lazy Sonker is the worst name for a pie. Ever.

Everything about this pie recipe is a lie. First off, New York Times, what the freakin' heck is a sonker? It sounds vaguely onomatopoeic, like a noise a sad, stuffed up goose might make. Definitely not a pie (as we discussed last week.) A Way With Words defines it as such:

Is this a sonker? Only because I said so. 
 sonker n. a type of berry pie or cobbler. Editorial Note: This appears to be specific to the area near Mount Airy, N.C. Etymological Note: Perh. fr. Sc./Brit. Eng. songlesingillsingle, ‘a handful of grain or gleanings,’ or from Sc. sonker ‘to simmer, to boil slightly.’

A quick search reveals that the NYT is pretty into sonkers, but no one else is, really. Because I had no basis for comparison, I can't be sure I did this recipe correctly. I will tell you one thing - ain't nothing lazy about this sonker. I ended up using 4 different pans to whip this up, one of which got scorched and is STILL soaking in my kitchen sink days later. There's a lot of butter in the dish, and the final result looks nothing like Serious Eat's version of a Peach Sonker. It also took MUCH longer than the prescribed 35 minutes- I finally took it out of the oven after an hour and it was still a little wobbly in the middle.

the tiniest pie eater weighs in.
It was very well received at Bluegrass in the Park, and we made some new friends - specifically a super cute little girl who was determined to scale the picnic basket, Rob's knees, and anything else more than a foot off the ground, anchored or not. We shared the sonker with her folks and had a nice time listening to Hickory Robot. If you haven't had a chance to check out Washington Park's Bluegrass Thursdays, do it before the season is over!

Lazy Sonker- adapted from this recipe
Takes an hour - this is a lie. It takes the better part of an hour and a half.
Serves 8-10

Here's what you need:
  • 8 tablespoons (1 stick) butter
  • 4 heaping cups (about 1 1/2 pounds) hulled strawberries (halved if large) or pitted cherries
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons self-rising flour
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

Here's what you do with it:
  • Heat oven to 350 degrees. Put 5 tablespoons butter in a 9-by-12-inch baking pan, and place in oven; remove when melted.
  • In a large saucepan, combine fruit, vanilla, 1/4 cup sugar, 1 tablespoon butter and 1 cup water. Place over low heat and simmer until fruit is slightly tender, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat. Drain fruit, reserving liquid and fruit separately; there should be about 1 cup liquid.
  • In a small saucepan, combine remaining 2 tablespoons butter, 2 tablespoons of the sugar and 2 tablespoons of the flour. Place over medium heat and stir until butter melts and mixture is well blended and thickened, about 2 minutes. Add 1/2 cup of the liquid from the fruit, and whisk until smooth. Add another 1/2 cup liquid and whisk again. Add mixture to fruit, combining well. - do this quick or risk scorching the bottom of your pan. 
  • In a medium bowl, combine milk, remaining 1 cup flour, the salt and remaining 3/4 cup sugar. Whisk to consistency of pancake batter. So I don't know about ya'all, but my pancake batter is generally a little runny. Maybe this was a problem? It drizzled funny and sunk under the fruit. Not sure if this was the intended result, but it was a little weird. 
  • Pour fruit mixture into the pan with the melted butter. Carefully pour batter over fruit, taking care to spread it so it touches the edge of the pan. There will be some bare spots. Bake until crust is golden, about 35 minutes.             

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Takes One Hour, Largely Unattended.

Rhubarb Crisp
Not only is that the story of my life, it's also the best byline in a recipe EVER- and happened to be in this week's dessert.

I have a hard time with recipes. My mind moves quickly, and sometimes (most of the time), it's more interesting to use the strict set of guidelines and measurements - well intentioned though they may be-  as a structural skeleton, or sorts. Guidelines, even.

For this project I've been trying hard to follow the recipes as written- within reason (didn't buy a loose-bottomed tart pan.) There's a fine line between a good modification and an overzealous idea gone horribly wrong. This week, for instance, I pan fried some zucchini and threw together a breading for it without tasting the mixture. One of the spice mixes I put in was mostly salt. The finished zucchini was so salty it was nearly bitter; I could feel my veins crusting over in the first bite. It was an utterly over-seasoned failure.

My most recent pie, I'm proud to say, was not quite so terrible. I made a few additions to the original recipe - and they turned out quite nicely. After buying oranges and lemons specifically for the pie, I was disappointed reading it only called for a few tablespoons of zest and juice... so I increased them. I also had some fresh rosemary left over from the Lumenocity picnic, so I sprinkled it on top of the rhubarb mixture, and like the plum crostata, the herbs brought out new flavors in the fruit. Recipe additions will be italicized below.

Just as recipe following and improv is a delicate balance, so also is the definition of "pie," apparently. I have a beef with the New York Times. When deciding to do this 20 Pies in 20 Weeks thing, I was under the impression that the desserts I'd be making would all have at least one crust, if not two, and be an exercise in creating pastry. Imagine my surprise when nearly half of the recipes listed in "20 Pies You Should Make This Summer" were not pastry crusted pies at all but instead crumbles, crisps, sonkers, and grunts? (Yeah, those last two are actually words for dessert.) When I tell people about the project and start listing the ones already made, they immediately object and rightly point out that a crostada is not a pie. You're really ruining my crediblity, NYT. Come on!


Last week I brought this Rhubarb Crisp along to a cookout with some new friends out in the burbs. The crickets chirped, the burgers sizzled right off the grill, and everyone was excited to try rhubarb. My mom's neighbor has an incredible garden, and each year harvests more rhubarb than she can handle. Mom blanched and froze three quarts for me, which really sped up the process. The crisp is an easy, delicious recipe. The topping comes together really quickly (and tastes a lot like oatmeal cookie dough), and my additions help distinguish this from your run-of-the-mill fruit crisp.

Rhubarb Crisp - modified from this recipe
Serves 8
Takes about one hour, largely unattended.

Here's what you need:

  • 6 tablespoons cold butter, cut into small pieces, plus more for greasing pan
  • 2 1/2 to 3 pounds rhubarb, trimmed, tough strings removed, and cut into 1 1/2-inch pieces (about 5 to 6 cups)
  • 1/4 cup white sugar
  • Juice and zest from one lemon and one orange - can be lest if you don't want it to be as citrusy
  • Leaves from 2 sprigs of fresh rosemary
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, or to taste
  • Pinch salt
  • 1/2 cup rolled oats
  • 1/2 cup pecans.

Here's what you do with it:

  • Heat oven to 375 degrees. Grease an 8- or 9-inch square baking or gratin dish with a little butter. Toss rhubarb with white sugar, orange or lemon juice and zest, and spread in baking dish. Top with rosemary leaves.
  • Put the 6 tablespoons butter in a food processor along with brown sugar, flour, cinnamon and salt, and pulse for about 20 or 30 seconds, until it looks like small peas and just begins to clump together. Add oats and pecans and pulse just a few times to combine.
  • Crumble the topping over rhubarb and bake until golden and beginning to brown, 45 to 50 minutes.  

Friday, August 9, 2013

Krispy Kremes and 8-bit Queens

I just completed a neat little side project I wanted to share with you today. Jennifer Jolley is a rockin' local composer whose modern opera "Krispy Kremes and Butter Queens" - a musical riff on Paula Deen - has performed across the country to rave reviews. (I'm not just saying that; I got to see it performed during the Fringe Festival this year! Check it.)

We met up in April so I could help her with a logo redesign. Jennifer is inspired by urban form and 80's nostalgia. I took some time and created a shared Pinterest board so we could collaborate on initial inspirations.

I sketched out a few options, but was really jazzed by the Space Invader urban art I saw in Europe last summer. The 8-bit pixel style was right up her alley, and the fact it was used in the cityscape made it a perfect fit.


Jennifer has a great picture on her Facebook profile of her being silly in a Brunhilde style hat (oh, you remember that cartoon...). It's pretty iconic, so I went with it. It was fun to learn how do create pixel art in Illustrator, and after a few tweaks we came up with a fun, recognizable brandmark that she can use on her website, her business cards, and even on her music! I also helped with some font selection so that her work has a more consistent look and feel to it. We ended up choosing Pompiere for title fonts and Futura for body copy.

I love coming up with creative solutions for creative people.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Portable Pie Preparation - Tips for Packing Phenomenal Picnics

Yoda definitely had it right. Do or do not, there is no try. I generally live my life with this philosophy in mind. It tends to lead to me going a little overboard when it comes to costumes, events, and especially food. Being awesome takes a little more work, but I've never regretted putting in extra effort. This weekend was no different.

Due to a conference on Thursday, this week's pie got pushed back to Saturday, and was definitely worth the wait. This weekend marked an extraordinary event in my neighborhood - a musical light show projected on the facade of one of the most majestic buildings in America. Lumenocity. A jumble of humanity - tens of thousands of us- crowded together in Washington Park to enjoy each other's company and world class entertainment from the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, Cincinnati Ballet, and May Festival Chorus. Liz had a solo as part of May fest, and we asked our moms to come down and enjoy the evening with us and some friends.

Music Hall was all lit up!

We decided a picnic dinner was in order, as we needed to arrive early (3 hours early!) to get a good seat on the lawn. Such a spectacular event demanded a spectacular spread. Liz and I spent Friday afternoon brainstorming food ideas that would be easy to eat, not terribly messy, not especially necessary to keep warm or cold, and of course delicious. Friends contributed to the spread, and we ended up with a portable feast, with pie and homemade ice cream (You guys, Jeff made me my own ice cream. Because he is amazing.) as the pièce de résistance before the show.

a feast!
The evening's menu was as follows: zucchini, sun-dried tomato and roasted red pepper asiago scones with salami and goat cheese, shrimp spring rolls with two dipping sauces, fancy soaked fruit, heirloom tomato salad with pomegranate molasses and sumac, chips and homemade guacamole, mango iced tea. And the pie? Brown Butter Nectarine Cobbler. Friends brought tabbouleh, dolmas, melon and serrano ham. We stuffed our faces and cleaned up in time for the music to start.

Eat ALL the pie!
It seems like a lot. Okay... it was a lot. But there were a few things that made execution and clean-up easy and enjoyable. I'll let you in on a few secrets to having easy-peasy picnics.

so much food. 
1. Foldable blankets are key. - I got a fold up blanket as a high school graduation gift and it's been used hundreds of times. It zips up into a little tote with a strap and a pocket - super convenient for keeping keys and such, and easy to take anywhere. I have no idea where it came from, but Zip and Go makes a similar style - you can even get it monogrammed. My mom brought homemade quillows - quilts that fold into pillows - these set our picnic stage and kept us comfy and dry.

2. Trash bags and paper towels - seems like a no brainer, but keep one plastic bag handy for trash, and the other to keep used dishes and silverware. We brought disposable bowls for pie, but had plastic cups, plates, and silverware. Gotta stay green! Paper towels are essential for the inevitable spills that happen when many adults are grouped close together on blankets.

3. Lukewarm food that isn't red. - food that isn't super crumbly, prone to spill or stain, or go bad if it sits for a minute. We really liked the spring rolls we brought - using rice paper was a fun way to get in snackable, crunchy veggies.

4. Separate your baskets if there are a lot of people. - For the crew of nearly 10, we brought one basket that just had utensils, one that held the food, and a rolling cooler with ice, ice cream, and drinks. Seems like a lot? Yeah. But it worked really well.

Oh yeah, this is supposed to be a pie post. Oops.

 If anyone is still reading at this point, I did make a pie. It was super easy to put together - easily the easiest so far. You could probably sub in nearly any fruit, though the local Indiana peaches from Madison's really hit the spot!

Brown Butter Nectarine Cobbler - modified from this recipe

I upped the recipe 1.5x, it served 12!
Takes about an hour and a half unless you're quick.

Here's what you need:
  • 3 cups peaches or nectarines, sliced (about a pound)
  • 5 ounces sugar (about 3/4 cup)
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 3 ounces flour (about 3/4 cup)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup buttermilk
  • 1/4 cup sliced almonds or almond meal
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • 2 tablespoons Demerara sugar. - which is like sugar in the raw, or cane sugar. 
Here's what you do with it:
  • Heat the oven to 350 degrees. In a saucepan over medium heat, combine the fruit slices, 1/4 cup sugar and lemon juice. Stirring constantly, bring the mixture to a simmer, then take the pan off the heat.
  • In a small saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter and cook, swirling the pan occasionally, until it smells very nutty, turns golden, and flecks of dark brown appear, 2 to 3 minutes. Pour the brown butter into an 8-inch-by-8-inch baking dish.
  • In a mixing bowl, combine the flour, remaining 1/2 cup sugar, baking powder and salt. Pour the buttermilk into the dry ingredients and mix just until the dry ingredients are moistened. Scrape the batter on top of the brown butter, use a spatula to even out the batter but be careful not to mix it into the butter. Scatter the nectarine slices and juice on top of the batter without stirring. Sprinkle with the almonds, nutmeg and Demerara sugar. Bake until golden brown, 50 to 55 minutes.