pie beta kappa

this blog is for the servantless but professional overachiever who is concerned with assignments, deadlines, and changing the world, and still wants to find the time to enjoy producing something wonderful to eat.

pie 2: live free or pie hard

SEQUEL TIME.  Because this is the sequel to the seminal pie post, it needed a funny, punny movie sequel play on words.  “Life Free or Pie Hard” was the winner for its true ridiculousness.  “Pie Another Day” was a close second.  Runner-ups included “Pie-r Pie-r”, “Pie Story 2”, “Harry Potter and the Half-Baked Pie”, and “P2: The Pie-ty Ducks.”  Any better suggestions are, of course, absolutely welcome.

And some credit where credit is due: almost all of the photos on this blog are taken by a very patient M. who deals with questions like “What’s the best lighting for rhubarb?” like a pro.  (And the answer to that question: there is none.)

GRANDMOTHER’S HERSHEY BAR PIE, from the kitchen of my grandmother

1/2 cup milk (whole is best)
24 large marshmallows
6 1/2 ounce Hershey with Almond bars, shaved
1 pint whipping cream
1 9″ baked pie shell
1 extra Hershey with Almonds bar for garnish

Heat milk over a double boiler or in a glass bowl over simmering water.  Do not boil.  Add marshmallows and stir until thoroughly melted.  Add shaved chocolate bars and stir until thoroughly melted.

Cool thoroughly.

Whip 1/2 pint whipping cream and fold into the cooled chocolate mixture.

Pour into pie shell and refrigerate at least two hours.

Whip remaining cream and spread over the filling or pipe through a pastry bag with a rose tip.  Top with chocolate curls from the extra Hershey bar, if it’s managed to survive.


This is a very sweet pie, so you need to be in the mood for marshmallows and chocolate.  (I know, I know.  That sounds ludicrous.  Who isn’t in the mood for marshmallows and chocolate?  But it suffered when eaten in contrast to fruit-laden pies.)

If shaving the chocolate is too time-consuming or if you come dangerously close to shaving your finger instead of the chocolate (*ahem*), an alternative is to cut the chocolate in very slender strips with a good chef’s knife or santoku knife.  It melts just the same, but might not be as pretty for garnish.

And speaking of the garnish… a word to the wise.  It is very, very dangerous, when mixing marshmallows and chocolate, to leave the chocolate pieces that you are saving for the top on the kitchen counter.  Not only can they disappear into the mouths of bystanders (piestanders?) before you can say “stop!”, but they are also awfully, awfully tempting to the piemaker.  I would recommend buying a little extra and setting the extra in plain view while hiding the rest.

STRAWBERRY-RHUBARB PIE, straight from Cook’s Illustrated

1 pie dough (for both top and bottom)
2 teaspoons vegetable oil
1.5 pounds rhubarb, ends trimmed, cut into 3/4-inch pieces (peel if tough)
1 cup and 1 tablespoon sugar
1 pound strawberries, hulled and quartered
3 tablespoons arrowroot powder
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
2 teaspoons orange zest
1 egg white, beaten
pinch of salt

Confession time.  This is the first recipe that wasn’t altered at all.  We followed it to the letter except for one thing that was a decision based on necessity rather than artistry (ran out of arrowroot, substituted one tablespoon of corn starch for one tablespoon of the three tablespoons of arrowroot).  And because of that, I am going to recommend going to the source for the recipe.  If you’re not a member of CooksIllustrated.com, you can join for free for 14 days to get the recipe (and believe me, this recipe was worth it).


Absolutely amazing recipe.  Cooks Illustrated, and Nick, the co-pie-lot in the kitchen for pie day (oh, come on, there had to be one more pie pun before this was over), hit this out of the park.

this american pie

PIE IS supposed to be the quintessential American dish.  “As American as apple pie” is perhaps one of the earliest similes learned by schoolchildren.  But the truth of the matter is that the history of pie is neither an American one or a sweet one.  While pies, and sweet pies in particular, have gained a rather devoted following in the last few centuries, Laura Mayer in TIME briefly explored the history of pie just in time for Thanksgiving 2008 and noted that the vast majority of pie’s existence has been spent as a savory meat pie.  In fact, Mayer credits the Greeks with inventing pastry (insofar as a butterless flour-water combination can be called “pastry”) and, therefore, inventing pie.  Personally, I think we humans are secretive creatures who like to get our hands dirty, so the inclination to (1) squish gooey dough in our hands and then (2) hide something inside of it is contained deep within our souls.

So what does one put inside of one’s dough?  Almost anything.  Pie can act as a kind of preserving apparatus, in a way.  Meat, fruit, vegetables… anyone who has eaten shepherd’s pie has probably thought, “where do they come up with this stuff?” right before asking for seconds.  But, on a more personal level, what do you choose for the first pie you ever make?

Probably not a huge soul-searching dilemma.  Unless you have a food blog.  Whose name has pie in it.  And you’ve managed to spend a not-insignificant portion of adult life puttering around the kitchen and studiously avoiding pie.  Then, there’s a little bit of soul-searching.  Vacillating.  Pontificating.  Ruminating.  Procrastinating.  Until finally, finally, you have it.

And so you call up a few friends, and make four pies instead.

This is the first of two pie installments servings.  Each has a simple and simply delicious pie passed down from my mother’s mother, and a pie from Those Who Get Paid to Make Pie Well.

The very first pie to find itself chilling in the refrigerator (you heard me, I started with a no-bake pie) was my grandmother’s fresh berry pie.  Now, when my grandmother made it, it was always boysenberries, fresh from the small garden in their backyard.  My grandfather loved boysenberries.  This could be any berry you want, but in the spirit of making pies to delight the heart of one’s beloved, I made a blueberry pie.

GRANDMOTHER’S FRESH BERRY PIE, from my grandmother’s kitchen
makes one 9″ pie

Graham Cracker Crust
1 1/4 cups graham cracker crumbs
1/4 cup sugar
5 tablespoons unsalted butter (melted)
1/8 teaspoon salt

4 cups fresh berries, divided
1 cup sugar
3 tablespoons cornstarch
3/4 cup water
1 teaspoon lemon juice
Mix the graham cracker crumbs, 1/4 cup sugar, unsalted butter, and salt.
Using the back of a wooden spoon and/or the bottom of a small glass, press the crumb mixture firmly on the bottom and up the sides of the pie plate.
Line the graham cracker crust with three cups of the berries.
Simmer the remaining berries with water for 3-4 minutes.  Add sugar and cornstarch, stir and cook until clear.  Add lemon juice to the mixture and stir.

Cool, then pour over berries and refrigerate.  Serve with real whipped cream.
watch out for wayward dollops of cream when baking four pies at once
If you’re using a berry that doesn’t automatically fail the “I dropped it on my white shirt” test, like a blueberry, the pie could use more of the simmered blueberry mixture on top of the blueberries.  It might also help with some cohesion issues I found myself having.  (I blame the blueberries.)
MILE HIGH LEMON MERINGUE PIE, adapted from Martha Stewart
All purpose flour, for dusting
Pie pastry dough, blind baked (I used the one in this post, instead of Martha’s pate brisee base, mostly because the French intimidated me and I was already sufficiently intimidated by the meringue.  And because I liked the dough I’d made)
Lemon Filling
1 large egg
2 tablespoons heavy cream
1/3 cup cornstarch
1/3 cup sifted cake flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 cups sugar
5 large egg yolks, lightly beaten
1/2 cup fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons lemon rind
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
7 large egg whites
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
Bake the pastry shell according to directions and allow to cool.
For the lemon filling, combine cornstarch, cake flour, salt, and sugar in a medium saucepan over medium heat.  Martha notes that this should be a nonreactive saucepan.  I only had one kind, and it turns out it was nonreactive.  Copper saucepans are, apparently, reactive.  Don’t use copper saucepans in this recipe.
Gradually add two cups of cold water and bring the mixture to a boil, whisking constantly.  This should take about four minutes.
Remove the nonreactive saucepan from the heat.  Pour a small amount of the hot mixture into the egg yolks to temper them and keep the lemon filling from becoming lemon-and-scrambled-egg filling, then add the eggs to the nonreactive saucepan.  Cook over low heat for five minutes.
Remove the pan from the heat again and whisk in the lemon juice and rind.  Add the butter one piece at a time, but in a fairly methodical manner while the mixture is warm enough to melt the butter.
When the butter is fully melted and absorbed into the mixture, pour it into a large bowl and let it cool.  Place wax paper directly on top of the  surface to prevent a skin from forming.
When cool, pour the filling into the pastry shell, cover with aluminum foil, and refrigerate for approximately one hour, until firm.
When the lemon filling is firm, make the meringue by combining the egg whites, sugar, and salt in a heat-proof bowl.  Set over a pan of simmering water and beat until warm and the sugar and salt are dissolved into the egg whites.
Remove bowl from heat and whip into stiff peaks.  This alone makes pre-stand mixer cooks who could make any kind of lemon meringue pie, much less a beautiful one, head and shoulders above all the rest of humanity.
Spread the meringue over the pie  so that it touches the crust all around.  This will, at least in theory, reduce the “weeping” that occurs (in which watery puddles form at the bottom of the pie pan after pieces are removed).  Using the flat part of a spatula, lightly tap all over the surface of the meringue to encourage well-intentioned, “it came out this way all on its own” peaks.
Broil until brown, approximately two minutes.  Watch as closely as you would a two-year-old in a china shop.
Serve at room temperature.
Because I was so intimidated by its height and its gravity (or lack thereof), I was very careful to adhere to Martha’s meringue work.  With that said, it didn’t quite taste right.  The lemon filling was delicious, and the crust was of course delightful, but the meringue was, as Nick put it, savory.  Not the expected sweet.  Don’t get me wrong, it didn’t keep me from finishing my slice.  Very quickly.

baby don’t you cry, gonna make a pie

TODAY WAS PIE DAY.  All day.  Seven hours and four pies later, I have to admit that the post this week will be late.  But the eponymous post is coming, I promise, and not just one but two posts to cover all four pies.

Until then, I leave you with lyrics from the movie “Waitress“:

baby don’t you cry
gonna make a pie,
gonna make a pie 
with a heart in the middle…

outrageous oatmeal cookies

EVERY COOK has go-to recipes for certain occasions.  Those tried-and-true recipes that are guaranteed, barring a gas leak, a broken stove, or an act of God, to impress.  The only downside for these recipes, of course, is that there are never any leftovers.

I’ve always tried to keep my go-tos to a minimum for fear of seeming a one-trick (or two-trick, or three-trick) pony.  In college, it was lime and garlic chicken fajitas — the simple, cheap meal that, in California at least, everybody eats.  These days, I have two go-to meals.  One for special occasions (maybe I’ll share it some time), and one for friend or work barbecues.

Outrageous oatmeal cookies are what I make when I’m going to a barbecue.  They’re perfect on so many levels.  First, they’re delicious.  Second, they’re unassuming.  Their appearance, and their very nature as a dessert, means that they won’t be upstaging the host’s dishes.  (At least, until they’re the first dish gone.  But then they’re gone.  At that point, you can’t be blamed for a nonexistent dish.)  And finally, they’re not a guilty cookie. Whole wheat flour, no butter (!)… sure, cookies are never foods on which you should subsist.  But if they’re delicious first, and not terribly bad for you second, it’s a bonus.  (Depending on your crowd, you lead with delicious or lead with “no butter, but delicious!”)

OUTRAGEOUS OATMEAL COOKIES, adapted slightly from my mother’s recipe drawer

1 1/2 cups vegetable oil
2 eggs
2 cups whole wheat flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups packed brown sugar (light or dark)
6 cups old-fashioned oats (or part granola)
2 cups broken walnuts
6 ounces semi-sweet chocolate morsels
1/2 cup warm water

Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit with the rack in the center position or with both racks evenly distributed around the center of the oven.

Combine oil and egg, whisking briefly to combine.  Mix flour, baking powder, and salt in a very large mixing bowl, and stir until blended.

Add brown sugar, oats, walnuts, and chocolate, then stir to combine.  Add oil and egg mixture and work through the dough with a wooden spoon (or your fingers) until moistened throughout.  Add just enough warm water to make the mixture damp enough to hold together.

Generously grease two heavy baking sheets.  Using a 1/4 or 1/3 measuring cup (depending on desired size of cookies) to form the mixture into mounts and place on baking sheet with 1-3 inches between them.

Bake for 10-15 minutes until the cookie feels done when pressed with a finger.  Cool briefly, then use a spatula to remove from baking sheet.  Cool completely.


The “very large mixing bowl” is no joke.  I don’t have a bowl big enough.  I use my fingers to mix the ingredients because using a spoon knocks too many of the ingredients out of the bowl and, invariably, onto the floor.  And, let’s face it, I use my fingers to mix because it’s also fun.

salmon cakes, and a tale of two lemon sauces

COMING OFF AN UNDER-THE-WEATHER kind of weekend, I wanted a meal that would be comforting, summery, and still fairly healthy.  Early on Sunday I began craving some sort of fish.  I stumbled across a recipe for Poached Salmon with Avocado Sauce, but it was in this month’s Bon Appetit and I’m trying to vary my sources.  (Alas, poached salmon will have to wait for another day.)

But the idea of salmon stuck with me, so I did some more digging and I came up with a four-year-old recipe from Gourmet for salmon cakes with lemon yogurt.  Like crab cakes, but with salmon.  So far, so good.

I did some tweaking to the recipe (changing pita bread to panko crumbs for artistic/culinary purposes, ground coriander to cumin for what’s-in-my-pantry purposes), but the yogurt-based lemon sauce was leaving me skeptical.  It sounded a little bland, and reading reviews of other cooks on epicurious it sounded like the sentiment was shared.  Others, however, raved about the sauce, and so my Sunday night became a tale of two lemon sauces: one by Gourmet, and one adapting Gourmet’s sauce to have a little more bite with dill and Greek yogurt in place of plain yogurt and chives.

The sauces and the salmon cakes were quick and easy to make (much faster than last week’s tart!).  I had no trouble keeping the salmon cakes together while they were cooking.  They smelled delicious, and tasted even better.

After taste testing each sauce, the choice was unanimous.  Both were good, don’t get me wrong.  But the extra oomph of the Greek yogurt and the dill made the adaptation the clear winner.  I may have gone so far as to dunk my bread in the Greek yogurt sauce.  Repeatedly.  Until the bread was gone.

SALMON CAKES WITH LEMON YOGURT, adapted from Gourmet, April 2008

For salmon cakes:

1 pound salmon fillet, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
3/4 cup panko breadcrumbs
1/4 cup mayonnaise (see below for recipe or use storebought)
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon chopped chives
1  teaspoon grated lemon zest
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt

For sauce #1:
3/4 cup plain whole milk yogurt
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon chopped chives
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon lemon zest

For sauce #2:
3/4 cup Greek yogurt
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon chopped dill
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon lemon zest

Mix together the salmon, breadcrumbs, mayonnaise, egg, cumin, cayenne, 1 tablespoon of the chives, 1 teaspoon lemon zest, and 1/2 teaspoon salt.  Season with freshly ground black pepper.

Form salmon mixture into 4 cakes, approximately 4 inches in diameter each.  Stack with wax paper between each cake and chill for a few minutes in the refrigerator.  (Just enough to help them stick together — this is a perfect time to do a little cleanup or a few dishes.  Or to make the sauce(s), if you haven’t already.)

Heat olive oil in a 12-inch heavy nonstick skillet over medium high heat until it shimmers.  Cook the salmon cakes until golden and just cooked through, turning once.  This should take approximately 6-7 minutes in all.

Place cakes on a paper towel to soak any remaining olive oil sticking to the bottom of the cakes, then plate.

Yogurt sauce #1: Stir together yogurt, lemon juice, 1/4 teaspoon salt, the remaining tablespoon chives, and 1/2 teaspoon lemon zest.

Yogurt sauce #2: Stir together Greek yogurt, lemon juice, 1/4 teaspoon salt, 1 tablespoon dill, and 1/2 teaspoon lemon zest.

Serve salmon cakes with sauce.

HOMEMADE MAYONNAISE, from Bon Appetit, April 2008

1 large egg yolk
1 1/2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon white wine vinegar
1/4 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup canola oil

Combine yolk, lemon juice, vinegar, mustard, and salt in a medium bowl, and whisk until bright yellow.

Use a 1/4 teaspoon measuring spoon, add 1/4 cup of the canola oil, one spoonful at a time while whisking constantly.  This should take approximately four minutes, depending on how full your 1/4 teaspoons are.  (Mine, apparently, were somewhat lacking.)

Add the remaining 1/2 cup canola oil in a small, slow, steady stream while continuing to whisk constantly.  Continue whisking until the mixture is thick and lightened in color, approximately eight minutes.  Cover and chill.

The mayonnaise can be made up to 2 days ahead of time, but keep chilled.

I served the salmon cakes with brussels sprouts, a crunchy warm baguette, a cold rosé, and fresh strawberries for dessert.  (Strawberries have an irresistible siren song when they are sitting in a display at a grocery store.  Or at a farmer’s market.  Or drooping, perfectly red and ripe on the vine.  Anywhere, really.)

savory spring vegetable and goat cheese tart

WITH AN ENTIRE EXTRA DAY in the weekend, Memorial Day seemed like a good morning to spend some quality time fixing brunch.  I had been eyeing the recipe for a savory spring vegetable and goat cheese tart in the May 2012 Bon Appetit since I first leafed through the issue, and thought, what better way to spend an hour or two in the kitchen?

Three hours and fifteen minutes later, I had a beautiful tart cooling on a wire rack.  I use the past tense, because it’s gone.  Deliciously, wholeheartedly, gone.

To be fair, the extra time was my fault.  Bon Appetit was trying to be helpful when it suggested store-bought pie pastry for the crust.  But, if you’re going to go all in, you go all in.  And I’m of the firm opinion that, while there are many times in life that it should be the first step, a food blog article should never begin, “Take the store-bought pastry and follow the instructions on the box.”

On that note, it turns out, pie pastry is incredibly simple to make.  With four simple ingredients (plus ice water), homemade pie pastry is… an hour and forty five minutes away.  It’s not particularly work-intensive.  But plan ahead.

BUTTERY PIE CRUST, from Bon Appetit, May 2012


1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 cup ice water
1/2 cup chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1/4 inch cubes


Mix the flour, sugar, and salt in a medium-sized bowl.  Add the butter, and rub the butter into the flour mixture with your fingers until it resembles coarse meal.

Add 1/4 cup ice water and work into the mixture until the dough comes together.  Gather the dough into a ball, flatten into a disk, wrap in plastic and chill for approximately one hour.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.  Roll out the dough to a 12 inch circle and transfer to a 10 inch diameter tart pan.  Press dough into the bottom and sides of the pan and trim excess dough.  Prick all over the bottom of the crust with a fork and chill again for 20 minutes.

Line the inside of the crust with aluminum foil or parchment paper and fill with dried beans or pie weights.  Bake crust until sides are set, then remove the foil/parchment paper and beans/weights and bake until bottom is set and a light golden color, approximately 18-20 minutes depending on your oven.  Cool on a wire rack.


I initially found the concept of pie weights a bit boggling.  It’s pastry crust, and it will eventually be laden with lots of delicious contents to keep it down.  But it turns out, blind-baking (when one cooks crust without the contents) serves several important purposes.  It can cook the crust when the crust will take longer to cook than its eventual contents.  It can cook the crust when the filling is an unbaked filling.  And it can prevent crust from becoming soggy, which is an experience that I think is worse in retrospect than it is in the eating.  The weights, or the beans, prevent the pastry from puffing before it gets its filling.

Also, regarding the use of the fingers in this recipe… I felt like a gleeful six-year-old playing with playdough.  And it works!  I was skeptical that rubbing the butter into the flour would result in a coarse meal-like mixture, but it really, truly does.

SAVORY SPRING VEGETABLE AND GOAT CHEESE TART, adapted very slightly from Bon Appetit May 2012


1 store-bought pie crust (or homemade, see above)
all-purpose flour (for surface)
2 bunches asparagus (approximately 1 1/4 lb.), trimmed
5 spring onions or 12 scallions
3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
8 ounces soft fresh goat cheese
1/4 cup crème fraîche
1/4 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon minced flat-leaf (Italian) parsley
1 tablespoon minced fresh chives
2 teaspoons minced fresh tarragon
3 large eggs


If store-bought pie crust: Roll out pie crust to 12 inch circle, transfer to tart pan and follow instructions.  If homemade, see above.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.  Line a baking sheet with foil.  Cut off top 1 1/2 inch of asparagus tips and reserve, then slice stalks into 1/4 inch rounds, discarding any hardened areas of the stalks.

If using spring onions, cut white bulbs from onions, then trim and quarter; if using scallions, do the same but halve, not quarter.  Slice pale green parts into 1/4 inch pieces.

Toss asparagus tips and sliced white onion bulbs in a small bowl with 2 tablespoons olive oil, then season with salt and pepper.  Place in a single layer on the foil-covered baking sheet and roast, turning once, until the onions begin to brown and the asparagus is turning bright green and tender, approximately 12-15 minutes.  Transfer to a small bowl, and turn down the oven temperature to 375 degrees.

Heat remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil and 1 tablespoon butter in a medium skillet over medium heat.  Add sliced asparagus stalks and sliced pale green onion parts, and season with salt and pepper.  Saute, stirring often, until the onions are soft and the asparagus turns bright green and tender, approximately 6-8 minutes.  Let cool slightly in pan, then spread evenly over bottom of crust.

Whisk goat cheese, crème fraîche, heavy cream, chives, parsley, and tarragon in a medium bowl, then season with salt and pepper.  Whisk in eggs, then pour egg mixture over vegetables.  Distribute asparagus tips and sliced white onion bulbs evenly on top of egg mixture.

Bake tart until edges of the crust are golden brown and the filling is set, approximately 20-22 minutes.  Let cool for 20 minutes or up to 4 hours.

Remove sides of tart pan and serve warm or at room temperature.


Be very careful which parts of the asparagus and onion go in the oven and which go in the skillet.  I’ve broken the instructions up visually a bit more than Bon Appetit did.  I may or may not have gotten fairly far into the recipe before I realized I’d mixed up the two.  On a happy note, it didn’t have a negative effect on the taste!

So, if you have a couple hours to spare, I would highly recommend this recipe.  It actually lived up to its glossy food magazine promise, which is a feat unto itself.

buttermilk roast chicken; or, how i learned to stop worrying and love roast chicken

AMONG THE VARIOUS MEATS, chicken is generally glorified by the health-conscious and the not-vegetarian vegetarians whose food proclivities are accompanied by subtitles (e.g., “I’m a vegetarian, but I eat fish and chicken”).  Because of this, I am convinced that chicken, particularly white meat chicken breasts, have become the meat equivalent of brussels sprouts: foods perceived as bland but good for you.  In short, boring food.

(Two side notes:  (1) I know now that brussels sprouts can be amazing if you cook them right (more on that late-in-life discovery, another time, another place).  (2) My blasé perception of chicken breasts was further encouraged by a dieting college friend whose weekday dinners consisted of a grilled chicken breast, a steamed vegetable, and brown rice.  Every.  Night.  This may work for people who eat to live.  But for those who live to eat, it is a stifling approach to dinner.)

Of course chicken breasts can be similarly delicious if you do enough stuff to them so that they are no longer really chicken breasts: you can marinate them and cut them up with peppers for fajitas, you can bake them and slice them and insert them into pasta, and of course if you throw healthy thinking out the window you can fry them.  But I was on a mission to make a good weekday meal centered on chicken breasts that doesn’t involve frying or heavy cream-based sauces or surrounding pieces of the chicken breasts with things to make it taste better.  And that’s where Deb at smitten kitchen changed my chicken breast outlook with buttermilk roast chicken.

She used chicken parts generally and chicken legs, specifically.  The first time I tried the recipe, I used thighs.  The second time, I thought I’d see if the magic could be worked on chicken breasts.  Wonder of all wonders, it does.  It’s a simple marinade that encourages the tenderness and the moistness of the chicken.  And, yes, it says buttermilk, but that’s the marinade.  There’s no sauce that is being poured on the chicken, it’s just a happy bath of spices and buttermilk before the chicken is roasted.  Think of it as a trip to the spa for your chicken.

BUTTERMILK ROAST CHICKEN, adapted slightly from smitten kitchen

2 cups buttermilk
5 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon table salt
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons paprika, plus extra to sprinkle on top of roasted chicken
6-8 chicken breasts (or other pieces of chicken)
freshly ground black pepper
olive oil
sea salt

In a medium-sized bowl, whisk buttermilk, minced garlic, salt, sugar, paprika, and pepper.

Place chicken breasts in ziplock-style bag and pour buttermilk mixture into bag.  Massage bag to ensure buttermilk is surrounding all of the chicken, then remove air and seal.  Refrigerate at least two hours, and preferably 24 to 48 hours.  For chicken breasts in particular, longer is better.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees when ready to roast.

Line a small baking dish with aluminum foil.  Place chicken breasts in foil-lined dish, letting the buttermilk mixture drip off before arranging the chicken in the dish.  Drizzle olive oil over the chicken then sprinkle with additional paprika and sea salt.

Roast the chicken breasts for 20 to 30 minutes.  This, as always, depends on the size of the chicken, the size of the baking dish and nearness of the pieces of chicken, and, of course, the temperament of your oven.  If you are making chicken legs or thighs, this is a delicious browned look.  For chicken breasts, you want them cooked through; if you wait until they brown they will lose their tenderness.

Serve immediately.

If you are looking for a good side dish that isn’t monochromatic, I would recommend (at least in springtime) artichokes.  Rinse them, cut off most of the stem and trim the leaves.

Fill a saucepan with one inch or less of water and bring it to a boil.  Place the artichokes upside down in the boiling water, cover and reduce to a simmer.  Simmer/steam for approximately 20 minutes, until the outer leaves pull off easily.  (Don’t test this too much — each leaf you remove is a leaf you don’t get to eat!)

Remove the artichokes from the saucepan with tongs and place on a cutting board.  Let cool for a few minutes, then slice off the remainder of the stem and place right side up on plates.  Serve with your preferred dipping sauce; my two suggestions are melted butter or worcestershire sauce and mayonnaise.  (It sounds disgusting but melds well with the vegetable).

Like the garlic in last week’s gazpacho, the garlic in this week’s buttermilk marinade can be sliced and mashed or can be sufficiently demolished in a food processor.  My kitchen acquired a new garlic press, but I’m fearful its lifespan will be significantly less than the last one.

The chicken is fairly welcoming to most side dishes.  My favorites so far have been the artichokes mentioned above, warm crusty bread, and fresh fruit (kiwi today) for dessert.

Best of all, this can be turned into multiple meals by only removing the amount of chicken from the buttermilk mixture that you will be cooking in a night and letting the rest soak it up for another day.

hello, gazpacho

FIRST THINGS FIRST.  I have come to realize over the last few months as this idea and website sat, well, marinating (pardon the pun) that starting a blog is like starting a novel.  There is so much pressure on the beginning because it is the beginning that defines so much of anything.

This blog began, truly, in a small town in California.  It began with what seemed like an acre-sized garden with corn stalks and summer squash and carrots so delicious the gophers would take them in rows at a time.  It began with fresh eggs from chickens who roamed the pastures and even ventured onto the front porch on occasion, chickens with names and personalities and even one who danced in his own funny way.  Most of all, though, it began in a kitchen where my mother made absolutely delicious meals.  Growing up on a ranch instilled in me a love for fresh, wholesome, natural ingredients.  Growing up in my mother’s kitchen instilled in me a love for food: for perfectly-prepared dishes, for keen recipe selection, and for food, glorious food.

And so, on Mother’s Day, and on a beautiful, warm day in May, a simple warm-weather dish that showcases its ingredients seemed like the perfect way to begin.

I came to gazpacho relatively late in life.  I had it at a beautiful dinner at a hotel in Santa Barbara about two years ago.  “Chilled” is not a word I usually associate with soup, and its chunky texture, its temperature, and its fresh taste all endeared themselves to my taste buds.  In case you’re wondering, the history of gazpacho is apparently subject to debate, though most agree that its home is Andalusia, a southern province of Spain (not the fairy tale world in the movie “Enchanted“).  For a more extensive consideration of origins and varieties, take a gander at the 1989 New York Times article by Steven Raichlen, “Gazpacho: Theme and Variations.”

It is delicious.  So delicious that it was served in tiny glasses as an appetizer at M.’s and my wedding.  It is the type of dish that highlights the fresh vegetables in it, and when looking for a recipe that will do just that, my first stop is usually the Barefoot Contessa extraordinaire, Ina Garten.  There are many variations on gazpacho (or “gaspacho,” in Portugal’s version of it), but this is my current favorite for two reasons: first, it is a minimalist dish that highlights good ingredients and combines effortlessly to be far more than the sum of its parts, and second, it is refreshingly simple to make.  A delicious home-cooked (or home-chilled, at least) meal that highlights fresh ingredients and can be fit into a busy professional woman’s day?  That’s pretty much the trifecta, right there.

GAZPACHO, adapted slightly from The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook


1 hothouse cucumber, halved and seeded but not peeled
2 red bell peppers, cored and seeded
4 plum tomatoes (also known as roma tomatoes)
1 red onion
3 garlic cloves, minced
23 ounces tomato juice (3 cups)
1/4 cup white wine vinegar
1/4 cup good olive oil
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper


Roughly chop the cucumbers, bell peppers, tomatoes, and red onion into one-inch cubes.

Place each vegetable separately in a food processor with a steel blade and pulse until chopped.  Ina uses an exclamation point when she says, Do not overprocess!, but I like it a little more finely “chopped” for texture reasons.  Some people like their gazpacho chunkier.  This is a personal preference; do whatever you like.

After each vegetable is processed, place it in a large bowl with the others.  Add the garlic, the tomato juice, the white wine vinegar, the olive oil, the salt, and the pepper. Mix well, and chill.  Chill, chill, chill.  The longer it chills, the more the flavors intermingle.


Drag a spoon down the center of a halved cucumber to seed it efficiently.

The garlic can be pretty-much-minced in the food processor if you recently managed to break your garlic press in an unsalvageable way.

I double the recipe to have leftovers for at least one more night, and serve it with a fresh sliced baguette and cheese, with fruit for dessert for a lovely warm May dinner.