Category Archives: winter

Recipe: Not-Mincemeat Pie (Spicy Apple & Dried Fruit Pie)

The combination of sweet, savory, and above all, spicy found in mincemeat hearkens back to the pre-modern kitchen. Finely chopping (mincing!) meat and mixing it with suet, fruits, and spices not only used up leftover, odd bits of meat but stretched the available protein. The use of late apples and dried fruits made it a perfect winter dish, and it was a Christmas specialty by the sixteenth century. Gradually, less actual minced meat was included in the recipe (though suet is still commonly used), and by the mid-nineteenth century, mincemeat in both England and the Americas was what we would recognize today.

I didn’t grow up with it, but I sure do love me some mincemeat. I don’t think it’s common in Hawai’i at all, but every Christmas when we were shopping at Kahala or Pearlridge, Mom and I would stop by See’s Candy for mincemeat and marzipan chocolates (they have since discontinued their mincemeat candies, due to the lack of a reputable supplier. Jerks.). I loved them; they were so foreign, so exotic, and yet so quaint, something out of a Louisa May Alcott or L.M. Montgomery novel. I didn’t get to try a mincemeat pie until I was twenty-one, and visiting my relatives in Western New York (Buffalo). My Cousin Johnny Stevenson’s Quebecois then-wife baked one for my little sister and I, and it was a revelation (she also introduced me to turnips and rutabagas–oh, my!). I was in love at the first bite, and have often been baffled that mincemeat pies are so unpopular in the Pacific Northwest. After all, they use some of our finest ingredients, such as apples and dried berries. When I found this pie in November’s Sunset Magazine, I knew I had to make it for Thanksgiving.

For my pie, I used half Calville Blanc and half Newtown Pippin apples, both heirloom varieties I picked up at the Portland Nursery Apple Tasting Festival this year. They made for a phenomenal pie, with perfect taste and texture. This is a very messy, bubbly pie, so be sure to either place a foil-lined cookie sheet on the rack beneath your pie, or line the floor of your oven. This is a very rich, intensely-flavored pie, not for the faint of heart or full of stomach. Continue reading

Recipe: Swiss Chard, Potato, and Fontina Frittata

a frittata of Swiss chard, potatoes, and Fontina

a frittata of Swiss chard, potatoes, and Fontina

Schatzi: Despondent over my puny Bright Lights that never recovered from our decidedly odd winter here in the Northwest, I picked up a bag of Swiss Chard at Trader Joe’s and made this little (okay, large) dinner frittata for Eli, Maiya, Handsome Jon, and myself. I made it a long time ago for my vegetarian boyfriend and my mother, and thought it was great for long spring evenings. Instead of parsley, however, since mine are not yet well established, I used fresh thyme, which I had tons of; I used less, however, due to thyme’s more aggresive flavor. We began the meal with a salad of baby lettuces, and finished with a Rhubarb Upside Down Cake I made this afternoon. click here for the frittata recipe!

Christmas Cookies: Toffee Bars

Toffee Bars

Toffee Bars

Schatzi: These are quick and simple, and one of my favorite Christmas cookies. When I was little and hated nuts on things (I didn’t like biting on anything hard), Mom would leave them off part of the pan for me. I’m not sure when or where the recipe dates from; Mom’s recipe card has no date or sourse, only the note “ono!” in the upper right-hand corner, and a comment that almonds are the best, then pecans. (I prefer pecans.) According to Gourmet,  Toffee Bars were popular during the Eighties, which is when I was growing up, but I have a published copy of a nearly identical recipe (using Spry Shortening, no less) dated 1960. Gourmet’s version of Toffee Bars from the 80s, however,  is a bit more complicated than it needs to be.

Try them with dark chocolate chips, too.

click here for the Toffee Bars recipe!

Christmas Cookies: Fruitcake Bar Cookies

this years batch

this year's batch

Schatzi: So I came across the original of this recipe last year while idly paging through a Real Simple from the previous year (see, I am vindicated in my habit of holding onto magazines), and was immediately intrigued. After all, I do love fruitcake. As a “fruitcake cookie,” however, it was distinctly lacking. One cup of cranberries and one cup of nuts? The cranberries are a nice touch, but those proportions hardly make it fruity! Since I already had extra fixings from the Fruitcake Cookies, I decided to experiment a little. I added golden raisins, and I also added the glaceed fruits that are the trademark of the modern American fruitcake. (You could use a mix of glaceed fruits, or combine citron, cherries, pineapple, and citrus peels in your own preferred proportions to equal one cup. If those types of fruit are just too unbearable, one could probably make a delicious variation on this recipe with just dried fruits: cranberries, raisins, currants, dates, cherries, blueberries, apricots, etc. In fact, I may have to try that later this week!)

The proportions in which I added fruit last year weren’t quite enough, so this year’s batch had more, and the difference is visible. I also added a dash of spice this year because they seemed a little bland, otherwise. The end results were surprisingly delicious and popular–even with a few people who don’t care for fruitcake.

I must say, though, these are only superficially like fruitcake. They simply don’t have the moist, rich density or complex flavor of a good fruitcake. They more closely resemble lebkuchen, the German gingerbread.

EDIT: This Christmas (2009), I further experimented with the recipe, substituting one tablespoon of molasses for one of corn syrup, and it made such a difference in these cookies! The texture was much softer, more like that of a brownie than a cookie, and the flavor was much deeper and spicier. I left some corn syrup in to keep sugar from crystallizing and to also hold it together a bit. The recipe has been altered to reflect this. Also, if you do not or cannot eat nuts, it is perfectly delicious without them. Everyone raved about these this year, more so even than last year; they were nearly a different cookie entirely, and makes them much more closely resemble a fruitcake taste and texture.

continue reading for the Fruitcake Brownie recipe

Pumpkin Pecan Pie

a slice of Pumpkin Pecan Pie

a slice of Pumpkin Pecan Pie

Schatzi: I don’t know when I first had pecan pie, but it made an indelible impression on me. The sweet, gooey filling, the pecans, the caramel or toffee-like flavor of brown sugar–when combined, they make an irresistible dessert. (I once ate an entire twelve-inch pecan pie in a day. With no help.) When I came across this Saveur recipe (adapted from a Dorie Greenspan recipe), I couldn’t resist making a Pumpkin Pecan Pie for Thanksgiving.

It really was the best of both worlds, too. I initially expected that the two fillings would remain distinct layers (I don’t know why), but instead when I poured the filling over the pecans, the two slowly mingled. I was worried, but the resulting pie was just luscious. It was probably the most popular of the four pies I baked this year, though sweet potato was a close second. Like most of my pies, it’s best made the day before (and that frees up your kitchen on big dinner days, too).

continue reading for the Pumpkin Pecan Pie recipe

Sweet Potato Pie

Schatzi: My first ever taste of sweet potato pie was Thanksgiving 2006. I had to work at the lol-iday inn that night (luckily, only for a short shift), and had had an abbreviated dinner over at Maiya’s. When E-Money came in to start her graveyard shift, she was kind enough to bring me a plate she had made up for me at her grandmother’s dinner, a plate that included a slice of sweet potato pie. Although everything I ate on that plate was delicious, the pie was a revelation. And I vowed that I would one day bake sweet potato pies.

I found my recipe on Saveur (you’re shocked, I know) while idly clicking through various holiday desserts. Though intrigued by the Sweet Potato Cobbler, I wanted a traditional pie recipe to begin by odyssey. (Sadly, E-Money has since relocated, and I have a hard time getting a hold of her, or I would have simply demanded her grandmother’s recipe.) The resulting pie was rich and delicious (Eli’s favorite pie of the day), and I’ll definitely be baking it again.

Sadly, since it was the last pie to bake (during Thanksgiving dinner), I forgot to take a picture of the sweet potato pie before it was devoured.

continue reading for the Sweet Potato Pie recipe

Pumpkin Pie

Schatzi: There are myriad pumpkin pie recipes out there, but I usually just rely on the recipe on the Libby’s can label. If it’s not broken, and so on. I do alter it slightly, however. For one, I prefer some brown sugar in my pies, and tend to use it in conjunction with or instead of white granulated sugar. I also add a few more spices, such as ginger and allspice. Some might feel the allspice redundant since it is generally equated to cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves, but it’s got more depth than that, and should be used more often, I think. Use whatever pie crust you feel best here; most people have one they prefer, after all. But I do suggest using metal pie pans for custardy pies like pumpkin.
I generally bake the pumpkin pie a couple of days ahead, so that it can be eaten for breakfast on Thanksgiving Day. That’s how I was raised, and I love the taste of pumpkin pie in the morning, smothered with whipped cream. As Bill Cosby once famously pointed out about chocolate cake, it’s got eggs, butter, and milk–plus, pumpkin is a vegetable! click here for the Pumpkin Pie recipe!