Easter Pie

Easter Pie I realize Easter is long over, but considering you haven’t heard from me since BEFORE Easter, I thought this would be a good place to begin my blogging catch up.

Most of  you may look at that pie pic and assume it is filled with fruit or some other sweet concoction. Well, you would be wrong. This, my friends, is Easter Pie, a family recipe that originates with my grandmother Emma Pizzi, god rest her soul. This tradition is perhaps the most revered of all my stepfather’s family and I am so happy that I can carry it on and share it with my friends and of course, all of you faithful readers.

So what exactly is in an Easter Pie? Meat. Lots and lots of meat. Italian cold cuts to be precise. I’m not entirely sure why this particular combination is reserved for Easter, but I do know that my grandmother was very devout and observed the tradition of refraining from eating meat during all of lent. So when Easter arrives, what better way to celebrate than a pie full of meat? According to my stepfather the recipe was actually handed down from my stepfather’s father’s mother Michelina, to whom my grandmother was very close. Who knows what prompted her to chop up a bunch of cold cuts and throw them into a pie crust, but we are sure glad she did.

Easter Pie (Recipe PDF)

Easter Pie SliceNow the original recipe calls for something called fresh cheese or “basket cheese“, which, according to the linked article, is an Italian delicacy made only at Easter time that apparently is like a blend of ricotta, cottage cheese, and fresh mozzarella. I’m sure it’s divine, but personally I have never been able to locate it, so I have always just used a bulb of fresh mozz you find at any grocery store. It works beautifully. Also according to this article, Easter Pie is a fairly common tradition with countless variations, which probably explains where Michelina got the idea…. but don’t worry. Ours is the best.

Warm Cookie Sundae with Nutella Hot Fudge

Warm Cookie Sunday with Nutella Hot FudgeAlright, I admit it, I am not the biggest fan of Valentine’s Day. There’s nothing like huge displays of roses and endless sappy happy facebook posts to remind you that you’re single (I’m not bitter)… But in all seriousness, I am happy for all my friends and loved ones who celebrate their companionship today. Besides, I always manage to find fun in even the most dire of situations. One of my life philosophies is to celebrate – whatever you have, whatever you’re given, celebrate it. I mean, come on, who doesn’t love doing anti-Valentine’s Day things when you’re single? Several years ago I found myself in a theatre in Times Square by myself on Valentine’s Day watching There Will Be Blood. What a love fest that wasn’t – perfect!

Putting aside anti-sentiments for a moment,  for me there are always two good things to celebrate on this day. The first is my parents’ wedding anniversary. That’s right, my mom and stepdad were married 21 years ago today. My lord how time flies. Here’s to 21 more! The other thing to celebrate is whether you’re single, happily married, or anywhere in between, Valentine’s Day is the perfect excuse to indulge in some chocolate (not that I really need an excuse). I’ve been thinking for the past few days about what could make up a simple yet decadent treat that one could enjoy alone, with friends, or with a special someone. If you’ve read the title of this post, you already know what I came up with. Nothing says both decadence and sexiness to me like Nutella. I envision two people madly in love spreading in on strawberries and feeding them to one another…… sorry I just threw up a little…. but am I right? There’s something about the smooth silkiness that is just… well, sexy. But it’s not enough for the starving artist to spread it on toast and call it a day. How about we up the ante and make it into a warm thick hot fudge topping for a sundae… NOW we’re talkin’.

Here’s the Recipe: 

First, start with your favorite scratch-baked cookie recipe. If you’re in need of an idea, I highly recommend my infamous Dark Chocolate recipe – you’ll never make any other kind. To make the sauce, simply place 1/2 cup of Nutella in a small microwaveable bowl with 1/4 cup of whole milk or heavy cream. Give it a quick stir, then stash it in the microwave for about 30 seconds. Grab a small whisk and whisk like crazy until it gets smooth. It will look like hell at first, but just keep stirring – trust me. Once it’s nice and smooth you can decide whether you want to make it thinner by adding more milk and microwaving it some more. I like it on the thicker side. To assemble the sundae, place one or two warm cookies in a bowl or on a small plate. Scoop on your favorite ice cream (I used french vanilla), then drizzle the hot Nutella sauce liberally over everything. Done. You can also add chopped nuts or anything else that tickles your fancy. It’s a perfect little indulgence to have before going out to the local bar for an anti-Valentine cocktail.

Speaking of anti-Valentine’s…

If you’re in Los Angeles and you’re looking to celebrate your singleness, I found this great article on the LA Weekly Blog that lists six bars/restaurants that are having anti-Valentine’s celebrations. One of them is Birds, which is right here in my neighborhood – yet another reason I love where I live.

So whether you’re single or happily partnered, I hope you all will enjoy celebrating on Valentine’s Day! Be sure to check out my facebook and twitter for more valentine and anti-valentine articles and ideas today.

Fudging Peanut Butter Pie

Peanut Butter PieOne of my favorite starving artist past times is taking recipes that are perhaps a bit…. over-involved or over priced or just plain obnoxious and making a starving artist version that is just as tasty for a fraction of the cost and time. Many weeks ago, long before bootcamp and certainly at a time where I was not at all concerned with what I was eating, I got a random craving for a peanut butter pie. Now the responsible thing to do when a craving like this hits is to recognize that it is born of misplaced desires and emotions and simply ignore it. Or you can behave completely irrationally and immediately leave your house to purchase ingredients. At this stage I went with option 2.

But before I could run to the grocery store in a fit of hysteria, I needed a pie. My go to for most things is Alton Brown – I adore the man and am a huge long time follower of Good Eats. Through some bizarre stroke of serendipity (or perhaps a cruel joke from the universe), his peanut butter episode was on Food Network that morning, which includes a peanut butter pie. You can view the recipe here. Now, as much as I love Alton, sometimes his recipes are just what I described above: over the top. Take this peanut pie for example: homemade chocolate crust, homemade peanut butter, chopped bittersweet chocolate… I get it, I do. This is what Alton does, he takes a recipe and makes it at the highest culinary level possible. And sometimes I’m in the mood for that. For peanut butter pie? Not to so much. Here is what I swapped out:

  1. Crust: do you know how expensive those chocolate wafer cookies are? Like over $5 for a pack. No. I bought a pre-made crust on sale for $2.99. They didn’t have chocolate, so I used granola. Perfect. 
  2. Peanut butter: I’m sure Alton’s homemade version is fantastic, but I’m not buying and roasting peanuts. Please. 1.5 cups from a $3 jar of Jif. Done.
  3. Bittersweet chocolate: I always have bulk semisweet chocolate chips in my kitchen. Those worked just fine.

Using all these substitutions I followed the recipe as it’s written and I have to say, I had a perfectly splendid peanut butter pie. Sorry, Alton!

Tomato Pie with Ricotta, Pesto, and Bacon

If you’re a regular reader of my blog, you know I’m obsessed with fresh tomatoes. I usually spend at least a third of my budget on tomatoes whenever I visit the farmer’s market. And usually I just get them home and eat them sliced with kosher salt. But recently I’ve been thinking of other applications for fresh tomatoes aside from the usual go-to’s like caprese salad or tomato sauce. And then it hit me – pie! A cheesy pie!!! Mmmm.

I layered ricotta cheese (whipped with egg and pesto) with thick fresh slices of tomatoes and crumbled bacon, all topped with fresh mozzarella cheese to create a sinfully delicious and comforting meal that could easily feed 6 if not 8. Perfect for a chilly fall evening. Serve with fresh hot crusty bread and a salad – it’s divine. And if you’re a vegetarian, you can replace the bacon with some sauteed spinach and garlic… but do you really not want bacon? I don’t think so.

Before I give you the recipe, a brief word about pie crust. I have long been an advocate of Pilsbury refrigerated pie crusts. They are delicious and can usually be found fairly inexpensively, particularly around the holidays. However, I recently have become obsessed with making my own pie crust just because it’s on my list of things I want to get good at making. For this pie I used a recipe I found in a book I have called Pastry Cook by Catherine Atkinson. The results were pretty remarkable, but I would still not hesitate to go the Pilsbury route if you’re not feeling that ambitious. I don’t really want to spend blog space on pie crust, but if you’re looking to take the leap into homemade, I would start with Ina Garten’s Perfect Pie Crust. That bitch can make some pie.

Whatever you do, it’s tomatoes, bacon, and cheese – it’s not going to be bad!!

Tomato Pie (Recipe PDF)

Famous Apple Crisp

I’m not one to get homesick. Just ask my mother. After school and boy scout trips when I was younger (yes, I was a boy scout, Eagle in fact), kids would run to their parents in dramatic reunions after having been apart for a week. I would get off the bus, walk unfazed past all the absurdly dramatic homecomings, find my parents, and say  “hey”. Thereafter I would launch into tales of my time away and lament that it had to end so quickly. Heh. They were good sports. In my adulthood I am much the same, making a home for myself wherever I live. But, after residing in SoCal for three years I’ve realized that there is in fact one thing that makes me nostalgic: fall. As my fellow New Englanders begin to feel the first bites of cold as they pick apples, sip warm cider, and roast pumpkin seeds, I continue to sweat my ass off in relentless 100-degree desert. Now that makes me homesick.

Last week Los Angeles finally got a break. We got a good four days of temperatures in the 60s. We even had rain — no, not just rain, but a THUNDERSTORM that streaked cragged bolts of lightning across the darkened sky. I was so excited I tweeted and facebooked about it. Most of my friends and family from the east coast were confused as to why I would post about such a thing. Believe me when I tell you that rain is a rarity here. And thunderstorms? Forget it.

In the midst of this brief taste of fall weather, I jumped at the opportunity to bring the New England to Cali via a delicious dessert. What else would you expect from the Starving Artist? In my opinion there is nothing that evokes fall more perfectly than an Apple Crisp. And friends, let me tell you, I make the best effin apple crisp – and I don’t say that lightly. Friends wait for this one all year long. If you can attest, please leave some comment love below. On Friday I made the first one of the season for a group of composer friends at my friend Joe’s house in Venice. This is the same Joe who smokes his own ribs. Yummy. I’m happy to report that after the crisp was served to the 10 people at the party, 10 completely empty bowls came back into the kitchen. As a cook, there is nothing more rewarding than empty plates.

If you’d like to bring some warm fall goodness to your family and friends, give this recipe a shot. You will not be disappointed. What’s my secret? There’s two: maple syrup and pecans. Oh yeah. My favorite apples to use for this are Macintosh, but they don’t really have them (at least not affordably) on the west coast, so instead I use Granny Smith. So. Good. Also, if you’re a big apple dessert person, I highly recommend the device pictured to the right. What is it, you ask? Why, it’s an apple peeler corer slicer! Peels, cores, and slices all in one motion. When I first saw this at my friend Susan’s house in Vermont I all but lost my sh*t. And, perhaps even more mind-blowing, it can be yours for less than $20 on Amazon, just click here. So worth it.

But the best part about making this dessert is the smell. It fills my apartment and drifts down the hallways of my building. As I walk my friends to my apartment door they get a whif and say “oh my god is that YOU?” Oh yes. It’s me.

Just make me one promise – you will ALWAYS serve this warm with vanilla ice cream. Promise? Good.

More fall favorites coming your way soon!

Recipe —> Famous Apple Crisp