Foolproof Favorites from Famous Chefs - Balsamic Strawberries

I went to the farmer's market in Solvang yesterday.I was buying some green beans and the friendly farmer handed me two ripe strawberries to taste.  So I did.  I had no need for strawberries and was rushing home to start prepping for a dinner party last night.  The peach dessert was already made and vanilla ice cream in the freezer.  I had blueberries and raspberries in my market bag. The last thing I needed was more fresh ripe fruit.  I told the farmer I would take three baskets.

Did he look at me and just know I wouldn't be able to resist? Or did he know that his fruit was so sweet, so beautifully sun-ripened that no one could resist? To top off my bounty, when I got home I discovered the kind farmer had added an extra basket to my bag!  It was no mistake because the 3-packs were already boxed so he didn't count wrong.  He purposely added an extra basket to my bag! Are the farmers always so nice in Solvang?

Anyway, my beautiful baskets of strawberries brought me to a favorite recipe from Ina Garten...strawberries with balsamic vinegar.  This is such a delightful and deliciously-fresh summer dessert, I find myself returning to it year after year, and so it is on my list of Foolproof Favorites from Famous Chefs.  The Barefoot Contessa strikes again.

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"I don't believe in 'greatest'.  I believe in favorites." -Steve Vai

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Strawberries with Balsamic Vinegar (Ina Garten)

8 cups fresh strawberries, sliced thick 5 T balsamic vinegar 2 T sugar 1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper 2 pints vanilla ice cream for serving freshly grated lemon zest for serving

Thirty minutes to an hour before serving, combine strawberries, vinegar, sugar and pepper in a bowl.  Set aside at room temperature. Place a serving of strawberries in a bowl with a scoop of ice cream on top and dust lightly with lemon zest.

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Elizabeth's Summer Pie

I met Elizabeth at a birthday party.There were about thirty of us gals celebrating and roasting a friend.  I had finished putting out the salad (roasted beet and goat cheese on arrugula with citrus shallot dressing) and had just filled my plate with goodies when I saw Elizabeth.  I hadn't met her before and she was sitting with a friend Val (the amazing Eat-Drink-Garden Val) so I decided to join the two young gorgeous girls.

What a delicious decision that was!  Elizabeth, Val and I talked and talked and talked.  Get food people talking and the topics are endless!  We had a lovely time.  But, alas, Elizabeth is far younger than I and was so busy with kids and work and life that a year went by before I saw her again.  This time she was working at her Montecito pop-up shop making desserts, her specialty.  And oh how special they are.  She had told me about her passion that first night we met but it wasn't until I saw and tasted them that I realized just how special they really are, and how passionate she really is.

Our paths were meant to cross again, and so they did. Elizabeth graciously agreed to lead a demonstration on Summer Pies at the inaugural Santa Barbara Food & Wine Weekend in June 2014.  The weekend was an experiment of sorts, feeling out how the community would respond to food and wine education, demonstrations, presentations, panels. There was a culinary foreign film, a food writing panel, a winemakers dinner, an outdoor marketplace.  The female sea urchin diver cracked open her bounty of urchins for us, olive oil was tasted, mixology was explained.  The list goes on and the learning was paramount.  The event was, in part, a tribute to the legendary Julia Child and, and as such, her foundation The Julia Child Foundation for Gastronomy and Culinary Arts, was to receive a portion of the proceeds from the event.  Julia would have been proud of how her fellow Santa Barbarans and foodies turned out for the event.

Elizabeth's class, like many others that weekend, sold out in advance.  She was adorable, with her pregnant belly preventing her from leaning across the presentation counter but not preventing her from displaying her incredible knowledge of her topic.  People started throwing out questions before she could say butter and Elizabeth had concise, truthful responses about everything from type of flour to how high to mound the fruit.  This girl knows her pies!

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I left her class excited to try out my new crust-rolling skills with a rustic berry pie like the strawberry rhubarb one from her class.  One look at her light, buttery, flakey dough and you just know it is going to be delicious.  Hers certainly was.  We not only got to taste the pies but each guest was given a mini-pie to take home!

Elizabeth's Strawberry Rhubarb Pie

I decided to try my hand at a raspberry blueberry tart, to combine Hubby's two favorite berries. And since I already experienced Elizabeth's amazing pie crust, I decided to try a gluten-free version to accommodate my paleo-ish groupies.

Sticking precisely to the recipe but substituting the flour with the popular gluten-free flour, 'my dough was dry' is an understatement.  I could barely roll it out and it was full of cracks. I knew it wasn't right and if I was as experienced as Elizabeth, I would have added a bit of water just to save the first crust.  But I didn't.  I decided I had to follow through just to see the results because the flour does say to substitute "cup for cup".  The results were that the pie filling was crazy delicious even though much of it seeped out because the pastry was cracked!  Duh.  Seems obvious in hindsight.

So I ate every bite of the filling and set out to figure out this gluten-free situation. What I found was that substituting cup for cup is NOT always an accurate measure to try and change a recipe to gluten-free, at least not a delicate recipe like pie crust.  According to some gluten-free baking testers, it is cup-to-125 grams.  When substituting gluten-free flour in a recipe that calls for regular flour, apparently you need to weigh it.  I weighed the amount I put into my pastry and it was 415 grams.  It should have been 325 grams using the weight method. Back to the rolling pin. Or maybe I'll give Elizabeth a call and see when her next pop-up shop is coming to town :)

Meanwhile, here is her tried and true recipe to make pie crust and a stunning blackberry filling, components of a perfect summer pie.

"If you learn something new every day, you can teach something new every day." -Martha Stewart

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Elizabeth's Summer Pie (makes one 9-inch double crust pie)

Pie Dough: 2-1/2 cups all-purpose flour 1 tsp sugar 1 tsp salt 8 oz unsalted european-style (high fat content) butter, cold and cut into small pieces 1/3 cup plus 2 T ice water

In a food processor, combine flour, sugar and salt.  Pulse a few times to combine.  Add the butter and pulse about 5 times until the mixture resembles course crumbs with some large pieces of butter remaining.  Add water and pulse until dough is crumbly but holds together when squeezed with your fingers.  About 10 pulses.  (It helps to tilt the food processor a bit, shaking up the bottom flour to get it all combined.) Transfer 1/2 the dough to a piece of plastic wrap.  Press together and wrap tightly.  Refrigerate at least one hour and up to 3 days or freeze for up to a month.  Repeat with other half of dough.

Let dough stand at room temperature until pliable.  Roll out one disc on a lightly floured surface to an 11-inch round, about 1/4" thick.  Fit into a 9-inch pie plate.  Trim overhang to about 1-inch beyond rim of pie plate.  Refrigerate until firm, about 30 minutes.  Roll out other piece of dough and refrigerate until firm. Remove from refrigerator and add filling.

Filling: 7 cups blackberries (about 2 pounds) (or berry of your choice) 3/4 cup sugar (could vary a bit with sweetness of berries) 1/4 cup cornstarch pinch course salt 1 large egg, lightly beaten, and coarse sanding sugar for top crust

In a large bowl, toss blackberries with sugar, cornstarch and salt.  Transfer to prepared pie crust.

Place chilled top crust over filled pie. Trim top crust to match bottom crust.  Press edges of both crusts together and fold overhang under itself.  Press to seal.  Using thumb and forefinger, crimp edges.  Cut a few slits in top of pie to let steam escape.  Freeze for 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees with a rack in the lower third and a backing sheet on rack below.  Brush entire top of pie with egg wash and sprinkle with sanding sugar.  Bake 30 minutes.  Reduce heat to 375 degrees and continue to bake until juices are bubbling near the center, about an hour more.  (If browning too quickly, tent top or edge with foil but continue to bake until bubbling near the center.) Let cool completely, at least 6 hours or overnight.

Serve with ice cream.

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Paleo Carrot Banana Muffins

Some recipes just work.Maybe it's because you are comfortable with the ingredients, or the results satisfy your taste buds in some kind of a primal way that is rarely achieved, or maybe you were in a good mood the first time you tried it.  Whatever the reason or reasons, some recipes strike the right chord and become instant favorites.

This is one of those recipes. You don't have to be paleo to love these gems. Non-paleo friends love them and gluten-free friends really love them, maybe because so many baked goods labeled gluten-free taste similar to what cardboard or sawdust would taste like so people are wary of the term. Baby Girl found the recipe on Paleo Plan but when I went to access the link, I saw they were actually from Elana's Pantry, and when I went to her site, Elena says she was inspired by Heidi at another site.  I'm sure the inspiration goes on.  I wasn't inspired to change them at all.  I thought they were just right.

The muffins entered our kitchen because our new paleo eaters wanted something different for breakfast. They are sweet, but not too sweet, and contain no refined sugar.  They feel hearty but not in the way that a bran muffin leaves you feeling like you ate a brick. When Baby Girl found the recipe, she took to it with a passion.  She made the muffins over and over and over.  She made them to take on road trips.  She took them to the beach.  And, of course, she kept a stash in the freezer for whenever she needed a quick breakfast.  They never lasted long when she made them, so she made them a lot.

Then Baby Girl went back to school and I had no one to make my muffins for me. Can you picture my sad face? They are easy to make so that is no reason to complain.  I just miss my Baby Girl so I allow myself time to wallow in self-pity while making the muffins. I give that to myself. I want her to be here making her muffins.

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I enjoyed a little wallow-fest recently when I made the muffins for my book club.  I served them as the "bread" part of the main course which was a chile rellano.  The slight sweetness of the muffin worked well with the spicy food.  My book clubbers loved them and multiple people asked for the recipe so in the spirit of sharing, I give this to all of you.  Go forth and bake paleo muffins.  Feel free to wallow in sadness over those you miss while you bake.  They don't take long, so wallow quickly.

"Parents rarely let go of their children, so children let go of them." -Paulo Coelho

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Paleo Plan Carrot Banana Muffins

This recipe makes about 12 muffins, but leftovers can be frozen for quick use at another time. 

2 cups almond flour 2 tsp baking soda 1 tsp sea salt 1 Tbs cinnamon 1 cup dates, pitted 3 ripe bananas 3 eggs 1 tsp apple cider vinegar 1/4 cup coconut oil, melted 1 ½ cups carrots, shredded (about 2 medium carrots) ¾ cup walnuts (or nuts of choice),  finely chopped

Preheat oven to 350℉. In a large bowl, combine flour, baking soda, salt and cinnamon. In a food processor, combine dates, bananas, eggs, vinegar and oil. Puree well. Add mixture from food processor to dry mixture in the large bowl and combine thoroughly. Fold in carrots and nuts. Spoon mixture into paper lined muffin tins. Bake at 350° for 25-30 minutes.

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