Pi Day

From a visit to the amazing Petee’s Pie Company in Manhattan back in 2018 – and they’re still going strong!

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Pi Day is upon us! The official day that celebrates the astonishing discovery in 1988 that the first three digits of the mathematical constant pi (π≅3.14) correspond to the calendar date using the month/day format (3/14).

Provided, that is, that you don’t use the MM-DD format with its leading zeros. Or that you’re literally anywhere in the world outside of the United States where, intuitively, DD-MM-YYYY puts the numbers in order of significance. Or that you’re not enamored of the eminently more logical and sortable YYYY-MM-DD format.

But I digress.

IMHO 🥧 > 🍰 and Petee’s Pie Company at 61 Delancey St in Manhattan and 505 Myrtle Ave in Brooklyn dishes up some of the best I’ve ever tasted, but making the decision about which of the delightful daily selections to choose is neither as easy as pie nor is it a piece of cake. Of course they have wonderful fruit pies, nut pies, and custard pies, but their chess pies are always first to grab my attention.

Chess pie occupies (ahem) the middle ground between cheesecake and custard pie. Devoid of cheese and generally with a little more body than custard pie (often due to the addition of cornmeal) they are incredibly rich and, unsurprisingly, hail from America’s South.

Folktales about the genesis of its name are plentiful. One has it that chess pie is so sweet, it needs no refrigeration and could therefore be kept in the kitchen pie chest → pie ches’ → chess pie. Another speculation involves a tangled explanation involving English curd pies (think lemon curd as opposed to cheese curd and therefore sans cheese) and an American corruption of the British pronunciation of “cheese pie” – a long way around if you ask me. I favor the simpler, homespun tale that goes, “That pie smells incredible! What kind is it?” to which the modest Southern baker’s humble response was, “It’s jes’ pie.”

This incredible black bottom Almond Chess Pie infused with amaretto, topped with toasted almonds, resting on a layer of chocolate ganache and served with housemade vanilla ice cream was the capper on a day so packed with pigging out that we wondered if we would have room, but it was so delicious that it wasn’t a stretch. (Not so my belly, however.)
 
 
Visit Petee’s Pie Company on the web to check out their complete menu.
 
 

Open Heart Sugary – or, the Anatomy of a Valentine Cookie

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These are Red Currant Raspberry Linzer Cookies, first cousins of Austria’s Linzer Tart – traditionally, I do stars for Christmas and hearts for Valentine’s Day. This particular batch began months earlier with the acquisition of red currants and raspberries when they were in season followed by a little time spent prepping and cooking them up. It’s a lot easier than you’d expect and the filling keeps for quite a while in the fridge while you’re procrastinating doing the fussy part. If you’re not a fanatic, however, I can recommend Hero Red Currant Premium Fruit Spread; I’ve had pretty good luck with it – it just needs a bit of finessing via the addition of some red raspberry jam to achieve the degree of sweetness you’re after plus some straining.


The dough calls for flour, sugar, and butter, of course, plus finely ground blanched almonds, almond extract, and lemon zest. Start by baking equal numbers of fronts and backs.

Occasionally a front or back will fracture which then perforce spells doom for its perfectly intact intended mate, but sadly, I’ve never found an effective way to repair a broken heart. Sometimes, you just have to eat your losses. This is an example of how culinary art reflects life. But hey, that’s the way the cookie crumbles.


Look closely at the finished cookies in the first photo and you’ll see that the powdered sugar blankets only the outer section of the heart while the inner red lifeblood of this classic treat shines through unobstructed. Now, examine the above photo and follow along to see how I do it:

Bottom rows:
Starting with solid backs, use a plastic squeeze bottle to add preserves around the perimeter but not in the center. (Neatness doesn’t count.) Match tops to bottoms.

Top rows:
Let it snow, let it snow, etc. Note the unfilled but sugary centers. Next, squirt a blob of preserves into the cutout thereby hiding the powdered sugar.

Now, here’s the painstakingly obsessive step (why do I do these things?): then and only then, for each cookie, carefully use a toothpick to smooth out any less than perfect curves of the inner heart, et voilà! Your cookies will look like those in the first photo. Maybe better. (Why can’t they make Photoshop for food?)
 
 
When the cookies are complete and have been packed away, your workspace will look like this one, post-sugaring and pre-cleanup, an exercise in negative space.

And the beat goes on.
 
 

Turkey Pot Pie

I’ve written about the procession of leftover Thanksgiving turkey dishes that parade through my kitchen annually, but I’ve never posted any proof. So if you don’t mind a few more Home Cookin’ pix, here, in reverse order of presentation, are some photos of this year’s Turkey Pot Pie. The lacy crispy bits are fried Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, aka frico.

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Plated: prettified with parmesan and peppered with parsley.


Preparatory probe plowing into pot pie prior to plating.


Preliminary portrait. Picture perfect – practically. 🤷
 
 
Clearly, I have too much time on my hands. 😉
 
 

Alternate Side of the Sweet

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If you read me regularly, you know that I didn’t orchestrate an over-the-top Thanksgiving feast this year; our annual gathering was an out-of-state potluck with each family member contributing some favorite side dishes. (I brought these two.)

But I missed my Dandy Brandied Candied Yams. (Actually, they’re sweet potatoes, but that’s a story for another day.) On a subsequent shopping trip, I tossed one in the basket, but upon contemplating the solitary and rather forlorn looking sweet potato back in my kitchen, I knew that I wasn’t going to go through the process of creating a mini version of the elaborate side dish for just myself. I also knew that I wasn’t really up for a plain roasted sweet potato, no matter how much butter I doused it with. I needed to come up with an alternate side for that sweet potato.

So I decided to experiment. (Mwah-ha-ha!) I performed a cursory inventory of the fridge and the pantry and hatched a scheme: Roast the root, mash the flesh and instead of brown sugar for sweetness and butter for creamy unctuousness (two of the many DBCY ingredients), I’d use eggnog.

Now wait – before you go “Ewww!” stay with me; this is how recipes are born. Upon testing, the theory proved reasonably solid although it needed some intensification. For texture, I added some butter-toasted pecan pieces and crystallized ginger (both of which I had on hand). But it still needed a bit more sweetness (I was surprised, too) plus a jolt of spice so I drizzled a thread of maple syrup over the nogified veggie mash and sprinkled a bit of cinnamon and freshly grated nutmeg on top.

Trust me: if it hadn’t worked, I wouldn’t have taken the time to photograph it and write it up for future fine tuning. Reckless abandon to the rescue again!
 
 

Leftover Latkes

If you saw my last post, it pictured only a few of the potato latkes I had made, so there was a stack of leftovers to contend with the next day at lunchtime. They really don’t reheat well – I mean, who wants a soggy, limp latke? – so some culinary cogitation would be called for. My thought process:

• Latkes are primarily potatoes and onions.
• What do I have in the house that’s brunchish? Eggs, among other things.
• Potatoes pair well with eggs – think frittatas.
• Onions pair well with eggs – think Western omelets.

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The solution? A latke omelet! (Omeletke? Omelatke?)

So I cut up some latkes and sautéed the pieces to get them extra crispy. Western omelets usually contain onion and sweet pepper but since the latkes were pre-onioned, I just needed to add a little diced red bell pepper to the sauté. I spooned the mixture onto the slowly cooking beaten egg (enriched with a touch of heavy cream left over from my Thanksgiving sides), plated it, and left just enough peeking out to identify the contents; a dusting of Spanish paprika and a few cilantro leaves provided the garnish.

The pink stuff? Western omelets also often contain ham. All I had in the house was “turkey pastrami” – which tastes nothing like turkey and even less like pastrami, but that’s what there was in the fridge. (Don’t ask.) I wanted the omelet to be latke-centric, so I decided to use the faux ham as an accompaniment. Sliced and sautéed it to get some crispy brown edges (crispy brown fixes everything), hit it with some cracked black pepper and fanned out the result beside the omelet.

Anything else? Perhaps round it out with some kind of veggie so I could pretend that it’s a balanced meal, so I cobbled together a quick shredded carrot and currant salad spiked with cumin, cinnamon and a sprinkle of hot paprika plus fresh lemon juice to bring it together.


The inner workings. Note the yummy crispy bits.

I actually might have enjoyed this more than just the plain latkes – and I’m feeling a little guilty about it.

Given the provenance, I guess it stands to reason.
 
 

Taking Sides at Thanksgiving

My understanding is that families who gather together on Thanksgiving sometimes end up seated around the table arguing, ultimately taking sides.

In my politically sane family, we don’t take sides – we bring sides, to the Thanksgiving table that is, because we do a potluck.

My contributions this year were Scalloped Potatoes with Leeks and Bacon…

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As served.


Fresh out of the oven. Only a pint of heavy cream and a pound and a half of bacon went into this low-cal dish. 😜

…and Savory Corn Pudding.

As served.


Fresh out of the oven. It’s a signature recipe of mine that uses frozen corn – evaluated and actually better than fresh for this – as well as Cope’s dried sweet corn. I marvel at the way the snipped chives always find their way to the top. Did I mention that half a pound of butter and more than a pint of heavy cream were ingredients as well?

Hope your Thanksgiving was a peaceful one too!
 
 

St. Stephen Cheese

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Some of you know that in addition to being cuckoo for ethnic food, I am a turophile – from the Greek word for “obsessive cheesefreak”. One of my absolute favorites is St. Stephen from Four Fat Fowl (in Stephentown, NY, of course).

Some bloomy rind cheeses are mild and buttery, some have a pronounced personality; this magnificently rich, velvety cheese manages to have distinct characteristics of both. It’s made from all natural Jersey cow’s milk and fresh cream and IMHO is at its best when aged and runny.

(If you’re careful and know what you’re doing, you can ripen your prize a little past the “best by” date. Assuming you can wait that long. Or do what I do and get two, one for now and one for later.)


It’s a perfect candidate for the role of soft-ripened member of a well-curated cheese board. Try paring it with fresh, ripe figs for a dessert treat, or as you see here, served on a lightly toasted baguette with local farmers’ market sliced sweet heirloom tomatoes, warm from the sun.

To fully enjoy this dreamy dairy delight, please do not trim away the rind! Would you buy a perfect French baguette and then cut off the crust before you consume it? Of course not – it’s an essential component. Same rule applies here.
 
 
Look for St. Stephen at your local cheese shop or purchase it directly from their website: http://www.fourfatfowl.com.
 
 

Smorgasburg, Prospect Park

First pre-post-pandemic (because it’s not over till it’s over) foray into an open-air food market. If such events proliferated like chain stores, ten year old Smorgasburg would be the archetype; last weekend, we visited their outpost in Prospect Park, Brooklyn, currently open from 11am to 6pm on Sundays.

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“Lobster Garlic Noods” from Lobsterdamus called out to me the loudest from among the 35 vendors. Legitimate lobster, not surrogate surimi; had I noticed the “Add extra lobster meat $4” sign, I would have gone for it. Destined in the stars to be the first pick of the day, I predict you’ll like it too.


“Rooster Nuggets” from Rooster Boy; umami-rich koji marinated karaage fried chicken bites. You can choose from among six sauces, but for me the flavorful chicken didn’t need any help.

 
 

D’oh!

On April 24, Dough Doughnuts opened a new location in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn. Normally I wouldn’t go out of my way for a doughnut, but I had witnessed the mountains of accolades heaped upon this legendary bakery and now, since it had found a home in my neighborhood, I braved the lines and selected four:

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From upper left, clockwise:
• Boston Cream, custard filled and topped with chocolate glaze and “soil”
• Brooklyn Blackout, a chocolate doughnut filled with chocolate pastry cream and topped with “chocolate soil”
• Banana Hazelnut, not a filled variety
• Cheesecake with Red Velvet Topping

And for those who crave a look into the inner workings:

Boston Cream


Brooklyn Blackout


Banana Hazelnut


Cheesecake with Red Velvet Topping

Now for the heresy: I’m glad I bought four (at $4.50 each!) because had there been only one, I would have thought, “Damn, it’s a little stale – probably a day or two old”, but the odds of all four being substandard were infinitesimal. They were thick, dry, dense, heavy, bready, not flavorful – actually a little sour tasting but not in a yeasty good way, with a paucity of filling – and not very good filling at that.

And just to be snarky, here’s a photo from years ago of the outstanding product from Doughnut Plant that I hadn’t really intended to include in this post until now.


Top row: coconut crème (filled), peanut butter blackberry jam (filled); bottom: vanilla blackberry jam dough seed, crème brûlée dough seed, marzipan star.

Had the opening been on April 1 rather than April 24, I might have caught the joke. But it wasn’t.

Seriously, people, what am I missing?

If you’re one of those folks who get all twitterpated over Dough’s doughnuts, please explain your passion to me – particularly if you’ve ever reveled in the joy that is a Doughnut Plant doughnut.
 
 

The Trinity: Pastrami, Swiss Cheese & Sauerkraut

👨‍🍳 Cooking in the Time of COVID 👨‍🍳

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I understand that gluttony is one of the seven deadly sins. Shown here is my chastisement for loading too much cheese into a grilled pastrami and Swiss with sauerkraut sammich. Not to mention the fact that, in defiance of orthodoxy, the only rye bread I could lay my hands on wasn’t crowned with caraway seeds, a venial sin to some, but heresy to me. I do confess that I sneaked some toasted caraway seeds into the sandwich filling to redeem it.


The absolution, however, came from the coleslaw that I improvised from shredded cabbage, apples, carrots, and cambray onions (aka spring onions, alliums that look like bulbous scallions on steroids). Fortunately, this miraculously droolworthy side dish turned out to be that supper’s saving grace.

Salvation through salivation.
 
 
(I think I’ve been writing too much about religion lately. 😟)
 
 
Stay safe, be well, and eat whatever it takes. ❤️