Mom’s Lentil Soup

January 26, 2018

My father liked soup.  Actually, my father really, really liked soup.  Every few weeks my mother would make beef noodle soup as it was one of my dad’s favorites.  Beef noodle is the soup we had most often.  Goulash was the “stew” we had most often.  In fact, I don’t remember my mother ever making an American-style beef stew.

The first American-style beef stew that I ever made was from a recipe that my sister started using after she got married.  It was definitely not one of our family recipes, though it was good.

After the beef noodle soup that my mother made on a regular basis, other soups were just occasional affairs, though soups of various types appeared often on our table.


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Italian “Wedding” Soup was a favorite but not something that we had more than a three or four times a year.  Everyone in the family really loved Wedding Soup but, honestly, it’s a lot of work.  It’s coming to the blog next month but today we have my Mom’s Lentil Soup.

My parents in 1981

Let’s face it, lentil soup isn’t something people swoon over.  At best it is good comfort food.  That’s exactly what this is for me.

It’s also easy to make.  A few minutes of chopping and some stirring off-and-on are rewarded with a really good pot of soup.

My mother’s lentil soup was unusual in that she put enough black pepper into it to create a distinct bite.  The first time I tasted it, as an adolescent, I was surprised by how peppery it was but I loved it.   Whether or not you add that much black pepper is entirely your choice but, in my mind, it’s the black pepper that sets my mother’s lentil soup apart from the pack.


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Consistent with my mom’s low-and-slow philosophy, this soup is cooked longer that would be typical, for the average American cook at least.  Despite the long cooking, the lentils remain intact though soft.  They don’t really fall apart the way that dry beans might.

This soup freezes well so a big batch shouldn’t be a problem.

While a ham bone makes great lentil soup, it’s not something that most households have on a regular basis but a handful of baked ham or a few ounces of bacon make an awfully tasty soup.


If you have a favorite family recipe and a bit of a story to tell, please email me at santafecook@villasentieri.com and we can discuss including it in the blog. I am expanding the scope of my blog to include traditional recipes from around the country and around the world. If you haven’t seen Bertha’s Flan or Melinda’s Drunken Prunes, take a look.  They will give you an idea of what I’m looking for.


 

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Mom's Lentil Soup
When my mother made this soup, she added enough black pepper to give it a distinct bite. The addition of a bay leaf is my only modification of the original recipe.
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Cuisine American
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 2 1/2 hours
Servings
people
Ingredients
Cuisine American
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 2 1/2 hours
Servings
people
Ingredients
Votes: 0
Rating: 0
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Instructions
  1. Wash and pick over the lentils then drain.
  2. Shred the carrot on the tear-drop side of a box grater.
  3. Put all the ingredients in a large stock pot.
  4. Cover and bring to a boil.
  5. Reduce heat and simmer partially covered for 2 to 2½ hours.
  6. Adjust salt and pepper to taste.
  7. The soup should be thick and the lentils soft but intact.
Recipe Notes

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Homemade Applesauce

November 3, 2017

I made applesauce for the first time the summer after my freshman year in college. Don’t ask me how or why I remember making applesauce that summer but the whole process is very clear in my mind. Cooking was still pretty new for me back then. Other than baking cakes, I doubt I cooked more than about four times before my freshman year.

I cooked about once a week throughout freshman year, usually on Sundays. As a freshman, I was required to use the dining service for 10 meals per week, which usually meant lunch and dinner, Monday through Friday. Saturdays I went to restaurants and cooked. It was truly a year of experimenting, not only with cooking but with entirely new cuisines and flavor profiles.


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A hand-crank food mill is a pretty unusual piece of equipment for a college student to have. I don’t remember where or when I bought it, possibly I bought it specifically to test out an applesauce recipe that had caught my attention. You can actually see the very same food mill in the pictures below. I still use it

Much to my mother’s dismay I did not go home for the summer after my freshman year. I landed a great summer job in a research lab working for Dr. Mary Catherine Glick (aka Susy), a very well-known researcher. I worked in that lab for the remainder of my undergraduate years.

Students could not stay in undergraduate dorms at the University of Pennsylvania during the summer, so staying in Philadelphia meant I had to find a place to sublet. One of the most common choices was to sublet in Graduate Towers. The graduate students who lived in Grad Towers had to rent for a full calendar year, even if they were not going to be in Philadelphia for the summer.

I sublet one bedroom of a two-bedroom apartment in Grad Towers. Other than a bathroom the apartment had a very small Pullman kitchen and a kitchen table with two chairs. There was nothing that resembled living room furniture, nor would there have been any place to put it.

Graduate Towers still standing but renamed to Sansom Place

The other occupant of the apartment was a graduate student who used the kitchen to “cook” exactly three things for dinner. One was a can of tuna fish with pickle relish (ok, so no cooking involved). The second was a single chicken breast boiled in unsalted water and doused with pickle relish. The third was boiled hot dogs with, you guessed it, pickle relish. He ate the same three foods for dinner, in strict rotation, for the entire summer as he had done for months (years?) leading up to that summer.

I on the other hand, freed from the obligation to eat at the University food service and with an almost totally unused kitchen, was making my mother’s long-cooked pasta sauce, baking fish, and making applesauce among other things.

Over the next few years I experimented with the applesauce, changing up the sweetener (white sugar, brown sugar, honey) and spices (nutmeg, cinnamon, allspice, cloves). In the end, I decided that simple was best to let the apple flavor shine through: white sugar (not too much) and cinnamon.


Here’s a short video of me making applesauce.


Little did I know, when I left home at the age of 17 to go to college that I would never spend a significant amount of time in the home I grew up in again. I worked for Susy for four summers in a row as well as most of the academic years in between. During my first year in medical school, I received a full scholarship for medical school and graduate school in anthropology, which I attended simultaneously. (Actually, I was awarded two scholarships and was able to return the one that had less-generous terms so that it could be awarded to another student.) The scholarship, however, stipulated that I could not take summers off, so I was in school eleven months per year. (I insisted on taking time for myself each August.)

Knowing I would never have a chance to be at my parents’ house for more than a few days at a time for the indefinite future, I was able to arrange my last 4-week medical school clinical rotation at the hospital in the town where I grew up. It was an anesthesia rotation. As it turns out, the Friday before the Monday I started there, the Anesthesia Department at the hospital held a retirement party for the nurse anesthetist who taught “open drop ether insufflation” to Robert Dunning Dripps.  Dr. Dripps was, a physician who subsequently became the first chairman of Anesthesiology at the University of Pennsylvania, where I was a student. Anesthesiology was not a recognized specialty in the 1940s when Dr. Dripps became chair. He was in the vanguard; one of a very small group of physicians who established the medical specialty of Anesthesiology.

I honestly wonder how my life would have been different had I not landed that first summer job with Susy. It’s the reason I stayed in Philadelphia rather than returning to Johnstown for the summer. It started a whole cascade of events that got me integrated in Philadelphia society, a very different scenario from being a transient student.

Let’s make some applesauce as we ponder the unknowable.


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Homemade Applesauce
The amount of sugar and cinnamon is up to personal taste, and partially dependent on the sweetness of the apples chosen. I used Rome and Golden Delicious apples, both are great for applesauce as they break down with cooking and have a very good apple fragrance. Feel free to substitute what is available. Apples that are good for applesauce include McIntosh, Jonathan, Jonagold, and Gravenstein. Leaving the peels on is not only easier but, if some of the apples have red skin, gives the applesauce a beautiful rosy color. The stems and seeds will give the applesauce a bitter taste and must be removed.
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Course Fruit-based, Sides
Cuisine American
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 45 minutes
Servings
cups
Ingredients
Course Fruit-based, Sides
Cuisine American
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 45 minutes
Servings
cups
Ingredients
Votes: 0
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Instructions
  1. Wash the apples.
  2. Quarter the apples.
  3. Remove core and stems but do not peel.
  4. Cut each quarter into four pieces. The pieces should roughly be about an inch on a side.
  5. Put apples and apple juice in a heavy-bottomed pot.
  6. Cover and bring to a boil over high heat.
  7. Reduce heat to medium-high and continue to cook, stirring periodically, until the apples are soft, 20-40 minutes. Do not overcook the apples or they will begin to lose their flavor.
  8. There should only be the barest amount of liquid in the pot when the apples are finished cooking.
  9. Pass apples through a food mill.
  10. Add sugar and cinnamon to taste while the applesauce is still hot.
  11. Cool completely and refrigerate or freeze.
Recipe Notes

If you’re not certain if the apples are cooked enough, try to run a spoonful through the food mill. If they don’t crush easily, return the “test” apples to the pot and continue to cook the batch a little longer.

In the United States, cassia, a spice different from cinnamon, can legally be labeled cinnamon.  While cassia is good in its own right, it is much more assertive than true cinnamon.  If you can find whole Ceylon cinnamon give it a try.

Ceylon cinnamon

Copyright © 2017 by VillaSentieri.com. All rights reserved.

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Jim’s Hawaiian Guava Cake

October 25, 2017

“Aloha Mr. Van Sant.”

So began a 2003 email from Simon Rusconi, the Hotel Manager of the Sheraton Moana Surfrider Resort on Oahu.

Mr. Van Sant, Jim to the rest of us, had complimented the resort on its guava cake and Mr. Rusconi was writing to share the recipe.

Jim printed out the email and affixed it to an index card and put it in his recipe box. Late in 2016, the subject of the guava cake came up somehow at a dinner party at Jim and Bill’s house. Jim offered to share the recipe with me if I was interested.

I was, and I said that I’d make it for him. Shortly thereafter, the original recipe arrived in the mail still affixed to the index card. Not wanting to keep his original, I scanned it into my recipe database and returned the hardcopy.

Since Jim and Bill rent a home in Palm Springs just steps from our house, and since baking cakes at nearly 8000 feet where I live in New Mexico is an iffy proposition, at best, I said I’d bake the cake in Palm Springs. Every winter they rent the Oscar Mayer House. Yes, that Oscar Mayer!

We had a delightful luncheon at tables set up around their pool with guava cake for dessert.

The back of the Oscar Mayer house in Palm Springs, California
Inside the Oscar Mayer House
The front of the Oscar Mayer House

But that’s jumping ahead.

Receiving the recipe from Jim was merely the beginning. I became fascinated by guava cake without having even made one. Almost any recipe with the degree of cultural significance that guava cake seemed to garner grabs my attention. I did internet searches and combed through my Hawaiian cookbooks (of which I have a goodly number).

It appears that there are basically three variations of guava cake in Hawaii: Guava Chiffon Cake, Guava Spice Cake, and (plain old) Guava Cake. Recipes for the last often start with a box of cake mix and use Cool Whip in the cream cheese frosting.

From what my research has revealed, the original was a Guava Chiffon Cake invented by Herbert Matsuba, owner of the Dee Lite Bakery, in the early 1960s.

The popularity of the cake no doubt led to multiple copycat recipes, including those using a box of cake mix and Cool Whip aimed at the home cook.

The recipe from the Moana Surfrider was a Guava Spice Cake. I followed the recipe closely the first time except that I needed to find a substitute for frozen concentrated guava nectar which I was unable to find after scouring 10 grocery stores in Palm Springs and nearby desert towns.

I ultimately was able to source pure guava puree at a market catering to Hispanic shoppers. It had no sweeteners so I thought I might need to add sugar to the batter in a subsequent trial but for the first round I used the guava puree as a direct substitute for concentrated guava nectar.

Frozen Guava Puree, a much easier to find substitute for frozen concentrated guava nectar

The cake was good but everyone who tasted it failed to taste any guava. It really just tasted like a spice cake. Certainly it was not worth hours of searching for guava concentrate only to have the flavor masked by spices.

Other than guava chiffon cake, which was definitely not the same genre as the cake that Jim had at the Moana Surfrider, I could not find a recipe for plain guava cake that did not start with a box of cake mix. I decided to make the original recipe without the spices.

That did it! The guava flavor came through but something told me that Herbert, a professional baker, might have used something to amp up the guava flavor.

That started me on a search for natural guava extract. I found a wonderful extract made by Amoretti.

You can do without the Amoretti Guava Extract but not the red food coloring.

The next time I made the cake, I added a tiny bit of guava extract to the batter. I believe it enhanced the flavor but if one is not going to make a lot of guava cakes I would consider omitting the guava extract as it is expensive and very concentrated so a little bottle will last a long, long time.

For an everyday cake, I suggest baking it in a 9” x 13” x 2” rectangular pan. For a more special presentation, make a layer cake by dividing the batter between two 9” round pans. If you are doing the latter, make a double batch of cream cheese frosting. You’ll have a little left over but a single batch will not be enough. You could always whip up half a batch of batter and make guava cupcakes to use the extra frosting!

In honor of Oscar Mayer, in whose house we all came together over Jim’s Hawaiian Guava Cake, I recommend the following tribute. Who knew there were so many variations on the Oscar Mayer Wiener theme?


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Jim's Hawaiian Guava Cake
Because frozen, concentrated guava nectar is not readily available except in Hawaii, I standardized this recipe using frozen guava pulp which should be easy to find in large supermarkets or in markets catering to customers from Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean. It is important that the cream cheese frosting be level so that the guava gel forms an even layer. If you are making a rectangular cake this means there will be a bit more frosting at the edges than in the middle. If you are making a round two-layer cake, I suggest cutting off the tops of the cakes to achieve a perfectly level appearance. Put the cakes cut side down to avoid having lots of crumbs working their way into the cream cheese frosting. Guava nectar can be purchased in cans or refrigerated. Guava pulp is frozen.
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Prep Time 2 hours
Cook Time 1 hour
Passive Time 3 hours
Servings
people
Ingredients
Cake
Guava Gel
Cream Cheese Frosting (make a double batch for the round cake)
Prep Time 2 hours
Cook Time 1 hour
Passive Time 3 hours
Servings
people
Ingredients
Cake
Guava Gel
Cream Cheese Frosting (make a double batch for the round cake)
Votes: 0
Rating: 0
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Instructions
Cake
  1. Butter and flour a 9 x 13 x 2 inch metal cake pan or two 9 inch round cake pans.
  2. Combine flour and baking soda. Reserve.
  3. Combine guava puree, guava nectar, guava extract and red food coloring. Reserve.
  4. Cream butter until light. Add sugar and cream until light and fluffy.
  5. Beat in eggs, one at a time, creaming well after each addition.
  6. On low, add dry ingredients alternating with wet ingredients, starting and ending with dry ingredients.
  7. For the rectangular pan: pour the batter into the prepared pan. Smooth the top. Rap the pan on the counter to release any air bubbles.
  8. Bake 350°F 40-45 minutes or until a tester comes out clean.
  9. Cool the cake in the pan then refrigerate.
  10. Frost with cream cheese frosting being careful to make the top of the frosting level. Refrigerate several hours to firm up the frosting.
  11. Top with guava gel and smooth out to the edges. Refrigerate several hours to set the frosting and gel.
  12. Bring the cake to room temperature before serving.
  13. For the round pans: Pour the batter into the prepared pans. Smooth the tops. Rap the pans on the counter to release any air bubbles.
  14. Bake 350°F 30-35 minutes or until a tester comes out clean.
  15. Cool the cakes in the pans for 10 minutes. Remove and cool completely on a wire rack.
  16. Wrap the cakes and refrigerate until cold, or up to one day.
  17. Slice the rounded tops of the cakes off to make them level.
  18. x
  19. Put one layer, cut-side-down on a platter.
  20. Put a layer of cream cheese frosting on the top of this layer.
  21. Pipe a rim of frosting around the edge to hold the guava gel. This does not need to be fancy as it will be smoothed out.
  22. Put just under ½ of the guava gel on top of the frosted bottom layer.
  23. Smooth the gel out to the piped edge.
  24. Top with the remaining cake, cut side down.
  25. Generously frost sides and top of the cake with cream cheese frosting.
  26. Pipe a decorative border around the edge of the top layer.
  27. Pour the remaining guava gel on top and smooth out to the edges.
  28. Refrigerate several hours to set the frosting and gel.
  29. Bring to room temperature before serving.
Guava Gel
  1. Put the cornstarch in a small heavy-bottomed sauce pan.
  2. Stir in the guava nectar, a little at a time, to dissolve the cornstarch without forming lumps.
  3. When dissolved, add the remaining guava nectar and sugar.
  4. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until it comes to a full boil.
  5. Remove from heat and stir in red food coloring.
  6. Put a cloth on top of pan before putting cover back on to keep moisture from dripping back into the gel.
  7. After the gel reaches room temperature, refrigerate until cold.
Cream Cheese Frosting (make a double batch for the round cake)
  1. Chill the bowl and beaters for the whipped cream.
  2. Cream the cream cheese until light.
  3. Sprinkle in 1/3 cup of sugar and beat until light and fluffy.
  4. Mix in vanilla.
  5. In chilled bowl, beat the whipping cream until thick.
  6. Add 2 tablespoons of sugar and beat until the cream forms stiff peaks.
  7. Fold 1/3 of the whipped cream into the cream cheese to lighten it.
  8. Carefully, but thoroughly fold in the remainder of the whipped cream.
Recipe Notes

Copyright © 2017 by VillaSentieri.com. All rights reserved.

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Julie’s Impossible Pecan Pie

October 16, 2017

Julie Paradise is the Queen of Impossible Pies.

Julie Paradise

I ate Impossible Pies back in the 1970s.   Savory Impossible Pies were a favorite of Auntie Helen. Auntie Helen was actually the aunt of Gene d’Aquili, my College Advisor. Ultimately, years later, I went into psychiatric practice with him. I spent lots of time with Gene and his family, including Auntie Helen, and her sister, Auntie Louise, from the early 1970s until the late 1980s when I left Philadelphia and moved to Tucson for a year before settling in Chicago. In a previous blog post, I talked about Auntie Helen and Auntie Louise.

Auntie Helen was especially fond of Impossible Tuna Pie. I have “her” recipe which exactly matches one I found on the internet a few months ago. I’m going to guess it was the one put out by the makers of Bisquick® way back in the day!

I’ve only ever had sweet impossible pies from Julie, but she says she makes savory ones too. Her take: “Green bean is delicious. Broccoli is fantastic and pretty. Zucchini is good.”

Julie is one of those folks who doesn’t like pie crust…and there are plenty of them. For her, Impossible Pies are the perfect solution.

On our recent visit to Julie and Gay’s home on Fire Island Julie made three Impossible Pies during a six-day stay. We ate every last crumb!

Deer near Gay and Julie’s deck eating geraniums out of my hand

Impossible Pies appear at the end of most every dinner that Gay and Julie host in Santa Fe and I wouldn’t want it any other way.

You’ve read my rants about the adverse health effects of hydrogenated and partially hydrogenated fats. That’s what baking mix (OK, let’s call it what it is, we’re really talking about Bisquick®) used to contain. I’m here to say: NO LONGER!

In prepping for making Julie’s Impossible Pecan Pie, I researched “baking mix” substitutes. There are many recipes available, all of which are very similar (flour, some sort of oil or fat, a bit of sugar, and baking powder). My plan was to make up a substitute rather than use the real thing because of my zero tolerance policy for hydrogenated and partially hydrogenated fats.

On a stroll through the supermarket, I saw the baking mix section and decided to take a look. That’s when I discovered that the good folks at Betty Crocker had changed the formula and replaced the partially hydrogenated fat with vegetable oil. I actually bought a box, intending to make all those things I had as a kid that were based on Bisquick and Auntie Helen’s Impossible Tuna Pie after making Julie’s Impossible Pecan Pie.

I looked at several other brands of baking mix and discovered that not all manufacturers are as enlightened as Betty. Partially hydrogenated fat was still a common ingredient in many of them. (There are also some specialty Bisquick products that contain—or may contain—based on the label, partially hydrogenated fats. It’s best to stick with what is labeled as the “Original” (which, of course it really isn’t) or the HeartSmart.

A funny thing happened with all this thinking about baking mix and baking mix substitutes. I realized that for all practical purposes, an Impossible Pie is like a Clafoutis! The only real difference is that the baking mix contains baking powder and the standard recipe for clafoutis does not. Given the variability of recipes from cook to cook, I guess it wouldn’t be unreasonable to call this a Pecan Clafoutis! And, as Julie says, a Clafoutis is best right out of the oven while an Impossible Pie is just fine at room temperature.

So, while I don’t often make Julia Child’s recipe for Clafoutis I think there are lots of Impossible Pies in my future.


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Julie's Impossible Pecan Pie
Although I used a mixer, as you’ll see in the pictures, a blender is easier and produces a smoother batter. Also, the original pie pan I chose was too small. You’ll see that I started putting everything into the 9-inch pan. I had to switch to a 10-inch deep dish pan! Although not part of Julie's original recipe, I've successfully added 1/4 teaspoon of almond essence to this pie. It's not enough to give the pie an almond flavor but it does amplify the nuttiness!
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Cuisine American
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 1 hour
Servings
people
Ingredients
Cuisine American
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 1 hour
Servings
people
Ingredients
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Rating: 0
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Instructions
  1. Prepare all the ingredients.
  2. Pecans
  3. Brown sugar
  4. Milk
  5. Corn syrup
  6. Eggs
  7. Baking mix
  8. Butter a 10-inch deep-dish pie pan.
  9. Add the pecans to the buttered pie pan and set aside.
  10. Put all remaining ingredients into a blender jar or mixing bowl and blend until thoroughly combined and no lumps remain. This will take approximately 15-20 seconds in a blender and at least one minute by electric mixer.
  11. Pour the batter over the pecans.
  12. Bake at 350°F for 50-55 minutes, until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean.
  13. Cool at least five minutes before serving or serve at room temperature.
Recipe Notes

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New Mexican Green Chile Sauce

September 22, 2017

Those of you who haven’t spent time in New Mexico may not know that chile (definitely spelled with an “e”) has cult status in the state.

New Mexican food wouldn’t be the same without “red” or “green.” Chile, that is. Those are the standard sauces used in New Mexican cuisine.

When ordering most dishes in a New Mexican restaurant in Santa Fe, the first question from the server, if the customer hasn’t specified, is “Red or Green or Christmas?”

Just 70 miles away in Taos, the question is “Red or Green or Caribe?”

It’s not that you can’t get Christmas in Taos, which as you might have guessed is half red chile sauce and half green chile sauce, it’s that never, ever is Caribe an option in Santa Fe. It just isn’t. I believe this speaks to the development of related, but different, foodways in the historically isolated towns and villages of New Mexico.

The most famous of all New Mexico chile is Hatch. There are about six varieties of chile grown in Hatch but, if they’re grown there, they can all be labeled as Hatch Chile. The tiny village of Chimayó, just under 30 miles from Santa Fe in northern New Mexico, grows good chile, too.

When I buy roasted green chile at the Santa Fe Farmers Market, I usually head for the vendor selling chile from Chimayó. That’s exactly what I did last week to make a batch of Green Chile for this blog post (honestly, we don’t add the word “sauce” to the end as the context indicates whether one is talking about the sauce or the fruit. And, yes, chile is a fruit!). Chimayó has a multi-hundred year history of growing heirloom chile and I feel good supporting that history, if even in a very small way.

A typical chile-roasting set-up found throughout parking lots in New Mexico in the late summer.

I served that chile during a dinner party for a group of close friends. Among the ten of us, only one was born and raised in New Mexico, Pat Assimakis (aka Pat Paris if you’re a maître d’ and she’s ever made a reservation at your restaurant). I gave Pat a taste of my green chile, she thought for a second and said, “Chimayó?” She nailed it! It’s got a slightly different taste from Hatch chile.

New Mexicans have strong opinions about their chile, be it red or green. The usual divide is between those who put almost nothing but chile in their chile (see, you knew the first meant the fruit and the second meant the sauce, right?) except for a bit of onion and/or garlic and those who add herbs (like oregano) and spices (like cumin). I am firmly in the former camp. Onion and garlic help to round out the flavor but, to my taste, herbs and spices detract from the pure chile goodness.

The other divide is degree of heat. Back to the restaurant scenario above, a frequent question from the customer after the server says “Red or Green?” is “Which is hotter?” Restaurants stake out their territory, not only in how they make their chile, but in terms of which is hotter.

Since I’m a bit of a chile-head, given a choice between the medium-hot and the hot Chimayó chile at the Farmers Market, I opted for the hot. So, I was more than a little concerned when Doug Howe, one of the other friends at our dinner, and the first to ladle some green chile onto his plate, took three large spoonsful. Before I could warn him, he took a bite and was in agony. I relieved him of his green chile, putting it on my plate, instead. Pat and I sure enjoyed the chile, Doug not so much. As for the other seven diners, I’m not sure.

In case you missed it, here is my recipe for Red Chile.


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New Mexican Green Chile Sauce
This is classic New Mexican Green Chile. There are just a few aromatics and no herbs and spices to muddy the flavor. Removing the skin and seeds can be a chore as they want to stick to your fingers. Dipping the chile and your fingers in water makes the task a breeze however, you want to use that water as part of the sauce because all of the tasty liquid that collects inside the chile as it roasts would be lost otherwise.
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Prep Time 30 minutes
Cook Time 45 minutes
Servings
cups
Ingredients
Prep Time 30 minutes
Cook Time 45 minutes
Servings
cups
Ingredients
Votes: 0
Rating: 0
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Instructions
  1. Roasted green chile ready to be cleaned.
  2. Put two cups of water in a small bowl.
  3. Holding the chile over a bowl to catch any juice, use your fingers to remove the skin of the roasted chile. Most of the skin should slide off easily. You may need to work on a few bits here and there. Remove as much skin as possible but a few bits of stubbornly sticking skin aren’t a problem.
  4. Shake whatever skin you can from your fingers (it has a tendency to cling desperately to your fingers) then dip your fingers and the chile in the bowl of water to remove the clinging skin.
  5. Still holding the chile over a bowl, remove the stem end. You can usually do this by pinching the top of the chile but a pair of kitchen shears works well, too.
  6. Discard the stem end and any seeds that cling to it.
  7. Split the chile in half lengthwise. Again, this is pretty easy to do with a fingernail.
  8. Dip the chile into the bowl of water and scrape away the seeds.
  9. Put the cleaned chile into a clean bowl and repeat the process with the remaining chile.
  10. Cut the chile into long strips.
  11. Cut the chile crosswise into small squares
  12. Add any liquid that has collected in the bottom of the bowl from the chopped chile to the bowl of water.
  13. Strain out seeds and bits of flesh from the water using a three step process. Strain the water through a large sieve.
  14. Strain the liquid through a fine, small sieve.
  15. Strain the liquid through several layers of cheesecloth or a paper filter.
  16. Chop the onion.
  17. Mince the garlic.
  18. Combine ½ cup of chopped chile, onion, garlic, strained water, and salt in a saucepan. Bring the mixture to a boil and simmer for 20 minutes.
  19. Using an immersion blender or a regular blender puree the chile mixture. This will help to thicken the chile sauce without using a thickening agent.
  20. Add the remaining diced chile and two cups of water to the puree and simmer until the chile is soft to the bite, but not mushy, approximately 15-20 minutes, adjusting salt approximately 10 minutes into the simmer. If you used a regular blender in the previous step, use the water to rinse out the blender jar before adding it to the pot.
  21. The green chile can be refrigerated or frozen. It will become softer if frozen so best to cook it for a shorter time if it is going to be frozen.
Recipe Notes

Copyright © 2017 by VillaSentieri.com. All rights reserved.

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Mike’s (Justifiably Famous) Carrot Cake

August 25, 2017

Mike Abramson says his carrot cake is the best ever.

Janet Carlson doesn’t necessarily agree.

For now, the controversy will need to simmer as I only have Mike’s (Justifiably Famous) Carrot Cake recipe, though I have suggested to Janet that she and Mike have a carrot cake bake-off.

Mike makes no apologies for having stolen the recipe from Tom Grier, originally of Grier, Georgia.

The story goes something like this…

In the 1970’s a group of four friends from San Francisco bought a weekend house, they named Aros, near Sebastopol, California. The four owners rotated use of the house, each getting it for a week at a time but also sometimes showing up there together to host parties as in the photo below.

Mike Abramson, second row far right

Over the years, ownership of the house shifted as some individuals sold their interest and others bought in.

At one point, Tom Grier was the youngest owner.

The group met on a quarterly basis in San Francisco to discuss maintenance issues related to the house. As with use of the house, these meetings were held in rotation at the owners’ homes in San Francisco.

Whenever Tom hosted the meeting, he served carrot cake, which Mike believes originated as a Grier family recipe. Tom shared the recipe with Mike and the rest is history. Mike’s (Justifiably Famous) Carrot Cake was born.

But for Janet’s assertion that Mike’s might not be the best carrot cake in the world, well, we’ll just have to wait for the bake-off.

From left to right: Janet Carlson, Richard Valantasis, and Gino Barcone

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Mike's (Justifiably Famous) Carrot Cake
This is almost a cross between a spice cake and a carrot cake. The frosting is generous and could easily be reduced by one-third. This recipe is for sea level. If there is interest in adjustments for high altitude, let me know and I’ll post them.
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Cuisine American
Prep Time 1 hour
Cook Time 40 minutes
Passive Time 2 hours
Servings
people
Ingredients
Cake
Frosting
Cuisine American
Prep Time 1 hour
Cook Time 40 minutes
Passive Time 2 hours
Servings
people
Ingredients
Cake
Frosting
Votes: 0
Rating: 0
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Instructions
Cake
  1. Butter and flour a 9” x 13” baking pan.
  2. Grate the carrots on the tear-drop holes of a box grater.
  3. Coarsely chop the nuts.
  4. Combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, cloves, allspice, nutmeg, and brown sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer. Mix with the paddle.
  5. Add the oil and eggs to the flour mixture. Blend until combined.
  6. Add the carrots and crushed pineapple with the juice. Mix thoroughly.
  7. Add the walnuts and raisins. Stir to combine.
  8. Pour into the prepared pan. Bake at 350°F for 35-40 minutes or until the center springs back when lightly touched.
  9. Cool completely in the pan before frosting.
Frosting
  1. Beat cream cheese and butter until light using the paddle of a stand mixer.
  2. Beat in all other ingredients.
  3. Frost cake when cool.
Recipe Notes

For recipes that call for solid vegetable shortening, such as Crisco, I use coconut oil is due to concerns about the negative health effects of hydrogenated fats.

Copyright © 2017 by VillaSentieri.com. All rights reserved.

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Calabacitas: A New Mexican Classic

August 21, 2017

Talk about a dish that simply wouldn’t exist in any recognizable form without new world crops, calabacitas is it! Squash, corn, and chile are all new world plants.

Calabacitas is Spanish for zucchini but is also the name given to a dish of zucchini, corn, and (usually) green chile.

Often served as a side dish, calabacitas makes an awesome burrito, too. Accompany it with some frijoles (and probably a tortilla or three) and you’ve got a great high-protein vegetarian dinner. Leave out the cheese and it’s vegan! Truth be told, I’m plus-minus on the cheese in any case. When serving this for company I usually sprinkle cheese on top as in this recipe, but if it’s just for “us,” cheese isn’t usually even a thought.

This is the time of year to serve the most sublime calabacitas possible as zucchini, corn, green chile, and tomatoes are all in the farmers’ market. But calabacitas is too good to be had only a few weeks a year and, honestly, versions made with frozen corn, canned tomatoes, and roasted green chile that you’ve squirreled away in your freezer along with the ever-present zucchini in the produce aisle are too good to pass up any time of year.

For me, calabacitas shares a serious failing with succotash. They are both great ideas in my estimation but the execution often falls flat.

When I set out to finally perfect a version of calabacitas that I felt comfortable serving, I thought back on all the less-than-perfect renditions I’d had since I first set foot in New Mexico in 1991.

The litany of offenses includes being too watery, being too rich, having huge chunks of zucchini that seem mismatched next to corn kernels, being under-seasoned and being aggressively seasoned.

That set out a plan of action for me. The zucchini should be cut approximately the same size as corn kernels. There needed to be a minimum amount of liquid in the finished dish. Loads of cream or butter or cheese were out of the question. The seasoning should complement the vegetables, not assume control of the dish.

Zucchini (the namesake vegetable) and corn were a given. Pretty much everything else was up for grabs. Tomatoes, which are sometimes included, seemed right for color and a bit of acidic brightness that the zucchini and corn lack. They have the added bonus of being another New World crop. Roasted green chile, also sometimes included, was right for several reasons. It screamed “New Mexico,” it would add a bit of complimentary smokiness to the blend, and, honestly, I’m a chile-head.

My preference was for hot or extra-hot chile. This is wrong for several reasons. First, calabacitas is not traditionally a spicy dish. Second, after one of the dinners where I tested out my evolving recipe, one of the guests said that it was unfortunate that the entire “calabacitas conversation” that evening centered on how hot it was and not on how good it was.

In cooking I prefer to bow to tradition but if there’s ever a place where I butt heads with tradition, it’s in making dishes spicy. But I decided there and then that I should follow tradition and use mild chile in my calabacitas.

Finally I was on to the aromatics and seasoning. Onion and garlic are my go-to combination unless there is some compelling reason for one or the other (usually based on tradition). The herbs eluded me for a while. I really wanted to use Mexican Oregano (which isn’t actually oregano) because of its New World origins but it just seemed to overpower the dish. In the end, I decided that a modest amount of Mediterranean Oregano played best in the sandbox with the other ingredients.

Let me know what you think of my rendition of a New Mexico classic.


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Calabacitas: A New Mexican Classic
Traditionally calabacitas is not a spicy dish so it is best to use mild roasted green chile unless you and all your eaters are chile heads. Bacon fat gives a great flavor but olive oil or other vegetable oil is fine, too. Frozen corn works well as there are so many other flavors in the dish but using fresh corn cut off the cob is a definite treat. I prefer to thaw frozen corn before cooking. Ice crystals can sometimes carry a "freezer" taste and rinsing them off can eliminate it. Also, it is easier to time the cooking of the corn in combination with other ingredients if it is not frozen when cooking starts. Rotel packs tomatoes in 10 ounce cans and they’re a bit of a Southwestern classic in and of themselves. In a pinch feta cheese can be used instead of Cotija
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Prep Time 40 minutes
Cook Time 30 minutes
Servings
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Ingredients
Prep Time 40 minutes
Cook Time 30 minutes
Servings
people
Ingredients
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Instructions
  1. Dice the zucchini.
  2. Thaw the corn under running water.
  3. Roasted New Mexico green chile.
  4. Peeled and seeded chile, ready to be chopped.
  5. Sauté the onion until translucent.
  6. Add the garlic and continue to cook until the onion is golden but not brown.
  7. Add the zucchini and sauté until the zucchini is hot.
  8. Add the corn, green chile, tomatoes, oregano, salt, and pepper.
  9. Simmer until the liquid has evaporated and the zucchini and corn are cooked, about 10-15 minutes, depending on your preference.
  10. Adjust oregano, salt and pepper in the last few minutes of cooking.
  11. Serve sprinkled with crumbled Cotija cheese.
Recipe Notes

Copyright © 2017 by VillaSentieri.com. All rights reserved.

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Fresh Corn Sautéed in Butter

August 16, 2017

I moved full-time from Chicago to Santa Fe in early 2012. I still get asked if I miss anything about Chicago. I think Chicago is a wonderful city but, honestly, the only things I miss are related to food. I miss really good Italian restaurants and I miss the abundance of specialty food shopping.

Go backwards to the late 80’s when I moved from Philadelphia to Chicago (with a one-year stint in Tucson in-between). It was pretty easy for me to find replacements for favorite restaurants and specialty food shopping. It was all but impossible to replace New Jersey farm stands and especially fresh corn, Silver Queen Corn, to be exact.

There I was in the heartland, awash in corn and soybeans, and there was no really good corn-on-the-cob to be had. It was a sad, sad day when I realized something as simple as good corn-on-the cob was basically gone from my table.

To be sure, I bought and cooked corn-on-the-cob but it was never the same.

Not only is Silver Queen an amazing variety of corn but farm stands in New Jersey (at least way back then) were set up on the road alongside the farm. The corn was on the stalk mere hours before it was sold. It was ultra-fresh.

I was actually so enamored of Silver Queen Corn when I lived in Philadelphia that I bought an amateur piece of art simply because of the subject matter. See below.

Then, one day, Jim Nutter prepared corn in a Southern style that compensated for the absence of Silver Queen Corn in my life: Corn Fried in Butter.  I always refer to this as Corn Sautéed in Butter but a Southern cook would most likely refer to it as “fried.”

The method came from his husband’s mother, Mildred Burgess Hamill. Mrs. Burgess, as she was known, ruled her kitchen. One of the very few times Phil Burgess was allowed to help his mother in the kitchen, it was shucking corn for this dish.

The dish is pure simplicity: corn and butter, seasoned with salt and pepper. Sure, you can gussie it up with cream or spice it up with jalapeno peppers but I like it best in its pure state. This two-ingredient recipe (salt and pepper don’t count, really, as ingredients) goes beyond the sum of its parts. I can’t explain why. It just does.

Traditionally, Italians did not eat much fresh corn. Polenta, yes (in the north) but fresh corn, rarely. I made this dish 20-some years ago when my husband’s Great Aunt Fidalma and Great Uncle Faliero were visiting Chicago from Tuscany. Not only did they like it, but Zia Fidalma was fascinated by the tool I used to remove the corn kernels. After seeing me do one ear of corn, she decided to take over and do all the remaining ones!

A nifty tool for cutting kernels off the cob

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Fresh Corn Sautéed in Butter
This is an elegant way to serve fresh corn that preserves all of its peak-of-season goodness. You can make it extra-rich by adding a few tablespoons of heavy cream and stirring to incorporate just before removing the corn from the heat, if you would like. You can also change up the flavor profile by adding a finely diced jalapeno pepper at the beginning, as Jim Nutter often does. A pinch of sugar sometimes helps to improve the flavor if the corn is not farm-stand fresh. Some Southern cooks might cook this longer but since really fresh corn tastes good raw, long cooking is not necessary.
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Course Sides, Vegetables
Cuisine American
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 10 minutes
Servings
people
Ingredients
Course Sides, Vegetables
Cuisine American
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 10 minutes
Servings
people
Ingredients
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Instructions
  1. Cut the corn kernels off the cobs.
  2. Scrape the cobs with a knife to release any juice.
  3. Put the corn and butter in a heavy-bottomed sauté pan.
  4. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
  5. Heat gently to warm the corn and butter.
  6. Cook on medium for approximately 3-5 minutes after the butter melts and the corn “starts dancing” in the butter, stirring frequently. Do not brown the corn or butter.
  7. The finished dish: Corn Fried in Butter.
Recipe Notes

Copyright © 2017 by VillaSentieri.com. All rights reserved.

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Carne Adovada (Pork Braised in Red Chile Sauce)

July 14, 2017

I am a chile head.

I also like coaxing a tremendous amount of flavor out of a small number of ingredients (though I don’t shy away from recipes with long ingredient lists either!).

I am a big fan of dishes that can be made in advance and warmed up for serving.  Carne Adovada actually tastes better if it is refrigerated for a day or two.

For all of these reasons, Carne Adovada is an ideal dish for me.  It is, bar none, my favorite New Mexican dish.

However, it isn’t necessary to use hot or extra-hot red chile.  If you’re not a fan of spicy foods, use mild or medium-hot chile.  What is critical is that you use actual New Mexico dried red chile.

New Mexican Red Chile Pods

Although I rode in a car along route 66 in the 1960s to visit an uncle in Los Angeles, I never spent any appreciable time in New Mexico until August 1991.   Just days into that week-long visit to Santa Fe, I had Carne Adovada at Maria’s Restaurant.

I was hooked!

I was also enchanted by Santa Fe, as was my husband.  By late 1992 we put in an offer on our first house in Santa Fe.  The offer was accepted and we closed in January 1993.  Thus began our love affair with Santa Fe.

We moved to Santa Fe full time in 2012 but we spent considerable time in Santa Fe every year until then (about ten times per year including all major holidays).

I was never happy with any Carne Adovada recipe that I tried, and I tried plenty, until I stumbled on a recipe from Al Lucero, the former owner of Maria’s Restaurant, in the program book for Santa Fe Wine and Chile Fiesta a number of years ago.

In times past, when a hog was butchered in the fall, some of the meat was preserved in red chile.  This chile-infused meat was later braised to become Carne Adovada.  I don’t know of anyone who cures pork this way any longer but many recipes for Carne Adovada call for marinating the pork overnight in the red chile.  This would seem to be closer to the traditional method, though simply marinating the meat would not produce the additional flavor that would come from actually curing the pork in the chile.  Some recipes, though a minority in my experience, call for the addition of vinegar to the marinade to try to achieve more of a “cured” or “fermented” flavor.

Al Lucero’s approach is different but definitely creates an extra layer of flavor.  The pork cubes are roasted first then braised in red chile.  Refrigerating the completed Carne Adovada for a day or two before serving improves the flavor even more.

What I especially like about Al’s method is that it does not introduce any non-traditional ingredients to the Carne Adovada.  Until I can taste Carne Adovada made from pork that is actually cured in red chile, I’m sticking with my tweaked version of Al’s method.

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Carne Adovada (Braised Pork with Red Chile)
The purity of the chile flavor is key to Carne Adovada so I avoid putting in other seasonings such as onion and oregano that are sometimes called for. This recipe, based on a recipe of Al Lucero, the former owner of Maria’s Restaurant in Santa Fe, roasts the pork first for a depth of flavor not obtainable otherwise. Remove any large pieces of fat from the pork but thin layers of fat between the meat are needed to ensure moist and tender pork, so don’t remove it all. I frequently buy a bone-in pork shoulder (aka pork butt) and use the bone to make broth.
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Course Mains, Meats
Prep Time 30 minutes
Cook Time 5 hours
Servings
people
Ingredients
Pork
Red Chile Sauce
Course Mains, Meats
Prep Time 30 minutes
Cook Time 5 hours
Servings
people
Ingredients
Pork
Red Chile Sauce
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Instructions
  1. Cut the pork into one inch cubes.
  2. Toss the pork with the garlic powder, and salt.
  3. Put the meat in a wide shallow baking/roasting pan that has a lid and roast at 450°F, uncovered, until well browned, turning every 20 minutes or so, approximately 90 minutes.
  4. While the pork is roasting, make the red chile sauce using the proportions of ingredients called for above and following the directions in the Red Chile blog post. See the "Notes" section below for the link. There is some rendered fat in the pan. Do not discard the fat, it carries lots of flavor and improves the mouth feel of the sauce.
  5. Beginning to brown.
  6. Tossed after the top has browned.
  7. Almost brown enough.
  8. Browned and ready for the chile. Note that the liquid has all evaporated and created a brown fond in the pan. This gives extra flavor.
  9. When pork is browned, add all the red chile sauce without draining any of the juices out of the pan.
  10. Cook, covered, at 250°F for approximately 3-4 hours or until meat is very tender, stirring occasionally.
  11. Remove the meat from the oven. Allow it to cool to room temperature.
  12. Cover tightly and refrigerate overnight.
  13. Reheat the carne adovada, covered, at 250°F for approximately 2 hours. If the sauce is not thick enough, reheat uncovered at a somewhat higher temperature until the sauce is thickened.
  14. This plate contains carne adovada, red rice, frijoles (beans), and calabacitas) (zucchini, corn, and roasted green chile).
Recipe Notes

Here's where you can find the directions for making Red Chile Sauce.

Copyright © 2017 by VillaSentieri.com. All rights reserved.

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Aunt Ann’s Pineapple Cream Cheese Pie

June 30, 2017

I grew up at a time, and in a town, where people just dropped in, unannounced, to visit family and friends.

Some evenings we’d stay home.  Some evenings we’d go to town.  This was pretty much every Monday and Thursday when the stores were open until 9:00 PM.  And, mind you, we dressed to go to town!  Other evenings we’d visit family and friends.

Around the age of 5 or 6, when we went to Aunt Ann’s, I’d play with food.  Really.  And not at the table.  I don’t honestly know how this got started but Aunt Ann would spread out a vinyl tablecloth on the beige wall-to-wall carpet in her living room.  (Remember, this was around 1960!)  I would pull pots and pans and mixing bowls and other equipment (like box graters and spoons) out of her kitchen cabinets and haul my stash to the living room.

Aunt Ann circa 1965 at Grandma and Grandpa’s house

Then I’d raid the refrigerator for things like carrots, celery, and so forth.

I’d sit in the living room, on the tablecloth, grating vegetables and mixing things in the various pots and bowls.

My love of cooking has deep roots.

My love of peanut butter not so much.

For some reason, I despised peanut butter at that age.  (I know, that’s almost un-American!)  But just to keep things from being too quiet, Uncle Jano would sometimes walk towards me holding a jar of peanut butter and I would run like a vampire running from a wooden stake.

I don’t know what I thought was going to happen, but I had to escape from the peanut butter.

The ordeal usually ended with me face down on the sofa until Uncle Jano retreated…sometimes only to start again after I pulled my face out of the pillow.

Aunt Ann and Uncle Jano were great fun.  But they were only Aunt Ann and Uncle Jano if you were related to them through Uncle Jano.  If you were related to them through Aunt Ann, they were Aunt Honey and Uncle John.

From left to right: Uncle Jano, my Grandfather, Uncle “Booty” and my Dad, circa 1965 on a Sunday at my Grandparent’s house

Aunt Ann was a great cook.  She was ethnically Russian and made lots of Russian and Eastern European food like mushroom soup, potato soup, kielbasa, chicken paprikash, pierogi, stuffed cabbage, and so forth.

She also made Italian food, which she learned from the wife of the local Mafia Boss who lived down the street.  (I had a colorful childhood.  What can I say?)

There were the occasional American dishes, like Rum Balls and Pineapple Cream Cheese Pie, too.

Years after those episodes of “cooking” on Aunt Ann’s living room floor, when I was in my teens and twenties, I was always on the lookout for pineapple cream cheese pie when we went to visit.

In an attempt to keep this manageable, I am not posting a recipe for pie crust just yet, but I will at a future date.  If you have a favorite pie crust recipe, by all means, make your own.  If not, buy prepared pie crust from the grocery store.  But whatever you do, give this recipe a try if it appeals to you.  It’s always a hit!

This one is just for fun: Aunt Ann (far left), Aunt Margie (in the back), my mom (far right), my sister and my cousin “Rocky” circa 1950

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Aunt Ann's Pineapple Cream Cheese Pie
If you don’t have a favorite pie crust recipe, or if you aren’t comfortable making pie crust, buy prepared pie crust. Be sure to purchase NINE INCH DEEP DISH pie crust, however. If you are making your own pie crust, you can use a standard nine inch pie pan, deep dish is not necessary. The cream cheese filling is easier to make in a food processor though an electric mixer works, too. If you are using a mixer, the cream cheese will be much easier to mix if it is at room temperature. This is not critical if you are using a food processor.
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Cuisine American
Prep Time 30 minutes
Cook Time 1 hour
Servings
pies
Ingredients
Cuisine American
Prep Time 30 minutes
Cook Time 1 hour
Servings
pies
Ingredients
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Instructions
  1. Chop the nuts and reserve.
  2. If making your own crust, prepare and line two nine-inch pie pans. Refrigerate the crust-lined pans until the fillings are prepared.
  3. In a small heavy-bottomed saucepan, combine the crushed pineapple, cornstarch, and 1/2 cup of sugar.
  4. Stir until the lumps are gone. The mixture will become cloudy from the cornstarch but will become clear once cooked.
  5. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring constantly.
  6. Boil for approximately one minute, until thickened.
  7. Take the pan off the heat and allow the pineapple mixture to cool slightly.
  8. In a food processor or electric mixer, beat the cream cheese well.
  9. Add the remaining 1/2 cup sugar, milk, eggs and vanilla. Mix until the cream cheese is thoroughly combined, all the sugar is dissolved, and there are no lumps.
  10. Divide the pineapple filling between the two pie-crust-lined pie pans.
  11. Top each pie with half the cream cheese mixture.
  12. Scatter the chopped nuts on the pies.
  13. Bake at 350°F for approximately 60 to 65 minutes until the tops of the pies are just beginning to turn golden and the filling is set.
  14. Cool to room temperature before serving. The pies will sink somewhat as they cool.
Recipe Notes

Copyright © 2017 by VillaSentieri.com. All rights reserved.

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