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

Click HERE to join our mailing list and you’ll never miss a recipe again!

Print Recipe
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.
Votes: 0
Rating: 0
You:
Rate this recipe!
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
Votes: 0
Rating: 0
You:
Rate this recipe!
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.

Share this Recipe

Croquetas de Jamon (Cuban Ham Croquettes)

May 1, 2017

In early 2014, my husband and I were lucky enough to go to Cuba with two close friends.  This was prior to the loosening up of restrictions on travel by Americans to the island nation.

Because of the guidelines governing such travel, we had to spend a significant portion of our time interacting with Cubans, not being tourists.  We visited a schools for the arts and music, toured cultural sites, attended lectures, saw a cigar factory, and met with some Cubans in their homes, among other activities.

All of Cuba is divided up into small units that are under the watchful eye of a trusted local who reports any unusual activities to the authorities.  These units could be a section of a street, for example, or a multi-unit building.  What turned out to be one of the most memorable events was meeting with the residents of one such building one evening in Cienfuegos.

The children put on a small performance, we had refreshments, then spent several hours chatting with the building’s residents.  It seemed to us that everyone was quite open, talking about the challenges, as well as the benefits (such as free education and health care) of life in Cuba.  In fact, while it seems that most Cubans we met were in favor of a more open society they were understandably very protective of their access to education and health care.

One man, seemed particularly open about the difficulties of life in Cuba.  This was surprising to us as his wife was the designated party operative responsible for overseeing this particular building.  Our suspicions seemed to be confirmed when he disappeared into their apartment shortly before the evening ended after his wife gave him “the look.”  As our vehicle was pulling away from the building, he ran out and waved us good-bye.  Clearly he had been banished from the meeting but kept a watchful eye from his apartment, exiting at just the right moment.

In addition to spending the major portion of our trip interacting with Cubans we were prohibited from actually going to the beach!  This was supposed to be an educational and cultural interchange, not fun.

Even more interesting is that, at the time, Americans were prohibited from buying Cuban cigars and rum.  Mind you, I’m not talking about bringing these items back to the United States which was definitely forbidden, but buying and using them while in Cuba.

This would seem to be a singularly difficult rule to enforce and I can’t say that anybody paid particular attention to it.  One of our most pleasant experiences was sitting at a park on the waterfront in Cienfuegos sipping rum (from plastic cups) smoking cigars and watching the sun set.

We ate a lot of croquetas in Cuba and drank a lot of rum punch, mojitos, and cariocas.  After we got back we pulled together a Cuban dinner with a few other friends.  I made the traditional finger-sized croquetas—seven dozen of them, actually!  Here is a picture of me frying them as well as a platter full of cooked ones along with some plantain chips and mojitos.

For this post, since I was cooking them as an entrée rather than as a nibble with cocktails, I made them larger.

Print Recipe
Croquetas de Jamon (Cuban Ham Croquettes)
Instead of ham, croquetas can be made with cooked fish, salted cod, or potatoes among other ingredients. Cracker crumbs are the standard coating used in Cuba but fine dry breadcrumbs will work fine. I really like using plain panko crumbs whizzed in the food processor to finely pulverize them. They give an amazing crunch! If you are making these to serve as nibbles, you should get seven dozen. If you are making larger croquetas to serve as a main course, this recipe will make 16. Two or three of the larger croquetas will serve one person depending on what else is being served.
Votes: 0
Rating: 0
You:
Rate this recipe!
Prep Time 1 hour
Cook Time 20 minutes
Passive Time 9 hours
Servings
people
Ingredients
Prep Time 1 hour
Cook Time 20 minutes
Passive Time 9 hours
Servings
people
Ingredients
Votes: 0
Rating: 0
You:
Rate this recipe!
Instructions
  1. If the ham was cooked with a sweet glaze, rinse the glaze off using warm water.
  2. Cut the ham into one-inch cubes.
  3. Finely grind the ham in a food processor or meat grinder. Reserve the ground ham.
  4. Over medium heat, warm the milk in a small saucepan.
  5. Meanwhile, in a two-quart heavy bottomed pan, sauté the onion in butter on medium heat until soft, approximately 4-5 minutes.
  6. Add the flour to the onion-butter mixture and cook for about two minutes, stirring constantly. Do not brown the flour.
  7. Note, the flour will appear golden from the combination of the butter and the onions.
  8. Add about three tablespoons of the warm milk to the flour mixture. Stir well to fully incorporate. Continue adding about three tablespoons of warm milk at a time, stirring well after each addition, until all the milk has been incorporated. The mixture will form a rather heavy dough.
  9. Continue to cook the dough for 2-3 minutes, stirring constantly, without browning.
  10. Reduce the heat to low and stir in the ham. Keeping the mixture warm makes it much easier to blend the ham into the dough which would otherwise seize up with the addition of cold ham.
  11. Off the heat, stir in the nutmeg and parsley. Taste and adjust salt and pepper.
  12. Spread the mixture into a small oblong pan. Cool to room temperature uncovered.
  13. Cover and refrigerate until very cold, about six hours or overnight.
  14. Form the croquetas. If making small ones, roll portions of the dough into ½ inch diameter cylinders. Cut the cylinders into pieces about 2 inches long. If making larger croquetas, divide the mixture into 16 pieces. Roll each piece into a ball then flatten into a patty about ½ inch thick. Put the croquetas in a single layer on a cookie sheets. Refrigerate the croquetas until very cold.
  15. To bread the croquetas, beat 3 eggs seasoned with ½ teaspoon of salt. Dip the croquettes in the beaten egg then roll in crumbs.
  16. Put the croquetas onto cookie sheets once again. Refrigerate until cold.
  17. Repeat the egg and crumb coating a second time. The second coating is necessary to get the traditional crunch. Refrigerate several hours or overnight.
  18. Cook the croquetas in a deep fryer at 350°F until deep brown. Alternatively, put ½ inch of oil in a heavy bottomed frying pan. Bring the oil to 350°F. Fry the croquetas, turning once, until deeply browned. Drain briefly on absorbent paper. Keep the croquetas warm in a low oven until they are all fried.
  19. The croquetas ready to serve.
Recipe Notes

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

Share this Recipe

Totos (Italian Chocolate Spice Cookies)

December 21, 2016

Homemade cookies and pastries were staples of my childhood.  Trays of cookies showed up for holidays, celebrations, weddings, funerals, and, sometimes, for no apparent reason.

My mother along with relatives and friends set up a cookie-making operation that went on every night for weeks leading up to my sister’s wedding.  The overseer was Annie Castagnola, a family friend.  She had a thin spiral-bound 3-inch-by-5-inch notebook of cookie recipes.  The notebook was the kind we used in grade school to write down our homework assignments.  Annie’s recipes were a curated collection gathered from a host of “old Italian women,” my grandmother included.

The little notebook was coveted by more than a few cooks.  Annie, however, did not share her recipes, even when those recipes came from relatives of the very people who were asking for them.  I know, my mother was one of those people who wanted some of her mother’s recipes.  Annie wouldn’t budge.  The situation got resolved, however, during the cookie-baking marathon for my sister’s wedding.  One night, Annie left her little notebook at our house overnight.  Nobody’s confessing, but there are a few cookie recipes in my mother’s recipe box (sitting on my bookcase) written in my twelve-year-old hand.

Annie died a while back.  Her little notebook is most likely gone forever and along with it the baking secrets of a whole group of “old Italian women.”

Of all the cookies that showed up throughout the year, my favorites were the various kinds of cakey cookies, my mom’s Genets, Aunt Margie’s aptly named “Colored Cookies,” and my cousin Angie Catanese’s Sesame Seed Cookies, to name a few.  These cakey cookies, which were not very sweet by American standards, were usually little balls but not always.  Genets are lemon flavored knots.  Colored Cookies are vanilla flavored balls, each made with four or five pinches of dough of different colors rolled together.  Sesame cookies are little logs, perfect for dunking into some Vin Santo.  For me, though, the best of these cakey cookies are Totos, little chocolate spice balls.

Print Recipe
Totos (Italian Chocolate Spice Cookies)
These little chocolate balls are intended to have a good kick from an array of spices. Lard is the traditional shortening to use. I render my own. If you need these to be vegetarian, or you just don't want to use lard, you can use solid vegetable shortening. Heck, you can even use clarified butter but that is way off the traditional scale!
Votes: 0
Rating: 0
You:
Rate this recipe!
Cuisine Italian
Prep Time 45 minutes
Cook Time 2 hours
Servings
dozen cookies
Ingredients
Cookies
Icing
Cuisine Italian
Prep Time 45 minutes
Cook Time 2 hours
Servings
dozen cookies
Ingredients
Cookies
Icing
Votes: 0
Rating: 0
You:
Rate this recipe!
Instructions
Cookies
  1. In a small saucepan, melt the lard over low heat. When just melted, remove the lard from the heat and allow to cool slightly.
  2. Meanwhile, combine the flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cloves, cinnamon, allspice, and nutmeg together. Reserve.
  3. Make the icing and reserve.
  4. Put the sugar into a large mixing bowl. Add the cooled but still liquid lard and mix well until thoroughly combined. The mixture will be gritty. I recommend doing this by hand with a mixing spoon but you could use a portable electric mixer.
  5. Add the eggs one at a time to the sugar and lard mixture, mixing well after each addition. The sugar should dissolve as the eggs are added.
  6. Add the milk, honey, vanilla extract and lemon extract to the egg mixture. Mix until well combined.
  7. Add the reserved dry ingredients. At this point there really is no better option than to reach into the mixture with your hand and get everything well combined. The dough will be somewhat sticky. Be certain that all the dry bits are scraped off the bottom and sides of the bowl and combined into the dough.
  8. Roll the dough into walnut-sized balls. If you want to weigh the first few to get the size correct, they should be between 21 and 22 grams.
  9. Space the cookies several inches apart on ungreased cookie sheets. Bake at 375°F for 8-10 minutes until the cookies are very slightly browned on the bottom but still soft when touched. They have a tendency to crack as they bake. This is normal. You can bake two trays at a time, one in the lower third of the oven and one in the upper third. Be sure to switch the top and bottom cookie sheets after five minutes and also turn them front to back.
  10. As soon as you remove the cookies from the oven, carefully put them on cooling racks.
  11. Ice them immediately by holding a cookie with one hand and using the tip of your finger to spread a dollop of icing on the top half of each cookie. The icing should be a glaze, not a thick coating. Put the iced cookies on cooling racks to cool completely.
  12. Well wrapped, the cookies can be refrigerated for several weeks or frozen for several months.
Icing
  1. Melt the butter. Add the sugar, vanilla (or lemon) extract and 2 tablespoons of milk. Mix well. Add more milk, a teaspoon at a time, if needed, to make a thick icing that will hold its shape and spread well.
  2. It may be necessary to add a bit of milk from time to time if the icing stiffens up over the course of icing each batch of cookies as they come out of the oven.
Recipe Notes

Check out my method for rendering lard.

I prefer to grind my own spices using a small electric coffee grinder, except for the nutmeg, of course, for which I use a small grater. It is best to pass the ground spices through a small strainer to get out any small bits. If you don’t grind your own spices be sure to buy really fresh ground ones so the flavor is vibrant.

This recipe doesn’t involve any strenuous beating so the first few steps can easily be completed by hand with a sturdy mixing spoon rather than with a mixer. Similarly, after adding the dry ingredients, the dough only needs to be mixed enough to come together. This is easily (and traditionally) done with your hand though I suppose a dough hook would work, too.

Copyright © 2016 by VillaSentieri.com. All rights reserved.

Share this Recipe