Sunday, April 27, 2014

Better Days with a Recipe for Better Strawberry Pie

After feeling like I've been falling into a deep freeze the past few days, it looks like Spring is finally emerging victorious over Old Man Winter who wanted to rear back up its ugly head. I see a peak of blue sky on the horizon, which I am hoping will yield to a bit of sunshine later this afternoon.

This calls for a celebration. Not only because I'll finally warm up, but also because my face surgery went better than expected a couple weeks ago. The carcinoma was not as widespread as the doctors had prepared me for, and the scar is already hardly noticeable since it fits right along the edge of my nose. Plus, my stylish hat collection is growing, so I feel like a woman born-again -- at least when it comes to sizing up my status in fashion.

My renewed sense of energy has lured me back into the kitchen. With strawberries coming back in season in my neck of the woods, I'm going to share one of my son's all-time favorites: Strawberry Pie.

But today you not only get a better recipe than you'll find on the web, you get two. Plus, both are healthier and just as tasty. I don't think it can get any better than that, can it?

Well, I suppose it always can, but we're sticking to the pie.

First, with the healthier side. Many of you probably have heard the reports coming out about how bad sugar is for our bodies. Among its many dark deeds, it is directly linked to Type 2 diabetes. For years, I've always cut back on sugar in my pies, simply because with the natural sugars present in fruit, I decided that most recipes call for an overkill. Let me assure you that cutting back on sugar is not for lack of a sweet-tooth on my part. I LOVE sweets, and will never turn down cake or cookies for breakfast if such items are lingering in my kitchen from the day before.

However, after much thought on the matter and baking in the kitchen, I realized that most recipes were designed historically around a time-intensive transportation/delivery system that no longer is in place today. Historically, in the 70s, 80s, and 90s, fruits and vegetables that found their way into the kitchen weren't recently harvested, but had endured a week- to month's worth-or-more-of-time in transportation and storage. During that time, sugars would naturally break down, and thus fruits weren't as sweet as what they would be if they were fresh-picked and ripe at harvest.

These days, with improved refrigeration during delivery and shorter time from harvest to table, I've bet on the side that most recipes continue to call for more sugar than you typically need. Especially if you're using fresh regional produce. Even more so, if you're using your own.

I've found this too-much-sugar concept to be particularly true when making jam, and you can read more about that in my post here. Nevertheless, if using less sugar applies to jam, it's going to apply to pies as well, as I've been practicing all along. So here goes. Let's dive right in!

Better Strawberry Pie, Recipe #1

1 9-inch pie crust, lined in pie pan, pricked with fork and baked 10 min at 400 degrees
1 quart organic* strawberries, plus extra for fresh garnish
1/2 cup sugar
3 tablespoons cornstarch
3/4 cup orange juice
whipped cream for topping

Hull and slice the strawberries and place them into a heavy-bottomed, medium sauce pan. Don't mash them. You'll lose what makes eating fruit good for you. (Do research if you want to know more.) Pour the sugar over the berries and then add the orange juice. Let the berries sit in this concoction for about 30 minutes. The juice and sugar will begin to draw out those natural sugars and water inside the berries. While you're waiting, pass the time by preparing the pie crust.

You can also pass the time by hulling and slicing those extra berries you bought and set aside. You'll be tossing these on top of the pie when serving it, so you might as well get them ready.

*Speaking of berries, use organic if you can. Strawberries are in the Dirty Dozen for pesticide residue, because they are grown with tons of pesticides. So go organic, if you can. Especially if you're cooking for kids.

After about 30 minutes, add the cornstarch to the berries and cook them over medium heat, while continually stirring them. The juice should thicken up as it starts to slowly bubble after about 5 minutes. I usually let it continue to slowly bubble for about 1 minute more with stirring. Once it is reasonably thick, remove the pan from the heat and allow the sauce to cool for about 15 minutes. Then pour the cooked berries and sauce into the prepared pie crust. Set the pie in the fridge after it has cooled for 10 minutes more. The pie should be ready to serve after about 2 hours when it has completely chilled and set.

Top each slice with fresh berries and whipped cream.

Better Strawberry Pie, Recipe #2

So, I happen to love cheesecake, so that is where this recipe comes from. Combining two of my favorite pies. My son prefers the first recipe. Me? I'll go for either one, but if push comes to shove, I'll grab the second.

1 8-inch graham cracker crust, prepared

1/2 of the strawberry pie recipe above (for filling) (prepared separately)
1 package Pillsbury cream cheese (8 oz), softened to room temperature
1/4 cup sugar
1 Tablespoon flour
1 egg
1/2 cup sour cream (4 oz)
2 teaspoons orange juice or 1/2 teaspoon vanilla

Mix all the ingredients for the cheesecake portion of the pie together until smooth. Pour into the graham cracker crust and bake at 325 degrees for about 30 minutes (until firm). Remove from oven and let cool.

While the cheesecake layer is baking, make your strawberry filling for the top layer of the pie, as directed in recipe #1. When the strawberry filling is cooled to a warm temperature, pour it over the top of the cheesecake layer, and set in the fridge to chill and set. The pie should be ready to serve after about 2 hours. Top each slice with fresh berries and whipped cream.


Feel free to share any of your favorite ideas and tips.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Signs of Spring

The gray hues of winter finally released their grip last week, and I found myself lured out into the yard to begin spring clean up.  Once again I was pleasantly rewarded to see bursts of color poking up from last year's dead growth, which I had left behind. Our new kitten named Sky chased after her first buzzing insect, and thankfully didn't do too much damage to the new flowers she was pouncing on in the process. Sandhill cranes also kept me company as they sang their calls far overhead. They had returned from their winter feeding grounds.

These signs of spring fueled my hope that my yard may also serve as an analogy to my writing projects.  When I return to the manuscripts I've been scribbling away at all winter and carefully hone them with an editorial eye, I might be able to bright out something bright and beautiful as well.

Happy spring!