Saturday, April 20, 2013

Strawberry Pie

Dear Reader,

Since the months of March and April flew by without so much as a single post, I have prepared a flurry of new posts and projects for your enjoyment! Though cooking the spring away normally would be a favorite activity of mine the trifecta of time, money, and calories prohibited such an undertaking. Plus, my new love of Thai food is certainly not in the notebook.

However, with spring attempting to spring in the Chicagoland area, I am again focusing on what is interesting and available in my local store.

Fresh Strawberry Pie -- from the Daily News Cooking School by Mary Starr

Plump gay strawberries bring a note of spring to the table to relieve the monotony of winter menus. Although the fruit is an out-of-season luxury, you will be amply rewarded for the slight extra expense when you cut this luscious pie and disclose the juicy whole berries that are concealed in the filling. 

To make the filling, wash one quart of fresh strawberries, hull them and drain well. Blend one three-ounce package of cream cheese with one Tablespoon of cream. Spread the mixture over the bottom of a baked pie shell that has been cooled. 

Selecting the choicest berries, pick over the washed fruit and place half in the pie shell on top of the cream cheese. Mash the remaining berries through a sieve.

Combine three Tablespoons of cornstarch with one cup of sugar and stir into the mixture of juice and pulp. Cook, stirring constantly, until the filling is smooth and well thickened. Then cook over boiling water for 15 to 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. 

Cool the mixture and pour over the uncooked berries in the pie shell Place pie in refrigerator until thoroughly chilled. Top with slightly sweetened whipped cream before serving. 

Strawberry Season 

Ok, so strawberries are NOT local or in season, just like Mary Starr indicates, unless you are located in Plant City, Florida where my $.99 berries were grown. Yes, I  know they are one of the "dirty dozen" grown with tons of pesticides (sorry, Dr. Andrew Weil) but I forged ahead. I dutifully washed my fruit in my standard vinegar-and-water solution, hulled them, and set them on a towel to dry.

Crust Selection

I do not like making pie crust. Probably never will. Neither did Grandma -- she always used the refrigerated kind. However, I had neither on hand. What I did have was a Ready-Made Keebler Shortbread Cookie Crust in the pantry. I took the liberty of using that so as to be frugal, like a mid-century modern woman might do. It turned out to be a fantastic choice.

Smashing It Up

I set about to smash up the cream cheese with the milk (no cream on hand either) and it looked like lumpy cottage cheese. Then I remembered -- that's exactly what happens when you mix cream cheese by hand. But I wasn't pulling out a mixer for three ounces of dairy so I ignored the lumps and spread the mixture on the bottom of the prepared crust.

Berry Troublesome

Next, I chose the "choicest" berries and placed them top down on the dairy mixture. Very nice! The rest of the berries were to be smashed and place through a sieve. I pulled out a soup ladle for leverage and attempted to force a single berry through a fine-mesh wire sieve. Well, let me tell you, supermarket berries are WAY too firm. Berries from your backyard patch may travel through fine mesh but these did not yield even one seed. Plan B.

Plan B: I cut the berries into chunks and tossed the lot into a saucepan on the stove and added the cornstarch and sugar and fired it up. Fairly soon the mixture was more appropriately jam-like in texture but there was the problem of smoothness. Plan C: Immersion blenders rock. I plugged in and let it rip right through the hot liquid (disclaimer: I've done this sort of thing before, but a warning that it is a very HOT scalding activity should you lose control of your immersion blender). Ahh....much better.

Double boiler? Really? My jam mixture looked pretty good, gelatinous, and ruby-red. Couldn't i just stop there? Then it hit me -- I was actually in the middle of making the "gel" that today comes in the plastic bag sold in the produce department next to the berries and sponge cakes. Sigh. After an hour into this pie, it had better be worth it.

My double boiler is a dutch oven with boiling water and a stainless-steel salad bowl. Thanks Mary Starr. 15 minutes later the mixture looked exactly the same. I set it aside to cool.

Not Much Assembly Required

I poured the cooled mixture over the berries and placed it in the fridge to chill until dinner time. I did , however, swipe my finger through the jam mixture......fantastic flavor, texture and color. Mmmmm...

Serving Time

After slicing into wedges and topping with Cool Whip (sorry...i was exhausted) we dug in for a first bite. Simply amazing. The shortbread cookie crust was perfectly balanced with the deep berry flavor and the cream cheese mixture prevented what would have otherwise been a soggy crust. It even added the right amount of creaminess in each bite without being too rich. We couldn't stop eating. Originally the remainder of the pie was going to be unloaded on coworkers the next day but we opted to hoard it for ourselves and enjoy it several nights that week. Even after several days the crust remained light and the strawberry mixture fresh and firm in the fridge. A fantastic score -- even with supermarket berries.

Soup Can Score -- Five out of Five Soup Cans

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