Pie-fest 2011: Part 2

You honestly can’t go wrong with apple pie. It’s the Little Black Dress of desserts. Dress it up with a crumble or caramel topping or keep it simple with a few slits poked on top. This Thanksgiving, I decided to add a little flair with a lattice-top which looks impressive yet is much easier than it seems (step-by-step process shown below). Make sure to eat it à la mode to finish off this polished dessert!

Latticing in progress…

Classic Apple Pie

  • 2 pounds Granny Smith apples (about 4 medium)
  • 1 pound McIntosh/Fuji apples (about 2 large)
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon lemon zest
  • ¾ cup + 1 tablespoon sugar, divided
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • ½ teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1 full recipe of Pie Dough

(1)  Preheat oven to 350° F.
(2)  Peel, core and slice the apples. Place them in a large bowl.
(3)  Add the lemon juice, zest, ¾ cup sugar, flour, cinnamon, nutmeg and allspice to the apples. Gently toss together until all the apple slices are completely coated. Set aside.
(4)  Take one round of the pie dough and roll onto a lightly floured work surface to a 12 inch disk. Transfer the dough to a pie plate by rolling dough around a rolling pin and unrolling over a 9-inch pie plate or by folding the dough in quarters, then unfolding onto the pie plate. Ease the dough into pan corners by gently lifting dough edges with one hand while pressing around the pan bottom with the other hand. Leave the excess dough that overhangs the lip of the pie plate.
(5)  Place the apples into the pie plate, making sure to discard any excess liquid at the bottom of the bowl.
(6)  Roll out the second piece of dough into a 12-inch disk.
For a non-lattice top: Place over the top of the apple filling. Press the edges of the top and bottom crusts together and trim the edges leaving a ½-inch border beyond the pan lip. Tuck this rim of dough underneath itself so that the folded edge is flush with the pan lip. Flute the edge or press with fork tines to seal. Cut 4-5 slits on top of the pie.
For lattice top: Cut the rolled out pie disk into 14 strips. Then take every other strip and place evenly across the top of the apple filling. Fold every other strip on top of the pie back and place a remaining strip on top going in the opposite direction. Then alternate and fold back the other strips on top of the pie. Place another strip in between going the opposite direction. Continue until all the strips have been used. Press the edges of the top and bottom crusts together and trim the edges leaving a ½-inch border beyond the pan lip. Tuck this rim of dough underneath itself so that the folded edge is flush with the pan lip. Flute the edge or press with fork tines to seal.
(7)  Brush the top with water and sprinkle 1 tablespoon of sugar on top.
(8)  Bake for 1 hour and 15 minutes until the crust is golden brown.

Makes 10-12 servings

Sadly, Thanksgiving is now over. I am back in the Big Apple (pun intended), but I already miss being home. I’m excited, though, to see this city for the first time in all its winter holiday glory, which I hope includes lots of SNOW!

Pie-fest 2011: Part 1

For most people, Thanksgiving is all about the turkey. For me, it’s the PIE. Since I can remember, I’ve been helping make our pies every year, from mixing the filling to pinching the fluted edges. In recent years, my sister Christine and I have been charged with full pie-duties. That includes everything from making the pie dough to removing the finished product from the oven. And this year, with my new fangled camera, we were a bit giddy in documenting as Christine calls it, the ‘journey of each pie.’

I’ll start the first part of this journey with pecan pie, which I see as the epitome of Thanksgiving. The thing is… I hate pecans. For me, they provide mere decoration on an otherwise delicious pie. And yet I take my pecan pie decorating very seriously. Over the years, Christine and I have developed two very distinct methods:

method #1: the Abstract (for the free-spirited Christines of the world)…

action shot!

and method #2: the Concentric (for the meticulous-minded Margarets).

sorted pecan halves

Either way you do decorate it though, your pecan pie will taste great and look beautiful 🙂

Pecan Pie

  • 1 stick (½ cup) unsalted butter, melted
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 1 cup light corn syrup
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • pinch of salt
  • 1 cup pecan halves, chopped if desired
  • ½ recipe of Pie Dough, recipe follows

(1) Preheat oven to 350° F.
(2) Take the pie dough and roll out on a lightly floured work surface into a 12 inch circle. Transfer the dough to a pie plate by rolling dough around a rolling pin and unrolling over a 9-inch pie plate or by folding the dough in quarters, then unfolding onto the pie plate.
(3) Ease the dough into the pan corners by gently lifting the dough edges with one hand while pressing around the pan bottom with the other hand. Trim the excess dough by leaving a ½-inch edge overhanging the lip of the pie plate. Tuck this rim of dough underneath itself so that the folded edge is flush with the pan lip. Flute the edge or press with fork tines to seal. Set the pie shell aside.
(4) In a large bowl, whisk together the first 6 ingredients.
(5) Pour into the unbaked pie shell. Arrange/sprinkle the pecans on top of the filling.
(6) Bake for 50 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool completely on a wire rack.

Makes 8-10 servings

Homemade pie dough intimidates people… myself included. For many years, I just used pre-rolled pie dough. But let me tell you, making it yourself really makes all the difference. The key is to keep the butter cold, not adding too much water to the dough, and making sure to keep your surface well floured when rolling out the dough. Prayer helps too.

Smitten kitchen has a great pie dough tutorial, which I would highly suggest reading before starting. Soon you’ll be a smug pie pro in no time!

Pie Dough

  • 2 ½ cups flour
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, very cold

(1)  Fill a 1 cup liquid measuring cup with water and drop in a few ice cubes, set aside.
(2)  In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar and salt.
(3)  Dice the 2 sticks of butter into ½-inch pieces. Sprinkle over the flour mixture.
(4)  Use a pastry blender and begin cutting the butter into the flour, using it to scoop and redistribute the mixture as needed so all parts are worked evenly. When all the butter pieces are the size of tiny peas—stop! You want to still have visible chunks of butter left.
(5)  Drizzle ½ cup of the ice-cold water over the butter and flour mixture. Using a rubber spatula, gather the dough together. You may need an additional ¼ cup of cold water to bring it together but add it a tablespoon at a time (I used about a total of 6-8 tablespoons).
(6) Once you’re pulling large clumps with the spatula, take it out and get your hands in there. Gather the disparate damp clumps together into one mound, kneading them gently together.
(7)  Divide the dough in half, and place each half on a large piece of plastic wrap. Shape into a disk.
(8)  Let the dough chill in the fridge for one hour before rolling it out.
Note: Dough will keep in the fridge for about a week and in the freezer longer. If not using that day, wrap it in additional layers of plastic wrap to protect it from fridge/freezer smells.

Makes enough dough for one double-, or two single-crust pies

Think you’ve had enough pie?? Ohh think again! If the title of this blog post didn’t make it obvious, this pie journey has only begun. Pie-fest 2011: Part 2 to come soon…

because a thankful heart is a happy heart…

Happy Thanksgiving to all!

I hope that like me, you find yourself surrounded by the company of friends, family and the scent of wonderful aromas from the kitchen. I feel I have been so blessed this year… overwhelmed but blessed!

In addition, I came home Tuesday to a new toy: this dSLR Canon T2i camera! Quite a splurge for myself but I’ve been shutter happy ever since. Here’s a sneak peek of some of the pics I’ve taken so far… more to come after the holidays!

xo Margaret

Bowl of Homesickness

Scent is the sense most closely linked to memory. To that, I would also like to add taste. Whenever I’m feeling a tinge bit homesick in the midst of this chilly weather, I turn to a nice bowl of something comforting. For some people that may be some good ole chicken ‘n’ dumplings or gumbo.

For me, it’s this taco soup. My mom has made this for years and it’s one of my favorites. While I tend to shy away from recipes that use too many seasoning-packets and other Sandra Lee-like additions, this soup is just SO delicious. And if it comes from Paula Deen you know it has to be good. I’ve turned it into a veggie-friendly version which I swear is just as hearty (and a bit healthier).

Vegetarian Taco Soup
adapted from Paula Deen recipe

  • 2 cups diced onions
  • 3 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1 (15 ½-ounce) can pinto beans
  • 1 (15 ½-ounce) can red kidney beans
  • 1 (15 ½-ounce) can black beans
  • 1 (15 ¼-ounce) can whole kernel corn, drained
  • 1 (14 ½-ounce) can Mexican-style stewed tomatoes
  • 1 (14 ½-ounce) can Rotel
  • 1 (1 ¼-ounce) package taco seasoning mix
  • 1 (1-ounce) package ranch salad dressing mix
  • 8 ounces meatless soy crumbles (i.e. Boca), thawed
  • 2 cups water
  • tortilla chips
  • sour cream, for garnish
  • grated Cheddar cheese, for garnish
  • chopped green onions, for garnish
  • Pickled jalapenos, for garnish

(1) Rinse and drain all the beans and corn.
(2) Sauté the onions and garlic in a large stockpot until soft and translucent.
(3)  Add the beans, corn, tomatoes, taco seasoning, and ranch dressing mix, and simmer over low heat for about 45 minutes.
(4)  Crumble in the soy crumbles and add them as well as 2 cups of water to the soup. Simmer for another 15-20 minutes.
(5)  To serve, place a few tortilla chips in each bowl and ladle soup over them. Top with sour cream, cheese, green onions and jalapenos.

Makes 12-16 servings

Luckily, I will not be homesick too long for I will be coming home very soon– tonight in fact 🙂 I leave right after work today and will be in Georgia later this evening just in time to be showered by goodies from Mama Choo herself.

I hope everyone else traveling has a safe journey– and a wonderful Thanksgiving, ya’ll!

Live from NEW YORK…

This summer when I first arrived in the city, I was a bit overwhelmed by the number of people (and sweat) and underwhelmed by the magic of this city. Of course, most of my notion of a “perfect New York” was solely due to watching films like Sleepless in Seattle and Serendipity way too many times. I had relented to the fact that life, especially in New York City, just isn’t how it’s shown in movies. But now, I realize all I needed to do was add some twinkle lights and… New York City is suddenly starting to feel very magical!

This weekend was a wonderful surprise in itself when one of my Vanderbilt friends, Erica, popped into the city for a visit with her sister and boyfriend. We spent the afternoon culturing ourselves first at MoMA (Museum of Modern Art) which is renowned as the home of van Gogh’s Starry Night. I personally love MoMA as it also has one of the best photography collections and the building itself is a very stark, contemporary space.

We then stopped by Rockefeller Center to see the assembly of the new Christmas tree as well as the skaters on the ice rink.

Margaret trivia fact #1: I have never ice skated in my life.

Afterwards we got some Chinese food nearby. Scratch that, Erica, her sister and boyfriend got Chinese food while I smuggled in some Chipotle I had picked up (so cultured and refined I know but I was craving it!). We were struggling to get through dinner though in anticipation for what lay ahead afterwards…


Oh, do I love a Broadway musical! And this one was a steal for $31 (tip: Erica had checked with the ticket office earlier that day and bought student-rate tickets). The show was fantastic– full of outlandish costumes and fun dancing! It’s given me a new motivation to attend as many Broadway shows as possible. Because like twinkle lights, I really do think they make the city magical…

Margaret trivia fact #2: As a child, I was OBSESSED with the Sound of Music and can to this day recite the entire film. It’s a gift and a curse (for my family).

Museum of Modern Art (MoMA)
11 West 53 Street  New York, NY 10019
(212) 708-9400
Rockefeller Center
48th-51st Street btwn 5th & 6th Avenue, NY NY
(212) 549-5100
Mamma Mia!
1634 Broadway, New York, NY 10019

(Warren) Beatty’s Chocolate Cake

When I first saw this recipe I got really excited. Not because it’s a chocolate cake recipe or because it’s from one of my idols, the Barefoot Contessa (I love you Ina!). No, it’s because I thought it had something to do with the actor Warren Beatty. Have you seen Splendor in the Grass? so swoon worthy… wouldn’t you want a cake served by this handsome fella?

Alas, it turns out, the Beatty in this cake is actually the grandmother of Ina’s friend (pronounced Betty). Regardless, it’s still a pretty swoon-worthy cake. In fact, it’s my absolute favorite chocolate cake EVER, which is a big claim for me as I am not a chocolate cake lover. You know that scene in Matilda when the headmistress Ms. Trunchbull makes the pudgy Bruce Bogtrotter, (Roald Dahl is another idol of mine) eat that WHOLE chocolate cake?? This is that cake. It’s everything you want from a perfect chocolate cake. Moist, richly chocolatey (enhanced by coffee), but not too sweet. If only it included a classic Hollywood heartthrob…

For this occasion, I halved the recipe and baked it in a rectangular pan (easier transport) for my long-lost friend Beca’s potluck dinner. If you haven’t heard the story yet, Beca and I were BEST friends in 3rd and 4th grade when I lived in Florida. Long story short, we lost touch for years but reunited this summer while I was interning at the Met and she had just moved to Brooklyn. Now we’ve reconnected and I bake cakes for her parties… some friend right?!


Beatty’s Chocolate Cake
adapted from the Barefoot Contessa 

  • Butter, for greasing the pans
  • 1 ¾ cups all-purpose flour, plus more for pans
  • 2 cups sugar
  • ¾ cup good cocoa powder
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 cup buttermilk, shaken
  • ½ cup vegetable oil
  • 2 large eggs, room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 cup freshly brewed hot coffee
  • Chocolate Frosting, recipe follows

(1)  Preheat the oven to 350° F. Butter two 8-inch x 2-inch round cake pans. Line with parchment paper, then butter and flour the pans.
(2)  Whisk together the flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder, and salt into the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment.
(3)  In another bowl, combine the buttermilk, oil, eggs, and vanilla. With the mixer on low speed, slowly add the wet ingredients to the dry.
(4)  With mixer still on low, add the hot coffee and stir just to combine, scraping the bottom of the bowl with a rubber spatula. The batter should be runny.
(5)  Pour the batter into the prepared pans and bake for 35 to 40 minutes, until a cake tester comes out clean. Cool in the pans for 30 minutes, then turn them out onto a cooling rack and cool completely.

Chocolate Frosting:
  • 6 ounces good semisweet chocolate (I always use Ghiradelli)
  • ½ pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 large egg yolk, room temperature (can substitute with 2 teaspoons of honey)
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 ½ cups sifted confectioners’ sugar

(1)  Chop the chocolate and place it in a heat-proof bowl set over a pan of simmering water. Stir until just melted and set aside until cooled to room temperature.
(2)  In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the butter on medium-high speed until light yellow and fluffy, about 3 minutes.
(3)  Add the egg yolk and vanilla and continue beating for 3 minutes. Turn the mixer to low, gradually add the confectioners’ sugar, then beat at medium speed, scraping down the bowl as necessary, until smooth and creamy.
(4)  On low speed, add the chocolate and mix until blended. Don’t whip! Spread immediately on the cooled cake.

Makes 10-12 servings (one 8-inch two layer cake )


The cake was enjoyed by all! If you don’t believe me, here’s the proof: 


mmm... AFTER

Here’s yet another heartthrob I’d trust with my culinary life (have you tried his Newman O’s?!)


Baby, It’s (Gonna Be) Cold Outside!

Time to bundle up! Being from the South, I still think of snow as something magical… apparently jaded New Yorkers seem to think otherwise. So I’ve been preparing myself this year for my first ‘real’ winter. Forget the cute peacoats and wind-blown scarves, here’s a list of what I’ll be in this winter:

(1) long down jacket with hood

Michael Kors down jacket with faux fur hood

This seems to be essential winter garb #1. Make sure it has down feathers and a hood, it’s like wrapping yourself in a duvet. I love the Loden color (found on overstock.com)!

(2) rainboots/snowboots with fleece liner

Hunter wellies with fleece liner

There’s nothing more satisfying than fearlessly stomping through puddles (I apologize to those who walk beside me). Come winter time when snow turns to slush, rainboots with liners will keep your piggies warm and dry.

(3) Smartwool/Heattech legwear

Uniqlo W's Heattech knee high socks (fair isle) $12.90

Uniqlo W's Heattech tights $12.90

Heattech wear helps keep you extra warm by absorbing moisture and generating heat through movement. Both the knee high socks and tights are a a great way to dress up for work/going out and still look stylish without exposing your gams to the elements.

(4) glittens

J.Crew Hearthstone Glittens $28

Because texting with mittens makes me sound incoherent.

And of course, don’t forget the knitted scarves, grandpa sweaters, ear muffs, and hats! Cause the last thing I wanna feel is this…

Edamame Fried Rice

The one thing I’ve realized about living in the City is learning to live on a budget. Which is difficult when there’s so much to do and even more to EAT! While I love indulging in take-out Indian food and sushi, sometimes it’s necessary to buckle down… especially after seeing the long string of restaurant charges on my credit card activity.

One of the easiest things I like to make is hibachi-style fried rice. This is a variation I learned from my mom who makes it very simply with carrots and scallions (sometimes just carrots). I like to add a little extra green with peas or in this case, edamame! I make a ton so I can pack it for lunch or reheat it for dinner for the week to come. Here’s to full bellies and fuller wallets!

Edamame Fried Rice

  • 2 tablespoon plus 1 tablespoon canola oil, divided
  • 2 large cloves garlic, minced
  • ¾ cup finely chopped carrots
  • ¾ cup scallions, greens included, rinsed, trimmed and thinly sliced
  • 4 cups leftover cooked brown rice
  • 1 cup cooked, shelled frozen edamame, thawed (or green peas)
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten*
  • 3-4 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoon sesame seeds
  • freshly cracked pepper

(1)  Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a wok or large skillet until very hot. Add the garlic, scallions and carrots and cook, stirring, until softened and aromatic, about 2 to 3 minutes.
(2)  Add another tablespoon of oil and the rice and cook on medium-high heat, stirring, until heated through, about 5 minutes.
(3)  Make a 3-inch well in the center of the rice mixture. Add 1 tablespoon of canola oil, then add the eggs and cook until nearly fully scrambled.
(4)  Stir the eggs into the rice mixture, add the edamame and stir.
(5)  Then add soy sauce, sesame seeds and pepper to taste. Incorporate thoroughly. Serve hot.

*Replace the eggs with extra firm tofu for a vegan meal! 

Makes 4 servings