Chai-spiced Pear Pie with Walnut Crumble Topping

An ex-pear-iment in pie making (sorry,) inspired by an old recipe and a new crush.

I came up with this recipe as an entry for Cathy Erway's blogging contest over at www.noteatingoutinny.com. The challenge: to create a seasonal pie using local ingredients for a chance to win tickets to the Just Food fifth annual Let Us Eat Local fundraiser and party. Please check Cathy's blog later this week to vote for your favorite pie (um, this one, right?) Just do it!

I've been seeing beautiful concord grapes at the farmer's market lately, and my first thought was a lovely concord grape pie. A quick search on the interwebs turned up some promising recipe ideas. Then I remembered that my expert pie-making friend, Karol Lu, was making a Peanut Butter & Jelly Pie and using, duh, concord grapes... Geez...

Luckily, inspiration was as close by as my kitchen, where my roommate's CSA share included some of these Bosc beauties: 

The pears reminded me of a great recipe I posted for Pear & Cardamom Bread Pudding, and the thought of cardamom reminded me of the masala chai tea I had recently on a promising first date. I don't usually order chai, but he took me to Radiance Tea House and Bookstore where I was presented with an encyclopedic tea menu (and a second, slightly smaller book/menu of their iced tea varieties.) The chai was fantastic, if highly caffeinated, and the date wasn't bad either.
So chai-pie it was, with local pears from the McCarren Park Greenmarket and home-ground cardamom. I put my iTunes on shuffle and made this pie while thinking about Date #2, which was scheduled that evening.

Chai-spiced Pear Pie with Walnut Crumble Topping:
Use your favorite recipe for the crust. You can skip the topping and do a double crust pie, or adjust your recipe to only make enough dough for the bottom. For this pie, I used a puff pastry crust which was taking up valuable room in the tiny freezer of my new apartment.

To grind your own cardamom (recommended!): split open the cardamom pod with a blunt object and remove the seeds into a clean spice grinder, discarding the empty pods. Process until finely ground.

Dough for crust, plus flour for work surface. 

2 tablespoons lemon juice
3 lbs Bosc pears
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground ginger
1/8 teaspoons ground cloves
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground cardamom
1 tablespoon cold, unsalted butter, cut into cubes

3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1/8 teaspoon salt
5 tablespoons cold, unsalted butter, cut into 1/2" pieces
1/2 cup walnuts, chopped

On a lightly floured surface, roll out your desired dough for the crust and arrange in a 9" pie plate; chill for 30 minutes.
Preheat oven to 425 degrees with a baking sheet on the center rack.

Put the lemon juice into a large mixing bowl. Peel, core and cut the pears into 1/2" slices, adding them to the lemon juice as you go, to prevent browning. Toss occasionally to coat the slices. Add flour, brown sugar, salt, fennel seeds, cinnamon, ginger, cloves and cardamom. Gently stir until the pears are evenly coated.

In a medium bowl, combine the flour, brown sugar, cinnamon, cardamom, cloves and salt. Add the butter and mix together with your fingers until large clumps form. Stir in the walnuts. Chill until ready to use.

Assemble and Bake:
Fill the prepared dough with the pear mixture, dot with the cold butter. Loosely tent with foil and bake on the baking sheet for about 30 minutes, until pears are beginning to soften. Remove from oven and reduce temperature to 375 degrees. Sprinkle crumb topping over the filling and return to oven for another 50-60 minutes, until the top is browned and the pears are cooked through.

Cool on a rack for 2-3 hours.


In case you're wondering, date #2 went so well that I invited him in for pie. Then I got really nervous that it was going to be terrible, but he really liked it! (or at least pretended to!) This pie might not win the Just Food tickets, but it may have won me Date #3...


My City Kitchen

While looking for my first apartment in New York City, one of the many brokers I met offered the following pearl of wisdom:
There are three real factors to consider when choosing your apartment and you will have to sacrifice at least one: price, size or location.
He obviously didn't know me at all or he would have included "The Kitchen."  City kitchens are often tiny, cramped spaces with undersized appliances and poor lighting. Counter space? Why bother? I was amazed at what was sacrificed in order to make more room for the rest of the apartment. One place I saw had a tiny corner with a sink, 2 burner stove and single cabinet. The refrigerator was 4 1/2 feet high by 2 feet wide and was tucked into the closet outside the bathroom.

How do you make magic happen in a kitchen like that? The kitchen should be the place where everyone congregates at parties. Where affectionate hugs and great conversations just happen. Where serendipity or creativity lead to new culinary inventions! I wanted all these things to happen in my kitchen. I wanted room to chop and mix and knead!

After a long search, I moved into a 400 square foot studio with my boyfriend for an outlandish price. We didn't know it at the time, but the location turned out to be good. My kitchen, however, was great considering what I was up against. It was a cute little L shape with lots of cabinets and space above them for storage. I painted the ceiling and trim blue and brown. I added a freestanding cabinet (not pictured,) which gave me even more storage and another work surface. I lined up all my cookbooks in a row, next to the few bottles of booze that made up my home bar. There was still room for my red stockpot and dutch oven, plus my collection of Saveur & Gourmet magazines. The microwave fit on top of the fridge with room for a large roasting pan and wok to go on top. The spice rack went up over the stove - which was convenient, but for the record, is not the best place for spices because of the heat!

We lived in that apartment for two years. I made cola-glazed ham for Easter and a startlingly perfect turkey for Thanksgiving - think Norman Rockwell. For my boyfriend's birthday, I made his favorite dessert from scratch: chocolate cream pie. I learned how to poach the perfect egg. We squeezed our friends around our table for dinner parties and sat for leisurely brunches with the crossword puzzle and the cat. In the end, the apartment was just too small, but I did love my kitchen. Everything had it's place, and nothing was out of reach.

The great thing about living in a big city and squeezing yourself into a tiny apartment kitchen is that you are forced to be innovative with your space. I am always amazed at what people do to make their kitchens workable. If you have a city kitchen you want to share, or know of one, please send an email and let me know about it!


The 6th Annual Great Hot Dog Cookoff - A Doggone good time


photo by Wendy Ploger
We totally rocked it again this year! Despite the sweltering heat and humidity, twenty-one chefs, five fancy judges, more than fifty volunteers and almost six hundred (!) hungry hot dog lovers came out to Kelso Beer Company for the 6th Annual Great Hot Dog Cookoff!

I have to admit, I had my doubts that it was going to work. As a co-organizer for the third year in a row, I was sweating it - literally. The temperature on the forecast for our set-in-stone event date kept rising and the whole week leading up was hotter than heck. There were severe weather alerts advising against prolonged exposure outside. And we were asking our chefs to yes, please come outside and oh, by the way, stand next to a six-foot grill filled with hot coals all day.

We had conference calls. We brainstormed. We bought a sprinkler and crossed our fingers. How would we make our goal for our charity? Would the oppressive heat keep people away? Apparently not, because as the big day approached, the tickets kept selling.  

On the morning of the cook-off, slathered in sunscreen, I arrived on the street in front of the brewery ready to make the best of it. As the volunteers began to arrive, I noticed...a nice breeze! And shade! This isn't going to be so bad, I thought. Now if only everyone shows up...

I'll just cut to the chase and say, Hooray! You did show up! You did drink and eat hot dogs and laugh and dance in the street - and then you ate more hot dogs! You had smiles on your faces all day and you definitely didn't pass out from heat stroke! You ran through our sprinkler! You sampled ice cream and soda and condiments! It was awesome. 

What can I say about the chefs? My amazing chefs! This year the bar was raised. These people put thought and care and creativity into their work and then executed on-site to delicious results. Plus, they showed up! My eternal thanks.

photo by Wendy Ploger

Our expert judges had a lot of tough choices to make, but this group knows hot dogs for sure. We had butchers Sara Bigelow from The Meat Hook and T.J. Burnham from Marlow & Daughters, Rich Crosby of Bark Hot Dogs, Pnina Peled, a chef and Chopped champion, and Scott Gold, food writer and author of The Shameless Carnivore. Trust me, this groups knows a thing or two about hot dogs.

photo by Wendy Ploger

It wouldn't be TGHDCO without our charming and entertaining MC, George Duran, and our amazing DJ - Rabbi Darkside. The two had the crowd laughing and dancing all day.

photo by Wendy Ploger

Of course we couldn't have done it without our amazing group of volunteers and sponsors - both our loyal friends from previous years and our new friends who volunteer with the Food Bank for New York City. Again, props for just being there, and kudos for the hard work. (By the way, that's my mom in the hat. Thanks for coming, mom!)

photo by Wendy Ploger

Please remember to visit our sponsors and try their products - you won't be disappointed. Kelso served up thirst-quenching beers all day, Applegate provided their aptly named Great Organic Hot Dogs, Sodastream and P&H Soda teamed up again to offer sodas and there was ice cream from SoCo Creamery. Folks enjoyed samples from our condiment crew: My Friend's Mustard, Sol Sauce and Rick's Picks. Lovely raffle items and prizes came from: Wustof, Le Creuset, Bulldog Gin, The Brooklyn Kitchen, Illy Coffee, Crif Dogs and Olivino Wines.

Did I mention that we raised $12,000 for the Food Bank? That's right - all the hard work and contributions of the chefs, volunteers, sponsors and organizers go towards our goal of supporting organizations that work locally to combat hunger and provide nutrition education and advocacy for the food impoverished. We weren't sure we'd hit our goal, but we did - more than double from the previous year! Thank you, thank you, thank you!

photo by Wendy Ploger
We come together once a year for the love of hot dogs, beer, music, fun and fundraising, of course, but there's also the element of competition. Our chefs all concocted amazing hot dogs, but at the end of the day, some tough decisions had to be made. So here are this year's ribbon winners, but of course you are all winners in my recipe book!

Judge's Awards:
Blue Ribbon (Best in Show):  You're Going to Need a Bigger Boat - David & Danielle Estorino
Red Ribbon (2nd Place): The Dustin Dog - Tailgate Joe & Sal Caluccio
Yellow Ribbon (3rd Place): The 8 Fat Fat 8 Lucky Dog

Audience Awards:
Blue Ribbon (Top Dog): Southwest Harlem Corn Dog - Adam Nalawajek & Carolyn Gamanos
Red Ribbon (2nd Place): Seoul Thriller - Sung Lee & David Kim
Yellow Ribbon (3rd Place): Zia Dog - Marcos Salazar & Paul Smalera

Here are photos and write-ups to keep you busy for a while. Are there any pics of you? Are you dancing? Running through a sprinkler? Shoving a hot dog in your face? Awesome! Thanks for coming and see you next year!

The Great Hot Dog Cookoff on Facebook
The Great Hot Dog Cookoff Official Photographer - Wendy Ploger
NYT - The Local
Donuts 4 Dinner
The Hot Dog I Ate
Local Bozo
Kelso's Cookoff Video
The Brooklyn Paper
Brooklyn Exposed


Rhubarb & Ginger Sparkler

Rhubarb Gin Sparkler

I've been thinking a lot about homemade soda lately. I happen to own a SodaStream - a simple device for making fizzy water at home. Of course, you can add more than lemon to your home-bubbled H2O like we did at the Hot Dog Cookoff using P&H's delicious and natural soda syrups in Ginger, Lime, Hibiscus and Cream flavors.

It's also easy to make your own flavored syrups. Dave (of Dave's Kitchen) has a good post about using summer berries here.

I was inspired to make a rhubarb and ginger syrup after getting a bunch of rhubarb in my CSA share. I had a bottle of Bulldog gin just begging to be made into a stiff summer drink, so it was an obvious pairing.

Now, I know what you're thinking. Rhubarb's come and gone already. Well, you are mostly right, but I actually saw it for sale this week at The Garden in Greenpoint, Brooklyn.  Plus, some of you, like me, might have some tucked away in the freezer. Rather than save this recipe for next June, here it is now - feel free to adapt it to by subbing in a more seasonally-appropriate fruit - how about a peach & ginger syrup that you mix with Bourbon? Yum!

Chopped Rhubarb

Rhubarb Ginger Syrup
Makes about 2 cups
2 cups chopped rhubarb
1 cup sugar
6-7 1/8" slices of ginger
1 1/2 cups water

Put all ingredients in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until rhubarb is very soft, about 25 minutes. Allow to cool for a bit, then strain through a fine mesh sieve into a clean glass jar or bowl, pressing on the solids to extract as much liquid as possible.

You can save the the rhubarb solids to use like jam (seriously - spread that jam on hot buttered toast!!) or mix into yogurt - just be sure to pick out the ginger.

For the sparklers:
Pour about 2 ounces of syrup into a glass with ice, add fizzy water and a twist of lemon. Taste, add more syrup if you like it sweeter.

You know what to do. Add a jigger of gin or vodka to the sparkler above for a grown-up drink. Enjoy!


Orzo, Feta & Kalamata Salad

I want to pretend that I made this refreshing pasta salad myself on Sunday, but the truth is that I was hung over and sunburned from the previous day’s festivities at The Great Hot Dog Cook-Off. The thought of another hot dog, or for that matter anything actually hot, set my stomach churning. My roommate came to my rescue with this delicious Greek inspired pasta salad.

By the way, don’t confuse orzo’s fun shape for rice. It’s really pasta. The word orzo means barley in Italian. In the United States, though, it’s pasta. Are we clear, here? It’s shaped like rice and means barley, but it’s pasta. Ok. Moving on: this is a quick and easy salad that is infinitely variable. Use good kalamata olives and feta and throw in some veggies along with a basic vinaigrette. My roommate used roasted red peppers, red onions and spinach, but tomatoes, basil, cucumbers, fresh bell peppers or scallions would have been great, too.

Orzo, Feta & Kalamata Olive Salad
recipe by Kristine Goldy
1/2 lb orzo
1 cup kalamata olives, coarsely chopped
1 cup chopped spinach
1/2 red onion, diced
1 roasted red pepper, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
juice of one lemon
1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar

Cook the orzo in salted boiling water until just tender, drain and rinse with cold water to stop the cooking. Add olives, spinach, onion, red pepper, garlic and feta. Combine olive oil, lemon juice and vinegar separately, then toss all ingredients together. Add salt and freshly ground pepper to taste. Chill for an hour to blend the flavors.


The Great Hot Dog Cookoff Returns!!

Think you've seen all that a hot dog can be? Think again. The Great Hot Dog Cookoff at Kelso Brewing Company on July 23rd will showcase 24 amateur chefs serving up their most inventive versions of this iconic American treat. No dirty water dogs here - instead expect creative topping combinations inspired by ethnic cuisine like Korean or Caribbean, and unusual buns or no buns at all, like 2009's hot dog ravioli.

Early reports indicate that there will also be a lot of hot dogs arriving "in the style of" other foods. Not to give anything away, but we're talking inventions like "pizza dogs" - maybe the wiener is wrapped and grilled with pepperoni then served with marinara sauce and mozzarella on an Italian hero.  I just made that up, but doesn't sound bad, right? Expect much better, because the chefs this year are going to blow your mind with their hot dog masterpieces.

You'll need something to wash down all those hot dogs you're stuffing your face with and Kelso Beer Company will keep the suds flowing along with pop made on-site by P&H Soda using SodaStream. Try locally made condiments by My Friend's Mustard, Rick's Picks and more, and don't forget dessert: SoCo Creamery will be dishing out samples of their amazing ice cream.

George Duran, hot dog-lover and host of TLC's Ultimate Cake-Off, will MC the event, while DJ Rabbi Darkside spins sweet summertime tunes. Even in broad daylight, this annual cookoff has turned into a dance party by the end of the afternoon on several occasions, so bring your I-just-might-dance-even-though-I'm-totally-stuffed shoes.

Best of all, the event is a fundraiser for the Food Bank for New York City. Each ticket entitles the bearer to an afternoon of hot dogs and beer, great music and a chance to vote for their favorite in the Audience Award category. All proceeds from ticket sales after expenses go to the charity, so you can feel good about helping fight hunger while eating great food and drinking great beer!

Did I mention that Applegate Farms is sponsoring the hot dogs this year?! Amazing! They're organic and they taste great!

Tickets are going fast - grab 'em here: TICKETS

The Great Hot Dog Cookoff
July 23rd @ 2 pm
Kelso Beer Company
529 Waverly Avenue, Brooklyn, NY 11238


Grilled Chicken Legs - Cheap & Tasty

I have a produce problem. I know I'm not alone. I go overboard at the farmer's market or grocery store, buying more than I can eat before some of it goes bad. It looks so good, sitting there being all healthy and fresh. I want to take it home with me. There's always a plan for each handful of snap peas or pint of berries, but inevitably some lovely recipe doesn't get made and the innocent veggie ends up  in the trash.

In an attempt to control my produce habit, I steeled myself before entering Trader Joe's on my last trip and swore to leave with only my TJ standards - (frozen berries for morning smoothies, flax seeds/oil, unsweetened cranberry juice, stevia) and meat. I wasn't sure what was at home in the vegetable drawer, but I knew that to satisfy my urge to buy, I needed to point myself towards proteins.

I skipped the relatively expensive steaks and tenderloins and found a package of organic chicken legs. I know it's not the prettiest thing to look at, but the proof is on the label: 1.7 pounds of legs for $3.36! Plus, TJ's claims that these are free-range and raised without antibiotics.

Back at home, I decided to cook the chicken on my gas grill. I also have a charcoal grill, but for legs, the gas grill works really well because of the longer cooking time. I made up an easy spice paste and slathered it all over the legs and under the skin.

While the chicken cooked, I went to the vegetable drawer on a rescue mission. I found bibb lettuce, red pepper and scallions and put together a big side salad. Once the legs were charred to perfection, I sat down to a simple but satisfying weekday supper. The two legs I ate cost about $1.50 and the salad was money already spent that wasn't going to waste. (Maybe about another $2.50 worth of food.) Overall, a lot of flavor without breaking the bank and the satisfaction of using up some of my produce.

Recipe: Grilled Chicken Legs with Spice Paste

For the spice paste:
2 teaspoons ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon paprika
1/8 teaspoon cayenne (add more if you like it spicy)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon sugar
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon lemon juice

1 1/2 - 2 pounds chicken legs with skin
Lemon wedges for serving

Preheat grill with all burners on.

Mix up all ingredients for spice paste and rub over chicken legs and under skin. Refrigerate until grill is ready.

Turn one side of grill off completely. Arrange legs on cooler side of grill and close the lid. Leave for 10-15 minutes, then turn each leg over. Close and cook for another 5 minutes. Move chicken to hot side and grill until nicely browned on all sides, about 4-5 more minutes. Be sure to keep an eye on the chicken while browning - move it out of flare-ups and keep turning frequently. Serve with lemon wedges and something green and fresh.