Category Archives: Recipes

Flaky Cream Cheese Pie Crust

Rose Levy Beranbaum is one of my favorite recipe authors.  Her Cake Bible is a stand alone work of complete brilliance.  You should definitely visit her website and blog at   Ms. Beranbaum’s recipes are tested, written out with both volumes and weights (this alone gives her a special place in my heart), and are well explained and scientifically documented.  Really, I cannot sing this woman’s praise enough!

REFERENCE: The Pie and Pastry Bible by Rose Levy Beranbaum page 29-31

As I don't keep pastry flour on hand, I used a mixture of all-purpose flour, and . . .

As I don’t keep pastry flour on hand, I used a mixture of all-purpose flour, and . . .

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Blueberry Pie Filling

Very soon it will be the pi (π) day – the biggest π day this century – 3/14/15!  In honor of such a glorious holiday (math nerds and foodies UNITE!), pie is definitely called for.  As I have the pleasure of working that day, cream and custard pies are not an option.  (Such pies just don’t have much room temperature stability and don’t travel very well, either.)  And there are no local fresh fruit options available in Nebraska in March.  My favorite fruit pies are peach (really only available in late summer) and any type of berry.  Unfortunately, most berries don’t stand up well to mixing or baking as they are just too delicate.  (Berries do better in a lighter chiffon or cream pie as then they can just be poured into a single crust pie.  But then we are back to the problem of room temperature stability.  Umpf!)  Happily the small but mighty blueberry is an exception!  Available frozen all year round, and *almost* as good as fresh, blueberry pie can be made whenever the craving for a good fruit pie strikes!

REFERENCE: SCC Culinary School, Food Prep Fundamentals II Lab Recipe


Ingredient Prep Time:  30 minutes + time to thaw blueberries

Oven Temperature:  375° F or 190°C

Baking Time:  45-60 minutes (or 1 hour 30-45 minutes from frozen)

MAKES:  one 9-inch pie (6-8 slices)

Draining the thawed blueberries

Draining the thawed blueberries

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Tea Smoked Duck

This was probably the biggest hit in at my Chinese New Year’s party.  For those of you who have never had duck before, it will be a life-altering revelation on the world of poultry.  Previously the only poultry I really had any experience with was chicken and turkey.  Personally, I am really not a fan of either.  Despite the most heroic of efforts, the Thanksgiving turkey is often dry and bland.  The same generally holds true of chicken.  Really my favorite chicken recipes are ones that bury the chicken in enough other flavors and fat that you barely notice it.  But duck!  Oh my!  Duck has real fat in it – it has NOT been turned into a lean, almost inedible, mass produced meat product.  It actually has flavor!

Per the cookbook Chinese Feasts & Festivals, smoked duck is a specialty of Sichuan and Hunan, two interior provinces of Chinese which often specialize in a more spicy Chinese cuisine.  But this dish is not spicy hot.  This Chinese style Tea Smoked Duck is tender, rich, and softly scented with a sweet tea aroma.

Fresh Duck can be a little challenging to source.  You best beat are large grocery stories that sell to a large immigrant population.  And I would always call beforehand, too.  Mexican and Asian grocery stores are another great place to check, but be comfortable about their refrigeration policies.

Fresh Duck can be a little challenging to source. Your best beat are large grocery stories that sell to a large immigrant population. And I would always call beforehand, too. Mexican and Asian grocery stores are another great place to check, but be comfortable about their refrigeration policies.

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Banana Baklava with Toffee Drizzle

Banana Baklava with Toffee Sauce

Banana Baklava with Toffee Sauce

Although I absolutely love baklava, it is often treated like a holiday treat in my house because it is so time consuming to make and rather expensive (walnuts and phyllo dough aren’t cheap). Also, the rich, nutty, heavily seasoned filling conjures up thoughts of Christmas evenings spent around a fireplace with a warm cup of spiced apple cider. (Okay, so this never actually happened in my house, but it sure happens a lot on TV, and sometimes I just want to borrow those cheesy, staged memories.) But then I came across a recipe for banana baklava in the July/Aug 2014 issue of Entertain Decorate Celebrate. (This is like a magazine version of Pinterest but a lot more organized.) Fruit in baklava? What an awesome idea! (Why haven’t I thought of that before?) I thought I would try their recipe first, and then break into different variations with other fruits . . . mango baklava, anybody?

Figure 1: Always, always, always prepare your pan in advance. Otherwise you will end up trying to un-pour something while barking expletives your cats should never hear.

Figure 2: I hate measuring by volume, so I weigh pretty much everything.

Figure 3: Don’t even consider using anything but real, wonderful butter. Here it is divided for use in the syrup and for the phyllo sheets.

Figure 4: Everything needed to make toffee syrup – yum!

Figure 5: Start the syrup by melting the butter.

Figure 6: Add the brown sugar to give it a nice deep caramelized flavor.

Figure 7: I could drink sweetened condensed milk. However, here I actually refrain from doing so to add it to the syrup.

Figure 8: The corn syrup is added not only for its slight sweetness, but also to give the syrup a nice high gloss.

Figure 9: As you can see, the syrup has a nice caramel color and is as shiny and glossy as a new car’s paint job.

Figure 10: Always add vanilla off heat – you want to keep that heavenly scent in the syrup and not send it off skyward. (It looks like I am still on the stove, but I have moved to a cool burner.)

Figure 11: I generally don’t use the very tip of my knife – it was just easier to photograph this way.

Figure 12: Although this picture is a bit blurry, you can see that I have laid the phyllo sheets on a sheet of wax paper, covered them with another sheet of wax paper, and then laid moist paper towels over that. This keeps the phyllo moist and pliable.

Figure 13: I have buttered the first sheet – I like to use a plastic pastry brush because it cleans easier and can be sanitized (as opposed to a wooden one which should be hand washed, this plastic one can go in the dishwasher!)

Figure 14: I didn’t think anybody could improve upon the spiced honey syrup of traditional baklava until I came across toffee syrup. I refrained from drinking it. Mostly.

Figure 15: Here I used walnuts, but I think next time I would like to try unsalted pistachios.

Figure 16: Bananas, quite possibly the world’s perfect fruit.

Figure 17: If you don’t score the phyllo before baking, cutting it afterwards will merely result in a flaky mess and tears. But looking back, I wish I would have cut diagonals as it is really rich and these pieces were a bit large.

Figure 18: Bake until a nice nut brown and crispy.

Figure 19: Here I did not use a squeezee to decorate the top layer of toffee syrup and I poured out in a blob-y mess. Next time – squeezee bottle for nice, elegant striping.

REFERENCE: Cookbook Entertain Decorate Celebrate magazine July/Aug 2014 page 88


Ingredient Prep Time: 30-45 minutes

Oven Temperature: 350° F or 175°C

Baking Time: 35 minutes

MAKES: 30 servings

volume ounces grams
unsalted butter, divided 1 1/2 c 12 oz 340 g
firmly packed brown sugar 2 c 15 3/8 oz 435 g
sweetened condensed milk 1 can 14 oz 535 g
light corn syrup 1/2 c 6 oz 170 g
vanilla extract 1 tsp
finely chopped walnuts 1 c  4 oz  115 g
bananas, sliced in 1/2 inch rounds 4 each 15 oz 425 g
thawed phyllo dough 1/2 package 16 oz 450 g


13×9-inch baking dish


  1. Preheat oven to 350° F (175° C). Spray a 13×9-inch baking dish with baking spray with flour; set aside.
  2. In a large skillet, melt ½ cup (4 oz) butter over medium heat. Add brown sugar, sweetened condensed milk, and light corn syrup stirring to combine. Cook over medium heat for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat. Transfer 1 cup to a squeezee bottle, if available, to aid in decorating.
  3. Slowly melt remaining cup (8 oz) butter over low heat. Once melted, clarify the butter by skimming off the foamy top layer of milk solids, and slowly pouring off the middle golden butterfat while leaving the bottom layer of water. Note: I have used both clarified and unclarified (whole) butter in baklava. While the use of clarified butter is more traditional and some argue it insures a crisper product, I have used whole butter with no major adverse effects.
  4. Place 1 sheet phyllo in bottom of prepared dish. Brush with melted butter. Repeat procedure with phyllo and butter 5 times. Spread main batch of toffee sauce over phyllo; sprinkle with walnuts and top with banana slices.
  5. Place 1 sheet phyllo over bananas. Brush with melted butter. Continue layering remaining phyllo, brushing with butter in between each sheet. Brush top with melted butter. Score baklava into diamonds with a sharp knife and bake for 30-35 minutes or until golden brown. Squeezee/pour remaining toffee sauce over baklava immediately after removing from oven. (The baklava must still be hot while the sauce is room temperature to get the proper contrast of textures.)
  6. Let cool completely before serving.


    Although the baklava will lose some of its crispness as it sets, baklava can be kept at room temperature for a few days. Personally, I recommend making it the day before.


Phyllo dough can be a hassle. Here are some tips:

  • Purchase phyllo dough from stores that sell a lot of it, so it hasn’t been in the freezer long. Also, check the expiration date on the box. (Generally, one can *assume* that a more highend grocer will have greater turnover on phyllo dough.)
  • Keep it frozen in your shopping basket – it will thaw quickly. Grab it on your way to the checkout register and get it in your freezer at home ASAP.
  • If it partially thaws, moisture will build up in it, and will cause you problems later, so keep it frozen solid until you need it.
  • Allow it to slowly thaw in your refrigerator ~24 hours before you need it.
  • Have all your necessary equipment ready before breaking into the phyllo dough – butter, pastry brushes, nuts, etc.
  • Keep it from drying out by covering it with wax paper and then draping a lightly damp cloth over it while you are working.
  • Only use one sheet at a time and keep all the other sheets covered under the damp cloth.
  • Don’t give up after one attempt – the results will be worth it! Give it another go!