Vanilla Pecan Pie

No holiday meal would be complete without dessert, pie or cake being the choice of many people. But some are divided on what is the better.

Fans of cake cite its sweetness and melt-in-your-mouth qualities. Pie lovers will counter that pie is sweet, too, but in a more subtle and complex way. Plus it has a delicious crust.

For those two different camps, I suggest a combination of the two, such as the following from McCormick, in which cheesecake meets pecan pie in a smooth and decadent seasonal dessert.

Vanilla Pecan Pie
1 pie crust
1 8-ounce package cream cheese, softened
3 eggs, divided
¾ cup sugar, divided
4 teaspoons vanilla extract, divided
½ cup light corn syrup
3 tablespoons butter, melted
¼ teaspoon salt
2 cups pecan pieces, toasted
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Prepare crust using 9-inch deep dish pie plate. Beat cream cheese, 1 of the eggs, ¼ cup of the sugar and 2 teaspoons of the vanilla in large bowl with electric mixer on medium speed until well-blended and smooth. Spread evenly on bottom of crust. Bake 15 minutes.
Beat remaining 2 eggs and ½ cup sugar in large bowl with wire whisk until smooth. Add corn syrup, butter, remaining 2 teaspoons vanilla and salt; stir until well-blended. Sprinkle pecans evenly over baked cream cheese layer. Slowly pour corn syrup mixture over nuts.
Bake 35 to 40 minutes or until just set in center. Cool completely on wire rack.
Yield: Serves 10.
Approximate nutritional analysis per serving: 506 calories, 34 grams fat, 43 grams carbohydrates, 96 milligrams cholesterol, 307 milligrams sodium. 2 grams dietary fiber, 7 grams protein.

Buttermilk Pie

Do you remember a time when you could find thick, rich buttermilk — the kind that would make a spoon stand up straight and have the tang of yogurt but was just a bit thinner? If your answer is yes, there’s a good chance you are as old or older than me.

One of my fondest memories of my youth was when Dad would bring buttermilk home in a half-gallon glass container from a dairy in Twin Valley, Minn. He would pour some in a big glass and season it with a bit of salt and pepper before gulping it down. My brother, Kevin, and I soon were following in his footsteps.

These days, it’s hard, if not impossible, to find that kind of buttermilk, which probably was fermented by natural bacteria. Now, with the rise of large commercial dairies,  much of the buttermilk today is made with reduced-fat milk instead of the old-fashioned way of adding active cultures to regular milk or “sweet” milk.

I learned a bit about this from reading a Chicago Tribune article by food writer Bill Daley. He quoted author Debbie Moose, whose book “Buttermilk” soon will be published by the University of North Carolina Press as part of its “Savor the South Cookbook” series. Moose said that small dairies are the likely best sources for thick buttermilk, but finding one of them and buying their products can be a challenge.

Daley did find one outlet, a company in Kalona, Iowa, selling organic buttermilk and a variety of other products under the Kalona SuperNatural label. I don’t know if it’s available around here. But I plan on doing a little research to see if it or something similar is available. And if successful, I may try it in the following recipe for buttermilk pie.

Buttermilk Pie
2 unbaked pie shells
2½ cups sugar
½ cup butter, melted
½ cup flour
1 pint buttermilk
2 eggs beaten
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon vanilla
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Beat eggs, add sugar and flour. Stir in buttermilk and flavorings. Add melted butter. Divide evenly between two 9-inch unbaked pie shells. Bake for 45 minutes. Top should be golden brown, and center firm. Cool on wire racks before serving.
Yield: 2 9-inch pies.

Strawberry Rhubarb Crumb Pie

What do you think is the most anticipated fresh produce of spring? Could it be asparagus? Or how about spinach? Both rank among the favorites of people in the Midwest.

For me, it’s all about rhubarb, as I imagine it is for most of the people who plan on attending University Lutheran Church’s annual Rhubarb Festival from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. June 9.

By then, there’ll will plenty of rhubarb to go around. But for now, anyone who wants a tasty rhubarb dessert will have rely on what’s left in the freezer leftover from last summer.

And for those who do, here’s a recipe from the folks at Spice Islands  to try. The rest of you will have to wait at least a week or two.

Strawberry Rhubarb Crumb Pie
2 cups fresh strawberries, sliced
2 cups fresh rhubarb, sliced ½-inch thick
½ cup sugar
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon pure almond extract
1 prepared pie crust, unbaked
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
6tablespoons butter or margarine
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Gently combine strawberries, rhubarb, ½ cup sugar, 3 tablespoons flour, and almond extract. Spoon mixture into pie crust. Set aside.
Mix brown sugar, 1 cup flour, cinnamon and nutmeg in medium bowl. Cut in butter until mixture resembles coarse meal. Sprinkle over fruit pie; pat down topping gently with hands.
Place pie on baking sheet; bake for 30 to 35 minutes. Cool. Serve with whipped cream or ice cream, if desired. Store leftovers in refrigerator.

Classic Lattice Apple Pie

There are a lot recipes around for apple pie — some of them fancy and some of them simple. But when you get right down to it, apple pie is apple pie.

And there’s no doubt a lot of apple pies have been cooling on counters of countless homes up and down the valley recently. That’s because this time of the year, apples are abundant.

This fall, just about every apple tree I’ve seen has been loaded. One of my friends has an apple tree, and it is so much fruit that some of the branches are touching the ground.

Here’s an apple pie recipe that’s on the simple side and features the traditional lattice top. It calls for baking apples such as Granny Smith or Golden Delicious, but any of those Haralsons, Haralreds or Honey Crisps from your backyard tree will do just fine.

Classic Lattice Apple Pie
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons sugar
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, cold, cut in chunks
1/3 cup water
1 egg, separated
2 tablespoons rolled oats
1 tablespoon milk
8 baking apples (such as Granny Smith or Golden Delicious), peeled, cored and sliced (about 8 cups)
¾ cup sugar
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon nutmeg
¼ teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons water
2 tablespoons cornstarch
To make the crust, in the bowl of a food processor, pulse together the flour, salt and 1 tablespoon of the sugar. Add the butter and pulse until the mixture forms chunks the size of peas. Pulse in the water 1 tablespoon at a time just until the mixture forms a dough. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate for 30 minutes. Reserve the eggs, oats and milk for later.
Meanwhile, make the filling. In a large deep skillet, combine the apples with the sugar, vinegar, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt. Cook over medium heat, stirring and turning gently until the apples are just tender, about 5 minutes. Stir together the water and cornstarch, then add to the apples. Continue to cook until the juices thicken, about 1 minute. Set aside to cool.
Heat the oven to 350 degees. Place a pizza stone in the oven, if available.
Divide the dough into 2 pieces, one slightly larger than the other. On a floured surface, roll the larger piece out to a 12-inch circle. Fold the dough in half to make it easier to move, then transfer it to a 9-inch pie plate, unfolding it and allowing it to settle into the bottom. The crust should overhang the edge slightly.
In a small bowl, beat the egg white until slightly frothy. Brush it over the surface of the crust. Sprinkle the oats over the bottom of the crust, then spoon the apple filling into the crust.
On a floured surface, roll the smaller piece of dough to a 10-inch square. Using a pizza cutter or a paring knife, cut the dough into 1-inch strips. Weave the strips in a lattice across the top of the apple filling. Alternatively, roll the dough into a 10-inch circle and simply transfer to the top of the pie for a full crust.
Fold the overhang of the crust under the bottom crust, gently tucking them into the pie dish, then crimp the edge. Beat the egg yolk in a small bowl with the milk and brush over the surface of the pie crust. Sprinkle with the remaining tablespoon of sugar.
Bake on the pizza stone or on a baking sheet set on the rack in the lowest position of the oven until the crust is golden brown, about 45 minutes. Cool before cutting.
Yield: Serves 8.
Approximate nutritional analysis per serving: 480 calories, 43 percent of calories from fat, 24 grams fat (15 grams saturated, 75 milligrams cholesterol, 67 grams carbohydrates, 5 grams protein, 6 grams fiber, 310 milligrams sodium.

Strawberry-Rhubarb Pie

What’s your favorite homemade pie? I would be hard pressed to pick mine.

While it’s pretty hard to beat apple pie, I would have to say that rhubarb just might be my choice. And, of course, rhubarb pie and ice cream is a combination that’s hard to beat.

This being peak rhubarb season and with a crop of strawberries not too far down the road, here’s a recipe adapted from this month’s edition of Martha Stewart Living.

Strawberry-Rhubarb Pie
2½ cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1½ sticks (12 tablespoons) very cold unsalted butter, diced
½ cup very cold vegetable shortening, diced
¼ cup ice water
¼ cup vodka
1½ pounds rhubarb, cut into ¾-inch-long pieces (about 5 to 6 cups)
2 cups sliced strawberries
1½ cups sugar
¼ cup cornstarch
1 teaspoon finely grated orange zest, plus 1 tablespoon orange juice
Coarse salt
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1 large egg, lightly beaten, for egg wash
Sugar for sprinkling (optional)
To make the crust: In the bowl of a food processor, place the flour, sugar and salt; pulse to combine. Add the butter and shortening pieces. Process just until the mixture looks like coarse cornmeal. Sprinkle in 2 tablespoons of water and 2 tablespoons vodka, and pulse to combine. Continue adding vodka and water, 1 tablespoon at a time, until the dough comes together and is slightly tacky but sticks together. Divide dough into two even balls and flatten each into a 4-inch disk. Wrap each in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 30 minutes or up to 2 days.
To make the filling: Mix together rhubarb, strawberries, sugar, cornstarch, orange zest and juice, and ¼ teaspoon salt.
To finish the pie: On a floured surface, roll out one dough disk so it’s 1/8-inch thick and will fit in a 9-inch pie plate. Place the dough in the pan, pour in the filling; dot top with butter. Refrigerate while making top crust.
Roll remaining disk to 1/8-inch thickness on a lightly floured surface. Cut into at least 10 inch-wide strips using a fluted pastry cutter.
Lay 5 strips across pie. Fold back every other strip, and lay a horizontal strip across the center of the pie. Unfold folded strips, then fold back remaining strips. Lay another horizontal strip across pie. Repeat folding and unfolding strips to weave a lattice pattern. Repeat on remaining side.
Trim bottom and top crusts to a 1-inch overhang using kitchen shears and press together to seal edges. Fold edges under, and crimp as desired. Refrigerate for 15 minutes.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Remove the pie from the refrigerator. Brush crust with egg wash, and sprinkle generously with sugar. Place a foil-lined baking sheet on the bottom rack to catch juices, and bake pie on middle rack for 30 minutes. After 30 minutes, reduce the temperature to 375 degrees and continue baking until filling is vigorously bubbling in center and bottom crust is golden, about 1 hour. (Tent loosely with foil after 1 hour if crust is browning too quickly.) Transfer pie to a wire rack, and let cool for at least 2 hours before serving.
Yield: Serves: 8 (generously).
Note: If making your own crust, chill the butter and shortening in the freezer to get it very cold. You can substitute store-bought ready-to-roll pie crust.
Approximate nutritional analysis per serving: 639 calories, 48 percent of calories from fat, 34 grams fat (15 grams saturated), 77 grams carbohydrates, 6 grams protein, 12 mg sodium, 66 mg cholesterol, 3 grams fiber.

Strawberry and Cheese Refrigerator Pie

Home-grown strawberries are a delicacy, one that a lot of people don’t get the opportunity to sample. Or if they do, it isn’t very often.

I was one of those people, but if things go right this summer, that all will change. I planted 10 strawberry plants in my garden, and Therese put another dozen or so in a Topsy Turvy Upside Down Strawberry Planter that she purchased, so we should get our fill.

My grandfather grew strawberries in his garden when I was growing up, which is part of the impetus behind my wanting to grow the tasty red orbs. I still recall picking them fresh from their bed and dipping them in a little sugar. (Of course, they were sweet enough the way it was, but try and tell an 8- or 9-year-old kid that.)

One recipe I hope to try once my strawberries start to produce is a refrigerator pie that’s made with a graham cracker crust and cream cheese. Sound yummy? I bet it will be.

Here’s the recipe for the pie. For those of you who won’t have your own strawberries, remember that supermarkets always have a nice supply of them during the summer months.

Strawberry and Cheese Refrigerator Pie
1 9-inch prepared graham cracker pie crust, preferably whole-wheat
4 ounces reduced-fat cream cheese
¼ cup reduced-fat sour cream
2 tablespoons extra-fine sugar
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
1 pound  strawberries
½ cup strawberry fruit spread
1 teaspoons lemon juice (optional)
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Place crust on baking sheet and bake for 8 minutes, or until golden and fragrant. Transfer to wire rack and cool completely. This can be done 8 hours ahead.
Place cream cheese, sour cream, sugar, lemon zest and vanilla in small bowl. Blend until combined and smooth, using hand mixer on medium speed or wooden spoon. Spread cheese mixture evenly over bottom of pie crust. Refrigerate until set, 1 to 2 hours.
Just before serving, cut off tops of strawberries. Halve largest, prettiest ones and place in bowl. Cut remaining berries lengthwise in quarters and place in another bowl. Melt fruit spread in bowl in microwave, or in small saucepan over medium heat, stirring often. Mix in lemon juice, if using, and divide hot fruit spread between two bowls of berries. Using fork, toss until fruit is coated and glistening.
Spoon quartered fruit into the center of pie over cheese, turning most pieces cut side down as you spread them out. Arrange larger halves in circle around edge of pie, with flat side facing rim of crust and points toward the center of the pie. Spoon on any fruit spread remaining in bowls to fill in open spaces. Serve pie within 1 hour.
Yield: Serves 8.
Approximate nutritional analysis per serving: 262 calories, 11 grams fat (3.5 grams saturated), 39 grams carbohydrates, 3 grams protein, 2 grams dietary fiber, 219 milligrams sodium.

Better Than Pecan Pie!

My favorite dessert is pie. To be specific, rhubarb or apple pie. But that’s not to say I will turn down other desserts that don’t happen to be pie.

In about a week or so, I’m going to get a chance to sample a bunch of different desserts at the Second Annual Dessert Challenge at McVille (N.D.) Days. Last year, my colleague, Marilyn Hagerty, helped judge the contest, which had about 25 entries according to Sandi Johnson of the McVille Planning Committee.

But getting back to pie, I neglected to name another of my favorites — pecan pie. Pecans are one of those foods that are getting a lot of attention for their health benefits. A new study suggests pecans may delay progression of motor neuron degeneration in afflictions such as amyotropic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease.

Researchers at the Center for Cellular Neurobiology at the University of Massachusetts Lowell also suggest that vitamin E— a natural antioxidant found in pecans — may provide a key element to neurological protection shown in the study. Antioxidants are nutrients found in foods that help protect against cell damage and studies have shown can help fight diseases like Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, cancer and heart disease. Pecans are the most antioxidant-rich tree nut and are among the top 15 foods to contain the highest antioxidant capacity, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. (For more information on the health benefits of pecans, recipes, photos and much more, visit

It’s great to know that eating something as good (and some may say decadent) as pecan pie may actually be good for our health.

Here’s an interesting pecan dessert recipe from the National Pecan Shellers Association, a nonprofit trade association that is committed to educating culinary and health professionals, food technologists and the general public about the nutritional benefits, variety of uses and all-around great taste of pecans.

If it’s as good as it’s name suggests, it’s probably worth a try. 

Banana Pecan Strudel (Better Than Pecan Pie!)
Phyllo Dough
1 to 2 Bananas (preferably red bananas)
1 t lemon juice
¼ cup butter, melted
1 tablespoon cane sugar
2 teaspoons cinnamon
2 teaspoons ground ginger
¼ cup pecans
If you are using frozen Phyllo dough, remove from freezer. It should sit at room temperature for at least an hour. Lightly toast the pecans in a 450-degree oven until they are just hot, about 5 minutes. Finely chop, and set aside. Reduce the heat on the oven to 425. In a small bowl, combine the sugar, cinnamon and ginger. Set aside. Slice the banana longways into ¼-inch thick strips. Sprinkle with the lemon juice and set aside. Using a pastry brush, coat the bottom of your baking dish with a bit of the melted butter. Place one sheet of phyllo in the bottom of the dish and brush with butter. Repeat with about 3 more piece of phyllo, lightly brushing after each piece. Add a layer of the bananas. Top with 3 layers of phyllo, brushing with butter after each piece. Add a layer of honey, squeezing or dribbling as you might to top a waffle. Top with 3 layers of phyllo, brushing butter, etc. Add a layer of pecans. Sprinkle with the cinnamon sugar mixture. Top with 3 layers of phyllo, brushing with butter. Add another layer of honey. Top with 3 layers of phyllo, brushing with butter. Sprinkle the top with some of the remaining cinnamon/sugar mixture and chopped pecans. Trim any phyllo edges that protrude from the baking dish. Cut a few air vents in the top few layers. Bake for about 15 minutes, or until golden brown. Allow to cool for a least 10 minutes before devouring. If desired, top with a bit more honey.
Yield: Serves 1.

Pecan Pie

My former co-worker and friend, Naomi Dunavan, and her husband, Jim, recently returned from a trip to the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia, where they had a wonderful time.

While on their trip, they got together for dinner with Barb and Warren Halvorson, two of my old friends and co-workers, who now live there.

Over the course of conversation, Barb mentioned to Naomi that she would like my mom’s recipe for pecan pie. Barb recalled that I once brought one to work when she and Warren were at the Herald and thought it tasted wonderful. So, I obliged her and sent the recipe via e-mail.

It’s true, my mom does make great pecan pie. It’s one of my favorites. I remember years back, when my Aunt Harriet and Uncle Curt would go to Gulf Shores, Ala., for a couple of months during the winter. They always brought Mom back a bag of pecans, and naturally she used most of them for pie.

Here’s my mom’s recipe for pecan pie. I hope you enjoy it!

Pecan Pie
3 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
2/3 cup sugar
½ teaspoonp salt
1/3 cup or margarine, melted
1 cup dark Karo syrup
1 cup pecans
Beat eggs. Add sugar, salt, butter and syrup and mix with a hand beater. Stir in nuts. Pour into unbaked pastry shell. Bake at 325 for 40 to 50 minutes or until filling sets.

Very Cherry Day

Thursday was a very cherry day for me.

That’s because a friend of mine, Marty Berg, e-mailed me to say that the Nanking cherry bush at my old house near University Park had produced an abundant crop of berries this summer, and he was wondering if I wanted some. I immediately replied yes and went there after having supper and walking my dogs.

I was rewarded with a large container of the berries, which also are know as also known as Korean cherry, Manchu cherry, Downy cherry, Shanghai cherry, Ando cherry, Mountain cherry, Chinese Bush cherry, Chinese Dwarf cherry or Hansen’s Bush Cherry. They are native to northern and western China (including Tibet), Korea, Mongolia and possibly northern India.

Before moving, I thoroughly enjoyed the fruit, which is sweet but slightly tart. I ate them right off the bush and also made some jam one year.

I’m not sure what we’ll do with this year’s batch, but the following recipe has given me some ideas, especially since we have an abundance of raspberries, and blueberry season in nearly upon us.

Very Berry Pie
1 cup cherry preserves (see note)
¼ cup sugar
3 tablespoons cornstarch
½ pound blueberries
¾ pound raspberries
2 teaspoons butter
Prepare pastry (see recipe below). Roll out the smaller round of chilled pastry into a 9-inch circle. Using a pastry wheel, slice into strips ¾-inch wide. Line a baking pan with parchment or waxed paper. Calmly weave a lattice onto the paper. Brush with milk, sprinkle with sugar. Slide pan into the freezer for at least 15 minutes.
Roll out the larger round of pastry into an 11-inch circle. Fit into a 9-inch tart pan with a removable bottom. Chill.
Scrape preserves into a large bowl. Stir together sugar and cornstarch, sprinkle onto preserves, mix thoroughly. Roll in blueberries and raspberries. Add butter, cut into bits. Using a rubber spatula, mix gently.
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Set chilled crust on top. Pile fruit mixture into the crust. Settle frozen lattice on top.
Slide into a 400-degree oven and bake until crust is light brown, 25 minutes. Cover loosely with foil and continue baking until the crust turns golden brown and the juices bubble, 20 to 25 minutes more. Cool on a rack completely before sliding off ring and slicing.
Yield: Serves 8.

Sour-Cream Pie Pastry
In a large bowl whisk together 1¾ cups flour, 1 tablespoon sugar and ¾ teaspoon salt. Tumble in ½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into small cubes.
With quick fingers, work butter into flour until bits range in size from specks to peas. Stir together 1/3 cup sour cream, 2 teaspoons lemon juice and 2 tablespoons cold water.
Pour cream mixture over flour mixture. Toss with a fork to form lumps. If the pastry looks dry, drizzle on 1 to 2 tablespoons cold water. Turn out, knead once or twice. Divide pastry into 2 discs, 1 slightly larger than the other.
Wrap and chill at least 1 hour.