Sunday Suppers

Strawberry Shortcakes with Basil-Infused Whipped Cream

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It’s June! This is my absolute favorite month of the year. Beautiful weather, an open pool, baseball, strawberries, birthdays… oh the birthdays. More on that soon.

Not long after my last post, a professional opportunity presented itself that I simply could not turn down. The Gatsby and I packed up the Jeep and drove to Nebraska for a 7-week adventure (or, in The Gatsby’s case, a 7-week vacation at Grandpa’s house). There was some cooking, but mostly working and eating, little recipe-testing, and no blogging.

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The Gatsby spent part of our drive on my lap.

We’ve been back in Virginia for about two weeks and are settling in nicely after a lovely and relaxing Memorial Day weekend. I’m back at the gym, and I’ve been to the pool six times already. And I made these delicious shortcakes for an office shindig.

I LOVE whipped cream infused with herbs such as basil or mint. It’s unexpected and fun, and just a bit fancy without being over the top. These were easy to bring to the office. The night before, I infused the cream and made the shortcakes. In the morning, I whipped the cream and packed up the container along with a package of strawberries, the shortcakes, a few basil leaves, and a paring knife. At party time, I sliced the berries and set up a make-your-own assembly line.

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Strawberry Shortcakes with Basil-Infused Whipped Cream

Shortcakes from Bon Appetit
Serves 8

2 1/2 cups heavy cream, divided
15 large basil leaves, plus small or torn leaves
1/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
2 cups flour
6 tablespoons chilled unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1 egg
1 tablespoon water
3 tablespoons powdered sugar
1 lb strawberries, sliced

Infuse the cream: Bring 1 1/2 cups cream to a gentle simmer in a small saucepan over medium heat. Bruise large basil leaves by hitting repeatedly with the dull side of a knife; stir into cream. Remove from heat, cover tightly with plastic wrap, and let steep for 25 minutes. Strain through a fine sieve into a mixing bowl, pressing solids to extract liquid. Refrigerate until very cold, at least 5 hours.

Make the shortcakes: Preheat oven to 400°. Whisk sugar, baking powder, salt, and flour in a large bowl. Using your fingers, work in butter until the texture of coarse meal with some pea-sized pieces of butter remaining. Add remaining 1 cup cream and mix until dough just comes together (it will be sticky). Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and pat into a rectangle, about 12 x 4″, 3/4″ thick. Cut rounds using a 2 1/2″ biscuit cutter, re-rolling scraps to make 8 rounds. Transfer cakes to a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.

Whisk egg and water in a small bowl. Brush tops of cakes with egg wash. Bake until tops are golden brown, 15-20 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to cool. Make ahead: Shortcakes are best served fresh but can be made up to 2 days ahead of time.

Assemble: Beat the basil-infused cream and powdered sugar with an electric mixer until soft peaks form. Split shortcakes and fill with berries and whipped cream. Top with additional whipped cream and basil leaves.

Suggestions and alternatives:
If you like your strawberries saucy, increase to 1 1/4 pounds berries and toss with 1/4 cup sugar (and a few torn basil leaves if you like). Macerate for an hour or more, tossing occasionally.

Substitute angel food cake for the shortcakes. If you’re grilling out, try lightly grilling slices of angel food cake before serving.

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Classic Apple Pie

My boss’ birthday was a couple weeks ago, and unlike most of my coworkers, he doesn’t really care for cake or cookies. (Say whaaaaat?) He does, however, like pie — in particular, fruit pie.

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Fruit pies are best when the fruit is in season… which is hard to do in the middle of winter. Fortunately, good apples are available year-round, and apple pie is pretty easy. I used pre-made pie crusts this time, but we’ll save a pie crust lesson for a future post.

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Classic Apple Pie

2 pie crusts
5 cups thinly sliced, peeled apples (about 2 pounds)
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup flour
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/8 tsp allspice
Cooking spray
1 TBS unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1/2 tsp vanilla
1 TBS milk

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Fit one crust into a standard 9″ pie crust coated with cooking spray.

Place apples in a large bowl. Combine sugar, flour and spices and sprinkle over apples, tossing to coat. Spoon over prepared pie plate. Dot with butter and drizzle with vanilla. Top with remaining pie crust. Press edges together, fold excess crust under, and flute the edges. Brush surface with milk. Cut three one-inch slits into the crust.

Bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour until apples are tender.

Pork and Apple Pie with Cheddar-Sage Crust

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Ready to take your pie-making to the next level? Game on, kids.

This pork and apple pie is a show-stopper, but really not all that difficult. The flavors and textures are really fantastic together. If you don’t like sage — which personally is not my favorite — feel free to omit it, and you’ll still have a really flavorful dish.

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This is a basic butter pie crust, with some cheese folded in. Get the butter really cold (try putting it in the freezer for 15 minutes after you cube it) and don’t let the dough get too warm.

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When choosing apples, go for larger fruit in varieties that will hold their shape, like Granny Smith or Pink Lady. Slice them thinly for easy arranging.

Serve the pie warm or at room temperature, and store leftovers in the refrigerator.

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Pork and Apple Pie with Cheddar-Sage Crust

Adapted from The Apple Lover’s Cookbook

Serves 8-10

2 1/2 cups (350 g) flour, plus a little more
2 tsp dried sage, finely crumbled (optional)
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup (2 sticks) chilled unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
3 oz (85 g) sharp cheddar cheese, finely grated
6-8 TBS ice water
2 pounds firm apples (4-6 large) – try Granny Smith, Pink Lady, Jazz, Golden Delicious, or other firm fruit
2 TBS vegetable oil (or other cooking oil of your choice)
1 small onion, very finely chopped
1 1/2 pounds ground pork (15-17% fat)
1 TBS firmly packed light brown sugar
1 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp ginger
1/4 tsp ground allspice
1/8 tsp nutmeg
1 1/2 TBS plain breadcrumbs
1 egg blended with 1 TBS water
Fresh sage leaves for garnish (optional)

In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, sage, and salt until well-combined. Sprinkle the butter cubes over the flour mixture and use your fingers to work them in until the mixture looks like cornmeal with some pea-sized bits of butter remaining. Stir in the cheese with a fork. Sprinkle 6 tablespoons ice water over the mixture and stir with a fork until the dough begins to come together. If needed, add an additional tablespoon or two of ice water. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead three times. Gather the dough into a ball, then divide into two portions, making one slightly larger than the other. Press each portion down into a disk and wrap in plastic wrap. Refrigerate at least 30 minutes.

Core and thinly slice the apples to no more than 1/4″ thickness (no need to peel). In a skillet over medium-low heat, cook the apples without any oil, stirring gently, until they just begin to soften, 5-7 minutes. Transfer to a dish and set aside. Add oil to the pan and increase the heat to medium-high. Add the onion and cook until translucent, about 2 minutes. Add pork, brown sugar, salt, and spices. Cook, using a wooden spoon to break up the meat, until it is lightly browned, about 10 minutes. Let the meat mixture cool for 10 minutes, then transfer to a food processor. Add the breadcrumbs and pulse five times until the mixture has the texture of coarse sand. Set aside.

Unwrap the larger disk of dough and put it in the center of a large sheet of wax or parchment paper. Cover with another piece of wax or parchment paper. Working from the center, roll outward to a 13” circle. Peel off the top piece of parchment and transfer the dough to a pie plate, peeled side down. Peel off the remaining parchment and press the crust into the sides of a 9” deep-dish pie plate. Peel off the remaining parchment and press the crust into the sides of the pie plate, draping any excess over the edge. Repeat the process with the smaller disk, making an 11″ circle. Set aside.

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees and set a rack to the second to bottom position. Pour the meat mixture into the bottom crust and gently smooth the top with a spatula. Arrange the cooked apple slices over the meat, pressing down to make the whole construction as smooth and neat as possible. Peel the top sheet of parchment off the top crust. Transfer to the pie, then peel off the remaining parchment. Using a sharp knife, make two 3” slashes in the crust to allow steam to escape. Fold the edges of the bottom crust up over the top crust and crimp the edges to seal. Brush the crust with the egg wash and decorate with sage leaves, if desired.

Bake at 425 for 10 minutes, then reduce heat to 375 and bake until the crust is golden brown, 25-35 minutes more. Remove from oven and let cool 25 minutes before serving.