in times of need – summer fruit crisp

I promised myself that I would not complain about how insanely busy I’ve been since last week. I won’t complain that I’ve had absolutely zero time for this blog, and hardly any time to cook or bake anything. And I really won’t complain that by the time July is over, I will have been working for 21 days in a row. Without a day off. I am NOT complaining.

I will say, however, that I’ve had a serious-as-a-heart-attack craving for comfort food. Because I’ve needed comforting during this time that I’m not complaining about.

Over the weekend, I called my husband from work with an order a polite request for him to pick up some fresh fruit at the grocery store. He’s not a huge fan of cobblers and crisps and the such, but I am. So I made one. To satisfy ME.

Selfish, I know, but I really, really, really needed this dessert on Sunday.

Juicy cherries, fresh blueberries, a pint of plump blackberries, and a couple of ripe peaches made the filling of this summer fruit crisp just heavenly. The topping is always the best part of these kinds of desserts – whether they’re called crisps or cobblers or crumbles. Crunchy, buttery goodness serves as the ideal complement to the juicy fruit filling.

This was one super simple but incredibly satisfying dessert. I served it warm out of the oven with a scoop – or two – of vanilla ice cream, and like a big warm hug, it was just what I needed after a long working weekend.

Yield: Serves 6-8.

Summer Fruit Crisp

The measurements of the fruit are approximate. If you prefer to use 2 cups of blueberries and omit the cherries, go for it. Want more peaches? Have at it. Make this your own.


Ingredients for Crisp

1 cup blueberries
2 cups blackberries
2 ripe peaches, peeled, pitted, and cut into 1 inch pieces
1 cup cherries, pitted (or frozen and thawed)
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 tablespoon lemon zest

Ingredients for Topping

1 cup rolled oats
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup light brown sugar
1/4 cup slivered almonds, chopped coarsely
Pinch kosher salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces


Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Combine the berries, cherries, and peach pieces with sugar, flour, and cinnamon. Place into a buttered shallow dish (such as a pie plate or casserole dish).

Prepare the topping: Combine oats, flour, light brown sugar, salt, chopped almonds, and salt in a bowl. Using a pastry blender or your fingers [and honestly, your fingers are your best tools here], work in the butter until combined. Sprinkle the topping evenly over the fruit mixture.

Bake at 350 degrees in the center of oven until the topping is golden brown and the fruit is bubbling, about 1 hour. Cool slightly and serve with vanilla ice cream.

Inspired by and adapted from this recipe from Parade Magazine, 2007.

how to make fabulous pizza dough

The one thing everyone here in the merry gourmet home can agree on is that we love pizza. Even the picky 3 1/2 year old, Oliver. Now, we don’t always agree on toppings, but that’s really just a minor hurdle to overcome.

I’ve made pizza before, but I confess that I cheated a bit. When I made this deep dish pizza, I used this pizza dough mix from King Arthur Flour. I was nervous about making my own pizza dough from scratch. The idea of working with yeast sort of freaked me out. For no good reason, mind you. I just had never worked with it before, so I was certain – absolutely positive – I would screw it up somehow. But, life in the kitchen is about making mistakes, learning lessons, and moving on, right?

It took a lot of mental preparation for me to gear up for making pizza. I did a lot of reading. I reviewed the pizza section in my copy of Amy’s Bread. Deb of Smitten Kitchen wrote about some of her pizza making pointers. Jennifer has lots of experience making pizza, even on the grill, so I was sure to soak up what I could from her posts. I bought a pizza stone and a pizza peel.

And finally, I was ready.

And, like most of my new experiences in the kitchen, working with yeast was no big deal. None, whatsoever. The dough came together perfectly. I used my stand mixer with the dough hook attachment, so it made it really simple. I made the dough in advance, and I let it rise slowly in the refrigerator. It probably didn’t rise to it’s full height (i.e., double in size), but it worked great regardless.

Since the kids – and my picky husband – can never agree on what to put on top, I made two pizzas with completely different toppings. For both pizzas, I made a simple tomato sauce – no recipe involved – using sauteed onions and garlic, diced tomatoes, dried oregano and basil. The sauce simmered for about 45 minutes, thickening up nicely. And, because I have a husband who can’t stand chunks of tomato, I threw it in the blender and pureed it until smooth.

The kids’ pizza was simply mozzarella and pepperoni. Maddie and Oliver had a blast placing each pepperoni slice in just the right position, then watching it bake up in the oven. For the grown-up version, I used some chicken sausage flavored with sweet peppers, thinly sliced red onion, and broccoli florets. Just to see if my stone was worth the price, I baked one on the stone and one on a pan. The one baked on the stone had a perfectly crisp crust on the bottom. The stone? Totally worth it.

This may have been our first family dinner where everyone – even the 3 1/2 year old – was content with the food on the table. We’ll be doing this again, soon. Oh, yeah we are.

Pizza Dough


1/4 cup dry white wine *
3/4 cup warm water
1 package dry active yeast
1 tablespoon honey
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
3 cups (435 grams) all-purpose flour


Combine wine and water - both should be warm (110 degrees or so). [Note: I warmed up the wine & water together in the microwave until it was the right temp.] In a mixing bowl, combine the wine, water, and yeast - stir until dissolved. Add the honey, salt, and olive oil. Mix well until combined.

Add about 1 cup of flour to the mixing bowl and stir to make a wet paste. Add in the rest of the flour and incorporate [If you have a stand mixer with a dough hook attachment, this is a great use for it.].

Place dough on a lightly floured surface and knead for 2 to 3 minutes. Place dough in a lightly oiled bowl and turn to coat dough ball with oil. Cover with a towel and let rise for 45 minutes. Alternatively, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.

When dough has doubled in size, punch dough down gently with your fist. Cut the dough into two equal pieces for two 12-inch round pizzas. Now, go make your favorite pizza recipe!**

* Note: If you don't have any white wine on hand, or you prefer not to use wine, just use 1 cup of water and omit the wine. But, isn't everything better with a bit of wine?

** I stretched the dough gently into 12-inch rounds then topped with sauce, cheese, and toppings. I baked mine in a 500 degree F oven for about 10-12 minutes. The crust was divine.

a grandmother’s southern banana pudding

My mom’s parents moved to Florida from Tennessee when I was in high school. They moved to a little town about 20 minutes away from where we lived. When my grandparents lived in Tennessee, we didn’t see them often at all. Not even once a  year. Having them just 20 minutes down the road changed things. It gave me the opportunity to really get to know my grandparents for the first time, something I’ll always be grateful for.

Like most households of that generation, my grandmother was the cook in the family. I have fond memories of holiday dinners at her house, dinners that always seemed to include a country ham, tender green beans cooked with a ham hock, and macaroni and cheese. I’m sure she had more desserts in her repertoire, but I only really remember two — chess pie and banana pudding. Those were the ones that I looked forward to at every family dinner where my grandmother had something to do with the cooking.

It’s been a long time since I was in high school – 20 years, actually, says the high school reunion flyer I just got in the mail – and time has marched right along. Over time, my grandmother stopped cooking as regularly. My grandparents started coming to my parents’ house for dinner more instead of the other way around. My grandfather died back in early 2004, just a couple of months after my daughter was born. And, other than making simple meals for herself, she stopped making the banana pudding and chess pie that I loved, along with most everything else. In January of this year, at the age of 86, my grandmother was diagnosed with an aggressive non-Hodgkin lymphoma. She made it through three cycles of chemotherapy followed by a course of radiation therapy. She had to give up her independence and move in with my parents shortly after chemotherapy began. She finished up her last treatment on May 28.

But she got some good news just a couple of weeks ago. Her latest scans look great and she’s in a complete remission. The bad news? She still doesn’t make banana pudding anymore.

So, for the July 4th holiday, we went to my parents’ house for dinner and, because it seemed like the perfect opportunity to celebrate family and tradition, I decided to bring the banana pudding. With my grandmother’s pudding in my mind as the ideal banana pudding – the pudding on a pedestal, you might say –  I set out to do my best. I knew I needed to make a banana pudding chock full of vanilla wafers and banana pieces. Her version always had a meringue on top, but since I intended to make mine a day ahead and then transport it, I went with a crunchy topping of ground vanilla wafers flavored with cinnamon.

We had a lovely July 4th, and my grandmother is doing great. She’s still recovering, but she’s doing just fine. She told me she liked the pudding, and I did too. I liked it a lot, actually. But, you know what? It wasn’t her banana pudding, and I’m not sure I can ever make one that will be. And that’s probably okay, too.

Yield: 12 servings.

Southern Banana Pudding

Serve this banana pudding in a trifle bowl or in a 9 x 13 inch baking dish.


Ingredients for Pudding

7 slightly underripe large bananas
1 1/2 cups sugar
8 large egg yolks
6 tablespoons cornstarch
6 cups half-and-half
1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
3 tablespoons lemon juice
1 box vanilla wafers

Ingredients for Topping

1 1/2 cups vanilla wafers
3 teaspoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 big pinch of Kosher salt
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted


Roast bananas: Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Place 3 unpeeled bananas on baking sheet and bake on oven rack in the upper-middle position until skins are completely black, about 20 minutes. Let cool for 5 minutes.

Make pudding: Meanwhile, whisk 1/2 cup sugar, egg yolks, and cornstarch in medium bowl until smooth. Bring half-and-half, remaining 1 cup of sugar, and salt to simmer over medium heat in large saucepan. Temper the egg yolks by whisking 1/2 cup simmering half-and-half mixture into bowl with the egg yolks. Slowly whisk tempered yolk mixture into saucepan. Cook, whisking constantly, until mixture is thick and large bubbles appear at the surface, about 2 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in vanilla and butter.

Transfer pudding to food processor. Add warm peeled roasted bananas and 2 tablespoons lemon juice and process until smooth. [Note: If your processor doesn't hold 11 cups, puree half the pudding with the bananas and lemon juice, then transfer it to a bowl and whisk in the rest of the pudding.] Scrape into large plastic bowl and place plastic wrap directly on surface of pudding. Refrigerate until slightly cool, about 45 minutes.

Cut remaining bananas into 1/4 inch slices and toss in a bowl with the remaining 1 tablespoon lemon juice. To serve this in a large bowl (like a trifle bowl), spoon 1/4 of the pudding into the bowl and top with a layer of vanilla wafers and then a layer of bananas. Continue on with this pattern, ending with pudding. Place plastic wrap directly on surface of pudding and refrigerate until vanilla wafers have softened, at least 8 hours or up to 2 days.

Make the topping: Crush the vanilla wafers by placing them in a plastic bag and beating with a rolling pin, or process them in a food processer. Transfer cookie crumbs to a small bowl and add the sugar, cinnamon, and salt. Whisk together to combine. Stir in the melted butter until the crumbs are coated.

Sprinkle the crushed vanilla wafer topping over the pudding prior to serving.

Recipe adapted from a recipe for banana pudding in Cook's Country, August/September 2010 issue, and from this recipe on Epicurious.