The Food Guy, Steven Keith Eating his way through the state, plate by plate

When Life Hands You Ugly Pies, Make Cobbler!

File this one in the “If At First You Don’t Succeed” category …

When tasked to bring a dessert to a summer cookout yesterday, I thought something bursting with fruit would elicit the oohs and aahs I craved. So I decided to make a gorgeous, colorful pie version of a fruit tart that’s garnered standing ovations in the past. For that dessert, I line the bottom of a tart crust with a thin layer of almond paste and layer the berries on top of that for a wonderful fruity-nutty combo.

It so rocks.

Hoping to apply those same flavors to my pie, I filled a crust with fresh strawberries and blueberries and sprinkled crumbled almond paste (marzipan) over the top. Sure, it would’ve been easier to mix it in with the fruit – or, better yet, just stir in some almond extract – but my thinking was that as the pie baked, the almond paste would melt down through the fruit, drenching it with flavor while leaving a slightly browned, crumbly crust on top.

Totally bombed.

The marzipan didn’t melt a lick, it just sat there and nearly burned. So I jerked that uncooperative thing out of the oven while pondering my next step.

Hey, I said to myself, I have enough dough for one more pie crust!

So I scooped out the fruit and almond pie filling from my near-disaster, stirred it all up to incorporate the almond paste and spooned it into a new tart dish. I covered the mixture with a new pie crust, scored the top and baked the re-imagined dessert until the crust tanned beautifully.

Voila! A nice-looking fruit cobbler that bore no resemblance to the hot mess it replaced.

Tomorrow (May 28) is National Hamburger Day (WOOF!) and it’s hard to top a good ol’ classic burger of meat, lettuce, tomato, mayo and/or ketchup and/or mustard.

Topped with a slice of Kraft American cheese, of course.

But since today’s a special occasion and all, why not elevate your burger with a fat slab of artisan cheese instead? Combine that change with subbing your traditional bun for specialty bread and – voila! – you’ve instantly created a new American classic!

What kind of cheese? There’s no wrong answer …

• Fresh mozzarella with a few leaves of basil.
• A creamy European-style cheese with sautéed mushrooms.
• Pepper jack with a smear of guacamole.
• Crumbled bleu … or feta … herbed chevre.

A generous client of my wife’s just gave us a stash of fresh morels, those prized mountain mushrooms that are a rite of spring for food connoisseurs everywhere. Also known as “molly moochers,” these rare edible fungi pack an intense earthy taste that pairs so well with cream and wine sauces, beef and so much more.

If you’re not convinced how sought-after these babies are, just take a look at how much they cost. A quick online search today showed options ranging from $17 and ounce (yep, for one ounce) up to nearly $1,900 for a 15-pound bag. Holy sticker shock, Batman!

So to make the most of these high-falutin’ mushrooms, we did a little digging (BA-DA-BING!) and got a great idea from our pediatrician. She recommended drying them in an low-heat oven, which not only intensifies their flavor but also enables you to preserve them longer. We Googled (when did that become an acceptable verb, by the way?) her idea and found an easy process that yielded great results …

  1. You rinse and soak them in a brine of salted water for several hours, which helps draw out any impurities that might be present. (Mushrooms can be a little iffy, you know, so this step made me feel better about eating something culled from the wild.)
  2. Then you let them dry on paper towels before arranging them on a cooling rack placed on a cookie sheet to go in the oven.
  3. Place them in a 140-degree oven and let them slowly dry out all day — up to 6, 8 or 10 hours — until all the moisture is gone but before they completely shrivel away. They will shrink quite a bit, but that’s OK. The flavor not only remains, but is more pronounced.
  4. Now place them in an airtight contrainer and either store in the refigerator (if you plan to use them within a few days) or freezer (to keep them much longer). When ready to use, you can either reconstitute them by soaking in boiling water to fatten ’em back up — although you lose some of the flavor — or, better yet, just chop up to give soups, salads or sauces an out-of-this-world kick.

I dried ours yesterday and now have a little Ziploc full of goodness just waiting to tantalize our tastebuds!

I recently made a mess of (as in “way too many”) braised short ribs for a family dinner. We loved them the first night and enjoyed leftovers the next. But by Day 3 my 8-year-old was, like, “Again with the short ribs?”

Point taken.

So I gave them a break that night, but it was only a temporary reprieve.

The next day I cubed those leftover short ribs and placed them in a casserole dish with their remaining sauce, a thick blend of chopped onions, celery, tomatoes, herbs, red wine and such – reduced to perfection. Then I sliced in carrots,  poured extra beef broth over the whole mixture and let in simmer stovetop for a few hours.

That night, I steamed some rice and ladled my “new” beef stew over top of it for dinner.

“This is awesome!” they said, asking for seconds. (Insert sinister laugh here.)