Thursday, March 20, 2014

Pies For Pi Day!

So, I made a couple of pies this past weekend, in honor of Pi Day, and I thought I'd share them with you. One is sweet, and the other is...well, not sweet.  But they both turned out really tasty!

Fish Pie
Banana Cream Pie

The first is a fish pie.  I know, many of you will be thinking what I thought when I first heard that - "A what now?"  As you may or may not know, I watch a lot of British television, and pretty much anything with Gordon Ramsay on it, so it was inevitable that I would come across the traditional casserole dish called, fish pie.  I don't eat a great variety of fish so I pretty much ignored this dish for a while, but lately, I've been wanting to branch out and learn to make different types of fish recipes, so I thought I should do some research on the English fish pie.

According to Wikipedia, this little ditty has been around for quite some time.  From King Henry I through Henry VIII, the tradition of putting fish into some sort of pie evolved into the casserole dish I happily enjoyed this weekend.  After researching the dish's history, I sifted through countless recipes online and in cookbooks.  Okay, I'm sure I could have counted them, so maybe they aren't literally "countless," but more than I cared to keep track of, at any rate.  After my scavenger hunt, I deduced that a traditional fish pie consists of whatever fish/seafood you have on hand, a cream base, and is topped with mashed potatoes.  I was a bit baffled at first at the fact that they were calling this a pie, when it in fact has no pie crust.  Then I remembered that the UK is also famous for the popularity of another crust-less pie - the Shepherd's pie

Ok, so I looked in my kitchen to see if I could put together this "pie" with what I had on hand.  After a quick inventory and stroking my chin for a few minutes, I decided I could do it and devised a plan of action (P.O.A.).  

Fish Pie

Fish Pie


2 frozen cod fillets (thawed)
2 frozen flounder fillets (thawed)
1 (14.5oz) can salmon (deboned and deskinned) - save the liquid
1/2 cup onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
2-1/2  cups, plus 1/2 cup, plus 2 TBLS. of milk, separated
Salt & pepper to taste
About 1 tsp. of Dried Basil 
4 bay leaves
About 1 Tbls., plus some for spinkling of Dried parsley
3 Tbls of butter, divided
10 oz pkg of frozen peas
2 lbs. of red skinned potatoes (leave the skin on)
Dash of celery salt
3 Tbls. of corn starch
White sharp cheddar (optional)
Lemon zest (optional)


Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.  Wash and cube the potatoes (don't forget to leave the skins on), and boil them in water seasoned with cracked sea salt, celery salt, and 2 of the bay leaves, until tender.  Drain, remove bay leaves, and mash with 2 Tbls. of milk, some cracked pepper, a bit more celery salt, and about a tablespoon of butter. Set aside to cool.  
Take the thawed cod and flounder fillets and place them into a large bowl.  Pour 2-1/2 cups of milk over them, plus the liquid only, from the can of salmon.  DO NOT ADD THE SALMON ITSELF, that will come later. Set aside to soak. In a small saucepan, melt 2 Tbls of butter over medium to medium-high heat. Add in the garlic cloves and onion and saute until onions are tender.  You may feel like you need a little more butter here, so go ahead and knock yourself out, I usually do.  

While that is working, get out a large, deep skillet.  Turn your burner on medium and pour in the milk you had the fish soaking in. While that is heating up, add in some salt, pepper, basil, parsley, and the remaining 2 bay leaves.  Now add in the cod and flounder fillets.  Bring the mixture to boil, then reduce heat and poach for about 6-8 minutes, or until the fillets flake easily with a fork.  Now, the founder is significantly thinner than the cod, so they should only take about 4-5 minutes, if that, so keep an eye on them.  When the fillets are done, remove them and set to the side.  

Bring the heat back up to a near boil and add in the garlic and onions to the milk, stirring until thoroughly blended.  In a measuring cup, add about 2-3 Tbls. of corn starch and slowly add in the remaining 1/2 cup of cold milk, stirring continuously until there are no lumps.  Pour the milk/corn starch mixture slowly into the boiling milk/onion mixture, stirring continuously until thickened, making a cream sauce.  Add the peas and stir until blended.  Remove bay leaves and turn off the heat.

Remember the fishes?  Okay, chunk the cod and flounder fillets into a large bowl, however big or small you like.  Add the salmon (remember to remove the bones and skin before hand).  The salmon should be left in relatively large chunks so that they don't overcook before the rest of the dish.  Blend all the fishes together evenly and add them to a 9x12 (or there-about) casserole dish. Pour the cream sauce over top of the fish evenly.  If you are using a lemon zest, go ahead and add that now.  You can add any other sea food you want here, like mussels or shrimp, but I didn't have any on hand, and I wanted to try a simple fish pie for my first time out.  However, this is a great dish to experiment with, so have fun with it!

Now spread the mashed potatoes over the cream and fish, making roughly textured peaks, or get fancy and pipe them on with a pastry bag if you like.  Bring the potatoes to the edge of the casserole dish, creating a light seal.  Sprinkle with parsley.  If you are using white sharp cheddar, make sure you grate it first, then sprinkle it on over the mash.  I made one dish with cheese and one without, but I couldn't tell which one I liked more, maybe you can decide?

With cheese..
...without cheese

Okay, you are all done with the prep work!  Just pop it in the oven, uncovered, for about 30-35 minutes or until golden and bubbly.  I went ahead and put it on broil for the last 3 minutes for a little more browning, because I like it that way.  When you pull it out, let it set up for about 5 minutes or so before digging in.

Fish pie, almost gone - YUM!

Okay, now, for the sweet pie!

Easy Banana Cream Pie
Banana Cream Pie

I've made banana cream pie before from scratch - with meringue. It was good, but it takes quite a while from beginning to end, and I've found that there are some people who don't like meringue on a cream pie, they prefer, well, cream.  That made sense to me, plus I was too tired for fancy baking after making dinner.  So, after finishing up the baking time of the fish pie, I cranked up the oven to 400 degrees and put a couple of pre-made pie crusts on a baking sheet (pricking the shells with a fork first) and put them in the oven for about 10 minutes, until golden.  When they were done, I pulled them out and set them to the side to cool.

Okay, I have to say that personally, I absolutely cannot stand the tinge of chemical taste from instant pudding, but I really like the Cook & Serve line of pudding from Jell-o.  It takes a little longer than instant, but not enough for me to really notice, plus the flavor difference is very much worth it!  So just follow the package instructions on the pudding box, which basically says to add the powder to 3 cups of milk and bring to a boil, stirring continuously.  Great, you're done!  Set it to the side to cool.  **Tip - the pudding will cool down faster if you give it a quick stir every few minutes.

The whole reason I decided to make this pie was because I had 3 over-ripe bananas that weren't going to get eaten as they were, plus I had the pie crusts in the fridge.  And it was Pi Day, soooo, banana cream pie it is!

While waiting on the crusts and filling to cool down, this is a perfect time to make the whipped cream.  I know I've said this before, but DO NOT BUY PRE-MADE WHIPPED CREAM!  It is full of chemicals (I'm especially talking about Cool Whip here, people - and Cool Whip is most certainly NOT whipped cream) and it doesn't have the full rich flavor and texture of real whipped cream.  Making your own whipped cream is easy, and you know exactly what is in it.  As I said in the Sweetheart Shake post, don't be lazy here!

Okay, put a medium glass or ceramic bowl in the freezer along with the mixer beaters, for about 15 minutes. This will make the whipping process go a lot faster.  Pull out the bowl and pour in 1 cup of heavy whipping cream, 2 Tbls. of sugar (organic sugar is what I prefer), and 1/2 tsp. of pure vanilla extract.  Beat on high with the chilled beaters until thick.  Some people choose to use powdered sugar instead.  Try them both, and see which you prefer.  The powdered sugar will provide a bit of a sweeter flavor (you can always use less of it though if it is too sweet) and the whipped cream will be shinier.  When it is properly whipped, place the bowl of whipped cream into the fridge until needed.

Once the pie crusts are cooled to room temperature, slice up 3 bananas and layer the slices evenly on top of the crusts, like so...

When the pudding has cooled down, pour it evenly between the pie shells over top of the bananas.  Lick the spatula clean and put it back in the drawer into the sink to wash, or in the dishwasher, if you are lucky enough to have one.

Put the pies in the fridge for about 3 hours.  After that time is up, pull them back out, along with the bowl of whipped cream.  Divide the whipped cream evenly between the 2 pies and smooth to the edges.

Viola!  You're done!  Just cut and serve.

Banana Cream Pie
Easy Banana Cream Pie

I hope you enjoyed my homage to Pi Day!  Thank you for stopping by!

Monday, March 3, 2014

Once Upon A Time, I Didn't Like Lasagna...

I wanted to, but I was a super picky eater as a kid (still am), and I had texture issues...and chunky vegetable issues, and cottage cheese was for old ladies on diets, and I had no idea why anyone would waste all that bubbly cheese on anything but nachos.  Garfield was my very favorite comic at the time, and he always made me want to love lasagna as much as he did.  Then one day, my mom actually made it, and I was so excited!

The first time my mom made lasagna, it was one of those Chef Boyardee Lasagna kits.  I basically lived on Chef Boyardee everything, so hey, why not try his lasagna?  Garfield and I were going to share the same kind of bond that Cookie Monster and I had developed from the first time I shoved a cookie in my mouth.  I couldn't wait!  I took the first big bite of my Chef Boyardee Lasagna...and then spit it right back out.  By the way, Chef Boyardee doesn't make this box kit anymore for good reason.  It didn't taste like I thought it would.  It did not taste like Beefaroni, or Ravioli, or the Spaghetti & Meatballs that were a childhood (and sometimes adulthood) lunch staple.  It didn't even taste remotely like the Chef's Pizza either - which I LOVED.  And the sawdust parmesan that I was used to was there, but where was all that stringy cheese that was supposed to ooze out from all the layers?  I felt betrayed!  I couldn't believe that Mr. Boiardi would make something so disgusting unlike the rest of his awesomness.  I swore then and there I would never eat lasagna again.  I don't really remember Mom making it again either, so I must not have been the only one in the family to not like it.

Pic from

So I kept my vow to never eat lasagna again  That is until I spent the night with a friend a few years later and when we sat down to the wonderful smelling dinner that her mom had made, I was horrified to see that it was lasagna.  I was not about to be rude, but I really really did not want to eat lasagna. The rest of the family dug in with fervor and a square of it landed on my plate.  But it looked nothing like the one my mom made via Chef Boyardee.  It looked more akin to what Garfield was always obsessing over.  It had white stuff and mushrooms between the layers.  And real cheese nicely toasted on top, which strung from cooking dish to plate, not just grainy bits of not-real parmesan "cheese."  I tried a small bite, but I just couldn't bring myself to eat it.  The new flavors and random textures were too much for me.  I realized that the white stuff between the layers was cottage cheese and there were onions!  Heaven forbid I eat anything with onions!

I think back on that lasagna now and I would love to try it as an adult.  The only thing about it that I wouldn't like now-a-days would be the cottage cheese.  I myself like to use ricotta, but everyone has their preferences to which "white stuff" filling they like in their lasagna.  But I digress.  I make a mean lasagna now with spices and mushrooms and hamburger and lots of different kinds of cheeses. For some reason though, I never really thought about experimenting too much with this dish.  Basically, as long as it was made with noodles, burger, sauce, ricotta and a lot of cheese, I call it lasagna and I just didn't stray out into the creative unknown.  I know, weird, right?  And then...I got a complementary box of goodies from Red Gold.

*I want to say that even though I was given free goods from Red Gold, I was not asked by them to give a favorable review - but I decided to share their lasagna recipe ideas because I tried one this past week and I loved it!

The kit they sent to me was a basic kit to make an All-In-One Lasagna.  The idea is that you start with 2 types of Red Gold products, noodles, and some cheeses, then add all kinds of other ingredients of your choosing to create a quick and easy family dinner.

Here is a pic of the kit that they sent me, complete with a perfectly shaped spatula for easy lasagna cutting and serving. Yay!

2 cans of Red Gold Diced Tomatoes with Basil, Garlic, & Oregano, 1 large can of Red Gold Crushed Tomatoes, and a box of Creamette Lasagna Noodles - all you need to supply for a basic, non-meat lasagna is mozzarella and parmesan cheese.  Layer it all together and bake it in the oven.  Simple, cheap, and easy, right?  Right.  But if I just made some boring ol' lasagna, I wouldn't be writing this post ;)

So, also included in my kit from Red Gold, was a sheet of "Simple Gourmet Lasagnas" with full-color pics and detailed recipes for 4 amazing dishes.  Including a basic All-In-One Lasagna, a Chicken Parmesan Lasagna, Fresh Harvest Lasagna, and the one I decided to try - Eggplant Florentine Lasagna.

I made the Eggplant Florentine Lasagna exactly as instructed, as I do every recipe that I try the first time.  Then I theorize about what I would do differently, and then the next time I make it, I begin altering things to my liking.  I'm going to give you their recipe as I made it, then I'm going to offer some suggestions about changes that I will implement next time. 


5 Tbls. of extra virgin olive oil
1 Large eggplant, peeled and cut into 1/4 inch slices
1 egg, beaten
1-1/2 cups Italian seasoned breadcrumbs
1/2 cup of water
1 (28 oz) can of Red Gold Crushed Tomatoes
2 (14.5 oz) cans of Red Gold Diced Tomatoes with Basil, Garlic & Oregano
1 tsp. Italian seasoning
Salt to taste
1 (16 oz) box lasagna noodles, traditional, uncooked
1 (6 oz) package of fresh baby spinach, washed and patted dry
1 (15 oz) carton of low fat ricotta cheese
3 cups (16 oz) shredded mozzarella cheese
1/4 cup of grated Parmesan cheese


Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  In a large skillet cover the bottom with 4 Tbls oil; heat over medium heat.  Place egg in 1 bowl and breadcrumbs in another bowl.  Dip eggplant slices in egg and then breadcrumbs.  Fry on both sides until browned, place on paper towel and sprinkle with salt.

In a large mixing bowl combine water, Red Gold Crushed Tomatoes, Red Gold Dice Tomatoes with Basil, Garlic & Oregano, Italian seasoning.

Cover the bottom of a 9x12x2 inch baking pan with 1-1/2 cups of sauce mixture.  Arrange 1/3 of the noodles on top of the sauce, slightly overlapped.  Top with 1/2 of the eggplant, 1/2 spinach, 1/2 ricotta, 1 cup of mozzarella cheese and 1 cup of sauce.  Repeat layers and top with the last 1/3 of noodles and remaining sauce.  Sprinkle with remaining mozzarella cheese and Parmesan cheese.

Cover tightly with foil and bake for 1 to 1-1/2 hours; until noodles are cooked.  Let stand for 10 minutes before serving.

This recipe makes 12 servings, but you could divide the recipe into two 9x9 inch baking dishes and freeze one for a wintry night supper. 

 Nutricional facts: Calories 290, Fat 10g, Trans Fat 0g, Cholesterol 35mg, Sodium 1130mg, Carbohydrate 38g, Fiber 5g, Protein 16g, Vitamin A 70%, Vitamin C 25%, Calcium 30%, Iron 20%.

Ok, my review...

  • First off, I love me some fried eggplant, but I believe it was completely unnecessary for this recipe.  After baking in between the layers for over an hour, the eggplant had no crunch/crispness to it, so I'm not sure what the point of frying it was.  It really just tasted like soggy breadcrumbs and made for a weird texture.  Now, that weird texture disappeared when I reheated it the next day for leftovers.  Not to mention, that putting a fried product only added unnecessary fat calories and made the dish feel a bad way.  My Tweak: Just put the seasoned raw eggplant slices directly in the dish without dipping, breading, or frying.  Will this work?  I don't know I haven't tried it yet, but in theory, this should make for a lighter flavor and healthier lasagna.  If it doesn't after I try it, I will be sure to let you know.  Or if you give it a go before I do, be sure and let me know how it turns out, ok?

  • There wasn't near enough cheese for my taste, speaking of a "healthier lasagna." My Tweak: I would use lots more mozzarella.  In a separate bowl, I would mix about 1-1/2 cups of it in with the ricotta and add a couple of teaspoons of Italian seasoning along with one egg.  Mix that all up really good and put that in between the layers, when the recipe tells you to put the cheese in.  Add more (another 1-1/2 cups or so) mozzarella to fill in the gaps and on the top layer.

  • I also like a little cheddar or cheddar-jack cheese in mine.  It's a personal flavor thing.  I know that's not authentic Italian, but I like the gentle kick it adds.  Mind you, I'm not saying to add a lot, just a sprinkle between layers and then a little on top with the rest of the cheeses.

All-in-all, I loved the flavorful blends of this Eggplant Florentine Lasagna recipe!  The way the eggplant and spinach complimented each other was fantastic, and the basil, garlic & oregano tomatoes really made for a great sauce.  I'm looking forward to trying the "Fresh Harvest Lasagna" once my local Farmer's Market gets under way this season.  

For this and other Gourmet Lasagna recipe ideas, visit Red Gold's page.  But above all else, experiment with ingredients that you like.  Get creative and have fun!

My first go at Red Gold's Eggplant Florentine Lasagna