A Summer Break, Beets & Berries

berries & basil

summer berries and basil

We are just one week into summer and I am ready for a vacation. Not the travel kind, but the blog writing kind. This grief stuff takes a bit of a toll on a person and “write” now I just need happy thoughts. So, I know you won’t mind if, for just a little while, all we do is talk about good food and recipes. Ha–I bet you are raising your hands in the air yelling,  “Yipee!”

fresh picked beets

fresh picked beets

In the last couple of weeks my garden has brought me so much happiness and inspiration in the kitchen. For the first time ever I have been able to grow beets which inspired a most delicious roasted beet sandwich. Just look at these beauties all roasted and sweet.IMG_2529

If this idea tickles your fancy or you’re just more curious check out the full recipe here: roasted beet sandwich

Roasted Beet Sandwich

Roasted Beet Sandwich

In addition to the beets I am picking berries. Lots of berries. In fact, me and the birds are plucking 3 different kinds. The purple bird poop (yuck) all over the yard would indicate the birds prefer the mulberries over the strawberries and the “raspberry shortcake” brazel berries (thank goodness).  It has been such a delight to gather, raspberries, strawberries and mulberries and work them into different recipes. This one is perfect for the 4th of July.

Chocolate Vinegar, Berry & Basil Pie

Chocolate Vinegar, Berry & Basil Pie a la mode

Red, white and blue food. It’s what we do this time of year. It is the reason I grow borage. The borage plant has edible blue flowers that taste like cucumbers. They are the perfect garnish for that potato salad we all make with the red, white and blue potatoes, but sorry I went off on this borage tangent instead of talking about this pie.


This pie is oddly delicious. I say “oddly” because the pie contains dark chocolate vinegar, fresh basil and black pepper. It is sweet and savory and well, oddly delicious. The dark chocolate vinegar is imported for Bella Gusta of West Hartford, CT  by the Veronica Foods Company of Oakland, CA. It was a gift from my sister in law, Erin. She handed it to me saying, “I know if anyone can figure out what to do with this, you can.” I like her confidence. And if you are interested check out: http://www.bellagustaoils.com


Just one tip on baking berry pies (I have learned the hard way). Berry pies have to come to a bubbling frenzy before they are fully cooked and the thickening agent is able to gel the fruit. That way when you cut into the pie all the juice doesn’t go running all over the plate and then down your shirt. So forget the baking time because every batch of fruit is different and just watch for that bubbling happiness. You are welcome!

Chocolate Vinegar 3x Berry Pie

(Inspired by the famous Butter & Scotch Bakery in Brooklyn)

Pastry for 2 crust lattice pie

2 pounds of fresh berries (I used 1 pound of halved strawberries, ¾ pound mulberries and 1 pint of raspberries)

3 tablespoons chocolate vinegar

8 basil leaves, shredded (use Thai basil if you have it)

¾ cup sugar

¼ cup cornstarch

½ teaspoon ground black pepper

pinch of salt

Heat oven to 425F. Roll out half your pastry into a 12-inch circle and fit into a 9-inch pie plate leaving the dough that overhangs the pie plate in place. In large bowl, toss the berries with the vinegar and basil. Mix the sugar, cornstarch, black pepper and salt; sprinkle over the berries and toss again. Spoon into prepared pie crust. Roll out remaining dough into a 15-inch x 11-inch rectangle. Using a pizza wheel and a ruler, cut 1-inch strips and form the lattice top. Trim the excess lattice ends. Fold the bottom crust up and over the lattice strips and crimp. Place the pie on a baking sheet. Bake for 25 minutes or until lattice is golden brown. Reduce the heat to 375F. Continue baking for 40 minutes or until juices are bubbling. Cool completely.

Commitment & Torta Rustica

Italian Easter Pie

Italian Easter Pie

Honor, Courage, Commitment. This is the Navy motto. Inspiring words and guiding principles. Imagine what the world would be like if we all valued these three traits in ourselves and in each other. If you follow this blog you’ve already read my views on honor and courage. Today is about commitment and how it helps keep our loved ones alive.


Great Lakes, IL U.S. Navy boot camp

While sailors pledge to keep our country safe grievers can commit to keeping memories of the deceased safe and alive. A healthy way to do this is to continue treasured traditions. Don’t be afraid. It is OK to rummage through old photos talking about your loved one and how much you enjoyed doing certain things with him or her. Really, it is OK. You are not alone in this pursuit.

I have already shared one of my favorite rituals; hiding the pickle ornament in the Christmas tree. It’s a time honored tradition in our home and one that my William loved. I have committed to hiding the pickle every Christmas and remembering the light in his eyes as he discovers it hidden in the tree.

Further, I will continue to bake a birthday cake to honor him on April 22nd. William loved a good birthday cake. Plus baking is so very therapeutic. It’s a simple expression of love. So go ahead. Bake a birthday cake. Light a candle and make a wish. Cut the cake and with each sweet bite, remember how lucky to have had this person in your life.

Recently, my friend Rich wrote about the ritual of coloring Easter eggs with his daughter Meghan. Even though Meghan is gone, just a few short months, Rich found the courage and felt it important to continue the tradition of coloring eggs. He made beautiful eggs in honor of Meghan and his wife Eileen and nested them at their grave site. What a wonderful connection and expression of love.

Torta Rustica

Torta Rustica

Commitment to keeping traditions alive extends into my kitchen. Tomorrow is Easter. Typically, the Italian feast includes ravioli or manicotti in addition to a baked ham or leg of lamb. My mom would also bake rice pies, a sweet bread that contained colored Easter eggs and my favorite….”pizza-gain”. It’s a calorie laden, dough wrapped, cheese-filled meat pie that goes back a long way. Every Italian household has their own version and theirs is the absolute best.

nice slice

nice slice

The following recipe is  a version from Cook’s Country Magazine. I tweaked it here and there to suit my tastes and do recommend testing for doneness with an instant read themometer. I had to bake it an additional 15 minutes to get a nice brown crust and internal temperature of 150F.

Torta Rustica


3 large eggs

3 tablespoons cold water

3 cups (15 ounces) all-purpose flour

1 1/4 teaspoons salt

tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces and chilled

6 tablespoons vegetable shortening, cut into 1/2-inch pieces and chilled (I used lard)


1 tablespoon olive oil

12 ounces broccoli rabe, trimmed and chopped (I used 1 bunch broccolini)

8 ounces hot Italian sausage, casings removed (I used sweet)

1/4 teaspoon salt

2 garlic cloves, minced

1 pound (2 cups) whole-milk ricotta cheese (I used part skim)

4 ounces Pecorino Romano cheese, grated (2 cups)

2 large eggs

1 teaspoon black pepper

8 ounces thinly sliced aged provolone cheese (I used sharp)

6 ounces thinly sliced hot capicola

1 large egg yolk beaten with 1 tablespoon water

FOR THE DOUGH: Whisk eggs and cold water together in bowl; set aside. Process flour and salt in food processor until combined, about 3 seconds. Scatter butter and shortening over top and pulse until only pea-size pieces remain, about 10 pulses. Add egg mixture and pulse until dough ball forms, about 20 pulses. Turn out dough onto lightly floured counter and knead until smooth and elastic, about 20 turns. Divide dough into one 1-pound ball and one 10-ounce ball (roughly into two-thirds and one-third) and form each into 6-inch disk. Wrap disks tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour or up to 24 hours.

FOR THE FILLING: Heat oil in 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add broccoli rabe, sausage, and salt and cook, breaking up sausage with spoon, until sausage is cooked through and broccoli rabe is tender, 5 to 7 minutes. Add garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Transfer to plate and let cool completely, about 15 minutes. Whisk ricotta, Pecorino, eggs, and pepper together in large bowl. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 375 degrees. Grease  9-inch round cake pan. Roll 1-pound disk of dough into 14-inch circle on well-floured counter. Loosely roll dough around rolling pin and gently unroll it onto prepared pan, letting excess dough hang over edge. Ease dough into pan by gently lifting and supporting edge of dough with your hand while pressing into pan bottom and sides with your other hand. Leave overhanging dough in place. Shingle half of provolone in bottom of dough-lined pan. Spread ricotta mixture over provolone. Scatter sausage mixture over ricotta mixture and press lightly into even layer. Shingle capicola over sausage mixture, followed by remaining provolone. Roll remaining disk of dough into 10-inch circle on well-floured counter. Brush overhanging dough of bottom crust with egg wash. Loosely roll 10-inch circle around rolling pin and gently unroll it over filling. Trim overhanging top and bottom doughs to 1/2 inch beyond lip of pan and pinch firmly together. Fold overhanging dough inward so folded edge is flush with edge of pan. Crimp dough evenly around edge of pan with tines of fork. Brush top of pie liberally with egg wash. Using paring knife, cut eight 1-inch vents in top of dough in circular pattern. Bake until filling registers 150 degrees in center of pie and crust is golden brown, 35 to 40 minutes. Transfer pie to wire rack and let cool for at least 4 hours or refrigerate for up to 2 days. Remove pie from pan, slice into wedges, and serve.