By Gwen Ashley Walters | NOVEMBER 12, 2011 | NEWS

Me, oh my, pie.

10 celebrity chefs, 10 pies … including this brownie bacon pie.

And I got to judge them all at the 2nd Annual Chow Bella Pie Social.

It’s a tough job. No, really. But I wouldn’t trade it for a minute. We all know I love pie.

Joining me under the judging tent was returning judge and Chow Bella contributor Carol Blonder, restaurateur Matt Poole (along with his cream pie-loving son), Andrea White from Saffron Kitchen, and Barb Harris from Feeding Frenzy.

We all took our jobs very seriously, tasting each of the pies and then tasting them again. And again.

The results will be announced on Monday on Chow Bella, but here is a preview of some of the pies. We tasted blind, so we didn’t know who made which pie.

Who doesn’t love gooey caramel and pecans, especially one dusted with a whisper of glitter?

A simple, but elegant apple crumb. Not too sweet, and the apples retained a touch of crispness. Lovely.

Roasted cashews, caramel, chocolate mousse and cream — a candy bar in a pie.

The crust cutouts were a hint of what was in this apple, mango and pepita pie: jalapeños. Lots going on in this busy pie.

This apple crumb pie also held a surprise — a serious kick of green chile. Absolutely delicious. My favorite, by a crumb.

Now this is what I call a balanced plate.

Thank you Amy Silverman and Shannon Armour from Phoenix New Times Chow Bella for putting on another fabulous Pie Social. And congrats to all the chefs and bakers — you’re all winners.

Now, I think I’ll go have another slice of pie.

By Gwen Ashley Walters | DECEMBER 27, 2010 | NEWS

Can’t bear to read another 2011 food trends list? Not to worry. I take a slightly different approach.

Instead of predicting the future, I take a look at what just happened. Call it a year-in-review.

What ingredients and dishes did restaurants focus on this year? Are they really trends or food fads? That’s up to you to decide.

I’ve whittle the lengthy list down to 16.  Last year’s Sweet 16 explored salted caramel, foie gras desserts and Staub serving vessels.

What’s on this year’s list? Read on to find out.


1. Mangalitsa — Bacon is for common folk (so mainstream it’s ridiculous, if still tasty and popular), but the fooderati were rooting for the wooly pig in 2010. Restaurants like The French Laundry (Yountville, CA) and Binkley’s (Cave Creek, AZ) turn this Hungarian, cold-weather loving pig into more than the sum of its parts. Chefs say the taste is sweeter, more succulent than other heritage breeds — in a word? Superior.

2. Shishito peppers — These Japanese peppers became the darling of bar menus because of their ease of preparation. The skins are thin, meaning the peppers can be pan-seared whole and garnished with just sea salt and a spritz of lemon for an easy appetizer. We’ve seen them on menus from Seattle to Texas, prepared with just olive oil and lemon to a finishing glaze of robust soy and ginger.

3. Radishes — The common radish made a comeback in 2010, with a little help from its heirloom friends: Breakfast, Icicle, Black Spanish and Easter Egg radishes. Grüner (Portland), one of GQ’s 2010 top 10 restaurants, plates one of the prettiest radish plates: thin slices fanned over an entire plate, topped with micro greens and drizzled with a caper vinaigrette. And we saw plenty of roasted radishes, too.

4. Brown butter — You can’t look at a menu from any fine dining restaurant without seeing brown butter. Usually, it’s paired with butternut squash and sage, either as a side dish or a pasta main course dish, or served over seafood. But browned butter made an appearance on the dessert menu this year, too, like New York’s Le Bernardin (brown butter ice cream) and Phoenix’s Coup des Tartes (brown butter pear tart).


5. Pretzels — Both as the old ball park standard and as soft bread, pretzels tipped the popularity scales this year, and not just in German or Alpine themed restaurants (although that’s certainly where they started). Retail bakers jumped on the pretzel bandwagon, too. I even had pretzel bread offered on an international flight this year.

6. Charcuterie — Restaurants making their own charcuterie started well before 2010, but several hit their stride this year, offering more than the standard pâté. As it takes more than a year to make some types of salumi and charcuterie, I think it’s safe to say we’ll see even more next year…as long as health departments don’t catch wind of it, that is. For that reason, I think I’ll not name any names.

7. Poutine — Quebec’s classic comfort dish — French fries smothered in cheese curds and brown gravy — crossed the the border this year much to the delight of anyone with taste buds. New York’s T-Poutine restaurant serves eight different versions, and half a dozen restaurants in Portland serve the “fries-as-a-meal” dish. Even Animal (the award-winning L.A. restaurant) serves an oxtail gravy and cheddar version.

8. House made pickled vegetables — Beyond traditional pickles, many restaurants applied vinegar and spices to practically every vegetable coming out of the ground. We saw pickled green beans, celery, asparagus, onions, cauliflower, carrots, and of course, the humble cucumber.

9. Hot dogs —  We’ve lost count of the number of food trucks across the country specializing in the gussied up ballpark fare, but now restaurants are getting dog fever, too. In Phoenix, two fine dining restaurants have embraced the haute dog: Cork in Chandler and noca in Central Phoenix. Suffice it to say that we’ve not reached saturation of the hot dog yet (or, apparently, the burger).


flickr photo © by vsimon

10. Pudding — Many of the ingredients and dishes on this list are connected to the overall trend of comfort food and back-to-basics (s’mores, radishes, hot dogs, etc). Add pudding to the list of big fat hugs from neighborhood restaurants. FnB’s butterscotch pudding reached cult status this year, while others just reached us with pure silky love (chocolate and peanut butter from Modern Steak). Portland has Pudding on the Rice, an all-pudding dessert shop and Austin jiggles with the Gourmet Pudding food trailer. I bet a restaurant near you serves pudding, too.

11. Pie — Cupcake lovers got their frosting all in a tizzy this year when the trend masters said that “pie was the new cupcake.” Is it? Perhaps. How can you not love pie? Pastry chefs are putting the all-American staple back on the menu, some dressing it up, others dressing it down. Phoenix’s Beckett’s Table won a Phoenix New Times celebrity chef bake-off with its homey fig and pecan pie earlier this year. It wouldn’t surprise me one bit if we see pie shops open across the country in 2011, either.

12. S’mores — From already assembled to make-it-yourself-tableside, s’mores hit dessert menus in a big way this year, from Portland’s Ned Ludd to Frank & Albert’s at the Arizona Biltmore to Eve in Chicago.


13. Latin beverages —  Horchata (rice milk and cinnamon), agua frescas (fruit-based drinks) and sangria (wine infused with fruit) have always populated Mexican and Latin themed restaurant menus, and now they’re crossing over to fusion restaurants, like Zengo’s in New York. Batidos (think milkshakes with a Latin twist) aren’t new to Latin countries, but they made a big splash this year, mostly on the East Coast, both with and without alcohol.

14. Smoothies — I’m sneaking this on the list because I think my 95 daily smoothies (announced via Twitter) made people think about the slushy beverage in a whole new light. I opened my pantry and got creative. My favorite smoothie might have been the Bing cherries with lavender and pink peppercorn. Or maybe it was my peanut butter and grape smoothie, that tasted just like a PB & J without the bread.


15. Late Night Dining — New York City is seeing a resurgence in late-night dining and by late night, we’re talking after midnight. In Phoenix, another “late-night” offering came of age, and by Phoenix standards, late night is after 10 p.m. I wrote a story for Edible Phoenix in February profiling two such restaurants, Petite Maison’s “staff meals” and FnB’s “Industry Meals.” Since then, three other restaurants have expanded their hours on certain nights. Now, Tuesday through Saturday, Phoenicians can saddle up to an independent, chef-driven restaurant for late night cheap eats: Tuesday – Crudo; Wednesday – noca; Thursday – Posh; Thursday through Saturday – Petite Maison; and Saturday – FnB.

16. GastropubsMeddlesome Moth opened in Dallas this year to great fanfare as a gastropub for hipsters (it ranked #2 in D Magazine’s top 10 new restaurants). New York may think gastropubs are nothing new (Spotted Pig, Rabbit in the Moon) but the rest of the country is playing catch up. What is a gastropub anyway? Is it a bar that serves above average food? Yes, that, but more, too. It must have a serious craft beer component. Scottsdale and Phoenix have two gastropubs slated to open after the first of the year (Citizen Public House, LGO Public House).

Other notables: Other things popped on the radar, too, like the rise in vegetarian dishes in non-vegetarian restaurants, and the gluten-free surge that’s resulted in restaurants designating GF on appropriate menu items. I noticed a rise in foraged foods, too. Ten years ago when I worked at The Boulders Resort, we had a forager on staff. His full time job was to find unique foodstuffs, both local and not. Today’s forager is looking for wild ingredients grown within a restaurant’s radius.

I could keep going but I’d rather hear from you. What other trends or fads did you see this year? And, if you’re into predicting the future, what do you think is in store for 2011?


Judging Pie

By Gwen Ashley Walters | NOVEMBER 14, 2010 | NEWS

Pie. Just uttering the word pie fills my heart with joy.

I love pie. Given a choice between cake and pie, I choose pie.

Pie is soothing. Pie is humble.

Pie makes no judgment of me, so how can I judge pie?

Cake, on the other hand, has style and finesse.

Pie has no finesse.

Even if pie has an intricate lattice top or a fancy crimped crust or wispy meringue peaks, pie is never graceful, never elegant.

Cake is city slicker. Pie is country bumpkin.

But don’t weep for pie, because pie has something far greater than smooth edges or precision piping or a flutter of perfectly coiffed butter cream roses.

Pie has soul.

Pie evokes warmth and comfort. Eating pie is wrapping yourself in a big, warm hug.

Pie is approachable.

Pie is forgiving. Pie doesn’t care if your socks don’t match or if your skirt is wrinkled, or if you’re wearing a wig to hide your identity.

Pie likes you just the way you are.

Pie is sociable.

And that is why on Saturday, I found myself at the Phoenix New Times Chow Bella Pie Social.

To judge a pie contest. Ten pies from ten professional chefs. Four other judges and me.

It was a tough job, but somebody had to do it.

The New Times will print the results this week. To me, it really doesn’t matter who won because in the end, I did.

I ate pie.

Are you pie or cake?

By Gwen Ashley Walters | AUGUST 05, 2009 | DESSERTS

illustration by Matt Armendariz of

illustration by Matt Armendariz of

Summer Fest 2009 is a multi-week, “cross-pollination” of blogs, created by Margaret Roach from Away To Garden. She enlisted the help of several top food bloggers with the goal of sharing recipes and tips.

The best part is that everyone can participate in the fun, just by leaving comments, and if you’ve written about the topic, leave a link, too. But even if you don’t have a blog, you can still leave a comment. It’s all about sharing — I know I’d love to hear from you.

The first week was all about herbs, this week is fruit-from-trees. Next week is greens and beans, with a grand finale of tomato week.


I’ve chosen nectarines for my Summer Fest fruit-from-trees post. I’ve got nothing against fuzzy peaches, but I just love the smooth-skinned yellow nectarines.

Before I dive into my post about wrapping nectarines and blueberries in a free form pie dough for a very rustic crostata, here’s a look at what some of the other Summer Fest participants are doing:

You’ll find even more links to other great Summer Fest posts by reading the comments on these co-creator blogs. Why, I think you could spend a whole day reveling the wonders of fruits from trees.

Let’s talk about pie, shall we? Crostata is an Italian term for a rustic, free-form, open-faced pie.

This recipe is adapted from a pear and dried sour cherry recipe in my cookbook, The Great Ranch Cookbook. But since it’s Summer Fest, and pears are definitely not in season, I’ve replaced the winter fruit with what’s in season now.


Nectarines, like peaches, give off lots of juice during baking. I don’t want the juice oozing out of my open-faced pie, so I sprinkle the peaches with sugar and let them sit for a while. It’s really a little bonus for the cook, too. You can drink the juice (maybe mix it with a little rum and a splash of soda? Just sayin’.)


The reason I love crostatas is because they’re fast and easy and you don’t have to be a champion pie crimper. Didn’t roll out your dough into a perfect circle? Who cares! Of course, I do like my silicone pastry sheet with measured circles that lets me know when I’ve reached roughly the right size.


You don’t have to expertly arrange the fruit either. You can just mound it in the center of your not-so-perfect pie dough, letting the fruit fall where it may. Then just pick up an edge and pull it toward the center. Pull up another section a couple inches away, and pleat that over the first piece, working your way all around the pie.


Brush the pie edges with a little milk or cream and sprinkle with sugar. Granulated sugar works just fine, but raw sugar adds a little more character.


That’s my take on fruit-from-trees for Summer Fest 2009. What do you think?

Nectarine Blueberry Crostata

My Dad would not like this rustic pie for two reasons. 1.) He really hates blueberries. Says they make your breath smell bad. 2.) This pie isn’t very sweet. It’s what I call barely-sweet. That’s why you can add whipped cream or a scoop of ice cream and it doesn’t make the whole dessert just one big tooth-jarring sugar bomb.

The recipe calls for 1-1/2 pounds of nectarines, which is about four large ones. I usually buy one more than I need because there is always one nectarine that’s either not ripe enough, or has a bad pit, or bruised. It’s always something.

Serves 6

1 recipe Easy, Buttery Pie Dough
1-1/2 pounds just-ripe nectarines
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/4 cup sugar
1 cup fresh blueberries
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
1 tablespoon milk or cream or in between
1 tablespoon sugar (I like raw sugar, or big crystal white sugar)
1 tablespoon peach or apricot jam (for glazing, so any light colored jam will do, even strawberry)

1. Make the pie dough and let it chill while you prepare the filling.

2. Cut the nectarines into 1/2-inch wedges. Place in a large bowl and toss with lemon juice and sugar. Set aside for 20 minutes. The nectarines will give off about 1/3 a cup or so of juice.

3. Drain the nectarines and return to the bowl. Add the blueberries, cinnamon and nutmeg and toss gently.

4. Heat the oven to 350 degrees F. Roll the pie crust out on a lightly floured surface to a 12-inch circle. And by circle, I mean something similar to round, but it doesn’t have to be perfect. Fold the dough over the rolling pin and transfer it to a lined baking sheet and unfold.

5. Mound the filling onto the center of the dough, leaving a 2-1/2 to 3-inch border all the way around. Fold the border over the filling, pleating as you go. A good portion of the filling will be uncovered.

6. Brush the dough with the milk or cream, and sprinkle with the sugar.

7. Bake for 40 minutes, or until the dough is browned and cooked through.

8. Warm the jam in the microwave for 10 seconds or so and brush the jam on the fruit, to give it a little sheen. Rest the pie 5 to 10 minutes before cutting. Serve with a dollop of whipped cream or ice cream if you like.

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