Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Pecan Pie

I can't believe how the time is flying. The year is flying by, and it's holiday time already!!

With Thanksgiving last week and December only hours away, it's a very busy time for, well, just about everyone I know. It's also a pretty busy time in the kitchen, between huge family feasts, yummy holiday treats and fun edible gifts.

I don't host the holiday feasts, though I hope to one day. We do our big holiday meals with daddy's family. But I bring dessert. I offer to make anything that will help out, but dessert is usually the key. And one dessert that is generally requested year after year, as was the case this Thanksgiving, is pecan pie.

I have been making this pecan pie in this particular crust for many, many years. I am almost embarrassed to let you know how unbelievable easy this whole recipe is. Even the crust. While I do love my go-to, all butter, normal, roll-out pie crust, I always default to this easier one for this pie. I have no idea why, it's just what I do.

And when I say easy, I mean easy.

Put all of the ingredients right in the pie plate in a big, messy clump.

Use a fork to mix it all together. Well, a fork and a teeny bit of patience, because for a minute there, it'll look like there's not enough liquid to wet all the dry...

Use your hands to press it into shape.

Prick the dough all over with a fork.

Aaaannnd.... umm... that's it. Obviously you want to bake the pie shell, especially if the pie recipe calls for a fully baked crust. But that's it. No cutting in of shortening, no resting in the fridge, no fighting with a rolling pin... a seriously easy crust that actually tastes flaky and delicious. I half bake mine prior to making the pecan pie (see recipes below), and it comes out pretty darn nicely, I think.

Now, I made this crust after dinner the night before Thanksgiving, then proceeded to make the rest of the pie after the kiddos went to bed, as it always tastes better the next day. So before sending the kids off to dreamland, I took care of the noisy part of the process - chopping the pecans in the (mini) food processor (attachment of my much-loved immersion blender).

Once the nuts are chopped, the pie is super simple to put together. Yup, even easier than the crust.

All of the ingredients go into one bowl.

Mix them until they're well incorporated, then pour the whole thing into the prepared crust.

Then put it in the oven for 45 minutes.

And don't tell anyone that it was that easy.

Pecan pie is magical to me, how the nuts rise to the surface and create that shell, and all the gooey, sweet deliciousness stays underneath...

With a bit of whipped cream (or vanilla ice cream!) it is the perfect end to a holiday meal.

So what is your favorite holiday dessert?

Easy Pie Crust
(from allrecipes)

1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
2 teaspoons white sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 tablespoons milk

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Place all ingredients into a 9 inch pie plate. Using a fork, stir everything together. Pat the mixture into the bottom and up the sides of the pie plate. Using the same fork, poke holes in the bottom and sides of the crust.
Bake for 15 minutes or until light brown.
(I usually bake it for no more than 10 minutes with the pecan pie recipe that follows)

Pecan Pie
(from allrecipes)

1 9-inch pie shell
3/4 cup white sugar
3/4 cup light corn syrup
3 eggs, beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 pinch salt
1 cup chopped pecans (I usually over-flow my cup, being very generous with the pecans...)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Prick pastry shell in several places wit a fork and bake in preheated oven for 5 minutes. (you can skip this step if you followed the above directions for the easy pie crust)
In a large bowl, combine sugar, corn syrup, eggs, vanilla, salt and pecans. Mix well, then pour into pie shell.
Bake in preheated oven for 45 minutes. Check the crust after 30 minutes - if it is getting too brown, cover the edges with foil. When fully baked, the pie will still be a little loose in the center, but will fully set as it cools - be careful not to over-bake.


Sunday, November 27, 2011

November Daring Bakers' Challenge - Filipino Desserts

Catherine of Munchie Musings was our November Daring Bakers'host and she challenged us to make a traditional Filipino dessert - the delicious Sans Rival cake! And for those of us who wanted to try an additional Filipino dessert, Catherine also gave us a bonus recipe for Bibingka which comes from her friend Jun of Jun-blog.

I love to try new things and learn about foods from around the world. So when the challenge was revealed this month, I was super excited.

The main dessert that Catherine challenged us to make was the Sans Rival, literally translating to "without rival" - I mean, it's so good, even the name tells us it's the best! The dessert is made by layering crispy, nut-flavored meringues with rich French buttercream. Umm... yes please!

Having never heard of the dessert prior to seeing the challenge, I did a little bit of online digging, just to see other pictures, learn as much as I could, and to compare recipes - I find that doing so helps me feel more comfortable when making something so completely new. After a few quick searches, I found a very similar recipe that looked gorgeous, and just happened to be on the blog of a fellow Daring Baker, Oggi. The only difference, as far as I could tell, was the number of eggs called for. The challenge recipe called for ten egg whites and five egg yolks, leaving the baker with a surplus of five yolks. Oggi's recipe called for five whites and five yolks - nice and even! So, while making sure to use the challenge recipe as inspiration, I followed Oggi's measurements so as not to have to worry about any extra ingredients.

The first step, no matter which recipe you follow, is to separate the eggs.

Then the two separate components have to be prepared. I began with the French buttercream, as it needed to be cooled at a couple different points during the preparation. The egg yolks were transferred to the bowl of my stand mixer, and I began to prepare a syrup of sugar and water, boiling it until it reached about 235 degrees.

Then, with the mixer on high, the syrup was slowly and carefully poured down the side of the mixer bowl to mix in with the whipping yolks.

(notice I stressed slow and careful. If you go to quickly, you wind up with scrambled eggs. Which is not the idea here. So go slowly and carefully.)

The mixer then continued to do its thing for another 15 minutes, at which point the mixture looked something like this:

And it tasted kind of like marshmallow cream. Yum. This was transferred to a bowl and set in the fridge to cool for a while.

Interestingly enough, when it came out of the fridge a couple of hours later, it looked like this:

All those little bubbles... kinda cool. And it still tasted like marshmallow cream. What? Don't you taste along the way?

Anyway, in order to turn that bowl of deliciousness into a rich French buttercream, there was one additional ingredient required. Butter. Which was beaten until totally fluffy in the mixer.

And then mixed in with the yolk-syrup-deliciousness. Then the whole thing was put back into the fridge to wait for the meringues to be ready.

Which was actually what I was working on while the yolk-syrup-deliciousness was in the fridge the first time.

After thoroughly cleaning out the mixer bowl from the yolks, into the bowl went the whites.

A few minutes whisked together at high speed, a little sugar and voila!

I folded some finely ground pecans into the finished meringue, and began to create my shapes. Catherine's recipe called for baking the meringue in 9 inch cake pans, covered in parchment and well coated with cooking spray. But, given how rich everyone said that the dessert was (and the fact that I only have two 9 inch round cake pans and was out of parchment paper), I decided to improvise. I thought that making individual sized Sans Rivals might be a fun idea, so I began to pipe little, flat rounds of the meringue.

As you can see, I did also make four slightly bigger rounds - I thought I would make a half-sized version, as well, in addition to the personal sized ones... I had plenty of meringue, so I figured why not.

The flat little nutty meringues baked up quickly and beautifully.

And I was now ready to build the dessert!

I started with the mini ones, as they were planned to be the dessert for our family dinner that evening.

With clean hands, I began the layering process.

Mini meringue, buttercream, another mini meringue, more buttercream, yet another mini meringue, a decorative pipe of buttercream on top, and a pecan half for decorative fun.

I chose to do only three layers of meringue for the little guys to make them easier to eat - I thought of them as Sans Rival petit fours, and thus didn't want them too tall to be able to bite into.

They turned out great, and made a fun little dessert to dinner that night!

We all enjoyed it, and thought that the combination of flavors and textures was fantastic. And most of us agreed that the single serving size, due to the richness of the buttercream, was perfect. It shouldn't surprise you that little miss was the one asking for seconds.

I did also construct the half size Sans Rival with the four five-inch meringue circles that I'd prepared. I tried to prepare it using the traditional (as described in the recipes) presentation, using four layers of meringue and coating the outside with crushed nuts (again, pecans for us).

I thought the dessert made a beautiful presentation in full, and it was just as yummy, if not more so, the second time around. I actually think that it tasted better after having sat in the fridge for a day.

And the layers of crispy and rich deliciousness were just super fun to eat.

In addition to the Sans Rival recipe that Catherine provided to us, she also presented two other recipes, as optional for this challenge. One (the Bibingka) required ingredients and tools that I just don't have at this time. The other, though, I found to be intriguing, and it looked simple, so I thought I would give it a shot. It was for salted eggs.

Salted eggs are basically eggs preserved in brine. That's it. Raw eggs in a brine solution. Turns out this is actually quite common, no matter how odd it seemed to me upon reading it. So I just had to give it a shot.

I took out a 16 ounce canning jar and found that three eggs fit perfectly in it.

The brine solution was easy - one part salt to four parts water (I went with 1/3 cup salt and 1 1/3 cups water - it was the amount of water that worked for my jar once the eggs were in it. Yes, I measured it out with clean water first...), with a few peppercorns added to the pot as well. The recipe actually called for bourbon or whiskey, too, but I skipped the booze.

Once the brine solution was boiled and cooled, I strained it into my jar of eggs.

I then put the lid on the jar and... let it sit. For two weeks. On the counter. I looked at it daily. With curiosity, mostly. Daddy looked at it with something a little closer to wariness or fear... or something between the two...

After two weeks, I figured I might as well try the eggs. Apparently the most common way to prepare the eggs for eating after brining them is to hard boil them. So that is what I did.

The results were... interesting. The eggs cooked up a little oddly, with the whites not feeling quite as firm as the hard boiled eggs I usually make (ie: ones that haven't sat for two weeks in a salt bath...), but the yolks seemed almost overcooked, at least the outer portion of them did.

As for the taste? Well, they tasted like salty eggs! Even through the shell, the brine really did permeate the entire egg, adding the saltiness to both the white and the yolk. It seemed like an interesting science experiment, but not one I am likely to repeat.

The Sans Rival, on the other hand, was fantastic, and will be made again for a fun occasion. I have included here the recipe that I used, with hints from the challenge presentation.

Catherine, thank you so much for sharing these new recipes with us and for being such a wonderful host!

To see some of the beautiful creations baked up in the kitchen this month, check them out here.

Sans Rival
(from Oggi)

5 egg whites
1 cup sugar
1 1/2 cups chopped cashews or almonds (or pecans!)
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Beat the egg whites until stiff. Add the sugar gradually, continuing to beat. Fold in the nuts and vanilla. Pipe the whites onto parchment paper in the desired shapes, or divide the mixture into 4 or 5 very thin rounds. Bake the meringues at 350 degrees until golden brown. Turn the oven off and let them sit in the cooling oven until cool (about two hours total).

French Buttercream
1/4 cup water
2/3 cup sugar
5 egg yolks
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, room temperature

Boil water and sugar together until it spins a thread (about 235 degrees on a candy/deep fry thermometer). In a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the egg yolks on high speed. Slowly and carefully pour the mixture over well beaten egg yolks, with the mixer continuing to mix on high. Continue to beat until thick (about 15 minutes). Transfer the mixture to a bowl and chill in the fridge for an hour.
Cream the room temperature butter, then add the well chilled egg mixture. Beat well to combine fully.

Final Assembly
Prepared meringue layers
Prepared French Buttercream
1/2 cup chopped nuts (same nuts as used in meringue)

Set the bottom meringue on a board or platter (the serving dish works fine!). Spread a thin layer of buttercream, then top with another meringue. Repeat with all your layers, spreading a thin layer of buttercream on each meringue layer. Top the final layer with buttercream, and spread more buttercream over the sides. Decorate with the chopped nuts, either pressing them into the sides or sprinkling them all over the cake.
Refrigerate the cake until ready to serve. It also freezes very well.


Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Oatmeal Cookie Granola

I am kind of on an oatmeal kick recently. Well, I want to be on an oatmeal kick. So I have been looking at all kinds of recipes for fun and different things to do with oatmeal. In my searching, I came across a recipe for some yummy looking and sounding granola, so I bookmarked it.

Would you believe that I have never made granola before? Granola bars, sure. But just granola, nope. In fact, I don't even really know what one does with granola, other than eat it as cereal... yes, that includes sprinkling it on yogurt or ice cream. What, you don't do that with your cereal?

Anyway, it looked good and sounded really straightforward, so I figured what they heck. So once the little ones were fast asleep, I got started.

The basis of granola is oatmeal, so we started with that. The recipe actually called for two different kinds of oats - old fashioned (check, got those) and something called Coach's Oats. I have never heard of them, but the recipe said that you can just use more regular oats, so that is what I did. The recipe also called for a bit of quinoa to be mixed in with the oats, which was intriguing to me. So I started by tossing together my oatmeal and quinoa.

Dry ingredients set aside, I began preparing what I think of as the dressing for the granola - the wet ingredients that give it its flavor and hold it together. This recipe called for honey, vanilla, cinnamon, brown sugar and coconut oil. As luck would have it, my sister recently "loaned" me a jar of coconut oil. I hadn't actually ever tried it yet, so I think that was one reason why this recipe was calling to me... Interestingly enough, coconut oil is pretty solid at room temperature, which makes scooping it fun, but it, along with all the other yumminess went right into a pot to be melted all together.

Once the honey and coconut oil were completely melted and the sugar and cinnamon were completely incorporated, the liquid was ready to be poured over the waiting oats (and quinoa).

Aaaannnddd.... that was the hard part. I kid you not, that is as complicated as it gets. I carefully stirred the entire mixture together to make sure that all of the oats (and quinoa) had their fair share of coating, then poured the whole thing out onto a silicone-baking-mat-covered cookie sheet, which then went into a 325 degree oven.

Once the pan went into the oven, in addition to doing the dishes, I quickly chopped about a cup and a half of almonds. After 15 minutes, I took the pan out of the oven, gave it a toss (carefully, with a spatula) and sprinkled the chopped almonds on top.

At this point, it just takes a couple more iterations of "bake for 15 minutes then toss it around a bit" for the granola to be done. Who knew it was so easy?

After about 45 minutes of total cooking time, the granola will begin to turn golden brown, and that is when you know it is done. One more toss as you take it out of the oven for the final time, and the I just let it sit and set overnight.

When I came down for breakfast the next morning, I was pretty excited. The kitchen still smelled lovely from the vanilla and brown sugar and cinnamon-y goodness, so little miss and I dug right in. I had mine over vanilla yogurt (yellow bowl) and little miss had hers with milk.

The taste did not disappoint. Sweet but not overly so, nutty, warm and absolutely delicious.

Little miss then reminded me that one of her cookbooks has a recipe for cookies that have granola cereal as an ingredient. So I think I know what we'll be baking this weekend...

So how do you eat your granola?

Oatmeal Cookie Granola
(adapted from Cheeky Kitchen)

6 cups old fashioned oats (or 4 cups old fashioned oats and 2 cups of Coach's Oats)
1/2 cup quinoa
3/4 cup honey
1/4 cup brown sugar
2/3 cup coconut oil
1 1/2 tablespoons vanilla extract
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 to 1 1/2 cups chopped almonds

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
In a large bowl, stir together the oats and quinoa; set aside. In a medium saucepan, combine the honey, brown sugar, coconut oil, vanilla and cinnamon. Heat over medium heat until just melted, then pour the syrup over the oat mixture, stirring carefully until well coated. Turn the oats onto a cookie sheet that has been covered with a layer of parchment paper (or a silicone baking mat). Spread the oats into an even layer. Bake for 15 minutes. After 15 minutes, remove the granola from the oven and stir the nuts into the mixture. Return the pan to the oven and bake for 15 more minutes. Use a spatula to flip the granola over, then cook for an additional 15-20 minutes, until the edges are lightly golden brown. Remove the pan from the oven, stir the granola around one more time, then allow it to air dry and harden overnight before serving.


Friday, November 18, 2011

Strawberry Crumb Topped Muffins

Little miss is in afternoon kindergarten. Which means that we have the whole morning every day. Which is great. We can do errands or be lazy... whatever the day calls for.

On those mornings when we don't have anywhere to be, we have the opportunity to make breakfast a little more fun. And there is a greater than 50% chance that, when asked what she wants to make for breakfast, that little miss will pick some kind of muffin. I actually have a few muffins in the queue to post here that we have made for breakfasts recently, but this one was too fun to wait on.

Little miss chose a recipe in my file called "Banana Streussel Muffins." The only problem with this selection was that she had just eaten the last banana the previous morning. And I hadn't been to the store to buy more yet. So what is a mom to do? Improvise. Grab the box of strawberries in the fridge and make the recipe our own.

While I washed and hulled the strawberries, little miss started working on the muffin batter. She measured the dry ingredients and whisked them together.

I then hit the strawberries with the immersion blender to make a puree.

Little miss then incorporated the strawberry puree into the other wet ingredients.

We then worked together to carefully incorporate the wet ingredients into the dry, being careful not to over mix. Then, as I spooned the batter into the sprayed muffin tin, little miss worked on mixing together our crumb topping.

A generous sprinkle of topping on each muffin, and we were ready to bake.

And the results of our experiment?

They looked and smelled delicious out of the oven.

So how did they taste?

Little miss loved them.

And in case you are curious, so did little man.

This was his first muffin. And his first taste of strawberry. I see many more baked goods in his future...

Strawberry Crumb Topped Muffins
(my own recipe!)

For muffins:
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups strawberry puree (just under one pound of strawberries, washed, hulled and pureed)
3/4 cups sugar
1 lightly beaten egg
1/3 cup melted butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

For crumb topping:
1/3 cup brown sugar
2 tablespoons flour
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
1 tablespoon butter, room temperature

Preheat oven to 375 degrees and spray a 12-well muffin tin with non-stick cooking spray.
In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the 1 1/2 cups flour baking soda, baking powder and salt.
In a separate bowl, beat together the strawberry puree, sugar, egg, melted butter and vanilla.
Carefully add the strawberry mixture to the flour mixture and stir until just combined. Spoon the batter into the prepared muffin tins and set aside while you prepare the crumb topping.
In a small bowl, combine the brown sugar, 2 tablespoons flour and cinnamon. Incorporate the 1 tablespoon of butter by either cutting it in with knives, with a fork, or even with your fingertips until it resembles coarse crumbles. Sprinkle the topping over the tops of the prepared, unbaked muffins.
Put the muffin tin in the oven and close the door. Lower the oven temperature to 350 and bake for 18-22 minutes, until they test done.

Monday, November 14, 2011

November Daring Cooks' Challenge - Cooking With Tea

This last month has been a pretty busy one. Between school and sickies, little man starting to practice walking, computer issues and some pretty crazy weather, there's been a lot going on. Then the Daring Cooks' challenge for the month was announced, and it was a really interesting one.

Sarah from Simply Cooked was our November Daring Cooks'hostess and she challenged us to create something truly unique in both taste and technique! We learned how to cook using tea with recipes from Tea Cookbook by Tonia George and The New Tea Book by Sara Perry.

What an intriguing idea! While Sarah did provide us with some really interesting and cool recipe ideas for guidance, the only true requirement that she gave us was that we must prepare a savory dish using tea.

I immediately started trying to come up with something different. Then, in the course of an outing one day, I saw a variety box of fruit flavored teas (decaf! bonus!), and it came to me. Cranberry sauce.

My family has a tried and true cranberry sauce recipe that we generally tend to pull out around this time of year. Why not kick it up a notch and make it using tea?

To begin, little miss helped me to brew a cup of raspberry zinger tea.

Each bag is actually intended to make two cups, but I wanted my tea to be a bit strong, so that the flavor would (hopefully!) come through in the finished sauce, so I allowed the bag to steep in just one cup of hot water.

After a few minutes, the tea was good to go.

Little miss loves to help me sort through the berries, pulling out any that are too white, too brown or too squishy.

To the cranberries, we added both white and brown sugar, then little miss added our star ingredient.

The resulting mixture was mixed well, then brought to a boil, then allowed to simmer until most of the berries popped. As the resulting mixture cools, it thickens up beautifully, and the resulting sauce made a perfect side to our dinner. Not that I can remember what we had for dinner that night. I just know that we all enjoyed the cranberry sauce!

Now, please know that I had intended to try at least one more tea-dish this challenge cycle. Sarah provided us with a really cool idea of making Chinese tea eggs - hard boiled eggs that are partially cracked (but not peeled), then soaked in tea, creating a super cool pattern on the eggs once they are peeled. Unfortunately, I didn't have the chance to try it. Yet. I promise I will. She also gave ideas for soups and stews that sound super tasty. And that I promise to try as soon as possible.

Sarah, I am sorry that I didn't have a chance to try out more of the amazing tea ideas that you inspired this month, but I thank you for getting the tea-wheels in my head turning, and I truly look forward to trying lots of tea recipes in the future!

To see some of the creative tea dishes brewed in the Daring Kitchen this month, check them out here.

Raspberry Zinger Cranberry Sauce

1 bag cranberries
1 cup raspberry zinger tea, brewed strong
1/3 cup white sugar
1/3 cup brown sugar

After washing and carefully sorting through the berries to remove any under or over ripe ones, combine all ingredients in medium saucepan. Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce heat and allow to simmer until at least two thirds of the berries have burst, stirring occasionally. Allow the mixture to cool in the pot until ready to serve or store.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Pumpkin Shortbread... almost...

I am not sure if you have noticed, but I have been doing a little bit of work on the blog recently. Nothing too major, but I am trying to make it a bit better, a bit easier to navigate...

In addition to these changes, I started a Facebook page for the blog to help share the fun. If you are on Facebook, stop by and "like" my page - you can find it here.

I was so excited when the first "like" came in that I offered that first fan a treat as a thank you. I mean, what could be better? Become a fan of a cooking blog, get a yummy treat in the mail! Easy, right? Umm... yeah. Didn't quite work out that way.

We have had crazy craziness around here recently, and I actually haven't done as much baking, especially not extra baking recently. But then I stumbled across a recipe that looked so seasonal, so delicious, and like the perfect thing to share with a friend and fan. Pumpkin shortbread. I was set.

Everything started out great. The idea of these bars is basically that of a pumpkin pie with a shortbread crust, just baked in a square, rather than in a classic pie pan.

The shortbread crust, using both brown and white sugar (YUM!) came together quickly and easily.

And I carefully (and with washed hands) pressed it into my foil lined pan.

I then prepared the pumpkin layer, which was carefully poured on top of the (unbaked) shortbread layer.

And then the whole thing goes into the oven. The recipe called for it to bake for about 50 minutes, or until the top is golden brown. Well, after 50 minutes, the timer beeped, but the top was nowhere near golden brown. And the pumpkin layer wasn't really set. I checked it again after 5 more minutes. Then 5 more... then 5 more... I think you know where this is headed. I finally figured it was as cooked it was going to get, and pulled the pan out of the oven. After letting it cool in the pan for a little while, I used the foil to pull it out, and here's what it looked like:

Not quite like I'd imagined, but not too bad... I figured that once I cut off the edges then cut it into squares, it'd be closer to what I'd pictured.

Silly me.

All that extra baking time killed my shortbread. While keeping the pumpkin layer soft. I can't even tell you how much time and patience it took to cut off the edges.

I tried. Really hard. I even then tried to cut it into squares. But the bottom was too tough and the top refused to hold its shape. So it was definitely not send worthy. We wound up eating the topping by scooping it off of the shortbread, as it was just too tough to cut real pieces or bite through them even when we tried.

Needless to say, I was pretty disappointed.

But I thought I'd share anyway, since the concept and intention were good, and, well, it just goes to show that they can't all be winners!

April, if you are reading this, I promise I'll send something... at some point... just not these... :)

(recipe to follow... due to the technical difficulties we had earlier in the week, I lost all my bookmarks, and I can't seem to track this one down again, but I still wanted to share the story... I will update the post with the link and recipe as soon as possible...)
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