Thursday, December 24, 2009

Baked in a Pie

Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays tend to bring out a variety of pies. From traditional fruit pies (e.g. apple and cherry) to creamy and chunky (peanut butter and pecan) to custard (lemon, lime, and chocolate), all pies start with a crust. In spite of a love for pie, many skip the step for crust making due to the frustration associated with some crust recipes. After trying crust recipes from a few popular cookbooks, I preferred homemade crust but was not satisfied with any certain recipe. I stumbled across a synagogue cookbook from my hometown in Tennessee in a used book sale in South Carolina a few years ago. The book is called Recipes by Request from the B’nai Shalom Sisterhood. I do not know if they print new copies but the date indicates this was the 1967 update. It contains a mix of recipes from all over the world including many traditional Jewish recipes. I decided to pick it up and was pleased. As I tested scattered recipes in the book, I ran across two pie crust recipes. The first recipe produces a sweet double crust that tends to be thick when baked. The second generates a single crust that is savory and rolls out to form a thin delicate crust. Both are easy to follow and tasty! I am modifying them from the original format for readability but the information is unchanged.

Pie Dough (makes two- nine inch pie shells)

½ c. butter
8 tsp. sugar (can reduce or remove for a savory crust)
2/3 c. shortening
3 1/3 c. sifted all purpose flour
1 ½ tsp. salt
1/3 c. cold water


In a large bowl, beat butter and sugar with a fork. Blend this mixture well with soft shortening. Combine flour and salt. Then blend the flour mixture with the butter mixture. With the fork, gradually stir in the water until the mixture cleans the side of the bowl. On a lightly floured surface, knead dough until just well mixed; use as directed in pie recipe.

Notes: If you roll thinly, you can make 2 pie shells and two lattice tops from this recipe. I recommend a well floured surface to keep the crust from sticking to the counter top.

Pie Crust (1 crust)


1 c. flour
½ tsp salt
3 rounded Tbsp Crisco (shortening)
3 Tbsp ice water


Measure flour and salt into a large bowl. Blend shortening into flour and salt with a pastry blender or fork until it reaches the consistency of heavy cornmeal. Add water 1 tablespoonful at a time, tossing wet and dry ingredients together with blender until all the flour is moistened. Turn out on floured board. Roll into a circle 1/8 to ¼ inch thick and large enough to allow 1 to 1 ½ inches hanging over the edge of the pie tin. Fold up and back to make an upright rim and flute with fingers. Sprinkle dough lightly with flour. Place another tin the same size over the crust. Bake 12 minutes at 450 F until browned at the bottom. Remove upper tin and allow inside of crust to brown.

Note: If rolled thinly, you can make the bottom and a lattice top using this recipe. The recipe can be doubled to prevent anxiety about having enough dough for the upper crust.

I used the Pie Dough recipe to make caramel apple pie for Thanksgiving. The filling was made as stated for caramel apple crisp in a previous post. The modifications to the filling procedure were that I placed the apples in the crust, made the lattice top, and added the brown sugar and cinnamon into the caramel sauce. I poured the caramel topping over the lattice into the pie. I also added a little more cinnamon to the caramel sauce (2 tsp.) but I could’ve easily added more as it was not a dominant flavor.

Pie Before Baking

Pie After Baking

I also used the recipe to make a sugar free (technically reduced sugar since baking Splenda contains some sugar, as do apples) version. Instead of sugar, I used Splenda’s versions of sugar and brown sugar. The sugar substitutes responded quickly to heat and could only be heated on the stove top for 3-5 minutes. The mixture became very thick and would not pour over the lattice crust. In the future, I would recommend mixing the apples with the sugar free caramel sauce prior to making the lattice. This way the flavors will mingle with the apples.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Leftover Turkey?

Turkey with Curry and Rice

This one pot meal was a meal solution for leftover Thanksgiving turkey. I know it has been a few weeks since Thanksgiving. I chose to freeze leftover turkey and thawed some for this recipe in an effort to reduce the contents of the freezer.


1 c. chopped cooked turkey
1 medium onion, coarsely chopped
2 tsp. curry powder
½ tsp. salt
½ tsp. black pepper
1 c. cooked rice
1/3 c. peas
4 medium sized carrots, sliced
2 Tbsp vegetable oil
Cilantro, chopped


Heat the oil in a small pot or medium frying pan.
Toss in onions and carrots. Cook until onions are golden.
Add turkey, curry powder, salt, pepper and peas. Cook 1-2 minutes.
Stir in rice. Cook 2-3 minutes until all ingredients are hot.
Toss in cilantro and serve or add cilantro to each serving.

Note: This made 2.5 lunch servings for me. Consider doubling if this is desired as a one dish meal for more than one person, unless you have very light eaters.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Cooking Night : Italian Part IV, Cannoli

Holy Cannoli 101

Cannolis require 2 things: a filling and a shell. The shells can be bought at the store but fresh is so much better they are hardly the same product. While many stores will sell expensive tubes for making shells, this is unnecessary and far from traditional. Apparently, Italians historically used wooden tubes to make their shells. I read one story about a set of wooden tubes that had been in a family for over 50 years and that they were cut from an old broom. That's recycling!

Cannoli tubes

1. I went to Lowe's and looked at the untreated dowel rods. I picked a
1" dowl that must've been 4 feet long. I had it cut into 4" segments and received 12 pieces.

2. Using coarse and fine sandpaper. The edges were sanded with coarse
followed by fine sandpaper until the edges were rounded and faces
smooth. The lengths were sanded with the fine paper only until smooth.

3. The tubes were then washed with soap and water and dried. Ready to use!

Cannoli Shells

Using the following recipe:

A few things can be clarified. If you chill the dough, it may become
too stiff to roll. If it becomes too stiff add a little water. I wound
up adding over a Tbsp before the dough was pliable. Using a container
with a 4" round base (take out container from Thai Sewatdee worked), I
cut circles from the thinly rolled (~1/8 to 1/4 inch, closer to 1/8")
dough. Using a rolling pin (or a flat surfaced cup...I don't remember
which I used) roll the circle a little thinner in one direction to
create an ellipse. You need an ellipse to wrap loosely around the
cannoli tube. Overlap the seam edges as much as possible and press
together firmly. You can try sealing with a little water. It may or
may not help. I didn't find sealing with egg white to be helpful.
Place no more than three in a deep fryer at a time. The tube will want
to roll to the top (the end with less dough (b/c it is lighter) so you
will need to occasionally use a long handled instrument (slotted spoon
or whatever) to roll the cannoli so that it is cooked on all sides.
Remove when browned. This process takes 5-7 minutes per set. Once removed, allow the shells and tubes to cool for a few minutes. Then, gently press the tube from one end to remove the cannoli shell without breaking it. Once the shell is removed, the tube is ready for the next round of cannoli dough.

Cannoli Filling

This was the base recipe for filling. It was a start but far from the finish. The edited recipe follows:

1 c. Ricotta cheese (strained of fluid using cheese cloth)
1/8 c. Kahlua or other coffee flavoring (More can be added but be
careful with liberality b/c your filling needs body.)
3/8 c. Sugar (it wasn't sweet enough the first time. Powdered sugar
might be a better solution)
1/3 c. Semisweet chocolate chips
1/3 c. Heath bits

The shells are best when freshly made and eaten. They are nowhere near
as good the next day but definitely edible. If the option is
available, roll out the dough but wait to fry them until ready to
fill. The filling is better if you let the flavors mingle for a few hours or overnight. I suggest waiting to put the chips in until before filling so that they do not dissolve in the mixture.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Cooking Night : Italian Part III, Fettuccine Carbonara and Onion-Baconated Chicken

Fettuccine Carbonara

As a pasta entree, there was demand for remaking a dish I had made with Mel once in the past. Both Bon Appetit and Cooking Light had published recipes for Carbonara one month. Honestly, I think we combined the recipes but I'm not sure. When it was first prepared, Mel and I used prosciutto but the Bon Appetit recipe called for pancetta. In contrast to normal, we pretty much followed the recipe. Due to popular demand for a vegetable they had eaten before, broccoli was substituted for broccolini. In a cooperative effort between at least three people, Neil and the pancetta, Rebecca with the fettuccine, and I'm not even sure who was taking care of combining it all with the sauce. I think if it were to be done again, it might be better to split the sauce in half and mix the combination in two settings. I know it dirties more bowls but I think there would've been a moister overall dish...that or in the future I would double the sauce.

The Bon Appetit Recipe can be found here. The Cooking Light recipe is here. We skipped the egg on top as we had an alternate meat entree.

For the meat entree, I switched out a fish recipe that was liked in previous cooking and used it for chicken.

Onion-Baconated Grilled Chicken


1 large Videlia onion
1 lb bacon
3-4 large chicken breasts
low salt soy sauce

1. Preheat outdoor grill.
2. Using a fish basket ($10 at Lowe's and well worth it), Place bacon strips about 1/2 apart across the basket.
3. Cover the bacon slices with single layer slices of onion
4. Place chicken on top of onion.
5. Layer more onion on top of chicken
6. Layer bacon strips 1/2 inch apart across the top of the chicken.
7. Lightly splash soy sauce across the top.
8. Close grill basket well. This is very important. Make sure the grill basket top is on as tightly as possible. You're not likely to break it but it is likely to open and spew out your contents if not closed well. Push the metal clasp as far down as possible.
9. Place the basket on the grill with the grill set to medium heat. Do not abandon the grill! Using a squirt bottle, shoot out the flames that are definitely going to rise.
10. After the chicken has cooked 10 minutes, get ready to flip. BEFORE flipping, go ahead and readjust the grill basket. As the contents cooked, they have lost water and the lid on the basket will likely be loose. After adjusting and tightening, flip and continue monitoring the chicken with your trusty squirt bottle.
11. This takes 20-30 minutes to grill. Be sure to check the chicken to make sure it is done. It should be white all the way through.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Cooking Night : Italian Part II, White Bean and Pasta Soup

White bean and pasta soup was a featured recipe earlier this year from Bon Appetit. However, as it sometimes happens, the recipe didn't work with what was available at groceries here so it required a fair bit of modification.

The original recipes can be found here and here.

The original recipe called for cooking cannellini beans (aka white kidney beans) with a mixture of spices prior to preparing the soup. Oddly, there were no white kidney beans to be found in dried form. Fortunately, we located already cooked canned white kidney beans. If you're in Winston-Salem, save yourself some time...the only grocery that carries them is Lowe's Foods. Since the beans were cooked with seasonings in the original recipe prior to being added to the soup, the seasonings were a guess and were supplemented along as it was taste tested. Mini farfellini pasta was selected because they were so cute. Seriously. Pasta is often selected based on cuteness if I'm making it. That's how I wound up eating radiatore. I thought it looked like small car radiators and that seemed very fun that day. Anyway, here's the soup and how we made it with seasoning edits. Keep in mind if you make this, you may want more salt or garlic. Also for the non carrot lovers...while the carrots were in there, the flavors melded and they didn't have a distinct taste in the soup.


3 Tbsp olive oil
2 c. chopped onions (we added a little more but we like onions)
2/3 c. chopped carrot
2/3 c. chopped celery
2 15 oz cans cooked white kidney beans
1 large tomato
1 c. mini farfellini
1/3 c. chopped green onions (everything except the top dark green parts and roots)
3 cloves of garlic
1-2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. black pepper
3 1/2 c. water


Heat oil in the soup pot.

Add onions(both types), carrots, garlic, and celery and cook until soft. Bon appetit says 12 min. I don't know that it took that long but its an estimate.

Add water, beans, salt, pepper, and tomato.

Bring to a simmer and reduce heat while simmering for 25 minutes.

Add pasta and cook until done. (8-10 minutes)


Friday, December 11, 2009

Cooking Night : Italian Part I, Baguettes

I decided to start a group cooking night with a group of friends so that we could all experience cooking together in one place, while trying different foods each time. The first cooking night was Italian themed.

We planned to have supper prepared by 7PM. Most of the people coming to help cook arrived around 5PM. Since I wanted fresh themed bread, I went back to a standby recipe for Baguettes. I have tried other recipes but this one works. After having some mixed results with others, it may take some time before I venture to another one. This recipe is easy to vary and the directions (while long) are not really complicated, just detailed. I can appreciate that. I do not know the exact amount of time it takes to make this recipe. I know that you have to allow for at least 2 risings each lasting at least an hour. I started at 1PM. That way, if the bread was ready early (and it was) it could hold until I was ready to bake without a problem. If you will be in a hurry the day of cooking, I recommend starting the bread the day before and getting it either to one rising point or other and placing it in the fridge. Prior to baking, sit the bread out on the counter for at least 30 minutes to reach room temperature.

I apologize for the lack of photo. As soon as the bread came out of the oven, the response was wow, it looks great, lets try it was promptly sliced. It didn't cross my mind to take a picture until well after the fact. However, the upcoming posts will have images of the sliced bread in them.

The following recipe came from Better Homes and Garden magazine when they did a segment on Old World Breads. I have had the recipe since I was in high school or undergrad and don't have a good idea of how old it was when I acquired it.


2 1/2 c. cool water (70-75F)
2 pkg. Active dry yeast
6-6 3/4 c. bread flour or unbleached all purpose flour
2 tsp. salt
1 egg white 2 Tbsp. water
Bread flour, toasted sesame seed, and/or toasted wheat germ
**(optional: cheddar, monterey jack, mozzarella or other cheese for cheesy Baguettes)


In the large mixing bowl stir together the 2 1/2 c. water and yeast. Let stand about 3 minutes or till mixture looks creamy. With a freestanding electric mixer or by hand with a spoon, add 3 to 4 cups of the flour, a little at a time, mixing on low speed at first and then on medium speed. (This will take about 10 minutes.) Sprinkle the salt over the dough during the last minute of mixing.

If your mixer has a dough hook, continue to add flour, 1/4 c. at a time, till the dough clings together and cleans the side of the bowl. Continue mixing on medium speed about 5 minutes to make a stiff dough that is smooth and elastic. Or, to knead by hand, with a spoon stir in as much of the remaining flour as you can. Turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface. Knead in enough of the remaining flour to make a stiff dough that is smooth and elastic (8-10 minutes total).

Shape the dough into a ball. Place dough in a large greased bowl; turn once to grease surface of dough. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place till double (1 1/2 to 2 hours). Or, cover and chill overnight.

Punch the dough down and knead gently in the bowl just a few strokes. Cover and let rise again till nearly double (3/4 to 1 hour in a warm place, or 1 1/2 to 2 hours in the refridgerator). Punch dough down again and turn out onto a lightly floured surface. Divide into 4 equal portions. Cover and let rest for 10 minutes.

To shape loaves, work with 1 portion of dough at a time, leaving others covered. Flatten 1 portion with the heel of your hand to about an 8x4-inch rectangle, pressing out air bubbles as you go. Bring up the long edges of the dough and pinch together to close the seam, gently stretching the loaf lengthwise as you work. Pat the dough flat again, then repeat pinching and stretching to make a 17 inch long loaf that is about 2 inches in diameter. If the dough becomes too bouncy and shrinks back as you work with it,let it rest for 5-10 min. and continue with another portion of dough. (The dough will be easier to shape after it rests.) Place each loaf, seam side down, in a greased baguette pan or place loaves 3-4 inches apart on grease baking sheets. Cover with a kitchen towl and let rise in a warm place till nearly double (3/4 to 1 hour).

Preheat oven to 450F and adjust 2 oven racks so that one is in the lowest position and the other is in the middle of the oven. With a sharp knife, cute 4 or 5 diagonal slashes in each loaf, about 1/4 inch deep. Combine egg white, and the 2 tables spoons of water; brush atop loaves. Dust with flour or sprinkle with other toppings.

Place bread in the oven on the middle rack. (If you don't have room to bake all loaves at once, place the others, covered, in the refrigerator, removing 10 minutes before baking time. Repeat heating broiler pan and adding water for each batch. Bake for 20-25 minutes or til loaves are golden brown and sound hollow when tapped. The water in the pan wil evaporate after about 10 min. baking time; remove dry pan to prevent warping.

Transfer loaves to wire racks; cool completely. Servce within 12 hours or wrap in freezer wrap and freeze up to 3 months. Makes 4 baquettes.

To reheat and crisp bread: Thaw, if frozen. Unwrap and place directly on the rack in a preheated 400F oven. Bake for 10 min. or til crisp and heated through.

My notes:

Specially designed baguette pans give the loaves their round shape. Bake sheepts give the same delicious results, but produce loaves with flat bottoms.

**If you want cheesy baguettes, when shaping loaves, place strips of cheddar, Monterey Jack, mozzarella, etc. along the middle as you shape. Garlic and oil can be added into the middle at this point, as another option.

If you decide to bake baguettes ahead of time, allow them to completely cool without being wrapped up by anything. Wrapping a hot baguette completely ruins the texture and you will be disappointed.

We made a dip for the bread using olive oil, garlic (of course), and rosemary. It went quite well with the soup...

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

A Taste of Pittsburgh

In early October, I went to Pittsburgh, PA for a conference. I had not been to Pittsburgh previously. Prior to the trip, my friend Neil made sure to give me some pointers for places to see and eat! Neil's list included the Duquesne Incline, the strip district, Pittsburgh Macaroni Company, Primanti Brothers, and the Cathedral of Learning. Fortunately, my friend Rob lives in Pittsburgh and was willing to tour me around town so I was able to get a good taste of the city.

Day 1:
Rob met me when I got into town. He made sure to inform me that Pittsburgh loves potatoes, especially fries. In fact, they love them so much fries are found inside of sandwiches, on top of salads and as a traditional side. Each restaurant had their own spin on fries which kept things interesting. The first night we ate a burger joint. Unfortunately, I can't recall the name. Naturally, the burger came with fries but not in your traditional sense. Their fries were chunks of potatoes pan fried with onions. The burgers were delicious. Mine came with fried onions, cheddar and mushrooms. Rob took care of the mushrooms for me. After burgers, we went up to the Duquesne (Due-cane) Incline. The view was incredible! From the hill, we could see the intersection of the three rivers and the city. I learned the incline had been used by the people on the other side of the river to travel down the hill to the ferry. The ferry crossed the river over to downtown Pittsburgh. The incline is now a piece of history rather than needed transportation. You can take a ride down and back up for a couple of dollars. As an added bonus, you can see the inner workings of the incline from an outside observation deck.

Day 2:
The pre-conference workshop that I came to attend didn't begin until 1PM so I had the morning to explore. I decided to walk from my hotel to the strip district. The strip district is literally a strip of shops and restaurants in an older area of town where steel mills once dominated. The walk from my hotel took about 30 minutes but I thought it was well worth the time. The area had several international grocery stores including Pittsburgh Macaroni Company.

Pittsburgh Macaroni company was the largest of the groceries. When I stepped in, I felt like I had entered a general store. Spices available by the scoop and nuts (pecans, walnuts, etc) were held in barrels. Past this point, the store reminded me of my imagination of what its like to shop in Europe. One area had shelf after shelf of fresh bread. I'm not talking about Iron kids and Sara Lee. The options from foccacia and baquettes to cheese filled breads were excellent. I couldn't resist a small loaf of asiago filled ciabatta. In addition to breads, the store offered over 200 kinds of cheese and a separate butcher shop. Fabulous. It felt touristy to take a picture so I refrained. I did stand in amazement for several minutes though. I'd never seen so much cheese!

From there, I decided to locate Primanti Brothers sandwich shop. After walking up to the end of the strip district, I was beginning to wonder if I would be able to find it. Walking back towards the hotel, I was able to see the restaurant. Primanti's was between streets and impossible to see from the direction I had walked up the street. I was excited to find it and pretty hungry from my walk so I headed over for lunch. After looking over a lengthy sandwich menu, I decided on kolbassi and cheese. I got over my shyness and took a picture of the monster sandwich they brought me.

This was half of it. It was all of 6 inches tall! I had to take two small bites from the top and bottom to get a taste of the sandwich at once. Yum! I learned that Primanti's sandwiches were made with french fries and slaw inside because truckers were the original market. The truckers didn't have time to eat slaw, fries, and a sandwich separately so Primanti's packed a meal into each sandwich. Later that evening, Nicole and Alex arrived. After an extended search, we found ice cream. To my shock, Pittsburgh shops do not sell ice cream year round due to the low demand from cold winters. Yikes, that's cold! The Milk Shake Factory was open. They offered ice cream, milk shakes, and a host of chocolates! Rob tried the pumpkin ice cream and was quite pleased. Alex insisted on a milk shake. I got butter pecan and mocha. Due to an accident in scooping the wrong flavor, I also wound up with a 3rd scoop as well. Unfortunately, I don't remember what it was but all the flavors were tasty!

Day 3:
The conference began in full swing. I decided to try Korean sushi for lunch. I honestly cannot recommend what I tried. The spicy tuna was better than than white tuna but neither were anywhere close to as good as sushi from Ishi in Winston Salem. I had to have help to finish. Supper was excellent though! We went to India Garden. I ordered paneer korma. Nicole ordered something hideously hot. Dr. Wagner was excited about a dish with peas and carrots. I can't remember the rest but we all shared. The food and company were great. Afterwards, we drove through Carnegie Mellon's campus and part of the University of Pittsburgh. The Cathedral of Learning was open so we stepped in for a look. The Cathedral is in impressive 42 story Gothic revival style cathedral built between the 1920's and 1930's with classrooms decorated as classrooms from around the world. The Bosnian room had a class in it so we took a peek. The rest were locked for the evening but you can catch a picture tour through them all here. The view from the top allowed you to see the city from the middle. We went almost to the top and looked out the windows. Then we went back to Mount Washington (where the Duquesne Incline is located) to get an alternate view. This time, I had my camera!

Day 4:
For lunch I had a Pittsburgh style salad. Steak with french fries is a fairly normal thing but when on a salad, its different. I thought it was surprisingly good though. For supper, Nicole and I were in the mood for Italian. The conference was hosting a special event at the Heinz center. We weren't sure what that included so after consulting the concierge and the map to the Heinz center, we settled on Lidia's. That was one of the best decisions we made during the entire trip. After a 10 minute wait, we were seated. They brought out varieties of breads (sorry I don't know all the names. One type was sliced baguette. One type was a cheesy stick. I liked it a lot. Along with the bread came flavored hummus, basil and green olive! Both were great but I preferred the basil. For our meal, we decided to both get the Italian trio. A sample of all we could eat of three surprise pastas! The pastas of the night were Beef Bolognese with Linguini, Raisin and Rum Ravioli (it had cheese in it too), and bowtie pasta with pesto sauce. The ravioli was my favorite. They altered the Linguini dish so Nicole could have her vegetarian. We were happy campers!

After supper, we went to the Heinz museum.

The museum consisted of 6 floors of Pennsylvania history. From pioneers and tools to impressive halls of sports and art, I was surprised at how much had come from Pennsylvania. Dr. Wagner is originally from PA so he enjoyed telling us stories and showing us pictures of famous people he knew. It was great. Did you know Dr. Wagner was a famous hockey player?

Just kidding. Dr. Wagner and Nicole decided to play a game in the kids area together.

Afterwards we went downstairs for ice cream, cookies, and coffee. Being an ice cream gal, I stuck to ice cream. A good time was had by all. We bumped into Dr. Lu (who was the Ph.D. student I worked with during the BBSI summer research program when I was in undergrad) and Dr. Lee (from the University of Chicago who had visited as a guest lecturer at Wake Forest last fall).

Day 5:
There really wasn't much food involved in this day. We had lunch at the Marriot's restaurant. Nicole and I had grabbed dessert there on day 3. She had enjoyed some Stilton blue cheese ice cream while I had espresso cheesecake. Both were awesome!!! We were concerned it might be pricey for lunch but found out it was the best lunch deal we'd had all week! I had a chicken and prosciutto sandwich with a side of fruit. They offered fries but I was ready for something healthy. Nicole had vegetarian french onion soup made with mushroom broth. She was elated. Our return trip only offered airport food so it wasn't too exciting. We made it back safely to Winston-Salem. My cats were thrilled to see me and I was glad to be back after the long trip.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Satisfied Saturday

Well, almost satisfied. I didn't quite get done yesterday but I finished all the writing I had to do by 2AM this morning. I'm putting in references this morning so I decided that warranted some Krispie Kreme! Raspberry filled, Lemon filled, chocolate covered creme filled, pumpkin spice cake, original glazed, and blueberry cake! MMmmm. Not to be consumed at one sitting or alone for that matter. I made sure to stop by Whole Foods for a gallon of milk to accompany them.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Pumpkin Carving 101

Somehow over the course of my life, I never managed to carve a pumpkin. Last year, I even picked out a pumpkin and a little kit with pumpkin knives but to no avail. Things got hectic and the soggy. :( It was very sad. This year the trend is broken! Tiffany and Argie came over to visit this past Saturday. They talked about the pumpkins they had carved and all I could think about was...I want to but when. Sometimes there's no time like the present. Since they were experienced pumpkin carvers and I had only watched my mom when I was small, it seemed like a great plan to carve a pumpkin while they were here. Everyone was involved...even the cats...well at least Jack.

Step 1: Cut out a large hole around the stem of the pumpkin. It is useful to make a notch so you can easily reinsert.

Step 2: Remove all the inner gook! We set the seeds aside for possible baking with salt..MMMM.

Step 3: After removing the gook, select the side you want to carve. Using the scoop tool, thin the pumpkin wall from the inside by scraping. Don't forget to also scrape a flat spot on the base for a candle to sit. The flesh of the pumpkin may come in useful for pumpkiny goodness like pumpkin muffins or pumpkin rolls, so it can be saved for later. Notice Jack is keeping a careful eye out for misplaced pumpkin bits. (When my hands were free, he was promptly shooed off the stove.)

Also notice, Sookie was not so into the pumpkin process. She decided to hang out in the bedroom and rest.

Step 4: Tape the pattern to the pumpkin. Fold lines help the paper wrap around the rounded surface.

Step 5: Use a roller punching wheel to trace out the lines of the pumpkin.

Step 6: After punching out all lines, remove pattern in sections and cut out using the mini pumpkin saws.

Step 7: Carefully push out the sections to be removed. If one catches, go back with the saw blade and ease the pressure rather than forcing and breaking a delicate design.

Step 8: Insert candle, light, and enjoy!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Caramel Apple Crisp

Last September, Mel and I peeled a lot of apples to make 2 apple pies for someone's birthday. By the time we finished peeling, we sort of promised ourselves not to do that again without a good reason. I'd like to say I learned from that experience. I can say that I didn't forget but when September rolled around again, I came upon a deal on apples that I couldn't resist. I thought about fried apple pies, apple sauce, apple crisp...yes I believe I had a short lived case of apple fever. In short, I picked up a half bushel of cooking apples not really realizing what I was doing to myself. I was planning to make 2 apple crisps. Clearly I had no clear concept (even when looking in the box of apples) as to 1) how many apples were in half a bushel and 2) how long it takes to simply cut up cooking apples. I convinced myself that I wouldn't need to peel them and it would save me lots of time. Remember that line in Lord of the Rings, "but they were all of them deceived"? The apple fever deceived my logical thinking. If you were ever wondering how many apple pies or crisps you could make with a half bushel of cooking apples, I can tell you that you can make at least SIX 9x13 pan with SIX cups of apples in each and still have apples left. How about those apples?

On a different note, the excessive amounts of apples I had gave me the opportunity to test variants on apple crisp. I started with a base recipe I found on recipezaar. This is a good basic recipe BUT 6 medium cooking apples tends to cook down and give a pretty thin apple crisp. I decided I wanted a thicker crisp. I also wanted to give a whirl to a caramel flavor rather than the traditional cinnamon and brown sugar. Further, to test all the variants, it seemed important to try the crisp with caramel AND brown sugar cinnamon filling. Last year, we tried an excellent caramel apple pie. We didn't even change the filling..which was a pretty unusual thing. Since I remembered it being well liked, I decided the caramel sauce might be a perfect compliment to the apple crisp. The result was delightful! I tried a combo of caramel sauce with cinnamon and brown sugar. This combination is quite good. To get an enhanced flavor, I think it might be optimized by doubling the cinnamon and brown sugar addition. Either way, the options are tasty.

Caramel Apple Crisp

Caramel Sauce

1/2 cup unsalted butter

3 tablespoons all-purpose flour

1/2 cup white sugar

1/2 cup packed brown sugar

1/4 cup water

Brown Sugar and Cinnamon Option (can double this part)

6 Tbsp brown sugar

1 tsp. cinnamon

Crisp Topping

1/2 cup flour

1/2 brown sugar

1/2 oatmeal

6 Tbsp butter

1/4 tsp. baking powder

1/8 tsp. salt

Fruit Inside

6 cups sliced and cored apples (around 8 large apples, 10 medium apples or probably 14 small cooking apples)

2 Tbsp lemon juice


1. Prepare fruit: Core and slice apples. Place in cool water to prevent them from turning brown.

2. Prepare caramel sauce: In a small sauce pot, melt butter for caramel sauce. Stir in flour listed for caramel sauce to make a paste. Add the two sugars and water listed for caramel sauce. Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally. When the sauce comes to a boil, reduce the temperature to low and simmer 5-7 minutes, stirring occasionally. The longer you boil, the more caramel flavor you will have but your sauce will be reduced. If you boil too long, you will burn the sauce.

3. Prepare crisp topping: While the caramel sauce is boiling, use a pastry cutter or fork to combine the flour, brown sugar, oatmeal, butter, baking powder and salt listed for crisp topping. I suggest cutting up the butter first and then adding the other components because it makes the butter a little easier to work into the mixture.

4. Brown Sugar/Cinnamon (optional) : Combine together brown sugar and cinnamon.

5. Combination: Place apples in 9x13 pan. Sprinkle with lemon juice. If adding brown sugar/cinnamon, sprinkle on apples and stir around. Pour caramel sauce over apples. Sprinkle crisp topping over the apples.

6. Bake at 350 F for 35-45 minutes.

This is quite enjoyable with vanilla ice cream. If you want to drizzle caramel sauce from the bottom of the pan, it is likely to increase the smile and happiness factors.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Fresh Baby progress

I'm excited to introduce you all to part of my baby spinach row! I decided to go for a fall planting since it gets rather warm here for spinach unless it is planted in early spring or fall. I planted and waited. It rained a lot last week so there was not enough sun to bring them out of the ground until the last few days. Hopefully it won't frost before my spinach is ready to harvest!

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Sweet Potato Fries and Aioli Demise

I started out determined to make both sweet potato fries and garlic aioli. The first attempt on the fries was seamless. They came out beautifully and were very tasty. They were so tasty that they disappeared before I got to take a picture. Sadly, the aioli split. After over heating the immersion blender and attempting mixing it with a food processor, I placed it in the fridge and ate fries with garlic flavored mayonnaise. Normally anti-mayonnaise, I was pleased with the taste of garlic in the mayonnaise as a dipping sauce for the fries. Attempt 1.5 on aioli was a rescue mission. I tried to recover the split aioli according to some statements made by others online. This was to no avail. I decided to start over from scratch for attempt 2. I used a hand mixer with a wire whisk attachment. This also failed. I moved the aioli to the food processor. This did not help either. Again, the aioli was placed in the fridge for a future date of rematch. In this process of battling aioli, I wound up making 3 rounds of sweet potato fries that were devoured. I even have a pending request for another batch. I'm glad at least one part worked and determined not to let the aioli win! When I defeat it, I'll post what worked for me.

The good news is, sweet potato fries do not require garlic aioli and they are pretty easy to make!

Fries after first frying

Sweet Potato Fries

2 large sweet potatoes
1/4-1/3 c. brown sugar
1/8 c. salt
4 cups water
oil for frying (I used vegetable oil)
(a little extra salt and brown sugar for sprinkling over finished fries)

Cut the sweet potato fries into 1/4 x 1/4 x 3-4" (or however long you like fries) segments. Mix 1/4 to 1/3 c. brown sugar and 1/8 c. salt in 4 cups of water in a mixing bowl. Stir until sugar and salt have dissolved. Add fries and wait one hour. Heat oil for frying. Place fries in the oil for 6 minutes. Remove and allow to rest 2-6 minutes. (If desired throw more fries in for 6 minutes. If all fries fit in your container, you only wait a couple of minutes.) Place rested fries back in the hot oil for 2 minutes. Remove to a plate and sprinkle lightly with salt and as desired with brown sugar. I recommend very little salt and maybe used 1/8 c. brown sugar for sprinkling.
Devour them before the others at the table get them first! Note: Frying them twice gives them a crispy texture. I didn't think it would matter and I tried some from the first round. They were ok but really not the right texture.

Finished Product

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Rollin', rollin', rollin'

I wonder sometimes if the food I crave is any reflection of my state of mind…I know, when people are sad, scared, or lonely that might crave comfort food. However, there seems to be more to food choices than an emotional selection. I’m sure there’s someone who has spent lots of time psychoanalyzing the food choices people select. I’m also sure this analysis is done for marketing products and deciding how to change the same old boring menu at chain restaurants. Beyond the restaurant, though, to the food people crave to cook, I wonder if there is a common thread or if it is a personal reflection. The old “you are what you eat”, may well be true. However, I think it’s possible that we look at food as a way to change situations in our lives or take control of them…Or maybe I’m tired.

Maybe I really just like trying new things and whatever hits me sometimes ties together loosely. I’m not trained as a philosopher. I’m an engineer. Maybe I just want the challenge of things that look complicated and the added bonus of getting to “fix them and make them better.” Yep, that sounds fitting. This week was no exception to my fix it and make it better approach to things I encounter in life. How I got lasagna rollups, ganache truffles, and peanut butter balls in my head, I may never know. The one thing that all these items have in common is that they are all rolled.

I saw a recipe for spinach lasagna rollups as an ad in Bon Appetit. Advertisers seem to go into a Superbowlesque effort to make their product irresistible in this magazine. In this case, the picture was not enough to get me to use their recipe entirely but it did get my head on the path. Besides, I rarely use any recipe completely. As I was thinking about the rollups, I flipped through a recipe book a friend of mine left for me to keep up with for a bit. Oddly, I stumbled on a similar recipe and decided to sort of combine the two recipes and change them a little too. It was inevitable to change them. Besides, one of them didn’t even include GARLIC! Madness!

Spinach Lasagna Rollups

12 lasagna noodles

2 eggs, lightly beaten

2 ½ c. ricotta cheese

2 ½ c. mozzarella cheese, shredded

½ c. grated parmesan cheese

1 pkg. (10 oz) frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry

¼ tsp. salt

¼ tsp. ground black pepper

¼ tsp. ground nutmeg

1 medium yellow onion

2 cloves garlic

2 Tbsp. vegetable oil (for cooking onions and garlic)

Cooking spray, (I used Pam Canola)

For the sauce:

2 cans (14.5 oz) diced tomatoes

1 can (14.5 oz) stewed tomatoes with peppers, onions, and garlic

1 chopped yellow onion

3 cloves minced garlic

¼ c. (30+ leaves) of fresh basil, chopped finely

½ tsp. salt

½ tsp. ground black pepper

2 Tbsp. vegetable oil (you EVOO and OO lovers can substitute, I just picked up whatever was closest)

The Composite:

Begin by cutting up your onion and garlic for the cheese mixture. Heat vegetable oil in a pan and cook until the onions are transparent. Remove from pan and place in the bowl for the cheese mixture.

If you are making your own sauce, this should be started next. You could totally cheat and purchase Classico or something but in this case, I made my own. I used 1 can of stewed tomatoes to mix it up a bit. I think the flavor was minimally affected by the extra spices inside based on the amounts of other spices in the mixture. For the sauce, chop the onion and mince the garlic. (I’m also going to suggest that you throw the chopped onion and garlic in a food processor before cooking to have a smoother sauce. If you like it chunky, forget the food processor but be warned that you might find yourself shocked by some garlic bits. I didn’t process it but I think I would next time.) Heat vegetable oil in a pan on medium heat and cook the onions and garlic together until the onions become transparent. Warning: Avoid browning the onions to reduce risk of flavor loss. Pour in tomatoes and simmer for 20-25 minutes.

While the tomato sauce is simmering, cook the lasagna noodles 8-10 min in boiling water. When the noodles are done, remove the tomato sauce from heat. Add basil, salt, and pepper. Pour sauce mixture into a blender and blend it to a texture you desire. You want it to be fairly fluid but you can still have a little chunkiness if you want as long as it is spreadable.

Preheat oven to 350 F. (My oven doesn’t take long to heat so this is a good point to start the oven.) A smart idea at this point is to pour about a cup of tomato sauce into the bottom of your 9x13 pan. However, if you only read part of the directions before starting and your sauce isn’t done but the noodles are ready, no problem. Not that I would ever do something like that but I would suggest if you do, that you go ahead and drain the noodles. Rinse them in cold water and spray lightly with cooking spray to prevent sticking. If you didn’t read through the directions and mix your cheese mixture while the noodles and sauce were cooking, I would definitely recommend the cooking spray.

Amazingly, I had already mixed the cheese mixture…thank you very much…but it could’ve easily gone differently on another given first time making day. The cheese mixture is made by combining the eggs, the three cheeses, spinach, onions, garlic, salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Why nutmeg? I have no idea but it was in 2 recipes so I figured, why not. I didn’t really notice it in the taste but perhaps it was a subtle flavor.

To prepare for rolling the noodles, I recommend getting out a medium to large sized cutting board. This way, if you make a mess, you can put it in the sink to clean it. Spread out a lasagna noodle and place 3-5 heaping Tablespoons of cheese mixture. You are unlikely to add too much but for those who love measuring about 1/3 c. per noodle will work well. Spread the cheese mixture evenly across the noodle and then roll the noodle slowly. If you lay the noodle vertically (flat ends at the top and bottom), you can easily roll it from top to bottom. Then sit the roll seam side down in the 9x13 on the sauce. If the sauce isn’t ready yet, go ahead and roll the noodles and place them in the 9x13. Repeat rolling the noodles and place them by rows into the 9x13. Pour the remaining sauce over the noodles. If you didn’t pour sauce into the bottom of the pan before laying the noodles, use a spatula to gently lift the noodles and allow sauce to flow under them to prevent noodles from sticking to the dish. Bake uncovered for 20-25 min at 350 F.

The supposed yield is 6 servings. This varies according to the eater. I learned I am full at 1 ½ noodles. Next time, I would make a half recipe in an 8x8 pan. Also, I would recommend a red onion for the sauce and probably just 2 garlic cloves (in the sauce) to keep from overpowering the other flavors. I enjoy garlic but I think most people would enjoy this at 1 clove and that it would be quite tasty with 2 in the sauce. Since I didn’t see a recipe that called for garlic, I went full force. I had no worries about vampires all week.

As if I didn’t have my hands in enough, I had decided earlier to make truffles for my friend Jen’s birthday. She likes coffee and dark chocolate, so I thought I would modify a ganache style truffle recipe with some hazelnut instant coffee. While looking through recipes, I was thinking about people who didn’t like coffee. Chocolate covered peanut butter balls popped into my head. Well, then I was stuck. I couldn’t decide which to make, so I made the decision I usually do when asked about cake or ice cream…BOTH. I didn’t find a coffee based truffle so I split a ganache truffle recipe in half and made half by the recipe and half modified. When I got to the store and compared chocolate, I wound up making the truffle recipe on the back of the Ghirardelli bag of 60% cacao baking chips.

Ghirardelli Truffles (* items and method is rather different from the package’s instructions)


2 c. Ghirardelli 60% Cacao Baking chips

1/3 c. heavy cream

6 Tbsp. unsalted butter

*optional to make coffee flavored you need 2-3 Tbsp instant coffee


1/3 c. unsweetened cocoa

*for coffee flavor ¼ c. instant coffee, 1/8 c. cocoa

Simmer cream in a small saucepan. Add butter and stir until melted. Add chocolate to saucepan. Stir until melted and smooth. Remove from heat. (If desired to make coffee flavor, add 2-3 Tbsp of instant coffee and stir until dissolved. I made half regular and half with coffee.) Pour chocolate mixture into a shallow bowl. (When shallow is indicated, its ambiguous. You don’t actually want this to be too shallow. I suggest pouring the mixture into a shallow container that allows there to be 1 ½ inches depth of chocolate if not a little more. If the chocolate is too shallow, It is harder to scoop it into balls.) Cool, cover, and place in the refrigerator until firm. The recipe suggested at least 2 hours. For me, 2 hours was still a bit soft. I recommend 3-4 hours. I do not recommend 8 hrs. At eight hours, the chocolate is almost as firm as a Hershey bar. This makes it a bit of a struggle to scoop into balls. It is doable with some determination though. After chilling, the recipe recommends rolling the mixture into 1” balls. I recommend not touching the mixture with your hands any more than necessary. The chocolate melts very easily. Try using a melon baller. If you can’t get whole balls, make half scoops, touch the center with your finger and it will melt. Stick the other half sphere to the melted center and run your finger around the border to smooth. Sit it on a plate and don’t touch it anymore for a bit. After rolling the balls out, I recommend placing them back in the refrigerator for 5-10 min to solidify. Once solid, roll the plain ones in cocoa and the coffee flavored ones in a 2:1 blend of instant coffee and cocoa. Place back in the refrigerator until ready to serve. Yield: 25-30 half inch round candies

Peanut Butter Balls (This is a pretty standard recipe with an improvised method)

1/2 c. butter

1 ¾ c. creamy peanut butter

1 tsp. vanilla

1 lb powdered sugar

1 package chocolate chips

2 Tbsp. shortening, or ¼ block paraffin wax (I used shortening)

Cream together butter, peanut butter, and vanilla. Add powdered sugar slowly until you can form into balls. (This amounts to about the whole box. I used all but ¼ c. of 1 lb of powdered sugar. Using the whole lb of powdered sugar is probably a good idea in terms of producing firm candy.) Roll mixture into 1 inch balls and place on waxed paper lined plates. Chill in the refrigerator until ready to dip.

Melt chocolate and shortening (or wax) in the top of a double boiler, stirring until smooth. Remove from heat.

At this point many recipes recommend using a skewer or toothpick to dip the peanut butter ball. Julie and I wound up laughing as my skewer shot completely through the peanut butter ball and then the ball tried to fall off the skewer. Not to be outdone, I grabbed 4 spoons. Julie dropped peanut butter balls into the chocolate. I rolled them around until coated, picked them up with two spoons to drain the chocolate, and sat them on a spoon for her. She let remaining excess chocolate drain and placed the coated peanut butter ball on waxed paper. This method was very effective and quick. We had no need to reheat the chocolate but it was easier as a two woman job. If the chocolate starts to set during the dipping process, place it back over the double boiler until it softens (1-2 minutes). I recommend placing the peanut butter balls in the refrigerator overnight to allow them to solidify well. Solidification allows them to be removed from the wax paper with ease. It takes about 1 full day in the refrigerator (if they last that long) to allow them to be solid enough to pull away from the wax paper easily. Yield: 30-35 one inch round candies.

The truffles and peanut butter balls went over well for Jen’s birthday. I think she liked the coffee ones best, as did a number of others. Some made sure to let me know if I was trying to decide what to make again that they really liked the coffee ones. Julie said she liked the peanut butter best…then admitted that she didn’t really like coffee flavored things so her opinion might’ve been a bit biased. It was very scientific of her to disclose her bias though. I liked that! In general, it seemed most people preferred the coffee or peanut butter but that all were tasty. Success! For future notes, since the process for making these is a little time involved, I highly recommend asking someone else to help. (Yes, I really can do that.) Someone you know is likely to be willing to help make chocolates so they can eat some too! I think I liked the peanut butter balls best...but I think they would be even better with increased peanut butter.