October, 2005

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PieFest 2005
Oct 31st, 2005

Pies intimidate me. I'm not exactly sure why this is - probably something to do with all the hand-wringing that goes on in cookbooks and magazines over how hard it is to make the perfect flaky pie crust. The butter must be cold! You must dab at it daintily with only the pads of your fingertips! You must hover over the dough ready to slam it into the fridge at the least sign of the dreaded warming! And of course you must roll it out on the chilled marble slab we all keep handy in our luxuriously appointed kitchens - preferably using your silicone coated, lightweight rolling pin.

Whatever. I like things with a bit more margin of error.

So I don't suppose it should come as a surprise that a stroll through my recipe archive should turn up not a single pie recipe. In the nearly two years of feverish cooking documented here, I've apparently made no pies. Now the really ridiculous thing is that in that time I've made plenty of turnovers, galettes, tarts, etc. - which use the savory version of pie crust. Apparently if you don't call it a pie it doesn't scare me. The workings of my brain are a mystery even to me (it's an enigma wrapped in a riddle wrapped in a cerebellum).

So it's about time to make a pie, otherwise why all this blithering setup? The occasion for the Kafehaus inaugural pie baking was the annual PieFest held at my work around Halloween. In the past I've sort of half-assed it - one year I brought cookies, using the rationale that people would want another option besides pie, and last year I brought Plum Kuchen, which is sort of like pie if pie were, well, cake. But this year I brought pie! A wonderful, glorious Chocolate Cream Pie!

Not only did I have to make the pie crust for this pie, but I had to blind bake it as well. Blind baking has less to do with stumbling around your kitchen in the dark and more to do with baking the crust on its own before adding the filling. You put some foil over your pie crust and weigh it down with uncooked beans or rice, just something to stop the crust from puffing up which it cooks. You can use any recipe you want for this pie crust, but the trick is that instead of using flour to stop the dough from sticking while you roll it out, you use graham cracker crumbs. You can work in about half a cup of graham cracker crumbs this way, which gives your crust the sweetness of a graham cracker crust, while still retaining the flakiness of a regular pie crust.

The chocolate cream for the pie is made on the stovetop, added to the prebaked crust, and then chilled. I stuck pretty close to the recipe with just one substitution. I am a pie neophyte after all. But I had no brandy on hand, so I substituted Amaretto. I then added a tiny bit of Amaretto to the whipped cream topping as well, just to pick up that slight almond flavor. I must add that I detest Amaretto, someone ditched this bottle at our house during a party some years ago, and I'm delighted to find a use for it. Baking with Amaretto may become my new pastime.

And how did it turn out? Very well, if I do say so myself. The crust wasn't the prettiest in the world, it shrunk a bit during baking and I could use some practice in that area, but it tasted great and was a perfect buttery foil for the silky, rich layer of chocolate and the billowy, slightly sweet whipped cream that topped it all off. I managed to bring a bit home from the PieFest, as there ended up being approximately a half pie per person, and I thought I might have a chance at a final sliver the next day. Jim had declared himself a disliker of chocolate pies so I thought it might be safe. But no, such was the power of this chocolate pie that it lured Jim and Ian into pulling the pie pan out of the fridge, breaking out the forks, and between the two of them polishing off the final quarter pie. Heh, it's good to be a two year old home alone with your dad, big brother at school, and a pie in the fridge.


Chocolate Cream Pie

1/2 cup plus 2 tbsp sugar
1/4 cup cornstarch
1/8 tsp salt
2 tbsp unsweetened cocoa
5 large egg yolks, lightly beaten
2 cups 2 percent or whole milk
1/2 cup evaporated milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
4 oz semi or bittersweet chocolate
2 tbsp unsalted butter
1-2 tsp brandy (or amaretto)
1 prebaked pie shell coated with graham cracker crumbs, fully baked and cooled

Whipped Cream Topping
1 cup heavy cream, chilled
1 tbsp sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp amaretto


Whisk sugar, cornstarch, cocoa, and salt in medium saucepan. Add yolks, then immediately but gradually whisk in milk and evaporated milk. Cook over medium heat, stirring frequently at first, then constantly, as mixture starts to thicken and begins to simmer, 8 to 10 minutes. Once mixture simmers, continue to cook, stirring constantly, for 1 minute longer. Remove pan from heat, whisk in butter, brandy (or amaretto), vanilla extract, and chocolate.

Pour filling into shallow pan (another pie pan is good). Put plastic wrap directly over filling surface to prevent skin from forming, cool until warm, 20 to 30 minutes. Pour warm filling into pie shell and, once again, place sheet of plastic wrap directly over filling surface. Refrigerate pie until completely chilled, at least 3 hours.

Beat cream and sugar in electric mixer at medium speed to soft peaks; add vanilla and amaretto. Continue to beat to barely stiff peaks. Spread over filling and refrigerate until ready to serve.

*Note - use any single pie crust recipe (I used the one from How To Cook Everything, uses all butter) and when rolling it out, use graham cracker crumbs instead of flour to coat the rolling surface. Work in plenty of graham cracker - about a half cup. Or I suppose you could use a full graham cracker crust.

-Adapted from The Best Recipe
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Fall Kitchen
Oct 19th, 2005

On Sunday I made a new batch of curry powder - if it's fall it must be time for slinging aromatic spices at anything in my kitchen that will stay still long enough. We also carved pumpkins that day, a complicated and neat ghost for Jim and your basic circle eyes and triangle nose for me. Jim's ghost took a while so I had plenty of time to separate out all the pumpkin seeds, rinse them, and roast them in the oven with olive oil, sea salt, and curry powder. Yum, even Ian likes them.

I also made a lentil squash curry soup that day and 15 minutes or so before we were planning on sitting down to dinner Jim decided we needed some sort of bread product to go with it. After explaining the whole concept of yeast and rising and waiting and baking to him, we decided on baking powder biscuits.

I found this recipe for Emergency Drop Biscuits in How to Cook Everything by Mark Bittman. It's a variation on the standard biscuit that you roll out and cut into biscuit shape. I love recipes like this - don't bother with all that rolling and cutting crap, just drop those suckers on a cookie sheet and be done with it. These taste great and are so quick and easy to make - I'd recommend them for a Sunday morning with butter and jam.


Emergency Drop Biscuits

2 cups All purpose flour
1 scant tsp salt
3 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
2 to 5 tbsp cold butter (more is better)
1 cup plain yogurt or buttermilk


Preheat your oven to 450F. Cut the butter into small bits/cubes. Mix the dry ingredients together and rub the butter in using the tips of your fingers or by pulsing in a food processor. Stir in the yogurt. Drop tablespoons of dough onto a greased baking sheet and bake for 7 to 9 minutes, until golden brown.

Notes: I used 4 tbsp of butter, yogurt rather than buttermilk, and cooked them for around ten minutes as Jim was in charge of the biscuit formation and decided they should be extremely large and massive biscuits. Eat them right out of the oven...

-Adapted from How to Cook Everything
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PearBear
Oct 13th, 2005

So it's practically a cliche at this point to fulminate about the nutritional soundness (or lack thereof) of the typical American diet in the year 2005. The sugar lobby has Congress on a short leash and giant conglomerates spend millions of ad dollars pushing candy and junk food. Meanwhile the fruit and vegetable lobby is, well, less than formidable. Enter PearBear. PearBear is a cartoon bear character who just loves pears! Oh yes he does! And he wants your kids to love pears as much as he does! He even has Pear Buddies, Angoulina, Perry, and Bosco who have "joined the USA Pear team to help us teach kids about the benefits of delicious fresh pears."

PearBear himself visited Jay's kindergarten class earlier this week, handing out free PearBear pearaphernalia (hee) including books about the adventures of PearBear, reusable PearPackers (pretty cool, I brought a pear to work in one today), and little nutritional pamphlets full of healthy, wholesome pear recipes. Like PearBear's Secret Surprise Cake which includes a package of chocolate cake mix, margarine, flour, sugar, cinnamon, and pears! I never thought of adding pears to my cake mix, why that makes it nutritional! And extra sugar too, how lovely! Or what about the Bunny Hop Salad where you decorate pear halves with raisins for eyes and mini marshmallows for nose and tail! Sounds almost as good as the pear slices dipped in melted chocolate, or the pear bowls filled with sherbet!!

I'm floored, I really am. I'm as cynical as your next embittered consumer, but I honestly cannot believe that the public schools are letting this crap into their buildings and touting it as solid nutritional advice. Yes kids need to eat more fruits and vegetables, but hiding them in cake, chocolate, marshmallows, and icecream doesn't do a damn bit of good. If they actually wanted them to eat healthy food maybe they could, oh I don't know, not serve the kids chicken nuggets, cheeseburgers, and pizza for school lunches. But that's crazy talk. I'm sure a man in a bear suit handing out instructions for how to add pears to your cake mix is really what we need to get this country back on track nutritionally. After all, how could it fail? It's truly the American way.


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Semi-Triumphant Return
Oct 10th, 2005

Alright, I'm back to put Scott out of his misery. I'm going to have to ease back into this posting thing, habits are hard to pick back up once you drop them for a while.

You all should know by now that I have an inordinate love of farmers markets and fruit stands, any place really where you can gaze at, fondle, and perhaps acquire fresh fruits and vegetables. Considering I grew up with a u-pick strawberry patch in operation right outside my front door and a father who would pull an immediate full speed u-turn at the sight of a roadside berry stand, it's not too hard to see where my fondness came from. But I also like efficiency and not dragging grumpy boys down aisles of parsnips and bok choy, so since we started getting our weekly CSA delivery, I have been sadly neglecting the Seattle Farmer's Markets. But a couple weekends ago we were in the University District getting Jim a sandwich at The Best Sub Sandwich Shop in the World (tm. Jim) and I noticed that the Saturday Farmer's Market was open for business. And it was fall. Which meant apples.

I love apples. I eat them all year long, they're my staple fruit. But organic apples freshly harvested from a local orchard are nirvana. I can eat myself sick on them in a matter of hours, well minutes really. I love the dusty, powdery surface of an apple that hasn't been waxed for its trip to the supermarket shelf. You can hold an orchard apple up to your nose and breathe in, and it smells like sun and leaves and autumn. And the varieties - just listen to the kinds of apples available at Seattle farmer's markets this week: Pink Pearl, Macoun, Empire, Liberty, Bramley's Seedling, Sweet 16, Smokehouse, Ambrosia, Morren's Johnagored, Golden Delicious, Cox Orange Pippin, Prairie spy, Macintosh, Jonagold, Tsugaro, Elstar, Ginger Golds, Red Gravensteins, Galas, and Honey Crisp. I want one of each. Strike that I want a bag of each and I want to eat them up until I can't stand to look at another apple and then I want to make pie. Or crisp. Or cobbler. Or apple butter.

But sadly our bag of apples from that Saturday is long gone. Someone (ahem) seems to have made rather a pig of herself and scarfed them all up. And today sitting at my desk I got this unsettling feeling that if I didn't go buy some more fresh apples RIGHT NOW I was going to miss out on them until next year. But I have to wait, the next market day near me isn't until Thursday. You'd better believe I'll be there.


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