Tag Archives: pie

Now THIS is a Pie

9 Jul

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It could be a club, or organization, of sorts. The I-hate-it-when-I-make-HUGE-mistakes-at-something-I’m-good-at club. Can anyone else join? Or at least stick their head in to see what all the fuss is about?

With humbled conviction, I can say there are four things in life that I’m really good at: cooking, teaching, writing, and yoga. I guess we could bump it up to five things if eating is an area in which to excel. Or maybe even six if driving too fast is considered, but for arguments sake, let’s keep it at four. So when I completely, utterly, remarkably destroyed a pie on the 4th of July, I went down the list of excuses.

“I’m not a baker.”
“This was just plain silly to try.”
“It probably wasn’t going to be good anyway.”

North Florida backwoods fireworks boomed with each doleful attempt at an excuse. Then, right as Rob came over to give me a supportive hug, inevitable frustration took over.

“What the hell! What the hell was I thinking?!” I hissed at him (because he was near).

Rob’s arms quickly – and understandably – released as mine over-exaggeratedly flew around, and my mom graciously admitted that she wasn’t that hungry anyway, and my dad echoed the sentiment. Our progressive summer holiday dinner, where our house was the dessert stop, literally stopped.

Sigh.

This has happened before. Where I mess something up in the kitchen, and have to swallow verbal shrapnel for fear others in the vicinity will call the nutty-farm to pick me up over a failed pork roast. Or from-scratch citrus butter. Or seared scallops. Or fig pizza. But the best thing about these mess ups, is that I get to try again having always learned something.

That did sound a little afterschool special-ish; however, it’s true. With the scallops, for instance, don’t put a hard-plastic handled pan on a grill. It may just break completely off sending scallops flying all over the porch (sorry, Mom). And with the citrus butter, adding too much citrus breaks the clotted cream. Add a bit of salt and sugar instead. With the figs, well, just don’t add them to a pizza, and never ever yell into the oven at a pork roast because it won’t cook fast enough. Lesson learned: the pork will ignore you, and you’ll look like a raging moron.

Well, this latest mistake was a dessert mistake. I’m not particularly a sweet-toothed person, most of which I attribute to the fact that my mom couldn’t let go of the chimichangas while pregnant with me. Though in the summertime, I love, love, love Smores. So what better perfect summertime pie than a Smores Pie?

I planned the layers of the pie perfectly: graham cracker crust, then milk chocolate custard (in true Smores Hershey style), melted marshmallow, and then a meringue topping torched to resemble the most perfect, campfire-toasted mallow. Here was the problem: the custard needed to be baked at a certain temperature (preferably in a water bath), and the meringue needed to be baked at a different certain temperature to ensure the egg whites get fully cooked, yet still set to a fluffy, airy, topping. Here’s what went wrong: I double baked the custard in order to cook the meringue, which completely separated both the melted marshmallow and the custard, resulting in a soupy, gloppy, broken, slimy, inedible mess. Really. Not edible. Not exaggerating.

After the flailing arms breakdown, the 4th of July came and went, and the 5th of July was upon us with friends coming for dinner and to watch the Women’s World Cup Championship. So rather than wallow in kitchen disaster pity (like I am honestly still doing with the pork roast – seriously folks, it hasn’t been attempted since), I decided to try the pie again.

The deep breaths in the kitchen were audible. I reviewed: graham crust? Fine. Custard? Creamy and light. Melted mallows? Genius. Problem: Bleeping meringue. Solution: make a thick whipped topping instead. To get the toasted campfire flavor, cook the graham crust just a bit longer locking in some carbon flavor. Result? Pie perfection.

Our guests loved the pie, Rob loved the pie, I loved the pie – it was smores-y, creamy, dreamy, and everything summertime sweets should taste like. But, mostly I loved it because I had tried again and succeeded after an epic, epic fail.

Lesson learned: try again. It should be a kitchen motto, really. Even with food that turns out fantastic. Try again. It will be great again, or maybe even better! So with that, I’m sending summertime love and a sweet, sweet, do-over Smores Pie!

Enjoy!

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Smores Pie

  • 6 full Hersheys milk chocolate bars, chopped
  • ½ bag large marshmallows
  • 2 full sleeves honey graham crackers
  • 6 tbsp + 2 tbsp unsalted butter, divided
  • 3 egg yolks
  • ½ tsp good quality sea salt (such as Maldon)
  • ¼ tsp Kosher salt
  • 1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 2 c + ½ c heavy whipping cream, divided
  • 1 tbsp confectioners sugar
  • 1 tbsp sugar
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract, divided

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Using a food processor, crush up the graham crackers with 6 tbsp of butter, and ¼ tsp of Kosher salt. When finely ground, pour the grahams into a pie dish, reserving ¼ c of the grahams for topping at the end. Using hands or the bottom of a measuring cup, firmly press the grahams evenly across the pie pan, and up the sides. Bake for 7-10 minutes.

To make the chocolate custard, pour the chocolate into the top of a double boiler (or use a glass dish over a pot of boiling water. NOTE: do not let the water touch the bowl, or it will burn and separate the chocolate). Heat up the ½ c of heavy cream for 30 seconds in a microwave, or over the stove. Pour the heavy cream over the chocolate and stir.

While the chocolate is starting to warm, using a hand mixer, beat 3 egg yolks with 1 tbsp of sugar and 1 tsp of vanilla extract. Vigorously beat the egg yolks until they are fluffy, pale yellow, and form a smooth falling ribbon when falling off the beaters.

Once the chocolate has started to melt, mix it together quickly until smooth. Remove the top bowl from the heat, and place on the counter.

At this point, the eggs need to be tempered (if you immediately add room temperature eggs to the hot melted chocolate, you will curdle the eggs – yuck). While vigorously whisking the eggs with one hand, use the other hand to slowly ladle a stream of the melted chocolate into the eggs. Do this with 2-3 spoonfuls, or until the bowl with eggs feels warm (and may steam). Then, while continuing to whisk the chocolate, pour the egg mixture back into the bowl of melted chocolate, and completely combine. At this point, add the sea salt and the cayenne pepper to the chocolate, and mix thoroughly (it may sound strange, but the salt and hot pepper add a dimension to milk chocolate that is lacking on its own – it makes the flavor more rounded, while keeping the integrity of the milk chocolate smores taste). Pour the custard into the pie pan and place the pie pan on a sheet tray. Place the tray in the oven, and carefully pour the hot water left over from the double-boiler, onto the sheet tray making sure no water gets into the pie (this is called a bain marie and the hot water steams to help cook the custard evenly). Bake the custard for 35-40 minutes, until firm, yet still a little jiggly in the middle.

After the custard has baked, remove it from the bain marie and let it cool to room temperature.

Once cooled, start to make the gooey marshmallow layer by putting the marshmallows in a microwaveable bowl with the 2 remaining tbsp of butter. Heat the marshmallows in the microwave for about 20 seconds, or until the marshmallows just start to expand. Quickly remove the bowl from the microwave and stir the mixture until the butter and melted marshmallows combine to make one mixture. While still warm and pourable, evenly pour the marshmallows over the custard.

Put in the fridge to set for anywhere from 1 hour to overnight.

Just before serving, whip the 2 c of heavy whipping cream using a hand, or stand mixer. When just starting to get bubbly, add the vanilla extract and the confectioners sugar. Whip the cream until stiff peaks form.

Dollop the whipped cream on top of the pie, making a fluffy design, and sprinkle the remaining graham cracker crumbs on top.

Enjoy!

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Juno the Whale

27 Aug

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Every night since I was a little girl, I can remember hearing Tom Brokaw’s voice. We watched the Nightly News religiously, and hearing Mr. Brokaw’s voice in the background kind of became part of our family. Now, Brian Williams is our on-the-tube family member, and he and his team have been recently reporting on an issue incredibly close to my heart.

Juno the Whale. I met Juno only a few months ago visiting him at the Mystic Aquarium. He was playful, fun, and such a ham! Just like in the videos that have now gone viral, he truly is a big, white, playful ball of whale. So adorable. Just like his father.

The real connection I have with these beautiful whales is with Naluark, Juno’s father. Naluark is living at the Mystic Aquarium in Mystic, CT on a “breeding loan” from the Shedd aquarium. Boy is he ever. That whale can DO IT. So much so, that I was scared for life with a very weird and ever-present curse. I’ll explain.

Years ago, our family took a vacation to one of America’s best cities, Chicago.   We visited all of the local tourist stops, including the Shedd Aquarium. Like Mystic, a main attraction was the Beluga Whale exhibit. We entered the dark room, cool and echo-y with hushed oohs and ahhs. Goosebumps ran up my arms and it smelled clean. I remember the weight of my dad’s hands on my shoulders as I slowly walked closer to the floor-to-ceiling glass of the tank, being careful not to leave fingerprints or patches of breath-fogs as evidence of my awe.

“Susie, Susie, come see this!” My dad’s beckoning arm towards my mom knew something I didn’t. The Belugas, Naluark and his mate, were swimming beautifully. They looked like they were dancing, actually. Twirls, dips, and dives.

The room became thick with silence. I’m sure every chin dropped. And when my confusion at every onlookers’ reaction became my all-too-pre-teen reality, mine dropped, too, and out came a very audible gasp. Maybe it bordered on a scream. I’m not sure; you may have to ask my parents about that. Anywho, I saw Naluark’s thing.   It was… huge.

Being old enough to know what “that” was, and realizing that these animals were doing “it,” I was also still young enough to think it was just plain gross. I too loudly removed myself from what the rest of the crowd saw as a beautiful and rare scene of nature, and clearly and vividly remember the moment to this day.

In fact, this has kind of haunted me in a way – maybe the higher order Beluga whales played a funny little trick because now, at 32-years old, wherever I go, I see animals procreating. Bugs, dogs, monkeys at the zoo, ducks, geckos (man they get loud in the heat of the moment!), and most recently, crabs (I hope they used protection) to name a few.

So this summer, I had a chance to make amends with what I now call “My Beluga Whale,” Naluark. Through the glass, and to the humor and slight embarrassment of my husband and mother in-law, I apologized to my whale for screaming during his intimate moment, and was ironically forgiven in a way by the silliness, smiles, and joy of his son, Juno.

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If you are a follower of the blog, you’ll realize that occasionally, a story has to be told, even if it isn’t around food. So while I do not have a food-connection to my beautiful Belugas, I’ll provide a recipe that’s simply an oldie, but a goody. Just like Naluark.

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Plum Crumb

  • 5 ripe plums, each sliced into 8 pieces.
  • 1 heaping tbsp. flour
  • 1 tbsp sugar
  • ¼ tsp salt, divided
  • ¼ tsp fresh thyme, minced
  • 3 c old fashioned rolled oats
  • 4 tbsp cold butter, cut into chunks
  • 3 oz. gorgonzola cheese
  • ½ c good quality honey

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Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In pie pan, mix the plums with the flour, sugar, thyme, and half of the salt (works out to be about a pinch). Mix until incorporated.   In a separate bowl, and using your hands, mix the oats, butter, cheese, honey, and remaining salt until the mixture is fully incorporated and crumbly. Spread the cheese crumb topping on top of the plums, and bake until browned and crusty on top.

Set aside to cool before digging in (although you will want to because the house will smell just divine).  

Enjoy!

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I Smell Like a Man Today

10 Feb

Before I explain, I must first ask: any Grey’s Anatomy fans out there? 

So I’m sitting here listening to my Pandora’s Norah Jones station, with a bit of writers block as to what I can write.  Not what to write (since the last month has surely brought about many normal wavelength peak and trough events, and many good meals), but what I can write without getting myself in a whole taco-added-combo-pack of trouble.  This is the World Wide Web, after all. 

Then, Anna Nalick’s song, “Breathe” came on the virtual radio.  Remember that Grey’s scene– where Meredith has her hand inside a body cavity with a living bomb and it’s literally in her hands to lift it out and give it to the bomb squad?  (Trust me, it was a good one!)  Well, surprisingly enough, the only person who dies is the mean bomb squad guy, and the episode ends with Meredith and McDreamy recounting their last kiss, and the lavender smell of her hair.  It was adequately mundane following a nail-biting brouhaha. 

I’m about at the stage of taking the time to remember the lavender smell, after the craziness. To trace the pattern in a doily after coffee has spilled on it.  To close my eyes and watch the sparkly pattern of excess light make strange shapes on my eyelids.  Too artsy-fartsy?  Ok, then just to breathe. 

My dad has this un-comeback-able phrase that he utters whenever my sister or I belly-ache about working life: “You know, they don’t call it work for nothing!” and he’s right.  Work is work. Although, I’d like to add that work is not as bad work with an IV drip of espresso (yes, my doctor-ordered-to-quit habit is back. Like a good caffeine addict I have many justifications and blames: I’m tired, I focus better with it, it’s my ADHD drug, the rain made me do it).  Meanwhile, even though every night our little Siglet still happily tries so hard to climb onto the coffee table to drink our wine, he is costing us hundreds of dollars in vet bills, and nonmonetary amounts of worry at the moment.  (Maybe because he keeps trying to drink our wine??)  Finally, as nothing is as sure as death and taxes, Rob and I have been getting all the loose ends tied up for his deployment, including our taxes.  For his 6-week deployment, Rob will be on a big-ol’ boat that will spend some time in Australia.  Come to think of it, the Vegas-Australian Thunder from Down Under show will be at our little Coos Bay casino during the time he is gone – since he’ll be in Aussie country, I think it’s only fitting that I attend. 🙂  

With an effort to create a better balancing act, I have been trying to take some time to just breathe a bit. But in my just-breathing, the provisions that every household needs have either 1) caused me to go to Walmart at an ungodly time wearing a winter coat and Ugg boots over sweatpants hoping no former students, nor parents, nor co-workers, nor anyone with eyes, will see me, OR 2) forgotten about all together.  For example: we have no eggs, and haven’t for days (this is a big deal considering we go through about two dozen a week).  I did the oh-so-frowned-upon-request of asking Rob to pick up girly firming lotion on his way home yesterday.  And finally, I went to get dressed today and remembered I have no deodorant.  Not even the half-used little travel sized that gets stuffed in the back of the cabinet.

Now I know we live on the Oregon Coast and all, but I don’t think I could take my natural ways that far. So, in our haste of life, combined with the effort to reduce the haste of life, the result is that I smell like a man today – Old Spice, “Swagger” to be exact.

So what does this call for?  More coffee – absolutely.  But something we can all enjoy?  A recipe!  Last week, Rob and I took some time to try and slow down a bit an enjoy one of his favorite meals: Shepherd’s Pie. 

Lift your chin off the table – I know I don’t tend to cook many meat-and-potatoes meals.  There was no quinoa, there was no soy, and there were definitely more than just a few ingredients.  But the result was absolutely amazing.  I even had seconds. 

While our first choice was to use ground lamb, it was unavailable at our butcher, so we went with the next best thing (in Rob’s eyes), ground beef.  Actually, he did a great job finding a 90-10 organic local Oregon brand, which made me feel a bit better about scarfing down the beef.  It happened to be a cold and rainy night (imagine!), so the meal hit even another nerve of comfort.  I used a version of my mother-in-law’s recipe for mashed potatoes, and baked that pot of tasty meat and carbs until it was thick, rich, and browned. 

During the meal, Rob recalled his days at the academy when he would eat multiple plate-fulls of Shepherd’s Pie, and I made a playful-squeamish face while piling that second helping onto my own plate. We just-breathed, and just-ate, and just-had-a-good-time.  That is until Sig tried to jump up on the table again and drink our wine.

Ladies, make this for your men (just make sure you smell like a girl when you do)!

Shepherd’s Pie 

  • 1 lb. organic ground beef (or lamb)
  • 2 strips applewood smoked bacon, diced
  • 1 red onion, diced
  • 3 large carrots, peeled and finely diced
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1 c frozen peas
  • 1 large tbsp tomato paste
  • 1 ¼ c chicken stock
  • 1 tsp minced thyme
  • 1-2 lbs Yukon gold potatoes, chopped (skins on), and boiled until fork tender
  • 2 tbsp mascarpone cheese
  • ¾ c skim milk
  • 3 tbsp unsalted butter, plus 1 tsp more for topping. 
  • ¼ tsp hot paprika
  • s&p

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

First, make the mashed potatoes: using a hand-mixer, beat the cooked potatoes, mascarpone cheese, milk, and butter together until desired creaminess (I prefer a bit more lumpy mashed potatoes, for texture).  Season with paprika, s&p to taste.  Set aside. 

Then, in a small (2 qt) dutch oven or pot, brown the bacon until crispy over medium/high heat.  Remove from pot, and place on paper towel.  Sauté the onions in the bacon fat until they start to soften.  Lightly season.  Add the carrots, sauté for about 5 minutes, then add the garlic.  Lightly season.  Sauté until the garlic just starts to become fragrant.  Add in the peas, and the ground meat.  Lightly start to brown the meat in the pot (it doesn’t have to be completely browned because it will finish cooking in the oven).  Finally, add in the thyme, the cooked bacon, the tomato paste, and chicken stock.  At this point, taste the mixture for seasoning – will probably need s, and especially p.

Top the pot with the mashed potatoes.  Try to make it fairly even, but it doesn’t have to be smooth (actually, having peaks and valleys of potatoes browns beautifully in the oven).  Dab the last tsp of butter in pieces on the top of the potatoes.

Place pot on a sheet tray (some liquid may boil over) in the oven.  Bake for about 45-50 minutes, until top is golden and crisp.

Let set and cool for a few minutes before serving.  The liquid cooks down and becomes a lovely gravy for the meal… try to get a bite of everything on one fork!

Enjoy!


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