Wednesday, November 28, 2007

My Late Thanksgiving Post

I was nominated to do Thanksgiving dessert again this year, which I find hilarious since I used to suck at baking until recently. I was going to repeat the orgasmic pumpkin cheesecake with pecan-gingersnap crust of 2006, but mom wanted apple pie. I had only recently (as in 2 weeks before) delved into the abyss that is crust making with any success. This after my complete and utter failure at fruit pie making a few years ago for boyfriend. It wasn’t that it didn’t taste good; it was the hideous appearance, soupy insides and soggy bottom crust that convinced me I had no business in the dessert making arts.

2 weeks ago I decided that, dammit, I’m going to make pie crust and it will yield a visually appealing and tasty result! I fished around the internets for recipes, since no one in my family makes fruit pies, or any pie now that I think about it. Mom makes a mean Jewish apple cake though, mmm…. Moving on, I found a very basic, simple butter crust recipe at Epicurious. I *heart* Epicurious. Found a deep dish apple pie recipe on the Food Network website courtesy of Emeril Lagasse. I don’t like Emeril or his recipes for the most part, but this one seemed to stand out due to the lack of 3 cups of sugar. I did make some adjustments but he deserves the credit. His cooking time, however, was waaaay too short.

I used a Cuisinart Chef’s Classic 9-inch Nonstick Deep-Dish Pie Pan. I don’t care if this is cheating; I bought the pan on discount for $7 and would have gladly paid full retail now that I see the results. Both attempts with this pan yielded a perfectly cooked bottom crust, no more soggy mess for this gal! This crust is just effing magic, the recipe makes just enough for a 9-inch double layer crust that flaky and thick enough to hold it’s shape on a plate. I know I don’t have great technique with rolled crust, and yet I get an excellent result which leads me to believe this recipe is somewhat forgiving. The picture is of the first attempt, the Thanksgiving pie was much taller, prettier, and tastier. This recipe reflects the lessons learned from the first pie.

Novice-Proof Apple Pie

3 large Golden Delicious apples cored and sliced thick
4 large Granny Smith apples cored and sliced thick
½ cup white sugar
½ cup brown sugar
2 tbs lemon juice
3 tbs flour
1 tbs cinnamon
1 tsp nutmeg
Pinch of ground cloves
¼ teaspoon salt
2 tbs unsalted butter cut into small pieces
½ cup chopped pecans (optional)

2 ½ cups all purpose flour
1 tbs sugar
1 tsp salt
1 cup (1 stick) cold unsalted butter cut into ½ inch cubes
¼ cup ice water
1 tsp vinegar

Work in a large metal mixing bowl that has been in the freezer for at least 10 minutes
The key here is to keep everything cold and work quickly, you could use a food processor if you aren’t ready to use your hands, just pulse the butter, flour, salt and sugar until butter is in small beads, then add vinegar and water till it slightly comes together.

Using your fingertips in a pinching motion, go through the butter, flour and salt until the mixture looks like course meal and the butter pieces are the size of peas. Add the water slowly until the mixture just starts to hold together, you should be able to squeeze it into a ball with one hand and it will be a slightly crumbling ball when you open your hand. Roll it into a ball and wrap in plastic wrap and store in the fridge for at least an hour. Note: this step allow the water to fully combine with the flour, so your crust should not be sticky going into the fridge, it should be on the drier side.

In the meantime preheat your oven to 400F and start cutting up your apples. Mix them well with the lemon, sugar, flour and spices for at least 10 minutes.

After an hour cut your cold dough in half and roll out each half separately to about ¼ inch thickness using a cold rolling pin. Flour the roller and the surface to prevent sticking. Work fast so that the butter softens, but does not melt. Also the less you mess with it the better it will turn out. Do not rewad the dough into a ball and roll out again, it will suck and people will laugh at you. Just throw it out and start over, or bake it and give it to someone you hate.

Line the bottom of your pie pan with one crust. To transfer just get the crust to stick slightly to the pin (or hold it with a finger) and roll it up half way and lift it onto the pan, then unroll. Make sure the crust sits in the bottom edge, pull the crust edge toward the center of the pan and press it gently into the edge where the side meets the bottom. Do not pull when you do this or you’ll stretch it out and it will be uneven, uneven=bad. If you choose the pecan option, spread them evenly on top of the bottom crust. Scoop the spiced apples into the crusted pan using your hands to strain out some of the accumulated liquid; you can add a couple tablespoons of the liquid just don't pour the apples in. I don’t like soupy pies, so I do this as a preventative measure, there will still be plenty of liquid I promise. Stud the apples with the 2 tablespoons of butter and cover with the top crust using the same transfer method as the bottom.

Fold the bottom crust edge over the top crust edge and roll or pinch to seal. Using a sharp knife, cut at least five 1 inch slits into the top crust. The slits are important, if steam (water) can’t escape fast enough it will just sort of hang out in your filling and give you the dreaded soup. Brush the top crust with a little beaten egg and milk and sprinkle a little sugar if you want it shiny. Bake at 400F for 10 minutes, then lower the heat to 375F and bake for 80 minutes. Let cool 1 hour before serving.

The Thanksgiving pie made me laugh, the crust had baked in the lovely dome shape it took when laid over the massive pile of apples, but as the apples cooked down they left the upper portion of the dome empty. This is not a problem for me, but if it is for you the solution is to slice your apples thin and layer them in a way that reduces air pockets. The flatter the apples lay, the less room they will have to shrink. Another solution would be to precook your filling, then lay it into the crust and bake, although I'm not sure what the cooking time would be for that.

Yankee-fied Chili

I am a northerner, and damn proud of it. I have nothing against the people of the south, in fact I love their food with a passion only matched by 2 star-crossed Arkansas first cousins. Kidding! Well, not really but anyway...I came across a recipe for white chicken chili yesterday, and I suddenly developed an intense craving for my mom’s version of this dish. I remember how she used to make me pick over the carcasses of the chickens she would roast for dinner, one to eat and one to stew. How I would burn my fingertips because I was too impatient to let the stew bird cool down enough, and how annoying it was to spend an hour on the eat bird and only get a half cup of meat off the damn thing. She would use the stew bird to make either chicken and dumpling stew, or a fragrant, silky, delicious white chili.
Unfortunately the woman is in the middle of moving and probably wouldn’t have appreciated my phone call asking her to dig out a recipe from the mountains of boxes currently blanketing her new house. Knowing that I couldn’t fully replicate her version, I went on my own path with this one. The basic ingredients are liquid, beans, meat, and spice. As long as you have these 4 key things, the odds are good that you’ll end up with something edible.

I used a cooked grocery store rotisserie chicken to speed up the process, but you could use any cut of the bird as long as it’s around 1lb boneless or 1.5lb bone-in. Cook it any way you want except deep frying. Another way to make a "quick" chili is to use canned beans instead of dry. Cooking with dry beans usually add a full day to the process what with the soaking and rinsing and whatnot, so I tend to avoid it much to my grandmothers chagrin. In the picture you will see red potatoes, and you will notice no potatoes in the recipe, follow the recipe.

Yankee-fied White Chicken Chili

2 tbs olive oil
3 (14.5 oz) cans reduced sodium chicken stock
2 (15.5 oz) cans northern white/cannellini beans drained and rinsed
1 whole rotisserie chicken meat removed and shredded (or equivalent 1lb chicken meat)
1 medium onion diced
3 carrots cleaned and sliced (optional)
1 ½ cups corn kernels (fresh or frozen)
3 cloves garlic crushed or diced
1 jalapeño seeds removed and diced small
¼ cup heavy cream
½ cup cheddar or Mexican blend cheese shredded
1 tbs cayenne pepper
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp oregano
½ tsp cinnamon
½ tsp nutmeg
Salt and pepper to taste

Heat the olive oil in a large pot (3 quart or larger) over medium-low heat.

Add the onion and carrot and cook until onion has softened, about 5 minutes, do not brown.

Add the garlic and jalapeño and continue to cook for another 3 minutes until very fragrant.

Pour in the chicken stock, beans and spices and bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer 10 minutes.

After 10 minutes add the corn and cooked chicken and simmer another 10 minutes.

Turn off heat and add the cream and cheese and stir to combine. Add salt and pepper to taste, serve with sour cream and crushed tortilla chips.

Note: if you want a thicker final product (recipe results in loose stew) you could mash ½ cup of the beans by hand or in the blender and add to the pot when adding the stock and remaining beans. Or cook a rouxe (1/4 cup each of butter and flour cooked over low heat for 5 minutes), add a cup of stock, combine well and add to pot with beans and remaining stock.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007


I did it. I made a Chinese-ish stir-fry, by myself, all alone, from scratch, without a wok, and it's edible. Here’s some background on me, I grew up with a Vietnamese best friend who had a fucking CHEF for a mom who would feed me the most insanely delicious things ever to come from the hands of man! I ate (almost) everything she would set in front of me, even the weird stuff that they couldn’t (or wouldn’t) translate to English. Then I got a waitress gig at an authentic Thai restaurant owned and operated by a family. For every shift you worked they would feed you a meal with whatever the chefs felt like making that day, curry, larb gai, tom yum, pad woon sen, spicy basil…and it was all incredible. On top of this I’ve had real Korean barbecue fed to me by a real Korean grandmother, and enough Japanese food to know what is passable and what is junk. And now that I live in Philly, I can frequent Chinatown to my heart’s content, stuffing my face with the best and cheapest Chinese food I’ve ever had. For the record, Peeking duck with plum sauce and green onion wrapped up in those little rice tortilla things are better than sex.
To sum it up: I’m spoiled, really, really spoiled when it comes to most Asian food. I can’t even eat crappy take-out pork lo mein any more without craving pad kee mow instead. So when I try to make my own Asian grub, which is very rare, I am almost always disappointed and slightly nauseated at my utter lack of skill in that cooking department. Hell I even manage to burn rice in my top quality rice cooker! Confession: rice hates me, but I love it.

So here is my lame ass attempt. Honestly though, it’s the best I’ve ever made, and completely edible. This batch made enough for about 4 people.

2 large crowns broccoli, get ones with stems
1 red bell pepper
16 oz portabella mushrooms
1 can water chestnuts, drained and rinsed
2 large carrots
16 oz package firm tofu drained, patted dry and cut into small cubes

Marinate the tofu cubes in 1/3 cup soy sauce and 1 tbs chili oil in the fridge for at least 20 minutes. In a large sauté pan fry the tofu in a couple tbs vegetable oil (or whatever oil you like) until browned and crisp, about 5 minutes. Set aside until vegetables are ready.

Cut the vegetables however you like them, just make them fairly uniform in size to get even cooking.
In a large pot of boiling water, blanch the broccoli florets and stems (use a potato peeler to get the tough outer skin off and cut the interior into chucks) along with the carrots (sliced into thick rounds) for no more than 2 minutes, you want them a little firmer than fork tender. In a large, hot sauté pan (or wok if you roll like that) add the mushrooms with a few tablespoons of oil and cook 1 minute until softened. Add the drained blanched vegetables, water chestnuts and peppers and cook 1-2 minutes. Add the tofu and sauce and stir to coat and heat through. Serve with steamed white or brown rice.


2/3 cup reduced sodium soy sauce
1/3 cup rice wine vinegar
½ cup water or stock (low sodium)
2 tbs chili oil
2 tbs sesame oil
3 cloves garlic
1 tbs ginger (grated fresh or dry powder)
½ cup chopped onion
4 tbs honey
½ tbs sesame seeds

2 tbs corn starch dissolved in ¼ cup water

Heat the sesame oil over medium heat in a non-stick pan, add garlic, onion and fresh ginger, if using. Sauté for 1 minute, then add all other ingredients except corn starch. Bring to boil, slowly drizzle in the corn starch slurry while stirring the sauce. You may not need all of it to achieve the thickness you want, I only used about half. Reduce heat to med low and cook for 1 minute, taste and add whatever you want, more sweet/spicy/sour. Pour into bowl and set aside.

You could use chicken or pork instead of tofu, but i'm broke as a joke and 1 lb of tofu only cost me $2.50. Actually, with the exception of the sesame oil ($4.00!), and assuming you have all that weird stuff like chinese chili oil just laying around in your fridge (I've had it for over a year, it just doesn't go bad!) this is pretty damn cheap for feeding 4 people. The tofu and veges cost me less than $10, so if you stock up on the main sauce ingredients, which don't go bad, you can make many batches of this for next to nothing. Don't buy this stuff from your local mega-huge-mart, they will have crappy American versions and charge you rediculous amounts. If you can, shop at an Asian grocer where the signs are not in English, or get a Vietnamese family to adopt you.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Hands Down Best Banana Bread EVER!

I've made 4 different banana bread recipes in the last 2 months, and I've eaten a lot of this stuff over the years so trust me on that title up there. This recipe has convinced me that not baking with sour cream should be a crime. I found this recipe on Allrecipes and halved it with a few other small changes, but the full credit goes to Esther Nelson the submitter. Seriously I need to hug this woman.

Best Damn Banana Bread

½ cup butter (could probably sub some with applesauce)
1 cup brown sugar
¼ cup white sugar
2 eggs
4 large very ripe bananas, mashed
1 (8 ounce) container sour cream (I used reduced fat)
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp ground clove
½ teaspoon salt
1 ½ teaspoons baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
2 ¼ cups all-purpose flour (white or wheat)
¾ cup chopped walnuts (optional)

Preheat Oven to 350F for muffins or 300F for loaves

In large bowl cream butter and sugars then add in eggs, vanilla, bananas, sour cream and spices. Mix well.
In seperate bowl combine flour, baking soda and powder, salt, and nuts.
Add dry to wet a little at a time stirring by hand until just combined, don't overstir.

Fill greased and floured pans (2) 7"x3" loaves or (2) 12 cup muffin. Sprinkle with left over nuts if you want to show off.
For muffins bake at 350F for about 20 minutes until toothpick comes out pretty clean and tops spring back slightly when touched. Let sit in pan for a minute or two before turning out.

For loaf bake at 300F for 1 hour or until toothpick comes out pretty clean. Put the loaf, pan and all directly into your freezer for 20 minutes. This is optional, I think the recipe makes for a pretty moist product all by itself as the muffins without the freezer step came out just as moist as the loaf. I store this in the fridge because I'm wierd, but I promise it doesn't get hard or slimy so you can go ahead and be weird with me.

This mix doesn't have a whole lot of rise, but at the same time it is still very springy and tender and airy. Oh yeah, try not to eat it until at least the next day, I was blown away by how much the flavor improved in the fridge overnight.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

I *heart* Halloween

Ah, Halloween, the holiday that brings out the slutty, freakish fool in all of us, a night where you can dress up like a naked sexual organ and (hopefully) not get arrested for indecent exposure.

Boyfriend and I as 'Old Man Balls' and 'Posh'. We like to stay classy.

Wow, I was about to be on a roll there until my incredibly irritating coworker started rustling his dwarfy little hand around in that crinkly sandwich baggy again, inhaling some crunchy health food for the fourth time today (it's 2pm). I could tell you how absolutely infuriating it is to have to hear this douche stuff his face all day, but that is for another blog.

Anywho, for me the best part of Halloween is the day after when I can think about Thanksgiving hardcore, and plan out all the cool stuff I'm going to think about making but not actually make.
And of course: canned cranberry sauce. That magical stuff that beckons to me every year "come on, poke me with a spoon and watch me sensuously jiggle in the serving bowl, mix me with gravy and spread me on a leftover turkey and stuffing sandwich for your post-Thanksgiving hangover breakfast, hell eat me plain! Yes, no matter what super-hyped homemade cranberry sauce you set in front of me, I'll always have a soft spot for that sour, congealed, industrial mess that is-canned cranberry sauce. Moving on...

Baked Pumpkin Seeds

Gut your pumpkin and get all the squishy matter off of the seeds, wash thoroughly and dry.
Transfer seeds to a cookie sheet with sides and drizzle a little vegetable oil over them, about 1 tablespoon for a medium sized pumpkin’s worth.
Grind some kosher salt (or use that toxic table salt), about a half tablespoon.
Mix the seeds so that they are evenly coated with the oil and salt.
Bake in 400F oven for about 10 minutes, until lightly golden.

I thought about using spices and herbs and whatnot, but I really had a craving for some good ole’ fashioned salted seeds, so there you go.

The sacrificial lamb.