Saturday, February 28, 2015

Key Lime Pie: Never Order from a Restaurant Again

Also making the list of "Things I Thought Too Difficult To Make" was key lime pie. Why, I don't know considering it's one of the easiest desserts I have ever made, not to mention pretty cheap since there are only 5 ingredients counting the crust. If you want to impress someone with your culinary abilities, make this and let the compliments roll in!

Couple things: I juiced my own limes. It took a looong time. And my fingers were withered afterwards. But it wasn't that bad - kind of therapeutic actually. Where was I going with this? Oh yes, if you want to release the most juice from your limes (or any citrus), just nuke them in the microwave for a few seconds. Apparently you can buy a key lime concentrate and avoid the manual labor. I can't vouch for this, though and I often find that the bottled lemon/lime juices are overly acidic and have a weird aftertaste. Personally, I prefer to be old fashioned and squeeze them myself. Wrinkled fingers and all.

I used this recipe from Smitten Kitchen, except cut it in half to make 2 mini pies instead of one large one. Mainly because I had no idea what I'd do with a whole pie. Well, I know what I'd do with it and if I want to fit into my jeans, it's best for everyone if I just cut the recipe.

Don't skimp on the mixing and whipping instructions below. I think the key with this pie (hahaha, get it?), is that it's more the technical aspect that makes it special than the ingredients themselves. So get to beating. One final note, it's a good idea to make this the day before you're planning to serve since it's best chilled and needs to set completely.

Key Lime Pie

First, make a graham cracker crust by processing about 1 cup of graham crackers and adding 1/2 stick of melted butter. Mix together, pack into your pie tins (or tin if making a whole pie), and blind bake at 350 degrees for 10 minutes. Blind baking means to bake with nothing in the pie. By doing this, you ensure your crust is nice and stiff so it can handle the pie filling without getting gloppy. Set aside to cool but leave the oven on.

In a bowl whip 2 egg yolks until pale and thick. This will take about 7 minutes.

Minute #2

Minute #7 (note how pale and thick the yolks have become)

Add half a can of condensed milk and whip another 3-5 minutes. Then add 1/3 cup key lime juice and mix to combine. You can also add a teaspoon of the zest from the limes, but I temporarily lost my mind and threw away the rinds without zesting them! The end product still tasted delicious.

Pour into your pie tins and bake another 10 minutes, but watch them so they just set. The tops shouldn't be brown at all so you might consider turning down the oven temp if your oven is hotter than normal.

The last thing you need to do is whip up some fresh whipped cream. My mom and I have our own special recipe: heavy whipping cream (make sure it's "heavy" otherwise the cream doesn't have enough body to whip up). Add a couple tablespoons of confectioner's sugar (not granulated, otherwise it'll be gritty) and 1/4 tsp almond extract. I am in love with almond extract - but don't add too much otherwise it'll overpower the cream and add a bitter taste. 
Taste to see if you need any more sugar, then plop over top of the pie and garnish with some zest. At least that's what I would have done in an alternate universe where I didn't pitch the rinds.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Beef "Stroganoff"

Whenever I hear "stroganoff" I think about this song from the animated film, Anastasia (which, surprisingly was not put out by Disney). Fun fact - did you know John Cusack voiced the character "Dimitri." Now whenever I see him in real-people films, all I can think about is this guy:

Last week I attempted to make stroganoff, or something like it. The elements were there, but I didn't do a lot of research into finding an authentic recipe. And I was too tired to look into the best cut of meat to use. I settled on beef stew meat - which, FYI, needs to be cooked for a lot longer than 20 minutes. But I was so dang hungry I really didn't care.

What you need:

5 cloves garlic, chopped
1 onion, finely diced
2 pints mushrooms: I used button and baby bella, chopped
1 pound beef stew
olive oil
salt and pepper
1/2 Tbs cornstarch
1 cup white wine
1 can beef stock (or consume)
1 cup sour cream (I always use light sour cream because, honestly, it tastes about the same to me)

Heat the olive oil and fry the onion and garlic until a light brown, set aside.

Next add the mushrooms to the skillet and cook those as well. They will give off a lot of juice which needs to cook out, so keep frying until they aren't moist. Set these aside with the onions.

Add the meat to the same pot and arrange in one layer. Sear well on one side before flipping and searing the other sides. Sprinkle with a little flour to help with this process. Season with salt and pepper.

Take your mushrooms and onions and add these to the beef, along with the wine and beef stock. Cook down about 10 minutes so the juice reduces by about 1/3. Scoop out 1/4 cup of liquid and mix with the cornstarch, then add this back to the pot. This is called a "slurry" and allows you to thicken the sauce without getting clumps of cornstarch speckled throughout.

Now, I let this cook together for maybe 30 minutes. It tasted fine, so I went ahead and added the sour cream, let it cook together some, and served it up. If I were to do things again I would hold off on adding the sour cream, cover the stroganoff and cook about 1 hour, making sure to keep the liquid content up by adding more wine or stock. This would allow the beef to get nice and tender.

**Serve beef stroganoff with egg noodles which are light and ridgy - perfect for soaking up the sauce

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Thank You For Making Me So (very) Happy

Do I love Valentine's Day? Well, let's see. I do not love a day where people are obligated to buy random things they could purchase any other day of the year for their significant others. I do not love going to the grocery store and finding that chocolate chips are out of stock because suddenly everybody had the brilliant idea of making cookies. And I certainly do not love having pink and red everything shoved down my throat. Wow, I sound like a grinch (or something similar).

Here is what I do love. I do love the elementary-kid version of Valentine's Day. You know the one? With little cartoon themed valentines and a big party with those candy conversation hearts (they tasted disgusting but were fun to glue onto construction paper). When I have kids, I am totally taking off work and volunteering to chaperone the VDay party. Mark my words. This type of Valentine's Day touted love that wasn't forced or fake-y romantic. It more was a representation of the feelings we have towards our friends and families. And significant others, every day that isn't Valentine's Day when you're just lounging around, drinking spiked coffee, and perusing the "moods" feature on the Songza app. That type of love I am on board with: grinch status revoked.

With the impending doom of Boards, I decided to finally tackle a culinary challenge which has terrified me literally forever: bread. Whenever I see "yeast" listed as an ingredient I immediately move on to another recipe - I associate it with "long time to make" and "easy to screw up." But like I said in an earlier post, I've been feeling very much in sync and confident lately - I suppose that's what being in a healthy relationship does for a gal. Imagine that.  I have also really REALLY been wanting cinnamon rolls. Yes, it only took 3 paragraphs, but I finally revealed what recipe I'll be sharing this post.

My mom made Nutella rolls this summer with a potato dough and they were amazing. Like, I'm glad I'm moving to Iowa because maybe I can convince her to make them for me in exchange for driving the 6 hours to Michigan on the weekend. Her recipe required the use of a bread maker, which I do not have, so I scoured the web reading different variations of potato dough recipes which only required one's hands and a bowl. I settled on this one - below I've tried to break it down with lots of pictures.


Caramel Cinnamon Rolls (I cut the recipe in half and it made about 12 rolls - more than enough)
*fun fact: the recipe I used was from a lady in Iowa (my future hometown)!!

For the dough

1/2 cup mashed potatoes (I used Russet)
1/2 cup reserved potato water

6 Tbs butter
1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp salt
1/2 cup hot water
1 egg
1 env Fleischmann's Active Dry Yeast
1/4 cup lukewarm water
4 1/4 cups all purpose flour

One of the most exciting parts about making dough from scratch was that I got to break out my dough hook for the first time!

Take the potato, peel it, then cut into tiny pieces. Cook them in boiling water - if you overcook a little, that's fine. Before draining the potatoes, reserve about a cup of the water. Mash and set aside.

Combine potatoes, potato water, butter, sugar, salt and hot water in a mixing bowl. Stir until butter melts, then set aside to cool.

Combine yeast and 1/2 cup warm water in small bowl.

Let rest 5 minutes. 

In the mixer add the egg, a cup of flour, and the yeast mixture to the potato mixture. Beat until well combined. Continue adding flour, 1 cup at a time until a soft dough forms. This took me about 5 minutes.



Put the dough in a greased bowl, cover with plastic wrap and a towel and let rise in a warm area for about an hour - it'll double in size. 


Make the caramel sauce (recipe below)

Punch down and roll into a rectangle - about 1/2 inch thick. I rolled the dough pretty thin, actually, so there would be a lot of layers. Melt 1/2 stick of butter and slather it over the dough. Mix 1/2 cup sugar and 1 Tbs cinnamon and sprinkle over the dough. 


Start at one end of the rectangle and roll the dough into a log - tightly, so there are lots of layers.
Cut into 1/2 inch slices.

For the caramel sauce (I used Ree Drummond's recipe and altered...nothing)

1 cup brown sugar
1/2 stick butter
1/2 cup half and half
1 Tbs vanilla
Pinch of salt

Mix everything together over medium/medium high heat.

Whisk gently 5-7 minutes. It'll eventually bubble up a lot, but then it calms down. If you want the caramel sauce to be thicker, let it cook a little longer.


Pour the sauce into a cake pan (put a parchment paper liner at the bottom, first- this makes the rolls easy to turn out later.)

Arrange the sliced rolls in the pan with a little space in between them.

Let rise another hour or so until they have, again, doubled in size.



Bake at 350 degrees for about 20 minutes. Test with a toothpick to be sure the inside isn't raw. You can invert the whole pan for a pretty presentation, or just serve individually.


Saturday, February 7, 2015

Mediterranean Pasta Salad and Winnebagos

I never thought I'd say this - but I don't want to see creamy/heavy/fatty food ever again. I mean it this time! After Super Bowl parties and random trips for hospital food, I need to eat clean.

I decided to start with this pasta salad, a variation of one I saw on Ree Drummond's website. Normally I'd just skip the pasta and sub out all beans, but I found some super cute ridgy pasta pieces at Trader Joe's and I thought they'd be a fun addition. Ree uses orzo, but I find this type of pasta can get sticky if you overcook it for even a few seconds.

What You Need:

Grape tomatoes, baby tomatoes, heirloom tomatoes...just get some tomatoes and slice them in half
1/2 can garbanzo, pinto, or black beans (rinse them so they aren't mushy)
1/2 cup cubed feta
4 scallions, sliced
1 Tbs jalapeno finely chopped with seeds and veins removed
1 cup cooked tiny pasta (I used the Rigati from Delallo)
1/2 cup black or kalamata olives
salt and pepper to taste

(mix all these together and toss with the dressing - recipe below)

For the Dressing:

3 Tbs olive oil
Juice of 1 lemon
6 sprigs thyme, chopped finely

(put these ingredients in a glass jar and shake shake shake until emulsified)

I'm also recommending a good heist movie while you daintily chow down on your delicious salad. May I suggest "Sneakers" with the hottie Robert Redford? If you're into some good old fashioned hacking, this is the film to watch - it's taken me two hours to write this post because I keep getting caught up in his shenanigans. Although I have to say, I think I love his co-conspirators more than Robbie. Especially Crease. That fella is bada**