Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Spring's Bounty

Pies are my thing. They always have been. I'm pretty sure they were my mom's thing too. My dad loved a good pie, and for my brother's birthday, it was always pie, never cake. My husband is the same way, he would choose pie any day over a cake. My boys are working their way there too.

So when my friend mentioned the rhubarb was starting to come up in her garden, I got excited. Strawberries in the store and rhubarb in the garden can only mean one thing to me. Strawberry Rhubarb Pie! If you never tasted this pie before, it is divine. I have made 9 of them over the past 2 weeks... yeah, I kind of have a problem with that! To my credit, 8 of them were mini pies for my baking class. The girls made strawberry rhubarb and fresh strawberry pie. The final pie was full size for some good friends. This weekend I think I'm making fresh strawberry.

The strawberry rhubarb is simple. Cut up your strawberries and rhubarb. Mix together sugar, flour and a pinch of salt. Layer the ingredients into a pie shell and dot with butter. I like to cover mine with a lattice top, it just looks so pretty! Brush with an egg wash, and sprinkle on sanding sugar. Pop it in the oven for an hour, and you have a wonderful desert at the end.

Fresh strawberry pie is equally delicious. One of the girls said it was the best pie she had ever eaten. Another likened it to strawberry shortcake. The strawberry pie is not baked. First thing you need to do is blind bake your pie crust. If you've never done this before, is is simple. Just fit the pastry into your pie pan and flute the edges. Prick the crust all over, then line it with foil. At this point you can fill it with pie weights, or you can grab a bag of dried beans and use those (my preferred method). Bake this in a hot oven for about 15 minutes. You may need to remove the foil and let the bottom of the crust bake just a touch longer until lightly browned. Set it aside to cool until your filling is ready. The filling is separated into two parts, cooked and not. The cooked filling is some mashed strawberries, sugar, water and cornstarch. This is cooked on the stove until boiling and thickened, a little butter is added for glossiness and it is set aside to cool. The uncooked filling is pure strawberries. Some people like them whole, I prefer to cut them a little, just so I get more in my pie! Once the cooked filling has cooled, pour that over the fresh strawberries, and put it in the fridge for at least 2 hours for it to set.
I can not take credit for any of these recipes. My mom passed along the only pie cookbook I have ever or will ever use. It is a Farm Journal Complete Pie Cookbook dating back to 1965. You can still find the cookbook in some used book stores. Keep your eye out for it at book sales, it is worth it and will become a trusted companion in your pie making adventures. Good luck!

Thursday, April 8, 2010

One Box of Mix

It isn't always necessary to start from scratch to create a delicious end result. I have two favorite cakes that I always keep the ingredients on hand for when the mood strikes. Lemon Cake and Chocolate Cake. Now the Lemon Cake is derived (I lost the recipe and had to make it up) from a secret family recipe, so I will not be sharing it here, however, the Chocolate Cake is free for the taking.

1 Box Chocolate Cake Mix (the richer the better)
1 small box instant chocolate pudding
1 c sour cream
1/2 c oil
1/2 c warm water
4 eggs
1 c chocolate chips

Yup, that is it. Mix it all together, toss it in a bundt pan (just because it looks pretty) and pop it in the oven for an hour or so at 350* When it comes out sprinkle some powdered sugar over it and serve it with ice cream. Around Christmastime, peppermint ice cream is best, but vanilla is always a great stand-by.

What I like most about a recipe like this, is how flexible it is to what you have on hand, or what mood strikes you. Today the mood was chocolate peanut butter. For me, nothing compares to Tillamook Chocolate Peanut Butter ice cream.... pure bliss. So, today I grabbed the chocolate cake mix, the chocolate pudding, and instead of chocolate chips, peanut butter chips. I tossed in the whole bag for good measure, more is better in this instance, and the result was wonderful. I could use some ice cream to go with it, but the strawberries worked, and look so pretty!


Sunday, April 4, 2010

New Look!

I would like to give a shout out to my wonderful Sister-in-Law who designed my new logo. She is an amazing artist, check it out:

Friday, April 2, 2010

Looks Aren't Everything!

Sometimes when you try out a new recipe, it is best to just make it for your family first. I have learned this from some very embarrassing situations. Thankfully it was only with good friends, and before I make another quiche for guests, I will most certainly make it for my family first.

I had a similar experience yesterday. In respect of Passover I chose to make a traditional desert, thinking I might bring it for a get-together tonight. I went to the store in search of coconut, and was reminded I was already several days into Passover, so the selection was limited. I came home with 2 small bags of flake coconut, not the shredded called for in the recipe. No big deal, right? Time for the rest of the ingredients. This was a simple recipe, but there was one addition that made it extra appealing, chopped almonds. My freezer is stocked with raw nuts, especially almonds from a family orchard in northern California, so I was looking forward to using them. Back to the ingredients; some coconut, egg white, sugar, chopped almonds, vanilla and a pinch of salt. Easy, right? I mixed it all together, got my sheet pans and silpats ready, oven was preheated, and brought out my small ice cream scoop, hoping they were all the same size. As I put small balls of almond coconut macaroons on my pans, they didn't seem to hold together. I was hoping they might miraculously form cohesive balls of coconut during the baking process.... a girl can dream can't she? Out of the oven 15 minutes later and they were somewhat cohesive, but certainly not the pretty balls of coconut I was aiming for.

Now here is where I struggle with baking. I had 2 sheet pans with cookies, and more dough in the bowl, just waiting for a sheet pan. I was supposed to wait 5 minutes, I may have short-changed that cooling time on the pan. When I tried to gently remove the macaroons, they fell apart! Lucky for me they were still warm, so I just mushed them back together and put them on the rack. It was at this point (yes, the mushing together point) I decided that I wouldn't share these outside my family and I'd need to make something else for my friends. I had one last batch to put in the oven, I crossed my fingers that these would turn out better. Of course that is what happened. I'm not sure what factor made the difference: one pan in the oven, accidentally letting them cook longer than the recipe said or leaving them on the pan for plenty of time for them to cool. Whatever it was, these held together better, but were still not the pretty balls of coconut.

By the end of the evening I had a plate full of crumbly, misshapen almond coconut macaroons, but you know what? They were delicious! The flake coconut certainly added a different texture to the cookies, and probably affected their ability to hold together, but it doesn't mean they didn't taste good. This batch of cookies is just for my family to enjoy, I made my trusty Lemon Cake for my friends tonight.