Monday, January 28, 2008

My First Daring Baker Challenge!!

I was very excited to join the Daring Bakers this month. For anyone who doesn't know about the group, it is a group of bloggers (and some non-bloggers) that take on a different baking challenge each month. Everyone uses the same recipe and posts about their results on the same day. Anyway, today is my first post on the results of the January Daring Baker Challenge!
The challenge this month was Lemon Meringue Pie. I was initially somewhat nervous about this challenge because first of all I've never made a pie crust before and my mom has a somewhat legendary LMP recipe. My mom's pie has always been one of my favorites so I wasn't sure if this recipe would be up to par with my all-time favorite pie.

On to the results and recipe for anyone who wants to give it a try:

First the recipe:

Lemon Meringue Pie
Makes one 10-inch (25 cm) pie

For the Crust:
¾ cup (180 mL) cold butter; cut into ½-inch (1.2 cm) pieces
2 cups (475 mL) all-purpose flour
¼ cup (60 mL) granulated sugar
¼ tsp (1.2 mL) salt
⅓ cup (80 mL) ice water

For the Filling:
2 cups (475 mL) water
1 cup (240 mL) granulated sugar
½ cup (120 mL) cornstarch
5 egg yolks, beaten
¼ cup (60 mL) butter
¾ cup (180 mL) fresh lemon juice
1 tbsp (15 mL) lemon zest
1 tsp (5 mL) vanilla extract

For the Meringue:
5 egg whites, room temperature
½ tsp (2.5 mL) cream of tartar
¼ tsp (1.2 mL) salt
½ tsp (2.5 mL) vanilla extract
¾ cup (180 mL) granulated sugar

For the Crust: Make sure all ingredients are as cold as possible. Using a food processor or pastry cutter and a large bowl, combine the butter, flour, sugar and salt. Process or cut in until the mixture resembles coarse meal and begins to clump together. Sprinkle with water, let rest 30 seconds and then either process very briefly or cut in with about 15 strokes of the pastry cutter, just until the dough begins to stick together and come away from the sides of the bowl. Turn onto a lightly floured work surface and press together to form a disk. Wrap in plastic and chill for at least 20 minutes.

Allow the dough to warm slightly to room temperature if it is too hard to roll. On a lightly floured board (or countertop) roll the disk to a thickness of ⅛ inch (.3 cm). Cut a circle about 2 inches (5 cm) larger than the pie plate and transfer the pastry into the plate by folding it in half or by rolling it onto the rolling pin. Turn the pastry under, leaving an edge that hangs over the plate about ½ inch (1.2 cm). Flute decoratively. Chill for 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350ºF (180ºC). Line the crust with foil and fill with metal pie weights or dried beans. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes. Carefully remove the foil and continue baking for 10 to 15 minutes, until golden. Cool completely before filling.

For the Filling: Bring the water to a boil in a large, heavy saucepan. Remove from the heat and let rest 5 minutes. Whisk the sugar and cornstarch together. Add the mixture gradually to the hot water, whisking until completely incorporated.

Return to the heat and cook over medium heat, whisking constantly until the mixture comes to a boil. The mixture will be very thick. Add about 1 cup (240 mL) of the hot mixture to the beaten egg yolks, whisking until smooth. Whisking vigorously, add the warmed yolks to the pot and continue cooking, stirring constantly, until mixture comes to a boil. Remove from the heat and stir in butter until incorporated. Add the lemon juice, zest and vanilla, stirring until combined. Pour into the prepared crust. Cover with plastic wrap to prevent a skin from forming on the surface, and cool to room temperature.

For the Meringue: Preheat the oven to 375ºF (190ºC). Using an electric mixer beat the egg whites with the cream of tartar, salt and vanilla extract until soft peaks form. Add the sugar gradually, beating until it forms stiff, glossy peaks. Pile onto the cooled pie, bringing the meringue all the way over to the edge of the crust to seal it completely. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until golden. Cool on a rack. Serve within 6 hours to avoid a soggy crust.

My results:

As a whole the pie tasted very good; it was very "lemony" though. I did realize that it is quite different from my mom's LMP recipe. Her pie is much sweeter than this version. I actually ended up liking this recipe nearly as much as the original, but I really don't think of them as the same kind of pie.

Making the crust was definitely an experience for me. I had observed crusts being made before, but I've never made one on my own. I was very pleased with the taste of the dough (yes...I'm a raw dough eater), but the final product was a bit frightening. I'm not sure where I messed up, but my crust went through a weird shrinking phase. I think the edges were too thick, and that I didn't extend the crust far enough above the edge of the pie plate, which caused it to shrink. It still tasted wonderful but it was quite ugly. Luckily the meringue helped to hide the flaws in my crust.

The filling was also a first for me. I had never done a true lemon curd before but it was surprisingly easy. I was a little nervous about burning the mixture but it all worked out fine. Many people complained about a runny curd, but mine set up quite nicely. The taste was really good if you are into a true lemon flavor. I'm used to a sweeter lemon filling, but I can definitely appreciate the lemon flavor of this curd.

I was very excited about making the meringue because I've assisted in making meringues many times as a child. This recipe was a little different, but luckily I already knew the basics of making meringues. The most important seems to be making sure you don't get any of the egg yolk into the egg whites. The egg yolks will prevent the meringue from whipping properly. Anyway, the meringue turned out pretty nice, but I could never make it form really stiff peaks. You can see that in the picture, the points kind of fell down rather than sticking up straight, but I still think it looked pretty. The flavor was different too; I've never added vanilla to a meringue before so that was odd to me. I actually like the flavor better without the vanilla, but I had to follow the recipe to a "T". My only problem was that there seemed to be a liquid seeping from the meringue after baking. It didn't affect the taste but it definitely affected the look of the pie. I wish I could say what caused that, but I really have no idea.

Overall it was a very good tasting pie and, I think, a great first attempt at making homemade pies. I liked the recipe and I would recommend it to others, but you may want to do some research on preventing meringues from weeping.

On to February....I can't wait for the next challenge!

Thursday, January 24, 2008

No-Bake Chocolate Oatmeal Cookies

These are my husband's favorite cookies! The best part is that they are so simple to make. I can imagine that these will be my "go-to" cookies for quite awhile. Unfortunately I didn't get a picture of these because they were gone pretty quickly. I will say that these are a bit hard to make pretty, but they are so tasty! Anyway, here's my mother-in-law's recipe.

Chocolate Oatmeal Cookies
2 cups sugar
1/2 cup milk
4 tbsp cocoa
3/4 stick butter (6 tbsp)
1/2 cup peanut butter
1 tsp vanilla
2 cups oatmeal

Mix first three ingredients together until moistened in a sauce pot. Bring mixture to a low boil and allow it to thicken slightly. Remove from heat. Add next four ingredients. Mix thoroughly. Spoon mixture onto parchment paper to form cookies.

Eat with a big glass of milk! YUM!

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Corn & Crab Bisque

I've been trying to work up the courage to make a crab dish for quite awhile now, so I finally decided on this bisque recipe from The Encyclopedia of Cajun and Creole Cuisine cookbook.

I was fortunate enough to have some frozen crab meat in the freezer that was pulled from the crab trap by my own hands ( dad's hands) as well as cleaned, boiled, and picked by my hands. There was a tremendous amount of work invested in this crab meat so I really wanted to do it justice.

Corn & Crab Bisque

3 cups whole kernel corn

1 pound jumbo lump crabmeat

1 cup butter

1 cup diced onions

1 cup diced celery

1/2 cup diced red bell peppers

1/4 cup minced garlic

1 cup flour

2 1/2 quarts shellfish stock

1 pint heavy whipping cream

1/2 cup sliced green onions

1/2 cup chopped parsley

salt and white pepper to taste

In a 2-gallon stockpot, melt butter over medium-high heat. Add corn, onions, celery, bell peppers and garlic. Saute 5-10 minutes or until vegetables are wilted. Whisk in flour until white roux is achieved, but do not brown. Slowly add stock, one ladle at a time, stirring constantly. Bring to a low boil, reduce to simmer and cook 30 minutes. Add heavy whipping cream, green onions and parsley. Continue cooking 3 minutes. Gently fold in lump crabmeat, being careful not to break lumps. Season with salt and white pepper.

Note: I made a half recipe, because the original recipe is for 12 servings.

Overall I think this was a pretty great bisque. It didn't turn out quite as thick as I would have liked, but it still tasted really good. One mistake was that I paired it with the Lemon Parmesan Risotto. The risotto completely over-powered the bisque. It really didn't stand a chance when put up against the risotto. I guess that was a rookie mistake. If we would've been eating dinner properly, meaning soup then the main dish, it probably would've worked a little better. I also think I messed up a little in making the stock. For some reason I decided to use the cheapest dry white wine possible in the stock, and I really think that affected the overall taste. With all that considered, it's a great recipe and we all enjoyed it.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Chocolate Ganache Tarts

This little dessert was somewhat of a creation of my own. However, I did base it on a few recipes I had on hand. I used a crust recipe that had been used previously for a pie, and I used a ganache recipe from Donna Hay's New Food Fast. Then I added my own spin by whipping the ganache and piping it into the mini tart shells.

For the crust:

3/4 cup cold butter, cut into 1/2 in. pieces

2 cups all purpose flour
1/4 cup granulated sugar

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/3 cup ice water

Make sure all ingredients are as cold as possible. Using a food processor or pastry cutter and a large bowl, combine the butter, flour, sugar and salt. Process or cut in until the mixture resembles coarse meal and begins to clump together. Sprinkle with water, let rest 30 seconds and then either process very briefly or cut in with about 15 strokes of the pastry cutter, just until the dough begins to stick together and come away from the sides of the bowl. Turn onto a lightly floured work surface and press together to form a disk. Wrap in plastic and chill for at least 20 minutes.

Turn out chilled dough onto a lightly floured surface. Roll out dough to a thickness of around 1/8 inch. Using a narrow drinking glass, cut the dough out into small circles (make sure to flour the rim of the glass). Press the circles into a mini-muffin pan (I did make sure the bottoms were well floured so the shells wouldn't stick). Refrigerate the shells for at least 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350 F. Bake shells until edges are golden brown. Allow shells to cool completely.

For the ganache:

1 1/4 cups heavy cream

10 oz. dark chocolate (I used a dark milk chocolate)

Break chocolate into pieces in a medium, heat proof bowl.

In a small saucepan, heat cream over medium heat until just before it begins to boil. Remove from heat and pour cream over the chocolate. Allow the mixture to sit for a minute or so, then whisk to combine the cream and chocolate.

Allow the ganache to cool completely and set. (I used the freezer to speed up the process)

Pour cooled ganache into a mixing bowl and whip the ganache at high speed with an electric mixer.

Pipe mixture into the cooled tart shells.

This actually turned out quite good as well. I do think I whipped the ganache one stage too far. I think the next time I make it I won't whip the ganache quite as much. It sort of came out as a rich chocolate whipped cream. I also chose to use the dark milk chocolate because one of my guests was not a fan of dark chocolate. So if you happen to love dark chocolate then definitely go with that, but the dark milk chocolate turned out really well. I am planning on making this again for an event, but I may just spoon the ganache into the cup and top with a dollop of meringue next time.

Lemon Parmesan Risotto

This dish is the first of a few I made last night. I must say that this was probably the highlight of the dinner. I got the recipe out of Donna Hay's Modern Classics 1 Cookbook. This was the first dish that I've attempted from her cookbooks and I must say that I was highly impressed. I plan on cooking many more of her recipes.

Anyway, here's the recipe:

Lemon Parmesan Risotto

20 g (3/4 oz) butter (I used 2 tablespoons)

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 onion, chopped

5 1/2 cups chicken or vegetable stock

2 cups arborio or other risotto rice

3 teaspoons finely grated lemon rind

1/2 cup finely grated parmesan cheese

20 g butter, extra

sea salt and cracked black pepper

Heat a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the butter, oil and onion and cook for 6-8 minutes or until soft and golden. Place the stock in a separate saucepan. Cover and bring to a slow simmer (I just microwaved it until it was hot).

Add the rice and lemon rind to the onion mixture, stirring over medium heat for 2 minutes or until the rice is translucent (It took me a good bit longer than 2 minutes for the rice to become translucent).

Add the hot stock 1 cup at a time, stirring continuously until each cup of stock is absorbed and the rice is al dente (around 25-30 minutes). To serve, stir through the parmesan, extra butter, salt and pepper. Serve immediately. Serves 4.

I also topped the risotto with shrimp sauteed in olive oil, butter, and garlic.

Like I said above, this was quite delicious. This was my second try at risotto and while my first attempt was really good. This was even better. I probably ended up using more parmesan than called for, but in my world there is no such thing as too much cheese. I highly recommend the recipe, and for anyone who is intimidated by risotto, this is actually pretty simple to make just a bit time consuming.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Creamy Spinach Lasagna

I figured I might as well start off with a food-related post. As you'll see I am trying to eat healthier so today's post is a recipe I tried last night from Cooking Light, Creamy Spinach Lasagna. I'll be posting pictures of recipes in the future, currently our camera is MIA but we should have it back soon. Thanks for looking.

Creamy Spinach Lasagna
Cooking Light's Annual Recipes 2007

12 cooked whole wheat lasagna noodles
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 1/4 cups chopped onion (I only used 1 1/4 cups, not a huge onion fan)
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 (16-ounce) package frozen, chopped spinach, thawed, drained, and squeezed dry
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
3 cups 2% reduced fat milk (I used skim)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground red pepper
1 (26 oz) jar marinara sauce
Cooking Spray
1 1/2 cups shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese

1. Cook pasta according to package directions (I did add some olive oil so the pasta wouldn't stick together)
2. Preheat oven t0 375
3. Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add onion, cook 10 minutes or until onion is browned, stirring occasionally. Stir in garlic and spinach. Reduce heat, cover, and cook 3 minutes or until spinach is tender. Set aside.
4. Lightly spoon flour into a dry measuring cup, level with a knife. Combine flour, milk, salt, black pepper, and red pepper in a small saucepan, stirring with a whisk. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring frequently. Reduce heat, and simmer 1 minute, stirring frequently. Add 2 cups milk mixture to spinach mixture. Cover remaining milk mixture, and set aside.
5. Spread 1/2 cup marinara sauce in bottom of a 13 x 9-inch baking dish coated with cooking spray. Arrange 3 lasagna noodles over sauce; top with half of spinach mixture. Top with 3 lasagna noodles, 1 cup marinara sauce, and 3/4 cup cheese. Layer 3 lasagna noodles, remaining spinach mixture, and 3 lasagna noodles. Top with remaining marinara sauce. Pour reserved milk mixture over top, and sprinkle with 3/4 cup cheese. Bake at 375 for 50 minutes or until lasagna is browned on top. Yield 8 servings.

Overall I was pretty impressed with this recipe. The spinach mixture had some good spice to it thanks to the ground red pepper. The milk mixture on top was a little bland. I feel sure that was supposed to be a type of bechamel sauce, but it definitely didn't live up to a true bechamel sauce, being low fat that's not too surprising. We definitely enjoyed it though, dear hubby even liked it despite it not containing any meat.


Thanks for happening by. I've finally decided to start my own blog after lurking obsessively on countless other food blogs for the past year or so. I'm going to do my best to stick with it and post regularly so I can develop an audience for my posts. I will say early on that living in small town (B.F.E.) South Carolina sometimes limits me when it comes to finding specialty ingredients so bear with me when it comes to my ingredients list. Feel free to leave comments and suggestions. On with the food!!