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Here’s How to Achieve Pumpkin Pie Excellence

Confession time.

I don’t own a pie pan.  Not a single one.  I’ve contemplated buying one on many occasions, but then I always get hung up.  Do I want glass?  Seems like the right choice, it would give me a window to the pie crust to make sure it browns correctly.  But ceramic is so much prettier, but usually more expensive.  Which leads us to metal, which is an affordable option, and a great heat conductor, but certainly not the prettiest option.  And if it’s not going to look pretty, why do I need to buy a new one anyway?

Round and round I go in my head until I give up and end up in the baking aisle at the grocery store buying another foil pie tin.

Embarrassing.  Right?  A baker without pie plates.  I should be ashamed.

So, after years and years of being pumpkin pie-free, I had to give in.  It is, after all, BF’s favorite pie.  It seemed only right..

This masterpiece is a far cry from the one you get from that can of “pumpkin pie filling” that you pick up at the store. The pie features a sweet, pumpkiny custard nestled in a tender, flaky crust.  Created and perfected by the geniuses over at Cooks Illustrated, this recipe has a “secret” ingredient (sweet potatoes) that somehow (I can only assume with magic) results in a pie with a more complex  flavor.

So, prepare yourself for the smoothest, creamiest pumpkin pie your tastebuds have ever had the pleasure of encountering.  It’s like a creamy, Thanksgiving hug for your mouth… and your tummy.

Despite being “perfected” in the Cook’s Illustrated test kitchens, I provided a few modifications.  First, I would recommend a medium-mesh sieve, as I think my “fine-mesh” was a bit too fine (granted it’s “double mesh”), causing my to arm cramp up while I desperately tried to press the mixture through.

Also, I assume due to my tiny foil pie plate, only half of the filling fit into the pie crust, which means that TECHNICALLY you could get two pumpkin pies out of this recipe, or you could use a deep dish pie plate for a nice custardy pumpkin pie.  I took a “two is better than one” stance on the issue and decided it meant I had one pie for me and one pie for the family.

Oh, and a dollop of cinnamon whipped cream never hurt anyone.

Cook’s Illustrated Pumpkin Pie  Cook’s Illustrated, December 2008

[ Printable Recipe ]

  • Your favorite pie crust (home-made or store-bought, I won’t tell)
  • 2 cups half and half
  • 3 large eggs plus 2 large egg yolks
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 (15-ounce) can pumpkin puree
  • 1 cup drained candied yams from 15-ounce can (I could only find sweet potatoes, I know technically they’re different)
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup maple syrup
  • 1  teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon table salt

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

While oven is preheating, roll pie dough to 12-inch circle about 1/8-inch thick and press into pie plate, crimping the edge when finished.  Refrigerate 15 minutes or until firm.

Now you are going to “blind bake” your pie crust.  To do this, you will want to prick holes in the bottom with a fork, then line the inside of the crust with foil.  Fill the foil with pie weights of your choice (I used coins, because I don’t own real pie weights.  That would just be silly since I don’t even own a pie plate!  If you feel silly filling your pie with pennies, you can use pie weights or uncooked beans or rice).  Bake crust on rimmed baking sheet for 15 minutes. Carefully remove foil and weights, rotate plate and bake 5 to 10 more minutes until crust is golden brown and crisp.  Remove plate and baking sheet from oven.

While pie shell is baking, whisk half and half, eggs, yolks and vanilla together in medium bowl. Combine pumpkin puree, yams, sugar, maple syrup, ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt in large heavy-bottomed saucepan; bring to simmer over medium heat, 5 to 7 minutes.  Continue to simmer, stirring constantly and mashing yams against sides of pot, until thick and shiny, 10 to 15 minutes.  If you’re not satisfied with your mashing abilities (as I was not) feel free to puree your pumpkin mixture with a blender stick.  I don’t care if it’s cheating, I still couldn’t smoosh it through my stupid sieve, so good luck if you’re relying on your “mashing” abilities.

I know this recipe has been “perfected”, but I don’t ever stir anything with raw eggs directly into something hot.  So I first whisked a cup or so of the heated pumpkin into the egg/cream mixture, and then poured all of that back into the pumpkin pan and whisked until fully incorporated.  Strain mixture through fine (OR MEDIUM)-mesh strainer set over a large bowl, using the back of a ladle or spatula to press solids through strainer.

Re-whisk mixture and transfer to your warm pre-baked pie shell.  Return pie plate (now filled with custard) still on the baking sheet to the oven and bake for 10 minutes. Reduce heat to 300 degrees and continue baking until edges are set 20 to 35 minutes longer, until an instant-read thermometer inserted in center registers 175 degrees.  Transfer pie to wire rack and cool completely, 2 to 3 hours.  The pie will finish cooking with resident heat, so be sure to cool it at room temperature and not in the refrigerator.  Once cooled, you can transfer it to the refrigerator.

 

For the whipped cream:

  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 2 Tablespoon powdered sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla paste or extract
  • 1/8 teaspoon cinnamon

Whip cream with cold bowl and cold beaters until it gets bubbly. Add powdered sugar, cinnamon, and vanilla and continue beating to desired consistency, voila.  (If you want to whip your cream even faster, make it with an immersion blender.  You’ll never go back to whisks again)

[ Pie recipe adapted from Smitten Kitchen whose cookbook recently debuted ]
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Here’s How to Make Room Temperature S’more Bars

August is National S’more Month, which makes it one of the most delicious months of the year.

While s’mores aren’t difficult to make, not all of us have a campfire readily available. Some of us live in areas that have “fire bans” or “no burn days” … it’s tragic, I know. Then again, building a fire seems less exciting when it’s already a thousand degrees outside.

Luckily, there are ways to get your s’more fix while keeping cool. These extremely easy to make, no-bake (i.e., MINIMAL HEAT) s’more bars. You make these babies in the microwave, which means you don’t have to endure any extra heat – no stove, no oven, no fire, no outside. Just sweet, delicious s’more goodness in the comfort of your air-conditioned home.

For these bars I used a recipe that melted the chocolate with the marshmallow, but I think my usual recipe of s’more bars that mixes chocolate chips in at the end is actually better. Luckily, these are so easy to make that you can make them both ways and judge for yourself.

No-Bake S’more Bars

  • 8 cups (1 box) Golden Grahams cereal
  • 6 cups (1 bag)  miniature marshmallows, reserve 1 cup
  • 1½ cups chocolate chips*
  • ¼ cup light corn syrup
  • 5 tablespoons butter
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla (optional)
  1. Butter a 9×13-inch baking dish and line with parchment paper or plastic wrap; set aside.
  2. Place the cereal in a large mixing bowl; set aside.
  3. In a large bowl, combine 5 cups of marshmallows, chocolate*, light corn syrup and butter. Microwave in 30-second increments, stirring after each, until the mixture is completely melted and smooth. Stir in the vanilla.
  4. Pour the melted mixture over the cereal and, using a buttered spatula or wooden spoon, gently stir until all of the cereal is coated. Stir in the additional cup of marshmallows (and chocolate, if you didn’t melt it with the marshmallows)
  5. Turn the mixture out into the prepared baking pan. Butter your hands and press the mixture evenly into the pan, pushing it down into a flat, even layer. Cool for at least 1 hour at room temperature (refrigerate to speed up this process).

**READ THE TIPS BELOW**

*You can either melt the chocolate with the 5 cups of marshmallows, or stir it in with the last 1 cup. Make sure you use a REALLY BIG BOWL and REALLY STRONG ARMS for stirring. 

*These can also be made on the stovetop, just like you would make regular rice krispy treats, melt it all over low heat, and then stir in cereal and mix-ins, and pour into pan and spread. 

*These can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 2 days, but good luck with that.

 

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Inception Cookies

What’s an inception cookie? Why, it’s a cookie within a cookie of course. You may have seen it before, but it just looks so good this time around it was hard to keep it secret.

A Birthday Cake Oreo stuffed inside of a chocolate chip cookie? That’s the ultimate in mind theft…the ultimate brain explosion.

I also filled some cookies with Tagalongs and Somoas. Surprisingly, even though Samoas are not my favorite cookie (and are kinda far from my favorite cookie), something about the way the flavors melded… it ended up being my favorite cookie-stuffed-within-a-cookie that I’ve ever made. So go crazy, be creative. Most importantly, STUFF ALL OF THE COOKIES!

Stuffed Chocolate Chip Cookies

  •  2 sticks softened unsalted butter
  •  3/4 cup packed brown sugar (I usually use “golden” but ran out and ended using half dark)
  •  1 cup granulated sugar
  •  2 large eggs
  •  1 Tablespoon pure vanilla
  •  3 1/2 cups all purpose flour
  •  1 teaspoon salt
  •  1 teaspoon baking soda
  •  5 oz (half bag) mini chocolate chips
  •  1 bag Oreo Cookies (or Tagalongs, or Samoas, or whatever you want. Go crazy)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

  1. Cream butter and sugars in an electric mixer until well combined.  Add in eggs and vanilla and beat until well combined.
  2. In a separate bowl mix the flour, salt and baking soda.  Slowly add to wet ingredients along with chocolate chips until just combined.
  3. Using a cookie scoop take one scoop of cookie dough and place on top of an Oreo Cookie, smoosh down, pressing toward the edges.  Take another scoop of dough and place on bottom of Oreo Cookie.  I sealed mine by pressing the dough to the edges, then rolling the cookie between my hands until it was completely smoothly covered.
  4. Chill in refrigerator at least 15 minutes before baking.
  5. Place onto a parchment-lined baking sheet and bake cookies 10-20 minutes, depending on the size of cookie scoop you use. They should be just golden and the bottoms lightly browned.
  6. Using a large scoop will give you GIANT cookies (see Oreo cookie) that take almost 20 minutes to bake completely

Using a smaller scoop gave me the ratio I preferred (see Tagalong cookie), and they baked faster as an added bonus

Let cool for 5 minutes on a baking sheet before transferring to cooling rack.

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Recipes

Strawberry Galette

Don’t let the fancy name fool you, this dessert is anything but pretentious.

This strawberry galette (which is just fancy word for an ugly free-form “tart”) is low in maintenance, but high in flavor. I’ve made this a number of times, with a variety of fruits and berries, so don’t lock yourself in to strawberries if they’re not your thing.

You can save loads of time by using a store-bought pie crust. Yeah, shortcuts are okay here.  I won’t tell. Of course, you could always sub your favorite pie dough recipe if you like, but that’s extra work. 😉

Strawberry Galette

  • 2 cups strawberries (or other fruit), sliced
  • 1 tsp lemon juice (a little zest, too, if you feel so inclined)
  • 1/2 tsp corn starch
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten (or you can use cream)
  • 1 recipe pie crust or store-bought pie dough (enough for one double crust pie)
  • Raw sugar (optional)

Preheat oven to 350F

  1. Toss strawberries, lemon juice (and zest, if using), corn starch, and sugar together in a bowl.
  2. Unroll crusts onto a parchment-lined baking sheet. This one was a Trader Joe’s crust which was super ginormous so I just made one big one instead of two little ones…. could’ve halved and re-rolled it, but… yeah
  3. Spoon berries into the middle of each crust (as if this counts as an additional step), leaving a two-inch border. You can arrange them fancy and overlapping if you like, but I’m not fancy.
  4. Fold the sides over to form a border around the center of the galette. Get fancy if you like, but there’s really no need. Brush beaten egg or cream around the border (you can skip it, but it helps with browning). Sprinkle with raw sugar if desired. I desired.
  5. Bake for 45 – 55 minutes until lightly browned and your house smells like delicious. Allow to cool on a wire rack until it’s safe for handling. Serve to awe-struck guests with freshly whipped cream.

Oh, you can totally make mini ones too. Yes, they’re adorable. In case you were wondering. No, I don’t have proof. I made some 4-inch ones awhile ago that were pretty cute, too. Just sayin.

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Jelly Bean Martini

With Easter right around the corner, chances are that most of us will be left with an excess of candy around the house (even me). Especially Jelly Beans.

So, as much as I love to flavor my vodka, why draw the line at fruit? Infusing spirits with candy not only opens the door to a whole new world of flavors, but also sweetens it as well. Meaning….. you can drink this martini straight up… no mixers.

Of course, you can throw in some other fruit juice, or some citrus or berry liquer if you like, but this stuff is definitely good enough to drink alone. As another holiday family gathering approaches, this can definitely help to make your family more bearable. 🙂

If you have other leftover Easter candy, here are some easy ways to use it up:

 

Jellybean Martini

  • 2 oz jellybean vodka
  • 1 oz fruit juice, chambord, cointreau, whatever suits you (optional)
  • Ice

To make the jellybean vodka, mix 1 part jellybeans ( I used the pink ones from a Starburst Jellybean “Fave-Reds” package) with 4 parts vodka. Let sit for a few hours or overnight, depending on how good you are at advance planning. Give it a final shake/stir then strain out the jellybeans. It will have little sugar floaties in it, I used cheesecloth to strain it, you can use that or a coffee filter, or just leave them in. They won’t hurt anything they just don’t look very pretty.

To make martini: Shake with ice (and whatever mixin you like) and strain into a chilled martini glass. I threw a few extra jellybeans in the bottom for fun, which had pretty much dissolved by the time I finished my drink.

 

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Chipotle Bacon Burgers

With the recent warm spell hitting a good chunk of the country, it looks like the southwest is no longer the only place that gets to grill this time of year. The other day it was 50 degrees here in Phoenix, and 70-something back in Ohio. Heck, even today my family back east will have the same 82-degree high as we will here in the AZ desert.  What better way to enjoy the warm weather than grilling outdoors?

Burgers are a relatively common dinner in our home. They can be plain or dressed up, beef or turkey, with or without cheese, on brioche or Sarah Lee. How does one eat burgers frequently without becoming bored, you ask?

Toppings!

Burgers are so easy to customize to whatever you happen to be craving. There are so many ways to spice up a burger, I could probably eat burgers every day and never make the same one twice. Of course, I have a few favorites that tend to get stuck on repeat… but I *COULD* make a different one every day… if I really wanted to…

These, my friends, are dressed up with bacon, red onion, chipotle spread, cheddar cheese, and greens. I suppose jalapeno jack would be just as tasty on top – but we “had” to buy a(nother) two-pound brick of cheddar from Costco, so it’s been the “cheese of choice” as of late. :)

So if you’re looking for a way to “spice” up your usual burgers – give these ones a try!

Chipotle Bacon Burgers

[ Printable Recipe ]

  • 1 pound lean ground beef
  • dash of Worcestershire sauce (about 2 – 3 shakes)
  • 1/2 teaspoon chipotle powder (optional)
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • Chipotle Spread
    • 1 cup mayo
    • 1-2 chipotle pepper(s) in adobo, finely minced
    • 2 cloves garlic
    • 1/2 teaspoon lemon or lime juice
    • salt and pepper to taste
  • Bacon, cooked
  • Red onions (grilled or not, your choice)
  • Greens of choice (spring mix, romaine, iceberg, arugula…)
  • Cheese – I recommend Cheddar or Pepper Jack
  • Burger buns

Mix beef, salt, pepper, Worcestershire, and chipotle powder in a bowl until incorporated. Form into patties, salt the outside of the patties as well.

Make Chipotle Spread by mixing mayo, chipotle, garlic, salt, pepper, and lemon juice in a small bowl. Set aside until ready to use.

When ready to make the burgers – grill patties to desired doneness and top with cheese to melt. While resting, spread a light layer of chipotle spread over the buns and grill until toasted. Assemble burgers, adding additional chipotle spread if desired, and enjoy!

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Cute Caprese Bites

When the first thing out of Boyfriend’s mouth when he enters the kitchen is “OH MY GOD, ARE YOU TRYING TO KILL ME WITH CUTENESS!?” I consider that a win.

This army of cuteness couldn’t be easier to assemble, nor more delicious. Cherry tomatoes and basil are two things I pretty much always have on hand, I just happened to have a container of boccacini hanging out in the fridge that I just had to use up, so out came these little guys.

Sweet, salty, creamy…. perfect.

I wish I had more to say about them, but I just don’t. I think the pictures sum it up pretty good.

So the “recipe” if you’d like to call it that is as such

Cute Caprese Bites

  • 12 cherry tomatoes
  • 12 boccacini balls
  • 12 leafs of basil
  • Fleur de sel (optional)
  • Good quality balsamic vinegar (optional)

Cut cherry tomatoes in half, sprinkle boccacini with sea salt.

Place boccacini on bottom half of cherry tomato, top with basil leaf, and replace top of tomato. Skewer with a toothpick (or something fancier if you wish).

Sprinkle with sea salt and drizzle with balsamic vinegar. I suspect a drizzle of pesto might not be a bad idea either… ooh, or maybe pesto and balsamic on the side so you can dip into whichever you prefer… mmm

Enjoy!

If you can’t find boccacini, just cube some fresh mozzarella and call it a day. :)

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Avocado Fries

I never fry at home… like, never.

Never ever.

Ever.

Of course, I see all kinds of recipes for fried treats that I would love to make, but I never dare make them. The danger of opening up my home to frying food is too great. Making a batch of donuts then leads to eating a batch of donuts, then I know nothing will compare to the home made ones and I will have to make more of them, then eat more of them, then….. other things will start being fried. Everything really. Everything will start to be fried.

It’s a slippery slope there, a dangerous one, and I try to stay away from that slope at all costs.

Well, my friends, Pinterest struck again with these gosh darned avocado fries. I was so intrigued by the whole concept…. avocado FRIES??? Overcome by a recent addiction to avocado, I couldn’t resist. The image in my head of biting into a crunchy, salty exterior surrounding a warm, creamy avocado was just too much to bare. They must be mine.

So I broke my cardinal kitchen rule: thou shalt not fry.

And, while I was at it, why not throw some onion rings in there too? I always have about a thousand onions in my fridge. And I had extra buttermilk to use up anyway. I’m already breaking my rule anyway…. See? 5 minutes in and I’m already sliding down that slope… and it all started with an innocent little avocado…

Well, both were delicious. And I felt extra guilty after eating them, even though Boyfriend wandered into the kitchen at some point to help consume them… he had to run to the store in the middle of it and…  yeah…. too bad I can never make these again. Never ever. Ever. Make these again. But you…you should definitely make them. Even if you never fry, maybe especially if you never fry. They’re dangerously good.

Avocado Fries Recipe Adapted from Sunset Magazine

  •          Canola oil for frying
  •          1/4 cup flour
  •          1 tsp kosher salt (or other seasoning blend of your choice)
  •          2 large eggs, beaten to blend
  •         1 1/4 cups panko
  •         2 firm-ripe medium avocados, pitted, peeled, and sliced into 1/2-in. wedges
  •         Grated parmesan (or other seasoning blend) for serving (optional)

1. Preheat oven to 200°. In a large saucepan, heat 1 1/2 in. oil until it registers 375° on a deep-fry thermometer. (I had to switch pans after realizing my original pan was not big enough to use my spider with) Line a baking sheet with foil, if you have a baking rack, place that on top of the baking sheet which will allow the hot air to flow around the rings while they’re in the oven.

2. Meanwhile, mix flour with 1/2 tsp. salt in a shallow plate. Put eggs and panko in separate shallow plates. (I like to use paper plates so I can just throw them away afterwards. Wasteful, I know.)

3. Slice avocado and sprinkle the avocado slices with the remaining ½ tsp salt. (Maybe a little more, be generous with it). Dip each slice in flour, shaking off excess. Dip in egg, then panko to coat. Set aside while you finish the rest.

3. Fry a quarter of avocado slices at a time until deep golden, 30 to 60 seconds. Transfer slices to a plate lined with paper towels. Keep warm in oven while cooking remaining avocados. Sprinkle with salt and a little grated parmesan (or other seasoning), if desired. I did some with southwestern seasoning and others just plain salt…. Both were delicious.

Panko Onion Rings

  •         1 sweet onion, cut into medium slices, rings separated
  •        1 cup buttermilk
  •         ¼ cup flour
  •         1 tsp kosher salt, plus more for seasoning
  •         2 large eggs, beaten to blend
  •         1 – 1 ½ cups Panko bread crumbs
  •         Canola Oil, for frying
  1. Marinate onion slices in buttermilk 30 minutes to 1 hour. Line a baking sheet with foil, if you have a baking rack, place that on top of the baking sheet which will allow the hot air to flow around the rings while they’re in the oven.
  2. Preheat oven to 200°. In a large saucepan, heat 1 ½ inch of oil to 375° on a deep-fry thermometer.
  3. Coat slices in flour, then egg, then panko. Refill panko as needed. Set aside coated rings while you coat the rest.
  4. When ready, fry onion rings a few slices at a time, making sure to not let the oil temperature drop too low.  Place fried onion rings on the rack and keep warm in the oven.
  5. Sprinkle with final salt (or other seasoning) and serve warm (preferably with some ranch to dip them in)