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My Best Christmas Treat

During the formative years of my life I would not have considered myself a mint fan.  Oh, I would occasionally indulge in a candy cane or a stick of gum, but if you presented me with a flavor array, I never ever chose mint anything.  Mint ice cream?  Forget it.  Mint cookies?  No way.  Mint brownies?  Heathens!  Why ruin perfectly good and chocolatey brownies with mint!

Somewhere along the way, though, I have discovered a very sincere fondness for mint and chocolate.  Peppermint mocha? I cannot get enough!  Brownies with peppermint in them?  We’ve come a long way baby.  So long that I now only make my Peppermint Fudge Brownies for bake sales because, I kid you not, if I have them on hand I will literally sit and eat the whole pan.  You know how they say no bite is as good as the first bite?  Not here.  Every bite makes my taste buds tingle and causes my eyes to roll back in my head.  They really are that good.

They are so good that I’ve long debated sharing the recipe because they really are bakery quality.  This year as we were wrapping up the over-sized brownies for the bake sale I mentioned to the kids that I need to come up with a second bar that I can perfect in the same way so that we can present a variety when the bake sale requests come knocking.

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One note about the peppermint oil.  I have many friends who are into the essential oil business.  I am not, as I am allergic to many, but I do have peppermint, orange and lemon essential oils from my friends.  The peppermint oil is worth every penny.  Just a few drops transforms my brownies into magic.  You may need to play with the number of drops to find your perfect amount, depending on the oil you’ve used.  I have DoTerra oils on hand, and their quality is far superior to the peppermint oil I’ve bought in the candy-making department.  But use what you have on hand, you just may need to add a few extra drops- you could also use extract, I’m sure, but I’m not sure on quantity there either.

You will also notice a different ingredient in the brownie portion of this recipe.  The malted milk powder.  Trust me on this one. The malt works like coffee- it adds a depth of flavor that you don’t notice as a malt flavor.  It also contributes to the texture of the brownies.

To garnish the brownies I prefer to use Ande’s Peppermint Crunch bits, and I tint the frosting pink.  You can use whatever you like here, and opt for tinting the frosting green if you prefer.

This recipe makes a sheet pan of brownies, so it makes a lot.  But you’ll want a lot because they are so good you’ll want to share.  Or you’ll want to hide in a closet and eat them all yourself.

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Peppermint Fudge Brownies

Brownies:
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/3 cup plus 2 TBS malted milk powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
3 sticks butter
6 ounces unsweetened chocolate, cut up
3 cups sugar
6 eggs
2 teaspoon vanilla
5 drops peppermint essential oil
1 cup chocolate chips
Frosting:
3/4 cup butter, softened
3 cups powdered sugar
1/4-1/2 cup half & half
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
4 drops red food coloring (or green)
6 drops peppermint essential oil
Chocolate Glaze:
1 1/2 cups semi-sweet ( or dark) chocolate chips
9 TBS butter
Peppermint Crunch bits or chopped Ande’s candies for topping bars

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 325ºF. Lightly grease a sheet pan OR line with non-stick foil and lightly grease the sides of the pan where the foil didn’t reach; set aside. In a medium bowl, combine flour, malted milk powder, and salt; whisk together and set aside.
  2. In a medium saucepan, combine butter and chocolate; heat and stir over low heat until chocolate melts. Remove from heat, stir in sugar. Using a wooden spoon, beat in eggs, one at a time. Add vanilla and peppermint oil. Stir in flour mixture, followed by 1 cup of chocolate chips. Spread batter in prepared pan.
  3. Bake in preheated oven for 30-35 minutes. Cool completely in a pan on a wire rack.
  4. Once completely cool make the frosting.  Combine the butter, powdered sugar and 1/4 cup of half & half in a bowl.  Use a hand mixer on low speed to combine.  If it’s too stiff you will need more half and half.  If it’s too loose, you’ll need to add more powdered sugar, 1/4 cup at a time until it’s a consistency you are happy with.  Add vanilla, food coloring and peppermint oil.  Mix well.  Taste, and adjust the peppermint oil if needed. Spread all of the frosting all over the cooled brownies, edge to edge.  Set aside, uncovered, to give the frosting layer time to set up.
  5. Make the chocolate glaze.  Combine the 9 tablespoons of butter and 1 1/2 cups of chocolate chips in a microwave safe bowl and heat for one minute.  Stir with a spoon until completely melted and combined.  Microwave it further, 30 seconds at a time, if needed.  Set the glaze aside until it is no longer hot and at room temperature, but still liquid and spreadable.
  6. Working quickly, spread the chocolate glaze over the whole pan of bars.
  7. Sprinkle with garnish and allow the chocolate to set completely.
  8. Wait an hour or so before cutting into bars and enjoy.

Dill Pickle Pot Roast

No lie.  This made one of the most fabulous pot roasts we’ve ever had.

Last week I pulled a chuck roast out of the freezer to thaw, but pulled it out a little late.  I was sort of planning to finish the thawing in the microwave while I debated what I wanted to do with it.  I really wanted to do the long and tedious Mom’s Pot Roast, but I didn’t have time for it.  Then there’s the Foolproof Pot Roast, which I now make using beef broth and onion flakes instead of condensed soup.  But that was how I’d cooked up the last chuck roast and I wanted to do something different.

As I looked at the very frozen chuck roast, the thought came to me that I’d recently seen some kind of roast recipe using pickles or pickle juice, and I decided to just go for it.

This could not have been easier!

I started with my mostly frozen chuck roast.  I sprinkled it nicely with salt and pepper and put it in my crock pot.  Then I grabbed a quart of home canned pickles, removed the dill sprigs, garlic cloves and bay leaves so that all I had was pickle juice, pickles and mustard seeds.  Then I dumped that in the crock pot with the beef.  I decided to take about half of the pickles and put them under the roast.  Then I turned the crock pot on to high and let it do it’s thing.

A few hours later it started to smell deliciously dilly and pickle-like in the house.  I was cooking on high because I only had 5 or 6 hours to get the frozen roast cooked.  Next time I will cook it on low for 8 hours, as my beef ended up just a touch not-quite-tender enough, and I’m sure that was because it was cooked on high instead of low.

The only problem we had with this roast is that it didn’t produce anything that could be turned into gravy, but we quickly forgave it for that because it was SO crazy delicious.  Andy literally called it spectacular!

I did try a pickle from the crock pot.  That was a little strange to me.  It was hot and fall-apart, and I decided that we did not want to eat the pickles that were in the pot.  Your mileage may vary though.

I would make this for a holiday- it was THAT good.  I’m sure you can make it with store-bought pickles, but I encourage you to use one that has some goodies floating in the brine and is closer to homemade pickles than the neon green ones.  But if that’s all you can get your hands on, I’m sure it will still turn out.

Yes, you’ll feel really strange putting this together.  Two ingredients plus salt and pepper, and you will have a family and crowd-pleasing dish at your disposal.  Make this, you won’t be sorry!

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Dill Pickle Pot Roast

1 chuck roast (3-4 pounds)
1 quart whole pickles 
Salt and Pepper to taste

Directions:
Remove anything from the pickle jar that is big and chunky and not a pickle.  (Bay leaves, garlic cloves, hot peppers, etc.) Put about half of the pickles into the bottom of the crock pot.

Add the chuck roast to the pot and sprinkle it liberally with salt and pepper.

Pour the rest of the pickles and all the brine over the chuck roast.  Add another small sprinkle of salt and pepper.

Cover and cook on low for about  7-8 hours or high for 4-6.  If you use a frozen roast the time will be the longer one.

Meet Eli

Two years ago, the dance studio we are a part of dedicated their dance year to kids with cancer.  All the competition teams “adopted” kids with cancer, showering them with gifts and dancing in their honor along the way.  It was a beautiful year of dance.  Not only did we have a purpose for what we did, but we got to meet some incredible children who should never have to deal with the daily horrors of cancer. It really was a life-changing experience for our kids and for our dance family.

But then it got too close to home.

In early October, it was discovered that my four year old nephew Eli had a form of childhood cancer growing in his abdomen.  I can’t even begin to tell you how it felt to hear that word applied to this fun-loving little boy.  Cancer?!  That’s something that we’ve experienced with grandparents and older aunts and uncles.  Not four year old little boys who like to play Mario and eat jelly beans.  Even worse, this special little boy lives in a completely different part of the country.  It’s not like we could just dash over and over immediate support.   So we’ve been supporting and praying long-distance.

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It’s been an insane couple of months.  Every day our thoughts turn to Eli and how he is doing today.  He immediately began chemo to work to shrink that tumor.  He went through several weeks of hell, terrified of those needles and all the throwing up.   We learned the seriousness of being immuno-compromised with low white blood cell counts.  This past Monday he finally was able to have surgery to remove the tumor, though it remains to be seen if more chemo or radiation will be required.  He’s SUCH a trooper.  He is spending the week in the hospital recovering from having his entire abdomen cut open.  He will be watched carefully for infection and for pain.

eli bike

 

This adorable little boy has been through more in the last two months than any child should have to go through.  And on top of all that my sister’s family has had to go through dealing with this, they have recently learned that insurance will not cover everything.  While insurance will cover most, for a young family, the expenses when dealing with cancer add up quickly.   When your child, who is fighting cancer, spikes a fever, you don’t just give alternating Tylenol and Advil and hope it goes down.  You take the temp twice.  Wait a few minutes.  Take the temperature again.  Call your mom to see what she would do.  Take the temp again.  Then call the doctor and make the trip in to their office if it’s open, or to the ER if it’s not.  You don’t stop to think about what a trip to the ER is going to cost.  This fever could be life-threatening and needs to be checked out.   And to hear that as they may be nearing the light at the end of the tunnel that insurance is NOT going to cover all the expenses of this nightmare they have been living?  It’s just too much for any family to have to deal with.

So I thought I’d take a moment to share with you Eli’s story, and to share an opportunity in this season of giving for YOU to make a difference and help Eli’s family  emerge from this trial victorious in every way.   Eli’s family has set up a fund through Generosity.org, which is an online giving platform in which 100% of every penny donated goes directly to the family with the need.  There are no administrative costs, no hidden fees.  When you give ten dollars, that ten dollars goes right where it is needed.  Any money donated will go straight to those medical bills, which are piling up quickly.  Should the fund go beyond what is needed to meet those expense, any extra is going to be given to the charitable organizations that reached out to my sister and Eli and have made such a difference for them and their lives these last few months.

Many times in the past I’ve used this blog to advocate for something near and dear to my heart.  It doesn’t get much more nearer and dearer than my nieces and nephews.  I love my own children with all my heart, but there is something special about each and every one of my nieces and nephews, and to have such a sweet one go through such a trial…  Would you please consider helping Eli and his family out this holiday season?  Every donation, no matter how small WILL make a difference.  Thank you, my dear friends.  The link below will take you to the generosity page, where you will see yet another adorable picture of this little guy fighting the fight of his life.

Super Eli’s Super Cancer Smash

 

Wisconsin Harvest Pie

Commentary to come!  Just have to get this posted for now!

Wisconsin Harvest Pie

1 recipe for Double-Crust Pie
1/3 cup sugar
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
6 cups thinly sliced, peeled and cored tart apples, such as granny smith
1 cup dried cranberries
1 cup frozen pitted tart red cherries, thawed and drained
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup maple syrup
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
2 tablespoons butter
1 egg white, lightly beaten
1 tablespoon sugar

.Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Prepare and roll out Pastry for Double-Crust Pie. Line a 9-inch pie plate with pastry circle, trimming to 1/2 inch beyond edge of pie plate; set aside.
2.In a very large bowl, stir together the 1/3 cup sugar, flour, and cinnamon. Add the apples, cranberries, and cherries; toss to coat. Add honey, maple syrup and almond extract. Toss to combine. Transfer apple mixture to pastry-lined plate. Dot with butter. Trim bottom pastry to edge of pie plate. Roll remaining pastry ball into a 12-inch circle. Cut slits in pastry circle; place on filling. Trim to 1/2 inch beyond edge of pie plate. Fold top pastry edge under bottom pastry edge. Crimp edge as desired. Brush the top of pie with egg white and sprinkle with 1 tablespoon sugar.
3.Place a foil-lined shallow baking pan on the rack below the pie in oven. Bake pie for 15 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 375 degrees F. Bake about 50 minutes more or until crust is browned and filling is bubbly, covering loosely with foil the last 10 minutes to prevent overbrowning, if necessary. Cool on a wire rack for at least 3 hours.

Make This Ahead: Cranberry Pie

I have used cranberries in pies before, but I have never made a cranberry pie- one that features that tart little berry in all it’s glory.  I have a recipe for a Cranberry Meringue Pie, which is spectacular, and I’ve tossed cranberries into a pecan pie before.  Today’s pie, though, uses whole berries and little else.  I had been hunting for weeks for what I thought would be the best version of a cranberry pie.  There were so many options!  Some folded cranberries into custard, some topped them with tons of delicious brown sugar streusel, and then there were others who added them to apple or pear or pecan pies.  All nice, but I just couldn’t settle on one.  So of course I decided to make my own.

I started with a package of cranberries- which are now sold in 12 ounce packages instead of a full pound.  I thought about using more than just one package, but decided that a lesser amount would be just fine.  I took the cranberries and my kitchen knife and gave all the berries a coarse chop.  You could certainly use a food processor, but I didn’t want bits of cranberries, and didn’t trust myself to not pulse the machine “just one more time”.  So I used a knife, and put the cranberries in a bowl.

Next, I zested two tiny Halo clementines into the cranberries, and followed that with a cup of white sugar, 1/4 cup of all-purpose flour and half a teaspoon of vanilla.  That’s it.  I stirred that all together a few times.  Oh, it smelled so fabulous! Then I poured that into a pie crust and set it aside while I assembled the streusel topping.

I made the streusel similarly to the one I used on the pineapple pie, the changes being that I left out the white sugar and used a little less melted butter.  I really wanted to add some slivered almonds to the streusel, but discovered I was out.  The streusel went on top of the cranberries, and then the whole thing went into a 350ºF oven for 55 minutes.

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It came out to rest, and as Zander and I looked at it, he thought it needed a drizzle of icing.  He had been my consultant for this pie, as he thought he had an idea what flavors would work best, so I took his suggestion and threw together a quick icing while the pie cooled.

One-quarter cup of heavy cream, half a cup of powdered sugar and a hint of vanilla whipped together with a whisk became a thick and creamy icing that we spread all over the mostly-cooled pie.

A few hours later we all dove in and thought the pie was delicious.  And yet… there was something about it that was just a touch off.  I wondered if I should have used even more sugar in the filling because the cranberries still seemed a touch on the harsh side.  But the next day as I went back for a second slice, I was rewarded with the perfect slice of cranberry pie.  The cranberries had mellowed overnight and had merged beautifully with the streusel topping and then the creamy icing component on top.  It was an excellent slice of pie, and I waited rather impatiently for the rest of the family to go in for a sample and confirm for me that it really was that much better the next day.  They all agreed, so lesson learned.  Make this pie the day before you want to eat it.  That gives the flavors time to come together and for the astringent characteristic of the cranberries to completely go away.  This is a delicious pie, and will make an excellent addition to Pie Hour!

Note:  You could probably skip the icing here if you really wanted to.  I thought it complimented the whole thing perfectly, though it was a little strange putting it over the streusel topping.  If you decide to skip it, make sure you serve this pie up with a dollop of whipped cream or a scoop of vanilla ice cream.   It really wants that creamy sweet component to complement the tart berries.

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Cranberry Pie with Streusel and Icing

pie dough for one 9-inch pie
1 (12 ounce) package fresh cranberries
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
zest from two clementines (Halos, cuties, etc)
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
Streusel:
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup rolled oats (if you want to use nuts, use the nuts instead of the oats)
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
2 Tablespoons melted butter
Icing:
1/4 cup heavy whipping cream
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1/4 teaspoon vanilla
pinch of salt

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350ºF.  Roll out pie dough and place in a 9-inch pie plate.

First, you will want to roughly chop your cranberries.  You can use either a knife and a cutting board or a food processor.  Be careful using the processor because we don’t want cranberry crumbs.  At the very least what you are looking for is for every single berry to be cut in half- we don’t want whole berries bursting in the pie and creating pits.

Add the chopped berries to a small mixing bowl.  Add the sugar, all-purpose flour, clementine zest and vanilla.  Mix together with a spoon and then spread in the prepared pie crust.

Make the streusel.  Put the brown sugar, flour, oats and cinnamon in a bowl and mix together.  Add the melted butter and stir until it’s all combined and wet.  Spread the streusel over the cranberry filling.

Bake for 45-55 minutes, or until the pie no longer jiggles when shaken, and when the cranberry filling is bubbling through the streusel in several places.

Allow to cool on a wire rack before making the icing.

Once the pie is at least mostly cool, you can assemble your icing.  Whisk together the heavy cream, powdered sugar, vanilla and pinch of salt.  Whip it until it starts to thicken a touch and the powdered sugar is completely dissolved.  Depending on the moisture content of your cream you may have to add a little more- a teaspoon at a time until it gets to be a spreadable conistency.  Carefully spread the icing over the streusel, getting as close to the edges of the filling as you can.

Allow to rest overnight at room temperature, simply covered with foil or plastic wrap before cutting in and enjoying.

 

Yes, You CAN Make A Pineapple Pie!

And I don’t know why we don’t see more of them!

Yesterday Abigail conducted a science experiment for her Biology course using a fresh pineapple and a box of gelatin. Fresh pineapple is full of enzymes which prohibit gelatin from setting, and it was pretty cool to actually see that put to the test.  She divided a box of lime Jello between three bowls.  One was her control with nothing added, one had a bit of freshly chopped pineapple added, and for the third bowl she cooked some pineapple on the stove for five minutes before adding it to the Jello.  A few hours later we saw the proof in the pudding, or rather, the gelatin, as the bowl with the fresh pineapple was as liquidy as when it went in.  The cooked pineapple set up nicely though, and the kids had a treat of a bowl of Jello with their lunch.

That left me with most of a whole fresh pineapple that wasn’t really at it’s peak for fresh eating.  I thought briefly about making an upside down cake, but then I wondered about pie. ‘Tis the season after all!  Because I was using fresh pineapple, I thought that using normal thickeners might not work so well.  I was fairly certain tapioca would work, and considered using that, but in the end I decided to make a simple custard for nestling the fresh pineapple in.

I used my standard lard pie crust rolled out and pressed into a pie plate.  I popped that in the oven to get hot while I mixed everything else together.  The custard was quick and easy.  A few eggs, sugar, a pinch of salt, flour and some melted butter were all that I needed to hold that pineapple together.  The pineapple itself I chopped up into pieces that were about halfway between a tidbit and a chunk.  Next time I would cut them a little smaller so they are closer to tidbit size.  The custard and the pineapple were mixed together and then poured into the hot crust, and then I gently made sure the pineapple were evenly distributed.

Since I wasn’t using a top crust, and I had also been thinking about that upside down cake flavor, I decided that my best option for this pineapple pie was to make a streusel topping.  I mean, you can never go wrong with streusel in the first place, but I thought the brown sugar crust would be exceptional with the fresh pineapple.  So a few topping ingredients went into a bowl and a became a topping for my pie.

I baked the pie for 15 minutes at 425ºF and then brought the temperature down to 375ºF to finish baking.  It smelled absolutely heavenly in here while it was baking- and then all afternoon it tantalized us when we walked past.  I’ve never been more hopeful that a pie would turn out!  After a series of duds in the pie department I was due for a good one, and on top of that I created this one without a recipe- I really wanted it to work!

Zander took the first bite of pie, looked at me, but didn’t say anything.  Generally if he doesn’t like something he takes one bite and hands the plate or bowl back.  He refused to say what he thought though, and Abigail received her slice next.  She took one bite and the reaction was “Oh my gosh.” To which Zander then grinned and said “I know, right?”   We had a great discussion about how wonderful this pie would also be for breakfast, and we all concurred that it earned a spot on the Pie Hour table.  Pineapple Pie!  Who knew?

This pie really celebrates the fresh pineapple.  You could probably use canned and well-drained pineapple in a pinch, but it won’t have the same flavor.  I may add a splash of vanilla or a bit of citrus zest to the custard for next time, but the way it is right now completely highlights the delicious flavor of the pineapple.  The streusel is a perfect compliment without overwhelming it in the least.  This is a great pie.  I hope you’ll make it.

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Pineapple Streusel Pie

Pie dough for 1 9-inch pie, rolled out and placed in pie plate.
3 1/2 cups freshly cut pineapple (Cut into smaller tidbit sized pieces)
2 eggs
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 Tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 Tablespoons butter, melted and cooled slightly
Streusel:
1/2 cup rolled oats
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup white sugar
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 Tablespoons melted butter

Preheat oven to 425ºF.  Poke the pie crust with a fork in several places and then pop in the oven to get hot while you mix together the filling ingredients.

To make the filling: Beat the eggs in a mixing bowl, and then add the sugar, salt, and flour.  Mix well.  Gently drizzle in the melted butter while mixing.  Add the pineapple chunks and fold it all together.  Remove the hot pie plate from the oven and pour the filling into the crust- spreading the chunks around evenly.

To make the streusel, combine the oats, flour, sugars, cinnamon and salt in a mixing bowl.  Stir in the melted butter until fully combined.  Gently spread the streusel topping over the pineapple filling.

Bake in a 425ºF oven for 15 minutes. Reduce heat to 375ºF and bake for an additional 35 minutes.  The pie will be done when the streusel topping and the crust edges are golden brown.

Allow to cool completely before cutting.

Thank You Collard Greens: A Veggie Victory

Remember this post about Collard Greens earlier this year?

It turns out the kids not only didn’t like those collard greens, they truly reviled them.

This was revealed to me last night by both kids, individually, when the other was not in earshot. The cause for this revelation?  I put some kale into our macaroni and cheese for dinner.  I didn’t add a ton, but I added it nonetheless, and figured the kids would eat the mac and leave the kale behind.

Zander was the first one home from dance, so he looked in the pot and grinned.  I told him it was mac-n-cheese with ham and a little bit of kale.  His reply was that he would eat the kale.  He didn’t mind it, and as long as it wasn’t a collard green he was on board.

He stunned me into silence for a moment.  I quietly said that I would just keep adding kale to dishes then and he said that was just fine.

Then later on I was driving Abigail home and mentioned to her what dinner was.  I warned her that there was a bit of kale mixed in with the macaroni and cheese and she didn’t even blink.  ”As long as it’s not collard greens” was her reply.

Both kids ate every bite out of their bowl- no kale was left behind.

THAT is a huge victory on the veggie front.

In other veggie news, we also found a way the kids will actually eat (and enjoy) brussels sprouts!  I almost forgot about this one, but there is a sweet kale salad mix at Sam’s Club that has raw brussels sprouts that have been very finely sliced.  They are obviously brussles sprouts, but both kids have said they like them in that salad, so maybe I should try preparing them in salads more often.

Keep at it parents!  You WILL score a victory at some point along the way.  Now if only we could get Zander over his dislike of potatoes…

Tasty German Chocolate Pie

We’ve had a string of bad pies around the Waz Household this last week.   First I made a cookie pie that was in need of a whole lot more sugar, and something else that we couldn’t quite figure out.  I debated doing some fiddling and tweaking to make it a contender for Pie Hour, but in the end decided it just wasn’t good enough to make the cut anyway.

So next we decided on a chocolate pie face-off.  I already have a spectacular Chocolate Cream Pie that is planned for Pie Hour (and happens to be the first pie I reach for when eating leftover pie), but it couldn’t hurt to have another chocolate pie or two on the table, right?!

I had two new-to-me chocolate pie recipes that sounded like they could be contenders for Pie Hour.  I’ve gotten quite particular on the pies that make the cut for the table, so I picked up the ingredients I needed to make a Chocolate-Marshmallow Pie from Food Network magazine and a German Chocolate Pie from Taste of Home.  The Chocolate-Marshmallow I thought would appeal to the little ones at our celebration who think they don’t care for pie, but like pie if it involved candy in some way.  The German Chocolate seemed like a really fun twist on a German Chocolate Cake.  I mean, German Chocolate Cake really is all about that gooey concoction of a topping, and since that was going on this chocolate pie, how could they be bad?

Well… I made one pretty big error when I made these pies together.  And that was making them at the same time for a side-by-side tasting.  As we all dug into the Chocolate Marshmallow Pie, we all quickly became dismayed and disappointed.  The texture of the pie was awful- it was like a cross between a brownie and a piece of fudge, AND it was really dense.  It was difficult to get a fork into it.  We all liked the marshmallow whipped cream on top, but that was hardly a reason to want to even take another bite of the pie.  On top of the horrid texture, the chocolate flavor was just plain odd.  It was kind of bittersweet, which was bizarre anyway since we started with milk chocolate for the base.  We all agreed instantly that it was not a contender for Pie Hour, and we won’t be finishing the pie.  I did go in for a second piece the next day to see if it had improved, but it really hadn’t.  It was just plain bad.   I went to the Food Network website to leave a review, plunked in my poor review, and then they ate it.  And now when I go back to the recipe, it doesn’t even give me the option to leave a review at all.  It’s like they know it’s a bad pie and they don’t want anyone to know.

Anyway, disappointed with the first pie, three of us (Zander does not care for coconut much) turned to the German Chocolate Pie, hoping for better news.  Once again, we were disappointed.  Oh, the topping part was very good, but we weren’t getting even one hint of chocolate or flavor beyond the topping.  It wasn’t bad like the first pie, so we finished our pieces, but by the end of the slice, we figured it was not going to be a contender, and the meal ended on a big bummer of a down note.

Fast forward to the next day and I see these pies in the fridge.  I decided to try the German Chocolate one more time, because of the two pies, that was the one I really had been rooting for.  Lo and behold, it was exceptionally better!  I could taste chocolate with the topping, and I was pleased with the overall texture of the pie.  Nice and creamy, and it definitely reminded me of German Chocolate Cake.   I then asked Abigail to try a second slice, and Andy had one later on.  We all agreed, it was much better by itself, and we faulted the awful chocolate-marshmallow pie for dulling our taste buds against this pie that was so much better.  After much discussion and deliberation though, we all unanimously agree that this is not a pie for Pie Hour.

This German Chocolate Pie is delicious.  It’s got a great texture and is an overall good pie.  But it’s quite delicate as far as the taste goes, and we feel that serving it alongside any other pie will just muddle the flavors and it’s better than that.  So while we like the pie, it won’t make the cut for Pie Hour.  It will go in the file as a keeper recipe and I will definitely make it again, but it will be a standalone pie to enjoy all by itself with a cup of coffee.

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You can find the recipe for the Contest Winning German Chocolate Pie at the Taste of Home website.

Now I am turning my attention to a series of pies involving fresh cranberries.  I hope we have better luck with one of those than with the collection of chocolate pies!  I also have an idea to do something with pineapple…

A Nice Twist on Pumpkin Pie

We’re officially in testing mode for some new pies for our Thanksgiving Pie Hour tradition.  I have a nice list of pies to try over the next few weeks to see if they are good enough to add to the annual spread.

The first pie we tried is not actually in contention to be on the Pie Table, as it turns out.  Someone else has offered to make pumpkin pies, and since this one isn’t that different from a standard pie, it won’t be in attendance.  However, it is very delicious and I would make it again in a heartbeat.

Buttermilk Pumpkin Pie utilizes tangy buttermilk instead of the evaporated milk usually called for in your standard pumpkin pie.  I thought the tang would be a fabulous addition, and I was absolutely correct about that.  This pie tastes like caramelized pumpkin.  It’s got the right amount of sweetness and the texture has just a touch more heft to it than a standard custard pie.  The blend of spices is nice.  Too often cloves or ginger can overtake a pumpkin pie and give a bitter taste. This pie solves that problem by leaving them both out entirely.  A bit of allspice and a bit of cinnamon are all that is used.  The result is enough of those spices to give it a warmth, but you can’t sit and pick out what spices are used.  It’s brilliant actually- this pumpkin pie is really all about the pumpkin and making it the star.

As I was baking it, I was waiting for it to firm up- you know how with a custard pie you give it a gentle jiggle in the oven to see if it still moves around at all.  Well, I did that and there was a bit of a jiggle to it.  My first thought was that it wasn’t quite done, but when I grabbed a knife and stuck it in, it came out perfectly clean.  So do the knife/tester check and do not rely on appearance to tell you this pie is done baking.

This came from Food Network Magazine originally.  I did not follow the crust portion of the recipe- I simply used my standard lard based pie crust and all was well.   I’m not totally understanding this year’s trend of every pie recipe in every magazine using a different recipe for the pie crusts.  What ever happened to one crust recipe, eight pie options for filling them?

Anyway, this Buttermilk Pumpkin Pie is delicious.  We didn’t even have any whipped cream on hand to add to it, and we all still enjoyed it.  It was a delicious dessert and a delicious breakfast and I will definitely be making it again.

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 Buttermilk Pumpkin Pie

1 disk of pie dough for a 9-inch pie, rolled out and placed in a pie dish
1 (15 ounce) can pumpkin puree
1 stick unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
2 large eggs
3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
1/4 cup white sugar
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3/4 cup buttermilk
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
 

Directions:

Put a baking sheet on the middle oven rack and preheat to 375 degrees F. Line the crust with foil, then fill with pie weights or dried beans. Transfer to the hot baking sheet and bake until lightly golden around the edge, about 20 minutes. Transfer to a rack, remove the foil and weights and let cool completely; leave the baking sheet in the oven.

Meanwhile, make the filling: Whisk the pumpkin puree, melted butter, eggs, brown sugar, granulated sugar, allspice and cinnamon in a medium bowl until well combined. Add the buttermilk and flour and whisk until smooth. Pour into the cooled crust and return to the hot baking sheet in the oven. Bake until the filling is set, 50 minutes to 1 hour (the top may crack slightly). Transfer to a rack and let cool completely.

Korean BBQ Chicken Marinade

This week Zander’s schoolwork led him to a study of the Korean peninsula, which led to him asking if he could cook something for his end of the week activity.   I’ll admit that I know very little about Korean cooking.  We actually have a very good, authentic Korean restaurant nearby, but as it is pricey, and we also lacked the time for a meal out, I spent some time looking for a small collection of recipes that he could look through.  I found a very small Korean cooking app with my Fire, and had him look through all the recipe on there.  There was only fifteen recipes, so it didn’t take him long to decide on a simple chicken marinade.  When I asked him what he wanted to use the marinade on, he didn’t even think twice before telling me he wanted chicken wings.  Ah, this was promising!

I made sure we had everything on hand that we needed, and he put the marinade together.  He got a nice little lesson on the difference between liquid measuring cups and solid measuring cups (hint: they are NOT interchangeable), and got to work on his whisking skills a bit.  The recipe made a good quantity of marinade, and my only regret is that we used it all on the 30 chicken wings I’d thawed for our dinner that day.  I think it’s an excellent candidate for a dump recipe- add chicken and then put in the freezer for another day.

As an aside, Masterchef Junior has started back up again, and Zander is feeling woefully behind in his cooking skills.  I hope this means a lot more deliciousness coming from him!  I always like it when the kids decide on their own to do some cooking.  They are both determined to be accomplished home cooks before leaving home, but it’s much more fun when they WANT to do the cooking, versus being forced to.

As for the Korean marinade, we marinated the chicken wing parts all afternoon, and then popped them in the oven for 35 minutes- turning twice while cooking.  For as simple as the marinade was, the flavor in the wings was excellent.  Andy and I both were wanting a lot more hot sauce, and I think the next time we make this, I will pull out a portion for the kids and cook those on one pan, and dose a portion for the adults with a heavy hand on the hot sauce.  Overall, this is a keeper recipe.  Andy would like to try and use it on the grill or over the fire.  My only hesitation with that is with regards to the quantity of sugar in the recipe- I worry that fire will cause the end result to be a bit on the singed side.    I don’t want to reduce the sugar, but maybe next time we’ll let him apply fire and see what happens.

For a gluten-free option, instead of using soy sauce, which contains wheat, look for  wheat-free Tamari Sauce, which tastes very similar without ingredients that offend the gluten sensitive.

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Korean BBQ Chicken Marinade

1 cup white sugar
1 cup soy sauce
1 cup water
1 teaspoon onion powder
1 teaspoon ground ginger
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice (from half of a lemon)
1-4 teaspoons hot sauce (adjust as desired)

Directions:

Combine sugar, soy sauce, water, onion powder and ground ginger in a saucepan over high heat.  Whisk together until the sugar is dissolved and it has come to a boil.  Reduce heat to low and simmer for five minutes, stirring occasionally.

Remove from heat and let cool completely.  Add the lemon juice and hot sauce, if using.  Place chicken in marinade, cover, and marinate in the fridge for at least 4 hours for best flavor.

A Change To Beef Stew

Earlier this week I was flipping through the most recent issue of Real Simple magazine when I stumbled on a recipe for a Slow-Cooker Shepherd’s Pie. The picture was enticing.  It looked like a pile of mashed potatoes surrounded by a beef stew, and that stew looked luscious!  I read the recipe through a few times and had questions.  One of the more interesting aspects of it is that you combined the beef and vegetables in broth, and then you nestle whole, peeled potatoes in the broth.  Once cooking time is up, you remove the potatoes and mash them up to be a separate component.  It’s an interesting idea.

The thing about that is, though, honestly, one of my least favorite things to eat is potatoes that have been cooked with beef.  I don’t know why that is, and I’ll eat them, but I don’t care for the flavor of a potato that has been cooked with a pot roast, or in a pot of beef soup, or tumbled into beef stew.  They are my least favorite bites of the whole meal.  But when I saw this picture of the mashed potatoes surrounded by stew, the wheels started turning.  Just last weekend I’d made a roasted chicken dinner and a large pot of mashed potatoes accompanied.  Those leftover potatoes have sat in the fridge all week, just begging for an opportunity to be put to use before they expire.

Another thing about the recipe in the magazine that I was hesitant about was the fact that it called for a cup of dark beer as an ingredient.  I’ve cooked with beer from time to time, and usually you can’t pick it out at the end, but I wasn’t entirely sure that using beer in the crock pot was going to be the best idea when 3/4 of my family does not like the taste of beer.  On top of that, Andy didn’t really have anything on hand that I thought would have the same profile as a cup of Guinness would.  So I eliminated the beer and reduced the volume of liquid overall.

When I went shopping for the beef to put in the stew, the recipe called for a chuck roast, cut into pieces. My intention had been to pick up a chuck roast, but right there next to the chucks was a large package of stew meat with a reduced sticker on it, so I went for the stew meat instead.  Hey, it was already cut up and prepared for me, I like that when I’m popping things into the crock pot to cook all day!

And finally, when all was said and done, I totally forgot to add any frozen vegetables as the magazine indicated.  They called for frozen peas for the last five minutes or so, and it just completely slipped my mind, so we didn’t have any extra veggies in the stew.

And honestly, it didn’t need it.  For being such a simple assembly of ingredients, this stew was delicious!  I already have an Oven Baked Stew that I really like and make often, but I have to say, I think I liked the flavors of this one even better, in spite of its simplicity.

And the whole idea of serving beef stew over mashed potatoes?  This was genius.  It was so homey and comforting.  I would make mashed potatoes from scratch just to do that again.  I don’t think I would take the magazine’s suggestion and cook the potatoes in the stew itself, just on the stove like any other time I make a pot of mash.  But do it again?  Most definitely.  This may be my new favorite beef stew- and way to eat it.  Because you know how you have a bowl of beef stew and you usually need some fresh bread or rolls to help you sop up the gravy left on the plate?  The potatoes do that for you in this case, and it’s just so much more delicious.  Like an elevated mashed potatoes and gravy.

I changed the recipe so much from its original version, that I am posting my new version below with a new name.

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Simple Slow Cooker Beef Stew

2 pounds beef stew meat
4 large carrots, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces
1 large onion, peeled and diced
1 1 /2 cups beef broth
3 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 cups frozen peas (optional)

Directions:

Combine all the ingredients in a 4 to 6 quart slow cooker.  Cover and cook on low for 7 to 8 hours.  Stir the frozen peas in about ten minutes before serving to give them time to cook through- if you are using them.

Cottage Pies. Amazing!

Oh my goodness.  Last night’s dinner was spectacular. It was a repeat of a dish I’ve made several times before, but never quite in this same way.  I’ve posted about this dish before- the original recipe came from Eating Well magazine several years ago.  Every time I’ve made it I’ve tweaked it here and there, but last night it finally arrived.

I think the big key to how delicious it was was that last night I finally made the cottage pies in individual portions.  I usually just use one large baking dish and make one large cottage pie that we all scoop out of.  Last night I used my French Onion Soup crocks and made four individual portions of these cottage pies.  They were absolute perfection.  The proportions in every bite were perfect.  I loved the kale added to the beef, but I especially loved the smoked paprika added to the squash.  Everything melded together perfectly, and it just was a personal bowl of yum.

Make these.   I used kale in the dish because I spent yesterday cleaning out the garden- everything except the kale plants that are still going strong.  So I harvested some of the kale and thought this cottage pie would be a great place to add the kale without it taking over.  It absolutely worked perfectly.  If you don’t like kale or don’t want to use it, you can use spinach or any green you prefer.  Or even green peas or diced carrots, really.  It’s pretty adaptable to whatever veggies you have on hand and want to include.

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Squash-Topped Cottage Pies

2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 cup chopped onion
1/2 cup chopped green bell pepper
1 large clove garlic, minced
1 1/2 pounds ground beef
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 cup beef broth
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
3-4 cups chopped kale
1 butternut squash, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes
1/4 teaspoon salt
few grinds fresh black pepper
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/3 cup finely shredded Parmesan cheese

1. Position rack in upper third of oven; preheat broiler.

2. Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add onion and cook, stirring, until beginning to soften, about 2 minutes. Add the bell pepper and garlic and cook for another minute.  Reduce heat to medium, stir in ground beef and cook until browned. Add the tomato paste, salt, pepper and flour, and cook, stirring, for just a minute or two until everything is incorporated. Add broth and Worcestershire sauce, scraping up any browned bits with a wooden spoon. Bring to a boil and cook, stirring occasionally, until the broth is the consistency of thick gravy, about 4 minutes. Stir in kale and cook until wilted and most of the liquid has disappeared- about 5 more minutes. Remove from the heat.

3. Place squash in a pan and cover with water. Bring to a boil and boil gently until the squash is tender- about 7 or 8 minutes.  Drain and transfer to a bowl. Stir in the remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt, a few grinds of pepper and the smoked paprika. Divide the meat mixture among four 10-ounce broiler-safe ramekins or soup bowls. Top each with about 1/2 cup of the squash. Place the ramekins on a baking sheet. Broil until heated through and bubbling around the edges, about 10 minutes. Sprinkle with cheese and broil until it is just melted, about 3 minutes more.