Easy as Pie: Strawberry, Mango, and Peach Pie

May 26, 2011 § 1 Comment

I get the feeling that whoever popularized the phrase, “easy as pie” either was only talking about the second half of the pie making process wherein peeled fruit, sugar, and a bit of butter can easily be haphazardly tossed into a pie shell, covered with a pie crust that magically appeared from the piecrust-making fairies, and thrown into the oven at 350F or 375F for around an hour, or that person was using the phrase as a marketing ploy for pre-made pie crusts, in which case, he was a genius and a liar. Or maybe he was just talking about key lime pies where all anyone needs to do to create the crust is pulverize ginger snaps and mix with melted butter. Either way, hand-making the pie crust is not “easy as pie”, even with a stand mixer and a food processor. The rolling out the dough process makes me nervous. The usage of lard and butter frightens me—where do I even get lard these days? I’ve read in so many food blogs that a good rule of thumb is that only when you feel like dying do you know you’re making a good pie crust; that tidbit of knowledge causes me to quiver in a corner of my kitchen with my rolled up pre-made pie dough as weapon.

While I like making my cakes, cupcakes, and cheesecakes from scratch, I have absolutely no qualms with having a little help from the supermarket when it comes to fruit pies. The fruits are pre-cut and frozen; the pie crust has the perfect  zig-zag edge and frozen; and the pie dough is ready to be rolled out and cut into strips then covered with an egg wash. I’m cheating, I know. And it kind of makes me feel like a rebel. Ooh. I like that.

In my defense, this way actually brings truth to “easy as pie”. And it doesn’t make me cry and want to die just to get a decent pie.

Since we’re visiting Wayne’s parents this Memorial Day weekend, I wanted to bake them something. I know his parents love my peach pie, but I decided to go throw in some  additional summery fruits, strawberries and mango– I’m convinced ripe mango is nature’s creamy jell-o–, along with the peaches since this weekend marks the beginning of summer. I used this peach recipe as a guideline for measurements, but I didn’t follow it very strictly and threw in substitutions based on my mood. Here’s the recipe I ended up with by the time I put the pie in the oven:

Ingredients:
1 lb of fruit (thawed, please)
1/3 cup of all-purpose flour (I threw in a little more to help prevent the pie from being runny from the extra water in the frozen fruit)
1 cup of brown sugar
1/2 tbsp of cinnamon (Okay, I’m just lying here about the measurement. I shook the bottle until I liked the pattern that came out. I’ll say around 8 shakes? Maybe 10?)
1/4 cup (I guesstimated here, might have been less) of butter that has been set out on the counter for 20 minutes
1 deep-dish pie crust (probably in pie tin)
1 pre-made rolled pie dough
1 egg

Method:
1. Set oven at 350F.
2. Cut the butter in to small pieces. Pour in the sugar and flour. Sprinkle the cinnamon. Mix with two forks until crumbly.
3. Line the bottom of the pie with half of the fruit. Cover the fruit with half of the butter-flour-sugar-cinnamon mixture. Then line the rest of the fruit on to the pie and cover with the butter-flour-sugar-cinnamon mixture.
4. Roll out the pie dough and cut into strips about an inch to an inch and a half (I was bad at eye-balling it; the strips came out diagonal after a while).
5. Weave the stripes on top of the pie in a criss-cross fashion to create a lattice top.
6. Break the egg into a small bowl and mix it with a pastry brush to prepare the egg wash. Brush the egg wash onto the lattice top.
7. Bake the pie for an hour, or until crust is golden.
8. After the hour is done, turn off the oven and leave the pie in the oven for an hour, or overnight. This will help the juices in the pie thicken and prevent runny-ness.

Wayne’s Mom’s Wine Chicken

March 29, 2011 § Leave a comment

In the early years of Wayne’s parents’ marriage, his paternal grandmother taught his mother how to cook the different recipes that his father liked to eat. Following that tradition, each time Wayne and I go up to visit his family, his mom shows me how to create one of Wayne’s favorite dishes.  I usually stand next to her with my iphone to visually document every ingredient and every step and then type in all her tips so I don’t forget; otherwise I’ll be stuck in my kitchen with my toes curled in frustration while my fingers hurriedly Google random key words to figure out what I think I might have forgotten– it’s a mess. On our last trip up to see his family, she taught me how to make her wine chicken, which tastes a little sweet and a little salty and has wonderful flavor. The meat is juicy and tender, and the leftover sauce can be used as a rich, flavorful base for chicken soup.

Ingredients:
6 chicken legs (or any combination of legs and thighs that add up to two pounds to two and a half pounds of chicken will do, bone-in is necessary for juicy-ness)
Sliced ginger (…a lot?)
1/2 cup Rice wine (refer to this picture)
1/2 cup Fermented sweet rice sauce (refer to this picture)
Sesame Oil
Salt
Optional: Goji berries and dried dates (washed thoroughly three times)

Directions:
1. Blanch the chicken by gently dropping the chicken pieces in to boiling water. Boil chicken until the meat has just turned white. Rinse and set aside.
2. Pour a generous amount of sesame oil in to a large cooking pan. Sauté the sliced ginger over medium-high heat.
3. Add the blanched chicken and cook until golden brown on all sides.
4. Add rice wine and fermented sweet rice sauce
5. Cover and simmer over low heat for 20 to 25 minutes. Stir occasionally.
6. Optional: Add Goji berries and dried dates
7. Salt to taste

Chocolate Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting

March 26, 2011 § 1 Comment

I don’t drink.

It’s not a matter of a religion or self-righteous virtue; it’s just a matter of taste. I just don’t prefer the taste of bitter things when there are so many sweet things in the world for me to taste instead. When Wayne and I go out to dinner with his friends and they order wine, I’ll occasionally opt-in for a glass. Without fail, I’ll take one sip, attempt to cover the pucker my mouth unintentionally makes, and wonder just how much it is in bad taste and etiquette to dump some sugar in the glass. And more importantly, would it work? …Anyway, Wayne ends up drinking my glass as well as his by the end of dinner.

There are rare instances when I will drink alcohol, but it is always in the form of a mixed drink, the super girly, fruity drink that completely mask the taste of alcohol and is so full of sugar that the amount of calories is comparable to a cupcake. And if I have to choose between an alcoholic drink or a cupcake, I will always choose the cupcake. My feelings on alcohol is best illustrated with how I celebrated my twenty-first birthday, a special birthday milestone celebrated all over the US, typically, with a night of legal drinking and only photographic memories since the real memories are kind of fuzzy, at best. I celebrated with fried chicken, red velvet cake with cream cheese frosting, and a marathon of Monk. I could be ashamed at my homebody-ness, but I’m not because I thought it was a great birthday– and how could anything be bad when there is cake, especially red velvet cake?

So I think it’s kind of funny that my all-time favorite chocolate cake recipe has a thick, rich, bitter stout beer as the secret ingredient. I always use this recipe when I need to make a chocolate cake because the bitterness of the beer adds a complexity to the chocolate flavor that I find missing in other chocolate cakes that are baked without a bitter beer or black coffee. I usually make the cake in cupcake form with Guinness and topped with Bailey’s Irish Cream buttercream frosting each St. Patrick’s Day as my preferred way to celebrate. But on days that don’t celebrate being drunk at 8 AM, I usually top the cupcakes with cream cheese frosting just because it’s my favorite frosting, and I like the little bit of tang in the frosting that refreshingly breaks up the richness of the moist, chocolate cupcakes.

I found the recipe for Guinness chocolate cupcakes from Smitten Kitchen. In my little baking world of one (and a whole bunch of baking utensils and butter and sugar– lots of sugar), she is the goddess. Her recipes have never failed me, and she writes each entry with clear instructions and so many tips that she learned from executing the recipe that each of her recipes feel fool-proof. Use her recipe, and the end result will be perfect. I used the Guinness cake recipe from her Irish Car Bomb cupcake recipe and paired the cupcakes with the cream cheese frosting recipe from her Red Velvet cake recipe.

Home is the smell of freshly baked cookies

March 12, 2011 § 2 Comments

Nothing smells quite like home like freshly baked chocolate chip cookies. Unless you’re in Chinese, then nothing smells like home like garlic, sesame oil, and Asian spices. I’m not quite there yet with the Chinese cooking (erm, will I ever be? Do I need to pop out a kid to cook like a Chinese mom?), so I opted for traditional chocolate chip cookies. They were so traditional that I didn’t bother looking up recipes on tastespotting and just used the recipe on the back of the bag. I have no clue why I thought it would make me feel more home-y, but it did. It also made me replay the scene from “Friends” when Monica spent the entire episode trying to figure out Phoebe’s grandmother’s secret chocolate cookie recipe only to realize that it was really just the Tollhouse recipe that is printed on the back of the bag, but I don’t think that’s really related to trying to make my apartment feel more home-y on our apartment anniversary, just that I watched way too many episodes of “Friends” repeatedly throughout college. The only changes I made to the recipe was to halve it because “makes five dozen” is kind of intimidating to read considering there are only two people in this household, and I omitted the nuts because I couldn’t find any. After my first batch, I realized that I needed more butter so I added in an additional stick of butter. The first batch of cookies weren’t flattening out a little as they baked; they were staying the little mounds I had molded them into before placing them in the oven and became really thick balls of cookies.

Welcome home, darlin’. Stay awhile. Want some tea? Don’t wash your dirty underwear in my dishwasher.

Nutella Cupcakes for Christina

March 4, 2011 § Leave a comment

Wayne’s younger sister, Christina, is visiting us for the weekend! To celebrate her visit, I baked some Nutella cupcakes because she mentioned last summer that she loves Nutella. I followed the Nutella cupcakes recipe from Handle the Heat blog exactly so I won’t re-post the recipe. I was so excited to use the kitty cupcake decorations Wynee gave me as my birthday gift. The decorations were so adorable that I wanted to save them to use for a very special occasion, and I wasn’t sure what until Christina told Wayne she was coming to visit. They’re perfect match for her because she loves cats and the grey striped kitty cake toppers I used reminded me of Wayne’s and Christina’s family cat, Mika, who is the sweetest, snuggley-est cat I’ve met.

In other news, our apartment looks so clean! I can say with 100% confidence that if Wayne’s family didn’t visit us, our apartment would only be cleaned once a year when we do our spring cleaning. My mom knows how dirty her daughter can be; that’s why we always just visit her. And for her homecooked Chinese food, which I did not appreciate until after I left for college. Now, I always get so excited on days we have our weekly family dinner with my mom and brother.

Yay! I love family.

White Chocolate Chip and Cranberry Cookie Recipe

December 22, 2010 § Leave a comment

Waiting for Santa...He has to bring the fireplace to get into the apartment though.

When I think of Christmas cookies, of course I think of cutouts of gingerbread men and women and sugar cookies covered in royal icing and edible glitter, but my favorite cookies to make during the winter season are the white chocolate chip with cranberry cookies. I think the white and red make the cookies so naturally festive without added dyes or glitter. Besides the fact that I love white chocolate — even though it isn’t truly considered chocolate because there is no cocoa and only cocoa butter– and I actually like dried fruits, I delight in thinking of the white chocolate chips as snow balls along with the cranberries as the edible version of  holly berries stuck in a little snow mountain made of dough.

A note about the way I wrote the recipe: When I was first learning to bake, I thought that recipes that only listed ingredients and a sparse description of the process to be lacking for me and I had a lot of questions as to “why do I need to do this” or “how do I do this”. I tried to write this recipe as thoroughly as possible so that a rookie baker who doesn’t even know why her baking sheet is also called a jellyroll pan will be able to recreate this recipe with relative ease. Unfortunately, this entry is an afterthought so I did not take pictures while I was creating the cookies to provide more reference. Whoops!

White Chocolate Chip and Cranberry Cookies

Ingredients (listed in order of addition):
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1 1/3 cups sugar
2 large eggs, room temperature
12 ounce package white chocolate morsels
6 ounce package sweetened dried cranberries

Non-edible ingredients (listed in order of usage):
1 Set of measuring cups
1 Set of measuring spoons
2 Mixing bowls, preferably a large mixing bowl and small mixing bowl
1 Wire whisk or electric hand-mixer
1 Rubber spatula (Optional because just a regular tablespoon can be used, which is needed anyway)
2 Baking pans, preferably that are thick and heavy weight
Parchment paper (or aluminium foil that is lightly greased with cooking oil spray)
1 Regular tablespoon (for the record, the one you eat with)
1 Cooling rack (Optional; a substitute would be to clear a space on a table or counter for the cookies to cool while on the parchment paper)

Process:
1. Preheat oven to 350F.
2. Mix the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a small mixing bowl. These are the dry ingredients.
3. In a large mixing bowl, using a wire whisk, cream the butter and sugar before adding the two eggs. These are the wet ingredients.
4. Slowly mix in the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients.
5. Using a rubber spatula, mix in the white chocolate chips and cranberries until fully incorporated.
6. Cover the baking sheet with parchment paper and use a tablespoon to scoop out the dough into your hand. Roll the dough into balls and flatten a little into discs that are 1.5 inches in diameter. Place the cookie dough on the parchment paper about 2 inches to 2.5 inches apart.
7. Bake the cookies for 10 minutes at 350F.
8. While the cookies bake, prepare the second baking sheet with parchment paper and balls of cookie dough so that when the first batch is taken out, this second batch can be placed into the oven. This step isn’t necessary but does speed up the time it takes to bake multiple batches.
9. Place the parchment paper with the cookies onto a cooling rack.

Makes about 22 3-inch cookies

Possible Questions Answered:

Why do you recommend thick and heavy weight baking sheets?
It could be that the oven in my apartment is old and does not distribute heat evenly, but whenever I place the baking pans I bought from the supermarket in the oven, a couple minutes later I hear a loud popping sound as the pans buckle and warp. This didn’t happen when I used them in newer ovens (1-2 years old ovens) though because they distribute heat evenly. The warping happens because of a combination of the heat being badly distributed and the pan being too thin. I recommend buying commercial quality, heavy-gauge baking pans if you like to bake a lot because, even though they are more expensive, they last a very long time, and you will never have the warping issue. I use Chicago Metallic Jellyroll pans.

If you don’t bake that often, I would recommend just using the disposable foil pans that are only a couple dollars and are found in the baking aisle. If you wash them, they can be used multiple times and stored away but because they are meant to be disposable, they aren’t very durable and won’t last very long. They are extremely convenient though.

Why use unsalted butter over salted butter? Why does it matter?
When it comes to baking sweet treats, using unsalted butter makes it easier to manage the amount of salt. If you only have salted butter, then, as a general rule, for every stick of salted butter, decrease the amount of salt by 1/4 tsp. So in this recipe, if you are using salted butter, just skip over adding the salt.

What if the butter isn’t softened?
Since the butter needs to be beat and mixed with the sugar — and while you could trying beating just-out-of-the-refrigerator butter with sugar, it is more difficult–, the butter should be soft so that creaming the butter with sugar is easy. I tend to assemble all the ingredients together for the cookies right before I want to start making the dough so I sometimes forget to put out the butter hours before to let the butter soft. I cheat by placing the butter in a bowl and heating the butter in the microwave for 10-13 seconds. Then I use a spoon to mush and mix the butter into a creamy consistency. Another method that most people seem to use is placing the butter between two sheets of parchment or wax paper and then pounding it and rolling it with a rolling pin.

What if the eggs aren’t at room temperature?
Only sometimes do I have the foresight to put out eggs several hours before I start baking. Whenever I forget, I cheat and place the eggs in warm water for 3 to 5 minutes or longer until the eggs no longer feel cold.

Why do I have to mix the dry ingredients separately?
This is basically the poor man’s sifter to fully blend all the ingredients so that there won’t be high concentrations of baking powder, baking soda, or salt in some cookies but not other cookies. It should be done before adding to the wet ingredients because the wet ingredients makes it harder to incorporate all the dry ingredients evenly and throughout.

Why do you use parchment paper? What are some substitutes?
To cover a baking pan when baking, there are three options: parchment paper, wax paper, and aluminum foil. Parchment paper is best for baking because it is non-stick and can withstand the high temperatures of the oven. Wax paper should not be used for baking cookies because the exposed wax paper that is not covered by cookie dough will smoke in the oven. Only use wax paper if it will be completely covered by batter, such as lining a cake pan. Aluminum foil can be used as a substitute if greased with cooking oil spray or butter because even though the foil is nonstick to the baking sheet, there is a possibility that the un-greased foil will stick to the cookies.

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