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Coconut Gelatin

23 Mar

We had a lovely brunch at a new Chinese restaurant a couple weeks back, and instead of the orange slices V so looks forward to, they served a coconut milk gelatin that was pretty interesting. Feeling inspired (and desperate for easy snack ideas), I’ve been working on a few homemade jellos. This one turned out pretty good.

The Recipe

In a small saucepan, heat:

  • One can full fat coconut milk
  • 1/4 cup sugar

Meanwhile, combine

  • 2 Tbsp gelatin
  • 2 c. Almond milk (or a second can of coconut milk if you’d prefer)

Whisk in a splash of vanilla. Whisk in the heated milk and stir until the gelatin dissolves. Pour into a greased 9×13 pan and refrigerate several hours until firm. Slice into cubes and serve!

Perfect Pumpkin [Pecan] Pie

25 Aug
Okay, not the most appetizing photo ever, but it was devoured quickly out of the oven, so I don't have any good ones. Also, the crust went all slumpy on me.

Okay, not the most appetizing photo ever, but it was devoured quickly out of the oven, so I don’t have any good ones. Also, the crust went all slumpy on me. The pie recipe may be perfected, but the crust still needs work.

I did it! I finally found my perfect recipe. It’s easy, fast, requires very few dishes, and turns out beautifully! After years of experimentation and one disastrous evening of baking, I’ve finally worked it out.

First of all, I use fresh pumpkin. But I don’t always use traditional pumpkin. I’m particularly fond of Seminole Squash/Pumpkin, which has a lovely sweet flavor, so I usually skimp a little on the sugar to compensate. I’ve also used Crookneck squash (also sometimes labeled “Neck Pumpkin”), which tastes like canned pumpkin only way better. And there’s always ol’ reliable Pie Pumpkins, which are fine, but the other two are better. In an absolute pinch, or if your squash is slightly too small, you can always bake a sweet potato or two and use it as filler. Or, well, use a can. I guess that’s an option too.

DAIRY SUBSTITUTIONS:

The recipe calls for 2/3 c. heavy cream and 2/3 c. milk, which means you can also use 1 1/3 c. half and half. I used Mimicreme and Almond milk. If you can’t find mimicreme, you can also use 1 1/3 c. unflavored unsweetened soy creamer to replace the half and half.

Obviously, butter is replaced with margarine. We used Earth Balance for pies.

THE RECIPE:

THE CRUST:

Pre-bake your favorite 10″ pie crust, or 9″ pie crust and several ramekins for excess filling.

THE PUMPKIN:

Pick your squash.  Slice your squash in half (or more if needed) and put face down in a roasting pan with just enough water to cover the bottom of the pan. Bake at 350° for 45 minutes to an hour — the time really depends on the size of your pumpkin. If you poke the outside with a wooden spoon and it feels soft, it’s done. Take it out and let it cool until you can handle it.

Once cooled, scoop the pumpkin from the skin with a spoon or scraper. Run it through a food processor until smooth. You can refrigerate it for a week or freeze until… well, I’ve used some that was in my freezer from the previous fall, so it keeps a while when frozen.

Praline Layer (Optional):

  • 1/2 c. pecans (chopped or whole)
  • 1/4 c. brown sugar
  • 1/4 stick butter/margarine

Combine all ingredients in food processor and pulse until a coarse mixture. Spread over the bottom of pre-baked pie crust. Bake another 5 minutes.

Everything goes in the blender. And then you mix it. And then you bake it. And then you eat it.

Everything goes in the blender. And then you mix it. And then you bake it. And then you eat it. Also note that in this version, I completely forgot the praline layer.

Pie Layer:

  • 2 c. (16 oz) pumpkin puree
  • 1 c. brown sugar
  • Spices:
    • 2 tsp ground ginger
    • 2 tsp cinnamon
    • 1 tsp ground nutmeg (fresh ground is best)
    • 1/4 tsp ground cloves
  • 1/2 tsp salt

Combine pumpkin, sugar, and spices in food processor or blender. Add:

  • 2/3 c. Mimicreme
  • 2/3 c. Almond milk

OR

  • 1 1/3 c. Unflavored Soy Creamer (or half & half)

Pulse a few times until mixed, then add:

  • 4 large eggs

Pulse until smooth. Pour into the pre-baked (praline lined) pie shell. Bake at 350° for 25 to 30 minutes, or until the edges begin to set but the center wiggles like jell-o. Cool at least one hour, then top with whipped cream (possibly flavored with brandy) and chopped pecans.

Bake at around 350&deg, which means set our crappy oven to about 225.

Bake at around 350°, which means set our crappy oven to about 225°. Also, wash your oven knobs BEFORE taking photos of them.

Chocolate Caramel Pudding

29 Apr

I’ve been told the problem with caramel is that once you learn how simple it is to make it, suddenly all your recipes with sugar become recipes with caramel. This is completely true.

The first time I made caramel, I was following a recipe for a Jerusalem kugel, which instructed me to make the caramel with a 1/4 cup oil in a shallow frying pan. This resulted in an absolutely terrifying ten minutes with the exhaust fan going and me explaining to Ben how I was absolutely certain I was going to burn the apartment down, detailing my emergency evacuation plan since we don’t have a good fire extinguisher.

Because I’m a masochist when it comes to cooking, I kept trying the same recipe, and then different recipes. Eventually, I found one that told me to make caramel in a dry saucepan. BINGO.

You start off with plain white sugar in a dry pan over medium heat, stirring constantly. First, it gets a little moist, like wet sand. Then it starts clumping more, with rough shards. As you keep stirring, eventually it starts to turn a light golden color and melt all liquidy lovely. Once it’s all melted, you’ll find it’s suddenly a very liquid caramel, and you can now proceed in one of several ways. If you add milk and cornstarch, you have pudding. See below.

DAIRY SUBSTITUTIONS:

This uses soy milk in place of milk. You can also use almond milk, coconut milk, rice milk, or anything that makes you happy. I happened to have a coupon for Silk (which I usually don’t buy because it’s the same price as the Westsoy only not organic, PLUS the unsweetened Silk soy milk is sweet), so I had a half-gallon in the fridge. Which means I used soy milk this time.

THE RECIPE:

Combine the following in a measuring cup (or whatever container suits your fancy, but I don’t like washing extra dishes):

  • 2 c. soymilk (or almond, coconut, etc)
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/4 tsp salt

In another bowl, mix together:

  • 3 Tbsp cornstarch
  • enough soymilk to make a thin paste

Next, put

  • 1/2 c. sugar

in a medium, dry saucepan. Stir with silicone spatula over medium heat until it turns a nice golden color and melts. As soon as it turns into caramel, CAREFULLY add the milk mixture, constantly stirring so that the caramel doesn’t solidify to the bottom in one big chunk (if it does, it’s no big deal). Add:

  • 1/4 c. chocolate chips

Keep stirring until caramel and chocolate dissolve, being careful not to let it boil over. Once it’s smooth again, add the cornstarch paste, stirring constantly. It should thicken up instantly. Pour into a large bowl or individual dishes and cool 2-3 minutes before placing into the fridge. Chill at least an hour.

 

Peach Blackberry Pie, Version 1.0

9 Aug

Peaches and blackberries have pretty much the same season around here. Which sounds to me like they ought to experience some of the same desserts together. We already did a crisp, so when I asked Ben what to do with the other half of the peaches: work on perfecting the crisp or do a pie, he was pretty quick to answer pie.

I cut up four small peaches last week as part of the ends of our basket of seconds, but then put them in the fridge to keep until I made pie. Which is a week later. Which means they have started to ferment. I think that’s a good thing, actually.

What happens when the fetus inside starts kicking at the flour-covered counter. Also, pie.

Also, since it took a week to get to this pie, there were a lot fewer blackberries to add to it. I can proudly say we lost very few to mold. Most of them were lost to ice cream. So instead of little dots of cooked blackberry, I pureed them with the tablespoon of sugar, strained out the seedy bits, and used it as more of a sauce. I had figured since the first half of the peaches had fermented, I would skip the bourbon, but the blackberries were stubbornly not blending without more liquid, so a hint did show up in the sauce. Not even a full splash — let’s call it a “splish”. I think I’ve made my position on cooked peaches pretty clear: they require bourbon, as does banana bread, Southern grandmothers, and largely pregnant women who have just discovered the third-trimester back ache. (Sadly, thanks to the hormones, my tolerance is down to that of five year old, and since I think an intoxicated fetus is a poor choice, I’ve limited myself to quantities that won’t even get me buzzed, which means I have to get my bourbon fix through baking, and satisfy myself with the very occasional miniature glass of wine or half a beer. You cannot pick crabs without beer. It’s just Not Right.)

When I’m looking for a baking recipe, this is the crazy that I go through: Open my binder of print-outs to see if I’ve already got a recipe I like. Check ALL THREE OF THESE BOOKS to compare recipes. Search online for additional options. Eventually settle on an amalgam of about fifteen recipes. Throw in a hefty dash of “winging it.”

I’ve struggled with finding a good pie crust recipe. I kept trying these “no fail” recipes, like one from Alton Brown, or Cooks Illustrated, or even Bakewise, but their easy “no fail” techniques to adapt the traditional crust always left me with sticky, messy dough. Oh sure, it baked up tasty, but in our humid kitchen, I couldn’t get a sticky pie dough to transform into a pretty pie crust. It’s summer time in Maryland. The humidity is about 138%, unless it’s raining or you turn your air conditioning down to 50.

I did learn a lot from all those recipes, however. Shirley Corriher’s technique of adding a little vinegar gave the crust a flavor I liked a lot (she says it helps with “tenderness”). So when I went back to the super-traditional crust recipe, I threw a splash of vinegar into the ice water. Alton’s advice about chilling the dough is helpful, although mine never stays as cold as he recommends, and CI’s admonishments about over-handling the dough… well, okay, I completely ignore those. But when it comes to my baking, I’m a handsy kind of girl.

We made a double recipe of the crust, which turned into a Peach Blackberry Pie and Welsh Pasties.

A pocket full of delicious dinner. Crust by Megan, pork filling by Ben.

DAIRY SUBSTITUTIONS:

If you use shortening in your pie crust, then the answer is NONE. If you use butter, then you want a good butter-alternative. I like Earth Balance for baking.

THE RECIPE:

Filling:

  • 4-6 medium sized peaches, fresh and in season

Peel using your favorite method. I like to wash them, cut them into wedges, and pull the skin off with a paring knife. If they’re ripe enough, I can almost use my fingers to get just the skin, leaving all the fruit intact. Then, cut the flesh into bite-sized pieces.

  • a handful of blackberries
  • 1 Tbsp brown sugar
  • Small splash of bourbon

Combine in small food processor, with a stick blender (if yours hasn’t mysteriously DIED FOR NO REASON), or mash up by hand. Strain into a bowl (or directly over the cut peaches) to remove all the stems and seeds. Add:

  • 1 Tbsp flour

Stir the whole mess together to get a pinkish peach gooey loveliness. If your pie crust isn’t ready yet, toss the bowl in the fridge while you finish it.

Roll out the crust into your pie plate, add the filling, then roll out the top crust. Don’t forget to cut vents so the top doesn’t explode. Bake according to the crust recipe instructions, which in our case was 45 minutes at 450°F.

I would include a picture of the inside, but we may have eaten it all.

Birthday Cake for Megan!

22 Jul

When you’ve got a dairy allergy, getting a good birthday cake can be hard. It usually means either a) spending a fortune at a vegan bakery (assuming you can even find one), b) having a friend make one for you, or c) making it yourself.

I learned to bake because I like baked things, and the only way to safely have them is to do it myself. I’m also one of those masochistic bakers who really only gets excited about a challenge. My meringue pies usually have a full 4″ of meringue on top. I made six types of macaroons until I found one that was good enough for my standards. So when I was deciding what type of birthday cake I wanted this year, for my last birthday without children, when I’ve got a ton of time at home, I went a little crazy.

Holy crap! I made that!

I went through my three standby cookbooks, searching for The Perfect Recipe. I narrowed it down to the Deep, Dark Chocolate Cake with Ganache and Chocolate Ruffles from BakeWise (it’s the image on the cover, actually) or Smitten Kitchen’s Chocolate Peanut Butter Cake. Turns out, the chocolate ruffles need a pasta roller to get the modeling chocolate nice and thin, so that one will have to wait until I own or can borrow a pasta roller. So Chocolate Peanut Butter it is! (Oh, the hardship!)

Deb recommends a sour cream based chocolate cake for that one, which I’m sure is lovely, but sour cream is one of the harder dairy items to substitute. So I looked for a replacement decadent chocolate, and ended up (still with her site) with the Double Chocolate Layer Cake. So now I’ve set myself up to make a chocolate-buttermilk layer cake with a peanut butter cream cheese icing and a chocolate peanut butter ganache… dairy free. Some days even I think I’m crazy. Oh, and the cake also calls for two 10″ pans, which I don’t own. So we’re doing it in 8″ round pans, which this chart tells me will make FIVE 8″ rounds.

Somebody stop me.

Look, I’m not going to lie to you. This cake took pretty much all day to make. We started the batter after breakfast, around 10am. Aside from a break for lunch, a break for a shower, and a quick beer run, it’s what I did with the entire day. I finished icing the cake about 5:30pm, then popped it in the fridge to chill. This is not your every day cake. This is a Special Occasion Cake. I probably won’t make something this elaborate again until Thanksgiving. Ben says I should make this same cake again, but I’ve never been good at repeats.

By the way, do you see the slice taken out of that top image? It took five of us to eat that much of this cake, and it wasn’t easy. When I say this cake is rich, I’m not exaggerating.

Clearly, we need a bigger oven. Or fewer layers. Nope, definitely a bigger oven.

DAIRY SUBSTITUTIONS:

The cake batter calls for 3 ounces “fine quality semi-sweet chocolate” and 1 1/2 cups “well-shaken buttermilk”. As far as potential dairy sources on a cake recipe, we’re doing pretty good. There are a number of good non-dairy chocolates out there — I actually used Baker’s, because that’s what we keep on hand, but the Ghiradelli semi-sweet chocolate chips are also usually okay. As always, check the packaging before you buy. I hate when they reformulate without telling you.

As for buttermillk, you can now find coconut milk kefirs, which I am told taste quite similar to buttermilk. We used So Delicious Coconut Yogurt Beverage, although I think you could probably also use soy or coconut yogurt diluted down with soy/coconut milk. Seriously, I don’t know what’s wrong with you dairy-eating people, but I checked the expiration date at least three times after I opened it. Ben swears that’s just what yogurt-related products smell like. I was very concerned, but I added it to the batter anyways.

The icing gets a little more complex, but not too much so. The peanut butter cream cheese frosting uses a Tofutti cream cheese, which I’ve even used successfully in the past for a cheesecake. And the Chocolate Peanut Butter Glaze calls for heavy cream, which I swapped out with unsweetened Mimicreme.

Somehow, we ended up with only 3 layers instead of 5. Also, they’ve got the density of a neutron star.

THE RECIPE:

Instead of reprinting the whole thing here, I’ll direct you straight to Deb’s Smitten Kitchen for the recipes. The layers are from the Double Chocolate Layer Cake, and the two frostings are in her Chocolate Peanut Butter Cake recipe, and the substitutions are pretty straight-forward. I also really recommend taking a look at some of her notes on baking. They really do help the process.

If you’d like the recipe with dairy substitutions but no other comments or notes in an easily printed format (for use while cooking), here’s the version I used: Double Chocolate Layer Cake (docx file)

What To Make When You Buy A Thousand Peaches: Peach Crisp

21 Jul

Simultaneously a simple and complicated dessert.

I went to the farmer’s market this week. Since we’ve been out of town, it’s felt like ages since I had myself a good peach (okay, it was eleven days). Also, it was my birthday and I felt indulgent. So not only did I buy a week’s supply of perfect peaches (both white and yellow), I also picked up a quarter-bushel of seconds. Well, I think it was a quarter-bushel. Look, I don’t actually know how much a bushel is, but it was one of those pretty wooden baskets that’s the smaller size but not the smallest size. And it was four dollars, and one of them is the size of Nimitz’s head.

I figured if I had two thousand peaches, I would feel okay about cooking some instead of greedily slicing them and stuffing them into my mouth. (I slice them first because I get organic produce, and I like to see the bugs before I bite into them, thanks.) So that’s what I did. Well, first a couple got sacrificed to the Beast Within, but then I figured I’d better bake some of them. I found a suitable recipe in Alice Water’s The Art of Simple Food (a lovely gift from the cast of Barack Stars, which gets broken out whenever I have a super-simple thing I want to make but am not quite sure how), and made the crisp topping yesterday.

DAIRY ADJUSTMENTS:

The only dairy adjustment I had to make was swapping out Earth Balance for butter, which at this point I consider to be not an adjustment at all. If you’re dealing with nut allergies, you should adjust the crisp topping accordingly — maybe add some oats instead to help absorb moisture. And if you’re dealing with a gluten issue, I’d say go with a cobbler instead and use your favorite gluten-free biscuit recipe on top.

I also added oats to the topping because oats make me think I’m eating healthy, although I forgot to add them while mixing and instead just sprinkled them on top. And bourbon, because you can’t have cooked peaches without bourbon.

Served elegantly in… a bowl. Look, I’m working on the whole presentation thing, but plating is an entirely different matter. Besides, we were ready to just veg in front of Netflix by that point, so don’t judge me.

RECIPE:

Topping (makes 3 cups):

  • 1 cup nuts (I used walnuts and almonds)

Chop in food processor. Then add:

  • 1 1/4 cups flour
  • 6 Tbsp brown sugar
  • 1 1/2 Tbsp white sugar
  • 1/4 tsp cinnamon

Process until mixed, maybe one or two pulses. Add:

  • 12 Tbsp (1 1/2 sticks) butter (or butter substitute, aka Earth Balance), chopped into small pieces
  • 1/4 cup oats (optional)

Pulse a few more times to combine, so that it’s still grainy, not a thick dough. Toss in the fridge until you’re ready to use it. Can be refrigerated for a week-ish, frozen much longer.

Filling:

  • 4 ripe peaches, or however many it takes till it looks like it’ll fill your dish.
  • 1 1/2 Tbsp all-purpose flour
  • 1 Tbsp (-ish) brown sugar
  • splash of bourbon (I just used Jim Beam)

Pit and peel the peaches (She recommends a quick dip in boiling water to get the skins off more easily. I don’t know what’s wrong with her California peaches, but my Maryland peaches peel with absolutely no trouble), then cut into bite-sized chunks.

Toss the peaches with flour, brown sugar, and bourbon, and put them in your baking dish. Top with the crisp mixture (you don’t have to use all of it), and sprinkle a few more oats on top just to be thorough. Bake for 40-45 min at 375°F (See Notes), or until the crust starts to turn golden and you just can’t stand it anymore.

NOTES:

I forgot to add oats while mixing the crisp topping, so I just threw a ton on top. We liked it, but wanted more oats (thus the adaptation to add 1/4 cup in with the crisp topping).

Next time, I would also change the crisp to peaches ratio. This one turned out about one to one, but the peach juices also bubbled over, which means the dish really couldn’t handle any more. If I had a deeper dish, I might use more peaches and match it to the full crisp recipe.

Our oven is notoriously unreliable — the knob has almost no relationship to the temperature inside the oven. So throughout baking, I check every 15 minutes or so to make sure the thermometer inside the oven is near where we want it. For instance, for this recipe we wanted a temperature around 375°F, so we set the dial between 250 and 300 (yes, I purposely omitted the degree symbol, since those numbers clearly have nothing to do with temperature).