Thursday, October 30, 2008

"World's Best Tomato Sauce"

Where I'm from we don't trust paper. Wealth is what's here on the premises. If I open a cupboard and see, say, 30 cans of tomato sauce and a five-pound bag of rice, I get a little thrill of well-being—much more so than if I take a look at the quarterly dividend report from my mutual fund.

— Garrison Keillor

Surprise, surprise. We have too many tomatoes. Fortunately, this is one of the easiest overabundance problems to remedy. Sun-dried tomatoes aside (well, really oven-dried tomatoes) and not even counting the chopped tomato that can make its way nightly into your salad, there's always tomato sauce. And when you're going with 2 pounds of tomatoes at a time, they disappear pretty quickly.

I stumbled on this Bolognese recipe about a year ago, and it's one of the most-requested recipes I make. I've tweaked it beyond recognition from the original, but to be honest I don't think it's awesomeness has much to do with the ingredients. I've come to the conclusion that a shoe or a hat, when cooked long enough on low heat with a little salt and pepper, could be fantastic. Something to bear in mind if you have the tendency to put your foot in your mouth.

I like to put the sauce on in the morning, and then let it cook for most of the day. If I didn't have anosmia (and I weren't vegetarian), I could tell you about all the wonderful smells. Apparently, the kitchen is a great place to be about 2:00 in the afternoon.

In any event, I give you the "world's best tomato sauce" (according to G).

Bolognese Sauce
2 tablespoons butter
1 small onion, chopped fine
1 small carrot, chopped fine
1 pound 86% ground beef
1 cup whole milk
Freshly grated nutmeg to taste
1 cup dry white wine
2 tablespoons sugar, or to taste
32 ounces fresh tomatoes, chopped
2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh basil

In large heavy saucepan, heat butter over moderately high heat until foam subsides; sauté onion and carrot, stirring. Add beef and cook, stirring, until majority of meat is no longer pink. Season mixture with salt and pepper. Add milk and nutmeg and reduce heat to low. Add wine, sugar, tomatoes and basil.

Cook slowly over low heat, as long as twelve hours. Let the liquid evaporate until the sauce reaches approximately the right thickness, then cover with lid to prevent further evaporation. Stir occasionally. Before removing from heat, taste test for sugar, salt and pepper. Add more if needed.

Sauce may be made ahead and cooled, uncovered, before being chilled, covered, 2 days or frozen 1 month.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008


HAMLET: Tongue the on trippingly speech the speak.
OPHELIA: Hguaaaaaa!
HAMLET: Nunnery a to thee get!
OPHELIA: Lord my good.
HAMLET: Be to not or be to.
(HAMLET slaps HORATIO backwards)
HAMLET: Horatio, earth and heaven things in more are there.
HORATIO: Strange is this, lord my.

The Compleat Works of Wllm Shkspr (abridged)

I have a fear of fondant. Not (as it turns out) for any particularly good reason. I just do. It's probably fear by association: the first time one of my friends from school tried, it was a disaster. His cake was beautiful, but inedible. Except maybe if you tried prying off the fondant.

But when I saw these ghosts from My Sweet and Saucy, I couldn't resist. So after a bit of hunting for a good cupcake recipe, the fondant epic ensued.

It was, I have to say, shockingly un-epic. I was expecting tears and blood, and maybe a dragon lurking in the cupboard. Onlookers waiting for the spectacle were sadly disappointed. A lot of kneading (read: sweat) required, but nothing else worth mentioning. And in the end, the cupcakes and frosting were delicious—and the fondant was even better. Shows how much I know.

Ghost Cupcakes (stolen and slightly modified from My Sweet and Saucy, Sing for Your Supper, and The Cake Bible)
1 cup all-purpose flour
¼ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
¼ teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
¼ cup vegetable oil
¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
½ cup sour cream
2 ounces semisweet chocolate, melted and cooled

6 ounces semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
2 tablespsoon confectioners’ sugar, sifted
4 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into 12 pieces

1 tablespoon gelatin (10 grams)
3 tablespoons water (45 grams)
½ cup corn syrup (164 grams)
1 tablespoon glycerine (18 grams)
2 tablespoons solid white shortening (24 grams)
8 cups powdered sugar (920 grams)
Black edible ink or edible coloring

Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350°F. Fit the 12 molds in a regular-size muffin pan with paper muffin cups, or butter them with flour and tap out the excess.

Whisk together the flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Working with a stand mixer, preferably fitted with the paddle attachment, or with a hand mixer in a large bowl, beat the butter at medium speed until soft and creamy. Add the sugar and beat for about 2 minutes, until it is blended into the butter. Add the egg, then the yolk, beating 1 minute after each addition and scraping down the sides and bottom of the bowl with a rubber spatula as needed. Beat in the vanilla, then reduce the mixer speed to low and add half the dry ingredients, mixing only until they disappear. Scrape down the bowl and add the buttermilk, mixing until incorporated, then mix in the remaining dry ingredients. Scrape down the bowl, add the melted chocolate and mix it in with the rubber spatula. Divide the batter evenly among the muffin molds.

Bake for 15 to 25 minutes, or until the tops of the cakes are dry and springy to the touch and a toothpick inserted into their centers comes out clean. Transfer the muffin pan to a rack and let the cakes cool for 5 minutes before unmolding. Cool to room temperature on the rack before glazing.

Melt the chocolate in a heatproof bowl over a saucepan of shimmering water. Transfer the bowl to the counter and let stand for 5 minutes.

Using a small whisk or rubber spatula, stir the confectioners’ sugar into the chocolate, followed by the pieces of cold butter. If the glaze is too thin to spread or use as a dip, stir it over ice water for a few seconds (less than a minute). With a small metal icing spatula, give each cupcake a crown of shiny ganache, and let the glaze set at room temperature (or in the fridge if you are in a hurry). If the ganache loses its gloss and you miss it, give the tops of the cakes a puff of hot air from a hairdryer right before serving.

Place several cups of water on the stove and bring to a moderate simmer.

Pour 3 tablespoons water into a heatproof measuring cup, and sprinkle gelatin on top. Allow mixture to sit for five minutes. Pour hot water into large pan, and place measuring cup in the water bath. Stir gelatin, until it melts and no clumps are visible.

Add corn syrup, glycerine, and shortening. Stir until everything is melted, as much as six or seven minutes. The hot water bath may need to be replaced (or reheated) if it becomes too cold.

Measure out powdered sugar into extra-large bowl. Pour syrup over sugar. Lightly grease a wooden spoon, and stir sugar and syrup thoroughly. When no more sugar can be incorporated with the spoon, lightly grease hands and knead fondant in bowl. Try to incorporate all the powdered sugar into a ball of fondant (this may take a while). Turn out fondant onto a smooth, clean surface. Knead several more times to form a smooth ball. If fondant is sticky, add a bit more powdered sugar. If you are unable to incorporate all the sugar, add a few drops of water.

Wrap ball tightly with plastic wrap, and place in airtight container. Let sit at least three hours before rolling out. (Fondant will keep a month at room temperature, or indefinitely in the freezer.)

Roll out 1/3 fondant about ¼ inch thick. Using a round cookie cutter, cut out 12 circles. Place each circle on top of a cotton ball (set the long way) and shape to look like a ghost. Make two eyes with edible marker or coloring. Let ghosts dry slightly, then place on top of cupcakes. Rewrap remaining fondant and keep for future use.

Makes 12 cupcakes

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Dark Chocolate + Raspberry

Life is like a box of chocolates: you never know what you're going to get. Your life, however, is like a box of active grenades!

— Stewie Griffin

Truffles were a shock to me the first time I made them. Looking in those temperature-controlled cases in the chocolaterie, they seemed impossible for the average muffin. It wasn't until I discovered the Laboratory for Chocolate Science that I considered the possibility truffles could be within my reach. (And may I take a moment here to make a plug for the LCS, by the way?) As it turns out, they're orders of magnitude easier that I thought. They do require a fair bit of chilling and some tempering, but nothing close to what I'd imagined.

Truffles have the added bonus of being almost universally liked. I have yet to meet somebody who doesn't like truffles. While I'm sure those people exist, they appear to be few and far between. You need, more or less, to just dislike chocolate. Full stop.

I've made a fair variety of truffles, but I keep coming back to raspberry. 1) they're taste-ful and delicious, and 2) dark chocolate has more chocolate in it than semisweet or milk or white (making tempering easier). To be fair, adding little bits of raspberry jam is quite a lot more work than just flavoring the ganache with tea or alcohol or an extract, so if you're trying truffles for the first time this might not be the best choice. But it's almost an identical process if you forget the part about adding jam. (Add the tea bag, alcohol, or extract to the cream before adding chocolate.)

Dark Chocolate Raspberry Truffles
1 cup cream
15 ounces semisweet chocolate chips
1 pound good-quality dark chocolate
Seedless raspberry jam

In heavy saucepan, heat cream on medium until hot; stir constantly. Add chocolate chips, one cup at a time. Remove from heat before chips are completely melted and stir until ganache is smooth and all chocolate is melted.

Cool and place into container suitable for refrigerator or freezer. Place in refrigerator at least two hours, until chocolate is hard. After 10 minutes, check to ensure that ganache is not separating. If so, add warm chocolate and stir vigorously, then cool slowly.

Line a baking sheet with parchment or waxed paper. Using a melon scoop, scrape out balls of ganache (a bit over half the radius of the desired truffle). Roll quickly between palms to form even spheres. Wash hands regularly if ganache leaves excess residue. Place balls on baking sheet; when all ganache is shaped, return to refrigerator at least 30 minutes or until hard.

With tip of finger, make a well in each ganache ball. (The well should go almost all the way through the truffle.) Fill with jam. Return to refrigerator, until hard.

Heat two-thirds of dark chocolate to 105°F. Add remaining third and stir vigorously until chocolate is cooled, 95°F. If chocolate melts too easily, add more and continue stirring. If chocolate drops below 95°F without fully melting, return briefly to heat. Chocolate should achieve a nice shine if it is properly tempered.

Drop ganache balls, one at a time, in tempered chocolate. Using two spoons, cover ball in chocolate. Using spoons, remove from chocolate and drain off excess. Carefully return each truffle to baking sheet. Chocolate should harden at room temperature.

Return to refrigerator and serve cold.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Fight to the Death

Remember please... the terrible lesson you learned tonight. That grinning, glowing, globular invader of your living room is an inhabitant of the pumpkin patch.

— Orson Welles

And now for something only vaguely culinary...

G and I are both, slightly, perfectionistic. We are also both, slightly, competitive. So let it be known that IT IS A MISTAKE to pit the two of us head-to-head in armed competition.

It was about a week ago that G casually mentioned he had never carved a pumpkin for Halloween. Wait. What? Sometimes I think he's lying when he says he had a childhood. This of course required an immediate trip to the pumpkin patch, followed by swift presentation of both pumpkin and pumpkin saw. "What now?" he asks. Upon explanation he gives me a baleful look. "Does this mean it's going to be gross?" So I scoop out the pumpkin and again present him with pumpkin (now hollow) and saw.

The trouble came when a friend casually mentioned that we should have a competition for the best jack-o-lantern. (I just love those casual, throw-away comments.) That sounds fun. Right? The entries can be judged be a jury of your peers and everything.

To be fair, it was fun. But my fingers now hurt. A lot. And there are probably other things I should be doing. I also have to admit that G's (winning) entry was very, very sweet. It's not everyday that a muffin gets her face carved into a pumpkin. Even if G says that he made me look like an Eskimo Inuit.

I was generally pretty pleased with my pumpkin, though there are definitely a lot of mistakes. To boot, you can't really see all the places where I carved through the skin at night. But for a losing pumpkin, it could be worse.

Apologies for the quality of the night picture. Oh, for want of a tripod (or a decent camera). Even if you can't tell, though, G's pumpkin is quite spooky in the dark.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Cases of Strawberries

Princeton: I shouldn't be spending my parents' money on beer.
Bad Idea Bear 1: Oh, okay.
Bad Idea Bear 2: That makes me sad, thinking about you not having any fun. I'm gonna cry.
Princeton: Maybe I could afford a six-pack.
Bad Idea Bear 1: What about a case?
Princeton: A case of beer? No, no. I can't get a case.
Bad Idea Bear 2: But you're on a budget!
Bad Idea Bear 1: You're wasting money in the long run if you don't buy in bulk!

— Avenue Q

Oh, opulence. Does having too many of something ever get old?

I mentioned last time that having too many pears has been an epidemic of late. This time, it's having too many strawberries. And this time, it's not even that we grew too many. We BOUGHT them. (@^$&!)

It all starts when G and I go to my nephew's 4th birthday party. We drive down with my parents, who are charged with bringing fruit salad to the après-fête. "Let's get the nice strawberries that they have at the fruit stands down there," says my mother. It sounds like an innocuous suggestion. Even a good one. The strawberries are delicious and fresh, and put those large mutant things in the supermarket to shame. But then it hits. The giant tray of strawberries. "They're so good," my mother says. "And it was a good deal."

You got a case of strawberries? Were you wasting money in the long run if you didn't buy in bulk?!

This is some of my least favorite reasoning in the whole world, mostly because it's frequently employed by G in ridiculous situations. You know, dear, it's not a good deal when you don't want or can't use all those underwater basket weaving kits. Right?

"BUT IT'S A GOOD DEAL!" *whine*

So now it's up to me to use up each and every one of those strawberries. I ate so many yesterday that I made myself sick. I actually love strawberries, but berries are worse than other fruits when it comes to going bad. I've come to the conclusion that τ½ berries << τ½ everything else except maybe π0. (The mean life of a neutral pion is a little less than 10-16 seconds.)

So what does a girl do with that many strawberries? Strawberry shortcake? A strawberry tart? So many possibilities, but only so many options before the strawberries go bad. So I opted for something new (and, as it turns out, delicious): strawberry muffins. It was definitely a success. G refused to try them on the grounds that "muffins are gross", but I got a 4/4 and a 3.9/4 (points lost for being messy) from those who did.

Strawberry Crumble Muffins
3 tablespoons sour cream
½ cup plus 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon skim milk
½ cup plus 2 teaspoons vegetable oil
1 egg
200 grams strawberries, chopped (not too small)
Zest of one medium-sized orange
275 grams plain flour
25 grams pastry flour
100 grams superfine sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
Pinch of salt
Shy ¼ teaspoon vanilla extract

60 grams plain flour
90 grams of raw cane sugar
40 grams walnuts, broken into pieces
25 grams butter, melted (as much as needed to make topping stick together)

Preheat the oven to 375°F. Line muffin tins with 12 paper cups. Combine sour cream, milk, vegetable oil, egg, and vanilla in large mixing bowl. Whisk the dry ingredients together in another bowl. Have the chopped strawberries with orange zest ready.

Whisk the liquid ingredients lightly; add dry ingredients. Mix together with large, light strokes. Stir in the strawberries and zest, remembering not to overmix. It should be lumpy but with no dry pockets of flour.

Stir together the crumble ingredients. Spoon batter evenly into the lined muffin tins and cover generously with the crumble topping. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean. Leave to cool in the tin for a few minutes then move to a wire rack. Eat warm. Best eaten on the day they are baked but you can store them in an airtight container and reheat the next day.

These may be frozen in freezer bags when they have cooled completely.

Makes 12 regular muffins.


Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Too Many Pears

Pears can just fuck off too. 'Cause they're gorgeous little beasts, but they're ripe for half an hour, and you're never there. They're like a rock or they're mush. In the supermarket, people banging in nails. "I'll just put these shelves up, mate, then you can have the pear."

So you think, "I'll take them home and they'll ripen up." But you put them in the bowl at home, and they sit there, going, "No! No! Don't ripen yet, don't ripen yet. Wait 'til he goes out the room! Ripen! Now, now, now!"

—Eddie Izzard

We have too many pears. Way too many pears. Way, way too many pears.

This is a consistent problem with growing your own fruit. You don't have any pears/apples/plums/etc. for something like 80% of the year. So everything in the kitchen is quiet. Peaceful, even. But then all of a sudden, they attack. The first 20 plums are welcome. The next 20 tolerated. The next 300? They take over your kitchen counters, then your kitchen cabinets, then they're hiding in the oven when it's off and next thing you know they're in your living room and your dining room too. You wake up in the morning, only to find that plums are nestled in the warm covers. Plums in your jean pockets. Plums lurking behind a bottle of shampoo. You're making plum jam and plum pie and plum crisp but they just keep coming. It's invasion.

What makes this worse with pears is that I hated not only the 458th pear, but the first. Pears have an unpleasant taste and a worse texture. They're one of the few fruits I dislike. So when they pears start coming, I curl up in a corner and start rocking back and forth.

In a desperate-last-ditch attempt to make the pears go away, I found myself making pear cake. It was my first experiment with using SuperCook, a website that shows you available recipes based on what you have in the kitchen. I chose pear cake with lemon-honey cream cheese frosting, for no reason other than that it used up some of the lemons we have as well. To say I was not enthused would be an understatement.

And yet! Low and behold... the finished cake was fantastic. Everybody liked it, and it hardly tasted like pears at all. It was almost like a carrot cake - delicious because it tasted like carrot cake, but interesting because it only almost tasted like carrot cake. It was definitely something I'd make again, and a pleasant surprise.

But that having been said, we may still have to hold the first annual pear-lobbing contest: she who throws the pear farthest (on the condition that it lands in one of the neighbors' yards) gets to take home a great big bag of pears. Applications being accepted through the end of pear season.

Monday, October 13, 2008

The Official Cookie Rating Scale

G is a demanding cookie customer.

To be honest, G likes cookies in a way that I don't really understand. Before I met him, I always thought of cookies as just sort of being nice. Not great. Not terrible. Just nice. The wallflowers of desserts, if you will. There's not enough to a cookie, even a really big cookie, to pack the right punch for me. I have no time for nibbling. Cookies, almost by definition, are made for nibblers.

G sees the world of cookies very differently.

Pie, my favorite dessert, is apparently "gross". Cake is okay—sometimes great, but often just so-so (or worse). Bars and squares? Meh. Ice cream is a take-it-or-leave-it kind of affair, except on really hot days. About the only point we can agree on is that chocolate is fantastic. But cookies... cookies are just a step above.

I've made a lot of cookies over the course of our relationship, and at this point consider myself somewhat of an expert in his favorites. I've made more black and white cookies than I'd care to count. At some point, no doubt, I'll post the recipe.

In fact, I've made so many cookies that we've finally come up with an official cookie rating scale. The standards are high. Despite many, many batches of chocolate chip cookies, they still only rate a 6.5 out of 10. (10, by the way, is defined as the rainbow cookie [also known as a tri-color cookie], which is not so much a cookie as a thin layer cake disguised as one. It's also a hell of a lot of work.)

So when I say that a cookie made it to 6 on the official cookie rating scale, that statement isn't made lightly. This cookie, the newest addition to the official cookie rating scale, comes to you care of Milk and Cookies. It's a sable cookie with chocolate ganache, and was a hit with everyone who tried it. The ganache is too dark for G, but the high sugar content of the cookie itself balanced things out nicely.

I altered the recipe slightly, but it's pretty simple to begin with and delicious either way. Recommended to be taken with milk, once daily. Or more often if prescribed by physician.

Sable Cookies with Chocolate Ganache
225 grams plain all-purpose flour
25 grams cornstarch
200 grams butter, diced and at room temperature
100 grams confectioner’s (icing) sugar
2 egg yolks
Pinch of salt

100 ml (¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons) pure cream
100 grams bittersweet chocolate

Sifter or sieve
Medium mixing bowl
Plastic wrap
Parchment paper
Baking sheet
Rolling pin
Cookie cutters

Sift together flour and cornstarch. Make a well in the center of the flour mixture and add the butter and sugar. Work together with your fingertips until no hard lumps remain. Add the egg yolks and salt, drawing in the flour. Work until the dough resembles coarse breadcrumbs. Do not overwork the dough. Roll the pastry into a log and refrigerate for two hours.

Preheat oven to 320°F. Prepare a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.

Remove dough from fridge and carefully roll out to a thickness of about 6mm. Cut out desired shapes using a cookie cutter. Place on lined baking tray and bake for 10-12 minutes, or until just golden on the edges. Transfer cookies to a wire rack and cool completely before spreading ganache.

In a saucepan, heat the cream until just before boiling. Pour cream over chocolate in a separate bowl; let stand for 1 minute allowing the heat of the cream to slowly melt the chocolate.

Using a spatula, mix cream and chocolate to make a smooth, glossy mixture. Place somewhere to cool, uncovered, at room temperature. Transfer to refrigerator to slightly set.

Spread ganache over the backside of a cookie, then place another on top to sandwich the ganache between. Return to the refrigerator to set.

Makes about 25 cookies.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Happy Birthday Papa Muffin!

Those of you who claim my father was born in Florida in the 1940's rather than Russia in the 1870's can go to hell.

It was my father's birthday on Friday. He officially has (IMHO) the best birthday, as it always falls on 10/10. Now, I know a lot of people who have interesting favorite numbers: 17 (my mother's favorite number, and apparently the most commonly chosen 'random number'), π, e, 1084... My favorite number, on the other hand, is 10. 10 is finished in a very satisfying way—it almost feels symmetrical. Having gone to all that trouble of counting up to 9, I get to resolve back to 1 (with a zero on the end). It might be a boring number, but I like it all the same. Exciting numbers are overrated. So how it came to be that my father was born on 10/10 and not me, I'll never know.

Anyway, I make the mistake (a few weeks back) of asking him what he wanted for his birthday. "Mumble mumble gurgle," he says. Great. Buying a present for my father is always hard; he's picky but won't provide any helpful clues. The only idea that comes to mind is a six-foot paper-mâché wrench*. When your best idea involves a giant structure of the variety that might have been constructed in third grade art class, you're in serious trouble.

*One of the few successful gifts I can recall is the enormous wrench I bought at Sears for Christmas one year. He's never used it, but says it makes him feel more like a man. He likes the idea that he could take down a lamppost if he really wanted to.

Upon consultation with my mother, my only idea is shot down. "Why not just make him a nice dinner?"

Bah. Fine.

I spent all day yesterday cooking. My father requested:

Salad (tomatoes and radishes home-grown)
Fresh corn
Mashed potatoes
Filet mignon
Key lime pie

My father, generally speaking, likes scary food. He likes to squirt ketchup over everything on his plate, and then mash it all together to make red goop. As a child, I found it impossible to eat dinner with my family unless I carefully averted my eyes. So you might think that I would have the good sense to make something relatively simple, given the terrible red fate awaiting my culinary endeavors. But did I? Absolutely not. The salad was modest, the corn was just corn on the cob. But then came the potatoes and steak. Or should I say, iron mashed potatoes?

I don't have a great recipe for mashed potatoes. Thus the beginnings of iron mashed potatoes. It's a daring contest, pitting mashed potatoes against more mashed potatoes in potato combat. In the arena for the first round we had my mother's mashed potatoes, caramelized shallot mashed potatoes, and garlic mashed potatoes with chives. Only the winner of the first round advances on to round two. Results at the end of the post.

I also made what was, I thought, a very nice filet mignon. Part of it was the recipe, and part of it was just that I did a better job of cooking the steak to G's exacting specifications. I reduced the sauce more slowly than recommended, which was definitely a good idea.

Finally, I made key lime pie. My father is from the Florida Keys, so he's more than a little picky. It's his favorite dessert, and over time it's become mine as well. I was quite pleased when we both said it was officially good key lime pie.

Key Lime Pie
1 package (151 grams) graham crackers
25 grams (2 tablespoons) sugar
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
71 grams (5 tablespoons) unsalted butter, melted

4 large egg yolks (2 whites reserved)
14 ounces sweetened condensed milk
188 grams (¾ cup) freshly squeezed key lime juice
1½ teaspoons finely grated key lime zest
¼ cup sugar
2 large egg whites (reserved)
¼ teaspoon cream of tartar

Food processor
Electric mixer
9-inch pie tin
Medium mixing bowl
Plastic wrap
Aluminum foil
Flat-bottomed measuring cup
Pastry bag fitted with large star attachment (optional)

Place graham crackers, sugar and cinnamon in food processor. Blend until mixture resembles fine crumbs. Add melted butter and pulse ten times, until butter is well-distributed and mixture begins to clump.

Pour mixture into a 9-inch pie tin. Cover with plastic wrap to prevent crust from sticking to fingers; press crust into bottom of tin. Using a flat-bottomed measuring cup (or another object with a similar shape), lightly pound graham crackers flat. The crust should begin to move up the sides of the tin as the bottom becomes thinner. Continue pounding until thickness is roughly even throughout tin, pressing sides of tin as needed to ensure that crust sticks together and does not run over sides of tin.

Place crust in refrigerator.

Gently whisk together the egg yolks and sweetened condensed milk. Slowly whisk in the lime juice (the mixture should thicken slightly), followed by the lime zest. Continue whisking until mixture is well-blended.

Preheat oven to 350°F; set a rack in the middle of the oven.

In the clean, dry bowl of an electric mixer, whisk egg whites until foamy. Add cream of tartar and continue whisking until soft peaks form. Gradually add sugar, whisking until egg whites are shiny and form stiff peaks.

Measure out 2 cups of egg white mixture, and gently fold into lime mixture. (Any excess may be disposed of or baked to make hard meringue cookies.) Remove graham cracker crust from refrigerator and gently spread mixture into crust. Avoid the temptation to overfill—the egg whites in the mixture will rise during baking (though they will fall again during cooling) and too much filling may lead to disaster.

Bake 20 minutes, covering the top with foil if it begins to brown. Remove from oven and allow to cool to room temperature. Place in refrigerator at least four hours before serving.

Place cream in clean, dry mixing bowl (mixer fitted with whisk attachment). Add vanilla and powdered sugar to taste and whisk to make whipped cream. Place cream in pastry bag fitted with large star attachment, and decorate top of pie.

Serve cold.

And the iron mashed potato winner (round 1) is...

Caramelized shallot mashed potatoes

Thursday, October 9, 2008

The Un-Diet

G has been on a diet of late. He thinks he has a gut. He's 5'10" and 165 pounds. Say it ain't so!

I have no objections, really, though it means I have to search a little farther afield to find willing consumers of my desserts. Not a problem. It makes life more interesting, and it's a great way to make friends.

Okay, fine. I'm painfully shy and probably wouldn't make friends if you paid me. But it would be a great way to make friends if I were someone else.

That having been said, he seems to have hit diet-tolerance-saturation.

"I'm hungry," he says.
Well, says I, what would you like?

He wants to know what would be fun for me to make. Ha ha ha. Diet food is not generally too much 'fun' to make, as far as chef-me is concerned.

Cookies, say I.
The eyes go wide. "Cookies?"
"I'm kidding."
"No, seriously. Cookies?"

Thus it came to be that I made chocolate chip cookies, fudgies, and
brownie peanut butter cups all in one evening. Ah, the bliss.

The brownie peanut butter cups didn't really bake up the way I anticipated. They were still bubbling through the crust long after the advertised baking time was over (which they maybe shouldn't have been doing at all). So although a toothpick inserted in the center would have come out wet, the top was no so much "set" as resembling a Yosemite boiling mud pot. It was nearly impossible to get them out of the muffin tins—I assume as a result of their oddly volcanic baking activity. It wasn't much to look at, but it was pretty tasty.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008


Pressure. F/A, nRT/V and (apparently) what Billy Joel thinks you can't handle. Also spontaneously produced when your future mother-in-law casually says: "Why don't you make something to bring to my sister's on Friday?"

Not being a very confident person, my solution was to try two recipes. Surely, I thought, they'll like one of them. Right? Knowing me, probably not. But both seemed to go over well, so maybe I just got lucky. The large quantities of wine being consumed couldn't have hurt either.

Sadly, I don't have a picture of my more successful dessert, but I do have a picture of the strawberry white chocolate tart. It's a little hard to explain to said future mother-in-law exactly why you think it would be a good idea to take a picture of your cake just as everyone's ready to leave.

A modest start, but hopefully there are better things to come.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Starting Over

I should probably make some mention of not having posted for over a year. If you happened to have stumbled across my blog in that time, I apologize. The lack of spare time and sanity during my last year as an undergraduate was... well, let's call it prohibitive and leave it at that. I don't really want to write (nor, I imagine, do you want to read) a tome about the past year and a half.

So, fancy piece of paper in hand, I would like to try again.