Wednesday, October 21, 2009

A different kind of pie crust

Okay, so I pretty much rock, so I'm sure My Man's family likes me, even without the baked goods. And one day when he does drop to one knee, I'm sure I'll be welcomed into the family with open arms. But that doesn't mean I can't guarantee my spot into their lives w/ sweets. Right?

This crust is a mixture of two crusts I found online and my own little improvising. So is the filling, I guess. When I first started making desserts, I have to say, I was hardcore about not changing anything. Followed the directions to the T. After I started culinary school, I kinda started playing around a bit. A lot of it had to do with the 9 steps of the baking process. After learning those, I knew how to substitute ingredients or how to double or halve recipes w/out just messing with the recipe too much.
I try to use my understanding of the baking process to help me figure out why a bread didn't rise as much, or why the cake seems drier than others, or even why my chocolate chip cookies flatten. I think I figured that one out! Check back soon for some of my experiments!
The 9 steps:
1. Gases form. Gases are introduced by air, steam or carbon dioxide, such as baking soda or powder. They expand w/ the heat in the oven, which helps your product rise.
2. Gases are trapped. The proteins in the product create small bubbles when beaten, which pull in air until they are full, which makes them grow. When the gases expand, they push on the cell walls forcing them to stretch, making the product increase in size and volume. Eggs are the best protein to use; typically egg substitutes will result in a drier product w/out the introduction of another ingredient to help the product retain moisture.
3. Starches gelatinize. When the dough or batter reaches 140 degree Fahrenheit, the flour will absorb the moisture and grow to ten times their own weight. This makes the dough expand and helps create structure for the product. There is usually more flour in a product than anything else since it provides the structure of the product.
4. Proteins coagulate, or solidifies. When the dough reaches 160 degrees Fahrenheit, the proteins being it bong to each other and, at the same time, they stretch form the gases expanding. If proteins solidify before the gases can fully expand, the product won't rise at all. If the gases escape before the proteins coagulate, the product will puff up and rise, but then collapse.
5. Fats melting. This is important b/c when the fats melt, the droplets coat the starch and moistens them. As I noted in step three, it is important for the starch to moisten for the shape and volume. Fats tenderize the products. Using butter, which has a low temp melting point will tenderize products more so than a high temp melting point product like margarine or shortening. Which is why I never use shortening in pie crusts or cookie doughs. However, that is also why cookies spread more w/ butter than shortening. But butter tastes WAY better.
6. Water evaporates. Any liquid in the butter, eggs, extracts, fruits, etc will turn into steam and evaporate. When the steam escapes, the top of the product will form a nice crust. Like w/ brownies or cookies.
7. Sugars caramelize. When the product is heated above 320 degrees, the sugars will caramelize. This gives flavor and provides a nice color to the product. Granulated white sugar will do the trick, but a light or dark brown sugar provides even more color and provides a nice caramel flavor to the product.
8. Carryover baking. When you take a product out of the oven, it continues to bake. The heat from the baking pan or sheet continues to bake the products. Since you cannot typically remove a product form the container until it has cooled some, you have to let them stand in or on the baking container before transferring to a cooling rack or plate. It is important when there is a range of baking times on a recipe, to check the product at the lower temp first. You can always add more minutes, but once you over bake something, you can reverse the process.
9. Staling. Once a product has cooled completely, it beings a process called starch retrogradation. This is when a product looses moisture and dries out. Some products w/ more fat and sugar will stay moist, longer. This process works the fastest at 40 degrees Fahrenheit, which is why products are better left at room temperature, except for things like cheesecakes. It is also best to store the product in an airtight container so as not to lose moisture.

These steps are important b/c changing one thing can change the outcome. I have memorized these steps (so bizarre) and use them every time I bake, or every time something comes out wrong. I always think, which step did I go wrong? It helps when I make something the next time around.

In this case, I wanted a less flaky crust, something more crusty and tender, but would hold up and keep the shape. This crust did exactly that. It was a good crust, but I have decided that I really do prefer flaky crusts better. This was delicious and had I had the exact ingredients as the two recipes, I may have gotten the flaky crust. But I set out for a more solid crust and I got just that!

I printed out this recipe from Cherry on a Cake and this recipe from Whitney in Chicago. I found Cherry on a Cake on tastespotting and I first saw Whitney when she was commenting on another one of my favorite blogs, Food Loves Writing. I have to say, I follow some pretty awesome bloggers out there.

Gosh, I keep going off on tangents here!!!

Anyways, here is the recipe for the pie dough... Btw, this was to make enough dough for 2 pies, top and bottom crusts, as seen in the pictures.

The Crust

8 oz cream cheese
2 sticks of butter
4 cups of flour
1 Tbsp Sugar
1/2 Tbsp vanilla sugar
1 tsp salt
1 cup really cold water (I stuck ice cubes in it to ensure max coldness)

Cut the cream cheese into cubes and stick in the freezer.
Cut the butter into even smaller cubes and stick in the freezer.

In a LARGE bowl, put in the flour, sugars and salt; whisk together. Cut in the cream cheese until the mixture becomes a course meal.
Place the mixture into a Ziploc bag with the cut butter sprinkled in. Make sure there is no air in the bag before sealing, then flatten the butter w/ a rolling pin (Wanna laugh? I did this at my cousin's house and couldn't find her rolling pin, so I used a huge can of Pam). Once the butter is spread out into thin flakes w/ the dough, place in the freezer to firm up for about 10 mins. Once it has firmed up, put the mix back into the large bowl and add about half of the water. Mix together. I used my hands here. So much easier. Add more water if necessary, but remember the dough should not be runny, nor should it be crumbly. After you've done this, shape the dough into 4 even discs and wrap w/ saran wrap or toss in individual Ziploc bags w/ all the air expelled out. Flatten the discs some and place them in the fridge. You can leave them there for a minimum of 2 hours, but in this case, I made the dough on a Thursday night so I would have them ready for the next afternoon.

When I was ready to use the dough, I rolled out the four discs, places two in the Pam sprayed pie pans and left the other two sitting on the plastic wrap on the counter, each covered w/ a damp (not soaking wet) kitchen towel.
Btw, remember how I couldn't find the rolling pin? Well, since my cousin was in the Caribbean, I couldn't exactly call her, so I used the Pam can to roll the crusts out too :) I'm so handy. Although, I have to say, I thing they would have been a bit thinner if I had the rolling pin.

My filling.
This was adapted from my head. I really didn't use ANY measurements here. And when I say I really didn't use them, I mean, REALLY, I didn't use them. So bear with me :)

I peeled, cored, halved and sliced thin 7 Jonathan apples that My Man brought me back from an orchard in Michigan. As I was doing this, I tossed the first half of the cut apples w/ the juice from half a lemon. As I tossed in more sliced apples, I sprinkled sugar and cinnamon on top. Until it looked coated. As I tossed more sliced apples in, I would toss the freshly cut apples w/ the cinnamon sugar coated apples. I would add more cinnamon and sugar if necessary. Which is always was....
W/ the flour, I actually did measure this out. Partially b/c I had a tablespoon right next to me, so I tossed two tablespoons into the apple mix.
I neatly arranged the apple slices so they were all flat on top of the bottom crust layer. I repeated this for the second pie.
Before placing the top crust on, I sprinkled some vanilla sugar on top of the apples and dotted it with butter.
I brushed some milk on the edges of the bottom crust and then placed the top crust over. I pressed the edges together, after trimming some of the excess dough (I'm not one for pretty scalloped edges, as you can plainly see).
I used the excess dough to roll out and cut out a couple of flowers and hearts. I brushed milk under the cut-outs and pressed them onto the top of the crust. I sprinked some white sparkly sugar on top, cut four slits in cross pattern and popped into a pre-heated 350 degree oven for 45-55 mins.
I also place foil around the edges for the first 30 mins so they didn't brown too quickly.

I kept this one
And this one went to the future in-laws
Nice inside shots, notice how thick the crust is? Yep, Pam can only do so much...
All in all, it was a good pie. My Man was meh about it, but his mom and sister LOVED it. And the Sis could even tell there was cream cheese in it. That was kinda cool. Good taste buds there.
Probably a crust I'll use again for them. Maybe not for a pie for my family though. They definitely prefer the flaky crust like I do.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Mexican Chili Brownies

So I love brownies and I love love love spicy foods. I have been experimenting with adding savory items to sweet desserts, so I thought now would be the time to start adding some spicy to my sweet treats. I made these brownies the same day I made the guacamole for my co-worker's party last month, but of course I've been slacking on posting this stuff!

I decided to see if I could find a Mexican brownie I liked, but couldn't, so I started browsing for a new brownie recipe (I know, I had the other brownie recipe I've been making a lot, but I wanted to try something new). So I found this recipe on King Arthur Flour and it looked good, so I figured why not?

So I altered the recipe a tad bit... Here is my adaptation of the recipe!

Mexican Spicy Brownies

2 sticks unsalted butter
1 Lindt Excellence Chili Bar
2 1/4 cups sugar
4 large eggs
1 1/4 cups cocoa powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups unbleached flour
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1 tablespoon cayenne pepper


1) Preheat the oven to 350°F. Lightly grease a 9" x 13" pan

2) In a saucepan set over low heat, melt the butter and chocolate bar, then add the sugar and stir to combine. Return the mixture to the heat briefly, just until it's hot (about 110°F to 120°F), but not bubbling; it'll become shiny looking as you stir it. Heating this mixture a second time will dissolve more of the sugar, which will yield a shiny top crust on your brownies.

3) While the sugar heats a second time, crack the 4 eggs into a bowl, and beat them with the cocoa, salt, baking powder, cinnamon, chili powder and vanilla till smooth.

4) Add the hot butter/sugar mixture, stirring until smooth.

5) Add the flour again stirring until smooth.

6) Spoon the batter into a lightly greased 9" x 13" pan.

7) Bake the brownies for about 30 minutes, until a cake tester inserted into the center comes out with just a few moist crumbs clinging to it. The brownies should feel set on the edges, and the center should look very moist, but not uncooked. Remove them from the oven and cool on a rack before cutting and serving.

These brownies were moist w/ an awesome top crust. The spice from the cayenne and cinnamon add a nice flavor to the brownie w/out adding an intense heat. The spice kinda tingles the back of your throat as you swallow. It's not spicy hot, just a wee bit tingly.

Also, I made these the following week, but w/ unsweetened baking chocolate and no pepper or cinnamon and then baked them for 20 mins in a mini muffin pan to make brownie bites. The recipe yielded aprx 48 brownie bites. They were just as good; just like the brownie bites you can get at the store in a container. Nice and crusty on the outside and soft, rich and chocolaty on the inside. I think I do like these better in bar form though. I like the fudgy chocolaty texture more so than the extra crunchy outside. But they are good both ways, for sure!

Friday, October 9, 2009

Scallop and zucchini rice pasta

So recently I won a contest and got Earth-Friendly Set of Jalapeno Roots, Red Pepper and Aztec Chocolate Spice Blends.
For this dish I used the Red Pepper Spice Blends and it was delicious! I was very excited when I got these spice blends, and honestly, I made this dish weeks ago, but I was trying to post everything as I was making it but life caught up to me and I didn't have time to post all of these recipes. So I was slacking... I'm sorry Val!!!

I'll be honest, this is mostly thrown together, but I wanted to emphasize a few things with this post. This was done when I was detoxing a while back and trying new products to replace the ones I have been using and that have been making me somewhat sick. Gluten is a huge thing I've been having trouble digesting.
I found something called brown rice pasta. And I found it at Jewel!!! Complete shocker for me. I am very happy to say that more and more, I've been finding stuff at Jewel that is better for you! They have a whole aisle of organic products, section of gluten free products (that is bigger than Whole Food's section!) and tons of organic frozen food and fresh products. And they really aren't any more or less expensive than Whole Foods. Pretty much the same. So convenience for products that aren't miles and miles away... :)
Tinkyada Pasta Joy, Brown Rice Pasta, found at Jewel!

Basically, I cooked the pasta according to the directions, but added some veg oil in the pasta water to help keep the pasta from sticking together. And I constantly stirred it.
After draining the pasta, I coated the bottom of the pot with olive oil and dried garlic flakes (Tastefully Simple's Garlic Garlic-I love that stuff!). When the dried garlic flakes got some extra juice to them from the olive oil, I tossed the drained pasta w/ the garlic oil.

With the scallops, I coated them with the red pepper spice blend, sea salt and fresh cracked black pepper and let them sit for a bit. I covered a saute pan with the red pepper infused olive oil, also found at Jewel. Once the pan was hot enough, I placed the scallops in the pain and seared both sides, aprx 4-5 mins on both sides. The thicker they are, the longer they sear for.
The zucchini was sauted in a pan w/ the same red pepper olive oil and red pepper spice blend. After everything was cooked, I tossed the zucchini with the pasta and sprinkled a little bit of parmesean cheese on top. I added the scallops and dinner was ready!

The red pepper was added a nice heat and fire to the dish, but it wasn't overpowering, nor was it too much. The red pepper olive oil was a perfect substitution for the normal butter we use int he house to coat the pasta and cook the scallops. I always use olive oil to saute zucchini. The olive oil was light and added a really good flavor. Not the buttery flavor I know and love, but it was healthier and tastier w/ the addition of the red pepper infusion and red pepper spice blend.

So check out the Made with Love website and look out for the creations I make with the Aztec Chocolate blend and jalapeno root!!!

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Sonoma Chicken Salad

So a while back I got this chicken salad from Whole Foods. I thought it was so awesomely good, so I tried to make it myself. I think I did a pretty good job but ironically, there is a recipe on the Whole Foods website!!!

So I didn't make it just like the website's recipe b/c I had no recipe to follow, but I think it came out pretty darn good!

The recipe on the website has a different sauce, but mostly the same solid ingredients. Both version we very yummy, so I am pretty happy that I did well based on my taste buds.

Sonoma Chicken Salad
adapted from Whole Foods

For the chicken:
1lb boneless, skinless chicken breasts
Chicken stock, enough to cover the chicken breasts in a pot
1/2 cup dry white wine

For the dressing:
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/4 cup poppy seed dressing
Salt and white pepper to taste
Splash of Tabasco sauce

Additional salad ingredients:
1/2 cup toasted pecan pieces
1 cup red grapes, halved or quartered, depending on how large they are
2 celery stalks, sliced

Place the chicken breasts in a pot and add the chicken stock until completely covered. Add the wine. Cook for aprx 10-15 minutes, depending on how thick the pieces are. Remove the chicken pieces once they are fully cooked and let cool.

While the chicken is poaching, mix the ingredients for the sauce and put in the fridge to keep cool.

Once the chicken is cooled off some, you can cut it into a medium dice and toss w/ the sauce and add'l salad ingredients.

Cut a fresh croissant or roll in half horizontally and add however much you want. Add some lettuce, tomato, red onion and whatever else you like on your sandwich.