Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Coconut Cream Pie

This is it. A plain, easy to follow recipe for the best old fashioned, honest-to-goodness real coconut cream pie anybody could ask for. [And I'm not even considering trying to reword that so it doesn't end in a preposition - too awkward.] Back to pie..here are the things that destroy cream pie: curdled eggs, scorched cream, weepy meringue. I'm going to tell you how to avoid all three so you can stop wasting your taste buds on mediocre cream pies made with pudding filling. And right now, right up front, I'm admitting that I haven't bothered making homemade pie crust since I caved in some years ago and bought Pillsbury Pie Crust, the kind in the red box, rolled up and ready to bake. I can make a great crust if I need to, but these are so good I keep some on hand all the time and use them without guilt. And no, I don't get any royalties for that, but, hey pssssst, Pillsbury, I'll take some.

Blind Baking a Pie Crust

Spray your pie dish with Pam and roll the crust out a little larger if need be so that it's slightly bigger than the pie dish. Ease the crust in and press into place. Don't stretch or pull it into place because it will shrink terribly if you do. Fold the edge back on itself to double it and make it pretty by fluting it as in this picture. This also makes it stand up a bit to hold onto the meringue later.
Since we're going to be blind baking this crust, that is baking it empty, we need to take measures to hold it in place and keep down the shrinkage and bubbling. Prick it all over with a fork and then line with sprayed foil and fill with dry beans. Do it. They're coming out later, don't worry, we're not making bean pie! Bake about 10-12 minutes at 425, lift out the foil by the four corners, and deposit it in a colander to cool. Leave the crust in the oven another 3-5 minutes or until golden.
Save the beans for another pie making day. I've been using the same batch for at least 5 years.

Perfect Cream Pie Filling

The easiest way to separate eggs is to break them into your hand and let the white slip through your fingers. Save it for making meringue later.
In the saucepan you'll be using for the filling, first whisk together the dry ingredients: 1 CUP SUGAR, 1/4 CUP CORNSTARCH, 1/4 TEASPOON SALT. Whisking the dry stuff cuts those sugar crystals into the powdery cornstarch and will prevent lumps later. Now, add the 4 yolks into the milk and whisk that together, then add to the pan of dry ingredients and finish whisking it all together. You're right, it hasn't seen the first flame of fire on the stove yet and that's what will help you to keep from curdling the whole thing later.

Since you'll be continually stirring for 18-20 minutes once this pan moves to the stove, you need to get the final ingredients together now. These will be added at the very end when the filling is thick: 3 TBL BUTTER, 1 TBS VANILLA, 1 CUP COCONUT. That extra little coconut is for to top the meringue at the end.

Now, you're ready to move the pan of soon-to-be creamy filling. Put it over a medium flame (or even a little lower if your burners tend to run high) and stir with a wooden spoon or heatproof spatula. You must scrape the bottom steadily and keep it moving so it doesn't scorch. If you should feel anything sticking to the bottom of the pan, scorching is imminent, but the filling can still be rescued by quickly dumping it into a second pan and continuing on. Just don't scrape anything off the bottom that has already stuck there because it may taste disgusting. And don't crank that heat up any higher than medium even if you think nothing is happening in the pan. You will eventually see it start to thicken and finally a big bubble or two will pop on the surface. From that moment on, time it for 2 more minutes of cooking and you're done. It's not supposed to bubble and boil early in the process, only after about 15 minutes or so. As in the picture above, you can see a distinct path in the filling when you pull the spoon through it. Remove from heat and stir the butter, vanilla, and coconut in quickly, then fill the pie crust. This will continue to thicken and set up as it cools. If you can refrigerate it for a few hours before eating, it will set very nicely. We never manage to see that happen in my house.

Making Meringue that Doesn't Weep

Meringue topping is next with those 4 egg whites you saved from our earlier excursion into hand separating the yolks. Slimy but so effective. The egg whites must not have even a speck of yolk or they will not whip. If you ever break a yolk while separating just start over with a new egg and a clean hand.
Add 1/4 tsp CREAM of TARTAR (it's not the stuff Tartar Sauce is made of! This is just a stabilizer for the whites) and start whipping on medium until they whiten up a little then move the beater up to full blast and get them to a soft foam before adding the 1/2 CUP SUGAR in a steady pour as they whip. Now I'm going to show you in a picture how to tell when they're ready. NOT THIS:
Still too soft to get a peak of whites to stand up when the whisk is raised. Keep going.

Now they're ready. You see both a stalactite and a stalagmite of peaked meringue, nice and pointy. If you whip beyond this point you could end up with brittle dry meringue. Just like this and glossy is just right though.Whip in 1 TSP VANILLA right at the end.
Now plop it onto the pie in 3 or 4 big blops. Just press down with a flat spatula and push it all into place sealing it right up against the edge of the pie crust all around. This helps keep it from weeping as it cools. Don't lift the spatula as you move the meringue into place or you'll have a mess of mixed up meringue and pie filling.
Add a few pretty swirls at the end and top with 1/3 CUP COCONUT. Bake at 350 for 12-15 minutes watching closely. Remove from oven as soon as coconut and meringue are slightly brown.

Sugar, 1 cup
Cornstarch, 1/4 cup
Milk, 3 cups whole
Eggs, 4
Butter, 3 Tbs
Vanilla. 2 Tbs
Coconut, 1-1/3 cup

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Raspberry Coulis

Perhaps this isn't truly a coulis (was that too rhymey?) being rather sweet as jam and not strained of its seeds, but by whatever name it's a most heavenly fresh-as-spring topping for ice cream. This one is full of nice big chunks of peach and with the raspberries on top I'm calling it Peach Melba supreme! I know I'm bandying about all sorts of fancy dessert names, so I'll just say simply, try this quick little raspberry treat on any ice cream or pound cake or toast or...oh, a spoon. Such an easy way to glorify a ready made dessert, especially when you're investing a lot of time in dinner for company and there isn't much time left for dessert prep. It's as easy as this - put a cup of raspberries and a separate cup of sugar in a 350 degree oven. You can actually use these Pyrex cups like I did and they'll be safe in the oven, like any Pryex. (Never under a broiler though, they'll explode! Been there.) In about 20 minutes neither will look any different, but pour them together and an instant ruby red river will follow. That firey hot sugar bursts the little raspberry capsules of juice upon contact. Sweetness ensues!

A gentle stir will dissolve the last of the sugar while keeping some berries intact.
Now in this jar it really does look like jam, but it does not set up like a jelly or jam. I keep it this way in the fridge, if there's any left to put away!  Which there will not be if there's chocolate ice cream in the freezer, too. And, wait for it...wait for it...there's more....
Yes! For just a moment, when the golden raspberries are ripe, golden coulis is too beautiful not to make at least once. I topped off a dish of pistachio ice cream with this one, but oh how pretty it would look over a cheesecake or maybe a wedge of angel food cake.   There you have it, a 20 minute wonder to elevate simple dessert to the sublime.

THE SHOPPING LIST (Short and Sweet)
Ice Cream?
Pound Cake?

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Chicken Enchiladas ChaChaCha

I know, this does not look like neatly rolled chicken enchiladas tucked all in a row and baked up with a tidy trim of cheese. That's because I was in too much of a hurry to roll them one day and layered the whole business like one giant enchilada and it was not only fast, it was just delish. And not quite as "bready" as the individually rolled bunch. These are purely my version of enchiladas and there's nothing much authentic about them anyway. But I guarantee you'll love this dish. And you'll find so many other ways to use the chicken that makes up the filling. I like to slow cook the chicken breasts, so I start them around noon, on High, if I'm home that day or on Low first thing in the morning if I'm going to be gone all day.  They're ready when the meat easily falls apart when speared.     

Making the "BBQ" Chicken

First slice a very large sweet onion in half, then in slices and add to the bottom the crockpot. The chicken breasts go in next.Four will be plenty for this dish, but the sauce we'll use is enough for 6-8 and I often make extras for, perhaps, a dinner of BBQ Chicken with Mashed Potatoes, or a Chicken Salad with Almonds and White Grapes to which I add a spoonful of the cooking sauce in with the mayo as I mix it all together. [Excessive capital letters used for emphasis on deliciousness.] But, I digress. Let us return to the subject of that sauce. Whisk together 1 cup of ketchup and 1 cup of water.
Add these liquid ingredients: 1/2 cup lemon juice, 1/2 tsp Worcestershire, 1 tsp (Crystal) Hot Sauce, 1/4 c White Vinegar, 1 stick of melted butter. Whisk to blend. I know that doesn't look like a stick of butter but trust me, it is. I buy uncut pounds of butter and divide them as needed. This may be a bad sign of some sort.
Whisk in the dry ingredients last: 2 tsp Chili Powder, 1 tsp Dry Mustard, 2 tsp salt, 1 cup Brown Sugar.

Pour sauce over the chicken and lift each piece a little to settle the sauce all the way down to the bottom of the pot. Now go off and leave it. (You can do this chicken in the oven for about an hour at 320 if you'd rather not wait on the slowness of the slowcooker.)

When ready, the chicken should pull apart easily with two forks. Or just go for it with clean hands and it will fall to shreds as soon as you pick it up. Save the sauce! We're going to use it later.
So, so, good. Sweet, spicy...go ahead and have some nibbles now. But don't get carried away unless you've made extra! It's time to turn this into a creamy enchilada filling with 1 cup sour cream, 1 tsp chili powder, and 1/2 tsp each of cumin, oregano, and salt. Mix together well and add to the shredded chicken.

Assembling the Enchilada

Spray a 9x13 dish with cooking spray and use a good flavored bottled Enchilada Sauce to coat the bottom of the pan. I use Trader Joe's or make my own. I'll add the recipe for it at the end in case you can't find Enchilada sauce that tastes good straight out of the bottle.

These are 8inch tortillas. Tear them to fit. It will take about 6 for the whole dish. In case you've forgotten those onions in the bottom of the pot, I have not. They are going to be the first layer once again before that luscious chicken filling comes in. Don't worry if they're sloppy with juice. Just makes it better.
Two cups of sharp cheddar cheese over the chicken. And top it all off with the last of the tortillas and sauce.
 I spoon on a cup or so of the cooking sauce along with the Enchilada Sauce to sweeten it up a bit. Plus, more cheese on top. This is NOT mozzarella which would be too bland. It's white cheddar I had to shred myself when I ran out of the ready-shred, lazy-cook cheese. Mexican Blend shredded cheese would work well or Queso Blanco. And it's ready to bake at 350 for 30-40min until bubbly and browned.

THE SHOPPING LIST:   *Is it in the pantry or do I need to pick it up?*
4 Boneless Chicken Breasts
3-4 cups Sharp Cheddar Cheese                                        ENCHILADA SAUCE:
6 8" Tortillas                                                                 1 can(15oz) crushed tomatoes
8 oz Sour Cream                                                           1 Tbs diced green chilies
1 Large Sweet Onion                                                     1 tsp chili powder
1 stick Butter                                                                 1/2 tsp cumin
Ketchup                                                                        1/2 tsp oregano
Enchilada Sauce                                                             1/2 tsp salt
White Vinegar                                                                1/2 cup chicken stock
Worcestershire                                                               Simmer all 10-15 minutes.
Hot Sauce (Crystal is my favorite)
Dry Mustard
Brown Sugar
Chili Powder

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Mango Salsa

When the Champagne Mangos come into season (now), I can barely wait to split one open and taste its velvety sweet sharp flesh. This salsa is the perfect way to enjoy them while they're available, other than slurping them right out of your hand. And if you can find Champagne Vinegar to substitute for the White Wine Vinegar in this salsa...well a tiny tear might squeeze right out of your eye when you taste it. *Sigh* Don't worry, you can make this any time of year with any kind of mangos and a good white wine vinegar and everyone will still ask you how you did it. So what else do you need? Here it is:
1/3 cup of red onion, finely diced. Juice of one lime. An avocado. Most of this Ancient Sweet Red Pepper or a Red Bell Pepper.

You might find these lovely golden babies labeled as Atulfo Mangos rather than Champagne, either way they're the same creature. Since Atulfo's are always smaller than the big greeney-red mango (minding its own business on the right there) use 3 in this recipe rather than 2 of the bigger variety. Look for mangos that are a rich color and give a bit when you press them; if they aren't a little soft, they aren't ripe. 

Pitting a Mango

There's a huge flat pit in the middle of these things that makes them impossible to just slice in half; instead you'll end up with a center slice that is mostly fibrous and unusable and a right and left chunk that make up for that wasted middle. Slice down each side as close to the pit as you can get. If you hear or feel that you are cutting into fiber move further away from the pit just a little. Now score each side but don't cut through the skin.
Push up from the bottom to sort of turn the piece inside out and now you can cut across these pre-diced little squares. Avocado lesson next!

Pitting an Avocado

Cut from the top down until the knife hits the pit. Lay the avocado down, hold the knife still against the pit with one hand, and turn the avocado a full turn with the other. Now the two halves will twist apart.

The easiest way to remove the pit is to whack it with a knife. Hands back! Don't hold it to keep it steady; who cares if it shoots across the counter? Much better than losing a finger.

A good twist will set it free.
Score this one too and scoop out with a large spoon.  Like the mango, pick an avocado with a little give when pressed. It shouldn't be firm but it shouldn't be at all squishy either. If you open it and it's squishy, make guacamole.

Finally, dice the red pepper in small bits. And mix all together in a bowl.

 Add the seasonings last and turn everything gently with a spatula to keep the pieces intact.
1/4 tsp salt, 1 Tbs sugar, 1 tsp pepper, 2 Tbs White Wine Vinegar, 1 Tbs Olive Oil
3 Atulfo Mangos
1 Avocado
1 Ancient Sweet Pepper or Red Bell Pepper
1 Lime
Red Onion
White Wine Vinegar
Olive Oil
salt, pepper, sugar
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