Culinary Adventures with Maggie and Suzanne

Where cheesiness is next to godliness

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Cookie Weekend

We tried a lot of new cookie recipes and then invited people over to try them. It was a BYOT (bring your own tin) party, and people really seemed to like it.

We had originally meant to make fourteen types of cookies, but the last cookie wouldn't stay together, so later I baked it as granola, and it was pretty tasty that way.

Here's the rundown:

1. Chocolate Chip Cookies - We used a bourbon vanilla instead of regular. We weren't sure what the weird flavor was at first, but then we remembered. Bourbon. I definitely prefer it without it, but we didn't have any problem getting rid of them.
2. Sugar Cookies - these cookies were delicious. But they were a bitch to roll out to cut into shapes. I suggest just rolling or dropping.
3. Neiman Marcus Cookies - We didn't put nuts in them, because I don't like them. They turned out pretty crispy, and they were the least favorite of most people. They were near the top of my list, though.
4. Raw, Vegan, Almond-Oat Cookies - These were good, as long as you got them straight out of the freezer. At room temperature, blech.
5. Gingersnaps - I may never buy gingersnaps again. These were so easy and so much better than store-bought cookies.
6. World Peace Cookies - These were pretty good. We decided that they were called World Peace Cookies because if you just gave one to every world leader, they'd all have to go take a nap and couldn't get into any wars or trouble.
7. Key Lime Cookies - These were my second favorite cookies of the weekend. They're so tasty. They're especially tasty with buttercream.
8. Nutella Cookies - I know that the recipe says to only replace part of the peanut butter, but we went right on and ignored that. Replace it all. You won't be sorry.
9. Peach Shortcake Cookies - A few notes - don't expect these to taste like cookies. They're shortcake. Eat them with fresh berries and whipped cream or clotted cream. Also, use fresh peaches. Frozen - even from your mother's orchard - won't do.
10. Samoas - What a pain in the ass. But the people loved them. I'm totally making this into a pie, though.
11. Espresso Chocolate Chip Shortbread - Mmm...tasty. Very, very espresso-y. Of course, I may have been a bit liberal with the espresso...
12. Cheesy Cornflake Cookies - These are a tasty breakfast treat. But you're gonna want to eat them warm.
13. And last but not least, the Best Cookie Ever - my mom's Surprise Cookies. Mix together one cup each of shortening (I prefer butter), sugar, and brown sugar. Then add 8 ounces of crushed pineapple, a teaspoon of vanilla, 2 cups of coconut, and 2 well-beaten eggs. Then add in 3.5 cups of flour and one teaspoon of baking soda. Drop mixture by spoonfuls onto a greased cookie sheet (or an ungreased baking stone) and bake for 10-13 minutes. Seriously - best cookie ever.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Pie Weekend, Day 3

So you remember how we had a little impromptu party on Saturday night of Pie Weekend?


Fast forward to Sunday morning with a very tired me who does not want to get out of bed or deal with the toilet that somehow broke during the night's festivities or continue to make pie.

But we continued to make pie anyway.

We started the morning off with another quiche - Tomato, Spinach and Dill Quiche with a Potato Crust, to be specific.

One might ask, "Who in her right mind shreds potatoes when they come pre-shredded in the freezer section?" I would answer, "I do," but I don't think I fit the right-mind criterion. I forgot that shredded potatoes often turn odd colors and make the grater nasty and gross. Note to self for future makings of this quiche: frozen hash browns for the crust. Definitely.

Other than that, the making of this quiche was nice, and the eating of this quiche was even nicer.

The next pie was a doozy. It sounds like something that might be just my most favorite thing ever. Espresso Chocolate Pie. Say it out loud. Espresso Chocolate Pie. Sounds amazing, right? If you click on that link, you will see that it also looks amazing.

It had the potential to be amazing. But it's reality was that it was a pain in the ass.

The crust was easy - basic graham cracker crust. The ganache was easy - basic chocolate ganache - smooth and rich. Then I got to the espresso layer. Essentially, one might look at this recipe and go, "Hey, that's just a layer of coffee-infused cheesecake pudding," which is what I'm going to use if I ever have the heart to try to make this pie again. Because when I made it according to the recipe, it would not set. It would not even thicken. I tried to add extra cornstarch and more whipping cream and whipped it into quite a frenzy, but it stayed the exact same texture. It was quite a marvel. Physicists all over the world would be baffled by the phenomenon that occurred in my kitchen that day. If Sheldon Cooper had been present (and, you know, a real person), it would have given him pause.

I gave up and poured it on top of the ganache layer, which by this time, had had ample time to cool and harden, and hoped against hope that it would set if I froze the pie.


Two days later - still runny.

We ate it anyway. The crust and the ganache layer were delicious. The rest of it was delicious, too (because come on - how could it not be?), but I had to eat it with a spoon.

While that pie was in the freezer not freezing or setting, we started the Blueberry Pie. Disheartened as I was by the previous endeavor, I was looking forward to this one the most. Berry pies, particularly blueberry, are my favorite. I used the crust from this recipe and even did the lattice work (pretty but troublesome unless the dough is perfect). I was pleased with the result and, yes, it was my favorite pie of the weekend.

We were going to make another savory meal (Goat cheese pie pockets - stay tuned, as I'm sure I will need to make these at some point in the future), but we were so tired by that time that we were at the end. Maggie had a brilliant idea to use the leftover pie dough from the blueberry pie - spread it with cream cheese and a little pickapepper sauce and bake it. Between that and the rest of the quiche from the morning, we pretty much gorged ourselves into a glorious food coma that caused us to sprawl and loll about in front of the tv.

We were in mid-loll when Tammy, Matt, and Michelle came to visit. Danielle joined us later. They pretty much finished off the pies that were ready, and I even had some to send as care packages.

What I learned this day:

1. There's no shame in frozen potatoes.
2. There's also no shame in reading a recipe, deciding "I know an easier way to do that," and going with that easier way (which, by the way, will set within the hour).
3. I know that I'm tired when I can't even be inspired to create something with goat cheese.

All in all, a successful weekend! Major events to look for in the year ahead:

* Cookie weekend, ending with a BYOT (bring your own tin) party where friends can sample and take home their favorites (late October/early November)
* Soup week (probably mid-January)
* ABC weekend (one food for every letter in the order but also sometimes together) or Casserole week (sometime in the spring)
* Cocktails and Crudites, ending with a cocktail party (yes, you must dress for it) at which we showcase our favorites from the weekend (next summer)

Friday, July 30, 2010

Pie Weekend, Day 2

Pie Day 2 started with leftover quiche. It also started with opening a bottle of wine at 7:30 in the morning. Why on earth would we open up a bottle of wine at 7:30 in the morning, do you ask? Because Jen Lancaster mentioned it somewhere in her blog, and being both 1) Jen Lancaster fans and 2) lovers of wine, we thought this sounded like a stellar idea.

You know what's not a stellar idea? Drinking wine on an empty stomach when you have a whole day of pie-making ahead of you.

Our stomachs weren't empty for long - we finished off the quiche (an empty pie plate is a successful pie plate). It was even better warmed up than it was the night before because the swiss next to the crust got all melty and amazing.

The next thing we did was finish off the Berry Cheesecake Pie by adding the berry mixture to the top of the completely cooled cheesecake. The verdict:

1. Beautiful pie, both in the pan and on the plate, topped with Cool Whip.
2. Greasy crust, as we suspected that it would be. It may be easy, but that greasy a texture could only hold up to a very firm pie (like a cheesecake) or a custardy pie. It was a very sturdy crust, though, which is useful when the pie is this heavy.

3. As far as cheesecake goes, this was a mid-level difficulty with a top-level taste. A friend of mine used to spend thirteen hours making cheesecake, and it was delicious, but this was almost as good with only a two-hour (okay, and an overnight refrigeration) work/bake time.
4. Let's just look how pretty it is one more time. Go ahead. Bask in the pretty of this pie. Ignore the empty wine glass in the picture (maybe it made us loopy because we drank it so quickly?).

Having finished up the pie we started the night before, the next pie we made was French Silk Pie. Alas, in my sugar high and possible tipsy state, I neglected to take a picture of it. But it was pretty. It was easier to make than I anticipated. It was also much, much richer than any French Silk pie I have ever had. It was not my favorite, but when guests came over, I noticed that we didn't have any trouble getting rid of it.

The last pie of the morning was the Coconut Custard Pie. Of the custard/cream pies, coconut is my favorite, so this was the one I was anticipating the most on Day Two. And it did not disappoint. The piece you see in the picture was when it was still warm from the oven. Heaven. Even people who claim not to like coconut liked this pie. Because the recipe called for a pre-baked pie crust, I used it as an opportunity to try a different one, so I rolled out Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything and used his basic flaky pie crust recipe. I believe this is going to be my go-to crust. It was just right.

The only thing I would do differently with this pie is to use a slightly shorter time to pre-bake the crust. By the time the pie itself finished baking, it was a little brown for my taste.

At this point, we transferred all the pies that we had made to Maggie's house for a little change of scenery (and to give my oven a break), where we made the next two pies.
The first pie we made at Maggie's house was Momofuku's Crack Pie. Yes, it was chosen for its name. As you can see, it did not turn out pretty. In fact, it looked pretty weird all throughout the process, from the oatmeal cookie crust (which involves first baking a large oatmeal cookie and then pounding it into bits and buttering it back together to make a crust) to the batter before we poured it into the crust, all the way to the finished product. It tasted okay, though. In fact, it was Michelle's favorite of all the ones she tried. It was super sweet. It tasted like a cross between maple candy and a pecan-less pecan pie.

The next pie we made was a Cream Grape Pie. This was an intriguing concept to me, so I just couldn't resist. Again, I forgot to take a picture of it, and I'm so sad about that, because it was pretty. That was the best thing about it. It never set. We picked at it - turns out that cooked grapes have a similar texture to cooked cherries - but I was never able to get a piece of pie that looked like pie out of it. I may try just a plain cream pie recipe and add grapes to it at some point in the future to see how it would taste.

For dinner that night, we went back over to my house. We had a full guest list - several people were already in town for Max's funeral, so they just came over for pie afterward. Pie and alcohol, apparently. Funny how gatherings at my house seem to go that way.

Dinner was Deep Dish Pizza (what? It's a pie!). We made three of these - one with spinach, one with mushrooms, and one with roasted peppers. I ended up using Natalie's basic pizza crust (which I can't remember off the top of my head, but it was super simple - just mix and let it rise while you make the sauce). Once again, there are no pictures to prove it, but it was awesome. The only thing I would change about it is that I would pre-bake the crust, as it was a little doughy at the bottom for my taste.

Then people stayed over for what seemed like forever. Maybe I was just tired. It had been a full day.

Things I learned:

1. Wine at 7:30 in the morning? Not as great an idea as it sounds. Unless, of course, that is all you plan to do that day, and then by all means, godspeed.
2. Quiche makes for amazing leftovers.
3. Pre-cooking texture can tell you everything you need to know about post-cooking outcome.
4. Coconut is manna from Heaven. Who am I kidding? I already knew this.
5. It doesn't matter to most people how it looks as long as it tastes like sugar.
6. I'm a shit hostess when I'm in the middle of a task. Or task weekend, as it were. But even when I'm not a good hostess, the party is still good if there's food and drink.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Pie Weekend - Friday Night

After buying all the supplies and getting the room to a bearable temperature, we started Pie Weekend with dinner - a broccoli quiche. What drew me to this recipe of all the others was that it claimed to have "the perfect crust." As I am a fan of good crust - it can make or break a pie for me - I had to test it.

It was a nice crust. I wouldn't say "perfect," but it was nice. It was flaky and buttery. As you can see in the picture, I didn't spend a lot of time making it pretty, but in my defense, we were hungry. Ugly crust tastes just as good as pretty crust. As far as the egg portion of the pie, I will probably go with more egg and less milk/cream next time, but it was good nonetheless. Dish number one = success.

Our second pie was featured in The Sweet Potato Queens' Big-Ass Cookbook (and Financial Planner), written by one my southern heroes, Jill Conner Browne. It's called It's a Miracle! Pie because it makes its own crust. It tasted similar to chess pie or a buttermilk pie; it definitely had that same custard-y feel. As I am not particularly a fan of chess pie or buttermilk pie, particularly as a texture, this pie was not my favorite. It was, however, easy to make (not much more involved in the process than blending some ingredients and dumping them into the pie plate), and it was really pretty on top (behold the picture).

Our third and final pie of the evening was a Berry Cheesecake Pie. Well, at least the cheesecake part. It had to cool before we could add the berries (something to look forward to on Pie Day 2). I used the crust listed with the recipe, because it was a no-roll crust, and I found this intriguing. You simply mix the ingredients and press the crust into a pan. The dough had a very oily texture, but that also made it easy to work with, which, as the person working with it, I consider to be a hell of a mark in its favor. We baked the cheesecake and let it sit in the fridge overnight to cool.

What I learned on the first day of Pie Weekend:

1. When making quiche, I am of the "More is more" philosophy when it comes to number of eggs.

2. A clever name cannot trick me into liking chess/buttermilk pie.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Pie Weekend, the Preliminaries

Friday was the start of Pie Weekend, which is the first of many gluttonous weekends to come. Cookie weekend will be next, followed by Soup Weekend, Casserole Weekend, and ABC Weekend, but Pie Weekend started it all.

Friday, Maggie and I kicked off the weekend. We went to the gym (because, um, weekend of eating pie) and went shopping for supplies. The plan was to make eight sweet pies and four savory ones. Then we came to my apartment.

Where it was hot.

Not a good start for a weekend where one (or two, in this case) will be using the oven repeatedly.

This was Part 5 of an ongoing saga that I've been having with the apartment managers regarding my not-properly-working air conditioner. The first three times I reported it, they came over and filled the freon. A rational person might conclude that if you need to fill the freon up that much, perhaps you should look for a leak rather than just keep doing it. Such a person might also reason that, if adding more freon the first time didn't fix the problem, it probably won't fix the problem the second and third time.

Rational is clearly not a term useful for describing the persons who have come out to fix my air conditioner.

The fourth time, it was merely decided that 80 degrees was just as cool as it was going to get. Apparently it was also decided on this visit that there was no need to leave me any note indicating that someone had been in my apartment.

So Friday was Attempt Number Five at getting my A/C fixed. One of the young technicians showed up first. He looked in the closet and said that nothing looked wrong. When Maggie pointed out that the wall by the unit was hot, he responded with, "Well, there's nothing in here that would make it hot." Um...clearly there is something making it hot if it's HOT. Which is essentially what Maggie said. He accused her of "getting smart."

I guess smart is an uncomfortable concept for him.

He went outside to tool around with the outside unit a bit and returned with the other young technician. Then they both came back and looked some more. Finally, the senior maintenance guy showed up and started to give me the "It's doing all it can - it's just too hot outside for it to cool properly" spiel that I would believe if this were a) my first apartment ever or b) my first summer in this very apartment. Unfortunately for him and the lady at the office who had given me the same runaround, I know what this unit can do in this space when it is working properly.

He kept talking about how hot the attic was and how that was probably a factor. He told me about the new vents that they put in the attic to give it some air flow and cool it off a little. Then he opened the A/C closet and said, "Yeah, I can see a little daylight from the vents now. It's not so dark. Hey, maybe that's why it's so hot."

You mean, because there's a HOLE IN THE APARTMENT CEILING THAT GOES DIRECTLY TO THE ATTIC? You think that MAYBE that could be it?

So he told me that he'd have the others patch that hole up for me (they'll have to un-patch it in winter for exhaust purposes). He also offered to bring in a window unit to help the regular unit out a bit. I declined at first, but then accepted when he offered a second time.

So now my apartment is outfitted with two separate air conditioners, but at least it's staying cooler and no one died during Pie Weekend.

Up next - Day One