Thursday, May 31, 2012

No-Bake Strawberry Pie

Chocolate. Strawberries. Cream.

A magical combination. And even better--you don't ever have to turn on the oven to get it.

If you're looking for a way to showcase fresh spring berries in a quick, creamy, refreshing dessert, this recipe is for you.

Even with whipping fresh cream and photodocumenting the process (and a Very Important Pause to make sure my Wordfeud didn't time out and force me to forfeit to the DDH again), making the pie took exactly an hour (though it is supposed to chilled for thirty minutes before serving).

You can use whipped topping from the freezer aisle if you must, but trust me that freshly whipped cream is worth the extra step.

No-Bake Fresh Strawberry Pie
Adapted from Cooking Light May 2012.
Serves eight.

Process approximately 2 cups chocolate animal crackers or other chocolate cookies or wafers in your food processor until finely ground.

Goodbye, little animals.

Ground cookies.
Melt 3 oz. chocolate chips or finely chopped baking chocolate and 2 tsp. coconut oil in the microwave for 45 seconds or until chocolate is melted, stirring every 15 seconds. (You can use canola or vegetable oil instead of coconut oil, but then you don't need to melt it. Just stir it into the melted chocolate before adding to the cookie crumbs.)

Plus coconut oil.
Add melted chocolate mixture to the cookie crumbs in the food processor.

Process until well combined. At this stage, it looks like nothing so much as damp dirt.
Delicious, delicious dirt.
Gently press the mixture into the bottom and sides of a greased 9-inch pie plate and freeze for 15 minutes or until set. Mine was very crumbly and did not hold together particularly well. Once set, it did hold together better, but still makes a crumbly crust--which is not a bad thing, in my opinion, for a cookie pie crust.

Don't forget to grease the pan.

Dirt pie.
Beat 6 oz. cream cheese, 1/3 cup powdered sugar, and 3/4 tsp. vanilla extract on medium speed until smooth.

Cream cheese, sugar, vanilla.
Smooth and fluffy.

Place 1 cup heavy cream in a large bowl. Add a few splashes of vanilla extract and, if desired, several tablespoons sugar. I think the pie is sweet enough to use unsweetened cream, but do it to taste.

Yes, this is 2 cups. The recipe calls for two cups whipped, and 2 cups unwhipped makes way more than that. Luckily, I had extra strawberries and used the extra cream for dipping.  

Vanilla cream.
To do this, place the cream in a bowl and beat on medium high speed for about five minutes. At first, it will sort of splash around and make a mess. Then, it starts to froth, and then it becomes a thicker liquid. Keep going. It will reach the melty-whipped-cream stage. Keep going. This pretty much always takes right at about five minutes. You will know when it's done--it will keep its peaked shape when you pull the blades out and will be thick like, well, whipped cream.

Like this.
Once you have your whipped cream, fold it into the cream cheese mixture. Plop about half of the whipped cream on top of the cream cheese. Dig a spatula under the cream cheese and fold it up over the whipped cream. Do this several times, then add the rest of the whipped cream and repeat a few more times.

Scoop and fold.
Whipped cream folded into cream cheese won't be thoroughly blended, exactly, just mixed together loosely.

Carefully spread the cream mixture over the crust and set in the freezer while you do the next bit.

Ready for the freezer.
Microwave 2 Tbs. strawberry jam or jelly for 10 seconds or until softened. Add 1/2 tsp. lemon juice and 1 Tbs. fruit-flavored liqueur (optional) such as Chambord. Whisk until smooth.

Jam in the microwave.

Melted and stirred with lemon juice.
Add 1 pound strawberries, hulled and halved (you can leave very small berries whole)

and toss to combine.

 Pull the pie back out of the freezer and arrange the berry halves on top. Chill for 30 minutes before serving.

Somehow I neglected to take a picture of the finished pie! In my defense, I still had dip to mix, veggies to chop, and agendas to print before getting to my meeting.

And there were not any leftovers.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Homemade Biscuits

I make things more difficult than they really are.

I make bread (admittedly mostly in my breadmaker) and pizza dough and all kinds of things from scratch. I make cookies and cakes and brownies and pancakes not-from-mixes (and also from mixes, especially if the mix is Trader Joe's Truffle Fudge Brownie Mix).

But somehow I always thought biscuits were complicated. So we didn't eat them, except on the exceedingly rare occasion that I would buy the little refrigerated tubes o' biscuit.


Biscuits are not complicated to make.  I don't know why I thought they were. If you skip the resting step (and have a magically fast preheating oven), you could have warm biscuits on the table in thirty minutes or less. And even given resting and preheating the oven, these take less than an hour.

Also, they're delicious.

With honey.
Biscuits and honey.

Homemade Biscuits
Adapted from The Simple Homemaker's Sleeping Baby Biscuits recipe. You should check out her cute post, especially if even this is sounds like too much work--she also has a recipe for Screaming Baby Biscuits (one-handed dump-and-mix process), which might show up here in a few months! ;-)

Mix in a nice big bowl 2 cups flour (I used white but will be experimenting with ratios of whole wheat), 3-4 tsp. baking powder, 1/2 tsp. salt, and 1/2 tsp. cream of tartar (for a fluffier biscuit; if you don't have cream of tartar, make sure to use 4 tsp. of baking powder. I used 4 tsp. baking powder AND the cream of tartar 'cause I like my biscuits fluffy. And because my cream of tartar is ancient and I have no idea if it actually still works anymore).

Cut in 1/2 cup (1 stick) butter. Cutting means using a pastry cutter (pictured) or a couple of table knives in a rocking sort of motion. The end result will look like coarse crumbs, with tiny bits of cold butter coated in flour. You can also just soften the butter in the microwave and stir it in with your spatula, but that will make the biscuits less flaky. And a flaky biscuit is pretty much the ideal for me.

Cut your cold butter into smaller pieces and scatter them
in the bowl of flour+.

Pastry cutter. Rock it back and forth to simultaneously
chop and mix the butter into the flour mixture.

It resembles coarse crumbs when you're done, but still may
have larger chunks of butter and loose flour.
In a measuring cup (or a small bowl), mix 2/3 cup milk (or water) and 1 Tbs. honey.

Mixing in the measuring cup saves you a dish.
Pour liquid ingredients into dry ingredients, and mix until moistened and it holds together somewhat.

This time it was a little gloppy; with wheat flour it's often
a little dusty. Fine either way.
Around this time, depending on your oven, you should preheat your oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit.

Lightly flour your counter and dump the dough out onto it.

I flour a silpat just to help define my working area and
because who knows how sanitary my counters really are.

Pile o' dough.
Knead approximately twelve times. To knead, you gather your dough into a mound, then punch it in the middle, pushing half of it back away from you.

Mound o' dough.
Kneading is good stress relief.

Then pick up that back half, fold it back onto the rest of the dough, and repeat, changing the direction from which you fold the dough.

Pick up the back half and fold forward.

New mound o' dough.

Punch again, maybe toward one side.

Pick it up and fold again.

Flatten the dough and use a biscuit cutter or the top of a glass to cut out a dozen biscuits. Or eleven biscuits and one the-rest-of-the-dough-mashed-into-a-rough-biscuit-shape runt. It will depend on how thinly you flatten your dough and the diameter of your biscuit cutter/water glass.

No need for a rolling pin. Just stretch and mash it a bit.

Drinking glass biscuit cutter.
Place on a baking sheet (I advise a Silpat thing, if you have one) about two inches apart. TSH says you can stick them all close together in a pan for softer, pull-apart style biscuits. If you'd like, brush the tops with melted butter or milk.

Let rest twenty minutes before baking, though they will be perfectly edible if you toss them in the oven right away.

Bake at 450 for 10-15 minutes or until slightly browned (or however you like your biscuits).

Lightly toasted. Whole wheat biscuits will be darker, and
these could have been left in a little longer with no problem.

Eat plain, buttered, with jam, with honey, topped with an egg and bacon...however you eat them, they're delicious!

I've been making them in the evening and eating them with honey or eggs for breakfast, and with honey for an afternoon snack or a dessert.

Nom nom nom.

What's something you thought was "too hard" to cook that turned out to be super easy?

Monday, May 14, 2012

Roasted Asparagus

I've waxed eloquent on asparagus before, so I'll spare you a lengthy introduction to this pinnacle of springtime vegetable perfection.

The best asparagus recipes are simple, allowing the bright green flavor of the asparagus to shine through.

Which means the best asparagus recipes are easy as pie (I have to assume that saying refers to eating pie rather than making it, as making pie crust is definitely difficult).

Say you turn the oven on to preheat while you make some biscuit dough, only to have the darn thing finish before the dough is done rising.

And say it's a warm May day and you hate to waste all that heat (and raise your gas bill) for naught.

And say you have some asparagus languishing in your vegetable drawer and not much else in the way of ingredients anywhere.

I would say you should roast the asparagus.

Simple Roasted Asparagus

Preheat oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit.

Take a 9x13 pan (or whatever size seems appropriate for your asparagus stash) and drizzle a bit of extra virgin olive oil in it.

My bottle's almost empty, so this is pretty sparse.
Wash your asparagus and snap off the tough ends. (The ends of the asparagus (not the pointy tops but the flat ends) are tough and woody and should be trimmed. You can take the bunch, lob off the last couple inches with a knife, and hope you got all the woody bits and aren't wasting too much tender tasty stuff. Or, you can grab each piece a few inches from the bottom and bend. The asparagus will naturally snap at the border of the woody part and the tender part. Voila! Perfect asparagus spears.)

Lay the asparagus in your pan with the tender tops in the middle and the thicker ends toward the edges.

Tops in the middle.

Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Perhaps add a few peeled, crushed garlic cloves (they will flavor the asparagus and get sweet themselves with roasting--so delicious).

Could use more garlic.

Pop the pan in your preheated oven for about 10-15 minutes. The asparagus should darken and shrivel a bit, becoming fork tender, but not burn. Although, because of the strings, you'll still probably need a knife to cut them into bite size pieces.

I wish the lighting weren't different in the pictures so you
could see the difference more clearly. I have no idea why
the light changed in the course of ten minutes, but it did.
Up close and personal.


Simple spring supper.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Sausage Spaghetti, Again

So. Y'all.

When in doubt, I make pasta. It's fast. It's easy. It's cheap. It can host endless flavor profiles.

I say endless flavor profiles. And I make pasta with cream sauces as well as tomato sauces, tuna and shrimp and ground beef and no meat at all. Asian stir fries with rice noodles and more familiar Italian-American dishes.

But let's face it. When in doubt, I make sausage spaghetti. It's as easy as a ground beef meatsauce, but automatically more flavorful because the meat's already seasoned. There are no fewer than three recipes for the stuff already on this blog, two featuring ground sausage and one with the exact same kielbasa I used last night (I mean, the same brand and whatever, not the same exact sausage that we ate three years ago. Because, gross).

I probably should combine them into one epic Sausage Pasta How To post, and perhaps I one day will.

But for today, I'm just ecstatic that I finally cooked dinner for the first time in probably two months.

Goodbye, debilitating sickness. Hello, delicious, delicious foods.

Sausage Spaghetti Redux

Boil water for pasta.
In case you need to know what that looks like.
Cut up a delicious kielbasa or other link-type sausage. Our favorite is Pederson Farms brand; I buy several of them when they go on sale at Whole Foods. But then, we don't live in the land of Trader Joe's or anything else interesting, so go with your own favorite.

Add some olive oil to a large skillet (you're going to make the sauce in it, so make sure it's big enough).
You can tell how full my pour-bottle is by how much or
how little olive oil I put in the pan.
Heat the pan.

Add your sausage and some pressed garlic to the hot pan.
Kielbasa and garlic.

Brown the sausage, about five minutes, stirring occasionally. Smell the delicious goodness.
Browned. You could drain the fat off if you like.

Toss in a can of tomato sauce and some grape tomatoes that you have lying around. Other things I like to add at this stage (if I have them) are carrots, zucchini, yellow squash (all shredded), mushrooms, diced tomatoes (fresh or canned; I was going to add a can of them to this but it was my last one), more grape or cherry tomatoes (whole or halved), sliced fennel...pretty much anything that you can either shred to add volume without impacting flavor too much, or that you like the flavor of. I, for instance, think big pieces of sliced zucchini in my pasta sauce are awesome; the DDH disagrees but will eat sauce with shredded zucchini in it.


Season to taste. I added 1 Tbs. basil, 1/2 Tbs. oregano, and 1 tsp. fennel seed. A grind or two of black pepper; the sausage was salty enough that I didn't add any salt, but your tastes (or sausage) may vary. This sausage was spicy but another trick to cut the sweetness of tomatoes and some sausages without adding sodium is to use a bit of hot pepper, such as cayenne or chile powder, or even diced jalapenos.
Three herbs.
Allow sauce to simmer while your pasta finishes cooking, or about ten minutes.
Nom nom nom.
Combine pasta and sauce* and enjoy!
*A note: The DDH wishes I wouldn't combine the pasta and sauce. And considering I was That Kid who wanted a serving of plain pasta and a serving of plain sauce next to it, not combined, I'm really not sure why I do. I think I just want to dump the pasta from the colander into the saucepan so I can wash the other pot and be done with it. And I always forget the DDH doesn't like it that way. But he has a point--when stored, the leftover pasta tends to absorb the pasta, which paradoxically makes it dry when you reheat it, which is not the tastiest.


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