Friday, December 13, 2013

Fluffy Sticky Marshmallow Pie!

I have a love/hate relationship with marshmallows.  While I adore marshmallow cream, Rice Krispie treats, and a good S'More, I can't just sit down and eat a marshmallow out of the bag.  Maybe it's the cornstarch they use to keep them all from sticking together, but my mouth just doesn't like them "naked" like that, so I've never put any thought into marshmallow dishes until recently.  My friend Cindy actually prefers naked marshmallows to almost any other treat!  So, when she successfully defended her dissertation recently and became "Dr. Cindy," I knew I'd have to jump into the kitchen with a bag (or two) of 'mallows in hand, to help her celebrate.

You will need:
  • A store bought graham cracker crust, or:
    • 10 Graham Crackers
    • 1/2 C. Shredded Coconut (lightly toasted) for sweetness (it's better than sugar)
    • 6 Tbsp Melted Butter
  • 1/2lb Large Marshmallows (That's 34 of them, by my scale)
  • 1/2 Cup Whole Milk
  • 1Tbsp Eagle Brand Sweetened Condensed Milk
  • 1 1/2 Cups Whipping Cream
  • 1 oz. High Quality Dark Chocolate
  • Another 1 Cup Whipping Cream + 1/4 Cup sugar
  • Handful or two of mini-marshmallows
Optional "features:"
  • Colored mini-marshmallows
  • Rainbow Sprinkles
  • Mini chocolate chips
  • Toffee chips 
  • Oreo cookies instead of Graham Crackers
I'm more of a "Cast Iron and Meat" guy than I am a baker, so I generally use a store-bought pie crust whenever and wherever possible, however, I believe a homemade graham cracker crust is far superior to store bought crusts so... it's worth the effort to make your own.  Suck it up and get to it! 

Spread the coconut out in a non-stick pan and bring the heat up to medium.  Watch it carefully, and stir/toss it around the pan until the little coconut nibs start to turn a light brown.  Take them out of the heat immediately to cool.  Meanwhile, crush 10 whole graham crackers in a food processor (or put them in a stout plastic zip-top bag and have your kids crush them by hand; Kids have much more destructive power than a food processor).  Add the melted butter and your coconut to the cracker crumbs, in a bowl, and mix them together.  Spread it out in a pie pan and press it evenly around the bottom and sides.   Bake it for 10 minutes at 375, and set aside.

For the pie filling, put the whole milk, and the Eagle Brand SCM in a 4qt non-stick sauce pan and add the large marshmallows.  Stir continuously over Medium-high heat until it's all melted together.  Turn it out of the pan and into a bowl and set it aside to cool to room temperature (at least 30 minutes).

Fully Fluffed
Now, pour 1 and 1/2C of whipping cream into a bowl and beat the crap out of it with your stand mixer (or electric beaters).  Do NOT add any sugar or vanilla, this is not "Whipped cream" we're making, it's a base to fold the mallow-batter into!   Beat the cream into stiff peaks, being careful not to beat the cream until it turns into butter.  When you have good stiff peaks, gently fold the cream into the cooled mallow mixture.  Use a big spatula and carefully fold it together.  Don't beat it or stir too vigorously or you'll take the bubbles out and your pie won't be as "Fully Fluffed!"  Think light and airy thoughts while you fold, and don't allow your "inner mixer" to take over and start stirring!  The fluffier the better.

Once the two mixtures have been folded together, shred your 1oz of chocolate into fine shavings and gently mix it into the marshmallow cream.  Pour the mix into your pie shell!

Finally, pour your last 1c of whipping cream and sugar together into your mixing bowl and whip up a traditional batch of whipped cream.  Spread this whipped cream over the top of your pie, like frosting.  Let some peaks pop up here and there for appearances.  Finally, sprinkle the mini-marshmallows over the top of the pie, as abundantly or as sparsely as you feel is necessary.  Place the finished pie in the refrigerator for a minimum of 3 hours to set.  You can leave it in your chill-box overnight if you like, with no loss of quality.  Embellish this pie with rainbow colored sprinkles if you like (I couldn't bring myself to look for sprinkles... having lost enough testosterone already, making this silly pie, I couldn't spare anymore to unicorns, sprinkles, or colored marshmallows), or with chocolate chips or anything you might like with marshmallows. 

It's not as sticky as you might think, and it's not too sweet, either.  It goes very well with a good Champagne, according to Dr. Cindy...

Friday, December 6, 2013

Beef Bourguignon... No More Excuses!!

Everyone talks about Beef Bourguignon like it's the "Holy Grail" of recipes.  Most folks take a glance at the recipe and declare it to be, "Not worth the trouble for a simple beef stew" but I assure you... it's well worth the trouble, and then some!  Beef Stew is similar to Beef Bourguignon in the same way that the banquet room at your local American Legion Hall is "similar to" the Grand Ballroom at the Waldorf Astoria.

Note the Subtle Difference Between the Banquet Halls
To make the best "beef stew" that you, or anyone you've ever served have ever tasted, you'll need to crack your knuckles and jump into a deeply flavored, diversely textured, decadently seasoned Beef Bourguignon!

You will need:
  • 1 "Strong Blurp" of extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2lb of thickly sliced bacon, chopped into smaller chunks or bits
  • 3lbs of Chuck Roast, cut into 1" cubes
  • Salt/Pepper
  • 1+ pound of FRESH carrots (not the "carrot nibblers" that you put in your kid's lunch pack), washed, peeled, and thickly cut on a bias
  • 2 Small Red Onions, diced
  • 4 Cloves of Fresh Garlic, mashed and chopped
  • 1/2 cup Quality Bourbon
  • 1 Entire Bottle of excellent Pinot Noir
  • 1 or 2 cups of Beef Stock (or Consume')
  • 1/2 Small Can of Tomato Paste
  • 1/2 Stick of Butter
  • 3 Tbsp of Bread Flour
  • 1.5lbs of whole Pearl Onions (blanched and peeled)
  • 1lb of your favorite woodland mushrooms, thickly sliced
Before we get started, click the bowl of Beef Bourguignon shown here (from my kitchen) and look at the full sized image.  This dish is all about balance.  Trust me when I tell you that there is just the right amount of everything in this dish.  If  you start substituting, things can/will go downhill in a hurry and I think that's where people go wrong.  If you don't have a good Pinot, don't just toss in a bottle of Sutter Home White Zinfandel or (gag) a Rose'!  If you don't have the time to blanch and peel a bunch of pearl onions, then wait until you do.  I promise, you'll keep the first bite of this concoction in your mouth for a long time as your brain explodes trying to savor all of the different flavors here, and they work together like the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, so... to begin:

Preheat your oven to 250 degrees (yes, TWO hundred fifty).

For this recipe, it will be well worth your time to chop/dice/prep everything ahead of time and to keep it organized. In other words, put your best Mise en Place skills to work here!

Get your big Dutch Oven out and put it on the stove.  Crank the heat to Medium High and pour in a couple of Tbsp of good Olive Oil.  Enough to just cover the bottom... now add your bacon and cook/stir it for about 20-30 minutes to render some bacon fat.  MMmmmmm, bacon fat!  Now, carefully take out the bacon, leaving as much fat in the pan that you can.  Keep the bacon safe in a separate bowl (you honestly didn't think I'd have you toss it out, did you?).

Open the Pinot Noir, to let it breath, and pour yourself a small glass.  Savor this glass because the entire contents of the rest of the bottle will ultimately go into the dish (more on this, later).

Season your Beef Chuck cubes, and add just enough of them to cover the bottom of your hot dutch oven.  Roll them around in the bacon fat until they're brown on all sides, then carefully remove them to the same safe-house where you stashed your bacon.  Repeat this until all of the beef is browned on the outside.

By now, there should be some smoky bits of bacon and beef stuck to the bottom of the pot; no problem!  Dump in your carrots and red onions and stir them together to cook and to add flavor to the fond ("Fond" means "bottom" in French, and refers to the sticky bits at the bottom of the pan).  Let them cook, stirring occasionally for about 15 minutes or so.  Add the garlic and stir it in toward the end so it doesn't burn.  Now; take hold of your Bourbon Whiskey.  Take a sip of the Whiskey, to fortify yourself for two things:
  1. You're about to make fire.
  2. You're about to pour an entire bottle of Pinot Noir into what is essentially a "Beef Stew" and you don't want to be caught crying about it!
Pour the Bourbon into the pot and stir.  Be careful,  because the alcoholic vapor may catch fire!  No big deal, just douse the flames with the lid from your Dutch Oven.  Do not skip the alcohol because there are gobs of "alcohol soluble" flavors here (particularly in the onions) and you'll lose a lot of flavor depth if you do.  Stir the Bourbon around to de-glaze the pot, and let it bubble for awhile until the alcohol has done it's work and has mostly evaporated from the pot.

Dump all of the beef and bacon back into the pot and give it a good stir.  Gird your loins and pour the entire remaining contents of your Pinot Noir into the pot.  Do it.  Don't argue, don't whine, and don't make excuses, just do it.  Julia Child would be proud!  Take your beef stock and pour in just enough to barely almost cover the tip-tops of the beef cubes.  Stir in the tomato paste and bring it to a boil, then reduce to a simmer.

Once you have it simmering, put the lid on and place the entire Dutch Oven into your bigger oven for at least 2.5 to 3 hours.  Great things will happen in there.

When you have about 20 minutes to go, melt 2 Tbsp of the butter in a saucepan and slowly saute the mushrooms over Medium to Medium High heat.  Let them cook down for 20 minutes or so.  With 5 minutes remaining, melt the last two Tbsp of butter stir it together with the flour in a separate pan or microwave safe bowl.  Heat and stir them together until they're fully combined into a roux.  A roux like this is, hands down, the best way to thicken a dish or gravy!

Pull the Bourgy out of the oven and remove the lid.  It will be hot and it will still be simmering!  Stir in your roux, then stir in the mushrooms.  Add your Pearl Onions (you thought I forgot about those, didn't you)!  Bring the entire stew to a boil (again), then reduce to simmer for another 30 minutes or so, and stir it occasionally.

Serve it up in a nice ceramic bowl with a hunk of sourdough bread and a glass of good red table wine.  Personally, I like to go off by myself somewhere to eat this, in front of the fireplace with my fuzzy slippers on, the lights low, and some Mozart playing subtly in the background.  Every bite of this dish is one to be savored, and when you try it, you'll know why you spent 5 hours dealing with it earlier in the day!

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Time for Pie!!

Ahhh, pie.  Is there anything more amazing than your favorite pie?  Americans have gone absolutely crazy, inventing ridiculous designer pies for all sorts of occasions.  I tend to enjoy the classic pies, Apple, Blueberry, etc, but once in awhile, a modern designer pie grabs my attention and I think, "Now, THAT sounds delicious!"

With that being said, I'll offer two different Southern pies for your consideration.  They're both relatively simple to bake and I think you'll enjoy them.  The first is a classic, "Sweet Potato Pie," and the second is a more modern designer, "Chocolate Bourbon Pecan Pie."

Sweet Potato Pie
Bourbon Chocolate Pecan

A quick word about pie crust; While I believe that a properly homemade pie crust is superior in flakyness, tenderness, and appearance, I do not believe that it is superior enough to go through the tedious process of creating one from scratch.  In my own personal blind taste tests, I pick the homemade crust every time, but I'm simply not prepared to invest the time and effort to "cube cold butter" and to "rest the dough in the refrigerator," etc.  These two recipes call for "Frozen 9-inch deep dish pie crusts" and I believe the filling is so fantastic, that nobody (except for perhaps your Grandmother) will mention your lack of pie crust effort.

Let's start with the Sweet Potato Pie!

You will need:
  • 20 ounces (1.25lbs) of peeled sweet potatoes (cubed)
  • 1 1/4 cups vanilla yogurt (or plain yogurt, if you prefer a "tangy" pie)
  • 3/4 Cup packed, dark brown sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon of FRESH GROUND nutmeg
  • 5 egg yolks
  • Pinch Salt
  • 1 Cup chopped pecans
  • 1 tablespoon black strap molasses

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees, and get your frozen pie crust out of the freezer.  Let the pie crust thaw and rest on the counter for 30 minutes or so.  Place your sweet potato cubes into a steamer basket and steam them over boiling water for about 20 minutes or until they are fork tender.  I prefer this to boiling because I don't want the potatoes to pick up any extra water or moisture to bring to the pie.  Once they are nice and soft after a good steaming, mash them up with a potato masher.  They'll be super hot, so don't add the eggs yet!

Go ahead and add 1/4 cup of the pecans, the yogurt, dark brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt to the potatoes in a bowl, and turn on your stand mixer.  If your mixer has a paddle attachment, that's the one you want.  Beat it until it's nice and smooth and not emitting any steam any more.  Finally, add the yolks and beat them in, until the mixture is a beautiful orange batter (with a few pecan lumps).

Pour it into your crust, and place the pie onto a cookie sheet (in case it bubbles over).  Top the pie with the remaining pecans, and then drizzle the molasses over the top.  Bake the pie for at least 50 minutes, I let her go for about 55 and to an internal temperature of about 175 degrees.  Take it out and let it "set up" and cool for another hour or so.  I think this pie beats pumpkin pie, hands down, every time!

For the Chocolate Bourbon Pecan pie, you will need:
  • 3 eggs + 1 egg yolk
  • 1 Cup packed dark brown sugar
  • 1/2 Cup light corn syrup
  • 1/2 Cup dark corn syrup
  • 1/4 Cup bourbon
  • 2 tablespoons butter, melted
  • 1 teaspoon bread flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1-1/2 Cups Pecan Halves, divided
  • 3/4 Cup dark chocolate baking chips, divided

A word of caution about this particular recipe... Pecan pies are notorious for their ability to look perfectly set and awesome on the outside, while staying unset and gooey on the inside.  You'll notice the small amount of flour and the extra egg yolk to bring some protein to the mix that should help solve this problem.  In any case, you'll want to pay particularly close attention to the quantity of the ingredients here, do not use more or less than what is described, and be sure to bake it the full amount of time.

Preheat your oven to 350, and take the frozen pie crust out of the freezer to thaw.  Spray some "Pam" inside of your measuring cup, so the syrup will pour out quickly and easily.  Measure exactly 1/2 cup of dark syrup and 1/2 cup of light syrup into your mixing bowl.  Turn on your mixer and get the party started... While the mixer is turning and burning, add the bourbon, and the dark brown sugar.  Drink a shot of the Bourbon, you know, for... "fortification and courage."  Sprinkle in the flour.  Add the eggs and extra yolk.  Pour in the butter and a pinch of salt.  Turn off the mixer and use a silicon spatula to mix in 1/2 of the pecans and chocolate chips.

Pour the mix into the pie crust and then sprinkle or decorate the top with the remaining pecans and chocolate chips.  Place the pie onto a cookie sheet in case it boils over, and then pop it into the oven for 55 minutes to an hour.  Remove the pie and let it set up for another hour or so.  Here's my before and after pics of the Chocolate Bourbon Pecan pie: