Saturday, April 28, 2012

Happy Fourth Blogiversary

Four years since I started this Pie-O-My blog on a whim of sorts. Who knew I could stick to something so long? The bigger question I have been asking myself is how much longer will I continue?  I have been considering branching out to explore some other creative part of me lurking deep in the recesses of my being. 

Let's list some creative areas I could consider.
Art:  Can't draw, can't paint. Though I am good at painting windows and trims in our house.
Music: Love the music but I'm not sure where to go with that. I use to play the flute and loved it. Kind of play the piano and I could definitely work on that.
Photography: I have really found this is an area I enjoy immensely.  It's what really got me into the food blog as I had recently purchased a new camera and needed subjects to photograph. Why not food I thought?  Perhaps I need to go out of the kitchen more and explore the world around me with camera in hand.
Writing:  I do have plans to write a novel someday when I'm retired.  One of my brothers and I have discussed a basic premise for an historical novel loosely based on a family event and have considered being co-authors. We'd better start doing our research!  I tried my hand at poetry for a time.  I re-read some of it now and then and I literally cringe. Enough said.

So there you have it.  As I look over this list I'm thinking I'd better stick to this blog for the time being! 

Now, about this cake.  Isn't it the gaudiest looking cake you've ever seen?  Perfect for a kids birthday party or a four year cooking blogiversary.  You can find pictures of these Kit-Kat/M&M cakes all over the Web.  Mine is a boxed cake mix with chocolate frosting. Nothing fancy because honestly,  who cares about the cake when there are Kit-Kats and M&Ms involved?  I wonder how I'm going to cut it though!?!  Thanks for all of your support, my faithful readers.  You know who you are!

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Who Knew?

Who knew that making homemade ricotta cheese could be so easy?  15 minutes.  That's it.  I don't know if it's really cost effective or if I'll do it again, but I made cheese today!  As the recipe lists, it takes a milk, cream, Greek yogurt, lemon, and salt. All reasonably priced, but it also requires cheesecloth which at $4.00 for a small piece, is fairly pricey.  I think if I were to make this again, I would experiment with doubled up paper towel.  I've read you can rinse out cheesecloth and use it again. I'm too lazy for that nonsense. Just saying!
The final amount of actual cheese is approximately two cups.  I used a cup of it on a simple pasta dish where the ricotta could shine.  I roasted some medium/small tomatoes with some salt, pepper, and olive oil for about 1 1/2 hours at 275 degrees, creating some slightly wrinkled and caramelized tomato jewels.  Pasta with a few dollops of fresh ricotta cheese, roasted tomatoes, some shreds of fresh basil, salt and pepper, and a drizzle of good olive oil made a divine dinner that reminded me of summer.  I really want summer to be here now.

Homemade Ricotta Cheese

1 quart whole milk
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup whole plain Greek yogurt
1 1/2 teaspoons lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

In a medium saucepan, add whole milk, heavy cream, Greek yogurt, lemon juice and kosher salt, whisking to combine. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat and cook until the mixture begins to curdle.

While the mixture is warming up, line a colander with 4 layers of cheesecloth. Set the lined colander over a tall bowl.
Once the mixture curdles, pour into the colander. Let drain for about 5 minutes for a creamier ricotta. Drain for about 15 minutes for a dry ricotta. Transfer the ricotta to an airtight container and store in the refrigerator.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Shells a' Lasagna

No recipe today. Just an impromptu idea about lasagna in a different form.  Giant pasta shells. Isn't this fun?  It was tasty, easy, and good enough for a company dinner.  I put it together using my favorite lasagna techniques which include mixing pesto, an egg, salt, pepper, and spinach into ricotta cheese for the stuffing.  I also parboiled the shells so they were far easier to stuff than uncooked or overcooked shells.  Put a little sauce (I cheated with the jarred stuff) on the bottom of the pan, layer the noodles, cover with sauce and then top with mozzarella and Parmesan cheese.  Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes or so and serve.  A salad, some bread, and a light dessert and you have dinner with leftovers if you're lucky.
Shells a'Lasagna

No recipe. See above!

Friday, April 6, 2012

Easter Eggs

Eggs are cheap, cheap, cheap (that's said in a chicken's voice) right now.  Easter brings dozens of eggs to the grocery store and coupons in the paper to buy them so I can't resist purchasing a couple of dozen.  Using all of these eggs for two can be difficult.  Hard boil a few for egg salad sandwiches or deviled eggs, scramble a few for Sunday breakfast, and then what? 

Dessert!!  Custards, creme brulees, or this new favorite, flan.  Flan is a Spanish custard dish and it is very similar to the egg custard I usually make.  The difference is that it is cooked very slowly and in a water bath so it's texture is so smooth and delicate. Quite amazing.  What I love about this particular recipe is that there is no stove top cooking first.  Other custard recipes have required heating the milk first and separating eggs, risking curdling of the hot egg mixture.  This one is easy and quick and the results are spectacular. The most recent April edition Bon Appetit magazine is the source of this recipe and as usual, it's a good one.

1/4 cup plus 1/3 cup sugar
2 large eggs
1 cup heavy cream
1 cup half-and-half
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Six 4-ounce ramekins
Preheat oven to 325°. Stir 1/4 cup sugar and 2 Tbsp. water in a medium heavy saucepan over medium-low heat until sugar dissolves. Increase heat and boil, occasionally swirling pan and brushing down sides with a wet pastry brush, until caramel is medium-dark amber, 5–6 minutes. Working quickly, divide caramel among ramekins, coating bottoms evenly. Let cool until hard.
Gently whisk remaining 1/3 cup sugar and eggs in a medium bowl. Add cream, half-and-half, and vanilla; gently whisk to combine (do not aerate). Let sit until sugar dissolves, about 5 minutes. Strain through a fine-mesh sieve set over a medium pitcher to eliminate air pockets.

Place ramekins in a roasting pan lined with a kitchen towel; place pan on a large rimmed baking sheet. Divide custard among ramekins. Pour hot water into roasting pan to reach a little more than halfway up sides of ramekins. Cover pan with foil, crimping to seal. Carefully transfer to oven; cook for 25 minutes. Rotate pan. Cook until custard is set but center still jiggles when dish is nudged, 20–25 minutes longer.
Uncover roasting pan. Let flan cool in pan for 30 minutes. Remove ramekins and let cool completely. Cover with plastic; chill overnight.

Let stand at room temperature for 10 minutes before serving. Unmold flans onto plates.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

New Products

This week I purchased a new product called Nutella.  I know it's been around forever in Europe and has become quite a hit here in the U.S. but I have never tried it.  I think it was the thought of hazelnuts that turned me off. Not a fan.  While doing the shopping though, I came across a $1.00 off coupon next to the product that was already on sale for 50 cents off. So for quite a steal, I thought I'd give it a try. 
YUMMY!!  It's ultra-creamy, very chocolaty, with only a hint of nut flavor.  My BFF Patti tells me the go-to method for eating Nutella in her home is straight from the jar, onto a spoon, and into their mouths.  The commercials show happy mommies spreading it lavishly on toast to entice their little ones to eat a healthy breakfast before running off to school.  I question how healthy Nutella on toast is for breakfast, but that's not for me to worry about.  What was for me to worry about was how to use up a jar of this goodness.  Off to the Internet I went and found this delightfully easy 6 ingredient, no mixer involved, cookie recipe I share with you today.   WARNING:  They are extremely sweet and if I were to make them again, I would definitely add 1/2 tsp of salt and perhaps cut the sugar to 1/3 cup.

The other wonderful product I have recently discovered is Twining's Lady Grey tea.  For me it is just about the most perfect cup of tea I have had since I use to sit at my English grandma's dining room table and drink tea poured from her Blue Willow tea pot. Lady Grey tea is a delicate, fragrant variation on the more famous Earl Grey blend. It consists of black tea scented with oil of bergamot, lemon peel and orange peel. Nothing else needed in my opinion; no sugar, no milk.  But a couple of the Nutella cookies certainly went down well with this brew!
Nutella-Peanut Butter Cookies

1/2 cup Nutella
1/2 cup smooth peanut butter
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup flour
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.  Combine all of the ingredients together in a medium bowl and mix with a wooden spoon until thoroughly combined.  (This is a very stiff dough and I ended up using my hands at the end to mix.)  Roll into 1 inch balls, roll in granulated sugar and place 2 inches apart on the cookie sheet.  Flatten each ball with the bottom of a smooth glass.  Edges will be jagged.  Bake for 7-8 minutes.  Place on rack to cool.  Makes 2 dozen cookies.