Homemade Cannoli

May 19, 2016 § 5 Comments

It’s been so long since I updated my “Baking In A Tiny Kitchen” sidebar!  Too long, far too long!  (Although to be completely honest, I made these cannoli in Matt’s kitchen, which is not quite as tiny as mine, and also contains far fewer people at any given moment.  Seriously, this may be the first time I ever made a “slightly intimidating dessert” without my mother’s watchful eye.  Age 30’s been a real wild ride, folks.)

And while, yes, the cannoli were slightly intimidating to make, fear not.  If I can do it, you can do it.  You just need patience, confidence, and these nifty little things called cannoli tubes.

Here we go!

The recipe that follows is from chef Alex Guarnaschelli, on the Food Network’s site: http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/alexandra-guarnaschelli/homemade-cannoli-recipe.html.

Cannoli shells:
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1 egg yolk
1/2 cup dry white wine

Step 1: In a medium bowl, I mixed together the flour, sugar and salt.  This is it!  I’m making cannolis.  The first step is the hardest!  Just kidding, this is an incredibly easy step.  No one can mess it up.

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Step 2: I cut the butter into small pieces and mixed it into the flour with my hands.  This took a little longer than using a pastry cutter, but I don’t know how well a cutter would have worked with the small pieces.  It’s really not a lot of butter.

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The recipe says to work the butter in with your fingers until the mixture becomes coarse and sandy.  I feel like this is one of the harder steps to describe on a blog for someone who might not work with dough very often.  I could tell just from the feeling that the butter was mixed enough.  My advice is that it doesn’t need to look perfect.  The butter will never evenly coat all the flour; it’s not supposed to.  Just get it good and mixed in there, make sure it’s coarse without being too lumpy, and go with your gut.

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Step 3: Add the egg yolk and the white wine. (*insert thumbs-up emoji here*) Those Italians, man.  The white wine is literally the only liquid in this dough.  The recipe calls for a 1/2 cup, but I felt like my dough was still too dry and crumbly, so I added a littleeee bit more… about a 1/4 cup worth.

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Once my dough had come together, I wrapped it lightly in plastic wrap and set it in the fridge to rest while I made the ricotta filling and Matt prepared the skillet for frying.  (He was smoking chicken wings outside that day too… it was a 5-star food day for the both of us.)

For the ricotta filling, you will need:

2 cups ricotta cheese, preferably whole milk
3/4 cup powdered sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon allspice
1/4 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup small semisweet chocolate chips
1 lemon

Note: If your ricotta has an excess of liquid, make sure to drain it for at least 30 minutes over a strainer beforehand.

Step 4: In a medium bowl, I whisked the ricotta until smooth, then added the powdered sugar, cinnamon, and allspice.  I mixed that all together to form this pretty, speckled concoction.

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Step 5: In a small bowl on my electric mixer, I beat the heavy cream until it was stiff.  See those lovely peaks?

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Step 6: Fold the cream into the ricotta mixture.  I used a spatula to do this.  Fold it in there nice and gently, just like folding a sad little hand in poker.  Better luck next time, Ace of Spades.

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Step 7: Stir in the mini chocolate chips.  I may or may not have eaten a handful of them…  So little and delicious.  Zest the lemon exterior into the ricotta mixture as well.  A hint of lemon for some zing!

Put the ricotta mixture into the fridge and let it chill in there while you fry up those cannolis.  Things are about to get fun!

For rolling and frying the cannoli, you will need:

1 quart canola oil, for frying
Flour, for rolling
1 egg, lightly beaten, for egg wash

Step 7: Get out the cannoli tubes!!  One of my favorite parts of baking is getting to use fun little implements like these guys.  (For my local readers: I got them at the Maines Food Source in Kingston.)

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Step 8: Make your egg wash first, because your hands are going to be all floury once you start rolling out the dough.  Just crack an egg into a bowl and lightly beat it.  Set the bowl to the side.

Step 9: I put Matt in charge of frying the cannolis, because he’s better at that than me, and plus I already have enough burns on my ladylike hands from baking. (From the Great Homemade Caramel Incident of ’14.)  So he heated up the oil in the skillet to 360 degrees, while I rolled out the dough.  I spread a layer of wax paper on the table, dusted it with flour, dusted the rolling pin with flour, and then rolled out the dough.  You want to make sure you roll it veryyy thin, like an 8th of an inch.  I don’t think I rolled my dough out thin enough; I would do it more next time.

Once the dough is rolled out thinly, use a round bowl or a cup to measure the cannoli rounds.  It should be 3-4 inches across.  I ended up using one of those “perfect egg” circles. (You know, one of these guys.)  It worked out great.  I cut the rounds and traced the edges with a knife to make sure they were cut cleanly.  Then I lifted a round (the dough should be fairly easy to handle without falling apart) and wrapped it around the cannoli tube, like so:

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Take a little bit of the egg wash and brush it onto the edges of the dough.  Squish it together gently, so that it’s sealed shut.  Flare the dough ends a little away from the cannoli tube, so that the oil can get in there and work its frying magic.

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Step 10: Matt gently dropped the cannoli tubes into the oil and used tongs to keep them submerged while the shells fried.  The general time was about 2-3 minutes in the oil.

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They should be a lovely golden-brown when you take them out, and have that signature “blistered” texture of cannoli. He used the tongs to hold one end of the tube and very gently slid the shell off and onto a plate.

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This is the more time-consuming part of making cannoli, because you can only fit so many tubes into the oil at once, then you have to wait a minute for them to cool down once they come out, before you can wrap the dough around them again.  Just be patient and have fun!  I suggest drinking some of the white wine during this process, and dancing to good music, and trying to keep the cat off the table.

(Note: You’ll have little bits and pieces of the dough left over from cutting it into rounds.  I found my dough was pliable enough to handle being rolled together again and I got a few more rounds from rolling the bits and pieces together and cutting them out.) 

Let the shells cool for a few minutes while you prepare the pistachios and chocolate for dipping.  (Note: this step isn’t in the recipe I followed, but it’s incredibly easy.)  You will need:

1 cup melted mini chocolate chips for dipping
Shelled and crushed pistachios for dipping

Step 11: Put your boyfriend to work shelling all the pistachios, since he was the one who insisted on having them, and you don’t even like nuts anyway.  If your boyfriend also does not like pistachios… congrats!  You get to skip this step. You don’t need those gross nuts anyway.  Once the pistachios are shelled, crush ’em up real good.  You can leave some decent-sized chunks, since they’ll adhere to the chocolate, but make sure to get some pistachio powder in there too.

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Step 12: Melt a cup of the mini chocolate chips in a microwave-safe bowl.  I set up a little dipping relay station, which is one of my favorite parts of baking.  It’s like playing with toys!  Or painting!  Get messy!

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Dip the shell into the chocolate, then into the pistachio bowl.  Carefully flip it around and dip the other end.  Set it on the wax paper to harden.  I put the shells in the fridge to harden while we ate dinner.  I think the cold-hardening process helps the nuts adhere more firmly to the chocolate than just letting them harden in the open air.

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Step 13:  Fill the shells with your ricotta mixture before you’re ready to serve them.  Since it was just the two of us, we filled about 6 cannoli.  (They’re little!  No judgment!)  I ran into a problem here, because I didn’t have a pastry bag tip big enough for the cannoli.  So I went back to my roots and used a ziploc bag with the one end snipped off.  That worked like a charm.  Hold the cannoli shell in your one hand and squeeze the filling in.

Once the filling is in them, serve right away.  Don’t fill them if you aren’t going to eat them soon… no one likes soggy cannoli!

You can dust them with powdered sugar to give them a pretty texture as well!  (Honestly we kind of forgot that step.)

And there you are!  Delicious homemade cannoli:

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Again, the recipe I followed can be found here: http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/alexandra-guarnaschelli/homemade-cannoli-recipe.html.

The only thing it doesn’t include is the chocolate and pistachio dipping part.  You got this, though!!

 

Wild Grapes

October 8, 2015 § 2 Comments

Wild grapes are the best scent of fall.  Pumpkin is fine, I like pumpkin very much, but nothing says fall to me like clambering through the woods and catching that elusive tang of wild grapes ripening somewhere nearby.  The annual hayride at Zelinkas is coming up soon, so I’ll probably ride the wagon all the way into the woods and then jump out (setting a terrible example for the young children… “Kids, do NOT jump out of the moving hay wagon.”) and tramp around the forest looking for the grapes and all the other ephemeral childhood memories hidden within the Z’s woods.  So many ghosts of my friends and myself, running through the trees, playing Manhunt and Soccer and Orphans, telling secrets in the rowboat on the pond, daring each other to eat a tiny bite of the horses’ molasses-sweetened grain.

Although autumn in Pennsylvania is pretty as a picture and twice as interesting- what with the constant fluctuation between delightfully blue sunny days and “let me snuggle under a blanket with a book” dreary gray rain- I have to keep my mind in summer mode for a little while longer.  Costa Rica beckons, a mere month (and 6 days) away.  Jess has been in NEPA from Costa Rica for the past week or so, and we’ve been talking about our plans for me and Channing’s visit, and how I’m going to build sand castles with little Alana and drink mango margaritas all day long.  And do yoga overlooking the Pacific Ocean.  Insta-worthy, indeed.

November is shaping up to be a wonderful month.  My little niece Yeardley will be turning 1, and I’ll probably pop down to Erica & Bryan’s for her birthday party during the first week of the month.  Channing and I leave for Costa Rica on the 14th for five days of sun, sand, and fedora.  And by the time I get back, Thanksgiving will only be a week away.  That means pies, cakes, and whatever slightly more technical desserts I decide to bake this year.  Last year, I made every single dessert my family enjoyed on Thanksgiving, and I am rightly still proud of myself, especially for that chocolate torte.  I also still have the burns to prove it.  “Forever Scarred (From Caramel Sauce)” will now be the name of my autobiography.  Sadly, the Michigan family probably won’t be making an appearance in PA for the holiday this year, because I don’t think Jul will be up for 18 hours in the car when she’s three weeks away from giving birth.  She’s having a little boy in the beginning of December, and I’ve already told her she’s not allowed to name him James. (My favorite boy’s name… after Jamie Alexander Malcolm MacKenzie Fraser, of course.)  Cathy and I have been having virtual Taylor Swift jam sessions on Facebook.  Mainly we just post lyrics on each other’s wall with a bunch of sobbing emojis.  It’s not nearly as fun as real life.  She needs to come back home.  Who even likes Michigan, anyway?  Dang it, Michigan!

If November looks to be fun, well, September and (so far) October definitely were.  I started September off in the best possible way: by spending Labor Day weekend down at the beach in Longport.  Gin & tonics, sunset bicycle rides, and lots of reading books on the beach.  My aunt and uncle spoil me when I’m down there, and I love them for it.  Later in the month I went to the Breaking Benjamin concert at Montage with Mike and some friends. Breaking Ben played a lot of their older songs, so we were all singing along at the top of our lungs.  It was a great show, except for the $15 beers once you were inside.  A few Sundays ago, (yoga) Erica and I went on a bike ride on the Back Mountain Trail.  Or, to more accurately depict our day, I should say we: ate giant burritos at Chipotle, drove through Starbucks for sugary caffeinated beverages, and then decided it might be a nice thing to ride bikes for two hours.  There is a method to our madness, but I am not quite sure what exactly it is.

On one of the more humid September days, Ron and I went to a swimming hole near Laflin. It was a pretty little spot, tucked into the woods after a fifteen minute drive down a rutted and winding dirt road.  Luckily his Jeep is a beast.  The hole is made by a creek that slides down some rocks into a large, almost perfectly circular pool, then spills over another bank of rocks at the end.  When I sat on the rocks at the edge of the water and looked up, all I could see was a round little cup of blue sky, encircled by the tall green pines.  It was deep too; neither Ron nor I could touch the bottom in the center.  I asked him if he thought there’d be any water snakes, and he said, “No, of course not, the water’s too cold for them.”  So we swam around for a while and got out when the sky started turning gray with coming rain.  As we were standing on the rocks, discussing the odd conversational style of his ex-girlfriend, I noticed small ripples on the surface of the water.  “Ron,” I said calmly, “what is that?”  “Probably a…fish?”  He peered at the water.  And then we both saw it.  A water snake, gliding sinuously through the pool, heading in our general direction.  I shrieked like a steam engine (a girly move on my part…the snake was literally nowhere close to us) and ran up on top of a giant boulder where I could see it coming if it decided to eat me.  Ron gave me eighteen heart attacks by going down to the water and saying he was going to try to pick it up.  Apparently he has handled water snakes before.  I told him I considered him a great friend, and I enjoyed his life advice and our long, rambling theological discussions, but if he came near me with that snake, I would murder him, and the 5th Commandment be darned.

He did not pick up the snake.

Near the end of September was the long awaited PAPAL VISIT.  I went down on the bus with Kevin, Rich, Paul, Pete, my mother, and a few dozen other people from our church.  We didn’t even make it through security.  We got stuck in a huge line of people for three hours and then ended up watching the Mass on television at the Comcast building. But it was strangely moving, being in a completely secular place, surrounded by thousands of people who are all saying the same prayers, participating in the same Mass with you.  We went out to the parkway to receive Communion.  So I’ve received Communion that was consecrated by the Pope.  How many people can say that? (Also I got interviewed for the Citizens Voice because of it, and now I’m a local celeb.)

To start October off right, Channing, Jess, Missy, and I had dinner at Thai Thai.  The red curry was as delicious as ever.  We’ve done brunch at River Grille a couple Sundays in a row as well.  Sunday afternoon football on the television at the bars is always the best part of September.  I don’t follow it as much as hockey, but every time it starts back up, I’m reminded of how much I really do enjoy it.  Football around here is a BIG deal.  And if I still feel a little stab of pain every time I hear someone mention Eli Manning and the Giants, well, that too shall pass.  Fly, Eagles, fly.  Another nice thing about September was spending more time with my older brother.  Dan is recently single, and we’ve been hanging out a lot more than we used to when he was visiting Christina every other weekend.  Although I miss her, I have to admit it’s been hilarious good times to go out again with Dan and see old friends, be goofy in the Babetski way, talk about life and love and being grown-ups in this wide, wide world.

I guess if there’s a point to this rambling post, it’s this: my family and friends are an incredible gift to me.  I have felt such spiritual silence in the past few months, such a weight on my soul.  I just keep going back to the basics of my life, saying to myself in the words of St. Pio: Pray, hope, and don’t worry.  Use this time to stay close with your family, to build your friendships and shine your nerdy little light out into the world.  I am happy here in Wilkes-Barre; I want to spread a little of that happiness and peace to the people I love.  And if that sounds cheesy, well, I’ve always been a romantic at heart.

Here’s to fall in the Northeast.  Let’s go run around in the woods and find some wild grapes.

Turkey Time

November 24, 2014 § Leave a comment

Thanksgiving approaches, and thus do Leo and Lucy!

The Michigan contingent is coming in for Thanksgiving this year, and it’s going to be glorious.  (Jul, Daniel, Cathy, Leo, and Lucy sounds like a fun road trip crowd, right?  At the very least, no one will lack for words.)  They’ll be arriving here later today and staying through Friday, and in light of that, I’m taking a few days off from work: Tuesday, Wednesday, and obviously Thursday.  It’s a little mini-vacation, only instead of the beach, I’ll be rolling around on the floor with my darling nephew and niece, and baking half a dozen different desserts, and playing board games, and talking. Lots of talking.

I finalized my dessert plans with my mother over the weekend.  2 pumpkin pies, 1 chocolate cream pie (Genevieve begged for it), 1 cherry pie (it’s my father’s favorite, and I am nothing if not a dutiful daughter), a salted caramel & chocolate tart, and an apple crisp.  Six pie crusts total, so that’s not too bad.  I’ll probably have Gen roll out at least one of them.  Jaci and I were about 14 when we started baking all the time, and the best way to learn pie crusts is to practice over and over.  I’ll try to remember to take pictures, so I can add some new posts to my Baking sidebar finally!

And that’s about all I’ve got for now.  Have a wonderful Thanksgiving, everyone!

 

A Timely Cookie (and some fun facts about Danny)

October 12, 2012 § 1 Comment

With everyone in America all fired up over the coming election, I thought it might be a good idea to make a non-incendiary post about something everyone can agree on: the deliciousness of a glazed pumpkin cookie.  Even if you aren’t a fan of pumpkin, these cookies are enjoyable for their softness and sugary glaze.  I made these about a month ago and the thing that sticks out most in my mind when I remember making them is that I was trying to decide whether or not to move out of my house.  While I baked.  (It’s surprising that they came out so well.)  Now I normally like to add little thoughts to my baking blog posts that are related to what I was doing while I was baking.  However, I do not want to subject you to my agonized decision-making process, which consisted of a lot of financial calculations and worrying about (alternately) my mother and the rats.

Therefore, in honor of my 5 year anniversary with Danny being yesterday, I’ll just tell you how to make the cookies… with a sweet little Did You Know fact about Danny attached to every step!  You see, it has come to my attention that people- most notably his close friends- think Danny is a sarcastic mean jerk who only enjoys taking people’s money in poker and making hugely-weighted-in-his-favor trades in fantasy baseball.  This couldn’t be further from the truth!  I consider it my responsibility to right this wrong (since he certainly won’t).

Without further ado, here is the recipe for the cookies:

2 1/2 cups flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 tsp baking soda

2 tsp ground cinnamon

1/2 tsp ground nutmeg

1/2 tsp ground cloves

1/2 tsp salt

1/2 cup softened butter

1 1/2 cups white sugar

1 cup canned pumpkin puree

1 egg

1 tsp vanilla extract

Here is the recipe for the glaze:

2 cups confectioners sugar

3 tablespoons milk

1 tbsp melted butter

1 tsp vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  In one bowl, combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, ground cloves, and salt.

Did you know that Danny once made me waffles (from scratch!) with powdered sugar, syrup, and raspberries on top?  While he was dieting!  He just made them for me because he knew I’d love them. I did.  They were phenomenally delicious.

In another bowl, mix together the 1/2 cup of butter and the sugar, until it looks like this:

Sorry, but I like to mix with my hands.  Don’t worry, I always wash them first (obviously since I am not a moron and does it really matter since they just get baked at 350 degrees later anyway?).  Then add the pumpkin, egg, and vanilla, and beat it until it’s creamy.  It looks like this:

Did you know that Danny has willingly gone to not one, but TWO Broadway musicals, just for me?  In fact, he didn’t just go to them, he bought the tickets.  He’s not a fan of musicals but he sat through the entire Phantom of The Opera play and when I asked him afterwards what his favorite part had been, he said: “Watching all the different expressions on your face.”

Mix in your dry ingredients with the wet pumpkin mixture.  I did this by handfuls and found that it was still very liquid-y, even after all the dry mix had been put in.  So I added more flour.  I ended up adding close to another whole cup of flour before the consistency was dry enough that I could round it into balls.  I don’t really know why it was so wet.  The canned pumpkin was the only culprit I could think of.  But yeah, if you make this and find that the consistency is way too sloppy to shape into cookies, just add more flour.  I did, and it didn’t harm the taste at all.

Did you know that if it weren’t for Danny, this awesome blog you are enjoying right now would not exist?  I’ve always loved to write, but he was the one who convinced me to finally start putting my words out there for people to read.  He set me up with my first blog page and always gives me good, unbiased feedback on what I write.  Listen guys, this is more important than it sounds.  To me, writing is a joy.  It is a gift.  And to know now that people like what I write, that in one day over 350 people read my post about the flood, to have people I don’t see very often come up and tell me they enjoy what I write (hi Bill!), it’s amazing.  I will always be grateful to him for believing in me more than I did.

The next step is to round the cookie dough into balls and drop them onto the greased cookie sheets.  Here is an awesome, slightly blurry picture of the cookies baking in the oven.  To be perfectly honest, I don’t remember how long I let these bake for.  I’m sorry.  The original recipe says 15-20 minutes and I think that was accurate.  Cookies are all different.  Every sheet is different, for that matter.  I usually wait until they look close to done (aka browning, and losing that ‘glistening’ look) and then use a spatula to lift up a few and check the bottoms.

While the cookies are baking, you can whip the glaze together very quickly.  The glaze is merely the confectioners sugar, milk, melted butter, and vanilla extract all combined.  Add milk if needed to achieve the drizzling consistency.  Very exciting stuff (and yummy too):

We all know Danny loves dogs, cats, and rats, but did you know that he is so tender-hearted towards animals that he hates to even kill spiders?  Literally, he won’t kill them.  I went to use his bathroom one time and there was a GIGANTIC (probably flesh-eating) daddy long-legger spider RIGHT NEXT TO THE TOILET.  Needless to say, I could not pee with that BEAST OF PREY glowering at me from its lacy lair.  As I backed slowly away with my hands in the air, trying not to incite the accursed son of Shelob, I yelled for Danny to come in and kill it.  His response?  Noooo!  Me and that spider are pals!  He’s been keeping me company in there for a few weeks now!”

 Once the cookies are done, pull ’em out of the oven and put them on cooling racks.  Look at how cute these little guys are!  All round and brown like little hens’ eggs!  And they smelled divine.

I always let my cookies cool down a while before I glaze them so that the glaze doesn’t just slide right off.  This glaze isn’t as thick as icing, so it will drip off somewhat, regardless of the temperature.  Just do your best.

I drizzled several layers of the glaze on these cookies because there was definitely more than enough.  And who doesn’t like as much glaze as possible?

Did you know that Danny is (almost) as good with words as I am?  He has a knack for writing a good phrase and his cards to me are always sweet, funny, and charming.  You might not know this because he generally writes in an acerbic tone but when he needs to lay the butter on thick, he can compliment me better than Shakespeare.  He’s quick, too.  I like that.  

The finished product looked and tasted delicious!  The cookies were soft and crumbly and not too dry.  Just enough pumpkin to make you think of fall.  Perfect!

Did you know that Danny will probably kill me for posting all these sweet things about him?

Too Little, Too Few

September 13, 2012 § 10 Comments

There are a ton of thoughts running through my mind these past few weeks.  Ever since the move became official, I’ve felt like my brain is in overdrive.  I’ve never done this before.  I don’t know what to do first, what is more important, what’s a need and what’s just a want.  I’ve always tried to not care much about ‘things’ (other than sweaters and high heels of course) and I don’t really think I’m overburdened with worldly possessions.  That’s good though, I’m okay with that.  However, I have realized that perhaps there are a few things I could use more of; a few things of which I have way too little.  Following in the spirit of my last post, here is a short list of my stuff which falls into the “Too Little/Too Few” category:

1.  When I was finished cataloging my gargantuan amount of books, I moved on to other forms of entertainment, namely, DVDs.  Boy, was that pile smaller.  Having grown up (relatively) before the advent of Netflix and other online programming, you’d think I’d have a lot more DVDs.  I have about 10.  And of those 10, it’s safe to say at least 6 were filmed before the sixties.  Audrey Hepburn’s face rules the tiny stack of cases, with a smattering of Jimmy Stewart, Cary Grant, Gregory Peck, Barbara Stanwyck, and even Grace Kelly in there.  As far as the more recently produced films?  I own The Italian Job on DVD.  The new one, not the original.  I like Mark Wahlberg, what can I say?  I’ve got Van Helsing because I liked cheesy vampire movies way before Twilight ever debuted.  I’ve got The Cutting Edge, because it’s about hockey and figure skating, and really, how can you pass up a movie where the main character talks about how much he loves the smell of fresh ice?  Every time I watch that scene, I think, I know exactly what you mean.  I have the 2011 Jane Eyre, because it’s my favorite remake of the dark Gothic romance yet.  And I think that about does it for my ‘modern’ DVDs.  (For those of you wondering, I couldn’t bring the Lord of the Rings DVDs because technically, they don’t belong to me.  Sad face.)

2. There is a reason why my little sidebar is titled “Baking In A Tiny Kitchen”.  It’s because I love to bake.  What I have too little of, is cooking skills.  I can cook, I think.  I just haven’t had to do it very often because my mother likes to cook and has always had dinner at least started by the time I get home from work.  (I know, I know, why would I ever move out and away from that!?)  Mom is a great chef, despite her maternal failure to remember the multiple food preferences and dislikes of every single one of her eight children.  (For instance, although she knows I detest nuts- and trust me, I’ve made my nut abhorrence clear on numerous occasions- she ALWAYS puts slivered almonds into her chicken salad.  Apparently, Dad likes them.  Big whoop.  He’s older, so he should have to sacrifice.)  (And another example, she makes hash-brown casserole a lot, because everyone likes it, but she has to make one side of the pan hash-browns with peppers and onions, and the other side plain hash-browns.  I guess the smaller children don’t like peppers and onions.  What a bunch of weirdos.  She should just put them in the whole thing and pretend they’re candy.)  I’m rambling now, but I thought it was important to point out my mother’s failings.  Everyone else thinks she’s like a saint, or something, I can’t imagine why…  So, cooking.  I get to do it now.  I’m actually excited to cook more often.  I’m not going to lie, I intend on cooking a lot of pasta.  I love pasta…. penne with vodka sauce, shells with olive oil, garlic, and broccoli, kluski and cottage cheese.  Let’s hope my baking skills translate into cooking.

3. I have too few pairs of functional footwear.  My closet holds 1 pair of sneakers: blue Converse that I didn’t even buy, Danny got them for me.  That’s it.  The end.  Everything else is delicate, sparkly, high heeled, or just not really built for anything more than a day at the office or a Sunday Mass or a night on the town.

PS- I’m glad I made this list because I just remembered I left my snow boots at my parents’ house.  That makes TWO pairs of functional footwear that I own!

PS2- If you have any recipe suggestions, feel free to share!

PS3- I might as well write another blog post already with all the things I remembered that I forgot: snow boots, my Gone With The Wind dvd (probably hiding in Angela & Cathy’s room), all my winter scarves (only 4, don’t worry)…

PS4- Anyone interested in more examples of my mother’s egregious cooking behavior, just let me know!  I’ve got stories.

A Night of Gustatory Delight

August 22, 2012 § 2 Comments

Gustatory: Of or pertaining to tastes or tasting.

Last week, Danny and I had the pleasure of dining at Connor’s Grillroom in the Back Mountain.  Danny’s friend Paul was recently made the head chef there and he invited us up along with some other friends for a private tasting menu.  This was only my second experience with a tasting menu (the first was at a sushi restaurant in Brooklyn a few years ago) but I liked the way you receive smaller portions but more courses.  I get full very fast, so a small portion of more items is the best way to eat, in my opinion.  I didn’t know anything about the menu that was being planned, but I’ve always liked trying new foods, and so I went to Connor’s with an open mind and a growling stomach.  We met up with five of our friends and were seated at a long table in the back.  The hostess also gave us each a copy of our menu for the evening.  As I read, I glanced over at Danny and saw that he was looking as excited as I was.  Here’s what Paul had in store for us:

Truffle Custard (sadly, I dug in with gusto before I remembered to take a picture of this course):
The cream-colored truffle custard was placed in front of us in little white porcelain ramekins.  A spoonful of reddish-orange boar ragu rested on top and then placed delicately atop that was a small gaufrette (which is basically a miniature waffle fry but crispier and more delicious).  The custard was smooth and rich.  The boar ragu provided just enough of a sharp taste and texture to balance out the softness of custard.  I ate this in about five spoonfuls and I think Danny finished in four.  It was the perfect amount to open a meal.

Tuna Belly:
This dish was easily one of my favorites.  Don’t get me wrong, everything was amazing, but if I had to pick, this one stands out.  I don’t normally order tuna when I go out to eat so this was just as much a departure from the ordinary as boar ragu and truffle custard.  The orange streak is sriracha, the green spread is avocado, the brown liquid is soy, the green gelatin is cucumber, and the little pieces are cucumber bits.  The white ribbon underneath is radish.  Danny had the great idea to make a little ‘sandwich’ with the wonton crisp, some tuna belly, and a bit of whatever topping you wanted.  I liked the way the sriracha gave the soft tuna a little bite, and the crunchy cracker offset it perfectly.   

Rabbit Three Ways:

This was another one of my top favorites.  I’ve had rabbit before and this dish reaffirmed my love for eating those sneaky little animals that like to seem so cute and cuddly until they hop into my garden and EAT ALL MY PRODUCE!!!!  (Sorry.  I have anger issues with rabbits.)  The rabbit chop is the piece on the top left side of the carrot puree and it was tender and juicy.  The three pieces of rabbit ‘Canadian bacon’ were a great contrast with their blackened corners that provided a sharp, grilled taste.  And the brown piece on the right is rabbit cheek, which was sweet and contained an amazing amount of flavor for such a small chunk of bunny.  (I don’t care how callous that sounds.  I hate rabbits.)

Baby Octopus:

Here is where the quality of my pictures drops a little bit, because the sun set and I was just using my cell phone camera.  The flash was too bright, but the room wasn’t bright enough to forego the flash…  You’ve all been there.  The baby octopus combined with chorizo was something of a surprise to me.  I really liked it, and I never would have thought of that pairing.  This dish was very tasty, but I’m not an olive fan (ugh ugh ugh olives) and so I just left them to the side.  Sorry, Paul.  The simplicity of the white bean puree and the sherry were a great backdrop to the octopus and spicy sausage, though.  A perfect mixture of sweet and savory, bland and spicy.

Duck Ravioli:

Sorry that this picture is so bright, but like I said, it’s that or the too-dark one.  This was, in my opinion, one of the less ‘exotic’ dishes on the menu.  But simple doesn’t mean not as good.  I love duck.  And when a sweet duck mousse is combined with porcini mushroom pieces, tucked neatly inside a big and light ravioli, and then has steamy hot, golden-brown consomme (clear stock soup) poured over it, with crispy fried leeks… I could’ve had about four more of these.  Paul’s presentation was great too.  The ravioli were in the bowl, placed in front of us, and then he came around with the aromatic consomme in a little tureen and poured it over the ravioli right at the table.  This kept the ravioli from getting any hint of sogginess.

Duo of Veal:

This dish was the only one I regarded with a little uncertainty.  I’ve tried sweetbreads before and was not a fan.  In fact, veal’s not really my favorite thing in general.  So to be handed a plate with sweetbreads and veal tongue was a little bit intimidating.  The thing about tasting menus though, is that they don’t overwhelm me.  The little pieces of sweetbreads were small enough that I could try it and not be worried about wasting an entire plateful if I didn’t like them.  I popped one in my mouth and realized that they weren’t so bad.  I can’t lie, they still weren’t my favorite thing, being a leeeettle too chewy for me and I just don’t like the taste that much.  But you can’t win them all.  The veal tongue was more to my liking: a little salty and with an interesting texture.  The corn spread underneath with peach pieces was phenomenal.  I wanted to scrape at it with my fork, like Scarlett O’Hara in that scene in Gone With The Wind where Rhett takes her out to eat at a fancy restaurant, after she’s gone through a year of war-induced poverty.

Pork ‘Sundae’:

Sorry this pic is grainy.  Click it to enlarge it and you can make out the details better.  The pork ‘sundae’ had a lot of different parts to it and it was definitely one of the dishes I was looking forward to the most.  I love pork.  The two slabs of pork belly on the bottom of the plate were like bacon, only not crispy.  They were thick and chewy but not to the point where it gets annoying.  The saltiness of the pork belly was complemented by the light creme fraiche underneath and the tangy cherries.  That rounded ‘disc’ of pork was the tete de cochon (basically, ‘pig’s head’ in French) and I was eager to try it.  (The best definition I found online for tete de cochon was “basically taking everything out of a pig’s head and braising the hell out of it”.)  It was tender and juicy and sweet.  I was surprised by the sweetness.  The bananas were on top and they added another burst of sweet flavor.  One of the guys said that the dish was a little too sweet for him, but it was perfect for me.  The only problem was that I was getting full by this point!  I couldn’t quite finish the tete de cochon.

Donut, Coffee, Cigarette:

After a slightly longer break, we were served dessert.  I can’t say enough about this dish.  Wow.  A light and fluffy cinnamon brioche eaten in between spoonfuls of smooth coffee ice cream?  Yes PLEASE.  I would order Paul’s coffee flavored ice cream by the gallon. 

There really isn’t any reason to make a closing statement, is there?  You can tell just by the pictures and my descriptions how amazing everything was.  Paul is a very talented chef and we were so incredibly grateful that he put something like this together for us.  This meal was just as good as any I’ve had in NYC or Philadelphia or elsewhere in my travels; and to enjoy it with Danny and our friends right here in NEPA made it even more special.  What a night of gustatory delight!

Tequila Makes My Pie Taste Good

May 5, 2012 § 4 Comments

It’s because the pie has tequila in it.  Not because you need to be drunk before it tastes good.  Come on, guys.

The other day, I decided to bake a margarita pie.  Browsing the internet had landed me upon a webpage of random cream pies, and I found this recipe.  It was a happy coincidence because I had just been thinking about tequila and margaritas.  Danny’s softball league has started their season and during the humid summer nights, I like to sip a margarita while watching him play.  And keeping score.  And collecting the money.  But that’s a different post.

This recipe called for a pretzel crumb crust, but I don’t really like crumb crusts.  I have stated before that I love thicker pie crusts, so I decided to make my own and see how it went.  Here is the recipe I used for the cream filling:

  • Zest of 1 lime
  • 1/2 cup fresh lime juice
  • One 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk (not evaporated)
  • 2 Tbsp gold tequila
  • 2 Tbsp Triple Sec
  • 1-1/2 cups whipped heavy cream, divided use
  • 6 drops green food coloring (optional)
  • 4 very thin lime slices cut in half, for garnish

A few notes: I didn’t use fresh lime juice, I used the bottled stuff.  (If this were Twitter, I’d hashtag that sentence #lazy.)   Also, don’t be tempted to put in more alcohol than it calls for.  It’s plenty.  And finally, I used like 6 drops of food coloring because Genevieve and I wanted the pie to be really green!  She helped me bake these pies and she did a rgeat job with everything!

Here is the crust recipe I use every time I bake:

  • 2 ½ cups all purpose or pastry flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon to 1 tablespoon sugar (for a fruit pie. Omit sugar for a savory pie.)
  • ¾ cup cold butter, cut into chunks
  • ¼ cup cold water

This recipe is a loose version of a very good pie crust recipe that my mother found on the Pioneer Woman site.  I just adjusted it to my liking because I am random like that.  It makes two regular size crusts.  Notes about this: I always end up using more water than 1/4 cup.  I know you’re not supposed to, because the crust won’t be as flaky, and etc etc etc… but I do anyway because I like thick crust.     

I made the crusts first. 

Step 1: Butter Chunks are added to the flour and salt.  I didn’t put any sugar in this crust.

Step 2:  Used the pastry cutter to achieve my blended butter & flour

Step 3: Mixing in the water and kneading the dough.  I used more water than the recipe called for.  Not a lot more, but some.  I don’t mind if my crust is not flaky.  Again, I like thicker crusts and people always compliment me on my crusts so I just stick with what works!  That’s not bragging, right?  Not if your own dear mother says you bake better pies than her.

Step 4:  Rolling out the pie crusts.  I actually made videos of me rolling out pie crusts but I am embarrassed to post them.  They aren’t very professional.  I don’t mean I got drunk and danced on the table while rolling the crusts (ew?) just that I stammered a lot and looked hesitant and also my MOTHER walked in halfway through and started talking!  None of these things were Genevieve’s fault; she was my video recorder and she did a great job focusing on the crusts and my techniques.  Next time I make pies, I will definitely be able to make better videos and I will post them.  Here is one crust, ready for baking!  I baked them at 375 for 10-12 minutes. 

Step 5:  While the two crusts were baking, Genevieve and I stirred together the lime zest, lime juice, condensed milk, tequila, and Triple Sec. 

Step 6: By the time that was done, the two crusts were baked!  Before I baked them, I didn’t weigh them down with rice or beans or anything, I just put a bunch of little slits on the sides and bottom.  They turned out to be a delicious golden-brown color and with very few air bubbles!

 

Step 7:  Then I whipped the heavy cream until the soft peaks formed.

Step 8:  I set half a cup of the whipped cream to the side, then put the few drops of green food coloring in the lime juice mix and swirled it around to make it a pretty green, margarita color!

Step 9:  Then I folded the 1 cup of whipped cream into the green mix until it was all blended and fluffy. 

Step 10:  I spooned the mixture into the two pie crusts and smoothed it out!  Doesn’t it look delicious?  But wait, it gets better!

Step 11:  I got that 1/2 cup of white whipped cream I had set to the side and smoothed it out over the top to make a pretty white finish!

Step 12:  Gen and I decorated it with some lime slices.  Look, the margarita pie is happy to see you!  Then we popped the two pies into the freezer for an hour, and then into the fridge. 

The pie tasted so good.  It was a lot like a key lime pie, only with that hint of tequila.  Delicious!!!  I highly recommend it.  I know it looks like a lot of time and effort because of all the pictures and steps, but these pies took me all of an hour to make.  That’s not long at all.  Enjoy!!!

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