Sunday, October 12, 2014

Sunday Morning

Sunday is my favorite day of the week.  I was born on a Sunday.  According to the old English nursery rhyme--

Monday's child is fair of face. 
Tuesday's child is full of grace. 
Wednesday's child is full of woe. 
Thursday's child has far to go. 
Friday's child is loving and giving. 
Saturday's child works hard for a living, 
But the child who is born on the Sabbath Day 
Is bonny and blithe and good and gay.

I especially love Sunday mornings.  The Ex-Ex finds it a bit insane that on the one day I could sleep in, I don't.  Of course, he reaps the benefits of my early rising because it is when I bake.  This morning, though, it is not my usual muffins or scones.  Today it's lasagna.  Son #2 and the Most Adorable Puppy in the World are home.  They are home for a quick visit so that Son #2 can get some warm clothes. Yesterday afternoon he asked me if I would mind making a pan of lasagna for him to take back to Tennessee with him.  Mind?  Are you kidding me?  A request like that makes me jump right up and run to the grocery store to get supplies.  So I did, but I waited until this morning to bake it.

I call my recipe Grant's Lasagna.  It is basically from the back of a Barilla lasagna noodle box, but I always make a few changes.  
I had some leftover meat (I combined pork sausage and ground beef).  I couldn't let that go to waste, so I made savory muffins.

Sausage Muffins
makes 12
Whisk together and set aside:
1/2 c. baking mix
2 eggs
1/2 c. milk

Mix cooked, crumbled sausage with shredded cheddar cheese (I used a mixture of parmesan, provolone and mozzarella.  Add sage or herbs, if you wish,  and salt and pepper.  You could throw in some hot sauce.  Spray 12 muffin cups with non-stick spray.  Put about a tablespoon of the batter in each cup.  Spoon the sausage mixture on top of the batter.  Then put another tablespoon of batter on top of the sausage mixture.  Bake for about 25 minutes at 375˚F.

On this Sunday morning, I am also reflecting on the things (and people) I am crushing on right now.

Let's see...

My camera.  I was going to save my tutoring money and invest in an SLR camera and learn to use it. But I came to my senses and realized that I am a point and shoot kind of photographer.  I take loads of pictures and just don't have the patience to mess with dials and all that.  (They are also heavy and more difficult to just throw in one's already heavy and overcrowded purse.)  Therefore, I am in love with my Powershot SX 700 HS.  It is supposed to have Wi-Fi capability, but I am not there yet.  Nor am I sure it works very well from what I've read.

Cook's Illustrated magazine.  A student gave me a subscription for Christmas a few years back and I am totally in love with it.  The recipes are tested and tested and tested, so the kinks are worked out for me.  Friday night, in anticipation of Son #2's arrival, I made sugar cookies from the All-Time Best Recipes edition.

Chewy Sugar Cookies
makes 24 cookies

2 1/4 c. all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1 1/2 c. sugar plus 1/3 c. for rolling
2 ounces cream cheese, cut into 8 pieces
6 Tbsp. unsalted butter, melted
1/3 c. vegetable oil (I used coconut oil- not liquid but the same measure- it worked well)
1 large egg
1 Tbsp. whole milk
2 Tbsp. vanilla extract

Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 350˚F.  Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.  Whisk flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt together in medium bowl.  Set aside.
Place 1 1/2 cups sugar and cream cheese in large bowl.  Place remaining sugar in shallow dish and set aside.  Pour melted butter over sugar and cream cheese and whisk to combine (some small lumps of cream cheese will remain but will smooth out later).  Whisk in oil until incorporated.  Add egg, milk, and vanilla; continue to whisk until smooth.  Add flour mixture and mix with rubber spatula until soft, homogeneous dough forms.
Working with 2 tablespoons of dough at time, roll into balls.  Working in batches, roll half of dough balls in sugar to coat and space evenly on prepared sheet; repeat with remaining dough balls.  Using bottom of greased measuring cup, flatten dough balls until 2-inches in diameter.  Sprinkle tops of cookies evenly with remaining sugar.
Bake cookies 1 sheet at a time, until edges are set and just beginning to brown, 11-13 minutes, rotating sheet halfway through baking.  Let cookies cool on sheet for 5 minutes, then transfer to wire rack.  Let cookies cool completely before serving.  (The baker can try a warm one just to be sure that they taste okay!)

Next on the list.  Ron Rash.  I recently read Serena.  Mr. Rash teaches at Western Carolina University in Cullowhee, NC.  My niece-in-law is now a freshman there and Serena was her required reading book.  I couldn't put it down.  The movie version will be released soon.  The book is set in the Appalachian Mountains, but the movie was shot in Europe instead of NC.  I will go see it, though.  A short dialogue between Rachel and Widow Jenkins struck a chord with me--

"...But your father loved you.  I never doubted that and you shouldn't either.  I'll tell you something else I think.  It would have been wrong to take you away from these mountains, because if you're born here they're a part of you.  No other place will ever feel right."
Widow Jenkins put her glasses back on.  She turned to Rachel and smiled.
"Maybe that's just an old woman's silly notion-- about the mountains, I mean.  What do you think?"
"I don't know.  How can I if I've never been away from them?"
"Well, I never have either, but you're young and young folks these days get restless,"  Widow Jenkins said, slowly lifting herself from the steps, "so if you ever do find out you'll have to let me know."

I am now reading Rash's book The Cove, also set in the mountains.  I just discovered he will be in Chapel Hill at Flyleaf Books in early November.  Mark the calendar.

Tatiana de Rosnay.  I discovered Sarah's Key a few years ago while just hanging out in Barnes and Noble.  Another must read.  About the Vel d'Hiv round-up of Jewish families in Paris during WWII. I now show this movie to my 8th graders and we visit the site of the former vélodrome when we are in Paris during our spring break trip.  Two years ago, during the spring break trip, we were wandering the streets of Paris and came upon a motorcycle rally at the Hôtel de Ville.  My Favorite Parisien was paying more attention to the dignitaries and speeches than I was and all of a sudden, he grabbed my arm and said Mme de Rosnay is here!  We have to find her.  We chased her down so that I could meet her.  She was getting ready to get on her moto.  I quickly introduced myself and MFP snapped a photo and we let her go.

At the end of the school year, my 8th graders have to write a thank you letter in French as part of their final exam.  They can prepare it in advance and write to whomever they wish.  I hunt down the addresses and mail the letters.  Sometimes they/we get responses.  This past week, my phone pinged with a message.  I looked down and let out a yelp.  I had a message from Tatiana.  Oui, en français.  I sent three thank you letters and a note of explanation to her in care of her editor.  She had just received the letters.  She sent an email to one of the girls (who did as I suggested and included her email address) and just wanted me to know how much she enjoyed les lettres merveilleuses.  How cool is that?   I recently read A Secret Kept.  A movie version of that is in the works, too.  I plan to get her latest novels when I am in Paris in January.  She mostly writes in French but also in English. 

The Phantom of the Opera.  The play is at the DPAC and we are going to see it today.  The Ex-Ex's best friend from middle and high school (who is Brother-in-Law's brother... and they aren't even from the mountains!) and his wife invited us to go with them this evening.  

I am very excited.  I love this story.  The 1943 black and white film version explains why he wears the mask.  I showed part of it to the kiddies last week in class since some of them would be going to see the play.  I have been inside the Palais Garnier, the Paris Opera where the play is set, several times.  If only I could find the door that leads down to the lake...  I admit that I have tried.  No such luck.  This door leads to the Phantom's box.

And last but certainly not least, gay marriage is now legal in North Carolina as of Friday afternoon. Finally.  We will still have to listen to people rant and rave because they are against it, but whatever.
It's about time is all I have to say.

Time to get back to my baking.  Cook's Illustrated's carrot cake is next.  We have Monday off for fall break and the Ex-Ex and I are headed down to the In-Laws' house to visit with Aunt B who is visiting from Missouri.  I shouldn't go empty-handed!  I also need to check on the cats.  They refuse to make friends with Adorable Dog.  They are hiding.  Yesterday, I found them in the bathroom.

Cat 1 in the sink.

Cat 2 beside the toilet.

Bon appétit et bon dimanche à tous et à toutes!

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Coconut Cream Dreams: Part Deux

Just a couple of weeks after I returned home from my adventures in Nebraska with the In-Laws, the Ex-Ex packed his duffle bag and headed for the mountains of North Carolina, my mountains, the Appalachians.  He chaperones Senior Challenge, a program our seniors participate in at the beginning of each school year. Sort of an Outward Bound-type experience.  The Ex-Ex does not do the tent camping thing, though. He does visit the rappelling and rock climbing sites and he does a fair amount of hiking.  He came home with a few photos on his iPhone.  Here's one of AT, one of my favorite kids.

Back in my early 20's, I participated in a program like this a couple of times and backing off the edge of a mountain is not my thing.  AT loved it, though.  I am quite proud of him.

Anyway, the Ex-Ex was gone for five days and he texted me a couple of times to let me know he was doing okay.  One night, the text messaging started with pie.  He was eating some.  I figured he had gone to visit his sister who lives near where they had hiked.  Logical assumption since she was in on my coconut cream pie eating adventures in Nebraska and South Dakota  (see Part Un). I thought that maybe she had decided to try her hand at making a coconut cream pie and was going to share it with her younger brother who had been "roughing it" for four days.  But no.  Silly me.  Seems the Ex-Ex and his band of Mountain Men had been to eat at Louise's Rock House Restaurant in Linville Falls. More than once.  The first time they were there, their waitress struck up a conversation with the Ex-Ex.  He expressed his desire for pie (my Grandma Christine fell in love with him when she found out he loved pie).  Not just any old pie would do for him, though.  Not even Louise's speciality, the "legendary strawberry-rhubarb" pie, according to the October 2014 issue of Our State magazine.  Oh no.  He wanted coconut cream.  Seriously?  Wonder where he got that idea??  Louise made him a pie. A whole pie just for him.  I asked for a photo.  Maybe the story would be better told if you read the text messages...

Did he really think I wanted a picture of the waitress (who, as it turns out, is Louise's daughter and was just in helping out)?

He brought it home.  The pie.  Not the waitress.  I didn't taste it until I was offered some.  A man can get attached to his pie.

So, of course, not to be outdone, I waited until his pie was all gone.  I actually waited until a month later, and made my own.  I searched the internet for recipes and sent an email to The Pie Lady at the Cookshack in Nebraska but haven't received a reply yet.  I decided to check out my copy of Sara Foster's Southern Kitchen.  I love this cookbook.  Foster's Market is one of my favorite places.  Great food.  The best coffee in Durham, in my humble opinion.  And Sara didn't let me down.  I found just the recipe I was looking for.

There isn't much prettier or better smelling than toasted coconut.

Sara's recipe calls for a chocolate cookie crust.  I decided not to do that and go traditional.  I bought one from The Immaculate Baking Company.  The Ex-Ex doesn't like thick pie crusts so I rolled it out thinly and pre-baked it, following the package directions.  (Yes, I admit that I was competing with Louise's pie.  Homemade or store bought crust? When I was living in France and working with Chef Érick, we bought the rolled crusts, so I opted for that.)

black bottom coconut cream pie
Sara Foster's Southern Kitchen

black bottom cookie crust
1 1/2 c. Oreo cookie crumbs (from 6 ounces cookies)
(Sara's advice:  Place cookies in a food processor and pulse eight or ten times; then leave the motor running for about 10 seconds, until the crumbs are finely ground.)
2 Tbsp. sugar
Pinch of kosher salt
4 Tbsp. (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted

Preheat the oven to 350˚F.
Combine the cookie crumbs, sugar, and salt in a large bowl and stir to mix.  Pour in the butter and stir to combine and moisten all the crumbs.  Spread the mixture in a pie pan, evenly pressing it over the bottom and up the sides of the pan to create a crust.
Bake for 8-10 minutes, until golden brown and slightly firm.  Remove from the oven and let cool; the crust will firm as it cools.

2 1/2 c. half and half
3 Tbsp. cornstarch
4 large eggs
3/4 c. sugar
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise, seeds scraped and reserved (you can use regular vanilla extract; I used some vanilla sugar I bought this summer at The Spice House in Milwaukee this summer-- I cannot say enough wonderful things about this place; check out their website.)
1/4 tsp. kosher salt
2 1/3 c. sweetened flaked coconut
1 Tbsp. unsalted butter

1 c. heavy cream
1/4 c. sugar
1/3 c. sweetened flaked coconut, toasted

Combine 1/2 cup of the half and half and the cornstarch in a large bowl and whisk to blend.  Add the eggs and mix thoroughly.
Place the remaining 2 cups half and half, the sugar, vanilla bean and reserved seeds, and salt in a heavy-bottomed saucepan and bring to a low boil, stirring occasionally, until the sugar dissolves. Remove and discard the vanilla bean and reduce the heat to low.
Whisk 1 cup of the half and half mixture into the egg mixture to temper the eggs.  Whisking constantly, pour the egg mixture back into the saucepan with the half and half mixture and cook, continuing to whisk constantly, until thick, about 3-5 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in the coconut and the butter.  Let cool slightly.
Pour the filling into the crust and refrigerate for about 4 hours, until firm.
When the filling is completely firm, place the cream in a large bowl and whip with an electric mixer to soft peaks.  Add the sugar and whip to incorporate.
Using a spatula or pastry bag, spread or pipe the whipped cream evenly over the pie.  Sprinkle with the toasted coconut and refrigerate until ready to serve.

I had too much filling for my crust and served coconut cream pudding to the Ex-Ex.  I like it warm. He likes it cold.  Amazing either way.

We went to Foster's today for lunch and the Ex-Ex couldn't resist Sara's peanut butter chocolate pie.  He offered me a bite.  It was really good.

Bon appétit to all pie bakers and lovers!  Merci, Louise!  Merci, Sara!

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Coconut Cream Dreams: Part Un

Have you ever tasted something so utterly delicious that you wonder why on earth you haven't eaten more of it during the course of your life?  Or, another thought that just occurred to me, maybe, just maybe, your tastebuds have been in training for that particular dish or meal.  Would it be as good if you had access to it anytime anywhere?  I dare say it would not. Would this special treat become a lovely gustatory memory if you could have it any time your little heart desired?  Would the second time be as unforgettable as the first?  All good questions and worth pondering, n'est-ce pas?

This summer, I took a trip out to the mid-west with the World's Best In-Laws.  Sister-in-Law and Parents-in-Law and I flew from RDU to Minneapolis (I had no idea an airport could be so spread out) then on to Rapid City, South Dakota.  We rented a car and then drove south to Crawford, Nebraska. The Ex-Ex and his family are from Nebraska.  Cattle ranchers.  They moved to North Carolina when the Ex-Ex was going into 7th grade.  I was the trip's chauffeur.  The In-Laws hadn't been back to Nebraska in a few years.  It was Father-in-Law's 60th high school reunion and Sioux County fair weekend.  I am always up for an adventure and I hadn't been back in over 10 years.

For lunch one day, Aunt Linda wanted to go out and about and she suggested lunch at the High Plains Homestead's Drifter Cookshack.  It is out in the middle of nowhere but a lovely nowhere.  I am a mountain girl but the prairies out in the northwest corner of Nebraska are breathtakingly beautiful to me.

Could this have to do with all the westerns I watched as a little girl with Daddy Tommy?  John Wayne?  Clint Eastwood?  Well, maybe.  It is unchanged country where ranchers still try to make a decent living under the hot summer sun and snow covered winters, completely at the mercy of the whims of the weather.  Father-in-Law was so happy to see bales and bales and bales of hay and fields of clover.  He spotted them from the air as we were getting ready to land in Rapid City.  He sat up front with me in the rented Jeep and I was so glad to be with him.

Back to lunch.  There weren't many choices on the menu.  Not that there needed to be.  The Cookshack is small, decorated with lots of cool stuff, and was slowly starting to fill up with hungry eaters when we arrived. Aunt Linda is a pie lover and asked about the day's selection.

She was told that there were only a couple of pieces left so we all agreed that they should be brought to our table immediately.   I ordered an Indian Fry Bread Taco Salad.  Freshly made fry bread.  It was very good.

I polished it off.  I could have ordered the infamous Coffee Burger and shared it with the entire table, but good sense prevailed and I decided against it.

(Unfortunately I think it is really hard to read.  Sorry.)  Suffice it to say that it is a legend out around Harrison and Crawford, Nebraska, having been the speciality of Sioux Sundries, now closed, for years.

Even though the pie was sitting in front of me, just waiting for my fork to cut into it, I resisted until I finished my salad.  And here is the pie that dreams are made of...

I enjoyed it while Mr. Buffalo watched from on high.  I ate my fair share of buffalo while out there but not that day.  He seemed okay with me eating salad.

I shared the pie with whomever wanted a bite.  I really did.  There was also a slice of strawberry cheesecake-like pie, but it just didn't hold a candle to the coconut cream.

This was the best meal of the trip and watching the In-Laws share a meal with family they rarely get to see did my heart so much good.  I just wish that the Ex-Ex, Son 1 and Son 2, Brothers-in-Law and Nephew could have been there, too.  Like in the old days during our family vacations out there.
Here's the lunch gang--

After lunch, I wandered around to take photos.

Oui, wild sunflowers were in bloom everywhere.

The Pie Lady is also an artist.  I met her and bought some of her notecards.

This photo I took just for you, Uncle Rod.

The infamous jackalope.  You sure had fun in 1984 with the Appalachian Mountain girl who married into the family and made her first trip west of east Tennessee to visit.  We missed you at lunch!

It was so much fun to spend time with Aunt Barbara and Uncle Dick and the first, second, and third (does that even exist?) cousins from North Dakota.  Sabrina and her babies.  Granddad Alan.

Brother-in-Law and Nephew did come join us for part of the stay.  It was fun joining in on their photographic adventures.

Brother-in-Law is working on a photo montage of me...  I look rather very scary. He is calling it Where's The Pie Smile.

Last, but certainly not least, since the whole clan wouldn't exist without them, I dedicate this blog post to Grandma and Granddad.  We miss you.  And I thank you from the bottom of my heart.

Stay tuned for a recipe and Part Deux of Coconut Cream Dreams.

Bon appétit, Nebraska and all the In-Laws!  Thanks for a wonderful trip.