Sunday, October 14, 2012

Little Pumpkin Pies

The Little Pumpkin Blog...

In my blog this week, I mentioned that my neighbor Tricia brought over a pumpkin pie for our Fall-Fest dinner. While we were at our Publix grocery store yesterday, my husband suggested that we pick up ingredients to make another one, since Tricia’s was so yummy. It was almost all we could think about as we walked the isles! As Tricia did, we used Libby’s canned Pumpkin filling, not the Pumpkin Pie filling; we wanted to add our own spices.  Following the recipe on the back of the can, all I needed to get was the filling, condensed milk and a pie crust. I normally make my own crusts, but for time sake, I cheated a little and got a two-pack of frozen crusts (Publix brand). 

The pie-making process started out hunky-dory, then, things went slightly awry... After mixing the ingredients, I noticed that my pie crust was not deep enough for all the filling. I made the mistake of going for the least expensive crust - it was regular, not deep dish.  Too much filling for one crust, but not enough for two - Oops!  Not to fear, I improvised a smidge, scrounging around the kitchen to find something else to use for the extra filling, I grabbed my mini-muffin pan. Since I had two pie crusts... I used the second one to cut little circles and place into the tiny spaces.  I filled each cup with a small amount of the remaining filling, and baked them along with the regular sized pie. Time-wise, I adjusted the baking time to make sure not to burn either the shallow pie, or the little beauties, and somehow, blindly, I did it - YEA!

I’m a little excited that I was able to use the leftover fillings and come up with an interesting and fun alternative. I know I’m not inventing something new, there are plenty of mini’s out there, but this was my first time trying something like this, and I am thrilled that it was a success!

So, how did I do it? I’ll tell you...  I started out baking both the normal sized pie and the mini-pies together in a 425° oven for 15 minutes. After the allotted time, I pulled out the little pie tin and turned down the oven to 350°. After 30 minutes, I took out the larger pie and replaced with the smaller ones back into the oven for 20 minutes.  Once the little pies were baked, the hardest part was waiting ten minutes for them to cool down. I have to say even though it was a short time, in reality, it was brutal for us to have to hold off until we could pick them up. Once we did, they were PERFECT.


The little pies are the perfect size to pop in your mouth. Seriously, if you don’t want a whole slice of pie, mini pies are terrific - however, I will warn you... you may not be able to stop! My tin only makes twelve at a time, now I’m thinking I need to get a larger mini-muffin pan...  These would make excellent holiday gifts, hors’desserts for parties; my mind is swirling with all kinds of ideas.

The thing about Pumpkin pie... for me, it conjures up so many delicious memories of holidays with my family. The rich warming effect of the pie plays not only on my palate, but also on my mind, evoking happy times. It is just simply scrumptious.  I encourage you to try this at home! I’m including the original Libby’s recipe, which is dandy. 

Libby’s Deep Dish Pumpkin Pie Recipe:
¾ C. Sugar
Pinch of Salt
1 tsp. Cinnamon
½ tsp. ground Ginger
¼ tsp. ground Cloves
1 15 oz. Can Libby’s Pumpkin filling
1 15 oz. Can Evaporated Milk
2 Eggs
1 Deep Dish Pie Crust

Pre-heat oven to 425°. Mix Sugar and spices together. Beat eggs and mix in sugar, spices, and pumpkin. Slowly mix in evaporated milk and pour into a deep dish pie crust. Bake for 15 minutes at the 425°, then turn down oven to 350° and continue baking pie for 40 to 50 minutes until knife inserted into the center and comes out clean.  Serve warm or refrigerate until ready to serve.

Until later...

May life be as delicious as your dishes!
SRQ Foodie

Friday, October 12, 2012

Famously French Onion Soup...

Mon Amour de la soupe à l'oignon

The title of this week’s blog translates to “My Love of Onion Soup.” Yes my friends, I have a little obsession with French Onion Soup. You may have noticed that I am a bit picky when it comes to food, and I will admit it... there are certain dishes that I stand firm on how they are prepared. One of them is French Onion Soup. Growing up in St. Louis, I spent many hours shopping at a department store called Famous Barr. Now, it’s one of many mercantile establishments that have succumbed to the conglomerate known as Macy’s. Back in the day, most department stores had restaurants in them so that the ladies could luncheon while they shopped. One of the popular dishes this St. Louis shopping destination offered was their “famous” Famous Barr French Onion Soup. I can’t tell you how many bowls of this luscious, warming, gratin-ish soup I consumed with my mom and friends. It was rich, deep and comforting. I came across a recipe a while ago that comes as close as I can remember, and I think I’ve nailed it! The flavors grab you by the salivary glands and take you to your happy place.

It’s a fairly easy recipe, and the secret is the slow-simmering cooking process. It does take some time, but the end result is simply wondrous! My recommendation is to use a food processor, otherwise, get your onion goggles out and prepare for a good cry.

While I was processing the onions for our dinner, I had visions of the Julie & Julia movie, where Meryl Streep’s character Julia Child was practicing her knife skills with a burlap sack filled with onions. The scene: Julia Child’s kitchen table is piled high with a mountain of chopped onions. As she continues to practice, her on-screen husband, Stanley Tucci portraying Paul Child, walks to the kitchen door, stops immediately, grabs his eyes and cringes from the painful fumes powerfully emanating throughout the kitchen. When their brief conversation was over, Julia asks Paul, “Where are you going? “His response... “Away from here!” That scene cracks me up every time I watch! I can honestly say that if it wasn’t for the invention of the food processor, I don’t think that I would have the stamina to do this dish... Onion fumes burn! Even after using my Cuisinart, I was almost overcome with the fumes emanating straight up through my nasal passages and into my eyes, as I was placing the onions in to the stockpot. The fumes coming out were nuclear, and it took me about five minutes to recover. Yeow!

So, back to the soup... ah, the lovely, earthy nectar I call soup... This particular recipe is so dynamic, after making it yourself; I believe you’ll never desire any other. Unfortunately, the only way to enjoy this classic soup is to make it yourself. Since the Macy’s take over, the old-fashioned department store eateries are, tragically, a thing of the past. It’s really a shame, because of the tradition of mothers and daughters, and fashionable ladies dressed in their best, sitting down for light lunch between hunting for shoes, accessories and cosmetics has vanished. I have so many memories of spending the day with my mom or friends shopping. The camaraderie outweighed anything else.

Famous Barr's French Onion Soup
4½ hours | 40 min prep
SERVES 16, 4 quarts

5 lbs onions, unpeeled
1/2 cup butter (1 stick)
1 ½ teaspoons black pepper, freshly ground
2 tablespoons paprika
1 bay leaf
7 (16 ounce) cans beef broth, divided (6 cans and 1 can for thickening)
1 cup dry white wine
3/4 cup all-purpose flour or instant flour (such as Wondra)
caramel coloring (optional) or Kitchen Bouquet (optional) - I don’t do this particular step
French baguette
Swiss cheese or gruyere cheese

Peel onions and slice 1/8 inch thick, preferably in a food processor. Melt butter in a 6-quart (or larger) stockpot. Add onions; cook, uncovered, over low heat for 1 1/2 hours, stirring occasionally. (The long cooking time makes the onions mellow and sweet.) Stir in pepper, paprika and bay leaf; sauté over low heat 10 minutes more, stirring frequently. Pour in 6 cans broth and add wine.  Increase heat and bring to a boil. Dissolve flour in remaining 1 can of broth. Stir into boiling soup. Reduce heat and simmer uncovered slowly for 2 hours. Adjust color to a rich brown with caramel coloring. Season with salt. Refrigerate overnight. To serve, heat soup in microwave or on stove top. If desired, pour into ovenproof crocks or bowls. Top with a slice of bread and a sprinkling of grated cheese. Heat under the broiler until cheese melts and bubbles, about 5 minutes. Leftovers can be frozen.

I’ve altered the recipe somewhat based on what I remember from the original soup. 

Couple of things:
  • I prefer to use sweet or Vidalia onions.
  • I make the soup early in the morning and let it simmer all day long. If you can, refrigerate overnight, although after cooking, the aroma fills the house and temptation sets in.
  • I slice my French baguette about 1 and ½ inches thick and toast in oven. Once the bread is crisp and a little browned, I let it cool to room temperature to get nice and hard.
  • I skip the caramel color or kitchen bouquet options – it’s already a lovely deep rich color.
  • I use the oven proof crocks
  • I fill crock with soup, top with slice of toasted bread and a small mountain of cheese before putting under the broiler.
The last line of the recipe reads leftover soup can be frozen. That is so very true-- there is something even more comforting about pulling out a container of this elixir when you’re not in the mood to cook!  

One of the things I love most about this dish is when the cheese melts; it climbs down the side of the crock and crisps up so beautifully. After all the soup is gone, and the crock is empty, my last step is to pick the intensely flavored baked cheese off the sides. It totally adds to the whole experience!

This is a filling soup, almost a meal in itself. I served an arugula salad drizzled with olive oil and white balsamic vinegar on the side. For dessert, our neighbor Tricia brought over a homemade Pumpkin Pie. It was totally satisfying. We even had to wait a while before digging into Tricia’s awesome pie.

I will say living in Florida, the tropical heat sort of “lets the air out of the tires for me “when it comes to soup. Let’s see, our weather... Hot, Hotter and Hurricane Season! All my life, I’ve consider soup to be warming and comforting, sort of like a giant hug, and hot soup on a hot day, well-not so refreshing, more like stifling. However, after working for one of my restaurant clients, who makes won-der-ful soups, my interest for liquid hugs has been re-sparked. Since it’s October, and much of the U.S. is in fall season mode, I had to make it for us. So glad I did, because every spoonful is a scoop of happy memories.

Until next time...

May life be as delicious as your dishes!
SRQ Foodie

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Chicken Wings - What's Your Pleasure?

Spicy, Zesty, Zingy, Mild, Medium,
Hot, Nuclear?

Chicken Wings... what started as a bar room trend in Buffalo, NY has become standard fare at many eating establishment across the country.  Wings have gone beyond being available at just restaurants or bars, as appetizers or entrees; they are now served at parties, a must-have for watching sporting events, and even dinner at home.

Personally, I’ve become quite fussy when it comes to ordering them out somewhere. I find most restaurants cook them way too fast making them a little too juicy on the inside, and then speedily toss them in some sort of sauce.  The end result - wings do not really have any personality.  

Growing up I think I was spoiled when it came to wings. There was a great restaurant in St. Louis that my mom and I went to a lot for chicken wings called Culpepper’s, in the Central West End. Their wings are the standard by which I measure all others. Not only are their wings extraordinary, they also conjure  up happy memories of my mom and I spending many a weekend with friends chowing down on these little red hot treats .  Before or after a Cardinal’s game, (both baseball and football – that is before they defected to Phoenix) the restaurant would be packed with wing aficionados, tables filled with plates of wings, and bowls of their stripped carcasses.  My mom asked one of the cooks how they prepared their wings that made them so different from other restaurants and his answer was, “We fry them quick, then baste with our own sauce, and place under the broiler for a few minutes.” Let me tell you, this process makes a world of difference in taste and texture!  

Granted, I may have romanticized my wing experiences...
Nevertheless, the fact is, this style of preparation is the best way to enjoy a great wing. 

Nowadays, there are so many different flavors for chicken wings; Asian, Sweet BBQ, Jerk, Garlic, Mango, Cajun, you name it... it’s been created. Personally, I have an affection for the traditional buffalo flavor – medium heat.  You probably have at least two different chain chicken wing restaurants in your town and, hopefully, a couple of locally owned independent restaurants that have wings on their menu. I encourage you to patronize them first, before the chain...  as someone who represents locally owned restaurants; it’s the flavor of your hometown that makes food taste better.

I prefer mine naked...  Get your mind out of the gutter; I am not eating them au naturel, although bibs could be in order if they’re really messy and the sauce drips down the front of my shirt. No, I’m talking about, no flour coating, just the crisp skin of the chicken and the sauce.   I find that flour dilutes the whole wing experience.  But that’s my own opinion.

Now for the recipe:
SRQ Foodie’s Buffalo Chicken Wings

Chicken Wings – 8 per person
Peanut Oil – enough to evenly fry wings
Stick of Unsalted Butter
Heavy cast iron wok

Pre-heat oven to custom broil 350°. Heat peanut oil in wok. Rinse wings. Cut wing tips off chicken wings, the cut double boned piece from drumstick. Pat dry. Once oil is ready, fry up-to five wings at a time.  While oil is heating, mix one bottle of Frank’s “Original” Cayenne Pepper sauce in a saucepan, with half a bottle of Frank’s Buffalo Sauce and the stick of butter.  Heat on low until butter is melted.  Keep on warm until wings are ready for next step.  Once wings are crispy and cooked thoroughly, remove from oil and let rest for one minute to let excess oil drip off. Then place cooked wings in a bowl and toss with a ladle full of sauce. Toss to cover and place on a cooking sheet.  Once you have cooked all your wings and tossed in sauce, place wings on top shelf in oven for 5 minutes.  Drizzle small amount of extra sauce on top of the finished wings if desired. Enjoy with light salad and ranch dipping sauce.

Here’s what I’ve found, if you let the wings rest and then broil, the sauce will absorb into the meat. This cooking process really makes the meat tender and flavorful.  

I make my own ranch dressing... I find the pre-made versions taste a smidge artificial.  Besides, it really doesn’t take any amount of time to make. I like both ranch and blue cheese, so this recipe combines the best of both.

My recipe:  
SRQ Foodies Ranch-Blue Cheese Dressing/Dip

¾ C. Mayonnaise
½ C. Sour Cream
3 T. Buttermilk
½ tsp. each:
Dried Chives
Garlic Powder
Onion Powder
Salt to taste
¼ to ½ C. Crumbled Blue Cheese

Mix the mayo, sour cream, buttermilk together. Add spices and crumble blue cheese. Taste and add salt to your preference. Refrigerate for at least one hour.  Dressing can be used for dipping wings, crudité or tossed with iceberg lettuce for a light and refreshing salad.

My cousin Dylan has a similar recipe, the difference is, he adds a pinch of cayenne. I’m going to have to try his next time. He also leaves out the buttermilk for dip, but adds it for dressing. Mine is sort of a combination of both.

So there you have it, my interpretation for Buffalo style chicken wings and dip. I made it last Tuesday night for our weekly neighbor supper club and Tricia proclaimed, “This is a keeper!” I was excited they turned out so well!  The downside, now I’m craving them every day! Honestly, I could eat these every day, but then they wouldn’t be so captivatingly awesome.

Until next time... 

May your life be as delicious as your dishes!
SRQ Foodie

Monday, October 1, 2012

By George, I think I've got it! Heavenly Pancakes

Learning New Tricks...
Patience may be a virtue, but alas, I am not one of those lucky few that have that quality. Yes, I will admit, I am a child of “Instant Gratification”. I am one of the billions out in the world that have succumbed to the “I want it now” disease.  This revelation came to me this morning as I was making pancakes for my husband and me.  Yesterday, Rachael Ray was demonstrating grilling patty melts, explaining how the burner has to be lowered so that the bread doesn’t burn, and the cheese can melt properly. It dawned on me as I was about to start our pancakes, maybe the problem with my pancakes, is that I’m always in a hurry to get them done.  In the past, the bottom always cooks way too fast, gets really dark brown and stiff. Then, when I try to flip the top side the batter slides off, goes everywhere, and doesn’t stay together. I have a small stovetop griddle; allowing me to make two pancakes at a time. So when I go to flip the second pancake, it too splatters all over the small surface, and over onto the first pancake –and again, having to flip once more to cook off the raw batter – resulting in hard and tough little discs. I also realized in previous attempts, because I had the burner at a higher temperature the middles didn’t cook all the way, and again, I had to flip causing leathery pancakes.   
Well, maybe old dogs can learn new tricks! Because I took Rachael Ray’s advice and tried cooking with a lower heat. Yippee! For the first time, in a very long time, our pancakes were heavenly!  Light, airy, and melt-in- your-mouth are the words we were using to describe our fluffy breakfast this morning.  You know, I always thought I was a good cook but lately, have been a little self-conscious about my culinary abilities.  Now, I’ve discovered that I still have a lot to learn about myself, and the wonderful world of cooking.  Since I am an impatient person I have to slow down, and as they say, “A watched pot never boils”...  relax and take the time to do it right. 

The recipe for pancakes I use is from my mom’s Better Homes and Garden New Cookbook, circa 1962. The binding is weathered and cracked, and the pages are torn and worn. You can certainly tell which recipes she used the most frequently; the pages are splattered with dishes from my youth.  I love this cookbook so much, it reeks of my childhood, and when I open it up, I can see her in our old kitchen, cooking away, making not only meals, but also memories for our happy family.

The recipe:
Favorite Pancakes
Better Homes and Gardens New Cookbook

1 ¼ C. Sifted All-purpose Flour
3 Tsp. Baking Powder
1 T. Sugar
½ Tsp.  Salt (I personally use about a ¼ tsp. to watch our sodium levels)
1 Beaten Egg
1 C. Milk
2 T. Salad Oil or melted shortening, or bacon fat (Me, this morning I used the bacon fat, since I had made bacon and it was ready to go, it gave the pancake a nice added element)
1 tsp. Madagascar Bourbon Vanilla Paste (my secret ingredient)

Sift together flour, baking powder, sugar and salt. Combine egg, milk, vanilla paste and salad oil; add to dry ingredients. Stirring just til flour is moistened. (Batter may be lumpy)  Bake on a hot griddle. Makes about 12-dollar size, or eight 4-inch pancakes.

As I mentioned, the pancakes were fluffy, light, and airy, and in fact, did melt-in-our-mouths.  “By George” the lesson is learned! When you cook the pancakes at a lower temperature between medium-low and medium, the bottoms are golden brown, the middle is soft and evenly cooked – rising high, and they flip beautifully! 

If you look closely at the photos, you’ll notice little black flecks throughout the pancakes; my secret ingredient for the delightfully flavorful cakes is Madagascar Vanilla Bean Paste.  Oh, my goodness, I can’t believe I haven’t discovered this treasure before now!  Just a small teaspoon into the batter and the flavor changes from ordinary to extraordinary, and a little dramatic! Almost a heady aroma, the slight hint of vanilla takes breakfast to a higher level. And, I love seeing the little vanilla seeds float in the batter. Visually, the seeds expose my secret, but it’s definitely worth it to share with those indulging in these lovely cakes.

My mom always heated our maple syrup, and I continue that tradition. I think it makes the pancakes better.. Really, I can’t explain it. I have had both room temperature and heated syrup. I personally think warming the syrup prevents the pancakes from cooling down too quickly.  Add a pat of butter between the layers and ta-da; you have a delicious start to your day! 

Well... I think the lesson I’ve learned today is that I need to slow down, take time and put in the effort, at least, when it comes to cooking.... Microwave meals aren’t from scratch, so it would go to reason that if you hurry too much, you lose more than just the flavor...  you lose the soul of the dish!  Okay, well it seems that I’ve gone a little philosophical, so I think it’s now time to get to my real job. I have to write a story for the newspaper about a really interested storyteller who came to town. It is nice to actually get paid, to what you love to do!

Until next time,
May your life be as delicious as your dishes!
SRQ Foodie