Easy as pie…crust.

Posted: March 28, 2011 | Author: Alyssa | Filed under: Uncategorized | No Comments »

There are some things that people keep around as staples in their kitchen.  A lot of my friends always have beans in their pantry (gross) for quick meals, I know others that always have home made stock on hand.  For me, my staples change with the seasons.  In the summer its fresh mozz, tomatoes and basil plants.  Spring it tends to be fresh fruit…etc.  When I’m coming up on a time with tons of “stuff” going on like going to parties, hosting parties, etc… I tend to keep a couple things on hand so I can throw together good and quick things to bring and serve.  Two of the main things are puff pastry sheets and pie crusts.  The puff pastry I just buy in the freezer section, but the pir crust, I make a ton of in the food processor and store it in the fridge. 

I use a pretty basic pie crust recipe:

  • 1 1/2 cups plus 2 tablespoons bleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into 1/4-inch pieces and chilled
  • 5 tablespoons ice water, or as needed

I make four or five pie crusts and store them in the fridge so I can pull them out as needed to make things like this…

Leek and Brie Tart

This is WICKED easy.  Sautee 2-3 leeks in olive oil with salt, pepper and garlic.  bake the pie crust flat ( I roll it out onto a pizza sheet) at 450 for 10 minutes.  While its cooling, finish sauteeing your leeks.  Spread leeks onto a paper towel to cool and drop some of its greast.  Spread Creme Brie on the cooled pie crust, then spread the leeks on top and you are done. 

For those of you that aren’t familiar, creme brie is basically just brie with no rind.  Its in the cheese section of the grocery and comes in a plastic container that looks like a wedge of brie.  I love it for recipes, because its so easy!  This tart is really good, and probably one of my new favorites.  I made this again last night but this time added dill and baby bella mushrooms and it was even better.  I also want to try it with some pancetta at some point.

This is just the recipe I happen to like right now, but the beauty of having pie crusts on hand is you can use them for so many things, its a great time saver.  If you bake it flat, you can put pretty much whatever you want on it.  You can also cut it to fit in mini muffin tins and make quick mini quiche, or do what my mom always used to do with extra crust: Roll it out, spread it with butter and cinnamon sugar, roll it up, cut it into pinwheels and bake them until they are brown and delicious. 

Pie crust is a great way to make delicious and impressive dishes without putting in a ton of effort.  And lets face facts, thats pretty much my goal in life, to impress others while putting in little to no effort ;)

The Great Adventure -Day One

Posted: March 7, 2011 | Author: Alyssa | Filed under: Alyssa, The Great Adventure, Uncategorized | 1 Comment »

Sometimes you have to go outside your comfort zone.  Today I not only left my comfort zone, but rather, I was launched headfirst out of it.  As some of you know, I started a new job this year and as part of my job, I am responsible for planning a 2 week experiential learning class each year.  This year, I am teaching a class of 8 kids about baking.  We have rented a kitchen, I have ordered a ridiculous amount of flour, sugar, eggs, butter, etc… and I have gone shopping for tons and tons of kitchen equipment (which, by the way, was probably some of the most fun I’ve ever had…even at IKEA on a Saturday).  Up until yesterday all that was left to do was actually teach it.  That’s where the problem came in, because once I actually sat down for a second and thought about the adventure I was about embark upon, I freaked out.  I don’t know if it was the stress of getting everything ready AND getting my exams/grades/comments together, or if I just really never fully thought about it as a real thing, but all my insecurities came out last night.  And they didn’t just make a quick appearance and then peace out, they came in full force with tents, hiking gear and coolers of food to last them through the long, cold winter. What if I forgot something?  What if they hated it and I couldn’t make baking fun?  What. If. I. Forgot. How. To. BAKE?!  Obviously failure is not the end of the world, but seeing as this is my first foray into anything like this, I think I am justified in a little freak out.  Luckily I got through today without tanking epically.  Here’s how the day went:

I took two trips over to the kitchen to bring all of our stuff and at 8:45 I was in the kitchen, ready to go.  The kids were supposed to be there at 9.  At 9am, I had one kid. Everyone else rolled in around 9:10-9:15 ish, saying that they had gotten lost.  Apparently I was not as explicit in my directions as I should have been, but eventually everyone found their way down and we were set to go. 

Before we could really do anything we had to get set up, get acquainted with the kitchen and wash all the new stuff.  I always like to wash new stuff before I use it, especially after wandering around the stores and seeing a little kid sneeze and then pick up a cutting board…you never know what that stuff has been through before you get it.  So we spent the morning doing dishes and getting the equipment set up. 

Then we got started with biscuits.  We needed a few things so we ran to the grocery next door.  Then the kids broke into pairs and we got started.  We went over various techniques and tips, like keep your butter very cold and how to cut butter into your dry ingredients even though it can take forever.  We rolled out our dough, cut it and baked it.  As I was trying the first round, I was starting to bask in the overall success that was our first day (I wasn’t a total failure!!).  But something tasted a little off.  I figured it was just the oven (its from the 3rd century) and didn’t give it another thought.  Some of the biscuits were overcooked because the ovens run pretty hot…like 75 degrees off, but overall they came out great and the kids did really well. 

After lunch, we went for another attempt on the biscuits, this time without my direct instruction.  The kids kind of went off course, wanting to try various things like putting unsweetened cocoa powder in, but I figured there was nothing wrong with trying new things.  Some of them came out pretty good, like the cheddar cheese biscuits and the brown sugar biscuits, others were… interesting.  No matter how many biscuits I tried though, something still seemed off and I was really starting to worry about if the ovens were going to make all of our food taste a little off. 

The kids got the kitchen all clean and I sent them on their way, and it wasn’t until I was packing up for the day that I realised why everything tasted different.  Trader Joes baking soda comes in a can just like the baking powder that I use.  We were supposed to be using a Tbsp of baking powder, but instead we were using baking soda.  AAANNNDDD….I’m dumb.  I can’t believe I didn’t notice that!  I haven’t told the kids yet, but I’ll tell them tomorrow and we can try our biscuits again, this time with the right ingredient…

So it wasn’t perfect, but overall it was a pretty good day.  I’ve got a great group of kids and I think we’re going to be able to do some fun stuff in the next two weeks. 

Here is the recipe we used:

2 cups flour

1tsp sugar

1tsp salt

1Tbsp baking POWDER

1 stick of butter

3/4 of a cup of milk (give or take)

Bake at 400 for 10-15 minutes.  They are pretty easy, if you can read labels……

Breaking Tradition

Posted: December 3, 2010 | Author: Alyssa | Filed under: Uncategorized | 2 Comments »

I love Thanksgiving.  It gives me an excuse to do two of my favority things: cook for others and eat.  I couldn’t ask for more! Of course, I don’t really get down with all of the traditional Thanksgiving foods.  I’m not a fan of sweet potatoes, and pumpkin pie is probably one of my least favorite things ever.  I like pumpkin, but not when it is super dense, sweetened and from a can.  So this year I decided to go in a different direction.  I felt this was appropriate as this Thanksgiving was a little different than previous years.  Normally we are at my parents house with one sister and her family, and this year we were at my other sister’s house with her family.  So I was feeling a little non traditional to begin with. 

I had seen this recipe for brownsugar merigue pie in my Southern Cooking book, but seeing as its normally just me, I’m not really in the business of making pies on a regular basis.  So Thanksgiving was a great time to try this out without ending up eating it all myself. 

On the morning of Thanksgiving day, I got to work.  This pie has two separate components, but there is some overlap so preparation and planning are KEY.  It takes some work and makes a bit of a mess, but trust me, it is totally worth it!

Start by blind baking a 9″ crust. 

For the filling:

  • 1  cup  firmly packed light brown sugar
  • 1/3  cup  cornstarch
  • 1/8  teaspoon  salt
  • 2  cups  half-and-half
  • 4  egg yolks (lightly beaten)
  • 2  teaspoons  vanilla extract
  • 1/4  cup  butter, cut into pieces
  • Put the brown sugar, corn starch and salt in a medium saucepan.  Stir in the half and half while cooking it over medium heat.  Stir it continually until it boils and thickens.  Once it thickens, let it boil for about two minutes while you beat the egg yolks.  Remove the pan from the heat and pour about 1/4 of the mixture into the yolks, beating them constantly.  Then pour the egg mixture back into the pan again, stirring constantly.  Put the pan back on the heat and cook for a few minutes while continually stirring (this pie is also a good arm work out).  Remove it from the heat and then stir in the butter and vanilla.  Set that off to the side while you make the meringue.  You may want to cover it because, as with most puddings and custards it tends to get a little solid on top if it cools uncovered. 

    For the meringue:

  • 3/4  cup  firmly packed light brown sugar
  • 2/3  cup  granulated sugar
  • 6  tablespoons  water
  • 5  egg whites
  • 1/2  teaspoon  cream of tartar
  • Combine water, sugar and brown sugar in medium saucepan and cook over medium heat stirring constantly until the sugar has fully dissolved.  Bring it to a boil and cook it until it reaches 250 degrees. You have to stir it regularly, but not constantly.  If you have a candy thermometer this is firm ball stage.  If you are like most home cooks and don’t have a candy thermometer here is what you can do.  When you think its at the right stage, take a small spoonfull and drop it into cold water.  Let it sit for about 30 seconds and then pull it out.  Once it forms a firm, yet pliable ball then it is good to go.  **Sometime around this stage you should start preheating the oven to 375, that way you don’t have to wait once everything is put together. 

    While the syrup is cooking, beat the egg whites and cream of tartar until it forms soft peaks.  I used a hand mixer which made it more difficult to work simultaneously with the syrup and the egg whites, so if you have a stand mixer use it!  Pour the syrup slowly into the egg whites while beating on high until it forms stiff peaks.  It should still look smooth and shiny.  If it starts to look chunky or curdled, you have beaten it too much. 

    Pour the filling into the pie crust and spread evenly.  Top with the meringue in dollops (I know, I hate that word too but its the best I’ve got right now) and spread to the edges.  Make sure you ‘seal’ the edges along the crust.  Bake for 9 minutes, just until the meringue is golden brown and delicious looking. 

    Coconut Cupcakes

    Posted: September 26, 2010 | Author: Bakezilla | Filed under: Bakezilla, Uncategorized | 2 Comments »

    It seems that coconut is a controversial ingredient. I know several people who aren’t crazy for it, including at least 2 of our pretty girls and even my own mother. So perhaps this is a controversial statement. But here goes: I love coconut. Almond Joys are my favorite cheap candy, coconut frozen fruit bars are my favorite… I love it. Especially when it’s served sweet (ie macaroons), though I’m also partial to more savory (coconut milk curry…).

    In that spirit, here are some coconut cupcakes I made, with all this leftover shredded sweetened coconut I had bought when it was on sale. The cake is like a plain old cake with a coconutty twist… which to me, was awesome.

  • 3 cups cake flour (not self-rising)
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 3 sticks (1 1/2 cups) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 2 1/4 cups sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 cup coconut milk
  • 8 large egg whites (I used the kind that comes in a carton, because it felt like a big waste to toss 8 yolks).
  • 1 1/4 cups shredded sweetened coconut
  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line two standard 12-cup muffin pans with paper liners, or grease them well to go paper-less; set aside.
  • In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt; set aside.
  • In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat butter and 2 cups sugar until light and fluffy, 3 to 4 minutes, scraping down sides of the bowl as needed. Beat in vanilla. With mixer on low speed, add flour mixture in three parts, alternating with the milk and beginning and ending with the flour; beat until just combined. Transfer mixture to a large bowl; set aside.
  • In the clean bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat egg whites on low speed until foamy. With mixer running, gradually add remaining 1/4 cup sugar; beat on high speed until stiff, glossy peaks form, about 4 minutes. Do not overbeat. Gently fold a third of the egg-white mixture into the butter-flour mixture until combined. Gently fold in remaining egg-white mixture; stir in shredded coconut.
  • Divide batter evenly among the muffin cups, filling each with a heaping 1/4 cup batter. Bake, rotating pans halfway through, until the cupcakes are golden brown and a cake tester inserted in the center of a cupcake comes out clean, 20 to 25 minutes.  Cool.
  • I then frosted mine with regular chocolate ganache, though the recipe called for a meringue frosting.  I also put some sweetened, shredded coconut on top for decoration.  If you’re a coconut fan like me, these are sure to please!

    It seems I accidentally deleted the pictures I took of these cupcakes.  Sorry!

    The most amazing gift ever

    Posted: | Author: Alyssa | Filed under: Alyssa, Uncategorized | No Comments »

    I recently moved from Ohio to Massachussettes, which was a very large and complicated move, but for a very good reason (a kick ass job).  Unfortunately after I had opened all my boxes and unpacked everything, I realised that I had somehow forgotten all of my knives and the majority of my kitchen utensils back in Ohio…shit.  I have no idea how I missed two whole drawers, but apparently thats what happened.  After losing my mind a little (a lot), I tried to go through and figure out exactly what I was missing.  My amazing Forschner knives that were a Christmas gift, the ice cream scoop that belonged to my grand parents and is better than any ice cream scoop that they make today, the beater attachments to my electric hand mixer, and the list goes on and on.  I am still trying to figure out everything that is missing and slowly starting to replace things as I can, but it was a pretty devastating blow to lose all my stuff (and to realise how much of a flaming idiot I am).  Luckily for me, a couple great things happened.  My awesome sister happened to get new utensils and was willing to give me her old ones, so now I at least have a couple spatulas, a slotted spoon, and a ladle.  Crap i just remembered my sweet ladle with the graded measurements marked right on it.  Anyway, moving on.  the second great thing that happened was that Cutleryandmore.com had sale on Forschners, selling a 15 piece block for 65% off.  Now, even with the discount these knives are absurdly expensive, but being the foodie that I am I decided to make it my birthday gift to myself and get it.  After using extremely cheap knives for two weeks, and I mean EXTREMELY cheap, as in everything is serrated and you almost cut your hand off slicing cheese it was totally worth the price to have great knives again.  So I am slowly trying to rebuild my kitchenware collection and if anyone has any ideas or suggestions on things that I should buy, I would greatly appreciate it.

    On a more personal note, I also had to leave my amazing boyfriend in Ohio, so we are only going to be able to see each other sporadically in the upcoming months.  I mention this because he recently came to visit and brought me perhaps the most perfect gift anyone could have every gotten me for my birthday.  First, he got me two bottles of wine and a gift card to a book store (for those of you that don’t know, I’m a huge nerd).  However, when I opened the second box, I saw an eight inch chef’s knife engraved with: PrettyGirlsUseKnives.com.  It is beautiful, and it was so thoughtful I was speechless.  So needless to say, boyfriend did a fantastic job and I am simultaneously touched and impressed.  Check out the greatest gift of all time…

    AANNDDD I’m back!!

    Posted: September 23, 2010 | Author: Alyssa | Filed under: Alyssa, Uncategorized | 2 Comments »

    First, let me say how sorry I am for my longer than brief hiatus.  There is no excuse, but in my defence, I was without a kitchen all summer and then moved into a new apartment where the internet situation was less than stellar.  But the good news is, I am Back!!!  So I’m just going to dive right in and fill in some blanks as I go.  Lets do this…

    Once I left my fun, but kitchenless, summer job I was excited to get back to cooking, so I looked up some fun recipes.  It also helps that I got the “Whats for dinner” app for my phone so I was playing with that.  I found a recipe for grilled onion tarts and got wicked excited so I made that along with balsamic porkchops and a caprese salad. 

    The tarts were a little different than you would expect based on the title, but still pretty delicious.  It calls for 4″ puff pastry shells, but I have not been able to find them at any store (if you know where I can get them, let me know) so I went with the only shells I could find which were pretty little.  Bake the shells according to the directions on the box.  I have every intention of eventually trying to make these on my own, but I am still slightly (read: extremely) intimidated by puff pastry, so we’ll see when that happens.  The rest of the ingredients are as follows:

    Two cups, thinly sliced parboiled new potatoes, provolone cheese sliced, 1/2 cup cooked diced bacon, 8ish whole green onions, olive oil, salt and pepper. 

    Make sure the potatoes are almost fully cooked, because they will not have tons of time in the oven to cook.  Coat the onions lightly in oil, salt and pepper and grill or sautee for about a minute on each side.  Layer the potatoes in each of the pastry shells then top with cheese, place two green onions over the cheese and sprinkle with bacon pieces.  Drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper.  Bake in a 350 oven until cheese melts, about 8-10 minutes. 

    This was pretty good, although i was working with an over that was literally from the 1950′s so it was pretty tempermental and my potatoes were not cooked all the way through.  I would also like to try it with different cheeses because as much as I love provolone, its a little too mellow for me.  I prefer a more bold cheese flavor.  This is definitely a recipe I will keep working on, especially as I get into playing with puff pastry. 

    I also made balsamic pork chops which were good, but the real take away from that endeavour was that balsamic vinegar and chicken stock, when reduced, make a freaking delicious sauce that I would put on anything. Sauce, marinade, dressing, i would eat it with a spoon if I weren’t concerned about institutionalization (pretty sure thats not a word, but its fun to say).


    Posted: May 12, 2010 | Author: Johanna | Filed under: Johanna, Uncategorized | 5 Comments »

    On the night before my 26th birthday, I remarked to Jesse that I had a favorite word.
    I’ve decided that I love the joy, the silliness, the lightness and sense of play that come pouring out of the word. As I begin my 27th year, I’ve decided to be more joyful, playful, and whimsical in my daily life.

    Another of my favorite words, by the way, is what you see above: Clafoutis. Say it with me now. Clafoutis. Cluh-FOO-tee.
    Clafoutis is a tart, comprised of fruit and a baked custardy type stuff. There is no crust. I baked this one in a springform pan, and I’ll be honest, I don’t even remember exactly what recipe I used. I didn’t write anything down, so I’m not 100% sure the amounts of seasonings I added in, and in general this was truly thrown together. I made it for breakfast on my 26th birthday, with blackberries that were on sale at the grocery store the night before. I shudder to think where they might have originated, but they were tasty and made for a lovely baked breakfast.
    Blackberry Clafoutis

    1. Preheat the oven to 350. Butter your vessel. I used an 8 1/2 inch springform pan, but you can also use a 9-inch deep dish pie plate, a 10-inch pie plate, a cake tin, or anything else that makes you happy.
    2. Scatter 8 ounces of blackberries (or blueberries, cherries, raspberries, plums, strawberry pieces, whatever) over the bottom of your vessel.
    3. Combine 4 eggs, 1 cup of milk, and 1 cup of sugar in a bowl. I used half a cup each of brown and white sugar, but you can use either/or. Beat until everything is well combined.
    4. Add 3/4 cup of flour and a pinch of salt. At this point, you can add any seasonings you want – I used orange zest, cardamom, and cinnamon.
    5. Pour the custard over the berries in the bottom of your vessel, redistribute the berries, and bake for 40-45 minutes. You want the top to be springy  and not liquidy when you touch it. It will puff and then slump when you let it cool. Mine took closer to an hour because it was in such a small pan, so start checking at or around 40 minutes, and you should be good.

    This dish is very forgiving, and as long as you stick to the proportions of the custard, everything else is fair game. Plus, you can be free with it, and make it with things that you probably have at home anyways. You can get creative, and fancy, using different fruits, more fruits, a variety of fruits….everything about clafoutis is customizable.

    Plus, it just makes me giggle to say. Clafoutis.


    The Final Falafel

    Posted: April 19, 2010 | Author: Johanna | Filed under: Johanna, Uncategorized | Tags: | 3 Comments »

    I’ve been writing about falafel basically since I started writing this blog. It’s definitely one of my favorite foods, and also kind of my nemesis. I’ve never found a reliable recipe. A couple times they’ve worked just when I’ve been winging it. Sometimes, they don’t work at all. One time, they were really pretty. But in general, falafel and I don’t get along as well in my kitchen as we do in restaurants.
    And then, there was Guy Fieri.

    Love him or hate him, Food Network’s resident HFK (happy fat kid – and proud!) finds the best diner grub, greasy food, and dive bar wonders in the world. So when he did an episode of his show Guy’s Big Bite, featuring a falafel recipe from his travels, I was hooked in. I decided to try this recipe, and WOW am I glad I did. These falafels are deep-fried, which isn’t super healthy, but considering how infrequently I make them, you can almost get away with it. PLUS, it’s chickpeas. Chickpeas, and peppers and a salad of tomato, cucumber and parsley, and a yogurt sauce with lots of parsley and lemon juice. And it’s good. Very good.

    Guy Fieri’s Falafel with Yogurt Sauce and Salad

    I made the falafels pretty much exactly the way Guy describes, except that I added a seeded jalapeno when I sweated the vegetables out in the saute pan, and I omitted the cilantro, because I think it tastes like soapy dirt. If you like it, by all means, use the cilantro.

    I also made a quick salad, from cucumbers, tomatoes, parsley, lemon juice, and olive oil, that I put into the pitas with the falafels. I topped everything with a yogurt sauce, made with Greek yogurt, the juice of the other half of the lemon, more parsley, salt and a lot of pepper.

    These falafels are really good. They’re warm, but not super spicy. They fry up beautifully, and stay together when most others fall apart. They’re crispy, and I promise they’re easy to make. The hardest part is making the crenelle shape, but even that is pretty simple, and if you have a tiny ice cream scoop, you can do that too. Even easier, you can just use a soupspoon or tablespoon to drop the falafels into the oil. The important part is just that you make these. As soon as possible. You’ll be glad you did. I promise.

    We’ll discuss Guy’s haircut and sunglasses in another entry. Because sometimes, we all have to ignore things in favor of delicious falafels. :)

    The best of both worlds

    Posted: April 14, 2010 | Author: Alyssa | Filed under: Alyssa, Uncategorized | Tags: , , | 3 Comments »

    During a recent conversation with my oldest sister, she presented me with a challenge.  We have all had chocolate chip pancakes, or blueberry pancakes, but how many of you have had BACON PANCAKES?  This was the challenge my sister set out for me, and I must say I rose to the occasion nicely (because its just as easy as any other kind of pancake :) ).

    My parents didn’t have the full set of ingredients for making pancakes, so I had to use a mix for my test run, which was kind of frustrating but worked out fine.  Normally I use this pancake recipe though, which is super easy and delicious.

    All you have to do is make the pancake batter, and cook the bacon to your desired crispiness.  I like mine really crispy, so I tend to cook it longer.  Once the bacon is cooked, cut it into roughly bite sized pieces, saving all the little crumbly bits that break off.  Pour the batter onto the griddle, and once the pancake sets enough to slide a spatula under, but not quite at the point where you are ready to flip it, add the bacon pieces.  Just sprinkle them on the top and poke them down a little so they settle into the batter.  Flip the pancakes and viola! you have bacon pancakes.  I recommend butter and maple syrup to finish them off because what could be more delicious than pancake, bacon, and syrup all in one bite?  These were super delicious and really easy to make!

    I have promised that the next time I’m visiting I will make this for the family, so I think I will have to keep practicing in the meantime…somehow I don’t think I’ll have trouble finding some people to help me eat them :)

    Johanna: The Improviser

    Never quite follows the recipe. Doesn't really measure. Tastes with her fingers. Somehow, it always works.

    Alyssa: The Triple Threat

    Can do it all. And modest to boot.

    Bakezilla: We Use Mixers Too

    She likes to bake. Actually, baking is the only thing she does. It's a passion.

    Rita: The Kosher Chick

    Restrictions have nothing on her.