Snowy Morning

IMG_3197 This morning we woke up to a wonderful surprise. SNOW! The one thing Munchkin consistently asked Santa for for Christmas. He was so excited to see the white flakes falling. Although, he was less than excited to walk around in it. Either way we still went out and he enjoyed “shoveling” the snow with his spatula – I mean shovel. But now the sun is out and the grass is back to its greener shade. It sure would be nice if it would snow and stick around for awhile. I never thought that I would ever say that before.  IMG_3200IMG_3195IMG_3206

Preparing for Disney – And Playing with Cars

In just a few weeks, we’ll be leaving for Disney World. It’s still hard to believe that it’s so close. When we first started planning, it felt like a lifetime away. Now, it’s mere weeks. We’ve been preparing Munchkin by watching all things Mickey Mouse and reading stories about Winnie the Pooh at bedtime (we’ll be having breakfast with Pooh and friends). He’s very excited to see both Mickey and Goofy. Although truthfully, I think he’s more excited to see Goofy.

In my own attempt to prepare for Florida, I’ve broken out my old Canon Powershot G10. The photos that I’m about to post are not great. To say that I am unhappy with them is an understatement. But in an attempt to learn from them, I’m going to post the photos anyway. I know that I would get better photographs if I would take my DSLR down to Disney, but I really don’t want to carry it around the parks all day long. Plus, most of the photos I’ll be taking will be taken outside and will most likely be in sunny conditions. While the ones I took with Munchkin the other day, were all inside and therefore required a higher ISO. I tried to eliminated as much grain as possible, but there’s only so much that can be done before the picture starts to look unrealistic.

Either way, here they are. A good starting point. Who knew that shooting a less complicated camera would be so challenging.IMG_1996 IMG_1998 IMG_1997

 

A Hint of Bourbon: Spiked Pumpkin Pie and Whipped Cream

IMG_2616Last night as Stephen and I were chatting over dinner, we started to talk about Thanksgiving and what we were looking forward to most. We both agreed that we could live without having turkey (or any main entrée for that matter). It’s not that we don’t enjoy turkey, and we certainly love the leftovers, we just don’t think it’s worth all the effort. Now, will we still have a turkey on Thanksgiving? Of course! But it’s not the main attraction to me.

If I had my way, I would just have stuffing with gravy and pumpkin pie. Now, I was not always a big fan of pumpkin pie, or pie for that matter. I always loved the flavor and spices that come along with pumpkin, but the texture was something less than desirable. Maybe I got used to it, maybe I grew up and just realized what I was missing, or maybe my palate changed. I don’t know, but I know that pumpkin pie has become my all time favorite part of Thanksgiving.

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Personally, I love pumpkin pie just by itself, but I think that what helps set this pie apart from others is the homemade bourbon whipped cream. It is simply divine. You could use whipped cream from a can, but trust me, the taste will not be the same. There is nothing like homemade whipped cream. And it has bourbon in it, so how could you go wrong?

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Bourbon Spiked Pumpkin Pie - makes filling for one 9-inch pie (You may have a little leftover depending on the depth of your pie plate)
adapted from Bride & Groom: First and Forever Cookbook

Ingredients

  • 1 9-inch pie crust recipe
  • 1/4 cup white sugar
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 can pumpkin (15 ounces)
  • 1 1/2 cups heavy cream
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 tablespoon bourbon
  • 1 tablespoon milk

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 400F. Remove the pie plate from the refrigerator and pierce the bottom of the crust with a fork a few times to prevent it from bubbling. Line it with aluminum foil, folding the excess foil over the edges. Fill it with pie weights. *Note: If you do not have pie weights, you can use coins, beans or rice instead. Bake on a rimmed baking sheet on the 2nd to lowest rack in the oven for 15 minutes. Carefully remove the foil and weights, rotate the baking sheet, and bake until the crust is light golden brown, 5-10 additional minutes. Remove the pie plate and baking sheet from the oven.
  2. Adjust the oven to 425F. Stir together the sugar, kosher salt, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, and nutmeg in a small bowl. Set aside.
  3. Whisk the eggs in a large bowl. Add the pumpkin, cream, vanilla, bourbon, and the sugar-and-spice mixture and mix well.
  4. Brush the entire crust with an egg wash. Fill the shell to the rim with the pumpkin mixture. (Depending on the pie shell and the dish, you may have as much as 1/3 cup of the pumpkin mixture left over.)
  5. Bake for 15 minutes. Reduce the oven to 350F and bake until the pie is set in the center, 40 to 50 minutes more. (The filling will still jiggle when moved.) Transfer the pie to a wire rack and let it cool completely. *Note: I find that because my pie plate is pretty shallow that I only need to bake my pie for about 35 mins at 350F. But if you have a deep pie plate you may have to cook it for the 40-50 mins.

Ingredients for Bourbon Whipped Cream

  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 tablespoon bourbon, plus more as needed

Directions for Bourbon Whipped Cream

  1. Combine the cream, sugar, and 1 tablespoon bourbon in a metal bowl. (Metal bowls will stay colder, yielding a better whip.)
  2. Beat on high until soft peaks form, about 1 minute. The cream should slowly fall over forward when lifted with a whisk.
  3. Add more bourbon, if desired.

Foolproof Pie Crust

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I had planned on putting this post out on the 1st day of November, but then life got in the way. Liam was getting over a cold which of course meant that I also go it. Inevitably the post was put on hold. Now that we’re all starting to feel better, and Liam is giving me a few minutes at the computer while he watches Mickey Mouse, I can finally get to sharing my Foolproof Pie Crust.

The foundation of every good pie is the crust. If your crust is lacking flakiness or isn’t very tender, then it usually doesn’t matter how delicious the rest of the filling is. This is why many people turn to pre-made frozen pie crusts. While there are some decent products on the market today, there is just something special about making your crust from scratch. 

When I was growing up, my nan would always make all of her crusts from scratch. That was just the way her generation did things. Unfortunately, I was never able to get her recipe from her, but I do have her old rolling pin. And I feel like a part of her is with me every time I make a pie. Because I didn’t have her recipe, I had to search the internet for my own. And in 2009, I came across a simple, easy and delicious recipe thanks to Cook’s Illustrated.

Traditional pie crusts are made by cutting butter or shortening into flour, and then mixing that with cold water. The trick is to not over mix the dough. The chefs at Cook’s Illustrated seem to have solved this problem by cutting the water in half, and replacing it with cold vodka. Now whether or not this truly has any effect on the texture of the crust, I can’t say. But ever since using this recipe, I have received nothing but compliments on all my pies. The best part is that you can use it for quiches, pies, tarts, or cobblers. The possibilities are endless.

In my next post, I’ll share my Bourbon-spiked Pumpkin Pie with Homemade Bourbon Whipped Cream.

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Foolproof Pie Crust - makes one 9-inch pie crust
Recipe from Cook’s Illustrated

Ingredients

  • 1 1/4 cups of all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 6 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/4 inch slices
  • 1/4 cup cold vegetable shortening, cut into 2 pieces
  • 2 tablespoons cold vodka
  • 2 tablespoons cold water

Directions

  1. In a medium sized bowl, mix together 3/4 cup of the flour, salt and sugar.
  2. Cut the butter and shortening into the flour mixture using a pastry mixer. Mix until the dough starts to collect in uneven clumps. There should be no uncoated flour.
  3. Add the remaining 1/2 cup of flour and mix until the flour is incorporated with the rest of the mixture.
  4. Sprinkle the vodka and water over the mixture. Using a rubber spatula, fold the dough until it sticks together. (You may have to add more water or vodka if it doesn’t come together. I usually add water or vodka a tablespoon at a time)
  5. Flatten the dough into a 4-inch disk and wrap it in plastic. Refrigerate it at least 45 minutes or up to 2 days.
  6. Remove dough from refrigerator and roll out on a generously floured counter to a 12-inch circle, about 1/8 inch thick. Roll dough loosely around the rolling pin and unroll into your 9-inch pie plate, leaving at least 1-inch overhang. Ease dough into the plate by lifting the edge with one hand while pressing it into the plate bottom with the other hand. Leave the overhanging dough in place.
  7. Trim overhang to 1/2 inch beyond the lip of the pie plate. Fold the overhang under itself. Place the dough in the refrigerator for 15-20 minutes to firm up before fluting the edges.
  8. Remove the dough from the refrigerator and use your thumb and forefinger to flute the edges of the dough. Cover with plastic and return dough to the refrigerator for 30 minutes.
  9. Your dough is now ready to be blind baked if making a custard style pie. Blind baking usually isn’t necessary when making fruit pies.

Pumpkin Cream Cheese Brownies

IMG_2279Last night, in preparation for Halloween, we finally got around to carving up our pumpkins. We typically like to wait until the day before so our creations can be as fresh as possible for the big night.

IMG_2261Now, as if carving two large pumpkins wasn’t enough to do in a night, I decided I wanted to try out a new recipe as well. I guess I thought that it could be something fun to do with Liam while Stephen was busy carving. Yeah, remind me not to do that again.

IMG_2302Liam is typically a big help in the kitchen. He has helped me make cookies, pumpkin pie and other desserts. However, those are all recipes I’ve made before. I don’t even need a recipe in front of me most of the time, so it’s easy to let Liam have fun stirring all the ingredients together. While these brownies are delicious, I think I’m going to have to have another go at it before I allow a toddler to “help” me. I should have just left Liam to assist his dad with the pumpkin carving.

I hope everyone has a fun and safe Halloween this year!

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Pumpkin Cream Cheese Brownies
Adapted from The Chew

Ingredients

  • 1 stick Unsalted Butter
  • 8 oz Semi Sweet Chocolate
  • 1 3/4 cup Flour
  • 1/4 cup Cocoa Powder
  • 1 tsp Baking Powder
  • 1/2 tsp Salt
  • 1/2 cup Brown Sugar
  • 1/2 cup Granulated Sugar
  • 4 Eggs
  • 1 tbs Vanilla Extract
  • 1 cup Mini Chocolate Chips
  • 1/2 cup Pumpkin
  • 4 oz Cream Cheese (room temperature)
  • 1 tsp Ground Cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp Ground Nutmeg
  • 1/4 tsp Ground Ginger

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 F and grease a 13 x 9 inch baking dish.
  2. Melt butter and chocolate over a double boiler and set aside.
  3. In a medium bowl, combine the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, and salt.
  4. In a larger bowl. whisk together the eggs, sugars and vanilla.
  5. Dump the flour mixture into the egg mixture and mix until just combined.
  6. Fold in the melted chocolate and butter. Gently fold in the mini chocolate chips.
  7. In another bowl, whip the pumpkin, cream cheese and spices together.
  8. Pour the brownie batter into the prepared baking dish and use a spatula to create an even layer in the pan.
  9. Dollop the pumpkin mixture in 4 to 6 places on the brownie. Take a butter knife and carefully swirl the pumpkin mixture throughout the brownie batter.
  10. Bake for 25-30 minutes until a toothpick inserted comes out dry. Cool for 15 minutes.

Mellow Mushroom Pizza Dough Copycat

IMG_0919Have you ever been to Mellow Mushroom? They recently opened up a location down in Carytown and I’ll be honest, I was a little skeptical at first. We already loved a local pizzeria right down the road. How could this place be any better than that? 

Well if you have ever tasted MM’s pizza, then you will agree, that it is truly intoxicating. The crust has a subtle sweet taste. It has perfect texture and darn it, it just tastes so damn good! It looks like it’s made with whole wheat flour, but I’ve come to find out that isn’t the case. The secret is in the molasses.

IMG_1364Most pizza or bread dough recipes call for some kind of sugar to be added to the mixture. This helps to feed the yeast and ultimately allows the dough to rise. MM has replaced the common sugar ingredient with molasses. The molasses gives the crust it’s darker color and I think it adds a more complex flavor to it overall.

Now, making a trip down to MM for my pizza fix can get quite expensive. I had to find a recipe that would deliver exceptional taste and texture. And after hunting through blogs, forums and Pinterest, I think I have finally found the perfect recipe.

As I mentioned in my previous post, here is my copycat mellow mushroom pizza dough recipe.

Mellow Mushroom Pizza Dough Copycat – makes about two 12″ pizzas
Recipe adapted from Lark and Lola
Tips and Tricks

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 cups hot water (I try to get my water between 105-110)
  • 2 1/2 Tbsp molasses
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 2 packets of instant yeast (or 4 1/2 tsp if you buy your yeast in bulk)
  • 3 1/2 cups bread flour
  • 2 tsp salt
  • cornmeal (used for dusting your parchment paper)
  • melted garlic butter
  • parmesan cheese crumbs

Directions:

  1. In a measuring cup, combine water, olive oil and molasses. TIP: Measure out the olive oil first and then the molasses. That way the molasses won’t stick to the spoon.
  2. Mix flour, salt and instant yeast together. Make a well in the middle of the flour mixture and slowly pour the water mixture into it.
  3. Using the paddle attachment, run mixer on low to bring all the ingredients together (should take about 30 secs to 1 minute).
  4. Switch to the hook attachment and run mixer on medium for about 15 minutes. Your dough ball should be slightly tacky but not sticky.
  5. Form dough into a ball and place in a lightly greased bowl. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and place it in the refrigerator overnight to rise. Or you can let it rise on the counter top for 2 hours.
  6. Preheat oven to 500°F with your pizza stone inside on the very bottom shelf. Once your oven reaches 500°F, you need to preheat the stone for another 30 minutes before placing your pizza in the oven.
  7. Take dough out of the fridge and cut the dough into 2 equal parts. Take each piece and place it cut side down on your counter. Use the palm of your hand to smash it down a little. Then start to fold the sides in on itself to create a ball. (Alton Brown has a great demo on how to do this.) Then slowly roll the ball around on the counter with your hands cupped on either side to make the dough ball as tight as possible. Cover with a tea towel and allow to sit for 30 minutes. Repeat with other dough half. (I usually place the 2nd dough ball in the fridge to use for later in the week. It can stay refrigerated for about 5 days in a ziplock bag.)
  8. After your dough has rested for 30 minutes, you can start to form it into your pizza crust. I like to form my dough on parchment paper sprinkled with cornmeal. Again, Alton Brown has a great demo on this and can explain it a lot better than I could.
  9. Brush whole pizza with olive oil and top as desired. Place it in the oven for about 7-9 minutes or until the crust is a nice golden brown.
  10. Remove pizza from oven and brush crust with melted garlic butter immediately. Then sprinkle with parmesan cheese. Cut and serve.

My 5 Principles for the Perfect Pie

Pizza pie that is!

We have been on a bit of a pizza kick lately and let’s face it, pizza dough can be scary. Not only do you have to make sure you have combined all of your ingredients properly, but then you have to worry about shaping the dough without tearing it first. Finally, you have to get it into the oven without spilling all of your toppings. But trust me, homemade pizza dough is so worth it. And with my 5 Principles for the Perfect Pie, you’ll be whipping up crispy, chewy homemade pizza that will be sure to have your family asking for more.

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Principle #1: Patience

Pizza dough takes time. It will not be perfect the first time around. Nor will it be the perfect circle that you get when you actually go to the pizza parlor. The imperfections just means that it’s made with love. Try not to rush. If your dough springs back a bit after you’ve tried to stretch out the size you want, then it may need to rest for a little bit longer to allow the dough relax and become more pliable. Just cover it with a tea towel for 5 minutes and try again. The first time I made pizza dough, it tore in about 4 places, it was an odd starfish looking shape and it stuck to the pizza peel so I could never get it into the oven. Which brings me to my next tip.

Principle #2: Parchment Paper

This handy baking tool has really helped my pizza making skills. You still want to build you pizza on a pizza peel, but by using parchment paper, you can easily slip the pizza right onto your pizza stone without worrying about your pizza sticking to the peel. You can use cornmeal or flour to transfer your pie to the oven, but I really think parchment paper takes a lot of the guess work out of it. Plus you have no clean up afterwards.

Principle #3: Pizza Stone

If you don’t have a pizza stone already, then go out to the store now and buy one. Seriously, this tool is vital to producing a crispy delicious crust (which you can also use to make delectable artisan breads). Once you have your pizza stone, place it on the very bottom rack of your oven. Always make sure to preheat the stone for at least 30 minutes at 500°F.

Principle #4: Piling up toppings is a bad idea

When it comes to pizza, the notion that less is more works in our favor. I know it may be tempting to pile your pie full of sauce, bacon, sausage, cheese and all other kinds of delicious toppings. But be warned, if you do this then you are more likely to have a soggy pizza crust. In my opinion, your toppings are an accompaniment to the real star; your crust. After all, you’ve put a lot of hard work into making this dough into an appetizing crust, don’t make it droopy because you had to have a mountain of toppings. Keep it simple!

Principle #5: Practice

When all else fails, practice will help. Just like anything you want to become proficient in, you have to practice and making pizza is no different. There are days when my pizzas still have holes in them or are too thick in places. But that’s ok. It’s homemade. If I wanted it to look perfect, I would go up to the pizzeria up the road.

Do whatever you can to make your pizza skills great. Read blogs, watch tutorials, or take a cooking class. Trust me, your tummy will be thanking you at the end.

IMG_1110Make sure to check out my next blog post to get an awesome pizza dough recipe! (modeled after a popular mellow pizzeria)

Homemade Vanilla Extract

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It has been awhile since I’ve had a food post. I think it’s because I hate cooking in the summer. We usually spend the season cooking on the grill, which is Stephen’s domain. But I wanted to get a start on making vanilla extract so I would have it come fall. Which happens to be my favorite season for baking.

Vanilla extract is something that I have wanted to make for a long time. If you’re like my mom, you might ask why would you make your own extract when you can just buy it in the store. And to that I say, why not? All it takes is some vanilla beans, alcohol and time.

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Homemade Vanilla Extract

Ingredients

Directions

  1. Use a knife to spilt the bean in half lengthwise. Leave about 1/2 inch at each end intact.
  2. Put 8 beans into each of the pint size jars. Pour 1 2/3 cups of vodka into each of the jars.
  3. Close jar and store in a cool, dry place for at least 8 weeks. Give the bottle a shake every week or so.
  4. After 8 weeks, strain the extract through a colander lined with cheesecloth into a bowl. Pour the resulting extract into the 4 oz Boston Round Bottles.

Backyard Kiddie Pool

In my last post I mentioned that Liam had absolutely no interest in going near the river. Not wanting to have a child who was terrified of the water, we decided to buy a kiddie pool for the backyard. We wanted him to learn that water outside is fun to play with (he already knows it’s fun to play with the water in the sink). He was a little hesitant at first, but once he got in he really did not want to stop.

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