Saturday, November 26, 2011

Favorite Pecan Pie with Bourbon Whipped Cream

For many years, my Thanksgiving duty has been pecan pie.  I'd settled into a rut, using the same recipe for bourbon pecan pie, which was awesome in the sense that it had bourbon! and pecans! but otherwise wasn't that great.  The final straw was last year's cooking disaster.

The bourbon pecan pie recipe included pastry, which had previously given lackluster results, so I substituted a pastry recipe from one of my cooking idols, a source that can do no wrong.  The crust rolled out beautifully.  I poured in the filling and was just giddy as I slid it into the oven.  I went into the next room to relax.  20 minutes later I was interrupted by...smoke!

You see, that trusted pastry recipe had a lot of butter.  The pie had a low baking temperature.  Which meant that the butter literally melted right out of the crust and dripped to the bottom of the oven, where it produced great clouds of smoke.  At no point was there any danger of fire, but the end result was "smoked" pecan pie on a rancid gummy crust, a major oven cleaning project, and a lingering bitter smoky smell in the house.

All of which is to explain why I was in the market for a new pecan pie recipe.  I combined my trusted pastry recipe and "old fashioned" (aka no corn syrup) pecan pie filling.  No bourbon in the pie, but plenty in the whipped cream.  A winner through and through.

(Recipe from Cook's Country)

  • Pie
    • Single crust for 9" pie (I used my favorite pie crust recipe, and you should use yours)
    • 1 ½ cups toasted and chopped pecans
    • 6 large egg yolks
    • 1 cup maple syrup
    • 1 cup packed light brown sugar
    • ½ cup heavy cream
    • 1 tablespoon molasses
    • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
    • Salt
  • Bourbon Whipped Cream
    • ½ cup heavy cream, chilled
    • 1 tablespoons bourbon
    • 1 tablespoon light brown sugar
    • ¼ teaspoon vanilla extract

As usual, I made the pastry the night before and rolled it out the day of baking.  Once the dough is rolled out, put in back in the frig for at least 30 minutes.  Click here for a pie roll out tutorial.

Toast the pecans on a baking sheet @ 350° for 5 minutes.  Be careful because the pecans will burn if left any longer.  When the pecans come out, turn the oven up to 450° (note that you will be turning the temperature back to 350° as soon as the pie goes in the oven).

When the pecan are ready, they will smell so wonderful that you will be tempted to forget all about the pie and just eat the pecans then and there.

 Chop the pecans very lightly.  You don't want a lot of whole pecans left, but you don't want "pecan dust" either.

Now for the tedious part.  Separate the eggs and mix the yolks.  Note that you're left with 6 egg whites, a subtle hint that you'll be eating a few egg white omelets to make up for the pecan pie.

Heat a pan on medium and add the cream, brown sugar, syrup, and molasses.  Stir for a few minutes.

The idea is to get it warm and blended, and then take it off the heat.

 Put the pecans in the pie shell.

Add the butter to the still-warm filling and whisk to melt.

Blend in the egg yolks.

Pour the filling over the pecans.  Put the pie in the oven and immediately lower the oven temperature to 350°.  Place a baking sheet in the rack underneath the pie.

 This is what the bottom of your oven will look like if you don't use the baking sheet.  No where near as bad as last year's ol' smokey incident, but I have another oven cleaning project on my hands.

Bake for 45-60 minutes.  The center will still be jiggly when you take it out of the oven.  And by the way, be careful when you take it out of the oven.  This missing crust pieces?  That's where my big ol' oven mitts crushed it on the way out.  Let it cool for one hour, and then put it in the fridge until fully cool.

Just before serving, make whipped cream.

Whip the cream in a chilled bowl.

Let it form soft peaks and then add the bourbon, vanilla, and brown sugar. (NOTE: the original recipe said to combine all ingredients before whipping.  Liars!  I tried this and the cream didn't whip.  Luckily I had just enough time to make an emergency trip to the store to get more cream.)

Pie, meet cream.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Lighter General Tso's Chicken

Here at the Birchwood, I don't do a lot of "light" eating.  I eat hard and balance it out by working out hard.  However, the annual Birchwood Pecan Pie bake off is coming, so the chance to save a few calories is appreciated right now.  And honestly, this was so good that it's now my go-to General Tso recipe.

Yield: 4 servings
(Recipe adapted from Martha Stewart)

  • 1 cup rice
  • ¼  cup cornstarch (divided)
  • ½ pound snow peas
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 2 teaspoons ginger
  • 3 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • red pepper flakes to taste 
  • 2 large egg whites
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts (may substitute 1 pound tofu)
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil

Cook the rice according to your preferred method and set aside.

Measure out the ingredients for the sauce: 1 tablespoon cornstarch, ginger, garlic, brown sugar, soy sauce, and red pepper flakes.  Yes, that's fresh garlic and jarred minced ginger.  That's just where I am in my cooking journey right now.

Mix the ½ cup water and 1 tablespoon cornstarch together, making sure that the cornstarch is completely smooth.

Add the rest of the sauce ingredients.

Mix with the snow peas.  The original recipe used a full pound of the snow peas and had many comments that the recipe didn't make enough sauce.  Due to a shopping error, I only had ½ pound of snow peas and no complaints about the amount of sauce.

 Prepare the chicken.  Trim any fat off the breasts.  If you're not a fan of chicken, substitute tofu.  Just blot it dry and cut into one-inch pieces.

The chicken needs to have a consistent thickness.  Sandwich it in wax paper and get out your meat mallet.

Unleash your frustrations with the smooth side of the mallet.

Don't you feel better now?

Slice the chicken into one-inch pieces and set aside while you  prepare the batter for the chicken.  Skip the batter if you're using tofu.

Separate the eggs.

Mix the egg whites with the remaining 3 tablespoons of cornstarch and a little salt and pepper.  Hmm, why is it yellow when it's made from white cornstarch and egg whites?  OK, so I had a little accident when separating the second egg.  Which is why a professional would separate each egg into a separate bowl.  But the extra yolk is no big deal here.

Mix the chicken pieces in the batter and coat completely.

Coat a skillet with vegetable oil and heat on medium.  Test the skillet by splashing a few drops of water.  When it sizzles, add the chicken in small batches.  Cook a few minutes per side until browned. 

Set the cooked chicken on paper towels.  It took three loads to cook all the chicken, but I never needed to add more oil.  Based on experience, I would guess that additional oil would be required for tofu.

Add the peas and sauce to the skillet.

 Cover the skillet and let it cook for five minutes.

It's ready when the peas are tender and the sauce thickens a little.

Add the chicken and stir to combine.

Serve over rice.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Salmon with Mashed Butternut Squash

I spent the past few weeks trying to decide what to do with the two tiny butternut squash from this year's garden.  Then I heard about butternut smash...same idea as mashed potatoes.  Recipe calls for two pounds of squash, and my little guys came in at one pound 13 ounces.

But what to eat with squash mash?  I'm not much of a meal planner, living mostly off one dish meals like pizza.  What makes a proper meal anyway?  Finally it dawned on me that I had salmon in the freezer.  Add some frozen veggies and a glass of wine, and I'd be set.  So after a long day's work, I headed home to make an adult meal.

Ingredients for Butternut Smash
(Heavily adapted from Devin Alexander's The Most Decadent Diet Ever!)
  • 2 pounds butternut squash (or 1 ½ pounds if peeled)
  • 2 tablespoons milk
  • 2 teaspoons butter
  • 2 tablespoons fresh sage
  • 1 small clove garlic
  • Salt and pepper
  • Oil for spraying
Ingredients for Dijon Salmon
  • 2 salmon fillets, 4 oz each
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoons Dijon mustard
  • Oil for spraying


Start by preheating the oven to 400°.  Slice the squash lengthwise and scoop out the seeds. (NOTE: the original recipe, like many butternut squash recipes, instructs you to peel and cube the raw squash!!!  Only do this if you have unlimited time, don't mind ruining your knife, and have a high tolerance for frustration.)

Place the squash on a foil lined baking sheet (skip the foil if you are not lazy and feel like scrubbing the pan) and spray lightly with oil.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Bake for 40 minutes, until soft.

Get the rest of the squash ingredients ready, which in my case is why the recipe is "heavily adapted".  The original calls for basil and Parmesan.  Well, after the first frost of the year, I have no basil left, so I substituted sage.  And darned if I wasn't fresh out of Parmesan and in no mood to make an extra trip to the store. In any case, deal with your specific ingredient substitutions and measure out the two tablespoons of milk and two teaspoons of butter.  Slice the sage, dice the garlic clove.

 Meanwhile, get started on the salmon.  Mix 2 tablespoons brown sugar and 1 tablespoon mustard.  The resulting mixture will be very thick.

Pat the salmon fillets with paper towels to dry, and spray lightly with oil.

Meanwhile, back to the squash.  Test with a fork for appropriate softness and pull out of the oven when ready.  Immediately turn on the broiler for the salmon.  Set the squash aside on a plate to cool for a minute.

Set the salmon on the foil lined baking sheet.

Spread the mustard mixture over the salmon.  Tuck them into the broiler for 10 minutes.

 Now back to the squash.  Microwave the milk and butter for 30 seconds.  Mix together and add the sage and garlic.  Peel the skin off the squash--it will slide right off--and chop into coarse pieces.

Use a mixer or potato masher to mash the squash into the butter mixture.  While you're at it, throw some frozen veggies into the micro to round out the meal.

By this time, the salmon will be ready.  Test by poking with a fork; they're ready when the poke makes the fish flake apart.

As I sat down to eat, I thought about a conversation I had with my neighbors this summer about the squash.  They wanted to know if it was worthwhile to grow them.  I said no because they take up a lot of garden space and have a low yield.  Just two tiny squash for all the trouble.

 Never mind that it was a hot summer and I didn't exactly, um, water them.

 But I have to take that back.  The little devils are cute.

 And tasty.