Week 5 Showstopper: 3-Tiered Pies

In true showstopper fashion, the final challenge was to build a three-tiered self-supporting structure of three pies all with a central theme. Luis picked the four seasons. Nancy made three pies with some variation of apple. Some bakers chose watercrust pastry for savory pies and then stacked them all on top of each other. Some used a type of display which depended on the pie for structure.

I’ve decided to skip the “tiered” aspect. Instead, I’ll be baking three pie under a common theme. This is a lot of food and I don’t want to waste it by making all three pies at once. I doubt my small family would be able to eat enough to make it worth it.

The Plan

The first job is to pick the theme and number of pies. I’m sticking with three. That’s already SO many pies!! As for the theme, I tried to come up with options but I kept going back to the same idea: boozy pies. I wanted to bake pies inspired by cocktails. My goal is to utilize different alcohols, so that I avoid a one-note underlying flavor in these pies.

Pie #1: Mint Julep

The mint julep is a classic cocktail made of bourbon and mint simple syrup. This pie uses a chocolate wafer crust, a mint julep filling, and whipped cream.

1. Crust

I know I cheated because I used Famous Chocolate Wafers for the crust. Everyone knows I can bake cookies already.

2. The Custard

This was my first time making a custard with gelatin. I see the bakers on GBBBO use gelatin but I was a bit nervous. I had access to the powder rather than gelatin sheets. Making this made me so nervous. Sticking my measuring cup in boiling water.

3. Whipped Cream

I made whipped cream with mint simple syrup a few days ahead. Unfortunately by the time I made the pie it tasted rotten! Tub of Cool Whip to the rescue!

4. Bake

This was a quick bake with all of the filling ingredients followed by a long freeze.

5. Final Thoughts

This tasted like a grasshopper pie, so it tasted good. I caught some of the bourbon in some of the bites, but overall it didn’t remind me of a mint julep. However, the filling is like a cross between a popsicle and ice cream. I really enjoyed the texture.

Pie #2: Rum Old-Fashioned

Featuring rum and bitters (spirits infused with fruit, spices, leaves, bark, roots, and herbs), this pie is a play on a lattice peach pie.

  1. The Crust

I’ve made pie crust a million times at this point. It came together nicely with a good moisture level. Chilled it as a disc in saran wrap. Rolled it out, pricked the base with a fork, then chilled again.

2. The Peaches

I actually bought fresh peaches, sliced them, and then froze them. Probably not the best idea because they wouldn’t thaw. They got a little ugly after defrosting but they were still good.

3. The Filling

I was fiddling with the pie crust instead of paying attention to my pan. I combined the juice and alcohol from the macerated peaches with cornstarch. It thickened while I wasn’t paying attention and nearly stuck to the pan and burned.

4. The Assembly

I had never thought of braiding the lattice before! I gave it a shot and it looked nice. I’ll have to think the rest of the lattice through next time.

5. The Bake

The edges of the crust caught a little bit. I put the crust shields on a little too late. The inside seemed baked, but it looked like some of it congealed more (possibly because I overcooked the filling?).

Final Thoughts

The crust held together and did not get soggy. When you cut into the pie the filling stayed intact. You could definitely taste the booze, but I may adjust the bitters if I ever make this again.

Pie #3: Margarita Pie

Margaritas (not the frozen kind) are made with lime, tequila, and an orange liquer called triple sec. I switched out triple sec for Cointreau in this baked then chilled pie.

  1. The Crust

I’ll admit I cheated a bit. I did not want to bake my own graham crackers for this crust. This crust is made of crushed graham cracker crumbs with salt and butter, then baked for a short time before filled and baked again.

2. The Filling

There’s is soooo much lime juice in this. I now need to buy a juicer to prevent my poor husband from struggling against them ever again.

3. Bake & Chill

I use a pizza stone for my pies (as per the pie queen herself- Erin McDowell). It helps evenly distribute heat.

4. The Decorations

I piped whipped cream onto the cooled custard then topped with salted limes – like a margarita!

5. Final Thoughts

So much lime! You get hit with lime then the bitter bite of tequila. It was set nicely and didn’t slop over or leak when sliced. It was also quite pretty. I only worried that perhaps I didn’t mix it enough because I could see swirls of egg yolk in places.

The End Result

I think i would have been disqualified after this round. Pre-made biscuits and a tub of Cool-Whip weren’t exactly in the rules… However, this challenge has been the bottleneck for this whole bake-through. I’m just glad it’s over!

Cooking the Internet: Feta Pasta

A Finnish recipe went viral on TikTok and supposedly caused a shortage of the Greek cheese in the country. I started following my a video on TikTok and then decided to take some things from my pantry and get creative! I’ll be sharing the results with you today. This simple pasta has a lot of potential for customizing flavors, so feel free to share your recommendations.

Ingredients:

  • Fresh cherry or grape tomatoes, 1 or 2 containers
  • Feta cheese (1 block, but a container of crumbled will work just fine)
  • Olive oil
  • Tuscan dried herbs (about 1-2 Tbsp)
  • Tri-color rotini pasta
  • Salt and pepper

*Note: There are tons of Tuscan herb mixes out there. Make your own or buy some from the store. Mine included dried oregano, rosemary, garlic powder, cayenne, and fennel.

Instructions:

  1. Preheat your oven to 400 degrees F.
  2. Wash your tomatoes, dry, and place in a glass baking pan. Drizzle olive oil over the tomatoes. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and mix. There should be plenty of olive oil to coat the tomatoes.
  3. Make a space in the center of the tomatoes for the feta. Drizzle the feta with more olive oil and sprinkle with pepper.
  4. Bake in the oven for 35 minutes.
  5. While the tomatoes and feta bake, cook your tricolor pasta to al dente. Strain when done cooking.
  6. When the tomatoes are done, remove from the oven. Break up the cheese and stir. Be careful of the tomatoes! They might pop and spray hot tomato juice!
  7. Add Tuscan herbs to the baking pan. Mix again.
  8. Add the pasta. Stir one last time and serve!

Paleo Cookie Dough Truffles

Last year, I had a coworker and friend who needed a pick-me-up following a stressful exam. She wanted something sweet, but was making changes to lose weight and stay healthy. She told me she loved cookie dough more than anything, so I found a recipe for Paleo Cookie Dough Truffles. They’re made without any raw egg, so they’re safer to eat! (I shouldn’t really talk because the “danger” of salmonella has never stopped me from eating raw cookie dough).

These are no-bake, easy treats. You can barely taste the change in ingredients. Whether your New Year’s Resolutions have started early or you have dietary restrictions, these treats are delicious!

Ingredients:

  • 3 cups almond flour
  • 1 tsp sea salt
  • 1/2 cup melted coconut oil
  • 1/2 cup maple syrup
  • 1 Tbsp vanilla
  • 1 1/4 cup chocolate, melted

A note about the ingredients: For people who stick to the paleo diet hard-core, you’ll need a dairy-free dark chocolate. This is also true for anyone with allergies. I highly recommend the Enjoy Life brand. It’s made allergen-free and doesn’t taste any different from regular chocolate. I used dark chocolate Ghirardelli chips.

Instructions:

1) Mix together the almond flour and sea salt.

2) Whisk the melted coconut oil, maple syrup, and vanilla together.

3) Mix the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients.

Honestly I usually skip Step 2 and just directly mixed in the wet ingredients.

4) Roll into 1″ balls. Place on a lined baking sheet.

5) Place in the freezer for 15 minutes to set.

6) Melt 1 1/4 cup chocolate. Dip the truffles into the chocolate and place back on the baking sheet. Freeze again.

For melting chocolate, you can use a double-boiler method. I just got a microwave-proof bowl, poured the chocolate in, and melted it in the microwave in 30 second intervals. Mix after each 30 second interval in the microwave.

Final Thoughts: I think the key to enjoying these is keeping them frozen. Almond flour has a very different texture, so freezing them kept the truffles held together enough to avoid a dramatic difference between a normal truffle and these paleo substitutes.

Low Carb Philly Cheesesteak Meal Prep

Meal prep is pretty important when my attending doesn’t set aside any time for lunch. He built up the ability to skip meals for prolonged periods while working as an intern and resident. I haven’t had that experience, so I still experience human urges such as hunger. My Attending books patients during our half-hour lunch slot, so I usually need something quick and filling. Most of my meal preps follow a pattern of meat, vegetable, and grain. In this case I chose to leave out the grain. For meal prep more interested than rice, meat, and roasted veggie, I turn to mealpreponfleek.com.

Though it sounds fancy, low carb philly cheesesteak is really just all of the insides of the sandwich without the bread.

Ingredients:

  • 12 ounces steak, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 tbs olive oil
  • 1 medium bell pepper sliced
  • 1 medium onion sliced
  • 6 ounces portobello mushrooms sliced*
  • 2 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 3 slices provolone cheese
  • salt & pepper

*I left these out because Boyfriend doesn’t like mushrooms, but I would keep them in if it was just for me.

Instructions:

1) Heat oil over medium heat. Add meat and cook for about 2 min. per side.

2) Add in onions and peppers and cook for about 3 minutes.

3) Add sliced mushroom, Worcestershire sauce, salt, and pepper. Cook for about 3 more minutes. Taste and adjust seasoning as needed.

4) Add provolone on top and cover the pan until the cheese melts.

I turned off the heat and covered the pan, which melted the cheese just fine without overcooking the meat.

Final Thoughts: I think the best part about this is the cheese. You get really flavorful meat and peppers, then that bit of creaminess from the melted provolone. What’s even better is that you really don’t need to pay much mind to the cooking times in the instructions. Brown the meat, soften the veggies, and melt the cheese. If you’ve cooked before, you can do it by eye and it only takes minutes. The best meal prep is the meal prep that doesn’t make me work hard.

Cajun Fries

I never understood the idea of buying certain spice mixes from a store. I have a perfectly good spice rack (with an extra cabinet full of other spices). A spice mix is just that – a mix of spices. The other night I made a Cajun spice mix to spice up some alfredo sauce. We’ve used the leftover spice mix on several other dishes. Boyfriend and I made French fries to go with some bratwurst. As big fans of Five Guys’ Cajun fries, we wanted to try and make our own.

Ingredients:

Instructions:

1) Mix together the spices.

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2) Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.

3) Cut the potatoes in half lengthwise. Slice thinly. Stack the slices on top of each other. Cut in half again lengthwise.

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Check out this video for a demonstration.

4) Prepare a baking sheet covered with aluminum foil, or a baking pain with a cooling rack.

5) Toss the fries with olive oil.

6) Spread the fries onto the baking sheet or aluminum foil. From a height, sprinkle the Cajun spice mix over the fries.

7) Bake for 15 minutes. Flip halfway through the cooking time with a pair of tongs or a spatula.

8) Remove from the oven and let cool. Salt if desired.

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These were definitely spicy, but I’m not sure I liked baked fries as much as fried fries. The way they were cut may have contributed to a lack of crispiness, or perhaps I used too much oil. Regardless, keep the Cajun seasoning around to add a kick to any dish.

 

 

Easy Sopapilla Cheesecake

Happy Cinco de Mayo! Living in Arizona, the holiday is celebrated by our resident Mexicans and Mexican-Americans. I’ve never been one to take part of “Cinco de Drinko,” as that’s not why the holiday is celebrated. The holiday marks the anniversary of the Mexican Army’s victory against the French in 1862. It is not Mexican Independence Day.

In the US, Cinco de Mayo is a celebration of Mexican-American culture. Mexico has a rich, diverse food culture outside of the “Tex-Mex” often mistaken for true Mexican food. Though tacos, burritos and the like have Mexican counterparts, I wanted to make food that incorporated traditional Mexican foods.

Sopapillas are a popular dessert in northern Mexico and Latin America, the result of Spanish influence. Sweet dough is fried into a pillowy pastry that is then covered in cinnamon and sugar. I’m still not quite comfortable with frying, so I found this recipe for a faux-sopapilla cheesecake.

Ingredients:

  • 1 box (2 sheets) frozen puff pastry, thawed
  • 2 8 oz. bricks of cream cheese, room temperature
  • 1 + 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup sour cream
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 egg
  • 1 Tbsp ground cinnamon
  • 4 Tbsp unsalted butter, melted

Notes about Ingredients: Frozen puff pastry takes about 30-45 minutes to defrost. For the best results in your baking, your ingredients (egg, cream cheese, sour cream, and butter) should be at room temperature.

Instructions:

1) Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Spray a 9×13 in. baking dish. Lay the first sheet of puff pastry flat in the bottom of the dish. Do not trim any extra dough. Gently press the pastry to the sides of the dish.

2) Poke holes in the puff pastry with a fork. Bake for 15 minutes.

3) Beat the cream cheese and 1 cup of the sugar. Add the egg, sour cream, and vanilla. Be careful not to overmix.

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4) Remove the crust from the oven. Let it sit for 5 minutes, especially to deflate. Pour the cheesecake mix over the crust.

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5) Top the cream cheese mixture with the other sheet of puff pastry. Gently tuck or press the sides of both sheets together. Brush this pastry with the melted butter.

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6) Mix 1/4 cup sugar with cinnamon.  Sprinkle over the melted butter on the pastry sheet.

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7) Bake 20-25 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool for 20 minutes at room temperature. Place the cheesecake in the refrigerator overnight.

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Final Thoughts: I’m not 100% sure this counts as sopapilla cheesecake, but it was tasty. It was less appealing once it had cooled, but it was sweet and tasty. Once I took the first piece, people were more willing to try (because it “looked weird”). By the end of our potluck, the entire cheesecake was gone.

 

Easter “Garden” Cups

Easter is a time for brunches and family dinners, but it’s also a time for candy and sweets straight from the Easter bunny! When you’re going to see your friends or family for a party or dinner, you should always bring something with you. Here’s a sweet treat you can bring for dessert without too much frantic effort. Plus they’re adorable! Happy Easter! Enjoy these cute Easter dirt cups.

Ingredients:

“CARROTS”

  • Fresh strawberries, rinsed and patted dry
  • Bag of orange candy melts (from Michael’s or Jo-Ann Fabrics)

PUDDING CUPS

  • Crushed Oreos
  • 1 large box chocolate pudding
  • 3 cups milk

Instructions:

1. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silpat.

2. Melt the bag of candy melts, except for about 15 discs.

I used the microwave to melt the chocolate discs. I put it in a small glass bowl for 1 minute. Then repeat in 30 second intervals, stirring each time.

3. Grab the strawberries by the stem. Dip both sides in chocolate, then place on the parchment paper. Repeat with all the strawberries.

4. Put the strawberries in the fridge until the chocolate hardens.

5. Take a sandwich bag and cut the tip of it off. Melt the rest of the discs. Pour the melted chocolate into the sandwich bag. Close the bag and twist it. Drizzle over the strawberries. Let sit.

6. Make the chocolate pudding according to the instructions on the box.

I made the pudding first so it could sit in the fridge while I worked on everything else.

7. Put some crushed Oreos on the bottom of some clear cups. Pour pudding over top of them.

8. Top with more crushed Oreos. Press a strawberry into the center.

9. Refrigerate until you’re ready to serve/bring them to the party!

Final Thoughts: Mine turned out a little differently. I didn’t drizzle the strawberries with more chocolate, and I didn’t put Oreos on the bottom of the cup. These were a hit at the Easter party at work! And they are so incredibly adorable. A big group of them together is like a little garden!

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cake

The pumpkin craze continues! I saw this design in a magazine and thought to myself, “I could make that!” A pumpkin chocolate chip cake seemed perfect for a pumpkin-shaped cake. This monster cake is a perfect centerpiece for a big Halloween party. Since it’s technically two cakes, make sure there are enough people to eat it!

Ingredients:

CAKE

  • 3 cups flour
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp cloves
  • 1 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 1/3 cup pumpkin puree
  • 1 1/2 cup chocolate chips (I used Ghiradellhi’s bittersweet)

FROSTING

  • 4 oz cream cheese
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 2 1/2 cups maple extract
  • 1 tsp maple extract
  • 1-2 Tbsp water or milk (I used milk)

Instructions:

I made 2 of these bundt cakes, prepared and baked separately. The instructions below are only for one cake.

1) Preheat oven to 350. Grease a 10 in. bundt pan.

2) Combine flour, salt, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves in a bowl. Whisk until combined.

3) Combine oil and sugar in another bowl and mix well.

4) Add the eggs, one at a time, into the sugar-oil mix.

5) Add the dry ingredients alternatively with the pumpkin, beginning and ending with the dry ingredients.

6) Fold in the chocolate chips.

7) Bake 60-65 min. or until a toothpick inserted comes out with a few crumbs.

I use a lighter colored pan, so 55 minutes did the trick.

8) Remove from the oven. Cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then remove to a wire rack to cool completely,

9) Make the icing. Beat the cream cheese and butter until smooth.

10) Add the powdered sugar and maple extract. Mix.

11) Add 1-2 Tbsp of water or milk.

This is to get the right consistency. I felt I had the right consistency without any additional liquid, but the milk really helped cut down on the sweetness of the maple frosting.

12) Decorate once the cake is completely cool.

This keeps the frosting from melting off of the cake.

Now to make your pumpkin masterpiece! I froze the two cake that I made, because who has the time to bake 2 cakes, level and carve them, make and dye frosting, then decorate a cake all in one day?

1) Level the bottoms of both cakes.

My cake was still moist even after freezing, so take it slow so you don’t take chunks out of your cake by accident. PS this is a great step for tasting.

2) Place one bundt cake upside down. Place the other on top of the first bundt cake. Use a knife to carve into a smooth shape.

3. Dye your frosting orange (or use pre-made orange frosting). Frost between the two cakes, then cover the rest of the cake.

I really wish that I had made more frosting, or done a light crumb cake layer. There were some patches later on where you could see the dark cake below the icing.

4. Take an ice cream cone and place it in the center hole. Frost this with green icing. Pipe green frosting vines and leaves. Enjoy!!

Final Thoughts: Usually I don’t like to bake cakes that use oil as their source of moisture, but it worked out because of how often I was freezing the cakes while decorating. I didn’t think I would like the maple flavor paired with pumpkin, but it was a nice subtle addition to the flavors. Next time I might cut down on the sugar as it was quite sweet in comparison. I’ve heard milk powder can help thicken frosting without adding sugar.

Pumpkin Beer Bread

As a lover of everything pumpkin (which you may have guessed from the pumpkin recipes I continue to make) I bought a case of Leinenkugel’s Pumpkin Ale. Though I enjoyed it, I don’t drink beer very frequently. I found a way to use at least one of the bottles left over.

I had never baked bread when I first made this. All I knew about bread was that they require yeast and some proofing time, or things like “starters.” Fortunately, this is not that kind of bread!

Ingredients

  • 12 oz. pumpkin beer (one bottle)
  • 3 cups flour
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 Tbsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 stick butter, melted and divided
  • 3/4 cup canned pumpkin
  • 1 Tbsp molasses
  • 1/4 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp nutmeg
  • 1/8 tsp ginger
  • 1/8 tsp cloves
  • 1/8 tsp allspice

Instructions

1) Preheat the oven to 350 and lightly grease a 9×5 in. loaf pan.

I usually spray the pan with Pam then use a paper towel to make sure everything is coated and wipe out the excess.

2) Pour the pumpkin beer into a sauce pan and whisk vigorously for 1-2 min. (without heat) for flatten the beer.

3) Heat over medium until boiling, whisking occasionally to help keep the foaming down. Reduce by half (for about 15 min.) and set aside to cool slightly.

Don’t let it cool too much! You’ll want the pumpkin to dissolve.

4) In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt.

5) In a smaller bowl (or the pan you used to flatten the beer), whisk together the beer, 2 Tbsp melted butter, canned pumpkin, molasses, and ground spices.

6) Add the pumpkin mixture to the dry ingredients. Mix with a spoon until no dry ingredients are left.

Don’t use a whisk like I did! This is not a batter, it’s a dough. It will get stuck to everything.

7) Pour half of the remaining melted butter into the loaf pan.

8) Put the dough into the pan and drizzle the remaining melted butter over the top.

9) Bake 45-55 min. until a knife can be inserted into the center and come out clean.

Final Thoughts: Isn’t it beautiful? I love the amber color. It was a nice mild flavor with hints of beer, spice, and pumpkin, but none overpoweringly so. If you really want a tasty snack, slather it with apple butter!

Chorizo Sweet Potato Hash

Pumpkin isn’t the only thing in season right now. Sweet potatoes are a diverse ingredient that pairs well with sweet and savory flavors, whether its sweet potato pie or whole roasted sweet potatoes. I found this recipe for chorizo sweet potatoes in Food Network magazine. I’ve never cooked chorizo, but I love to eat it!

The original recipe was stuffed whole sweet potatoes, but those are more difficult to take to work, so I cut them and roasted them instead.

Ingredients:

  • 4 medium sweet potatoes
  • 1/4 cup + 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 Tbsp pickling spice (I’d never heard of it either! McCormick brand is in the spice aisle at the grocery store)
  • 1 cup plain fat-free Greek yogurt (if you don’t like eating this usually, buy the single serve cups!)
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • kosher salt and ground pepper
  • 1/4 cup golden raisins
  • 8 oz chorizo
  • 2 Tbsp pine nuts
  • chopped fresh mint (optional)

Instructions:

1. Preheat the oven to 450. For whole potatoes, pierce all over with a fork and microwave 20-25 min. For roasted sweet potatoes, slice into bite-sized cubes. You won’t need to microwave the cubes.

2. Heat 2 Tbsp olive oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Add the pickling spice and cook about 1 minute, until toasted.

 

3. Transfer the spiced oil to a mini food processor or spice grinder. Grind or pulse until the pickling spice is finely ground for 1 minute.

4. Transfer the oil into a bowl. Stir in the yogurt, garlic, 1 tsp salt, and some pepper. Set aside.

5. Soak the raisins in 1/2 cup warm water for about 10 minutes.

Does anyone know what this does? I think it’s to rehydrate them? Maybe it makes them softer…

6. Heat 2 Tbsp olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the chorizo and cook, stirring often, for 5-6 minutes. The meat should be brown and crisp.

 

Be careful when cooking this. It’s difficult to tell when the meat is fully cooked, because it has been spiced red.

7. Add the pine nuts to the meat. Cook for 30 seconds until the nuts are lightly toasted. Remove from heat.

8. Drain the raisins and stir them into the chorizo.

9. Arrange the sweet potatoes on a foil-lined baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil, then either rub the whole sweet potatoes with salt and pepper, or sprinkle evenly over the pieces.

Roast the whole potatoes for 10 minutes OR Roast the cubes for 35-40 minutes.

10. Top the sweet potatoes with the chorizo mixture. Serve with yogurt sauce on top or on the side!

Final Thoughts: I could eat this every day! Sweet potatoes and chorizo go so well together; the sweet and spicy flavors match perfectly. And the spiced yogurt sauce brings down a little bit of the heat. The pine nuts added some much needed crunch, though I probably could have cooked them longer.

A few weeks after I made this, I had a sweet potato and chorizo breakfast skillet. I like this better.