Friday, November 23, 2012

any time is a good time for pie

It's true.  Any time IS a good time for pie.  At least that's what I'm telling myself, as my post for this traditional Thanksgiving fare is a little late....  

Apple pie is, I think, my favorite.  Although I love cherries and blueberries on their own, their respective pies don't sit well with me.  I have no idea why, but cooked cherries and blueberries taste a little chloriney..  Peach pies, strawberry rhubarb pie, cobblers...  why, yes, I will have another piece, thank you.  Chocolate pies?  What?  You mean it's NOT acceptable to just stick my face in it?  Oops..  

And then there's pumpkin pie. 

Pumpkin pie is relatively new to me.  The first time I had it was almost 20 years ago, so "relatively new to me" simply means that it was introduced in my adulthood.  It's the same with grilled cheese.  I didn't have my first grilled cheese until I was in my 20s, if you can even imagine..

I will never forget the first time I had pumpkin pie.  Never quite being a squash person, I was a little hesitant.  But once I caught that lovely warm cinnamon infused aroma, I was instantly sold.  And that was before I even took one smooth, creamy bite.

Having a child with a dairy allergy, we are constantly making recipe alterations, and it was last year that I discovered the splendor that is coconut milk.  It is a marvelously effective and delicious baking tool.  It can substitute buttermilk directly, needing no acid like vinegar or lemon juice to procure that requisite tanginess.  I always keep a can of regular coconut milk in my fridge because when it cools, the solids move to the top, and once scooped out and mixed with some confectioners' sugar and a little vanilla, it makes a seriously excellent whipped cream.  It also makes for a great pumpkin pie, with it's creamy consistency.

The real test for my dairy free pumpkin pie came last year, when I made it for my husband's family.  His mother is an expert pumpkin pie baker, but she was so bogged down with family and the rest of the meal, that she didn't have time to make dessert.  I made this recipe, and no one in the entire family thought it was anything other than grandma's famous pumpkin pie.  She is a fabulous cook, my mother in law.  This was a HUGE compliment….

dairy free pumpkin pie

1/2 c. brown sugar (light and dark both work, but dark adds a little more depth to the flavor)
1/4 c. granulated sugar
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp ground allspice
1/4 tsp ground cardamom
1/2 tsp salt
2 eggs
1 15-ounce can organic pumpkin
1 c. regular coconut milk (be sure to stir it very well before measuring, if using a can)
1 tsp pure vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 425˚F.

Combine the sugars, spices, and salt in a small bowl.  In a larger bowl, combine the eggs, pumpkin and vanilla.  Add the sugar mixture, and stir until smooth.  Whisk in the coconut milk.

Roll out the crust, and place in a 9" pie dish.  I don't usually cut off the crust hang-over anyway, and this pie is a really good reason to use that extra crust.  Build up the sides of the crust by folding the overhang onto itself, creating a crusty lip.  I can't imagine that anyone in their right mind would want a crusty lip coming anywhere near their pie….. but in this case it keeps the pie filling where it should be- inside the pie.

Pour the pie filling into the pie shell and bake for 15 minutes.  Lower the heat to 350˚F and continue to bake for about 40-50 minutes, give or take, or until a toothpick comes out relatively clean.  The filling will firm up as it cools, so don't worry if the pie still looks a little wobbly.  

And here comes the difficult part.  Let the pie cool for at least an hour, preferably two.

pie dough for double crust pie

2 cups all purpose flour, plus more for dusting
2 sticks Earth Balance dairy free butter, cubed and very cold (I will cube my butter first and put it in a bowl and into the freezer while I get my other ingredients together)
1 tbs sugar
1/2 tsp salt (the Earth Balance is salted, so I usually omit the salt here, or at most I'll add a pinch.  If you use unsalted butter however, add the salt)
8 tbs ice cold water, give or take

I have done this by hand for years, but just recently I started using the food processor.  I have found that since having kids, I am usually in a hurry.  Food processor pie dough is perfect.  But you have to be careful not to over process.  You want to be able to see chunks of butter throughout the pie dough because when the butter melts, it forms pockets of buttery steam which is what makes the dough light and flaky.  If you don't want to use a processor, than by all means, just mix it with your hands or a pastry blender until the butter is about the size of small peas.

Put flour, sugar, and salt into food processor.  Pulse a couple of times to blend dry ingredients together. Add butter all at once and give it about 5 pulses.  I don't like to pulse it too much here, because there is more pulsing to come and at the end, I want my butter in bigger chunks.  Add the water, a couple of tablespoons at a time.  Pulse 2 or 3 times after each addition, just to mix it in.  The pulses should be very quick.  The butter chunks should be the size of large breadcrumbs or small peas.  

Once the dough has come together, turn it out and gather it into a flat ball.  Cut it into two pieces, one slightly larger than the other.  Wrap each patty in plastic wrap and put them in the fridge for at least an hour to let the dough rest.  If you are only using a bottom crust, simply put the other patty in the freezer, where it will keep for 2-3 months.

Monday, November 5, 2012

hanging artwork

Do you have a bunch of photos or paintings that you want to put on the wall, but become totally overwhelmed thinking about arranging them?  Well, look no further, I have an answer.

I must state, first and foremost, that you probably should NOT hang artwork while intoxicated or really REALLY tired.  You tend to make mistakes that way....  Fortunately in my case (tired, not intoxicated- the latter may have been more fun), my mistakes weren't so bad.  I would also like to add, that the photos here were taken with my phone, so the quality isn't that good.  I default back to my being tired....  

With all of these excuses, why on earth am I posting this, you might ask yourself.  Well, I have had these 5 beautiful farm animal paintings by Brenda Ferguson for quite a while now, and I have been avoiding hanging them.  Every time I looked at these paintings, I just couldn't figure out how to arrange them on the wall.  And then it came to me.  It was an epiphany.  Not to be confused with all the other epiphanies that have flashed before my brain today.  Or would those be hallucinations?

First, you haphazardly hang a clock with a tack.  Then you design your artwork around that.  Look on the floor, and while you pick up your kids' crumpled paper, look for the pieces that have the least amount of scribbles on it.  You may want to try to straighten them out a bit, but as you can see, I couldn't be bothered with that part...

I then put the paintings on the paper, and traced the outermost edges.  I cut out the paper, and voila!  You now have a template.  Because the paintings are all the same size, I drew little two second gesture sketches on the paper so I knew which was which.

I then did a quick measure. I flipped the painting over and measured where the hook is.  I measured the uppermost part of the inner hole of the hook, if that makes sense.  In other words, I visualized where the nail would sit in the hook, and how the hook would be sitting on the nail.  That makes perfect sense, right?  So, on these square 6" paintings, the hook was 1 1/4" down from the top, and it was right in the middle, at 3".  I put a mark on the paper where the nail should go.  The other two paintings have a wire, so I flipped the painting over, and pulled the wire in the direction of the top of the painting, to make it taut.  I then measured down from the top of the painting, to the wire, and then the center of the painting as well.  And I taped my arrangement to the wall.

I then put nails straight into the paper.  This is where my tiredness came into play.  I would recommend that you get out your level and make sure that all of the rows are straight.  Or you could even get out a ruler, and make the spaces in between the paintings even, or whatever you like.  I, myself, like it all a little bit off, because, well, I am a little bit off...

So I eyeballed the arrangement, and didn't measure, and nailed it to the wall.

I then hung the paintings right over the paper, to see if everything was ok.

I had to re-nail two nails into the wall, because that's when I realized I hadn't leveled or measured anything.  But I don't think it looks too bad!  The one thing I am impressed with is that the top pink painting on the left is perfectly lined up with the rooster.  And the top of the silver frame on the left is exactly at the midpoint of the silver frame on the right (5" on the dot), which is also at the exact middle of the space between the pink goats and the two beneath.  Talk about eyeballing!!

In any case, now that you have your arrangement nailed to the wall, carefully tear off the paper, and you, my friends, are all done!

Happy hanging!

Thursday, November 1, 2012

easy prints, great project

So a while ago, I saw a picture somewhere of a toddler painting on a cookie sheet and then transferring it to paper.  I thought it was genius, and filed it away in my head for a rainy day.

The only problem is that my brain doesn't work like it used to.  If I don't write it down or set an alarm in my phone, it is widely assumed that I won't remember it.  And I'm not even kidding.  I can't write things on paper anymore, because I won't remember where I put the paper.  So if I have a pen and need to write something down, it goes on my hand.  Which then spreads to my arm, if any sort of details are involved.  It's pathetic, really.

But every now and again, I will have a moment of clarity, and remember something fantastic.  Today was one of those days.

My son was playing the chef who puts out fires set by the mean machine who was considerate enough to call him on the phone to alert him of his intentions, and it came to me.  I asked him if he wanted to do a fun painting project, and he was instantly on board.

He picked out his cookie sheet, we got out some paint and paper, and got to work.  This project was so easy and so much fun.  It only required a few items that I had lying around, but even if I didn't have q-tips, a finger would work just as well. Or crumpled up paper, or a cotton ball, or a paint brush, or a pencil, or a crayon, or a spoon, or Barbie's foot, or a fork, or a toy car, or a leaf, or a shoe...  It's endless fun, really.

So you put some paint on the cookie sheet, let your kid smush it all around and make all sorts of designs in it, and put a piece of paper on top.  At first, you barely have to touch the paper, since the paint will be thicker.  But as the paint pares down, you can smooth out the paper with your hands to transfer the pattern onto the paper.  That's all there is to it!

And if you don't want to have a stack of prints lying all over your house, you could fold them in half and make cards out of them!!  Or maybe if you use a larger sheet of paper, you could use it as wrapping for a small present.  Endless fun, I tell you!

The best part of this project?  No mess.  Maybe it's just my kid, but I didn't even have to put a smock on him.  I just rolled up his sleeves and let him go.  See that paint on the towel?  
That was the only paint outside of the cookie sheet.  

But......  I did use washable paint, just in case.

As great as these are, just take a look up close.  

Some of the paint we used here was metallic, and up until now, I didn't quite realize how special is was.  I just thought it would be fun for the kids.  But WOW. 

 Just, wow.