Mojito cupcakes

On the baking front, we now take a break from pies and go to cupcakes! For Christmas our friends got us The Butch Bakery Cookbook by David Arrick, the guy behind Butch Bakery in New York. Their thing is “manly” cupcakes, no pink, no frills, just big, bold cupcakes. (Most with alcohol. All righty!)

These friends were having a New Year’s Eve party so I thought it would be neat if we made something from the book. I went through it and found the Mojito: rum-soaked lime cupcake with muddled minty lime cream cheese frosting. We happened to have lots of limes on hand, so this was perfect.

They were pretty straightforward to make, and tasted super yummy. There is lime juice and lime zest in the cupcake, and lime zest in the frosting and sprinkled on top, so yes, it is quite tart. And lots of sugar, so sweet.

The only strange thing was the yield: the recipe is supposed to make twelve jumbo cupcakes, but I only got ten, with the cups filled about only halfway with batter (the recipe actually calls for filling them two-thirds full). There was a lot of frosting left over, so the other day I made another batch of the cupcakes. This time I started filling the cups two-thirds full and ended up with only six cupcakes. They were big and great, but still, only six.

In any case, they were a hit at the party, and we look forward to going through the book and trying them all!

October pies

The monthly pie project continues! I had skipped September (just got busy preparing for vacation), so I made two pies for October. The first was an apple ginger pie with cider-bourbon sauce from Epicurious. I got a bottle of bourbon a while ago for another pie, and since I’m not a big bourbon drinker, I love how I end up cooking with it more and more.

Instead of the Epicurious pie crust, I used my fool-proof Cook’s Illustrated version. And I used pumpkin pie spice, which I already had in the pantry, instead of the called-for apple pie spice. So how’d it turn out? Well, the filling was a little runny. After cutting out the first slice, I poured off some of the thin juice from the pan. Otherwise it tasted great: sweet and spiced with a subtle ginger flavor. Finally, the sauce is a little boozy, but hey, I’m not complaining.

Apple-ginger pie

The second pie, which I brought to a Halloween party, was pumpkin pie. Of course. (And in fact it was pumpkin pie that started this whole pie project a year ago.) This is Cook’s Illustrated’s version, which uses canned sweet potatoes as well as pumpkin for the filling. Also at CI I looked for whipped cream recipes, and when I saw one for brown sugar and bourbon cream, I had to make it. More bourbon!

Pumpkin pie

There was a fair amount of extra filling, so I kept it in the fridge and a couple of days later improvised a sort of a pot de crème. It made for a tasty post-Halloween dessert.

As usual, photos of these and some of the previous pies are in my Flickr set. Time to think about November’s pie… I was at the library recently and checked out a big book called Great Pies & Tarts, so I’m sure I’ll have more than a few ideas!

Pie project: Lattice-top fresh peach pie

Another month, another pie! For my August pie, with Thom’s input (he loves peach) I went to Cook’s Illustrated and found a recipe for a lattice-top fresh peach pie. OK, to the pics!

After blanching and much peeling, pitting, and slicing:

Lattice-Top Fresh Peach Pie

I was up for the new challenge of a lattice top, and I have to say, it was a lot easier than I thought it would be. For some reason I imagined having to actually weave the strips of dough, but it’s just a matter of laying down and folding back the strips, strategically of course.

Lattice-Top Fresh Peach Pie

Lattice-Top Fresh Peach Pie

After a cut and crimp (sounds like a salon treatment) and a dusting of sugar, it’s ready for the oven:

Lattice-Top Fresh Peach Pie

Et voilà. I’m very happy with how it turned out. Unlike a couple of the other pies I’ve made, this one set up really well via the instant tapioca (the recipe calls for potato starch, which is finer than tapioca). It’s a minor aesthetic thing, but if I were to make this again I would grind the tapioca a little more so that it disappears more easily into the filling.

Lattice-Top Fresh Peach Pie

Mmm, peachy! There were leftover dough strips and filling, so I made that into a kind of mini-tart, which Thom and I ate that night as a preview before sharing the pie the next day.

More photos of this and other pies are in my pie project set on Flickr.

Pie project: Blackberry cobbler pie

Back to the pies! For June I reprised the chicken pot pie I had made for May, but this time using the familiar Cook’s Illustrated recipe for the crust. Much better (though more time-consuming of course) than store-bought puff pastry or pie shells.

For July, as usual I waited until the end of the month and it was just as well, since July 31 is Thom’s birthday. He wanted a berry pie, and I remembered that a few weeks earlier we had had lunch at Shari’s, where I picked up a recipe card for blackberry cobbler pie. Perfect!

The main ingredients of the filling are cooked-down blackberry jam and fresh blackberries. I also mixed in some frozen blackberries (thawed and drained).

Blackberry cobbler pie

And again I used Cook’s Illustrated for the crust. I blind-baked it, added the filling, and baked for about thirty minutes. Then I added the cobbler topping, and the pie went back into the oven for about ten more minutes. Et voilà!

Blackberry cobbler pie

Can you tell I enjoy taking pictures of food almost as much as I do cooking and eating it?

I will say it wasn’t completely perfect right off the bat. Maybe I should have let it cool longer and set up more (and/or used more cornstarch or all fresh rather than some frozen blackberries), but the filling from first slices was pretty thin. The next day, after sitting in the fridge overnight, it was much better. Also, this pie is sweet! A bit too much so. Since there is no added sugar, it all depends on the jam you use, and boy, is Smuckers sweet. If I were to make it again, I think I’d try to survey different jams to help gauge the final product.

These photos and more are in my Flickr set “Adventures in pie-making.” I don’t have any final ideas for August’s pie yet, but the gears are turning!

Pie project: Pastel na manok

Over the last several months I’ve been baking pies at the rate of one pie a month, and the other day I got in just under the wire for May. To mix things up I switched gears from dessert pies and at my mother’s suggestion decided to make pastel na manok, or Filipino chicken pot pie. I used a recipe from a cookbook I received as a gift a few Christmases ago, The Filipino-American Kitchen: Traditional Recipes, Contemporary Flavors by Jennifer M. Aranas.

Some of the ingredients, shiitake mushrooms, ginger, and leek:

Pastel ingredients

The recipe calls for chorizo de bilbao, which I couldn’t find at the supermarket (granted I didn’t look very hard; I could have gone to one of the many ethnic food markets around us), so I substituted Mexican-style chorizo and pre-cooked it before adding it to the rest of the ingredients. It all turned out pretty well, and the pie definitely had the gingery, pepper-y flavors I recall.

If I make this again, though, I think I will make my own regular pie crust — ooh, I feel all culinary as I say that — as I’ve done for the other pies. This recipe recommends using store-bought puff pastry for convenience, and though it tasted fine, I guess I’m not used to working with it. I didn’t roll out the sheet large enough, so it sunk down the sides. (That’s when you just call it “rustic.”) No pictures of the final product, since I give it for dance, 10. For looks, 3. Trust me, the picture from the cookbook is much more appetizing:

Pastel na manok

In any case I can even see making just the filling as a stew like caldereta and serving it over rice or with potatoes.

So it’s already June and time to start thinking of this month’s pie! Any suggestions?

The pie maker

(OK, now I can’t stop thinking of Pushing Daisies.) As you may know if you’ve been following my tweets, one of my new hobbies is baking pies. It started last November when I decided to try and make one of my favorite Thanksgiving must-haves, pumpkin pie, for our family get-together.

I enjoyed it so much that I decided to start making one pie a month. My favorite part is the crust: forming it, rolling it out, fluting the edges. Most of the recipes I’ve used are from Cook’s Illustrated, whose master recipe for pie crust includes a couple of tablespoons of vodka. Apparently it keeps the dough moist and helps the texture better than water only. That reminds me that the fillings for the pecan and cherry recipes I’ve made use bourbon. (Hmm, is there some reason I keep coming back to these?)

So here’s where we are so far:

  • November: Pumpkin
  • December: Cherry (I also made this for Thom’s folks over Christmas)
  • January: Lemon meringue
  • February: Pecan
  • March: Apple-cranberry
  • April: Cherry (yes, again; I had leftover frozen cherries, so why not?)

They have been mostly successes, though the lemon filling of the lemon meringue pie didn’t quite set up completely. Still they taste good, as far as I can tell. I made the most recent pie as presents to give to my family at our Easter get-together last weekend. Two skills combined: pie-making and gift-wrapping!

Sweet Cherry Pie

Sweet Cherry Pie

At Michaels I found these cupcake boxes which are actually the perfect size for one-fourth of a pie. (¼π, har har.) The plain cake boxes they had are a little tall, presumably for layered cakes.

If anyone has suggestions for pies to make, let me know! I’m also open to making savory pies, so at some point maybe I’ll try something like a meat pie. Check out the adventures in pie-making in my Flickr set. I don’t know about you, but I’m hungry now!

Las Vegas weekend

Wonder of wonders, I managed to upload all my photos from our Las Vegas trip that we took two weekends ago and am getting around to write a blog post about it! So yes, we had a great time. We stayed at the Planet Hollywood hotel, which was nice; I liked the slick, mod feel. Our room had props and photos from the movie Tank Girl. Our room faced The Strip, but our direct view was of a roof below and construction across the street. If you craned your neck to the right, you could see the Bellagio.

Walking among the hotels provided lots of photo ops; here’s Thom’s photo of us down in front of the Bellagio, waiting for the fountain show:

Speaking of the Bellagio, after unsuccessfully trying to get into Olives without a reservation, we ended up having dinner at Sensi, and it turned out to be fabulous. We had a prix fixe dinner: I chose crisp fried shrimp, Kobe flatiron steak, and “chocolate temptation” (layers of milk chocolate, nuts, and praline, with salted caramel ice cream). Yum! After dinner we saw O, one of the Cirque du Soleil shows, and it was amazing. The only thing I knew going in was that it was performed in and out of water — I was thinking a see-through tank — but it’s more like a pool that takes up the entire stage, with the shape and depth constantly varying with each scene. I loved it.

On Sunday we had brunch and went window shopping at the Miracle Mile Shops, the mall adjoining Planet Hollywood. In the evening we had dinner at Olives (with a reservation this time). I have to say, I wasn’t quite as impressed as I was the previous night at Sensi, but it was still a great meal. I had a prix fixe of butternut squash tortelli, paella “olivacious,” and chocolate falling cake. Then we saw another Cirque show, Mystère, which is at Treasure Island. This is more of the big-top circus show that I’m used to, and our seats were pretty close to the stage, so it was thrilling.

Trader Vic'sMonday was our last day in Vegas. We had lunch at Trader Vic’s — you knew we had to work tiki in somehow, right? I don’t usually have a cocktail with lunch, but hey, it’s vacation, as if I need an excuse. We shared a tiki bowl, and I had Kahlua pork sliders. Tasty!

Then walked next door to Paris. (The Strip lends itself to time-space transportation, doesn’t it?) We had a coupon for the Eiffel Tower Experience (though “experience” is overstating it; it’s an observation deck), so we went up to the top of the fifty-story tower. It has some great views of the area. But just as we got up there, it got all windy and hazy, so it wasn’t ideal viewing. We spent the rest of the afternoon shopping, and before we knew it, it was time for our flight home.

We had taken US Airways there, and our favorite airline, Virgin America, on the way back. We upgraded at check-in and made our way to the gate area, where Thom noticed celebrity chef Tyler Florence! As we got in line to board, Thom addressed him as “chef” and said hello. Heh! And onboard he ended up sitting in the row across the aisle from us.

We remembered that Virgin has started serving absinthe (Le Tourment Vert), and we had to try it. Our flight attendant recommended mixing it with club soda (or lemon-lime soda), so that’s what we had. I have to say, I’m not a fan of licorice taste, so it wasn’t my cup of tea. But it’s nice that they offer it. They have it for a limited initial run, but I wonder if it will catch on enough for them to keep it. Our flight attendant was real nice and even gave each of us a mini-bottle to take home!

So yes, we’ll definitely have to plan another Vegas trip soon. It’s just not the same being back on our street with no hourly fountain, volcano, or pirate show to entertain us. It’s so quick to get to (by plane, at least), and there are a billion more Cirque shows to see! At least it seems that way. Oh, and yes, we did gamble, but we’re such low rollers. I mostly played video blackjack and lost a few dollars. That’s enough action for me!

The Strip

My pics are on Flickr in my Las Vegas set; see also Thom’s set.

Easter Sunday in Half Moon Bay

We had a nice Easter Sunday afternoon in Half Moon Bay with my mom, and my aunt and her family. For lunch we ate at It’s Italia, a (you guessed it) Italian restaurant. It was pretty good for the most part, but the major thing was that their oven (or something like that) wasn’t working, so we basically couldn’t have any pizza or pasta dishes. Eep. It turned out OK, since there were still panini, which we all enjoyed. (See my Yelp review.)

Afterwards we got some hot drinks at Half Moon Bay Coffee Company and went to the beach. The coffee definitely helped counter the brisk, windy weather. There was a fair number of people out picnicking and enjoying the park and beach. Here’s a short video I made, with my cousin’s son at the end; pardon the cheesy slo-mo, but I just had to try it out since variable speed is new in iMovie ’09:

The drive down Highway 1 is so pretty and Half Moon Bay has a bunch of cool little restaurants, but I often forget how close it is, only about twenty miles from Daly City. We definitely need to go down there more often (in addition to the pumpkin festival!).