Chocolate Peanut Butter Buckeyes

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My apologies to every sports fan who stumbles upon this blog, only to find that there is absolutely no information about (any) college sports team. The Buckeyes I refer to in the title are not the Ohio State Buckeyes, but the tiny chocolate-covered peanut butter balls that were inspired by Ohio’s state tree. Alex and I were visiting Ohio (his first time to Ohio!) this Memorial Day weekend to celebrate the wedding of our lovely friends, Michael and Deborah, in Cleveland Heights. The ceremony was beautiful and rather dramatic because of a sudden thunderstorm. Plus, it was a Jewish ceremony, which meant Alex and I had to learn a Jewish wedding song and see some new (to us) traditions. On top of that, the bride is originally from Brazil, so there was also samba music and lots of dancing. We couldn’t have had more fun, or celebrated a better couple.

I grew up just across the border from Ohio, in Indiana, but I had seen very little of the state before. As we always try to do, we turned this short trip into a slightly longer road trip. After leaving Cleveland early on Monday, we drove down to Columbus, only briefly stopping to get coffee and to walk around the Short North and German Village neighborhoods. It was really the only urban area that we visited. Most of our road trip was spent driving by rolling fields and through one-stoplight towns, smelling Memorial Day barbecues. Today, we will leave my mom’s house in search of antique stores to buy knicknacks we don’t need.

In honor of our trip, I thought I would make a very traditional Ohio treat (and by traditional, I mean a mid-century invention of Midwest housewives). I’m using my mom’s ancient recipe for peanut butter balls. When mom made them, they were called peanut butter balls, and they were completely covered in chocolate. The only difference is that when you make buckeyes, you leave a tiny cap of peanut butter showing. Ohioans call them buckeyes, because they resemble the nut of Ohio’s state tree, the buckeye. My mom would usually make the treat for family get-togethers. In Ohio, they are often also served during Ohio State games.

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Chocolate Peanut Butter Buckeyes
Makes about 30, 1-inch Buckeyes.

Ingredients:
1 cup peanut butter
2 1/2 cups powdered sugar
1 stick unsalted butter
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
12 oz. semi-sweet chocolate chips (or chocolate bar, chopped)

Instructions:

In a large bowl, combine peanut butter, powdered sugar, butter, salt, and vanilla extract with a hand mixture. The mixture will look thick, almost like a cookie batter. Cover with a dish towel and allow to chill in the refrigerator for about half an hour.

Cover a large cookie sheet with parchment paper. Using a small spoon (the large scoop on my melon baller worked well), scoop portions of the peanut butter mixture, roll into a ball and set on parchment paper. Continue until all of the peanut butter mixture has been used. Refrigerate for another half an hour.

Fill a small saucepan with about an inch of water and bring to just a boil. Make a double-boiler by filling a small bowl with the chocolate and setting this on the saucepan, above the water. Be sure that the bottom of the bowl does not touch the water in the saucepan.

Stirring the chocolate often, allow the chocolate to melt above the heat. Once the chocolate has just melted, remove from heat and stir until the mixture is smooth.

Using a toothpick, skewer the refrigerated peanut butter ball and dip into the chocolate mixture. Keeping the toothpick in the top of the ball, slowly rotate the ball in the chocolate until all is covered, except for a small portion at the top. Return to parchment paper and remove the toothpick. If you like, you can lightly pat the the spot where the toothpick was to get rid of the hole.

Continue until you have coated all of the peanut butter balls with chocolate. Allow to refrigerate for at least another half hour before serving.

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Bear in mind, these little candies are very rich. Delicious, but rich. Even as a child, while other family members were gobbling them up a few at a time, I could only eat about half. The recipe above is a slight adaptation to my mom’s original, using slightly less sugar. I first tried to use much less, but didn’t have much success keeping the peanut butter in ball-form for dipping. So they’re still rich, but a little more balanced. They remind me a lot of the Reese’s holiday versions of peanut butter cups. You know the ones: egg-shaped for Easter, hearts for Valentine’s Day, always with a shockingly large ratio of peanut butter to chocolate, just the way I like it. My next plan is to make a batch, freeze them, take them to our next summer barbecue, and win the hearts of everyone.

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Sweet Cherry Pie

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“Do I watch too much TV?” part of myself often wonders. “No, TV is amazing,” says all the other parts of myself. And then I “Play next episode” until I, I don’t know… die? I know it’s not great for me, but there is just so much good TV to watch. For example, on Sunday, the new Twin Peaks premieres on Showtime and I couldn’t be more stoked. Last month, while Alex and I were visiting the Pacific Northwest, we visited several Twin Peaks sites, like a couple of tourists. We even got cherry pie at Twede’s Cafe, a.k.a. the Double R Diner. If you’ve ever seen the show, you know how much Agent Dale Cooper loves his snacks in general, but cherry pie in particular. Cherry pie and a “damn fine cup of coffee” served “black as midnight on a moonless night.” 

There are actually two other reasons I’m making cherry pie now. The first is, I’ve never made one and I really wanted to. I count it among my favorites, if not as my favorite pie. (Cherry anything for me, really.) Secondly, I recently found out that it was my grandpa’s favorite dessert. A few days ago, my grandpa would have turned 90 years old, but he passed away just over four years ago. Gruff, quite honestly, is the very best word to describe him. He and my grandma were the parents of three rowdy and mischievous boys, whose rowdiness and mischievousness never really subsided. He probably wasn’t the easiest man to have as a father, but he was a super grandpa. And he gave the best bear hugs. I actually don’t know if he ever realized he was bear-hugging. He was a burly man, so I assume that his default hugging mode was “bear.” Anyway, I like the idea of him having a favorite dessert. As much as I think about food and my grandparents, I unfortunately don’t often think of the things that gave them joy. I think of them along with terms like “stoic” and “hard-working”, but I wish I more often thought of them more in terms of “musician” and “cherry pie-lover.”

Anyway, for me, those were enough good reasons to make cherry pie (even though it’s not quite in season). So, then, it’s cherry pie.

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Sweet Cherry Pie
(Makes one 9-inch pie)

Ingredients for the crust:
Slight variation of this recipe.

2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for rolling out dough
2 sticks (16 tbsp) unsalted butter, cubed and very cold
1 3/4 teaspoons salt
8-12 tablespoons ice water
1 1/2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar

For egg wash:
1 egg
1 tbsp milk
1 tbsp sugar

Ingredients for the filling:
5 1/2 cups of sweet cherries (frozen or fresh; pitted)
3 tbsp lemon juice
1/4 tsp vanilla
1/4 tsp apple cider vinegar
2/3 cup sugar
5 tbsp corn starch
1/2 tsp salt
1 tbsp unsalted butter, cubed and very cold

Instructions for the crust:

In a food processor, or large bowl, combine the flour, sugar, and salt.

Add the cold, cubed butter and process for about 5 seconds. If not using a food processor, incorporate the butter into the dry mixture until the butter is pea sized.

Add in 8 tbsp. of ice water and apple cider vinegar. Pulse for 5 more seconds. If the mixture is still quite dry, add 1 tbsp. of water at a time until the mixture holds shape when you pinch it together. Do not exceed 12 tbsp. of water.

Pour out onto a floured surface. Separate the dough into two equal parts. Gather one of the parts and form a disk shape. Wrap in plastic wrap. Repeat with the second portion.

Refrigerate for at least an hour, or up to two days.

When the dough is ready, roll out on a well-floured surface until it’s large enough to fit into a 9-inch pie pan. Lay the dough across the pan, with the edges hanging off. Cover with a dishtowel and refrigerate while you prepare the top crust.

On a well-floured surface, roll out the second disk of dough, making sure you roll your dough out to a diameter of 12 inches.

Using a pizza cutter or a knife, 5 zig-zag cutouts across the diameter of the dough, about 1-inch thick.

Place each line on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet, cover with a dishtowel, and refrigerate until you’re ready to cover your pie.

Instructions for the filling:

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

If using frozen cherries: Place into a colander over a large mixing bowl to thaw in the refrigerator overnight. Discard the juice that is released from the thawed cherries.

In a large bowl, add the cherries, lemon juice, vinegar, and vanilla and stir to combine.

Add the cornstarch and combine well. There should be no streaks of cornstarch. Add the sugar and stir to combine.

Allow the mixture to sit for about 20-30 minutes.

If using frozen cherries, use a slotted spoon to add the cherries to the bottom half of the pie crust. Discard any leftover liquid. If using fresh cherries, pour entire mixture into the pie shell. Arrange the cubed butter over the cherries.

Arrange the zig-zag cutouts over the top of the cherries. Trim away all but about a 1/2-inch of the edge of the dough. Form a decorative edge.

Cover with a dishtowel and refrigerate for 20-30 minutes.

Beat together the egg and milk. Using a pastry brush, paint egg wash on all exposed pie shell. Sprinkle the crust with 1 tbsp of sugar.

Bake for 25 minutes at 400 degrees. Then lower the oven temperature to 350 degrees and continue baking for approximately 45 minutes, or until the crust is golden brown. If the pie edges are browning too quickly, cover with a foil tent for the remaining baking time.

Remove from oven and allow to cool for 2-3 hours before cutting and serving.

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As I said, we’re not fully into cherry season yet. I used frozen sweet cherries, because that’s what I had access to, but I came to the (expected) conclusion that I prefer a tart cherry pie. If you’re starting with tart cherries, you will certainly need to cut down the lemon juice and increase the sugar a bit. Sometime this summer, when I can fully take advantage of Chicago’s farmer’s markets, I will work on perfecting my tart cherry pie recipe. In the meantime, I think this sweet cherry would satisfy the quirkiest of agents, and the gruffest of grandpas.

Sister Lindsay’s Southern Banana Pudding

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My favorite posts on this blog are when I get to invite my friends to share a family recipe and talk about what it means to them. For today’s post, I’m extremely happy to be joined by my friend, Kaye Winks.

Kaye is an actress who has been acting professionally for 13 years and writing professionally for seven. But naturally she’s been an actor and a writer her whole life.  Kaye isn’t an only child, but her siblings are several years older than her, which meant she grew up as the only child in her house. She spent her childhood creating picture books, putting on sock puppet shows for her first grade classroom, and memorizing her favorite movies and performing full-length re-enactments in her bedroom, complete with full makeshift sets and costumes. By the time she was 11, she realized that, if she wrote down the stories she created while she was playing pretend, what she was really doing was writing a script. And, from all the movies she watched, she knew that acting was something she could do for a living. She decided then to make that her goal.

In 2012, Kaye started working on a script that would eventually become her one-woman comedy show, Token. Kaye describes Token as a “comic and ironic look at what it’s like being the token black person,” and often the lone black person, in a world of white. But the goal of the show is not to pick on white people. Kaye points out that the show also “explores the funny and sometimes sobering experiences of being a suburban black girl with inner city black folk.”

In the show, Kaye performs many characters, but the most memorable and touching character she portrays is Sister Lindsay, who appears throughout the show to both scold bad behavior, and to offer advice on how to navigate the world. Kaye included Sister Lindsay in her show to “soften the blow of my character’s satirical voice and act as a voice of reason and morality that the audience would like.”

But Sister Lindsay was not the creation of Kaye’s imagination. She was Kaye’s grandmother. Born in Mississippi in 1935, Sister Lindsay fled the harsh Jim Crow laws in the South to Chicago in 1957. Sister Lindsay had never seen her birth certificate, so she always celebrated her birthday on October 28th. Many years later, Kaye’s aunt did some research in Sister Lindsay’s home town and found that, actually, she had been born on December 28th and was very pleased to find out that she was actually 2 months younger than she had always thought!

Sister Lindsay passed away one year ago yesterday and Kaye told me that her “homegoing” was like a celebrity’s. “We don’t call them ‘funerals’ in my family. The term ‘funeral’ is reserved for people who are ‘unsaved’ making it a sorrowful event of mourning for the lost soul. In my family, we call them ‘homegoing celebrations’ because our loved one’s souls are going home to heaven to be with their Creator and it is a chaste and wonderful party. The enormous old church was standing room only with at least 500 people in attendance and they joyfully danced and sang her spirit to heaven. My husband, not remotely accustomed to this custom, was pleasantly surprised at how fun it was, albeit bittersweet. It was also the first time he’d ever been the only white person in a room FULL of all black folks!”

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Sister Lindsay, at her birthday party, a few years ago.

What Kaye remembers very sharply are some of her grandma’s features. Her soft cheeks–“She had the absolute softest skin of any human I have ever encountered. I loved kissing Grandma on her cheeks because they were like little chocolate silk pillows that always smelled like baby powder.” Her laugh–“She had a ragged cackle, instead of a laugh, that was reminiscent of James Brown, being merely a ‘HA!’ or literal ‘Huh-HAAA!’ If you got the ‘Huh-HAAA!’ you knew you had said something really funny.” Her faith–“She was an extremely devout Christian woman, whose entire social life revolved around worshiping Jesus and helping her church family. Jesus was everything to her. She would also often get the police called on her for disturbing the peace because she’d sing ‘Oh Jesus’ or fervently pray at the top of her lungs at all hours of the night.” And, finally, her banana pudding. Kaye told me that it was a treat that she would rarely make, even though everyone loved it. “She’d just make it randomly and nonchalantly be like, ‘Oh yeah, there’s banana pudding in there,’ and everyone would scurry to the kitchen like a winning lottery ticket was in there. Like, why didn’t you tell us earlier, lady?!”

Kaye said that people in her family have tried to make the pudding, following the same recipe, but it just doesn’t taste the same as when her grandma made it. I made this recipe and, I kid you not, it’s one of the best desserts I’ve ever made.  I had it for breakfast and for dessert after dinner no less than three nights in a row. Maybe you can have a little more restraint than I did. If this pudding had that kind of effect on me and it was only me making it, what Sister Lindsay made must have been magical.

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Sister Lindsay’s Southern Banana Pudding

Ingredients:
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup sugar
2 tbsp cornstarch
2 1/4 cups Carnation evaporated milk
4 large eggs, separated
2 tbsp unsalted butter
1 tsp vanilla extract
3 1/3 cups vanilla wafers
4 very ripe bananas

Instructions:

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Whisk together salt, sugar, and cornstarch in a heavy saucepan. Then whisk in the  evaporated milk. Add the egg yolks and mix thoroughly.

Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly for about 7-8 minutes or until thick. Remove from heat and stir in the vanilla and butter.

Slice the bananas, not too thin.

Layer half of the vanilla wafers in a medium-sized round glass baking dish. Top with half of the banana slices and half the pudding. Repeat the same with the wafers, bananas, and pudding that’s left. Finally, cover most of the top layer of pudding with vanilla wafers.

Bake at 375 degrees for 7-10 minutes.

Serve warm or chilled. Kaye suggests chilling for at least an hour, as that’s the way her grandma would serve it.

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Kaye first performed her show to a sold-out audience at Collaboraction Theater in Wicker Park in March 2017. Luckily for you, if you’re interested in seeing it (and Sister Lindsay), Kaye will be performing again, beginning this week. Token runs Fridays at 7:30pm, May 19 through June 9 in Judy’s Beat Lounge at The Second City Training Center. Tickets are available at: www.secondcity.com/shows/chicago/token/. (As of yesterday, the May 19th show was already sold out, so get your tickets early!)

I went to see the show’s debut in March and it was so good. There were definitely some gasps from the audience throughout, but there was mostly laughter, a lot of laughter. And while Kaye admits that there is “plenty of rather un-PC humor in it,” she says that it is also “really fun, honest, and relatable because it picks on everyone equally. I wrote it to share the perspective from the middle of two polarized spheres, the gray area between black and white, and hopefully inspire new thoughts and conversations about race and class by bringing people together to laugh at the absurdity of it all.”

And, if you’re interested in following Kaye in the future, her show will premier in New York City on Saturday, September 16th, at 9pm, at The Studio Theatre on 42nd Street (Theatre Row) as part of United Solo Theatre Festival. Tickets available here: http://unitedsolo.org/us/token-2017/. And if that’s not enough for you, she also has a book, The Civilized Citizen’s Guide to Dining Out, a snide guide on restaurant etiquette, that’s being released in fall 2017.

Kaye, thank you so much for taking the time to talk about your show and share this amazing recipe from your grandmother!

Bourbon Chocolate Pecan Pie for Derby Day

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This is not a Cinco de Mayo recipe. I hope anyone reading can make it through this post since I know you all just want margs and tacos. Trust me, I get it. Especially the taco part. And I will be celebrating, but for a different reason. It’s actually a fairly special day for my fella and I. Back when we met in college, I suggested that my Biology project group (Alex included) go out for Cinco de Mayo. I had just recently turned 21 and was very interested in purchasing my first margarita (dumb college student stuff). However, the rest of group was not yet 21 (Alex included) and so they all declined. I guess the idea of quietly watching me drink a margarita as big as my head was not appealing to them. But later, I got a call from Alex asking if I still wanted to go out. I wasn’t sure where to go, so Alex picked a tiny place that he liked–that definitely did not have margaritas and only had a few taco choices, all served only with onion, cilantro, and a little slice of lime. It was the first time, outside of Biology class, that we had talked alone. And we had a great time! He told me about what it was like to grow up in Chicago. I told him about what it was like to grow up in what seemed to be the smallest town on the planet. And we became real friends. Not just Biology group friends. I also learned to love the simple deliciousness of tacos, served only with onion, cilantro, and a little slice of lime (and there you go, there’s my taco recipe). I forget until Cinco de Mayo rolls around every year and then I remember and my heart grows three sizes.

So there will be no fancy Cinco de Mayo recipes from me today. Instead, we’re cruising straight into the weekend, with a recipe for a celebration of a different kind: The Kentucky Derby. I present to you you the only dessert you should be eating tomorrow: Bourbon Chocolate Pecan Pie.

At first I wasn’t sure if I should post this recipe, which counts as my second chocolate pie post in a month. The first was Chocolate Perfection Pie for Queen Elizabeth II’s birthday. But then I thought, people really like chocolate and pie, so it’s probably fine.

It’s common practice for this pie to be served to mark the running of the Derby.  It’s also apparently common practice to prepare food a day before the race, so that you’re not cooking on Derby Day. Makes sense. I imagine forming pie crust edges is slightly more difficult with a few mint juleps under your belt. Those Kentuckians are just planning ahead.

Have you heard of this pie? Luckily, I didn’t make the mistake of calling it Derby Pie. And, technically, it’s not. The pie officially known as “Derby Pie” is made with walnuts, and the name is trademarked by the Kern family in Kentucky. It’s a somewhat fascinating story of how one family claims to be salvaging its own history by trademarking the name, while others claim that Derby Pie is a generic name for a chocolate-nut pie that has been around for years and does not belong to one particular recipe. That has not stopped the Kern family from suing websites and bakers who sell or provide recipes for “Derby Pie.” It has been called the “most litigious confection in America.” If you want to read more about the pie’s legal troubles, NPR did a story here.

Anyway, this is not Derby Pie, but it is full of semi-sweet chocolate, pecans, and just a little bourbon, for good measure. Alex described it at “Cookie Dough Pie.” That’s not far off, but that doesn’t begin to do it justice. After baking, the pecans become toasty, the chocolate chips melt to form a rich base, and the egg and cornstarch mixture develop a cookie crust on top.

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Bourbon Chocolate Pecan Pie for Derby Day
Makes one 9-inch pie.

Ingredients:

For pie crust:
I used my favorite pie shell recipe, which can be found here.

1 1/2 cups flour
1 tbsp sugar
1 tsp salt
1 stick, plus 1 tbsp (9 tbsp) unsalted butter, cubed and very cold
3/4 tsp apple cider vinegar
1/4-1/2 cup ice water

For pie filling:
I used Alice Colombo’s recipe, found in Pie: 300 Tried-and-True Recipes for Delicious Homemade Pie.

2 large eggs
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup cornstarch
1 stick (8 tbsp) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
2 tbsp bourbon
1 cup chopped pecans
1 cup semi-sweet or dark chocolate chips

For topping, optional:
1 cup heavy whipping cream
2 tbsp bourbon
1 tsp vanilla extract

Instructions:

For crust: In a food processor, add the flour, sugar, and salt. Pulse for about 5 seconds to mix.

Add the cold butter cubes to the food processor and process for about 5 more seconds. You should still be able to see large pieces of butter.

Add the vinegar and 1/4 cup of cold water, then pulse for 5 more seconds. If the mixture is still quite dry, add 1 tbsp of cold water at a time, quickly pulsing between each addition. Don’t add more than a total of 1/2 cup of cold water.

Pour the mixture out onto a lightly floured surface, gather the mixture together into a ball, form into a disc, and wrap in plastic wrap.

Refrigerate for at least an hour.

For the pie: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Once the dough is ready, roll it out to fit a 9-inch pie pan. Trim edges, fold under and form a decorative edge with your fingers or a fork.

In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs until they’re light and frothy. In a separate bowl, thoroughly mix the sugar and cornstarch together. Add the cornstarch sugar mixture to the egg mixture in three batches, mixing thoroughly in between each addition.

Add the bourbon and melted butter to the mixture and whisk to combine thoroughly.

Add in the chopped pecans and chocolate chips. Stir to combine.

Pour the entire mixture into the prepared pie shell.

Bake for 40-45 minutes, turning the pie 180 degrees in the oven halfway through baking.

Remove pie and allow to cool for an hour before serving.

In a small bowl, using a hand mixer, beat together the heavy cream, bourbon, and vanilla until peaks form. Top the pie pieces, as desired.

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This recipe was created by a former Assistant Food Editor for the Louisville Courier, named Alice Colombo. After some light snooping, I found that Ms. Colombo also wrote her own cookbook a few years ago, which includes recipes from her time at the Courier. If you like this recipe, it might be worth checking out others.

Now grab your big hat and make some pie!

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Margaret Atwood’s Baked Lemon Custard

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Months ago, when I heard that The Handmaid’s Tale was going to be made into a TV series, I got very excited. If you don’t know about this book, which was written in 1985, here is an extremely brief summary. The novel takes place in the near-future (which, considering the year it was written, would have put it around the early 2000s). The U.S. government has been overthrown and is now a dictatorship. Under the new government, women’s rights are almost immediately and completely destroyed. The story is narrated by its main character, Offred, a woman who is part of a class of women whose sole purpose in the new society is to reproduce for the sterile wives of the ruling class. If you’re my age, you may remember this novel from your teen or college years, when you first heard about it, read it, and were stunned and terrified by it for years afterward. It probably also made you very, very angry.

Well, get ready to get angry again. Today is the day. The first three episodes of The Handmaid’s Tale are up on Hulu, and tonight I plan on settling deep into my couch tonight and watching them all. I know I’m not the only one excited about this. The reviews have been amazing and it doesn’t hurt that it stars Elisabeth Moss (Peggy!), Samira Wiley (Poussey, we’ve missed you!), and Alexis Bledel (Rory Gilmore, I’m saying this as a friend: You just need to get yourself together, girl).

You may notice that, on this blog, there is little rhyme or reason to the recipes that I make. My only real requirement is that they have a story to tell. Or, at least, they represent someone with a story to tell. In this case, the recipe I’m sharing comes from the author of the book herself, the Canadian writer Margaret Atwood. I’m always on the fence when I write this kind of post. I never want to diminish a woman’s accomplishments by focusing only on how great she is in the kitchen. It should certainly not be understated that Atwood is a prolific writer. She has won numerous awards, written many books, and has over 20 honorary degrees from universities around the world. (Did you know that she also wrote the lyrics to a rock song??)

So why then am I writing about one of her recipes? Well, in addition to her other written works, two years after Tale was published, Atwood published Canlit Foodbook, a cookbook based on literary food. Therefore, I feel that Atwood’s work in book-based food is worth exploring, since she thought it worthwhile. I did a search and found a Baked Lemon Custard recipe credited to Atwood on Epicurious. Though I can’t confirm if this particular recipe came from the Foodbook, I can confirm that this custard is…terrific. It’s light, it’s tart, and it’s the perfect combination of cake on top, pudding underneath.

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Margaret Atwood’s Baked Lemon Custard
A very slight variation on this recipe. Recipe below is altered to make four servings.

Ingredients:
1/3 cup sugar
2 tbsp butter, room temperature, plus more for buttering ramekins
2 tsp lemon zest
2 large eggs, separated
2 tbsp all-purpose flour
2/3 cup buttermilk
3 tbsp lemon juice
Powdered sugar, optional

Instructions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Butter the inside of four 3/4-cup ramekins and set aside.

In a large bowl, beat together the sugar, butter, and lemon zest. The mixture will not be completely smooth.

Beat in one egg yolk at a time until completely combined.

Mix in flour and buttermilk by alternating each. The flour should be added in three portions, the buttermilk should be added in two. Mix in the lemon juice.

In a separate, medium bowl, beat together the egg whites. Make sure your beaters are very clean and dry. The egg whites should begin to form peaks and should still be quite shiny. Carefully fold the egg whites into yolk mixture. When ready, the mixture will be consistently colored, but will still be lumpy.

Divide batter among the buttered ramekins. Place ramekins in at least a 2-inch deep pan. Add hot water to the pan, around the ramekins, to halfway up the side of each.

Bake for about 35 minutes, until cakes begin to set and just begin to brown on the top.

Remove ramekins from water bath to a wire rack to cool.

Sprinkle with powdered sugar, if you desire.

Serve warm or chilled.

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Can we all spare just a slight amount of appreciation for this delicious custard recipe? As I said before, I fully acknowledge how impressive Margaret Atwood is because of her literary talents, but I really admire that Margaret Atwood is a kick-ass writer, who just happens to make a kick-ass baked custard.

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The Queen’s Chocolate Perfection Pie

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It’s good to be back in the saddle again. I took a brief break from the blog to have a lovely visit to the Pacific Northwest with Alex. We had such a good time, driving all over northwestern Washington, before spending our last few days exploring Seattle. Alex had a conference to attend in Seattle, so I had a lot of time to walk around alone and remember how to eat lunch by myself. I sincerely value the art of doing things by yourself, but it’s a skill, so it was nice to get some practice in. And we still got to spend loads of time together, walking 25,000 steps a day (not an exaggeration) and seeing the city. And luckily Spring had sprung in Chicago while we were gone, and we had warm-ish weather and flowers on the trees to greet us. But here I am, back to the blog I love the most. This time, I’m making pie!

Just last week, Alex asked which famous person I would be completely awed by if I met them. Without hesitation, I answered: Queen Elizabeth II. Of course! She’s more than famous. She’s walking, talking history! That gal has lived through so much. And not only that, she’s ruled through it. 2017 marks her 65th year on the throne!

My very serious confession is that I am 100% totally crazy about the Queen. I’m sure it’s not the most popular position to take, but that’s just how I feel. Of course I understand other folks’ mixed feelings about royalty in general. They can be stodgy and out of touch, they are an expense to the British people… but the Queen. She’s a fascinating figure and I love her. I admire her stoicism, dignity, and commitment to her role. It should also be noted that I owe a big part of my interest in genealogy to royalty. When I was a kid, before we had a computer (remember that?) I used to go through our encyclopedias making family trees of the British royals. (That may be the more serious confession right there.)

Today Queen Elizabeth turns 91 years-old, although her birthday won’t officially be celebrated until June (from what I understand, it’s because the weather is generally better then). But, in honor of this incredible lady’s actual day of birth, I made Chocolate Perfection Pie. A former chef to the Queen recently disclosed that this was her favorite dessert. The pie consists of, get this, a shortbread crust, followed by layers of cinnamon custard, chocolate sauce, cinnamon whipped topping, and chocolate-cinnamon whipped topping. I’m on board. And if it’s good enough for the Queen…

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The Queen’s Chocolate Perfection Pie
Very slightly adapted from this recipe.

Ingredients:
For the crust:
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup granulated sugar
Pinch of salt
1 stick unsalted butter, chilled and cubed
1 egg yolk
1/4 – 1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

For the filling and toppings:
2 eggs
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 tsp apple cider vinegar
1/4 tsp salt

6 oz. chopped semi-sweet chocolate
1/2 cup water
2 egg yolks

1 cup heavy cream
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon

Dark chocolate or white chocolate bar, optional

Instructions:

For the crust:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Grease a pie or tart pan and set aside.

In a large bowl or food processor, combine the flour, sugar, and salt.

Add in very cold butter cubes. If using a food processor, process for about 5 seconds, until the butter is incorporated and is in small pea-sized pieces. If using a bowl, incorporate the butter into the dry ingredients, pinching between your fingers to achieve pea-sized pieces.

Add egg yolk, 1/4 cup of heavy cream, and vanilla extract. Process or mix by hand until combined. Pinch the dough in your hand. If it holds, it’s ready. If not, add more heavy cream, 1 tablespoon at a time, until the dough holds together. Do not exceed 1/2 cup of heavy cream.

Pour the crumbs into the tart or pie pan, and use your fingers to shape to the bottom and sides.

Line the interior of the crust with parchment paper, fill with dry beans or pie weights. Bake on a cookie sheet for 20-25 minutes. Remove the crust from the oven and remove the pie weights and parchment paper. Poke holes all over the bottom of the pie crust with a fork. Return to the oven and continue baking for about 5 minutes, or until the bottom of the pie crust begins to turn light brown. Remove from oven and allow to cool almost completely.

For the filling and toppings:
Make a double boiler, using a glass or metal mixing bowl over a saucepan of boiling water. Whisking constantly, combine the eggs, sugar, cinnamon, vinegar, and salt in the bowl. The mixture will begin to foam around the edges. Once this occurs, remove from the heat and continue whisking until the mixture becomes creamy and ribbons begin to form. Pour the mixture into the bottom of the crust and bake for 15-20 minutes, until the custard just sets and begins to rise. The surface should be firm to the touch, but not hard. Allow the custard to sink and cool slightly.

In a small saucepan, or in a glass bowl in the microwave, melt the semi-sweet chocolate. Add in 1/2 cup room temperature water and whisk until the water and melted chocolate are combined. Add one egg yolk, whisking in completely before adding the second yolk and whisk completely. Pour half of the mixture (about 1/2 cup) onto the custard in the pie shell. Do not discard the remaining syrup! Bake for about 5-8 minutes. Set on a cooling rack and allow to completely cool.

In a mixing bowl, combine the whipping cream and cinnamon. Beat with a whisk or hand mixer until stiff peaks form. Spread half of the mixture onto the chocolate layer.

Stir together the remaining whipped cream and chocolate syrup until fully combined. Add that layer on top of the cinnamon whipped cream layer.

Shave the dark chocolate or white chocolate bar and sprinkle the shavings over the top of the pie.

Refrigerate for at least one hour before serving.

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Chocolate Perfection Pie16

The love of cinnamon-flavored, and particularly cinnamon-chocolate-flavored, desserts in the Limanowski household cannot be understated. Examples of that on this blog are here and here. We were more than happy to add another cinnamon-chocolate dish to the rotation and this one, just as its name says, is perfection. It might seem like a lot of steps, but it’s actually quite easy. Give it a try and let me know what you think!

Long live the Queen!

Brown Butter, Salted Caramel Corn

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If you’ve ever been a tourist in Chicago, you’ve probably walked down State Street and noticed the smell of Garrett popcorn wafting through the air. (If you resisted stopping in to buy some, good for you, you’re a better person than most.) And while Garrett popcorn has been around for a long time, since 1949, caramel corn got its start in Chicago much earlier.

Frederick Rueckheim, originally from Germany, began making candy in Chicago shortly after the Great Chicago Fire. A few years later, his brother, Louis, joined him in Chicago. The two of them combined molasses-coated popcorn with peanuts to create a successor to the colonial treat of kettle corn, and the snack was officially presented to the public at the Chicago World’s Columbian Exposition in 1893. (It should also be mentioned that the first popcorn machine, invented by Charles Cretors, was also debuted at the World’s Fair. His system unified the popping process, automating a job that was historically done by hand, and allowing popcorn sellers total mobility, which no doubt helped the Rueckheims.) Rueckheim trademarked the name Cracker Jack in 1896, and the same year an article about his new product appeared in the Chicago Tribune with the headline, “Do Not Taste It. If You Do You Will Part With Your Money Easy.” In the early 1900s, the lyrics of “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” namechecked Cracker Jack, which had already become a staple at Major League Baseball games.

For this year’s National Caramel Popcorn Day, I decided to use a family recipe and make my mom’s caramel corn. (The alternative title for this post could be “Mom’s Super-Simple, Completely Addictive Caramel Corn.”) I remember, as a child, thinking that this recipe was the worst because after my mom poured caramel over the popcorn, I should have immediately been allowed to eat it. Instead, it had to bake for an hour. An hour! That’s like 4 days in Kid Time.

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BB Salted Caramel Corn12

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Brown Butter, Salted Caramel Corn

Ingredients:
About 5 cups popped popcorn (About 3/4 or 1 cup, un-popped)
12 tbsp, unsalted butter
2/3 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup water
1/2 tsp salt, plus 1/2 tsp more sea salt for sprinkling
1/2 tsp baking soda

Instructions:

Pop your popcorn and add to a large bowl. If the popcorn fills your bowl completely, use two bowls. You will want enough room in the bowl to be able to stir in the caramel.

Preheat your oven to 200 degrees.

Add the butter to a saucepan and place on the stove over medium heat. Allow the butter to heat thoroughly. It will begin to sizzle and smoke a bit. It will turn a deep yellow color, before it turns into a light to medium brown. Turn off the heat.

Add the brown sugar, water, and 1/2 tsp salt to the saucepan and place over medium heat. At first, you will notice that the butter and water are separating. Stirring occasionally, bring the mixture to a slight boil. At this point you should see that the mixture is coming together. Stir for about 10 seconds while boiling, before turning off the stove.

Remove from heat and add in the baking soda and stir together. You will see the mixture foaming up and increasing in volume slightly.

Pour the mixture over your popcorn in the bowl. (If using two bowls, divide the mixture.) Stir together until the popcorn is covered by the caramel.

Spread out on one large cookie sheet, or two smaller cookie sheets. The caramel corn doesn’t have to be single layer, but it shouldn’t be piled up too far past the sides of the cookie sheet.

Bake for 1 hour, stirring the popcorn every 15 minutes. After the popcorn has baked for an hour, and is still warm, sprinkle the remaining sea salt over the top evenly.

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Salty and sweet, with a little crunch. You will probably be like me as a child and ask yourself, “Why do I need to bake this? The popcorn is now covered in caramel. It’s ready!” But, trust me. Baking it toasts everything together and gives the caramel a deeper flavor. Your patience will be rewarded. So easy. And a great snack. Word to the wise: Do not make this popcorn while you’re alone in the house. Rookie mistake. There you’ll be, standing at the oven, eating handfuls of warm caramel corn off the cookie sheet. This is only OK if you have somehow managed not to eat handfuls each time you stirred it during baking…if that’s possible to avoid. I did not test that part of these instructions.

It’s great to have a bowl of it around for a dinner party, or, if you can resist eating all of it yourself while it’s baking, it’s also a great little gift to give. Package it up pretty and make your friends think you worked all day on it. (If you have children, they will think this anyway.) Happy snacking!