Monday, January 28, 2008

Lemon Meringue Pie

This is my very first attempt at a lemon meringue pie, and also my very first challenge as a Daring Baker! I am so happy to be joining a group so fond of baking and blogging. Thanks to Jen of The Canadian Baker for hosting this month's challenge. Check out her blog if you would like the recipe.

First I made the crust. It was the first time I had attempted a crust that actually called for "cutting in" the butter. (I substituted margarine because of my milk allergy.)

I tried to keep everything really cold while I worked the margarine in, even using a frosty mug and Brita water from the fridge when it came time to add the water, but it didn't come together very easily for me.

It was really crumbly and dry, as you can see.

I finally was able to roll it out, though. I assume this trouble was just due to my inexperience.

I gratefully draped the pie crust over the pan...

...and trimmed and crimped the edges.

Then I filled it with foil and black beans (to act as pie weights) and pre-cooked the crust according to the recipe.
Next it was time to make the lemon curd. Things got a little tricky here. Because after running to the store to purchase lemons, I found that I didn't have quite enough corn starch. But remembering my earlier experience with corn starch in pie filling, Bryan and I decided I should just use what I had and hope for the best. (Can you tell where this is going?)

But things seemed to be going alright. So I forged on. My inexperience slowing me down at every turn, this challenge was becoming a baking marathon.

But next we get to my favorite part: meringue. This was my first time making it, and look how fun it is:

I love how effortless it was to create these snowy, stiff peaks. They reminded me of a scene out of the original Grinch cartoon.

I got it on top of my pie, covering the edges, and proceeded to make little decorative peaks all over.

When it came out of the oven, it looked fantastic to me. Success?

Um... not quite.

But that is what being a daring baker is all about, right? Trying things that you wouldn't otherwise have pushed yourself try. And knowing there are tons of kind bakers to commiserate with if you make mistakes and things go awry.

I am looking forward to my next challenge. I feel like I learned a lot from this one, and the next pie I make will be so much better because of it.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Busy Week

It has been a busy week! With Bryan back to work, that means double the bentos to make (hurray!) which has been fun, but not a lot of time for photographs. So you will have to take my word on bentos 62-64. They were simple, but tasty.

But what about 61? (Ask the two of you out there somewhere who have nothing better to do but keep up with my lunches and their respective numbers.) You are in luck. Here it is:

Top tier contains a homemade roll, a brownie my mom-in-law made, and some raisins. The bottom tier has mashed potatoes, steamed broccoli, and grilled chicken that my husband marinated in a tomato/basil/garlic mix. Yum!

By the way, does this ever happen to those of you out there with two tier containers?

I had it all ready to go, and then discovered I had packed too much food in the bottom. I managed to squeeze it down and the lunch was no worse for wear when it came time to eat.

That's all for now. Have a great weekend!

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Three Day Weekends Are Great

Hello! Sorry that I have been absent for a few days. I have been caught up in the excitement of auditioning for a new show. It is called Once Upon A Palace Purple. I am pleased to announce that I get to be on stage and even do a bit of singing (as it is a musical). And, best of all, my mom is going to join me. She has been cast as the Fairy Godmother, and I am so excited to be doing a show with her again.

In any case, auditions combined with a lazy three-day weekend are the reason I have been so slow to post bento #60:

It contained a ham sandwich in the shape of a star. Some lettuce for the sandwich, a few stray pieces of jerky (tucked in the shadows below the star), some raisins, a smiling banana, and a few tomato slices.

Have a great day!

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Whole Wheat Spaghetti

Somehow, spaghetti just never feels like a real "bento" to me. But, since it is one of my all-time favorite foods, I can't resist bringing it for lunch once in a while. Especially when it is tasty whole wheat pasta left-over from Spaghetti Factory (my husband and I went out for a date last night).

Last time I brought SF left-overs, they took the form of a bird's nest. For bento #59, however, I stayed much simpler. I did garnish it with a generous amount of parsley which, unbelievably, is still growing in my abandoned, frost-covered garden.

So, that's what was for lunch!

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Tacos To Go

For bento #58, I tried something a little different. I packed a lunch with "some assembly required."

When it came time to eat, I moved the lettuce, tortillas and tomato cups onto the lid, and heated up the taco meat and refried beans (along with those little carrot stars that had my co-workers teasing me). Then I ate it all like you would fajitas, using a fork to fill my little tortilla slices with goodies. It was a bit messier than some of my other bentos, but definitely a winner in the taste department.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Another Monday

Without any ado, I present, bento 57:


  • Heart-shaped onigiri spread with honey and sprinkled with sesame seeds.
  • beef jerky
  • carrot
  • green apple
  • Sun Chips, dutifully filling the gaps
  • a slightly over-browned dinner roll
  • chocolate chips for dessert
I need to get to the grocery store soon!

Hot lunch or cold lunch?

One of my students particularly dislikes eating a sack lunch. So she will ask, "Are we having hot lunch or cold lunch?" On Friday, I had both.

While we were out in the community I munched on bento 55:

Turkey sandwich on really good bread, and three of my mom-in-laws tasty cookies. (Aren't I spoiled?)

But when we got back to class bento 56 was waiting for me. I popped it in the microwave and enjoyed a "hot lunch" after all:

Mashed potatoes and a left-over chicken strip from Red Robin. Yum!

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Porcupine Balls

Last night, for a special treat, I made Porcupine Balls and Tater Tots for dinner. (Such a comfort food!) If you haven't had porcupine meatballs before (like I hadn't before I got married) you should give them a try. They are super easy to make, and taste delicious.


  • 1 lb ground beef
  • 1 package beef flavor Rice-a-roni
    • (or the equivalent 3/4 cup rice, 1/2 cup broken vermicelli or angel hair pasta, and seasonings)
  • 1 egg
  • 1.5 cups hot water
  1. Put the rice portion of the Rice-a-roni in a bowl along with the egg and hamburger. Use your hands to blend well and shape into small balls. (Trust me on the size here, when I first tried this I thought, burger shrinks when it cooks, so I'll make them a little bigger. But the rice and pasta expand as they absorb water - so they actually end up slightly larger than you form them. Important to note especially if you plan to use them in a bento lunch!)
  2. Brown all sides of the meatballs in a skillet.
  3. Add contents of seasoning packet (or your own seasonings if you aren't using packaged Rice-a-roni. I can't anymore because the beef version contains milk. So at this point I added beef bullion, a little bit of Lawry's seasoning salt, garlic salt, and parsley & little bits of carrot for color.) and hot water. Pour slowly over the meatballs, cover, and reduce heat to low.
  4. Simmer for about 40 minutes. It may be necessary to add more water to keep the meatballs moist. Turn balls at least once during simmer so they don't burn.
Thanks to my mom-in-law for giving me this recipe!

Last night's dinner became today's lunch, as you can see. (I am loving my new microwavable bento box!) Alongside the Porcupine Balls are carrot slices and Tater Tots, with home grown parsley for a garnish. The top tier contains peaches that I canned with my aunt. They are tasty!


Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Bento #53

This morning's bento was very straightforward. A turkey sandwich on tasty whole grain bread, a carrot, a few sections of an orange, and two cookies. (Thanks again, Leslie, for the chocolate chip cookies!)

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Award Winning Bento?

Well, maybe not - but we'll see. I am entering this lunch in Feisty Bento's contest; Does this make my lunch look Phat?

My 52nd bento lunch to date contains:

  • milk-free mashed potatoes
  • some of my husband's beef jerky (Shhh! Don't tell...)
  • a homemade dinner roll
Not pictured is a Silk soy yogurt that served as desert. Yum!

Monday, January 7, 2008

Are Greek Foods "Phat"?

Here's another entry for Feisty Bento's contest, Does this make my lunch look Phat?

This bento (which I created back in September and have re-posted here for the contest) is full of homegrown and homemade foods. The tomatoes, parsley and sprouts I grew myself (the olive, broccoli and grapes, not so much). The strips of tortilla were store-bought and then I browned them in a skillet before packing. The mujaddara, hummus and cookies are homemade.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

No Knead Bread

A few times since I began baking bread, a friend or family member has clipped out a recipe from the newspaper for me. And, invariable, it is for no-knead bread. The most recent time was from my aunt this Christmas Eve. I finally decided to give it a try.

But I didn't have the type of yeast on hand that was used in that recipe (which I now know could have been substituted with what I have, just in a different quantity - so I may try that recipe next) so I searched online and came up with a similar recipe at Steamy Kitchen. She demonstrates how easy this recipe is by having her four-year-old son mix up the dough. (You really have to take a look, he is so cute!)

Being fresh out of four-year-olds, I mixed the dough up myself. And you can too!

  • 3 cups bread flour (I used 1/2 whole wheat and half white)
  • 1/4 teaspoon instant yeast
  • 3/4 tablespoon sea salt (or 1 tsp table salt)
  • 1 1/2 cups warm water
I thought the dough looked pretty dry, and assuming that might have something to do with my substitution of wheat flour for half of the flour in the recipe...

I decided to add just a bit more water.

I may have overdone it, actually. But I'd rather have dough that is too wet than too dry any day.

Cover it up and let it rest over night (12-20 hours). I put a post-it on top that said when I put it to bed, and when it would be ready for the next step.

The next morning it looked like this:

Turn it out onto a lightly floured surface with your spatula. It will deflate a little. The recipe claims you can shape it with the spatula - nudging it into a ball shape. But I prefer to use my hands.

Just fold the edges under a few times so that the top is nice and taunt. Then dust a cotton towel with flour (I used rye) and place your dough ball seam side down. Cover and let it nap for another 2 hours.

I let mine rest in my glass crock so that it wouldn't spread out but would gain a little height. But even just on the counter is fine.

During the last half hour, preheat your oven to 450 degrees and place your covered pot into the oven to get nice and hot as well. (I used a Pyrex dish with a lid.)

Below you can see I have flopped the dough ball into the hot dish at the end of the two hours.

Now, cover and bake for 30 minutes.

Uncover and bake for another 15-20. Tap on the bottom of your loaf with a spoon. If it sounds hollow, it is done.

Serve with lots of butter!

My husband was impressed with this loaf. He couldn't believe that it tasted so good and had such a nice crust and crumb for something I had "just thrown together." This would be a great bread to impress dinner guests. I imagine it would taste great beside soup or stew. Yum!

You may also want to take a look at this bread as made by Smitten Kitchen.

Friday, January 4, 2008

Yummy Rolls

Tonight I made dinner rolls, by the book. The Better Homes and Gardens New Cook Book that is. ("New" being a relative term, as this book's copyright is from before I was born.)

In any case, on page 70 I found a straight-forward recipe. Here is how I followed it (in the case of substitutions that I made, the original ingredient is shown in parenthesis):

  • 4 to 4 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons instant yeast (one package active dry yeast)
  • 1 cup soy milk (milk)
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1/3 cup margarine
  • 2 teaspoons sea salt (1 teaspoon table salt)
  • 2 eggs (1 extra egg for egg wash just before baking)
It is getting late... so I am going to make this short. If any of you do not have access to this cookbook or another with a good recipe for dinner rolls, let me know in the comments and I will revise this post to include the directions for mixing, rising, forming and baking these rolls.

Page 71 showed me how to shape the rolls. I chose the Cloverleaf and Rossette shapes. I was pleased with how they turned out. The rosettes (shown above) were made to freeze. They will be "brown and serve" rolls for another day.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Soft Pretzels

Ah... soft pretzels. They are delicious and reminiscent of high school breakfast fare. (Well, if you went to my high school, at least.) Warm out of the oven they are an absolute treat! So let's get baking, shall we?

I chose Jeannie Yee's Mall Pretzels recipe (which I found on I liked this recipe because the instructions were for hand-mixing, which is how I prefer to make my breads. I did make a few changes by poaching my pretzels in boiling liquid, rather than just dunking them in a baking soda mixture, and by applying an egg wash before baking. But before I get too far ahead of myself, let's assemble our ingredients:

Ingredients for the dough:

  • 1 (.25 ounce) package active dry yeast
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 3 teaspoons seas salt (or 1 1/8 tsp table salt)
  • 1 1/2 cups warm water
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup bread flour
Other ingredients needed:
  • 4-6 tablespoons baking soda (1 Tbsp per cup of water used - see below)
  • 1 egg
  • 2 tablespoons coarse kosher salt
  • margarine (to grease bowl)
First mix up the dough, as shown below.

Then knead your dough on a floured surface for about 8 minutes, until the dough is smooth and elastic.

In the picture below I have just begun kneading - this is not what "smooth and elastic" looks like. If you are a beginner, like me, you might want to check out Sourdough Home where they have posted some very helpful videos about kneading. In the videos they show the poke test, and they describe the windowpane test here; both good ways to make sure that the gluten in your dough is developed enough for the dough to rise well.

Next, use your margarine (or butter, oil, or whatever) to grease a bowl - plop your dough ball in it when you've finished kneading, and turn to coat the dough. Now cover and let it rise for an hour. Meanwhile take your dog on a walk or read your favorite magazine. Don't you love baking bread?

After the dough has risen, divide it into 12 pieces. Roll each one out like a Play-Doh snake. The original recipe, which is aiming for those big pretzels you buy at the mall, suggest making them 3 feet long and pencil thin. But that seemed a little unmanageable, so I made mine short and squat. Even so, my dough ropes were easily 2 feet long each.

At this point, I took a hint from Smitten Kitchen's pretzel post and formed them on a non-floured surface. That little bit of tacky-ness helps them stretch. Also, let the first ones rest while you are forming the others, then roll them a bit more and they will stretch further.

Now we form our pretzels into shape, just like Martha Stuart does. (Not a big Martha Stuart fan, actually, but her little pic is worth a thousand words on how to form pretzels.)

At this point, I moved on to the poaching step. But looking again at Martha's recipe I think I would let them rise first next time I do this. So, let 'em rise for about 15 minutes covered on a greased cookies sheet and then move on to the boiling bit.

I must admit, things got a little frantic at this point, so I am going to quote this portion of Martha's recipe (see if you notice what I missed at first):

"Meanwhile, fill large, shallow pot with 2 inches of water. Bring to a boil. Add baking soda. Reduce to a simmer; transfer 3 to 4 pretzels to water. Poach 1 minute. Use slotted spoon to transfer pretzels to baking sheet. Continue until all pretzels are poached." (emphasis added)

The trick here is to use a slotted spoon or slotted pancake-turner to remove your precious pretzels from their soda bath. I guarantee that if you attempt to use tongs and run them across your kitchen (no matter how small) to the baking sheet, it will induce stress.
Please do not attempt. [wry smile]

Fortunately, I caught on and these were more delicately handled:

Now it is time to make up a quick egg wash. Crack the egg...
Add a tiny bit of water and stir it with a fork...
Then brush it on top of your pretzels.
Sprinkle some of that irresistable Kosher salt...
Bake at 450* for 8 to ten minutes, and wa-la! Beautiful,
...or maybe not so beautiful (but still tasty) pretzels await your consumption.
On the off-chance these are not consumed immediately, they can be stored for up to two days, uncovered on the counter and then reheated in the oven for a few minutes. Or, if you'd rather, you can store them in a paper sack. Avoid using a plastic bag, because "the salt on the crust will leach out moisture from the crust if kept in a plastic bag" and the result with be pathetically soggy.

I made these for New Year's Eve and they were quite a hit. We only had a few people over, so I was lucky enough to have some left-over. I ate the last one this morning for breakfast with a homemade uncheese dip. It was very highschool.