getting our (whiskey) fix

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Last week’s rhubarb pie went over so well that there is none left to enjoy with this week’s cocktail. I’d wanted to make another, but haven’t gotten around to it. So we’ll just imagine a slice of thisas we sip … Continue reading

failed pink squirrel pie

I’ve posted before that I love a pink squirrel. This sweet cocktail is a blend of equal parts cream (or ice cream, if so inclined), white crème de cacao, and crème de Noyaux (also known as crème de noya or crème de almond). Made of apricot kernels, crème de Noyaux takes its name from “noyau,” the French word for kernel, pit, or core. Its red hue puts the pink in a pink squirrel and lends a more interesting flavor than if similarly flavored amaretto were used in its place.

Pink squirrels rank high on my list. So does Marshmallow Fluff. (Click over to deLizious Facebook for proof of the fluff obsession.) With two dozen jars of fluff in my pantry (I can only find it on store shelves once a year, folks. Please don’t judge me. 😉 ), I’ve taken The Marshmallow Fluff Cookbook down from the shelf. A recipe for Grasshopper Pie caught my eye and I thought why not crème de Noyaux instead of de menthe? A traditionally mint green pie went pink as I subbed in one liqueur for another.

I’d like to say it was an amazing success. Except that it wasn’t. My tendency to play fast and loose with recipes got me into trouble. Instead of using gelatin, I used vegetarian gelatin left over from a past project (vegetarian marshmallows anyone?). I also let the gelatin mixture come to a boil, which is for sure a no-no. In the end, the chilled gelatin mixture was a bit gloppy–certainly not the light and airy mousse I was going for. Once folded into the freshly whipped cream, it made a passable pie filling, though it never fully set, so slices didn’t hold their shape once plated.

pink squirrel pie

pretty and delish, but so not what I was going for

I’ll call it pudding in a pie shell and still enjoy, but will try again another day using regular gelatin and paying more attention when heating the gelatin mixture. It’s a reminder to me that experimenting with recipes doesn’t always lead to success. Even the mistakes are delicious, though, which is why I’m ok making mistakes in the kitchen. And for the sake of deliciousness, I hope you are, too.

Pink Squirrel Pie

Play with flavor by switching out the crème de Noyaux for another liqueur.

  • 1/2 cup cold water
  • 1 envelope unflavored gelatin (vegetarian gelatin not recommended)
  • 1 (7.5-ounce) jar marshmallow fluff
  • 1/2 cup crème de Noyaux
  • 1 1/2 cups heavy whipping cream
  • 1 (9-inch) graham cracker pie crust
  • 1 cup whipped cream
  • Sliced almonds

In medium saucepan, stir together cold water and gelatin; let stand 1 minutes. Cook over low heat, stirring constantly,  just until gelatin is dissolved. Remove from heat. Stir in marshmallow fluff and crème de Noyaux. Refrigerate until mixture mounds when dropped from spoon.

In large bowl, whip 1 1/2 cups cream until soft peaks form. Fold into thickened gelatin mixture. Pour filling into crust. Top with 1 cup whipped cream; sprinkle with almonds. Refrigerate 4 hours or until set.

food tv, food trucks, and the vanishing photos

When the Food Network debuted in 1993, I didn’t get too excited. I was already living a food-centric life and didn’t care to watch food-based television as well. (Unless the “foodie” in question was Julia Child–then I wanted a front row seat.)

How, then, did I become a Cooking Channel junkie? This FN spinoff launched in 2010 and is described as airing more instructional (read: less reality-based) programming. I don’t necessarily watch for the recipes (though I have found a few–check out Chocolate Diablo Cookies). More often, I enjoy the host’s style and personality or the interaction of a larger cast of characters. The following have been some of my faves:

Extra Virgin – Contemporary and cheeky culinary version of Green Acres.

The Supersizers Go – British co-hosts “visit” different eras of history to reenact the life–and diet–of the time.

Chuck’s Day Off – Chuck Hughes has my vote for best-looking and most charismatic on-air celebrity chef.

Baron Ambrosia’s Culinary Adventures – Crazy food escapades that showcase small mom-and-pop restaurants around the country.

Food Jammers – Three 20-something guys strip food production (frying, brewing beer, making ice cream, etc) down to its most basic. They visit hardware stores and the like to come up with wackadoo contraptions that somehow get the job done. Projects include a taco vending machine, cheese cave, and cityscape made entirely from chocolate.

Eat Street – Likable smart-aleck host tours the country to scope out the food truck scene.

There’s plenty more, and I realize many of these shows got their start on FN, but bringing them all together on Cooking Channel makes sense to me.

When my husband mentioned he had heard that Eat Street was coming to the Minneapolis/St. Paul area to film, I was jump-for-joy happy. I could hunt the crew down and possibly watch the filming of a favorite TV show! A quick online search uncovered which food trucks the show would visit and when. Today was my best chance of making the location (Gastrotruck, Rice Park), so I met my husband for a lunchtime stroll through downtown St. Paul.

We found Gastrotruck and saw filming taking place a block or so away from the actual truck. I had meanwhile spotted a new truck, Tiki Tim’s, that I’ve wanted to try, so ordered up their fantastic fish tacos. They were nicely garnished with chili-dusted crema and fresh cabbage, cilantro, and green onions. With lightly battered and freshly fried fish, these tacos were tasty, even more so just because they had been thrown together in the back of a truck. I dutifully snapped photos of my food, the truck, and menu board.

We then wandered over to Potter’s Pasties & Pies where my husband got a beef pasty and I enjoyed an order of their much-lauded banoffee pie. Syrupy caramel, thin and lovely banana slices, rich and slightly sweet marshmallow cream–yum. Again, photos taken of truck and food.

Last stop was circling back to Gastrotruck as the camera crew was finally filming the truck. I had hoped to catch sight of James Cunningham, Eat Street host, but no go. Clearly they keep the star talent at home. The peanut butter bread pudding I wanted to order was Sold Out (dang!); instead, I tried the quinoa salad. (Didn’t want another full entree, though would have managed to find room for that second dessert.) A crew member approached and we chatted, but because I hadn’t ordered one of four menu items they were featuring, I wouldn’t make the filming cut.

If that wasn’t enough of a downer, remember my photos? Stunning fish tacos? Crazy good banoffee pie? Quirky food trucks and their menu boards? When I got around to posting my pix, I could find only the Gastrotruck picture and a message that my SD card had “failed and erased.” Arrrgh. I don’t have photos, I didn’t meet JC, and I wasn’t interviewed on a national television show. Them’s the breaks.

On the up side,  I got a long walk in on a gorgeous day (with my husband, which means I get bonus “date afternoon” points) and enjoyed seeing and even eating from multiple food trucks. In the end, I’ll still call it a good food day.

the only surviving photo of my most delicious day

camp fare

Our family recently camped our way through South Dakota–Badlands, Black Hills, and the like. I wasn’t at all sure that it would go well as our week-plus trip would be the longest we’d camped with our girls. My husband and I enjoyed camping pre-kids, but our first forays into the camping wild with babies were disasters, so we’ve been cautious with our travel plans. With our youngest at age 6, we figured we’d give it another go. And I’m pleased to say that things went extremely well.

No surprise that one of my favorite parts of camping is the food. I enjoy planning meals, packing the food, then making things happen at the campsite. For sure there are restaurant stops (lunches usually), but breakfasts and evening fare are made over the campfire or on a campstove.

Our campfire cooking was curbed as soon as we crossed over into the western part of South Dakota as their extreme heat and dry weather meant Burn Ban. S’mores would have to wait for another trip. The first night’s meal proved our camping skillet to be in sorry shape. Next trip, we’d bring the cast-iron, but this go-round we found that anything we heated, even if over a low flame and for a short time, ended up overcooked (read: charred).

Girl Scout gumbo in a skillet

Just the same, our camp meals were fantastic. After a long day of travel or a long sleep in the tent, whatever we cooked up on that stove was divine. Pasta sauce, ground beef, and spaghetti noodles; Girl Scout Gumbo and rice (my oldest, who had recently been to Girl Scout camp, took charge here); steak and veggie stir-fry with barley; hobo dinner (sans campfire, the ground beef, potatoes, onions, carrots, and bell peppers cooked in a skillet instead of in the usual foil packet); burgers and fried potatoes. But the best meal I ate? Our pancakes and eggs.

No photo of this meal as it wasn’t much to look at. But it absolutely hit the spot that morning. I’d just come back from a run and felt I’d earned a good meal. My husband had already cooked up pancakes for the girls and had (thoughtfully) left a tin cupful of batter for me so I could fry mine up fresh. I cooked up a ‘cake or two, also adding our last egg to the skillet. The stove was on a slight slant and food ended up running together in the skillet. As well, the pancake batter cooked up unevenly in our piece-of-junk skillet. Once plated, my breakfast consisted of unevenly cooked and misshapen pancakes attached to an overcooked egg. Doesn’t sound appetizing. But eaten outside, topped with butter and rivers of pure maple syrup, and served alongside my wonderfully caffeinated hazelnut instant coffee, it was absolutely the best meal I had on the trip.

Camp food aside, there are fun food spots we found while driving around SD that deserve a shout-out:

The best apple fritter I’ve ever tasted at Baker’s Bakery & Cafe in Custer City.

under glass

in our box

Huge slices of pie and an awesome birthday cake malt at Bobkat’s Purple Pie Palace, also in Custer City.

pie time

straight out of a dr. seuss book

hubby’s choice: blueberry

apple pie with moose tracks ice cream–favorite order of my 10-year-old

Bison stew (world-famous if the signage is to be believed) and Buffalo Sweat beer at the Mount Rushmore cafe.

Fine dining it was not, but fun to find beer and bison at the foot of Mt. Rushmore.

Downhome chuckwagon fare at the Circle B Ranch–roasted venison in a peppery garlic gravy, baked potato, cowboy salad, applesauce, biscuits, and ginger cake.

cowboy supper at the Circle B

Donuts (again, said to be world-famous) at Wall Drug Cafe. Wall Drug also had amazing ice cream, made in-house. I have no pictures from this stop (my bad), but cakespy did a better job than I could have, so will send you there.

Assorted truffles at Silk Fudge in Keystone.

white Russian, sea salt

I’m grateful to have taken a longer vacation with my family this summer. Its success means there will be more to look forward to, allowing us opportunity to cook the campfire meals we couldn’t on this trip. The s’mores await.

s’more earthquake

After my last post, featuring my husband’s rhubarb pie, my 9-year-old daughter asked for equal play. Would I post something she made, she asked? I agreed, providing she did everything (including cleanup) herself. Challenge issued and accepted.

She’s had her eyes on a graham-cracker crust I’d bought, but never used, so was excited to finally unwrap it. We also had an unopened bag of insanely oversized marshmallows, so she sliced a few ‘mallows into manageable pieces. These were layered in the crust, then topped with crumbled milk chocolate bars. Another layer of marshmallow slices topped it off.

She decided to stir things up (literally), and ended up breaking the bottom crust. This upset her greatly as she felt she had ruined the pie. Seeing a perfect moment for a “life lesson” (made doubly wise as it was a food example 🙂 ), I explained that if you’re not making mistakes, you’re not trying enough new things. And food goof-ups? Fixed as easily as changing the recipe name (s’more pie quickly became Earthquake Pie) and passing the goof-up off as the original plan.

The pie was yummy in the way that only recipes created by kids who have no need to count calories can be yummy. Graham-cracker crust, marshmallows, milk chocolate–stirred together and baked. Simple, yes, but it could hold its own on any dessert buffet. It was even better the next day when the baked marshmallows had set and cut slices held their shape.

s’more (er, make that earthquake) pie

ooey-gooey on the plate

Earthquake Pie

Adults can do the oven-work, but everything else is kid-friendly.

  • Marshmallows, sliced
  • 1 graham-cracker crust
  • Milk chocolate bars, coarsely chopped or crumbled

Heat oven to 350°F.

Layer marshmallow slices to cover bottom of crust. Sprinkle with chocolate. Cover with another layer of marshmallow. Stir to mix, if desired. Bake 15 minutes or until marshmallows on top are browned. Cool slightly before slicing. Makes 8 servings.

party in a pie

Outside of a none-too-exciting breakfast of toast, cottage cheese, and pear, I lifted not one little cooking finger today. Lunch was grabbed at Target when running errands with youngest child (love Target food-court pretzels so very much) and supper was a quick family meetup at Bakers Square before my husband’s meeting and my oldest’s musical rehearsal. (We had coupons for free kids meals, too.) I’m not a fan of chain restaurants, but have always loved Bakers Square coconut cream pie. Occasionally, I think I should try another flavor and tonight was one of them. The Square was advertising a new (to me) pie flavor–Celebration Pie. Chocolate sandwich cookie crumb crust, layer of confetti cake, ribbon of French silk pie filling, and whipped cream topping. The description brought birthday cake ice cream, which I love, to mind so I gave it a go.

Whenever I’ve tried to branch out with my Bakers Square pie order, I always regret it. To me, coconut cream is always better than the new and improved. No different tonight: Celebration Pie was a disappointment. It wasn’t bad–just not amazing, which is what a dessert should be to make it worth its calories. Yes, the crumb crust was buttery and crisp–yum. And the chocolate and whipped cream layers were tasty enough though not phenomenal. But, the cake layer was a snooze and the overall combination didn’t excite. Am thinking it could be done much better. (Why no ice-cream layer?) I remind myself (again) that branching out and trying new things–while admirable and often a good idea–can also be overrated. Sometimes it pays to stick with what you’ve always loved best.

In the spirit of all things pie, I found an American Pie Council (who knew?) site listing winners from the 2011 championships. These are the best of the best, folks. Check them out. I’d bet they even beat out Bakers Square’s coconut cream.