Key Lime Pie – Messing up a classic.

I am not a perfect person, and it is my habit to make mistakes when trying new things.  And this blog is not about the perfect dessert or the best paint job – it is about experiments in grown-up living.   What follows, then, is not the first, and not the last, of my epic fails in the kitchen.  It has, however, inspired me to try again to see if I can get this right.  I have added it to my DIY To-Do list on the right-hand column.

***EDIT: The Pie wanted you to know that, despite the aesthetics of the thing, this was the best-tasting pie I have ever made.***

I found a pound of key limes at Sobeys about a week ago so I thought I would make some key lime pie. Obviously.

Key limes made in Mexico?

Key limes are smaller and sweeter than their more common cousins.

You can use regular limes, but purists will tell you it's not the same.

Now, key lime pie and lemon meringue pie are easy.  Really easy.  I decided to experiment a bit with the recipe.  The problem was that I was missing certain ingredients, which inspired me to experiment still further, and I was also coming off a rotten day, so making mistakes in the kitchen only added to my general frustration.  DON’T BAKE WHILE ANGRY.

The recipe I will give you below is how I should have done it, and I will explain as I go about how I actually did it.

I have two very shallow 8″ pie plates, and this recipe filled both of those.  I also have a deep 14″ pie plate, and it would probably fill that one by itself.  One of my next purchases is going to be a standard 9″ pie plate.

Preheat your oven to 350°F.  Start working on your crumb crust.  In a bowl, mix together 1 cup chocolate cookie crumbs, 1/2 cup unsweetened coconut, and 2 tbsp granulated sugar. In the normal recipe, you would use plain graham crumbs and leave out the coconut.  But that wasn’t fancy enough for me.

Getting fancy with the crust.

Add in 1/2 cup of melted butter and stir until the mixture is crumbly but still dry.  You should be able to squeeze a handful of the crumb mixture between your hands and have it stick together, but not be greasy.  My major failing with the crust is that several of the recipes I was using for inspiration had me add an entire cup of butter, which made my crust soggy and prone to collapse.  You might need more than 1/2 a cup to make your mixture cohesive, but you shouldn’t need much more than that.

Put your crumb mixture into the pan and pat it up the sides and across the bottom evenly.  For a nice, flat crust surface, press a slightly smaller pie plate into the larger one to smooth the edges.

Press a smaller pan into the larger one for smooth crust.

Place your crusts in the oven and bake them for 10 minutes.  Let cool and ‘rest’ while you do the rest of this.

Take a pound of key limes (about 24) and gather the zest of about half of them.  I use a fine food rasp from Lee Valley with a zester catcher.  It makes my life a lot easier.  I recommend you pick one up.  You can use a wood rasp as well (that’s pretty much what this is, anyway).

Pick up this rasp from Lee Valley.

Zesting 12 tiny limes took quite a while, and only rendered about 2 tbsp of zest, but that’s all you really need.

Careful when rasping - it's easy to get your fingertips caught.

Now we juice the limes. First, roll each lime on the counter while pressing with your hand.  This will bruise the flesh inside and make them easier to juice.

Cut all the limes in half and juice those suckers.  This took forever for me because the juicer kept sliding all over the place.  I had to put down a silicone baking mat, kind of like this one from KitchenAid, to get the thing to stay still.   Have patience.  You should end up with about a cup of juice.  Feel free to add more from a bottle if you feel you need more.

Juicing 24 tiny limes is a pain.

After this, I was already frustrated, and things started to go downhill for me.  As I’ve said, I put too much butter in my crust, which had sagged to the centre of each pan.  I pressed paper towels into the molten crust to remove excess butter and shored up the edges as best I could before baking them again and letting them cool.

This is easiest with a mixer.

Moving on … separate 6 egg yolks and plop those suckers in the bowl of your mixer.  Most recipes say to use 4 yolks, which is what I did, but I had problems with the stuff setting.  I will explain why shortly.  Add your zest to the bowl along with 2 tbsp granulated sugar and mix on high for about 6 minutes until the stuff is pale and fluffy.

Pale and fluffy.

At this point you add your condensed milk.  All the other recipes call for a 14-oz can of condensed milk (or, if doubling the recipe, two cans).  What I have discovered, however, is that a 14-oz can is slightly over 400 mL, while the available cans in Canada seem to only contain 300 mL.  Also I only had one can and I needed two.  I did, however, have a 500 mL can of baker’s coconut milk (this is why I added the coconut to the crust).  I figured adding the coconut milk would make the filling not as sweet, which is why I added a bit of sugar to the yolks and the zest.  I might even add more sugar next time.  Anyway, the coconut milk makes everything a little more runny, so that is why I suggested using 6 yolks instead of 4, just to make sure everything sets.

So you add in your coconut milk and your condensed milk and mix it on high again for another 5 minutes or so, until thick.  Pour in the lime juice and mix until incorporated.  Pour into the cooled crusts and bake for 25-35 minutes or until the filling has just set (as in, it shouldn’t be liquidy).  Cool on a rack, then chill for at least an hour and serve with whipped cream.

Having only used 4 yolks, I had trouble getting my pie to set, though it was all right after I had chilled it.  It was certainly not a pretty pie, but I plan to make up for it.

Not very pretty, but still tasty.
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Not Huevos Rancheros

In my mind, these are huevos rancheros, even though I know they’re really not. But it’s easy comfort food and I believe you should be able to call comfort food whatever the heck you want to.

Start with your prep.  Chop about four medium-sized mushrooms and half a large onion.  While you’re at it, preheat the oven to 400°F.

Add whatever vegetables you feel like chopping.

In a cast iron skillet or other pan that can go in the oven, saute the mushrooms and onion with some olive oil until tender.

Sautee until tender.

Dump in 1 to 2 cups of baby spinach or chopped regular spinach and allow to wilt.

I estimate that this is about a cup and a half.

Pour in a jar of spaghetti sauce.  My mother uses salsa.  Both are good, though perhaps her version is closer to the original.  At this point I would also add some extra herbs for spice, but tonight I forgot.

Use spaghetti sauce or salsa.

Bring to a rapid simmer, stirring frequently, until thoroughly hot all the way through.

Carefully crack the eggs into separate areas of the skillet.

Carefully crack four eggs into separate places on the skillet.  Cook on the stovetop until the whites become milky, then sprinkle with 1 1/2 cups of grated cheddar or mozzerella cheese and bung it in the oven for about ten minutes until the eggs are cooked all the way through and the sauce is all bubbly.

Bake until the eggs are completely cooked.

Serve over rice.  There’s enough for four, or just two if you’re really hungry, which we were.

Serve with rice and eat hot!

Red Curry Quinoa

Our vegetarian experiment is drawing to a close, and I hadn’t yet made a curry.  I also had a lot of vegetables in my refrigerator that needed using.  In addition, I wanted to take advantage of my new stainless steel compost bin from Lee Valley and cut up a bunch of vegetables.  Hoorah.

I got the inspiration to make my own curried quinoa from fellow WordPress food blogger Lindsay at The Food Operas.

Dice up a medium onion, three medium carrots, three carrot-sized parsnips, a head of broccoli, a red pepper, and two stalks of celery.

Chop up some vegetables!

In a large saucepan (preferably one with a wide bottom), heat up some olive oil and chuck in your vegetables.  Cook until tender.

Pour in two large handfuls of quinoa, together with a can of coconut milk and a few tablespoons each of red curry paste and minced garlic (I like the stuff that comes in jars).  Bring to a boil and leave to simmer for 20 minutes.  Before serving, add a dash of tamari or soy sauce and some garlic chili sauce to taste.

Let that sucker simmer!

We ate it with some na’an.  Mmmm.

I love my na'an.

Freezing Fresh Herbs

Fresh herbs are rather expensive here in Newfoundland, so I’m rather loath to let them go bad if I’m not going to use them right away.

This trick I got from my mother, who, I think, got it from Martha Stewart.

Make sure your herbs are still unwashed, or very well dried.
It takes some THYME to de-stem these leaves!

Take your unwashed herbs to be frozen and remove the leaves from the stems.

Remove the leaves from the stems

Place the leaves in a resealable plastic bag and suck out all the air.

Chuck them in the freezer.  Now you will have fresh herbs on hand when you want them.  Simply grab a handful of frozen herbs and crumple them in your hand.  No need to chop!

Garbage Soup with Squash, Spinach, Beans and Barley

Don’t let the name of this soup turn you off: it’s just a moniker my mother applied to any soup she made out of what was left in our refrigerator.

This week I had leftover spaghetti squash from my earlier experiment, as well as leftover cavatappi pasta from our spaghetti night.  What to do . . . ?

The nice thing about soups is they’re dead easy.  I filled a large pot with water and set it to boil.  I added a few heaping spoonfuls of Knorr Vegetable Stock (I use the powder instead of the liquid because I usually can’t use a whole carton before it goes bad and I don’t like to waste it).

Let the soup simmer for a couple of hours on medium-low.

I peeled and chopped a large parsnip and a small turnip (actually a rootabega but who’s checking?) and chucked them in the pot, together with a handful of pearl barley and about a cup of dried white beans.  I also added about a cup’s worth of frozen spinach to the mix, as well as the leftover squash and pasta.  There was already a significant amount of basil in the pesto that was on the squash (as well as the hazelnuts and parmesan cheese), so I didn’t add any other herbs to the mix.  When we eat it we usually add salt and pepper to suit our individual tastes.

Once I got the soup boiling, stirring often, I turned it down to a simmer, medium low, for about two hours, until the beans were cooked and the rootabega was tender.

We ate it hot with tabouleh sandwiches, and it was great.

My dad got me these bowls for Christmas. I am Big Al.

I let the rest of it cool and ladled it into yogurt containers for storage.  I find the yogurt container is a good standard measure for freezing, as it contains about two full servings.

Yogurt containers are a good size for two servings.