Happy Windfall Handpies

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There’s this tree in the green space where I walk with Gren and LongJohn in the mornings. It’s a beautiful old apple tree. I know it’s old because the apples on it are tiny and REALLY sour. But that doesn’t stop people from picking them – no sir. All the apples within a reasonable reach have been removed, so I scoured through the windfall after a recent storm and brought home about 15 or so more or less unscarred apples (because as you know I can’t resist stealing fruit from public places). I wanted to make turnovers, or handpies.

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Holy Hannah are strollers ever handy for carrying crap. And babies, I suppose.

This is the first bit of baking I’ve done while solo in the house with an active and demanding baby on my hands, so it was a challenge to test both my rusty cooking skills and my son’s patience threshold. All in all, it worked out for the most part. I also cheated and used puff pastry but can you really blame me?

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We didn’t cut the lawn for a long time and the long grass killed our mower. So now we REALLY need to cut the grass.

First, you need to peel the apples. I used about 15 of these tiny sour things but if you’re using regular apples maybe 3 large apples would suffice. Actually, before you peel the apples, you need to install the baby in his swing chair with Raffi for company. This will buy you about fifteen minutes.

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It takes a while to peel 15 tiny misshapen apples.

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Avoid the wormy ones.

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Chop the apples up roughly and sprinkle the pieces with lemon juice, both to keep them from going brown and to add some tartness to the mix (not that you really need tartness with sour apples). Wrap them up and set them aside.

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Next, whisk together 3 tablespoons cornstarch with 1/2 cup water.

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Tip your apple pieces into a pan with some liberal dashes of cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, and some sugar. Use about 2 teaspoons sugar for each regular apple – for the sour ones I went a bit more generous and added about 6 tablespoons for the whole lot.

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Re-install your baby in a new location with new focal points. You’ve got another fifteen minutes or so.

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Cook the apples on medium heat until they’re bubbly and the liquid is starting to cook down.

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Tip in the cornstarch mixture (you may need to re-whisk it because it’s not a solution and the cornstarch will likely be sticking firmly to the bottom of your dish).

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Stir quickly in and watch the juices thicken.

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Remove from the heat and spread in a thin layer on a plate to cool. Attempt to put your baby down for his nap.

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After failing to put your baby down for his nap (strange how a logical argument does not work on a three-month-old), grab some thawed puff pastry (this stuff comes in a box with two rolled out squares in it) and use a rolling pin to gently expand the sheet. You want the pastry a little thinner than it comes standard.

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Cut the square into 9 equal(ish) pieces.

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Place a dollop of the cooled apple goo on each square.

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Mmm, cooled goo …

Carefully peel the pastry off the paper and fold it over itself to form a triangle. Pinch the seams closed.

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Puff pastry objects to being handled so roughly so they look a little demented.

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Give your baby a different toy to punch. Encourage him to yell obscenities at the toy (I don’t speak baby so that’s what I’m assuming he’s doing) to buy yourself some more time.

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On the second sheet, I didn’t roll the pastry out as much, and it was easier to remove it from the paper. They looked less demented.

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Crack and beat an egg and brush each of the pastries with a bit of egg goo. Set them on a sheet of parchment on a baking sheet.

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Bake your pastries for about 20-25 minutes at 375°F and eat them as soon as they’re cool enough to hold in your hand. The demented ones stayed together better than the non-demented ones – just keep that in mind.

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Non-demented …
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Demented …

Enjoy!

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Momofuku’s Banana Cream Pie, only slightly butchered.

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I’ve been watching a lot of Netflix since LongJohn was born – it helps to pass the time while being forced to stay perfectly stationary for long periods of time. I figured going into this that I’d try to stick with documentaries – that way I could educate myself and if I was interrupted (which I often am) then I wouldn’t miss too much plot if they played in the background while I did something else. And so I’ve been watching a ton of cooking documentaries, and I just finished plowing through The Mind of a Chef. In the first season, the focus is largely on David Chang, owner of Momofuku in New York. One of the segments features his pastry chef, who whips up a banana cream pie like it was nothing.

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It looked so easy I figured I could do it even with LongJohn around. And then I had to think about that for a minute. This recipe involves making a custard, and uses four different kitchen appliances, some of them more than once. It really isn’t THAT easy, but it’s easy for me NOW to do. Talk to me five years ago and I would never have attempted this, or I would have addressed it as a challenge. It’s weird how much this blog has made me grow as someone who cooks things. But on to the pie, which is semi-easy if you’ve made things in the kitchen before. I set up a mis en place because I knew LongJohn could interrupt me at any time.

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I also took my butter and, because my microwave is all the way in the basement, I set it outside on my back porch in the sun to melt. I’m that lazy.

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Plus it was like 33°C, which is more than warm enough to melt butter.

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You like my squinty face?

And so it did.

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The recipe I used printed everything in weights (ounces and grams) so I’m going to use ounces here – my apologies. Get your kitchen scale ready. Start with 8 oz very ripe bananas (this is like two). These are the black ones that you chuck in your freezer. Pitch those into a blender together with 2 3/4 oz whipping cream, and 2 1/4 oz milk and blend the crap out of them until they’re lovely and smooth.

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Next, tip in 3 1/2 oz sugar, 1 oz cornflour (I’ve come to realize that this is a Britishism for cornstarch, not masa harina, which I used – butchery #1), a pinch of salt, and 3 large egg yolks. Blend that again, scraping down the sides of the blender, until the colour is uniform.

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Pour that stuff into a medium saucepan and cook over medium-low heat, whisking often, until the mixture thickens. Clean your blender while this is going on.

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The recipe says to bring it to a boil but mine never did. Eventually it will be a very heavy paste that holds its shape. Pour the thick stuff back into the blender.

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Grab 2 leaves gelatin or 1 pouch gelatin (I thought a leaf equaled a pouch and used two pouches – butchery #2) and follow the instructions to make it “bloom”. When it’s ready, chuck it in the blender along with 1 1/2 oz butter and blend until smooth (again).

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Next, drop in 1/2 teaspoon yellow food colouring (otherwise your pie will be brown not  yellow) and blend again until the pie is artificially crazy yellow (it will get lighter later, I promise).

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Pour the yellow goo into a container and chill it for 30-60 minutes.

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While that’s happening, make the chocolate crumb for your crust (I actually did this first, because it made more sense to me). Preheat your oven to 300°F and stir together 3 1/2 oz plain flour, 1 teaspoon cornflour (again, cornstarch), 3 1/2 oz sugar, 2 oz cocoa powder, and 1 teaspoon salt.

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Tip in 3 oz melted butter (yay, the sun!) and beat until small clusters form.

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Spread the clusters on a baking sheet and bake for 20 minutes. The clusters should be still moist but will dry out as they cool. In order for this to happen they have to be a bit bigger than what you see in the picture, because these will burn (so either cook them for less time or make them bigger – butchery #3). Apparently this makes more than you need for a 10″ pie so you will only use 3/4 of it but I didn’t want to waste it or store it so I used it all in my 9″ pie plate and it was totally fine.

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Once the clusters have cooled, chuck them into a food processor and pulse until they turn sandy and there are no chunks left.

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Tip these granules into a bowl and toss with 2 teaspoons sugar and 1 tablespoon melted butter.

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Work that with your hands until the stuff is moist enough to knead into a ball (I did not do this because my poor carpal tunnel hands are killing me). Press that into the pan. I did it with just the crumbs and it was fine (butchery #4).

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Don’t forget to press it firmly into all the corners of the pan – you don’t want it to be too thick there.

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Now for the rest of the banana cream. Whisk 6 1/2 oz whipping cream and 5 3/4 oz icing sugar together until stiff peaks form (remember that it helps to chill your beater and the bowl beforehand).

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Tip in your cooled yellow goo and mix, mix, mix.

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See? I told you it would get paler.

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Tip half the goo into your pie shell. Cut up another, less ripe banana (I used two because they were kind of weenie) and spread that around on the surface. You can get fancy with the layout but nobody’s going to see it.

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Add the rest of the goo and smooth it out. Make sure none of the banana pieces are sticking out because they will oxidize and turn brown.

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Chill the pie for a little while then serve and eat within a day or two. Enjoy!

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Cloud Cake

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I made this Martha Stewart recipe for one of our two Mother’s Day celebrations earlier this month, and it was easy to prepare all the pieces the day before and then assemble it with a flourish on the day of. The original recipe is not gluten-free but we had Fussellette staying with us and made one simple adjustment to make it that way – you can do it whichever way you would like.

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Start with the meringue: preheat your oven to 275°F and grab three 8″ round cake pans. I happened to have 2 8″ round cake pans and one 9″, so that’s what I used.

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Butter the pans and then line the bottom and sides with parchment. This is easier said than done as the pans are round and parchment is straight. Get creative with the folding. It’ll just add to the allure of the finished product, I promise. Now butter the parchment as well to make sure it sticks.

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Crack open 6 large eggs and separate the whites from the yolks. Put the yolks in the fridge for now and leave the whites to come to room temperature.

In the bowl of a food processor, pulse together 1 1/2 cups sugar, 3 tablespoons cornstarch, and 1/4 teaspoon coarse salt until smooth and powdery and when you open the lid it kind of wafts out like smoke. Don’t inhale that. You will cough.

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Now grab your 6 egg whites and beat them with a pinch of cream of tartar until soft peaks form.

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Slowly, a little bit at a time, tip in the sugar mixture and keep beating until you get lovely stiff peaks.

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Smooth the meringue amid your three pans and bake for 1 hour.

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Then turn off the oven and wedge the oven door open with a wooden spoon for another hour. Then move the pans to a wire rack to cool completely. If you’re going to assemble the cake the next day, slip each layer of cooled meringue into a separate sealed bag and suck the air out of it.

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Next, let’s work on the custard cream. In a bowl, whisk together 1/3 cup sugar, 1/4 cup flour, and a pinch of coarse salt. We made a gluten-free version of the flour by combining coconut flour, xanthan gum, and corn starch.

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In a small saucepan, combine your leftover 6 egg yolks (original recipe calls for 3 but why waste them?) with 1 1/2 cups buttermilk and a split vanilla bean pod with the seeds scraped out. Stir that over medium heat and slowly add in the flour mixture.

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With ours, because of the nontraditional ingredients, I found the buttermilk reacted with either the cornstarch or the xanthan gum and I pretty much had instant custard. So I stirred it until I was sure the yolks had a chance to cook and then took it off the heat. If you’re using regular flour you may have to work harder at it, so stir until it just comes to a boil and then strain through a fine meshed sieve.

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Pour the custard cream into a bowl, lay a piece of plastic wrap over the surface so it’s completely sealed, and chuck it in the fridge for at least an hour or overnight.

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Now there’s caramel to make too. In the original, Martha used the microwave but we moved ours into the basement and that was too far away. I did this in a small saucepan on the stove. First, spray a baking sheet with cooking spray or line it with parchment.

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Then over medium heat, stir together 1/3 cup sugar and 2 tablespoons corn syrup.

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Cook, stirring often, until the mixture is bubbling and turns a light brown.

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Remove that from the heat and drizzle it over the baking sheet.

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Leave that to cool then chop it up with a knife into little tiny jagged pieces. If you’re assembling the next day, shove the pieces into a resealable bag and squeeze the air out.

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To assemble, start by whipping up some heavy cream to your taste and amount (this is going on the top as garnish so use as much as you like – I think we whipped up about a cup of it). Cream whips better if your bowl and mixers are cold, so chuck them in the freezer for a while if you can.

Plop one of the meringues on a nice plate and smother it with about half the custard cream.

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Sprinkle that with about 1/3 of your caramel pieces.

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Let some fall off artistically to the side. It’s decorative.

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Plop another meringue on and smear with the rest of the custard cream and another 1/3 of the caramel bits. Add the final layer and top that with your whipped cream and the last of the caramel. Serve immediately!

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Taco Cups

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To celebrate the success of our Bench Cover Thingy, Cait and I held a wee taco party afterwards. These are inspired by Kevin & Amanda, and I think I’ll be cooking these up pretty often. They’re easy and provide a tidier option to those of us who like hard-shelled tacos. Plus kids will love being able to make up their own custom tacos in advance. Also tacos always remind me of my favourite joke, but I don’t wanna taco ’bout it. You’ll have to watch it to see what I mean. This recipe makes enough for 24 taco cups, which feeds four hungry adults quite nicely.

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Start with half a large sweet onion and dice that up.

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Grab 2 tomatoes and dice them too.

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Why yes, that IS dog hair on my tomatoes. Thank you for asking.
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I swear that I removed the dog hair before dicing. I promise. Maybe.

Scoop up some spices: 2 tablespoons chilli powder, 1 tablespoon ground cumin, 1 tablespoon cornstarch, 1/2 teaspoon chipotle, and some ground black pepper.

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You’ll also need some meat. I used about 3/4 kilogram extra lean ground beef.

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Sauté your onions in about 1 tablespoon olive oil until translucent and amazing-smelling. Tip in the meat and stir, breaking it up into little pieces, until it’s browned all over. Drain it if necessary (the bonus of extra-lean is you don’t need to drain).

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Remove the meat and onions from the heat and tip them into a large bowl. Dump in your spices and mix them around.

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Tip in the diced tomato as well and give that a good stir. Set that bowl aside for a spell.

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Now preheat your oven to 375°F or thereabouts. Grate up about 2 cups cheddar cheese (you can use more or less if you like).

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Grab a muffin tin and generously brush the whole thing with olive or vegetable oil (or use cooking spray). I did the 24 taco cups in two separate batches so they were fresh and hot, so I only needed the one tin, but if you’re doing them all at once you will obviously need two tins.

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Now you need some wonton wrappers. Square ones are probably best.

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Press a wonton wrapper into the bottom of each hole in the muffin tin.

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Spoon a small amount of meat, onions, and tomatoes into the spaces as well.

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Top with a wee bit of grated cheddar.

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Then jam on ANOTHER WONTON WRAPPER. Press everything down underneath it so you still have space to put stuff.

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Spoon in some more meat/onions/tomatoes and top with additional cheese.

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Bake for 10-15 minutes, until the wonton bits that you can see are brown and the cheese is melty and bubbly.

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Cait and I found that about five minutes on a cooling rack after baking made them a bit more solid and easier to handle. Just be careful when you’re scooping them out and run around the edges with a spoon to make sure nothing is still attached to the tin.

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Top with a dollop of sour cream and some fresh chives and you are golden.

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Melting Moments

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This quick recipe produces a large amount of finished cookies with little effort on your part. I pulled it out of the Ottawa Citizen back in December. I think that due to their dense nature you could easily switch out the flour for a gluten-free option.

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Start by whisking together 3 cups all-purpose flour and 1 cup cornstarch.

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Then get zesty! The recipe calls for the finely grated zest of 5 limes, but I only had 3 limes, so I added a large orange into the mix.

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In the bowl of your electric mixer, beat 2 cups butter until smooth and creamy.

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Then tip in 1/2 cup icing sugar and beat that until it’s fluffy and wonderful.

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Add in your lime zest, together with 1 teaspoon ground cardamom and 2 teaspoons vanilla extract and beat that to combine the ingredients.

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Add in the flour and mix that until it’s all incorporated.

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Cover and chill the dough for an hour until it’s firm.

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When you’re ready to go, preheat your oven to 350°F and line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Use a teaspoon to scoop out the batter and form it into 1″ balls.

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Plop those on the baking sheets (they won’t expand much so you can put them pretty close together).

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Bake those suckers for about 10-14 minutes, or until the edges of the cookies just start to brown. Remove them from the heat and let them cool for about 5 minutes.

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Grab 1/2 cup icing sugar and dump it in a bowl. Roll the still-warm cookies in the sugar and set them on a wire rack to cool completely.

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Roll the cookies again when cool in another 1/2 cup icing sugar and serve. I’d recommend serving them with a beverage, as they tend to fuse people’s mouths shut when they eat them!

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A Better Hot Chocolate

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The Pie found this recipe from Jamie Oliver and he thought it was worth a try. I think it will also make a great wintry gift.

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The interesting thing about the original recipe is it involves Horlick’s, a malted beverage very popular at the beginning of the 20th century and through the 1950s. Horlick’s is hard to find in Canada, but a close equivalent is Ovaltine.

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Ovaltine on its own is definitely an acquired taste (I personally find it revolting), but it will add a richness to the hot chocolate that improves everything. You will need 2 tablespoons Ovaltine or Horlick’s.

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You will also need 100g chocolate (pretty much a large-sized chocolate bar), your choice.

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I made some with dark chocolate, but the Pie and I both prefer it with milk chocolate, seeing as there’s also a decent amount of unsweetened cocoa powder in this, 4 tablespoons cocoa powder, in fact. Make sure you choose a cocoa that you like – don’t go cheap on this!

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You will also need 2 tablespoons cornstarch (corn flour in the UK) to make this a nice thick beverage.

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Here is 3 tablespoons icing (confectioner’s) sugar. You can adjust this according to your taste.

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This is also a pinch or two of sea salt and a pinch of ground cinnamon, which, again, you can adjust to what suits you.

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To put it all together, take your chocolate and pop it in your food processor. The original recipe calls for you to finely grate the chocolate but who wants to sit there and grate that much chocolate? Not me, and I made six batches of this.

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So I just pulsed it in the food processor until it formed little crumbs.

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Then you simply add in the rest of the ingredients.

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Pulse it until the colour is uniform, kind of a grayish brown. The crumbs of chocolate will mix in and get smaller while you do this, too.

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To prepare the hot chocolate for two people, dump about 3 heaping tablespoons of the mix into a small saucepan.

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Dribble in about 1/4 cup milk.

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Whisk that until you get a nice paste. This will prevent the finished hot chocolate from being lumpy.

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Then pour in another 1 1/4 cup milk.

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Stir that until smooth and start heating the milk until it’s a temperature you like.

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Serve hot!

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To give the chocolate as gifts, you can pack the mix into these cute jars.

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Or you can put it in a wee bag.

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And then pop it in a customized mug.

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Or whatever floats your boat!

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Home Made Watercolour Paints

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This is a great gift for the artist in your family, young or old, or a neat thing to have on hand for any young visitors over the holiday season. They can be made with materials you probably have in your cupboards, which makes for a cost-conscious addition to your holiday crafting.

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And because it’s all easy-peasy and non-toxic, I’m sure that kids will enjoy making their own colours – provided you don’t mind a little mess! This is a rather time consuming project, with all the stirring of tiny pots of colour, so if you do it with smaller children be prepared to finish the job once they get bored.

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In terms of hardware, you’re going to need two plastic ice cube trays. I picked these up in the clearance section of Target. You can also use silicone trays, and then pop the solidified paint out to use somewhere else. You will also need some disposable stir sticks (one, or one side, for each colour).

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And lots of food colouring. You can use both liquid and gel paste for this. I also added some metallic powder pigment to the mix.

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Now grab a couple measuring cups. Scoop up 1 cup baking soda, and plop it in large (~4-cup) measuring cup or bowl with a pouring spout.

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Pour in 3/4 cup white vinegar.

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Keep stirring until all the fizzies are gone.

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Next dribble in 2 tablespoons lily white corn syrup (the darker stuff will discolour the paint).

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Then dump in 1 cup corn starch.

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Mixy-mixy. You want this as smooth as possible, as it will settle quickly.

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With everything mixed up, distribute the white liquid evenly amongst your trays. I found the given recipe to fill each section a little more than 3/4 full, but it depends on the size of your trays.

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Now start colouring! Dip the end of a stir stick into your colour and drop a little bit into the tray.

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Stir, stir stir!

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I added a bit more because this was my black one, after all, and I wanted it to be dark. Again, make sure to scrape up the bottom as you stir, because all the powders are starting to settle.

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With the gel paste colour, as you can see here with my red and brown, you will get little solid pieces that float while you stir. Don’t worry about them. Stir in as much as you can, then leave them alone for a few minutes and let the liquid get into the colour. They’ll dissolve if you go and stir them again a little bit later. I promise.

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The liquid food colouring was much easier to mix in. Don’t forget you can easily create your own colours!

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I did find that some of the colours kind of settled and separated, so I ended up re-stirring them a few times. I needn’t have worried, however: as the water in the liquid evaporates they will all come back together again.

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I cleaned up the edges of the trays with a damp cloth after the mixes were starting to settle and dry. It was super quick. I ended up leaving these alone for a whole week just to ensure they were dry all the way through, but you may find you have dry paint within a couple of days.

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To test the paints I created a colour guide. I had fun with the names.

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I’m actually really pleased with how the metallic ones turned out. All I did was add the plain metallic powder to the liquid, without any other pigment.

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And added some brushes to complete the gift.

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