Saturday, June 26, 2010

Party time! Excellent!

Though I tend to be an introvert, I do love throwing a good party. It's the hostess in me- I blame it on my Texan roots. Nothing makes me happier than making large amounts of food only to have it quickly devoured and appreciated by friends and family. Or coworkers. Or strangers.

Heck, in high school, I used to bake cookies and offer them up to random people in the hallways before class. I met a few skeptics, but who can resist free & delicious cookies?

No one.

As an adult, this need to feed has manifested itself into regular potlucks at our house. For the past three years we've been hosting Pumptoberfest, a celebration of all things pumpkin held in October. We've had pumpkin bread, pumpkin beer, pumpkin dip, pumpkin cookies, savory pumpkin turnovers, pumpkin fondue, butterbeer (although no pumpkin is involved in this drink- it's highly festive). When Pumptoberfest the 4th rolls around this year, you'll be seeing the results right here.

We also had a back in the day potluck, where people brought family and lunch box favorites. And our most recent potluck was a Pajama Potluck. I believe this to be the biggest hit thus far. Everyone brought breakfast food, we set up a Make Your Own Waffle Bar, mimosas and white Russians were poured, and the best thing? You got to wear pajamas!! Best party ever.

This picture showcases baked eggs- yum, cream cheese brownies, and coffee cake. And a few empty plates. These events are for eaters- not dieters. Baked French Toast was also involved.

A waffle creation! The MYOWB included blueberries, chocolate chips, pecans, & homemade whipped cream and strawberry compote for topping. Yum! You can also see pictures of the chocolate chip cookies from this entry. I had made them earlier that day and had some leftover. Nothing goes to waste at Betty's house!

A slightly more formal affair occurred back in April. My mom held an open house for her newly renovated and stupendously amazing condo and asked me to cater. I graciously agreed to fly across the country just for this event. Or maybe I already had plans to go home. And my sister's baby shower was that weekend. But still.

Having never catered before, this was a bit of a slapdash sort of thing. Though I like baking in bulk, the largest event I had ever hosted was Thanksgiving for 25. And that food is super easy and made for a crowd. This posed a bit of a challenge.

We kept the spread simple, focusing on finger foods, but trying to offer sweet and savory options- heavy hors d'oeuvres. We didn't really stick to a theme for the food, unless the theme was food we thought people would like to eat.

We served sausage balls, caprese salad skewers, Irish Coffee Cupcakes, Pineapple Cupcakes, Fruit Pizza, Snowball cookies, artichoke dip, deviled eggs, and chips & salsa. See? Random. But tasty.

Even though it was an odd combination of food, it made for a really pretty spread. Mom also has some great Fiestaware serving platters that I *love*.

Caprese Skewers- could not be simpler to assemble and people go nuts for them!

Irish Coffee Cupcakes- still amazing.

Pineapple cupcakes. I used Paula's Basic 1-2-3-4 cake recipe and added a cup of pineapple preserves and some lemon zest. Top with a cherry, pineapple cube, & drink umbrella garnish.

Fruit Pizza and Snowballs. For the fruit pizza, simple bake off some puff pastry, brush with apricot preserves, top with berries and slice. Cute, huh? Snowballs are glorified sugar cookies, but a childhood favorite of mine and my mother.

Other recipes used can be found here:

Artichoke Dip

Sausage Balls

What kind of parties do you like to throw??

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Mixed Berry Pie with Whole Wheat Crust

I'm in the process of converting all of my favorite treats to whole wheat/whole grain. I prefer the nutty taste and chewy texture- the health benefits aren't bad either.

That's not to say that this is a healthy pie by any means. It has butter and cream cheese and sugar and cornstarch. But, all things in moderation, right?

I'm still working on perfecting the pie and pie crust. The filling in this pie really holds its shape- probably due to the cornstarch. I plan on experimenting with tapioca and flour to see what kind of filling they produce. Plus, I just LOVE tapioca. In any form.

The crust isn't going to blow anyone away- it's not overly flaky, but probably could be if you're a better crust handler than me. I must get a pastry blender!

It has a nice crisp crust, fresh out of the oven, and the nutty flavor of the whole wheat flour balances well against the sweet-tart fruit.

Note: The only difference between this and the Blood of a Terrorist Pie is the top- use a crumb topping for BoaT Pie.

Pie crust isn't hard, but it does take a little bit of forethought. Combine all of your ingredients in a freezer safe bag and freeze for at least 1 hour before preparing. Some people freeze their bowls and utensils, too. I'm too lazy for that.

Thaw out your berry blend. If, for some reason, you forget this step (ahem, me) slightly frozen berries work well, too.

Remove your frozen flour/butter/cream cheese mixture from the freezer and place in a large bowl. This part gets a bit messy- you'll want the space to work with.

Using your pastry blender- or your hands (like me)- work the flour into the butter and cream cheese. You're aiming for pea sized bits of fat throughout.

Now for the liquid. Some people use ice water, Cooks Illustrated recommends chilled vodka, others use plain milk. I decided to add some flavor with this vanilla almond milk. Plus, I didn't have any of the others.

Add 4-5 tbsp of almond milk- just enough to bring the dough into a loose ball. Wrap in plastic wrap and chill at least 1 hour before rolling. You could also freeze- if wrapped a bit better, or refrigerate overnight.

While the crust is resting, make your filling. Combine brown sugar, cornstarch, and berries. Add a teaspoon or two of vanilla. You could use white sugar here too- if you're a sissy afraid of flavor.

Mmm...berry goo.

Flour a large surface with all-purpose flour.

Flour the rolling pin, too. Throw some on your hands, as well.

Unwrap your dough.

Throw some flour on top.

Roll out carefully. Start from the center and roll out in one direction at a time.

See those streaks of butter and cream cheese? That's what makes the crust flaky and yummy.

To check if your crust is rolled enough, put your pie tin down on top. You'll want it to be at least an inch or two wider. My pie tin has holes in the bottom to ensure proper browning. It also means you can't make a crumb crust without some finagling.

To get the crust into the pie tin, carefully roll it on to your rolling pin.

See? Rolled.

Lift it up into the pan and unroll into the pie tin.

Trim off the excess leaving a half inch extra. Press the crust into the tin, making sure to push it down into the edge.

Pour in your filling.

Bring the scraps together in a pile and roll out again. Cut into strips or another design, if you're feeling creative.

Rustic is another word for homemade which is another word for unprofessional. Works for me.

Bake for about an hour. Yum.

Cut some tin foil strips and cover the edges of the pie. This part browns the first so you want to keep it from burning. Remove the foil for the last 10-15 minutes of baking.

Mixed Berry Pie Filling

1 16 oz. bag of frozen mixed berries, thawed
1 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup cornstarch

Combine all ingredients and stir to mix and release juices of berries. Fills 1 9-inch pie.

Whole Wheat Pie Crust

1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour, spooned into cup and leveled
2 tbsp sugar
1/4 tsp salt
4 oz. unsalted butter, diced into 1/4 inch cubes
4 oz. cream cheese, diced into 1/4 inch cubes
4-5 tbsp unsweetened vanilla almond milk

Combine all ingredients in a freezer-safe bag or container. Freeze at least 1 hour before mixing.

Remove frozen ingredients from freezer and place in medium bowl. Using your fingers, work butter and cream cheese into flour until there are pea-sized crumbs. Add almond milk until a loose ball forms. Wrap ball in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 1 hour.

Roll out dough on a surface floured with all-purpose flour- make sure to flour your hands and rolling pin, too.

Bake filled pie at 350 for about an hour.