Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Paying my debts in baked goods...

It seems every time I try to leave town, something catastrophic happens--usually of an automotive nature--and last week was no exception. I was scheduled to attend a conference in Albany, and I was hurrying down the Northway (as I-87 is known in these parts) to meet my carpool of colleagues. Mind you, I knew I was tempting fate. The evil money-grubbers at the dealership where I took my car the week before last charged me 65 bucks to say, "You need new tires." And they had warned me that the right rear tire was ready to blow any second. Even my roommate had repeatedly advised me to keep to the small, state route and off the freeway ("Stay on the path--beware the moors!"). But did I listen? NOOOO! Sure enough, that tire blew out on the Northway, and even though I was passing someone when it happened, fortunately, there wasn't an accident. Actually, I barely felt it--I wasn't even sure what happened at first until I heard a strange whirring sound, then slowed down until it started thumping! Also, I was lucky in that this happened right at an exit, so I pulled off, and coasted to a stop right in front of a handful of houses. Now I have no cell phone at the present time, so I began knocking on doors. No one was home at the first one, but on my second attempt, a very nice man let me in to use his phone to call my colleagues to come pick me up and to get my longsuffering next-door neighbor (who also had begged me to get new tires before this happened!) and my roommate to come deal with the car and get it home. Long story short (too late!), I made it my conference, and between the nice man whose house my car was beached in front of, my neighbor and my roommate, they managed to get the donut spare on the car and get her back home until I could have four, brand-spanking new tires put on at Sam's Club. (They are really the best place to go for tires, by the way. Not only are they the cheapest, but you get free road hazard and also rotating and balancing for life! Just FYI...)

So clearly, I had some debts to repay, not only to the people mentioned above, but also to a nice lady at school who works in the business office who gave me a ride home after my conference. And as is my way, I pay my debts in baked goods! First, for Ken and Cyd (my neighbor and roommate, respectively), they have been bugging me to make a berry pie for them forever. And though I usually use frozen berries when they're not in season, I happened to have two cans of Oregon Blackberries on hand. (This was a none-so-subtle hint from my neighbor awhile back when I asked him to pick up some canned cherries for me, and he slipped some blackberries in there as well!) Do you folks know about Oregon (brand) canned fruit? This is NOT fruit pie filling, mind you--this is just the berries. I discovered them when I was trying to find pie cherries to make a pie for my dear friend, June, who is disturbingly obsessed with cherry pie. But I can never find (sour) pie cherries in the supermarkets or even at farmer's markets around here, and I consider it a perpetual mystery that you can't buy them frozen either. So you can either get canned cherry pie filling (BLECH! The cherries get very mushy as they are cooked twice, plus the ratio of goo-to-fruit is unacceptable!), or buy canned pie cherries and make your own filling. This is infinitely preferable, in my opinion, unless you can find them fresh. Anyway, the pie recipes are on the back of the labels on the cans, and they are just excellent. Below is the recipe for the blackberry pie, and it was the best one I've ever made! The filling was just perfect--not too tight or too runny. (One day, I will also post my famous Cherry Crumb Pie recipe made with the Oregon pie cherries, but I already have too many recipes to share today , and the post is reaching encyclopedic proportions as it is!) I would like to add that I hold no stock in the Oregon Fruit Company, but as I grew up in Oregon and consider it home, it makes me happy to give them a shout out. (HOLLA!)

Because I myself do not enjoy fruit pie, I decided that I deserved a special dessert, too. After all, I had to endure Sam's Club on a Saturday morning, did I not? ;-) So I decided to try the sumptuous Lemon Almond Torta from Melissa over at the wonderful Traveler's Lunchbox site. As she has already posted a gorgeous picture and the recipe, I will just provide the link to it. I would add two recommendations to the recipe. One, make sure to use blanched almonds for the almond-flour mixture in the cake. I used unblanched, and the texture wasn't as refined as I would have liked. Secondly, I don't know what was the vision was for spreading eight tablespoons of lemon curd over the cake and then three more in the middle? It ended up having a big pool of lemon in the center (making it difficult to determine whether the cake was done, so I may have overbaked it by five minutes), and I simply would have preferred an even layer of lemony goodness all over the cake. So that's my $.02 on the recipe. But do try it! It is delicious! I gave half of the blackberry pie and a couple of pieces of the lemon-almond cake to Ken (refer to the picture above), and also a piece of cake to the lady in the business office who gave me a lift home on Friday, as she happens to be very keen on lemon desserts as I am! And of course, the roomie got the other half of the pie and some of the cake as well. ;-)

For the man who let me use his phone and loaned us tools to help remove the flat tire, I made some cookies from a recent issue of Martha Stewart's Everyday Food. It was a recipe sent in by a reader for Chocolate Pecan Pie Bars. Decadent! I actually cut the chocolate in about half (I know, I know...the chocoholics are screaming blasphemy, but I like the nuts to dominate rather than the chocolate--just my preference), and instead of just pecans, I used a combination of pecans, walnuts, almonds, and macadamias. Delish! The recipe is also below. And finally, what is pie or cake without ice cream? Since I was out of the beloved Edy's Double Vanilla, I decided to make my own damn Double Vanilla, adapting a recipe from our old friends across the lake, Ben and Jerry. To their sweet cream base, I added a whole tablespoon of Watkins double-strength vanilla (I adore Watkins, especially for ground cinnamon, vanilla and other extracts), and also a tablespoon of Nielsen-Massey's vanilla bean paste so that the ice cream has the highly-desirable specks in it! I have a small, Cuisinart brand electric ice cream maker that produces soft-serve in 20-30 minutes, but I like to "ripen" the ice cream for another two hours in the freezer. And I take a tip from Martha by lining a large loaf pan with a double-length of plastic wrap, filling it with the soft ice cream, covering it with the remainder of the length of plastic, and then freezing it until firm. This makes it easy to scoop in one long motion down the loaf pan. Works great! Recipe also follows. We'll just call this post, DESSERT OVERLOAD! Tee hee!

Oregon Blackberry Pie

2 cans Oregon Blackberries*
6 tablespoons sugar (more or less according to your preference)
3 tablespoons cornstarch
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 tablespoon butter
Pastry for a two-crust pie

Drain the berries and reserve the syrup from one can. Stir the blackberry syrup into the combined mixture of the cornstarch and half of the sugar. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly until thickened and clear. Cook 1 minute longer. Gently stir in remaining sugar, blackberries and lemon juice. Let stand while preparing pastry. Line a 9 inch pie pan with pastry and fill with fruit filling. Dot with butter. Adjust top crust on pie, cutting slits for steam to escape (or I cut out little hearts with a tiny cookie cutter myself!), and seal. Bake at 400 degrees for about 30 minutes or until filling is bubbly and crust is golden brown. Makes one 9-inch pie.

*Oregon Boysenberries, Blueberries, Loganberries, Marionberries or Red Raspberries may be substituted.

Chocolate Pecan Pie Bars

1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1/4 cup light brown sugar, packed
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 large eggs
3/4 cup light corn syrup
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips
2 cups pecans, coarsely chopped

32 servings, 1 hour 25 minutes 25 mins prep

Preheat oven to 350. Line bottom and sides of a 9x13 inch baking pan with aluminun foil. In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat 1 stick room-temp butter, brown sugar, flour,and salt until coarse crumbs form.
Pour mixture into prepared pan; press firmly into bottom. Bake until lightly browned, 25-30 minutes. Let cool, 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, in same large bowl, mix eggs, corn syrup, granulated sugar, and 2 TBS melted butter until well combined. Add chocolate chips and pecans; spread over crust. Bake until set, 25-30 minutes. Cool completely in pan before lifting out (use foil to lift). Cut into 32 bars.

Ben & Jerry's Sweet Cream Base #1 (This is Ben and Jerry's most popular base, as it has a creamy texture, medium body, and a subtle, understated taste. It's especially good as a background for fruit, cookies, and candy.)

2 large eggs (Note: This does call for uncooked eggs to those that should not eat them such as children, pregnant women or people with compromised immune systems. Also, I sometimes use just one egg for a lighter-textured ice cream.)
¾ C sugar (I sometimes pull back to a generous 1/2 cup of sugar as cream is sweet by itself.)
2 C heavy or whipping cream
1 C milk

Whisk the eggs in a mixing bowl until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Whisk in the sugar, a little at a time, then continue to whisk until completely blended, about 1 minute more. Pour in the cream and milk and whisk to blend. (Note: I often make this is a blender.) Makes 1 quart.

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