The Perfect Pie… and How it Died

“Mom, I had an epiphany in health class, and you were right.”

“Duh. About what?”

“It turns out, I can’t eat store-bought cookies and stuff. I need to learn how to bake.”

Trumpets blare in the background, heralding my success.

“Told you so.”

You see, that’s how this blog started. I wanted to bake cookies with Snarky Daughter, but she wouldn’t help. Then, two hours later, with the scent of cookies wafting upstairs, down comes She Who Can’t Be Bothered, to eat the fruits of my labor. I don’t think so.

“You didn’t want to bake them, you don’t get to eat them. And by the way, it’s time you and your brother learn how to cook. I’m not sending you out into the world without skills, so you’re going to cook once a week. And then you’re going to blog about it.”

Or not. But they have been cooking semi-regularly. Scout Son became my baker; Snarky Daughter my chef.

So I was thrilled when I learned I was right and she was going to have to learn to bake. In our house, I may not know what’s for dinner, but I can bake a cake/cookies on any day.

Vegetables? Meh. Chocolate chips and butter? Always in the house. The chips are ideally purchased in five-pound bags. Isn’t it that way in your house?

Continuing on in the You Were Right Conversation:

Photo of French Apple Pie
Before the accident. We were too broken up to take an “after” photo.

“What do you want to make?”

“Um, cookies?”

“Really? We’ve been talking a lot about pie lately.”

“Pie would be good. But isn’t pie hard?”

“Not if you understand the chemistry going on. Besides, if you can make pie, you can make anything.”

Nothing like trial by fire.

A few days later, armed with butter, brown sugar, spices and pounds of apples, I explain the secret to pie crust. Time. And freezing a lot of the ingredients to stop the formation of gluten.

Four hours later, Snarky Daughter pulled the Perfect French Apple Pie out of the oven. Can I just tell you how awesome this pie was? No, there aren’t words. But it was better than some dates I’ve had.

It was phenomenal. Right up to the moment I went to put it in the refrigerator and watched, horrified, as it slid off the cookie sheet and crashed to the floor. The ceramic pie pan shattered.

Yes, I did look at a four-inch piece of flaky, joyous crust and wonder if it was bad form to pick it up and eat it off the floor. I also wondered if we could pick through the ceramic splinters liberally scattered throughout the filling.

It took about twenty minutes of cleaning up to realize I wasn’t so upset about the loss of pie, as it was the loss of this pie. The first pie. The perfect pie. I literally stood there calculating how long it would take me to make another pie (duh, four hours). And what I could put it in since, you know, my pie pan was toast. And finally realized I was upset because it was Snarky Daughter’s First Pie that I killed.

I made another pie in an emergency pie pan two days later. It wasn’t the same. And now I’m on a search for another ceramic deep dish pie pan. Because practice makes perfect.


Kids in the Kitchen: Gazpacho

Yeah, I know. You wanted Underwear Rant #2. I figure I could do a week-long series on women’s underwear, which is scary. But for the weeks that I was down to one functional hand, the kids did a lot of cooking, and they deserve their time in the sun, er kitchen.

A few weeks ago we were going to try living wheat-free (don’t ask, there’s a blog coming that’s devoted to it). So while Snarky Daughter was getting her hair cut, I was putting together a shopping list of all sorts of healthy stuff. Woo-hoo! But it was about 1000 degrees outside and who really wants to cook in that? And then I remembered…a really awesome Californian restaurant from the 70s. You walked in and you had to stop and let your eyes adjust because it was so dark. Dark wood paneling, dark green booths, dark everything. Salesguys went there to close semiconductor chip deals and my mom would meet with big name editors there after work for a drink. People went there at lunch for a drink. I miss the 70s.

Anyway, when the Bay Area hit 105, the Velvet Turtle was the place to go because it was dark and cold. And they had the best gazpacho. They served it in individual servings in glass bowls packed in crushed ice. You could almost see ice crystals on the top of the soup.

Sitting in the hair salon, that’s what I remembered. Heaven on ice.

And it’s healthy, and it doesn’t have wheat, making it a better choice than a maple frosted doughnut or a pint of Ben and Jerry’s. And did I mention how awesome ice cold soup would be when it’s 1000 degrees outside and the relative humidity is about 120%?

Snarky Daughter cooks Velvet Turtle Gazpacho
Snarky Daughter “cooking”

Also, you make it in a blender!

Here’s a link to the recipe, which some saint at the LA Times got the Velvet Turtle to give up back in 1981.

Read through it and there’s only one real problem: 1 tsp. seasoning blend. Undaunted, and refusing to believe that might be the key to the soup, we pressed on, assuming that 1 tsp of cumin (thereabouts) and some oregano were what they meant.

As usual, Snarky Daughter was only mildly excited about making dinner, but I was looking totally pitiful with my new, can’t move my thumb or wrist at all brace, so what was she really going to say? Well, she’s mine, so she could have said a lot, but what actually came out of her mouth was, “Uh, sure. I make it in the blender?”

So, this is totally a dump and blend thing. Soup in 20 minutes because you’re obliterating everything in the blender so it’s not like you have to carefully chop the veggies. Then we put it in the freezer for another 20 so it would be ice cold. And we served it with a couple of tortilla chips (corn-based, so I choose to believe they lack wheat), and presto! Summer Dinner!

Both kids and Snarky Roommate liked it. And I went back in time. I wonder what my dad drank when he ate this at the Turtle…


Kids in the Kitchen: Chicken Marsala

Snarky Daughter: I just finished reading Bet Me. Can we make Chicken Marsala?

Me: Yes, please. But it’s heavy on the mushrooms. You don’t eat mushrooms.

SD: I’ll pick them out.

Me: They’re the best part.

SD: More for you.

Me: OK, but I’ll have to find some marsala wine and that’s not going to be easy.

Two weeks later, I’d finally had the idea to go to the Total Wine store. Duh. They had four choices. You want sweet marsala. I froze what we didn’t use so I could use it later. No idea what that does to the alcohol content, but it can’t hurt the taste.

Photo of Snarky Daughter Cooking Chicken Marsala
A little wine for the chicken

We got the recipe from Jenny Crusie’s website. This recipe is as fun to read as it is to make, and watching Snarky Daughter pound chicken with a frying pan (as directed) was priceless. In the words of Flynn in Tangled, “Frying Pans. Who knew? Right?”

So, we’ve got a recipe with no measurements on it. Which really fits the book it comes from, because in Bet Me, it’s all about getting the taste right. But that was really part of the fun of making this meal with SD. She pounded chicken, I sliced shallots and made jokes about wine for the chicken and wine for the cook.

Photo of Chicken MarsalaAnd we all loved it. I always assumed Chicken Marsala must be a pain to make, but it’s easier and faster than my macaroni and cheese recipe. The only thing we did to speed up the process slightly is mix about a tablespoon of flour with a shot of cold water (this is how you avoid lumpy gravy) and added it to the sauce to thicken it a bit. Yes, I could have cooked it down more, but it smelled fantastic and I’m an instant gratification kind of girl.

With two cups of wine in the freezer, Chicken Marsala just ceased to be a special occasion sort of meal.



Kids in the Kitchen: Pound Cake by the Pound

I’m not really sure how it happened. I signed up to donate two pound cakes for the annual Boy Scout BBQ Chicken Dinner sale. Two. I distinctly remember signing up for two. But then, while being pressed into service as a delivery organizer and money collector (hey, I like money), it was mentioned that we were low on pound cake.
Why yes, that is the word “sucker” you see there on my forehead. I wasn’t actually asked to do more, but as the emails got a little more frantic, I thought, what the heck? It’s cake. I like to bake. Besides, you put them in the oven and walk away for an hour, giving you plenty of time to do things like…write a book. Or a blog.
So, Wednesday morning I wake up and dive into cake baking. Did I mention I used a new recipe? It’s the High-Ratio Pound Cake from Perfect Cakes by Nick Malgieri and it’s really good. Unfortunately, without a hit of caffeine or common sense, I didn’t think to set the timer a little early for that first one to check for doneness. (Is that a word?) Anyway, out came the most beautiful, slightly crispy on the bottom because I should have pulled it out five minutes ago, cake.

Scout Son makes cake #3...or is it #4?
Scout Son makes cake #3…or is it #4?

I am not a fan of pound cake. In my mind, cake should always come with frosting. In fact, in my mind, the cake is optional and only there because apparently it’s uncivilized to just serve a bowl of frosting. Who knew?
I know. You’re wondering when the Kids are entering the Kitchen. Well, Scout Son was drafted for cake number three. Actually, it was cake number four because I was really worried about cake number one being edible. He came home from school and I said, “Drop your stuff, wash your hands, and make a cake.”
Scout Son: Uh…
Tired, Cranky Mom: Dude, I am not going on the trip that this dinner is funding. You are. But you won’t be if you don’t help me with these crazy cakes.
Scout Son, counting cakes on the counter: I thought you were only making two.
TCM: They’re short cakes. So I’m making two extra.
SS, still counting: But there are four…
TCM: Ignore that one.
SS: Does that mean I get to do quality control on it?
TCM: Nobody eats anything until you make the next cake!

Pound CakeAnd this is how Scout Son learned about high-ratio cakes and made a melt-in-your-mouth pound cake. High-ratio cakes have a higher amount of sugar. This one has the additional benefit of not having to cream the butter and sugar first. It’s painfully simple to make and the results are awesome. Because of all the eggs in it, it’s also a great recipe for kids needing egg-breaking practice.
What happened to the not-quite-perfect cake? I altered the glaze from page 51, made it an orange rum glaze, and fed it to the volunteers that night. Best not-quite-perfect cake I’ve ever made! The best perfect pound cake Scout Son made too.


Kids in the Kitchen: White Pizza with Tomato and Basil

Kids Making PizzaI’m a big believer in kids being able to cook. In my world that means more than toast. Last year during end of the year exams, Scout Son suggested that he and Snarky Daughter should have eggs for breakfast.

I burst out laughing.

It’s not that I don’t agree, it’s that I wake up at the last possible second to get everything done, and at the time, that second was at 5:45. AM. So, get up even earlier to make breakfast? Not happening.

I pointed to Snarky Daughter, who is like me except that she wakes up about 10 minutes after the last possible second, and said, “Right. You getting up early to make breakfast?”

We all choked on dinner. Then Scout Son offered to make it for them.

OK then.

Being my kids, they know how to make scrambled eggs of a sort. Imagine an omelet that you scrambled because the idea of trying to get it out of the pan without it falling apart was too much to handle and you’ve got eggs at our house.

“Hey, you’re the only one who has time to make them. If you want to, go for it. Just don’t miss the bus.”

So, the next morning, I’m drying my hair, when I start smelling heaven: eggs with Tabasco, oregano, basil, and cheese cooking. Yum! I got to have a Luna Bar for breakfast. Hey, I didn’t have time to eat, and I didn’t have exams.

Scout Son rocks.

So my goal is for both of my kids to go off into their lives being able to read a recipe and make anything. I’m not sure if they share this goal or not. Hence, Kids in the Kitchen, a.k.a. I Don’t Feel Like Cooking Today; Your Turn!

Scout Son and Snarky Daughter dollop cheese onto the pizza
Scout Son and Snarky Daughter dollop cheese onto the pizza

Sometimes the kids get to choose the recipes. Sometimes it’s up to me, and sometimes it’s up to the miscellaneous ingredients in the pantry. This week I grabbed a recipe that had been kicking around the house for a year waiting to be tried: White Pizza with Tomato and Basil from the March 2011 issue of Cooking Light.

This is an awesome recipe for the kids because they could easily make it if I was running late, primarily because you make it on a Boboli crust. We ran into a few problems while we were shopping. 1) It’s early April; no fresh basil. 2) For no reason I can understand (except there was no fresh basil), the grocery store was also out of prepared pesto. Undaunted, we pressed on, forgoing the fresh basil and making our own pesto using olive oil, garlic and chopped basil from a tube. Do not start with me. I seem to want basil this week.

The kids did a great job! I’d cut down on the amount of ricotta a little, maybe 1/3 cup instead of 1/2. Of course, if you had the fresh basil and the premade pesto, the basil flavors would probably balance things out a bit better. The recipe also calls for putting the tomatoes on the pizza after it comes out of the oven. We chose to put them on before we cooked the pizza so they’d be warm and tasty.

The Finished Product
The Finished Product

The kids took the news that they were making dinner really well. Translation: Snarky Daughter only gave me one heartfelt sigh before giving in. Scout Son is usually all about the baking, but I’m adamant that I send him to his future wife with skills. To that end, he can make homemade cookies but can’t make Kraft Mac and Cheese without it becoming a starchy, gloppy mess. I don’t understand, but whatever.


The kids loved this pizza, even without a red sauce base. Snarky Daughter took some to school for lunch the next day. Best part? It took about ten minutes to pull it together (Scout Son does not like dolloping cheese with his finger) and another five under the broiler. The tomatoes were gorgeous and the mozzarella golden brown and gooey.

I think I may give up cooking more often!