Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Sweet Potato Pie

It's almost Thanksgiving!  In my family this means that we must have sweet potato pie.  My mother never liked pumpkin pie, but we always had it's close relative:  sweet potato pie.

There are many different schools of thought on sweet potato pie.  Some people like their pie spicy (with lots of cinnamon, allspice, and nutmeg).  Others, like my grandmother, can't stand nutmeg.  Some people add lots of ingredients to create a custard-like pie.  Some people add a layer of cream cheese to put a surprise in the middle of their pie.  My mom says my grandfather used to stretch five sweet potatoes into 20 pies because they couldn't afford to have a thick, hearty pie.  Well, here's my take on sweet potato pie:  I like mine full of potato (and little else), thick, very lightly spiced, smooth-textured, and with a hint of lemon.  I never make less than four pies at a time.  Tonight I made five:  one for mom's house, one for grandmom, two for my in-laws (we'll be with them on Thanksgiving), and one for my hubby and I to enjoy at home.  We've already cut ours, even though it was too hot to eat and completely fell apart.  It was still good.

One bite of that pie and we both knew:  time to break out the Christmas decorations, the holidays are here!

Sweet Potato Pie
(2 pies)

4 lbs. sweet potatoes (about 8 large)
1 c. evaporated milk
1/3 c. butter
1/2 c. brown sugar
1 c. sugar
1 t. lemon flavoring
1 t. vanilla flavoring
1 t. cinnamon
1/2 t. nutmeg
1 egg, beaten
2 frozen deep dish pie crusts.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Prepare the sweet potatoes:  Scrub potatoes and poke each potato several times with a fork.  Place on microwave safe plate and cook on high for 12-14 minutes.  (I can fit 5 potatoes at a time in my microwave.)  Potatoes are done when they smell sweet and are soft to the touch.  Let potatoes cool for at least 30 minutes.  When potatoes are cool enough to handle, split them open and scoop out the cooked flesh.  Set flesh aside.

Attach the whisk attachment to a stand mixer.  Whip the sweet potatoes on low speed.  Add white and brown sugar, cinnamon, and nutmeg.  Continue to whip the potatoes for at least 3 minutes.

Place milk and butter in a microwave-safe container.  Microwave until milk is hot and butter is melted (about 2 minutes).  Stir milk mixture and add it to the sweet potato mixture.

Add the vanilla and lemon flavorings to the sweet potato mixture.

Add the egg to the mixture.  Mix for another 3 minutes.

Cover the edges of the pie crust with a thin strip of foil.  Divide the sweet potato mixture between the two pie crusts.

Bake at 350 for 60-75 minutes, or until center of the pie is set.  The top of the pie will be lightly browned.  Let pie cool completely before serving.  Serve at room temperature.  Store leftovers in the refrigerator.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Yeast Rolls

My maternal grandfather made legendary yeast rolls.  Legendary.  His rolls are the cause of my love of real butter.  He passed away 20 years ago and even though I was just a little girl when he went to glory, I remember those rolls.  Many family members have tried (and come close), but nothing could match his rolls.

I've always been intimidated by any recipe that uses yeast.  If the water's too hot, the yeast dies.  If the air is too cool, the bread doesn't rise.  Then there's the kneading and judgment of how much flour to add.  Well, technology has made this whole process much easier.  My Kitchen Aid has a dough hook that kneads this batch of rolls in under 5 minutes.  My oven has a proofing setting and a convection bake option that helps me create perfectly golden and fluffy rolls.  I feel much more confident with my new school kitchen tools. 

So, these aren't pop pop's rolls.  These are Kee's rolls.  He made his old school, by hand.  I make mine new school, with a Kitchen Aid mixer equipped with a dough hook.  Special shout out to Monica at Lick the Bowl Good for putting me on to this recipe.  I made these rolls this past Sunday and brought some to my mom.  I know my mom was proud.  My hubby was proud, too.  He told me they looked like they came from a store, but they taste homemade.  I take that as a compliment.  I believe these rolls will be making a surprise appearance for Thanksgiving at my in-law's home next week.

Yeast Rolls

1/2 c. low fat milk
1/4 c. sugar
2 t. salt  I used 3 t.
3 T. butter
3 packages (or 6 3/4 t.) of dry active yeast
1 1/2 c. warm water (105-115 degrees F)
5-6 c. all-purpose flour (I used bread flour)

 In a small saucepan, heat milk, butter, sugar and salt over medium heat until butter is melted and sugar is dissolved.  Remove from heat and let cool to lukewarm temperature (leave at room temp for 30 minutes, or place in the fridge for a few mins).

Warm your Kitchen Aid mixer bowl by rinsing it with hot water.  Add the warm water and yeast to the bowl.  Mix in the lukewarm milk mixture and stir until dissolved.

Attach the dough hook to the mixer.  Add 4 1/2 c. flour to the liquid mixture and turn mixer on low.  Add flour, 1/2 c. at a time until dough pulls away from sides of bowl and starts to "climb" the hook.  (This took 5 1/2 c. flour for me.)  The dough will be sticky, but it should form a ball around the hook.  Knead the dough for at least 2 minutes.

Spray a large bowl with nonstick spray.  Drop the dough in the bowl and turn the dough to make sure all sides are greased.  Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and place in a warm, draft free place for 15-25 minutes (or until dough has at least doubled in size).  (I used the proof setting on my oven for this task.  I hear an empty microwave is also a good place to poof dough.)

Once dough has risen, turn it out onto a floured surface.  Cut the dough into 24 equal pieces.  Place the dough balls into a 9x13 baking pan (sprayed with nonstick spray and lined with parchment paper).  You'll only be able to fit 16 rolls in the pan, so you can put the rest of the rolls into a smaller pan (I used an 8x8).

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.  While the oven is heating, cover the rolls with a towel and let them rise a second time (they will double in size).  Bake the rolls for 12-15 minutes, or until golden brown.  Immediately remove the rolls from the pan and place on a cooling rack.  Brush tops of rolls with melted butter.  Or, be like me and split them open and slather them with butter.

Do I need to tell you how good these rolls tasted or how good my house smelled?  If you have a Kitchen Aid, you need to make these rolls!

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Yummy Pummy Bread

When I was 11 or 12, I received a cookbook as a gift from a family friend.  The book was for some fundraiser I can't remember, but I do remember that the entire book was filled with cookie recipes.  One recipe that I loved was a pumpkin raisin cookie called Pummies.  They were soft and moist and bread-like.  I still have that battered cookbook and for some reason I just couldn't stop thinking about those cookies this fall.  I figured I'd try to make my own version of pumpkin bread inspired by my old school favorite recipe.

This bread is dense and moist and the recipe makes a heavy loaf.  It's not overwhelmingly sweet.  This is a pumpkin bread, not a cake, after all.  I don't care for nuts in my breads, so I opted for raisins.  I guess you could add nuts or omit raisins if you wanted to, but I love it just the way it is.  One bite of this bread reminds me of October and November.  It has a subtle hint of sweet spice and it's great warm or at room temperature.  I especially love this recipe because I can mix it by hand (no electric mixer or Kitchen Aid to clean).

Yummy Pummy Bread

2 c. flour
1 t. baking soda
1/2 t. salt
1 t. cinnamon
1/2 t. nutmeg
1/2 c. (1 stick) butter, at room temperature
3/4 c. brown sugar
2 eggs, beaten
1 can (15 oz.) pumpkin puree
1 T. vanilla flavoring 
3/4 c. raisins tossed in 1 T. flour

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Spray a 9x5 inch loaf pan with nonstick spray and line with parchment paper. 

In a large bowl bowl, whisk together flour, salt, baking powder, cinnamon, and nutmeg.  Set aside.

In a medium bowl, cream together butter and brown sugar until well mixed.  Stir in eggs and pumpkin puree until well mixed.

Make a well in the dry ingredients (flour mixture) and stir in the wet ingredients (pumpkin mixture).  Do not overmix.  Gently stir in raisins and pour into prepared loaf pan (batter will be thick).  Wrap pan on the counter a few times to even out the mixture.

Bake at 350 degrees for 60 to 75 minutes.  Bread is done when a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.  Remove bread from pan immediately after baking and place on a cooling rack.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

El Serrano

We love Latin American food.  A month ago I met a few fellow foodies while waiting for takeout at a Vietnamese restaurant.  They suggested we visit El Serrano, a Peruvian restaurant, in Lancaster, PA.  It immediately went on our list.  We finally made it out there today and we weren't disappointed.

We started with the complimentary chips and salsa.  The salsa was smooth (not chunky) and mild.  The chips were fresh, but  not greasy or soggy.  The hubby enjoyed an Amstel Light and I had a Fuzzy Rita (fuzzy navel mixed with frozen margarita).  My drink was very peachy, fresh, and not sickeningly sweet - just the way I like it!  My next course was a seafood soup with a tomato base.  The soup had calamari, red snapper, mussels, and other unidentifiable (but delicious) seafood.

I ordered the El Gordo Combo because I wanted a bit of everything.  It came with a chicken fajita, a cheese enchilada, a pork chop, rice, and refried beans.  The chicken fajita was huge and stuffed with juicy marinated chicken, sauteed onions and peppers, and even sauteed tomatoes.  The cheese enchilada was had a spicy sweet red sauce.  The pork chop was a bit dry for my taste, but it was well seasoned.

We were almost too full for dessert, but we had to have the full experience.  We were disappointed that they didn't have our beloved tres leches cake (but then again, this wasn't a Mexican restaurant), but we enjoyed the warm rum cake with whipped topping (not freshly whipped cream, to my dismay).

Overall it was a great experience.  The restaurant looks like a South American hacienda and we are looking forward to dining at their two other restaurants on the same premises.  We ate a huge lunch at 3:00 and it kept us full through hours of shopping at the outlet shops in Lancaster.  We'll be back.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Getting Ready for The Holidays!

The most wonderful time of the year is on its way!  This year my husband and I have the honor of hosting his side of the family for Christmas.  I'm already dreaming of the menu!

Thanksgiving is at the in-law's home in Baltimore this year.  I'll be making desserts (my specialty).  Baking is my true culinary love.  I only learned how to cook because I couldn't live off of grilled cheese, cereal, and cookies when I got my first apartment.

I'm looking for great dessert recipes that travel well and some fun ideas for Christmas.  Send suggestions!
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