Archive for October, 2012

I have a confession to make… I am not a chocoholic. There. I said it. I feel better now. What’s the big deal you ask? Well it’s precisely this: Evidently the world believes that you cannot be a real woman if you are not hopelessly addicted to chocolate. I have gathered from people’s responses to my confession that if you don’t constantly need chocolate like a heroin addict needs a fix then you have committed treason against woman kind and cannot count yourself as one of them. Personally I think that’s stupid. That’s like saying a man isn’t a man unless he absolutely can’t live without beer. My husband hates beer- and believe me he is all man! So when it comes to people talking about how they just can’t go a day without chocolate I just smile and try to not comment. That being said, I think a world without chocolate would be a sad place indeed. While not my absolute favorite thing in the world, I do enjoy it quite a lot from time to time. Every now and then I just want something rich and chocolatey. This pie is perfect for that. Actually this pie is perfect for a few things now that I think on it. Not only is it perfect for a little something chocolatey, it’s also good for those who don’t keep baking chocolate and whipping cream on hand. It’s also perfect for those who are still intimidated by the process of tempering eggs. (For those not yet in the know: combining small amounts of boiling mixture into eggs while stirring like crazy so the eggs don’t curdle in the finished product is “tempering the eggs”.) And for those who are with me in committing treason against women this might just get you back in good graces! :.)

Start with a blind baked pie crust. Blind baking is, of course, baking the pie crust while it is empty. To do this you really do need some pie weights so that it doesn’t bubble in places and ruin the crust for the filling. These are my pie weights…

That’s right- they are just beans. Plain old, ordinary, cheap beans. Sure, you can buy pie weights. They are sold as either clay balls (similar in size to beans) or as a steel chain of beads (also similar in size to beans) for anywhere from about $6 up to about $20. But why in the world would you do that if you can use beans for a fraction of the cost?! For my pie weights I used a bag of beans I had kicking around the back of my pantry for the last 2 years and they work a treat! Just line your pie pan with your crust, line your crust with parchment paper, and pour in your beans. Here’s a tip for a faster baking crust: preheat your beans in another pie pan in the oven. If you don’t, the crust that should take 10-20 minutes to bake will take 40-50 minutes because the beans have to heat up first. You can reuse the beans just like the purchased pie weights- you just can’t ever use them in anything else. After they’ve been baked like that they will never be edible again. But you can use them for years as pie weights so it’s ok :.)

Once you’ve baked your crust you should have something that looks like this…

“It’s broken!” you say. Yes, it is. But that’s ok. They are small cracks and once the filling goes in it won’t matter. Small cracks are not a big deal. Big bubbles because you didn’t use pie weights are the deal breaker.

Next, make your pudding. As I mentioned, this recipe does not call for cream or baking chocolate. This is all it takes for a chocolate cream pie…

I bet you already have all of this in your pantry (and fridge), don’t you? Good! Now on to making the pudding. Once you start this it is going to look like it will never work. When you beat the eggs and the sugar together the result will be very grainy. I couldn’t get a picture that wasn’t blurry so I don’t have one to include. And when you add the rest of the ingredients to the egg & sugar mixture it will look like this…

I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking the same thing I did the first time I made this pie. “How on Earth will that ever turn into smooth chocolate pudding?!” And the next step really isn’t any more comforting. Now is when you whisk in the milk. This is what you end up with…

It’s foamy and grainy and not much of a confidence booster. But all will be well! Put this over medium-low heat and start whisking- constantly. Don’t go anywhere. Stay at that stove whisking because the amount of cornstarch in this recipe means that once it heats up the mixture will thicken incredibly quickly. As in all of a sudden you’ve magically gone from liquid to pudding. It’s that quick cooking! Here’s what you’ll end up with…

VERY thick, wonderfully rich chocolate cream pie filling. Or you can chill it at this point and have an excellent pudding. It’s not quite as smooth as pudding made with baking chocolate but it’s still very tasty. Add some whipped cream to smooth it out a bit and it would be perfect with just a bowl and spoon. But today we’re making pie so transfer this to a bowl and put some plastic wrap on it, making sure that the wrap actually touches the surface of the pudding so it doesn’t get a skin.

Once the pudding has cooled for about 15 minutes you can put it in the pie shell. You will have just enough to fill a 9 inch pie. Once you put the filling in the crust put plastic wrap on it again to prevent a skin and put the pie in the fridge to chill completely. This is what you will end up with…

It’s a thing of beauty! Now you have a few options for topping the pie. You can use a meringue, you can use Cool Whip if you must, or you can go the classic route and use homemade whipped cream. As it happened I had just enough whipping cream left over from another recipe to make a batch of freshly whipped cream for the top of my pie. I LOVE fresh whipped cream! It really does make Cool Whip look and taste absolutely pitiful in comparison. Here’s how my finished pie looked…

It tasted better than it looked, I assure you. Had I let the filling chill completely before trying to cut the pie it would have been alot cleaner. As it was, I needed it for after dinner and had gotten a late start on making it. I tried to get a good photo of a slice of the pie but it just wouldn’t cooperate. Nevertheless, it was an excellent pie that I didn’t need any special ingredients for. Easy, tasty, and way better than what you can get out of a box in the freezer section!

The Recipe:

Adapted from Chocolate Cream Pie II on

1 (9 inch) pie crust, baked

4 Egg Yolks, beaten

1 1/2 C Granulated Sugar

4 T Cornstarch

1/2 C Unsweetened Cocoa Powder

1/2 t Salt

3 C Milk

1 T Butter

1 1/2 t Vanilla Extract

The Method:

*In a large mixing bowl, cream together egg yolks and sugar. This will not cream completely- it will be grainy but that’s fine.

*Mix in cornstarch, cocoa powder, and salt. Add milk and stir gently.

*Pour mixture into a large saucepan and cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly until boiling.

*Remove from heat and stir in butter and vanilla extract.

*Cool 15 minutes, then pour mixture into pie shell.

*Chill completely before serving.

*Garnish with desired topping.

Food Porn… I’ll admit it: I love it. I’ll go so far as to say that I’m almost addicted to it. I spend several hours a week on Foodgawker, browsing the pictures; looking for a dish I’d like to spend some time with and make my own. Don’t look at me like that. You’ve seen it- and you’ve probably drooled over it at least a little. At the very least you’ve seen it and thought “Hey- I’d eat that”. But if you’re like me you see the amazing food pictures in magazines, on TV, and on the internet and you oggle them openly; dreaming about how that dish tastes because it looks so good you have to stop yourself from licking the screen, or imagining the delightful texture (that they’ve so cleverly highlighted) on your tongue. I also happen to see those and think “I can make that, better than they can even- it just won’t look anything like what’s in the picture”.  And that’s the catch. When you see food porn you are looking at something shot by a professional almost every single time. Food porn, like regular porn, isn’t real. The food, like the act, is real- sure. The dish was cooked mostly according to the recipe, with a tweak here and there for aesthetics, so that the final product can be molded into something that will be the height of photogenic. And that, my friends, defeats the whole purpose of why I am writing this blog. I’m going to be arrogant for a moment, so bear with me. (I am the Humble Food Snob after all. Sometimes I’m prone to a bit of actual snobbery ;.)) When I cook or bake, the results are- usually- pretty darn amazing. BUT, while it looks very appetizing,  it doesn’t look like something you’d find on Foodgawker or on the cover of a magazine. And I realized something recently: that is how it should be! I write my blog to help people understand that with a very few exceptions anyone can do what I do! Anyone can turn out fantastic food- you just have to learn how and the lessons are not that hard! I’ve been beating myself up since I started this blog because my pictures aren’t food porn. I’ve seriously come to the brink of giving up on something I truly enjoy because my pictures aren’t “good enough”. They aren’t something that a food editor would jump at to put on a magazine or feature in an article online. That being the case I was convinced that my blog wouldn’t be a success. I have recently realized that that is not the truth. For my blog to be a success all it takes is ONE PERSON to be inspired to try to cook something they wouldn’t have considered before; for ONE PERSON to realize that they can cook! So no- my pictures are not professional quality. If that turns you off I’m sorry. But I will continue to try my hardest to get the best pictures I can and hopefully they will be sufficient to boost the inspiration! So, that being said, my next blog post will be an actual food post- with a recipe and all! :.)

I’m back! I have missed blogging terribly but I have come to a realization: I am a seasonal blogger. I hate Summer. I really do. I have what you might call Reverse SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder); instead of getting down when it’s grey and cool/cold for too long, I get down and moody when it’s sunny and warm/hot for too long. When it’s cool/cold, grey and wet I am nearly giddy- no exaggeration. So Summer for me is endless torment. Especially this summer with it’s drought. I tried to blog but got nowhere because I resented being in the kitchen when it was so hot and I was moody because of endless sunlight and heat. Also, Summer food just isn’t that much fun to cook or blog for me. My favorite foods are comfort foods which are, for me, synonymous with Fall & Winter foods. So I have decided that I will blog during my preferred time of year- doing so happily- and take Summers off.

On to today’s topic: Menu Planning. I posted on Facebook last night that I am going a bit menu crazy right now. I have November’s menu nearly done (two slots to fill + a few sides to figure out!) and I’ve also gotten a start on December’s menu. I got a few comments to the tune of astonishment and a question of “How do you do that?” as well. So I decided to address the topic because I really do think most everyone can benefit from having a menu plan. It saves me money on groceries and it saves me tons of headache trying to figure out what to get on the table for dinner. I used to spend way too much money on things that were easy to get on the table because I didn’t have a plan and I spent way too much thought on “What in the world am I going to make for dinner tonight?!’ But then I started planning out my menus and it was an incredible relief to be able to go to the fridge and, instead of staring blankly into it racking my brain for something to make for dinner, just take a look at the menu hanging there and say “oh- I need to make sure I start cooking____ at 4 pm and then make ____ to go along with it. Oh and I need to get ____ out to start thawing for dinner 2 nights from now”. Dinner problem solved. It’s an incredible blessing to not have that stress anymore!

So here’s the how-to… As I’ve mentioned, I plan my menus out a month ahead of time. We do a big trip to Sam’s and King Soopers at the beginning of each month and then we do little filler trips in between. So for me it’s just easier to do the whole month at once but alot of people just do a weekly menu and that’s great- whatever works for the way you do things! One of the commenters on Facebook said she would love to do a month at a time and fewer shopping trips but hasn’t figured out how to do so because of produce & other perishables. Those are the things I buy on the filler trips. After our big shopping trips are out of the way (and when I say big I mean BIG. We need 2 carts at Sam’s and sometimes King Soopers as well) my filler trips usually consist of about 10 items. Things like milk, produce, yogurt, etc. are on my fill in list. And let me tell you- doing it this way may not cut down on the number of trips but it is so much easier to get just a few things each week than having to negotiate the entire store with a full shopping list every week. What’s the trick to having only one big shopping trip every month instead of weekly large trips? Besides menu planning, of course: using pretty much the same things every month. I have also mentioned before in this blog that my family cannot eat the same thing all the time. And it’s true. We can’t. We can’t do pizza every Saturday night or Tacos every Wednesday night. We’d go crazy. That’s just the way we are. I can’t make any dish more than once each month. But my shopping list looks pretty much the same every month. How? I use the same items just in completely different ways. I buy 10 pounds of chicken breasts and about 6 pounds of hamburger every month but there are literally thousands of ways to cook them. Those are just 2 examples but you get the point. And if your family can do Taco Wednesday and Pizza Saturday, etc. every week then your battle to get a menu plan done is half won. You just plug those in and you’re good to go! You’ll actually have an easier time making a monthly menu than I do!

As for the mechanics of how I make my menus- the actual writing them out- I use a pen & paper as well as my Google Calendar. I keep spiral bound notebooks that are solely for menu planning. Here is what I have so far for November…

In the upper right hand corner I have the number of meals I will need for the month and the page is numbered accordingly. You can see that I have a special section for Breakfast for dinner. That is the one thing my family can eat every single week. I always do it on a different day of each week and I always make something different each time. The items that are circled are special meals that have a whole menu of their own- in this case Zachariah’s birthday dinner and Thanksgiving. If you’re one who is counting the number of meals I have listed you will see that things don’t add up- I’m missing some days. That’s because I make Sundays “Fend For Yourself” nights. (BTW, one could also make these “Leftover Nights” and get rid of all the bits & pieces that are kicking around your fridge.) That is the night I take off of cooking and I make maybe chicken nuggets or frozen pizza as a main dish for the kids and then Ron (if he’s home) and I will eat later. After the kids go to bed we might have frozen pizza or I might make some sort of special sandwich or something and we’ll watch a movie or the like and just spend time together. The point is I’m not cooking a whole meal that has to be on the table for the whole family at one time. I’m the only one in the house that does the cooking and the dishes so every week I get a break on Sunday night.  This is the format for every month. And since I keep all the menu lists together in spiral notebooks it’s easy for me to go back and get ideas for current and future menus, see what I’ve made recently, and what I haven’t made for awhile that may be due for a reappearance. You could do this on your computer of course but I like having it on paper so that if something happens to my computer (Heaven forbid!!) I can still access all my menu info and not have to start again from scratch. After I have this page done for the month I go to my Google Calendar and plug everything in, making sure we aren’t having chicken 3 nights in a row or Breakfast twice in one week; that sort of thing. This is also where I make my lists for my big shopping trips as well as plan out some of my smaller weekly shopping trips. If I see a recipe that will be made, say,  in the 3rd week of the month that needs heavy whipping cream I can plan to get that the week I’m making the dish instead of at the beginning of the  month because if I bought it during the big trip it would be bad by the time I needed it.

Now this is just how I do mine. There are many ways to menu plan but this is what works best for me. I’ve checked out the menu planning sites but I don’t like them. Most of them want you to pay for the really “useful” things they offer and most of them make planning too complicated. I am perfectly capable of (and thoroughly enjoy) making my own shopping lists & tracking sales, and I don’t need their recipe ideas & suggestions so I leave those sites alone and do it this way. I use Google Calendar because it’s the one I’ve found that is easiest to use with they way I do menu planning. And no one says you have to do it by the month- by the week is fine. Or maybe you just do the weekdays and weekends are open. There are also some people who only plan out the main dishes and leave the sides for last minute. I don’t do it that way because that’s not how my brain works but if that works for you that’s awesome! You’ll still have a much easier time figuring out what to make for dinner than if you didn’t plan ahead of time at all.

I hope this has helped those who are having a hard time in the menu planning department. I can’t even begin to tell you how much having a menu pre-planned and on paper (or in the computer) has helped to relieve my stress in the kitchen. To be able to look at my menu and know what I’m making each day is so much more preferable to the dropping feeling I got in the pit of my stomach when I realized I had to have dinner made in a few hours & I had no clue what to make and all the meat was frozen still. Once you put the effort into getting it done and see how much it helps it will be a breeze to do each time :.)