Friday, March 30, 2012

Cost of Take-Out Lunch, Week Ending 033012

Monday: Siamese Express for two: $23.43 including $4 tip
Tuesday: Jack in the Box salads for two: $11.83
Wednesday: Thai Bite, on a coworker
Thursday: California Pizza Kitchen for two: $26.94 + tip = $31.50
Friday: Jack in the Box salads for two: $11.83

Total: $78.59. Seriously, this is crazy.
Total for the year: $554.57


Sunday, March 25, 2012

Streusel Topped Pear and Blueberry Pie


This pie is so good, words cannot describe it. When I first discovered this delicacy, I made it 5 times back-to-back. I gained so much weight that week.

I love it warm, I love it cold, I love it by itself, and I really love it with ice cream. As a matter of fact, one just might drop a wedge of pie into a blender with ice cream and milk making the most amazingly decadent milkshake/blizzard/flurry-like treat ever known to man. Let's see if my pie results are as good as they were back in the very early 2000's.

Streusel Topped Pear and Blueberry Pie
adapted from Epicurious
click to print

9" pie crust

Filling:
2 pounds firm but ripe pears (about 5 medium), peeled, cored, cut into 3/4-inch pieces
9 tbsp sugar, divided
2 tbsp orange juice
Pinch of salt
2 1/4 c frozen blueberries
6 tbsp all purpose flour

Walnut Streusel Topping:
1 c all purpose flour
1/2 c packed dark brown sugar
1/2 c walnuts, toasted
1/2 c chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1/4 tsp salt

Preheat oven to 350°F. Bake crust until light golden brown, about 30 minutes. Cool while preparing filling. Maintain oven temperature.
 
The crust shrank a little bit, but not enough to sweat over.

  
These pears are two weeks old and surprisingly not yet mushy.

Combine pear pieces, 3 tablespoons sugar, 2 tablespoons orange juice and salt in large nonstick skillet. Cook over medium heat until pears are tender but still hold their shape, stirring often, about 6 minutes.
 

Transfer pear mixture to large bowl; cool to room temperature.

If you're in a hurry, expedite cooling by using a large baking sheet or dish instead of a bowl.

Meanwhile, using on/off turns, blend all streusel ingredients in processor or blender until coarse crumbs form.
 
 
I used to just do this by finely chopping the nuts and then cutting the butter into the dry ingredients -- like making pie crust. I'll probably go back to doing that. A pastry blender is just as easy and actually less hassle.

Add blueberries, flour and remaining 6 tablespoons sugar to pears; toss gently to blend.
  

Transfer filling to cooled pie crust, mounding filling slightly in center. Sprinkle with Walnut-Streusel Topping.
 

Bake pie until juices bubble thickly, fruit is tender and streusel topping is golden brown, about 1 hour 5 minutes. Cool pie on rack until lukewarm.


Cut pie into wedges and serve.
  
The pie was still quite warm after two very long hours of cooling.


I love this pie. Tart, yet sweet, crunchy, tender. It's just as good as I remembered.

Cost:
  • crust: $1.29
  • pears: $2.49
  • sugar: $0.19
  • orange juice: $0.41
  • blueberries: $1.99
  • flour: $0.22
  • dark brown sugar: $0.26
  • walnuts: $1.60
  • butter: $0.42
Total: $8.87. That's about $1.11 for each of eight delicious slices of heavenly pie.


Crisco Single Pie Crust



When I make pie, I usually use the recipe from Crisco. I think the recipe is about 150 years old and there's a reason it's still around. It's a good one. It's practically no fail. Of course, I've had trials and tribulations, but if you keep the materials cold, avoid handling the dough excessively, and just stick it in the fridge to come back to when you get frustrated, you'll get good results.

Because I had some Spectrum shortening, I figured I'd just go ahead and use it according to the recipe directions rather than going with Spectrum's suggestion of using it at room temperature. And instead of measuring it out BEFORE putting it in the fridge, I had a slight measuring problem but I adapted and overcame. It's like I'm the Navy SEAL of pie crusts.

Single Pie Crust
click to print

1 1/3 c flour
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 c cold shortening
3 to 6 tbsp ice cold water


Yes, that's ice in my water.

Combine flour and salt in medium mixing bowl.
 

Cut chilled shortening into pieces.
 
Now this is where I had my problem. I had chilled the entire tub of shortening in the fridge and then tried scooping it out. I should've measured the warm shortening, then chilled it. What ended up happening is I used the measuring cup to sort of chisel away at the hard shortening, eventually getting what I estimated was close to the appropriate amount. Bonus was that when transferring the shortening from the measuring cup to the bowl of flour was that the shards easily flaked out.

Cut chilled shortening into flour mixture using a pastry blender in an up and down chopping motion until mixture resembles coarse crumbs with some small pea-sized pieces remaining.
 
I try to continue cutting the shortening into the flour until all the shortening pieces are about the same small size. Homogeneity, as much as possible, helps later.

Sprinkle two tablespoons of ice cold water over the flour mixture.


Using a fork, stir and draw flour from bottom of bowl to the top, distributing moisture evenly into flour. Press chunks down to bottom of bowl with fork.

Add water by the tablespoon, continuing the fork method described above after each addition, until dough is moist enough to hold together when pressed together.
  
Photo 1: 2 more tablespoons of water added; Photo 2: 1 more tablespoon added; Photo 3: how the dough looked when I guessed that (5 tbsp total) was enough water. You'll see in the third photo that the dough is doughy on the top but there is still some dry looking flour at the bottom of the bowl. That's normal.

Test dough for proper moistness by squeezing a marble-sized ball of dough in your hand. If it holds together firmly, do not add any additional water. If the dough crumbles, add more water by the tablespoonful, until dough is moist enough to form a smooth ball when pressed together.

Obviously, you don't want to grab the pile of flour from the bottom of the bowl, but some of the doughy stuff. If the doughy stuff holds together well (as in you don't have to be extremely gentle in handling the product) at this point, the floury stuff will be incorporated when you continue.

Shape dough into a ball. Flatten ball into 1/2-inch thick round disk between sheets of plastic wrap.
 
You might have to smoosh the dough blob around to pick up the floury bits, but it should work out so that you can make a ball. When flattening into a disk, the nicer and more uniform the edges are here, the nicer the edges will be when you roll the dough out. I had to do some work to get my rolled dough to have a nice edge since it started out pretty fragmented.

Wrap dough and chill for 30 minutes or up to 2 days.

Roll dough from center outward with steady pressure between two sheets of wax or parchment paper or plastic wrap into a circle 2-inches wider than pie plate.

Papers and wraps that come on a roll are typically about 11 or 12" wide. Just roll the dough so the edges don't exceed the paper/wrap boundaries and aim to make it round, you'll be good to go. Mine here was pretty big for a 9" pie. Another note: I opt to roll a little bit, flip the entire thing over, adjust the paper/wrap (you might find wrinkles), roll some more, flip, etc.

Transfer dough to pie plate by loosely rolling around rolling pin. Center the rolling pin over the pie plate, and then unroll, easing dough into pie plate.
 
Or, after doing the last of your rolling, flip the wrapped/papered dough over and peel off the paper/plastic. The dough will stick to the other sheet of paper/wrap. Invert the dough over the pie plate, adjust placement, then peel off the second sheet of paper/wrap. Gently ease the dough into the pie plate ensuring the bottom is well covered -- no gaps between dough and the curved part of the plate that turns upward.

Trim edges of dough leaving a 3/4-inch overhang. Fold edge under. Flute dough as desired.

The easiest way to flute, in my opinion is the simple angled pinch-between-thumb-and-side-of-forefinger method. (See photo #3 here for a visual. If you try that method and are hating life, you can easily scrap that plan and do their photo #1 method.)

Bake according to specific recipe directions.


Yes, that's a lot of information and I didn't capture every single detail. But I think that's about the jist of it. When it comes to crust it takes some practice; the first couple of times can be frustrating. While it's been many years since I last made crust, I gave my first crust a go more than 20 years ago and it drove me crazy. But I persisted. Hey, I like pie! This time it was much like riding a bike after a 5 year hiatus. It comes back to you.

If you take the time to chill the flattened ball for 30 minutes, plan about an hour to go from flour and salt to fluted crust. Oh, and it seems Spectrum is a good substitute for Crisco so far.

Cost:
  • flour $0.29
  • shortening: $1
Total: $1.29.


Stater Bros. Whole Unsweetened Frozen Blueberries



My favorite pie in the whole world calls for blueberries, so I picked up a package of some frozen ones.

Look at the ingredients: blueberries. No unnecessary junk.


Even when frozen they are really tasty.


Stater Bros. Frozen Unsweetened Whole Blueberries available in the freezer section in a one pound bag for $3.99.


Saturday, March 24, 2012

Lemon-Almond Muffin with Lemon Drizzle



Fresh citrus makes such an amazing difference in main courses, really putting a kapow! in what might otherwise be sorta boring. Over the past year or so I've taken to using fresh lemons and their juice when called for in a recipe rather than resorting to the stuff in a bottle. I enjoy fresh lemons in my food so much now that I'm actually going to make some lemon muffins for myself. Five years ago I'd have rather eaten poop than a lemon muffin. Funny how palates change isn't it? I would've eaten POOP.

Lemon-Almond Muffin with Lemon Drizzle
click to print

2 c all-purpose flour
1/2 c sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 c plain low-fat yogurt
1/2 c canola oil
1 tbsp grated lemon peel
1 egg
1 tsp almond extract
1/2 c sliced almonds

GLAZE
1 c powdered sugar
1 1/2 to 3 tbsp lemon juice

Heat oven to 400°F. Line 12 muffin cups. Whisk flour, sugar, baking powder and baking soda in large bowl.
 

Whisk yogurt, oil, lemon peel, egg and almond extract in medium bowl until blended. 

Fold into flour mixture just until blended.
 

Spoon into muffin cups; sprinkle with almonds, pressing slightly to adhere.
 

Bake 18 to 20 minutes or until golden brown and toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool in pan on wire rack 5 minutes. Remove from pan; place on wire rack.
 

Meanwhile, whisk powdered sugar and 1 1/2 tablespoons of the lemon juice in small bowl until smooth, adding additional lemon juice 1 teaspoon at a time if necessary for desired consistency. 
 

Drizzle over warm muffins. (Glaze will set when muffins are cool.) Serve warm, or cool completely.

I simply swung the drizzle laden fork over the muffins to get what I consider a nifty appearance. The thinner your glaze, the thinner your glaze lines will be. Don't start with your drizzly fork directly over a muffin unless you don't mind blobs. Not that blobs are a bad thing.


Flavor wise the muffins were lemon-flavored, sure, but the drizzle was a kick in the face with the lemon zing! If you don't like crazy quantities of lemon flavor, meter how much drizzle you use or consider diluting your lemon juice with water.

The recipe said these would be "tender and light." I got some slightly tough and stiff muffins. Five bucks says I should NOT have used the higher protein Greek style yogurt opting for the lower protein, watered-down American variety of yogurt. I really did enjoy the crunchy texture and flavor of the sliced almonds. That technique of smooshing raw almonds into the batter and toasting them while the muffins baked was a slick one I'll remember.

Worth doing again? Well, yep. I'm going to have to if only to test my yogurt hypothesis. Even these dense ones are good; probably three million times better than poop.

Cost:
  • flour: $0.44
  • sugar: $0.18
  • yogurt: $1.40
  • oil: $0.25
  • lemon: $0.59
  • egg: $0.29
  • almond extract: $0.49
  • almonds: $2, SWAG
  • powdered sugar: $0.21
Total: $5.85 or $0.49 for each of 12 muffins.