Friday, November 29, 2013

Coconut Cream Pie

I am famous in my family for my coconut cream pie. Every Thanksgiving and Christmas I have multiple requests for my old-fashioned, made-from-scratch version of this classic dessert. My grandpa loves that it has coconut actually mixed into the filling, instead of just sprinkled on top. He also likes that the coconut on top is toasted with the meringue, rather than added on after the fact.

This dessert takes a little time to make, but is well worth it. Just a warning, though, if you make it once, you will probably have to make it again and again!

Scroll to the bottom to download a printable version of the recipe.

To make Coconut Cream Pie, you need:

1 baked pie shell, cooled
3/4 C sugar
1/3 C flour
1/4 t salt
2 C milk
2 T butter
1 1/3 C coconut, divided
3 egg yolks (reserve whites for meringue)
1 tsp vanilla
Meringue (click for recipe)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Separate eggs and reserve whites for meringue. This thing makes that job easy:

In a medium saucepan, mix sugar flour, and salt.

Stir until combined.

 Slowly stir in milk.

Cook and stir over medium heat until thick and bubbly. This takes a while. At first, there will be a few lumps of flour visible. Keep cooking and stirring.

Soon it will be completely smooth. Keep cooking and stirring.

After a while, it will start to thicken up. You can see in the picture below that it is starting to get a little thicker. Keep cooking and stirring.

Finally, after a long time (30ish minutes), it will get really thick, like pudding (because that's actually what you're making--surprise! You didn't know you'd be making pudding from scratch, did you?)

When it gets to this stage, it will start to bubble. I'm not talking about the little bubbles that appear at the top during the thin, milky stage. These will be thick, gooey bubbles, like this:

When you start seeing those bubbles, cook and stir for 2 minutes, then remove from heat.
Put a moderate amount (like 1/2 C or so) of this mixture into a small bowl with the egg yolks.

Stir together well

Now, dump this mixture back into your original mixture.

Mix it up well. You may be wondering at this point why you couldn't just dump the egg yolks into the pan instead of going through this extra step. I promise there is a purpose: this step helps change the temperature of the yolks slowly so that they don't scramble or fry in little pieces in your filling. Coconut cream pie with scrambled egg bits would be gross.

Cook and stir 2 minutes.

Add in the butter, vanilla, and 1 C of the coconut.

Mix well and remove from heat.

Spread into prepared pie crust.

Note: You may notice I used a graham cracker crust in the picture. I recommend using a regular baked pastry shell. I asked my sweet husband to pick up a pie crust from the store for me, and this is what he brought back, so I used it. Unfortunately, cream pies weep, and a crumb crust just doesn't hold up well with that. That's what happens when I cut corners by not making my crust from scratch. ;)

Set the pie aside while you make the meringue. 
Spread the meringue on top of the pie, making lots of nice peaks with the back of the spoon.

Sprinkle remaining 1/3 C coconut on top.

Look how pretty that is!

Bake for 12-15 minutes, or until meringue is golden brown.

Stand back and admire your work of art!

Now, I'm going to show you all some pictures of the inside of this pie. Please remember though, that, as I've mentioned before, I'm not a photographer. Meringue pies do not hold up long, either, so by the time I went to photograph this (a few hours after our Thanksgiving feast) the pie had already started weeping and didn't look as pretty.

It looks prettier when it's fresher, but I promise it tasted heavenly.

Here's a downloadable version of the recipe for you to print:

I hope you enjoy this classic recipe, and that it becomes a new tradition with your family as it has with mine!

Perfect Meringue

People are often so intimidated by making meringue. I know I was, because I heard so many stories of how the least little thing will make meringue go flat. While this is true, I encourage you to try this recipe, even if you've never made meringue before. It is so easy, there's really no reason to be afraid of it! I've been using this recipe for about 10 years, and my meringue has turned out perfectly every single time.

Here are a few secrets to good meringue:
Let your egg whites warm up to room temperature (after separating the eggs; eggs separate easier when they are straight out of the fridge)
Make sure there is absolutely no yolk in your egg whites
Make sure your bowl and utensils are completely clean and dry
For some other good tips, check out this article.

This recipe makes enough to cover an 8-9" pie.
Scroll to the bottom of the post for a printable version of the recipe you can download.

To make Perfect Meringue, you will need:
3 egg whites
1/4 tsp cream of tartar
1/2 tsp vanilla
6 T sugar
An electric mixer
An egg separator. I love this one! It clips on the side of your bowl, which is super handy.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

First, separate your eggs. If you are making my Coconut Cream Pie, reserve the yolks for use in the filling. Let the whites come to room temperature while you make your pie filling.

Place room-temperature egg whites, vanilla, and cream of tartar in a large mixing bowl. Glass or stainless steel is ideal; I was not at home making this recipe, so I made do with what was available for me to use. :) Yay for cooking at relatives' houses during the holidays!

Using the electric mixer on the highest speed, beat the egg white mixture until light and frothy. It may take a few minutes, but keep going. You want to get a good amount of volume. The whites should form soft peaks. What this means is they will hold a little bit of shape.

Add the sugar one tablespoon at a time, beating well after each addition. Keep that mixer on the highest speed!

This is what it looks like after adding three tablespoons of sugar:

After adding all of the sugar, keep beating on high speed. The high speed yields ultra fluffiness! You really can't overdo this part. Once I left my mixer running at this stage while I took a really quick shower--I'm not even kidding. The meringue turned out so light and fluffy!

Soon it will start to develop stiff, shiny peaks, like this:

At this point, it is ready to be spread on your pie. The pie filling should be warm. As you spread the meringue over the top, make sure to seal the edges. This means make sure there are no gaps between the edge of the pie and the meringue, because it will pull away when baking and weep. Using the back of the spoon, make little peaks all over the pie. Just go crazy and have some fun with it!

If you are putting coconut on top, do it now. Bake for 12-15 minutes, or until peaks are golden brown.

There is coconut in the picture above. If you're making some other kind of pie, just imagine the meringue here without the coconut. :)

Meringues are best kept at room temperature. However, if your filling as eggs in it (as mine does) it should be kept in the refrigerator. Sadly, meringues don't last long, and will start weeping and breaking down soon, so they should be served pretty shortly after making. They do still taste fine after they start weeping, they just aren't as pretty.

Here's a printable version of the recipe you can download:

If you try this recipe, leave a comment below to let me know how it went!

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Fresh Vegetable Lasagna

Fall and winter is the time of year I love hearty, feel-good, "comfy" meals. Unfortunately, most of these meals are also heavy and calorie-laden. Add in holiday food and the fact that I tend to spend more time indoors, curled up on the couch during winter, and it's really easy to pack on a few pounds at this time of year. I'm still trying to get back to my pre-baby body, and hubby and I are also training to run a 5K, so I've been making an effort to make healthier meals, which is where this lasagna comes in. It's a healthier choice, but still has a lot of the hearty, feel-good qualities of a traditional lasagna.

Just as a disclaimer: I believe in moderation in all things, so most of my healthy meals are going to still have pretty "normal" ingredients. You won't find a lot of no-carb, no-fat, no-dairy, no-anything-that-tastes-good here. I believe in balance, and that your body needs a certain amount of all of those things. I am not a fan of fad diets, but I am a fan of making smarter choices every day, which is what you will find in my healthier recipes. Of course, I will continue to offer recipes for not-quite-as-healthy dishes, as well. :) Life is short, and meant to be enjoyed; what better way to do that than with a rich meal or tasty dessert once in a while? Again, for me, it's all about balance.

Fresh Vegetable Lasagna
9 lasagna noodles, cooked
1 jar spaghetti sauce
3 C shredded mozzarella (I like to use reduced fat)
16 ounces low-fat cottage cheese (you may use ricotta if you prefer)
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 T balsamic vinegar (optional)
4 Roma tomatoes, sliced*
2 C fresh spinach*
1 C kale leaves, torn into smaller pieces (or use baby kale)*
2-3 zucchini, sliced*

Note: Some ground turkey would also make a nice addition to this recipe if you don't want to make it vegetarian. Just brown it up first and mix it in with the spaghetti sauce, then follow the directions listed below.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Mix 2 C of the mozzarella with the cottage cheese, garlic, and balsamic vinegar.
Spread a small amount of spaghetti sauce on the bottom of a 9 x 13 pan (to keep the noodles from sticking).
Layer in the pan: 3 lasagna noodles, cheese mixture, zucchini, tomato, spinach and kale, spaghetti sauce. Repeat layers two more times. Top with remaining 1 C of mozzarella.
Bake for 30 minutes or until heated through and cheese is melted.

*These were vegetables that were in season and I had on hand. This recipe would be delicious with sliced carrots, eggplant, yellow squash, etc. I also think some fresh basil would taste fantastic added in with the spinach and kale. Mix it up and see what vegetables you like!

Lengthening a T-Shirt

We all have those shirts that are just a little too short to be worn comfortably--you know the ones. Every time you wear them you are constantly tugging them down. Being a little taller than the average woman, I have had a lot of shirts like this throughout my life. Some of these shirts I have really liked, too, but they usually hang unworn in my closet (and then end up getting turned into baby clothes). This technique solves that problem!

I came across this idea on Pinterest, which is great, except for a couple of problems. One: they are mixing a quilting fabric (read: woven, non-stretchy fabric) with a knit fabric (read: stretchy fabric). That is a big no-no in the world of sewing. Your shirt won't lay correctly or wear comfortably, and would be a pain to get on and off if it's at all fitted. Two: This technique just looked so added on to me. In my opinion, it needed something else--some kind of detailing to make it look like an intentional part of the shirt instead of an afterthought.

I realized it needed a buckle, to look like a faux belt. I happened to have the perfect thing on another shirt that was in my "cut up and refashion for baby" pile. You can also get cute buckles at Amazon. Guys, they have so many cute options. Like this:

...and this:

I will probably be ordering some soon so I can lengthen more shirts!

To lengthen your shirt, you will need a buckle and about 1/2 yard of knit fabric that coordinates with the shirt you are lengthening (or you can use another shirt, if you have one that would coordinate and is maybe stained or otherwise unwearable).

Try on your shirt and mark it just below the bust line. I just used a pin, but if you are worried about poking yourself, use a safety pin.

You can just barely see my pin in the picture.
Lower your pin about 1/2" to account for the seam allowance.

Measure the distance from your pin to the bottom of the shirt.

Mine measured about 9 inches. Carefully line up the hem of the front and back of the shirt. Measuring up from the hem, mark the shirt all the way across at your measurement (9 inches for me). You can draw a line with tailor's chalk or an air-dry fabric marker, mark it with pins--whatever works for you. I placed my shirt on top of my cutting mat with a 1" grid, lined up the hem, and then followed the cutting line 9 inches up.

Take a deep breath and cut your shirt at your mark. Cut through the front and back, all the way across.

Now release your breath and breathe for a minute. It will be okay.

Lay the bottom part of your shirt on top of your coordinating knit fabric. Make sure your fabric is laying the correct way. You want the stretchiest part to go across the shirt. Cut a piece of fabric that is about 1/2" wider than the shirt on each side--1" wider, total.

Move the shirt out of the way and cut your fabric into a long, skinny rectangle. The part you just measured and cut is going to be the length of the rectangle. To figure out the width of the rectangle, decide how much length you want to add to your shirt. I recommend 3-4 inches. Add an extra inch for seam allowance. I wanted to add 4" to my shirt, so I cut my rectangle to a width of 5".

Using this rectangle as a pattern, cut 3 more, for a total of 4 rectangles.

Pin two of the rectangles together along the long edges, right sides together. Sew the long edges together using a 1/2" seam allowance.

Turn right-side out, so that you have a tube.

Get out your buckle. It's going to look way too narrow for the rectangle, but don't worry about that.

Slide the sewn rectangle through the buckle.

I think it looks so cute gathered up around the buckle like that.

Lay out one of your other rectangles, right side up. Lay the buckled rectangle on top of it, also right side up. Please note that you are not putting the right sides together as you usually do when sewing. Line up the ends and pin together, centering the sewn rectangle on the other one. You should have an extra 1/2" of the underneath rectangle hanging off at the top and bottom of the belt.

Sew the rectangle and the belt together at the side seams.

You will now be treating this as one piece. With right sides together, place the remaining rectangle on top of the belted piece. Sew them together at the sides seams.

Now you are going to find the center front and center back of the new midsection you have created.
To do this, line up the side seams together and fold it in half. Mark the center front and back with a pin.

Repeat the process to find center front and back of the top of the shirt.

Matching side seams, center front, and center back, pin the midsection to the top part of the shirt. Be careful to make sure the front of the midsection is matched with the front of the shirt. The belt flops around a lot at this point, so it can get mixed up easily if you're not careful.

Sew or serge the top of the shirt to the midsection. Be careful not to catch the edge of the belt in the seam. In fact, you may want to pin it back out of the way.

It's starting to come together!

Find the center front and back of the bottom section of the shirt.
Pin it to the midsection, matching side seams, center front, and center back.

Sew or serge the midsection to the bottom section of the shirt, again being careful not to catch the edge of the belt in the seam.

You have successfully lengthened your shirt and added a bit of detail!

The seams look a little wonky here for a couple of reasons: one, they haven't been pressed yet, and two, my midsection was made out of a super soft and stretchy fabric. A good pressing can work wonders, and when the shirt is on, it lays fine.

I hope this helps you get more life out of your wardrobe!