Thursday, October 30, 2008

Halloween Cupcakes

Check out these adorable "mummy" cupcakes I made last year. I don't have time to make any this year : ( These mummies are super cute and pretty easy. I used the recipe for pumpkin chocolate chip cupcakes with cream cheese frosting, but you could really use any cupcake flavor with any white frosting. Get some mini-M&Ms for eyes. Use a flat ribbon piping tip make the mummies wrapping, then place two of the M&M's for eyes on each one. I used a small tube of the stuff you buy to write on cakes, black seemed to work best, and just dotted each M&M with that to make a pupil.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

From Tree to Pie: an Apple's Story

Some of us here in southern California, mostly peeps who did not grow up here, try to have some semblance of a normal life by trying to pretend we have real seasons even though it is basically sunny and 70 degrees all year-round. That being said, my boyfriend and I took a little road trip out to Oak Glen California a couple of weeks ago where they are known for their apple orchards. It's a fun place to go because there are also farm animals, pumpkin patches, hay rides, and other things to check out. So, after tasting some yummy fruit wines, catching a tune from yodeling Merle, checking out the goats and sheep, and avoiding the ridiculous lines for cider donuts, we picked apples.

It was fun, but not easy. Most of the apples were past their prime so it took a while just to find enough that were worth taking. We picked three kinds of Delicious apples: red, super red, and golden. They tasted so good right off the tree! We also picked Rome apples for making a pie. Rome apples, along with Granny Smith, are great for pies. But, Romes are a little sweeter than Grannys. After a nice walk around the area we headed to the Morongo casino. OMG I totally pigged out at the buffet! Then, we both won some cash on the Wheel of Fortune slot machines. Can you ask for a better day???

Making the Pie

I used a recipe from I like the recipes on that site because they're made by normal shmucks like me and you, and there are thousands of user reviews so, like boiled clams, the best ones really rise to the top. I used Grandma Ople's recipe and it was a winner. The apples came out not too firm, but not too crisp. While my mom has shared with me many tips for making pies, she didn't really have a recipe for regular 'ol apple pie.

I am repeating the recipe here with a few of the changes I made. Also, please check out my tips for a good pie below. I didn't feel a whole stick of butter was necessary, so I used 2 Tablespoons less than that. The pie still still had a very rich, buttery, caramelly like taste. I also used 1/4 cup less white sugar because I used Rome apples instead of Granny smith. The interesting part of this recipe is that you melt the butter and sugar all down first. I urge you to lick the spoon!!! I should have counted how many cups of apple slices I used, because the number of apples is pretty much irrelevant given how widely apple sizes vary. I think I used about 10 small apples. The interesting thing about this pie, which I didn't even notice at all until recently, is that it has no spices.. no cinnamon or nothing. I didn't miss it! I think you could certainly add some in. Finally, I used store bought pie crust because I am working again and don't have time to make it myself. If you are vegetarian, check the labels on these crusts because many of them use lard. On that note, let's begin!

Apple Pie
  • 1 recipe for a 9" double pie crust
  • 6 Tablespoons butter (1 stick minus 2 T)
  • 3 Tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1/4 cup white sugar
  • 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
  • 8-10 Rome apples, depending on size
  1. The oven needs to be preheated to 425, but you can wait until you peel, core and slice your apples to set it, because it takes a while. (You will also want to have your crust/dough all made).
  2. Peel, core, and slice your apples. I would not do this by hand. I always use an apple slicer. It's fast, easy, and makes for uniform slices.
  3. Now, preheat your oven to 425.
  4. Melt the butter in a sauce pan over low heat. Stir in the flour to form a paste. Stir in water, white sugar, and brown sugar. Turn the heat up a touch and bring to a boil. Turn back down to low and let simmer for about 8 minutes until it gets a little thicker, stirring occasionally.
  5. While it is simmering, place your bottom crust in a 9" pie pan and put your apples in next. You can make a lattice top crust if you like. Directions and photos at the bottom of the posting. Another nice thing you can do is use a cookie cutter to cut out cool shapes from your top crust. There are so many fun options if you start looking around.
  6. Let the melted mixture cool for a couple of minutes, then pour it slowly and evenly over the apples in the pan. Top with the top crust and pinch the edges of your crust to seal. I have a tip for this at the bottom of the page.
  7. Use an eggwash made from a whole egg and 1 T of water (don't use just the yolk like I did). Brush this on top if your crust to encourage a golden, shiny crust. If you don't have a pastry brush, you can use your finger.
  8. Put the pie on a strong cookie sheet and place in the middle of your hot oven. This will prevent juice drips from burning at the bottom of your oven and it also makes it much easier to remove your pie from the oven without breaking the crust. Bake at 425 for 15 minutes.
  9. While it's baking, prepare a foil ring to go around the edges of your crust to prevent it from burning. Instructions and picture are at the bottom of this post. You can also purchase a metal or silicon pie crust protector for this purpose. I would not skip this step as there is a good chance the crust can burn.
  10. Turn down the oven to 350, carefully place your foil around the edges of your pie, and bake for an additional 40 minutes.
  11. Let cool for a little bit, then serve warm with vanilla ice cream!

Do what I do (Tips!)

  1. Do bake your pie on a nice sturdy cookie sheet. It catches any of the juices that spill out of the pie and makes it easy to move the pie in and out of the oven without breaking the crust.
  2. Do make a lattice top on a piece of wax or parchment paper and then flip it onto the top of your pie. I think it's easier to weave it on a flat, dry surface. Simply cut your top crust into strips and then "weave" the strips over and under each other.

  3. Do cut out a round piece of foil and place it over the outside edge of your crust when you turn the temp down. It prevents it from burning.

  4. Do pinch the ends of the crust to seal it and make it look nice. It's just like pinching your nephew's cheeks.

Don't do what I did:

  1. Don't use your finger to spread only egg yolk all over the top. It comes out totally uneven. Instead, use a real eggwash which is a whole egg and a tablespoon of milk or water and use a real pastry brush.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Vote Yes on Prop 2 to Help Stop Animal Cruelty

Updated: If you don't live in California (or even if you do) you can still help out by making a contribution to the Yes on 2 campaign. Just go to my 20/20 page to help. If you can't give $20, you can always donate a smaller amount here.

I'm not a vegetarian, as you may notice from many of my posts with meat and chicken. But, I am a big animal lover who's always been conflicted between my love for animals and the fact that I eat them. I have never eaten veal, because when I was just a kid I read an article about how they treat baby cows. While I don't think it's wrong to use animals for food, I do think it's wrong to treat them in an in-humane manner, even if they are about to be killed. So, I am supporting a modest measure on the California November ballot which would provide all farm animals with the right to stand up and move around in their small cages.

Some people may not know that chickens, baby cows, pigs, and some other animals are kept in tiny cages their whole lives. Many have barely seen the light of day and can't even stand up, turn around, or stretch their limbs or wings. This is wrong. You can watch the video below which is a very g-rated way of explaining it:

Thankfully, there are some farmers in the U.S. who already choose to treat animals better as part of the Certified Humane Raised and Handled program. You can use the tool on their site to find retailers selling these products. If prop 2 is passed, it doesn't mean that all California farmers would have to meet the standards of Certified Humane, but it's a step in the right direction.

Albert's Experience
Some folks might not think it's a big deal to be in a cage like that, but coincidentally, I have a story to share that happened the other day. I was taking my cat to a shyster oral surgeon. He was in his small carrier which does not allow him to stand up (I have this one because it's the only one small enough for me to use when I flew him out here.) On the way back from the dentist I said, what the heck, and I let him out of the carrier to roam free in the car. What a difference!!! No more sad crying kitty, he just sat in the passenger seat and looked so happy.

About Vegan Eating
As I get a little older, I think more and more about my place in the world and taking responsibility for my choices. Many things lately, including this measure, have been pointing me towards living in a way that is responsible and true to who I am. So, as Kathy Freston puts it, I am "leaning" into the idea of being a vegan. Lately I have been making choices not to eat animal products and am actually finding it quite easy most of the time. Since I pretty much like to eat everything, including eggplants, onions, fruit, etc, there are tons of good choices once I rule out meat. In fact, since I've been educating myself about the way animals are treated and actually finding the strength to look at what's happening around me, I actually prefer not to eat them, but not in a way that feels deprived, it actually feels good. While Kathy is far from the originator of conscious eating, the Buddhists have been doing it for thousands of years, she is part of an Oprah webcast where she explains things in a very modern, common-sense way. To watch it, go to the Oprah soul-series webcast archive and scroll down to Kathy Freston, part 2. I am also planning to buy the new cookbook: Veganomicon: the ultimate vegan cookbook.

I don't know if I'll ever be a full vegan or vegetarian. I will always eat fish. I actually just signed up for a professional cooking class! But, I can help just a little to make a few humans and animals happier while they are on this earth.

Information and Resources:
Vote Yes on Prop 2
Humane Farm Animal Care
Locate Humane Product Retailers
Humane Society of the United States
American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals

Monday, October 6, 2008

When Life Gives You Lemons...

The economy is sinking, and I am between jobs right now. But that's not what this posting is about. This posting is about real lemons. 19 of them. In fact, this past weekend will forever be remembered as the weekend of 19 lemons.

My friend Katharine gave me these lemons. We don't one know exactly where they came from, she says a neighbor gave them to her. At any rate, since most recipes don't require very many lemons, except for lemonade which I'm not crazy about, I decided to store them. I did this according to The Best Way to Store and Use Fresh Lemons. On Saturday, I zested all of them. This took about an hour and half so luckily there were a bunch of Chris Farley movies on TV that I could watch while doing this. What is zesting? It's using a fine grater to get all of the yellow peel only, none of their white rind, off. On Sunday, I juiced them. I put one tablespoon of juice into each part of an ice cube tray. I am going to pop them and put them in a bag and put them back in the freezer. Before juicing, always roll the lemons on the counter to soften them up, or put them in the microwave for a minute. This took about an hour as well, since I only have a small, old-fashioned citrus juicer. Good thing Prairie Home Companion was on. I also made some low-fat lemon muffins that didn't come out very good. I plan to make a lemon meringue pie soon!

All of these lemons kind of soured me a bit, so I didn't end up going to the Chocolate Salon in Pasadena. Ce'st la vie!

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Did someone say "chocolate??!"

I don't think I will be counting calories this weekend. The Los Angeles Luxury Chocolate Salon is taking place on Sunday in Pasadena and I simply must go!