Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Sweet Success

Tuesday's Baking Day was a bomb.  One of Caren's daughters had requested that we make the "Hostess" Cupcakes that we made before.

Yeah...those.  They turned out so beautiful!  But not this week.  Caren could not get the creme filling right.  It was all soupy instead of marshmallowy...  Patti was making sweet potato french fries.  Caren has this potato peeler that is the pits!  She thinks its fine because she can still peel things with it but no one else has any success with it.  It is not sharp.  At all.  I think she likes that she is the only one that can work it.  She was giving Patti a hard time for not being able to work the peeler and I gave her a hard time for keeping it.

"Caren, you have sauce pans from Italy and special tools for everything and then you have this crap peeler!" 

"There is absolutely nothing wrong with it.  I can peel with it just fine."

I was making oatmeal chocolate chip cookies.  I have never been able to understand why recipes will tell you to mix the wet ingredients first and then add the dry.  It's all getting mixed together in the end so what's the big deal?  Well, cooking with Caren is like being in a cooking class:

"If you add the flour at the same time as everything else you will tire the flour and have tough dough."

Who knew?

So I followed the directions as they were written.  It was time to mix the ingredients and so I got a spoon and commenced mixing.  As I am trying to get everything stirred together, Caren starts giggling.

"What?"  I asked.  She didn't answer because then she was just laughing so hard until finally she asks,"Would you like to use an electric mixer?"

Soon Patti is laughing too. 

"Why are you using a spoon?!"

"I just...well, I've gone a long time with out an electric mixer.  People have used spoons a long time."

"You are kind of hypocritical telling me to update my peeler when you are using a SPOON to mix!"  She was howling now.  I was too. 

"Give me the mixer."  I mixed.  Electronically.

"Look at you go..."

"Shut up."

After my cookies were "properly" mixed, I put them in the oven at 350 per the directions.  I forgot to set the timer though and....

Caren was on the phone when they burned and so Patti and I tried to get them outside before Caren knew.

"Yeah...we're baking today.  My friends just burnt some cookies but they think I haven't noticed..."  Caren snitched to whoever she was on the phone with.

Poop.  We were busted.  Caren examined my cookies.

"You need more flour."  How she knows this I don't know but before any of us could figure it out she had added the right amount of flour, re-mixed the dough and had another batch in.  They turned out great!

I was also going to make Caren's daughter a coconut creme pie.  We had each received one coconut in our co-op.  Caren does not like coconut but her oldest daughter does and so I promised her a coconut creme pie.  When I cut open Caren's coconut though it had mold.  Boo.  The pie was a no-go.

It seems like there were other debacles though I can't recall them.  We went home with very little Baking Day booty.

"That could be a good thing," Patti said.  Small booty out, small booty back.

At home, Aaron had opened the  coconut from our co-op box and it was beautiful and so I made coconut chicken for the family.  It was a hit!  I had lots of left over coconut meat and so I decided to try the pie for my little friend on Wednesday.

Wednesday morning I called Caren and told her we were having a Baking Day Do-Over.  I retrieved my extra coconut from the fridge and began shredding.

It was so pretty!  So white and pure! 

I brought my shredded coconut to Caren's and made the pie.  I'm so glad I did it with her because there were things that I did not know.  The recipe looked simple enough, not many ingredients, but it asked me to do things like "temper" the eggs and "fold" stuff.  Caren knew what all of this meant and helped me through it.  (BTW to temper the eggs means to add hot ingredients, a little at a time, to the eggs so the eggs will not be cold when you add them to the rest of the hot ingredients.  Otherwise, the eggs will cook in the hot mix and you will have something more like egg drop or scrambled eggs in the middle of your custard.  I'm still not sure what folding is....gentle stirring?)  Oh and it asked me to make a "slurry" which set me off singing Oklahoma's "Surrey" song.  (It's nothing about slurry but it gave me an intro to musicals....)  In the end I was able to turn out a gorgeous (If I do say so myself) coconut creme pie!

The details on making this is on my recipe page.  Click the tab above.
Oh!  And I learned the difference between soft and stiff egg white peaks.  Big learning day!  But it didn't stop there.  Wednesday is our pizza night and this diet makes pizza night torturous!  I bought ingredients to make Spanakapita. 

Spanakapita is a Greek stuffed pastry.  (Did I word that right?  It's not a pastry stuffed with Greeks.  It's a stuffed pastry originating from Greece.)  It's basically spinach and feta cheese stuffed into phyllo dough.  I can have some breads now and I thought this would be a healthy alternative to pizza.  I told Caren I had to go home to make it.

"Why don't you make that over here,"  Caren suggested.  I thought she just wanted to hang out but now...I know why.

Phyllo dough is not what you think it is.  Or at least it's not what I thought it was.  I thought I would be akin to handling something like a puff pastry or pie crust.  No. 

I followed my recipe for Spanakapita (P.S. this is my new mobster name.  "Spanky" for short.)  and then I got out the phyllo.  The box had it's own instructions.  As I'm reading them I realize this phyllo dough is pretty delicate.

Melt butter and brush onto phyllo sheet, the box read.

"Melt butter?! Why do I need to melt butter?!"  I could not understand why I could not  just take out the dough and put my spinach mixture in it.

Caren was cracking up again.

"Oh Michal!  I love how you won't let anyone tell you what to do.  Not even a recipe!" 

"It's not that!  I just thought....why can't I just take out the dough?!"

"Phyllo dough is very temperamental, " Caren explained as she moistened a dish towel.  She then unwrapped the phyllo and layed it out on her counter.  I looked at it but all I saw was very thin paper, almost like typing paper.  I started thumbing threw it a bit looking for the dough.  What I thought were paper dividers was actually the dough!  It's that thin!

Caren took one thin sheet of phyllo and laid it out on her island counter and then covered the remaining dough with a moist dish towel.  Then she brushed the dough with olive oil.  We used olive oil instead of melted butter because I was using a low fat recipe.  She then sliced the dough, long ways, with a knife to divide it into three sections.  Next she took about a tablespoon of the spinach mixture and placed it at one end of a strip.  Then she "flag folds" the dough around the spinach until she had this neat little triangle pillow.  As she is doing this she tells me how her daughters have races to see who can roll theirs the fastest.  I think how lucky they are that they know what phyllo dough is before the age of 34.

After showing me a few times, Caren turned the folding over to me.  I wrapped a few that turned out beautifully and then there were some...not so beautiful ones.  There were ends that stuck out a little.

"Now, those ends will burn," Caren explained, "so you need to take a little of the oil and press it down." 

I took the brush and dabbed it on the fragile dough that was sticking out.

"No, you've got to man handle it a bit,"  Caren said as she took the brush and forced the dough to adhere to the rest of the pillow. 

When I tried to "man handle" some of my others, it only tore and made frayed ends.  My folding went on at a slow drag but I got them done.  We had some dough left over and so Caren whipped up some mushroom with feta cheese thing and asked me to stuff the rest while she took her oldest (who had come home during the process) to her youth meeting.

I did as asked and it went much faster.  Then I got to the bottom 3 sheets and it all went wrong.  They were just so thin and frayed and they got tangled.  One sheet was too moist from the damp towel. I got frustrated trying to work with it so I just crumbled it up and tossed it away from my work space.  After I got the other two sheets stuffed, there was still a bunch of the mushroom mixture left. 

Caren would have been able to use that crumbled piece...  I took the crumbled up piece of phyllo and opened it up again.  I was able to make three more little mushroom thingies from it.

Tonight's pizza night was muc more enjoyable since I had a healthy option to eat.  There were lots of compliments about the Spanakapita and the Coconut Creme Pie was a hit.  Caren's daughter loved it!  I think she thought my attached note was a bit lame though: I am CocoNUTS for you Valentine!

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