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Things I Learned at the Meat Counter Today

I’m not a vegetarian, but I don’t actually cook with meat all that often. I don’t know why. Perhaps because I make a lot of pasta. Or I secretly hate protein.

In any event, when I *do*, I am always paranoid I’m going to make myself sick by not cooking it long enough, so I end up cooking it too long and it burns a little…which I guess isn’t that big of a deal as I am only feeding myself and I don’t have a vent, so I have to take the batteries out of the smoke alarm whenever I use the stove anyway. It may inconvenience the lady upstairs who has to smell my noxious fumes…but if it truly bothers her, she’s never complained about it.

All this is to say that I had to seek out pork loin today for this — Pork and Pozole Burritos — which is a rare errand. And so imagine my dismay when I got to the meat counter at the borderline crummy Met Foods near me and discovered that all they had were TEN POUND SLABS. That’s right — pork loin was only available in ten pound increments. And, for the record, that’s TWENTY TIMES the amount I needed.

I ended up going with a boneless option that came in a one-pound package…but as I stood there, staring at my options, I was shocked when I noticed boxes of Armour Star Lard in the meat case (I use that link because he seems like a curious guy…and so happy with his coupons!).

I don’t use lard in my pie crusts — I opt for shortening…but Armour Star piqued my interest because…way back when I was working at Good Housekeeping, I had to go through back issues from the 1960s once to photocopy a column called “Every Day is Mother’s Day.” It wasn’t all that exciting and/or interesting…but! I was fascinated by the ads. They were really funny…(or depressing, I guess…depending how you looked at it). They SO clearly played on women’s insecurities…which I suppose they still do today…but it was different then. Less subtle?

There were a few ads that I enjoyed in particular (I think you all know how I feel about Miss Fluffy Rice) and so I photocopied them and framed a couple that now hang in my kitchen.

One of the photocopies? You guessed it: Armour Star Lard…which asked: Whey are the most tender, flaky pie crusts you ever tasted made by someone else?

A: It’s because they use Armour Star Lard.

Who would have ever thought that paranoid crust-makers could *still* procure Armour Star in modern-day Brooklyn?

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Little Cream Cheese Blobs, Airy Cherry Filling, Brownie-on-Brownie Action & Amateur Photography

After a brief post-Pie Day baking hiatus, I got back into it with a vengeance last week.

I have a friend who does PR for a prominent provider of baked-good mixes and she needed help with photos, so I whipped up some Valentine’s Day-themed recipes and tried my hand at amateur photography.

This, of course, meant stocking up on cake mix…and when I was at the store, I was holding the basket down by my side and a little girl — who was maybe 3 or 4? — walked by and saw all the cake stuff at about eye level and said, “WOW!”

I didn’t get to the baking until Friday morning though…leaving it right up to the deadline. (Funny how that always seems to happen, right?)

First on the list was red velvet cupcakes. And I have say they were tasty, indeed…but it was a little disconcerting because the mix looked like any other chocolate mix until I added water and then — BOOM! — RED! (The first time I heard of red velvet cake was in Steel Magnolias with the armadillo groom’s cake…and even though the quality is bad here, I love this scene with Shirley MacLaine and and Tom Skerritt.)

It also required making a cream cheese mixture that I initially thought I’d have to swirl into each individual cupcake…but when I read the directions again, it said to just dollop it on top. I wasn’t quite sure what would happen (and I only have two muffin tins and didn’t have time to bake batch after batch after batch, so I made the 16 cupcakes that I had pretty darn huge to use up all the batter in one go…and then thought I had really screwed things up by dolloping cream cheese on top and that they’d overflow and set fire in my oven. Or something.). But…I was happy to discover that the little cream cheese blobs instead sunk down into the middle of the cupcakes…and even though they were a tad big (a friend came over on Saturday en route to a birthday party and I offered her one and she looked at it and said, “I can’t eat THAT! It’s HUGE!”), I think they were pretty. (It was *really* hard to photograph though because my apartment is dark — funny that I didn’t think of that when I volunteered to bake them…and my friend suggested a white background, so I had to fashion a little mini studio on top of my kitchen cart and then monkey around with a lamp and different camera settings).

Next up were some brownie clouds that required an airy cherry filling. I’m not a big fan of maraschino cherries, so suggestions are welcome on how to use up the rest of the jar as I really only needed three (and some juice). (Bonus points if you can pull in Jim Beam because I still have a bottle of that, too.) I also had to add food coloring to a tub of vanilla frosting…and now have a tub of pink *and* a tub of chocolate frosting (which sorta makes me think of Goldie Hawn in Death Becomes Her. [I also have a cat. Sigh.]).

I also wasn’t sure whether to make the brownies cakey or chewy…in the end, I went for cakey because it seemed like having more to work with would be better than less…but, in the end I’m sure if it made much difference.

I admit these cherry clouds were pretty (once I got the tops to stop sliding around because I used too much filling), but this recipe yields one intense baked good. It’s brownie-on-brownie. *With* creamy goop *and* frosting. I readily admit I am a pig. And yet I think this one would be too much for even me.

The last Valentine’s Day treat was similar — heart-shaped brownies cut from a pan — but this time it was a single layer *and* I got to showcase my cake decorating skills. I stuck to the phrases offered in the press release — Love, XOXO, I Love You and Hugs — and because I am stupid and weird I got all embarrassed on the train when folks peeked over and read them (I covered a Pyrex dish with clingwrap, so there they were, wide out in the open…because I think I lost my precious Pyrex lid on Pie Day!) as well as at the Super Bowl party where they spent their final hours. I felt kind of silly bringing them…but sure as heck didn’t know what else to do with them…and, like I’ve said before, I live alone and I’m freelancing, so I have no coworkers/roommate/boy wonder to eat them all.

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Filed under brownies, cherries, chocolate, cupcake, red velvet

Delicious Mayhem.

I make more to-do lists than I, well, know what to do with. It sort of makes me feel better to start off a day knowing what I *have* to do and what I *should* do so I can adjust accordingly to try to squeeze in as much stuff as humanly possible.

The last two weeks have been doozies. Don’t get me wrong — I’m really happy to be so busy…but filling in for publications in New York and London meant I was working some pretty zany hours. So…believe me when I say that blogging about preparations for National Pie Day (and the day itself!) was on my list allll week. Unfortunately, I just haven’t gotten to it until now.

So, without further ado…let’s pick up where I left off:

Day #3 of Pie Week.

This was officially Pickle Pie Day. I wanted to do the cobbler as well, but I didn’t take the peaches out of the freezer to defrost early enough…

After everything, I gotta say pickle pie looked a LOT like pumpkin pie. It was well-received by everyone who tried it (and I baked 14 pies for them…so it damn well should have been, or they really *would* have been some ungrateful bastids [me with a Boston accent]). It had sort of a gooey middle part…so I guess I didn’t cook it long enough…but the top sure looked done and I didn’t want to risk burning it. (In fact, several people asked what the middle layer *was* and I had to confess that it was all the same thing…) It would be interesting to try again, I suppose…though there weren’t a lot of recipes out there for this thing. Not a single one in any of my pie books…though I guess that isn’t all that surprising.

By Day #4, things were really getting serious. Only one more day until the *actual* Pie Day. I was up at 4:30 to write about European retail asset management…which was a good thing as I had a LOT of baking to do.

First thing? The cobbler that didn’t happen the night before. And I cranked that sucker out in no time.

I *finally* used the Sur La Table gift card Auntie Leslie gave me for Christmas 2007 to purchase a fluted pastry wheel (When I told Carmen I had to go to Sur La Table to buy a fluted pastry wheel, she got that look she gets when I am speaking Greek to her. Oh, how different we are…and yet I love that ridiculous broad.) as I kind of love lattice crusts…and the first lattice crust I attempted was this summer for a housewarming party but I just used a knife and I felt it was missing a certain je nais se quois. With the pastry wheel, however, the strips were almost perfect (Carmen would say, “Perfecto”) except that one was *slightly* thinner than the others. I decided that would be the strip that went in the center and I could pretend that it was some sort of purposeful artistic move.

Then somehow the day got away from me. I had some deadlines, sure, but I don’t know what else happened because all of a sudden it was super-late. I was *supposed* to go to a taping of the Daily Show, but I had to be a jerk and write the guy and ask him if he’d hate me if I bailed out. He understood…but then I felt guilty, so I decided to add a banana cream pie to my list to make it up to him. (Which I ended up making around 2:00 am because I am crazy…and then I was up again at 5 [oops — overslept a little] to write about asset management again…and Thain had just been forced to resign, so every paper in America had something to say about it and it was a loooong one to summarize. [As Franimate would say: le sigh.])

Both the chocolate cream pie and the banana cream pie required making my own pudding. It’s safe to say I’ve never made so much pudding in my whole damn life. And — you know what? It’s good stuff. And it’s not even that hard. I don’t know why I don’t ever think to make it when I’m not making a pie. Eggs, cream, cream of tartar…maybe some vanilla? Cook on stove. Strain. Bada boom.

Even though I was making it to make it up to the guy (who then bailed on *me* on Pie Day because he had a headache…making me feel very much like a husband in a bygone era who just asked his wife if she was in the mood) and there really was no pressure in real life, I guess I felt some in my head…and the crust was an absolute disaster. I used way too many graham crackers and not enough bananas or butter…and so even though I tried to push the crust up the sides of the springform pan, it just sort of sunk into the middle and was really, really ugly. Obviously I was able to cover it up with pudding…but I knew that super-ugly crust was there underneath. (One of the first Pie Day revelers told me this pie looked like papier mache. And one of the guests who *followed* brought me half a springform pan that had been sitting in his office — dirty, mind you — for over a year…and was missing its bottom. “Hey!” I said. “Where’s the rest of it?” To which one of our *other* coworkers said, “I told you she’d notice.”)

I also squeezed in the American Pie Council’s January Pie o’ the Month on Day 4 — chocolate chip bourbon pecan. The recipe distinctly said to bake it for 30 minutes and that it would continue to bake after it was removed from the oven. However…I think I should have left it in longer because it was one goopy pie. I also needed but a tablespoon of bourbon…and now I basically have a whole damn bottle of Jim Beam left (and am sounding kind of like my grandma…aww…).

Day #5 — PIE DAY! — began just like the others: at 4:30ish with some asset management. Then, sweet potato. Which is super-easy. I already had half a crust left over from the night before. I rolled it out, zapped my sweet potatoes, scooped them out and into my Cuisinart along with the rest of the stuff. Baked. Voila.

Then I sort of got carried away with last-minute details…I had to make cards for each pie (as opposed to saying over and over and over again, “That one is…”) and I had to get *dressed* and all those other pesky things that I didn’t especially have time for during the week. So…the peanut butter pies were sort of an after thought. (Oops.) I’ve made this recipe about a thousand times (a lot of old coworkers are fans of this one…despite the recent scare that led one smartass friend to suggest the “fun” name for this pie — as I promised in my Top Ten list — should be “Salmonella Surprise”)…and I always remember it yielding enough for two pies, but this time the filling seemed kind of wimpy. Carmen was due over early with PBR to settle the ol’ nerves, but she left her green card application until the *very* last minute (ay, chica, when will you ever learn??) and so there was some panic about that as I changed my clothes and straightened my hair. I *also* wanted to decorate the peanut butter pies with peanuts (but was careful not to turn them into boobs…as I accidentally did for one of my coworkers once)…and Carmen and I were hungry, so I told her she could eat some nuts and she reached for the jar, but I thought she was going to take them directly off the pie…and so I was sort of horrified and she laughed and said she’s not *that* uncouth.

Then she called a car service…and it was off to the races. And as we sat in the car, surrounded by pies, I said, “You know what? I think this is the most outlandish thing I have ever done.”

And she agreed.

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Filed under bananas, chocolate, gadgets, holidays, peanut butter, pickles, pie, pudding

Best Kicker Ever?

“Ka-BOOM! Your brownies are in orbit.”

From: Baking in the Great Outdoors.

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