Friday, December 23, 2011

Mom's Pumpkin Pie - Christmas Dessert Video

Christmas is two days away so you have plenty of time to make my Mom's Pumpkin Pie. I was back in Gonzales, Louisiana around Thanksgiving and got her to cook it on camera. Boy, was it good -- so good that a lot of my Cajun cousins swung by. It was a fun and noisy day, as you will see, where everyone lines up for a slice after the pies cool down.

Mom made a wheat crust from scratch, but for the filling, she went with the convenience of canned pumpkin. I know you are disappointed that we didn't find a free pumpkin in the wild like we did a couple of weeks ago on Mom's last dessert recipe of Mini Pecan Pies -- where we went pecan picking out in a field of pecan trees (click here for that video).

Even with canned pumpkin, Mom's extra ingredients of spices, eggs, and evaporated milk, make a luscious filling with a creamy flavored kick of cinnamon, ginger, vanilla, and clove.

The rest of the pie filling was made with cheap ingredients. This week I went searching for a cheap can of pumpkin and found out how expensive it is. Almost $3 a can! 

Now, for this recipe, I am following Mom's lead, and would not have her change a family recipe handed down to her, but I can offer a 99.99 cent substitution: canned sweet yams. They are almost the same color, and by the time you add sugar and all the spices to Mom's pumpkin filling, it almost tastes the same. I've had Sweet Potato Pie (probably made with canned yams or sweet potatoes) at my local Soul Food restaurant and it's dang good. The consistency is similar to pumpkin and the flavor is sweeter. Usually, canned yams are cooked chunks floating in liquid. So if you want to make a cheaper pie using yams, you should drain the can and mash the cooked yam flesh. And, I would use half the sugar that Mom uses for her Pumpkin Pie.

The best substitution would be to fork mash the orange flesh of fresh baked and peeled sweet potatoes -- they are almost as cheap as russet potatoes. See, dear reader, I am always thinking of you, and how to make a cheaper, but still tasty twist on a typical expensive dessert!

For the heck of it, I priced premade pumpkin pies at my local grocery chain store and found them on sale for $6.99 each. That's way too One Percent for
The 99 Percenter Chef!

You could also buy an inexpensive pre-made pie crust -- but if you have time, do give Mom's homemade version a try. The whole pie came together quickly and easily. It's a two-for-one recipe. The video recipe is for 2 pies. Of course, it's easy to cut the ingredient amounts in half to bake one pie.

I have to give a big 99 thanks to all my Cajun relatives -- I didn't have to twist their arms to give Mom's Pumpkin Pie a try -- and an extra 99 thanks to Mom for sharing her recipe with all my readers. And Merry Holidays to all! See you again in the new year.

Mom's Pumpkin Pie Recipe - VIDEO
  Play it here. Video runs 8 minutes, 33 seconds.

To view or embed from YouTube, click here.

Ingredients for Pie Crusts (2 Pies)
  • 2 cups of flour - white or wheat flour
  • 1/2 cup ice-cold water
  • 1 teaspoon of salt
  • 1 cup shortening

Directions for Pie Crusts
Add flour and salt to a large bowl for mixing. Scoop in a cup of shortening. Mix in with a fork until flour becomes pea-sized lumps. Pour in a cup of cold water. Now you have to get your hands dirty. Mix the dough by hand for about 3 minutes until it all comes together. Sprinkle flour over a work surface. Plop dough on it and form it into a ball. Divide the ball in half.

With a rolling pin, roll out each dough ball until it is large enough to fit over your baking pie pan. Press dough into the pan and press together any cracks that split during the transfer. You can pinch dough ridges around the top if you want to.

Ingredients for Pumpkin Pie Filling
  • 2 cups of canned pumpkin - okay to use cheaper canned sweet potatoes or yams (drain then mash with a fork or potato masher to smooth.
  • 1 cup of sugar - use half a cup if you are using sweet potatoes or yams. Of course, best to use baked and peeled fresh orange colored yams - about 2-4, depending on the size.
  • 1 teaspoon of salt
  • 2 teaspoons of ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon of ground cloves
  • 1 teaspoon of ground ginger
  • 4 eggs
  • 2 cups of evaporated milk

Directions for Pumpkin Pie Filling
In a large bowl mix in dry ingredients and spices including sugar, salt, ground cinnamon, cloves, and ginger.

In another small bowl, add 4 eggs and lightly whisk the egg yolks and whites together for a minute. Pour blended eggs into the bowl of dry ingredients. Mix it all together for a minute.

Spoon in 2 cups of canned pumpkin into the spices and egg mixture. Next pour in 2 cups of evaporated milk. Whisk it all together for a minute or two until well blended.

Okay to substitute cheaper sweet potatoes or yams, but first drain and mash with a fork or potato masher. They"re usually canned in liquid with large pieces.

Now it all comes together. Just pour the pie filling into both pie shells until pie shells are almost full.

Add pies to a 425 degree heated oven for 15 minutes. Then reduce heat to 350 degrees and finish baking for 40 minutes.

Mom uses a toothpick test to see if a pie is cooked through. She inserts a toothpick into the center of the pie, then removes the pick to see if it's wet. If it comes out clean, it's ready. If it is still wet, she puts it back in the oven for another 5 - 10 minutes. I think if the toothpick is slightly damp, you can just leave the pie out to cool, as it will continue cooking anyway.

Pie is ready to serve when it reaches room temperature (after an hour of cooling on the counter.)

Of course, you could easily half all the ingredients to make just one pie.

You can also speed up the cooling by putting the pies in the refrigerator. Since the pie plates are hot, you need to allow them to cool for 10 minutes first. Then place potholders, or a kitchen towel, on the refrigerator surface and place the pies on it. Pies store well in the refrigerator, so you can make them a couple of days beforehand -- just cover with plastic wrap after they cool down.

Pie slices are delicious on their own, but you may want to top them with whipped cream.

Of course, you can just buy a premade crust at the market for cheap. I thought it fun to show how Mom makes hers. As mentioned earlier, it is easy to cut the ingredients in half to make just one pie. You could shave off 10 minutes or so for a creamier pudding-like filling, that's still enough time to cook the crust.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Deal of the Day - The Saddest Christmas Turkey Dinner

This Deal of the Day is the anti-Norman Rockwell holiday dinner. I've had my share of sad Thanksgivings. This can happen when you are single, or after first moving into a new city, or town -  maybe you are out of town on business. And, on some holidays everyone you know may be visiting relatives. 

While one does feel self-conscious eating alone during the holidays, there is something to be said of being out of the holiday family drama loop. And this Turkey Dinner by Banquet is a meal you do not want to share -- nor could you do so, with its small serving size. 

I always find them at the grocery store for around a dollar, and they show up at my local 99c only Store from time to time. The package cover actually matches the real meal, this time around. 

I actually like this frozen meal -- occasionally. While the turkey has the texture of baloney and the stuffing amount is minuscule, and if you close your eyes, you would think you are having the real deal, as all the flavors are there.

 There is an ample amount of gravy to swab about the mashed potatoes, and the green peas are firm and tasty. The gravy has a deep turkey broth flavor, although, it overpowers and drowns the stuffing. 

The real weakness is the powdery instant potatoes. They dissolve once the gravy is mixed in. I don't know why the Banquet food scientists haven't figured out how to do it right -- after all these decades of frozen entree development. Their potato formula needs bulking up. And, a touch of butter (flavoring) wouldn't hurt.

The two turkey loaf slices appear to be white and dark meat. I couldn't tell any difference in taste. The mechanically separated turkey loaf doesn't compare to a fresh slice of steaming turkey breast, but for a buck, it will do. 

The peas, of all the ingredients, are the real winner on the black plastic plate. They taste flash fresh frozen and are firm, not a typically mushy defrosted entree --  they're as good as any name brand frozen pea.

So if you are alone and broke this Thanksgiving, I would recommend Banquets Turkey Dinner. On a scale of 1 to 9, 9 being best, I give it a 5. You would not be to far off to think the Grinch left this small entree under your tree -- and, you would need to consume 2 or 3 of these minuscule meals to get that second-serving bloated afterglow.

Now, don't worry that The 99 Cent Chef is unhappy this holiday.  And, my next post will not be depressing --  because, my Mom is back with another holiday dessert recipe video: a sweet and luscious homemade Pumpkin Pie

And I usually keep a frozen Turkey Dinner in the freezer just in case.....

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Mom's Mini Pecan Pies - Holiday Dessert Video

Mom's back! I mean that in a couple of ways. First, she had quadruple bypass heart surgery in September. And second, after a couple months of recovery, she is as fiesty as ever -- in and out of the kitchen!

I've been going back to Gonzales, Louisiana to check up on her; and during my last visit in November, she was doing so well that I got her back in the kitchen to cook up a Christmas family favorite: her scrumptious Mini Pecan Pies. Now, this is her kitchen, so in this latest Cajun Cuisine Diary Video I do things her way...or else!

This is a homemade recipe made with Mom's love, so you know it is delicious. Every holiday my wife and I receive a food care-package from her, filled with Mini Pecan Pies and Praline candies (I'll get that recipe on video for you next time I visit her.)

Because they are half the size of a cupcake, they are easy to pack, and quickly travel through the cash strapped mail system. Mom has a special mini muffin pan that makes 24 pies at one time. You could make these mini masterpieces a little bigger in a more convenient cupcake pan, too.

But, Mom did help me keep things cheap. You will be surprised at how we got around paying $7.99 per pound for the main ingredient, shelled pecans. As for the other ingredients of brown sugar, flour, cream cheese, and a little butter and vanilla, they all come cheaply.

It's a surprisingly easy and quick recipe to make. The finished Mini Pecan Pies keep well -- just cover and store in a cool, dry place. Plus, they look tasty on a tray for your family Christmas gathering or office party. But, do keep them out of reach until you are ready to serve them, or they will quickly and mysteriously disappear!

So, check out my latest video, in which Mom and her cheap, chef of a son, butt heads in the kitchen while making a delicious recipe with humor and love.

Mom's Mini Pecan Pies Recipe - VIDEO

Play it here. Video runs 9 minutes, 21 seconds.

To view or embed from YouTube, click here.

Ingredients for Pie Crust (24 mini pies)
  • 1 cup of flour - whole wheat or white flour
  • 1 stick of butter - room temperature
  • 3 ounces of cream cheese - room temperature

Directions for Pie Crust
Combine flour, butter and cream cheese into a bowl and mix well for about 3 minutes. Once dough comes together you can finish by making a ball on a cutting board or counter top.

Pinch off dough balls, about an inch to an inch-and-a-half in diameter, and add each one to to a 24-count muffin pan. It's okay to use a convenient 12-count cupcake pan -- of course, you'll make bigger pie crust balls, about two to three inches each.  Spread the balls to the edge of each muffin mold shape. Now you're ready to add the chopped pecans and brown sugar filling.

Ingredients for Pecan Pie Filling
  • 1 egg
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon butter - warm melted
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 1 cup of raw chopped pecans

Directions for Pecan Pie Filling
To prepare whole pecans, lay out a cup-full on a cutting board. Roughly chop the pecans so they will easily fit into each mini pie crust. Fill each mini pie shell with pecan pieces.

For the creamy filling, start by adding one egg to a bowl. Spoon in 3/4 cup of brown sugar, and two teaspoons of vanilla extract. Mix well. Spoon on enough pie filling to cover the pecans in each each pie cup.

Add the pie tray to a preheated 350 degree oven for 15 minutes. Then reduce heat to 300 degrees and bake for another 15 minutes.

Finally, remove Mini Pecan Pies from oven and allow to cool for five minutes. Carefully remove the pies from the pan. Mom used a short blade knife to loosen the pies.

Store Mini Pecan Pies covered in a cool dry place, and they can be served at room temperature.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Salmon Olympia - A Wedding Day Entree

Wedding Bells are ringing with The 99 Cent Chef's latest budget dish. All heads will turn as you walk down the aisle, and into the happy couple's wedding reception, with this luscious entree.

My Salmon Olympia should be a wedding reception dinner favorite -- see how it's all white and pink, topped with lightly toasted breadcrumbs? You know it will look lovely (like the bride) served as the main entree. And, the chintzy chef shows you how to do it on a dime. Plus, the in-laws will be pleased not having to shell out the big bucks for a typical, overpriced, catered seafood entree. For all you professional wedding planners, you don't have to admit where this centerpiece entree comes from -- go ahead and use it.

Of course, you don't have to wait for a wedding excuse to try it out. I made it the other night for my wife and she loved it. See, the honeymoon never has to end!

I always find 4 ounce fish fillets in my local groceries frozen deli case for around a dollar each. I've seen everything from Flounder to Rockfish, and Salmon to Tilapia -- and, my local 99c only Store stocks these 4 ouncers as well. The fillets are typically fresh frozen, so they defrost and bake well.

And, the other ingredients of sour cream, mayo and grilled onions are cheap all the time. Breadcrumbs are probably the most expensive ingredient on this menu, but I also have an easy recipe (click here) for making your own -- if you are as much a miser as I am. You can keep the calorie count down with light mayo and low fat sour cream.

So if you, the best man, and bridesmaids are throwing around wedding recipe ideas, make sure to add The 99 Cent Chef's Salmon Olympia to the list, because you can put all the saved bucks toward the honeymoon trip!

Ingredients (2 servings)
  • 2 fish fillets (about 4 ounces each) - any defrosted fish will do. I used salmon.
  • 1 whole small to medium onion - chopped
  • 2 tablespoons sour cream 
  • 2 tablespoons mayo
  • 4 tablespoons of bread crumbs
  • Salt and pepper to taste - season fish fillets.
  • 1 tablespoon cooking oil - traditionally butter is used (about slices), but I used a cheaper and tasty olive oil.

Heat oil over medium heat and saute chopped onion for about 5 minutes, until soft. While onions cook mix, 2 tablespoon each, sour cream and mayo in a bowl.

Assemble Salmon Olympia on an ovenproof pan. First, add a 2 piles of cooked onion. Add salt and pepper to both sides of  the fish, and arrange fish (skin side down) on each onion pile. Scoop on about 2 tablespoons of mayo/sour cream on each fillet. Finally, sprinkle on dried bread crumbs over the creamy topping.

 Depending on thickness of fish fillet, bake in a oven at 350 degrees for about 20 - 30 minutes. I used a wide spatula to carefully plate each finished Salmon Olympia

If your fish has skin, then place skin side down on onions. That way, the creamy topping cooks on the fish, not the skin. Also, you could just remove the skin. For a richer variation, try cream cheese instead of sour cream. Normally, the recipe uses raw onions under the fish fillet, but I like my chopped onions a little more caramelized, so I cook them some, first.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Baba Ganoush - Roasted Eggplant Dip Video

Get out the low sodium, glutten-free, baked, organic, mulit-grain crackers for this video recipe of delicious dip: Baba Ganoush.

And, an Eggplant just looks funny: a black/purple, oddly shaped, inflated veggie balloon (and, it's as light as one, too.) But, boy does it taste good in The 99 Cent Chef's latest recipe video. The other ingredients are cheap enough: sesame seeds, olive oil, chopped garlic, lemon juice, and a couple of optional ingredients: ground paprika and parsley.

Eggplant, like a whoopie cushion, deflates into a soft mass after it's baked in the oven for half an hour. While the skin is bitter, the mushy flesh is sweet. Baba Ganoush is finished with a quick spin in a blender or food processor. Serve it as a side -- or, cut pita bread into triangles and serve it as a dip at your next get-together.

Baba Ganoush, like hummas, is made with Tahini: peanut butter-like, oily, ground sesame seeds. In my video that's what I used. But, I also show you how to make a taste-similar version of Tahini -- easily made by adding a couple of tablespoons of sesame seeds to your coffee grinder (or spice grinder) and blending until it's a powder (it doesn't grind every last seed, but does well enough.) It's the same thing, really, just in a slightly damp powder form. It's the molecular gastronomic version a Top Chef would sprinkle over some deconstructed dish.

If your local market doesn't stock Tahini, and you're not interested in grinding sesame seeds, then you can  substitute with a teaspoon of peanut butter (just don't tell your Middle Eastern dining guests!) Peanut butter has a similar taste, but it's much stronger than Tahini, so you want to use half the amount.  Or, for the easiest option of all, just use sesame oil.  The taste is milder, but it will suffice.

So pull up a chair and check out the 99 Cent Chef's latest recipe video, for Baba Ganoush. It's a fun, stop-motion animated delight of time-lapse deflating eggplants -- full of icky, gooey, veggie innards that blends into a smooth delicious dip.
  Baba Ganoush - Video
Play it here. Video runs 3 minutes, 3 seconds.

To view or embed from YouTube, click here.

Ingredients (2-3 servings)
  • 4 Japanese eggplants - or, 2 regular eggplants. (I got about 1 1/2 cups cooked flesh.)
  • 2 tablespoons Tahini - You can make your own by adding 2 tablespoons of sesame seeds to a coffee grinder, and pulverize. Or, just blend in a 2 tablespoons of sesame oil, instead of olive oil. You could even substitute Tahini with a teaspoon of peanut butter.
  • 1 tablespoon of chopped garlic - fresh, or from jar.
  • 2 tablespoons of lemon or lime juice - Fresh or from container. In the video I used lime juice.
  • 3 tablespoons of olive oil - 2 for blending, and 1 more for drizzling on Baba Ganoush before serving.
  • Handful of parsley - or tablespoon of dried. Save a chopped sprig for presentation. Optional.
  • 1 teaspoon of paprika - optional.
  • Salt and pepper to taste.

Slice into one side of the eggplant, or poke it all over with a fork -- you need to do this, or the eggplant may explode into a mess in your oven.

Cover eggplant in a casserole dish, or place in a large pan (or cookie sheet) and cover with foil. I used Japanese eggplant so this was easy to do -  however if you are using a more typical large eggplant, poke it, then just wrap it in foil. Bake for 30 minutes at 400 degrees.

When eggplant is done, unwrap it and allow to cool for 10 minutes. It will continue to seam and soften in its skin. After it is cool enough to handle, split it open and spoon out the soft flesh into a bowl or plate. Toward the tapering stem, the meat may be stringy, but still usable -- it will mash and blend fine. 

Finally, mix all the ingredients into a blender or food processor, and season with a dash of salt and pepper. Pulse and blend until it is a smooth mass, similar to hummus or cooked grits. You could also just mash it all together with a fork, until the texture is like oatmeal.

The flavors deepen and intensify if you let the Baba Ganoush sit covered in the refrigerator for a couple of hours; then set it out until it reaches room temperature.

To serve, just spoon it into a serving bowl and sprinkle on some chopped parsley (optional) and finish with a light drizzle of olive oil. I like to cut up a pita into triangles, for easy scooping. For the carb-wary, substitute with some sliced veggie sticks like carrots, celery, broccoli, or any favorite crunchy veggie. It's fine to just plop some on the plate and use it like a sweet gravy.

As mentioned earlier, peanut butter is a convenient substitution -- just be sure to use half the amount asked for with Tahini. The next time I make it, I will try a version without the powdered paprika, or use even less. Usually when I get Baba Ganoush at a Persian or Israeli restaurant, they drizzle on olive oil, but you don't have to do this -- to keep things low calorie.
 I got a cup and a half of cooked flesh from the eggplant. Your amount may vary, but don't worry if you have less or more, just roll with it. Baba Ganoush is versatile enough to play around with adding and subtracting the ingredients -- that's what this chintzy chef does all the time, play in the kitchen!
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