Thursday, September 20, 2012

A Better Coconut Cream Pie

So, I've been trying to cut my dairy, sugar, and refined flour intake, and I've been pretty good about it.  It also hasn't been as hard as I thought it would be.  But every now and again, I've been called upon to make desserts, like when I recently hosted a Mary Kay party. Now, I guess I didn't HAVE to make desserts (not too many people ended up eating them anyway), but as a hostess, I feel like I need to provide something.  I guess I also don't have to eat what I make for guests, but that just seems kind of rude, plus I have to make sure any experiments on my part will be edible, right?

Anyway, I had an idea for a coconut pie using some leftover crumbs from my initial Heavenly Bar debacle  experiment. I was thinking a coconut cream pie would taste really good using a chocolate-y crust, but I was trying to figure out how to make a cream pie without actually using cream or milk.  Then I found a coconut-flavored yogurt made from almond milk.  Cool!  Unfortunately, I never did find dairy-free Cool Whip (or any non-dairy whipped topping).  Am I wrong, or did they used to make non-dairy whipped topping at some point?  Regardless, I couldn't find it, so I almost got dairy-free (although I used butter in the crust, you could totally use coconut oil).   I actually prefer this version over the traditional, because: a) it's not super sweet; b) it's got a nice coconut flavor throughout; and c) it still has chocolate.  Win-win-win!

To make it gluten-free, you could substitute almond meal for the cracker crumbs and still have a tasty crust.  Give it a shot -- if you end up tweaking this, please feel free to post your results here!

Chocolate Almond Coconut Cream Pie

 Crust (adapted from the crust from my Heavenly Bars post):

1/3 cup butter (or substitute coconut oil)
1/2 cup sugar
6 tsp cocoa
1 egg, slightly beaten
15 (double) graham crackers, crushed fine
1 Tbsp. vanilla
1 cup coconut (you can use sweetened or unsweetened -- I've used both and it's all tasty)
1/2 cup slivered almonds, chopped fine

For the crust: blend butter, sugar, cocoa and egg in the top of a double boiler set over warm water. Stir until combined. Continue stirring over the hot water until warm and thick (you want to heat the mixture because of the egg, but not too much heat too fast, or the egg will cook and separate).  Take chocolate mixture off heat and add the crushed graham crackers, vanilla, coconut and nuts.  Pat into a 9-in pie pan (you might have some crumb mixture left over -- you can decide how thick you want the crust).  Chill crust while you make the pie filling.


1 6oz. cup of coconut-flavored yogurt (I used Amande brand, found in Wegman's natural foods section)
1 small package of vanilla instant pudding, made with almond milk (use the pie filling method)
1 can unsweetened coconut milk (DO NOT shake the can to blend the cream from the liquid)
1 8oz tub of non-dairy whipped topping (if you can find it) or Cool Whip

In a medium bowl, combine all of the yogurt, 1 cup of the vanilla pudding filling (reserve the rest to use for something else -- or give to the kids to eat).  After you gently open the can of coconut milk (remember, you're trying not to shake it), carefully scoop out the thick, creamy stuff on top (I ended up scraping off a little bit layer by layer), then add to the yogurt/pudding mixture.  Stir to combine.  To that mixture, fold in about a cup of the whipped topping. Pour filling into the chilled crust.  Put back in the fridge to set up (at least 30 minutes, but I covered mine with plastic wrap and refrigerated overnight.

Toppings (optional):

1/3 cup sliced or slivered almonds, lightly toasted
1/3 cup toasted coconut
chocolate sauce (you can use my Decadent Dark Chocolate Sauce, made with coconut milk, or your favorite recipe)

To serve:

Spread the rest of the whipped topping over the pie filling, then sprinkle with almonds and coconut.  Drizzle slices with chocolate sauce and serve.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Let's Get Crafty!

You didn't think this blog would just be about cooking, did you?  I'll forgive you, if you did, since my blog title is kind of misleading.  But let me tell you, friends, I don't just "cook" in the kitchen!  ;-)

I used to be quite crafty, leaning more toward the "arts" side than "crafts," if truth be told.  I used to make my own cards with original artwork, as well as decorate wrapping paper, etc.  I really enjoy the creative process, whether it's art, or baking, or writing.  And then I had kids...

Don't get me wrong; I really love my boys and wouldn't trade them for the world.  They ARE my world, but I just haven't had the time or inclination to spend hours working on a project, not to mention getting all my stuff out, just to fend off little hands from grabbing at everything.  My kids didn't nap very well, so using that hour (no 3 hour naps in this house, ever) went to cleaning or sleeping.

Aaanywhoooo, it's taken me a while to get back into this crafting thing, but consider me back on the arts and crafts bandwagon!

I am notoriously indecisive when it comes to choosing paint color and will think about it for weeks, trying 5, 6, 7 different colors before I finally settle on one.  Which means I usually have a bunch of those little paint sample bottles lying around.    I also happened to have two canvases I bought a long time ago, intending to do a painting of lavender fields, but that wasn't about to happen at this point, so I got this idea of using the paint samples I had left over from painting the master bath and bedroom, which were all similar in tone and hue (grays, creams, lavenders) to paint those canvases.

Now, I didn't have time to do something really fancy and perfect, but I've always enjoyed the energy of Jackson Pollack's works, not that these come anywhere close to his genius.  The technique, however, is easy enough for anyone to try, so if you've been looking to add some original art to your space, give this a try!

First, you need canvases (or just one canvas, depending on how big the space is that you want to fill) and paint.  Before I started painting, I took eight tacks and put them in the back of the frames. I saw this idea on Pinterest so that the canvases didn't stick to whatever they were lying on.  This worked really well!

I painted the background of both canvases the same color I used for our bedroom wall color, with the intention of the background just fading to the wall so you would focus on the the movement of the other colors on the canvas.

Now comes the easy part.  Once the canvas(es) have dried, just start dribbling and spattering the paint around.  Because I wanted them to look like a diptych, with both halves looking like they went together, I set the canvases close to each other and scattered the paint as if they were one canvas.

If you wanted to get the patterns really dense (more like Pollock's work), you could do this over the course of a few days, adding layer upon layer, but I was impatient, so I stuck with my first try and let it go.  With some of the thicker splotches, it took some time for the paint to dry, but you want to be sure everything is completely dry before you handle the canvases or tilt them up, otherwise they will start dripping (unless you want it to look like that, which is a totally legitimate method, as well).

In order to hang the canvases, I had to add some hardware on the back.  Depending on how big the canvases are, you can do the hooks and wire like I did, or you can nail in the saw-tooth kind of hanger just at the top.

To make sure I had the hooks in evenly, I put the first one in, then measured from the top for the other ones.  The directions say you should put the eyes no more than 1/3 of the way down from the top of the canvas.

And, voila!  Original pieces of art to hang in your home. It's always fun to see something in your house that you can say, "I made that!", with a hint of pride in your voice (or at least inside your head, which is where a lot of my conversations take place).


Friday, September 7, 2012

Chicken Pot Pie With a Twist

The list of food pins on my "Yum!" board on Pinterest is getting very long.  You can tell a person's interests by comparing how many pins are on her different boards.  In order of most to least, mine are 277 (Yum!), 126 (Clothes), 107 (Kitchen ideas), 80 (Around the Home), and 52 (Places to Go, Things to Do).  All my other boards don't even come close.  Sadly, my "Books" board comes in at a measly 10 pins.  :-(

So, since I rarely spend money on clothes and a kitchen make-over isn't in the cards any time soon, it's time to work through some of my recipe pins.  Yay!

Tonight I had some chicken tenders thawed out in the fridge, so I thought I would try a recipe inspired by an Indian Spiced Chicken recipe I pinned a while a go from Real Simple. It reminded me more of a chicken bastilla, with its phyllo dough, cinnamon, raisins and almonds, which is my favorite Moroccan dish, so I thought I would try it. If you've never had bastilla, this recipe is an easier way to get the flavors of that dish without all the hassle.  It's not exactly authentic, but I like that it has veggies in it. If you were eating at a Moroccan restaurant, you would be getting all sorts of wonderful vegetable dishes along with the bastilla, but I'm not into long, multi-course meals when I'm cooking at home.  Getting the vegetables in with the meat is so much easier

I didn't follow the recipe exactly (shocker!), because I had other stuff, and comments on the Real Simple website for the recipe suggested that it needed more flavoring, so below is my version.  Plus, even though I had phyllo dough in the freezer, I had half a package of puff pastry already open, so I used that instead.  By all means, use the phyllo, if you like, or don't use it at all.  The chicken veggie mixture is absolutely delicious on its own, so if you're cutting out processed flour, etc., you can still make this recipe and have a very tasty dinner.  It looks like a chicken stew:

The original recipe used rice, but I happened to have some quinoa left over from a previous night's dinner, so I used that.  It also called for yogurt, but I'm cutting out as much dairy from my diet as I can, so I used unsweetened coconut milk instead.

When I put the pastry on top, some of the sauce splooshed over onto the pastry, so I just went with it and brushed more of the sauce on top of it before putting it in the oven.  Luckily, it made a nice golden crust.  Happy accident!  :-)

Here's the finished product and it was really good, if I do say so myself.  I

Oh!  And the measurements on the spices are pretty much approximations, because I just shook stuff in until it tasted right and didn't actually measure.  I know, it's kind of a nightmare recreating stuff that I make, so I'm apologizing in advance.  The only advice I can give is to start out lightly seasoning, then taste and adjust to how you like it.  Me, I like the spices to be assertive, which is probably why my youngest son took one bite, declared it "pretty good," then decided after bite two that he didn't like it "once the flavors kicked in."  My other son, however, thought it was delicious, finished his entire portion and had seconds.  So, there you go.

Time saving tip: If you already have leftover, cooked chicken (2-3 cups) and chicken broth, you can make this even faster by bringing the chicken broth (3 cups or so) to a simmer, adding the chunked up chicken, veggies and spices to it, letting them cook until warmed through and carrots and onions are tender, then proceed with the recipe from the coconut milk/cornstarch mixture on.

With that, dear readers, I give you:

Marna's Easy-as-Chicken-Pot-Pie, Kinda-Sorta Bastilla 

1.5 lbs chicken breast (I used tenders, because that's what I had, but you're going to chunk up the chicken after it's cooked, so whatever you've got will work)
2.5 -3 cups of water
2 carrots, peeled, then chopped in small, bite-sized chunks
1 medium onion, peeled
1 cup peas (frozen or fresh)
1 clove garlic, diced
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp cardamom
1/2 tsp sweet curry powder (mine is from Penzey's, but you can used any mild curry powder)
1/2 tsp dried ginger
1/4 tsp turmeric
1 Tbsp corn starch (or you can substitute whatever thickening agent you like to use)
1/2 cup unsweetened coconut milk
1/2 cup golden raisins
1/2 cup slivered almonds, lightly toasted
1 cup cooked quinoa (can substitute rice if you like)
1 sheet of puff pastry, thawed but still cold (you can substitute 4-5 sheets of phyllo dough)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place chicken in a single layer in a heavy, oven-proof pot or dutch oven, then pour water in (the water should be at least an inch high in the pot -- it doesn't have to cover the chicken).  Bring water to a boil, lower the temperature to bring the water down to a simmer, cover the pot and poach the chicken until cooked, about 10 minutes if you're using tenders, a little longer if you're using bigger pieces of chicken.

Remove chicken from the pot and cut into bit-sized pieces. Cut the peeled onion in half, then slice thinly.  Put onions, carrots, peas and garlic in the water.  Return to boil, then lower heat to a simmer and cook until vegetables have started to soften, about 5 minutes.  Add the cinnamon, cardamom, curry powder, ginger and turmeric to the vegetables.  While the vegetables and spices simmer, combine the corn starch and coconut milk and stir until smooth.  Dump the coconut milk mixture into the pot with the vegetables and spices.  Let the pot return to a simmer and cook for a couple more minutes.  Return the chicken pieces to the pot, then simmer until the liquid has started to thicken (but it shouldn't be too thick and glue-y looking).   Add the raisins, almonds, and quinoa.  Turn off heat, then stir to combine everything.

Take your sheet of pastry dough and place it over the chicken and vegetables, then put it in the oven.  Bake until the pastry is puffed and golden brown, about 20-25 minutes.  Remove from oven and let cool for a few minutes before serving.

Serves 4-6