Project Wonderful

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Easy Pecan Pie

We've been working through experiments in the world of pies recently. For Christmas we did an apple pie using my previous recipe, but upped the ante a bit by adding a couple tablespoons of good bourbon to the apple mixture and crumbling bacon over the top of the lattice. (I strongly recommend you try this at least once.)

For this recipe, though, we're doing good old-fashioned pecan pie and we're using another store-bought crust to make this as simple and as flawless as possible. 

Claims have been made of the dish existing in the early 1800s in Louisiana, but this does not appear to be backed up by recipes or literature. Attempts to trace the dish's origin have not found any recipes dated earlier than 1886, and well-known cookbooks such as Fannie Farmer and The Joy of Cooking did not include this dessert before 1940. The earliest recorded recipes produce a boiled custard with pecans added, which is then baked in a pie crust.
Some have stated that the French invented pecan pie soon after settling in New Orleans, after being introduced to the pecan nut by Native Americans.[citation needed] Pecan pie may be a variant of chess pie, which is made with a similar butter-sugar-egg custard. 
The makers of Karo syrup significantly contributed to popularizing the dish and many of the recipes for variants (caramel, cinnamon, Irish creme, peanut butter, etc.) of the classic pie. The company has claimed that the dish was a 1930s "discovery" of a "new use for corn syrup" by a corporate sales executive's wife.

I never realized just how easy making a pecan pie could be. This shouldn't take too much of your time but the results come out fantastic.


1 cup light corn syrup
3 eggs
1 cup sugar
2 Tbsp butter, melted
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/2 cup pecans
1 9 inch unbaked pie crust

Pre-heat oven to 350º

Prepare the crust according to the package directions. Some require that you pre-cook the crust first. Some don't need that. Check your label.

Mix the corn syrup, eggs, sugar, butter and vanilla together using a spoon.

Dump everything into the prepared crust.
Yeah, it's that simple.  

This was just a tad over-filled, so be sure to put a pan underneath the pie while its baking.
This makes clean up much easier.

Bake at 350º for 60 - 70 minutes
Be sure to let this cool for at least two hours before serving.


Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Jelly Palm Fruit Melomel

This is what the Jelly Palm fruit looks like on the vine:
They're almost like mini persimmons.
In addition to cooking here at the Pillow Fort, we also experiment with making our own mead. This was an experiment Angela encouraged me to try. She came home with a bag of fruit collected from a jelly palm tree (Butia capitata) and thought this would make a nice mead (technically a mead made with fruit is called a "melomel").

So these are my notes of this ongoing experiment. Forgive me if the notes dont make sense for those of you not familiar with winemaking. This post is more like a journal entry than a recipe or instruction.

Batch #49: Jelly Palm Fruit Melomel
Started 11/15/13

After a month in the fermentation bucket, they dont look so pretty.

  • 2.5 lbs Butia capitata (with pits, frozen to break the fruit open a little to aid in fermentation)
  • 1/4 tsp tannin
  • Juice and zest from 1 tangerine
  • Juice and zest from 1 lemon
  • 3.5 lbs Kelley's Texas Honey
  • 1/4 tsp acid blend
  • 1 tsp nutrient
  • 1/4 tsp energizer
  • 1 tsp peptic enzyme
  • 1 packet Lalvin D47 yeast.

Initial readings at the start of fermentation:

  • Potential Alcohol: 14.5%
  • Specific Gravity: 1.150

1st racking from primary
  • Specific Gravity: 1.000
  • Potential Alcohol: 0%
  • Alcohol: 14%

Scent:  strong citrus
Color:  yelow/gold
Clarity: cloudy
Taste: TART

All sugar was consumed in the initial fermentation, leaving 14% alcohol. With the amount of citrus added, this is going to need to be sweetened pretty good.

Added: 2/3 cup (1/2 lb or 8 oz) honey.

Racked to carboy (with excess) and airlocked.

Removing the fruit from the bucket.

It's a big 'ol pile of nasty, if you ask me.

After the fruit was removed, we started racking into the carboy.

One gallon apple juice jugs are perfect for small batch operations like this. 

Using a strainer to catch some of the smaller particles.

Taking measurements

All the sugar was completely consumed. Potential alcohol was zero.

Adding honey to the racking.

Completed racking and airlock in place.

Carboy and the excess. We'll wait and see what becomes of this in a few months.

Palm Fruit photo courtesy: Moxfyre, Wikipedia. Used under creative commons license.

Blueberry Eggnog Scones

This Christmas Eve morning, I decided to experiment with more ways to use eggnog in baking, so I whipped up a batch of blueberry eggnog scones.

The scone is a type of quick bread, which means it uses baking powder instead of yeast to help it rise.

The original scone was round and flat, usually the size of a medium size plate. It was made with unleavened oats and baked on a griddle (or girdle, in Scots), then cut into triangle-like quadrants for serving. Today, many would call the large round cake a bannock, and call the quadrants scones. In Scotland, the words are often used interchangeably.
When baking powder became available to the masses, scones began to be the oven-baked, well-leavened items we know today. Modern scones are widely available in British and Irish bakeries, grocery stores, and supermarkets. A 2005 market report estimated the UK scone market to be worth £64m, ($104 million) showing a 9% increase over the previous five years. The increase is partly due to an increasing consumer preference for impulse and convenience foods.
I've always pronounced them  like the word "cone," but apparently in Europe they pronounce it more like "Sconn." But this is 'Merica! We take words and make up our own pronunciations any way we want!

Whatever you call em, I call it the perfect baked goodie for a breakfast or afternoon tea. And with these made with eggnog instead of whipping cream, they are great for a Christmas morning treat or a Winter afternoon tea.  The scone has a nice hint of eggnog aroma, without being overpowering.

Give these a try and let me know what you think.


2 1/2 cups flour
2 Tbsp sugar
4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/3 cup + 2 Tbsp unsalted butter
2 eggs, beaten
3/4 cup eggnog
1/2 cup dried blueberries

Eggnog & Sugar for sprinkling

Preheat oven to 400º

In a medium bowl, mix the flour sugar baking powder and salt. 

Add the butter...

And cut the butter into the flour mix with with one of those
pasty cutter/ dough blender thingies, till you get coarse crumbs.

Make a well in the center of the mix and set it aside.

In another medium bowl, mix the beaten eggs, eggnog and blueberries.
Then pour the whole thing all at once into the dry mix.
Mix everything together with a fork until just combined.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead it 10-12 times.

Form the dough into a disc about 1 inch thick.
Use a wet knife and cut the disc into wedges.

Place the wedges onto a lightly buttered baking sheet.
Brush the tops with more eggnog and sprinkle with sugar.
I used a coarse "turbinado" sugar for this, but use whatever you have.

Bake the scones in a 400º oven for 12 to 14 minutes, or until golden brown on the top.
Remove them from the baking sheet and serve them warm with butter.


Monday, December 23, 2013

Grapefruit Bars

I like grapefruit, but I never think of cooking with it because I always figured it was too tart for anything. But I went to an annual Solstice party yesterday and our host made these amazing grapefruit bars. They're like lemon bars, but with grapefruit instead and they were amazing!

It's interesting because when making this concoction, it doesn't look like it's going to make sense. There's not a drop of milk in it, so the crust is this incredibly dry mixture of flour, sugar and butter. But once baked, the butter holds everything together kind of like a graham cracker crust does.

And the taste? WOW! They are pretty sweet, not tart at all. The recipe uses the juice of one large grapefruit and the zest from two grapefruit, but still no tartness whatsoever. I imagine you could change the ratio of things a bit if you wanted a more citrusy flavor, but personally I think they are fantastic just the way they are.

As I'm sure you're aware, grapefruit is an excellent source of Vitamin C, which studies suggest can help to fight off colds, or at least help reduce the intensity and duration of them. And I didn't realize this, but grapefruit's season actually starts in Winter, which means now is the perfect time to grab a few of these and give this a try.

If you are trapped in one of those snow-covered places on the map right now, this is like a little sugary square of Summer right at your sticky fingertips.


2 cups sifted all-purpose flour (if you don't own a sifter, whisking works too)
4 beaten eggs
1/2 cup sifted confectioner's (powdered) sugar
1/3 cup grapefruit juice
3 Tbsp grapefruit zest, to taste
1 stick of butter - COLD
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 cups granulated sugar
1/2 tsp baking powder

Preheat oven to 350º 


Sift (or whisk) together the 2 cups flour and the confectioner's sugar.

Cut in the butter or margarine using one of those pastry cutter/ dough blender thingies, until the mixture clings together. (I cut the butter into about 1/2" pieces first - it should still be fairly cold.) If you don't have a pastry cutter/ dough blender thingie, you can just use two butter knives in a criss-cross cutting motion and it will work just fine.

Press into a greased and floured 13x9x2 inch baking pan. This is going to look weird. Its going to look very dry. Its going to look like you need milk or something. Dont worry. Just follow the recipe. It comes out fantastic.

Bake at 350º for 20 to 25 minutes or until lightly browned.

Remove crust from oven.


Beat together eggs, granulated sugar and grapefruit juice. Sift (whisk) together the 1/4 cup flour and baking powder; stir into egg mixture.

Pour over baked crust. Bake in the 350º oven for 25 minutes longer. Sprinkle with additional confectioner's sugar. Cool. Cut into bars.

Makes 30. Remove bars from pan after cooled; otherwise they will stick.


Friday, December 13, 2013

Eggnog Cookies

It's hard to beat eggnog as one of the signature tastes of the holidays. It seems every year I crave at least one glass of the stuff in order to make my Christmas complete.

This recipe comes from the Mrs Fields Cookie Book. It's a great collection of cookie recipes that, according to Mrs Fields, have been tested out and selected by her kids. I don't know if that's actually true or just a creative marketing strategy by a multi-million dollar corporation. (Debbi Fields is one of the most successful female entrepreneurs with a net worth of about $450 million.) Regardless, these cookies are pretty darn good.

The origins, etymology, and the ingredients used to make the original eggnog drink are debated. Eggnog may have originated in East Anglia, England; or it may have simply developed from posset, a medieval European beverage made with hot milk.The "nog" part of its name may stem from the word noggin, a Middle English term for a small, carved wooden mug used to serve alcohol. However, the British drink was also called an Egg Flip (from the practice of "flipping" (rapidly pouring) the mixture between two pitchers to mix it).


FAIR WARNING: There is no conceivable way that these cookies are healthy. It uses a ton of butter and sugar.  But hey: they're cookies. What do you expect? If anyone has any suggestions for making this healthier, lay it on me.

I recommend having one, enjoying its wonderful taste and then make sure to get them out of the house as fast as possible. Gift them to your friends. Make them for your co-workers. Just dont eat them all, or you'll be sorry.


2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1 1/4 cups sugar
3/4 cups (1.5 sticks) butter, softened
1/2 cup eggnog
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 large egg yolks
1 Tbsp nutmeg (for dusting)

First, preheat the oven to 300º.

In a medium bowl, combine flour, baking powder, cinnamon and nutmeg.
Mix well with a wire whisk and set aside.

In a large bowl, mix sugar and butter with an electric mixer to form a grainy paste. 
This is known as "creaming," but the result is anything but creamy. It's more like buttery sand.

Delicious, buttery sand. 

Add eggnog, vanilla and egg yolks and beat at medium speed until smooth.

Smooth enough.

Add the flour mixture and beat at low speed just until combined. Don't overmix.

Drop by rounded teaspoonfuls onto ungreased baking sheets, 1 inch apart.

Dust nutmeg lightly over the top.

Bake for aprox. 25 minutes or until bottoms turn light brown.

Transfer to a cool, flat surface. 

And there you have it: delicious, but ridiculously unhealthy eggnog cookies.

They have a great eggnog aroma and the nutmeg gives it a distinctive taste.


Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Awesome Apple Pie (the fast way)

I had a couple packages of pre-made pie crust left over from Thanksgiving and we had a nice assortment of apples on hand, and since it was too cold to do anything but wear sweats, listen to music and sip hot tea all day, we decided it was time for pie.

If you aren't making the crust yourself, making an apple pie is pretty easy. It's a little time consuming, but the end result is pretty awesome.

This recipe comes from the ring-bound version of the Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook. It's a great resource and I always find some terrific ideas in it.  And the fact that it's ring-bound means it sits flat on the counter when you're working with it.

  • 6 cups apples, sliced (about 2 1/4 cups) 
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1/3 cup dried sweetened cranberries
  • 2 Tbsp all-purpose flour
  • 1 Tbsp lemon juice
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/8 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 1 package of frozen pie crusts (two crusts) 
For the crumb topping:
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
  • 3 Tbsp of chilled butter
Cut and core your apples.
Some recipes tell you to peel them as well. Bah!
If you cut them thin the skin is not a problem. Plus it adds some color to the finished product. 

We realized that the amount of apples the recipe called for was A LOT more than were necessary so we ended up making two pies (oh the humanity!)

This is also because we were using 8" pie pans instead of a 9" one. 

It probably would have fit into one pan if we were using the right size. 

Sprinkle the apples with the lemon juice to prevent them from oxidizing,
then toss them in a bowl with the other ingredients and mix so each slice is covered in the mixture. 

We used a combination of Rome and Granny Smith apples,
which I think gives a nice balance of sweet and tart.

The dried cranberries add a nice little pop of flavor too.

Not to mention it looks all festive for Christmas. 

This nasty mess is one of the frozen crusts we were working with.
When you get pre-made crusts from the store, sometimes they are screwed up like this.

I've found that as long as you fit all the pieces together,
the pie bakes fine and no one will notice the difference.

This particular crust called for it to be thawed for about 20 minutes,
 then the bottom pricked with a fork several times to help it cook.

For the crumb topping, take 1/2 cup flour,
1/2 cup packed brown sugar,
and 3 Tbsp chilled butter in a bowl...

...and with one of those pasty cutter/ dough blender thingies mash all that stuff together.

What? Not everyone has a pastry cutter/ dough blender thingie?
They're actually pretty useful if you make a lot of pies.
If you don't, a fork or a couple of butter knives used in a criss-cross fashion will work pretty well. 

Cut the butter into the flour/ sugar until you get coarse crumbs.

If you have kids, this is a great activity to have them do for you.
I have cats; they are useless. 

Start filling the pie. 

You COULD arrange the apple slices,
alternating the red and green slices 
into nice neat patterns,
But good god, why? No one is going to notice or care. 

Just dump the apples into the pan,
arrange them so they aren't falling out and move on.

This is the other crust we had. It came rolled up into a tube.
It stuck together in several places, requiring us 

to carefully work the layers apart with a fork. 

Not fun.

To place the dough into the pan, roll the dough loosely around a rolling pin, place the loose end over one side of the pan and unroll the dough from the pin so that it covers the pan. 

I would have taken pictures of this process, but both of our hands were full futzing with the dough. 

And as you can see, the crust was a little larger than the pan we were using.

Angela had the brilliant idea of trimming the excess dough from the pan,
and using the dough strips to make a lattice. 

I would have just wrapped the dough over the top of the pie and left it. 
Angela's idea was much better.

She's kinda awesome that way.

For the one with the crumb topping,
once the apples are in place, just spread the crumb mixture over the whole thing.

At this point you could also brush milk over the one with the lattice dough and sprinkle sugar on top for an added touch of class. Angela says we will definitely do this next time.  

Place the pies on a cookie sheet to prevent a mess in your oven,
wrap the edges of the crusts with tinfoil and bake in the oven at 375º for 40 minutes,
until the tops are golden and the apples are bubbling up.

Then remove the foil and bake for another 20 minutes.

Be sure to set them on a rack to cool. We're talking lava hot, here.

 And there you go. Delicious, home made and its as easy know, something that's easy.