Friday, December 28, 2012

Classic Pumpkin Pie with Bourbon Whipped Cream

In my arsenal of recipes, I have a few favorites when it comes to a basic pumpkin pie. First and foremost, I am a huge fan of growing pumpkins in the garden and using fresh pumpkin puree in any pie recipe. That being said, for some reason I don't always get a good turnout when it comes to growing pumpkins (or I am plain lazy) and resort to the canned stuff. You can definitely taste a difference, though, and of course when you grow your own you know where the stuff is coming from.
Next, I need to confess that I am a lover of simple, basic pumpkin pie recipes. No flashy stuff here (although the streusel topping is yummy). Give me a good, solid pie crust recipe and fill it with a traditional pumpkin pie filling any day. One of the recipes I return to again and again is the Eagle Brand pumpkin pie recipe. Yes, I'm referring to the one on the back of the Eagle Brand Condensed Milk can that most of us grew up with. Now before you start harping on me for not having ingenuity, let me defend myself by saying if it ain't broken, don't fix it. That is a great basic pumpkin pie recipe and given the pie dough used, it can become even better.
For most of the big holiday dinners this year, this is the pie I contributed and always with success. The bourbon whipped cream is what makes this pie shine, although any type of whipped cream or topping will work. I've swapped out the bourbon for rum or even frangelico before and simply loved it. I've tried this pie with store bought, ready to bake pie crust, with homemade ground hazelnut crust, with streusel topping, with chocolate mixed into the recipe. You name it, I've likely doctored up this recipe trying it once upon a time. And the basic core of this pumpkin pie never does me wrong. So I encourage all you budding pie makers to jump into the pool with this recipe and see where it takes you. Happy holidays! Nom nom nom...

Classic Pumpkin Pie Recipe with  Bourbon Whipped Cream
Adapted from: Eagle Brand Pumpkin Pie & Bourbon Maple Whipped Cream

  • 1 (15 oz) can of pumpkin puree
  • 1 (14 oz) can Eagle Brand Sweetened Condensed Milk
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground allspice 
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 (9 inch) unbaked pie crust
Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Whisk pumpkin, sweetened condensed milk, eggs, spices and salt in medium bowl until smooth. Pour into crust. Bake 15 minutes.

Reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees F and continue baking 35 to 40 minutes or until knife inserted 1 inch from crust comes out clean. Cool. Garnish as desired. Store leftovers covered in refrigerator.

  • Bourbon Whipped Cream
    • 1 1/4 cups heavy cream, very cold
    • 1/2 vanilla bean, split lengthwise, seeds scraped out and reserved
    • 1/2 to 1 teaspoon vanilla extract 
    • 2 tablespoons Grade B maple syrup
    • 1 to 3 tablespoons bourbon
        Combine the cream, vanilla seeds, vanilla extract, maple syrup, and bourbon, to taste, in a large chilled bowl, and whip until soft peaks form. Scoop dollops onto individual pieces of pie. 

        Thursday, December 27, 2012

        Holiday Travels: Key West

        When the opportunity arose for me to steal a few days in Key West, FL around the holidays, I jumped on it. Nearly 20 years had passed since my last visit to the quirky island and I needed no more coaxing to return than an airplane ticket and the lure of sunshine. Hence I found myself recently in the Conch Republic.
        For any of you who haven't been in recent years, it's more or less the same. Just more developed (like everywhere else in the world). The island now boasts more incoming and outgoing flights, a large shopping center, more hotels and inns, more eateries, more, more, more. But the general laid back vibe is still present, and the sun is still shining bright, and the sunsets are still just as amazing. And you can still find at the local watering hole a few kids who moved down to the island in hopes of stepping away from real life and never left.
        Not waiting to be bombarded by the annoying hotel crowd, I opted for a quiet stay at a local B&B: the Atlantis House. What a pleasant surprise! A locally owned and family run small B&B located close to the beach and within easy walking/biking distance of the main drag, the Atlantis House was a fantastic stay.
        The property had two beautiful suites, both with in-room jacuzzi tubs, free bike rentals, a stellar patio to sit and enjoy a mellow island moment, and I was fed some of the best baklava and key lime pie of my life. If you are heading to Key West, STAY HERE. You can send me a postcard later in thanks.
        And being the foodie fanatic I am, I ate my way around the island. One of my first stops: Lupita's. Filling, simple, delicious, Lupita's was a wonderful tucked away spot for some traditional Mexican food and cokes. This was the perfect place to go for an inexpensive feast that was easy on the wallet. Their salsa was muy delicioso.
        Another spot I sampled: Banana Cafe. This establishment is on the main tourist drag, had a lot of hype about it's awesome breakfast (especially eggs benedict), and was recommended through a few foodie sites. Honestly, I wasn't blown away. The food was good, but not great and not worth the hype in my book. They managed to get my order wrong, but promptly fixed it, and just didn't seem to have their act together as there was a lot of staff discussions going on (constantly). A few orders at nearby tables also appeared to be wrong and it took a long while to get our dirty plates cleared (pet peeve in my book) as well as our check. Would I go back? Eh, probably not. But you should try it for their crepes - they are also supposed to be amazing. And the view from the upstairs patio is wonderful for people watching.
        The shining gem of all the food sampled: Santiago's Bodega. I had sworn I had taken a ton of pictures of the many (many!) tapas plates I sampled, alas I was too busy eating as I don't have a single one. I tried their beef carpaccio, prosciutto wrapped goat cheese stuffed figs, beef short ribs, pork skewers (heavenly), patatas bravas, and more. Everything was outstanding. What I also managed to find was a bottle of some of the best tasting wine of my life. Along with this, I met wonderful patrons at the tables next to me as I devoured some of the best tapas to pass my lips. Santiago's was outrageously good! And well worth every penny spent. I would return in a heartbeat and likely eat a meal there once a day on my next Key West journey.
        And last but not least, I made a point to swing into Havana 1 for a little authentic Cuban food. After a delicious meal of roast pork which melted in my mouth and some of the best plantains ever, the owners treated me to some homemade flan (complete with a chocolate sauce rose). Needless to say I was blown away by the food!
        And for anyone wondering, they still have flocks of wild chickens running about. Of course being the former chicken lady I am, I chased them about for a few good shots. Enjoy!

        Thursday, December 13, 2012

        Local Eats: Fig Bistro

        By and large I miss my happy hours. You may have heard me complain about how North Carolina has something against happy hours in the past (complete BS, I say) and you will again. Happy hours are the quintessential time to unwind after work and socialize with pals. Banning them throughout an entire state seems like a good waste of tax dollars and time, but NC seems to have its own methodology for doing things. Anyway, back to the point here, if there were happy hours in this state I would spend nearly all of them at Fig.
        Fig is a gem. One of the first places I ever ate at in Asheville and outstandingly one of my favorites, the restaurant always delivers quality food and a wonderful environment. Self proclaimed intimate neighborhood restaurant featuring casual interpretations of New American and French cuisine, Fig is an amazing place to grab a quick bite, business lunch, spiffy dinner or even just appetizers at their lovely bar. I've spent a good deal of time at their bar enjoying meals and can attest to its awesomeness.
        Not too long ago, the local paper did a write up on Fig and did an interview with the lovely owner, Traci. In it she spoke of her desire to present French inspired dishes in an unhurried atmosphere borrowing from a Paris brasserie. In my opinion, she is spot on the mark! Next time you are in the mood for a delicious bottle of vino or maybe a sampling of delicately flavored mussels or even a pork schnitzel, head to Fig. Make sure to save room for dessert! And their delicious ice wine...mmm, I love dessert wines. Enjoy!

        Monday, December 10, 2012

        Boston Cream Pie Cupcakes

        To bake or not to bake? That is the question most of us avid bakers face, especially during the holidays. When it became apparent I would be the lead baker for Thanksgiving dinner, I quickly set about trying to find stellar, deliciously tasting desserts to serve my family. Poking around the intronets I discovered a lovely blog called A Bit of Bees Knees and an awesome recipe for morphing boston cream pie into cupcakes. Who doesn't love cupcakes AND boston cream pie?!
        Along with a basic pumpkin pie, I decided to go the boston cream pie cupcake route for our Thanksgiving Day dessert spread and am definitely happy I did. These cupcakes were amazing! Everyone who sampled one wanted more. The filling made these cupcakes extra special and the flavor was spot on.
        My only change included using instant vanilla pudding as opposed to cook and serve, which didn't appear to make any big difference. Using this recipe and the vanilla pudding box instructions for pie filling as guides, I was easily able to assemble the pie portion of these cupcakes (and shovel a little pudding into my mouth in the process). If you are questioning what to make to accompany your next holiday dinner, try these babies out. Buon cibo! Buone Feste!

        Boston Cream Pie Cupcakes
        Borrowed from: A Bit of Bees Knees


      • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
      • 3/4 tsp baking soda
      • 1/2 tsp each baking powder and salt
      • 3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
      • 1 1/4 cups sugar
      • 3 large eggs
      • 2 tsp vanilla extract
      • 1 cup buttermilk

      • Filling

      • 1 package (3 oz) isntant vanilla pudding
      • 1 1/4 cups milk
      • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract

      • Chocolate Glaze

      • 8 oz semisweet chocolate, chopped
      • 1/3 cup each sugar and water
      • 3 Tbsp unsalted butter, softened

      • Heat oven to 350ºF. Line 18 muffin cups with paper liners.

        In a bowl, whisk flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt until blended.

        Beat butter and sugar in a large bowl with electric mixer until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add eggs, one at a time, until well blended. Beat in vanilla extract.

        With mixer on low speed, alternately beat in flour mixture and buttermilk, beginning and ending with flour mixture, until just blended.

        Spoon about 1/4 cup batter into each muffin cup. Bake 18 to 20 minutes until wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool 5 minutes; remove from pan to wire rack to cool completely.

        Prepare pudding as package directs, using 1 1/4 cups milk and the pie instructions on the box for guidance; cover surface directly with plastic wrap and refrigerate until cold.

        Place chocolate, sugar and water in a small saucepan over low heat. Cook, stirring, until melted and smooth, about 3 minutes. Remove from heat; stir in butter until it melts and mixture is smooth. Let cool.

        Slice off top of cupcakes to come to top of paper liners. Spread cut surface with about 1 Tbsp filling. Top with cupcake top. Spoon about 1 Tbsp glaze onto top center of each, easing it over top. Set in the fridge for half an hour to let the chocolate set up. 

        Tuesday, December 4, 2012

        Three Years of Baking

        Really?!? Three years?!?! I am astonished that much time has passed since I started a little hobby blog for baking and turned it into a life-long passion.
        Somewhere in the beginnings of this blog, I had some far-fetched idea that I would make a go at being a caterer (again). I even did some small time work when I lived out west, making cookies and baked goods for friends and family and the occasional big client, only to realize that I don't care if I make money baking. I simply and wholeheartedly love to bake and feed people. Easy as that (pie).
        Three years later, and many dozens of recipes down the road, and here I am. Still baking. Still sharing what I make with those of you willing to read my little quips and comments. Still loving to play hostess and throw foodie fests and feed those I adore.
        I am not sure what the future holds for me or Panda le Chef's corner of the world, but I promise you this - it will be a tasty little corner.
        Three cheers to foodie pals! Much love and light from here. Hope to see you again in a three years and celebrate! Enjoy!!

        Monday, December 3, 2012

        Easy Buttermilk Biscuits

        Let me let you all in on a little secret - baking isn't hard. Truly. Baking is half science (this + this + this = that) and half art form (creativity and letting your baking flare shine). I usually instruct my first time bakers to stay in the shallow end of the pool and try something simple for their first go-round. For instance, biscuits! Anyone who claims that biscuit making is a hard thing is crazy, or lazy, or both. Making biscuits is easier than making chocolate chip cookies!
        Besides the ease factor, buttermilk biscuits are a wonderful accompaniment to nearly any meal. They make great leftovers and last for days in an airtight container. And they are fabulous for making little breakfast sammies (cheese, fried egg, bacon...goodness happening there). I encourage any of you who may have been following my blog yet apprehensive about jumping into the baking world to give their first shot at baking a go with this recipe. I promise you won't regret it!

        Easy Buttermilk Biscuits 
        Adapted from: Kid Cultivation 

        • 2 cups flour
        • 4 tsp. baking powder
        • 1/4 tsp. baking soda
        • 3/4 tsp. salt
        • 4 tbsp. cold butter
        • 1 cup buttermilk, chilled

        Preheat oven to 450 degrees

        Combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a large bowl. Cut in the butter using a pastry cutter or two forks until the dough resembles course crumbs. Sometimes using your hands works best. Make a well in the center, pour in the chilled buttermilk. Mix only until the dough comes together. No more than absolutely necessary.

        Turn the dough out onto a floured surface. Knead 5-6 times and press to a 1-inch thickness all around. Cut out biscuits with a 2-inch round cutter or use the rim of a glass near the size of the biscuits you want. Place biscuits on a baking sheet so their edges just touch. Reform dough and repeat.

        Bake until fluffy and light golden brown, about 15-20 minutes. Watch the bottoms to make sure they don't brown up too fast. Serve warm with more butter, jam, or garlic chive butter. 

        Variations on this receipt can include adding your favorite herb or spice to the dough, flavored sea salts, or even adding garlic and cheese to the recipe.