Chai Cream Pie

 

I'm going to a Father's Day dinner tonight (Father's Day for my actual father will be celebrated next week) and I'm bringing a dessert. Not only will my dessert have to compete with all the delicious food that will be served that evening it will also compete with a Ricotta Tart. So when I came across a recipe for Chai Cream Pie on MyRecipes.com (via Cooking Light Magazine), I knew I had to make it. Cream Pie? WITH CHAI? I love Chai. In fact, when I gave up drinking coffee, chai lattes became my go-to drink. It was the closest I could get to to the warm fuzzy feeling I got when I drank a hot cup of coffee with cream every morning. I get a small Soy Chai Latte at Mr. Crepe in Davis Square. It's my favorite especially since it's not sweet. That way I can drink it with a bit of Agave Nectar (which I add myself from my own bottle at work). I digress. What I'm trying to get at is that I love Chai. So it just seemed right for me to make a Chai Cream Pie.

I seem to make pies in twos these days so I modified the original recipe to make two and made some other changes as well. If you have the time to make your own whipped topping, I highly encourage you to do it.  Cool Whip only goes so far. Next time, I might try this with Almond Milk instead of regular milk.

Ingredients:

2 Mrs. Smith Frozen Pie Shells, thawed for 15 minutes
4 cups of 2% milk
8 cardamom pods
8 whole cloves
1 cinnamon stick
1 inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled
2 black tea bags
3/4 cup of sugar (I used 1 cup and it was a bit too sweet)
4 eggs
1-1/2 tablespoons of butter, softened
2 small containers of Non-Fat Cool Whip or generic brand, thawed

If you compare my recipe to the MyRecipes.com one, you'll noticed I doubled on somethings but not others. You don't really need 16 cardamom pods. 8 will do. But you do need to double up on things like milk, tea bags, eggs, sugar. I skipped doubling on butter and the seasonings. You may want to add some vanilla too if you like your Chai Lattes with a shot of vanilla syrup.

Bake the Pie Shells according to package instructions. Let cool and set aside.

In a large pot, add your 4 cups of milk, cardamom pods, cloves, cinnamon stick and ginger. Cook at medium heat until the edges of the mixture shows little bubbles. Take the pot off the heat and add the two black tea bags. Let sit for 15 minutes.

Remove the tea bags, cardamom pods, cloves, cinnamon stick and ginger from the pot. Cook until it starts to bubble around the edges again. While it's cooking, add the sugar and eggs to a large heat-proof bowl. Add the milk-tea mixture to the bowl little by little whisking it in. If you add the hot milk to the bowl all at once you'll end up with scrambled eggs.

Add the milk-tea-egg mixture back to the pot and cook just until it forms a thick consistency. Stay with it the entire time constantly whisking and pull the pot off the heat just as it thickens. If you wait to long, the bottom will burn. Stir in the butter until it melts.

Add the mixture to the bowl and cover with cling wrap. Make sure the cling wrap is touching the mixture so it doesn't form a skin. Let cool for a few hours.

Add even amounts of the mixture to each of the two baked pie shells. Top each pie with one container of Cool Whip and dust with cinnamon if so desired. Eat cold and enjoy


Mom's Special Plate


I cannot count how many times my mother made this special plate for me. It's her own creation. I like to think of it as my Mom's version of Salad Nicoise. Replace the potatoes with rice, the olives with beets and the tomatoes with avocado and voila! It's pretty similar however this is more of a plate than a salad. This plate is always the same. Hard-boiled eggs, cooked green beans, white rice, tuna with pickled red onions, sliced beets and fresh avocado. It's always very filling and delicious. Something about the combination makes it a perfect dinner. However, it does NOT make for good leftovers. This is a one-shot meal. But definitely worth the effort.

Ingredients:

5 or 6 eggs
a bunch of green beans
1 avocado
fresh lemon juice
2 cups of uncooked rice
2 small cans of tuna packed in olive oil
1/4 of a red onion, minced
red wine vinegar
1 can of sliced beets (I like the Goya one)


This makes enough for two hungry people! Or 3 people with average appetites.

Add the minced red onion to a small bowl. Fill the small bowl with red wine vinegar until it just barely covers the onions. Set aside to marinate.

Cook the rice Raquelle style. In this case, 2 cups of uncooked rice is cooked with 3 cups of boiling water.

While the rice is cooking, cook the eggs to hard-boiled (everyone has their method, I cover them in water in a large pot, bring water to a boil and cook for 10 minutes). Peel the eggs and slice in half. Set aside.

Steam the green beans whole for about 10 minutes.

Half the avocado with a knife, scoop out the halves with a spoon, remove the pit, slice and spritz with lemon juice to prevent from going brown.

Drain the can of sliced beets. Set aside.

Drain the minced red onion from the vinegar. Mix with the tuna.

Pile up a plate of rice, green beans, hard-boiled eggs, tuna, beets and avocado. Enjoy!

Greek Festival - Woburn, MA







Carlos and I went to the Woburn Greek Festival hosted by the Annunciation of the Virgin Mary Greek Orthodox Church. This festival features games, live music (in the evening), tours of the church and best of all, lots and lots of delicious Greek food. The Festival was very well-organized, the food did not disappoint and while we spent quite a bit of money on food it ended up being a very good deal for all that we got. There are numerous Greek Festivals in the area and I overheard someone say that the Woburn one was fairly priced when compared to the others. Also, it didn't hurt that we lived very close by and that it was an easy walk there too so that saves us on gas and parking fees. Here is what we had:


Carlos got a bottle of Greek Red wine and I got a bottle of Greek Ouzon Soda. Ouzon is an anise-flavored sparkling soda that is sweetened with pure cane sugar. I don't normally drink soda but I thought I'd try out this Greek specialty. The soda is pretty sweet and the anise gives it a nice kick. It did make me wish I brought a bottle of water though. I was pretty thirsty after drinking it.


Carlos got the Roast Lamb plate which came with a roll, green beans in a tomato garlic sauce and a side of rice pilaf. The green beans were definitely from a can but the great sauce made up for it. I had some of the roast lamb and it was very good.


I got the Pastitsio plate which came with the same sides. Pastitsio is a Greek lasagna made up of ground beef in a tomato sauce, macaroni or another type of tubed noodle and topped off with a nutmeg flavored bechamel sauce. It's really quite delicious!


Sampling the desserts was the best part of the evening. We got 4 to try. Baklava (filo dough, walnuts, sugar, honey), a Greek cake I didn't catch the name of, Finikia (cinnamon and orange cookies, soaked in honey and topped with walnuts) and Kourambiethes (crescent shaped butter cookies coated with powdered sugar). My favorite was the Finikia and Carlos' favorite was the Kourambiethes. The Greek cake was so so and while I love Baklava I thought theirs was too soggy. My mother makes an amazing Baklava, a recipe which she has been perfecting for 30 years now. She goes light on the honey so the baklava stays crispy. It's so much better that way in my honest opinion.


Auw Carlos don't be shy!


Overall, I loved the experience. We'll be back next year for sure!

Challah French Toast with Strawberries and Peaches




Not sure why but before today I hadn't made French Toast for Carlos. This is very strange because I cook Sunday Brunch every week. French Toast is one of my specialties. In fact, it's one of the first recipes I ever learned to make. I have a distinct memory of my first French Toast making adventure. I was in love with Friendly's French Toast and wanted to make a similar version at home. I read in one of my mother's cookbooks that you needed thick Texas Style cut bread to make proper French Toast. Texas Style? But I lived in Massachusetts! (I was a little kid here remember!).

So I went with my Dad to my local Stop n Shop to buy thick cut bread. I couldn't find any in the bread aisle. Every single bagged loaf of bread had thin slices. No Texas style bread anywhere to be found. I went to the bakery and asked the lady behind the counter if they had Texas style bread. She had no clue what I was talk about. I explained to her what it was I needed (my parents never helped me with this sort of thing, I was always on my own) and she took an unsliced loaf of bread, sliced it thickly and gave it to me. Success! Thick cut bread just begging to be made into French Toast.

At home, I remember being at the counter, cracking eggs into a bowl, stirring in the milk, sugar, cinnamon and vanilla to make the egg mixture. I think I let the thick cut slices of bread sit in the egg mixture for about an hour. By the time I came back to them, they had absorbed almost everything. I cooked the slices of French toast in a pan. They came out delicious!

Now, as a child I never had an interest in cooking. In fact, my mother had tried desperately to teach me how to cook basic things but I always ran away from the kitchen seeking refuge outdoors or in my room with my dolls and TV. But I did have an interest in making sweet things like French Toast, cookies and cake. Eventually, I got it and then I wanted to cook everything. But French Toast, that was my first ever cooking success.

Years later when I was in my late teens, I discovered Challah Bread at my local Whole Foods Market. Challah Bread was perfect for French Toast. The sweet honey egg bread was the perfect texture to hold up the egg mixture and not fall apart and I didn't have to add sugar to the mixture because the bread was sweet enough. And I could slice the bread myself into the perfect slices. Ever since then, I've only made my French Toast with Challah Bread.

It's strange, after having been making French Toast for a couple of decades to not have made my specialty for Carlos! I fixed that today and we had a delightful brunch filled with delicious slices of Challah French Toast.

Ingredients:

1 loaf of Challah Bread, thickly sliced

4 whole eggs

4 egg whites

1 cup of skim milk (or vanilla Almond Milk)

1/2 tsp of cinammon

1 tsp of vanilla

butter for greasing the griddle

hulled and chopped fresh strawberries

sliced fresh peaches

100% maple syrup

Cut the Challah bread into thick slices. Now, Challah loaves come in all sorts of sizes. The medium sized loaf I got from Wilson Farm in Lexington made about 10 French Toasts when I cut off the ends. But I've seen Challah loaves sold at other places that could easily make a good 20 slices! The egg mixture is a lot so it's good for either 10 slices or 20!

Add a griddle to your stovetop and turn heat up to medium. Grease with some butter and cook a couple of slices at a time. Flip them over every couple of minutes to make sure they get nice and brown on both sides but not burnt. Keep adding butter as you cook. And while you have a couple of slices on the griddle, add a couple more to your egg mixture for soaking time.

I ended up with 10 Challah French Toast slices. I topped them off with strawberries, peaches, some ground flax seed and a drizzling of 100% pure maple syrup. My taste buds thanked me for this wonderful breakfast and Carlos gave me a high five for work well done.

Restaurant Review: Madison & Vine


I guess you can say I'm an adventurous eater. I've eaten many strange things in my past and I like to try lots of international cuisines. And while there are some things I won't touch, you could take me to practically any restaurant and I can find something I'd like. My co-workers are not as adventurous as I am. I happened to mention to someone that I really wanted to try Smorgas Chef on 37th and Park Avenue. I didn't suggest to them that they should go, just that I would go. Then it became this huge debacle of whether we should go and then I got shot down. Which angered me because I would have been happy to go by myself, I didn't invite them and I didn't appreciate being rejected for something I didn't propose. ::breathing:: Anyways, I went to Smorgas Chef eventually by myself. In the meantime, we went to this very boring restaurant called Madison and Vine (they don't have a website!).



When one of the waiters came by with a big basket of whole grain and sourdough bread, I was really excited. The bread was cold. Blech.


My entree was very delicious though. Wild trout served with capers and a light wine and cream sauce and a side of roasted vegetables.

 

Here's a close-up of the vegetables! A delicious mix indeed. Overall, the food I had was excellent and I cleaned my plate. The most interesting thing I saw I unfortunately didn't get a picture of. It was a side order of asparagus that came with several gigantic stalks of steamed asparagus which were topped with a micro-green salad and served with chive goat cheese in between to slices of toasted baguette. Oh my goodness. I kick myself for not ordering that. If you ever visit this restaurant, GET THE ASPARAGUS!



I had  a Peach Tree cocktail which had wine, rum, peach and lemon and was simply divine. If the meal wasn't being expensed and I wasn't out with co-workers, I would have had another one. While the restaurant was overall boring, the food and the drinks were top notch. 

I hope you enjoyed reading about my New York City dining adventures as much as I enjoyed experiencing them!

Restaurant Review: Red Lobster in Times Square


I know this seems utterly ridiculous considering I cook and I love eating all types of cuisine, but I really love Red Lobster. Why? I don't know. Perhaps it's because it's always been denied to me. Because it was really hard to get. Red Lobster to me has been the beautiful siren who teases me and tempts me but is always too far out of reach. I've been to Red Lobster only a handful of times in my life. In Edmonton, Alberta, in Florida, in New York City and in Connecticut. There are NO Red Lobsters in Massachusetts even though the restaurant's commercials are on heavy rotation on TV here. Why no Red Lobsters in Massachusetts? Well, it's Massachusetts. We are a seafood-lovers paradise. Legal Seafoods is a chain that already has a strong grip on the area. Red Lobster and it's frozen imported seafood can't compare with the fresh seafood we get here from our shores. So why the heck do I love Red Lobster when I can have all the local seafood I want elsewhere? I have no answer to that question. I just do.

I was determined to go to the Red Lobster in Times Square, which I've been to before because 1) I wanted seafood and 2) I would be dining behind a gigantic Olivia from Jerseylicious. I love Olivia. I follow her on Facebook and Twitter. I dressed up as her for Halloween. I'm #teamolivia all the way so I knew I'd be dining with good company.





I really needed to keep it healthy. New York City has some sort of mandates that requires chain restaurants to post calories alongside the menu options. GENIUS! That helped me out a lot. That pasta dish doesn't look so appetizing anymore when I see it's 1,200 calories! I opted for a dish just under 600 calories so I could enjoy salad (with light dressing) and a couple of the delicious cheddar chive biscuits (150 calories each).


And here is what I ordered. It was grilled lobster tail, grilled scallops and grilled shrimp skewers with a side of steamed broccoli. I asked the waitress not to give me any butter. She was very nice and made sure my meal was as healthy as I wanted it. Overall, great experience. And I'll be back to Red Lobster! For sure!

Restaurant Review: Madangsui Korean B.B.Q.


Madangsui on West 35th Street (by 6th Avenue) in New York City skirts Koreatown and claims to offer the best Korean BBQ in the city. I had such a wonderful Korean dining experience at HanGawi last year that I was willing to try Korean again.


When you walk in the door, you are greeted by this bizarre display of shrink-wrapped plates. Did not look appetizing at all. Pictures would have been enough.






Susan (my boss) and I had bowls of miso soup which were complimentary with our meals. I'm not a miso soup fan but this bowl was delicious! Lots of scallions made it super tasty.



After we had the soup, they put out this amazing array of what I'm guessing are amuse bouches (to use a non-Korean term). Clockwise from top left, kimchi fish shreds, collard greens, kimchi daikon (an Asian type of radish), macaroni salad, marinated tofu and kimchi cabbage.


From left to right: marinated bamboo shoots (I'm guessing) and steamed broccoli. I had a lot of fun trying each option. My favorite was the mysterious bamboo shoots. My least  favorite was the marinated tofu. They were all tasty in their own way.


We shared a fried shrimp dumpling appetizer. Dipped in soy sauce these were the best things I had all evening. Delicious!


I had the Bokeumbob which was essentially a shrimp fried rice dish. I already had Bibimbab recently at a local Asian restaurant in Woburn so I wanted to try something else. It was a mistake. The shrimp and the vegetables were noticeably from a previously frozen package. The shrimp wasn't properly deveined either. While it was relatively tasty, the amount of salt was a bit off-putting. In fact, I find that the Asian cuisine I've been having lately has been the equivalent of a salt lick. Blech. Which is a shame because I love Asian food but want to reduce my sodium intake.


A couple of orange slices helped reduce the taste of salt in my mouth. Overall, it was a mixed experience. Next time I'll try the actual BBQ. The tables are set up for it and it would have been a better experience. Oh well! You live, you learn.




New York Style Cheesecake with Cherries


This recipe was originally posted on my Thoughtful Eats column on the Woburn Patch.

*note - I know New York style cheesecake is served plain but I don't care. I like cherries.

New York Style Cheesecake with Cherries


Ingredients:

5 8-oz packs of cream cheese, softened
1-1/2 cups of granulated sugar
5 whole eggs
2 egg yolks
1 tsp (or 1 tbsp depending on taste) of good vanilla extract
½ cup of sour cream
3 tbsps of flour
1 cup of graham cracker crumbs
3 tbsps of extra light olive oil or canola oil (butter isn’t necessary but you can use it if you want)
Any topping you desire, we recommend using canned cherry filling or topping with fresh strawberry slices

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees.

In a small bowl, add the cracker crumbs and oil. Mix with a spoon. Transfer mixture into the springform pan and press into the bottom. This is the crust. Set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, add the cream cheese and sugar. Mix with a handheld or standing mixer until incorporated. Add eggs, vanilla, sour cream and flour and mix again until very very smooth. Make sure all the lumps have been worked out. Pour the mixture carefully into the springform pan and over the crust. Tap the pan a few times on a flat surface to get out any air bubbles.

Add the pan to your large casserole dish. Fill the dish with water until it comes half way up the side of the pan. Cover the top very lightly with tin foil. Place in the oven and cook for 1-1/2 hours.

After it’s cooked, remove the tin foil, shut off the oven and let sit in the closed oven for 20 minutes. Then remove from the oven and let sit on a counter top for 20 more minutes. Then place in the oven. This slow cooling process will help prevent cracks. If cracks do occur, don’t worry! You can smother the cheesecake with cherry sauce and no one will know the difference!

Cool in the fridge for a couple more hours or overnight. Remove from the fridge, take off the springform and top with your topping. Serve cold and enjoy!


Restaurant Review: Smorgas Chef at Scandinavia House


Last year, I stayed at a hotel right next door to Scandinavia House on Park Avenue in New York City. Scandinavia House is a cultural center for all things Scandinavian. In the Park Avenue location, they had one of the three Smorgas Chef restaurants in NYC. Scandinavian food?! Really? I was so excited! But I didn't have a chance to try it. I promised myself that if I got a chance to go back to NYC that I would make it my goal to dine at Smorgas Chef and have some real Scandinavian food.

Not only was I determined to have Scandinavian food, I was adamant about eating as much Swedish as I could. I sent my Swedish friend Jonas (of All Talking! All Singing! All Dancing) a link to the restaurant's website so he could help me pick out the items on the menu that were the most Swedish so I could have an authentic Swedish dining experience. He helped me out a lot. I had a few issues. Mostly I don't eat Salmon or Veal and those are two meats that are very much a part of Swedish cuisine. I decided to eat some Veal (over Salmon which I just don't touch) in order to have that experience.


The inside of the Smorgas Chef restaurant is beautiful. There is a big birch tree right in the center. And Jonas tells me those chairs are Danish.




I started off my meal with a Lindonberry soda. It was soda water with a bit of Lindonberry jam on the bottom. It was super sweet and I wished here was less jam and more soda. It was still very delicious and tart. I definitely needed the glass of water though. Lindonberry is very popular in Sweden. It's Scandinavia's version of cranberries!


While I waited for my meal, I enjoyed looking at my surroundings. I love the little bowls with flowers that dangled from the branches. A very nice touch.



And had some bread and butter while I waited.


I ordered the Prixe Fix Menu for Spring/Summer which was $39. A bit pricey but worth every penny. It was four courses including dessert. The first course was this lovely dish of grilled asparagus, topped with two poached eggs, some shaved parmesan cheese and balsamic drizzle. I think they could have held the drizzle. It was fabulous. Could I have another one please?


The next course was Swedish meatballs. This was served in a square bowl with a heaping serving of really smooth mashed potatoes, topped with gravy, meatballs, a scoop of lindonberry sauce (like cranberry sauce) and some chopped chives. Delicious! I didn't eat all the meatballs because I felt bad about the veal. But I could have had another plate of those mashed potatoes! The lindonberry sauce added a sweet and tart kick to the meal that was very welcome.


The third course was duck with spinach leaves, parsley puree and cabbage with raisins. I didn't like this very much. The duck was blech and the cabbage with raisins thing was just strange. I loved the parsnip puree and the spinach though!


This is where I had my foodgasm. Dessert. Two pieces of waffle with strawberry sauce, a small cup of rice cream with black cherry sauce and vanilla ice cream. OMG! This was heaven on a plate. I wanted three more.

Overall, my experience at Smorgas Chef was wonderful. The staff was super nice, the food was great and the ambiance was delightful. I would go again and I recommended it to several people afterwards too. If you are in NYC, you must must must go to Smorgas Chef!
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