Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Sweet Potato Pie and I Shut My Mouth

We were invited to a friend's birthday BBQ this weekend which had a "Southern" theme. When we got there we found out the theme was "nixed" so I felt really ridiculous when I showed up with a Sweet Potato Pie! I've never made any Southern dishes before and all I could think of was "Song, song of the south, sweet potato pie and I shut my mouth". So that's what I decided to make.

I'm fairly confident that I've never even eaten Sweet Potato Pie before. Being in Hawaii (aka the land of STRANGE food) there were 4 different types of sweet potatoes/yams at the store: some purple, some orange, some "oriental". We hounded the produce guy, told him what we were making and he set us on the right track with some yams.

I used Alton Brown's recipe from the Food Network website, which also had a great video from Good Eats. Making the pie was pretty uneventful. It included sweet potatoes, dark brown sugar, egg yolks, plain yogurt, nutmeg, and cinnamon, all mixed together and poured into a (frozen, store bought) pie crust. It was topped with pecans and maple syrup. Blah, blah, blah.

So we took it to the party, found out it wasn't "Southern" any longer, and dropped it off on the food table. When it came time for dessert there were literally 6 options: dream cake, banana cream pie, strawberry pie, etc. Mine was the least beautiful and delicious looking!

I was one of 2 or 3 people who actually took a slice and to be honest I was NOT impressed. It was good, not great. I think I expected it to be sweeter like pumpkin pie, OR even better, to actually taste like pumpkin pie! It tasted like sweet potatoes, eh, I don't really like sweet potatoes. I probably won't make it again, but it sure did look purty!

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Favorite: Broccoli, Chicken, Cheddar Braid

A few years ago my Mom and I went to a cooking class in Bloomfield - Pittsburgh's "little Italy" - for our birthday gifts, thanks Dad! The class was put on by Maria, the owner of our favorite Italian gift shop. (Dominic the Donkey visits there every Christmas, but that's a another story for a different day!) We gathered around a big dining room table in the apartment above the store while Maria got cookin'. She taught us how to make soups, homemade stock, biscotti, etc, while we took notes and eventually ate all of the delicious food she made. We ate, and ate, and ate.

Everything was so good, but the BEST thing she made that day was what she called a "broccoli, chicken, cheddar braid." As you might guess, the ingredients include broccoli, chicken, and cheddar cheese, plus mayonnaise, dill, red peppers which I replace with red onion (note: I HATE peppers and remove them from every and all recipes.) and garlic. You mix all of those together, then put the mixture into the center of crescent roll dough that's been laid flat. You cut a billion little diagonal lines into the sides of the dough and then "braid" the dough over the top of the mixture, which is much easier said than done! Finish it off with an egg wash and either pine nuts or slivered almonds on top and bake it in the oven. It turns out to be flaky and buttery on the outside and cheesy and delicious on the inside. My favorite part is the slight flavor from the dill. MMMMMMM!

In Maria's class I remember her saying more than once that she likes to eat the filling alone. Every time I make it there seems to be just a litttttttttle bit too much filling, so I save some and eat it while the rest is baking ;)

I've made this recipe at least 10 times now, and it is definitely a favorite! I made it for my roommates my senior year of college - it lasted only a day or 2 in a fridge belonging to 5 women, for pumpkin carving parties, birthday parties, and sometimes just for myself! My friend Allison suggested I blog about it since she liked it so much, although I don't know how much she got to eat since the #1 fan of the recipe EVER was her boyfriend's Dad who ate 90% of it before noon one Saturday! Thanks Ali :)

In other related food news, I LOVE Hungry Girl - Lisa Lillen, google her. She brought it to my attention that Pillsbury now makes seamless dough, which I just found in a Hawaii grocery store this week! (Hawaii lags in getting new products, music, everything...) This can potentially save tons of time and sticky fingers from pressing the crescent roll dough together for the Broc, chix, cheddar braid! Did I forget to mention that ANNOYING step?! OOPS! So I have the dough but didn't know what to make with it but now it seems so obvious...

This is Maria's creation and the first time I ever tried the glorious, glorious recipe.

Here's one that I made, using almonds instead of pine nuts.

Bryce makes them, too!

Broccoli Chicken Cheddar Braid
adapted from Maria's (of Merante Gifts in Bloomfield, PA) recipe

2 cups of cooked, chopped chicken
2 crowns of broccoli, chopped
2 cups of shredded cheddar cheese
1 cup of mayonnaise (I use light mayo)
4 cloves of garlic, minced
1/2 of a red onion, finely chopped
Dill to taste
2 packages crescent roll dough (seamless if possible)

To make the filling, mix together the chicken, broccoli, red onion, cheese, garlic, dill, and mayo. (If preparing in advance, cover and chill overnight.)

Lay each package of dough flat on a greased cookie sheet. If you can't find the seamless dough, press the seams of the triangular crescent rolls together. Spoon half of the chicken mixture onto each.

With a sharp knife or scissors, cut the dough into one inch wide strips around the edges. Bring the strips up over the top of the filling, rotating sides to get a braided effect. Repeat for the second braid.

OPTIONAL: Brush each braid with egg white wash and sprinkle with sliced almonds or pine nuts.

Bake at 350 degrees F for 25 minutes, or until the dough is firm and golden brown. Allow to cool before cutting.


I got a brilliant idea to turn this braid into individual cups made in cupcake/muffin tins! What took me so long to think of that?

To make this recipe into cups:

 Cut the flattened dough sheets into 12 squares each (3 wide by 4 high worked best for me). Spray 2 cupcake/muffin tins with non-stick cooking spray. Place one square inside each compartment, then spoon equal amounts of the chicken mixture into each. Bake at 350 degrees F for about 18 - 20 minutes.

This is so much easier and tastes just as good!

Monday, June 14, 2010


Last week I watched Julie & Julia for the first time. It was kind of like "drinking the Kool-Aid" for me and it took my cooking/food obsession to a whole new level (hence my finally starting this blog)! I have all these crazy ideas of cooking my way through all of my cook books OR trying everything in Good Eats! For now, I decided to try a challenging recipe I'd never made before: lasagna.

Bryce and I went to the commissary with a loooong list for the week, plus all the ingredients for both tomato and bechamel sauces and the lasagna itself. I started cooking at 3:15 p.m. and the lasagna finally made it into the oven at 5:45p.m.! It baked for 45 minutes, all of which I spent doing the 839023 dishes (did I mention we don't have a dishwasher?!) We finally sat down to eat and it was DELICIOUS! It could have used a little bit more sauce, but overall it was a success. I added extra ricotta (the recipe called for 1.5 lbs and I bought 2, who doesn't like more cheese.) and used a little bit less spinach than the recipe called for. I will surely make this again, but next time I'll make the sauces in advance and prepare the lasagna another day!

Here's the recipe.