Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Mexican coffee ice cream pie

Mexican coffee ice cream pie

Here’s a question for you: Do you eat ice cream pie with a spoon or a fork? And while we’re on the subject—do you place your slice of ice cream pie on a plate or do you place it in a bowl? While I suppose there is no right or wrong answer, it has been something for me to ponder as I’ve made my way through a pan of Mexican coffee ice cream pie.

Ice cream pies became popular in Texas in the 1950s. At this time, home freezers were arriving on the market and demonstration agents would travel around the state showcasing their company’s appliances abilities to keep things cold and solid. It was quite a luxury to not only make ice cream but then to also spoon it into a pie crust and freeze it again for later to serve as a pie.

Mexican coffee ice cream pie

The most common flavor for ice cream pies during this time was strawberry. It was the choice of the demonstration agents and also one that the local dairies usually sold, too. When I spoke to my grandmother about the subject, she concurred that not only was it a popular dessert at the time but indeed, strawberry was the flavor of choice. Though as much as I like strawberry ice cream my favorite ice cream is coffee. So when I got an itch to share an ice cream pie with you, I decided I would it be coffee, or rather, Mexican coffee, flavored instead.

Mexican coffee, which is also known as café de olla, is coffee that’s been brewed with that rich, dark sugar known as piloncillo, and then spiced with vanilla and cinnamon. Sometimes orange zest is added to the coffee, as well. It’s a fine cup of coffee and the bittersweet coffee combined with the dark sugar and warm cinnamon is especially suited for cooler days.

To make my Mexican coffee ice cream pie, I took my basic ice-box pie filling of cream cheese and sweetened condensed milk, and then infused it with brewed dark roast coffee, cinnamon, vanilla, and orange zest. That said, I have to admit originally I was aiming only for a chilled, not frozen, coffee-flavored pie. But after I realized it wasn’t going to set properly in the refrigerator, I threw it in the freezer overnight and was delighted to discover that the simple combination of a few ingredients created an ice cream filling that didn’t require churning or a specific maker.

Mexican coffee ice cream pie

As for the crust, I opted to go with a chocolate graham cracker crust. While chocolate isn’t a traditional addition, I love the combination of chocolate and coffee together so it worked just fine for me. And then to finish, I topped it with cinnamon vanilla whipped cream and some chopped chocolate because a little more chocolate never hurt anyone.

Now, this pie might not be for everyone. That said, if you’re the sort of person who likes to conclude a meal with a cup of coffee and perhaps a piece of chocolate, this is the pie for you. Or if you’re the type of person who likes to begin their day with a cup of coffee, this is also the pie for you. And if you’re the type of person who loves coffee ice cream and always wondered how it would taste in a pie, then this is definitely the pie for you. Though you don't have to take my word for it. Last week when I was in Texas, I made this pie for my mom's birthday. She said it was the best thing ever. (And then she asked for the recipe.)

Mexican coffee ice cream pie

Making the pie takes little effort though you do need to freeze it for about 8 hours before you can enjoy it. This means, that if you’re like me, you’ll make it the night before so you can have a slice in the morning, as everyone knows that coffee is a fine way to being a day and if you can get your morning coffee in the form of a slice of pie, all the better! The only thing you need to decide is whether to use a spoon or a fork (or a plate or a bowl). But no matter how you serve it, this Mexican coffee pie will put a smile on your face, which isn’t a bad way to end (or begin) your day at all.

Mexican coffee ice cream pie

For the chocolate graham-cracker crust:
1 1/2 cups finely crushed graham crackers (about 9 large rectangles)
1/4 cup cocoa powder
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
8 tablespoons butter, melted, still warm

For the Mexican coffee ice cream filling:
1 8-ounce package of cream cheese, room temperature
1 14-ounce can of sweetened condensed milk
1/4 cup brewed strong coffee, such as espresso or a dark roast
1 teaspoon freshly grated orange zest
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

For the whipped cream topping:
1 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 teaspoons sugar
Pinch of cinnamon
1 ounce dark chocolate, finely chopped

To make the crust, preheat the oven to 350°F and lightly grease a 9-inch pie pan. In a food processor or with a rolling pin, finely crush the graham crackers until they’re the texture of sand.

Mix well the graham crackers with the cocoa, cinnamon, and vanilla extract. Stir in the warm, melted butter until a dark dough is formed. It might be a little crumbly, but that's okay. Pat the dough into the pie pan, using your hands, a measuring cup, or a spoon to get it even. Bake for 7 minutes and then let the crust cool for 30 minutes.

To make the filling, in a blender mix together the cream cheese, sweetened condensed milk, coffee, orange zest, cinnamon, and vanilla extract. Pour into the cooled crust, and then place in the freezer covered for at least 8 hours to freeze the filling. (I cover my pie with another pie pan.)

After the filling has frozen, make the whipped cream. First place the mixing bowl and the beater in the freezer for at least 20 minutes so they can chill. To whip the cream, place in the chilled mixing bowl the cream, vanilla, sugar, and cinnamon and then whip with the chilled beater until soft peaks form. Be careful not to over whip the cream. Spread the whipped cream over the frozen filling then sprinkle on top the chopped chocolate.

If you’re hungry, you can serve the pie immediately, but if you don’t mind waiting another hour, place the pie back in the freezer so the whipped cream can become more firm.

Yield: 8 servings

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Sunday, September 14, 2014

September events

Howdy! I just wanted to let you know that I’m going to be in Texas the next couple of weeks doing some events for my new book, The Homesick Texan's Family Table.

This trip, I'll be zig-zagging across the state and will be eating and taking photos every step of the way. My aim is to post some of my adventures here on the blog, but you can also follow along on Instagram.

Here’s the list of places I’ll be and if you’re in the area I hope I get to meet you!

San Angelo, J.P.W. Learning Center Book Gala, September 16, 6pm
, dinner and signing (ticketed event)
San Angelo, HEB, September 17, 10 am to 12pm, signing (free)

Silsbee, Ice House Museum, September 20, 11am
, talk and signing (free)
Abilene, West Texas Book Festival, Culinary Luncheon, September 25, 11:30am, lunch and signing (ticketed event)
Abilene, West Texas Book Festival, Cookbook Gala, September 25, 6pm, dinner and signing (ticketed event)
Austin, Byte of Texas Book Fair, September 27, Bob Bullock Museum, signing, 11am to 12pm (free)
Austin, Byte of Texas conference, September 27-28, keynote (ticketed)

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Thursday, September 04, 2014

Squash and green chile casserole

squash and green chile casserole

If you’re a Texan of a certain age, then you probably remember Liz Carpenter. Mrs. Carpenter was most famously Lady Bird Johnson’s press secretary, but she was also a longtime journalist and public relations specialist, as well. When I lived in Austin many years ago, you’d see her out and about at various functions, and Mrs. Carpenter’s puff of white hair and abundant wit always stood out in the crowd.

During this time, in the mid-1990s, she wrote a book about raising her brother’s children after he died. I knew that my grandma was a fan of both her and Lady Bird so I asked her if she’d like me to get her a copy of the book, as Mrs. Carpenter was having a signing in Austin.

My grandma said that she would love a copy of the book, but also suggested I get one for my dad. I thought that was curious until my grandma explained that Mrs. Carpenter’s brother, Tom Sutherland, had been my dad’s English professor at school.

Apparently, Professor Sutherland and my dad got along very well, and as Professor Sutherland liked to entertain, he had my dad and my mom, along with some other students, over for dinner a few times when they were in college. When I met Mrs. Carpenter at a book signing, I told her this story and how much her brother’s kindness and classes had meant to my dad. She smiled and said that she had heard that a lot—apparently her brother had been a very popular teacher.

squash and green chile casserole

While I don’t know what her brother served his students when he had them over for dinner, apparently hospitality ran in the family, as Mrs. Carpenter was also known for her good food. Her recipe for squash casserole was even heralded in 1987 by Texas Monthly as an excellent dish to take to potlucks and share with friends.

There are many ways to make squash casserole, and for the past few years I have to admit that my favorite recipe has been my own Tex-Mex squash casserole, which is spicy and flavorful with cheese and tomatoes. That said, this time of year when squash is in such abundance I’m always looking for new ways to prepare it, and when I saw Mrs. Carpenter’s recipe, I decided it would be a good time to branch out from the usual.

There are several different ways to prepare squash in a casserole and hers is an egg-based dish that’s rich with cheese and fiery with chiles. Her recipe called for canned green chiles, but since green chiles such as Hatch chiles are now in season, I went the fresh chile route instead.

Her squash casserole recipe also calls for parsley, but I figured if you’re making the dish more Texan by adding chiles, you might as well use cilantro instead. A couple of other additions I made to her dish was adding a little garlic, throwing in a dash of cumin, and sautéing the squash and aromatics in butter instead of boiling them before baking.

squash and green chile casserole

That said, despite the changes I made, at heart it was still her egg-based squash casserole. While ostensibly the squash casserole is a side dish, this one has enough substance that you could easily serve it as a main dish along with a salad or soup. Most importantly, however, I have to say her recommendation that it makes a fine dish for sharing is accurate, as this squash and green chile casserole is just too good to keep to yourself.

Squash and green chile casserole (adapted from Texas Monthly)

3-4 Hatch or Anaheim chiles
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 small yellow onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 pounds summer squash, sliced into 1/4” rounds
1/2 cup chopped cilantro
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
4 cups (1 pound) shredded Monterey Jack cheese
4 large eggs
1/2 cup whole milk
1/2 cup finely crushed saltines

First you’ll need to roast the chiles in order to peel the tough skin. Place the chiles under the broiler until blackened, about 5 minutes per side. Place the chiles in a paper sack or plastic food-storage bag, close it tight and let the chiles steam for 20 minutes. Take the chiles out of the bag and gently rub off the skin. Remove the stem and seeds and dice the chiles.

Meanwhile, in a large, deep skillet, melt the butter on medium-low heat. Add the onion and cook until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 30 more seconds. Add the squash, and then while occasionally stirring, cook until the squash is softened, about 5-7 minutes. Stir in the cilantro, salt, black pepper, and cumin. Turn off the heat. Taste and adjust seasonings.

Preheat the oven to 350°F and grease a 3-quart baking dish. (If your skillet is oven proof and holds this amount, you can just use that instead.)

For easier mixing, transfer the squash to a large mixing bowl. Add the diced chiles, flour, and baking powder. Stir until well distributed. Add the cheese and again, stir until well combined. Whisk together the eggs with then milk and then pour over the squash and stir until well combined.

Lightly sprinkle half the crushed saltines along the bottom of the baking dish. Pour in the squash mixture into the dish and then sprinkle the rest of the saltines on top. Bake uncovered for 30-35 minutes or until the casserole is set and the top is lightly browned in places.

Serve warm. If you want to take it to a gathering, it can easily be reheated.

Yield: 6-8 servings

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