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Banana Cream Pie

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This weekend we traveled to North Carolina for my bridal shower.  My bridesmaids are my sisters, Lauren and Genevieve, my cousin Mary Catherine, and my best friend, Megan.  They’ve been planning and plotting for months and on Saturday they threw a beautiful, elegant, heartwarming shower.  I couldn’t have wished for anything better and it made me feel so incredibly loved.  I can’t wait for them to get married so that I can return the favor.

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In addition to the shower, Dan and I had a very full weekend.  On Friday we had dinner with my mother, brothers, and grandparents (mangoritas and tuna tacos, anyone?).  On Saturday before the shower, Dan’s parents joined my mother at her house for brunch.  After the shower, Dan’s parents and his sister and niece came to my father and stepmother’s house for dinner, which made Saturday a very full day of family fun.  When we arranged all of these gatherings a few weeks ago, I decided the least I could do was bring home some pie.

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Since I started this food blog last year, the most common response that I get from friends and family is “why don’t you make me that?” or, more often “where’s my pie?”  I try and keep our door open to people in our area and I never show up empty-handed at someone’s home, but people are always quick to ask where their share of cookin’ is.  The most pathetic offender is my sister Genevieve, who just finished her freshman year at UNC.  On more than one occasion our conversation went something like “I was reading your blog while eating (insert some disgusting combination of cheap processed food) and I hate you for not mailing me some.”

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I decided to make a banana cream pie for a few reasons.  First of all, I love banana cream pie.  I am a banana pudding devotee, and banana cream pie is just as good and in some ways better.  I also knew I wouldn’t have time before Saturday’s dinner to make anything, so I wanted something I could make ahead of time and freeze.  Because banana cream pies are no-bake pies they freeze incredibly well.  Finally, I don’t think there’s anyone in our family that doesn’t like banana pie or pudding.

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I made it with a vanilla wafer crust (at Dan’s request), which turned out wonderfully.  I didn’t have to add a lot of sugar to the mix because the wafers are so sweet, and the flavor was perfect.  I used instant vanilla pudding because I was short on time, but if you are making scratch pudding, I have some recommendations.  For one, the pudding should always  be vanilla flavored in banana pies and puddings, never banana flavored.  Also, people expect the pudding to be yellow, so a few drops of food coloring will make it the perfect color so that it looks just like banana pudding should.

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(from left, Mary Catherine, Megan, Elena, Genevieve, & Lauren)

Banana Cream Pie

2 cups vanilla wafers

1/2 stick butter

1/2 cup sugar

1 box vanilla instant pudding (scratch recipe here)

3 cups milk

3 bananas

1 cup heavy whipping cream

1 tsp vanilla extract

Start by making your crust.  Combine wafers and 1/8 cup sugar in a food processor.  Melt your butter, and toss.  With crumb crusts like this you end up pressing your crust in.  Don’t worry about it being flaky, the cooling process and the addition of pudding later will firm it up like magic.  Press the mixture into the pie pan until the bottom and sides are fully coated and there are no holes.  Refrigerate at least 1 hour.

When your crust is nice and cool, go ahead and make your pudding.  One box of pudding calls for 3 cups of cold milk, and you just whisk for two minutes.  Let it set for about five minutes.

While it’s setting, slice bananas and line the pie crust with them.  You want the whole pie to have bananas, even the sides, so don’t be shy.  After you’ve done that, scoop the pudding into the dish and spread evenly over the bananas and crust.

Whisk heavy cream, remaining sugar, and vanilla extract until stiff peaks form.  Scoop the whipped cream onto the top of the pie and spread it evenly.  Refrigerate for at least 2 hours, and then serve.

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Monkey Bread

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This week my Aunt Donna passed away, and as a result I’ve been thinking a lot about my elementary school years.  We lived in southern Florida, and my Aunt Donna and Uncle Bill lived just over the bridge.  Their house was beautiful and they had a big yard full of hundred year old trees to climb.  Their house was incredible, especially from a child’s perspective.  My aunt’s collection of stuffed koala bear dolls, their bar that had treasure maps and sand and shells trapped under a sheet of glass.  Aunt Donna even had the entire collection of original Nancy Drew books, a series that she lent me each and every one of.

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Dan and I drove up to New Jersey for the service, and I’m really glad that we did.  I was reminded what a truly sweet, kind, and generous person Aunt Donna was.  In listening to other people’s stories and anecdotes I realized that my experience with her hospitality wasn’t rare, that her home was open to anyone who needed a place to sleep, a book to read, or a lap to snuggle in.  My heart broke for everyone sitting in that room- sisters, daughters, granddaughters, friends.  I was just thankful that I got to know her, that I was afforded the opportunity to spend my childhood with someone like her.

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One food that really epitomizes my childhood for me is monkey bread.  I loved making monkey bread, and I wanted to bring the ultimate comfort food with us to New Jersey.  I used to love making it with my mother, and it should go without saying that I loved eating it just as much.  Before we left on Monday I spent the day making it with my little friend Marin.  It’s a really fun recipe to make, and there are a lot of dipping and kneading steps where little hands can play a big part.

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I bought this monkey bread dish from Williams-Sonoma, and it came with a recipe.  I don’t remember how my mother made it growing up, but knowing her she made it from scratch.  I’ve seen it done where people used canned biscuits, which tastes great, but I’m a from scratch kind of girl.  The dough is easy to make, and while there is a lot of waiting involved (whenever there is yeast, there is downtime) it’s worth it.

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There are certain traditions from my childhood that I really can’t wait to pass on to my own kids, and baking is absolutely one of them.  I have always loved being in the kitchen with my parents and grandparents, and I really cherish the nostalgia certain foods hold for me.  Few things will ever taste better than monkey bread to be because after one bite I am six years old again, begging my mother to make it.

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For the same reasons I cherish books and smells, certain movies and songs.  One glimpse of a Nancy Drew book in a second hand shop and I can feel the warm breeze on my face, the excitement I felt as the plot thickened, swinging on a hammock in Aunt Donna and Uncle Bill’s back yard.  Their house was home to my first serious injury (stitches in my foot from a barnacle), my first jet ski ride (moments before the stitches), some of my best birthday parties, and the first beer I ever poured from a tap (Uncle Bill taught me carefully how to pour it without getting any foam).  I have a lot of really incredible memories of them, and remembering them with friends and family this week was really special.  When I was a kid I would sit on her lap and count her wrinkles, and I know now that as I get older every wrinkle will make me laugh and remember what a kind, wonderful person she was.

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Monkey Bread
Source: Williams-Sonoma

Dough:

3/4 cup warm milk

1/2 cup warm water

2 tbsp butter, melted

1/4 cup sugar

1 egg, lightly beaten

1 package rapid rise yeast

3 1/2 cups flour

2 tsp salt

Sugar Coating:

1 cup light brown sugar

2 tsp ground cinnamon

8 tbsp butter, melted

Glaze:

4 tbsp butter

1/2 cup light brown sugar

1/4 cup maple syrup

1 tsp cinnamon

1 tbsp water

All ingredients should be room temperature unless otherwise noted.

Whisk together milk, water, melted butter, sugar, egg, and yeast.  In a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook, quickly mix flour and salt.  Slowly add milk mixture while it’s mixing at a low speed.  Beat for about two minutes until a dough forms, and then increase the speed for an additional five, until the dough becomes smooth and glossy.

Turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead for an additional two minutes.  Oil a mixing bowl, place the dough ball in it, turn once, and cover with a damp towel.  Let the dough rise for an hour.

To make the sugar coating, whisk together brown sugar and cinnamon and melt the butter.  Set it up in a line- dough, butter, sugar, baking pan.  I made my monkey bread in the ceramic monkey bread dish I bought at W-S.  However, you can make it in a bundt pan as well.

When your dough has risen, cut it into about 40-50 square inch pieces.  Roll each piece into a ball.  Dip the dough balls in butter, then in the sugar mixture, and then place in your baking dish.

Cover the dish with plastic wrap and let rise an additional 45 minutes in a warm place.

Heat your oven to 350.  Bake the bread for 25 minutes, and then cover loosely with aluminum foil and bake an additional 30.  You want the dough to be golden brown and springy to the touch.

While your bread is baking, you’ll make your glaze.  Heat your butter, syrup, cinnamon, and sugar in a pan and melt it all completely.  It only takes twenty minutes or so over low heat.

When the bread is baked and the glaze is done, pour the glaze evenly over the bread and let it sit for ten minutes.  Serve and enjoy!

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Cardamom-Semolina Shortbread Cookies

This weekend Dan and I are traveling to Bainsbridge, Pennsylvania so that he can complete his SCUBA training.  He’ll be doing his checkout dives in a quarry, so we’re going to camp out and make a weekend out of it.  I know I’ve talked a little on this site about my father’s dive charter and my family’s passion for diving.  My dad and I got certified when I was 16 (it was my sweet 16th birthday present) and since my father and my brother Reid have become dive masters, I’m a rescue diver with dreams of doing my divemaster training (after the wedding maybe), and my brother Ryan, my sister Lauren, and my stepmom have all also gotten certified.

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Diving is something Dan has been interested in doing since his boy scout days, so no matter what my sisters insist I promise I’m not making him get certified.  I am, however, completely ecstatic that he wants to be a diver because it’s such a big part of my life, I can’t wait to share it with him.  And since we have no plans to expand the size of our family (except maybe for a dog) anytime soon, I’m hoping we can spend the next 5-7 years taking trips together diving (especially to New Zealand).

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Camping is also something that I love to do.  I have a lot of really incredible family memories from our years of camping, from the night it rained so hard the 40 year old tent flooded and all six kids slept in the car to the amazing sand camping trip I took with a few of my siblings and my cousin all up and down the Outer Banks.  Dan is an Eagle Scout and spent a few summers as a scout camp counselor, so it’s fair to say he is much more experienced in the world of wilderness than I am.  Nonetheless, I have been excited about this particular trip since we signed Dan up for his open water class a few months ago.  I’ve spent the week digging through our closet pulling out gear and planning.

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We are going to be there for two lunches, one dinner, and one breakfast.  Saturday night we’ll go out to dinner, which takes away from the whole wilderness thing but all the dive students go out with their significant others and their dive instructor (we’ll also be the only ones camping so naturally we’ll be the prettiest).  I decided that I would make rosemary biscuits for Sunday morning so that we could have bacon, egg, and cheese biscuits (he’ll need the energy to dive and I’ll need the energy to sunbathe and read Harry Potter).  I also wanted to bring a batch of cookies for snacking, on top of the fruit and granola bars.  What is a camping trip without cookies?

I recently started receiving the Food Network magazine (which I love), and they had a recipe for Cardamom-Semolina shortbread cookies.  My love for shortbread and shortbread cookies is no secret, and I love the flavor of cardamom, so I decided they would be perfect.  I had never before worked with semolina flour, so I did a little research.  Semolina flour is usually used for pastas, gnocchi, and couscous.  It’s yellow in color and a little coarser than regular flour.

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These cookies are delicious and easy to make.  The recipe makes a bajillion (or 8 dozen), so you can halve it or freeze half of the dough.  If you do decide to freeze the dough, wrap it in wax paper and then put it in a freezer bag.  It’ll keep for a few months.  The recipe calls for you to make a log, refrigerate it, and then slice and bake it.  Cooling the dough allows them to keep their shape while they bake.  Otherwise the butter would liquify and make one giant cookies.  Believe me, Dan & I have made that mistake before.  It also called for orange-flower water, which is not something I possess.  It says you can substitute orange extract or orange liquor.  I threw in some Triple Sec and for good measure added a tablespoon of orange blossom honey.

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Oh!  And as of today, Biscuits and Such is an official ISSN holding member of the Library of Congress!  You can search for us with the ISSN number 1948-1128!!

Cardamom-Semolina Shortbread Cookies
Source: Adapted from Food Network Magazine, February/March 2009

3 1/4 cups all purpose flour

3/4 cups semolina flour

2 tsp cardamom

4 sticks unsalted butter, softened

1 1/4 cup sugar

1/4 tsp salt

2 large egg yolks

1 tsp orange liquor

1 tbsp orange blossom honey

1/4 cup sugar & 1/4 tsp cardamom for topping

Whisk together both flours and cardamom.

In a large bowl, beat the butter, sugar, and salt.  Mix it until it’s light and fluffy.  Beat in the egg yolks and when they’re fully incorporated, put away your mixer.  Use a spatula to fold in the flour, and fold until it’s just mixed.  Add the liquor and honey.

Divide the dough in half.  Lay out a sheet of wax paper and dump half the dough onto it.  Use the paper to form it into a log.  Wrap it in paper and refrigerate.  Repeat with the remaining dough.  It needs to be in the fridge for about an hour.

Mix the remaining sugar and cardamom.  Pull that dough log out and slice it into 1/4″ pieces.  Dip the top of each cookie into the sugar mixture, and place on a baking sheet.  Bake 12-15 minutes at 350.

Makes 8 dozen cookies.

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