Tuesday, March 15, 2011

If Dad Hates Pecans Why Did We All Have To Suffer?

Don’t get me wrong, I love pecan pie. Even Mindy who hates nuts loves pecan pie. But why did mom include this recipe in the cookbook…she never made us pecan pies. Ever. Come to think of it, why didn’t she ever make this recipe for us? My guess is her husband, & our nut hating father who claims ’they hurt my teeth, I can’t eat them.’ So mom rarely cooked or baked with any form of nut to appease the love of her life, thus making those of us (mainly me) who do love nuts & especially pecan pie to go without. Thanks Dad.

Therefore, we don’t have any cute or funny stories to go along with growing up on this recipe because…well, we didn’t grow up on it. But it’s a very old family recipe that mom held on to, & thought it would be a great one for us to have, hence why she included it in her book. So here’s the first recipe we’re making that she never got the chance to try. Deluxe Pecan Pie.

Now considering that mom was a culinary genius that liked to experiment in the kitchen, we had the idea to make the recipe as it is, & make a second one with chocolate in it, because chocolate pecan pie happens to be one of my personal favorite pies. I’m pretty sure mom would approve. So today as I set out to the store to collect the ingredients we would need for said pies, I found myself staring at all of the different types of baking chocolate & I had no clue what to do. Heck, I may have eaten my fair share of pecan pie slices but good grief I’ve never made one before either! And here I am about to alter a recipe I have no idea about. Should I get the bar of bittersweet chocolate? Will semi sweet chocolate chips melt enough? Will that make it too sweet? How much should I add? I found myself pulling my cell phone out of my purse to call my mom & ask her opinion. I have this easy out when it comes to cooking…my mom knows everything. I don’t have to use my own brain or look something up, why think for myself when Mom is just a phone call away with the answer to any question I could possibly have!

When the realization that she wasn’t a phone call away anymore hit the pain seared through my chest like losing her was happening all over again. I do this to myself a lot. It’s something my sisters & I always do.

On Saturday, Mindy & Amee ran to the store for some hamburger essentials when a man who use to work with Mindy & our mom many, many years ago spotted her & said “Hey, How’s Barbara?” Mindy couldn’t even muster an answer for a solid minute & a half before she finally got the words out. She described the feeling like hitting a wall. I would say it’s more of a rock hitting your heart then flying into your throat before collapsing into your stomach where the acid disintegrates it & it makes it’s way through your digestive tract. ’Oh hello heart, I was wondering when I would see you again” I say into the toilet.

With my phone clutched in my hand, and before I could have a meltdown in the store, ‘Cleanup on isle 6, a girl just pooped out her own heart.‘ I called Amee to get her opinion. She suggested semi sweet in a bar form, & we’d eyeball when the time came. I called Mindy for a second view but she didn’t answer the phone. I panicked. I’m not use to thinking for myself in the kitchen sometimes. That’s a hard thing to admit for a former chef, & current baker. My mom & I have the same education, but to just ask her made life easier..& she was always right. Always! Even towards the end when she was trapped in bed barely able to open her eyes or speak I’d run to her & ask “Is this pan safe to go in the oven for a frittata?” Or Mindy at her side with a pen & paper “Mom, tell me how you make hot tamales & then you can go back to sleep.” And she still knew it all! She would answer us every time, without fail, on point about everything. I’m telling you, I don’t exaggerate when I say ‘Culinary Genius’.

After looking through some Southern style magazines & trying to find a decent cookbook amongst the Romance Novels in the store I came up empty (which by the way, every Southern magazine should include a pecan pie recipe. I’m just saying. I came across like 17 different ways to fry chicken & make pound cakes. If you’re going to meet a stereotype, throw a freakin’ pie at me, would you?) I grabbed some semi-sweet chips & made a break for it. It’s all about trial & error anyway. We can’t all be as perfect as mom was.

Once we were together I showed up with a bag of FREE pecans that my roommate Emma had brought for me from her mother. They’re from an over 100 year old tree in her grandmother’s yard in Alabama. The timing was perfect to make this pie, considering that she had just come back in town from visiting her family there. This pie was going to be extra special, because her mom who’s actually been very sick lately got in the dirt & picked up all of these pecans just for me that had fallen from the tree (which means they’re ready to use). Now pecans come in a shell originally for anyone that maybe only buys them in a bag already shell free & possibly didn’t know this fact. We had to shell 2 cups of pecans. One cup for each pie. None of us had ever shelled pecans before, so we got our fingers dirty & working. Shelling pecans is very hard, I would just like to add. We recommend buying them already done for you. Though our experience was special, we didn’t really know what we were doing. We tried a nutcracker but I broke it (sorry Marc) then we just took a meat mallet & started cracking the nuts that way. It was a nice assembly line of Mindy hitting the shells, Amee taking out what she could, & me taking out the pieces of pecan Amee had left behind. Again, unless you have a 100 year old tree in your yard giving you an endless supply of free nuts, just buy the conveniently shelled bag located in the baking isle of your local neighborhood grocery store.

Although I can’t help but think that Mom would have had an amazingly fun time shelling those pecans with us. She probably would have had a better method too.

Before we get to the recipe as before I mentioned a chocolate version. The semi sweet chips worked splendidly. We weren’t sure on how much to add so we put a whole cup of chips in the pie. It tasted great, & was a huge hit with Mindy’s kids, but it tasted so much like a brownie. We recommend just using a half of a cup of semi sweet chocolate chips, so you get the true essence of the pie. And I must say, I wish Mom would have made us this pie all of the time, because even the original version was so good! It’s super easy to make & really, really tasty. Also, it’s so pretty! I sincerely hope that you try this one out & maybe even use it for your next holiday gathering. Sorry Dad, but we’re going to be making this one a lot from now on. Without further ado, The Deluxe Pecan Pie our Mom thought we’d like to make.

Deluxe Pecan Pie:
3 Eggs
1 Cup Karo Light or Dark Syrup
1 Cup Sugar
1 tsp Vanilla
½ tsp Salt
2 Tbls Margarine (melted)
1 Cup Pecans
1 Unbaked 9” Pie Shell
In medium bowl with mixer at medium speed, beat eggs slightly. Beat in next 5 ingredients. Stir in Pecans. Pour into pie shell. Bake in a 350 degree oven 55-65 minutes or until knife inserted in center comes out clean.

McGee Children Tips: If adding chocolate chips, stir them in when you add the pecans. Also, we suggest using deep dish pie shells for this recipe. Make sure to bake it on a cookie sheet. It gives you the option, but I prefer the Dark Karo syrup for this recipe because it makes for a much nicer, authentic color for the pecan pie. On a side note, I think the pie did taste extra special for three reasons: one, we'd never had it beofre & sharing it together was nice. Two, the 100 year old tree. Thanks to the Edwards family for their amazing gift! And three, the extra work in shelling those pecans. It really does make your dessert taste kind of magical.

This is what pre-shelled pecans look like, people.

After I broke the nutcracker. Again, sorry Marc.

On to the Meat Mallet!

The assemly line.
Look at this mess for only 2 cups of nuts!
And on the floor...
The original recipe pie.
Mischeviosly adding chocolate!
Both pies, pre-baked.
Testing for doneness.
They're such pretty pies!

And delicious too! Yes we each have a slice of both, & they are equally awesome. Enjoy!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Everybody say "Cheese Ball!"

What does the ‘Cheese Ball’ mean to me? Hmm, I love anything cheese. I hate nuts anywhere in my food. So to solve my dilemma because Mom loved me so, so much, she came up with this Cheese Ball just for moi, Mindy. Yes, everyone gets to benefit from it, so you’re welcome!

All the goodness of a cheese ball without the horror of the nuts. Now if you are one of those who has to have nuts on your ball (Hahaha) you do have the option of rolling it in them. We always use Club Crackers for spreadage but it’s great on any cracker! Choose your favorite! This recipe is a great appetizer for any occasion, small cocktail party, or huge holiday gathering. It is a staple for our McGee Christmas Eve Snack Out, every year without fail. (Stay tuned to our blog to learn more about that.) This past Christmas was our first Snack Out without our mom. We kept up spirits & made all of the classics in her honor. This was before dad delivered the 'Cookbook'  to us, so I made the cheese ball by memory & accidently added shredded cheese. Erin noted that it tasted different this year & it wasn't until we got together for the blog, that I realized what I had done wrong. This time it 'tasted like Christmas'. So yes, our first Christmas without her I messed up. But now I will certainly never forget exactly how it's made. It’s one of our favorite recipes because it’s unlike anything you will find, it tastes great, and it’s super easy. I have not a met a person that didn’t fall in love with this cheese ball at first bite! So here it is, the McGee famous cheese ball our Mom
taught us to make, nut free.

Cheese Ball
2- 8 oz packages Cream Cheese
1 cup chopped Pecans -yeah right!
½ cup chopped Green Peppers
2 Tblsp Chopped Onion *
1 can Crushed Pineapple-Drained
1 Tblsp Seasoned Salt

Mix well, shape into ball. Roll in one cup chopped pecans. (OPTIONAL!!!)

*Mom always used a yellow onion.
P.S. We recommend not using the Pecans, but she wrote the recipe closer to a traditional Cheese Ball for variation.

Now I, Amee, claim this recipe as one of my top favorites. I know it as something that we only make on Christmas Eve. I’m not sure why because it is so good but it just seems wrong to have it any other time of the year to me. Also, I personally could go without the onions, but if Mom put them in there I was still eating it. Erin, anything you want to add?

“Give me more Cheese Ball!” -Erin

Monday, February 21, 2011

How Many People Does it Take to Make a Coconut Pound Cake Like Mom Did?

Well, here we are. February. Time sure does go by fast when you’re trying to keep busy. Mom passed away at 3:53 on the morning of November 23, 2010. Even though she had been battling colon cancer for 3 years, the shock was still unsettling. Surrounded by all four of her children, husband, grandchildren & loving family members she took her last breath. Even in those last moments when she couldn’t even speak she still taught us something: the love of your family is the strongest love of all. Us four kids, & Dad didn’t say a word. We just held each other in a circle knowing our bond & love for one another was what was going to get us through this. And it certainly has.

In these first few months we’ve all been dealing & coping in our own ways. The best therapy though, has been when we get together & just talk about her. We always cry but it feels like she’s not that far away if we tell stories of things she did or said, memories, & of course her food. You see, mom’s greatest passion (other than her family) was cooking. She graduated from Le Cordon Bleu in Miami when she was in her 50’s, not letting age or lack of professional experience get in her way. And man was she gifted. The ideas she could come up with were just amazing, And I never saw her make a mistake in the kitchen…ever. Her love of all things food passed on to all of her kids. None of us are picky eaters (except for Amee’s weird dislike of salt) and are more than willing to try anything at least once. We’re also extremely hands on. We like to make our own meals, try new recipes, & never let the kitchen intimidate us…ever. Me, Erin, I followed her footsteps & also attended Le Cordon Bleu in the hopes of someday getting to be on her level of culinary mastery. Her biggest dream in life was to open a restaurant with her family. We would sit for hours just talking about it, making plans, picking recipes & themes. The closest we got was when she ran the Le Petite Café inside of the culinary school, and it was working alongside her there that I saw what a savvy business woman she was. Every idea she had was a hit. She was a hard worker, and most importantly loved what she did. When the President of the school decided to get rid of me because they didn’t feel like family should work together, my mom quit her dream job because she refused to stay at a place that wouldn’t let her work with her child. She chose me over her perfect job. It was beautiful. She caused a huge scene packing all of her things while half the school watched the amazing Barbara McGee leave with her daughter, her joy, her pride, & all of her Christmas decorations. We went home and sang Christmas karaoke while she got me drunk for the first time (I was 19) and then held my hair as I puked in her bathroom. My mom left the café she had worked so hard on making into something special & her perfect career all for the loyalty she held to her family. What a woman.

We as her kids try everyday and aspire to be just like her in every way possible. It’s so hard because she was so perfect. Always smiling, laughing, & extremely supportive even if you were being an idiot. Who’s like that??? Who can be that perfect all of the time? Well, our mom was, and even though all four of us combined still don’t make up half the woman she was, that doesn’t stop us from trying.

So again, here we are, February, and trying to adjust to life without the perfect mom. We came up with the fantastic idea to cook & blog our way through the cookbook she left to us. Also, we get to share her legacy with whomever decides to read this. Best therapy ever? We’ll see.

First up her world famous coconut pound cake. This is her most famous recipe among us, her family, and the greater part of Miami, FL where she use to sell it. It looks and sounds so simple, and it is super easy to make. But once you’ve had a taste it becomes like some sort of drug. You can’t stop eating it. We would beg her to make it all of the time. It took a few years before Mindy & Amee realized they could just ask for the recipe & make it themselves. (Mikey & I still lived at home with her and there was no need for us to learn. Ha.) The first time Mindy made it herself she called mom on the phone from another state asking for the recipe. She was forced to do her first cake alone. Successful though. Amee was fortunate enough to be with mom & get to make it with her her first time around. And me, Erin, I wanted to enter a baking competition at age 18 right before I started culinary school. My mom knew in order to have a chance I needed to make THE coconut pound cake. So of course she helped me and was with me my first (and up until last Thursday only) time making the cake. She had the idea to garnish it with chocolate covered strawberries & put a doily underneath it for a simple presentation. There’s a picture somewhere of that particular cake and day but I’ll need to find it. I had to go to work before they announced the winners of the contest. So after a couple of hours of folding clothes in the dressing room of the Gap my mom ran in the store with a certificate that had my name on it. I had placed 5th out of 36 desserts. (5th was also the last prize you could place in, so it was even more awesome because I had placed) Oh my God! I’m pretty sure I scared some people but I was so excited! And she was too because her daughter had done something really impressive. Plus it was her recipe. And it was her legacy. I will never forget the look on her face when she came into the Gap to tell me. She couldn’t wait until I got home, she went straight from the school all the way to the mall just to be able to tell me in person and right away.

She had to buy 50 pound boxes of coconut flakes at a time to keep up with the demand of this cake. Not only in the sandwich shop that use to sell it before the health department said cakes made in homes couldn’t be sold in restaurants, and the friends & friends of friends that would pay her to make it for there parties, but also the husband & four children who craved it regularly. Yes, it is that good.

So here it is folks, the award winning coconut pound cake our mom taught us to make. Also, us translating the recipe without her being a phone call away for guidance. Photos included!

Coconut Pound Cake:
1 Cup Oil
1 Cup Sugar
5 Eggs
1 Cup Plain Flour
1 ½ tsps Baking Powder
1 tsp. Salt

1Cup Buttermilk
2 tsps. Coconut Flavoring
1 Can Angel Flake Coconut*

½ Cup Water
1 Cup Sugar
2 tsps. Coconut Flavoring**
Boil water and sugar for one minute, remove from heat & stir in coconut flavoring.

*We’re typing the recipe as it was given to us, however you cannot find a can of coconut flakes. I checked 3 different stores & no luck. Amee swears she’s bought it before but I think she’s crazy. This recipe is very old hence why it calls for a can. No, no can. As I said before mom use to by huge boxes of coconut flakes & just measure out 2 cups, because Mindy says it’s a 16 ounce can & there’s 8 ounces in a cup. So, you can ignore the can, buy a bag & measure out 2 cups. Same thing.
**Yes, you will need a total of 4tsps. It goes in the cake & the sauce. Again, after much debate, we realized this is the way it is suppose to be.

With a blender mix together oil, sugar, combine eggs one at a time, blend until yellow coloring. Sift flour, baking powder & salt. Slowly blend flour mixture, and buttermilk into wet mixture. After well blended, stir coconut flavor and can of coconut into mixture. Grease & flour tube pan. Pour mixture into pan and bake at 350 for one hour. Remove from oven and pour Sauce over.

McGee children tips:
Sift dry ingredients before you do anything else, so it’s ready to go. Make sauce once the cake is out of the oven. It needs to be very hot sauce over very hot cake, and the cake stays in the pan during this step. Also, it’s not in the recipe, but mom always poked holes in the cake with a toothpick before pouring the sauce so it seeps into the cake for maximum flavor. Let cake sit for 30minutes & then flip onto plate the do a double flip onto cake stand (The picture shown shows just one flip. Mindy said it needed a double flip, but Amee & I argued her. After looking at the picture again, Mindy was right. Double flip was how mom always did it. And trust us, it looks so much better.)

Whether with a fork or your hand, enjoy!