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