Thursday, May 26, 2011

The Amazing Chocolate Pie

For my birthday, I had a hankering for chocolate pie. Specifically, I was curious about the technique mentioned in the most recent Cooking Light which combines some melted chocolate with the chocolate crumbs for the crust.

Rose volunteered to make the pie and was astonished by how easily it went together. She and a friend had a little pie business during their freshman year of college and Rose made many a chocolate pie during that time. She says that she never had a pie recipe work so well or be so quick as this.

This was an amazing pie. A deep, rich chocolate flavor; perfect texture with no lumps; just firm enough. Truly a superior dessert experience.

We did take two liberties with the recipe. We had whole milk and so used that instead of 1% milk. And we used real whipped cream instead of fat-free Cool Whip. Also, I didn't have any raspberries. They would have looked pretty but they weren't missed.

Cooking Light named this Rich Chocolate Pudding Pie. We call it ...

The Amazing Chocolate Pie

YIELD: 10 servings (serving size: 1 pie slice, about 1 tablespoon berries, and 1 tablespoon whipped topping)
HANDS-ON: 20 MINUTES
TOTAL: 4 HOURS, 45 MINUTES

Ingredients

CRUST
30 chocolate wafers (such as Nabisco's Famous Chocolate Wafers)
3 ounces bittersweet chocolate, melted
1 tablespoon canola oil

FILLING
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup cornstarch
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 3/4 cups 1% low-fat milk, divided (we used whole milk)
2 large egg yolks
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
1 tablespoon white rum
1/2 cup fresh raspberries
10 tablespoon fat-free frozen whipped topping, thawed (we used whipped cream*)

Preparation
1. To prepare crust, place wafers in a food processor; process until finely ground. Add 3 ounces melted chocolate and oil; process until blended. Press into bottom and up sides of a 9-inch pie plate. Freeze the 15 minutes or until set.

2. To prepare the filling, combine sugar, cornstarch, cocoa, and salt in a large saucepan; stir with a whisk. Add half of milk and 2 yolks; stir with a whisk until smooth. Stir in the remaining milk. Cook over medium heat for 5 minutes or until thick and bubbly, stirring constantly. Remove from heat. Add 4 ounces chocolate, and stir until smooth. Stir in rum. Pour filling into prepared crust. Cover with plastic wrap; chill 4 hours or until set. Serve with raspberries and whipped topping.

* To whip cream, we poured about a cup of heavy cream into a bowl, sprinkled in a spoonful or so of powdered sugar, picked up a whisk and whisked it all together briskly until the cream held its shape. Easy as ... wait for it ... pie!

Saturday, May 21, 2011

When You Can't Wake Up and Smell the Coffee (Or Taste It Either): Reviewing "Season to Taste" by Molly Birnbaum

Season to Taste: How I Lost My Sense of Smell and Found My WaySeason to Taste: How I Lost My Sense of Smell and Found My Way by Molly Birnbaum

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Having been admitted to the Amazon Vine Program I was eager to find a book to try that I would not normally come across. This one, in which Molly Birnbaum relates her loss of smell due to a head injury and intersperses her story with delving into the science of smell, filled the bill. What makes Birnbaum's loss of smell, and subsequent almost complete loss of the ability to taste, all the more painful is that she was set to go to the Culinary Institute of America to begin training as a chef. Watching her learn to deal with her unexpectedly debilitating infirmity is fascinating and is making me more aware of all the scents that make the pattern of my life.

Birnbaum is an unexpectedly good writer. Possibly because she had to focus on the visual and textural aspects of food and the world around her after losing her sense of smell, she describes her environment and experiences in a way that takes the reader into her world. This can be unexpectedly jarring when she points out aspects of scent that affect us daily in ways that we never thought about. For example, if one isn't smelling pine or mint or some other vivid fragrance, can we remember what it is like? It was rather disturbing to realize that I couldn't actually do so in the way that I can recall a flavor. These experiences enhance our appreciation for what Birnbaum and others deprived of scent go through. The science of the book was interesting and I appreciated the fact that it was interwoven with the personal story. This added gravity to Birnbaum's story and lightened the science enough to take it all in. Her quest takes her to science labs, Ben and Jerry's ice cream factory, perfume experts, and a chef who managed to keep cooking despite developing tongue cancer. One of the most fascinating sections of the book was when the author went to perfume training school in France in an attempt to give her olfactory neurons additional stimulus and herself extra training to help her recognition of scents.

My one negative feeling about the book was that Birnbaum kept on worrying about how much of her sense of smell would return, even after much of it had come back. While understandable on one hand, and probably an accurate accounting of her feelings, the overall effect was to make the book was to become tedious and whiny seeming at times.

I did wonder, as the book went on and time seemed to be passing year by year, was how Birnbaum was supporting herself. A job or two is mentioned but only ever as a method of helping to cope with or try to train her limited sense of smell. At other times, she clearly is not employed and I wondered how she was able to afford living in New York City or traveling to France to attend perfume school. It didn't detract from the story but it did occur to me forcibly from time to time.

Overall, I recommend the book to anyone who is interested in cooking, taste, perfume, and the science of scent. Oh, and an interesting story well told.

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