I don't officially start with the Daring Bakers until February. But I checked to see what everybody did for January and just had to do it myself. January's choice was lemon meringue pie. I had been meaning to make a lemon pie anyway. After all, last week was National Pie Day and I just happen to have a laden lemon tree in my back yard. Also, I had never made a meringue pie before because I wasn't too interested in making meringue. But that's the beauty of the challenges - they challenge!
How the Daring Bakers work is that every month a challenge is given. Someone gets to select a recipe that everyone has to make. They all have to make THE SAME recipe and then document it on their blog. All blogs have to be posted on a certain date.

I was at a bit of an advantage because I looked at other participant's blogs and read about their trials and errors. I also knew there were tricks to meringue so that it wouldn't weep.
I made the crust first. I altered the recipe a bit because I used half all-purpose flour and half whole wheat flour. I've just been using whole wheat in pretty much everything these days. I found the crust to be the biggest challenge because I found it excessively crumbly. But using my Pampered Chef Bakers Mat and Bakers Roller, I managed to get a crust the size of my PC Stoneware Pie Plate. I don't own any pie weights, so I used beans. Then I covered the rim with the Pie Crust Shield and baked it.
Everyone said it was important that the crust be completely cooled. So that is why I made it after work and before I went to the gym. I took the extra crust and put jam on it and baked that. My grandma used to do that for us when I was kid and so I still do it as an adult.

I came home and went and picked some lemons. I knew from the internet that the key to the prevention of 'weeping' was that the pie filling should be hot when the meringue was put on top of it. That way it starts to cook the underside of the meringue and I guess helps to seal for moisture. So I decided I would need to have everything ready and quickly do the filling and meringue. I separated my eggs with my Egg Separator and had both parts ready. Then I got all the other ingredients ready. This included juicing and zesting the lemons. Oh, how I love my Pampered Chef tools. Used my Juicer and my Microplane.

After getting the meringue items ready (including the mixer, etc.), I started the filling on the stove. I had read that others found their fillings too runny, so I tried to keep it cooking and thickening as long as I could. At the point that you add the butter, I was stirring it with my left hand and had started whipping the meringue with my right. I decided to only use half a cup of lemon juice since others had complained about the runny filling. As I finished the both the meringue and the filling, I poured the filling into the crust and then immediately topped it with my meringue. Then into the oven.

I'm pretty impressed with my finished meringue.

Some others had commented that they had never made a lemon curd before. I actually have a really easy recipe that is done in the microwave. So I'm adding that microwave lemon curd post. Of course, that curd is a spreadable curd for scones, etc. So it isn't supposed to be 'stand up' thick.

Next Day Taste Test -
Well I guess I might have goofed. I had let the pie cool about half way, but not completely, when I put it in the frig for the night. The pie needed to cool and set before serving. Today I opened the frig to find that the meringue had shrunk and cracked. I cut myself a piece (good breakfast, huh) and found that my filling was also runny. Even with the less lemon juice and cooking it as long as I did. The taste was great, though. So, overall, I think that my product was good, it was the recipe that wasn't. I base this on all the other blogs I've been reading with similar results. So I will venture to make lemon meringue pie in the future, but with a new recipe.
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This month's Sacramento Epicureans' dinner was Peruvian at Koricancha Restaurant (also named Waffle King) at 2751 Fulton Avenue. For some weird reason this restaurant moonlights as a breakfast waffle house and then a Peruvian restaurant. Whatever. Anyway, the group was large and the $22 feast was quite a deal of authentic Peruvian cuisine - in stark contrast to the nouveau Peruvian I had in Portland last month.

We sat down to a waiting beverage. Chicha Morada (non alcoholic) is prepared from a base of boiled purple maize to which is added chunks of pineapple, sugar, and ice - or so the description says. I didn't see any chunks of pineapple in it. They followed this with an aperitif called Pisco Sour Cocktail. A traditional cocktail which contains Pisco (a regional brandy), lemon juice, egg whites, simple syrup, and regional bitters. I don't drink alcohol, but Paul, the Epicureans host, said it was delicious and kind of eggnoggy.

Appetizers came out next. First were Chicharroncitos de Pescado al Limón - small pieces of fried fish served in a lemon sauce. These were very light and flavorful. Some people chose to dip them in a very hot sauce that was on the tables. It was a very powerful sauce where a 'little dab'l do ya'.

Ocopa was next. Sliced boiled and sliced yellow potatoes covered with a sauce of yellow chili, milk, walnuts, fresh cheese and huacatay. These descriptions were supplied to us, but I did not see or taste any walnuts or cheese, so it must be a very minor blended ingredient.

Everyone's favorite was the Cebiche de Pescado - fresh raw fish, marinated in lime juice and aji limo, served with lettuce, Peruvian corn and julienne red onions. I'm not a fan of Mexican ceviche, but this Peruvian version was delicious. Paul tried to get seconds, with no luck.

Tamalito Verde was a cilantro seasoned tamale with beef inside. We were lucky to sit next to non-beef eaters. More for us! Again, I'm not a fan of tamales, but these were different and good.

Main courses were next. We were given white rice with a few peas and carrots mixed in. Then came the Aji de gallina - shredded chicken cooked in a yellow chilli sauce, marinated in bread crumbs, milk, parmesan cheese and nuts. We all joked that this dish reminded us of chicken ala king. We just needed a piece of toast to spoon it over.

Seco De Carne - beef, simmered in a fresh cilantro sauce. This was basically a stewed beef.

The Carapulca de cerdo was a traditional Inca Peruvian dish. Dried potatoes, pork meat with a special red panca pepper, peanuts and red wine.

The Cau Cau was the least favorite of everyone. Fresh beef tripe, cooked in a Peruvian yellow chili mixed with potatoes,and chef's spices. It was something I would never order, but I tasted it. Not for me. It was very acidic.

The dessert was Mazamorra Morada - jelly-like dessert which takes on the color of one of its main ingredients—purple maize. I had expected, from the description, a kind of cold jello. Instead it was a warm thick liquid with chunks of maize? in it and a sprinkling of cinnamon on top. Different, but tasty.

I enjoyed the event, as I always do. Will I go back again on my own? Probably not. But I may go back for breakfast.

Today is very hard for me. I had to put my 19.5 year old cat to sleep. I had thought she'd make it to 20, but I couldn't bring myself to make her push it.

She's been eating healthily and moving about great with no pain, just a little arthritis and she was blind. Everyone who saw her never believed she was near 20. She was even still able to jump up to my high bed only a year ago. But last month she started going to the bathroom around the house. I took her to the vet and spent a lot of money on tests. They said she had hyper thyroid and probably a urinary infection. After giving her medicine she seemed to improve in that she was at least going in the laundry room, but not getting in her box. But lately she's been peeing around the house again and I decided the meds weren't working. I spent the afternoon with her and gave her some salmon as her last meal. She loved that. It was then that I saw just how blind she'd become. She could smell the salmon and was all over her food area, even stepping in the bowl. But she just couldn't find the bowl under her nose. That pretty much cemented that it was the right time.

This last picture of her was taken today.

I've never experienced death before of any loved person or pet. All my other pets either disappeared or died when I was out of town and my parents handled it. Plus I had TPaw the longest - basically all the years I've been in Sacramento. I even had her longer than I knew Deon (ex-husband), who I met that same summer.

Her litter had a lot of defects - extra toes, etc. I asked for one of those because it made her special. She had big paws from the toes and so I named her TPaw after the toes and Star Trek. In the classic Trek episode "Amok Time", all the women on the planet Vulcan had TP.... names, like TPring. In fact, the matriarch on the episode was named TPau. And so that's where her name is from.

She was a bitchy cat in her younger days and very independent. Pets really are like their owners - LOL. In our first house our bedroom window was about 5.5 feet off the ground. If we didn't let her in each night, she would jump up outside and pound the window until we let her in. We got another cat because I thought she needed company. But in the end, she was more content as a solo cat and was much happier after the divorce and her own home. As she aged she got much friendlier and lovey. She lived the latter half of her life indoors.

I took her in and held her to the end. I had to go through with it til the end. Of course, I was bawling - and still am. It was pretty simple and fast.

So here is to TPaw. You were a good cat, hardly ever had to go the vet, and a very longtime companion. I love you and will miss you.

Thank you to Wayne Ward for taking our pictures last fall.

This week we could bring a cake or cupcakes to class. I decided to take the MLK holiday to make my cakes and a new batch of icing. Last week I also had decided that mixing up all this frosting stinks. So I went to Cake Castle and bought a gallon of pre-made frosting just for icing the cakes. The batches I make I will use for the decorating.

I bought my mixes at Food Source and saw that they have some new mixes out with Splenda. When you think about all the sugar I'm about to put on top in the form of frosting, it only made sense to cut some of it out of the cakes. Besides, I wanted to see how it tasted. So I made my dozen cupcakes and had some left over batter from the first batch. I decided to mix another box up and combine them so that I could make two thicker cake layers, thus having two cakes for the last two classes. Then I frosted the cupcakes and one of the layer cakes for this week's class. I did a much better job of frosting the cake this week - much smoother and flatter.

Tonite's class demonstrated a couple more techniques for flowers, and rounded shapes. You were supposed to make clowns too, but I opted to skip that part. Here Yvette works on her clowns and then this is a cake from one of the other women.

My photo (up top) doesn't show the yellow details. I tried the two different flower shapes we learned and some leaves. I did a bunch of different things on the cupcakes.

Next week we learn to make roses. Then Course II will probably start the week after that.

Everyone has always said that cake decorating class is fun. So when it was on sale for half price at Joann's, I signed up. The first class was an overview and showing us how to ice our cakes and fill a bag. Today was our first hands on class. But first I had to make an ice a cake. The instructor had said the buttercream icing would last for the course. Who was she kidding? It was only enough for this cake. And buttercream icing doesn't have any butter in it. It's Crisco, water, and powdered sugar - that's it! Luckily I've never been an icing person anyway. I'm a scraper.

My next challenge was the whole thing of not getting crumbs in my frosting and make it nice and flat and bumpless. As you can see, I didn't get it as smooth as I wanted to, but I figured - hey, it's my first attempt.

Today's class was learning to do stars, dots, and writing. Some people brought character cakes to work on or you could do a rainbow design. I wasn't concerned about some beautiful finished product at this point. I just want to get the techniques down first.

Here you can see Tami working on her teddy bear cake. And below is the finished cake.

I'll continue documenting my experiences over the next weeks.
In January there are a group of downtown restaurants who participate in Dine Out Sacramento. For $30 you get a 3-course meal. All of the restaurants sell out. I was able to get the Dining Group a reservation for 12 at Spataro's. Unfortunately it dwindled to 10 and then we had 3 no-shows. (It should be noted that flakers are at jeopardy of being kicked out of the group.) But the seven that were left ate very well. Unfortunately I forgot my camera. Sigh. Here were our choices:




Because Dean was with me, we decided we would just select both selections from each group and split them. This was a great decision. The salad was light and fresh with a citrusy dressing. The soup was our only disappointment of the meal. It arrived only warm and was not all that flavorful. I make a Tuscan Ribollita soup every summer with veggies and bread and it is so much better than this version.

Next came the main course. I started with the shrimp pasta. It looked very simple and had the small shrimp in it. But it was delicious. The pasta was homemade and it was tossed with a nice, light sauce. I could have eaten it all but we had to switch. This was a bit difficult because Dean didn't want to give up his pork dish. I finally snagged it and found out why. The caramelized onions were so flavorful! The pork was tender and flaky. There was the creamy mashed potatoes and crunch of the escarole. We enjoyed it.

Last was dessert. I saved chocolate for last. The apple crostata had a nice crust. But the chocolate was oh so much better - because it's chocolate!

We had a lovely time and thought of some future dining events for the next couple of months. I definitely felt we got a great $30 deal.

I like baklava, but always thought it was too hard to make. Then I've also been afraid of using phyllo dough. Since I am trying to learn new things, I decided to try baklava after reading the great reviews on allrecipes.com. This particular recipe has over 500 reviews and rates 5 stars!

As you can see from the pictures, the phyllo dough was just a tad too large for my baking stone. I probably should have done a better job of trimming it first, but thought at the time I would be able to trim it after I finished assembly. The edges, therefore, are a little flaky dry. Lesson for next time. I did add about 2 teaspoons of rose water to the nut mixture to give it that added Mideastern zing. All in all, the reviews are justified and it really was easy to make.


* 1 (16 ounce) package phyllo dough
* 1 pound chopped nuts
* 1 cup butter
* 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
* 1 cup water
* 1 cup white sugar
* 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
* 1/2 cup honey

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F(175 degrees C). Butter the bottoms and sides of a 9x13 inch pan.
2. Chop nuts and toss with cinnamon. Set aside. Unroll phyllo dough. Cut whole stack in half to fit pan. Cover phyllo with a dampened cloth to keep from drying out as you work. Place two sheets of dough in pan, butter thoroughly. Repeat until you have 8 sheets layered. Sprinkle 2 - 3 tablespoons of nut mixture on top. Top with two sheets of dough, butter, nuts, layering as you go. The top layer should be about 6 - 8 sheets deep.
3. Using a sharp knife cut into diamond or square shapes all the way to the bottom of the pan. You may cut into 4 long rows the make diagonal cuts. Bake for about 50 minutes until baklava is golden and crisp.
4. Make sauce while baklava is baking. Boil sugar and water until sugar is melted. Add vanilla and honey. Simmer for about 20 minutes.
5. Remove baklava from oven and immediately spoon sauce over it. Let cool. Serve in cupcake papers. This freezes well. Leave it uncovered as it gets soggy if it is wrapped up.

Review tips:
Make the sauce ahead of time.
Don't cut all the way thru to the bottom - it helps the sauce to soak in and not to just soak thru and sit in the bottom of the pan.
Put either hot sauce over cooled baklava or cooled sauce over hot baklava. Apparently putting hot sauce on hot baklava can cause sogginess.