I love the Oscars. I mean, love them.
Readers probably already gathered this based on the fact that this is my second column on the subject in this section (read about my support for “Midnight in Paris” as best picture winner on the front page).
The love affair I have with the Academy Awards started at a very young age — my mother and I made sure to plop down in front of the television each year come late February and select not only our favorite movies, but favorite dresses, actors and music as well.
In my later years, I’ve taken to filling out my own ballot and marking the winners as I go along. The show is never too long for me, as some might complain, and I try to overlook the distasteful campaigning some filmmakers and actors do to garner votes.
To me, the Oscars are the epitome of all the glitz and glamour one associates with Hollywood and filmmaking and I love nothing more than to immerse myself in that magic each year.
And so I headed into this week’s Curious Culinarian with tonight’s Academy Awards in mind — I wanted to cook something related to one of the best picture nominated films.
I played with the idea of whipping up something Hawaiian in honor of the latest George Clooney flick, “The Descendants.” But I’m not a huge fan of Spam, so that was nixed.
I could have easily gone with something highlighting the French culinary world, a nod to “Hugo” and “Midnight in Paris.” Or perhaps something from my own Texas roots for “The Tree of Life” — the film was set in my birthplace of Waco, after all.
But if any one of the nine best picture nominees were to get the golden statue based on the role of food, it would be “The Help.” And that dish would be Minny’s chocolate pie. You know ... the pie involved in the “terrible awful.”
We won’t go into the detail of the “terrible awful” in a column that’s meant to support the consumption of this pie. Suffice it to say, this one’s the G-rated version of that oh-so-delicious pie Minny makes.
The recipe — which is straight from Lee Ann Flemming, the woman who baked the pies for the movie — is actually pretty darn easy and its construction reminds me quite a bit of another southern favorite, the buttermilk pie. You essentially mix all the ingredients together, pour into a blind-baked pie shell, bake and voila!
I think the most important thing I learned from this baking project was how to blind bake a pie crust. Feel free to make your own pie dough or cheat like I did and buy the rolled up stuff from the grocery store (found near the biscuits in a cooler case).
The important thing to remember is to use pie weights or dried beans to weigh the dough down during its first go at baking sans filling. Otherwise, the dough will puff up in areas and make for uneven baking later.
I found the baking times given by Flemming, whose recipe I found on www.foodandwine.com, to be a little off and that may just be a problem I have with my over. Good thing is you can eyeball this a bit, which is not something you can say for most baking ventures.
Fellow Curious Culinarian Jill Keppeler even suggested making little mini Minny’s pies, which would be a perfect treat to serve at an Oscar’s party. The recipe is so easy, you still have plenty of time to whip it up for tonight.
Minny’s chocolate pie
1 packaged pie dough crust
1 1/2 cups sugar
3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
2 large eggs, beaten
3/4 cup evaporated milk
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
Whipped cream, for serving
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Place pie dough into a 9-inch pie plate, crimping edges for decoration and poking a few holes throughout. Line the dough with parchment paper or foil and fill with pie weights or dried beans to cover entire bottom of crust.
Bake for 15 minutes or until the crust is set. (It took my oven about 10 minutes.) Remove weights and parchment or foil and bake for another 5 minutes or until the crust is dry but not brown.
In a bowl, whisk together the remaining ingredients until smooth. Make sure that the melted butter isn’t straight from the stove or microwave — hot butter could cook the eggs in the mixture.
Pour the filling into the pie shell and bake for about 20 minutes.
Cover the edges of the crust with foil and put back into the over for another 20 minutes or so, until the filling is set around the edges but still a little wobbly in the center.
Let pie cool completely before serving and keep uneaten pie refrigerated.
Contact features editor Danielle Haynes at 693-1000, ext. 4116.
I love the Oscars. I mean, love them.
Stop and smell the flowers
More than 90 private gardens throughout Western New York, and a number of public ones, are open to the public for select hours Thursdays and/or Fridays during July as part of the National Garden Festival’s Open Gardens program, now in its fifth year. The program is separate and distinct from local garden walks, and the gardens range from Gasport to Holland. They’re organized into districts of about five to eight gardens each, including Northtowns West (which includes gardens in Kenmore and the Town of Tonawanda) and Niagara Trail (which includes gardens in Lockport, Gasport and Lewiston).
For the love of nature
Sara Johnson lives surrounded by green and growing things. Showing a visitor around her apartment in North Buffalo, she pointed out the plants in every room, the balcony and even in two small greenhouses — houseplants, flowers, vegetables, even carnivorous plants.
"I try to keep as much growing in the house as I can," she said.
Another goal of hers is to show others how to do the same — and to that end, Johnson is offering a series of workshops this summer in connection with her business, Sylvatica Terrariums, and Project 308 Gallery in North Tonawanda, teaching people how to bring a piece of the outdoors into their homes in the form of a terrarium or other greenery.
Getting some fresh air
As an effort to get children out of the big city and give them a chance to spend part of their summer playing outside, the Fresh Air Fund brings New York City kids to stay with host families for a 10-day trip to a place which is vastly different from their usually surroundings.
“They will be running outside and playing in the grass and going swimming,” said Cheryl Flick, a fund representative of the Northern Erie and Niagara Counties chapter of the Fresh Air Fund at a picnic for the host families and kids. “They won’t be cooped up inside, they’ll be outside, getting fresh air and being active.”
Still waiting for that letter from Hogwarts
I think it’s true of many parents, that amidst the many challenges and hard work of parenting, we anticipate the day our children grow up just enough ... to like the same things we like, whether it’s as an ongoing phenomenon or a fond childhood memory.
Calling all the basic locavores!
Did you know that the suffix “vore” comes from the Latin word “voro,” which means to devour? I probably knew that once, but I should have paid better attention in my Latin class. “Vore” is used to form nouns indicating what kind of a diet an animal has, such as omnivore, carnivore and herbivore.
A closer look at NT
When Explore Buffalo Tours got started about eight months ago, the business concentrated on specialized tours designed to showcase specific aspects of the City of Buffalo’s history, architecture and culture.
Now the organization is looking to the future and trying out ways to highlight the other unique aspects of the Western New York region. The tours change out each month, but the more popular ones will circulate back in, according to Explore Buffalo Executive Director Brad Hahn. This month it’s test-driving its “North Tonawanda: Lumber City” tour, one of only a few to take place outside the City of Buffalo. (Although a Lockport tour is in the works.)
Fitness in the sun
Following a trend of public, outdoor exercise programs, a number of local venues are offering their own free events aiming to get residents outside and active during the summer.
Beyond the bakery
For years, Muscoreil’s Fine Desserts & Gourmet Cakes has been a go-to location for desserts and wedding and occasion cakes in Western New York.
This summer, even as the bakery deals with the rush of wedding season, changes at its associated bistro aim to create a revitalized focus on that side of the business, as well.
Figuring out the birthday-party rules
The options when you escort your child to a birthday party are endless, really. Everywhere you turn, there’s another thrill to uncover.
The tail of two books
As promised, here are some more new summer reads that are all about our critter companions. Both books were released mid-June, and although they are quite different from one another, both would be valuable assets for your in-house library.
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- Stop and smell the flowers