Homemade Oatmeal Cream Pies

As I may have mentioned once or twice before, I spent last summer singing in a musical revue of TV theme songs at the Minnesota Fringe Fest. Every evening leading up to the festival, the company gathered to learn the intricate harmonies of our favorite old television theme songs – Laverne and Shirley, The Great Space Coaster, Charles in Charge, Joanie Loves Chachi, and dozens more.

Oatmeal Cream Pies

I left rehearsal each night awash in sweet nostalgia, remembering all the lost treasures of my youth. Sweet Valley High books, Love’s Baby Soft, Donkey Kong, feather earrings. And in honor of our opening night performance, my own personal retro-fest extended to the kitchen, where I prepared one of my favorite childhood meals: an open-face Spaghetti-O’s sandwich on spongy, white Wonder bread, liberally buttered, and for dessert a Little Debbie Oatmeal Cream Pie.

Marshmallow Filling

I sat down to dine on happy memories in the sparkly glow of unicorn stickers, and I was sorely disappointed. The Spaghetti-O’s were nothing but pasta mush and mysterious gristle-balls in metallic-tasting goo. Uh-oh, Spaghetti-O’s, indeed. And the Oatmeal Cream Pie was oddly textured, and so sugary sweet, a single bite made my teeth ache.

Oatmeal Cookies

Sadly, my beloved childhood meal held up over time about as well as Elizabeth Wakefield’s tuxedo shirt.

Oatmeal Cookie Dough

I suppose it wasn’t all that difficult to let go of my fondness for Spaghetti-O’s sandwiches – the things I loved about them are easily duplicated in a big-girl plate of pasta and a sliced baguette. But how could I expect fresh-faced Little Debbie to mature along with my palette? It soon became clear that the only solution was to make oatmeal cream pies from scratch.

The recipe is adapted (just barely) from Natalie’s Killer Cuisine, where Little Debbie grew up and graduated with a master’s degree in tasty treats for the kid inside. The cookie-cakes are quietly spiced with nutmeg and cinnamon, then filled with creamy marshmallow frosting. The soft, puffy cookies combined with a fairly stiff filling made for a relatively tidy dessert with few squissues.

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Pepperoni-Stuffed Chicken Breasts

Pepperoni Stuffed Chicken
The first Valentine’s Day that Handsome Greg and I spent together came just two weeks after we met. In that lovely fortnight, we shared lingering dinners, stories of our respective pasts, several bottles of wine, and a mutual love of Ralph Wiggum. We quoted sweet, hapless Ralph to each other in nearly every situation, appropriate or not (“Sleep? Yippee! That’s where I’m a Viking!”).

Baked Pepperoni Stuffed Chicken
Valentine’s Day that year crept up way too early in our budding relationship. How do you celebrate the big V after only two weeks of dating? Greg paced the greeting card aisle on date night, bombarded with vows of everlasting love, and jokes about sex and chocolate. Not a single card was suitable for a promising romance in its infancy, and he left the gift shop empty-handed.

Pepperoni-Stuffed Chicken
Hours later, I opened his card, and my heart filled with laughter and other cured meats. He’d made a card himself, with a picture of Ralph Wiggum in front of a train, and the words, “I choo, choo, choose you.” That was eleven years ago.

Pepperoni in Chicken
Between our anniversary, Greg’s birthday (also this week), and Valentine’s Day just around the corner, this time of year is a Greg-and-Suzy Love Fest. So on Saturday, I’m making one of his favorite dishes: chicken stuffed with mozzarella and pepperoni, baked in marinara. The pepperoni, sauce, and cheese keep the boneless, skinless chicken breasts nice and juicy. I originally made this same dish with salami, and I found it a bit too oily. So I replaced the salami with turkey pepperoni and, as predicted, the spicy pepperoni charmed the pants off of the chicken. The pepperoni and the chicken subsequently, um, got a room.

Butterflied Chicken

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Cheesy Ham, Potato, and Broccoli Casserole

Cheesy Ham and Potato Casserole

Delicate swags of broccoli buds. Tender-crisp morsels of gently braised potato. All swathed in a cheesy cream sauce perfumed with the salty smoke of thick-cut ham.

Baked Casserole

OK, who am I kidding? It’s just a casserole. But still, it broke my heart.

Casserole Ingredients

This morning I scraped spoonful after lovely, heaping spoonful of my hearty casserole into the garbage.

I made this recipe on Saturday afternoon for a week’s worth of lunches. Luckily I sent a couple servings home with Handsome Greg on date night, and I had a serving myself on Sunday, because the rest of it was spoiled when my refrigerator broke down Sunday night.

I called maintenance as soon as I realized my fridge wasn’t properly fridging. The ham put up a valiant fight, but it was too late to save the noble hotdish. I was left with a fridge full of rotten food, and nothing to eat. So much for saving money. Jimmy Johns for dinner. *sigh*

Stairway to Hamven

Stairway to Hamven

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Lemon Pavlovas with Blackberry Sauce

I have a number of weirdo food quirks:

1. I eat all the crust off a slice of bread first, in a circle, until all that’s left is the center

2. I suck on Cheetos until they’re soggy, then chew and swallow

3. I eat french fries two at a time, and they have to be identical in length. I’ll sort them first, to match each fry with a similar-sized french fry companion, then eat them together

4. I don’t like cold foods touching hot foods

And relatedly:

5. I like to eat desserts one layer at a time

Cake, then frosting. Crust, then pie filling. Whipped cream, then Jell-O. Bars present their own issues, but that’s another story for another, messier day.

Lemon Pavlova with Blackberry Sauce

On the evening I served these ethereal splendors to Mom and Handsome Greg, I took care in sequestering the creamy filling from the cloud of meringue. Yet somehow, a crispy shard of meringue found its way onto my forkful of sweetened mascarpone, stained with blackberry juice.

Clean Plate

How could this have happened? I mean, it’s not like I’d had three glasses of wine, or anything.

Meringue with Lemon Zest

And then a light bulb turned on in my mouth, or maybe in my head. In that one, incredible you-got-your-chocolate-in-my-peanut-butter-no-you-got-your-peanut-butter-in-my-chocolate moment, I finally understood the desire to construct “the perfect bite” of food.

Blackberry

While each element of the recipe – the light, crunchy meringue, the duvet of butter-sweet cheese, and the fresh, tart blackberry sauce – is tasty in its own right, together they are magical.

So what are your food hang-ups?

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Zucchini Ribbons

While I’m fully on board with the idea that one can cook with minimal tools, in practice, I adore kitchen gadgets, and I’ve grown dependent on luxury uni-taskers. At this point, I’m pretty sure I really need a garlic press and a cherry pitter and a mango slicer and an egg separator.

Zucchini Ribbons

When it’s two in the morning and I’m watching infomercials, three-glasses-of-wine Suzy is positive that LIFE WILL END without Eggies. At that point, unemployed-for-nearly-six-months Suzy hides the credit cards.

But, but, look at how cute they are! And no shells to peel! And deviled eggs!

Unemployed-for-nearly-six-months Suzy puts her foot down, and reminds three-glasses-of-wine Suzy that I (we?) don’t even really care for eggs.

At this point, three-glasses-of-wine Suzy remembers the $100 gift card to Cooks of Crocus Hill that Handsome Greg gave me for Christmas, and unemployed-for-nearly-six-months Suzy shuts the hell up.

That’s right. I’ve got one hundred smackers to blow on kitchen tools. What gadgets do I want? Is it time to buy a proper tart pan? Should I buy a food mill and stop borrowing Mom’s every time I make mashed potatoes? How about a silpat?

Zucchini Ribbons

 So maybe I don’t need the twirling spaghetti fork and the banana guard, but I simply couldn’t have made my favorite satin zucchini ribbons without the razor-sharp mandolin slicer Mom gave me a year ago Christmas. I don’t use it often, but when I need to julienne vegetables or cut perfectly even slices (like these delicate zucchini ribbons), nothing else will do.

 I sautéed the zucchini planks in garlic-infused olive oil, and seasoned them with salt, pepper, and lemon zest. They were bright and fresh as spring sunshine alongside the prosciutto, leek, and Swiss chard quiche.

Garlic lemon zucchini

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Prosciutto, Leek, and Swiss Chard Quiche

I think it’s time I came to terms with a disappointing truth: I am not a homemade pie crust person. Wait! Let me finish! As much as I admire those patient bakers who make pie crust by hand, for me, it’s just not worth it.

Other than the cheddar crust for Tenessa’s apple bacon birthday pie, I’ve yet to make a pie crust that rivals the texture or flavor of the ready-made, roll-out crusts you buy in the dairy department. And it’s cheap – refrigerated pie crust bought on sale (on double coupon day) is next to free, and can be stashed in the freezer until a proper pie-portunity presents itself.

I’m glad I tried making pie crust from scratch, and I can file it away with other things I’ve done once, and don’t really feel compelled to do again like camping, or folding the laundry.

If you want to make a pie crust with your own two hands, there are thousands of recipes just a Google away. But this savory, rich, and fluffy quiche will do just fine in a store-bought crust.

I first made it for Mom and Handsome Greg last April, back when I had a job, as part of a luxurious farewell-to-winter brunch. I’ve since adapted it as a recessipe fit for an unemployed lady’s budget that’s exactly the same, but with onions for the leeks. And frozen spinach for the chard. And nothing for the prosciutto. So, yeah. It’s nearly identical.

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