Coconut Cream Cheese Pie and a Weekend in San Diego...

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Last weekend we spent a few days in San Diego for the first vacation we'd had in almost a year, and there was so much to do and see there that it was impossible to squeeze it all into just a few days.  So I'll just share some of my favorite photos from the trip, as well as a recipe for Coconut Cream Cheese Pie, which I made for my Uncle Randy.  It turned out yummy, in spite of a little mishap with the filling...


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After a late start leaving Colorado on Thursday - our flight was delayed almost an hour due to high winds in the area - we arrived in San Diego a few hours later, my Uncle Randy meeting us at the airport.

On the drive to his place, I loved looking at all the palm trees, the many blooms in the pretty landscaping, and the greenness of it all, compared to the more mild spring colors in Colorado.  It was a little humid, definitely more so than Denver, but nothing like the humidity in the southeast.  He lives in a comfortable bungalow on a quiet, rural road with palm and citrus trees on the property, and even a greenhouse out back, in which he plans to eventually plant a salsa garden.  The country road is lined with more palm trees, plenty of cactus, a vineyard or two, and horses grazing in the fields, and while we were waiting for my brother Josh to get off work, Jamie and I walked along the dirt road, taking a few pictures and enjoying the cool air as the sun was setting.

Later that evening, we met up with Josh at a karaoke dive bar to eat burgers that have been voted as the "best burgers in San Diego", then headed back to the house where we sat out back next to a campfire, talking until late that night.  We were too full from dinner to make s'mores, but it was so good to see family and have such a relaxing evening together.



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On Friday, Josh, Jamie and I spent the day driving around to various places in San Diego to see a little bit of the city and the beach.  First we stopped at the harbor to walk around the USS Midway, although we didn't have time to go on board to look around.  There's a big sculpture next to the ship, of the famous kiss in Times Square on V-J Day.  Then we drove to the coast, and walked up the hill to the Old Point Loma Lighthouse, which was only used as a lighthouse from 1855-1891, before a better location was designated for a new lighthouse.  Although it was a little hazy out, the view of San Diego from the lighthouse was beautiful.

A little hungry, we parked a few blocks from Ocean Beach and found a place to have a light lunch - beer for Josh and Jamie, a mojito and an oyster shooter for me, fish tacos, shrimp salad and raw oysters - then walked to the water which was just steps from the restaurant.  The sand was very warm, although not too hot for bare feet, but the water was cold, and I only went in ankle deep.  Tangles of seaweed washed up with every wave, and surfers, warm in their wetsuits, rode the waves.

We walked the length of the Ocean Beach Pier; the pier, extending well over a quarter mile into the ocean, is the second longest on the west coast.  There were a few fisherman on the pier, their poles leaning against the weathered railing and lines and bait dropped in the water, but I didn't see them reel in any fish.

Next we drove up to Mt Soledad Veterans Memorial, which offered a panoramic view of the city and ocean.  Almost even more beautiful than the view from the top, were the gorgeous homes and landscaping we passed on the drive up the hill.  We lingered there for a little while, as it was our last stop before meeting everyone for dinner.



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We ate dinner at The Brigantine in Del Mar, starting with wine, more raw oysters and crab cakes.  I ordered the swordfish, which was good, but after I tasted Jamie's meal which was a special that night - halibut with a smoked sweet potato cake - I had dinner envy and wished I had ordered his instead!  For dessert, too full for more than a few bites, the five of us shared a piece of frozen mocha mud pie, which was absolutely incredible.

That evening, I decided to make a dessert for after dinner the next night, and asked Uncle Randy how he felt about coconut cream pie.  With his high five of approval, I picked up some ingredients to make the same coconut cream pie I had made for Easter.  Once the pastry crust was baked and cooling, I made the custard, and as I whisked a few tablespoons of butter into the custard, I realized that it just looked...  odd.  What should have been smooth and creamy custard had separated into strange lumps floating in pools of the butter I had just added, and no amount of stirring would bring it back together.  I was so disappointed I wanted to cry, and had no idea what had gone wrong.  I've literally made custard on the stove at least a hundred times, and have never had a batch that didn't work.  It may have been the propane stove (I'm used to cooking on an electric stove) which he said was much hotter than electric, but I'm not sure; I'll have to do some research on that.  So for a last-minute backup plan, I asked him to pick up some cream cheese when he went grocery shopping the next day, and I would see what I could make with that.

After another late night around the campfire, we woke up on Saturday morning to Uncle Randy making us breakfast - coffee and pancakes with eggs, bacon and fruit - and then we set off for Temecula Valley for a day of wine tasting.  We lingered so long at the first winery - hard not to with their stunning shaded patio surrounded by grape vines - that we only ended up visiting 4 wineries total, although there are at least 40-45 in the area.

For lunch, we ate at the Thornton Winery, where I had what was possibly the best sandwich I've eaten in my life - a Lobster Grilled Cheese.  I'm still thinking about that sandwich, it was that good.  Josh ordered a burger, and Jamie ordered the short rib sliders, and we all tasted a few bites of each.  All of them delicious, but everyone agreed that mine was the best!



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We bought a few bottles of wine for dinner that night and drove back to Uncle Randy's house.  For dinner, he made pork carnitas with slow-cooked pork, Mexican rice, guacamole and salsa - he's a fantastic cook, by the way.  We also got to visit with a few more of my relatives, Uncle Randy's daughter Amanda, my cousin who I just met for the first time last fall, another cousin that I haven't seen since we were babies and his wife and daughter, and my aunt and her husband.  We ate outside, with the cool night air swishing through the palm and citrus trees overhead.

I dished up pieces of pie, and was happy to see that my backup plan worked out after all; after we got back from the wineries, I mixed up (using good old-fashioned muscle with a bowl and wooden spoon) a simple pie filling of cream cheese, sweetened with some powdered sugar and a little cream, and then added coconut extract and sweetened coconut, topped with some fresh strawberries and toasted coconut.  Everyone loved it, and I felt much better about my ruined batch of custard.

To retest the recipe, I made a lighter version when we got home the next day, this time omitting the cream and replacing it with coconut milk, as well as unsweetened gelatin to thicken it.  I garnished the pie with fresh, sweet cherries and powdered sugar.  And with a graham cracker crust instead of pastry, it was every bit as yummy, and a little lighter than the first one.

After everyone left on Saturday night, it was our last night around the campfire, although after I took a shower, I was so tired I went straight to bed, leaving Jamie, Josh and Uncle Randy to their campfire manly bonding time.  The next morning, it was time to go home...



One Year Ago:   Strawberry Frozen Custard and the Berries from Berry Patch Farm
Two Years Ago: Artichoke Heart Salad



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Coconut Cream Cheese Pie
printable recipe

crust:
  • 1 sleeve graham crackers, finely crushed
  • 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon coarse salt
  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
filling:
  • 16 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 3/4 cup powdered sugar
  • 1 can (14 ounces) unsweetened, full fat coconut milk, divided
  • 1 envelope unflavored gelatin
  • 1 teaspoon coconut extract
  • 1 cup sweetened shredded coconut
garnish:
  • fresh fruit, berries, toasted coconut, whipped cream, etc...

Preheat the oven to 325.  In a bowl, combine the crushed graham crackers, sugar and salt.  Drizzle with the melted butter and toss with a fork until moistened.  Press firmly against the bottom and up the sides of a deep-dish pie pan.  Bake for 10 minutes, then set on a wire rack to cool completely.

In the bowl of your stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the cream cheese and butter for 3-4 minutes at medium speed, until smooth.  Beat in the powdered sugar.  Beat in the coconut milk, reserving 1/4 cup.

In a microwaveable bowl, combine 1/4 cup coconut milk with the gelatin.  Microwave for 30-45 seconds, watching carefully to be sure it doesn't boil over, to dissolve the gelatin.  Beat the gelatin mixture and the coconut extract into the filling.  Stir in the shredded coconut.

Spread filling into the cooled crust, and refrigerate until set and firm enough to cut into slices, about 3-4 hours, or overnight.

Garnish as desired with fruit, berries, sweet whipped cream or toasted coconut.

Yields 8-10 slices.

Recipe from Curly Girl Kitchen