November, 2007 Archive

Saturday, November 17, 2007

pie crust 101

pastry blender

To begin, I want to make a note about the zillions of pie dough recipes out there: I barely buy it. Not the value of a recipe, mind you, but that new ones will ever come to pass. At their very base, they’re all just some type of solid fat (butter, shortening or lard) cut with powdery ingredients (flour, sometimes salt and sugar) bound with a liquid (usually water, but some folks get creative with milk, cream, buttermilk or vodka), and I’m amused that every year, so many cooking publications feel a need to pronounce that By Golly, They’ve Got It! They’ve found the perfect pie dough. In my mind, it was never lost.

That said, Cooks Illustrated is really onto something grand this year, so thank you to all who pointed me in this recipe’s direction. That thing is vodka, my friends. Yes, I think they’re brilliant too. But really, vodka, because it is 80-proof, will mostly evaporate in the oven, meaning that your crust gets the liquid it needs but much of it will not stay. Worried about a boozy vibe to your pie? Vodka is, by definition, colorless and odorless, so once it’s baked, you’ll forget it was ever in there. Of course (aheeeeem) if you are the sort that likes to pick up small scraps of raw dough and eat them because, mm, butter is awesome, let’s just say that things can get a little messy and leave it at that. Really, it’s not always a bad thing.

pie crust 101, step onepie crust 101, step twopie crust 101, step threepie crust 101, step four

So let’s get started shall we? As I noted yesterday, I am a fan of the humble pastry blender–it’s simple, lo-fi, and uses minimal dishes–so I’ll be using that today. However, these same steps could be taken with your food processor or Kitchen Aid, if you’re partial to them.

Continued after the jump »

Thursday, November 15, 2007

q&a, vol. II

q&a, vol. II

[Q&A Vol. I] Phew! You guys really came through with that Q&A request, so thank you. In the interest of not writing The Longest Food Blog Entry, Ever I’m going to handle these in batches of ten, in the order they were received, and pepper them throughout the next month or so. (Only on days where the task of cooking seems ludicrous–can I hear it for the day after Thanksgiving? I mean, seriously. That was the only day last November that I was skeptical about the value of daily posting.)

1. Jenifer from Houston asks: What’s your favorite messed up dish that turned out fabulous?

I suppose it goes without saying that even an undercooked, overflowing, cracked or, heck, fallen on the floor dessert is incapable of tasting bad. Fine, I’m just kidding about that floor part. What? Why don’t you believe me? That said, I have to admit that although there was too much stock/brown butter/lemon/shallot sauce in last night’s brussels and chestnuts, it was absolutely delicious over a bowl of egg noodles. I mean, I might actually make the sauce again, for that purpose alone. Total Eastern European comfort food–is it possible to feel your gene pool smiling? No Deb, that’s just weird.

2. Amy asks What is your very favorite tool in the kitchen? Which kitchen tool has the most interesting story (how you got it, something funny that happened while using it, whatever)?

I am a huge fan of the humble pastry blender. I know that some people like to use their fingers to rub butter into flour for crusts, others swear by the food processor (which I agree works splendidly) or the KitchenAid (haven’t gotten the hang of this for crusts yet) but I love the simplicity and fewer dishes involved in this simple tool.

I brought it home three Thanksgivings ago, actually, and Alex–wary of my mounting kitchen purchases, oh, if he only knew how bad it would get!–questioned whether something of such limited use would actually be worth owning. That night, we made three double-crust apple pies together and by the end of the night, he was a whiz with it. Since we were noobs back then, I didn’t say ‘I told you so.’ But I’m not above saying it now, heh heh. Even though I have a food processor and a zillion fancier tools now, I still go for it first.

I bet you didn’t know that someone can write 165 words on a pastry blender, eh? I aim to baffle, people.

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Wednesday, November 14, 2007

brussels sprouts and chestnuts in brown butter

brussels sprouts and chestnuts in brown butter

Every so often, a recipe crosses my browser’s threshold and I know immediately that it Must Be Made. Surely, you know the feeling. This happens a lot more in the fall, because I simply love the cooking this time of year–warm, soupy, stewy and rich. We haven’t yet succumbed to hibernation and meals scraped from whatever was in the pantry because the famers’ markets looked so paltry, and you seriously cannot deal with another butternut squash.

chestnutschestnuts

Today’s New York Times dining section’s Thanksgiving feature had exactly that effect on me, times 16. Seriously, look at this slideshow! The photography is stunning, and the recipes… I want to try them all.*

shallotsbrussels

But I started with the Brussels Sprouts and Chestnuts in Brown Butter Sauce, touted elsewhere in the section by Flo-Fab for it’s ability to pair seamlessly with wine. (She didn’t mention the rose we were drinking, but I had no complaints.) And seriously, what are the odds that I would have just happened to have picked up some chestnuts in Chinatown this weekend on the street, waiting to be roasted at home? Exactly nonexistent, I’ll tell you, and yet still it happened.

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Tuesday, November 13, 2007

oatmeal, chocolate chip and pecan cookies

oatmeal, chocolate chip and pecan cookies

Someone asked me yesterday how I manage the day job, this site, cooking, hobbies and attempting some semblance of a social life, but I didn’t answer because the gritty truth is that I don’t. I’m horrible at time management, not because I’m a slacker so much as I lack an attention span of more than 12 minutes. Take tonight. I swore I’d leave work at 5:30, but left at 6:20 instead (still earlier than last night), I had planned to give you guys a pie crust how-to but instead flitted from one thing (side project) to another (Thanksgiving thumbnails in sidebar) and as usual it’s 11 p.m. and oh right! I haven’t updated yet today.

oatsorange zest

It’s not a complaint, mind you. Somehow it almost always works out in the end, so who cares if the path meanders? But I do have one rule only, and that is that I am not allowed to complain about being busy. Yes, I have done it before, but I try to shut down that line of thinking as soon as it happens, because I think it leads to revving motors in place/stressing about stressing/getting caught up in the act of being and not doing, oh, and also, it’s really boring to hear about. I mean, have you ever met a person not busy? Yeah, me neither.

 oatmeal cookies  oatmeal cookies

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Monday, November 12, 2007

creamy white polenta with mushrooms

creamy white polenta with mushrooms and mascarpone

Because I am a complete and total Yankee, I really didn’t know a thing about grits until Alex and I took a trip to Savannah and Charleston earlier this year. But when I tried them, I fell hard. I found them in a small puddle beneath the most saucy, delicious chicken dish in a large-rimmed shallow bowl, shredded Brussels tangled around them and then the next day loaded with cheese and chives adjacent to my eggs. They seemed to be open and ready for anything put before them–on so many levels, exactly what I needed.

 sauteed wild mushrooms  sauteed wild mushrooms

I swore I’d make my own when I got back, heck, I’d make them daily but somehow that “when” became “eight months later” and that pretty much brings us up to last night. I’d bookmarked Jonathan Waxman’s Creamy White Polenta with Mushrooms and Mascarpone a while ago, but forgot about it until last week’s chicken dish reminded me of how much I like chanterelles.

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