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27 December 2009

Potato and Leek Soup

I've made this soup a couple of times at my work, and it's been a pretty big hit. The Lovemuffin eats a lot of it when I make it at home, too, so that usually a good indicator of a good recipe.

Here's what you do:

Peel 3 large russet potatoes, chop into pieces, put them into a pan and fill with just enough vegetable broth and water to cover the potato pieces. Add some black pepper and oregano and dill, if desired, to the pot. In the meantime, clean and chop 3 leeks, just the white and light green part, into thin slices. Peel and chop one onion into pretty small pieces. Saute the leeks and onion in butter or olive oil until they are translucent and tender. When the potatoes are soft and the leeks are tender, blend the potatoes with the broth in a blender until smooth or mostly smooth. You might not need all of the liquid.

Put the blended potato stuff back in the pot, add the sauteed leeks and onions and about a cup of half and half. Let it simmer for a few minutes, it will thicken a little, you can add milk or water if it is too thick. Add salt and pepper to taste, and consume.

23 November 2009

Goat Cheese!

I tried this new cheese that we started getting in at work, called Humbolt Fog. There's a specialty cheese company, Cypress Grove Chevre in northern California, check out the website: Cypress Grove Chevre. They have several cheeses and we started carrying the Humbolt Fog kind. It's ripened, strong, soft and delightful. It looks like cake, fluffy white cake with chocolate filling, it's so cute! And you can taste the goatiness of it, which I love. Lovemuffin doesn't like goat milk or goat cheese because of the goatiness, but I think it's great. Besides, what's so great about cow's milk? Here's a picture that I took before I demolished the wedge. Mmmm.....  Even if you think you don't like goat milk cheese, if you see this stuff, you should try it. But I should warn you that it starts melting after about 4 minutes at room temperature, which is why the edges are weirdly gooey in this picture, so if you are going to serve it at a party or something, you'll have to figure out how to keep it very cold.

09 November 2009

Trying a New Kind of Sugar

Whenever Lovemuffin and Pricklypear move somewhere new and have to restock the pantry, we always have a discussion at the grocery store about which kind of flour and sugar to get. I want to get the national brands, because it just seems like they would be better, and he's all for the store brands, because they are cheaper. He figures that they are a commodity in economic terms (whatever that means), they are going to have the same quality no matter whose name is on the label, after all, flour is flour and sugar is sugar, right? Well, I finally found a way to back up my argument that the national brand flour is the right kind to buy, and it's right there on the label when you look at the amount of protein they each contain, but I kind of back down when it comes to sugar. It did seem that all granulated sugar is created equal. But a while ago I found this sugar, Zulka, and convinced Lovemuffin that we should buy it. It looked so good, so sparkly and pretty, and it sounded better than typical refined cane sugar. Listen to how they describe this stuff: "Zulka Azucar Morena is all-natural sweetener produced from the crystallization of fresh cane juice. Azucar Morena is 100% unrefined which preserves the nutritional value of nature's minerals and delivers a golden color with a mild molasses flavor." Doesn't that sound great? I am a little concerned because they say on the package that there is a website, but it doesn't actually exist, so I wonder if this stuff is still going to be produced and sold.

Here's a picture of three sugars, dark brown sugar on the top, regular granulated sugar on the left, and Zulka on the right. The crystals are a bit bigger than either granulated or brown sugar crystals, but I'm not sure how much that matters in baked goods. I used Zulka tonight for the first time to make cookies, and they were delicious! The dough was grainier than usual though, I suppose because of the larger crystal size, but the final product was no different in texture than regular cookies. I supposed I'll have to be all scientific and do a real double blind taste test, to see if there is a noticeable difference between cookies with evaporated cane juice sugar and regular granulated sugar. So far, though, I've been impressed with the flavor and I feel good about using this sugar.

The big difference that I noticed immediately when I opened the bag is that this sugar smells really good. I don't know if you've ever smelled regular granulated sugar, it smells kind of like stinky feet. I read on Rose Berenbaum's blog about why that is, apparently it has to do with the chemical refinement. The blog post is very interesting even though it is very long, and there is quite a bit of good information, including a bit about xylitol, which I've noticed is in Trident gum, but had no idea what it is or where it comes from. Anyway, here's a picture of my cookies that I made, chocolate oatmeal cookies with chocolate chips. Darling Lovemuffin ate four of them in 5 minutes and then said that I may have convinced him that there is a difference in sugars... :)

05 November 2009

More on Charred Peppers

This is how the roasted/charred peppers look when you peel off the blackened skins. The charred skins have a papery texture and pretty much slip right off the flesh. When you roast the pepper like this, the flavor becomes super intense, really sweet and peppery at the same time. I don't even like peppers, but I love them like this. You could also do this to spicier peppers, not just sweet bell peppers. Put charred and peeled peppers on hamburgers (or veggie burgers) or other sandwiches (see below).

You can also use this technique with tomatoes, but unlike peppers, tomatoes start disintigrating after 5 minutes of intense heat, and I haven't yet learned how to keep them contained when they are falling apart like that. But they would make a fabulous sauce for pizza or spaghetti.

This is my amazing sandwich that I made with roasted red peppers, eggplant, cheese and pesto. Someday I will maybe make it for you. I am salivating over it all over again.....

25 October 2009

Roasted Red Pepper and Raspberry Soup

Last summer Lovemuffin and Pricklypear were lucky enough to go to Paris with his Parental Figures. They had heard about this amazing restaurant that they really wanted to go to. I wish I could remember the name of it, because it was truly amazing and I would like to recommend it to everyone I know. They served dinner in 4 courses, but it was a fairly casual place. One of the things that Lovemuffin got was this soup, Roasted Red Pepper and Raspberry Soup, and for some reason it is the only thing I really remember, probably because the combination seemed so unlikely, and yet it was so incredibly delicious. It was a vivid red color, kind of tangy, kind of sweet, and I could actually taste both the rasberries and the peppers, and they really complimented each other. I have thought about this soup on and off ever since then, fully intending to make an imitation. I did try it once, but I wasn't satisfied. The other night I tried again, and this time I think I succeeded. I'm sure it's not exactly the same as the one in Paris, but it's the same idea and it is very good.

Roasted Red Pepper and Raspberry Soup
3 red bell peppers
2 tomatoes
1/2 onion
3 cloves garlic
4 c. water
1 c. vegetable stock
1/2 tsp. dried oregano, or 1 tsp fresh
approx 6 oz. frozen raspberries
salt and pepper to taste

Cut the bell peppers in half, remove seeds and stem, place on a broiler pan, skin side up and broil for about 10 minutes, until the skins are black and charred. Keep an eye on them, you may need to rotate them or the pan to char it as evenly as possible. Remove from broiler and immediately drop into a paper bag, close bag and let the peppers steam and cool. Place the whole tomatoes on the broiler pan, broil until the skins begin to blister and char a little, turn them over, and repeat on the other side. (More on charring peppers and tomatoes in another post.) The tomatoes will go faster than the peppers, and their skins don't need to become very black, mostly just blistered. Remove to a bowl, let cool, and slip off the skins. Peel the charred skins off the cooled peppers. Chop the peppers and the tomatoes into smaller pieces, don't worry about making them even sizes or shapes, they just need to be smaller. Chop the onion into smaller pieces, and crush the garlic cloves.
Place the peppers, tomatoes, onion, garlic, water and vegetable stock in a medium size pot. Bring to a boil, let simmer for about 30 minutes, until the onions and garlic are both soft. Add the oregano near the end of the cooking time. Let cool for a few minutes, then puree the soup in batches in a blender. Place the frozen raspberries in the blender, ladle some of the soup over them, enough to cover, and then puree both together. Strain this to remove the raspberry seeds, then put the strained liquid back with the rest of the soup. At this point you can either serve the soup right away (it may need a little re-warming after adding the cold raspberries), or chill and serve it either warm or cold later. Serves 4, with some leftovers.
*Note--if you have leftovers and keep them for a couple days in the fridge, the flavor becomes super intense.*

23 October 2009

New vegetables

Today my landlord gave me some vegetables from his garden. He loves gardening. Today he gave me some beets and swiss chard, as well as some apples, yellow pear-shaped tomatoes, some fresh herbs: parsley, oregano, lemon thyme and regular thyme, and even a bunch of flowers. I put the flowers in this vase that I made in my pottery class. It's the first time that I've used it, and I think it looks pretty good. Anyway, I am very excited that he gave me the chard and beets, because I keep on seeing recipes for them, but I don't think I have ever had chard before, and I've only had beets in borscht, and I've only had borscht once in my life. I have been wanting to try these vegetables, and now I will have a chance to do so without actually having to buy them!

Tonight we had the missionaries over for dinner, and I sauteed the chard stems/ribs and added them to rice. My landlord told me to clean them really well, so I was doing that, and all of a sudden I realized that there were little bugs on the backs of all the leaves that look like ticks, and that kind of freaked me out. I nearly through the whole lot of it away. But I perservered and scrubbed off all the buggy things and dirt and pulled off all the bad spots on the leaves and then cut up the stems and ribs. I didn't do anything with the leafy parts yet, because I guess it needs to be cooked, and I'm having a hard time wrapping my head around cooking something that looks like a green salad. The rice and chard ribs together was pretty good, but kind of weird. They have a strange flavor. I might try them again.

I also made a roasted red pepper and raspberry soup for dinner, and I must say, it turned out quite well. I'll have to write that recipe up later, because it is so awesome, it deserves it own little page.

17 October 2009

Vegetarian Burgers

I have been noticing vegetarian patties at the store that you can grill and eat like hamburgers, and I've wanted to try to make some veggie burgers for a while. I mentioned in the previous post a recipe for a pumpkin and white bean burger that I wanted to try because I had fresh pumpkin on hand, I did make that. Also, a while ago I made a spicy black bean burger recipe that was pretty good, but I would do things a little different with it. And yesterday my boss mentioned to me a way to make patties with lentils and cracked wheat, so maybe I'll find a recipe for that, or we'll start making it at work and it will be good.

I tried the recipe with pumpkin and beans.  I read several comments where people said that they added bread crumbs and eggs and they held together better throughout the entire process. So I tried that, but I forgot to add the oats that it calls for. I think the oats instead of the bread crumbs would have been better texturally, and I would definitely keep the egg as well. I also patted bread crumbs on to the formed patties, to try to give it a nice crunchy exterior, and it worked! The exterior browned nicely and was firm and crisp. But overall I was a little disappointed with the finished product. It was very starchy, so much that I couldn't stand to eat it on a bun, and I couldn't even taste the pumpkin. I ate it with an avocado instead of a mayonnaise sauce, and I liked the avocado a lot. Here's what I would do with this recipe if I make it again: 1) Use the recommended amount of oats, not bread crumbs 2) Add an egg to the original recipe 3) Use a very flavorful squash puree, drained so that the patties won't be so juicy, they will be easier to form 4) Coat the formed patties in bread crumbs to help them stay together during cooking and for a nice crunchy outside.

The spicy black bean burgers I tried were pretty tasty, but difficult to make. They didn't hold together very well, so I kept adding more bread crumbs. When I chopped up the onion and green pepper in a food processor, they became very very juicy, so I think that's why it needed more bread crumbs. If I was making it again I would either chop the veggies by hand instead of in the food processor, or I would drain the processed veggies very well to keep the mixture from becoming too soggy and unmanageable.  Also, the author says that if you are grilling them, to put them on a piece of foil, and then put them on the grill. It almost makes sense to use foil, because veggie burgers don't hold together as well as ground beef and they would probably fall apart and slip between the bars of the grill rack when you try to flip them, or even just place them on the grill. However, the burgers stuck to the foil, even though we had sprayed it with non-stick spray, and they didn't seem to actually get cooked all the way through. So we found a rack to put on the grill with small holes, like something you might use for fish, and used that instead of foil, and that got the job done. I think it would also be easy to cook them on the stove with some oil on a cast iron griddle. Overall, these burgers were quite good. They had a nice texture, not like meat, but you can't have everything. Even with all the extra added bread crumbs they weren't too starchy, and they were spicy and very tasty. I had used cayenne pepper instead of hotsauce, and they had quite a kick to them.

The other day we bought these veggie burgers, and they are quite good, but I think they have way too much salt in them. Also, there are chunks of something, probably the bamboo shoots, that are way too fibrous and hard to chew. When I bite into a piece of the bamboo shoot, it reminds me of trying to eat cardboard, or maybe styrofoam. I don't like that. And they use soy protein; I'm still not sure how I feel about soy products, and I generally stay away from them. But I do like that they are uniform in shape and size, that they have chunks of vegetables, they hold together, even on a grill and that they aren't made of mostly beans.

I guess that is my goal for making a veggie burger now: something that holds together without needing a ton of bread crumbs, I figure, if I'm going to put these on a bun, I don't need bread already in the patty. And it needs to have other vegetables in it besides beans, and I probably won't be doing tofu of TVP anytime soon. So if I find something that works and I love, I will put it up here!

08 October 2009

Pumpkin Puree

I made my very own pumpkin puree for the first time today. We bought a small pie pumkin a week ago, and I've been trying to figure out what to do with it. I have all sorts of pumpkin recipes on top of the usual pumpkin pie. I am thinking of doing a different kind of custard with it, and I thought about cutting it into cubes for a soup or curry. And then I found a recipe online today for bean and pumpkin burgers that only calls for 1/2 cup, so if I made that I would probably still have plenty left over for some kind of dessert as well.

So here's the story. I decided to just puree the pumpkin instead of trying to do cubes or anything. But it's so hard to cut open squashes in a reasonable amount of time without injuring myself and making a huge mess. I know, because I just struggled with one the other day. So this time, as per a helpful hint (thank you Jenny, thank you Whitney!), I cooked it in the microwave for a few minutes before cutting it. I poked a bunch of holes it it first with a fork, just in case it's one of those things like an egg or a potato that explodes in the microwave if left whole. I nuked it for 4 minutes, which was probably a little long, but it was definitely effective; it was very easy to cut into quarters and remove the stem. The seeds came off of the stringy fibery stuff that they are attached to, but the stringy stuff was slipperier (is that a word?) than usual and it was hard to get it all out. I cooked it the rest of the way in the microwave because I read that it is fast and energy efficient, and I don't have to think or pay attention at all. I put it in a shallow dish with a little less than 1 cup of water, and covered it with plastic wrap. After 12 minutes on high power, it was very soft and falling off the skin. So far so good. I let it cool, and then I tried to puree it in the blender. That was a bad idea. The pumpkin didn't move up and down through the blender to puree all of it, it just sat in the same place. I added some of the cooking water, but that didn't help at all. It just sat there. I'd heard that you can make very smooth puree by pushing the pumpkin pulp through a sieve. So I did that instead. It took forever. Next time I want very smooth puree I will use a food mill. But that isn't even necessary to turn the pulp into a puree. You can pretty much just mash the pulp with a fork, until it is smooth enough to work in any recipe. So after 20 minutes of squishing pumkin through the sieve, I had a decent amount of very nice looking puree, but then it was very juicy, from all the water I'd used in the blender. I drained it in a sieve lined with a paper towel; now it looks quite nice. I think I'll have to freeze it until I find the recipe that I really really want to make.

Here's the bottom line: I'll use the very fine, smooth stuff for some kind of dessert, and the rougher stuff that I didn't put through the sieve because I got tired of it I will use for the burgers. The whole project was too tedious and time consuming, for such a small output. If I decide to do it again, I think I will do several pumpkins at once and freeze the puree. But if the burgers or any other pumpkin projects turn out exceptionally well, I will post them here!

06 October 2009

Peach and Ginger!

I finally got some great looking peaches and fresh ginger root and combined them in a pie, like I've been wanting to do for a long time. It was fabulous! I cannot describe just how much I liked it, so instead I'll give you the recipe and you'll have to try it, too. I hope you like it as much as I do. Sorry, no pictures this time.

Sensational Peach and Ginger Rustic Pie
4 large peaches
juice of one small lemon
1/2 inch chunk fresh ginnger
1/2 tsp. ground ginger
1/3 c. sugar
2 tsp. cornstarch

chilled pie crust dough for a 1 crust pie

Poach the peaches in boiling water for a minute, then dunk in ice water, now the peels should slide off easily. Peel the peaches, cut into 8 pieces and place in a bowl with the lemon juice. Cut the ginger into pieces small enough to fit in a garlic mincer, mince it into the peach bowl. Mix the ground ginger with the sugar and mix with the peaches. Let set for at least 15 minutes, drain any accumulated juices into a small saucepan. Bring the juices to a boil, swirling them gently until they have reduced and carmelized somewhat. Meanwhile, gently mix the cornstarch through the peaches, making sure there are no clumps. Pour the reduced juices back over the peaches and mix again.
Now to assemble the pie: place the chilled pie crust dough on a lightly greased baking sheet. Arrange the peach slices in the middle of the crust, and fold the edge over so that there is about 2 inches of crust over the filling, and a you can see the filling in the middle. Seal the folds well so that the crust won't relax and fall apart as it bakes. Pour the juices into the middle of the pie. Chill the pie in the fridge while the oven preheats to 450, at least 30 minutes. If desired, you can brush the crust with milk and sprinkle lightly with sugar before baking, to make a shiny and sparkly crust. Bake for about 25 minutes, or until the filling is bubbly and the crust is quite brown. Let the pie cool for at least 30 minutes, then cut into wedges and serve.

25 September 2009

How did I start liking Eggplant?

Here's a weird thing: I never liked eggplant. When I was little we had to eat it and it was terrible. More recently I thought I would try it because I had been discovering all sorts of things that I hated as a child and now I like. It was still terrible. Even more recently I had some grilled, and that was pretty good, but I just figured, I'm never going to be able to do that myself because our grill probably won't be up and running anytime soon. I'd pretty much written off eggplant for good. But hey, we just moved into this great new apartment with a gas stove instead of electric, and I discovered that I can use the broiler pretty much just like the grill. So I "grilled" some eggplant a couple of weeks ago, just brushed with olive oil, and I think that was the only thing Lovemuffin ate that night. It was very good. I've been doing it about twice a week for the last 3 weeks. Last night I let it soak for a few minutes in oil and balsamic vinegar, and it was fabulous. So tonight I am doing that again with oil, vinegar, salt and pepper and some summer squashes along with the eggplant and I bet you could add any other vegetable that takes the same amount of time to cook, like mushrooms, onions, or even fennel bulbs. This would be great with some grilled meat and rolls or potatoes with herbs like rosemary, oregano and basil.

It doesn't take long to make this delightful concoction. Here's what I've been doing: Cut the eggplant into your favorite size and shape of pieces, I like to do pieces of about 1 x 1 x 2 inches, but you could do 1/2 inch slices or long skinny spears, whatever you like. Sprinkle the cut eggplant with salt and let it sit while you prepare your other veggies. Cut your other vegetables into similar sizes and shapes, and place them in a bowl. Rinse and dry the pieces of eggplant and put them in the vegetable bowl. Drizzle with the oil and vinegar, sprinkle with salt and pepper, toss to coat each piece, and let set for about 15 minutes, or even longer. (In the meantime you can prepare other parts of your meal, or write your blog, or anything really.) Then place the veggie pieces on your broiler pan or hot grill and let them cook for about 5 minutes. They should start getting a little brown, not too brown at this point, and be making a sizzling noise. Take them out of the broiler and turn the pieces, rotate any in from the edge that aren't brown at all and place them closer to the heat source. Let them broil for 5 more minutes. Check them again, they should be a bit darker now, and still sizzling away. Turn them and rotate them on the pan once more and put them back in the broiler, this time checking it every 2 minutes to make sure they aren't burning. When everything is a delightful shade of toastiness, and the eggplant looks kind of shriveled, remove from the broiler and serve.

16 September 2009

Banana Scones

Here's something else you can do with that brown banana besides banana bread. I started trying to work out a recipe like this when we were in Austria and I didn't have bread pans, and they turned out pretty good. The oats give it a nice hearty sort of texture and the ginger, a surprising little bite. If your crystallized ginger is very hard you might want to soak it in the milk before mixing it in.

Banana Scones with Ginger
2 c. flour
1/4 c. sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tbsp. baking powder
1 tsp. powdered ginger
1 c. quick oats
1/2 c. butter, chopped into 1/2 inch pieces
1/4 c. milk
1 tbsp. crystallized ginger, cut into very small pieces
2 very ripe, large bananas

a little extra milk, for topping
1/8 c. sugar with 1/8 tsp. ground ginger mixed in, for topping

Preheat the oven to 425. Mix together the flour, sugar, salt, baking powder, powdered ginger, and oats. Toss in the cold butter, and cut it in with two butter knives or rub it in with your fingers until it resembles coarse crumbs. Let the mixture chill in the freezer while you prepare the other ingredients. Mash the bananas until they are very smooth, then measure out 1 cup of the mash. Two bananas should give you slightly more than one cup, so just discard the rest. Take the flour mixture out of the freezer, and pour the mashed banana and the milk and crystallized ginger into it. Toss it lightly with a fork, then turn it out onto a clean surface and knead it a little until everything holds together and is equally sticky. It will be quite sticky, so you might want to flour your hands just very lightly.

Gather the dough together into a ball, and transfer it to a greased baking sheet. Spread the ball of dough into a circle about 1 inch tall and 7 or 8 inches across. Then with a clean knife, cut the circle into 8 wedges, wiggling the knife in between them to separate them slightly. Brush a little extra milk on the top of each wedge, then sprinkle that lightly with the sugar/ginger mixture. You probably won't even use all of the sugar.

Bake in the preheated oven for about 15 minutes. The top and edges should be starting to turn a light golden brown, and the scones should not look shiny and wet anymore, just sparkly from the sugar topping. Enjoy with milk or some fruity tea.

10 September 2009

Shaker Lemon Pie

A cousin of the Lovemuffin has a lemon tree in her backyard that produces vigorously. We've been going there to help with some things around the house, and each time we do, we take a bunch of lemons with us. The last time we went home with two bags of lemons, so I decided to make a Shaker Lemon Pie. I made this kind of pie once last year, using a recipe from "The Pie and Pastry Bible" and the Lovemuffin thought it was the best thing ever. I thought it was kind of weird and too bitter-lemony. So this time I found a different way of preparing the lemons from another recipe on and I liked it much more. It was less bitter, but still overpoweringly lemony and very refreshing and delightful. It is great with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream, but it is best all by itself.

Shaker Lemon Pie
Prepared crust dough for a 2-crust pie (I use my whole wheat pie crust recipe)
2 large lemons
2 c. sugar
4 eggs
1 egg yolk

The day before you want to serve the pie, begin preparing the lemons. Start boiling some water in a medium saucepan, enough to cover the lemons. Wash the lemons, scrubbing the skins gently, especially if your lemons are not organic and may have been treated with pesticides or wax. Once the water comes to a boil, drop the lemons in and let them poach for 30 seconds. Drain and cool the lemons. When they are cool enough to handle, cut the ends off, just to the point you can see the sections underneath the pith. Discard the ends. Cut lemons in half lengthwise, and then cut each half into very thin slices, as thin as you can manage. Discard the seeds, and place the slices and any accumulated juice in a medium bowl. Add the sugar and stir it through the slices gently. Stir the mixture again after 1 hour, try to get keep the rinds under the syrupas much as possible. Let the mixture soak for at least 8 hours, but preferably closer to 24.

Roll out the pie crusts using the method described in my recipe. Place one pie crust in the bottom of a 9-inch glass pie dish. Cover with plastic wrap and chill in the freezer for about 10 minutes. Keep the other crust chilled in the fridge. When the crust is sufficiently chilled, take it out and take off the plastic. Take the lemon slices out of the syrup, letting the syrup drip off back into the bowl, and place them in an even layer in the bottom crust. Add the eggs and yolk to the syrup and mix well; then pour the syrup and eggs over the lemon slices. Trim the edge of the crust to overhang the pie dish by 1/2 inch. Place the second crust on top, press the top and bottom crusts together gently, to keep the top one from shifting. Trim the top crust to overhang the edge of the pie dish by 1 inch. Fold the top crust under the bottom and crimp them together, using whatever crimping method you prefer, only make sure that it is well sealed.

Cover the pie with plastic wrap and place it in the freezer for 30 minutes while you preheat the oven to 425 F. When the oven is hot, take the pie out of the freezer, remove the plastic wrap and cut some fairly wide slits in the top crust. Put the pie on the bottom shelf of the oven and bake for 25 minutes. Turn the oven down to 325 F, and bake for 25-30 more minutes. If the top and edges of the crust are getting brown too fast, you can cover it with a ring of foil. When the pie is done, you will hear the filling bubbling gently, and you can see on the bottom side of the pan that the bottom crust is nice and brown. Let the pie cool completely before slicing to let the filling set up completely. You can put it in a well-ventilated spot in the fridge to speed up the process.

Now slice and enjoy!

07 September 2009

Pie Crust Dough

Here is my fool proof way of making flaky, delicious pie crust without a food processor or any other nifty gadgets. A lot of the technique described here I learned from Berenbaum's "The Pie and Pastry Bible" as well as her blog, and if you want to learn more about the science of making pie, I would definitely recommend that you look through that book.

For my pie crust, I like to use a combination of all-purpose and whole wheat flours because the bran in the whole wheat helps break up gluten strands, which will help keep the overall product tender. If you want to do it with all white flour, try to buy pastry flour, it has less gluten and you will have a good outcome either way. I also like using the whole wheat because then I can say that the pie is practically a health food. Please feel free to play around with the proportions of wheat/white flour, you may want to use a little less wheat flour than called for in this recipe. It is on the verge of being too grainy and not delicate enough for a pastry. Also, I prefer using all butter, mostly because I don't think shortening is fit for human consumption. But if you think it is easier to work with some shortening, I think about half butter, half shortening is a good ratio. The techniques described below are made for an all butter crust. I add a titch of baking powder just for a little extra boost of rising power, but it is optional. If you keep the dough very cold the whole time you are making it, you should get enough rise just from the butter melting and creating steam. This recipe makes enough dough for a two-crust 9-inch pie. It can even do a deep dish pie if you need too. And if you have any leftovers they can be frozen and then re-rolled and made into pie crust cookies, or even used for mini-tartlets or turnovers or for patching a whole other pie crust if you should run out of dough.

Whole Wheat Pie Crust Dough
1 c. unsalted butter (2 cubes)
1 1/2 c. all-purpose flour
1 c. whole wheat flour (I prefer soft white wheat flour, but any kind will do)
1/2 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. baking powder, preferably aluminum free (like Rumford brand)
6-8 Tbsp. ice cold water

Cut the butter into 1/2-inch cubes, and place in the freezer while you prepare to other ingredients. Mix together the flours, salt and baking powder in a large bowl. When the butter is well chilled and very hard, toss it in the flour and coat the cubes with flour. With your fingers, very quickly rub the butter into the flour. Smear it between your thumb and fingers to make sheets. If your fingers start to feel greasy like the butter is melting too much, put the bowl in the freezer for a couple of minutes. When the butter has been worked into the flour to the point that it resembles small peas, take the ice water and sprinkle 1 tablespoon at a time over the cold flour/butter mixture. Toss the mixture gently after every 2 tablespoons. A good way to tell if you have enough water is if you can take a pinch of the gently mixed dough and if it mostly holds together after you pinch it, it has enough water and is ready to knead.

Dump out the whole mixture onto a nice clean countertop that you can knead it on. To knead, take a handful at a time and smear it across the surface. This will form the butter into thin sheets and the water will get worked into the dough, but it won't develop the gluten too much. Do the smearing quickly so that the heat from your hands does not melt the butter. Gather up the smeared stuff, you can use a knife or a scraper to get up anything sticking to the surface. Repeat the technique until all of the dough has been smeared once, then gather it up and kind of pat it together and if it's still very crumbly, repeat the smearing/kneading once more very quickly with bigger handfuls. It will still be a little crumbly, but don't worry about it too much. You should still be able to see large bits of butter throughout the kneaded dough; it won't be completely homogenous. Divide the dough into two mostly equal-sized pieces. Form the two halves of the dough into discs, wrap in plastic wrap and roll the edges so that they are smooth instead of jagged. This will be beneficial when rolling them out. Place in the fridge for at least one hour. I like to prepare the dough one day ahead of time and let it chill overnight.

When the dough is chilled and you have time to devote to rolling, take one disc out at a time and roll it between sheets of plastic wrap. I use 4 sheets altogether to make 2 large squares, with 2 pieces on each side. I have also tried using waxed paper for this part, but I recommend the plastic wrap because it will be sticky on the table; waxed paper is too slippery. Roll out one disc until it is about 1/8 inch thick. Remember how we rolled the edges of the discs before rolling out the dough? That keeps the edges of the circles from becoming too jagged so that you don't have to patch them as much. Stop rolling whenever it starts getting too easy, or if you start seeing or feeling greasiness, and put the whole thing in the freezer for a couple of minutes. You can switch off from one half to the other while the first one chills. Remember that the more diligent you are about keeping the dough cold, the flakier the crust will be. The plastic wrap is good for this job because then the crust is easy to pick up and chill, it doesn't stick to the table or the plastic. When you are ready, follow your pie recipe's instructions for constructing the pie.

A few other notes about making the best pie crust possible: To keep the pie crust from shrinking while baking, be sure to not stretch it as you are placing it in the pan or on top of the filling. Also, if you chill the entire pie in the freezer for at least 30 minutes before baking, the crust will be less likely to shrink. I like to use a glass pie dish, because then I can look at the bottom crust and when it is brown, the pie is probably done. I was nervous at first about putting a glass pan straight from the freezer into the oven, but I've done it now several times and haven't had a problem yet. However, if you would like to use a metal pan, try to use a dark, dull metal, not shiny.

06 September 2009

Peach Pie for a Friend

This is for you, It's About The Story, I saw your comment and I will tell you how to make the peach pie, but I didn't measure things. But you can still go get some of those Brigham City peaches and make something awesome!

Peach Pie
Prepare enough pie crust dough for a 9-inch deep dish pie crust. Roll out the two crusts between sheets of plastic wrap. Keep them well-chilled while rolling by placing them in the freezer for a couple of minutes if the butter starts to melt. Place a bottom crust in a 9-inch deep dish pie pan, and place in the freezer to chill for at least 30 minutes, or until the filling is ready. Keep the rolled second crust in between the plastic wrap and chill in the freezer until the filling is ready.

To prepare the filling: Take about 8 peaches, and poach them, 2 or 3 at a time, in boiling water for about 30 seconds each, then immediately place in cold water. This will help the peels come off. When they are all poached and in the cold water, start slipping the skins off, they should come off pretty easily, but if they don't, just peel them with a knife. Cut the flesh into slices, not too thin, maybe 6-8 slices/peach. Place the slices in a nice big bowl, and sprinkle the juice of one lemon over them. Then sprinkle about 1/2 cup of sugar over them and the spices of your choice. Spices are optional, actually. I think peaches can really stand on their own. But I did about 2 tsp. cinnamon and 1 tsp. ginger, and I couldn't even taste the ginger. So if I was going to go for a peach ginger pie, the way I want to sometime, I would add only ginger, and I would probably use either fresh minced or crystalized ginger. Anyway, stir the sugar and spices through the peaches, and let it sit. It will become juicy and soupy as the sugar pulls fluid out of the peaches. After about 30 minutes, drain as much as you can of the juicy stuff into a small saucepan. Bring the juice to a boil, turn the heat down and let simmer gently. Swirl the pan occasionally to keep it from burning. The juices should become darker and reduce quite a bit. While it is simmering, measure about 1 Tbsp of cornstarch into the peaches and gently mix it in to make sure that there are no clumps and it is well distributed. When the juice has reduced by at least 1/3, take it off the heat and pour over the peaches and stir it in gently.

Now assemble the pie: Take the crusts out of the freezer a few minutes before assembly so that they can warm up enough to not break when you try to work with them. Pour the filling into the bottom crust. Trim the bottom crust to have a 1/2 inch overhang over the edge of the pan. Gently place the top crust on top and press the two together slightly to keep the top from shifting. Trim the top crust to a 1 inch overhang. Now fold the top underneath the bottom, and crimp the edges to seal the two crusts tightly together. Cut slits in the top, make them wide enough that when the juices bubble up they won't seal the slits closed.

Cover the pie with plastic wrap and stick it back in the freezer again. At this point you can leave it in the freezer for a while, even for weeks if you've wrapped it really well. About 30 minutes before you want to bake it, begin preheating the oven to 450 degrees F. When the oven is preheated, take the pie out of the freezer and take off the plastic. Place the pie on the bottom rack of the oven, and bake for about 50 minutes. You should be able to hear the filling bubbling, and the crust should be dark brown. You will probably want to cover the edges of the crust after 30 minutes of baking to make sure they don't burn. If it looks like the top crust is getting too brown, you can cover the whole thing with a large foil tent. Cut nice big vents in it to let the steam out or the crust will get soggy. If you are nervous about putting a pie pan in the oven right after it has been in the freezer, you can use metal pans and they will do just fine, but it should be dark, dull metal, not shiny. And DO NOT use those cheap throw-away ones that come in packs of three. They cannot support a whole pie if you only holding the rim of the pan. But consider this, I have used good quality glass pans at least 5 times and moved a whole pie straight from the freezer to the hot oven and the pans have never broken from the extreme temperature change. I like using glass because then the bottom of the bottom crust can get brown and you can see it through the glass. That is actually the best way to tell if your pie is baked all the way.

Okay, so your pie crust is nice and brown, but not burnt, you can hear the filling bubbling away, and hopefully you can see that the bottom of the pie is nice and brown as well. So take it out of the oven and let it cool for at least 1 hour to let all the juices set up and thicken a little. It doesn't have to be cooled off all the way. Now cut it and eat it up!

01 September 2009


Well, I didn't get that pastry chef job. But I did make a fabulous pie the other night. It's a deep dish peach pie with ginger and cinnamon. I couldn't taste the ginger because there was a lot of cinnamon and it overwhelmed it. I have read a few recipes lately combining peaches and ginger, so I really wanted to try that. But someone here really really really likes cinnamon. So maybe next time I'll do more ginger, maybe fresh or crystalized ginger, instead of just powdered. And no cinnamon. Sorry, there's no recipe for it. That really is my biggest weakness when cooking, is not following or recording accurate recipes. It still tasted good!

11 May 2009

Pear and Chocolate Tartlets

Last weekend in Italy we found some pear and chocolate pastries, which we just had to get for breakfast because pear and chocolate is one of my favorite unlikely flavor combinations. These pastries had bits of pear inside with chocolate melted all over it, all wrapped up in puff pastry and dusted on the top with powdered sugar mixed with cocoa powder. It was pretty good, but there was (you may not think this is possible...) too much chocolate and it overwhelmed the taste of the pears. I decided to make my own pear and chocolate tartlets to see if I could do as good or better, and this is what I came up with. It is super easy to prepare the elements days ahead of time, then bake when needed. you could even bake just two at a time. It would be simple to increase the amount or vary the size or shape of the tartlets as desired.

Pear and Chocolate Tartlets

Pie crust dough (enough to make a 1 crust 9-inch pie)
3 pears, not too ripe
milk for brushing on pastry crust
granulated sugar, to taste
about 1/2 chocolate sauce recipe

Roll out pie crust dough into a large rectangle, about 1/8 inch thick. Keep the dough chilled for maximum flakiness. Cut dough into 6 rectangles, each about 5 x 3.5 inches, depending on how large your pears are. Use any excess dough for pie-crust cookies. Place rectangles on a lightly greased baking sheet, and score part of the way through pastry dough with a knife 1/2 inch inside of the edge. Brush a little milk onto each rectangle. Peel the pears, core and cut into 1/2 inch slices (10-12 slices/pear), cover generously with lemon juice to keep them from browning. Place slices of pears on the rectangles of dough, one half of each pear on each rectangle, keeping the pieces within the score marks. Sprinkle a little sugar on each tartlet, only about 1/2 teaspoon on each. Immediately place the baking sheet in the preheated oven at 400 F. Bake for about 20 minutes, till the edges and bottoms of the crusts are brown, and the juices have coagulated. Remove from baking sheet and let cool for at least one hour. Scoop chocolate sauce into a piping bag (or a sandwich bag with a hole in a corner to squeeze through). Squeeze a drizzle of chocolate sauce on top of the tartlets, not too much. Enjoy!

10 May 2009

My Favorite Chocolate Sauce

Here's a good recipe for a multi-purpose chocolate sauce. You can use it for all sorts of things, like dipping strawberries or other fruit, as an ice cream topping, or topping for cake or cheesecake or any other kind of dessert. You can add a little more milk if you need it to be more liquid, or reduce the milk if you need it to harden more, but using the proportions as given will produce a topping that is soft at room temperature, but sets up at cooler temperatures. We used to make this at the cafe that I worked at during high school to smother on top of chocolate pound cake, and even though I couldn't write down the actual recipe, I believe I have recreated the correct proportions. My favorite thing to do with chocolate sauce? Vanilla ice cream with pears and chocolate sauce. Delish!
Chocolate Sauce
1 c. semi-sweet chocolate chips
2 Tbsp. unsalted butter
1/8 c. milk (2% or whole milk is best here)
Combine all ingredients in a small saucepan over low heat. Stir every couple of minutes until the chocolate starts melting, once the chocolate is mostly melted remove from heat and stir sauce until smooth.
The sauce can be refrigerated if you have leftovers, and then reheated in the microwave for about 10 seconds to use again.

04 May 2009

Yogurt Gelato

The Lovemuffin took the Pricklypear to Italy this weekend, and it was all so beautiful! We saw some real mountains again (I've missed the mountains) and some extraordiary churches, and of course, we ate some incredible food. I've always known that the most important thing to try in Italy isn't the pizza, it's the ice cream. I'd always heard that Italian gelato is the most amazing ice cream in the world, and so far my experience backs that up. We got gelato at a small dairy near lake Como (that's it, and me, in the picture), made fresh with fresh, whole mountain milk, and it was so, so good! I got chocolate and strawberry, and they were both very good, but Lovemuffin got yogurt (which he let me sample), and man, that was perhaps the best ice cream I have ever tasted! This wasn't like that frozen yogurt garbage that people sometimes eat because it's supposed to be low-fat and healthy, this was definitely full-fat ice-cream with all the tangy flavor of plain yogurt. I tell you what, I am going to try to recreate that taste, and if I am successful, you will know. I'm sure I won't be able to recreate the texture, because I don't have an ice cream maker, either here or back with my stuff in the states. I will just have to be creative. I have found a couple of recipes that seem to have the right idea, including this one, so I'll give it a whirl. I bet it would work well with liquid nitrogen, but since I don't have any of that either...

Oh, and something funny, the people we stayed with have a dog, a boxer, and I guess she loves yogurt, and so they would get the yogurt ice cream in a cup, and let the dog lick out the melty remains.

29 April 2009

Spargel in the Spring

It's asparagus season in Europe! Apparently there are all sorts of asparagus festivals in Europe in the springtime. In Germany and Austria white asparagus, called "spargel" is particularly popular. Lovemuffin and Pricklypear wanted to join in the celebrations, so we found a restaurant with spargel specials. I got spargel with prosciutto and sauce tartare (similar to what is pictured here), and the Lovemuffin got green asparagus with ham and hollandaise sauce. Spargel and prosciutto go together well, the prosciutto being very salty, and the spargel being very not salty. We made pizza with spargel and mushrooms and onions, and that was good, although if we did it again I would add sausage as well. Spargel cream soup is pretty popular here. It was on the menu at the restaurant, and it is easy to find dry packaged mixes for 70 euro cents.

I've been learning a little more about cultivating white asparagus. While it is growing, dirt gets heaped over it, limiting the sunlight it receives. It does not develop chlorophyll, and so it never turns green. Strangely enough, the white asparagus stalks I've seen are really thick, at least twice as thick as those of green asparagus. This is interesting, because if they grow without sunlight, I would expect them to be weak and spindly, not thick and strong.

I also learned that asparagus has a large amount of purines, and purines are metabolized into uric acid, so people who have gout (uric acid crystals built up in the tissues, especially the joints) may experience an attack of gout after eating it. But on the other hand, purine-rich plant foods are less likely to cause gout than meats that contain high levels of purines. So unless you already have gouty arthritis, the extra purines are no reason to avoid asparagus! I hope this springtime brings you plenty of asparagus, whether green or white, or even purple!

28 April 2009

Bread with Cooked Amaranth

A couple of weeks ago I found some amaranth grain at the store; I've been wanting to try amaranth for a while now. I have heard that it is supposed to be pretty nutritious. I tried cooking some with 1:3 ratio of amaranth:water, and I ate it with soup. It was interesting, with a very distinct smell and taste. It reminds me of corn husk silks, with an almost bitter edge. By itself the flavor is too strong and I don't like it. So I've been using it to make bread!

Lately I've been feeling the need to make some good whole wheat bread, because it's hard to find here. All of the dark breads here taste funny. I have a hard time figuring out the types of flour here, and even if I buy something labeled "dark flour" there is no guarantee that it will make the kind of whole wheat bread that I want. So I decided to use amaranth in my bread instead of trying to figure out whole grain flours at the store. I had a couple of bags of good old American all-purpose and bread flour that my wonderful MIL hooked us up with, so I have not had to figure out regular flour so far.

I searched for bread recipes using amaranth, but could only find recipes that use amaranth flour, and since I don't have any way to grind the little grains into flour, I decided to use it whole and cooked. I figured that it would be similar to using cooked oatmeal or cornmeal or even rice in bread. I've done breads like that before, and they've turned out great.

The finished bread still has a little of that funky corn husk silk flavor, but it is much less prominent, and adds interest, instead of being repellent. If you have some plain yogurt on hand, you can use 4 tablespoons of it instead of the milk and lemon juice mixture. I made this recipe again, and used half of it as a pizza crust, which turned out quite well. After making it the second time, I've completely run out of my nice American flour. (I'll have to tell you about my experiences using the different flours here, and if they work at all.)

Bread with Cooked Amaranth
1/2 c. amaranth grain cooked in 1 c. water until water is absorbed
1 1/2 tsp. yeast
1 tsp. honey
1 c. water, divided
1/2 tbsp. lemon juice
3 1/2 tbsp. milk
3-3 1/2 c. bread flour
1 1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 c. olive oil

Set cooked amaranth aside and let cool. In a large bowl, mix yeast and honey with 1/2 cup of the water, at a lukewarm temperature. Let sit till foamy. Mix the lemon juice with the milk in a small bowl, let sit for at least 5 minutes, it will thicken and curdle somewhat (full milk works best for this purpose). Add the remaining 1/2 cup water to the amaranth, and stir to loosen any clumps.
Add 1 cup flour and the amaranth to the yeast mixture. Stir until smooth. Add the milk plus lemon juice and the oil. Stir the salt into another cup of flour, then add that to the dough mixture, mix thoroughly. Add the rest of the flour, 1/2 cup at a time, and knead until all the flour is absorbed. The dough should be soft and pretty sticky. Resist the temptation to add much more than 3 1/2 c. flour altogether.
Coat a large bowl with about 1 teaspoon oil, form the dough into a ball and place in the bowl, turning to coat with oil. Cover and let rise until double. Gently pull the dough out and fold it over itself twice, deflating it somewhat. It should be a little bigger in volume than it was before rising, and much less sticky. Place in the bowl, turning to coat with any remaining oil, cover and let rise again. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. and grease a baking sheet.
When the dough has doubled the second time, gently dump it out of the bowl, form a loaf and place it on the baking sheet. Try to not punch all of the air out as you form the loaf. I prefer to make a long torpedo-shaped loaf, but a large round would work also. Let the loaf rise till almost double, then cut 3 or 4 cut slashes in the top with a sharp knife, about 1/2 inch deep, holding the knife at a 45 degree angle. Bake for 40 minutes, till crust is dark golden. Let cool at least 30 minutes before slicing.

19 April 2009


One thing I'm loving about living in Europe is the chocolate. It seems like European chocolate is better than American chocolate, I'm not sure why. Right now the thing I'm really noticing how many different varieties are available, and how different they are from candy bars in the states. In particular I've been seeing more and more chocolate with chili in it. The concept of chocolate with chili pepper in it was really weird to me the first time I encountered it a few months ago, but remember learning in 10th grade geography class that this was how chocolate was first consumed by the Aztecs, as a hot, unsweetened drink with plenty of chili powder mixed in. 

The first chili chocolate bar I had was really spicy-it was good, but hard to eat. Recently we got two kinds of spicy chocolates on sale after Easter: sour cherry and chili with chocolate mousse, and the lime and green peppercorn with chocolate mousse, both are made by Lindt. These are oval shaped chocolates with one half being full of a jelly-like spicy filling, and the other with a smooth chocolate mousse. The cherry/chili was good, but I especially liked the lime/pepper variety. When the spicy part first hit my tongue it seemed way to strong and I was going to have to make that face like when you bite into a raw lemon, but combined with the chocolate mousse and wrapped in milk chocolate, it is just right. One other chili-chocolate combination that I've tried here is mango-chili-chocolate bar. It was pretty fabulous too. The one problem I have with chili chocolate is that it gives me heartburn if I eat too much of it. So if you aren't prone to heartburn, you should give it a try sometime! Have you ever had chili chocolate? Did you like it?

13 April 2009

The beginning

Welcome to my food blog! I've been wanting to do something like this for a while now and finally decided to make it happen. A while back I decided that I wanted to invent the awesomest dessert ever and call it "gooey somethings." But I couldn't figure out what kind of thing this dessert would be - would it be like cake or cookies or pie or pudding or something completely different? The name was too vague for one dessert, but it seems just right for a blog!
So here's some background on me: I love to bake, especially breads and desserts, and I love cheese. I hardly ever cook something straight from the recipe. Instead I like to substitute things if the recipe calls for an ingredient that I don't care for. I want to record actual recipes here, but I'm afraid I don't always take exact measurements and I hardly ever actually write them down. I'll try to have pictures, but I can't guarantee they'll be any good. Also, right now I'm living overseas, so I don't have all of my favorite kitchen equipment (I just barely got a set of measuring cups and spoons two weeks ago). I can't buy all of the same ingredients that I regularly use (I have a hard time figuring out which kind of flour is which at the grocery store). Everything I've made lately has been very experimental. So right now I'm going to be writing more about the food that we buy here, and not so much about the food that I make.