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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!