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Thanksgiving is nigh and pie making questions have begun trickling in. I've posted before on pie crusts, focusing on the baking. Most pie crusts are baked twice. The first time, with no filling, is called Blind Baking. There's no special word for the second time. I always blind bake, even if the recipe doesn't direct it, because the crust is flakier and drier. Especially for a pumpkin pie. I just follow the recipe on the back of the Libby's can, substituting half and half for whatever nasty canned dairy product (evaporated milk, prolly) it is they call for instead.
But when your pie crust doesn't come out right, baking is just one thing that went wrong. The questions I get are always related to shrinking, though not many bakers realize it They just know that they spent a lot of time getting the pie crust to look just right, only to bake it and have its shape morph like a drunk's face.
A few easy steps will prevent this from happening. They're all pretty much equally important. Here they are:
1. Don't overmix the dough. When you mix it (adding the butter and ice water), stop immediately when it begins to come together in the bowl. Chunks of butter chunks should be visible in your rolled pie dough. That mottled appearance promises a flaky crust.
2. Don't overhandle the dough. Heat, generated by your hands, room temperature, and by kneading and handling the dough, is the enemy of many pastry doughs.
3. Use the exact right amount of flour while rolling. This sounds like an impossible order, but don't despair - it takes practice in knowing how much flour to add, and it all depends on the natural humidity in your flour - which can vary greatly - so there's no way for me to tell you how much you will need. The general idea is that too much stickiness will cause you to stretch and pull your dough too much, overworking it, and activating the gluten. On the other hand, too much will dry out the crust and make it tougher and less flaky. Add flour sparingly while rolling, and roll gently. And don't forget to rotate your crust while rolling, flipping it over to ensure it's not sticking to the counter.
4. Once you have a nice big round of pie dough rolled out, let it sit on the counter for 5-10 min before you transfer it to the pie tin. This step allows the gluten to relax before you force it into the pie tin.
5. Lower the dough into the pie tin and firmly press the dough into corners and side edges of pie tin. You don't want to press so firmly that you leave big dents, but enough to encourage the dough to stay put. I like fluted tart shells for this reason - you just press the dough into the fluted sides and it stays put.
6. Chill, baby, chill! You MUSTMUSTMUST chill the lined pie shell for at least an hour before baking. !MUST! Chilling helps for a few reasons: it resolidifies the butter, ensuring a flaky crust, and it allows the gluten to relax. If I run out of room in the fridge, I just use the freezer. No real difference there.
7. The Weight. If you follow 1-6 but not #7 your crust will probably still shrink a little. Why? Heat from the oven will naturally relax the gluten even more. There are two ways to combat this: one by using pie weights, the other with just tin foil. For the pie weight method you will need some parchment paper and something to fill it with - I use rice, dry beans, and have heard of people using pennies, or the ceramic pie weights they sell in specialty shops. Just make sure that your parchment will be able to lift whatever you fill it with (you don't want to end up with dry rice or pennies in your pie crust if the parchment breaks during removal). Bake for about 20-25 minutes at 350, then remove the pie weights, prick the bottom all over with a form, and bake the crust for another 10 minutes. It's done when you see a smidgen of color, and no raw looking parts.
My preferred method these days is referenced here and involves simply spraying the shiny side of a large piece of tin foil with baking spray and pressing it very firmly to the pie crust and wrapping it up and over the sides of the pie tin. Bake for 20-25 minutes and you should be good to go. This method cuts baking time down a bit since there's less interference between the crust and the heat.
There it is. It's likely not going to be my final words on the subject, but maybe a few more pies will be camera ready this Thanksgiving. Good luck!
Thursday, November 21, 2013
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Friday, November 15, 2013
First things first: a shout out to a few new-to-me restaurants. The first is in spit-wad distance of the Pinch kitchen: Rickshaw Republic. It's a BYOB joint serving up Indonesian street food. I loved the Jakarta plate - an abundant compilation of roast chicken and sides, including something called Spicy Egg - basically a hard boiled egg that was then (fried? dredged?) in a sweet chili sauce. I'm looking forward to trying the Ikan Balado, a tilapia dish that sounds divine. Rickshaw's coconut rice is an important upgrade to your dinner.
The second is Slurping Turtle in River North. Chef Takashi won the James Beard award for Best Chef/Midwest in 2003 and opened his eponymous restaurant late in 2007. The restaurant Takashi, located in Bucktown, is a fine dining dinner spot, where as Slurping Turtle is a great lunch spot. The latter features bento boxes (a multi course meal served all at one in a compartmentalized lacquer box). I'm itching to go back for the housemade ramen. Takashi's food is wonderful.
The third is Big Jones in Andersonville. Wow. I was there this week, had the Gumbo (full name: Gumbo Ya-Ya - how can you not have fun eating that?!?) and tried the corn muffin, and am totally going back for the Boarding House lunch sometime soon. Either that or the Shrimp Po'boy. And the Pickle Tasting. Seriously. I can't wait to go back. The cocktail menu looked pretty much awesome, too.
Tonight we're having something I first tried a couple of months ago when my friend Caroline tipped me off to a recipe from Food & Wine - Uncle Boon's Thai Roast Chicken and sung it's praises. I don't do much in the way of whole chickens, so I tinkered with the recipe just slightly and used split chicken breasts. You can source whole coriander seeds at The Spice House or in most good grocery stores.
Here's that recipe:
Thai Roast Chicken Breasts
Print recipe only here
4 split chicken breasts, with ribs
1 T coriander seeds
1 T black peppercorns
8 cups water
6 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
1/3 cup turbinado sugar (Sugar in the Raw)
1/4 cup kosher salt
1/4 cup fish sauce
1/2 cup light coconut milk
2 limes, peeled (use a vegetable peeler to carefully remove just the green peel)
Measure coriander and peppercorns into a 3 quart saucepan. Toast for 1 minute over medium flame. Remove from heat and let cool.
Add 4 cups of the water, sugar, salt, garlic, fish sauce and zest/peel from one lime and bring to a simmer. Cook until sugar and salt are dissolved. Allow to cool. Transfer to a large baking dish and add another 4 cups of water. Let cool to room temperature.
Remove the skin from the chicken breasts and set them into the brine, tuning to coat and poking them all over with a skewer or fork to allow the brine to penetrate. Cover and refrigerate for at least 6 hours, preferably overnight.
Preheat oven to 400.
Remove chicken from brine and set on a baking sheet covered with paper towels. Pat dry.
In a blender, combine the coconut milk and remaining lime peel. Pour over chicken breasts, turning to coat. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and roast, uncovered, for about 30 minutes or until they reach an internal temperature of 165.
Serve with Coconut Rice (recipe follows)
Pinched Indonesian Coconut-Scented Rice
Print recipe only here
1 cup basmati or jasmine rice
1/3 cup light coconut milk
1 cup water
1 t salt
5 whole black peppercorns
3 cardamom pods
3 slices ginger
Place everything in a small covered saucepan. Bring to a boil, then lower heat to lowest setting, cover and cook for 15 minutes. Fluff with a fork and remove from heat until ready to serve, keeping covered. Taste for seasoning.
Thursday, November 14, 2013
I am a big fan of caramel. As a kid I had a love-hate relationship with Wrapples, the discs of caramel that are meant to be wrapped around your apple. They're really hard to get right, and the caramel is not even all that good. I loved the idea but hated how it was impossible to produce a gorgeous caramel apple with them.
Many of you have made caramel apples with those Kraft caramels. My memory of those is the labor involved in unwrapping all those little squares. And Kraft caramel is not the tastiest - nothing like a Werther's or a Sugar Daddy. Mmmm. Sugar Daddies have sweetened many a road trip. They last for miles!
This year I decided to do things the right way and I made a potful of glossy caramel for my daughter's halloween party. Well, I made it twice to get it exactly right, but it was really pretty easy. Honestly, the hardest part was the sticks. I used wooden dowels leftover from my wedding cake making days (dowels support the layers). I cut them down to size and sharpened them. You need something longer and sturdier than your average popsicle stick. Maybe a craft store sells something suitable. Anyhoo, here's that recipe:
Print recipe only here
10 Granny Smith apples
1 cup butter
2 cups dark brown sugar
1 cup light corn syrup
14 ounces (1 can) sweetened condensed milk
2 ½ tsp. vanilla extract
Insert wooden sticks through the tops of the apples so that the stick is about 3/4 the way in the apple. Set on a parchment lined baking sheet.
Combine the butter, sugar, corn syrup and condensed milk in sauce pan over medium high heat. Bring the mixture to a boil and cook for about 25 minutes*. Keep close by after about 20 minutes so that it doesn't start to burn. When the caramel looks dark and thick, remove the pot from the heat and stir in the vanilla extract. Allow to cool slightly. (You can also do this part in advance and pick up the dipping later in the day. When you resume for dipping, just gently reheat the caramel, adding a tablespoon of water at a time if it's too thick.)
Dip the apples into the caramel at an angle, rotating them to coat the entire apple. Lift the apple to let the caramel drip off of the bottom, scraping excess off the bottom of the apple back into the pot.
Line the apples up on a greased wax paper. If desired, decorate the apples with sprinkles, nuts, or other toppings before they dry completely. If you want to put them in candy bags you will need to let them sit and air dry for about 30-45 minutes.
* UPDATE: If you have a candy thermometer, use it and let the caramel cool until it reaches 235 or so, then remove from heat.
Tuesday, October 29, 2013
There's a simple reason why it's taken me so long to photograph my new favorite salsa: it's too delicious. It's gone before I can set up a good photo. It's a quick recipe, so it gets made while prepping dinner. By the time it's done, it hits the table. Any leftovers are often gobbled up first the the next morning atop someone's potatoes, eggs, or in a breakfast burrito. Besides, even if I were to try to get the shot before we sat down to eat, the light is all wrong. Unlike yours truly, food photographs best in the light of day.
Anyway, this recipe comes from Rick Bayless's awesome cookbook, Mexican Everyday. I had been turning out batch after grubbin' batch throughout the summer. Even though tomato season has passed, this salsa remains doable. Just take care to select some good, red, vine-ripened tomatoes, as I did this week. I allowed them to ripen a few more days on my counter, and made salsa when the tomatoes had that glorious garden-fresh tomato scent on their skins.
Last night we had Mahi Mahi Fish Tacos. Fresh salsa is an absolute must with Fish Tacos. I grilled the Mahi (which I just basted with a wee bit of canola oil, fresh lime juice, salt and pepper before grilling, and an extra shot of lime juice as a board dressing while it rested post-grilling) alongside some late season corn on the cob from Whole Foods, turning the latter into a quick Roasted Corn Salsa. Tonight's dinner will be a tough act to follow.
Here's both recipes:
Fresh Tomato Salsa
Print recipe only here
1 jalapeño, seeded and roughly chopped
1 clove garlic, peeled and roughly chopped
2 medium ripe tomatoes, quartered and cored
1/4 cup fresh cilantro
1 lime, halved
2 green onions, finely sliced
Salt and fresh pepper
In Cuisinart, process or pulse jalapeño until finely chopped, scraping down sides of bowl as needed. Add garlic and process or pulse. Add tomatoes and cilantro and pulse until tomatoes are roughly chopped. Transfer to a small bowl.
Add sliced green onions. Squeeze juice from one half of the lime. Taste for seasoning to determine if you need the other half of the lime. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Roasted Corn Salsa
Print recipe only here
2-3 ears fresh corn
1/2 jalapeño, seeded and finely chopped
1/2 small red onion, finely chopped
2-3 T chopped cilantro
Salt and pepper
Preheat grill or broiler. Shuck the corn and remove all the silk. Brush with canola oil. Grill for about 5-7 minutes, rotating halfway thru, or until the corn is browned. Remove from the grill and allow to cool to room temperature.
Prep the remaining ingredients and combine in a small bowl. When the corn has cooled, cut it from the cob and add to the bowl. Add the lime juice and stir to combine. Taste for seasoning, adding salt and pepper as desired.
Monday, October 28, 2013
Reprinted from the Pinch archives
Many a coffee purist would shudder the thought of adding eggnog to coffee, but not this one.
I've loved the eggnog latte for years, since my days frequenting Monorail Espresso in the nation's espresso capital. No Portland, not you. Portland doesn't wait for Halloween to dress up as Seattle.
The eggnog latte is probably loaded with as many calories as one of those Dunkin' Donuts muffins I've heard tale of (
700 500-plus, if memory serves). I don't want those calories to end up on my tail, so I steer clear of Starbucks this time of year.
But this, this most wonderful lowfat eggnog from the good folks at Horizon, fills the void. The best way to enjoy it is to pour an inch or so into your mug and zap it up in the microwave for 10 seconds or so. Then fill your mug the rest of the way with coffee. Yum. Oh, and don't add sugar - the eggnog is pretty sweet.
2013 Update: So, where can you buy this wondermous accoutrement? In Chicago, Horizon Eggnog is sold at most Dominick's. I got mine at the one on Fullerton & Sheffield. It seems Whole Foods and Target no longer carry it. I've been frequenting Plum Market this fall, and hope to find it there. I'm hardly ever at Dominick's, and will be even less once Mrs. Greens opens and the Dominick's on Fullerton over by Chuck E Cheese turns into a Albertson's. And I still can't believe the Jekyll and Hyde nightmare that Fox & Obel turned out to be. Wow. I've been in Chicago long enough (a scant eight years) to see some very big changes on the grocery scene.
Eggnog lovers, rejoyce! It's eggnog season!
This post was originally published on October 31, 2008
Sunday, September 29, 2013
Opinions abound on the cutting of lettuce, both in the prep kitchen and at the dining table. It's one of those things that people are completely sure about and often wrong. For prep, it's generally acknowledged that tearing, as apposed to cutting, lettuce is less damaging to the structure of leaf. The
nerds investigators at Cooks Illustrated tested the phenomena and more or less proved what I always heard growing up: that sliced lettuce will brown on the edges (but not for several days after slicing).
Even so, my standard operating procedure when making Caesar salad is to use a serrated knife to slice Romaine hearts. I don't use one of those "lettuce" knives either - just my favorite Henkels Utility knife. We go thru lettuce quickly so browning isn't an issue. In fact, when I make Caesar I routinely use all the Romaine hearts in the bag, so there's none leftover to go brown anyway.
Then there's the issue concerning the etiquette of cutting salad with a knife at the dining table. The new Emily Post assures readers that it is, in fact, ok to cut your lettuce at the dining table. Apparently, the no-no originated along with carbon-steel knife blades that would become discolored and corrode from the acid in salad dressing. With the routine use of stainless steel and silver, knives are safe from corrosion and diners are cleared for cutting up lettuce. This clearance is acknowledged in such few circles that I can hardly advocate it. I don't want to be blamed when your bossy aunt pulls you aside for a primer on table etiquette when she catches you cutting your salad.
Cutting salad is usually avoidable, anyway. Except in the case of the new Caesar I've been making since this summer. I've been making Kristine's Caesar dressing since she taught it to me ten years ago. This summer I came across a recipe in The Art of Simple Food and decided to shake things up. This new recipe - nearly identical to the original - is a lot like what Mary used to make at Cafe Nola. I've been drizzling it onto long, thin, delicate Romaine hearts, along with croutons and ribbons of Parmesan. Those long, thin Romaine hearts are beautiful on the plate. And they can basically be cut with the side of your fork since the spines are so crunchy. But I'm spreading the word about the acceptability of taking a knife to lettuce at the dining table.
Here's that recipe:
Cafe Caesar for Romaine Hearts
Print recipe only here
2 cloves garlic
2-3 anchovy fillets
1 T red wine vinegar
1 T lemon juice
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil, best quality
Fresh ground pepper
Peel the garlic and and pound in a mortar and pestle, mashing it up. Add the anchovy fillets and continue to mash into a paste.
Measure the lemon juice and vinegar into a small measuring cup. Add the garlic/anchovy mash and whisk with a fork to combine. Slowly whisk in the olive oil. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Stack individual Romaine leaves on large plates. Drizzle some dressing on top. Using a vegetable peeler, peel long ribbons of Parmesan or Grana Padano off a large block. Serve with croutons, if desired.
Friday, September 27, 2013
There's a spectrum of emotional response to the how-and-when circumstances of a person's death. At one end, there's sad-but-peaceful acceptance of what many would see as a favorable death - i.e. age 82, while sleeping. At the opposite end of the spectrum is sorrow-induced rage caused by what most would agree as an untimely or unfair death - i.e. age 24, choking on food/brain tumor/auto accident.
We also care about the planned death of the animals we eat (putrid, nasty slaughterhouse at one end, state-of-the-art, clean slaughterhouse at the other?). The Humane Slaughter Act, first signed in 1958 by Dwight Eisenhower, requires requires meatpackers to anesthetize or stun livestock prior to killing, except in the case of kosher slaughter. Animals are meant to be rendered insensible to pain prior to killing so that they won't suffer. Interestingly, the Act doesn't protect poultry, fish, or rabbits, a fact not lost on proponents of animal rights. It doesn't protect lobsters, either, an omission which fuels the debate on the best way to kill them.
People who cook lobster fall into one of two categories: stabbers or boilers. Professional cooks are mostly stabbers, but I think that might speak more to a predisposition for using knives than concern for animal welfare. Stabbers like to say that their way is more humane, taking the position that swiftly stabbing the lobster in the back of the head is faster and more painless than death by boiling water. Most home cooks self-report as boilers.* A rarely-acknowledged third category includes rubes who accidentally kill their lobsters before cooking them. No one I know advocates drowning lobsters as a means of killing them. But then again, up until this summer, I wouldn't have guessed it was possible to drown an animal that LIVES IN THE OCEAN.
Ever since he published the recipe in June 2012, I've been wanting to make Mark Bittman's Singapore Chili Lobster. Since co-council was required for an undertaking of this magnitude, I enlisted help from a friend. The sauce really is the heart of this dish, and the saucier's cooking skills and palate matter tremendously. I can't take any credit for the sauce - Ari took care of that on his own. What I can take credit for is the procurement of four live lobsters, being brave enough to handle them, and being gauche enough to drown them.
What happened is that after allowing the live lobsters some time to frolic on our patio (which they declined to do, either because they knew what was coming and weren't going to give us the satisfaction, or because they were scared of the dog), I thought they looked a little sad and dry. We consulted the internet which said we could make them a seawater bath, and since I had a container of sea salt and a beverage tub, I thought: Groovy! We can make a lobster pool! I made the pool and explained the situation to the lobsters as I set them into it. The lobsters seemed to be enjoying themselves - they become a lot more active in the water than they were on the patio. But after about five-ten minutes, there was no more splashing around. I picked one up to see how he was doing and he was totally limp.
Horrified, I called Dirk's. Now, my husband and I are in disagreement about how often Dirk gets this call. My bet is that he gets it several times a summer. I'm going to call him sometime and ask. Anyway, Dirk said lobsters drown in freshwater, and city water plus sea salt does not equal sea water. [The official answer sounded like this: Something something salty blood osmosis toxic drowning.] Dirk said all that happy moving around they were doing in the lobster pool was actually their death throes. Whoops. He also said to just boil them immediately and they'd be fine, and they were. Whew!
I still feel so badly about it mainly because, and I hate that I'm saying this, but the lobsters totally knew what was up. That's what I took the time to explain it to them, that the pool was going to be fun. They knew otherwise. Next time I cook lobsters, I'm going to have to stab them, or secure co-council who will.
* This raises the possibility of validity problems in my survey, as respondents may have lied or exaggerated about their behavior in order to appear more humane, or under-report the severity or frequency of lobster-killing behavior in order to minimize their problems. In short, the author acknowledges the possibility that respondents claiming to be boilers may actually be stabbers.