As Easy As [Pie]

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Bad pie makers, have I got a tip for you. Buy this month’s Gourmet magazine and follow their technique for making the perfect pie crust. I am a terrible pie maker and I worked up the courage to follow their recipe after too many bad experiences and guess what? This crust was killer. Without any bidding, people who tried this pie commented: “Wow, the crust is awesome. It’s so flaky and buttery and great.”

Here’s a quick visual tour of what you do. You put flour, salt, shortening and butter into a bowl:

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You work it together with the tips of your fingers until it resembles coarse meal. Once it does you add 5 Tbs of water (if you’re making a double crust) and squeeze a bit in your hand. If it stays together then there’s enough water, if it falls apart you need more. This is what it looked like when it had enough water:

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Then there’s the cool novel part: you dump the dough out on to a board and you separate it into eight pieces. Then you take each piece with the heel of your hand and you shmush it out so you distribute the fat. You press it forward twice and then you scrape it all together and make a big ball. Then you divide that in half, flatten each half into a disc, wrap and refrigerate. Then you see to your pie filling.

On this particular day (it being Thursday) I had blueberries:

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I didn’t have the other components that the pie recipe called for (tapioca, lemon juice) but I didn’t care. Like Eric Cartman, I wanted some pah. So I mixed the blueberries with 1 1/2 cups brown sugar and let them rest and then when I rolled out the pie dough, I placed the pie dough in the glass pie plate and added the blueberries.

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Mmm, doesn’t that look so homey, homey?

Then I rolled out the other piece so badly that the pie top rejected the notion of pi, refusing to be a circle and deciding to become a clumpy, blumpy mess. I decided to spare you the horror of what it looked like when I plopped it on top. But no matter!

Into the oven it went:

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And out it came, a perfect pie:

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So the moral of the story is, go buy yourself a Gourmet magazine, read their pie recipe, get yourself some fruit and even if you mess up when you roll it out still bake it anyway and you will be glad. These are the profound directives of a formerly bad pie maker.

Floored By Florent?

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Last night was supposed to be Fatty Crab night. There were six of us, and when Craig and I arrived we were informed by the rest that Fatty Crab wouldn’t seat all six of us together–they wanted to split us into three and three–and that the wait would be 1.5 hours. “1.5 hours!” everyone yelled. They were outraged. So James Felder led the charge to Florent. I didn’t argue–I’ve wanted to try Florent since reading Andy Towle’s piece on it last year—a highly commendable, incredibly thorough examination of the restaurant, its owner and its importance. I recommend you read that to learn The Florent Story; here, I’ll focus on our experience eating there.

The inside of Florent is fun and lively:

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They squeezed us in at two circular tables which were pretty uncomfortable but, admittedly, the only option for a group as large as ours. (Can’t a party of six get any love in this city?)

Our waiter was fun and funny and he handled our group expertly. We would have tipped him expertly too but gratuity was already included. (I realize some people get upset when gratuity is included, but I think it makes it easier. Unless, of course, you don’t know gratuity is already included and you tip on top of the tip and then it makes things much more expensive.)

The menu at Florent looks like a diner menu but the food is very Paris bistro. Because I’m always reading about mussels and frites at other places, I tried to give the mussels and frites here a shot—especially because the day’s special was a mussels special that came with frites. Here are my special mussels with ginger, roasted plum tomatoes, adobo, cilantro and cream:

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And here’s a crazy red evil communist picture of my frites:

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I liked the mussels ok–I’ve never been a huge fan of mussels–but the sauce was killer and I loved dipping my frites and the very crusty, very enjoyable bread into the bowl of creamy, cilnatro-ey, mussels sauce. (I offered some to Diana and she rejected it saying it was like offering someone milk from the bottom of a bowl of cereal. I found this statement to be ridiculous and said I wasn’t eating the mussels over the bowl like someone eats cereal. She then agreed to try the sauce and she liked it. I was the victor in that exchange.)

Here’s Kirk of The Daily Kirk photographing his chicken:

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He and others were less than wowed by the food. “It was just ok,” seemed to be the consensus, but at the same time I was appreciative of eating Francolicious food in a diner-like environment. And I bet it’s a fun place to go late at night/early in the morning, when drunk people are stomping around and someone’s singing on the bar.

It’s a New York experience worth experiencing. I’m glad I experienced it. I hope you’re glad too.

Workout

Craig, after watching Bravo’s “Workout” on TV: “I can’t wait to never watch that show again.”

Where Did He Get The Recipe? (Oatmeal Butterscotch Cookies)

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There are two things I like to do when I get back from a trip:

(1) Eat a burrito;

(2) Bake something.

When Craig and I got back from D.C. last week, I led him along to the same destination I headed to when I returned from Paris last winter: Chipolte. Nothing hits the spot after a long day of traveling like a big, fat, oozing burrito—even it is from a company owned by McDonald’s. (Boy, Ray Croc must be smiling on this website lately.) Yes, we each got a burrito—mine with chicken, black beans, sour cream and salsa; Craig’s with cheese—took them home and watched TV.

Then when TV grew boring I got a hankering to bake.

“Aren’t you tired?” asked Craig.

“Nope,” I said zipping off to the kitchen.

And in that kitchen I threw together the cookies you see above—Butterscotch Oatmeal Cookies, my first time making them. The smell was heavenly—buttery, sweet, comforting—and the taste was smooth and soft, like a newborn baby. In fact a newborn baby was one of the ingredients.

Because I made so many cookies and I didn’t want to get fat (ha! too late for that!), I gave Craig a bag to take home for his roommate. Craig later reported that the roommate loved these cookies. “She wanted to know where you got the recipe.”

And that my friends is what I’m here to divulge. Are you ready? Write this down. The recipe comes from the side of the butterscotch chip bag. Buy butterscotch chips and you’ll have the recipe. But in case you don’t live anywhere that sells bags of butterscotch chips, I’ll type it out for you. Please enjoy the next time you return from a trip:

Oatmeal Scotchies

[from the side of the Nestle Butterscotch Morsels Bag]

[this makes 4 dozen cookies; you can halve it, like I did, and make it 2 dozen]

Ingredients:

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour

1 tsp baking soda

1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon

1/2 tsp. salt

1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened

3/4 cup granulated sugar

3/4 cup packed brown sugar

2 large eggs

1 tsp vanilla extract or grated peel of 1 orange

3 cups quick or old-fashioned oats

1 2/3 cups (11 oz. package) NESTLE TOLL HOUSE Butterscotch Flavored Morsels

Preheat oven to 375.

Combine flour, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt in a small bowl. Beat butter, granulated sugar, brown sugar, eggs and vanilla extract in large mixer bowl. Gradually beat in flour mixture. Stir in oats and morsels. Drop by rounded tablespoon onto ungreased baking sheets.

Bake for 7 to 8 minutes for chewy cookies; 9 to 10 minutes for crisp cookies. Cool on baking sheets for 2 minutes; remove to wire racks to cool completely.

Meeting Pim!

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I know you all want to hear about my lunch with Ruth Reichl, but Ruth Reichl Ruth Shmeichl—I met PIM this week!

She’s here for business and on Tuesday we had lunch at Balthazar. We were supposed to have lunch at a fancy SoHo noodle joint but it was closed for lunch on Tuesdays. So I found Pim on the corner of Mercer and Prince and she looked adorable in her dress and we walked together the few blocks to Balthazar, this being our first time meeting each other face to face.

“I feel like I already know you,” she said to me.

“Me too,” I replied chirpily.

Then for a moment I thought Pim was going to get hit by a car and she didn’t and then we laughed and I told her “that’d be quite a blog post.” I would title it Chez Shmushed.

Ok, ok, so I can’t write much because guess where I’m headed right now? To meet Pim again. I can’t tell you where because you might stalk us and kill us. But here’s what we ate at Balthazar…

We shared a Tuna Nicoise—isn’t this a beautiful picture?

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And then we each had, on Pim’s suggestion, Steak Tartare.

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This was the perfect lunch dish to get in summer: cool, bright, refreshing. And it was so well made: at one point Pim’s chef boyfriend David called and I heard Pim say, “the steak tartare is better than the one we had in Paris.”

We also had fries which Pim felt needed salt:

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For dessert, we shared this fruit tart:

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Pim worried that the strawberries were too white but when we tasted them they were moist and flavorful.

The meal was such a success that we’re going to have another. No camera this time, at least on my end. Maybe Pim will write about it and then you’ll have the he said, she said version of food blogging. As always, it’s a real treat to meet food bloggers—especially the ones that I’m a big fan of like Pim. Off we go for round two!

The Cat Out of the Bag

I am very bad at keeping secrets—(I just got in trouble for spilling a few over the weekend)—but I can’t contain my excitement over the big, exciting lunch I just had for my book. Promise not to tell anyone? I just had lunch with Ruth Reichl. And that’s all I can say for now :)

Improvised Pasta Salad

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I’m growing quite brave in my kitchen. Whereas before I’d shriek if I so much as missed half an ingredient for a recipe, now I make up my own recipes. Today I came home to found bounty from yesterday’s trip to the farmer’s market (which was an exhausting endeavor—that sun was so blistering hot that when I saw Bill Buford walk past me with several bags, I couldn’t tell if he was a hallucination or the real deal; my air-conditioned, calmer self now tells me it was really him.) On my table upon coming home tonight with my new computer (can I tell you how much I love my new computer? To quote Molly Shannon: I love it, I love it, I love it) there were:

– two ears of corn

– a bunch of beets

– spring onions

– a moldy cucumber

I threw out the moldy cucumber and set on my way. I brought two pots of water to a boil. In the first pot, I added salt, shucked the corn, added the whole cobs, turned off the heat (as Amanda Hesser suggests in her book) and took them out after three minutes. I turned the heat back on and added the pasta. In the other pot, I added a splash of olive oil, salt, some leftover thyme and then the beets. Those I boiled for about 30 minutes, until tender with a knife.

How did this thing come together? Well I drained the pasta after it was done boiling. I added it to a bowl and quickly poured on some olive oil and balsamic vinegar (quickly, because I wanted the hot, hungry pasta to absorb these flavoring agents.) Then I added corn that I cut off the cob, a crumbling of goat cheese I had in my ‘fridge from Coach Farms. Then I took the beet greens and sauteed them in olive oil which was weird because I think I should’ve boiled them first. But in those went and then finally the beets themselves, which I peeled and cubed.

What is this pasta I made? Is this a mess? Do the food gods frown? I’m not sure, but I really enjoyed eating it after letting it cool. (The cooling process allowed me to play with my new computer.) ‘Twas a fun night of innovation and the sort of thing that makes kitchen bravery a worthwhile trait to possess.

Is all this eating making me fat…?

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…or did I just get a new MacBook Pro with a built in webcam and fun Photobooth software?? [Hey! You computer geniuses out there, I have a question: what if I wanted to use the computer’s built in camera and my airport to do a live webcast of me cooking in my kitchen? Could I do that? How would I do that? Wouldn’t that be cool??]