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.

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.

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.

For The Love of Yogurt (Blueberry Yogurt Cake & Sour Cherry Frozen Yogurt) [PLUS: A Kitchen Travesty]

We food bloggers are creating quite the online ouvre. While some of us are leaving behind breast cupcakes, the rest are leaving behind fabulous recipes. Case in point: Clotilde’s Blueberry Yogurt Cake:

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And David’s frozen yogurt recipe which I applied to a recently acquired tub of sour cherries making Sour Cherry Frozen Yogurt:

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The primary ingredients for both these recipes came from–yup, you guessed it–the farmer’s market. The blueberries and sour cherries I bought from the same stand. I was really only going to buy blueberries but when the woman there mentioned sour cherries I remembered reading an article that said: “If you see sour cherries at the market, snatch them up. You can put them in the freezer and use them after sour cherry season is over.” So I reluctantly requested the cherries too and I went home with two fruits, unsure of what I would do.

The answer came by way of the third ingredient, an ingredient I acquired two weeks earlier at the Ronnybrook Dairy stand. Yup: yogurt. (Cue Mel Brooks: “Ya hoid of me?”) I knew yogurt would last a long time in my fridge and I figured I could concoct something to do with it–maybe eat it with berries and honey or use it to coat my cat after setting her on fire. I figured yogurt was a good thing to have so I bought it. And I forgot about it. Until the blueberries and the cherries came along.

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Easy Living

I’ve been cooking so much lately, it’s hard to keep up with all the pictures I’m taking and stories I’m collecting. Well, not stories really, but spontaneous recipes built around farmer’s market ingredients. I share Meg’s sentiment that the farmer’s market is surprisingly expensive, but I find that there are ways around it. For example, the other night instead of buying expensive tomatoes I bought broccoli and made this for dinner:

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That’s penne with broccoli in anchovy garlic sauce, adapted from Marcella Hazan. You boil the broccoli ’til it’s tender, lift it out with a spider and then boil the pasta in the same salted water. Meanwhile, in a saute pan you cook garlic, red pepper flakes and a few anchovies (3 or 4) in hot oil. The anchovies will fall apart at which point you could add white wine, if you had any on hand, or add the pasta cooking water. I added some pasta cooking water, the pan sizzled, and then in went the broccoli followed by the al dente pasta. You finish cooking the pasta in the sauce, then top with cheese and that’s dinner.

Last night, I surprised myself and assembled this beauty:

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That’s fennel and onion ragu served over polenta. Clearly, watching Molto Mario every day on Tivo is paying off: this dish is a direct result of my studies. (It does feel like you’re in cooking school when you watch it as regularly as I do.)

The big epiphany with this dish is just how ridiculously easy it is to make polenta. I had instant polenta and even the big Italian gurus on TV (in addition to Mario, Lydia Bastianich, for example) say it’s all right to use instant polenta once in a while. Most recipes I’ve read have you cook the polenta in chicken stock, but last night I only had water. So I filled a pot with water, brought it to a boil, added a big splash of salt, a drop of oil and then I began whisking in the instant polenta. When it became thick (approximately a 1 to 3 ratio of polenta to water) I continued to whisk for three minutes, put the lid on, and got on with my ragu.

For the ragu, I had a leftover fennel bulb from cooking with Kirk earlier in the day for my book. I sliced the fennel into thick chunks, then sliced an onion into thick chunks. I put olive oil in a saute pan, heated it for a minute, then added the onion and fennel without adding any salt: I wanted it to retain its shape, not to break down so quick. Without moving it, I allowed it to brown and after a few minutes I did the flippy pan thing and saw nice brown color. I kept sauteing and when it was brown all over I added salt, pepper, red pepper flakes and then a few canned tomatoes (3 or four from a can). I also, spontaneously, added red wine. That’s a great feeling, when you grab things left and right and add them to the pot.

While that cooked down, I chopped the fennel fronds and added them, along with lots of parmesan cheese, to the polenta. Dinner was ready in 20 minutes–polenta on a plate, ragu on top–and I felt like a guru myself. Garnish with remaining fennel fronds and some parmesan, and not only am I a guru: I’m a hot guru.

And that’s what I call easy living.

Ooh La La, Fancy French Toast

What to do with the leftover peasant bread you bought for the Eggs in Purgatory I championed in a video last week? After all, you had the bread sliced at the store and fresh bread like that goes stale pretty quick. Let’s see there’s eggs in the fridge, vanilla, milk… hmmm… why, could we make french toast? Why, yes we can!

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Using this recipe from Epicurious it couldn’t have been easier. And now for a Flickr slide show to explain the rest (I stole this idea from Sam of Becks & Posh: thanks Sam!) Click a picture to read a clever little quip and then curse yourself for wasting your time. Enjoy!

You Will Rue The Day That You Don’t Make This Strawberry Rhubarb Pie

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Click here find yourself transported to the best recipe I’ve yet done with strawberries and rhubarb either in combination or individually. This recipe is so dyn-o-mite that like a Mark Twain character I couldn’t resist scooping up the chunk that you see missing and shoveling it into my mouth with reckless abandon only thirty minutes out of the oven. That’s a quarter of a pie that I ate that night: actions speak louder than words. Meaning: the pie was delicious and I’m a fatty.

But, using words, I’d like to describe the wonder of the strawberry rhubarb combination. Could a better pie pair exist in heaven? I think not. These two contrasting specimens complement each other so well when baked together that it makes you believe that there’s order in the universe, that there must be some guiding force who planted strawberries in one patch, rhubarb in another and gleefully put his or her hands behind his or her back and hoped that humans would figure it out. I’ve figured it out all right–the only challenge that remains is making pie crust without having a nervous break-down.

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The Tart Whisperer (Martha Stewart’s Rhubarb Tart)

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For anyone who watches “The Dog Whisperer” (and I’m a recent convert after reading Malcolm Gladwell’s article about him last week), you will know that dogs are pack animals. For them to behave–for them to be healthy, happy dogs–you have to be their master. Dogs will read you: show any weakness, and they will own you.

Tart dough is like a dog. You have to be its master or it will own you. Last time I made a tart, I got bit: the tart dough wouldn’t roll out, I kept reclumping it, and by the time it was done it was like a brick. That tart was my master.

But it was not so with the tart you see above: the tart you see above was formed and shaped by the new me, the dominant me, the aggressive alpha dog me. Tart tasters all agreed: “this tart is flaky!” “This dough is perfect!” How did I whip that poochy dough into shape? I attacked it with confidence, with vigor, with great assurance. I am–dun dun dun dun!–The Tart Whisperer.

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