Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Hand Pies Revisited

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I have a confession. Ever since I made the blueberry and cream cheese hand pies just over a week ago I have had a guilty cloud over my head. While the hand pies were very good I just couldn't shake the nagging thought that I should have attempted to make my own crust. Again, I have nothing against store bought pie crusts, but I don't want to go through life always avoiding making my own crust. Call me dramatic, but it's true.

This past weekend brought the time and opportunity to tackle the pastry dough challenge. We found some amazing black cherries at the farmer's market, which served as my main inspiration for revisiting the hand pies. Plus, Dan's parents were coming for dinner that night providing another great challenge. Unlike some I don't subscribe to the rule that you should never try out a new recipe on company, lest you ruin the dish and your reputation. I like living on the culinary edge and use the added pressure as a way to motivate myself to get it right.

After searching through several resources I found a recipe for a very simple pie crust. In my search I learned that there are basically three ways to make a crust-- using a standing mixer, a food processor, or by hand. I opted to make mine by hand only because I wanted to get personal with with dough. In my opinion using a mixer or food processor takes away the tactical experience of working with the dough, leaving room for mistakes.

The 'by hand' decision meant I had to buy a small tool, which you can find in any kitchen department-- a pastry cutter. This tool is used to combine the fat with the sugar, flour and salt. Here's the one I used...

Now that I had the right tool it was time to get started on the dough. First, I prepared the butter. The recipe I used called for one stick cut into small 1/2 inch pieces. Also, the butter must be very cold-- do not underestimate this advice! You will see why in a moment. I cut up the butter and placed it in the freezer for about 15-20 minutes.

While the butter was in the freezer I prepared the dry ingredients, which was very easy. Just sift together the flour, sugar and salt. Once the butter was cold I started the process of incorporating it into the dry ingredients.

A note here-- the day I made the dough it was almost 100 degrees out, which meant I needed to work very fast at this point. I wish I had left the butter in the freezer a little longer because, despite being very cold, it did soften quickly. To achieve a flaky crust there must be visible pea-sized balls of butter in the dry ingredients. When the crust cooks the butter melts, which creates layers that result in flakiness. I sort of achieved this, but, as you can see, the butter isn't as uniformly distributed as it could be... but, not bad for a first attempt. I didn't take a picture of the process because I needed to get it done fast, so here's the result...

Next, I added ice water to the dry ingredients and butter to turn the whole thing into a dough. Again, it's very important that the water is icy cold otherwise the butter will melt. Also, it's important to add a little water at a time until the dough comes together in a ball. I honestly can't say how much I added, but I think it was about three or four tablespoons. Once the dough came together I flattened it a bit into a disk, covered it with plastic and put it in the fridge to firm up.

I'm not sure why the dough needs to go in the fridge. Here are some of the reasons I came across...

1. The butter needs time to get cold again before rolling out the crust

2. The dough needs time to absorb the water otherwise it will all steam out during baking resulting in a dry crust

3. The gluten needs time to either rest or work (I can't remember which it is)

I also read recipes that skip this step and go straight to rolling it out, so who knows. I thought it was a good idea to let the butter firm up again, so I let it sit in the fridge for about 30 minutes before rolling it out.

After sprinkling some flour on the counter I rolled out the dough

trying to get it in a circular shape...

The recipe I used made a 9" pie crust, which was a little smaller than I needed. Next time I will find a recipe that makes a 12" crust. Nonetheless, once it was rolled out I followed the same steps I followed in the blueberry and cream cheese hand pies, except this time I used cherries...

Very pretty...

And here is the final product...

Overall, making pie crust was pretty easy, although I would classify my first one as just okay. The final result wasn't as flaky as I hoped, but I'm sure that was due to the butter not staying as cold as it should. I learned a lot from the experience and will definitely try again, only next time I will make it on a cooler day.

I guess the the thing I am happiest about is that I took the chance and made my own crust. Of course, I'm sure I'll use the pre made dough again, but, at least now, I know that homemade crust is within my reach.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Insalata Caprese Skewers

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A few weeks ago I came across this simple appetizer somewhere on the Internet. These skewers can't get any easier and the flavor is hard to beat! I used both grape tomatoes and small green tomatoes (purchased at our local farmer's market), fresh basil from our garden and fresh mozzarella balls. I cut regular wooden skewers in half before skewering the ingredients (is skewering a word?). I also served a balsamic vinegar and olive oil dressing on the side, or, if you wanted, you could drizzle some dressing over the skewers right before serving.

When I decided to make these I tried, in vain, to locate the website where I first found the idea. When I googled "tomato, mozzarella, basil skewers" I found a lot of results and could not remember which site it was--
considering there are so many sites claiming credit I guess it's not a big deal.

So, thanks, to whoever thought of serving this classic Italian dish on skewers-- it's a great idea!

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Chicken with Roasted Lemons & Capers

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Our most recent Los Poblanos farm basket once again included chard and I was excited to work with it again. After looking through some recipes I finally settled on this one and this one from the Epicurious website. I didn't follow the recipes exactly as written, so if you want the original recipes visit the links. This is a great dinner for a week night because it's quick to put together. While the lemons are roasting you can use the stove top to make the rest of the dinner.

Roasted Lemons

Roasting lemons is incredibly easy. I sliced on lemon into thin slices and placed them on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. I drizzled them with olive oil and sprinkled salt and pepper over the top.

Roast them at 325 degrees for about 25 minutes

This is what they look like when they're done... I managed to only burn one.

For the Chicken

Coat the chicken in some flour seasoned with some salt and pepper
Heat 4-5 tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat in a heavy skillet
Add the chicken and cook on both sides until browned
Once the chicken is browned on both sides add in about 3/4 cup of chicken stock
Add a couple tablespoons of capers
Add in the roasted lemons
Bring to a boil , reduce heat and allow to simmer until the liquid has reduced to a syrup consistency
Add some chopped fresh parsley

For the Chard

In a large pan heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat
Add two chopped cloves of garlic
Add half a onion that has been thinly sliced
Cook the garlic and onion until soft
Add in about 1 pound chopped chard --You may need to do it in batches. Just add half and allow it to wilt down and add the rest.
Cook the chard until wilted and tender
Remove from the heat

Serve the roasted lemon chicken over the chard... Congratulations! You have just made a yummy and healthy mid-week meal... Enjoy!

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Ridiculously Easy Popsicles

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Get 2 Grapefruit and squeeze out the juice
Get 2 or 3 handfuls of strawberries, remove the green tops and slice them in half

Combine the grapefruit juice and strawberries in a blender
Blend until pureed

Pour the pureed fruit into Popsicle molds

Place in the freezer until frozen solid
Remove the Popsicles
and enjoy

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

What I Learned from Making Pickles

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If you are ever looking for something to do while you wait for the Daily Show with Jon Stewart to start, you should do what we did and make some pickles. You may be thinking that pickling is quite a daring kitchen project to take on during a random week night, but, trust me, you will be pleasantly surprised at how easy and quick is to pickle-- at least I was.

I always thought pickling was a complicated and mysterious process that required skills beyond my culinary ability. Also, why do it yourself when there are so many pickles to choose from at the grocery store? Well, people, I am here to tell you that in the time it would take you to go to the store to buy a jar of pickles, you can make them yourself. Of course, you have to practice some patience since the veggies need time to, well, get pickled, but that just adds to the fun of the project.

So, last night Dan and I, while waiting for Jon Stewart, decided to whip out our new favorite book Jam It, Pickle It, Can It and make ourselves some pickles. We followed the recipe in the book pretty closely and used the following ingredients:

For 1 Jar of Pickles:

1 crushed garlic clove
1 bay leaf
1 cinnamon stick
2 teaspoons yellow mustard seeds
2 teaspoons brown mustard seeds
2 teaspoons black peppercorns
1-2 sprigs of fresh dill

Put all the ingredients in the jar and add the green beans. Fill the jar halfway with distilled white vinegar and then top it off with cool water. Shake it up and store in the refrigerator for at least three days. That's it!

The green beans went so quick that we decided to pickle cauliflower, carrots, regular cucumbers and a hothouse cucumber. From start to finish the whole project took 30 minutes-- including prepping the vegetables. Important note-- we didn't can our pickles, a preserving process, which means our pickles will last for about a month in the refrigerator.

So now we are waiting for the pickles to be done doing whatever it is they do to become pickles. One thing I am learning about making things from scratch is that the waiting time involved only adds to the experience. The end result is all that much better when you have invested some time into the experience. Already we have checked on the jars in the fridge and commented on their status, which has sparked conversations about what to do with them (besides just eat them straight from the jar) when they are ready.

We are looking forward to the weekend when we break into the first jar and try them out-- we know they'll be good because our brother-in-law, Josh, used the same recipe when we were visiting on our vacation. Perhaps we'll take the first jar and share it with our friends, Ryan and Rochelle, at Zoo Music this Friday. Or perhaps not since they don't allow glass containers in the zoo-- we might have to save them for after the concert when we're sitting on their deck enjoying the summer evening.

I learned a lot from making pickles...
sometimes things aren't as complicated as they seem,
some things are worth the wait,
and don't be afraid to do a kitchen project on a week night--
it will probably be quicker, easier and more fun than you thought.

Monday, June 22, 2009

The Next Food Network Star: Episode 3

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After only three weeks I am already fed up with this show and am seriously contemplating not watching it anymore. It's not anything in particular that has me upset except that, overall, I am finding this season very boring and uninspired. In fact, I'm not going to write an entry about this week and, instead, will direct you to the Serious Eats website where you can read all about it.

Short-Cut Sunday

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After buying several pints of blueberries this weekend I set out on a quest to find the perfect recipe to showcase them. It didn't take long because it seems like everyone is making individual hand pies and featuring them on their blogs and websites.

Everyone knows that the difficult part of any pie is making the crust. The filling usually plays second fiddle to the crust in that no matter how good the filling is, if the crust is not up to par the pie as a whole suffers. A superior filling cannot make up the short-falls of a poorly made crust. This is the reason I usually avoid making pies-- I just can't handle the pressure. However, on this particular Sunday I decided I would make my own crust only because the blueberries I had bought were so perfect and deserved to be wrapped in a pastry dough that was worthy.

However, my pastry dough goals were short-lived when faced with the task of actually making it. I hate to say it, but I chickened out. Reading through recipes all I could hear was a little voice in my head telling me it was too hard, I would fail and my beautiful blueberries would have to be tossed out with the ruined dough. Not to mention the fact that I had a box of pre-made pie dough in the freezer-- I couldn't resist. In my defense it was Sunday afternoon and I was still tired from our recent vacation. I think a little pre-made pie dough was in order.

To make up for my pre-made dough I did find a really good filling recipe at a website called Group Recipes. I will go through the steps, but if you want to print the recipe click here.

Blueberry & Cream Cheese Pie Filling

In a medium bowl combine (using an electric mixer)...

8 oz cream cheese, at room temperature
1/4 cup sugar
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 tablespoon lemon zest
1 egg

Make sure your cream cheese is really at room temperature-- no cheating-- otherwise the ingredients won't incorporate correctly and you'll end up with something weird.

Once all of those ingredients are combined fold in about 1 cup of blueberries and then cover the bowl and place it in the refrigerator for about 3o minutes.

For the crust you will need two 12-inch pie crusts, thawed. This might go without saying, but make sure you buy the crusts that are not in the pie tins-- get the ones that are rolled up in a box. I use the Pillsbury brand.

Using a pizza cutter divide each into quarters.

Spoon about 3 tablespoons of the filling onto each quarter.
To seal the edges, beat one egg and, using a brush, coat the edges with the egg.
Fold the crust, over the filling, to make a triangle and press the edges together.

Use a fork to crimp the edges and cut 2-3 slits in the top of the dough
so that steam can escape as they are baking.

Place the pies on a cookie sheet lined with foil.

The recipe calls for a dusting of sugar over the top of the pies, but I decided to use a glaze. I combined some powdered sugar and water together, adding enough of each until it would coat the back of a spoon, but was still runny. It would probably be helpful if I list the amount of water and sugar I used, but I eyeballed it.

I brushed the tops of the pies with the glaze before putting them in the oven.

Bake for 15-20 minutes at 425 degrees. Cool on a wire rack.

For the baking purists out there I'm sure I lost you at the first mention of pre-made pastry dough, but, if you happened to read through this entire post, I am happy to report that these little hand pies turned out great! Sure, I wish I wasn't chicken and had made my own dough, but, honestly, I know that these turned out better than if I had. The blueberries and cream cheese made for a tasty filling and the crust was flaky and sweet.

All in all, the whole adventure took less than an hour, including bake time,
with impressive results. A perfect project for a lazy Sunday afternoon.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Roast Beef Sandwiches and Zoo Music

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During the summer, if it's Friday night, you will most likely find us at Zoo Music people watching and picnicking with our friends, Ryan and Rochelle. For us, Zoo Music is a tradition that dates back all the way to summer of 2008 and has become an anticipated weekly event. So every Friday we load up the car with chairs, trek to the zoo and find ourselves a patch of grass near the amphitheater.

I especially enjoy this ritual because it affords the opportunity to pack a picnic lunch for us and our friends to enjoy. I try to keep it simple, no one enjoys lugging heavy coolers, but interesting and satisfying. In my experience I have determined that sandwiches are perfect picnic fare-- simple, interesting and satisfying all wrapped up between two pieces of bread. These roast beef sandwiches are based on my favorite sandwich that is served at Relish, which is, by far, our city's best sandwich shop.

Roast Beef Sandwiches

Slice a loaf of french bread into two peices. I chose french bread not only because it's good, but it also holds up well and doesn't get soggy sitting in a cooler.

First, layer the bottom slice with simple salad greens lightly coated with this really good dressing that my husband makes. Dan has been making this particular dressing for a few years and it works really well with this sandwich. I like to think it's his "super-secret" dressing recipe, but it turns out that it's on the back of a Good Seasons Italian dressing packet. You might want to make this a few hours before so that the flavors have time to incorporate.

Dan's Dressing

1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons water
1 packet Good Seasons Italian Dressing Seasoning

Combine the first three ingredients really well.
Whisk in 1/2 cup olive oil and continuing whisking until combined.
This will make a lot of dressing, but it can be stored in the fridge for up to four weeks.

Next layer approximately 1 pound of thinly sliced roast beef on top of the greens

Thinly slice about 8 ounces of fresh mozzarella and layer it over the roast beef.

Add about a handful of fresh basil leaves.

Top the basil with one whole tomato, thinly sliced.

Season with a couple pinches each of salt and pepper.
Lightly drizzle with the dressing.

Top with the other slice of bread and slice, on the diagonal, into eight sandwiches.

Wrap the sandwiches in saran wrap, tote them along to wherever you are going,
unwrap and enjoy!

Friday, June 19, 2009

Korean BBQ

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On our recent trip to San Diego Dan's sister (Tina) and brother-in-law (Josh) offered to make us dinner, which made us very happy. In his travels around the world with the Navy Josh has become very knowledgeable about world cuisine-- Korean food being his most recent project after a recent deployment. I have to admit that I don't know much about Asian food-- it's all sort of a mystery-- so I was excited to have a seat at Josh and Tina's table for Korean BBQ night.

Korean BBQ Night

This is Josh with some garlic stems, which I haven't seen before, but, now that I have, I am excited to use them in my kitchen in other recipes.

Josh convinced us to try them raw with some red sauce that I can't remember the name of...

Here are the short ribs...

and some pork belly and thinly sliced beef

We cooked all the vegetables and meat on the grill and wrapped it all up in lettuce leaves.

Here are some more of the garlic stems in the red sauce...

Once the grill was heated up it didn't take long for the meat to cook. Everyone chose what they wanted, grilled it up and wrapped it up with steamed rice.

We also had some Kimchi...
Dan discovered that he liked to toss it on the grill before eating it.

So good...

Thank you, Josh and Tina, for making us such a great dinner!!

Thursday, June 18, 2009

The Next Food Network Star: Episode 2

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By now the second episode is old news, but I wanted to be sure to share my thoughts on this week's challenges. This week the contestants came face-to-face with the camera and delivered their first on-camera presentation-- let the awkwardness begin!

The first challenge definitely gave the hopefuls an opportunity to make a big impression and I thought quite a few did. Judging only on their presentations I think Jamika (despite her verbal fumbles), Jeffrey and Debbie have the most talent in this department. Even though Eddie won the initial challenge, I don't think he will go far in the competition. I think he's "frat-boy" annoying and, so far, don't see him being a successful TV personality.

The second challenge was sort of boring, in my opinion. The holiday spin was a good idea, but I didn't think anyone really ran with the idea and created something memorable. I think, for the most part, that everyone is playing it pretty safe with the exception of Eddie and his rose petal disaster and Michael with his interesting and creative squash dish. I was especially disappointed with the April Fool's dish from Brett-- even I, with my limited cooking skills, could think of more creative ways to create a fun and surprising dish. At the very least, I would have stolen Richard's "green perplexed tofu" from Top Chef. If you're an avid Top Chef fan you know what I am talking about. The total lack of creativity and the added bonus of being a total jerk during the evaluation was enough for me to be glad that Brett was asked to leave. Hmmmm... maybe he shouldn't have joked about leaving during his presentation-- guess the joke was on him!

So, again, I thought the show was pretty weak this week... Of course, I'm tired and sunburned from my vacation in San Diego, so maybe I'm being a little tough on them...

No, I don't think I am-- there are a few standouts at this point, but the majority are ho-hum. The next to go? I think the "Green Cuisine" girl Katie better get her act together. If not, she'll be bye-bye next week.

Anyone out there watching this season? Share your thoughts in the comments!

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It's Not Fancy....

But It's So Good.

San Diego, CA

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Just a Few Shakes...

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Read the book

and then...
Get Some Heavy Cream and Pour 1 Cup into a Jar...

Find People Who Will Shake it Up...

Me and Josh (my brother-in-law)

Shake, Shake, Shake
and Don't Stop Until You Get This...

Seriously Good Butter...

Who knew it could be so easy????

Thursday, June 11, 2009

A Week of Family, Food & Fun

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Dan and I are off to San Diego to spend time with family. I love San Diego and can hardly wait to get there! We're staying a few days with Dan's sister and her husband-- both foodie people. I'm sure I'll be posting about what we're eating! After a few days with them we'll be going to a beach rental to spend time with my family-- I'm sure there will be lots of bbq-ing and drink making. I'll post periodically throughout the week, so stay tuned!

A Quick Dip

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Get some plain yogurt and put it in a bowl
(1/2 cup)

Get some goat cheese
(3 to 4 oz)

(preferably soft goat cheese-- don't get crumbles)

(Yes, I know the picture shows crumbles,
but I didn't have the other kind when I took the picture.)

(Trust me, soft goat cheese will work much better)

Get some herbes de Provence
(1 tablespoon)

Mix it all together and serve with crackers

Works really well when your in-laws come over and
you realize you didn't fix any appetizers


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