Homemade Pie

Homemade pie is a yummy labor of love, but let’s face it — making pie dough causes a bit of a mess and can be frustrating.

The key?  Be fearless and no matter what happens, forge ahead. A homemade pie is worth the effort when you see eyes light up at the sight of it and when friends and family “ooh and ahh” as they bite into a buttery, flaky crust and sumptuous filling.  Pie making is as creative and artistic an endeavor as a watercolor painting or pottery project. My family lineage goes several centuries back to England where the Philpott family made their living as pottery makers and merchants, so somewhere in my genetic makeup is a strong inclination to create with my hands. Baking and cooking are the activities that inspire my creative side. When given the choice between a birthday cake and a birthday pie, my daughter chose an apple-pear pie to celebrate. The pie and glass pie plate were part of her birthday gift, and now she is working on her own pie making skills.

Pie-making is an art that you can develop with your own style; however, it also takes strategy.  Below are “tips” I have learned from family, cookbooks, trial and error, friends, cooking shows, and more trial and error. I hope they are helpful to you too.

Ingredients for basic pie crust (Pate Brisee) are:
2 1/2 cups flour
1 teas. salt
1 teas. sugar (I use 1 tablespoon)2 sticks (1 cup) cold unsalted butter (keep in fridge until ready to use; good quality organic butter works best)
1/4 cup to 1/2 cup ice water (put ice cubes in with the water as well so it is good and cold)

Makes enough dough for one pie with bottom and top crust, or for two pies with single crust.

If you have one, use a food processor, and if not, a pastry cutter works just as well. I often make my pie dough one or two days ahead of time and keep if refrigerated before rolling it out and baking with it. (It can also be frozen in an airtight container.)

In food processor fitted with blade, mix flour, salt and sugar with just a few pulses. Cut each cold stick of butter into 8 cubes and place around flour mixture in food processor. Put lid on and pulse until mixed — it doesn’t take long — less than 30 seconds. You want to see small pieces of butter chunks in the flour, but it should look like coarse cornmeal. As the food processor is running on low, slowly drizzle in 1/4 to 1/2 cup of ice water through the spout on the mixer lid (so that the water streams onto the outer edge, and doesn’t collect only in the center). I usually need to use 1/2 cup, but if it’s a rainy day my dough doesn’t need as much water. The dough should begin to clump very quickly (just seconds) as the water mixes in with the flour/butter. Stop the processor (it’s important not to over mix) and pour out dough onto large sheet of wax paper, and with your hands press it into one mound. The pie dough will still look like it is crumbly until you start molding it with your hands, so don’t worry if it comes out of the food processor in pieces, that is a good sign you will have a flaky crust. After pressing and molding it into one large mound, cut into two equal pieces and put the second piece onto a large sheet of wax paper. Press each mound of dough into a small, flat disc, wrap snugly in the wax paper and put into the refrigerator to chill for at least an hour before you roll them out. The key is working with cold butter, and then chilling the dough before you roll it out.

After the dough is chilled, roll it out on a cool surface dusted with flour – enough flour to keep it from sticking and easy to work, but don’t overdo it either. Make sure you dust your rolling pin with flour as you go.  (Tip:  if your kitchen is warm, you can chill your counter surface or rolling board by placing a cookie sheet on it filled with ice). For a 9” pie, roll to about a 10 ½ inch diameter.  To prevent the dough from tearing, start by pressing the chilled disc of dough with your hands, then use rolling pin to finish. Roll from the center and out to the edge in sections to create a circle. Place rolled pie dough for bottom crust into your pie shell and place back into the refrigerator to chill again (about 20 minutes). To transfer the pie dough onto the pie plate simply roll the pie dough onto your rolling pin and unroll into the pie plate.  Do the same with the upper crust if you are using one (you can roll out the upper crust, lightly dust with flour, fold it in-half, and lay it on a sheet of wax paper or a plate and put it in the fridge and it will unfold onto your pie when the filling is ready). Then prepare your filling, take the pie crusts out of the fridge to assemble and bake according to the recipe you are using. Tip:  Always bake a pie in a preheated oven according to the recipe.

If your dough breaks apart, just pinch it back together again – no one will every know, and your crust will still be deliciously unforgettable.

Maple Pecan Pie

This pie is one of my favorites to make and to eat. It turns out glossy and dark-brown and is just perfect with the basic pie crust recipe below. (I always double the recipe because it is a single crust pie and might as well make two!) I have adapted this recipe from a lovely cookbook published by William-Sonoma:  Pies and Tarts.

Ingredients

Doubled:

Basic pie pastry for 9-inch shell                     Basic pie pastry for two 9-inch shells

(see recipe and tips below)

3 eggs                                                              6 eggs

1 cup (8 fl oz) maple syrup                             2 cups (16 fl oz) maple syrup

¼ cup (2 fl oz) dark corn syrup                       ½ cup (4 fl oz) dark corn syrup

¼ cup (2 oz) sugar                                           ½  cup (4 oz) sugar

¼ cup (2 oz) unsalted butter, melted               ½ cup (4 oz) unsalted butter, melted

1 teas. Vanilla extract                                      2 teas. Vanilla extract

¼ teas. Salt                                                      ½  teas. Salt

1 ½ cups (6 oz.) pecan halves                         3 cups (12 oz.) pecan halves

Preheat oven to 425°F. Roll out pastry and line pie plates. Set aside in refrigerator while making filling.

In a large mixing bowl beat the eggs until blended. Add the maple syrup, corn syrup, sugar, melted butter, vanilla and salt; beat until thoroughly combined. Coarsely chop pecans, leaving them in large pieces, and stir into the maple mixture. I like them in large pieces and prefer doing this myself than to using the smaller pecan pieces also offered in stores; however you can leave them as whole pecan halves, which makes for a pretty pie, but makes for chunky bites.

Pour pecan mixture into the pastry lined pie plate and bake for 15 minutes, then reduce the heat to 350°F.  Bake until the filling has puffed up and set around the edges, but the center is still slightly soft – about 20 to 25 minutes longer. Let pie cool for a few hours.

Serve with freshly whipped cream.

Mickey and Rachel Thomas in the Kitchen

As temperatures dipped in the Bay Area, Kelly and I headed south to soak up some good old Southern California sunshine. Our trip included some of my favorite things in life: Family, friends, food, music and baseball. The culmination of our road trip was a fabulous meal prepared with friends Mickey and Rachel Thomas, and an interview with Mickey about the role cooking plays in his life.

The beginning of our trip was in beautiful Pismo Beach where we enjoyed dinner with Kelly’s mom, Linda and her stepfather, Travis. Kelly frequently talks about how much she enjoyed her mom’s cooking growing up and Linda’s delicious barbecued pork sandwiches did not disappoint.

Kelly and Dad with the StudebakerOn the way to our second stop in Pasadena, we managed to fit in some disc golf at the historic Oak Grove Course. Our second evening was another treat – I met Kelly’s dad, Bruce, and his partner Cynthia. They are a couple of gourmets. Cynthia treated us to the most delectable baked salmon with potatoes (roasted with bacon drippings, yum!) and her famous orange cake. After dinner, Bruce took us for a spirited cruise in his custom modified ’38 Studebaker.

Day three’s itinerary led us east to Joshua Tree National Park for a night of camping on the desert floor. We enjoyed leftovers of salmon and potatoes and were treated to a brilliant night sky before bed.  The sparkling stars provided some comfort overhead, Palm Deserthowever the desert floor did not.  Our next trek was by foot on a 9-mile hike to and from Lost Palms Oasis following which we headed directly to the nearest store we could find to buy camping air mattresses.

Four nights of comfortable beds and comfort food lied ahead with my dear friends Mickey and Rachel Thomas. I consider them family, and they treated us like family in their lovely Palm Desert home. Many of you know Mickey as a talented musician from his days with Jefferson Starship and Elvin Bishop. He continues Rachel's "To die for" BBQ Wingsmaking fantastic music as he records and tours as Starship featuring Mickey Thomas. We spent our time telling stories, creating some incredible meals, drinking great wine, watching playoff baseball and ending each evening with a scary movie in the spirit of Halloween.

What many of you may not know about Mickey is his passion for food. Dinner with the Thomas’ is always a treat, whether Mickey or Rachel is cooking. They are both very talented in the kitchen and two of the sweetest most down to earth people you will encounter. After greeting us with a fresh Pasta Primavera dinner, Mickey and Rachel graciously allowed us to take over theirTapas Plate kitchen the following night for a meal we prepared with risotto and mussels. We spent our last day making a video for Noah’s Wish – Mickey and Rachel’s favorite charity – and planning our last feast. Creating this feast was like a musical performance with all four of us in the kitchen creating six dishes that were to die for:  Rachel’s secret barbecued chicken wings, stuffed eggplant rolls in marinara sauce, Vietnamese shrimp meatballs, Southern scallops with black beans, Greek salad, and spicy shrimp lettuce wraps.


Mickey, Rachel and Berkley The story of this feast unfolds here, in this slide show and interview with Mickey Thomas.

Prawn Tacos

Nicole, Mark and Zoe

Family Night

Mexican food has been a long time favorite of mine. I can still smell the rice pudding from Gonzales’ in Richmond. My parents would take me there, as a toddler, after church every week to meet my grandparents for a family meal. I thought of it as my reward for quietly enduring another Sunday service. The practice of bringing family and friends together around food started here for me. The practice of bringing family and friends together around food started here for me. Every part of the food we eat has a story: from the earth it’s grown on to the farmer who tends it all the way to the table on which it is celebrated. I like to know as much of the story as possible and I believe the fewer steps involved between the farmer and my table the better.

We had Kelly’s kids, Mark and Nicole and Nicole’s friend Zoë for Prawn Tacos last week. Kelly refers to them as my Mexican Spring rolls for the fresh veggies used. While we loved the meal, the conversations TacoVeggiessparked by the food were truly a highlight of the evening. Kelly captured Zoë on video sharing the role food plays in her family.

The Prawn Tacos were very simple to make and largely influenced by what we’d picked up at our CSA that week. Many of my favorite recipes arise from the challenge to use all of the bounty in our refrigerator, this meal was no different. We had frozen prawns from Trader Joe’s on hand a vegetable bin full of wonderful produce from Tolay Valley Farms and some corn tortillas. Hmmm…. what to do with it all?

Ingredients:
Corn Tortillas
Prawns- 1.5 per taco seemed sufficient
Carrots- shredded or chopped very thin
Mustard Greens- shredded
Red Onion- diced
Cucumber- sliced thin
Tomato- chopped

YogurtSauceYogurt Sauce
Yogurt (we like Straus Whole Milk Plain) – about a half cup
Chipotle Sauce (I love the Frontera Enchilada sauce) – to taste (I used about 6 tablespoons)
Hot Sauce- to taste

Begin with the yogurt sauce. Pour the yogurt into a bowl, mix in your favorite sauce or salsa to taste then add the hot sauce of your choice. You can put out in a serving bowl along side some tortilla chips and use this sauce as a dip as well as a topping for your tacos.

After this I set up the chopping board and got busy with my vegetables while I preheated the broiler. Once done with my chopping I popped the prawns into the broiler for 7 minutes and Nicole started heating some oil to ready the tortillas. Pop the prawns out of the oven and remove the shell, breaking each prawn into several pieces.

Place your prawns on the warm tortilla, top with the vegetables and a few dollops of the yogurt sauce. Many substitutions can be made. The ingredients for this meal were dictated by what we had on hand. Many different types of greens would work. I found the bitterness of the mustard greens was balanced nicely by the sweetness of the carrot and cucumber.PrawnsOnBroilerPan

Tacos Try ours or make your own. We’d love to hear about your creations and the stories around your dinner table.

Transitioning to Fall: Vegetable Soup

The key to great soup of any kind is really good stock. You can use a vegetable or chicken stock from the grocery store to make this soup, but if you are inclined and have the time to simmer your own, it will make all of the difference. I like to use chicken stock because the flavor is richer and balances the vegetable flavors.

Chicken Stock Ingredients

2 medium or one large yellow onion
1 red onion
2 heads of garlic
3 stalks celery
3 large carrots
2 roast chicken carcasses
Salt

Cut onions into quarters, leaving the skin on; Cut garlic heads in half; wash and coarsely chop carrots and celery into large pieces. Place vegetables into large stockpot, place two roasted chicken carcasses on top, and add water until it covers the ingredients. Bring to full boil, lower to simmer with lid on for 1 ½ hours. Let cool a little, then strain stock into another stock/soup pot, bring to boil, then lower to a simmer to reduce the stock liquid about 1 inch. Add salt to taste (i.e. 1 to 1 ½ tablespoons).

Fall Vegetable Soup

Fall Vegetable Soup

Vegetable Soup Ingredients

12 to 16 cups chicken stock depending on how much soup you want to make. I make extra and freeze it for a busy winter week. (See above recipe or use your favorite store bought)

3 carrots – medium to large
3 medium red potatoes
3 turnips (peel outer skin if winter turnips – it’s bitter)
1 medium star squash
1 medium to large zucchini
1 to 2 small crookneck yellow squash
Bunch of washed spinach with stems removed
1 to 2 teaspoons (to taste) Dried Oregano
1 to 2 teaspoons (to taste) Dried Basil
Salt and pepper to taste

Fall Vegetable Soup

Fall Vegetable Soup

Wash and dice carrots, turnips and potatoes in large bite sized chunks and set aside in a bowl. Wash and dice the rest of the vegetables and set aside. In soup pot, bring stock to low boil and lower to simmer. Carefully add carrots, turnips and potatoes with large spoon (so you don’t get splashed with hot stock) and raise heat to bring back to a simmer, then lower to hold at a simmer for 7 to 8 minutes. Add the rest of the veggies and the dried herbs and simmer 5 more minutes. Test/taste the vegetables which should be al dente, like pasta – not too soft. Serve with grated parmesan cheese and good local bread.  I made one of my favorite fall/winter recipes for cornbread from the Joy of Cookings recipe for Buttermilk Cornbread. An easy addition to this soup is to add cooked pasta (don’t cook the pasta in the soup), which makes it a hearty main dish.

You Can’t Beet a Good Story

Don't miss a Beet

Beet photo from ourhomeworks.wordpress.com

Garden beets have been a nutritious cultivation of human kind for a very long time – since the second millennium BC, when the pharaohs of Egypt ruled and chariots were the latest and greatest in transportation. Berkley and I love their sweet, earthy flavor, and since they are in abundance right now we are researching recipes that feature these deep purple beauties. The best place to get them is at your local farmer’s market.

Both the leafy greens and the roots are edible. The greens can be sautéed with onion or garlic in olive oil, much like spinach or Swiss chard (a close cousin of the beet) and are high in vitamin A (needed for good vision), while the roots are a great source of vitamin C (needed for a healthy immune system).

Beet Season is here!

Beet photo from blueheronlocal.wordpress.com

Beets grow best in a cool climate. Perhaps this is why we see so many delicious beet recipes from Russia and nearby countries, i.e. cold beet borscht soup.  (Not to be confused, however, with Russia’s large production of Sugar Beets, used for making sugar and not for eating.)

 

Hotties

To serve garden beets as a hot side dish, Berkley roasted beets in the oven,and after they cooled a bit, removed the skins, cut them into large chunks, and served them with a warm, buttery balsamic vinegar sauce. I highly recommend this yummy recipe to beet lovers as a good contrast to the large variety of cold salad recipes.

Russian Beet Salad

This week’s featured dish is a cold but hearty Russian beet salad. We prepared this salad for a Sunday potluck with our friends from the Unitarian Universalists of Petaluma. While we blog about cooking food to feed ourselves, families and friends, it is our UUP community that feeds our souls.

Feeding the Soul

Feeding the Soul

On that topic, if you have a recipe that “feeds the soul,” please feel free to share it with us in a comment!

Our Version: We used extra virgin olive oil instead of the recipe’s call for sunflower oil, which worked very well. There is no need to use vinegar in this salad – the root vegetables flavors of carrot, potato, and beet come alive with the fresh dill. We didn’t include peas, as the recipe calls for, and didn’t miss them, as the root vegetables seemed to go so well together. Don’t over salt – a little goes a long way with this dish. Tips for cooking the vegetables: The key to this beet salad is to boil the vegetables together so that they become just barely tender, but not soft. We recommend using Russet potatoes. Peel the potatoes and cut in half (or if they are really big, into thirds), use medium sized beets (or cut large beets in-half), and keep the carrots whole (use large carrots, not the baby carrot variety) and place them on top of the other vegetables.

Beet Salad
Beet Salad

We used a 1:1:1 veggie ratio for this salad (same number of potatoes, to beets, to carrots.) Place washed and cut vegetables into a soup pot, cover with water and bring to a boil. Lower to a simmer for 17 to 20 minutes (after 17 minutes test a beet or potato with a knife, which should pierce with ease, but also a little resistance.) Drain carefully, and let them cool. Take the skins off of the beets with your hands (they should slide off easily), and cut them into hearty dices (use an apron or wear clothes you don’t mind staining with the bright beet juice!). Place in a large salad or mixing bowl. Cut potatoes and carrots into hearty dices and add to salad bowl, then let them chill in the refrigerator ahead of time if you can. When you toss the diced vegetables with the onion, oil, dill, and salt and pepper, do it lightly and sparingly or you could end up with a reddish mashed potato salad.

 

Asian Fusion

A unique local stop in our town, Petaluma, has more to it than meets the eye — Ernie’s Tin Bar.  Family operated since 1923, this little bar caught Berkley’s eye because he enjoys connecting to local people and to local places that aren’t in the mainstream. Mostly, though, Berkley knows how much I enjoy a good story and you can’t leave Ernie’s without hearing one, sharing one, or creating one of your own.

Ernie now represents the fourth generation of barkeeps in the family.  Contemporary in his social awareness, you will find Ernie behind the bar with his iPhone sharing photos of his family, and young daughter.  Use your cellphone to talk, however, and you will be buying a round — a rule we all enjoy and honor.  Ernie’s Tin Bar is not listed in the phone book, but you will find them on Yelp and in a few articles about good beer, served locally. That’s about it — except for this:  Ernie grows delicious organic fruits and vegetables that he provides to subscribers in his local CSA.  What is a CSA? It stands for Community Supported Agriculture.  For $17 a week, each Tuesday we have the privilege of stopping by Ernie’s Tin Bar for a beer and a bag of groceries filled to the brim with produce Ernie grows on his small farm.

Ernie's Produce on the chopping block

Ernie's Produce on the chopping block

This week, our overflowing bag of goodies included sweet cantaloupe, tangy raspberries, sumptuous beets, golden carrots, roasting potatoes, crisp cucumber, lemon cucumbers, crookneck squash, crunchy cabbage, and heirloom tomatoes.  For our first entry, we planned a comforting veggie meal with savory Asian flavors and invited a special guest to share it with. What follows are the recipes using these wonderful gifts from Ernie’s garden.

Half of the fun is planning the meal – talking about it and researching recipes from old books and favorite online gourmets.  I (Berkley) went to my favorite website, Recipezaar.com, looking for an Asian dish that would utilize cabbage and Udon noodles. After sifting through 145 recipes, I found one that spoke to me, Sesame Noodles With Napa Cabbage.  Our goal for this recipe, and all others, is to use at least two local foods, regular pantry staples, and for it to be yummy. 

Since we were entertaining we wanted it to be simple to prepare, so we could enjoy our company while sipping some local sparkling wine from Mumm Napa  I created an easy sauce, whisking together some organic crunchy peanut butter, soy sauce, sesame oil, white wine vinegar (in place of rice vinegar), white wine (in place of sherry), organic sugar and red pepper flakes.  (Kelly loved this sauce and her only request is to double it next time.)  Meanwhile, Kelly sliced the cabbage into long crunchy strips and chopped cilantro from the Petaluma Farmer’s Market grown by Taylor at Petaluma Bounty.  She then added her idea of julienned carrots to top the dish.  I simmered the sauce and prepared the Udon noodles.  One of the neat tricks to learning this recipe was using the boiled water from the Udon noodles to blanche both the cabbage and the carrots. Using two strainers (one smaller for the carrots), I poured the hot water from the noodles over the vegetables.  I mixed the sauce with the noodles in the noodle pot, and mixed in the cabbage.  After plating the dish, I topped each plate with the carrots and cilantro.

Sesame Udon Noodles with Cabbage

Sesame Udon Noodles with Cabbage

Adding to the delicious, peanutbuttery noodle dish of Berkley’s, I (Kelly) made a salad with sliced roasted beets, cucumber, and tomatoes with an Asian ginger dressing.  To top the evening’s meal, I served fresh raspberries with diced cantaloupe, topped with Straus Family Vanilla Whole Milk Yogurt (talk about yumminess, this is the best yogurt EVER.)  I love a good story and if you do too, listen to an oral history interview with Albert Straus about his experience as a dairy farmer.  This interview was done for a project I took part in with Dominican University as curator for the Marin History Museum’s current exhibit,  Growing The Future:  Farming Families of Marin. 

Enjoying our meal with a special friend makes it taste even better.

Enjoying our meal with a special friend makes it taste even better.