Good pie crust just got better

As much as I love being in the kitchen, pies have never really been my forte. And I must admit that a traditional pie crust can still give me trouble. Lots of it. Perfect flakiness without toughness is, well… tough.

There are a few easy tricks that can help. I finally tested them out a few weeks ago and was pleased with the result. Cooks Illustrated September 2010 goes into more depth and provides a recipe with these adjustments already built in. Visit them for their recipe here. Or try these simple adjustments to any basic pie dough recipe. Need one? Click here.

1. Fat- use about a third more fat than a standard recipe. This ‘protects’ the flour from contacting too much water leading to gluten formation. And gluten equals tough crust.

2. Fat- use half butter and half solid vegetable shortening. We want butter’s flavor, but the shortening has no water, so… again, less gluten.

3. Liquid- replace about half of your water with vodka (or any ~80 proof spirit). Yes, vodka. This allows needed moisture to hold the crust together while decreasing the actual water content. Gluten forms with water, but not with alcohol. The vodka’s alcohol and flavor will essentially burn off in the oven.

Hope this will help next time you’re in the mood for a perfect flaky pie crust. And, cheers to vodka~

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Simple and Fun: Make Your Own Ricotta Cheese

If someone told me that four ingredients and about thirty minutes in the kitchen would yield my very first homemade cheese, I’m not sure I would have believed them. Until yesterday.

Though our Culinary training at Escoffier is based on French technique, this week is an exploration of all things from Italia, and I’m in absolute heaven. Not just for the Ricotta and Ricotta Salada that I’ll share today, but also for the fresh pasta, potato gnocchi, bruschetta, polenta, biscotti, cannoli… the list is lengthening so quickly I’m literally overwhelmed.

Italians are the masters of slow food, simple food, local food, sustainable food… using restraint in the kitchen in such a way that the ingredient itself shines; growing produce and raising animals in a manner that is ethically sound, actually beneficial to the earth, and planet-sustainable for generation after generation.

And I’m sure every country- Italia included- has its share of ethical food challenges. But we have so much room for improvement here in the states… I’ll devote many posts to this in the future, but I hope this will plant seeds of thought in the meantime. And I want to show you cheese!

This is an incredibly simple way to make your first homemade cheese. For cheese making experts, this is not a strictly traditional Ricotta, but it’s pretty close for a home cook. And if it will bring even one of you into the kitchen to make fresh cheese with me… then it’s a win in my book.

Simple Homemade Ricotta Cheese

yield about one pound; active time less than 30 min

Ingredients

  • 1 gallon milk (about 3.75 L)- try to find milk that isn’t ultra-pasteurized
  • 1 quart buttermilk (about 950 mL)
  • juice from half a lemon
  • salt to taste

Method

1. Heat milk in a large pot just until bubbles begin to form around the edges

2. Add the buttermilk and lemon juice and bring to a simmer, stirring gently and occasionally. You will notice the solid curds separating from the liquid whey.

3. Once you’ve reached a simmer, remove from heat and cover for 15 minutes.

4. Gently pour the mixture through a strainer or colander lined with a few layers of cheesecloth. You will have curds remaining in the cheesecloth, and whey liquid strained out.

Note: save your whey liquid- it’s packed with incredible protein and can be used as a base for smoothies, to substitute for the water in making bread to create a healthier loaf- try this easy Basic French Bread, or chilled for a protein-rich breakfast drink. I love it straight, but you could definitely add a little honey if you prefer.

Tie your cloth of curds into a bundle and hang over a small pan in the refrigerator to continue draining for a few hours. Season to taste with salt and you have a moist, homemade Ricotta cheese. This is incredible as is, and can also be mixed with herbs for sandwich spreads, ravioli filling, added to salads… or sweetened and used is dessert applications.

To turn your fresh Ricotta into Ricotta Salada, simply let it continue to drain refrigerated in the cheesecloth unit it becomes crumbly and dry. Ricotta Salada can be substituted anywhere you’d use a dry, crumbly cheese.

Give it a try, and let me know if your friends and neighbors don’t love you more than they already do. Buon appetito, cheese makers~

Roasted Acorn Squash and Cherry Berry Buckwheat Granola, not necessarily together

Before I began this blog, I must admit that I wasn’t much of a blog reader. Sometimes in recipe or ingredient searches I’d stumble upon a blog or two, but that was about the extent of it. But I’ve realized that I am learning so much from fellow bloggers these days… on writing, recipes, photography, and just about life itself. The community is actually quite fun!

One of my favorite blog sites, Cook To Love, continually pushes me out of my kitchen comfort zone as Laura is a gluten-free cook. It makes me thankful that I can tolerate gluten just fine, but it also motivates me to learn how to adjust recipes for those who can’t. And many of her recipes are so tempting that I don’t think I’ll miss the gluten anyway. I also owe a thank you to Laura for nominating me for the Liebster Blog award as well- vey much appreciated!

 

This recipe of Laura’s inspired my lunch of roasted acorn squash with olive oil and fresh thyme the other day. I didn’t have every ingredient she did and I wanted to avoid a trip the the store, but the motivation was there. Believe me- my Maman would attest that me willingly eating nothing but squash for a meal is definitely a departure from the norm. And I loved it.

Roasted Acorn Squash

  • Peel, seed, and cut squash into similar sized pieces.
  • Toss in extra virgin olive oil, thyme, and sprinkle with Kosher salt.
  • Roast at 375F on a sheet pan, stirring occasionally, until brown and tender, 20-30 minutes depending on size.
  • I roasted the seeds as well for a crunchy snack… but they’ll be finished well before the rest of the squash, so remove them early.

One of Laura’s recent posts is a Cherry Berry Buckwheat Granola that I have assembled the ingredients to try. I’ve made plenty of granola, but this one has so many unique components that I can’t resist giving it a go. Visit here to check out her recipe and a photo that will make even non-granolas hungry.

My granola of the past, that is anxiously awaiting its upgrade…

Chocolate Stout Cupcakes and a Thank You

Today gave me an excuse to make cupcakes. And I love making cupcakes. Excuse, you wonder? You’re exactly right… since when have I needed an excuse to bake anything? But the motivation for these treats was especially tempting- a birthday. A birthday for twins, actually, so that made it doubly fun.

These Chocolate Stout Cupcakes are made with rich dark molasses, orange juice and zest, nutmeg, cinnamon and… a Young’s Double Chocolate Stout. Jam-packed with flavor but not too sweet. The icing is a 77% cocoa dark chocolate lightened with whipped egg whites. And just a tiny bit of butter. Tiny.

TinyKitchenStories, a fellow blogger, posted these cupcakes in early February, and I’ve been waiting for a legitimate reason to bake them ever since. She gives a detailed recipe description that’s easy to follow, and her witty writing style will entertain you as you cook. Check out her recipe, and gorgeous cupcake photos here.

And thank you TinyKitchenStories for my second nomination for the Kreativ/Versatile Blogger Award. I am so creative that I could not come up with seven additional interesting facts about myself, a requirement for accepting the award. The first seven were borderline painful. We might argue that I’m actually not deserving. Or interesting. But that aside, if you missed the original seven deb facts and really, really want to read them, then first– promise me you won’t be disappointed or vow not to tell me if you are, and second– click here.

So go pop the top on that Stout and get busy in the kitchen. Or just enjoy the Stout and dream of cupcakes…

Baking 101: Any Perfect Cookie

Cookies definitely fall into the huge, hazy category of comfort foods, and they come in so many shapes and sizes, flavors and textures… but

I’ll be the first to admit that the perfect cookie to me might not be the perfect cookie to you. Some are softer, some crispier, others are chewy and spread thin in the pan, some stay taller almost like little cakes.

But a lecture this week on cookie science- can it really get any better than that?– put many cookie mysteries to rest. With these basic rules, you will have the power to tweak any cookie recipe into your perfect cookie. Go ahead and experiment with cookie dough a little… it’s not as scary as you think. I’ll bet you a dozen on that.

Crispier cookies result from the following:

  • more sugar
  • more fat
  • longer baking time
  • less liquid
  • stiffer dough
  • smaller size
  • thinner shape

Softer cookies result from the opposite as above, as well as

  • addition of honey, molasses or corn syrup
  • chilled dough before baking

Chewier cookies are made by the following:

  • more sugar
  • more liquid
  • less fat
  • more egg
  • stronger flour (higher gluten content… such as all purpose instead of cake flour, or bread flour instead of all purpose)
  • longer mixing time (develops gluten)

To increase the spread of a cookie on the pan, use

  • more sugar
  • coarser sugar
  • more leavening from air (by creaming the butter and sugar longer)
  • lower oven temperature and slightly longer cooking time
  • more liquid
  • heavily greased baking sheet

To decrease the spread of a cookie on the pan, try the opposite of above plus

  • chill dough before baking
  • use parchment or silicone baking mat for lining instead of heavily greased pan

And if all this cookie science has gotten you in a baking mood, try one of these

Dark Chocolate Pistachio Cookies

Ultimate Customizable Cookie

Darn Good Chocolate Chip Cookie