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Archive for August, 2010

"I can haz piece of pie?"

Nobody ever really called my mom’s mom “grandma” or any of the other variations of this term.  She never wanted to be called such a thing, and so opted to have us all call her Marnie instead – a nickname for her real name, Marion.  Marnie was a master pastry chef.  I mean, she was never a pastry chef by trade, but she definitely made the best pie crust ever. EVER. Other grandmothers, back off, because Marnie had it down.  And she always said that if you want to make good pastry, that you need to make a pie a week for a year.  That’s a lot of pie, but when she had five kids plus two parents whipping together a pie for Sunday night dinner wouldn’t be too outrageous really.  For the last number of years that she was alive, making pies on holidays became too much work for her, and so holiday pies became the task of my mom and I.  And frankly, it was a harrowing experience.  We always set out with a positive attitude and relatively high hopes – at least the first few times we had a positive attitude, but I think it dwindled over time, after many overworked, broken, dry, burnt-edged pie crusts we came to dread trying it again.  Every time someone else would say “Here! I have the EASIEST pastry recipe.  It’s fool-proof”.  You know, calling something fool-proof really does a good job of making you feel like a failure when it doesn’t work out for you.

Anyways, last year I decided I wanted to make a peach pie.  Peach was always my mom’s favourite of Marnie’s pies, and I wanted to try it out and take another crack at pastry.  I used my then-roommate’s Cook’s Illustrated America’s Test Kitchens recipe to make a pretty decent peach pie, though when I took that pastry recipe home for Thanksgiving it did not work out so well.  That was the biggest pie disaster of all time, and I don’t even know if I want to talk about it.  I came back to pie again this summer, and really wanted to make a cherry pie, having never had one made with real cherries and not canned filling.  I used (as always?) a recipe from Smitten Kitchen, and also used her pastry recipe and that cherry pie was PERFECT.  I mean it, it was perfect.  So today, I try peach pie again, armed with a new pastry recipe and some tips that made all the difference.  On Smitten Kitchen she explains her pastry recipe, and I had never fully understood the mechanics of pastry before reading it, and it has made all the difference, because ladies and gents, pie crust is SCIENCE.

The most crucial bit of information is this: People like flaky pie crust, that is what makes a perfect pie crust.  The way that you get flakiness is with butter.  But here’s the trick – butter melts when it’s hot, right? So when you blend your flour, etc. with your butter you want your butter to be REALLY REALLY COLD and you want to leave pretty sizeable butter chunks in your dough because then those butter pieces will be whole when you put the pie in the oven but when it’s in the oven THE BUTTER WILL MELT AWAY and THEN you will have little empty pockets where the butter once was. AND THAT IS FLAKINESS!

I honestly did not understand this before, and understanding this has made a big difference for me.  So now, I cut up my butter into the little cubes and then stick them in the freezer for a few minutes before mixing them with the flour and I really like to leave big chunks, more than pea-sized, to get a good pastry.

One other trick that is particular to peach pie is one that I learned from that Cook’s Illustrated recipe.  You see, peaches are very juicy.  They are juicier than most other fruits that go in pies, and they tend to get a bit soupy.  So you need to add a thickening agent, and people generally use flour or cornstarch for such a thing and MAYBE tapioca.  But Cook’s Illustrated tested all those out and said that what actually works the best to cut down on soupiness while not leaving a gross floury taste is to use potato starch.  Potato starch, what even is that? Who cares, because it works better than the others.  I found a bag at the grocery store and I keep it around now for peach pies.

I also recommend getting an awesome vegetable peeler like the one I got for Christmas in my stocking – the peeler blade is serrated, which means that things that would normally be impossible to peel – like tomatoes and peaches – are totally peelable, which means I skip the blanching step that most people use to loosen the skins on peaches, because then you’ve got whole peaches without their skins and my god, have you ever really tried to pit those things? They are unbelievably slippery! Instead I get the pits out and then peel the peaches in halves or quarters with my awesome peeler.   I also recently bought a pastry blender/cutter thing at an antique shop and was excited to use it, but abandoned it pretty quickly for my hands anyways.  I prefer to use my hands to work the dough because I can feel how big my butter pieces are.

So what has all this pie ranting been about? Oh yeah.

Peach Pie

Pastry recipe, from Smitten Kitchen.  Rather than me repeat all the instructions, I suggest you just go to that link and read all about how to do it.

2 1/2 cups flour
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
2 sticks (8 ounces, 16 tablespoons or 1 cup) unsalted butter, very cold

Filling recipe, from Cook’s Illustrated

5-6 cups of peaches, pitted, peeled and sliced (I used 8 peaches)

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1 cup granulated sugar (I used a touch less)

3-5 tablespoons potato starch

Cinnamon, nutmeg, and whatever else you want to season it with

Oh yeah, and last but not least – if you don’t want burnt pie edges, you want to cover the edges with some tin foil.  Put the tin foil on when you put the pie in the oven, and then you can take it off for the last little bit so that they brown up but don’t burn.  Cook’s Illustrated also taught me the easiest way to do this, which is to fold a piece of tin foil in half and then cut a half-circle shape out of it that is about the size of your pie – then you’ll have a piece of tin foil with a circle in the middle, and thus the perfect piece of edge-covering tin foil.  After years of cutting little pieces and trying to fold them around a hot pie plate with edges that had already started to burn, this made my mom and I feel pretty silly (again) for our old ways of doing things.  See awesome looking space pie below.


Here’s the finished product.  It has to cool for a LONG time before it’s ready to eat, and since I’m taking it to a friend’s house for dinner tonight I haven’t actually tasted it yet.  But just LOOK at it.  It’ll be good, I just know it.


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My mom’s side of the family has a cottage in Muskoka – it’s strange because I’ve never thought of myself as somebody who HAS a cottage to go to, you know? But this is for two reasons:

a) While my immediate family and I went to this cottage every summer until I was about 13 years old, we then stopped going entirely, since my uncle (the now-owner of said cottage) was spending virtually the whole summer up there with his kids, and also since the cottage was getting a little cramped for our family as us kids got larger in size.

b) This cottage has no electricity or running water, so I’d long thought of it as a different experience than what most people think of as cottaging in Muskoka.

This year, however, I’ve been back to this cottage for the first time in 10 plus years.  And it was so SO lovely to go back – my mom’s dad bought the property and built the cottage himself when my mom was 2 years old so there’s so much family history there – my increasing heights are etched into the same wall as my mom’s.  Paul and I went up a couple of weeks ago, just for 3 days, and it was so nice.  It’s sort of like luxury camping, and it’s really quiet and beautiful.  But when you’re cooking on a propane stove with no running water in the house, you want to sort of think ahead regarding your meals.  We’re going again this coming Monday for a few days, and I wanted to plan ahead better this time, and make some food to bring up with us.  So today, after buying THESE hideous shoes for work (so ugly, but sure to prevent my debilitating leg pain from wearing horrible shoes for long stretches on my feet), I set out to make muffins.

Last time we went to the cottage we bought a bag of apples at the grocery store in Huntsville – none of the loose apples were local, so we bought a 3 pound bag, and it’s been more challenging to get through them then it would have been if so much other amazing fruit weren’t also in season right now (cantaloupe! blueberries! peaches!).  So I thought I’d make some apple muffins, using Smitten Kitchen’s Whole Wheat Apple Muffin recipe.  I didn’t have buttermilk – since I almost never do – but I also didn’t have any regular milk.  But what I DID have was cream.  That’s the same right? So I made my homemade buttermilk (1 tbsp. lemon juice per one cup milk) with cream instead of milk.  It can only make them more delicious, right?

The recipe was really easy and fast, and I love the sprinkled brown sugar on the tops of the muffins.  The only difference (besides the buttermilk/buttercream thing) from the recipe and how mine turned out was that I ended up with 12 muffins, not 18.  But, to be fair, I didn’t really want to make a second pan of muffins, and so I decided to really heap my muffin tin full of batter, hoping that this would, if nothing else, result in muffins that really have those TOPS that you get with good muffins but which I can never reproduce when I follow recipes that instruct me to fill my muffin tin 2/3 full of batter.

And MAN OH MAN did it ever work.  These babies have real muffin tops!

Now I just have to make them last until Monday morning when we leave for the cottage – I let Nicole have one because she was here when they came out of the oven (Shhh…don’t tell Kat) but I think the others will be covered with a note that says “PLEASE DON’T EAT ME” to protect them from being eaten by both myself, and anyone else who happens by this kitchen in the next 48 hours.

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Okay, so I obviously owe anybody who has actually been reading my blog an apology.  Because I haven’t posted in like, a month.  There are various excuses for this, which include:

a) being out of town for various stints of time to do things like go visit family, go to Hillside festival, go to Muskoka, and just do the sorts of things that people like to do when it is July.

b) not being able to find my camera cord and therefore not being able to upload any photos to my computer to include in a post.

Anyways, I do apologize, and I very much intend to continue updating regularly now that I have found my camera cord and will be more around in this hot, humid, sweaty city.

So please accept my apology, and onwards!

I haven’t made a lot of things of note lately, so I think I’ll talk a bit about some of the little food projects I’ve done recently.

So I’ve been trying to grow some foods on my lil balcony this year.  I got a few yellow beans and one or two peas earlier this spring/summer, but now those plants seem to have withered and some died with the heat of this summer.  My kale and my tomatoes are still flourishing though.  And my tomatoes have finally started to ripen! I’m growing Golden Nugget cherry tomatoes, which I started from seeds from Urban Harvest.  I’ve started picking some and it’s really satisfying, though I don’t think they’re my favourite tomato variety.  I think next year, when I have a south-facing balcony at my new apartment, I will try and grow a variety that needs more sun and maybe will be one that I like a bit more.  But these little guys are still great.

Next, I’ll tell you about the dinner that Paul and I made the other night.  It wasn’t really anything particularly fancy, but it was so so delicious.  It was on the holiday Monday, the holiday known by a million different names – everything from the simple “Civic Holiday” to “Simcoe Day” to “Alexander Mackenzie Day” in my hometown of Sarnia.  Anyways, it was a nice day and we decided to have a sort of BBQ styles supper, but since neither of us eat meat it would be altered slightly.  But we had really delicious corn on the cob, some of which had been bought at a regular grocery store in Huntsville last week, and some of which came in my CSA last week.  We also made mashed potatoes, and a REALLY good mushroom-miso gravy that I’m not entirely sure how I made it so damn good, but it was really really good.  And then we had these BBQ tofu sandwiches, and they had iceberg lettuce on them, since that came in my CSA last week as well.  I have a total love affair with iceberg lettuce.  I know that it probably has no nutritional value, and it doesn’t really have much flavour and it isn’t in any fancy mesclun mix salads and whatnot, but it is SO crunchy and SO SO refreshing.  I love it.  And there is something about having iceberg lettuce on a sandwich with mayo that just tastes simultaneously amazing and also gives me that feeling that I’m eating some kind of junk food, even if I’m not really.  It’s like a McChicken, or the cheese sandwiches I used to eat when I couldn’t find anything else I wanted to snack on in my parents’ house.  Anyways, it was a delicious BBQ dinner, and even Kat watched us eat and said “Oh wow, you really did make a BBQ dinner, good for you guys!”

Ah, yes. Kat, the delightful Kat Burns gets an honourary blog mention here because she recently returned from her Western Canada tour with a gift for me.  She herself even proclaimed that she almost never buys gifts for people, but that she made an exception in this case, which made me feel very special.  This is what she got me:

How perfect is that? She got it at this place in Winnipeg, which sounds like a great little place.  I think when I move into my new place I will put this up in my kitchen.  My new kitchen.  I am moving out of this lovely house where I’ve lived for two years to live all on my own, and I’m looking forward to it though I will also be sad to go.  But my new kitchen is a serious downgrade.  Last night I found myself reading the tips on Smitten Kitchen about how to make the most of your small kitchen and looking at the photos on her page, I think my new kitchen is almost identical.  I’m moving from having a lot of counter space and shelving space to having barely any counter space at all.  I won’t have room for a real table and chairs in my new kitchen. And, perhaps worst of all, I’m moving from having a giant full-sized gas stove to having one of those 3/4 size ELECTRIC stoves.  Sigh.  The up-side is that I will have a full-sized fridge all to myself, which I can barely fathom.  But it will be an interesting transition, and I will keep you all posted with how I cope with it.

And last, but certainly not least, I ventured into a new realm of preserving yesterday.  Thus far, I’ve only made jams.  Jam is the easiest thing to preserve, because fruit is so high in acid and so there’s little risk of spoiling and there’s so few ingredients.  But yesterday I made PICKLES.  Yup, pickles.  I’m not supposed to open the jars for two whole months! That is allegedly how long it takes the flavours to mingle and mellow, but it’s going to be difficult to wait that long.  I made five jars of dill pickles, and 2 jars of dilled beans, and I may pickle more things yet.  It was very easy, and very satisfying.

So that’s all for now folks, I hope I haven’t lost all interest there ever was in this blog, and I leave you with promises of many more posts to come soon.  Like PIE! Stay tuned…

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