Archive for the ‘Fruit’ Category

“Easy as pie,” or so goes the saying. The thing about pie CRUST however, is that it is anything but easy. I learned to make pie from several remarkable women, including the baker at a café I worked at almost 20 years ago who said, “A baker’s best friend is her hands. Except for you…your hands are too hot.”

Heat is one enemy to the pie crust making process. So is over mixing. Another is time. You need time to make a good pie crust. And for many people, myself included, it can take a lot of time to learn how to make a good pie crust. In an effort to demystify pie making, I thought I’d once and for all write up my pie crust tips. And below is my favorite recipe for pie crust from Cook’s Illustrated magazine, and a recipe for berry pie.

You can brush the top of the crust with an egg wash and sprinkle with sanding sugar.

Make the pie crust ahead. When possible, I make pie crust in double batches and store them in the fridge for up to three days or in the freezer for up to two months. Making a pie takes long enough as it is, and having the crust step out of the way is a big time saver. Just flatten the dough into a disk, about 8-10 inches in diameter, before you refrigerate or freeze it.

Make the entire pie ahead. I like to make pies an entire day ahead of serving them. This helps the juices set. It’s not always possible, but if you have time, make the pie ahead.

Keep your ingredients cold. Start with cold butter (and shortening or lard if you are using it), measure out what you will need, but cut it into smaller chunks and then freeze it for a few minutes while you measure out the flour, salt and sugar. Some people store their flour and mixing bowl in the fridge or freezer…but that seems like overkill. Unless of course you live in the desert.

Vodka. Step one: Take a shot of vodka. Step two: Put a shot of vodka in the dough. In all seriousness, the use of vodka in the recipe below, from Cook’s Illustrated magazine below, is genius. Using too much water in pie dough can result in a tough crust. By using vodka, Cook’s Illustrated figured out that the alcohol would evaporate, so you could add more liquid to the dough – making it easier to handle and roll out – but not so much that you’d end up with a tough crust. Genius.

After you've cut the fat into the four, it should resemble cottage cheese.

Food processor vs by hand. I make my pie crust in the food processor. I KNOW! Yes, food processors generate heat. Yes, you can quickly overmix the dough. Having said those things though, I still think it’s worth the time savings to use a food processor. If you don’t have one, it’s easy to make pie crust with a pastry cutter. You won’t have to worry about overmixing if mixing by hand. You’ll probably get worn out before that happens. Oh, and this thing about cutting the fat (butter, shortening and/or lard) into the flour using two knives?! Really? I’ve tried it and think it’s complete bullshit. It’s like trying to eat spaghetti with a spoon. You’d have to be really hungry.

Roll the dough between layers of plastic wrap. This can prove challenging for some people. The reason I like it though, is that I don’t have to keep adding more and more flour to the board. It also makes it easier to transfer the rolled out crust into a pie plate.

Use a French-style rolling pin. I love my heavy marble rolling pin, but find it a little too heavy and unwieldy when rolling out pie crust. A French-style one with tapered ends is lightweight and easier to maneuver.

Rolling the dough. If the dough has been in the freezer, thaw it overnight in the fridge. Once out of the fridge, set it out on the counter 20-30 minutes before you are ready to roll. To roll it out, start in the center and roll out towards the edges. Some people like to roll from the center to 12 o’clock and then rotate the disk with each roll. Both ways are fine – practice and see what you like. Just take care to not overroll. Like over mixing, this will result in a tough crust.

Crimp the edges. When you are putting the top crust on a double-crusted pie, first wet the edges of the bottom crust. When you place the top crust over the filling, tuck the edges that hang over under the edge of the bottom crust to create a tight seal. To crimp, take the forefinger and thumb of one hand and place on the inside edge of the pie. Then, take the forefinger of your other hand and press the dough between the fingers on the inside hand. Or, say ‘fuck it’ and crimp the edges with a fork.

Wrap it in foil. Fruit pies often overflow the pan as the fruit cooks and their juices begin to bubble. Avoid a sticky mess by wrapping foil under the bottom of the pan, up the sides and just over the edge of the crust. This will also protect the crust from overbrowning. I have tried those little metal edge protectors you can buy. They’re crap. Same goes for the little metal pan to put the pie plate on while you bake. Just use a rimmed cookie sheet.

Air vents. Cut 3-4 slits in the top of the pan to let air escape. They only need to be an inch or two long – they will stretch a little as the pie cooks.

Cutting into a fresh pie. There is a little trick to getting that first slice of pie out of the pan. Cut the first slice, then a slice on either side. This will make it easier to serve the first piece.


Foolproof Pie Dough
From Cook’s Illustrated magazine
Makes one double crust pie

2 ½ cups (12 ½ ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon table salt
2 tablespoons sugar
12 tablespoons (1 ½ sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into ¼ inch slices
½ cup cold vegetable shortening, cut into 4 pieces
¼ cup cold vodka
¼cup cold water

1. Process just 1 ½ cups flour, salt, and sugar in food processor until combined, about 2 one-second pulses. Add butter and shortening and process until homogeneous dough just starts to collect in uneven clumps, about 15 seconds (dough will resemble cottage cheese curds and there should be no uncoated flour). Scrape bowl with rubber spatula and redistribute dough evenly around processor blade. Add remaining cup flour and pulse until mixture is evenly distributed around bowl and mass of dough has been broken up, 4 to 6 quick pulses. Empty mixture into medium bowl.

2. Sprinkle vodka and water over mixture. With rubber spatula, use folding motion to mix, pressing down on dough until dough is slightly tacky and sticks together. Divide dough into two even balls and flatten each into 4-inch disk. Wrap each in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 45 minutes or up to 2 days.

3. Remove 1 disk of dough from the refrigerator and roll on generously floured (up to ¼ cup) work surface to 12-inch circle, about 1/8 inch think.  Roll dough loosely and rolling pin and unroll into pie plate, leaving at least 1-inch overhang on each side.  Working around circumference, ease dough into plate by gently lifting edge of dough with one hand while pressing into plate bottom with other hand.  Leave dough that overhangs plate in place; refrigerate while preparing filling until dough is firm, about 30 minutes.

Berry Pie Filling
From The Kingston Hotel Cafe Cookbook
Makes 1 double crusted pit

6 cups fresh or frozen blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, or a combo of the three
2 tablespoons cornstarch
2 tablespoons cake flour
¾ cup brown sugar
6 tablespoons white sugar
¼ teaspoon table salt
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 tablespoons unsalted butter

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Prepare the pie crust and line a 9-inch pie pan with half the dough.

In a large mixing bowl, combine all of the filling ingredients except the butter. Pour into pastry-lined pie plate.  Dot the top of the fruit with the butter.

Roll out the top crust. Wet the rim of the bottom crust with ice water and place the top crust over the berries. Turn the edges under and crimp. Make little slits in the top of the crust to allow steam to escape while baking.

Plce the pit in the center of a piece of tin foil and fold over te top crust to prevent the edge from browning too fast. Place the pie on a cookie sheet to catch the juices that bubble over.

Bake at 425 degrees F for 10 minutes. Turn the oven down to 350 degrees F and bake for about 45 minutes. Uncover the foil from the edges of the pie, then bake another 30 minutes.  The top crust will be golden and the juices will be tick and bubbling to the top.

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OK, so my pirate lingo leaves a lot to be desired. What I am trying to say is – you have got to try some of the citrus fruits that are in season right now. They are very tasty and will keep you healthy to boot. Or booty. Argh.

For me, the abundance of Satsuma oranges and Clementines on sale in December is my first clue that citrus season is going strong. I love those easy-to-peel little flavor bombs and swear that it is what keeps me healthy as cold and flu season reach their height.

This month, I’ve been finding a lot blood oranges and Cara Cara oranges – two other favorites of mine. I like to tuck one of them into my snowboarding bag, to enjoy after a long day on the mountain.

We ate a lot of citrus growing up, but above all else, we ate grapefruit the most. My mom had those funny knives that you could use to separate the segments. So, after cutting your grapefruit in half – on the fat side – you’d carve out the flesh in each little chamber. Later, our family adopted the serrated spoon method. Equally effective and perhaps more so, since you could use the spoon to scrape the flesh away from the peel.

It wasn’t until a few years ago that I witnessed a whole new way of eating a grapefruit. A co-worker of mine would peel the whole thing and then painstakingly remove the pith and membrane from each segment. It seemed to me like a whole lot of work – especially when the spoon method had worked well for me for so many years – but then, she gave me a piece to try.

It was amazing. All that peeling seemed liked no work at all after that. A fully peeled grapefruit – a grapefruit au naturel, if you will – is kind of sexy. It is like skinny dipping. When you have peeled the grapefruit completely and sit down with a bowl full of pith- and peel-free segments, it will be the best grapefruit you have ever eaten. Try it.

Here’s what you need to do:

Completely peel the grapefruit and separate the segments. Chunks of 2-3 segements are OK.

Take each segment, or chunk of segments and carefully remove the membrane around each segment. You may need to make a slit across the top of each segment if they are particularly tough.

Place the freshly peeled segments into a bowl, grab a fork and enjoy!

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In the winter of 2007, I saw a magazine cover that said “Homemade Maraschino Cherries.” I have been a Manhattan drinker for years and long ago eschewed those bright red abominations found on supermarket shelves. Don’t get me wrong, I LOVED those cherries as a kid. Especially if they were served in a Shirley Temple or Mormor’s lime jello molded salad.

I promptly bought that issue of Imbibe magazine and almost immediately signed up for a subscription. Based in Portland, OR, Imbibe magazine packs every bi-monthly issue with cocktail history, bar essentials, recipes, reviews on spirits, beer and the occasional non-alcoholic beverage.

The recipe for maraschino cherries is simple. Put fresh, clean, pitted cherries in a jar and top with maraschino liquor. What could be easier than that?! Well…first, I needed to find maraschino liquor.

Last winter passed and I still never found maraschino liquor. In fact, I had never even tasted it. I figured it tasted like cherries. In May of last year that changed on a trip to the Zig Zag Cafe. The bartender Murray schooled us about many things, including maraschino. First, we learned that it is pronounced maraskeeno. We also learned that it provides many cocktails – particularly those bourbon or gin-based cocktails I love so much – with a sweet, nutty flavor that can’t be beat.

Finally, in the fall of last year I found a bottle of maraschino…in Manhattan. I ended up buying it, toting it home and giving it a good home in my liquor cabinet. It only recently got some action when it made its way into an Aviation, but more on that later.

Local cherries (well, WA state at least) are in season, so I dusted off that old recipe and got to work. Pitting cherries is a hell of a job, made only mildly easier by a cherry pitter. As the recipe says…all you have to do is pit the clean cherries and put them in a jar and top with maraschino liquor.

And wait.

Place the jars in the fridge for a week or two, turning them daily to evenly distribute to liquor. They’ll keep fresh for about a month. Although with that much alcohol, I suspect I they’ll last a lot longer.

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In the summer, it is easy for me to track time based on which berry is available. I thought this would be a fun monthly blog feature – a berry of the month club, if you will.

I made it in just under the wire for May, but on Sunday I thankfully had time to head down to the creek behind our house and pick salmonberries.

Salmonberries are unique to the Pacific Northwest, though I understand they grow as far North as Alaska and as far East as Idaho. Not many people actually know about the berries, since they are not cultivated and are too fragile for transporting or freezing. You can find them growing along the road, especially in shaded, woodsy areas. They are not as prolific as blackberries though and the period they are ripe is just a couple of weeks.

My friend Maria came by Sunday afternoon and we lazed in the sun on my deck for awhile before we realized we needed to get up and move. We both had a case of the lazy Sundays. With basket in hand, we headed down to the creek.

There is something so satisfying about picking berries. We were both wrestling branches and risking a fall into the creek to reach the fattest, brightest berries.

Our efforts were well rewarded though. We managed to get about a cup and a half of berries in just 15 or 20 minutes. I love how the berries range in color from pale orange to hot pink.

The berries have a really mild flavor. They are best eaten right away, promptly upon plucking them from the bush in fact. They are named ‘salmon’ berries, since the shoots were eaten by Native Americans as a side dish alongside salmon. Perhaps the name also references the color as well or that they ripen near the time salmon are returning to streams in late Spring.

I decided to make a simple syrup with the berries, as I did last year. We were having fish tacos for dinner, so had our heart set on margaritas. By mixing up the salmonberry syrup with some triple sec, fresh lemon and lime juices and some tequila, they ended up being Salmonberry Margaritas. Olé!

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The Sweetest Gift

Every winter there comes a day when I walk into the kitchen at my parents’ house and see a large bag of Meyer lemons. “Arlene is back?” is always the first thing I ask my mom.

Arlene is a friend of my parents since way back before I was born, back before my parents were even married. Mom and Arlene worked together at the Rainier Brewery, but that’s another story. Arlene spends part of every winter in Palm Springs and when she returns, she always brings with her some Meyer lemons from the tree at her house.

My childhood memories are filled with memories of women like Arlene. Women that love to cook & bake and shared that love of food with me. These friends joined our family for parties or holidays, were neighbors and often babysitters. Looking back now, I realize what an influence they’ve had at me.

Visits to Arlene’s house held the promise of her homemade fruit leather. Being babysat by Sandra meant she’d bake cookies with me. Staying with my aunt Margita meant sweet, juicy, blackberry pie.

So back to the lemons. Meyer lemons are thought to be a cross between a lemon and a mandarin orange. They are still quite tart, but have a great flavor and are very juicy. I wanted to make something special with these seasonal treasures and got it in my head to make lemon curd.

I did some research and it seemed simple enough. Then I made the mistake of asking the chef/owner of a restaurant I was dining at last weekend and he put the fear of God in me. “Whisk like mad,” he said. “Do you have a chinoise? No?! You’ll have lumpy curd unless you strain it properly.” Gah! I panicked.

But wait, I’ve made hollandaise, pastry creams and the like. I just needed to find the right recipe. I remembered seeing a recipe for lemon curd in a magazine awhile back and found an old issue of Fine Cooking with a much simpler recipe than anything else I’d read. Inexplicably, they have a more complex recipe on their website.

Simple Lemon Curd
Yields about 1 cup

1/2 cup fresh lemon juice (from 2-3 lemons)
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1 oz (2 Tbsp) unsalted butter cut into 4-6 small pieces

Set a fine strainer over a medium bowl. In another medium bowl, whisk the lemon juice, sugar and eggs until thoroughly combines and most of the sugar has dissolved.

Pour the lemon mixture into a heavy-bottom stainless pan. Cook over medium heat, stirring frequently with a wooden spoon until the curd is steaming (but not boiling) until thickened and registers 175 degrees on an instant-read thermometer, about 3-7 minutes.

Take the curd off the heat, add the butter and stir until the butter has melted. Pour the curd through the strainer to get rid of any lumps. Let cool. Will keep up to a week in the fridge.

In honor of Inauguration Day, I decided to make a special dessert with the lemon curd. The idea of little tartlets was stuck in my mind. They needed a little color, so I spent a King’s ransom for some out-of-season raspberries.

These days, I have found myself surrounded by lots of little girls and like to think that my love of baking and cooking will rub off on them. 14 year-old Chloe was the first to arrive on the scene and we have baked chocolate chip cookies together since she was 4 or 5. She advanced quickly to cracking the eggs, then reading the recipe and today, I can just sit back and watch her make them all by herself.

Little Hazel, Marley, Lily and Makenna are almost old enough to join me in the kitchen. Most have already shown a fondness for sweets and treats and I always have something special for them when they are over at our house. The lemon curd was a little too tart for Marley, but she sure did like those raspberries.

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Go Bananas

Let me tell you a little about the bananas here. There are several different varieties. Some are the small mini-bananas. I’ve tried two varieties so far. One is sweeter than the other and both are more concentrated and a bit starchier than the bananas we usually get in the US.

Bananas grow everywhere here. I remember seeing my first banana tree in Hawaii and just about flipping out. It is the coolest looking tree and the bananas grow in massive clusters.

Bananas are used here for just about everything – banana leaves are used to cook food in; they make banana ketchup and several banana desserts. I imagine they distill it into alcohol, but I have yet to find it.

My favorite dessert here so far is the banana fritter, or turon. Marie makes these at home and I think I’d known her a couple of years before I ever tried them. I accused her of keeping these a secret from me. I am totally addicted to them now. As far as I understand, these are filled with banana, brown sugar and jack fruit (a huge tropical fruit that is shaped like a pear but is all prickly and about 4 pounds). You wrap these in a lumpia (or wonton) wrapper and deep fry them. I’ve had them served with ice cream and also a coconut sauce here, but I think they are just fine plain and warm.

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Spinach Smoothie

I know what you are thinking – YUCK! Trust me, this smoothie tastes nothing like spinach. It will turn out very green though, so if that is off putting you shouldn’t drink it in a clear glass.

Spinach Smoothie
1 ripe banana
1/2 cup frozen mango
1/4-1/2 cup apple juice
1/4 cup plain, nonfat yogurt
1 cup packed, fresh spinach, washed thoroughly

Place mango and spinach in the blender jar first. Top with juice, yogurt and banana. Blend like hell and when you think it is smooth enough, blend it some more. Enjoy immediately.

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