Monday, April 27, 2009

Basic Pie Crust with Whole Wheat Flour

For years I made my mother's pie crust: 3 cups flour, 1 cup shortening, 1 teaspoon salt, 3-4 tablespoons cold water.

Then, yuk!, we found out about what shortening can do to the arteries and I switched to butter.

Then we found out how darned important fiber is and I switched to whole wheat flour.

Over the years I kept tweaking the recipe until it no longer resembled my mother's.

Sadly I stopped making pies altogether because the crust just didn't come out right.

Then along came a really nice whole wheat pastry flour and I started experimenting with pie crust again.

And now, finally, I think I've got it.

I'm convinced that it all comes down to the butter. Use an unsalted butter that is high in butterfat and low in moisture, and keep it very, very cold when you use it.

Whole Wheat Pastry Flour Pie Crust
Christine's original recipe
1 cup unbleached, organic all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon sugar
2/3 cup COLD unsalted European or European-style butter, cut into small cubes, keep cold
1 tablespoon cold cream
3 tablespoons cold water (more if necessary)

Place the flours, salt and sugar in the bowl of a food processor.
Pulse a few times to mix.
Add the cubes of butter all at once and use small pulses until the butter resembles small peas. Don't over process.
With the feed tube thingy removed, pulse as you add the cream, then pulse as you add the water, 1 tablespoon at a time, until the dough leaves the sides of the bowl and is no longer crumbly.
Gather the dough into a ball, wrap in plastic, flatten into a disc and refrigerate for 1 hour (can be left in fridge for a day or two).
Remove from the fridge and allow to rest for about 15 minutes.
Cut the ball in 2 equal pieces.
Flour a flat surface and your rolling pin then roll out one piece of the dough into a circle 12 to 14- inches in diameter and 1/8 to 1/4-inch thick.
Roll the dough onto your pin and drape over a pie plate, settling the dough into the plate.
Trim to a 1-inch overhang.
Fill with your favorite filling.
Repeat the instructions for the top crust.
Here is a good link for learning how to crimp pie crust.
Cook's Notes:
I made a strawberry-rhubarb pie using this crust recipe. The crust was flaky and buttery but not oily. Moreover, it passed the discerning guests taste test, making it a crust to blog about.

Copyright © 2005-2009, Christine Cooks. All rights reserved

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Strawberry Rhubarb Pie

Although it's still chilly here on the northern California coast, flowers are blooming, leaves are greening, swallows are nesting, and our local food co-op is bursting with strawberries and rhubarb. What's a girl to do?

It took some years before I attempted to make strawberry-rhubarb pie. Something about rhubarb. . . Peel it first? Cook it before combining with strawberries? Look at a recipe for guidance?

You're kidding, right?

That's like a guy asking for directions.

Doesn't happen.

So I simply didn't make one.

I guess with age comes the desire to be more daring (she says wryly): Yesterday, after bringing home super-sweet strawberries and ruby-red rhubarb, I just plunged right in. I must say, for a first time it's a pretty tasty pie. And yeah, I did look up how to deal with rhubarb. And I'm not too awfully embarrassed about it. I've never claimed to be the baker in the family, although I swear I could feel my mother, the pie baker extraordinnaire, smiling as she looked over my shoulder during this process.

Strawberry Rhubarb Pie
Christine's original recipe (with help about rhubarb from my old Joy of Cooking)
Enough crust to make a double-crust pie, divided in half (post will be is linked here)
3 and 1/2 cups strawberries, washed, hulled and cut in half
3 and 1/2 cups rhubarb, washed and cut into 1/2-inch slices
1/2 cup Splenda granular
1/2 cup sugar
1 tablespoon Meyer lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon or cardamom
3 tablespoons Minute Tapioca
pinch kosher salt
1 egg white, beaten
2 teaspoons sugar for the top crust of the pie
Pre-heat the oven to 400-degrees.
In a large bowl, using clean hands, mix together the berries, rhubarb, sugar, Splenda, lemon juice, spice, salt and tapioca.
Let the mixture sit for 15 minutes to allow juices to form and the tapioca to soften.
Meanwhile, roll out 1/2 of the pie dough into a 13-inch round. Fit into an 11-inch glass pie plate and trim crust to a 1-inch overhang all around the edges.
Pour the fruit mixture into the bottom crust, allowing it to mound in the center.
Roll out the second half of dough in the same dimensions and gently place over the fruit mixture.
Tuck under both bottom and top crusts together all around the pie plate and pinch or crimp to your liking.
Here is a good place to start if you don't know how to do it.
Cut slits in the top crust then brush the beaten egg white all over the top, including the crimping. Sprinkle with the 2 teaspoons sugar.
Place the pie on rack in the middle of the 400-degree oven and bake for 1/2 hour. Immediately lower the oven temperature to 350 degrees and bake for an additional 25 minutes more or until the crust is golden brown and the juices are bubbling out.
Remove from the oven and place the pie on a rack until cooled.

Copyright © 2005-2009, Christine Cooks. All rights reserved

Friday, April 24, 2009

Scrambled Eggs with Herbs

Not just any eggs... these come from my own free-range hens who are currently sleeping in the greenhouse but who will be moving just as soon as the chicken house is finished.
And not just any herbs... these herbs are field-grown in France, flash frozen within hours of harvest and are available here in the States from Darégal, a company with roots going back more than 100 years in the Darbonne family of Milly La Forêt.

Those who know me might wonder what I'm doing promoting frozen herbs in a container when I'm such a proponent of growing one's own or at least buying them fresh from local farmers markets. It's true, what I just said: growing herbs is easy, healthy, and very satisfying, especially when you can chop them, fresh-picked from your garden or windowsill, and sprinkle them on your scrambled eggs, or in your pasta sauce. But I also know that not everyone has the wherewithall to grow their own herbs. And not everyone is near a farmers market. And not everyone can afford to buy a $5 bunch of fresh herbs only to put a tablespoon of them in a recipe and then watch the rest slowly become so forlorn as to be quite inedible. I know I can't.

I've just had a most delightful conversation with Charles Darbonne, great-great-grandson of Armand Darbonne who started the herb business in 1886. Charles is the U.S. representative for Darégal, and after talking with him for quite some time, I decided to write about this convenient line of fresh frozen herbs for the home kitchen.

Darégal offers finely-chopped single-note herbs like parsley, dill, basil, oregano and cilantro, all to be kept in your freezer between uses, but it is the blends that speak to me. The Italian Blend has a mix of finely chopped red onion, flat-leaf parsley, basil, garlic, oregano and thyme. I used a heaping teaspoon for six eggs in this scramble. The Original Blend is made up of basil, onion, oregano, garlic, rosemary and thyme and is delicious in stews and braises.

Seems to me if you're in a hurry or don't have fresh herbs on hand, chopping such a small amount of herbs, to say nothing of peeling and mincing a tiny bit of red onion, to say nothing of going to the market and purchasing the bunches it would take to make up that heaping teaspoon, makes the convenience-in-a-container worth it right there.

Don't get me wrong. I'm still a very strong advocate for growing your own herbs and think everyone should give it a try. But the fresh taste and convenience of Darégal Gourmet Herbs is worthy of your freezer pantry when you need fresh herbs in a hurry.

Scrambled Eggs with Herbs
Christine's original recipe
1 teaspoon butter
6 fresh large to X-large eggs
2-4 tablespoons water
pinch kosher salt or sea salt
1 heaping teaspoon Darégal Gourmet Herbs Italian Blend
Heat a heavy skillet over medium heat. When hot, add the butter and turn the heat to medium-low.
Crack the eggs into a large bowl and gently beat with a fork until the yolks and whites are just blended.
Add water and salt and beat gently to mix thoroughly.
Add the herbs, allow to sit for a minute to soften then beat gently to incorporate.
Pour the egg mixture into the skillet and allow it to cook, undisturbed, for 1 minute.
Using a wooden spoon, begin pushing the egg mixture from the sides of the pan into the middle, allowing the uncooked egg to flow into the space provided. Do this slowly and gently. Allow the eggs to cook for 15 seconds between pushing them toward the middle.
Continue to push the cooked eggs toward the center of the pan until they are all softly cooked with a glossy sheen. Be careful, once that sheen is gone, you've overcooked your eggs.
Remove the pan from the heat and allow to set for an additional 10 seconds.
Spoon immediately onto warm plates, garnish with freshly cracked black peppercorns and serve with your favorite toasted bread and a few strawberries.

Cook's Notes:

You will be able to read about my hens, and the rooster, whose name is Butthead most of the time, and the chicken house on my garden blog soon. I'll leave a link here when it's up.

Happy chickens make wonderful eggs with hard shells and deep orange yolks.

Copyright © 2005-2009, Christine Cooks. All rights reserved

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Ashland Calls

I'm away for the long weekend. The Bard is calling. Friends are waiting.

Back soon.

Copyright © 2005-2009, Christine Cooks. All rights reserved

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Dark Chocolate Buttermilk Cake with Blueberry Ginger Filling and Whipped Cream Frosting

A gathering of good friends helped Mr CC celebrate his birthday yesterday. We feasted on typical North Coast potluck-style Beach Night fare followed by a dense chocolate cake with such long candles on top I couldn't fit them into the photo.
Two tries to blow them all out - not bad for so many candles!

This cake is a breeze to make. Use really good chocolate and cocoa powder or you will be doing the birthday star and your company a disservice. The whipped cream filling and topping is a snap to make and can be kept chilled until ready to use.
I used organic, dried blueberries in the filling because I was afraid that fresh ones would turn the cream purple, but as Mr CC says, "Purple isn't a bad color", so go ahead and use fresh if you prefer.

Dark Chocolate Buttermilk Cake with Blueberry Ginger Filling and Whipped Cream Frosting
Christine's original recipe
2 cups unbleached AP flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup dark organic cocoa powder (Green & Black's)
1/2 cup unsalted butter
1/2 cup Splenda-Brown Sugar blend
1/2 cup Splenda-Sugar blend
2 eggs
1 1/2 cups buttermilk
1 teaspoon vanilla
4 ounces good dark chocolate (Scharffen Berger 70%) melted

Heat oven to 350-degrees with rack in middle.
Butter and flour 2 9-inch round cake pans, tapping out excess flour. Set aside.
Combine flour, cocoa, soda, baking powder and salt, whisk well to combine. Set aside.
Using the paddle attachment, cream butter and sugars together in mixer on med-high setting.
Add eggs one at a time until incorporated. Add the vanilla.
Beginning with the flour mixture, add 1/3 of it to the butter mixture using medium power.
Add 1/2 of the buttermilk and beat until combined. Repeat with 1/3 flour and 1/2 buttermilk, ending with the last 1/3 of the flour mixture. Mix well.
Blend in the melted chocolate until well incorporated.
Divide batter evenly between cake pans and bake for 30 minutes or until a pick inserted into the middle of the cake comes out clean.
Remove pans from oven, set on racks to cool 15 minutes. Run a knife around the edges of the cake pans to loosen the cake and flip them out to finish cooling on the racks.

1 pint whipping cream
2 tablespoons clear corn syrup
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup blueberries - dried or fresh
1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon crystallized ginger, finely chopped

Whip the cream until soft peaks form. With mixer running, add the corn syrup and vanilla and continue beating until the cream is almost stiff. Careful to not turn it into butter.
Divide the whipped cream evenly between two bowls. Add 1/4 cup of the ginger and all the blueberries to one of the bowls and fold into the whipped cream. Put the other bowl of whipped cream in the fridge to keep cold.
Place one cake layer flat side down on a cake plate. Spoon the ginger-blueberry whipped cream over the top and spread evenly to within 1/2-inch of the edge. It will be thick.
Place the second cake layer, flat side up (you may have to cut the rounded side to flatten it) atop the first. Use the plain whipped cream to frost the top and sides of the cake.
Sprinkle the top with the remaining tablespoon of chopped ginger. Avoid putting blueberries on the outside of the cake as they will stain the whipped cream.
Keep the finished cake in the fridge until time to put on the candles and serve.

Copyright © 2005-2009, Christine Cooks. All rights reserved