Saturday, December 6, 2014

The secret to a perfect pastry crust

Want to know the secret to a delicious, buttery, flaky pie crust? Of course you do. I'll let you in on something: it's way easier than you think.

  • 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 stick cold unsalted butter
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 5-6 teaspoons ice water

Combine the flour and salt in a bowl before adding the butter (this will help ensure that the salt gets evenly distributed).  A lot of recipes tell you to use a food processor, pastry cutter, or even two knives to cut the butter into the flour.  I'm here to tell you that this is all nonsense.  The hands down, absolute best (trust me, I've tried everything) way to get that perfectly flaky, buttery crust is to use a cheese grater.

pastry crust recipe tips
I stole this cheese grater from my mom -- it's about 25 years old!

Yes, it really is that simple! The wonderful thing about using a cheese grater is that you get a uniform-sized sliver of butter with minimal softening.  A great crust recipe requires cold butter, cold water, and a cold surface.  I've found that cutting the butter with a pastry cutter or two knives makes it warm up too much.  The cheese grater helps solve this.

I like to grate 1/4 of the butter, stir it into the flour, and then go back to grating.  I repeat this until the stick is gone. When you stir everything together, it should look very course and lumpy.  Lumpy is good!  This is what will create that amazing flaky consistency.

pastry crust recipe tips
Lumps are good!

After you get that great lumpy consistency, stir in the water a little at a time until you can just start to hold it together.  Be frugal with that water, but don't panic if you add too much. You can always mix in a little more flour to even things out.

pie crust recipe
A great crust doesn't have to come from a package!

Here's my next insider tip when it comes to great dough, and this is pretty well-known: use a chilled surface to roll out your dough.  In my case, I stuck a cookie sheet in the freezer for a few minutes and it worked perfectly.  Turn out the dough onto a lightly floured surface with the heel of your hand, but do NOT overwork it.  The moment it comes together, STOP.

pastry and pie crust recipe tips
Don't overwork the dough!

Use a floured rolling pin, or in my case, a floured glass (I should really buy a rolling pin) to roll everything out. 

pastry and pie crust recipe tips
If you don't have a rolling pin, a glass or wine bottle works just fine!

Voila!  This will be the best pie crust you've ever had and it takes all of maybe 10 minutes.  It is seriously so easy.  Never buy a pre-made crust again!

Now what you do with the crust from here is up to you.  In my case, I used the glass to cut rounds out of the dough and made some mini quiches in a muffin tin.  Check it out:

quich made from hoemade pastry dough
Mmmm.  Quiche.

Have you tried this method? Do you have any secret crust techniques you'd like to share? Let me know in the comments below!

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Pumpkin and squash soup recipe (dairy free!)

Pumpkin and squash soup recipe

The pumpkin is having a bit of a moment right now.  From lattes to cakes to cookies and about a million other variations: there's pumpkin everywhere.  It's the ultimate icon of fall.  Don't believe me?  Stop reading and go for a walk outside.  I'll wait.  I guarantee you see at lease one pumpkin within one minute.

Okay you're back.  I was right, wasn't I?  Pumpkins. Are. Everywhere.  For years I've been more of a pumpkin decorator than a pumpkin eater.  But after a day of helping my friend Erik dig potatoes on his farm, I was gifted a glorious sugar pumpkin for my efforts.

"You are not allowed to carve this into a Jack-O-Lantern," he said.  "It's the biggest one we grew this year.  You must eat it."  Okay.  Challenge accepted.

I give you:  Pumpkin and Squash Soup

I love this soup because it's super filling and super healthy.  (The pumpkin and squash is chocked full of Vitamin A, Vitamin C, and beta-carotene.)  The curry powder gives it a bit of a kick, sure to warm you up on a chilly day.  I try to keep a lot of my recipes dairy free because of some family food allergies, but you could add half and half and a couple tablespoons of butter to take it to the next level.

3 tablespoons olive oil
1chopped yellow onion
1 roasted sugar pumpkin
1 1/2 pounds butternut squash
3 cups vegetable stock (I use the low sodium stuff)
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons curry powder
1 cup roasted and salted pepitas


Roast pumpkins and squash for 45 mins. (Great directions here.)  Set aside to cool.  Heat the oil in a heavy - bottomed stockpot, add the onions, and cook over medium - low heat for 10 minutes, or until translucent. Scoop pumpkin and squash into a blender and blend until smooth.  Add the pumpkin  and squash puree, chicken stock, salt, pepper, and curry powder. Cover and simmer over medium - low heat for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. If the soup needs more flavor, add another teaspoon of salt. Serve hot with crusty bread.  Garnish with pepitas.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

DIY: Homemade stamps using food

Been scouring the Internet for ideas on how to make simple, easy stamps.  These are just downright adorable.  Check it out:

Friday, June 13, 2014

Friday Find: The Ultimate Father's Day Gift

SOLKOA Survival Kit for Best Made Company, $170
For the dad who never quite outgrew Boy Scouts, speak to his “Be Prepared” mindset.  Inside the aircraft grade aluminum box (which you can dig with or cook in if needed), you’ll find two dozen items deemed to be the most-needed in a survival situation.  From a fishing kit, water purification tablets, and emergency blankets, to medical supplies, waterproof matches, a hacksaw blade, and just about everything in between, it’s the one gift you hope dad will never have to use.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Biking accessories for the fashion conscious

Check out my story in this week's Globe:  Bike with style

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

The rise of the kitchen garden

potager (noun) a kitchen garden
mid 17th century, from French jardin potager "garden providing vegetables for the pot"

There is something so satisfying about growing your own food.  Maybe because it's such a rarity for us these days.  When our grandparents were young, practically everyone had a "victory garden," with some tomatoes, beans, and peppers growing in the backyard.  But what's old becomes new again.  Like so many other fads, we're on the upswing with gardening.  Which means there are a plethora of photos featuring gorgeous kitchen gardens -- potagers, as they're called.  Check out some of my favorites.

[Photo by Marsha Arnold]

[Stacey Van Berkel-Haines for Canadian Gardening]

[Source Unknown]

[Image via 99 Roots]

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

What is it about a beach house?


What is it about you, dear beach house?  You are nearly 100 years old, sitting on a narrow stretch of beach above the sea in Wells, Maine.  Your floors creak.  The porch groans.  The wind whips through your attic windows.  There's history here:  of sandy feet, late-night card games around the kitchen table, and sunburned kids tossing in their beds.  Of laughter and arguments and love.

You can hear the water from anywhere in the house.  You whisper to it like a long-lost love.  "I'm still here," you say.  "Come and get me."

A beach house is a fragile thing, weathering a beating from late summer hurricanes and winter storms.  Each spring we wonder:  will it still be there?  A beach house makes you remember that time is precious.  That it could all be swept out to sea at any moment.  So linger on the porch.  Play one more game of cards.  Dig your feet deeper into the sand.  You never know if this day will be your last.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Happy Birthday to this blog!

{Five years old!}

Friday, May 16, 2014

Lilac season has arrived!

Scratch and sniff computer screens need to be the next big thing.

Friday Find: Balcony planter

Who says you need to have a yard to grow a garden? Utilize every extra inch of your patio and balcony with these modern planters.  A zinc rail hook fits most railings and keeps your plants elevated for a bit of visual interest.  I love the idea of planting a whole bunch of different varieties of lettuce and radishes to have close at hand for an impromptu salad.  You have a green thumb, I promise.  You just need the right tools!

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Beautiful farm photography

In the springtime, I dream about farming.  Planting seeds and starting fresh.  Digging in the dirt.  Watching things grow.  My friends Erik Jacobs and Dina Rudick Jacobs spend all year thinking about these things.  Both award-winning photographers in their own right, this pair take the most amazing, beautiful, and moving photos.  For the past year and some change, they've been documenting Erik's quest to become a real, honest-to-goodness farmer.  Now, they're launching their first CSA for their own farm.  I've been following their blog weekly as they post new photos and document their trials and errors.  And man, can these two make a pretty picture.  These are their photos.

*All photos by Erik Jacobs and Dina Rudick Jacobs of Plough and Stars Project.  To learn about their CSA, click here.

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