Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Because my last post had no photos.

I've decided to share a few photos that don't really have a place elsewhere in the blog. I'm taking a break from domestic pastimes and sharing things that I like.

These are some of my all-time favorite people, Audrey, Fran and Kathleen. I didn't get a chance to write about my trip to Tucson in early April- probably because there was so much to tell I couldn't sum up the amount of fun that we had in the confines of a blog post... Nope, still can't.

This is a photo of the Snake River, on the other side of Shoshone Falls, near Twin Falls, Idaho. I had the privilege of visiting Twin Falls early this month on my first official business trip.

This is Nic with a salt-stained hat. This boy works hard on his 30-mile round trip bicycle commute, and it sure does show in the salt residue of his commuting gear.

This is a Morton Salt Girl mug (my preferred morning coffee mug) next to my sexy Pugeot pepper grinder (who knew, bikes, cars and pepper mills!). I coveted this pepper grinder for a long time. It is gorgeous.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Photo-less Pie

I just realized that this pie has no photos, which is a shame. It's not because the pie was un-photogenic, or ugly in any way, quite the contrary- it was the best pie I have ever made. I almost decided that the lack of photographic evidence was reason enough not to share it with y'all, but that would be a travesty upon itself. There are many good things about this pie, and it must (must!) be shared.

My grandmother on my father's side passed away before I could learn how to make pies from her- apparantly they were good. So good, that my mother refused to make pie because she thought they could never measure up- so I never learned how to make pie from my mother either. It was fine that she didn't make pie- there were plenty of Australian desserts that made up for the absence of pie from my childhood (besides, I didn't know any better). However, pie, being one of those quintessential American things, came into my radar in high school when people would bring beautiful pies to summer barbeques. It may have been that that sparked what was (until now!) my quest for the perfect pie crust.

If you don't think about the amount of sugar that goes into a pie... any pie... and instead focus on the fact that it's a purist confection, giving seasonal fruit the attention it certainly deserves, especially in summer (berries) and fall (everything else).

But what about the spring pie? The answer to this can be found in the odd vegetable matter called rhubarb.

This isn't just any rhubarb pie, it is a rhubarb pie with orange zest. These days I am continually surprised at what the addition of citrus zest brings to the table... or party... preferably both. Since I can't let the photo speak for itself, imagine:

a two-thirds eaten pie in its dish, a fork lingers on the porcelin next to hap-hazard smears of rhubarb-pink stuck with flakes of crust.

Speaking of crust, this is the best crust I have ever made (I just had to say that again). It turns out that while ingredients are very important in the composition of a crust, so too are tempreature and technique. I used to make pie crust in a bowl, containing the crumbs of butter and flour- but no more. I now prefer to make the dough on a flat tabletop, things can get messy, but that's why I have an apron.

Fresh Rhubarb Pie with Orange Zest
Adapted from Orangette

Pie Crust (from Saveur):
3 c flour
2 tsp salt
14 tbs cold cubed unsalted butter

Pie Filling
1 1/3 c granulated sugar
6 tbs flour
pinch of salt
zest from 1.5 oranges (I just had to make this diffifult)
1 1/2 lbs fresh rhubarb
1 tbs unsalted butter

Umpqua vanilla ice cream, for serving.

Mix flour and salt together. Working quickly (cold butter is one of the keys to a Perfect Pie Crust), add butter and work butter into flour with hands. Once all butter is incorporated, create a well in the center of the mixture and add 1/2 cup ice water. Mix together with hands until dough forms a cohesive ball. Next, frisage dough.

Frisage is a fancy (fancy-named anyway) technique- where you take a small amount of dough (walnut-sized) and smear it along the table surface with the heel of your hand. For lack of better understanding of the technique, it flattens out sheets of butter to create more layers and therefore a flakier pie crust.

Reshape dough into a ball, divide in half, flatten into discs and refrigerate for 1-2 hours.

Cut rhubarb into 1/2 inch slices. Mix together sugar, flour, zest and salt. I know it seams like a lot of sugar, but that's okay. Really. Toss rhubarb with sugar mixture. Let sit while you roll out the dough.

On a lightly floured surface, roll out pie dough to 1/8" thickness. Line a pie dish. Dump rhubarb filling into dish. Spot with remaining 1 tbs of butter.

Roll out second pie dough. Wet the rim of the first pastry sheet and lay the second over the rhubarb (2 techniques that can be used for this sometimes awkward process of transporting dough to pie dish is to fold gently into fouths, and then unfold onto the pie. Also, roll sheet over rolling pin and roll onto pie). Trim excess, Crimp and fold edges to look pretty. Cut slits into dough to allow steam to relase.

Brush the top of the crust liberally with egg and sprinkle with sugar for an added dramatic effect.

Cover crust with aluminum foil to prevent premature browning.

Bake at 450 farenheit for 15 minutes. Lower tempreature to 350 and continue baking for 45-55 minutes, until the rhubarb begins to bubble through the slits in the top and the top of your pie is golden.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Pulling out all the stops.

As soon as I thought of this title for this post, I started doubting myself... do people really say this? Will anyone understand? Thanks to the Internet and idiom checkers, it's confirmed:

Pulling out all the stops: to do everything you can to make something successful. In this case it included 3 cups of cream, 2 pounds of chocolate, 2 sticks of butter, rum and 7 eggs (not pictured)

I've had a hard time with my confidence with expressions from my childhood. On multiple occasions none of my college friends had any idea what I was talking about. I'd say 'it's colder than a well-digger's ass' in reference to the February weather and get looks like you wouldn't believe.

Yesterday was a very good friend's birthday- a birthday that deserved all stops be pulled out. I had recently bought a new springform pan, and so I offered up my cake baking services. Audrey requested a chocolate birthday cake and I found the chocolate cake to end all chocolate cakes in Saveur Magazine. Demel, THE Viennese bakery was highlighted in this issue and included their recipe for Truffeltorte (with an umlaut over the u)- a three-layer chocolate cake soaked in a rum syrup and partitioned with layers of whipped chocolate ganache. This would be my most challenging cake recipe to date.

But before I baked the cake, I had to make a gift. I believe I mentioned in my previous post how I had visited Fabric Depot and had gotten a lot of inspiration... it came mostly from one fabric in particular- a lovely map print of France and its regions. I'm a sucker for maps. Maps are up there on the list of things I love, in between waffles and baby animals. I knew that I needed this fabric, but also knew that if I didn't have a particular plan for it, it would languish away in a cabinet, perhaps for years, before a suitable project was found to showcase its glory. And so I made a decision, bought supplies and left the fabric store with a bounce in my step and a finished product in the very near future.

I pre-washed and cut the fabric the night I brought it home, and it was finished before I went to bed the next evening. Behold, the Friday Night Apron by Vanilla House Designs. I wanted badly to keep it for myself, but I did the right thing an informed Audrey of the impending gift (vaguely) to ensure I would not try to sabotage her birthday with my selfishness.

Ricrac is my new favorite thing to sew with- it really made the apron pop and was instantly more fun. It makes the finished product more suited to making cupcakes, or a hip cocktail party, rather than making weekday morning gruel.

Happy Birthday, Audrey!

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Mother's Day Marathon.

A baking marathon, to be more specific. I've yet to participate in any large, well-organized walks or runs. Probably the only similarity that my marathon has to your standard marathon is that it's for a good cause.

That, and I think it's high time I shared my favorite quiche and all-star brunch item. As a quiche is a custard with a tasty filling, it is endlessly adaptable to whatever is in season or to whatever the preference of the chef. I took a trip to the Farmer's Market yesterday morning to look for a seasonal tasty filling. Knowing the weather would be nice, I was sure the mayhem (thousands of people wander, sometimes aimlessly, through the booths every Saturday) would start earlier than on less gorgeous days- and I made it there before 10- which wasn't early enough to miss the crowd, but, more importantly, I made it to the market before all of the farm-fresh eggs had been snatched up.

I made a B-line to Raynblest farms, some folks from Elkton who sell everything from eggs to honey and beeswax creations but also prunes and limes. Barb and Gus Eberhardt's eggs are perhaps the best I've ever seen or eaten what with their incredibly orange and firm yolk. I will continue to do my best to drag myself out of bed on Saturday mornings if only for these eggs.
Once in my posession, I went back home to prepare two items where good eggs are able to shine- lemon curd and a quiche.

I've made lemon curd before- and it was tasty, but I used a light brown sugar (all I had at the time) which made the curd turn, well, light brown. Also, I didn't strain the zest from the curd at the end which made the texture a little less smooth. If you do these things, your curd (an unfortunate name) will look, feel AND taste wonderful.

Lemon Curd

3 meyer lemons (zest and juice)
3/4 cups sugar
2 eggs
1 stick butter, sliced into 6-ish pieces

In a double boiler, combine sugar, lemon juice and zest and eggs, stirring constantly until mixture starts to thicken. Add sliced butter and continue stirring until incorporated. Remove from heat and strain through mesh colandar to remove zest. Pour into containers and refrigerate.
With how tasty this stuff is, I don't think anyone needs to worry about it going bad- it will be long gone before that happens.

Mushroom, Leek and Gruyere Quiche
Adapted from The Moosewood Cookbook.

I've been making this quiche for years and have yet to be dissapointed, I'm just sayin'.

1 cup flour (3/4 white and 1/4 whole wheat)
1/3 cup cold butter (if unsalted, add 1/4 tsp salt to flour)
3 tbs milk or buttermilk

Cut butter into flour until well incorporated. Add liquid and mix until dough holds together. Refrigerate for at least one hour.

Filling (endlessly adaptable)-
a couple knobs of butter
3 medium leeks
1/4 lb mushrooms of choice (I used shitake this time around)
thyme, salt and pepper
1 1/2 cups gruyere cheese

Sautee leeks and mushrooms in butter. Add thyme, salt and pepper halfway thrugh the sautee process.
Grate gruyere cheese and place in the bottom of the pie pan. Cover cheese with vegetable mixture.


4 eggs from Raynblest farms
1 1/2 cups milk
1-2 tbs dijon mustard
1/2 tsp salt
3 tbs flour

Pour custard mixture over veggies and cheese.

Stick into oven at 375 for about an hour or until the custard has set and does not so much jiggle when shaken, but shakes when jiggled.

Let cool for about an hour or refrigerate and consume the next day.