Rye pie crust, revisited

This. This pie crust right here is what convinced me to start baking by weight.

For a long while, I thought I had pie crust down. I fell in love with Heidi Swanson’s rye pie crust recipe, and fiddled with it to make it my own. It was a consistent winner, something I could throw together in minutes and stick in the fridge for a pie-less day. I was the queen of the Sunday-lunch galette and the party pie. It was wonderful.

Until I ran out of light rye flour, and couldn’t find it at any of my local stores. So I bought some dark rye flour instead, and immediately the crust recipe I relied on started failing on me. The dark rye flour added a terrific depth of flavor that I loved, but crust after crust came out sticky and impossible to roll. My theory is that the light rye flour, which has gluten added, was covering up my lazy baking decisions–measuring things imprecisely, using too much water, letting the butter get too warm. I realized I needed to re-teach myself the recipe.

So I did. I got myself a kitchen scale and started using the weight measurements in the original 101 Cookbooks post. And wouldn’t you know it, things started improving almost immediately. It wasn’t a magic bullet, but getting my ingredients in the exact right ratios meant that the crusts were consistently easier to handle. Plus, it turns out that baking by weight is actually easier and less messy than faffing around with cups–just scoop the flour directly into the bowl, no sweeping or leveling required. I’m totally sold, and will be baking things by weight from now on.

But even the scale didn’t totally fix the problem. I’ve also realized that something more old-fashioned is at play: patience and experience. I wasn’t really paying attention to what a well-made crust feels like in the bowl–slightly crumbly, just moist enough to stick together–and so I was guessing and throwing off my aim. I’ve started to slow down when making pie crust, crumbling the butter in more gently, mashing it less with my fingers. I’ve also started adding water by feel rather than by measurement, since I’ve found that the flour takes up different amounts of liquid on different days. And I’ve been making sure to chill the dough long enough, and to handle it as little as possible to keep it from getting sticky. I’m still learning, still practicing, and I think that’s really the point. A good, precise recipe will get you part of the way; the rest is up to practice.

rye pie crust better

Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Smoked salmon patties

When I was a kid, one of my mom’s go-to dinners was salmon patties. They were one of those genius feed-a-family-in-minutes recipes, made entirely with pantry and fridge staples: canned salmon for substance, crushed-up cornflakes for bulk, and egg for binder. I loved those patties–loved them!–except for one thing: the canned salmon always had bones in it. My parents tried to convince me they were edible, but I would have none of it. I remember the ritual, every time, of carefully dissecting my salmon patties and removing the tiny white vertebrae. It was a meticulous operation, but necessary before I could chow down on my delicious dinner.

Now that I’m an adult, I get to put my own spin on my mom’s recipes. That means taking things I’m not crazy about–like bony canned salmon–and finding alternatives I do like. Where my mother always had canned salmon in the pantry, I find I usually have smoked salmon in my fridge. So here’s a posher, slightly fresher take on those beloved salmon patties: my smoked salmon version. These would be lovely for a brunch party, or a light summer lunch. And best of all, no bones!

These patties are firm and slightly crisp on the outside, then dense and almost crab-cakey within. The texture of these is almost Proustian for me–it really does take me back to those childhood dinners. For me the key is to break the salmon meat down until it’s about the consistency of lump crab meat. You could leave the smoked salmon in quite large flakes, I suppose, for a more sophisticated result, but I’ll have it no other way than this. (By the way, this also means you don’t need to use fancy or expensive smoked salmon here, since the texture would be lost. Anything you can get your hands on will work, as long as it’s the firm, hot-smoked kind of salmon.)

The cakes are flavored with many of the usual accompaniments: mustard, onion, lemon, and dill. I’ve already played with this flavor combination once before, and it remains a favorite in my household. I could have added some drained capers too–and feel free to, if you want–but I didn’t want their damp crunch to ruin the familiar texture of my salmon patties. In fact, this is one of those recipes that stands as a canvas for anything you want to do with it. I never make these the same way twice, and that’s part of the fun.

smoked salmon patties

Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Turnip greens and blue cheese frittata

When it comes to a fridge cleanout, there’s nothing like a frittata. As long as you have eggs and maybe some cheese on hand, you can turn just about any leftovers, cured meats, or surplus produce into a lovely meal. This is also handy if, like me, you sometimes forget about that mostly-unused carton of eggs in the back of the fridge until it’s a few days past the sell-by date.

On my most recent fridge raid, I found the aforementioned forgotten eggs, an onion, the greens from a bunch of kohlrabi, and a handful of blue cheese crumbles. I had a hunch that the bitter greens would go nicely with the salty-funky cheese, and the eggs needed using, so a frittata it was. I threw it together while taking a lunch break from work and ate a wedge of it out of hand while catching up on email. It was the perfect quick, nourishing desk lunch, but also something I could easily see serving guests or packing along on a picnic. I wrapped and fridged the leftover wedges and ate them for lunch the rest of the week.

The texture of the greens really made this. I could have cooked them down to a frozen-spinach consistency and squeezed them dry. But I decided to risk some extra moisture, and just barely wilted them in a skillet. It was the right call. The greens kept a lovely supple almost-crunch, and the pieces closest to the top crisped in the oven and turned kale-chip-like. The moisture from the greens made the underside of the frittata a little damp, but a quick swipe with a paper towel fixed that problem.

The one drawback of making frittata is that it often requires specific equipment. To make it the way I make it, you need a 10-inch skillet that is both oven-safe and nonstick enough for eggs. Regular nonstick would work, as would very well-seasoned cast iron (which is what I use). If you don’t have a pan that works, you can pre-cook the vegetables in any old skillet, then transfer them to a greased and parchment-lined 9-inch cake pan. Add the cheese and eggs as directed in the recipe, and keep an eye on the frittata as it bakes–it may need another minute or two to compensate for the different pan size.

turnip greens blue cheese frittata

Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Edamame hummus

I don’t often find inspiration in airplane food. But a few months ago I was on a Virgin America flight, hungry and fresh out of snacks. I ordered one of their cheese-and-cracker boxes, which came with a little tub of edamame hummus. I didn’t have high hopes, but the hummus was surprisingly great: smooth and solidly garlicky, like any good hummus should be, but lighter and more grassy. By the time I reached the bottom of the container, I was kicking myself for not having thought of it sooner.

It seems so simple, right? Just replace the chickpeas in a traditional hummus with cooked, cooled edamame. Ha! If only it were that easy. Trying to recreate that little tub of airplane hummus has taken me weeks and caused at least one tantrum. Turns out that frozen, thawed edamame don’t like to blend smooth, at least not without a lot of persuasion. It took at least three failed batches to produce a good one, but I finally got it down–a smooth green paste with the flavors of soy, lemon, tahini, and raw garlic in balance.

It all came down to the technique, and three things seem to have made the biggest difference. First, boil the frozen edamame for long enough, until the beans have lost lost their last hint of chalkiness. Second, add the edamame to the food processor in two or three batches, and make sure each addition is pureed as smooth as possible before adding the next. Third, and perhaps most importantly, puree everything for a good long while; I suggest letting the machine run for at least 30 seconds every time you add something, and let it run for a good solid minute or two once everything is in.

As with any hummus, the proportions here are entirely to taste. I like a strong but not antisocial garlic kick, a lot of lemon, and a ludicrous amount of black pepper. I like my hummus thinned with just a little bit of water, enough to make it scoopable but not saucy. I like to keep the olive oil out of the processor and drizzle it on just before serving, so that the flavor is fresh. And though I’m not usually one for food styling, I like a little dusting of something red on top–I believe sumac is traditional, but for my nonconformist green hummus, smoked paprika is just lovely.

edamame hummus

Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Veracruz-style red snapper

It’s been a while since I’ve posted here. I’d love to say it’s because I’ve been doing exciting, productive things in my spare time. But that’s really not it. If I’m being totally honest, it’s because I made this recipe months ago, and it was one of the most delicious things I’ve ever eaten. But I’ve been hesitant to show it off, because the only photo I have of it is terrible. (Ed: Photo replaced with a better one, after making this a second time and verifying that it’s knock-your-socks-off delicious.)

This is one of the things that frustrates me most about food blogs. Everything’s got to be gorgeously plated and naturally lit. Everything’s got to look mouthwatering, no matter whether or not it actually is. Even if you’re just snapping a photo with your iPhone while your hungry family waits out of frame, it’s got to be magazine-worthy (or just a Photoshop revamp away). Gluten-Free Girl had a glorious “Fuck Pinterest” post up a while back, which I’m unable to find now, but which laid out the pressure of the perfect photograph so beautifully. It’s not really about the recipes anymore, but about how they look through a lens.

And while I’m ranting: I’ve also noticed lately that a lot of food personalities tend to use the word “rustic” as a substitute for “not asthetically perfect.” I bristle at that. There’s nothing “rustic” about my cooking. It’s homemade. I make mistakes. Calling an imperfectly chopped or arranged or plated dish “rustic” is pretending that even kitchen accidents are deliberate. It’s insisting that everything has to be “food-styled,” rather than just letting things look how they look. It’s like the cat that runs splat into a wall, then walks away with its tail high, as if to say, “I meant to do that.” (Though it’s significantly more adorable when a cat does it.)

I may not be a food stylist, or any good with an iPhone camera. But I sure can tell you how good this recipe tastes. It’s a Mexican fish dish, quick and easy to prepare and phenomenally delicious. It starts with fillets of flaky white fish, layered in a baking dish with a piquant sauteed mixture of tomatoes, capers, olives, and pickled jalapenos. In the oven, the fish exudes its own juices, creating a gauzy sauce in the bottom of the dish that’s perfect for spooning over rice or tortillas or bread. For the amount of time it takes to prepare–maybe 45 minutes, tops, if you’re a slow chopper like me–I can’t think of any dish that offers more explosive flavor per bite. I’ve now made it multiple times, and it’s become one of my go-tos for a simple but very special supper.

I’m sure another food blogger could make this look like a million bucks. Me? I just say make this, and make it soon–no matter what the photo says.

veracruz halibut

Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Pomegranate braised lamb shanks

Like a fair few folks I know, I don’t really get excited about meat. I’ll eat it, and enjoy it just fine, but it doesn’t ring my chimes the way, say, an over-medium egg yolk does. For me, at least, it’s a texture thing: I like the flavor and richness of meat, but not the way it feels under my teeth. For the most part, when I cook with meat, it’s as a component of a larger and more complex dish, rather than simply a piece of animal on a plate. The joy of a juicy, medium-rare steak or a lovely Sunday roast is mostly lost on me.

When that meat is braised, though, all bets are off. I love me a tender hunk of falling-apart meat. I grew up eating brisket braised in red wine every year for Passover, and it was basically the only time of year I’d willingly eat red meat. When a piece of tough, bone-in beef or lamb gets cooked for hours in a powerful liquid, it turns into something totally deserving of swoons. Stick a fork in, and the meat falls into tender strands. The liquid and the meat juices become thick, gelatinous, slow-moving on the tongue. There’s barely any chewing required, and so much more flavor and interest than a simple steak can muster.

Of all the braise-able cuts of meat, I think lamb shanks are my favorite. Cook a lamb shank for long enough, and the meat becomes soft, almost cushiony, and relaxes away from the bone. It’s juicier and gamier than many braised beef cuts I’ve had, and it plays remarkably well with explosive flavors from around the world. I’ve had a Thai curried lamb shank, and a Moroccan lamb shank tagine, both of which blew my mind. But when I wanted to make a special dinner for Sam recently, I decided to go for something simpler, using two of my favorite flavor partners with lamb: pomegranate and rosemary.

This is the kind of dish that takes practically forever to cook, but almost all the time is hands-off. I stuck the lamb in the oven for a few hours while I was working, and it perfumed my little dining room office most distractingly. You could turn up the oven temperature and braise for less time, but I love meat cooked like this, as slowly and gently as possible. You can reduce the braising liquid right down to a sticky glaze, if you want; I left mine a bit saucier, the better for spooning over couscous. Not only was the meat exactly how I love it–tender, plump, nearly falling apart–but the sauce itself was phenomenal, sweet and sour and slightly resiny from the rosemary. This one is a keeper.

pomegranate braised lamb shanks

Continue reading

3 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

Smoky three-bean chili

I’m normally pretty bad at resisting the lure of processed food. (I’m currently typing this blog post with one hand and eating honey mustard pretzels with the other.) But there is one consistent exception. One of my favorite food websites, The Kitchn, recently ran a blog post titled “How My Freezer Replaces Canned Soups.” I read it and found myself nodding vigorously the whole time. I may be pretty lazy most days, but I’ve pretty much stopped trying to convince myself that a can of soup is a satisfying dinner. It’s freezer soup all the way these days.

I’ve written about this before–how I love stocking my freezer with the building blocks of meals. It’s a habit I got into when I was living alone, working long days and commuting over an hour each way. At any given point, my freezer usually has some homemade chicken or turkey stock; a couple different kinds of soup, stew, or curry; and a double batch of tomato sauce. (Lately I’ve been adding little containers of sweet potato filling to my stash as well.) If I remember, I’ll take a portion out of the freezer the night before I want to eat it and let it partially thaw in the fridge; if I forget, I’ll run hot tap water over the frozen container just until the contents release from the sides. It takes nearly as little time to reheat frozen soup as canned, and it’s just as quick to eat.

This is the point at which my boyfriend would accuse me of being philosophically opposed to canned soup, and claim that I’m judging him when he chooses to eat it. That’s really not it at all, though; if it works for Sam as a quick and filling meal, then I’ll happily keep cans of his favorite soups in the house. But for me, canned soup no longer really registers as food. When I eat a can of soup for dinner, I’m never really full afterward; my body doesn’t seem to register it as a meal, and I find myself hungry again in less than an hour. It’s just so much more filling and satisfying to eat something I made myself and tailored to my own tastes.

This chili is a great example. I’ve had bean chili out of a can more times than I can count, and most of the time it’s perfectly okay. But to have my very own three-bean chili squirreled away means I’ll actually enjoy the meal when I heat it up. This is a chili made to my specifications: smoky and brick-red, studded with chunks of sweet potato and shot through with enough heat to make my nose run. I froze some leftover cornbread alongside, so that I could have a wedge of something crumbly to stick in my bowl. I also love adding some big chunks of avocado and a scattering of scallions on top, for buttery smoothness and oniony crunch. But even without the extra toppings–even just scraped out of a freezer container and microwaved–this chili is miles away from the stuff in the can.

smoky three-bean chili

Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized