Sunday, November 27, 2011

American Pie Crust - A quirky, but succesful, method from King Arthur Flour

American Pie.  The pie crust is the key, isn't it?  It is to pie lovers, like my husband.  My son, too.  A pie crust has to be tender and flaky.  Am I right?  The debate goes on as to which is better-- an all butter crust vs. using shortening.  In my beginning baking years, I used to buy Mrs. Smith's frozen pies.  I was too intimidated to try making pie crust, from scratch.  Then, I transitioned to buying ready made pie crusts.  Eventually, I started to make pie crusts with my food processor.  I'd whir the dough around for an eternity, not realizing that I was doing a fabulous job of building up the gluten.  My pie crusts were tough, but at that time I didn't really notice. That's because  I don't eat the crust.  I'm one of those pie eaters, who scoops out the contents of the pie and tosses away the rest.

I married a man who loves pie. He loves pie crust. A lot. Seriously. He could eat pie for breakfast, and be totally content.  His favorite summer pie is "Olallieberry Pie".  I shared this all butter pie crust (from Ina Garten) as a tutorial (and it's gotten a lot of views).

In the Fall, I believe that Pumpkin Pie is one of the most traditional desserts that graces a Thanksgiving table.  Pecan comes in as a close second. Some years, I like to try new pumpkin desserts-- like Pumpkin Ice Cream, or Pumpkin Pana Cota.  This year, I wanted to make traditional pumpkin pie.  I wanted to try the shortening and butter approach of making a pie crust.  One of my most trusted internet  recipes sources, King Arthur Flour, had several pie crust recipes.  I watched their video, and I was totally sold on making a pie crust without a food processor!     There are four kitchen tools/supplies that you need, for this technique--  a rolling pin, parchment paper, a pastry cutter (you could use two forks)  and and a spray bottle. For those of you who say you hate to bake-- and worse, that believe you can't make pie crusts...  watch and see.

I've own a pie crust shield for years, to prevent my pie crusts from turning too dark.  The problem is, it ruins my pie crusts because I tend to use a deep-dish pie plate.  I now prefer to roll foil to fit my pie plate.  Spray the pie plate, so that the pie slices are easier to remove. You're welcome.

Measure your 3 cups of unbleached flour (of course, I only use King Arthur Flour), salt  and 1/2 cup shortening (a printable recipe card is at the end of this post).  Cut the shortening in until it's the size of small peas.   I have to admit, it wasn't hard work at all.

I usually grate my cold cheese. But, like the recipe instructed me to, I cut the butter into thin slices and added it to the coarse flour and shortening.  Very gently, with my hands, I mixed the butter with the flour. Then broke the butter to about the size of my thumbnail.

 Ice water is important-- not cold tap water.  The recipe said between 6-9 Tablespoons of water.  I quit at 9 Tablespoons, while stirring it with a fork.  I wasn't quite sure when to quit-- as the recipe said to quite when the dough is "shaggy" and "almost moist".  So, remember that parchment paper and spray bottle I mentioned?  Here's the quirky part:

Spread the shaggy dough on top of parchment paper.  Take one side of the parchment paper and fold it over the dough and press down. 

See? The dough is a bit dry, still (I should have added one or two more Tablespoons of water.)

Now spray with water, until the dough is moistened.  The theory-- which makes complete sense to me, now-- is that we are not going to overwork the dough.  We also want to allow those pieces of butter to stay whole.  I press the dough, almost like a letter, to build layers.   Finally, it all came together.

 I cut the dough into unequal halves. Why? Because one pie plate is deeper and larger than the other!

I'm holding a cross section.  Those will become tender layers of flavor. I totally have faith in that.

Gently pat the dough into a circle, wrap in plastic, refrigerate,  and allow to rest for at least 30 minutes.  You can certainly make the pie crust dough several days in advance.

 Rolling pins... I have finally fallen in-love with my tapered rolling pin.  As long as I run a little flour over the rolling pin, I don't have a problem with the pie dough sticking.

I finally mastered the simple art of rolling pie dough.  Start from the center and roll out.  I no longer roll back and forth, and now my pie crusts don't stick and they aren't tough, from being overworked. One last tip-- turn the dough a quarter turn.  If the dough sticks, then add a little flour underneath.  All my broken pie crust problems have been solved!

Can you see that nice chunk of butter in the right corner?  It's simple science-- the butter causes the crust to steam = tender and delicious crust.   I find that wrapping my pin around the dough, and then unwrapping it onto my pie plate works perfectly-- every time.

My crust was a little unevenly shaped. I simply took some excess trimmings, and added it underneath the area that needed more.  Crimping will hide that patch job.

It's fun to play with my food.

Here's a more traditional crimp.

Here's how I did it, from an earlier post for a two-crust pie.

For my second pie, I snipped the dough with kitchen shears...

That's kind of fun-- a checkerboard crust.

FINAL NOTES: The prepared pie crusts should be chilled for at least 30 minutes before using. Yes, you can freeze these as well, and use them another time-- like the day after. 

I simply don't see a need to buy pre-made pie crusts.  Have you read the ingredients lately?  I actually find pie crusts on the therapeutic side to make.  There's something really satisfying when I roll out a pie crust and crimp it.  It feels like a true accomplishment.  Of course, the question is-- is this a good recipe?

VERDICT:  This dough is very easy to work with, and rolls out beautifully.  I found the pie crust to be truly tender.  My husband really liked the pie crust a lot.  He says it's just like his mom's old-fashioned pie crust. I still am a big fan of all-butter crusts, and I'm a tart kinda gal.  I gave my husband the crust, and gutted the pumpkin pie.  Considering I had some rather generous helpings of my revised sweet potato casserole (coming up soon), that was probably a better idea.

Here's a sneak preview to the pumpkin pie recipe, that was new to me.  It was excellent.  Yes, I will be sharing that one, too.

I was hoping to embed the King Arthur Video on this post, but I'm a little leery about playing around with HTML codes within my template.  So, instead, here's the link to see this really cool pie crust technique.

A printable recipe card is at the end of this post, and at the end of the video.

I keep saying-- King Arthur Flour doesn't pay me to promote their products, website or recipes.  I do it, because I'm a very happy customer, and I have great results with their recipes.  Plus, they're nice people to deal with on the phone.

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Saturday, November 26, 2011

From one Holiday to the next-- Christmas Stollen, Made Easy (Redux)

Black Friday was spent at home, with the aroma of turkey stock simmering on the stove.  We ate pumpkin pie for breakfast, with fresh coffee.  For lunch, we polished off the last of the smoked salmon, red onion, capers and horseradish sauce that my brother made (I need to make that sauce again-- it was divine).

The bonus of making turkey stock from roasted turkey is that it  makes a richer tasting stock-- in my opinion. Plus, I feel as though none of the "bird" was wasted.  I didn't photograph the process, but if you'd like to see how I make soup using my pasta pot, please click here. I made four quarts of Turkey Rice Soup and reserved two quarts of turkey stock for future meals. Our turkey carcass yielded a lot of leftover meat, so the soup is hearty.   It's already frozen for those work nights when I'm just too tired to cook. Amen.

Thanksgiving Dinner, no matter how many people you cook for, is a lot of hard work.  My husband was a blessing, as he washed and dried pots and pans (while muttering to himself, "didn't I just wash these?) While I'm on the subject of hard work--  the Make Ahead Gravy and Make Ahead Mashed Potatoes sure made life a whole lot easier!

Here's what happened to my gravy, once I added the turkey drippings on Thanksgiving Day...

I ended up with  two quarts of gravy, which is a good thing.  Personally, I don't eat gravy very often.  On Thanksgiving, I can't imagine not being able to pour it all over my potatoes and turkey.

As for the turkey-- I actually had my butcher "deconstruct it" and I seared it on the stove top-- then finished roasting it in the oven.  It took less than two hours for my bird to to beautifully browned, moist and flavorful (future post coming up soon).

I made a sweet potato casserole, but adapted it in a new way.  I think that was the star of the show. I'll be sharing that one, too.

I'm been reading editorials on how frustrated many people feel about the commercialism of Christmas.  I share that, too.  Christmas is a very special time of year for me, but mine is based on my faith in Christ.  I don't begrudge those who wish to celebrate it as they wish, but I choose not to focus on buying gifts and spending more money than our budget allows.  Instead, I focus on making gifts that are appreciated by my loved ones, because I enjoy making them with love.   I enjoy seeing my fireplace decorated with garland, and our Christmas tree with the ornaments I've collected over the decades.  As I place each unique ornament on our tree, I can still identify who gave it to me, or where I was when I bought it.

Despite my son being a working and low maintenance young man (and a son I adore), it seems I don't have enough hours in the week to create the beautiful Christmas cookies, crafts and gifts that I see on my addiction to Pinterest.  How I wish I had the time and talent to make the beautiful ideas I've saved!  This year, I'm hoping to accomplish my goal of making edible gifts to give to my coworkers and friends.  This Christmas Stollen is one of them.  This version comes from King Arthur Flour, and I will be baking these as gifts.  Unlike a traditional Stollen recipe, this one doesn't involve yeast.  I love to work with yeast, but I have to say that it's wasn't missed when I made these last Christmas.  I think of these as German Biscotti.

This weekend, I will be working on editing photos from at least a half dozen recipes that I've made over the last couple of weeks.  I wish I had the time to share them on a daily basis, but I'm still a decade away from retirement!  My three year blog anniversary is coming up--  and I still love my creative outlet and hobby as much as I enjoy visiting other food blogs.  Y'all are so inspirational to me!

To read this post, and see a step-by-step tutorial, please click here.  A printable recipe card, for the Stollen is at the bottom of this post.

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Monday, November 21, 2011

How to make Perfect "Make Ahead Turkey Gravy"

Here I am. T-minus 3 days until the family comes over for dinner. All three of them.  Sometimes I wish an Italian family would invite me over for dinner.  I'd bring a side dish and dessert.  I'd love the noise and to experience having 20 plus people for a holiday dinner.  So, where was I? As for me, I only need five place settings.  Of course, that means lots of leftovers. That equates to no cooking for me, for a day...or two.   For years, as soon as the turkey came out of the oven, I'd jump into making the gravy. It's a crazy time to do this, because all the other dishes are coming out of the oven, from the stove, and my guests are hungry.  Finally, I read an article in a magazine about Make Ahead Gravy.  Brilliant! I've been doing this for four years, and it's such a blessing. Trust me.

One of my dear coworkers lamented that she can't make gravy to save her life.  I wonder why? Gravy is one of the easiest things to make.  You just have to follow a few basic rules.  For one, it's that "brown stuff" that sticks to the bottom of the roasting pan that has gives gravy such great flavor. In culinary terms, it's called fond.  To me, it's gold.  Next, you want a rich and flavorful stock, and fond is what makes it happen. Water doesn't cut it.  Last, but just as important, you need to know how to thicken the gravy.  This is where the lumpy gravy fear factor comes in.   Oh, I've made plenty of lumpy gravy over the thirty plus Thanksgiving Dinner's I've made.   'Nuff said.   Let's make turkey gravy:

First, we're going to make the turkey stock.  I bought six turkey wings for less than $8.00.  Place them in a roasting pan (or a Dutch Oven).  Add a couple of onions, cut into chunks, four cloves of smashed garlic and a few sticks of celery.  (You don't have to bother peeling the onions or garlic. ) 

Roast the turkey wings in a 375F oven for about 2 hours. 

It smells like Thanksgiving, already.

Add about 8 cups of water.
...add a couple of Bay Leaves.

I like adding peppercorns to my stock.

I love this mesh tea ball.  Cheese cloth works fine.  It just makes removing the peppercorns easier.

Bring to a boil...

...then simmer for at least an hour.

 Remove the turkey wings and chunks of vegetables.  My husband saves the turkey meat for our kitty. Isn't he sweet?

Strain the turkey stock, and refrigerate overnight (or at least for several hours.)  If you really think about it, I just taught you how to make your own chicken or turkey stock.  Rather than adding raw chicken, I always roast my meat first.  I think it gives the stock a richer color and deeper flavor.  So, it's time to make gravy!

TRUE STORY:  Four Thanksgivings ago, I strained my turkey stock right into the sink.  I shrieked, the moment I dumped it in.  I was thinking "pasta".  I wanted to cry.  Lesson learned: always have that pot ready underneath the strainer. 

There wasn't a lot of fat, which was a nice surprise. I used a large spoon to skim off the thin layer of fat.

This is the secret to silky and lump-free gravy, folks.  First, have your tools ready. You need a whisk. Don't have one? Buy one!  We're going to make a "roux", which is equal parts butter and equal parts milk.  I use whole milk.  Non-fat and low-fat is a no-no.  I mean, really? It's gravy, people.  It's a holiday, so enjoy and work out later.  Yes, there's cognac in this shot.  I wanted to make a batch of gravy with cognac in it, and another batch with a splash of apple cider vinegar.   Measure out the flour and milk (6 Tablespoons flour, 6 Tablespoons unsalted butter) and 1/2 cup whole milk.  Have the stock nearby, and start melting the butter.  Get your whisk ready.  Thank you to my husband, who took these "action" photos so I could make this gravy with both of my hands.

NOTE/ADDENDUM: Thanksgiving 2013 - This year, I did something a little differently, and it worked out really well.  I set the roasting pan on top of the stove, and used a little white wine  (oh, say 1/4 cup-- big "splash") and some water to "deglaze" the pan (I centered it over two gas burners on high).  I scraped all those brown flavor bits.  I, then, strained this into a large pot.  From there, I whisked together milk and flour, until very smooth.  Once I began I began adding the "slurry", it began to thicken and I added my turkey stock into it.  I did not need to use butter!  TASTING NOTES: Loved the white wine addition, and I got almost 7 cups of gravy.

I used a non-stick large pot, to melt the butter on medium-high (please see above note).  While whisking, I began to add the flour-- don't dump it all at once. Just start pouring it in, while whisking.  Yes, the theme is to WHISK the whole time. Don't stop!  We're cooking that raw taste out of the flour.

Whisk, whisk, whisk... no lumps.  Now, start adding the stock it.  How much?  Go easy.  I add it one cup increments, and whisk, whisk, whisk. Keep the gravy just below boiling, and you can tell when it's thick.  Leave room for milk...

I added one Tablespoon of Cognac to the first batch. The second batch I added 2 teaspoons of Apple Cider Vinegar.  Now, add the whole milk and keep whisking. NOTE: A reader recently reminded me that adding white wine to the gravy turned out to be delicious.  That's right! I did that a few years ago, and will do that again.

TIP:  So, you realize you added too much liquid and the gravy is too thin.  Don't panic.  Just don't fall apart and add flour straight into the thin gravy, or the lumps will come.  I am speaking from experience, here. It's not pretty.  Instead, you can mix about 1 Tablespoon of corn starch and whisk a little water into it, till it's lump free.  Now, very slooooooooooowly, add the cornstarch and whisk while the gravy bubbles.  Cornstarch works very fast, so go easy.  If it's still not thick enough, then add some more.   Oh. If you have Wondra instant flour, then you can carefully add that to gravy to thicken, but whisk like crazy.   In the end, if there are still lumps, just strain the gravy through a fine mesh sieve.

You have to season the gravy.  I use only coarse salt-- never table salt.  I add salt in 1/4 teaspoon increments. Add. Taste. Add a pinch more. Taste. Are you double dipping the spoon? Tsk, tsk.  I always use a handful of spoons. See? It's safe to eat my food. (Just ask my family what kind of germophobe I am. Ha!)  Pepper is optional. I like adding it to my gravy.  Leave it out, if you don't.  So, there you have it, ladies and gentleman.  Thick gravy, no lumps.  NOTE:  I make a habit of straining my finished gravy, through a fine mesh sieve. You'd be amazed at how many lumps of flour are left behind. You will perfect gravy. Tastes good, too.  I have two quarts of gravy and almost a quart of leftover turkey stock.

VERDICT:  I asked my husband to taste each batch of gravy and choose his favorite. He liked the one with apple cider vinegar more than the one with brandy.  I have to agree.  The brandy was a good idea, but I was surprised that I liked the cider vinegar best. It's very subtle, but kicks up the flavor just a bit more.  I thank the food blog "Noble Pig" for inspiring me with this ingredient that I would never have thought of.

So, the day has arrived to roast the turkey.

You can either placed the chilled (or frozen and thawed) gravy into a crockpot or on the stovetop on medium-low. Simply strain the drippings...

...and whisk in the strained turkey drippings.

The gravy stays nice and hot in a crockpot. Or, simply leave it on low on the stovetop.  You will love not having to fret about making gravy, while you're scrambling to get the rest of the dinner out to your guests.

The additional turkey drippings gives an even richer color and flavor to the gravy.

Now, that's what I'm talking about!

FINAL TIPS:  Leave extra stock.  When reheating gravy, you can use it to thin out the gravy if it's turned into concrete.   You can freeze the gravy for weeks to come...or refrigerate it for a few days. UPDATE: I did notice that if you freeze the gravy, it will take on a "grainy" texture when reheated. I fixed it by making a fresh batch of gravy and blending it in. It makes for more work, but adds even more flavor and volume to the gravy.

I'm telling you. Gravy is easy to make.  Who needs packets? Really?  That canned stuff?  The ingredients scare me.  C'mon, you can do it!  If you do, and it works, I'd love to hear from you.

It's bedtime, folks.  I'm cooking and blogging in real time. My Make Ahead Mashed Potatoes are all set to go.  All I have left to make, tomorrow, are pie crusts and my cornbread stuffing (I baked the cornbread, from scratch, last night).  I made my cranberry-orange relish two months ago, and canned them. Wednesday, I bake my sweet potatoes for my casserole and I think Thanksgiving Day will be a lot let stressful than it's ever been.  For once, I want to be enjoying time with my family in my own living room.
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If you still can't view the recipe card, all of my recipes are stored on Key Ingredient, by clicking here.

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