Wednesday, September 28, 2011

It's Pie People - Have Some Respect - (the crust)

This is going to be a very serious post. I am delving in to the realm of pastry and in my kitchen nothing deserves more reverence than pie.

Pastry is science married with technique and a whole lot of love. There are rules! Now forget I just said all that because I don't do pie by the book, I have my own.

I've been making pie for a very long time, studying, perfecting, taste testing and polling family in a pie dissection style questionnaire. A questionnaire that can be broken down into 3 distinct sections. Crust, filling and over all happiness level. I've asked the questions so many times I don't even need to anymore, answers are offered up in sequence without request now, by my family.

I first tried to write this post by covering all 3 sections, however It seems that each is deserving of it's own entry. By Saturday you should have all the instructions you need to make a pie!

Today is the crust.

The word crust strikes fear in the heart of many, sending people racing to the store for frozen pie shells or boxed crust mix. Use these and you have not made pie. Sorry, I told you pie is serious. If you are asked to bring dessert and are going to reach for a frozen crust, offer a fruit salad instead please.

The truth is that pie crust, if you follow the rules, is the easiest thing on the planet to make... but you have to follow the rules.

Pie Crust

Recipe and rules for a 9" 2 crust pie (please do not make this pastry in the food processor. There are pastries that can be made that way, this is not one of them.)

2 1/4 cups all purpose flour
1/2 tsp. salt
3/4 cup COLD lard - (lard is best but if you have issues with pork, choose shortening) cold is key - I put mine in the freezer for a couple of hours.
6-7 tablespoons of ice cold water - really put ice in the water - yes it has to be that cold

Stir together the flour and salt, add the chilled lard
and begin cutting the lard into the flour with a pastry blender
or a couple of knives.

use a pastry blender to chop the lard into teeny tiny little pieces.
You are not making a paste with flour and lard you are cutting lard
into tiny bits and each of those tiny bits becomes a flake when the
pastry hits the high heat of the oven. That is why everything must
stay cold. you don't want the lard to melt before it gets to the oven.
This mixture is ready for the next step
 when it resembles a bowl of soft bread crumbs

While you are busy creating all those flakes, drop a couple of ice cubes
 in to a measuring cup of cold water and let it chill.

Switch to a fork.
Stir the flour and lard while you add the water
a little bit at a time. Start with the smallest amount of water
 but know that you need to add water very slowly until
you have a dough that comes together without being sticky.
The amount of water you need really depends on your flour.
Don't stop at 7 tablespoons if you need 8 or 9.
(if you get up to 12 or 13 you have probably gone too far)

Flour holds moisture
 and the amount of moisture it will take up can change from one day to the next.
What works today might be too much tomorrow.
The rule for water is start small and add what you need
Once you have a dough mixed that holds together without being raggy or too sticky, gently and quickly (you don't want the heat from your hands to melt the lard) press it together into 2 equal portions and let it rest!
Wrap the pieces and put them into the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes.

After 30 minutes of relaxing in the fridge the dough will be easy to roll.
lightly dust your countertop with flour and the rolling pin as well.
Place one unwrapped portion of dough on the counter
and begin with some gentle pressure to get the rolling started.
give the dough a 1/4 turn every couple of strokes,
this ensures the dough is not sticking to the countertop,
keeps the thickness even and the shape round.
Add a sprinkle of flour now and again if the dough begins to stick.

Rule for rolling...Roll don't push.
smooth gentle stokes in one direction only from the center out to the edge

When you have the crust rolled to a thickness of cardboard and large enough to accomodate the pie plate, gently drape the dough over the roling pin and move it to the plate. Lift the dough into place fitting the pie plate snuggly.

Rule...lift don't stetch. Stretched dough shrinks  in the oven

The pie we are going to make is apple so I always coat the bottom of the crust with marmalade to keep the filling from making the crust soggy.

Once we add the filling to the pie plate we are going to repeat the rolling process with the second piece of dough to form the top crust. Roll the dough and lay it over the filling. It helps the two crusts to stick together if you dampen the egde of the bottom crust first; a good seal here keeps the filling from leaking out of the seam.

trim the excess crust off and flute the edge of the pie (flute is just a fancy word meaning make it look nice. Really you can pinch it, crimp it or press it with a fork. It doesn't matter just make it look good and do it quickly so that the heat from your hands doesn't melt the lard)

Cut a few slits in the top for the steam to escape from the filling when the pie is baking.

That's it! crust is easy!

  • keep things cold
  • cut the lard don't mash it
  • start with a little water and add what you need
  • let it rest
  • roll don't push
  • lift don't stretch
  • if you have to handle the dough with your hands - do it quickly
  • have fun don't stress (it's pie crust not your kid's third grade science fair project - it's okay to fail and try agian)
Practice pie crust, essentially it is pennies worth of flour and fat mixed with water. Mess it up a hundred times, it cost you about 25 cents a try!

The next post will be the recipe for filling. You guessed it APPLE! (you might want to hit the orchard - just saying)

Eat well, Live well, Laugh often


Monday, September 26, 2011

Savour Stratford - A Culinary Celebration

There has always been a portion of society in Ontario that has appreciated the bounty of locally produced food. Sure, in the very beginning, it was largely a group of farmers trading the fruits of their labour. Then a time when local food producers became the secret sourcing of culinary professionals, like an insider trading secret, chefs knew they could prepare ingredients with a backstory. The home chef and foodie had the same privilege if they marketed on Saturday mornings when local farmers brought their offerings to the public.

With the dedication of farmers eager to share their passion and increase their profits and with the help of local food enthusiasts excited by the ability to source food in the same manner as exceptional culinary minds, the local grocery scene has enjoyed a fabulous insurgence of interest. Today the number of people reaching for locally produced food and venturing right to the source is unprecedented.

Enter the next phase of this Locavoire movement...the celebration of local food and culinary tourism! (Arms up high and a big hooray! from foodies everywhere!) We spent Saturday celebrating and supporting one of the greatest examples of locavore celebration in Ontario...Savour Stratford!

In it's fourth year the organizers of Savour Stratford have done a remarkable job of presenting an event that sets the mouths of culinary types, foodies and people who eat, in watering mode. We were there to work but arrived early to scope out the festival space, eye up the market vendors, sample some wares. (fyi... Lindsay's butter tarts - just saying) I was impressed with the involvement of the already fabulous culinary merchant contingent of Stratford. The culinary school as well, had a marked involvement, with students partnering with local charities to cuisine up their BBQ offerings. Programing was extensive with fabulous events in the kids tent revolving around ice cream, pizza and living salads. There were great demonstrations from local authors and chefs. Attendees were treated to butchering workshops, lessons in knife skills, foraging basics, cooking demonstrations and much more. Tasting events were held in the realms of food, wine, beer and local spirits. Local musical talent entertained and BBQ champions where smoking. The scents were a sensory overload and I found my tummy rumbling at my post through much of the day.

My handsome partner for the day
(Thanks hunny you handled your
voluntold duties with style!)
We were scheduled as entrance greeters and we had a wonderful time welcoming people to the festival, talking about what there was to see, do and taste. I was excited to direct people to the events where they could see the likes of Celebrity Chef; Chuck Hughes and Top Chef Canada finalist; Connie De Sousa (I have to admit, Michael had to pull me back to post a few times, I really just wanted to follow patrons to those destinations!)  It was wonderful to bid those same folks farewell as they departed the festival, arms laden with honey, pies, vegetables, butcher wrapped meats ans artisan cheeses. Of course their faces where glowing, with that a look of soul satisfaction that glazes over a foodie when they have spent a day immersed in food/locavore culture.

Those smiles confirmed that Savour Stratford is a culinary event success story! The organizers have done a great job of securing fabulous talent, the market vendors are incredible and the support of local business and the city is quite evident and impressive. Clearly this is a festival with a future, given the support behind the event and the enjoyment of the festival goers.

As for volunteering at the festival, while I rather enjoyed the atmosphere, the act of volunteering itself was not without frustration. It pains me to say that, because the rest of the festival was much like a swan above the water; sleek, majestic and unruffled. There was clearly a shortfall of volunteers, and volunteer management. Like garbage cans, recycling bins and wheelchair parking, there could have been more. There were a few times as well that we tripped over the sheer quantity of events and activities paired with missing or unclear festival information. This was a frustration to many a patron as well, but we deciphered things together and I must apologize to anyone I set in the wrong direction (I hope you bumped into something delicious along the way.) Great events do rely on an army of solid well managed volunteers and I am sure that there will be a focus on amassing and managing the Savour Stratford army before next years event, which if this year indicates, will be bigger and juicier.

All in all, Savour Stratford was a wonderful event for festival goers, a treat for food enthusiasts a bit of a bumpy ride for volunteers. I suspect that like fine wine or a great whiskey this is one festival that will only get better with age. I am looking forward to next year already!

In the heart of Ontario is a culinary gem...Stratford, put it on your destination list!

Eat well, Live well, Laugh often


Monday, September 19, 2011

An Apple a Day...I've Got A Lot of Catching Up To Do!

Confession: I hate apples.

Actually that statement is not entirely accurate. I do hate apples, but only from December through August. From September through November they are my favourite food in the entire world! For those short 3 months of harvest season, apples are my main source of sustenance and my muse.

My  kitchen will morph into an old fashion farmhouse harvest kitchen producing; apple pie, applesauce, apple muffins, apple crumble, apple baked pork, apple salad, baked apples, apple stuffing, apples tortes, apple pancakes and apples eaten out of hand. (have I forgotten something? strudel, dumplings, danish, coffee cake...)

It all begins with a trip to the orchard! We are surrounded by orchards in our part of Southwestern Ontario. There are orchards in town and minutes from my door step but I travel a few minutes further away to the lovely Orchard Home Farm in St. George, between Cambridge and Brantford.

Orchard Home Farm has an amazing array of apples in a well mapped orchard, on low pruned trees, perfect for little hands to harvest. Picking apples is a family adventure after all!

When we arrived for our first picking visit this year we were greeted in the usual manner by smiling faces, a hand full of apple bags, and a handy map of the orchard, freshly highlighted by our greeter to guide us to our varieties of choice.

The picking plan for this visit....

Courtlands and Spartans for baking and cooking
Galas for snacking

Driving past that first row of orchard trees is like crossing the veil. In the orchard there exists only nature and sweet scents, dappled sunshine and fresh crisp air. I would like to be able to say that in the orchard there are only warm fuzzy feelings too, but it's an apple orchard not Willy Wonka's Chocolate Factory. The bickering and whining of teenagers never really goes away, it just gets muted by apple munching.

Oh Ya! Who got the biggest apple? Oh Ya! That's, not you ME!

A couple or three dozen tries to get this shot!

Picking apples is fashionable.

You need more hands young lady!
5 sets of hands and large apples makes short work of picking and we always have more apples than will comfortably fill each bag. That statement is not entirely accurate either, I don't really pick apples, I eat apples and supervise the picking. I do contribute the occasional beauty, but for the most part, it's all my non-paid labour and I can comfortably handle all of those apples that won't fit in the bags!

Precious cargo!
Driving out of the groves of trees with our bounty, towards the weigh and pay station and farm stand, we are greeted by a sign. I laugh every year.... "Declare all hidden fruit, unpaid fruit is theft" I always wonder who would steal apples? Then I get hit with a wave of guilt, as I mentally calculate the volume of apples hiding in my stomach. I know the farm expects that you are probably going to sample - who could resist? I'm not sure though that they expect you will sample every variety. I offer to pay an extra pound to ease my guilt and the girl weighing our apples chuckles.

Apples this year are a good price averaging $1.25/lb. This trip netted our first 30lbs of apples (plus the 10lbs. gifted 2 weeks ago by my parents, we only have 50lbs left to go!) Our next trip will be for Empire apples almost exclusively.

Tips for apple picking...

  • want apples for a specific purpose? Ask the farmer and helpers - these are their apples, they know which ones are best for pies and eating.
  • If you have a concern for bees visit the orchard on a cool day
  • Pick apples gently, be kind to the tree -twist and lift don't pull. This keeps the tree healthy for next year's crop.
  • Treat apples like eggs, even though fresh picked apples appear very firm they bruise just like 1 year old grocery store apples.
  • Take a pen to mark the bags. I promise that you will not tell varieties apart once you have 3 different ones loaded into your trunk.
  • Respect the orchard. No climbing, swinging, hanging on trees. Farmers work hard, say thank-you by respecting their space (apple fights too are highly frowned upon)
  • Drive slowly, children are hiding among the trees.
Now, on to what to do with all these apples once you get them home! There will be much apple inspired posting over the coming weeks so I'm leaving only one recipe today. Applesauce! It is always what I make first because it is so easy, and instantly fills the house with the aroma of baking apples.

Canned Applesauce
Applesauce -
a recipe doesn't get any easier than this...

  • Peel, core and cut about 20 apples into large chunks.
  • Place apples into a large crockpot.
  • sprinkle with cinnamon.
  • turn crockpot to low heat setting, place lid and walk away.
  • stir the apples occasionally, they will soften and cook down into sauce all on their own, no mashing or mushing required.

The finished sauce can be refrigerated, frozen or packed in canning jars to be enjoyed for months to come.


Eat well, Live well, Laugh often


Sunday, September 11, 2011

Change of Season in the Kitchen

If I had to pick my favourite season it would be Autumn. I love the near perfect temperatures, the scent in the air and the glow cast over the world by changing leaves and early sunsets. Autumn is like the conversation over coffee and tea at the end of a family meal, when everyone is full and content and relaxed. When chairs are pushed out from the table a bit, the indulgers loosen their belts and the kids listen like stone statues to adult tales. Suddenly you are not banging elbows with Uncle Sid the family lefty, the mood is light and unhurried and at the perfect moment someone hands you a slice of pie.

That is Autumn, and it has arrived!

The air changed dramatically with the return of kids to school and I felt that first tingle of culinary excitement. Autumn after all would not have near the allure if it were not also my favourite cooking season! To Celebrate my family has enjoyed a fall tasting menu of sorts over the course of this week.


Apple Crisp - the perfect do-able recipe for 9 year olds
and a fabulous way to enjoy  first of harvest apples.
A bag of orchard apples landed on my porch this week, courtesy of my parents. They are definitely early Macs a little too tart for my taste but fabulous for what Ethan and his friend whipped up in the kitchen yesterday....Apple Crisp! I swear to you that if you have trouble getting your boys into the kitchen give them a job filled with gadgets and a recipe they can make without you hovering. Apple Crisp is perfect, it doesn't have to look a certain way, there is no real technique and there are peelers, apple slicers and pastry cutters. Best of all, dessert with little to no cleanup! ____________________________________________________________________________

Starting the chop for a pot full of memories
I remember my Grandfather filling the root cellar in Autumn. I could spend hours down there playing among the earthy smells of potatoes covered in burlap, bushels of onions, carrots, parsnips, beets, turnips and squashes. Those root favours are like a blanket for your heart. This week when the temperatures dipped to acceptable comfort food level I put on a HotPot. There is no real recipe to follow, this dish is cooked to taste like my childhood. I open the fridge and the pantry, gather the comfort flavours I have on hand, wash, chop, saute, adding each vegetable in it's own time to allow its flavour to shine. Sometimes I add some browned meat for added richness, season with salt & pepper and whatever fresh herbs are over growing their containers. I add water or stock just to cover. The whole thing gets a lid and some time in the oven to braise into a sweet, earthy trip down memory lane.

A Pot of Heaven ready for the oven.

The potatoes and the gadget
come together for the perfect side dish
Dish number three from my fall kitchen menu this week.... mashed potatoes. Nothing fancy just plain old 'like Grandma used to make them" mashed potatoes. Well almost the way Grandma used to make them, I have added a gadget variation. Grandma used to use a potato masher, that squiggly bent wire with a handle. She made really good mashed potatoes with that masher. I use a potato ricer, that contraption you see in the cookware store that looks like a giant garlic press, and I make exceptional mashed potatoes! Sorry Gran, but it is the next generations job to take the knowledge of the past and improve upon it with the tools of the future. A potato ricer makes the lightest, fluffiest, smoothest mashed potatoes imaginable. Take that pot of hot drained potatoes, let them dry for a minute or too suspended over the residual heat from the pot. Place them into the ricer and press away! To the riced potatoes add a generous amount of warmed milk (and a splash of cream for special occasions) salt pepper, and butter. Stir and eat! I am learning that there is a universal way that children 'prepare' mashed potatoes on their plate; the swimming pool method of creating a well to fill with butter and/or gravy. Somethings you never have to teach kids.

Simple mashed potatoes
(almost like Grandma used to make)

I have teased my stove and my tastebuds with an Amuse Bouche of fall this week, bring on the main! Our palettes are primed!
"Harvest is the time when you gather your friends, warm up your kitchen and create memories."

Eat well, Live well, Laugh often


Join the conversation...Restore Family Nutrition

Monday, September 5, 2011

Cooking Up Some Lunch Box Love

School goes back tomorrow! (mom laughs, dances, says a silent prayer of gratitude)

Back to School means back to packing school lunches. I spent the morning baking a freezing lunchbox treats.

A few hours on the weekend will net you a couple of weeks of goodness. I make muffins for quick morning grab and go nutrition and cookies for the lunchbox. I try to get some nutrition into those cookies too, but I don't worry too much because a cookie baked at home is already significantly better for a body than anything you can buy at the grocery store. This morning I whipped up some Sunshine Muffins and Banana Flaxseed Muffins. For cookies I made a big batch of Old Fashioned Chocolate Chip and some more healthful Granola Cookies. These are lunch box treats, meant to replace those processed packaged things, don't forget the fruits, vegetable and healthy sandwiches!

Have fun with the recipes that follow. Keep these treats on hand in the freezer and plunk them into lunches frozen. Breads thaw relatively quickly and the extra chill will help keep other lunchbox items cool and crisp.

Sunshine Muffins

1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup graham flour
3/4 cup sugar
2 tsp. cinnamon
2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
3 eggs lightly beaten
3/4 cup vegetable oil
2 cups grated carrot
1/2 cup crushed pineapple (not drained)
1/2 cup raisins
1/2 cup unsweetened coconut

Begin by mixing the raisins with the pineapple to help them plump up. Set aside while preparing the rest of the batter.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees

  • In a bowl mix together flours, sugar, baking soda, Cinnamon and salt
  • In a separate bowl beat together the eggs and oil.
  • Add dry ingredients and stir just until moistened (the batter will be very stiff almost like cookie dough - don't panic)
  • Fold in pineapple, raisins, carrot and coconut. (now the mixture will behave like a traditional muffin batter)

  • spoon the batter into paper lined muffin trays, filling each 3/4 full

  • bake 25-30 minutes, until the center springs back when touched.

  • cool completely before freezing

I'd like to share the Chocolate Chip Cookie recipe but I can't with a clear conscious. I haven't found a recipe I like better than the one that comes on the bag of chips. The only thing I do is make sure I use good vanilla and butter! No shortening. Baking tip: butter = soft....shortening = crisp

Banana Flaxseed Muffins

I keep bananas in the freezer. They thaw quickly, are automatically mashed and the flavour can't be beat for breads & muffins

1 3/4 cups all purpose flour
1/4 cup graham flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 cup butter softened
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 eggs lightly beaten
3 very ripe bananas mashed
zest of 1 lemon
the juice of 1/2 a lemon
1/3 cup milk
1/4 cup flax seeds

Preheat oven to 350 degrees
  • In a bowl stir together flours, baking soda and salt. set aside
  • Cream together butter and sugars
  • beat in eggs
  • add banana, lemon and zest
  • stir in 1/2 the flour mixture
  • add milk and the remaining 1/2 of flour mixture
  • mix just until combined
  • fill prepared muffin pans with batter 3/4 full
  • sprinkle with flax seeds 
  • bake for 25 minutes or until center springs back when touched

Granola Cookies

These cookies are soft and cake like with a little crunch. They remind me of oatmeal muffin tops

1/2 cup butter
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 1/2 cups of your favourite granola
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. allspice
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 cup raisins
1 cup unsweetened coconut
1/4 cup milk

Preheat oven to 350 degrees
  • Cream together butter and sugar
  • Add eggs and beat until fluffy
  • stir in granola
  • In a  separate bowl stir together flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, cinnamon and allspice.
  • Mix dry ingredients and milk into the granola mixture
  • Stir in raisins and coconut
  • drop by rounded teaspoons onto a parchment lined baking sheet.

bake for 10 -14 minutes depending on how large you have made your rounded teaspoons. The finished cookies should be lightly browned

Lunch Box Love ready for the freezer and on to lunches!
Eat well, Live well, Laugh often
Join the conversation...Restore Family Nutrition


Sunday, September 4, 2011

Staring Fear & Nonna in the Face

I have a confession. It's a deep dark secret actually that I am rather embarrassed to admit to. I love my kitchen and I am a confident cook, not a chef by any stretch of the imagination, but I have skills.

I have however, never cooked risotto. There, I said it!

I have mastered wedding cakes, candy, prime rib, crown roast, and homemade pasta. It seems silly that a pan of rice and some stock should make me cower...but it does.

I think I have a fear of the great un-Nonna. Maybe it's those cooking shows or some sixth sense but I have come to believe that beautiful, creamy, heart warming risotto is only achievable by a Nonna, or at least a very great chef channeling his Nonna from beyond the grave.

I am not a Nonna, I do not have a Nonna. I am not even Italian. I am a born and raised Canadian girl of German & Scottish decent who has no business in the kitchen trying to pull off a dish that only the loving hands of a aged Italian grandmother can create.

There is tremendous trepidation and a spicy hint of temptation. I am afraid. I understand the technique and the final product, but I don't believe. Countless tv chefs have stressed the reverence of preparing risotto, reference books explain the technique and the cues, they can not however, explain how to channel a non existent Nonna to bless your stirring hand and temper your stock metering hand. Yet I want to do it! I have had a box of quality arborio rice in the cupboard taunting me for months, I have the stock, the Parmesan, the peas, the mushrooms, I have the desire. I lack the heritage rights to pull it off.

Tonight I decided that it was time, or rather Mike did, with his umpteenth request for risotto. Today I marched into the kitchen opened the cupboard and stared fear and Nonna in the face. I slammed the box of risotto to the counter with authority "Let's DO this!"

I began warming my stock, I minced garlic and shallot, I heated olive oil in my non-stick pot risotto pan. Working 'sans-recipe' is a confidence bolster, it says "I know what I am doing and I don't need your advise." I began toasting my arborio in the pan with the oil, garlic and shallot. I broke at least 27 cardinal risotto rules I'm sure, but I was brave. On my cutting board waited grated Parmesan and a good pat of butter. I Ladled hot stock into my rice one addition at a time. I stirred, and stirred and stirred. I asked Mike to stir, fearful of breaking the risotto rule...."don't stop stirring!" Part way to finished I added chopped mushrooms, and I stirred and ladled more stock. Near the end I combined the warm peas, salt and pepper, tasting along the way to test the doneness of the rice and the seasoning required.

The kids came into the kitchen. "what you making Mom?" was the question.

"Risotto."  I answered, with an air of 'what does it look like' as I stirred with a confident posture. (inside I was crying with uncertainty)

Yes, I stopped stirring to take this picture
I finished the Risotto with the pat of butter and the Parmesan, tasting it one last time for seasoning. I spooned the finished results into a serving dish and sent it to the table. It looked good, it had a good creaminess, a good 'spread' upon plating. It tasted good.

It wasn't quite what I would expect to indulge in had it been made at the hands of a Nonna with a lifetime of experience but it was good. It could have used a few more minutes and I will have more warm stock at the ready next time to avoid augmenting with water from the tea kettle. With a lot more rice, a lot more practice and many many more meals of risotto, and a few runs through with a recipe, I just might concur my nemesis. Just as I concurred biscotti years ago. (in the world of biscotti I could take down a Nonna)

I might never be a Nonna, but I won't be afraid anymore either.

Kids, heads up if you get sick of risotto make plans to dine with friends on Tuesdays for the next few months, we're going to be having a lot of it!

My first ever attempt at my nemesis dish
Eat well, Live well, Laugh often