28 December 2010

The Legend of Zelda Link quilt

3 remarks

Why stop at Mario? There are so many other 8 bit Nintendo characters out there just waiting to be turned into a quilt!  Link, from The Legend of Zelda, is almost as iconic as Mario, and a perfect character to be made into a quilt.  I gave this quilt as a Christmas present, so I didn't do any progress posts in order to keep it a secret. 

These 8 bit character quilts are easy to design, though.  I just do a Google image search for the character I am looking for, then insert the picture into an Excel spreadsheet and color in the squares of the spreadsheet to match the pattern of the character.  From there it is simple to calculate the size of the squares to make the quilt as big or as little as you like. 

The Link quilt couldn't have turned out better, and I was delighted to give it as a gift.  Even though a small part of me wanted to keep it.  One can't have too many quilts, right??

25 December 2010

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Merry Christmas!

24 December 2010

Best of the season from R.E.M.

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R.E.M. is feeling quite generous this holiday season.  Pre-order "COLLAPSE INTO NOW" on iTunes and instantly download It Happened Today.  I figured since I am going to buy the album anyway, I might as well do the pre-order to get the new song.  R.E.M. also released a lyric video for the song, so you can hear it before you buy it.

Also available for your viewing pleasure is a trailer for "COLLAPSE INTO NOW" featuring some live in studio snippets of some of the new songs.  Lots of new and exciting news on the R.E.M. front!  What a nice way to get into the Christmas spirit.

18 December 2010

Discovering Discoverer

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It's been quite a week to be an R.E.M. fan. First, I received the fan club Christmas package which included a Christmas card, 2011 calendar, and a CD. The CD includes Mike Mills singing "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)," featuring Bill Berry on drums, and an instrumental mashup of three tracks off their next album, COLLAPSE INTO NOW, entitled “IHT>U>EDIYTW (Dubmix).” Based on the title, I assume the three songs are “It Happened Today,” “Uberlin” and “Every Day Is Yours to Win.” It was a wonderful early Christmas present indeed.

Little did I know, R.E.M. was just starting to spread the holiday cheer. On Wednesday, I was browsing through facebook and saw R.E.M. posted a link to download the first track of COLLAPSE INTO NOW. The song is called "Discoverer," and as soon as I got home, I downloaded it. I love the thrill of hearing a new R.E.M. song for the first time. I probably have a goofy smile on my face the whole time. The song does not disappoint, either. I found myself thinking that this song would fit perfectly on the album, Green, it has a "Turn You Inside Out" feel to it; which is definitely a good thing. Have a listen:

You can own the song for free, too. Just go to http://remhq.com/get-discoverer.php, enter your e-mail address and country, and a link to the song will be sent to your inbox. Mine was marked as spam, so I didn't know I had it at first, but it was sent almost immediately.  My excitement for COLLAPSE INTO NOW has increased tenfold, March 8th can't come fast enough!  Free previews to R.E.M. albums don't come along too often, especially in the form of a full length song, don't miss this opportunity!

15 December 2010

Breakfast Sausage

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I love sausage, especially breakfast sausage.  It reminds me of my childhood.  When I was young, every Sunday morning we would go to Grandma and Pa's house for biscuits and gravy.  Sausage gravy, to be more specific, and there were always extra sausage patties on the side.  To this day, the smell of sausage cooking on the stove reminds me of walking into their house on Sunday morning, anxiously anticipating that first bite.

My fondness for sausage inspired me to make my own, especially since many store bought varieties have less than desirable ingredients.  When my dad bought me a meat grinder attachment for my KitchenAid stand mixer, there was no holding me back.  Armed with a recipe from Alton Brown, I set out to make my own breakfast sausage.

To my surprise, making the sausage is especially easy.  The most time consuming part for me was dicing the pork butt; but after that, it's a breeze.  Once the pork was diced, I combined it with all the other ingredients and put it in the refrigerator for an hour. 

It already smelled like sausage, though it really looked nothing like it.  After an hour, I fed it through the meat grinder.  Sure enough, as it came through the other end, it looked exactly like sausage!

So, if it smells like sausage, and looks like sausage, surely it must taste like sausage.  Right?  Right!  In fact, it is some of the best breakfast sausage I have ever had.  All the herbs and spices compliment each other perfectly, and there is a hint of sweetness from the sugar.  Plus, there is a freshness that isn't there with the store bought brands that put it over the top. 

Making my own sausage is well worth the effort. It tastes so much better than the mass market varieties and it is much cheaper per pound as well.  Delicious and cost effective, I can live with that!

Breakfast Sausage
Recipe courtesy Alton Brown
Printable Recipe

2 pounds pork butt (2 1/2 pounds with bone), diced into 1/4-inch pieces
1/2 pound fat back, diced into 1/4-inch pieces
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 1/2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh sage leaves
2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh thyme leaves
1/2 teaspoon finely chopped fresh rosemary leaves
1 tablespoon light brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon fresh grated nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
Special equipment: meat grinder

Combine diced pork with all other ingredients and chill for 1 hour. Using the fine blade of a grinder, grind the pork. Form into 1-inch rounds. Refrigerate and use within 1 week or freeze for up to 3 months. For immediate use, saute patties over medium-low heat in a non-stick pan. Saute until brown and cooked through, approximately 10 to 15 minutes.

10 December 2010

Two Years of Chestnuts

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It's hard to believe it's been two years since I started latent chestnut.  So, since I did a year-in-review post last year, I figured I should do one for this year, too.  2010 didn't bring me my highest high since I started the blog (that occurred here) but it was exceptional, nonetheless.  As I was reviewing the vast array of posts over the last 365 days, I found that my main focus can be summed up into three categories:  cooking, sewing, and Mario. 

From pâte à choux to ketchup, I made a lot of new things in the kitchen this year.  The best moment, though, was rediscovering Nonna's pizza and learning how to make it myself.  Other culinary highlights include making my own riccota cheese, crème fraîche, dulce de leche, bagels, and chicken stock from scratch.  I made all of these for the first time over the past year, and I enjoyed every minute of it.  I also posted a few of my own original recipes for the first time this year; the apple crisp being my favorite.  I was also really happy with the way my pie crust tutorial came together (thanks for the idea, Eva!).

Speaking of Eva, I gave her sewing machine quite a workout over the year.  I know I didn't do a huge number of sewing posts, but I feel like I've had one or two sewing projects going throughout the entire year.  I tried my hand at making clothes for the first time when I made the pants, shirt, gloves, and shoe covers for Ari's Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Halloween costume.  The other major sewing project I posted about was my (or should I say Ari's) Super Mario quilt.  I am so happy with the way it turned out and I think it is the most well made quilt I have completed yet.

The Mario quilt only scratched the surface of custom Mario creations I made this year.  We gave Ari's room a Mario theme and I made some Mario curtains and curtain rods.  The Mario curtain post is the most viewed page on latent chestnut, by the way.  Apparently there is a big demand for Mario curtains out there.  Though, I think the curtain rods are even cooler than the curtains, and they were a cinch to make.  I also made some Mario onesies for Thomas, and got some awesome items from Club Nintendo. 

Overall, 2010 was a pretty good year for me and latent chestnut.  I can't wait to see what 2011 brings! 

Thanks for reading!

07 December 2010

Before and After

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I am a big fan of before and after pictures. That direct comparison is really rewarding, especially after completing a big project, or simply making a change. Too often, though, I forget to take the 'before' picture to use to compare to the 'after'. 

On a totally unrelated subject, my lovely wife bought me a new recliner this year with her Christmas bonus.  I was beside myself with joy as we made the purchase at the furniture store.  I had a really nice recliner that was given to me by my dad a few years ago.  However, it is about 20 years old and beginning to fall apart.  I had a hard time admitting it because it is still so comfortable.  The final straw came when a bracket broke inside the reclining mechanism which resulted in a loud popping sound whenever someone got out of the chair.  Feel free to read about my discovery of the broken bracket here.

I loved that blue chair, but it was falling apart.  It was becoming more and more evident that it's days were coming to an end.  After searching a few furniture stores for a worthy replacement, we finally found one.  I loaded it in the back of the SUV and headed home.  As I brought it inside, I felt a little sad to relegate my blue recliner to the basement.  I mean, I have enjoyed sitting in that chair for almost 20 years; now that's a lot to live up to for this new one.

Before I took it out of the living room, it hit me, I should take a picture of it.  I don't know why, but it felt fitting.  So, I decided to do a before and after.  My new chair is so comfortable as well, and we are still breaking it in.  It doesn't squeak, creek, and pop like my old one, and that's definitely an improvement.  I think the kids are using it more than I am, but that's fine.  Maybe someday I'll give it to Ari and he will love it as much as I love my blue chair.



04 December 2010

Winter Wonderland

4 remarks

In the front yard Ari and I built a snowman
Then pretended he was Parson Brown

We had lots of fun with Mr. Snowman

01 December 2010

Alphabet Soup

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As I was ladling my first batch of homemade chicken stock into freezer bags, I realized what I should make with it first.  Alphabet soup.  I couldn't think of a better meal to highlight the flavor of the stock, all while enjoying one of my favorite childhood comfort foods.

I simply cooked the alphabet noodles in the chicken stock seasoned with a little salt.  Once the noodles are cooked, I ladled the soup into bowls and finished it with a pat of butter.  A little freshly grated Parmesan cheese on top is a nice touch as well.  A delicious bowl full of memories. 

The chicken stock was more delicious than I could have hoped.  There was a wonderful chicken flavor and it was very filling and satisfying.  A perfect meal to enjoy my chicken stock for the first time.

23 November 2010

Chicken Stock

1 remarks
I've been saving chicken carcasses for a while (what a weird statement) in hopes of one day making my own chicken stock.  My biggest issue was trying to find a time where I could be home all day to keep my eye on it.  That day finally came, so I took my carcasses out of the freezer and got to work.

I put all my ingredients in a 12-quart stockpot and brought it up to a boil.  I didn't really take that many pictures because most of the steps look the same, for the most part.  What I wish I could share is the amazing aroma the filled the house.  It reminded me a lot of Thanksgiving, only about ten times better.

After simmering for about 6 hours, I strained out the solids and packaged the stock in some 1-quart Ziplock containers.

It was really quite easy to make the stock, albeit a little time consuming.  Plus, it is really cost effective, since a quart of good quality chicken stock at the grocery store usually costs about $3.50.  The question is, what is the first thing I should make using my own chicken stock?

Chicken Stock
Recipe courtesy Alton Brown
Printable Recipe

4 pounds chicken carcasses, including necks and backs
1 large onion, quartered
4 carrots, peeled and cut in 1/2
4 ribs celery, cut in 1/2
1 leek, white part only, cut in 1/2 lengthwise
10 sprigs fresh thyme
10 sprigs fresh parsley with stems
2 bay leaves
8 to 10 peppercorns
2 whole cloves garlic, peeled
2 gallons cold water

Place chicken, vegetables, and herbs and spices in 12-quart stockpot. Set opened steamer basket directly on ingredients in pot and pour over water. Cook on high heat until you begin to see bubbles break through the surface of the liquid. Turn heat down to medium low so that stock maintains low, gentle simmer. Skim the scum from the stock with a spoon or fine mesh strainer every 10 to 15 minutes for the first hour of cooking and twice each hour for the next 2 hours. Add hot water as needed to keep bones and vegetables submerged. Simmer uncovered for 6 to 8 hours.

Strain stock through a fine mesh strainer into another large stockpot or heatproof container discarding the solids. Cool immediately in large cooler of ice or a sink full of ice water to below 40 degrees. Place in refrigerator overnight. Remove solidified fat from surface of liquid and store in container with lid in refrigerator for 2 to 3 days or in freezer for up to 3 months. Prior to use, bring to boil for 2 minutes. Use as a base for soups and sauces.

15 November 2010

The Item Block

2 remarks
So, Ari walked into his room the other day to find an item block hovering in the air.

Naturally, he did what any red-blooded American boy would do when faced with the same situation.

He punched the bottom of it.  I mean, who wouldn't punch the bottom of it?  There could be so many amazing things inside.  Would it be a coin?  A super mushroom?  A 1-Up?  A star?  As it turns out, it wasn't any of those things, but he was quite pleased regardless.

It was our latest reward from Club Nintendo!  A figurine featuring Mario, Luigi, Toad, Peach, Yoshi, Bowser, and a Goomba.  We registered enough games last year to reach platinum status with the club, which will probably never happen again since we registered four years worth of games to get there.  They sent this to us for free, and we didn't even have to use any of our reward "coins" to get it.  What a sweet deal, huh?  I can't think of a nicer reward, especially since Ari has it proudly displayed in his bedroom.

03 November 2010

Apple Crisp

3 remarks

Warm, crunchy, sweet, and comforting.  Apple crisp warms the soul and is truly a celebration of the season.  I wouldn't go as far to say I like apple crisp more than apple pie, but it is right up there in terms of culinary autumnal delights.

Apple crisp comes in so many different forms and just about every recipe I found for it is different, sometimes drastically.  From the amount of crisp topping, to whether or not to use a thickening agent in the apple mixture, the preferences vary greatly.  Such differences are what inspired me to come up with my own apple crisp recipe.

I prefer my apple crisp to have a thicker crisp topping, but not too much to overpower the apples.  The topping for my apple crisp is sweet and crunchy with just a little salt to enhance and bring all the flavors together.  I like to use regular rolled oats because I think they make the crisp look and taste better.

I add a thickening agent to the apples, in this case tapioca flour, because I don't like the apple juices to be runny.  The apples are seasoned in much the same was as the filling in Nonna's apple pie, with the addition of lemon juice and apple cider.  The apple cider adds a depth of flavor, and the lemon juice adds a bit of tartness that counters the sweetness of the topping nicely.

I've been tinkering with a recipe to call my own for the last couple apple seasons, and I am very happy with the end result.  This is truly my idea of what apple crisp should be.

Apple Crisp
Printable Recipe

4 pounds Jonathan apples (or your favorite baking apple)
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 tablespoons apple cider
1/3 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons brown sugar
2 tablespoons tapioca flour
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon ground ginger

1 cup flour
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
3/4 cup rolled oats
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, diced and chilled

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Peel, core, and cut the apples into small wedges. Combine the apples with the lemon juice, cider, sugars, tapioca flour and spices. Pour into a 9 x 13 baking dish.

For the topping, combine the flour, sugars, salt, oatmeal, and cold butter in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix on low speed until the mixture is crumbly.  (This can also be done by hand or with a fork).  Scatter the topping evenly over the apples.

Place the crisp on the middle oven rack and bake for 1 hour or until the top is lightly browned and the apples are bubbly.

31 October 2010

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30 October 2010

All Hallows Eve Eve

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Halloween is almost upon us, so I would like to direct you to Ditalini Press where this months topic is "Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark."  Included is my own original scary story "Pink Carnation."

Perhaps you'll find a new bone-chilling tale to tell around the campfire.  Plus, if you'd like to get in one the spine-tingling action and submit an original ghost story, just leave a comment in any of the posts, and we'll be happy to accommodate.

We've been busy getting ready for the night by making costumes and carving pumpkins.  Here's a look at the kids with all of our pumpkins.

Now with the lights off...

Spooky!  Carving was a lot of fun this year, especially because Ari drew the face on his pumpkin and I carved it with his supervision; as to not misinterpret his vision.  His is the second one from the left in the picture, the one with the wide eyes and crooked smile.  It looks really neat with the lights out.  Stay tuned for pictures of the kids in their costumes.  Here's hoping everyone has a happy and safe Halloween!

25 October 2010

Choked Up

4 remarks

The artichoke I have been watching is really starting to take shape.  I have been tempted to harvest it, but I'm going to give it a couple more days to make sure it's really mature.  The other artichoke in the garden is starting to form as well; though, I don't know if the cold weather will catch up to it before it is able to complete the process.  Time will tell.  These artichokes are such interesting creatures.

21 October 2010

Turtle Pants

2 remarks

Ari has decided he wants to be a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle for Halloween; Leonardo to be exact.  So, before he could change his mind again, we went out and purchased his costume.  Not thrilled with the Ninja Turtle costumes on the market, we decided to just buy him the mask and piece the rest of it together.

We found a nice shirt to go with the costume, but the right color of green pants were hard to come by.  I figured I could make him some pants, so I bought some green fleece and went to work.  As I was making them, I envisioned the scene from the Grinch cartoon where he was making his Santa suit.  Just cutting an outline of what I wanted to make and sewing it together.  It worked quite well, for all intents and purposes, and now Ari has a pair of turtle pants.  The first article of clothing I have ever made.

Upon making this garment, even with the crude nature with which it was made, I gained a deeper respect for those who really know how to make clothes.  My cousin Eva, of Eva + Daniel fame, has just started a new blog called Belle-Mère Belle-Fille dedicated exclusively to creations made by Madame Sutter and herself.  She also has an Etsy shop featuring original clothing of exceptional quality handmade in France (and I do mean exceptional).  I am lucky enough to own something made by Eva, and it is simply wonderful.

If that's not enough, my friend from Chicago, Michelle, is launching her own clothing line called 
Dollparts; which is a clothing line made from recycled textiles.  Her clothing line utilizes eco-conscious fabrics, remaindered or discarded textiles, as well as vintage and thrifted pieces.  Michelle started a kickstarter campaign to raise funds for getting her designs into production.  It would be awesome if anyone would donate (even as little as $1) to her cause.  She only has a few days left to get pledges, so act fast!

I don't know how I got so caught up in the world of fashion, but I'm loving every minute of it!  Oh, and I'm happy I was able to make a small contribution with the turtle pants.  Who knows, they may be the next big thing!

19 October 2010

Pumpkin bread

2 remarks

I have been a baking fool as of late, taking advantage of the season's harvest.  My favorite quick bread of the moment is Alton Brown's pumpkin bread.  I am a big fan of the flavors of pumpkin bread, but I normally find it too dense and chewy.  Not AB's though, by utilizing fresh pumpkin, this bread breaks the mold and takes pumpkin bread to another level.

I have not found success using canned pumpkin when making pumpkin bread.  It never seemed to bake quite right, and the flavors fell a little flat.  The fresh pumpkin is a revelation, and lends the bread a lightness softness, and fluffiness while maintaining that wonderful pumpkin flavor.  Plus, it's really no different than shredding some carrots for carrot cake or zucchini for zucchini bread.  Definitely worth the effort.

The recipe posted below is taken from the Food Network website.  I have the advantage of also owning the book Good Eats: The Early Years in which Alton Brown shares some tips for the recipe.  In the book, the directions have you dump the shredded pumpkin onto a kitchen towel and twist into a ball to wring out as much water as possible.  As for the pumpkins seeds, also known as pepitas, be sure to use seeds that have had their hulls removed.  Do not use the unhulled seeds that come out of a standard jack-o-lantern pumpkin (a mistake I made the first time I made it). 

With the addition of those helpful hints your pumpkin bread should turn out quite delicious.  The bread is so good, you can eat it plain; though, I have been known to spread some cream cheese on a slice ever now and then.

Pumpkin Bread
Recipe courtesy Alton Brown

2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups sugar
3/4 cup vegetable oil
3 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 cups (one pound) shredded fresh pumpkin
1 cup toasted pumpkin seeds

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.

Sift the flour, cinnamon, baking soda, baking powder, and salt together.

In a separate bowl, mix the sugar, vegetable oil, eggs, and vanilla. Combine both mixtures and fold in the shredded pumpkin and pumpkin seeds. Once the ingredients are all incorporated pour into a non- stick 9 by 5 by 3-inch loaf pan. If your pan is not non- stick coat it with butter and flour.

Bake for 1 hour and 15 minutes. At this point a knife inserted into the middle of the loaf should come out clean. Cool for 15 minutes and turn out onto a cooling rack. Cool completely.

12 October 2010

Sugar Cream Pie

2 remarks

Considered an "Indiana legendary local cuisine", this pie is so delicious.  Sweet, rich, and creamy, sugar cream pie does not disappoint.  I never knew this pie was a Hoosier delicacy until I was visiting my dad in Louisville and he took me to The Pie Kitchen.  I was craving a piece of sugar cream pie and they didn't have it on the menu.  When I asked the server about it, she looked at me like I was crazy, and said she had never heard of it.  I was surprised that they didn't have it, and baffled that someone had never heard of sugar cream pie.  It was then that my dad told me that sugar cream pie was local to Indiana, so some places outside of the state may not serve it.  I realized how lucky was to be a Hoosier.

We used to buy sugar cream pies, but the pie shop where we purchased them moved and it prompted me to try me own.  I tried a couple different recipes without much success.  The flavor was where I wanted it to be, but the pies turned out runny.  I finally found a recipe on allrecipes.com that was a winner.  I have tried it a couple times with great results.  Smooth, sweet, rich and creamy with hints of vanilla and nutmeg.  A perfect autumn pie, and quite easy too!

Print Recipe

Sugar Cream Pie
Recipe courtesy Glenda Browning

1 prepared 9 inch pastry shell
1 1/2 cups white sugar
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup heavy whipping cream
3/4 cup whole milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 cup butter, chilled and diced

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
In a medium bowl, mix together sugar, flour, and cream. Add milk and vanilla extract, and continue to stir until mixture is smooth. Pour into pastry shell. Sprinkle top with nutmeg and dot evenly with small chunks of butter. Bake in preheated oven for 15 minutes. Reduce heat to 350 degrees and bake an additional 45 minutes.

06 October 2010

What to do with that leftover pie crust

3 remarks

With every pie crust, there is inevitably some excess dough left over after trimming the edges around the pie plate.  Now, this stuff is simply too good to just throw it away, so why not make an extra little treat with it.  When I was young, I remember Nonna rolling out the leftover pie crust dough, sprinkling it with cinnamon and sugar, and baking it.  Talk about delicious!  I have adopted this method for my leftover crust, too. 

With my last pie, I decided to try something new with my leftover crust dough.  Instead of baking it flat, I rolled the dough after sprinkling it with cinnamon and sugar.  I then cut the rolled dough into half inch rounds so they resembled little cinnamon rolls and baked them on some parchment paper.  It worked like a charm.  They pretty much tasted the same as the flat crust, but it was so fun to eat those miniature cinnamon rolls.

03 October 2010

Pie crust (a tutorial)

5 remarks
It is my opinion that pie crust is just as important as the filling; and if true pie bliss is to be achieved, one must make his or her own crust.  It's a simple thing, really, just flour, salt, fat and water.  Yum!  Knowing how to put it all together is the tricky part, but a little practice and know how can go a long way. 

I have been making my own pie crust since Nonna gave me her apple pie recipe.  My first attempts at making it were a bit shaky, and I remember being very frustrated at times.  My lowest point was when I was making a pie and the pie dough kept falling apart; I angrily wadded the dough into a ball and started kneading it.  The dough came together quite nicely and the crust looked perfect on the pie, but the crust was tough.  So tough, that people didn't hesitate to tell me, my own family no less.  I was devastated, but determined to learn the art of the pie crust, and never let mine be tough again.

It wasn't until I watched the Good Eats episode "I Pie", that I truly understood why I was doing what I was doing when I made pie crust.  I finally learned how to achieve the perfect balance between tender and flaky, and my pie crust became consistently good.  I love making my own pie crust because it really does take homemade pie to another level of goodness.  Whenever I take a pie to a gathering, someone inevitably comes up to me and says, "I love your pie crust, and I don't even like pie crust."  That's enough motivation for me to keep making my own.

I use Alton Brown's recipe for my pie crust.  I use the same ingredients he calls for, though my technique varies from his slightly.  The ingredients are quite simple:

1/4 cup unsalted butter (cut into cubes)
1 ounce lard (more on that later...don't be scared)
6 ounces all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
Ice water

I know some people may be a bit squeamish when it comes to lard, so I'll let AB explain:

Nothing affects the nature of the crust more than the fat that goes into it.  Butter has a very low melting point, so it doesn't make a very flaky crust, and it also contains some water, which can definitely throw off your formula.  At the same time, nothing browns or tastes better.  So I'm definitely going to use some of this.  But I'm also going to use lard.  Rendered pig fat has a very high melting point, and a really coarse, crystalline structure, which means that it is ideal for making flaky crusts.  And you'll be surprised to know that lard is even lower in cholesterol and saturated fat than butter is.

Now that we got that out of the way, let's discuss assembly.

I have grown accustomed to making my pie crust in a food processor, so that is how I will present it; though it is by no means necessary to the assembly.  Also, the pictured ingredients are for two pie crusts, since I was making an apple pie. 

Begin by placing the flour and salt in the food processor bowl and pulse a couple times.  Add the butter and pulse 5 or 6 times; then, add the lard and pulse another 3 or 4 times until the mixture looks mealy.  The goal is to have very small pieces of butter and somewhat larger pieces of lard.

Next, comes the water.  I like to drizzle the water through the top of my food processor while pulsing.  Do this until the dough holds its shape when squeezed together, while using as little water as possible.  I sometimes add a dash of white vinegar to the water before I add it because the vinegar prevents the gluten strands from getting too long.  It's sort of an insurance policy and the vinegar cannot be detected in the finished product.

(I may have added a bit too much water here, but the crust turned out fine)

Once the dough reaches the right consistency, dump it out on a piece of plastic wrap and squeeze together until it forms a ball; then press into a disk shape.  Place the dough disk in the refrigerator for about 30 minutes.  The point of this step is to allow for the flour to hydrate.  Hydrated flour makes it easier to roll out the dough, so please don't skip this step.

Now, place the dough on a floured piece of wax paper.  The wax paper should be long enough to be folded into a square. 

Lightly flour the top of the dough disk, and fold the wax paper over the top of it.  Then, roll out the dough until it is about 10 to 12 inches in diameter.

Once the dough is ready, remove the wax paper from the top of the dough and slide your hand underneath the bottom.  Flip the pie crust into an awaiting pie plate.

Now, remove the wax paper from the rest of the crust, and your mission is complete.

The pie crust is ready for filling.  Since this is just a tutorial on pie crust, you'll have to just imagine what the finished pie looked like.  But if you need a little help, look here.  Don't be afraid to make your own pie crust, it is definitely worth it.  Happy baking!

28 September 2010

Hello there...

1 remarks

As I was scavenging the garden a couple of days ago, I happened to notice an artichoke plant developing a little artichoke in the middle of it's leaves.  This is the first change I have seen in the artichoke plants in over two months.  I was quite excited with this latest development.  I don't know if I will get anything edible, but it's nice to know our little artichoke endeavor wasn't a total failure.  Isn't gardening fun?  Just when I thought it was over, I get this little surprise.

23 September 2010

Roasted Marshmallows

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One of life's simple pleasures.  Even better when done with a homemade marshmallow.  There is something magical about putting a marshmallow on the end of a skewer and holding it carefully over the fire.  Watching the outside caramelize while the center becomes deliciously molten is a treat unlike any other.  Not to mention how much fun it is just to be outside by the fire for kids and adults alike.  Then, trying to navigate eating it without making a total mess.  Now, for very special occasions, one can take roasted marshmallows to another level...

S'mores.  It's amazing the difference a little chocolate and graham cracker can make.  The gooey molten center of the roasted marshmallow oozing and melting the chocolate with the sweet crunch of the graham cracker is unbelievably satisfying.

I enjoy roasting marshmallows and making s'mores in the fall when the air is crisp and cool.  It makes sitting around the fire that much more enjoyable.  Times like these make saying goodbye to summer a little bit easier.  I'd like to wish everyone a happy autumn, now go roast some marshmallows!

20 September 2010

Real tomato ketchup, Eddie?

3 remarks
Oh, nothing but the best.

All joking aside, I did make my own ketchup.  Hours of toiling over a simmering pot to make a condiment so abundant and commonplace I could go to McDonald's and grab a handful of packets for free.  So, was it worth it?  You bet it was! 

I never really thought that much about ketchup, it was just always there when I needed a dip for my fries.  A couple months ago, I wrote about my tomatoes in facebook and Jeremy commented about how he used to eat homemade ketchup.  He found a recipe for me to use, and I was all set!

I had forgotten about my desire to make ketchup until about a week ago, and I decided it was time to give it a try.  The recipe Jeremy gave me made a thinner ketchup than what is commercially available, so I altered it a bit to get the result I was looking for.  I really wanted to make a ketchup that looked like the leading brands, mainly because that is what I am used to.

I started with five pounds of tomatoes and pureed them in my food processor.  I then strained them to remove the seeds and skin.  I then pureed an onion and added it to the strained tomatoes and simmered the mixture on the stove.  Once the mixture reduced to about half, I added some vinegar and spices, and continued to reduce the mixture until it looked like ketchup.  I put the ketchup in a jar, then placed it in the refrigerator to cool.  It was really quite easy, though time consuming.

I decided to first try my ketchup with french fries.  To my delight, it looks and tastes just like ketchup.  It has a more pronounced tomato flavor, and is really quite delicious. 

16 September 2010

The Last Hurrah?

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For all intents and purposes, this looks to be my last substantial harvest.  All in all, it's been a good year for the garden.  The move to the back of the yard worked well, and we learned a lot with the new plants we tried.  The trick will be not to forget everything over the winter...

13 September 2010

Pear-nana Bread

3 remarks

The kids love banana bread, and I am quite fond of it myself, actually.  One afternoon, I noticed a few over-ripe bananas on the counter along with a pear that was a little past its prime.  I knew I should make some banana bread, but I didn't know what to do with the pear.  Just then, a light bulb came on in my head and I decided to dice up the pear and add it to the banana bread.

My first loaf was a little too dense, but it had really good flavor.  It reminded me of a pear bread pudding fresh from the oven.  The experiment was successful enough that I decided to make another loaf, adjusting a few things from what I learned with the first one.

My second loaf was a complete success.  The bread was light, moist, and sweet.  The pears added such a nice flavor, as well as a slight textural change.  The kids ate it up too, so it passed that test.  I was also glad to find another use for pears, since I don't really have a lot of recipes that call for them.  So I figured, if I couldn't find a recipe that calls for pears, I might as well come up with one of my own.  I will be making this bread again for sure.  I hope you do, too!

Pear-nana Bread

1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1 egg (lightly beaten)
3/4 cup very ripe bananas (mashed)
1/2 cup diced pear
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 teaspoon lemon zest

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Grease and lightly flour a 8x4x2 inch loaf pan.  In a mediumm bowl sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, and ginger. 

In a separate bowl, combine the egg, mashed banana, diced pear, sugar, oil, and lemon zest.  Stir until all ingredients are well combined.

Make a well in the center of the dry mix and add the banana mixture all at once.  Stir with a wooden spoon until the mixture comes together.  Do not over mix.  The batter will be lumpy.

Pour batter into prepared pan and bake in a 350 degree oven for 55 minutes or until a wooden toothpick inserted into the center of the loaf comes out clean.

Cool on a wire rack for about fifteen minutes before removing from the loaf pan. 

09 September 2010

Oh where...is my toothbrush?

4 remarks

I had never seen a toothbrush with a suction cup on the bottom of it until Ari brought one home from the dentist.  It's nice because the toothbrush can stand up on the counter without assistance.  What will they think of next?  One night I was waiting for the kids to come brush their teeth and thought it would be a good idea to stick Ari's toothbrush somewhere he would not expect to find it.  I mean, it has a suction cup on it!  Why not have a little fun?

The first time I "hid" it, Ari's face lit up when he finally found it and it soon became a mandatory procedure to hide his toothbrush every night.  I don't mind; in fact, I probably enjoy finding different hiding places as much as he likes finding the toothbrush.  It's fun to shake up oral hygiene a little bit.

Who knew brushing teeth could be so much fun?


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