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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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)

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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!


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