Sunday, April 25, 2010

Mama's Little Helper Pie Crust

We have been sampling the delicious rhubarb from market in rhubarb pies lately -- yum! I usually make an extra set of crusts for a quiche, potpie, or little pasty-style hand pie. (Have you mamas tried the Cousin Jack's savory hand pies at market? They are super delicious, and would make a very convenient freezer food.)

My friend Erin taught me this simple trick for making delicious pie crust: substitute ice-cold vodka for half of the water. The vodka doesn't form gluten with the flour, meaning that your crust comes out very flaky and tender even if you make it a tad more wet than usual or handle it a little too much. (I have also used tequila or bourbon at different times, and the flavor was not noticeable in the cooked dough.) Don't go overboard on working the dough or make it really sticky or anything. Just know that you can relax a little because your crust will be fabulous. I also use at least 1/2 cup whole wheat pastry flour, because it is delish and also doesn't form gluten easily. In fact, my in-laws, who are not whole wheat types, don't notice the whole wheat pastry flour.

Kids are very good at methodically cutting the butter into cubes, at pouring the liquid in, and at stirring. Just be sure that you chill the butter thoroughly after they soften it unintentionally with their warm little hands.


2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (or substitute whole wheat pastry flour)
1 Tbs sugar (optional)
3/4 tsp salt
1 cup butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes and refrigerated (I think that I've actually been using 1 cup plus 2 Tbs butter)
ice water and icy-cold vodka

  1. Pour water into a tumbler full of ice. Pour about 1/4 cup vodka over ice in a second tumbler, unless you store vodka in your freezer to begin with. Make sure your toddler doesn't grab the second glass by mistake (yes, this has happened in my kitchen).
  2. Mix flour, sugar (if using), and salt in a large bowl. Cut in the butter with a pastry cutter until the mixture looks flaky, like slightly moist large-flake brewer's yeast or something. The largest lumps of butter in the mix should be about the size of an itty bitty petit pois-style pea. (Don't overwork the dough by making the lumps too small, but don't leave giant lumps of butter either. Remember, vodka is on your side, so you can relax!)
  3. If you want to be obsessive (hey, sometimes I do), put the dough in the freezer at this point for 15 minutes or so. (This is what the chef at Field to Table does.) Vodka is on your side, so you don't really need this trick. If you have to sit down and nurse or read someone a book, though, the freezer or fridge is a good place for your dough to wait for you.
  4. With a fork in hand, sprinkle 3-4 Tbs of vodka over the dough and stir until just combined. Then do the same with 3-4 Tbs of ice water. Test the amount of moisture in your dough: Does it clump together easily when you squeeze some in your palm? (Check some dough from the bottom of the bowl, too. Sometimes the water hasn't been worked into the dough at the bottom, so your dough is drier than it appears.) Add more vodka and water, if you think your dough needs it. (Err on the side of more vodka if you like.)
  5. Form the dough into two disks, wrap each in parchment paper or a plastic bag, and refrigerate. (If lots and lots of little crumbs fall off, or the dough doesn't come together well, your dough is too dry. Add more vodka.) Or don't refrigerate: vodka is working for you here.
  6. Roll each disk of dough out on a well-floured surface. You can refrigerate the first rolled-out dough while you are working on the second. Done!
Variation: I often mix lots of thoroughly dried minced rosemary into my flour if I am making a potpie. Sprinkle the top of the potpie with a bit of parmesan cheese if the occasion calls for decadence.

Making Dashi

Okay, I am trying to post more often by giving myself only 15 minutees to write a simple post! Let's see if I can do it.

We talked about a few different recipes that involve dashi, a traditional Japanese kombu and bonito stock. Here is a basic recipe. If you check out any book on Japanese cooking, it will invariably contain dashi in nearly every soup or sauce. It's extremely useful! The dashi granules you can buy are full of MSG. The recipes below are for the whole foods, grandma-style real deal. If you make dashi, double the recipe and freeze it in 1 cup portions. It is perfect for miso soup, cold noodle dishes, etc.

I'll give two recipes below. Katsuobushi, or bonito flakes, are delicious. Buy the bigger flakes for this use. The thinner flakes are used as a condiment on a variety of delicious Japanese dishes (steamed spinach in marinade, soft tofu in marinade, okonomiyaki omelets, etc.).

The following recipe is adapted from The Japanese Kitchen, by Hiroko Shimbo.

Ichiban Dashi (First Fish Stock)

This kind of stock gives you the best nutrients and flavor from the kombu and the bonito. It is also nearly instant. I don't know much about the health properties of bonito, but the Japanese have an amazing average life span, and in the traditional diet dashi would be eaten at least once a day in some form or another. You can check out this website for more info on dashi:

2 quarts water
5 6-inch squares kombu (kelp)
1 cup packed katsuobushi (flaked bonito fish)

  1. Wipe the kombu with a damp cloth. Heat the water and kombu until they nearly boil, over medium heat. Remove the kombu and save it for another use. You can either use this liquid as vegetarian stock (kombu dashi) or proceed with the directions below to make ichiban dashi.
  2. Add the katsuobushi to the kombu dashi and allow to come to a boil (this should only take a few seconds, hopefully). Turn off the heat, skim off the foam, and let the mixture stand for 2 minutes.
  3. Strain the stock through a cheesecloth-lined sieve (I actually just strain it through a strainer usually). Reserve the katsuobushi to make niban dashi (recipe below), if desired.
  4. Ichiban dashi keeps in the fridge up to 4 days, or you can refrigerate it in small portions. I made a bunch of this at the end of both my pregnancies and had lots of delicious, simple miso soup after my kids were born.

Niban Dashi (Second Fish Stock)

This stock has a much more subtle flavor and is best suited for simmered dishes. This is a good way to reuse leftover kombu from cooking beans, etc. You can use fresh katsuobushi if you like.

2 quarts water
Kombu and katsuobushi leftover from making Ichiban Dashi.

Combine all the above ingredients and cook over low heat for 10 minutes. Strain and use, refrigerate, or freeze.

Twenty-nine minutes -- whew! Close. I'm getting faster.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Oregon Small Farmer's Auction

Max, Oliver, and I recently went to the Small Farmer's Auction in Madras for a couple of days. It was amazing! Anyone interested in gardening, horses, or farming with horses would love this event. There is free camping on site, and the people we reconnected with or met are just the salt of the earth. (Someone overheard Max tell me that he was thirsty, and while we were searching for an elusive drinking fountain, a couple brought us cold drinks from their cooler. People were giving out free wagon rides to tired folks walking to the parking lot, sharing gardening tips, etc.)

We got information about using horses to cultivate our soil, chatted with the friendly farmers from Lonesome Whistle, and played in all the old-fashioned farming equipment and restored wagons and buggies for sale. There was a draft horse plowing contest that kicked off the event on Wednesday that has left a huge impression on Max. He's been feeding his imaginary team of 8 draft horses at the table and letting them in and out of the front door all week! Here's a link with more information about the Small Farmer's Journal (the publication that puts on the event), in case you're interested in joining us next year or know someone else who might be. The Small Farmer's Journal is also a great resource for large-scale gardeners. They have some great titles in their bookstore.

Rosemary Olive Oil Popcorn

Hi Mamas:

I promised to post so many recipes last month...and here we are about to meet again! We'll see what I can manage to type up in my spare minutes here and there.


several branches fresh rosemary
1 - 1 1/2 cups olive oil
good salt, to taste
1/2 cup popcorn
1/4 to 1/2 cup pine or other nuts (optional)
fresh rosemary leaves, to garnish the popcorn

  1. Cut the rosemary branches to fit in bottom of a medium saucepan. Warm the olive oil and rosemary over low heat for 5 minutes. Allow the oil to cool and sit at room temperature for as long as you can stand to wait. (I aim for 24 hours, but on the night you mamas tasted this recipe, I think that the herbs had infused the oil for only 2 hours or so.) Refrigerate the oil after 24 hours.
  2. Toast nuts gently in the oven and set aside. Chop a few tablespoons of rosemary leaves finely. These will garnish the finished dish.
  3. Set out a large bowl for the finished popcorn. Strain rosemary branches from the olive oil. (Reserve the rest of the oil for another use.) Heat 1/2 cup to 1 cup of the infused olive oil in a medium saucepan over medium or medium-high heat. (I cook popcorn at just a little past medium on my stove.) When the oil is hot enough to move in thin sheets across the bottom of the pan when tilted, add the popcorn, shake a couple of times, and put a lid on the pan. Pop the corn until you hear a 2-3 second pause between pops, then pour into serving bowl. Sprinkle the corn with chopped rosemary, salt, and nuts. Yum!

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Chocolate Tasting, Hummingbird Orders

Hope you've all been well! What do you all think about having a simple chocolate tasting at our next gathering? Some of us could bring a chocolate bar, some of us could bring wine, and someone could bring a tea or other non-boozy option.

Also, what are folks planning to order from Hummingbird this time?