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Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Ciabatta di Birra

I think I've mentioned before, numerous times probably, about my love affair with bread. What you may not know is how much I hate drinking beer. It may just be the nastiest tasting stuff I can think of. Strangely enough, however, I love cooking with it. Once you mix the beer in with other flavors, it seems that the beer's best shines through while beer's worst seems to fade away.

With this in mind, it is not too surprising that I spend a lot of time experimenting with adding beer to bread recipes. I love the added yeastiness and depth of flavor beer imparts. In this case, with a ciabatta, the beer is added to the starter, or biga, and helps to develop the flavor overnight. Ciabatta is a great bread with so many uses. Considering how many loaves I've made in the last three weeks getting the recipe the way I want it, I have used it to make sandwiches, croutons, and toast and have served it as an appetizer with olive oil and balsamic vinegar for dipping. This is a very easy bread to make but does take a little foresight as the starter needs to sit overnight.

To make the starter, simply mix one-half cup of beer with one cup of flour and half a teaspoon of yeast. Stir to mix completely. It will seem a little stiff, but overnight it will soften and swell and get a bunch of bubbles in it. Cover with plastic wrap and let sit on the counter overnight.

Just look at how it grew! And the smell is divine. I love that yeasty, fermenty smell. It's a harbinger of future happiness. If you get sidetracked and can't make bread the next day, simply place the starter in the refrigerator for up to three days. If you do end up refrigerating the starter, let it come to room temperature before proceeding.

Pour the room temperature starter into the bowl of a stand mixer (see below for instructions for those without a stand mixer). Add 1 cup of the flour, the gluten, the yeast, and the water. With a paddle attachment, mix on medium speed for five minutes. The mixture should end up looking stringy and sticky as shown here in this photo:

Let the dough rest in the bowl for 10-20 minutes before continuing. Add the remaining flour and the salt and switch to the dough hook. Continue to knead on speed 2 until the dough starts to look very smooth and pulls away from the side of the bowl. It will still be stickier than heck if you try and touch it, but it will look more like taffy than dough when it is ready. Notice how smooth and glossy the dough is in the following picture compared to the preceding.

Dump the dough into a greased bowl. Spray the top of the dough as well and cover the bowl with plastic wrap, setting aside in a warm place to rise until it has doubled.

Oh yeah! Look at that baby grow! It's all ready to shape now.

Prepare a large sheet pan with parchment. Sprinkle flour liberally over the surface of the pan. With a knife or flexible rubber implement (I use a plastic bench scraper), gently divide the dough into two blobs. Pour each blob onto the sheet pan, trying to get them in some semblance of an elongated... blob.

That's why I love making this bread. I usually get all flustered trying to shape my loaves so that they look perfect. That is not an issue here. Simply pour so that the dough is elongated and then, with floured hands, gently "flop" the edges out to help it spread a bit more. This dough is very soft and can be hard to work with if you try and do too much. You want to avoid degassing as much as possible so just gently help it form the classic "slipper" shape (la ciabatta in Italian means 'the slipper'). Sprinkle the tops with more flour and then cover with a slightly damp flour cloth towel or plastic wrap. Set aside and let them rise for a couple of hours. They will noticeably swell but not go crazy.

Preheat the oven to 500 degrees F. Have a spray bottle filled with water at the ready. When the oven is hot, remove the towel/plastic wrap and place in the oven. Give the oven walls about three good spritzes and then close the door. Open and give three sprays every thirty seconds for about two minutes. Then reduce the heat to 450. Bake for about 30 minutes, until the loaves start to turn golden and reach an internal temperature of 205 degrees F. Remove from the oven and move to a cooling rack. Let cool completely before cutting or storing.

Store at room temperature in a plastic bag. I often keep homemade breads in the refrigerator, but I found that really messes with the texture of this bread. Because of the long ferment, it tends to keep pretty well.

Although I love it in many ways, it is exceptional as a breakfast toast. Crunchy in a very pleasing way, it has those perfect holes for holding that molten butter.

Ciabatta di Birra
Yield: 2 - 10 oz loaves

For the biga:
1 cup flour
1/2 cup lager beer (I used Yuengling)
1/2 tsp instant yeast

2 tsp instant yeast
1 cup water
2 cup all purpose flour with 2 tsp gluten OR 2 cups bread flour
1 tsp kosher salt

On the first day, mix the biga ingredients together and then cover the bowl with plastic wrap. Set aside on the counter overnight. If you cannot make bread the next day, put the biga in the refrigerator for up to three days. If you refrigerate the dough, be sure to let it come to room temperature before continuing.

On the second day, place the biga in the bowl of a stand mixer (see below for non-stand mixer instructions). With the paddle attachment, mix in the additional yeast, one cup of the flour, the gluten (if using), and the water. Mix on medium speed for five minutes. Let the dough rest in the bowl for 10-20 minutes.

Switch to the dough hook and add the last cup of flour and the salt. Knead on speed 2until the dough becomes shiny and smooth. It will still be very sticky but will pull away from the sides of the bowl. Add a little bit of flour if this has not happened after four minutes.

Pour the dough into a greased bowl and then spray the top of the dough will oil, too. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until double, about 1 1/2 hours.

Prepare a sheet pan with parchment paper and sprinkle liberally with flour. Pour the dough into two elongated blobs onto the pan. Sprinkle with more flour and then gently shape by carefully tugging on the edges of the dough. Be gently so that you don't degas the dough too much. Cover with a slightly damp towel or plastic wrap and let rise for two hours or until puffy.

Preheat the oven to 500 degrees F and have a spray bottle filled with water handy. When the oven is preheated, put in the bread and spray the sides of the oven three or four times. Close the door and repeat the sprays every thirty seconds for two minutes. Then reduce the heat to 450 and let bake for approximately 30 minutes or until the bread is slightly golden and reaches an internal temperature of 205 degrees F. Cool completely on a wire rack.

For those sans a stand mixer:
All instructions will be the same except when mixing. In the first stage of mixing, combin the biga, water, and yeast, mix in a bowl with a hand-held mixer until smooth. Gradually add flour (up to one cup) until you are on the verge of making it too stiff for your hand mixer. Mix for 8 minutes on medium or medium-low speed (whatever your hand mixer can handle). Let it rest for a full 20 minutes. Then add the remaining flour and salt. Mix by hand with a wooden spoon for 3-5 minutes. You don't have to stir vigorously; just keep it moving around. It may not get as glossy as it would with a stand mixer, but it will still make a darn good loaf of bread.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Shrimp Pasta

This is one of those go to dishes that I keep in my hip pocket for those nights when I want to make something really quick and easy or have forgotten to thaw anything out (which happens with greater regularity than I like to admit).

Even if the shrimp are frozen when you think of making this dish, it can still be prepared in a jiffy. Shrimp can thaw so fast and easy in lukewarm water that I can typically go from thinking about it to making this dish in less than fifteen minutes. And boy is it good.

Shrimp Pasta
based on the Barefoot Contessa's Shrimp Linguine

1 lb pasta, I prefer linguine or rigati spaghetti
1 lb shrimp, shelled, tails removed
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 TBS butter
2 TBS extra virgin olive oil
1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 tsp chopped parsley
salt & pepper to taste

Start the pasta water to boiling while you clean the shrimp. You can devein them too, if you feel the need. I, personally, don't normally feel the need unless I'm using very large shrimp.

When the pasta is about 5 minutes away from being done, add the butter and oil to a large saute pan over medium-high heat. Add the garlic and cook briefly. Add the shrimp and red pepper flakes. Cook until the shrimp have turned pink, turning to cook all sides, 3-4 minutes.

Drain the pasta and add to the saute pan. Reduce heat to medium-low. Add the cheese, salt, and pepper, stirring to mix well. Serve immediately! It's great with a salad and garlic toast.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Hopping Around

I found a very fun - and time consuming - pastime this week. In actuality, I think the blog itself is no longer active, but it does have a listing of over 2000 food blogs you can visit. That in and of itself isn't unusual. After all, I'm a member of the Foodie Blogroll which has a listing of over 4000 blogs.

No, the difference here is the method. They have a "blog hop" button. What a nifty little gizmo. You click on it and randomly show up at one of those 2000 food blogs. Even better, is the bar at the top of the page that allows you to just keep hopping until you find a blog you like. It's so quick and simple, that even though it took me quite a few hops before I found a blog I really liked, I still had a great time. The blogs listed are not all still active and some of them put my high school French to the test, but nonetheless, I enjoyed every moment of my hopping.

Not that I'm pushing you to leave... I'm really glad you came! You're welcome to stay here as long as you'd like. But it is a wide, wide world out there, so I figured I share with you this fun way to search it.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Carrot Cake

I don't make cakes very often. Not because I don't enjoy making them - I do - but because I enjoy eating them so much. A whole cake has an awful lot of calories, so unless I have some guests lined up to help put them away, it is just too dangerous to have the darn things around. Sometimes though, I just can't help it. When this happens, I will individually wrap most of the slices and put them in the freezer... deep in the freezer with hopes that I'll forget they're in there.

This week, it was carrot cake that did me in. The carrots that I used were so bright orange. I wish that I had taken pictures, but sometimes I still get in the kitchen and forget to take my camera along for the ride. The strange thing was that once the cake was done and I started snacking on the trimmings, I wasn't sure I liked it. It was really carroty... and not necessarily in a good way. But, I figured I'd gotten that far, and it wasn't that much more work to make some frosting to see how the cake tasted with cream cheese goodness all over it. Boy am I glad I did. Something magical happens to these cakes when you apply the frosting. It's a match made in heaven!

Carrot Cake
adapted from the Better Homes & Gardens New Cook Book, 1989

2 cups flour
2 cups sugar
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp cloves
1/8 tsp nutmeg
3 cups finely shredded carrot
1 cup cooking oil
4 eggs

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Using a food processor or a box grater, shred the carrots. In a large bowl or stand mixer bowl mix the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and spices. Mix thoroughly. Add the carrot, oil, and eggs. Mix until combined but be careful not to over mix.

Prepare pans with cooking spray and parchment liners in the bottom. Pour into two 9 inch round cake pans (or other similar volume pans - I used 8 mini round pans). Bake at 350 degrees F for 25 to 40 minutes, depending on the pan size. For 9 inch round pans, start checking after 30 minutes. Bake until a cake tester comes out clean.

Remove from oven and cool for about 10 minutes before removing from pans. I also like to cut the tops of the cakes flat with a long serrated knife before removing them from the pans. Cool completely on wire racks.

Once the cakes are completely cool, they can be frosted with cream cheese frosting. These cakes keep best in a refrigerator.

Cream Cheese Frosting
Yield: enough to frost one-two layer 9 inch round cake

1 8-oz package of cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup softened butter
2 tsp vanilla
4 cups powdered sugar

Whip the cream cheese and butter together. Mix in the vanilla. Slowly add the powdered sugar one cup at a time. Whip on medium speed and add sugar until the frosting has a nice, spreadable consistency. You may need to use a little more less sugar to achieve the right consistency.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Food Hoarders Anonymous

This move has helped me to realize that I have a problem, that I cannot control it, and that I need help.

But, dang it, if the world as we know it comes to an end, my husband and I won't starve.

Yes, I have a problem. I finally have admitted it to myself and to my husband, who sang hallelujah that I have seen the light. Of course, admitting that I have this compulsive behavior does not mean that I can control it.

The pantry is standing room only. Every shelf is stacked three to five items deep. I'm not even sure I know what's under there, and I only filled it up a couple of weeks ago. I had to install shelves on the back of the door just to get everything in there. So what did I do today? I had to add a bag of tapioca. Why? Did I need tapioca for a recipe I wanted to try? Nope. I just had to buy it because I didn't have any.

Selling one of my freezers for this move, however, did force me to consolidate and temporarily stop some of my bulk buying habits. Oh, except for that 6 pounds of flank steak that I got on sale two days ago. I had to find a home for them somewhere in the abyss. For crying out loud, I have to practically empty a shelf out to find what I'm looking for. Thank goodness for dry ice. I don't think I could ever move if I had to actually empty my freezers to do so.

Oh, and the canned goods. Yeah, they don't all fit in the pantry - or the kitchen at all, for that matter. Thank goodness there's this nice space under the steps.

And my food won't lack for seasoning any time in the near future as I've got the spice trade wrapped up in the kitchen overflow that's hiding in the storage room (don't tell my husband!).

Yup, I've definitely got a problem... but admitting it is the first step, right?

Wednesday, June 24, 2009


When I was baking to supplement my farmer's market income, I made a lot of cookies. Usually, I made chocolate chip cookies. One day, on a whim, I decided to pull out the ol' snickerdoodle recipe. I was shocked at their popularity! They went like hot cakes. The other thing that I found interesting was that 90% of the time, the customer would say something to this effect, "Snickerdoodles! My favorite! I haven't had those in ages!" And then they would promptly buy a package.

So, the questions always in my mind were: Why hadn't they had them in ages? Are they hard to find in the stores (I've found, in general, that the answer is yes)? Have they forgotten that snickerdoodles exist in this complex world? Or did they just not have a good recipe to make them?

If the answer for you is the later, your snickerdoodle missing days are over.

The first step is to cream some butter and sugar. I love recipes that start with butter and sugar... it's a good sign of things to come.

Then beat in a couple of eggs. I beat the dough pretty thoroughly at this point so that it is slightly fluffy; then I don't have to worry about over mixing later and ending up with tough cookies.

Mix the dry ingredients in a separate bowl. Be sure that you use real cream of tarter. Packaging can sometimes be a bit misleading. You want potassium salt of tartaric acid AKA potassium bitartrate or potassium hydrogen tartrate. It is a byproduct of wine making and it is what gives snickerdoodles their distinct taste. Fake cream of tarter just won't cut it here.

Then add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients. Add it kind of slowly, unless a flour cloud appeals to you. Just mix until the dough is well incorporated.

Chill the dough in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes. It is much easier to work with if the butter is firmed up a little.

I use a size 40 disher to make my cookies a uniform shape and size. Additionally, the disher just makes things easier. Prepare a bowl of cinnamon sugar for dipping. Line a baking sheet with parchment or simply use an ungreased cookie sheet. Scoop out cookies and dip the tops in the sugar mixture. If you are doing this the old fashioned way and hand forming balls, just roll the balls in sugar. When you're using a disher, one side is flat and I find it easier to not worry about coating the bottom.

These babies spread out pretty good. I usually can fit eight cookies on an 11x17 inch sheet pan. In this case, I only cooked six and on the other pan filled it full of ready to go cookie dough balls (dipped in sugar, too) that I froze and then put in a zip top bag. This way I can have fresh baked cookies whenever I get the need without having the make them from scratch.

Bake until they are nice and crackly. If you like them to be firm and somewhat crunchy when cooled, then bake them until they start to turn slightly golden. If you like them more soft and chewy, then pull them out as soon as they look even slightly done. It is easy to overcook them if you're shooting for soft, chewy cookies.

Yield: 24 cookies (when using a size 40 disher)

1 cup softened butter
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 eggs
2 3/4 cup flour
2 tsp cream of tarter
1 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
3 TBS sugar

Cream the butter and sugar. Beat in the eggs until the batter is light and fluffy. In a separate bowl, mix the dry ingredients. Slowly add the dry ingredients to the wet and mix until just combined. Chill the dough until fairly stiff, about 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Mix the cinnamon and sugar together in a small, shallow bowl. Use a size 40 disher to portion and shape cookies. Dip the top, round half of the cookies in the sugar mixture and place on a parchment lined baking sheet. Bake 8-10 minutes until the tops are cracked and the edges are dry looking.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Old Fashioned Lollipops

I think every tooth in my mouth is a sweet tooth. I just can't seem to go a whole day without having at least one sugar laden treat. Sometimes I want chocolate, sometimes I crave pastry, sometimes I want something cold and creamy, and sometimes, I just want some good old fashioned candy.

Lollipops are very quick and easy to make. They do require some special equipment, namely molds of some kind. But once you have your molds, you can make a batch in just a few minutes. They make great gifts and there are so many different molds and flavorings out there, the possibilities are endless!

My preferred mold type are metal lollipop rings. They come in a wide variety of shapes and are very easy to use and clean. I get them from Sugarcraft. This time I used the traditional circle, but I have molds for hearts, animals, flowers, and cars.

In addition to molds, you also will need a candy thermometer. I like the ones that clip onto the pan. This is the one that I have, and after trying at least a dozen, it is by far the best. You also need to consider flavorings. You can't just use any old flavoring in hard candy. Regular old extracts are not appropriate. You need to use flavoring oils specifically made for hard candy, such as those produced by LorAnn brand. They have a huge assortment of flavorings available online or in many grocery stores. My favorites are root beer, lemon, and orange, but there are probably over two dozen flavors available!

Before starting your lollipops, be sure to have your molds set up and ready to go. I lay them out on a parchment lined sheet pan. I do not oil the sheet or the molds. I find this leaves an undesirable coating on the lollipops. I do not have trouble with the candy sticking to the metal ring type molds, but I do not have any experience with other mold types.

To make lollipops, set up a heavy sauce pan with a thermometer. Stir together in the pan the sugar, water, and corn syrup (which helps to prevent undesirable sugar crystal formation). Heat over medium-high heat until the temperature reaches 300 degrees F. You do not need to stir. Remove immediately from the heat when it reaches 300 degrees. Let the mixture cool to 275 degrees before adding the flavoring, coloring, or any other additives. Pour into prepared molds immediately, as it starts to firm up right away! If you have extra, you can pour that onto the pan around the molds to snack on after it cools.

Do not unmold the lollipops until they are completely cool. One of my first times making these, I unmolded them as soon as they were cool enough to handle. Unfortunately, the candy was still warm enough that without their mold holding their shape, they oozed horribly. It was somewhat disturbing...

Once they are cooled and unmolded, I prepare them for packaging. I use the small treat bags sold by Wilton and similar companies and tie them with pretty ribbon. I use confectioner's sugar to keep the suckers from sticking to the bags. I fill a jar about half full of powdered sugar and have a dry pastry brush handy. I dip the suckers into the sugar to be sure all surfaces are covered. I then use the brush to remove excess sugar. Be careful not to touch the lollipops as you will never get your fingerprints off of them! Don't worry if they look slightly lackluster as you bag them, they will clean themselves up in the bag as they sit. Store in a cool, dry place.

Old Fashioned Lollipops
Yield: enough for 10-12 average sized molds
1 cup sugar
1/3 cup light corn syrup
1/2 cup water
1/8 to 1/2 tsp flavoring oil
food coloring (optional)
1/8 tsp citric acid (optional, provides tartness)

Heat the sugar, corn syrup, and water together in a heavy sauce pan fitted with a candy thermometer. Heat to 300 degrees F over medium-high heat (takes about 10 minutes). Remove from the heat. Let mixture cool to 275 degrees F before adding flavorings and colorings. Be careful when adding these mix-ins, as the candy will bubble and steam violently. A wooden spoon is best as it does not conduct the heat to your hands. 300 degree F sugar will burn the living heck out of you, so be very careful. Pour quickly into molds and let cool completely.

Here are the guidelines I use for some of my favorite flavors:
  • Root beer - 1/2 tsp flavoring, no coloring needed
  • Lemon - 1/4 tsp flavoring, 5 drops color
  • Sour Lemon - 1/4 tsp flavoring, 5 drops color, 1/8 tsp citric acid

Monday, June 22, 2009

Perfectly Cooked Link Sausage

I am a big fan of link sausage, but, for some reason, following the cooking directions on the packages of links always disappointed me. See, my favorite part of the sausage is the flavorful, browned bits on the outside of the link. For years, I was so disappointed by the results of my sausage cooking, that I despaired of ever getting it right.

I can't even remember how it came about, this drastic change in my sausage cooking fortunes. Now, preparing sausage for breakfast is a joy. It's the easiest part of fixing a meal - even easier than making toast! Really! If you are sausage link challenged like I was, take heart. Help is here.

Here's the trick to perfect sausage:
  • Make sure you are using sausage that is completely thawed.
  • You need a nonstick skillet with a tight fitting lid.
  • Place the skillet on the burner over medium-high heat. Spray the inside with oil or drizzle a tiny little bit of oil in the pan to get things going. Too much oil will reduce your browning so go easy!
  • Add the sausage.
  • Put the lid on the pan.
  • When you really hear things start to sizzle inside, turn the heat down to medium, medium-low. Don't turn too low; you want to still hear sizzle, but you want it to be browning, not blacking.
  • Periodically "shake" the pan horizontally across the burner to roll the sausages around. This allows all sides of the sausage to get a lovely brown without having to open the lid.
  • Cook for approximately 8-10 minutes. I've never actually timed it, but I start the sausage first and when the eggs and toast are done, so is the sausage.

The lid is where it is at. The steam released while the links cook keep them juicy and succulent. Perfect sausage every time!

Sunday, June 21, 2009

June 2009 Giveaway

I decided it was time for another giveaway! This time, I am offering a basket (well, the basket is actually not included - it's easier to ship that way) full of homemade/homegrown goodies. While the winner's basket will not look exactly like this one, it will be very similar. I just wanted to give folks an idea of what the giveaway is offering. In addition to the food items, I am also including a handmade ceramic pour set. I keep mine by the stove with olive and vegetable oil for sauteing. You could also use them for oil and vinegar... or whatever else strikes your fancy.

So what can you expect in the winning "basket"?

Well, there will be snickerdoodle cookies, curry cashews, a jar of Merlot jelly, fresh dried herbs, my best ever pancakes mix, granola, lollipops, and dried cherry tomatoes (a very yummy snack!). Again, there will also be a ceramic pour set in the mix (oil not included!):

So, here's the deal. This giveaway is open to anyone willing to have the prize shipped within the United States. To enter, simply post a comment somewhere on my blog before 11:59 pm CDT, June 30. I will randomly select a winner from all comments. Please remember that if you are an anonymous poster you need to include contact information so that I can reach you if you win! Please, only one entry per person per day. Winners will be announced on July 1st. Thanks for visiting and good luck!

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Cornmeal Tart Reprise

I had some of that cornmeal crust dough left over from those strawberry tarts that I made the other night. There were blueberries sitting in the fridge that were needing to be used up, so I figured I could throw a little something, something together.

Look at those luscious blueberries peeking out with that "come hither" look about them. The cornmeal crust was golden and delicious... maybe even better with blueberries than strawberries (please don't tell the strawberries I said that!). Throwing this together was so quick and easy, and it was perfect with a little dollop of vanilla ice cream. Yowza!

What I really like about these types of free-form tarts is that there is no worry about the shape that you end up with. And you never have any forlorn left over scraps that you aren't sure what to do with. Simply roll the dough out, transfer onto a baking sheet, fill with some kind of fruit filling, and fold over the edges. I also brushed with some egg wash and sprinkled with sanding sugar - mainly because I think I may be a little smitten with the sanding sugar. I use it all the time now days (maybe you've noticed).

This is a really loosey-goosey recipe. A lot of it depends on your fruit. Basically, just mix your fruit with some sugar (my berries were very sweet, so I used very little sugar), a little lemon zest, a dash of ground nutmeg, and 2-3 teaspoons of cornstarch per 1 cup of berries (go a little heavier if you are using frozen berries). Pour into the middle of your rolled crust (which is now on a sheet pan). Fold over the edges, brush with egg wash and sprinkle with a little sugar. Bake at 375 degrees F until the tart starts to brown nicely. Remove and let it cool slightly before serving. If you serve too quickly, the fruit will still be very runny. If you wait just a little bit, the filling will firm up.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Strawberry Tarts with Cornmeal Crust

Growing up, I loved it when my grandmother would make a fresh strawberry pie. For some reason, I never came across the recipe for the filling. I guess I had always assumed it was just a jello filling. Silly me. I suppose I always could have looked it up, but somehow it had slipped into my subconscious... until two years ago. A friend made a traditional strawberry pie for a BBQ and she was kind enough to give me her filling recipe.

I have made a number of traditional strawberry pies since. But I've been wanting to try a recipe for a cornmeal crust and I felt that a cornmeal crust and strawberries would really go well together - and they do. While I think I may play with this crust recipe in the future, it is quite tasty as it is. The cornmeal gives a nice, subtle flavor enhancement to the crust as well as a beautiful light yellow hue.

You could make this as a regular pie or as one large tart, but I like to make the individuals. Not only are they darn cute, they're a great portion control. If I bake it as a whole pie, I somehow always seem to be able to justify a quarter of the pie being "one piece."

The first step is to make the crust. I use a food processor, but you could do it the old fashioned way, too. Mix the dry ingredients together. Notice that it's not an overwhelming amount of cornmeal.

Add the cold butter in chunks. Process until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. This is very much like making a pie crust. If you need a review of that process, you can visit my pie crust post. Then, while pulsing, add the buttermilk.

Only process until it starts to come together in a ball. Once it reaches this point, it is very easy to press the remaining crumbs together to form one big ball. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and flatten slightly to form a disk. Place in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes. This dough is a little on the wet and sticky side, so longer is better for the refrigeration.

When you are ready to roll out the dough, be exceptionally generous with the flour. As I said, this dough is a tad on the sticky side. Roll out to a bit shy of 1/4 inch thick.

I used the little tart pans with the removable bottoms, so I used one of those bottoms as a template to cut out rounds of dough.

Then I gently placed the dough rounds into the tins. Try not to stretch the dough. When you are putting it in the edges, try to gently "place" it into the tin versus pressing it in.

Then I used a knife right across the top of the tin to cut off the excess dough.

Prick the bottoms of the crusts with a fork and place into a preheated 400 degree F oven. Bake until they are starting to turn golden on the edges, about 20 minutes. If you notice them puffing up while baking, simply prick them with a fork to release the air. I had to do this two or three times while baking. Remove from the oven to a cooling rack when they are done. As soon as they are cool enough to handle easily, slip them out of the tins and continue cooling them on the rack until they are completely cooled.

While the crusts are baking, I like to start the filling. It is a very simple combination of sugar, water, cornstarch, and strawberry gelatin. If you want to use a different fruit, you can alter the flavor of the sauce by changing the gelatin. I really like fresh blueberry pies as well.

Make the sauce and then let it cool in the fridge before pouring over the fruit. When the crust and filling is all ready, mound fruit in the shells and pour the filling over. Once the tarts/pies are finished, they need to refrigerate for a few hours before serving.

Cornmeal Crust
Yield: enough for 6 small tarts or 2 full size pies

1 3/4 cup all purpose flour
1/3 cup sugar
1/4 cup cornmeal
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup cold butter, cut into small cubes
1/3 cup buttermilk

In a food processor, mix the first four, dry ingredients. Add the butter and pulse until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. While pulsing, add the buttermilk and process just until the dough starts to form a ball. Remove dough onto plastic wrap and form a disk. Completely cover and refrigerate for at least half and hour.

Roll out dough using plenty of flour. Place in desired pans and prick the bottom with a fork. Bake at 400 degrees F until gently browned, about 20 minutes. Remove from oven and cool on a rack. Remove from pan when cool enough to handle and continue cooling on rack.

Strawberry Pie Filling
Yield: enough for 6 mini tarts or 1 full sized pie or 2 full sized tarts

1 cup sugar
2 TBS cornstarch
1 cup water
1/4 cup strawberry gelatin
food coloring (optional, I did not use)

Mix the sugar and cornstarch together in a sauce pan. Add the water and place over medium-high heat. Bring to a slow boil, whisking regularly. Cook until the mixture has thickened and has become translucent, about 6 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the gelatin. Chill in the refrigerator until it starts to set before pouring over the fruit.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

What you didn't know you need...

This, my friends, is a string holder. You may or may not have ever seen such a thing, but I'm here to sing its praises. Now, I don't use kitchen twine all the time, but when I do, I want it to be convenient. I don't want to chase the darn thing around the kitchen as the ball unwinds on me. I don't want to have to worry about contaminating the rest of the ball with the raw meat juice that invariably gets all over my hands as I truss that darn chicken up. Or prime rib. Or whatever the heck else needs trussing.

I used to be string challenged. And how do you store a ball of string in the kitchen anyway? Mine always ended up wound around the handle of every kitchen gadget known to man. As a result, I avoided trussing recipes like the plague.

But, hark! There is a solution. This little gizmo is made of cast iron, so it is heavy enough to hold your string wherever you put it. Simply tug on the end, and the string feeds out like magic. I love it. And it looks darn good sitting on the counter, too.

My mom got me this one. There were a lot of these made "way back when" and you can often find them in antique stores. My mom was visiting me in Ohio and we went antiquing and came across this beauty. My birthday was coming along in the near future, so my mom said she would get it for me. Apparently, we hadn't given it a very thorough inspection at the store because after we got home and flipped it over, we saw - gasp - a "TAIWAN" stamp in the bottom!! It wasn't an antique at all but a reproduction. That's OK. It still works the same and looks the same AND it means that you can find one easier and cheaper.

See? You never knew you needed one, did you?

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Creamy Garlic Dressing

I am very picky about my salad dressings. It could have something to do with the fact that I didn't even start using dressing until I was around twenty years old.

That's right... for the first half of my life I ate naked salad.

As with so many things, my tastes have changed over time. But I still go easy on the dressing and - as I said - am pretty picky about what graces the leaves of my salads. I usually go for vinaigrettes, but sometimes I need a little change of pace. This dressing is the perfect pace changer. Garlicky, cheesy, creamy, tangy. It's the perfect mix of flavors.

As the name implies, some garlic is in order. You need about 1 TBS of minced garlic. That's usually around three cloves... unless they're ginormous ones like these beauts.

Once you've peeled and minced the garlic, pour a teaspoon of kosher salt over the garlic on your cutting board.

Using the side of your chef knife, smear the garlic and salt together to form a paste. I love this technique and use it all the time. It's a great way to break down garlic that you are going to use in a raw application where you don't want big chunks. The kosher salt plays two parts in this process besides seasoning: its coarse texture helps to break down the garlic and it helps the garlic to release its moisture to aid in "paste formation".

Ah, now we have a nice paste. Add this paste to a smallish bowl.

To the garlic, add 1/2 cup of mayo.

Then add 1 TBS sugar and 1/4 cup of grated Parmesan cheese. I just use the stuff out of the green can for this application, but you can use the real deal if you want. Whisk together.

Don't forget the pepper! I like a lot of coarsely ground, fresh black pepper in here. I like the dark specks in my dressing as well as the flavor. I probably ground about half a teaspoon in here before my hand got tired and I said, "Good enough!"

Lastly, add 3 TBS white wine vinegar and 3 TBS of regular vegetable oil. Whisk together until it becomes a nice, creamy dressing.

Yum! But you really need to wait before you use it. I know... I'm asking a lot here.

I like to make it at least a couple of hours ahead of time so that the flavors have a chance to meld and develop. I decant my dressing into a handy bottle so that it's easy to pour and store. This dressing will keep in the refrigerator for about a week, but mine usually disappears before then.

Creamy Garlic Dressing
Yield: about 1 1/2 cups of finished dressing

1 TBS loosely packed, minced garlic
1 tsp kosher salt
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1 TBS sugar
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
3 TBS white wine vinegar
3 TBS vegetable oil

Smear the garlic and kosher salt together with your chef knife to form a paste. In a bowl, mix the garlic paste, mayo, sugar, pepper, and Parmesan together. Then whisk in the vinegar and oil. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours before using. Dressing will keep in the refrigerator for up to one week.
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