Monthly Archives: November 2012

Chocolate Orange Pie (Basics IV: Orange Curd + Graham Cracker Crust)

Aside from the word “curd” grating my senses on every level, I find the topic one of importance for my basics series. Yes, that’s right I said curd.  Curd is the word that sounds gross, but is not.  It’s actually quite awesome and tasty when you think about it, and though it might need a new name, it is in fact delicious on many levels:  It’s creamy, it is perfectly sweet, it’s tart, and it is rich yet light in taste and decadent in texture which is what makes it worth knowing and tasting.

A basic curd in a graham cracker crust is one of the easiest yet more impressive things you can learn to make as far as desserts go, in my opinion.  It’s a simple means of creating something delicious that occasionally confounds even the most experienced home cooks (they all use jello, usually, instead for whatever reason).  It works as a filling for pastry shells, cakes, cookies and so many other things. Curd is generally seen as lemon, but, since lemons are more of a spring flavor, I wanted to use orange.  Once I decided on orange, I remembered that a good part of my family has a mild obsession with all things chocolate-orange.  This pie is what I brought to Thanksgiving dinner, along with some other desserts, as well.  It’s just a chocolate graham cracker crust with an orange curd poured into it, topped with mini chocolate chips around the edges and left to chill just enough, so it sets well.  Sounds easy because it is easy.

Today, I am very thankful I am home, spending time with my family, decorating for the holidays.  Happy belated Thanksgiving, everyone.  Enjoy the leftovers and enjoy what’s left of the long weekend.

Chocolate Orange Pie

  • Chocolate Graham Cracker Crust (recipe below)
  • Orange Curd (recipe below)
  • Mini Chocolate Chips

Pour orange curd into graham cracker crust.  Top edges with mini chocolate chips.  Cover and chill to set before eating.

Chocolate Graham Cracker Crust

  • 9 whole chocolate graham crackers, crumbled
  • 1  stick unsalted butter, melted
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon sugar

Preheat oven to three hundred fifty degrees F.

Combine all ingredients in a large food processor.  Pulse until uniform in texture.

Pour into nine inch baking dish and push down onto the bottom of the dish and work onto sides of the dish, creating a one inch tall layer about a quarter of an inch thick all around the sides of the dish.  Bake in preheated oven for eight to ten minutes. Remove from oven and place on a cooling rack to cool to room temperature.


Orange Curd

  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1/3 cup fresh orange juice
  • 1/3 cup fresh lemon juice
  • 6 large eggs
  • 2 large egg yolks
  • 1 tablespoon grated orange peel
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into 8 pieces, room temperature

In a medium metal bowl, whisk together: sugar, orange juice, lemon juice, eggs, egg yolks, and orange peel.  Add butter; set bowl over saucepan of simmering water and whisk constantly until curd thickens and instant-read thermometer inserted into curd registers 175°F, about 12 minutes (Don’t boil it).  Remove bowl from over water. Press plastic wrap directly onto surface of curd; chill at least 1 day and up to 3 days.


Orange curd adapted from Bon Appetit, 2002


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Pie Crust: Basics III

If there’s a massive frozen turkey sitting in your freezer and you plan to cook it for Thanksgiving, you should probably go ahead and start thawing.  I also recommend brining it in a flavored, non-acidic salt solution. I don’t claim expertise in the meat department, of course, but I do know that a bloated turkey will cook up plump and juicy.

If you want your turkey to taste more like turkey and don’t mind a bit less moisture in your bird, then just a dry salt rub will work as well.  Fortunately, at Thanksgiving, I don’t have to worry about turkey.   I am a big fan of letting other people handle the poultry (“Ah! Is that a feather?!”).

I just make some pies and tarts and help out with what I can, maybe making some sauces or prepping vegetables while simultaneously holding a glass of wine and eating cheese.  I am a big fan of having Christmas dinner at our house, where I can get away with making anything other than poultry.  It’s a bit early to start thinking about all of that, though.

Thanksgiving first.

Let’s talk pie crust.

I prefer an all butter pie crust.  While some claim that lard or Crisco gives a more flaky texture, and say things like, “It doesn’t even taste like pig or Crisco,”  I find that statement inaccurate, from personal experience.

Any pie crust worth making from scratch, (and not just buying one of the refrigerator crusts),  is going to be made completely with real butter.

All you have to do is not overwork the dough and you’ll have a beautifully flaky delicious, buttery crust for your pie. I use my hands instead of a mixer or food processor to prevent overworking it.  You can use this basic pie crust recipe for both sweet and savory dishes.

Basic Pie Crust

  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for rolling
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1/2 teapoon sugar (optional)
  • 2 1/2 sticks unsalted butter
  • 4 tablespoons ice water, plus more if needed


1. Whisk together flour and salt in a large bowl.

2.  Optional: Sprinkle sugar evenly over butter.

3.  Toss butter into flour mixture to coat.

4.  Using your fingers, rub all ingredients together until shaggy.

5.  Add ice water and mix with your hands, until dough comes together and forms a ball, adding more water if needed.  Note: Try not to overwork the dough during this process or the crust will not be flaky and tender.

6.  Divide dough in half, making one half slightly larger.  The larger crust is for the bottom pie crust.

7.  Shape each half into a one inch thick disk and wrap tightly in plastic wrap.

8.  Refrigerate for at least two hours, or overnight.

9.  Remove dough disks from refrigeration for rolling.  The larger dough disk gets rolled first. On a floured work surface, roll dough from center to edges, lightly flouring the surface of rolling pin as needed, and frequently rotating the dough while rolling, until it reaches thirteen to fourteen inches in diameter, about 1/8 of an inch thick. The second dough disk gets rolled in the same manner, to 12 inches in diameter, about 1/8  of an inch thick.  Fold larger dough in half and transfer to a nine to ten inch pie plate, gently easing the dough into the corners and up the sides.   Transfer the smaller dough onto a parchment lined baking sheet and refrigerate both doughs for fifteen minutes.


Pie Crust: Basics III

Recipe Type: Pastry, basic
Cuisine: American
Author: Adapted from Thomas Keller’s, “Basic Pie Crust”.
Basic Pie Crust
  • •2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for rolling
  • •1 1/4 teaspoons kosher salt
  • •1/2 teapoon sugar (optional)
  • •2 1/2 sticks unsalted butter
  • •4 tablespoons ice water, plus more if needed
  1. Whisk together flour and salt in a large bowl.
  2. Optional: Sprinkle sugar evenly over butter.
  3. Toss butter into flour mixture to coat.
  4. Using your fingers, rub all ingredients together until shaggy.
  5. Add ice water and mix with your hands, until dough comes together and forms a ball, adding more water if needed. Note: Try not to overwork the dough during this process or the crust will not be flaky and tender.
  6. Divide dough in half, making one half slightly larger. The larger crust is for the bottom pie crust.
  7. Shape each half into a one inch thick disk and wrap tightly in plastic wrap.
  8. Refrigerate for at least two hours, or overnight.
  9. Remove dough disk from refrigeration for rolling. The larger dough disk gets rolled first. On a floured work roll dough from center to edges, lightly flouring the surface of rolling pin as needed, and frequently rotating the dough until it reaches thirteen to fourteen inches in diameter, about 1/8 of an inch thick. The second dough disk gets rolled in the same manner, to 12 inches in diameter, about 1/8 of an inch thick. Fold larger dough in half and transfer to a nine to ten inch pie plate, gently easing the dough into the corners and up the sides. Transfer the smaller dough onto a parchment lined baking sheet.
  10. Refrigerate both doughs for fifteen minutes.


Source: Pie Crust Adapted from :  Thomas Keller, Ad Hoc at Home (p. 338 “basic pie crust”).


Other sources of inspiration and information:

good eats, Sandro Micheli Pie, Serious Eats, all-recipes,




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Kate’s Cold Weather Vegetable Stock: Basics II


Alright Thanksgiving, you sneaky little minx, you.  I’m onto you and your mischievous ways.  I get all wrapped up in Halloween and then a week later…BAM!   It’s time to start planning Thanksgiving.   So, what do vegetarians eat at Thanksgiving?  Everything!  Well, everything except turkey, that is.  If the cook uses vegetable stock instead of chicken or turkey stock, I can pretty much eat everything except the turkey (obviously).

Vegetable stock is a versatile little bombshell that I use practically every day.  This is a bit of a hybrid between a court stock, mushroom stock and a vegetable stock. I don’t normally need three different varieties, so this one works for me for almost everything.  I change the vegetables and seasonings based on the weather and what’s generally in season, so this one is my “cold weather stock”.

There’s only one week until Thanksgiving, so let’s get rolling with the basics series!

I take some leeks, slice up the whites, peel some carrots and slice those up.  Next, I add sweet potato, spanish onion, shallots and bunch of not-so fancy mushrooms and then toss it all into the food processor to turn it into teeny tiny pieces that come together like a paste.  I mince them up like that because it yields the greatest amount of surface area on the vegetables which allows for the most flavor to be pulled out of them in the shortest amount of time.

I take those and brown them up in the bottom of the stock pot with a bit of oil, then add a little full-bodied wine, one whole garlic clove and a bay leaf, a touch of salt, pepper and I add some parsley sprigs with the leaves still on as well as a bit of sage and rosemary.   Next I add just the smallest, tiniest pinch of roasted cumin and freshly grated nutmeg to warm it up a bit and compliment the mushrooms in the stock for these colder months.   Last, I add a whole big pot of water and if I’m feeling in an acidic mood, I add about a tablespoon of aged balsamic vinegar.  I like the sweet acidity, though, so that’s optional and might just be something that I like.   Simmer it and season it to taste and that is it.   You’re done and you have about twenty dollars worth of stock on your hands to use however you’d like.  Gravy, anyone?

Tip: Grocery store vegetable stocks are pretty much the same as vegetable broth.  If you prefer to use store-bought stock as a time saver, check the labels and choose one that has the best listed ingredients and the least amount of salt, so you can control the amount of salt added.  If you want to try making your own, I promise that this recipe is very easy,can be altered to your liking, and is highly cost efficient.  Buying a one quart box of quality vegetable stock (especially the ones with the pictures of the celebrity chef on the box) can set you back as much as four dollars!  This will give you about five of those boxes.  This stock freezes very well and can be made in large batches ahead of time, which is a great idea when planning a large meal like Thanksgiving.


Kate’s Cold Weather Vegetable Stock


  • whites of 2 leeks, sliced (2 1/2 cups of sliced leeks)
  • 1 spanish onion, sliced (1 1/2 cups sliced spanish onion)
  • 20 ounces of button mushrooms, sliced
  • 1 large or 2 small carrot(s), peeled and sliced (3/4 cup of sliced carrots)
  • 2 shallots, peeled and sliced (1/2 cup sliced shallots)
  • 3/4 cup peeled and sliced sweet potato
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 teaspoons salt, plus more to taste
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more to taste
  • 1 cup full-bodied red wine
  • 4 to 5 quarts of water
  • 4 sprigs of parsley with the leaves still attached
  • 2 sprigs of thyme
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 garlic clove
  • 1/8 teaspoon roasted cumin (optional)
  • 1/8 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried rosemary (optional)
  • 1/4 teaspoon rubbed sage
  • 1 tablespoon aged sweet balsamic vinegar (optional)

Note: be sure to wash the leeks very well, as they tend to hold a lot of dirt between the layers. I like to slice them and then drop them into water and let the dirt fall to the bottom.  Then I scoop them out with a spider (or slotted spoon) and repeat that process, until no dirt falls to the bottom of the water.

In a food processor, add leeks, onions, mushrooms, carrots, shallots, and the sweet potato.  Pulse until very finely and evenly chopped.  scrape sides of the food processor and repeat pulse as needed.    In a large, heavy bottomed stock pot over medium low heat, add oil and prepared vegetables.  Stir occasionally until browned, about 15 minutes.  Add salt, pepper and wine and stir.  Add water.  Add remaining ingredients.  Simmer and season with salt and pepper to taste and remove from heat.  Once cooled slightly, pour through a fine mesh strainer.

Note: when adding salt, add small pinches at a time and simmer for a few minutes between each so you don’t over do it.

To freeze: Bring to room temperature, freeze in one quart freezer containers.  Can be made and frozen one month in advance without losing much flavor.



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A New Series. Basics I: Roasting Garlic

Thanksgiving is the beginning of the holiday season for us here, and often acts as a catalyst for those who don’t normally cook, to suddenly begin doing just that.  I get a bunch of panic stricken emails that ooze with frenzied inquiries, “How much is a sprinkle of salt?!  What the heck is a parsnip?!”.    I don’t mind answering questions, so please feel free to ask as much as you’d like and I’ll help as much as I can.   Some of these emails are quite amusing, honestly, so I enjoy reading them.  I get the most questions about vegetables, whether or not substitutions can be made in a recipe, making stock, making butter, baking bread and whether or not certain details matter in a recipe.  So, I’ll try to cover all of these things before the end of the holiday season.

Note: The following paragraph is excessively boring to those that know how to add salt.  Feel free to skip it.

The answer is: I salt to taste.  I pick the salt up in my hand (about a half teaspoon at a time, maybe a little less) using my thumb and two fingers, raise my arm about eight inches above the object I’m salting and make it rain a bit slowly and gently as I move my arm and fingers slightly over the dish. I taste again and salt again if needed.  Even if I did measure the amount of salt in my hand, I can’t imagine that every granule actually goes directly into the pan or pot, honestly.  Also, salt is something that varies a lot when a substitution or alteration of ingredients is made.   If you used a brand or type of stock that’s different from what I used, the salt level might be different at that point in the recipe and therefore call for a different amount of added salt.  Not to mention, I might like things more salty than you do, which is another variable to account for.  I don’t like when minor alterations made to a recipe completely derail the main objective.  If you have any questions, please ask via comments or email.  I’ll help you out as much as I can.

While I’m talking about basics, I just want to note that baking is different.  Baking requires exact measurements, so don’t improvise while baking.  I’m not much of a fan of washing all those tiny cups and spoons, but I will break out my measuring tools for a good cake.  It’s true.

So, what’s the point of this?  I want everyone to know that cooking, no matter how complicated, can be as simple as a series of small steps.  Those steps don’t even have to require much skill, either.   If you don’t have any knife skills, use a food processor and try not to cut yourself on the blades.  Those things are sharp!  If you don’t want to mince an onion or wash a food processor, try using a hand held grater instead.  It might be slightly different, but the overall effect will still be there.  Basic terms like, “season” usually means, “don’t forget to add a little salt so it doesn’t taste terrible and bland”.

“Roasting” just means “cooking something in the oven or over an open flame until done”.  I don’t have a gas range, so unless there’s a grill involved, I roast in the oven.  Roasting a squash, a pumpkin, an eggplant, broccoli, cauliflower, parsnips, carrots, and most other vegetables that you might roast are all pretty much the same.  Sprinkle with salt, a little pepper if desired, and a small drizzle of olive oil and put them in a hot oven until they’re soft enough, or done to your liking.

I’m going to focus today on roasting garlic.  Garlic has a very potent smell and flavor.  It’s strong and and can be very overpowering.  However, if you roast garlic, it becomes soft, almost like the consistency of room temperature butter.  The flavor becomes sweeter and milder and more tolerable to the masses.   If you know how to roast garlic, you’re once step closer to knowing what the heck you’re doing.  You can use it a million different ways in any recipe that calls for garlic. Or you can use it just as it is.  Put out the whole head of garlic with some amazing bakery bread, as part of an appetizer platter.  Guests can break off a clove and squeeze and spread it right onto the bread.  If you want to go one step further, you can mix it with a bit of olive oil or butter and chopped herbs which is one of my favorite ways to use roasted garlic, aside from in recipes.  You can also mix it with some avocado and lemon juice for a deliciously healthy alternative to using oil or butter.

It’s simple and uncomplicated.  Basics are nothing to freak out about.   I promise.


Oven Roasted Garlic

  • 4 heads of garlic
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon espelette pepper (or freshly cracked black pepper)
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil


Note: The tighter and firmer the garlic, the fresher it is, so choose tight firm heads of garlic.

Preheat oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit.  Hold the garlic so the root end is on the side, not the top or bottom. Chop half an inch off the opposite end (the top stem, or the non-root end) off to expose the individual cloves of garlic.  You may use what you chopped off in other recipes, if you’d like.

Place the garlic heads root end down, cut side up, into a small saute pan or baking dish that fits them well, nestled snug together.  Pour a quarter cup of water or vegetable stock into the bottom of the dish.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Drizzle with olive oil.  Place in preheated oven for thirty to forty minutes.

The garlic cloves are ready when squeezably soft, golden brown, fragrant and easily pierced with a sharp knife.


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Weathering the Storm with Sourdough

After days of battling grocery crazed mobs we were finally home, as ready as possible for whatever was about to hit us.  It was Tuesday afternoon when the lights first flickered and shortly after, a booming explosion erupted from about a block away and we were in the dark.   It was the fist time our home had been quiet in a while, which was a bit unsettling at first.  Void of our usual beeping electronic devices we huddled together with flashlights and limited battery power as it became dark.  The rain poured endlessly.  The wind began to pick up and roared through the valley below our home, shaking the glass in the windows that night, which is admittedly not conducive to sleep.  Regularly waking to what I’m convinced was a flock of dragons flying above our home, I finally gave up on sleep and waited for the light to appear again.

It was morning and we were able to find some board games and more candles and flashlights.  I spent most of that day making candles from kitchen twine, paper clips and cooking oils placed upon large platters surrounded by water so we could see the game we were playing, which I don’t recommend to anyone unless they know what they’re doing since it’s such a fire risk.  Mostly, this task was just to keep busy since there wasn’t much to do.   I also turned the flashlights into makeshift lanterns, bouncing them off of mirrors and hanging them from the curtains. We were also fortunate that the gas fireplace was still functioning and safe, which added a lot of comfort to our surroundings.  We had music, pizza, entertainment, fire, water and each other.  The wind had settled and we were finally shifting into a zone of familial comfort despite our newly adopted powerless lifestyle.  I grilled (that was an adventure) outside in the icy rain; which by the way, I only recommend if you have multiple pairs of shoes and clean dry socks due to extensive amounts of mud.  Yuck.  Everyone was perfectly fine, healthy, happy and even started to calm down and have a little fun.

We were in the middle of monopoly, completely unaware of what time or day it was when the lights popped back on.  We burst into spontaneous celebration and immediately contacted everyone to tell them we were ok and find out how they were as well.  Our house is now relatively back to normal and open to friends and relatives in need of power. The problem is that most of them can’t make it here due to the gas shortage. Our regular grocery store finally has power, but still doesn’t have regular items like eggs and milk, but does have copious amounts of bread baking supplies and I had some cream that I stashed on ice that I could churn into butter and buttermilk.   Yes, I know it’s slightly nuts.  But it soothes me, so let’s just do it.  I’m ok with it.

It’s just a  simple sourdough bread recipe that I tried and liked.  I like baking the bread in a very hot preheated dutch oven since I’ve always had the best results with that method (since it traps the steam and gives it extra height and more air pockets).  However, this recipe called for something a bit different and I figured I’d give it a try.  The results were delicious, and the recipe remains unaltered and highly approved.  The only part that I experimented with was that I used about four ice cubes instead of the half cup of water (for moisture in the oven) since I find they give off more steam than just water.  Steam in the oven, as I’ve discussed many times before, is the key to great homemade bread.   Steam allows bread to not form a crust too early in the baking process, which can inhibit the bread’s ability to rise while in the oven baking.  If the crust forms too early, it traps the bread in a coating and will never have the same results as bakery bread.

This bread has delicious flavor, even without toppings.  The fermentation process means more tang and more complexity of flavor than other bread recipes.   It’s a simple and delicious way to remember that only a few ingredients can come together and work beautifully over time with just a little effort.  This recipe creates a basic and simply delicious hearty necessity while weathering any storm. I hope you are safe out there, everyone.  It’s time for me to get back to work getting our area up and running again.

OH!   and p.s.

Happy belated Halloween from my little T-Rex and Batman! It seems I have more photos of the back of their costumes than the front.  I blame the momentary sugar high on both ends.



Sourdough Bread

by Alton Brown, Bon Appetit | October 2004.

  • 1 cup warm filtered or spring water (105°F to 115°F)
  • 3/4 cup Proto-Dough (recipe below)
  • 1/4 cup buttermilk
  • 3/4 teaspoon instant or rapid-rise yeast
  • 3 1/3 cups (or more) bread flour, divided
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • Nonstick vegetable oil spray

Mix first 4 ingredients in bowl of heavy-duty mixer. Add 2 cups flour; stir to blend. Cover bowl with kitchen towel. Let rise in warm draft-free area until doubled in volume, about 1 1/2 hours.

Using dough hook, mix in 1 1/3 cups flour and salt at lowest setting. Increase speed slightly; knead dough 5 minutes, adding more flour by tablespoonfuls if dough sticks to sides of bowl. Let dough rest 15 minutes. Knead on low 5 minutes. Scrape dough from hook into bowl. Remove bowl from stand. Coat rubber spatula with nonstick spray. Slide spatula under and around dough, coating dough lightly. Cover bowl with kitchen towel. Let dough rise until doubled in volume, about 1 hour.

Turn dough out onto floured surface and fold over on itself several times to flatten. Divide in half. Shape each half into a round. Make slashes down each loaf.

Sprinkle large rimmed baking sheet with cornmeal. Space loaves on sheet 3 inches apart. Dust tops with flour. Cover with plastic; let rise in warm draft-free area until doubled in volume, about 1 hour.

Place 13x9x2-inch metal baking pan on bottom of oven. Position rack at lowest level of oven; preheat to 500°F. Place bread in oven. Quickly pour 1/2 cup water into metal pan ( I used five ice cubes and covered the glass oven door with a pot holder while dropping them into the pan); close oven door. Bake 5 minutes. Add 1/2 cup water to pan. Quickly close door; reduce oven temperature to 425°F. Bake loaves until puffed and golden, about 20 minutes. Transfer to rack; cool 15 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Note: if using ice cubes instead of water, cover the glass door of your oven first before tossing the ice cubes into the pan. If ice hits hot glass, it will crack.   I find ice cubes allow for a bit more steam than water.

  • 1 2/3 cups bread flour
  • 1 teaspoon instant or rapid-rise yeast
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1/2 500-mg vitamin C pill (not chewable), crushed
  • 2 cups warm filtered or spring water (105°F to 115°F)

Sift first 4 ingredients into medium bowl. Place 2 cups warm water in large clean sealable container. Add dry ingredients; whisk vigorously to combine. Cover container with lid slightly ajar; let stand in warm draft-free area 24 hours.

Alton Brown’s tips for using proto-dough: Afer 24 hours, you can use the proto-dough in a recipe. Or you can develop with flavor by adding a cup each of warm water and bread flour, letting it stand, uncovered, at room temperature until foamy (about 2 hours) and stashing it, covered, in the fridge for at least 3 weeks. An alcohol-rich liquid will rise to the surface every few days; just whisk it back in. “Feed” the proto-dough every time you take some to use in a recipe. For every cup taken add a cup each of water and bread flour, let foam, and return to the fridge. Proto-dough can last for years, as long as you keep taking and feeding. To use proto-dough in a regular yeast recipe, replace the dry yeast and every cup of liquid (including dissolving liquid) with 1/2 cup of proto-dough, 5 ounces liquid, and 1/2 teaspoon instant yeast.



 Source for proto-dough and sourdough by Alton Brown, Bon Appetit | October 2004.





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