perfect pie crust

“I have a confession to make; I love pie but I never make my own crust. I know I should, I realize that it’s not really all that difficult and that homemade is far superior to store bought, but somehow I’ve just never gotten around to giving it a whirl. However I promise that one day soon I will make the effort. I promise…”

I wrote these words two years ago and I’m embarrassed to say that up until recently, they remained true. As much as I preach about homemade real food I honestly had NEVER made or even attempted to make pie crust from scratch. Why? Good question and one I actually don’t have an answer to. I guess I simply just wasn’t in the mood. However it would appear that the universe was fed up with my wishy-washy attitude towards pie crust and decided to force the issue. How you may wonder. With the perfect storm of gardening scenarios… The threat of an early frost and tomato plants that just wouldn’t quit.

You see my vegetable garden; My suburban oasis, the fulfillment of my wannabe farmer aspirations and my favorite place to putter around and avoid all the things I should be doing instead had one of its most successful seasons ever. Was it thanks to the bees? The fact that last years crop was so pitiful that I was due a bountiful year or was it simply good luck? I’m just not sure. What I do know is that this year was one of the most prolific years my little garden has ever had. So imagine my dismay when the overnight temps were predicted to drop well below freezing and my tomato plants were still loaded with unripe tomatoes. I did the only thing I could think to do, I picked the fruit and decided to figure out the rest later.

According to Martha Stewart green tomato pie is DELICIOUS and the perfect substitute for apple pie. In fact she claims that by using the same spices as you would in a traditional apple pie, you can actually fool your unsuspecting guests.

Martha was wrong. Very wrong.

My tomato pie was a giant soupy, undercooked and fairly disgusting looking mess. But… The crust (which I had spontaneously decided to make from scratch) was AMAZING! So good that I actually couldn’t bear to throw it out. Instead I poured the tomato gunk out, wrapped up what remained and we ate crust with vanilla ice cream for dessert the rest of the week. Funny right, but true nonetheless. I am now a from scratch crust devotee and a total crust snob who’s shameful Pillsbury purchasing days are well behind her.

“Candy might be sweet, but it’s a traveling carnival blowing through town. Pie is home. People always come home…” This has been one of my favorite quotes for some time, but my newfound crust appreciation makes me feel like I finally truly understand it.

Super Simple Food Processor Pie Crust
Sure cooks have been making delicious and flakey pie crust by hand for hundreds of years, but that doesn’t mean you have to. Have a little faith in technology.

1 1/2 sticks (12 tbsp.) cold salted butter
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/3 cup cold vegetable shortening, such as Crisco
1/2 cup ice water
  1. Cut the butter into cubes and return it to the refrigerator while you prepare the flour mixture. Place the flour, sugar and salt in the bowl of a food processor and pulse a few times to mix. In multiple batches add the butter and shortening, pulse in between additions until the butter is the size of peas. Continue to pulse and slowly pour the ice water down the feed tube until the dough begins to form a ball (you may not use all of the water.) Scoop out the dough and place on a sheet of plastic wrap. Gently shape into a ball, wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.
  2. The dough is now ready to be used. For a double pie crust cut the dough in half, roll out on a well-floured surface to the size of your pie pan and proceed as usual. For hand pies cut the dough in half, the halves into quarters and the quarters in half again. Roll out and using a pocket pie crimper (or a 6″ inverted bowl), cut out as many circles as possible. Re-roll the crust scraps and continue cutting out circles until you run out of dough. Fill with your choice of sweet or savory filling, bake and enjoy.*

*One of my fondest childhood memories actually revolves around pie crust. My mother has always made hers from scratch and as any baker knows, there is always a bit of leftover dough when the pie is finished. She’d gather the scraps up and roll them back out. Dust them with cinnamon and sugar and slice them into triangular strips. Then she’d roll the strips up, pop them into the oven for a few minutes and voilà… tasty little Rugelach type cookies that to my way of thinking were even better than the pie itself.

pie crust cookies

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life as i know it

My life the past few weeks has become a total whirlwind, all good but moving at the speed of light nonetheless. What’s going on you may wonder… have a seat and let me tell you.

For starters when I went back to work in the Fall it was only for a few hrs. a week, which still gave me ample time to grocery shop, cook, do laundry, etc. It turns out that I’m so good at being the “Director of Brand Strategy” for the new line of felt housewares I’m working on, I’m now in the office four days a week. Still not full-time I grant you, but each day after I leave that job I still have my “pick-up the kids from two separate schools, swing by the grocery store for dinner staples, clean up the breakfast dishes which are undoubtedly still sitting in the sink, shuttle someone to hockey, gymnastics or soccer, start dinner, throw in a load of laundry, make lunches (although my husband and I do share that responsibility), negotiate how many more bites must be consumed and if it was a dessert worthy dinner, remind the kids thirty million times that it’s time to take a shower, double-check with the big one that homework is done and he’s ready for the following day, actually assist in the bathing of the littlest one, remind the kids thirty million more times that it’s now time for bed and ultimately agree to let the littlest one watch ‘one last show’ in our bed before I can call it a day” job to do. I AM TIRED. But that’s not the end of what I’ve got going on. Nope, not even close. Here’s a quick rundown of the little projects I’ve managed to get myself involved in:

group3

 

ONE. I just mentioned my job, but here’s a few more details about it. I work for an architect who is also a practicing artist with a passion for creating with wool felt. For years she’s been making runners, coasters and placemats for friends and clients out of felt and recently decided to launch an actual line of felt housewares; felt. by Rachael Grochowski. That’s where I come in. My job is to take the line from a well thought out idea to a reality, and so far we’re off to a running start. Our website feltbyRG.com just went live, NJ Monthly will be featuring us in an article about NJ artisans, were currently being sold in several local shops, we were just accepted as a featured artisan by Scout Mob and we’ve recently started talking about officially launching our line of custom furniture as well. Busy, busy. busy.

TWO. There was an article in the paper the other day about several organizations here in NJ working to provide prom gowns to girls who may not ordinarily be able to afford one. I remember prom gown shopping and how important the “perfect gown” was, more important than the perfect date in fact. It made me sad to imagine a girl longing to take part in this high school rite of passage, but not having the means to get herself a dress. The woman featured on the front page of the article had started an organization called Cinderella for a Day and as it turned out she was based in my own town. So… I emailed her. I have a couple of bridesmaids dresses from back in the day that aren’t doing anything but taking up space and I wanted to donate them. The more I thought about it there more convinced I was that there had to be plenty of other former bridesmaids in my little circle of friends who would be more than happy to part with a bit of chiffon and lace in the name of charity. It turns out I was right. I’m now doing my best to spread the word about Cinderella for a Day and collect as many dresses, shoes, evening bags, etc. as possible before their next big giveaway on April 19th.

THREE. I love Twitter! I love how it allows you to connect with people far removed from your ordinary social circle, interesting people doing interesting things. One of these interesting people is a woman named Katie Visco who is the driving force behind Hot Love Soup. In 2007, in an effort to build a community for herself in an unfamiliar city, Katie started making soup and inviting folks to her home to share a bowl of it. Things snowballed, the occasional dinner turned into a monthly soup party and Katie realized that she was clearly onto something. Soup… nourishing for your body, nourishing for your soul. Katie decided to start a company that makes a variety of from scratch soups and delivers them via bicycle, to anyone who wants/needs some. According to Katie: “People order for themselves, or for loved ones, and each delivery comes with a special song and dance to brighten people’s lives. Often times I find myself being invited into soup recipients’ homes, as if we have known each other for years. The soul of soup is truly magical and I want to share that!” I love her mission and I wholeheartedly agree with the idea that food can nourish you in ways far beyond your belly. I never turn down the chance to get involved with innovators like Katie and while I’m but a small fish in a big foodie sea, I wanted to offer her a little support and a bit more exposure if I could. So stay tuned for a soup recipe courtesy of Hot Love Soup in the near future!

FOUR. A few weeks ago I read about a future food destination which will be about 20 minutes from my house called The Roselle. It’s going to be part farmers market, part cooking studio, part restaurant and totally cool. As it turned out someone from their marketing team decided to follow me on Twitter, which turned into me telling them I’d love to be involved in their adventure, which turned into a meeting with the founder and plans for a private kids cooking class for my two babes and a few friends. I’m truly excited at the prospect of something like The Roselle existing in my community and I’m beyond thrilled at the possibility of being involved in it from the ground floor.

Which leads me to this… While cooking for my family is just as important as it’s always been, finding the time to do it, blog about it and photograph it is becoming more and more difficult. So after much consideration I’ve decided that in order to give this blog as much love and attention as I think it deserves, I’m going to have to start posting on a biweekly basis. I know, I’m a bit sad too— but it will be fine, even better than fine, you’ll see. So until next post I’ll leave you with these wise words from the beloved Julia Child:

“The measure of achievement
is not winning awards.
It’s doing something that you appreciate,
something you believe is worthwhile.”

Well said Julia, I couldn’t agree more…

the house that mouse built

I know all you tried and true beets and blue cheese readers are patiently awaiting yet another pithy post from yours truly, and I thank you for it. But here’s the thing… this week you’re not getting one. You see my family and I are currently visiting the world of all things mouse, you know “the happiest (most expensive, crowded and over-whelming) place on Earth”. Yes, Disney. And while this multi-tasking gal is good, she’s not that good. So no amusing anecdotes or recipe this week, sorry!

Until next week (unless there’s a stampede at tonight’s character dinner that kills me) M.I.C.K.E.Y. M.O.U.S.E…image

coconut body butter

I love coconut; Mounds Bars and macaroons, Thai curry and Mulligatawny soup, shampoo and conditioner. If it’s coconut, it’s for me! The other day the kids and I were roaming around Trader Joe’s (well I was roaming they were desperately searching for Sammy the Shark) when I overheard a conversation in the spice section. A woman was saying how she uses virgin coconut oil all winter long as a moisturizer and hair conditioner. Hmmm, I knew it was considered a healthy fat and I use virgin coconut oil in all my curries and sometimes when I bake, but I never thought of using it topically. Apparently I’m rather late to the coconut oil party because the internet is filled with tales of its immune boosting, anti-fungal, anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory qualities. Not to mention that it makes a great moisturizer. Go figure!

If you’re already familiar with coconut oil then you know it’s firm at room temperature and will liquify with just the warmth of your hand. But, what I discovered is that if you whip a little air into it suddenly you have a creamy (more temperature stable) body butter that works great at soothing dry winter skin and makes you smell like the tropics. Coconut oil body butter, you had me at hello…

Coconut Oil Body Butter
Initially this body butter will have a greasy consistency and a little bit definitely goes a long way, but it absorbs fairly quickly into your skin and leaves you smelling delicious.

coconut butter2

1 cup virgin coconut oil

  1. Place the solid coconut oil in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment.
  2. Turn the mixer to high and let process for 8-10 minutes, occasionally scraping down the sides of the bowl.
  3. When the coconut oil has become creamy and light transfer it to a glass jar and store at room temperature. If at any point it begins to liquefy just pop it into the refrigerator to chill a bit.

*adapted from living the nourished life

devil dog treats: take two

Life as a dog owner is much more involved then I expected. There’s puppy shots and house breaking; leashes, collars, toys, beds and crates; social time at the dog park and training classes to correct some not so hot behavior and don’t even get me started on dog food and it’s many many options. I almost think it would have been easier having another child, at least I know what to expect when you bring the little bugger home! Anyway back to the dog…

Trixie is a medium-sized (high energy) terrier-mix rescue dog who was beginning to develop some skin and ear issues. The vet didn’t want to jump to any conclusions or get crazy with tests but she suspected it could be (dum dum dummm) an allergy; perhaps seasonal or food. I don’t know about you but as soon as our pediatrician or vet says the word allergy alarm bells start going off in my head. That allergy road is no fun, I’ve been down it with both my kids and I didn’t want to go down it again with the dog. Being a bull by the horns type rather than a wait and see kinda girl, I decided to take it upon myself to switch her to a wheat free diet and see if it made any difference. Of course that would also mean rethinking those homemade devil dog treats I had so lovingly been baking her.

It turns out that making wheat free dog biscuits isn’t all that hard to do. They take a bit more time in the oven than your average chocolate chip cookie, but they’re considerably healthier and cheaper than buying them at the pet store. I discovered that oatmeal is a good alternate grain for dogs that are having issues with wheat and that pumpkin is great for canine digestion. Who knew! It’s been about two months since I changed Trixie’s diet and so far so good. I’m thinking wheat free just may be her ticket to ride. Oh the things you learn when you become a dog owner. I’m a little frightened to think what’s next…

Gluten-Free Pumpkin-Oatmeal Dog Biscuits
You can make these in any shape you want. I happen to like the dog biscuit shape because it fits well in Trixie’s treat ball.

new biscuits

4 1/4 cups rolled oats, ground
2 eggs
2/3 cup canned pumpkin
1/8 tsp. salt
2 tbsp. canola oil
3 tbsp. chicken broth, plus additional for brushing
3 tsp. dried parsley

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper and set aside.
  2. Place rolled oats in a food processor and pulse until it becomes a coarse flour. In a large bowl, whisk together the remaining ingredients until smooth. Add the oat flour to the pumpkin mixture and combine with spatula to form a dry, stiff dough.
  3. Turn the dough out onto a cutting board and pat into a circle. Place a sheet or wax paper over the dough and use a rolling pin to flatten it out the remainder of the way, to roughly an 1/4-1/2 of an inch thick.
  4. Cut the dough into shapes using a cookie cutter of your choice and using a spatula to pry them up, place the biscuits on a baking sheet.
  5. Brush each biscuit with chicken broth and bake for 20 minutes*. Carefully turn biscuits over, brush with more broth and bake an additional 20 minutes or until slightly browned around the edges.
  6. After both sheets of biscuits are baked turn the oven off and place the cookie sheets back inside. Allow the biscuits to dry out in the oven for another hour. After an hour allow the biscuits to cool the remainder of the way on a rack before serving to your canine friends.

*The bake time will vary depending on the size of your treats. I bake biscuit sized treats 20 minutes per side, but tiny training treats only 10 minutes per side.

Play-Doh Trickery

My daughter likes to play with play-doh. And by that I mean she LOVES play-doh. I on the other hand do not particularly enjoy it (which is of course ironic since I majored in sculpture in college). But I like to see my children happy so when she asks to take it out I usually agree and become the official play-doh pancake maker/spaghetti cutter.

I’ve seen recipes for homemade play-doh before and I’ve always thought to myself “Why bother? The folks at Hasbro do a fine job.” Well I’ll tell you why; good ‘ol fashioned girl-time time dammit. I’m always trying to entice my daughter to spend a little quality time baking with me, but the minute the measuring is done she’s off to smother the dog, annoy her brother or get herself into some “Santa’s not going to bring you any presents” kind of trouble. However, since she’s the type of little lady who’s never met a craft she doesn’t love, I imagined that making play-doh might actually hold her interest for more than 5 minutes. We could whip up a batch and then we (she) could play with it till her heart’s content. Kinda like cooking, kinda like crafting, kinda like tricking her into enjoying my company. Ha ha, score one point for Mom!

This play-doh recipe was crazy simple to make, required ingredients that most everyone already has on hand and went from slop in a saucepan to dolphins, pancakes and outrageous orange spaghetti in no time flat. If you’re looking for a way to occupy a few hours one afternoon I highly recommend making play-doh. Then kick back with a little online shopping or that book you’ve been wanting to read while the kids enjoy their creation.

Homemade Play-doh
You can make this play-doh in just about any color you can imagine. We decided to go with green, orange and blue.

new play-doh

1 cup water
1 tbsp. vegetable oil
1/2 cup salt
2 tsp. cream of tartar
food coloring*
1 cup flour

  1. Combine water, oil, salt, cream of tartar and food coloring in a saucepan and heat 2-3 minutes, stirring frequently, until it’s warm.
  2. Remove from heat and add the flour, stir until a soft dough forms. Transfer dough to a cutting board and knead until fully blended and smooth. (The dough will be quite hot so it should be kneaded carefully and by an adult.)
  3. Form the finished dough into a ball and let cool for 5 minutes before exploring your creative side. Store in an airtight container or Ziploc bag.

To make orange = 10 drops red food coloring 14 drops yellow
To make blue = 20 drops blue food coloring + 3 drops red
To make green = 15 drops green food coloring + 5 drops blue

*adapted from family education

devil dog treats

Last week I talked about the joys and sorrows (well, that might be overstating it a bit!) back to school brings along with it. For me the best part of the kids being in school is the 5 minutes of me time it offers. I get to go to yoga, grocery shop at a relaxed pace rather than as if I’m in the pits at Daytona and finally have a chance to tackle all those diy/craft projects I’ve found on Pinterst but never had the time to attempt. Yup, those were my grand plans for this school year so you know what I did next… adopted a 13 week old puppy! No I’m not kidding, she’s a little terrier mix we named Trixie.

To be honest, I was the least on board with the dog thing out of the entire family. The kids didn’t care what breed, they just wanted a dog. My husband said if it would make the kids happy then it was fine by him, but in reality he wanted one just as much as they did. I on the other hand was perfectly content with our low maintenance cat, the caterpillar we’re hoping will turn into a butterfly and the occasional carnival prize fish. I was however out numbered and therefore relented. But… I made it clear that if we got a dog I WOULD NOT be the sole caretaker for the pup, that the kids would have to take some responsibility and that we’d all have to make concessions. That’s right, I laid down the law— Yeah, one guess how well that’s working out. I will say that the kids have been doing their best to tire out the little pup in the backyard and my husband has been taking her out in the morning and putting her to bed each night, but Trixie girl caught on pretty quickly that I was the momma of this pack and now it appears that I have another child to worry over, watch out for and nurture. And what do I do for all my children? Well, cook for them of course!

When we first adopted our cat I tried to feed her only the finest food. She however refused to eat anything but cheap crappy cat food. Sigh… And so we buy her cheap crappy cat food, who am I to question a cat and her low-brow taste buds. Trixie on the other hand seems to enjoy the finer things in life. Expensive “all-natural” kibble; “Sure!” Toys in every imaginable shape and size; “Yes please!” And homemade dog biscuits; “Absolutely, I’ll take two!”

When the idea to whip up a batch of dog biscuits stuck me, the first place that I thought to search for a recipe was at crazy pet lover and style maven Martha Stewart. And sure enough, she had one. Actually she had several recipes as well as instructions for dog toys, dog beds, dog coats, dog dishes, dog feeding stations and the list goes on. And while Trixie doesn’t know who Martha is, she does know what tastes good. And these biscuits apparently taste good, so good in fact that she is almost willing to stop peeing on the rug. Almost…

Homemade Dog Biscuits
I bought a bone shaped cookie cutter for these, but you could just as easily use a pizza cutter and make them into squares instead.

1 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup wheat germ
1/4 cup brewer’s yeast
1 tsp. salt
2 tbsp. canola oil
1/2 cup chicken stock, plus more for brushing

  1. Preheat the oven to 400°. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside.
  2. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, wheat germ, brewer’s yeast, and salt; set aside.
  3. Pour oil into a large bowl. Add half the stock and half the flour mixture and stir. Add the remaining flour and stock and mix thoroughly until a dough forms.
  4. On a lightly floured surface, roll out the dough to about 1/2-inch thick. Using a dog-bone-shaped cookie cutter (or pizza cutter) cut out the biscuits.
  5. Transfer the biscuits to the baking sheet and repeat with remaining dough.
  6. Bake the biscuits 10 minutes. Brush the tops with the stock; rotate the baking sheet and bake 10 minutes more. Turn off oven. Leaving door closed, let the dog biscuits stand in oven to dry completely, about 1 hour. Store in an airtight container at room temperature.

*adapted from martha stewart