Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Butternut Squash and Goat Cheese Empanadas

I stumbled across a recipe for butternut squash "hand pies" a while back, and with a few tweaks it turned out to be nice choice for a potluck this past weekend. Contributing a dish to the annual Nashville Food Blogger party is a bit nerve-wracking, given that our group includes food and food writing professionals as well as extremely talented amateurs. I was very pleased with how they turned out.


I detest the term "hand pie" so I call them empanadas, given the Latin American-inspired flavors. The combination of butternut squash, goat cheese, and the seasonings work well together. The crowning glory of the empanadas is the crust; this is a standard all-butter pie crust, which I discussed in this previous post.

The directions here are for creating mini empanadas; the perfect size to provide a few bites as a snack or appetizer. You can, of course, make a larger size for a more substantial treat.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

How to Make a Perfect, Easy Pie Crust

OK, "perfect, easy pie crust" is a lie; really, what I'm trying to say is that pie crust is not as difficult as you may fear, and that perfection is overrated. I get it, I've been there. I did not grow up with much homemade pie crust, even though my mother was a great baker. Like everyone else we knew, we used frozen shells most of the time. Like a lot of things I now make from scratch, I didn't start experimenting with pie crust until I was in my 20's. Even then, I wasn't happy with the results. I felt like a failure and stuck with frozen or refrigerated pie shells from the grocery store.

As I've continued to branch out with cooking and baking, I've revisited pie crust every now and then. I've tried Cook's Illustrated method that uses vodka and a combination of butter and shortening. I've reviewed (but never made) Alton Brown's various crusts. I've used Ruth Levy Beranbaum's exacting method which includes baking powder, vinegar, and precisely-sized cuts of carefully timed, partially-frozen butter. Making the recipe from Beranbaum, who I generally like and trust, feels like amateur brain surgery, and in the end, I just didn't like the crust that much.

A good pie crust shouldn't be brain surgery

I wouldn't discourage you from trying any and all methods to find your best pie crust, and Mr. Google can help you find the above and more. For me, though, I figured out that keeping it simple was the key to getting me to stay away from the freezer case and and the long red boxes in favor of superior taste and quality.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Marjorie's Sugar Cookies - Christmas Cookies from Tupperware

This year I made our family Christmas cookie -- an unusual cutout sugar cookie -- for the first time in a long time. The recipe was a standby during my childhood and teen years, but I'd gotten out of the habit of making them. They are still, however, my favorite sugar cookie and are one of those tastes that says "Christmas" to me.



My mother spent a few years in the '70s as a Tupperware rep. She had two huge (and I mean huge) cardboard suitcases full of samples, and when she stopped repping, they were integrated into our kitchen. One other thing we had as a result of her Tupperware years was a cookbook. Naturally the recipes always featured using Tupperware products as equipment. Don't laugh -- Tupperware made (and makes) a LOT of products beyond storage bowls. We had Tupperware salt and pepper shakers, popsicle molds, and on and on. 

But I digress. The cookbook had two sugar cookie recipes, and the one titled Marjorie's Sugar Cookies were an instant hit in our household. They became the go-to cookie for Christmas -- cut out, of course, with Tupperware cookie cutters. The Christmas shapes included a Christmas Tree, a Santa Claus, and a Candy Cane. Not only did Mama make the cookies for us to have at home, but often made many batches to provide to our classrooms and to the fire station where Daddy worked. I often helped with the production, and even made them on my own as I got older. 

I'd gotten nostalgic for them and made a batch to share with friends and family. I'm very pleased to share them here.

Monday, December 15, 2014

A Tale of Two Crackers, Part Two: Thin Wheats

This post highlights the second homemade cracker I made to go with the Thanksgiving Soup Bar. The method is very similar to the Black Pepper Parmesan Cream Crackers, with the added twist of whole wheat flour and no cheese or cream. Thinner and a little less rich, as well as nuttier from the whole grain, these make a great accompaniment to soup or salad or as just a stand-alone snack.


Sunday, December 7, 2014

Thanksgiving Soup Bar: Potato and Corn Chowder

There are many philosophies regarding corn chowder. The same applies to potato chowders without corn. Many recipes include bacon, using that as the source of the fat. Others include red peppers, for color and flavor. I'm a purist, though. While a sprinkle of crispy bacon on a chowder is wonderful, I don't want that smoke throughout the soup. The same with peppers -- great as a garnish on occasion, not something I want dominating this soup.

Still, the different schools of thought show what a great base a dish like this is. If you want to punch it up with other flavors, it can take it. Bacon or peppers, sure, but also a little crushed garlic or curry powder. If you want to make it more substantial by adding some leftover diced chicken or ham, it's cool. In the spring, change it up with leeks instead of onion. If you like a thicker base, increase the amount of flour. You can use whole milk or cream instead of half-and-half. Etc.

Another point about this chowder is that while it was featured in the Thanksgiving Soup Bar, it's something I've been making for years. This is the first time I've written down the recipe, though, because I've always made it by feel, and based on what I had on hand. I don't worry too much about measurements, I just shoot for general proportions. It's all good.


Friday, December 5, 2014

A Tale of Two Crackers, Part One: Black Pepper Parmesan Cream Crackers

This cracker is a recipe that I've made several times, but not in a while. I pulled it out of the file to include as part of the Thanksgiving Soup Bar. Crackers are one of those foods that we tend to take for granted as coming from a store. They are actually quite easy to make at home, though, if you have a reasonable amount of experience working with cookie or pie crust dough. They are lower-pressure though -- for some reason cracker dough isn't as fussy as pie crust can be, and don't have the expectations associated with Good Pie Crust.


Crackers can be simple -- flour, salt, water -- or enriched with fat, or punched up with whole wheat flours or other grain flours, or flavored with an endless variety of herbs and seasonings.

I first ran across this recipe in the fabulous, now retired, Minimalist column from Mark Bittman in The New York Times. Then Deb Perelman posted the recipe with her commentary on her blog Smitten Kitchen, and I had to make this cracker.

Of course you can use the recipe as a jumping off point and add whatever seasonings or seeds you like, either mixed in the dough or as a topping. You can also vary the liquid, switching from cream to half and half or milk (or buttermilk, or yogurt, or sour cream, or ....) Instead of cutting into squares, you can cut out shapes or even bake the sheet whole and just break apart by hand after baking.


Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Thanksgiving Soup Bar: Black Bean and Tomato Soup

The next feature from the Thanksgiving Soup Bar is the Black Bean and Tomato Soup. This recipe has been in my repertoire for a couple of years. I'm not a huge fan of legumes, actually, but I try to eat them occasionally because they are cheap and nutritious. I like it best when the beans are pureed, as in hummus or as in this soup. The other thing I like about this recipe is that it has a lot of flavor going on -- it's not just "bean soup." It is so good that I actively like it rather than just tolerate it. That says a lot!

This was another pantry soup -- I had (nearly) everything on hand to make it. I didn't have the chipotle or serrano pepper called for, but I did have an Anaheim chile. That's a larger pepper than the chipotle or serrano, but milder, so I thought the heat level would be roughly equivalent. It worked out fine and I provided minced jalapeno as a garnish for the soup bar for those who might want more heat.

This recipe calls for cooking dried beans without soaking beforehand. Soaking doesn't shorten cooking time that much, so the extra step isn't really worth it. Just be sure that the beans are fresh. Many supermarket beans can be several years old, and old beans can fail to cook. If your beans don't cook up right, or you just don't want to risk it, you can substitute canned beans; see the end of the recipe for details.