Thursday, February 7, 2013

deep winter and a bright orange cure

It's February, and it's cold. It's been cold for months. It's also dark.

I love winter, I really do. In August, when it's 95 and humid, I dream of hibernating in a hoodie, under a blanket with a book and a hot toddy, during a snow storm. Bourbon and hoodies make for a dreamboat of an evening.

However, by February, getting through the long northern Vermont winters can be hard, even with all the hot toddies in the world. Cabin fever sets in and I feel itchy for movement, bike rides, and swimming. I find that Vitamin D supplements help. Sunshine in a capsule. Getting outside on a sunny afternoon also helps, no matter how cold it is. Get me in the woods and breathe in some cold woodsy air. All my grumbling disappears. I just need to be smacked in the face with how beautiful my home is.

And juice. Because juice is really what I think has been keeping me a (mostly) happy camper this winter. Everyonetheir best friendand their mother, is juice happy lately. And for good reason! The world is just shades of grey and beige... the sky, the ground, and my food. And not those shades of grey, ahem. All I want is fresh berries and giant salads full of color and crispness. Roasted root vegetables be damned. However, have I mentioned that I live in Vermont? And that the ground is frozen? Right now, berries and red peppers taste mostly like water and are crazy expensive. Enter, juicing. Juice is full of raw fruits and vegetables. And it's full of color. Hello, summertime in a glass!

When I first started making juices last winter I followed strict recipes. It helped me figure out what produce and proportions combine well. Now, I just throw whatever I have languishing from my CSA in a juicer and cross my fingers. If you want a great book of juice recipes, get your hands on the Blueprint Cleanse. Ignore the subtitle, it's annoying. The cleanse itself is great, if you're into that kind of thing. I've done it a couple of times, and I love it. It's not for everyone, though. But, throwing a random juice into your week is for everyone (for realz), so let's drink some carrots! 

My favorite juice lately has been Carrot Orange Ginger. It's spicy. It's bright orange. It feels like I'm drinking straight health. I can imagine the flu just running away from my body. Also, it's delicious. You'll need two to three carrots, half a lemon, one orange, and about an inch of ginger. Don't peel the carrots - there's good stuff for you in that skin! Do make sure to peel the citrus of the skin and pith. Leaving those on would make your juice bitter. No one wants that. I find all juices improve with a bit of lemon or lime. They help balance out the sweetness of something like a carrot and the greenness of something like parsley or kale. The ginger provides a little kick. Bam!

Chop up all your ingredients so they'll fit into your juicer. Juice 'em up. If you have a super cheap juicer like me, you'll have to run it through at least twice. Serve it up. Drink it down. Pat yourself on the back for eating your vegetables like your mother told you to. You're doing good things for yourself by drinking something this orange. In fact, it totally cancels out that cold piece of leftover pizza you just ate while making the juice. Oops. Now, get outside and play in the snow.

Carrot Orange Ginger Juice
makes about 8oz

2-3 carrots
1 juice orange, peeled
1/2 lemon, peeled
1 inch ginger

Chop it all up to fit in your juicer. Run it through your juicer one or two times until the pulp feels dry to the touch. Serve immediately. against humanity and cocktails with friends from out of town also help de-funkify a deep winter funk, because drinking carrots is not what saturday nights are made for.

Monday, February 4, 2013

a (nearly) perfect pie crust

The summer of 2011 was the Summer of Pie in my kitchen. I was searching for the perfect pie dough recipe. Not one to tackle any kind of project half-heartedly, I vowed to not bake anything except for pie for the entire summer. Seriously. I'm ridiculous. I discovered my favorite pie dough recipe by June, but rather than tinker with something good for the rest of the season, I just stuck with it.

The golden ticket of a recipe came from a blog called Good Egg Seattle. Its author, Kate Lebo, has published a pie zine called A Commonplace Book of Pie and recently launched a Pie School! Her recipe isn't available online anymore, so I'm thankful it's forever imprinted in my brain. I've followed her recipe and had it turn out so many different ways, that I'm convinced there is no perfect pie dough recipe. Pie dough is affected by the temperature of the room, the humidity, how handsy you get with the dough, and what you use to mix in the fat. Instead, a recipe gives you the foundation, the rest is dependent on the day and if you feel too lazy (or are running too late) to mix in the butter with your fingers.

Let's make stacks of pie dough! 

You can make pie dough in a food processor, or in a bowl with a pastry cutter or your hands. I prefer to use my hands, but sometimes that just feels like too much work. Gather up your ingredients, keeping the butter, shortening, and water in the freezer until you need them.  You want these cold cold cold. Speaking of butter: get the good stuff. It's worth the price. Higher quality butter has a higher fat content, which helps the dough hold together and handle better.

Nearly Perfect Pie Crust
makes one 8 or 9 inch double crust 
adapted from Kate Lebo

2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 T sugar
1 t salt
12 T unsalted butter, frozen
1/2 cup vegetable shortening, cold
1-3 T water

Slice your butter into tablespoons (or smaller, if mixing by hand) or grate on a box grater. Keep prepped butter and shortening in the freezer until called for. Fill a measuring cup with some water and a couple of ice cubes, and stash in the freezer as well. You want these ingredients cold. 

Mix together the flour, sugar, and salt in a food processor or bowl. Remove the butter and shortening from the freezer. If using a food processor, while running, drop in the butter and shortening a tablespoon at a time, mixing until the texture resembles cornmeal. If using your hands, mix in the butter and shortening a bit at a time until it's mostly mixed and you're left with a cornmeal-like texture with pea-sized chunks of butter. I find that rubbing the dough between my palms is the speediest technique. 

Remove the water from the freezer and add some a tablespoon at a time. Some days I don't need any water (in humidity ridden August) and some days I need three (in ice cold February). Most often, you'll want one or two tablespoons. If using a food processor, add water slowly until the dough turns into a ball. If using your hands, create a well in the middle of the dough, add one tablespoon and knead into the dough, adding more if need be. You want a dough that holds together, but isn't wet feeling. 

Divide the dough in half, form each half into a disc, wrap in plastic and pop them in the fridge while you prepare your filling. Remove the dough from the fridge a few minutes before you're ready to roll them out to warm slightly. On a floured surface, roll one disc out so that it is slightly larger than your pie plate. Gently transfer it to the pie plate; it should drape over the sides. Fill your pie with whatever deliciousness you fancy. Roll out the second disc, slightly smaller than the first. Gently transfer it to top the pie. Fold the edges of the top sheet under the bottom and crimp together. Use your fingers or a fork to indent the edges. With a sharp knife or adorable tiny cookie cutter, slice air vents into the top of the pie before baking. Generally, bake pie at 350 degrees on a cookie sheet on the middle rack for about 55 minutes, or until the filling is bubbling over the edges. Eat up while still warm, and finish off the rest, cold, for breakfast, the next morning.

Some pie baking pro-tips:
Keep that measuring cup of water handy when assembling your pie. If the dough rips, patch the tear with extra dough, and use a bit of water to glue it back together.

Roll the dough out on floured wax or parchment paper so you can simply pick up the paper and flip the dough onto the pie pan. 

Put foil or a silicone pie crust shield around the edge of the pie for the first 30 minutes of baking so the edge doesn't burn. 

Sunday, February 3, 2013

on baking for money

I've been rolling the idea of opening a bakery of sorts around in the back of my busy little brain for quite some time. In fact, one of my brothers found my eighth grade yearbook recently and discovered that I proudly announced in said yearbook that when I grew up, I wanted to be a baker. Well, a month away from 29, I'm hardly a grown up, but I do spend a good chunk of my paycheck on butter and sugar.*

While I have the menu planned, the space decorated, the beer and bourbon list drafted, and the craft & cookbook library envisioned all up in my head... I'm not terribly sure I'd like it. I love the idea of it. But the day-to-day: getting up early in the morning, baking the same thing over and over again, not having days off, dealing with paperwork :: the stuff :: of a baking business doesn't sound totally appealing. When I was little I loved setting everything up to play. I built the lego houses, set up the dolls' tea party, bushwhacked the prickers to build a fort, and then moved on. I didn't like playing in the fort, pretending to have an actual tea party, or move my lego men around their house. I liked creating the vision I had in my head, but then I got bored. I'm afraid opening a bakery might be a lot like building a grown up fort. And, what if my goods aren't any good?  I know my friends and family love me and are kind, supportive people, so of course they say my cookies are the best. What about mean old strangers? Can they be wooed to part with their hard earned cash in exchange for a pie of my creation?

Well, the chance to test my dreams and my doubts has fallen into my lucky lap. From a casual conversation with a new friend has sprung the opportunity to bake for one of the great coffee shops downtown, Uncommon Grounds. Reliably busy, and with a pastry case full of diet-breaking-worthy treats from a slew of local bakers, it's my perfect test lab. About once every two weeks I bring in a batch of whatever they ask for. So far, there's been a "non-apple fruit pie", which resulted in a local cranberry pear ginger pie with a crumble top. There have also been two orders of my mini chocolate walnut pies. Baking a few times a month, out of my home, means I get to learn the dreaded 'stuff': costing out ingredients, pricing an order, creating an invoice, what the heck 'sole proprietor' means... as well as start to answer the all important "is this fun for me?" question without quitting my day job or investing any real money. 

Though I've only filled three orders, I've already learned a few lessons: I figured out what a sole proprietor is. In fact, I've just sent in the paperwork to become one. Calculating how much it costs to make a batch of cookies involves multiple spreadsheets and is actually really fun. It's hard to make money off of a single pie. You need to make many pies. Microsoft Word make some great invoice templates. I'm not so sure I like being told what to bake... I'm not not sure I like baking the same thing each time. I like the creativity of figuring out a great new recipe. But, perhaps most importantly, it feels pretty dang awesome to cash a check I earned baking pie while drinking wine with girlfriends on a weeknight.... and promptly spend it on butter, without any guilt. 

*the rest of that paycheck goes to beer and wine and cheese and chocolate. see what I mean about not being a grown up?