Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Specialty Food News Time

Here's the latest update from the food industry. I am particularly interested in the first article regarding the increase in sales of potato chips and other salty snacks.

Do you think it is in direct correlation to the economy? More people staying at home? Eating at home? Entertaining at home? What do you think? Have you changed your eating out or entertaining style in the past year or so?

And what about the second article? Are you cutting back on purchasing Halloween candy this year?

And boy do I wish I had a French Meadow Bakery near me.. going to have to explore their site and search out some recipes... Is anyone familiar with this bakery? Tried any of their nonflour items?

Tuesday, September 29, 2009
The potato chip market grew 22% during the economic downturn, according to a report from Mintel. In addition, other salty snacks experienced recession-fueled sales jumps. The tortilla chip market increased by 18% since 2007, while smaller segments like popcorn and cheese snacks saw similar gains (17% and 20%, respectively). Over the next five years, potato chip sales are expected to rise just above 3% annually, while tortilla chip sales should increase just above 4%. Full Story

About 46.5% of consumers will buy less Halloween candy this year, according to the National Retail Federation's 2009 Halloween Consumer Intentions and Actions Survey conducted by BIGresearch. The average consumer plans to spend an average of $17.99 on candy. Altogether, consumers are expected to spend an average of $56.31 each on Halloween, down from $66.54 last year. Full Story

Sunflower Farmers Market is growing produce on its own Longmont, CO-area farm. The 40-acre farm will supply, at most, about 5% of the produce Sunflower requires at its 27 stores. Chief executive Mike Gilliland sees the farm as a way to increase customer awareness of organic production and as a forum for special events and marketing campaigns, reported The Denver Post.Full Story

For Immediate Release: News from the Specialty Food Trade
French Meadow Bakery, Minneapolis, introduces a new line of five whole grain sprouted breads and bagels, 100 percent flourless and made with six all-natural grains and legumes. Full Release

Maple syrup is increasingly being featured in food offerings, adding an extra dimension of flavor as well as a sense of wholesomeness, comfort and luxury, according to Nation's Restaurant News. Maple is found on 20% more menus this year than two years ago, noted research firm Datassential, which tracks close to 2,000 menus. For example, Santa Monica, CA-based Huckleberry offers maple bacon biscuits. Full Story (Free Registration Required)

Restaurant chains are exploring opportunities in breakfast catering to help them recoup revenues lost as businesses cut back on lunch spending. For instance, Salsarita's Fresh Cantina made a breakfast-catering program available to its entire 80-unit system in August. Bruegger's Enterprises Inc. plans to test breakfast catering this fall in its Minnesota market. Camille's Sidewalk Cafe recently enhanced its 12-year-old breakfast-catering program by giving it a more healthful spin, reported Nation's Restaurant News. Full Story (Free Registration Required)

Innovative Beverage Group Holdings, Inc. entered into an agreement with Folsom Distributing to distribute drank in the St. Louis metropolitan area and outlying areas. Full Story

For Immediate Release: News from the Specialty Food Trade
ANCO Fine Cheese, Fairfield, N.J., is now the exclusive U. S. importer of three widely-acclaimed British cheese brands: Wensleydale Creamery, Belton Farm and Quenby Hall. Full Release

NXT Nutritionals Holdings, Inc. is shipping SUSTA Natural Sweetener to distributor Bozzuto's Inc. Full Story

Minnesota-based O'Neil Creek Winery makes specialty fruit wines from rhubarb, dandelions, pumpkins and strawberries, according to TwinCities.com. Full Story (Free Registration Required)

The Los Angeles Times profiles Lomo Arigato, a fusion of Peruvian and Japanese flavors sold out of a converted FedEx truck driven, staffed and cooked by Eric Nakata, who spent two years training as a sushi chef. The centerpiece of the menu is saltado, a staple of Peruvian cooking that includes a choice of beef, chicken or tofu stir-fried with onions, tomatoes, cilantro and French fries in a sauce made with soy and red wine. Spaghetti is also offered instead of French fries or fried rice, and every meal comes with a side of jalapeno hot sauce. Full Story (Free Registration Required)

Monday, September 28, 2009

A Father, A Son and Bolognese Sauce

This is my brother-in-law Mark and his son Shane.

Shane just finished with his first week of radiation.

It's been a long summer.

Some of you who have been following my blog for awhile will remember that Shane was diagnosed with cancer in the spring.

Surgery to remove a tumor.

Followed by chemotherapy.

Followed by more surgery.

Followed by radiation.

Just like the summer has ended, we are hoping that the therapy portion of his cancer is now over and the healing has begun.

Mark, Shane, his mom Dee and sisters are coming here at the end of the month. Mark and Dee are running the New York Marathon. Through their running and training they have so far raised $12,000 for Pediatric Cancer Research.

We will all be at the finish line in New York City to cheer Mark and Dee as they finish the race. We will also be cheering for Shane as he symbolically finishes his victorious race against cancer.

Go Team.

Runners carbo load before a big race. I plan on making this dish the day or so before.

A Cook's Notes: This sauce is best cooked low and slow. If you have a crock pot, definitely use it for this recipe. The tantalizing aroma coming from your kitchen will have everyone running for a fork!! Serve it with a simple green salad and lots of hot bread.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Party Shoes and Cocktails

Most days my daily footwear is dictated by the weather.

My shoe of choice is my trusty Birkenstocks. I've been wearing the same style for almost 20 years, I replace them every other year (a standard B-day gift from The Best Husband In The World) because they are worn to the cork.

When the weather turns cold I add socks. Geeky right?

Early morning dog walks have me wearing these.

Unless it's raining, then I wear these.

When I am working (cooking) I wear these.

But every now and then

I wear something like these.

They are the perfect accessory to these:

Cosmopolitans: makes 2

1 cup vodka of choice (I LOVE Tito's. A small distillery out of Texas. If you can find it, try it!)
1/2 cup Cointreau
Juice of 1/2 lime or splash Rose's lime juice
1/4 cup cranberry juice
Crushed ice

Fill a shaker with crushed ice. Add the vodka, Cointreau, lime and cranberry juice. Shake vigorously for 30 shakes. It HAS to be 30 shakes. Really hard. The perfect martini has tiny slivers of ice crystals floating on top. That keeps it cold from the first sip to the last.

Put your party shoes on and strain into two chilled martini glasses.
Repeat as necessary.

A Cook's Notes: There's more to The Good Cook than just food!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The Gift and Apple Pie - Good Cook Style

I had the most wonderful surprise in the mail yesterday.

A gift.

From the heart.

Is there anything better?

It was actually three gifts.

A beautiful handmade shopping bag (right up my Green Alley)

My daughter-in-law makes and sells these bags. How perfect is this for apple picking and fall shopping?

and two hand written thank you notes from my grandlittles. Click on the image below to read their message:

All three are instant heirlooms of my life. Keepers. Treasures. Something to smile about every time they are taken out for viewing or use. I put the thank-you notes in my special little photo album, right next to their pictures that I took while babysitting for them.

Sometimes the smallest things make our days the very best.

This is the apple pie I baked for my son, DIL and littles during my visit. You already have the ultimate pie crust recipe - now here's the ultimate filling.

Harvest Apple Pie*: (makes 1 big delicious pie)

Fresh apple pie with dried cherries and brown sugar streusel.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Put a heavy, rimmed baking sheet on the middle rack of the oven.

3 pounds apples. Your choice - granny smith, macintosh or whatever you have picked yourself (the best choice!) peeled, cored and cut into 8 wedges, then 1/2 inch cubes. (about 7 cups)

1 1/2 tablespoon lemon juice
2/3 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
3/4 cup dried cherries, coarsely chopped (this is optional, but oh so good)

1 cup flour
1/2 cup old-fashioned oats (quick oats are okay)
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
In a medium bowl, combine the flour, oats, sugar and salt. Using a fork or your fingers blend the butter into the mixture. It will be very moist. Set aside.

Make the filling:

In a large bowl, toss the apples with the lemon juice. In a small bowl, whisk the sugar, flour, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg. Add the sugar mixture to the apples and toss well. Stir in the cherries.
Mound the filling in the pie crust. Sprinkle the streusel topping over the apple mixture, pressing the streusel between your fingers into small lumps. Put the pie on the preheated rack. Bake for 55 to 65 minutes, rotating the pie half way through baking. Transfer to a rack and cool completely before cutting. The pie can be stored at room temp. for up to 2 days.

* Adapted from Fine Cooking. Oct/Nov 2009 issue.

A Cook's Notes: Pears work extremely well in place of the apples and make for a nice change. I am making this pie to take to a dinner party on Friday night. The guests of honor are from Scotland and I thought a slice of Americana would be appropriate!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

That Monthly Thing and Chicken Stock

Every month it's the same old thing.. right around the 3rd week of the month.

I check my supplies in the cupboard to make sure I have everything I need.

And then, on a morning just like today I start.

To make chicken stock.

Um.. what did you think this post was about? Didn't you read the header?

To review:

Once a month I give you a very basic kitchen lesson. This month is chicken stock.

Everyone thinks making their own chicken stock is too hard or too time consuming. Nothing could be further from the truth. It is one of the cheapest and easiest things to do. Little to no tending is required. In fact, you can put it into your crock pot in the morning, leave for the day and by the time you get home in the evening have a beautiful, rich chicken stock that cost you pennies to make. In addition, your stock will be free of all the sodium and additives of purchased broth or stock. You can freeze it in any amount you desire and it will keep for an entire year.

The stock we are going to make today uses a whole chicken - because I want to make chicken soup out of it. You can use just bones if you wish. Using just bones will give you a nice broth that you can use in recipes calling for the addition of chicken broth. For an even richer broth, you can roast the bones before cooking them in liquid. This is called a browned or roasted broth.

Now, the million dollar question. What is the difference between stock and broth? These days the terms are used interchangeably. In the strictest sense of the word, a stock is more full flavored than a broth. Most soups start with a stock, while a broth may be added as a cooking liquid in the preparation of other foods.

Homemade Chicken Stock:

One 3 to 4 pound chicken, cut into pieces (you can buy the chicken in pieces or buy a whole one that you cut up yourself. The most inexpensive way to go is buy a whole fryer, on sale, and cut it up yourself. This is not hard to do especially if you have kitchen shears.

Cut the chicken in half through the breast. Spread it out and cut out the back bone. Cut the thighs away, cut the wings away. There you have it. Discard the giblets or cook separately for the dog. Do NOT use the liver, heart or gizzard in your stock. They will make the stock bitter.

Now. You have the chicken.

You will need:

2 carrots (washed and unpeeled)
2 ribs celery (washed and leaves on)
1 onion (quartered, not skinned)
1 bay leaf
1 small bunch parsley

Put the chicken, carrots, celery, onion, bay leaf and parsley in a large pot (or crock pot) cover with cold water and bring to just a simmer. DO NOT BOIL. Boiling releases bitter proteins from the bones that will turn your stock cloudy and somewhat bitter. You want gentle bubbles that just break the surface. A crock pot placed on low setting is perfect.

Notice we did not add any salt, pepper or other seasonings to the pot. NEVER season your stock when you are making it. You want a pure, unadulterated stock. You can season it when you use it. And you never know how you are going to use it!

Simmer the pot for 2 to 3 hours or if using a crock pot all day. Skim any foam from the top that may form. It will be very little if you are simmering at a gentle pace. You don't have to do anything else. Just let it cook. Take a nap, read a book, clean the house (yuck) but don't worry about your stock. It is doing its thing now go do yours.

When stock is done simmering, scoop out the chicken pieces and let cool. Debone. You can use this chicken for soup, chicken salad or whatever. Scoop out the vegetables and discard. Using a fine mesh sieve, strain the stock into another pot.

If you're in a hurry at this point, use this cook's trick to defat. Take an ice cube and holding it between your fingers skim the surface of the stock. Any fat will congeal on the ice cube. Do this a few times with a new ice cube and voila, your stock is defatted.

Now you can use this stock anyway you wish. I usually freeze in mason jars (leave 1 inch head room) and defrost as needed. I also freeze some in an ice cube tray. When frozen solid, pop out the cubes from the tray and put in a zip lock bag. One cube is 1/8th. cup. Two cubes is a quarter cup - when a recipe calls for a 1/4 cup chicken broth, just pop out a cube or two. No waste with those cans or cardboard boxes...

If you're going to make chicken soup:

2 carrots, peeled and diced
2 ribs celery, diced
1 onion, diced
chicken, cubed
Noodles, rice or white beans

Saute the carrots, onions and celery until soft.

This is called your mire poix. It is the flavor base for soup. Every culture has their own mire poix. For instance, in Mexico, the mire poix may consist of peppers or chiles, onions and tomatoes. In France, a white mire poix omits the carrots and may use mushrooms.

When the vegetables are soft, add your stock. Add chicken and bring to simmer. If you want to add peas or corn or whatever do that now.

Cook your noodles, rice or beans (unless canned) separately - then add to soup. I can't tell you how many students have wanted to add the noodles or rice right to the soup. Uh, no. The rice or beans would absorb all the stock and the uncooked noodles, rice or beans would add so much starch to the soup it would be uneatable.

So to repeat. COOK your rice, noodles or beans (unless canned) separately, then add to the soup. If using canned beans, drain and rinse.

Warm all the way through. NOW taste for seasoning. Add salt, pepper or whatever to taste.

That's the monthly lesson. Hope you learned something new. Now I've got to start my stock.

Bon Appetite.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Autumn and Taco Stoup

Happy Season Change everyone.

Today is the first day of autumn. Here in the Northeast the first sugar maples are starting to turn from deep green to scarlet red. The sky is a beautiful azure and there is a undeniable nip in the air in the mornings.

I picked the last of our green tomatoes yesterday, coated them with panko and oven fried them. Goodbye to homegrown tomatoes until next year. I also picked our first pumpkin, all orange and firm with a beautiful knotted "hat". Sometime in the next week or so I'll go apple picking so if you like apples check back often to see what we can cook up!

The gourds are almost ready to pick. I'm going to try drying them, hollowing them out and making bird houses. Wish me luck. I'll also be planting my spring bulbs soon.

The change in weather always makes me change my eating habits. I go from grilling and rotisserie cooking to slow cooking, braising and baking. How about you? Are you craving some comfort food in your part of the country?

Taco Stoup: (serves a crowd and then some)

1 pound ground beef or turkey (I use lean ground turkey)
1 green pepper, diced
1 onion, diced
1 can (15 ounces) petite diced tomatoes
1 envelope taco seasoning
1 tablespoon (or more, to taste) chili powder or cayenne pepper
1 can or small frozen package corn
1 can each: pinto, kidney, navy AND black beans (or your choice)
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/4 cup fresh chopped cilantro (optional)
shredded cheddar cheese (optional)
sour cream or greek style yogurt (optional)

Place 2 tablespoons oil in bottom of large stock pot. Add green pepper and onion. Saute until just soft - about 5 minutes. Add ground meat and cook until done.
Add tomatoes (do not drain)
Add envelope taco seasoning
Add beans (do not drain)
Add corn (if using canned, do not drain)
Add chili or spice to taste

Let simmer for 15 minutes to meld flavors and heat beans. Taste and adjust seasonings.

Serve piping hot as is or top with shredded cheese and a dollop of sour cream.

A Cook's Notes: This is my go-to recipe for ski weekends, snow days, and Sunday afternoon football games. Serve with warm corn bread or tortilla chips. The recipe makes a great big pot so plan on freezing some. It defrosts and rewarms beautifully!

What is your cold weather go-to recipe?

Friday, September 18, 2009

Farm Living and Chicken ala Mayzie

My best friend Michele lives on a farm in Upstate New York.
Michele has one of the best senses of humor on the planet and going to visit her is always an adventure for this somewhat citified Good Cook.

On Windswept Farm you will find all the usual farm fixtures.

Horses. Check
Barn. Check
Plow. Check
Fields of Plenty. Check
Chickens. Check
Cats. Check
A Dog named Mayzie. Check.

Did I mention chickens?

Click on the picture of Mayzie to get a better view of the chicken....

Unlike Mayzie I prefer my chicken cooked. But to each his own.

Chicken ala Mayzie: (feeds 4 people with leftovers for the dog)

3 large boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 egg white
1 tablespoon flour
1 1/2 cups grated parmesan cheese
Spray type oil

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

Split each chicken breast horizontally so you have 2 thin pieces. Cut these 2 pieces in half. Repeat with remaining chicken.

Toss all the chicken in a plastic bag with the flour and shake to coat.

Set up your breading station. One pie plate with egg white, one with parmesan cheese.

Shake off excess flour and dip the chicken pieces in the egg white, then roll in parmesan cheese. Set on plate to "dry". Repeat until all chicken is coated with cheese. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes and up to 4 hours.

Generously spray a rimmed cookie sheet with cooking oil spray. Arrange chicken pieces on sheet and spray tops of chicken.

Bake for 10 to 15 minutes or until nicely golden and crisp on bottom. Turn, bake for an additional 10 minutes.

A Cook's Notes: This recipe is a low carb treat. Not too high in fat either, so make enough for leftovers to pack cold in your kids' lunches. Add a little BBQ or Sweet and Sour dipping sauces and you just may break the McNugget habit!

PS. If you're looking for a great weekend getaway in Upstate New York, Windswept Farms has a lovely B&B - check it out at Windswept Farms.

And yes, that's me on the home page, on the left in the brown coat (scroll down) cross country skiing in the vineyard with Michele and Andy - your hosts at Windswept Farms. Tell them The Good Cook sent you!

Thursday, September 17, 2009

No Story - and No Guilt Chicken Wraps

I am busy today.
Busy with laundry.
Busy with food shopping.
Busy with the dog.
Busy with this old house of mine.
It is amazing that just two days away from home can produce a week of work in the home.

I don't have an amusing anecdote for laundry, shopping, dogs or old homes today.

But I do have a really good, low calorie lunch for everyone.

No Guilt Chicken Wraps: makes 8 "wraps" enough for two people

One (1/2) boneless, skinless chicken breast cooked (I just make an extra breast when I make chicken for dinner)
One head Boston Lettuce
1/2 cup reduced calorie shredded cheddar cheese
Alfalfa sprouts (about 1 cup)
Honey Dijon Dressing (or Ranch or your favorite dressing)

Gently pull off big leaves of Boston Lettuce from the main head. Rinse and pat dry.
Lay the leaves out in front of you.
Slice the chicken breast into 8 slices
Lay the chicken slice on the lettuce leaf. Sprinkle with 1 tablespoon shredded cheese.
Drizzle with some Honey Dijon Dressing (or Ranch, or your favorite)
Top with 1/8 cup (a nice big pinch) alfalfa sprouts

Roll up and eat.

A Cook's Notes: This is a great use for leftover chicken or turkey and they make great "no-bread" sandwiches for your kids' lunches. A teenage girl favorite!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Grand Littles and Pork Tenderloin and Applesauce

I've been absent for a few days.

I was on a mission.

My mission was to care for my two grand littles for two whole days while their mommy and daddy went to work.

Now I know from experience that a 3 year old and a 2 year old can be exhausting. But hard? Please, I am a woman of experience. I am a woman of years. I am a woman of reason. And I have managed to raise a few littles of my own while keeping plastic bags off heads and running with scissors to a minimum. As far as I know all of my littles have reached kidadulthood with fingers, toes and limbs intact.

Here are my two little darlings on our first morning together. They are having a lovely breakfast of orange juice, dippy eggs and sausages that I prepared for them. It is 6:00 am.

Is God even awake at 6:00 am? Never mind, the littles were hungry and I was up to the task of feeding them.

Later that day the little angels demonstrated their superior art skills for me.

Oh what a wonderful day. We went to the park, visited my parents and had a picnic lunch. A refreshing three hour nap later and we all began preparing dinner for mommy and daddy.

I ended the evening by meeting up with old friends for a cocktail. By the time I arrived back at the littles' house, everyone was tucked in bed and sound asleep.

Until 2:00 am. And 3:00 am. And 5:00 am.

And of course everyone was up by 6:00 am.

Apparently the peaceful ease of my first day "on the job" was a tactic littles use to lull their prey into a false sense of superiority.

The second day:

6:00 am - everyone is awake and in the kitchen.

6:30 am - Mommy and Daddy leave for work.

6:35 am - Little #1 informs me she must go potty.

6:40 am - Little #1 tells me she needs privacy in the bathroom and asks that little #2 be removed.

Little #2 does not want to leave the potty room. Little #1 screeches at a never before heard by human ears decibel rating that SHE NEEDS PRIVACY.

I turn my back for one minute and little#2 begins to cry. She is clutching her arm in pain. This is the conversation that ensues:

Me: Little #1 - did you hit your sister?
Little #1 - no, I bit her
Little #2 - wailing at top of HER lungs
Me: (picking up #2, and carrying out of bathroom) Don't you dare bite your sister!

As I stepped over the threshold of the bathroom I heard the most sickening sound of all. The door slammed and a soft click of the door lock followed. Little #1 had shut the door and locked us out.

Me: #1, you unlock this door this instant.
Me: #1, can you hear me?
Me: #1, this is Nani - you come out right now.
Me: #1, do you want me to call your daddy and have him come home?
By now I am frantically trying to remember if my daughter-in-law has any chemicals or toxins stored under the bathroom sink that #1 may have gotten in to. I am also looking for something, anything, to stick in the little hole in the doorknob to somehow unlock the door.

Me: #1, can you hear me? Little #2 has stopped crying and is watching me with amusement. It is apparent she has witnessed this little scene before.

7:00 am: #1 has been locked up for 20 minutes. Okay, no time to panic. I am an adult. I am experienced. I am Super Nani... THINK! I cannot call my son and DIL in a panic... can I call the fire department in a panic? Will the FD keep it confidential - I mean do my son and DIL have to know about this little incident?

I decide to try a little psychology (pun intended)

Me: #2, let's go play. Just leave #1 by herself, you and Nani will have so much fun. (said while pretending to walk away from bathroom door)


I force myself to wait for a full 3 minutes all the while with my ear pressed to the door.

Me: #1 I've had enough. If you don't come out right now Nani will not take you to your dance lesson.

I hear a a very slight rustling, a turn of a lock and the door swings open.

Little#1: Okay, I'm ready.
Little#2: Hi #1 (giggling)


The rest of day went fine but I will never underestimate the power of a little again. At 6:30 pm I head out the door for the long, peaceful drive home.

I slept like a log (not a little) last night.

And seriously, I can't wait until I can do it all over again!

A Cook's Notes: I'm still putting my house back together from the hardwood floor installation and the stair man is coming today to refinish the staircase. Tonight's dinner is a repeat of a previous post: Pork Tenderloin and Homemade Applesauce. Bon Appetite!

Friday, September 11, 2009

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Floors and Pie Crusts

I have never lived in a new house and often wonder what it would be like to have everything shiny and new. Our house is old (by American standards). We have renovated and added on over the years and each new renovation has reduced me to tears at some point.

Some of you may remember a while back, we started the latest renovation with the painting of the walls and ceilings. This was followed by the ripping up of carpeting. To be followed by the ripping out of existing molding. To be followed by the installation of new hardwood floors.

The hardwood floor installation has now begun.

This is Danny the head floor guy in the living room doing what floor guys do, installing floor.

Now one might ask, where does one go with the existing furniture when a new floor is being installed?

Well, let me tell you. As I said, this is an old house. The hallways are narrow. The furniture is big. The only place with a straight and wide doorway is, can you guess? Can you imagine what would reduce me to tears?

This is my kitchen:

Let's look at it from another angle, shall we?

If you look closely you can see Holly Bear hiding in her crate, there - off to the bottom left. Holly is afraid of the pneumatic thing-a-ma-bob they use to slam, I mean, push the slates of wood up tightly to one another. I'm a little afraid of it too but I don't have a crate to hide in.

When the Danny the head floor guy is done in the living today they will start the downstairs hallways and oh joy, oh rapture, the upstairs hallway.

When the floors are done, the stair man will come and refinish the staircases.. then, the painter will come back and touch up everything that was destroyed during the floor and stair debacle.

Sometime in 2015 - the furniture will be moved out of my kitchen.

Until then, I am making pie. Pie is a really good anecdote to crying in the kitchen AND you can do in a 9.5 inch by 9.5 inch space.

Professional Pie Crust:

Every pie starts with a crust. Or a floor (since that is where my mind is at these days). I was lucky enough to study pastry with Chef William Mauceri, graduate of The French Culinary Institute and currently the executive pastry chef at A Toute Heure, my favorite French Bistro. No matter what TBHITW and I eat there, we always save room for one of Chef Mauceri's pastries. When I tell you he is a master at the finest pastry, I am telling you - it is to die for.

Chef Mauceri taught me some secrets to the perfect crust - tender and flaky without being dry. The butter must be cold. You must be exact in your measurements. The dough must not be overworked. You must use the best ingredients you can find. I'm going to share some of these secrets with you today.

Know that this crust will take longer than your mother's, your grandmother's or your Aunt Mabel's. But also know that it is worth it. Your family and friends (if you decide to share) will forever beg you to make a pie. Are you up to the challenge? Okay, here we go.

All Butter Pie Crust: makes one (single) 9 inch crust

6 ounces (1 1/2 cups) unbleached, all purpose flour
1 teaspoon granulated sugar
3/8 teaspoon salt (Chef M uses fine sea salt, but table salt will do)
4 ounces (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter (preferably European style - I use Plugra) cut into 3/4 inch pieces and VERY cold
3 to 4 tablespoons ice water

I weigh my ingredients when I bake. It is just that small thing that will give your baked goods a professional finish. My digital scale cost just $20.00 at Target. Don't be crazy, if you don't have a scale you will get very good results measuring as opposed to weighing.. but if someone owes you present...

To make the dough, put the flour, sugar and salt in a medium bowl and stir with a fork to combine. Add the very cold butter and using your fingers, begin to work the butter into the flour mixture creating small 1/4 to 1/2 inch flakes of fat.

It is these flakes of fat that will explode in the oven to create the flaky, delicate layers of crust.
Add the ice water by tablespoons, drizzling over the dough. Stir with a fork until a shaggy dough mixture forms - you should be able to squeeze a small amount in your fingers and it will hold it's shape. Add another tablespoon of ice water if necessary but don't make it too wet - you really do want shaggy dough.

Now gather up the dough and form into a disk. Take the time to smooth the edges. This will help you roll out an even, round crust. Wrap the disc is plastic wrap and refrigerate at least one hour. We want that butter to get really cold again.

Take the disc out of the fridge and place on a piece of lightly floured parchment, the counter or a wooden pastry board. Begin rolling by starting in the middle and rolling away from you to within a 1/2 inch of the edge. Give the dough a 1/4 turn and roll again, stopping 1/2 inch from edge. This will keep your edges from getting thinner than the rest of your dough. Keep rolling and turning until you have a 13 to 14 inch diameter. Check to make sure the dough is not sticking and add minute amounts of flour as needed. You will be able to see pieces of butter in the dough. That's just the way you want it. Click on this image to see the butter pieces in the dough.

Using a pastry brush, brush off any excess flour that may be on dough. Flour will make the dough tough. It is these little touches that make a BIG difference. Trust me. It's worth it.

Now roll up the pie disc on your pin and transfer to your pie plate.

Fit the dough into the plate. Don't stretch it. This will cause it shrink back from the edge of the plate when baking. Lay the dough into the plate. Trim the dough, leaving a 1 inch overhang. Fold this under and crimp the edges. I like to have a thick edge - this will ensure that the edges won't get too brown when you bake the pie.

Refrigerate the dough for another hour - the butter softened as we worked at rolling the dough. We want it really cold when it hits the heat of the oven.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Now we are going to blind bake the pie shell.
Prick the chilled dough all over the bottom and sides with a fork. Line the dough with foil, then with pie weights or beans. I like beans. You can reuse a 99 cent bag of beans 5 or 6 times before discarding. Don't skip this part.

Bake for 15 minutes. Remove the foil and beans, reduce the oven temp. to 375 and bake for 5 to 7 more minutes until the bottom is quite dry, but not quite done, the edges are very light gold.

Phew. Let cool. Fill with your mother's, your grandmother's or your Aunt Mabel's favorite filling recipe and proceed as directed.

Here is my pie. (Pear with brown sugar streusel topping)

Now I'm going to sit down with Danny the floor guy and crew and have me some pie.

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