World on a Plate

Exploring culture. One plate at a time.

Month: November, 2012

Ad Hoc Pie Crust.

Pie crust, often the cue of a strong baker, is seemingly simple and at the same time elusive for many. And while ingredients used are important, technique is also quite primary. There are many recipes that play with the amount of flour and the types of fats in ratios and type (lard, Crisco, butter etc.) it is a quest. I think spending time on the method is a bit more important, as it is in making biscuits. Over handle the dough and it will toughen. Go lightly and quickly. The following recipe is one that my long-time friend S. has begun using over the last year. He is a very good pie baker. He made the honey-pumpkin pie pictured above for Thanksgiving. The secret here is the amount of butter revealing a very flaky pie crust.


Adapted slightly from the Ad Hoc cookbook.

2 1/2 cups AP flour, plus additional for rolling

1 1/4 teaspoons kosher salt

2 1/2 sticks unslated butter, cut inot 1/2″ pieces and chilled

4-5 tablespoons ice water


Combine the flour and salt in a large bowl.

Add the butter and toss to coat with flour.

With two forks or a pastry blender, cut the butter into the flour until the butter pieces are small pieces resembling grains.

Drizzle 4 tablespoons of the ice water over the top and with a fork mix dough until it just comes together when pinched. If it is dry add a bit more of the ice water (not the cube) until it does stay together.

Quickly, using your hands or a combination of the forks and hands, bring the dough together until it is smooth and the butter is integrated. The less you touch it with the warmth of your hands, the better.

Divide the dough in half, shaped each into a 1″ thick round, wrap well in plastic wrap, refrigerate for at least 1 hour or up to a day.

Lightly flour the work surce and a rolling pin.

Dust one of the rounds with flour and roll out to a 13″ or 14″ round and about 1/8″ thick. This will be the top of the pie. If making a one crust pie roll out an an inch or more beyond the size of your pie pan so that a crust can be formed.


Italian Wedding Soup.

A few weeks back I met up with friends for lunch at St. Vincent where they recently began offering casual one-pot lunches. Lucky for us we were able to experience a very simple yet satisfying Italian Wedding soup that day as the rain fell in almost a monsoon manner.  I rather liked the addition of country bread with an egg salad. While there are many variations for a lunchbox-meal-at-the-desk type of lunch or quick mid-week supper. In this recipe I made the meatballs with turkey for health reasons but equal parts beef and pork would be equally good. By preparing the essentials in advance, in particular, the cooked pasta, broth and meatballs it’s quick and you’ll feel almost virtuous.

8 oz. small pasta (tubes, small shells, etc.)
4 quarts chicken stock
3 cups baby spinach

3/4 pound ground chicken or turkey
1/2 cup panko
1/4 cup 1% low-fat milk
1 1/4 pounds 97% lean ground turkey
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon ground fennel seed, crushed
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 garlic cloves, minced

Serves 4.


Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

First, cook pasta to nearly cooked per package instructions.

Prepare the meatballs (can be made ahead):
Combine breadcrumbs and milk. Let stand 5 minutes; squeeze out excess milk, and place in a large bowl. Add turkey, parsley, basil, 1 tablespoon oil, and next 5 ingredients (through garlic). Gently shape meat mixture into 48 (1-inch) balls (do not pack tightly).

Line a baking pan with parchment paper and place the meatballs onto the baking pan.  Bake for 25 minutes or until lightly browned.

Bring the chicken stock to a gentle boil .  Add the cooked pasta. Add meatballs, and simmer for 1 minute.  Add the spinach and return to a gentle boil.  Cook for an additional minute.  Taste for enough salt, and adjust the seasoning if necessary.  Ladle into bowls, sprinkle with parmesan.

Serves 6.

Cranberry Bog.

Back in October, while in Massachusetts for business, I toured a cranberry farm. This outing was one that had long been on my list of adventures since I was a girl growing up in New England. The bonus was that I was able to see an in-progress bog harvest. I also think that I was luck due to the patience and knowledgeable guide who was also the assistant operations manger. Unfortunately, his name is not in my notes.

A.D. Makepeace, the “Cranberry King”, has been in the business of growing cranberries in southeastern Massachusetts since the 1800s. In 1930 the family joined two other cranberry companies in creating what would become Ocean Spray Cranberries, an ag cooperative that has become synonymous with the fruit.

A few highlights I did salvage from my scribblings:

  • The name for the fruit, comes from the Pilgrims” lexicon”crane berry,” as the vine blossoms resembled the neck, head and bill of a crane.
  • Massachusetts was the first site of the first documented cranberry cultivation in 1816.
  • Costs $25-30 to grow a barrel of cranberries. Makepeace, delivered 370,000 barrels in 2011.
  • Massachusetts is second to Wisconsin in production.
  • Cranberries float due to an air sac within the berry.
  • Along with Concord grapes and blueberries, cranberries are are one of only three native fruits grown commercially in North America.
  • Thanksgiving trivia bonus:  440 cranberries in one pound; 4,400 cranberries per gallon of juice; 440,000 cranberries in a 100-pound barrel

A common misperception is that the cranberries grow in water.  They are grown in sandy bogs or marshes. If the fruit is to be processed for juice or other use the bog is flooded and corralled (as shown above). What I didn’t know was that these bogs are more than watery fields.  They are classified as state wetlands requiring environmental controls and allows for protected designation for the grower.  And the other challenges are long, springs in Massachusetts have become increasingly warmer meaning it is getting tougher to grow cranberries due to higher incidences of pests and fungus.  Come autumn, which have been warmer the berries need a few consecutive evenings of cooler temperatures to turn from white to red.  All of these factors add to cost and yield. Makepeace takes this sustainability responsibility seriously. It is also extended beyond the bogs to the community.

Cranberry Sauce

1 12-oz. package fresh (about 3 cups), picked over and rinsed

3/4 cup real, pure maple syrup, Grade B (if possible)

1 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1 medium orange, finely grated to yield 1 tsp. zest, squeezed to yield 1/3 cup juice

Combine the cranberries, maple syrup, and orange juice in a 3-quart saucepan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Lower the heat to medium low to a simmer while stirring every now and then. After five minutes in the cranberries will begin to burst. Let this happen for about 1-2 minutes. Remove from the heat, stir in the zest, and cinnamon. Allow to cool to room temperature, at least an hour, as this will allow the sauce to thicken up.

Leftover sauce?  Serve over a chicken breast poached in lemon water or by mixing with butter and spread over sourdough toast. 

Recipes from Ocean Spray

Recipes from Epicurious

Brussels Sprouts.

Curious thing about our palates, they change.  As an example, take Brussel sprouts, a vegetable that because it looks and smells funny I never appreciated. And why? Most likely, they were not properly prepared or they were frozen.  It’s best to seek them out fresh, and seemingly they are everywhere.  In fact, Trader Joe’s sells fresh stalks–all 2 1/2′-3′ feet.  Think of the Brussels sprouts plant as one really tall stemmed cabbage with  many sprouts along the stalk. Pluck a handful off for a serving, keep the stalk in a vase on the counter and they will last  for a week.  Kids will think they are absolutely prehistoric. Historically we can credit statesman and omnivore Thomas Jefferson, for introducing the plant to the United States from Paris in 1821. Large scale cultivation began sometime in the 16th century in (wait for it…) Brussels, Belgium. The following recipe is my go-to kitchen standard.  I often have this alongside a roast chicken or with a poached egg for Sunday breakfast.  It also has become a standard at Thanksgiving dinner as a side where someone will state “I don’t like those.” I simply smile and say, “Is that right?”

Extra Extra!     Brussels sprouts renaissance in Bay Area is a quick read on the flip in the market from mostly frozen to fresh and it’s all happening in Half Moon Bay.

Brussel Sprouts Braised in Cider with Bacon

1 lb. Brussel sprouts

3 pieces bacon, diced (pancetta can also be used)

1 cup chicken brother (or water)

1/2 cup apple cider (if you don’t have cider, orange juice will work)


Remove bottoms of Brussels sprouts along with any outer raggedy-looking leaves.  Quarter each sprout. Over medium heat in a skillet sauté the bacon pieces.  Cook until the bacon is nearly done, stirring frequently, about 5 minutes. Push the bacon toward the edges of the pan and arrange the Brussels sprouts in the pan in a single layer, with the cut side down. Leave them in the pan without stirring, letting them brown slightly, about 5 minutes. Now add the chicken broth and turn heat up to med-high.  When it appears the Brussels sprouts have caramelized, and most of the chicken brother is gone, add the cider. Turn heat to med-high and bring the mixture to a medium boil. Cook until the liquid has reduced to a glaze and the Brussels sprouts are cooked. If too much liquid boils away before brussels sprouts are tender, add additional liquid.

Note: if you prefer, cook the bacon separately, or ahead and crumble it.  Toss with finished vegetables before serving.

Variation:  Instead of bacon toast pecans or walnuts and mix into cooked sprouts.

Pork Stewed in Guajillo Chile Molé

We started this dish mid-afternoon and two hours in the kitchen was a heady and heavenly mix of spices and stew.  A perfect autumn meal served with warm cornbread and black beans to make for a complete meal.  If there are leftovers serve the pork and molé over warm tortillas or over think cut pasta ribbons. 

Pork Stewed in Guajillo Chile Molé

adapted from the Canal House Cooks every day

Note: begin 4 hours ahead of meal time; 1 hour prep; 3 hours unattended

12 whole guajillo chiles, wiped with a damp paper towel

3 cups of warm water (bring a kettle to a boil turn off)

2 cups of chicken stock

2/3 cup blanched almonds, toasted

1 tbspn ground cumin

1 tbspn dried oregano

2 tspns ground cinnamon

10 black peppercorns


1 cup raisins

4 tbspns vegetable oil

6 pounds boneless pork butt or Boston butt, cut into 1″ cubes

3 medium onions, sliced thinly


1/2 bunch scallions, chopped (optional


Tear off the stems of the dried chiles and shake out the seeds.  Heat a large cast iron skillet (or a comal if you have one). Toast the chiles in the skillet, pressing them down with tongs and turning one or twice until they are fragrant and turn a bit dakrer in color–about 30-60 seconds.  It’s helpful if you open a window or turn on the oven fan as the fumes can overwhelm. Transfer the chiles to a medium bowl.  Pour 2 cups of the warm water over the chiles and and set them aide to soak until soft and pliable about 30 minutes. If the chiles don’t stay submerged cover the bowl with a plate.

Next grind the spices in a coffee blender or by hand in a mortar with a pestle. Toast the spices in this same skillet until fragrant. Place the soaked chiles and 2 cups of the water into a food processor or blender with the toasted spices and raisins, puree.

Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in skillet over medium heat.  Add the blended spice paste and fry, stirring to keep it from burning, until it comes a shade darker and is very fragrant, about 5 minutes.  Turn off heat.

Prepare the pork

 Heat remaining 2 tablespoons of oil in a heavy large pot over medium heat.  Working in batches, bown the pork all over about 5 minutes.  Transfer the meat to a bowl as it browns.  Add the sliced onions to the pot and cook, stirring often until tender about 4-5 minutes.

Return the pork cubes and juices to the pot.  Stir in the spice paste, add 2 cups of chicken stock and season with salt and pepper.  Stir to blend.  Bring to a simmer, cover and allow to cook over medium-low heat, stirring from time to time until the pork is fork tender, about 2-3 hours.  If the stew begins to dry out add a little more stock to the stew.  Serve garnished with scallions, if desired.