Learning As I Chop

A Thanksgiving Blooper

Posted in Baking/Cooking, Tips by R @ Learning As I Chop on November 29, 2010

(source)

As someone who worked a full day last Wednesday, and needed to bake two pies that evening, I was definitely feeling the Thankgiving pressure. After a quick stop to the market, I was home by 6pm and ready to go. With two pie recipes and a plan in hand, I started on my pumpkin cheescake, provided to me by the lovely Paula Deen. I figured that I could peel apples for my apple pie while the cheescake baked, and be done by bedtime.  

Btw, this tried-and-true apple pie recipe, used by me on many an occassion, was given to me by Windy Hill Farm. Honestly, so easy a caveman could do it. Just buy a pre-made deep-dish pie crust, peel some apples, mix some ingredients and voila. Seriously, trepedatious bakers – do not be afraid.

But back to the cheesecake. I began by crushing some graham crackers with my chicken hammer, aka meat tenderizer.  Apparently this made so much noise that my downstairs neighbor rang our bell and gave us the riot act. He thought we had been stomping on our floors. It was quite satisying when he realized that we were doing no such thing. Ah, NYC living…

Once you prepare your crust and smooth it into your springform pan (by using the bottom of a water glass as your tool), pour your wet ingredients onto the base and put the cake in the oven. I was feeling pretty confident and was excited to taste and serve it to our guests. So when the timer rang, and 1 hour had passed, I put on my oven-mits and opened the oven door. Then this happened.

Yes friends, the bottom of my springform pan fell out, and my beautiful pumpkin cheesecake splatttered all over the oven. I was so upset that I needed to exit the kitchen, go to our room, close the door and take a time-out. In the meantime, the wonderful H cleaned-up the mess. Let this be a lesson – do not use shoddy tools. I had a feeling that the pan was broken (something about the tension was off) but I ignored my gut and went ahead. The result? A Thanksgiving blooper. Honestly, LAIC  and H’s patience are the only reasons I didn’t burst into tears. I knew I could share these pictures and use this as a good example of “what not to do.” So take it from me – buy a good pan and treat it nicely.

I am sure you’re wondering what we wound-up serving. Even though I had an apple pie on deck, I could not fathom the idea of Thanksgiving dessert without a pumpkin option. It was late, and another market trip was needed, so I needed to wait until the next day. The oven was going to be occupied (cooking a little thing called turkey) but H devised a back-up plan. I wound up making this pie (with a pre-made crust) via our convection oven.  Not the cheescake I had planned, but definitely a decent replacement.

Regardless, I hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving, no matter what kind of pie you ate. Enjoy!

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Pie Crust, Two Ways

Posted in Baking/Cooking, Tips by R @ Learning As I Chop on November 24, 2010

Always looking for a new culinary adventure, and aiming to bake pies that are fully-from-scratch, I decided to attempt my hand at homemade crust. Any savvy hostess knows that you never serve a first-time recipe to your guests, so I tested some ideas over the weekend.

The first was from my favorite culinary encyclopedia – the J of C.  Disappointed to see that it asked for shortening (I don’t know why but shortening really scares me), but even more surprised to find some in our cabinet, I put on my bravery-cap and forged ahead. I placed the shortening in the fridge, picked-up Saran Wrap (to cover the dough disks before rolling) and got to work. But not before asking for some support from Facebook. Thanks to our friend S, who defined a pastry blender for me. And here I was thinking that my regular blender who work just as well.

I played with the shortening, and whirled the mixture together in my food processor (first time using the dough blade!), however I automatically knew something went wrong. The dough felt way too, well, slimy. Granted I had never made dough before, but when someone says that the mix should feel like sand, and you’re holding dense goop, you know something has gone awry.

(I made quite the mess.)

But I didn’t stop. I thought to myself “you’ve had doubts before and then things turn out ok, so maybe this time will be the same.” So I cleared my counter, sprayed it down (thanks to H who taught me about the importance of kitchen sanitation) and got to work. Ok, I’ll admit it, H helped too.

Above are two dough disks. Should’ve floured the surface BEFORE putting them down.

Although the table and rolling pin were nicely covered, the dough still stuck to them. And fell apart. And just plain didn’t work. Truthfully, I think the butter and shortening weren’t cold enough, which apparently is half the battle. Plus, I’ve decided that I just really don’t like shortening. It’s greasy and greasy pans are a pain when you don’t have a dishwasher.  Who wants to create extra work for herself? Not this girl.

So I scrapped the dough, mourned for a moment and decided to try again. Because there was dinner to make (a leek tart that called for a pie shell) and pizza-delivery was not an option. At least not for me. In a desperate measure, I therefore turned to google and entered “easy pie crust.” I wasn’t about to attempt any culinary awards; I just wanted to succeed. Here’s what I found:

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons white sugar

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup vegetable oil

2 tablespoons milk

 Preheat oven to 400 degrees F (200 degrees C).

Place all ingredients in 9 inch pie pan. Stir together with fork. Pat mixture into bottom and up the sides of the pan. Poke holes in bottom and side of crust.

Bake for 15 minutes in the preheated oven, or until light brown. Use as directed in favorite pie recipe.

No need to roll anything? √ No shortening? √ √ Let’s go.

(We tried rolling it and then abandoned that idea. Spreading it with your fingers is kind of fun and mindlessly relaxing.)

This recipe was as easy as promised, and I was happily successful. However, in a maniacal haze, I accidentally used 2 tbsp rather than 2 tsp of sugar. Not a terrible mistake, but it definitely made the crust taste “a little bit like shortbread,” according to H.

The next day, I went to work and naturally discussed my two crusts with my culinary colleagues. Here’s a rolling trick, thanks to my friend C – place the dough in between two layers of parchment paper or silpats and roll it that way. Truthfully I’m a little wary of silpats (heating silicone-based anything next to my food freaks me out) but I might buy some just for this perk.

In any case, if you need an easy crust, I definitely recommend this one. Anyone can do it. Trust me.

But regardless of what you’re eating this holiday – turkey, tofurkey, turducken – have a wonderful Thanksgiving! And enjoy!

A Little Bit of Nippon in New Jersey

Posted in Tips by R @ Learning As I Chop on November 21, 2010

In a previous life, also known as my early 20s, I worked for a Japanese boss who taught me many things about his culture. One perk included eating at some of the finest Japanese restaurants in NYC, where incredible dishes (that I would never think to order) were selected  by others and placed in front me.  I was also told about this little jewel of Japanese culture in Edgewater, NJ. So yesterday, as we traveled to see  friends in Princeton and make our own sushi (now that we know how to do it), I decided it was time. Time to visit this amazing place

Walking inside, I felt as if we had been transported to another country. It was awesome.

Display signs were in both English and Japanese

All the miso, rice vinegar and pre-packaged fish a girl could want

Visiting “another country,” where we didn’t know the language, definitely brought its problems, and we were forced to use visuals in order to understand some of the packaging. For example, through pictures, we were able to distinguish sushi rice from regular rice. It also helped that there were some friendly Japanese and English speaking customers around us.  Not sure we’ll always be so lucky…

Points to anyone who knows what this says

I honestly  could’ve spent all day at Mitsuwa, but we had people to see, sushi to make and  unfortunately picked an incredibly busy day, due to a Bluefin special. This meant the parking lot was a mess, and H needed to “make our own spot” in order to get into the supermarket. So we raced the clock, hoping to buy our items before a parking ticket ensued. Sometimes a small car and renegade husband really come in handy. But I digress…

As I checked out, H ran around the store and took a few more pictures. Desserts abounded.

Lastly, here’s a shot of some of our loot and the beautiful avocados we used for our maki. Quality produce to boot? I am sold.

(This picture really doesn’t do these avocados justice. They were flawless.)

So anytime you have a hankering for dashi, and some time to kill, I definitely suggest making a visit to Mitsuwa. Lacking a car? No problem. Apparently they run a shuttle bus from the train station. Enjoy!