Basic Pie Crust

Do you have any friends or family that don’t cook and seem to somehow be proud of that fact? I have been long confused about this attitude. I can understand the lack of time and energy; I can even understand the laziness; but I can’t understand the bragging attitude. It is akin to saying: “Reading books, who needs to read books.”

I have a sneaky idea. Invite a friend over that has this attitude. Tell them that dinner is at 7. As they arrive, tell them that you are running really behind and would they mind lending a hand in the kitchen. Ask them to do small tasks like washing some vegetables. You can escalate that into a rough chop or stirring a sauce or soup. The goal would be a gentle introduction without any heavy lifting. See how it goes. You may need to do this more than once. Before long you may have a convert.

Here is the basic pie crust mentioned yesterday. I will also use this a few other times throughout the year so keep it handy.

Ingredients

  • 3 Cups All Purpose Flour + 3 Tablespoons
  • 4 Teaspoons Salt
  • 1 Teaspoon Salt
  • 3/4 Cut Butter, chilled
  • 1/2 Cup Crisco, chilled
  • 1/2 + Cup Ice Water
  • 1 Egg

Tools

  • Large Mixing Bowl
  • Chef’s Knife
  • Fine Sifter or Strainer
  • Pastry Dough Blender (optional)
  • Rolling Pin
  1. Sift 3 cups of flour, the sugar and salt together in a large mixing bowl.
  2. Cut in the butter and crisco a little at a time using the dough blender or a couple of knives. You probably haven’t heard about Crisco since you were a kid. It’s just vegetable shortening and it makes the crust flaky.
  3. After mixing gently, slowly drip in the water as you work fat into the flour. You want the dough the consistency of oatmeal. You may need a little more or less water.
  4. Form two equal discs, wrap them in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1/2 hour.
  5. Roll out your dough on a clean, smooth flat surface covered with flour. Make it slightly bigger than your pie dish.
  6. Carefully transfer to dish. I use the rolling pin and gently and loosely roll it over the pin and unroll it on the dish.
If you are making quiche or any other pie that only requires a bottom either make two or cut the recipe in half.

Quiche

The importance of leftovers is greatly overlooked in the culinary literature. Leftovers are both a creative challenge and an economical way to stretch the food budget. There are a few techniques that can promote the use of yesterday’s dinner.

The first move should be to put the leftovers away immediately. Don’t let them sit on the stove or a serving plate until you go to bed. The possibility of collecting airborne nasty stuff greatly increases with the passage of time. Once you have engaged yourself to put them away, take a moment to consider how and when you are going to use them. Are you going to freeze or refrigerate? Either way, make sure that your package is appropriate for where your are storing them. The key to using leftovers is planting the seed early. As you put them away say to yourself: “I can have that for lunch tomorrow”(refrigerate) or “That will be great next weekend on pizzas” (freeze).

There are a few simple tools that make storing and retrieving leftovers more convenient. For frozen food, single serving freezer bags and a sharpie are your best bet. Make sure that when you put them in the freezer you can easily see them. You are much more apt to use frozen leftovers if they are in single serving sizes and are at your fingertips.

For refrigerated leftovers, either use disposable plastic containers with tops that fit well or pyrex bowls with lids. As much as I dislike cleaning the bowls of old leftovers, I prefer the latter for a number of reasons. The tendency to stack endless containers until your fridge is overrun by them is much easier with 10 cent containers. If you have to clean the container you are much less likely to let is sit for a very long time and therefore more likely to actually use them. Obviously, any use of disposable anything is not good for the planet.

The creative challenge to leftovers is in their transformation. If you serve your family the same meal three days in a row they will revolt. Leftovers are not just what you cooked for dinner. I often end up with extra vegetables and cheese from an appetizer and have short ends of pasta, beans and other stuff in my pantry. As far as I’m concerned it’s all part of the leftover palette. The creative challenge for most is where to start. There are several conveyances that are perfect for leftovers: Omelets, pizza, sandwiches, pasta and quiche. Here is one that is perfect for a weekend brunch.

Ingredients

  • 8 Large Eggs
  • 1 Onion, chopped
  • Leftover Cheese
  • Leftover Vegetable (the last time we used 4-5 asparagus spears)
  • 3-4 Slices Bacon or Other Leftover Meat
  • 1 Teaspoon Dried Tarragon
  • Salt and Pepper
  • Basic Pie Crust (will post tomorrow)

Tools

  • Mixing Bowl
  • Whisk
  • Ovenproof Pie Plate
  • Chef’s Knife
  • Saute Pan
  1. Pre heat oven to 400.
  2. Prepare pie crust.
  3. Cook bacon and set aside on paper towel. 
  4. Saute onion and briefly add vegetable. Let cool.
  5. In mixing bowl, combine eggs with onion, crumpled bacon or chopped up leftover meat (ham, chicken, turkey, sausage), cheese (as much as you like, about three tablespoons usually is good), tarragon and salt and pepper. 
  6. Pour mixture into pie crust.
  7. Bake for about 50 minutes, until the top of the pie has visibly set up.
  8. Let cool for 15-20 minutes.
Serve with a simple salad.

Frito Pie

Success in show business is the big ring that has been dangled in front of many a star struck want-a-be. The actual ability to succeed in this (or any other) business has to do with many factors, some elusive and some so obvious that most people miss it.

Today is my friend Blake’s birthday. He is one of the nicest and most genuine people that you would ever want to meet. He is polite, kind and generous. He is an extremely talented composer but that is almost beside the point. The reason that Blake is successful is that he never said no, never complained and did whatever he was asked to do with enthusiasm and a smile on his face. His desire to please and learn was contagious. That was not lost on any of the people that he touched on his path to where he is now.

What is most impressive about Blake is that while he made many sacrifices working long hours – often for very little pay – he managed to have a family that he always put first. He very quietly kept his priorities in order. And this too was contagious. The people that work with Blake appreciate and respect his approach to life and like him all the more for it.

So if you think that “making it” in Hollywood has anything to do with hurting people, doing anything at any cost just to succeed, just remember the old adage: “Be careful whose fingers you step on on the way up, because they may be attached to the asses that you have to kiss on the way down.”

Here is Blake’s favorite dish.

Ingredients

  • Bag of Fritos
  • Can of Chili
  • Bag of Cheddar Cheese
  • Onion, diced
  • Sour Cream

Tools

  • Chef’s Knife
  • Crock Pot (for Chili)
  • Bowls for Sides
  • Paper Bowls for serving
  1. Heat the chili.
  2. Put all of the sides in serving bowls.
  3. Serve with fritos on top or on bottom. Your choice.
Happy birthday my friend.

Chimichurri Sauce

My wife cooks more than I do. Whenever I ponder this it upsets me. Granted, although we both have very busy lives, if you would closely analyze the situation she probably has just a modicum more time to cook than I do. But she also cleans more than I do, she does the laundry more than I do and we are about even in the kitchen cleaning department, with me winning the pots and pans nearly every time.

The reason I bring this up is that I have written about the importance of families teaching both their sons and daughters to cook. But, am I somehow still adhering to those age old stereotypes in our own home? I was raised by a pack of feminists after all, how could that be? I never insist that my wife perform any of these chores, but I also don’t go out of my way, stay up all night, or even get up early (like she does) to get a jump on our shared responsibilities.  Any sociologists out there want to weigh in on this conundrum?

Regardless of my own dilemma, I still feel that it is important for parents to teach their children to cook. First of all, the schools  don’t offer it like they should and even if they did, you know the boys would not pay attention. Our approach is to cook as much as possible so they see that it is not some magical secret process. We also throw them in the deep end. About once every week or so when the inevitable is heard: “What’s for dinner”, we reply with: “You’re on your own tonight. Your mother and I have a date.” There are frozen things and leftovers, but all of our kids know how to saute, bake a pizza, make a salad and a quesadilla. The chances of us coming home and finding a malnourished child drooling on the couch are non-existent.

You teach your kids to tie their shoes (don’t you) and to look both ways before crossing the street. As they get older you teach them about checking accounts and driving a car. What could be more important than how to prepare and eat the right foods? You want your kids to live long and healthy lives, right? Seems like a no brainer to me.

Ingredients

  • 3/4 Cup Olive Oil
  • 1 Cup Italian Parsley, finely chopped, stems removed
  • 2 Teaspoons Dried Oregano
  • 2 Teaspoons Red Chili Flakes
  • 4 Cloves Garlic, minced
  • 1 Tablespoon Red Wine Vinegar
  • Squeeze of Lemon
  • Salt and Pepper

Tools

  • Chef’s Knife
  • Mixing Bowl
  • Jar with Lid
  1. Chop the parsley and garlic together.
  2. Toss together in a bowl with chili flakes and oregano.
  3. Add oil, vinegar and lemon.
  4. Stir together and adjust seasoning. 
  5. Store in the fridge in a sealed jar for a day or two or serve right away over steak or on a slice of baguette. 

Scrambled Eggs with Corn Salsa

In a recent Los Angeles Times article the school breakfast program was featured. The program provides in class breakfast for more than 200,000 students in 267 schools. It is a combined effort of LAUSD and a non-profit organization the L.A. Fund for Public Education. The “Food for Thought” program addresses the issue that most kids from lower income families do not get a regular breakfast and the result is that the students have higher academic performance, fewer discipline problems and fewer visits to the school nurse for headaches and other hunger related issues.

I am a big fan of programs such as this one. There are several around the country. Breakfast is very important for so many nutritional reasons that it should not be ignored. Weight loss is not possible without eating breakfast. If you skip breakfast, by the time you do eat, your body has usually reached “starvation mode”. When this occurs you store more fat.

The other reason that I like this program is that it is a combined effort of public and private resources. I believe that any real change for the better in our society is going to require this symbiosis. We need to partner up and get the work done, instead of sitting on the sidelines and pointing fingers. In down economies when there is less coming into the state coffers, the schools are squeezed. We all need to help bridge the gap. In California long ago we chose not to support our schools through constant increases in property taxes (the way that many school systems work in other states). I certainly benefitted from the savings prop 13 provided me, but the same cannot be said for the schools. Regardless of where you stand on the issue, our schools suffered and we need to all pitch in and help out.

On that note, here is a breakfast recipe that is a partnership between home made and store bought. As you have probably read, I am usually not a fan of foods in cans, jars, boxes or bags but there are always exceptions. If you are near a Trader Joes (and who isn’t these days) you can enjoy this quick and easy egg preparation.

Serves 2-3

Ingredients

  • 4 Eggs
  • 2 Tablespoons Trader Joes Corn and Chili Salsa
  • 3 Tablespoons Crumbled Blue Cheese
  • 1 Teaspoon Dried Tarragon (on 1 Tablespoon Fresh, chopped)
  • 1 Teaspoon Dried Oregano
  • Salt and Pepper

Tools

  • Mixing Bowl
  • Non Stick Frying Pan
  1. Mix all ingredients in a mixing bowl. I use a whisk to get some air in the eggs.
  2. Cook over low heat, Stirring constantly. The best scrambled eggs cook slowly. Don’t let them get too dry.

Tomato Salad

I’ve been working in a editing room for the past several days and doing the one thing that I do not recommend, eating at my desk. All of our meals are brought in and we continue to work as we eat. I can do anything for a short period of time so I just do it. My main strategy is to order salads.

Yesterday I ordered a grilled vegetable salad. When it was handed to me I had to use two hands. I kid you not, the container weighed at least five pounds. It was from a local deli. I have never liked delis for this reason but I usually keep this opinion to myself. So, if you don’t like complaining you should jump to the recipe.

Restaurants and, for some reason, all delis pile on the food. This is really irritating. I have actually sent sandwiches back when they come with meat measured in inches of thickness. I try to avoid these places as I know this will always happen. I often quip: “Where is the family of 4 to eat this?” It’s not just that I don’t want such huge portions, I am offended by the waste. Who cares that the Arts/Cantors/Carnegie Deli’s of the world have the worlds largest sandwich. I would be much more impressed and would feel much better about ordering or eating at a deli that advertised “Gives more food to the homeless than that joint across the street”, or some other such clever saying.

Enough whining.

Tomatoes are just starting to show up at the farmers markets. We have ours in the ground and should start to see the first ones in about a month. I just can’t help starting the tomato recipes now. This is one of the simple ones.

Ingredients

  • 4 Ripe Medium Tomatoes
  • 1/2 Red Onion, diced
  • 2 Cloves of Garlic, diced
  • 1 Tablespoon Fresh Basil, chopped
  • 4 Tablespoons Best Olive Oil
  • 2 Teaspoons Balsamic Vinegar
  • Salt and Pepper

Tools

  • Chef’s Knife
  • Bowl
  1. Toss the tomatoes, garlic, basil and onion in a bowl. Be careful about the red onion. If it is strong you will need less.
  2. Dress with the olive oil.
  3. Cautiously add the vinegar. The sweeter it is the less you need.
  4. Salt and pepper liberally.

Roasted Pepper and Mushroom Pizza

I love pizza. It is the perfect food. You can eat it with your hands (if you have to), it can contain vegetables, fat, carbs and is the perfect vehicle for leftovers. It can be as fancy as you want or as plain and simple as it comes. I don’t recommend eating it every day, like I probably did in college, and if you are watching your carbohydrate intake you should probably take a break from it. But, for the rest of us I say pizza, pizza, pizza.

My wife and I have a handful of pizza places that we really enjoy. In Los Angeles, we really love Pizzeria Mozza. It is a wonderful treat that we sneak off to every few months. It is not cheap but the pizzas, the appetizers and the wine are all exquisite. When we are in New York we have two favorites. Similar to Mozza and also owned by Mario Batali is Otto. We have the same routine at both. We usually go in the late afternoon when they are the least busy. We sit at the bar, order a few appetizers and a glass or two of wine and split a pizza and sometimes two. At Otto, we have gotten to know the daytime bar tender and he always steers us toward what is most delicious on the menu and from the bar. We meet really interesting people, usually folks from the neighborhood, and always have a fantastic date.

The other New York pizza that we enjoy is La Pizza Fresca.  The restaurant is a lovely little unassuming place with one of the most comprehensive Italian wine lists in the city and a wood fired pizza oven that churns out a beautiful thin crust pizza in the Naples tradition. Unlike the Mario Batali joints, Fresca does not make you wonder whether you broke a window when the check comes.

One of the best aspects of both Otto and Mozza is that they are open all day. My wife and I constantly lament that more restaurants aren’t open all day. This makes no sense. One person walking in for a late lunch should be able to cover the cost of a skeleton staff for the period between traditional lunch and dinner. Also, once the word gets out that a place is open all day more people will take advantage of it.

Ingredients

  • Pizza Skin or Two (recipe earlier this year on this site)
  • Roasted Red and Yellow Pepper
  • Handful of Mushrooms (your choice), sliced
  • Chunk of Goat Cheese
  • Fresh Rosemary, finely chopped
  • Olive Oil
  • Salt and Pepper

Tools

  • Chef’s Knife
  • Pizza Stone
  • Saute Pan
  • Pizza Peel
  1. Roast the peppers either on the grill, in the oven or directly on a gas burner. You want the skin to char and allow enough time for the pepper to soften. Let cool, remove the skin and seeds and slice into thin strips.
  2. Collect the pepper strips in a small bowl, drizzle liberally with olive oil. Salt and pepper and mix up with your fingers. Let sit for a few hours (or a few minutes if you can’t wait)
  3. Saute the mushrooms in a little olive oil. Salt to wick the moisture out.
  4. Once your vegetables are prepared, pre heat the oven with the pizza stone to 450.
  5. Drizzle a small amount of olive oil on a pizza skin. Rub it around with your fingers.
  6. Lay down a layer of mushrooms.
  7. Arrange a spiral of yellow and red roasted pepper slivers.
  8. Dollop goat cheese evenly.
  9. Sprinkle the rosemary over top and pepper to taste.
  10. Bake for 10 minutes, or until the crust is golden brown.
If you want to add some meat, speck or any other cured Italian meat would be nice. Add it in strips to keep with the design.