Yum

Y’all know how much I love snacks, right? A lot. A super lot. I would much rather eat snacks all day than have a meal. Even a really delicious meal. Are you like that too or is it just me? Far and away my favorite place to by snacks is at H•E•B. It’s my favorite grocery store. They’re only in Texas which is sad for you if you don’t live here. But chances are you know someone who lives in Texas so you should pass this along. Here are some of my favorites that I’ve eaten lately:

I have spurts of paleo where I don’t eat flour. And I have a jillion friends who don’t eat flour (some have better reasons than others but I’m not going to give you a hard time if you want to jump on that bandwagon). It always makes me sad that I can’t bake for my gluten-free friends because baking is my love language. Well guess what! Now I can! H•E•B has a new gluten-free chocolate chip cookie mix that is to die for. Seriously, they taste like honest-to-goodness chocolate chip cookies and they puff up nicely. You would never guess that they’re gluten-free. Color me impressed.

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Snacking in December would not be complete without some peppermint. As Buddy the Elf says, candy canes are one of the four elf food groups. Oreos are one of the few store-bought cookies I will eat and H•E•B does a dandy version of Oreo-type cookies with peppermint filling. They’ve got actual pieces of chopped up candy canes which makes them extra yummy. My kids will eat a package of these in about fifteen minutes. They’re like locusts where cookies are concerned. It’s a bit frightening.

H•E•B also has some Sun Chip-type snacks. They’re called, vaguely, “whole grain chips”. I tried the Smoked Gouda and they’re delicious. Mister took one bite and said, “holy crap, these are good!” I’m not a huge fan of cheese, especially on my snacks (Cheetos?Barf. A million times barf.) but these are more smoky than cheesy. For reals, you need to try these! Worth a trip to the store just to pick up a bag.

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You know what I also got at H•E•B that’s really cool? A tortilla warmer. Not one of those weird plastic things like they have at Mexican restaurants; this is soft and made of fabric. It’s for heating tortillas in the microwave and keeping them warm on the table. We eat a ton of tortillas. The best ones are freshly made. Sometimes I make my own and sometimes I buy them. But this warmer is a really nice way to keep them warm on the table (and it’s not very expensive either). Look how holidayish this one is. Christmas in Texas, folks!

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Before the New Year hits and you’re all healthy and eating right, get on over to H•E•B and pick up some of their Primo Picks snacks. They’re worth every pound you’ll gain!  Check out some of their other yummy foods here!

When I was growing up if I saw something European at the grocery store I would almost always buy it. This was back in the day when Evian was considered exotic and nobody had even heard of Nutella. Nowadays you can find American knock-offs of most foreign products but my heart still goes pitter-pat when I find things that are actually imported from Europe.

My local HEB grocery store has been cornering the market on Italian stuff lately. They have a ton of Primo Picks that are fresh off the boat from the Old World. Yes, you can get American pasta anywhere, but I swear there is just something more magical when you eat pasta that was actually made in Italy. I like to imagine the beautiful castle where the pasta is made, artfully draped on wood racks that have been used for centuries. What? You mean to tell me that Italian pasta is made in factories, not in castles? Whatever. Don’t rain on my Italian parade. The nice thing is that authentic Italian pasta is actually not very expensive (and there are all sorts of cool unusual shapes!) so you can spring for some fancy sauce too and not break the bank. We tried the Orti de Calabria vodka sauce. Talk about flavor! Yummmm! It’s a pretty affordable dinner and it beats drab old spaghetti with Prego.

HEB was kind enough to send me a fantastic goodie bag of some of the Italian products they are carrying right now. You guys, this is not mamby-pamby Americanized crap; this is full-flavored authentic stuff.  Before I even opened the box I could smell it. In particular the Sabatini Tartufi truffle salt. This is like garlic salt but a million times better (and swankier!). Here’s what you can do: defrost some frozen bread dough, roll it all out, then slather it with melted butter and sprinkle with truffle salt. Cut the dough in slices, bake it and you have some super easy but molto delizioso breadsticks. Plus you can be all braggy to your friends and say, “Oh those just have a bit of truffles on them.” Hopefully your friends are smart enough to know you mean mushroom-y truffles and not chocolate truffles.

Italian Primo Picks

Italy is nothing without olives and I am madly in love with them so we’re a good pair, olives and I. The Central Market olive oil is actually from Tuscany (pressed outside of the aforementioned castle, no doubt) and is superb. I eat a lot of olive oil and this is one I will definitely be buying again. The Taggiasca olives are also fantastic. They are sweet but a little tangy and would make a great muffaletta sandwich. Listen, I like plain old black olives from a can too, but these are ooh-la-la so good. Perfect for an appetizer platter for the upcoming holidays, hint hint.

You’ve watched It’s A Wonderful Life, right? We watch it a couple of times every Christmas and there’s this scene where Mr. Potter (the jerk!) is telling George Bailey to stop wasting his time helping those poor immigrants. He calls them “garlic-eaters” in the most sneering tone imaginable. Every time he says that I’m all, “Mr. Potter you are truly a psycho.” Italian food is where it’s at, man! If you live in Texas head on over to HEB and pick up some yummy Italian goods. They’ve got you and all the other garlic-eaters covered!

Hatch chiles, that is! It’s time for Hatch chile season. Last year I showed you how to roast your own chiles here (you can roast any pepper this way, not just Hatchs). But you might not feel like roasting your own. If you are lucky enough to live in Texas near an HEB grocery store, you can find them roasting big drums of Hatch chiles over an open fire in front of the store. You should smell the air! It would make you drool, even if you’re not a big chile lover. Right now is the Hatch Chile Festival so get on over.

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HEB has you covered if you’d like to try products with Hatch chiles but you don’t feel like cooking. Hatch chiles are kind of spicy but the products they carry that are made from Hatch peppers are pretty mild. I tried their Hatch chips and both their red and green salsas and they are really, really good. They all have a lovely flavor full of spices without being spicy. You know what I mean? Lots of taste without sizzling your tongue. The green salsa, ironically enough, has a little bit of zing but nothing to make you feel like your mouth is on fire. My boys polished off the chips in about twenty minutes and keep reminding me to get another bag.

India is eating paleo these days so she was happy to have some new salsas to jazz up her meat. There’s only so much you can do with chicken, right? The Hatch salsas are mighty tasty slathered over eggs too. Go India!

We also tried the tortilla soup and Green Chile Stew. We’ve bought the Tortilla soup several times already because my husband is a big fan of it. The Hatch chips crumbled over the top make a nice addition, as does a bit of canned chicken to make it a little heartier. It’s not necessary but I like soup to be super filling so my kids don’t get hungry an hour later.

 

Make sure you stop by HEB this week to catch the rest of the Hatch Chile Fest. It’s definitely a Texas thing! (Although technically Hatch peppers come from New Mexico. But like everything else, we Texans make everything better.) And don’t forget some truly texas sodas like Dr. Pepper or Big Red to wash it all down.

 

 

I was compensated for trying these products but the opinions are totally my own. I’m not about to lie to help anybody out.

 

 

HEB (the best grocery store in Texas, hence the World) sent me some new Primo Picks to try out. Primo Picks are interesting/cool/extra awesome products that they feature at the store. Since I am always game to try new things, I was pretty jazzed.

I waited until the kids got home from school before I tried anything. I wanted to have more than one opinion than just my own. The clear favorites for them were these yummy things:

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The Lacey’s cookies are halfway between candy and a cookie. They’re two of toffee-esque cookies with a slather of dark chocolate in-between. I’ve seen them around before but never tried them. Ohhhh man, I wish I had never tried them. They’re now what I fantasize about when I have my cheat day. Since you can’t really send your kids to school with such sugar bombs (save those for Mommy, please), This Snacklemouth Salty Chocolate Clusters is a little more appropriate for every day. The kids snarfed down this stuff which is kind of like moist, chocolatey granola. It’s gluten-free and not very high in sugar. A perfect addition to the lunch boxes. Or at least it would have been if we hadn’t promptly eaten it all. Plus, don’t you dig the funky box? The guys has chocolate dripping from his mustache and eyeballs! Sweeeet!

The chips were also a big hit. As much as I love sweets, I love a nice salty potato chip as well (with a coke, naturally). I like the big crunch of Kettle Chips and these don’t disappoint. They have a really pronounced potato flavor which I appreciate when I eat chips; I don’t want to taste a bunch of chemicals, thankyouverymuch. Plus the bag is cute. I like the fonts. Yes, fonts matter!

I really appreciated the coconut oil and coconut water. Despite appearances to the contrary, I’m actually trying to make healthier choices for my family. Lately when I’ve cooked stuff in the frying pan I’ve been using olive oil. I’ve heard amazing things about coconut oil, so I was very happy to give HEB’s virgin Coconut Oil a try. I cooked up some Basa fish (have you heard of it? It’s some new kind of fish and it’s superyum) in the coconut oil and slathered it with guacamole (you don’t eat guacamole on your fish? What’s the matter with you?) The coconut oil gave it a subtle tropical-ish flavor. I like it. And it’s fantastically healthy (for a fat, I mean. It’s not healthier than a handful of fresh carrots.)

 

My whole family was very excited to try the three flavors of BBQ sauce. Let me give you a little background, though. We used to always buy grocery store BBQ sauce and it’s always tasted fine. That’s because we didn’t live in Texas. Now we live in Texas where BBQ is taken terribly seriously. We usually buy a bottle of sauce at our favorite restaurants (I prefer the sauce at Southside in Elgin, TX and Mister Prefers the sauce at Rudy’s.) One time we ran out of restaurant sauce and I bought the same old BBQ sauce at the store like we used to buy. Only this time it was inedible. It tasted all wrong. It was weirdly sweet and had nasty chemical overtones. (I complain about food tasting like chemicals a lot. That’s because I’m spoiled and like homemade-tasting food. Unless it’s Funyons.) We scraped the sauce off and ate our dry meat without. So I was intrigued by the trio of sauces that HEB provided. If nothing else, it gave us an excuse to buy a heaping lot of brisket. The verdict? All three sauces were mighty good. No chemical flavors whatsoever.  Finn, Arabella and I preferred the Better Than Good Traditional Texas sauce. Mister and India like Mama’s Original sauce the best. York Preferred the Better Than Good Texas Moppin’ Sauce, and Ada doesn’t like meat at all so she just had a salad.  The Texas Moppin’ Sauce has a definite mustard overtone. I think mustard is simply the most disgusting condiment in the world so I didn’t care for it at all.  I was more than happy to find some grocery store sauces that I can be happy about using. Now I don’t have to buy spendy bottles at restaurants any more.

I’ve been thoroughly impressed with the Primo Picks at HEB. Pick up a few next time you’re at HEB. And if you don’t live in Texas, poor you.

 

 

I was compensated by HEB but, trust me, the opinions are all mine. You can’t buy my taste buds.

Arabella loves to read my cookbooks and pick out things for me to make. My kids are all sugar addicts like their mother so her recipes are usually in the dessert category. A couple of weeks ago she picked out this beauty from my Cooks Country magazine that she wanted me to make as her birthday cake; it’s a S’mores Ice Cream Pie:

I seriously love s’mores.  Not the biggest fan of ice cream, but it was a hot day yesterday, so I was OK with it. Birthdays are always a huge deal around our house and require a massive amount of work: make the requested breakfast, take the child lunch at school, make a birthday cake, make the requested dinner (or hope they want dinner out) and usually buy/wrap a bunch of presents.

I figured an ice cream cake means no baking or icing so it would be a lot less work. Uuuuggggh. This dessert was so much trouble! The graham cracker crust needs to be baked, so the oven does have to be turned on. Then there is a layer where chocolate is melted and combined with heavy cream and corn syrup. But because I was making this when the babies were walking in the door from school I forgot everything but the chocolate which, when frozen, became hard as a sheet of metal. Then a layer of marshamallow fluff was spread over that. Do you know what a pain it is to spread marshamllow fluff? A horrendous pain, not to mention incredible messy and sticky. It tasted super yum, though, so everyone ate their ice cream off the top and then held the crust like a sloppy chcolatey cookie to eat at the end.

Also, when the pie is ready to serve, the ice cream is covered with marshmallows and broiled quickly to brown them. It was a delicious step and one that really made the dessert taste like s’mores. Unfortunately it also made the pie start to melt and by the time the graham crackers were affixed to the outside and candles were lit, the whole thing was melting like crazy. I ended up throwing the dripping pie onto the table and screaming at everyone to hurry up and sing, for Pete’s sake the stupid dessert is getting chocolate everywhere.

So if you have all day with nothing going on and really feel like undertaking an arduous task (and you like s’mores a lot), this might be a good dessert to try. Also, make sure that there are a lot of people who will eat this instantly because an ice cream dessert in a springform pan with the sides removed is probably not the best idea. It was super delicious, though. I mean, it tasted really good and was very smore-y.

Arabella was extremely happy with this, even though I put the leftover pie in the freezer, slammed the door and yelled, “I hate everything!”  (good thing Arabella had scurried off to look at her presents). Not my finest cooking moment but the birthday girl felt loved and that’s the whole point.

 

 

 

 

 

If you’ve been reading this blog for more than a couple of months you probably have heard me mention my favorite grocery store, HEB. It’s not a word, it’s initials. The founder was named Howard Edward Butt, an unfortunate name. Mister’s mother grew up in San Antonio and remembers shopping at “H.E. Butt”. I guess they got tired of all the kids tittering about the name and it was shortened at some point into H-E-B. At any rate it’s my very favorite grocery stores and they’re only in Texas. They feature lots of local products and they have good prices. When they got in touch with me a few weeks ago and asked if I’d like to try some of their Primo Picks products I was like, “heck, yeah!”  So they sent me a lovely bag full of goodies.

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Primo Picks are products (mostly local) that HEB thinks are extra good or interesting. Being lovers of sweets, my family gobbled up The Big Chip Cookies first. You know I love cookies. But not store-bought. There is no way I would eat a store-bought chocolate chip cookie. But I tried one of these and–my gosh–they were good! Like, good enough to eat a lot. Chips Ahoy wishes they were this delicious. The entire bag was gone in ten minutes. Not joking.

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The kids were also excited to try the Vintage Soda Pop cake and frosting mixes by Debbie’s. Cake mix is another one of those things that I turn my nose up at. Yes, they’re convenient but they taste so artificial. But this cake mix (made with HEB’s version of Dr. Pepper) was really yummy. Not fake-tasting at all. I would totally keep a couple of theses on my shelf for last minute desserts.

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Also big hits were the Texas Firecrackers spicy crackers (Jasper ate almost the whole bag himself) and the Better Than Good Bacon Jam. I’m not going to lie–the bacon jam freaked me out a little. I love bacon a lot; in an “eternal soul mate” kind of way. The thought of eating it in a smooshed up, semi-liquid form kind of grossed me out, though.  But I slathered some on a steak and it was great. Mister wanted to serve some with cream cheese and crackers but I kept forgetting to buy cream cheese. I bet it would taste fantastic.

I also liked the tortilla warmer. It’s the thing in the picture with the cheesy illustration of a jalapeño riding an armadillo. I wish it had a simpler illustration, like an outline of Texas or something. But it was super handy for warming up a stack of tortillas and keeping them warm. Since it’s fabric it’s a lot easier to store one of those big plastic tortilla warmers. I’ve been needing something like this for years.

I’ve seen Primo Picks all over HEB in the past but I usually pass them by. I admit that I get stuck in a rut with the food I buy. I don’t want to waste my money on food that my family might not like. Being able to try several Primo Picks was eye-opening. These are pretty great items. If you’re a fellow Texan, you might want to throw a few Primo Picks in your buggy next time you’re at HEB. Try some products and let me know what you think!

 

*HEB sent me all of these products to try. The opinions are mine.

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Everybody needs to know how to make a pie. It’s just one of those life skills that all Americans should have. Despite the saying, “easy as pie”, it’s actually kind of hard. Not hard, exactly, but complicated. I made this tutorial because I want to take the intimidation factor out of pie crust. Let’s face it, pie crust is the scariest part of pie-making.

Today I’m going to teach you how to make a double pie crust. That means it’s for a pie with a top and a bottom (like an Apple pie). You can also blind bake the crust. Blind baking means cooking the pie crust empty; you’d use this for a pie with a filling that won’t be baked in an oven: usually chilled pies like Chocolate Cream or Lemon Meringue. If you blind bake the crust you’ll only need half of the dough (because you’ll only need a bottom crust). Don’t half the recipe! Pie crust freezes beautifully so save the remaining dough for another time (just throw it in a ziploc and keep it in the freezer. Don’t forget to label it because you will have no idea what it is when you run across it in a few months.)

Here we go. Pie crust doesn’t have many ingredients: fat, water, salt and flour. I like to gussy mine up with a little sugar too. (The complete recipe is at the end of the post.)

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The salt and water are pretty straightforward. If your tap water tastes gross, use bottled. Either way it needs to be cold. Put it in a bowl with some ice cubes just to make sure. Flour needs to be all purpose. I like King Arthur the best.

Then there’s the fat.  There are a dozen types of fat that can be used in pie: butter, shortening, oil, lard and suet, among others. Butter, as you can guess, tastes the best. That’s kind of a no-brainer. An all-butter crust is phenomenal. But lard is unbeatable at making the texture flaky beyond belief. I like to use a combination of butter and lard. Here’s the thing: not just any lard will do. You don’t want the kind from the grocery store. It is disgusting. It smells like a barnyard and is hydrogenated to make it shelf-stable.

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The kind of lard you need is called leaf lard. No, it’s not made from leaves. It’s made from the fat around a pig’s kidneys. It doesn’t smell or taste weird. It’s just pure fatty loveliness. You’ll probably be able to find it from a small butcher shop or artisinal meat producer. Try the local farmer’s market. You’ll want to look for these clues: It must be refrigerated and non-hydrogenated. I buy it for $10 a jar and that makes about 4 pies worth.

If you can’t find leaf lard, don’t worry. All-butter crusts are amazing. Shortening and oil belong in the pantry. For the best pie splurge on butter and–if you find it–leaf lard.

If you’ve got a food processor, making piecrust is a million times easier than doing it by hand. If you are processor-less use a couple of forks to smash things up. Or you can use a pastry blender. I had one of these for several years and it totally does the job. Some cookbooks recommend using your hands. All the ingredients need to stay as cold as possible while pie-making. Nice warm hands do not keep butter cold. Use a tool.

 

Combine all your dry ingredients in the food processor and mix them up.

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Cut your butter up into slices. It should be cold. Drop the butter pieces into the flour mixture and try to keep them from sticking together.

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Pulse the butter for about 3 seconds and then add the lard. If you’re using all butter, keep going. We need to talk about what makes a good pie crust. It needs to be tender, it needs to taste good and it needs to be flaky. Butter is going to give it a great taste, but the lard is going to help with the texture. The less pie crust is processed, the flakier it will be. As the butter and lard melt, they’ll leave behind big air pockets; this is what causes flakiness.

If you’re making a pie that will bake in its crust like an Apple or Cherry pie, you’ll want butter pieces that are about the size of peas (and smaller). If you’re going to make a pie that’s filled afterwards like a Strawberry Pie, you don’t want the juice to leak into all the flakes and make it soggy. So you’ll want a not-as-flaky crust. To do this, make the pieces of butter and lard smaller. The mixture will look more like course sand.

I’m planning on making a Lemon Pie, so I want the fat pieces to be pretty small. This is how it looks after the fat has been processed with the flour. There are a few pieces that are the size of small peas but most of the mixture is pretty fine.

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Next you’ll take your little bowl of ice water. Add a tsp. of canola oil to it and whisk it up as well as you can. Add 6 Tbs. of water/oil mixture and process it in five 1-second pulses.

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The crust is going to look pretty dry. The way you’ll know if you’ve added enough water is to take a small handful of crust and press it together. If it smooshes together and makes a fingerprint, you’re all set! If it’s still too dry to come together add more water/oil mixture–1 Tbs at a time.

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Once your dough is the right consistency, takeout of the food processor and separate it into two equal sections. Squish each half together until it forms a disk. Wrap each disk with plastic wrap

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Chill the pie crust dough in the fridge for at least half an hour. You can keep it there for a couple of days, if needed.

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If you won’t be needing a second pie shell, freeze the extra disc of dough. Keep it in the plastic wrap and slip it into a ziploc. It should last for a month or two.

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Now you’ll need your next batch of equipment: a rolling pin, a pie plate (I like Pyrex the best) and something to roll out the crust between. I recommend parchment paper or these super awesome bags designed just for that purpose. You can find them at fancy kitchen shops or online. I bought mine here and it was $5. I’m so in love with this pie crust bag!

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Whether you use parchment or a pie crust bag, the pie crust will be a smidge sticky when it gets warm. I recommend sprinkling some flour on your parchment or tossing some in the pie crust bag.

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To figure out how wide you need to roll your pie crust, measure across the top of the pie plate and add a couple of inches. When it’s the right size, peel off the top piece of parchment/pie bag then place it back on lightly. Now flip over the crust and peel off the bottom piece of parchment.

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As gracefully as you can, flip the crust upside down as you are placing it in the pie plate. You need to be as quick as a wink to get it right but you can do it.

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Ease the pie crust into the bottom and sides of the pie plate ever so gently. This stuff is incredibly fragile; try not to poke a hole in it!

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You’ll probably have a big flap of crust hanging over the edges. I like to keep this quite long and fold it under to make the crust edges nice and thick (I freely admit it–crust is my favorite part of the pie!). If you do need to trim it, clean off a pair of scissors and cut the crust with those. It’s much easier than trying to use a knife. You won’t need to cut your crust any shorter than this:

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If you’re making a pie with a top crust you’ll roll the top out, fill the pie and lay on the top piece.

Bend the remaining edges under once or twice. Now you’ll shape your pie edges. There are lots of different patterns but let’s do a plain old scallop. If you’ve got any fingernails at all, they’ll poke right through the dough, so I always use my bent fingers like so:

 

 

If you’ll be blind baking your crust you’ll need to bend the crust over the lip of the pan just a bit. This will hold the edge of the crust in place while it bakes. Sometimes the crust will slouch down in the pan; bending it over the rim a tiny amount will help solve that problem.

If your crust hasn’t got any filling in it, you’ll need to poke some holes in it to keep bubbles from forming. A fork is just dandy for this.

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Once your crust looks perfect you’ll need to put it in the freezer for about 20 minutes. A crust made with butter tends to puff up when it bakes and if it’s not throughly chilled when it goes into the oven, the edges and designs (if there are any) will swell up and not look as pretty. Make sure when you put it into the freezer not to smack it on the top of the ice maker. Arrrrgh.

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When you’re about to take your pic crust out of the freezer, preheat your oven to 375°. It’s very, very helpful to keep something in the pie shell as it’s baking to keep the crust from slouching down the edges, as I mentioned before. You can find all sorts of pie weights and things like that sold in stores but this is what I like to do: Use a heat-proof bag; the kind used for baking a chicken or turkey.

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Fill it with rice and use the twist tie to keep it shut. Nestle it into the pie crust.

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Bake the pie crust for 15-20 minutes then remove the bag of rice (use a hot pad! That sucker will be hot!) Continue to bake the crust until it’s golden brown on the bottom. Probably another 15 minutes. Cool the crust and load it up with your favorite pie filling!

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I’ve tried lots of recipes and this one from EverythingPies.com is my favorite. If you don’t have leaf lard just use all butter.

2 1/2 cups flour
2 Tbs sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 cup butter (1 stick)
1/2 cup leaf lard
6-8 Tbs ice water
1 tsp. canola oil

Mix dry ingredients together in a food processor. Add butter and lard and process til butter is the size of small peas. In a small bowl whisk water and canola. Pour 6 Tbs water/oil over flour mixture. Process for short pulses until dough barely starts to come together. It is wet enough when it can be pressed or squeezed and it holds its shape.

Seperate dough into two equal sized disks. Wrap with plastic wrap and chill for at least half an hour. Remove from fridge and roll into shape. Line pie plate with dough, add weights/rice and bake at 375°  for 15-20 minutes. Remove rice/pie weights and bake until crust is golden brown on bottom (another 15-20 minutes). Remove from oven and let cool before filling.

how to make bacon

For years I cooked bacon on the stove because that’s the way my mom and grandma always did it. When I went to college my roommate, Heidi, showed me how to cook it a better way. Technically, it’s baking your bacon. If you only make a couple of slices at a time, cooking bacon in a frying pan makes sense. If you use half a package or more, making bacon in your oven is the easiest and fastest way to do it. No splattering grease all over your stovetop; no flipping bacon halfway through; no cooking six pieces at a time because that’s all the room you have in your frying pan. Once you start making bacon in your oven you’ll never go back.

All you’ll need is bacon, a baking sheet with sides, and tin foil (I guess it’s technically aluminum but tin is a lot quicker to say).

First you’ll want to preheat your oven to 400°. The get out your baking sheet. Here’s mine. It’s pretty grody. I’ve made bacon in this thing probably 500 times. Maybe even a thousand. I’ve had this pan for almost two decades and we eat bacon at least once a week; you do the math. You don’t have to line the pan with tin foil but using it means you don’t have to scrub the pan when you’re done. Why clean things when you don’t have to?

 

Open your pack of bacon and lay the strips out. I happen to know that with my size of pan and a pack of Kirkland bacon from Costco (YUM!), I have to overlap the pieces a smidge to get them all to fit.

 

Once your oven has reached 400°, place the bacon on the bottom shelf for 15-20 minutes.
bacon in oven
I like my bacon really crispy and that takes 18 minutes in my oven (I told you I make it a lot!). Your oven might be different or you might be one of those odd people who likes floppy bacon. Check the bacon after 15 minutes and go from there. (Oh man, I’m completely salivating and about to lick my monitor!)

cooked bacon in pan

While the bacon’s cooking get a plate out and line it with a couple of sheets of paper towels. When the bacon comes out of the oven, you’ll remove the slices with tongs and put them on the plate to drain. I do a second layer of paper towels on top of the first and finish laying out the bacon. I use a couple more paper towels on top of that and let it drain for a few minutes.

yummy bacon

After the bacon has been eaten (usually within 30 seconds), I put all the greasy paper towels on top of the tin foil, then roll the whole thing up and throw it in the garbage. No need to find a can to drain the bacon grease into.

Now you know the easy way to make bacon. So what are you waiting for?

 

 

 

 

OK, I know Christmas was over a week ago but I’m just barely decompressing. I really feel the need to discuss Christmas Dinner. I think this one meal illustrates the differences between families and traditions more than anything else in a marriage.

Mister comes from a family where the big meal is on Christmas Eve. It’s also buffet-style with mountains of food including lots of appetizers and veggie trays. (Who wants celery at Christmas dinner???). There’s more than one kind of meat (usually ham and prime rib). It’s also a paper plate-affair since that’s easiest. There’s a smattering of store-bought food, too. It’s gotten smaller over the years as the grandkids have gotten older and the family is too big and widespread to have everyone all together. But the amount of food is still unbelievable. When the cousins were younger, we used to act out the nativity. But my kids are the youngest with all of the cousins being teenagers or in college (a few now have kids of their own. So strange!). Funny how teens are not so gung-ho about dressing up like sheep.

While I like the idea of not having to cook on Christmas Day, Christmas Eve is crunch time and I usually have 15 million things to do including finishing wrapping, doing stockings, cleaning up the mayhem to Christmas preparations, and trying to have some sort of meaningful Jesus-filled religious experience. It sounds so simple but I’m usually about one second away from a complete mental breakdown.

My family does a Christmas Day dinner. Which means I’m up and cooking as soon as presents are done. Unless it’s like this year when I didn’t really feel like cooking til about 3pm. Which meant we ate at 8. But we gorge on candy throughout the day so it was all fine. I did all of the cooking this year. My mom was in town but I think she was napping. Or maybe watching a movie. I don’t know.

Our family decided that ham and turkey are kind of bleh, so we eat our favorite meal: schnitzel with noodles. In case you didn’t know, Wienerschnitzel has nothing to do with hot dogs. It’s merely schnitzel from the city of Wien (which we call Vienna). My grandmother was raised there so she learned to make wienerschnitzel. She taught my mother who taught me. My mother claims that men make better schnitzel since they’re sloppier. But none of my sons are taking the bait and aren’t interested in learning about their culinary heritage.

Our family eats a sit down dinner featuring schntzel, spaetzle noodles (kind of like skinny dumplings) and spinach salad (my spinach salad is the best in the world. I know. So modest. But everyone asks me for the recipe. Everyone.) That’s it. No appetizers. No bread. We eat our simple meal on my granmother’s china and dig out the sterling silverware. I suppose it’s very old-fashioned. That’s probably why I like it. Our Christmas dinner is all about tradition. Oh yeah, then we have pie. Always delicious homemade pies. Usually apple. This year I made lemon truffle too because the kids adore it.

Mister is happy to eat it, although he moans and groans all Christmas Eve because I have nothing good to eat. Not only do I not make a big dinner, I don’t usually make any dinner. Sometimes we go out for Chinese food. Sometimes we bring home BBQ. One year we ate cereal (hey, I’m busy!).

We’re tolerant of the Christmas dinner differences. It’s taken us a while. At the beginning we always got angry when our families didn’t do things the “right way”. But now we’ve made more of our own traditions. All that really matters is that we’re together and that something tastes delicious.

 

How to Make Pizza

September 19, 2012 · 4 comments

in How-To, Recipes, Yum

homemade pizza

Our family, like many others, eats pizza a lot. It gets expensive but who can resist a nice hot meal that you don’t have to leave the house for? Eventually I decided to learn to make it myself. It’s so crazy easy (and cheap!) that we haven’t ordered out for pizza in forever. This tutorial will show you how to make delicious pizza crust and sauce. It takes about an hour and fifteen minutes from start to finish (but most of that is waiting for the dough to rise). That’s probably as long as you’d wait for pizza delivery on a Friday night! You’ll be surprised how easy this pizza is and how fantastic it tastes. It’s pretty hard to screw up, so don’t be afraid!

The easiest way to make pizza is with a food processor. I use my food processor pretty much every day. I love this thing! It’s possible to make the crust in a mixer or even–how quaint!–by hand. But it takes about 90 seconds in a processor. Here’s what you’ll need to make two medium (but very filling) pizzas:

pizza stuff collage

First you’ll start the crust. It can rise while you’re getting everything else ready. Here are the ingredients:

1/2 cup hot water
2 1/4 tsp instant yeast (rapid rise is also OK). Check the expiration date!!!
4  cups bread flour
1 1/2 tsp. salt
1 Tbs. sugar
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
1 1/4 cups room temp water
2 Tbs extra-virgin olive oil

In a two-cup measuring cup you’ll put 1/2 cup of hot tap water. Not steaming, just really warm. Stir the yeast into it. This is called proofing and it’s going to wake up your yeast. If your yeast is good it will start to look clumpy and have several bubbles on the surface after about five minutes. If it just sits there looking pretty much the same then you’d better go get some different yeast; your pizza will be a failure if your yeast is no good!

yeast in measuring cup

While your yeast is proofing, put the flour, salt, sugar, and garlic powder into the food processor and give it a whirl.(If you don’t have a processor, do the same steps but in your mixer with the paddle attachment.) If you’re a fan of whole wheat, you can substitute half of the bread flour in this recipe for whole wheat flour.

Once your yeast has come alive (5-10 minutes) you’re going to take the measuring cup and add enough warmish water to fill up the cup to the 1 3/4 cup mark. (That means you’ll be adding 1 1/4 cups of water to what you already have.) Then you’ll add 2 Tbs. of olive oil to the same measuring cup. It won’t mix up very well; not a big deal. You’re going to pour it all into the food processor anyway.

While the processor is going, pour the measuring cup full of yeast/oil/water into the flour mixture. It should combine into a dough within about 30 seconds. Keep processing it for another minute. That’s it!

pizza dough

 

Liberally sprinkle some flour onto your kitchen counter and dump your dough out. Knead it for about 30 seconds, just until it’s smooth.

kneading pizza

 

Spray a bowl with Pam and place your dough inside. It’s going to rise in here. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap so it doesn’t dry out. It should rise til it’s about doubled in size, somewhere between 45-60 minutes. Putting it somewhere warm (not over 115°!) will speed things up.

dough rising

While your dough is rising, rinse out the food processor and make the sauce. You’ll need:

1 can of diced tomatoes
3/4 tsp dried oregano
3/4 tsp dried basil
2 cloves of garlic, minced

Drain the can of tomatoes and dump it in the food processor. Put in all the other ingredients and process till it’s smooth.

diced tomatoes

I bought my Zyliss garlic press about twenty years ago and it’s still going strong. I’ve gotten other brands of garlic presses over the years but none is as good as my trusty little Zyliss. Every time I use it (probably five times a week. I adore garlic.) I think, “I love you, little garlic press!”

Once your dough has risen, you’ll need to preheat the oven to 500°. My oven takes a good 15 minutes to get that hot.

Now is the time to shape your pizza. Forget tossing it in the air or things like that (unless you really want to. If you have sons I promise they will try it). Here is the easiest way to get a nice flat crust: get a sheet of parchment paper. (If you don’t have any, go get some. For real. You need it.) Take a blob of dough. My kids all like to do their own pizzas; they don’t need much dough, maybe about the size of a Clementine orange. If the dough sticks to your fingers, dip it in flour first. Now start in the center and use your fingertips to push it into a big circular shape.

pushing pizza dough

Then gently pull and stretch the crust until it’s pretty thin, except for a thicker section around the edge. This pizza dough bakes up really thick so it’s almost impossible to get too thin. I happen to like really thick crust.

stretching dough

 

If you end up with extra dough–and you might since this recipe is enough for our family with a couple of pieces to spare–you can make an extra pizza to eat later. This pizza crust is much heartier than the crust from most pizza places. I can barely eat two pieces without feeling stuffed.  You can also freeze the leftover dough in a ziploc bag. Just let it defrost next time you want pizza and you’ll be all set. You can freeze any leftover sauce too.

Once your crust is the right size, you’ll prick it all over with a fork. This keeps giant air bubbles from forming.

fork pizza

 

Now slather the whole thing with olive oil. If you don’t have a pastry brush just use your fingers. It’s good for your skin!

olive oil pizza

 

Put the pizza sauce in a bowl and spoon it onto the pizza. I’m not a huge fan of tomatoes so I go easy on it; my husband loves tomatoes so he likes it really heavy on sauce. Yet another reason why we usually make our own individual pizzas. Sometimes we’ll splash some BBQ sauce over the top or skip tomato sauce altogether and make some alfredo sauce. For those times when we feel like we need to gain a few pounds.

sauce on pizza

Topping time! This is all up to you. For sure start with some shredded mozzarella. I love pepperoni and black olives. Mister likes pepperoni and pineapple (weird). Sometimes I’ll put on some spinach and mushrooms. Use whatever you want; that’s the joy of DIY pizza! Just remember that your pizza will puff up a lot more than a commercial pizza does; your toppings will seem a lot sparser after the pizza’s cooked. So put on more stuff than you think you need. Here are York and Jasper’s pizzas:

uncooked pizza

To bake your pizza you can use a pizza stone if you have one. Or you can get some thick terra cotta tiles from Home Depot ($1.50 each!) and use those instead. They tend to break after a couple of uses but who really cares since they’re so cheap.But for either of those methods you’ll need a way to get the pizza in and out of the oven. That means you’ll need a pizza peel which is basically a giant spatula with a long handle, like what you see at pizza restaurants. Pizza is incredibly floppy and really, really difficult to get into an oven (especially one that is 500°) without dropping half the toppings onto the floor.

You can use a cookie sheet, but if you’ve got a houseful of people who’ve made their own little pizzas, you’re going to encounter some mishaps trying to get the raw pizzas onto the baking sheet. Plus the crust just doesn’t get as crispy on the bottom.

I recommend putting the pizza and the parchment straight into the oven. Yep, just set the parchment paper straight onto the oven rack. The crust is almost as good as when using a baking stone. There isn’t the ordeal of trying to remove around a floppy, unbaked pizza. The pizza doesn’t get stuck to the baking stone (a common problem) and it’s pretty headache-free. I have tried every method of pizza cooking and removal and this is the easiest!*  The paper will brown but it’s not going to catch on fire or anything.

pizza in oven

If you’re baking a small pizza check it after five minutes. Unless you’re baking a super gigantic pizza it shouldn’t take more than ten minutes to cook. Just leave it in til the crust is dark golden brown.

When it comes time to take the pizza out of the oven, slide the oven whole rack out. This is one hot oven and it’s super easy to burn yourself. Have a cookie sheet in one hand and using a spatula, push the pizza toward the cookie sheet. The browned parchment is very brittle and it’ll just rip if you try to pull on it. Use the cookie sheet as a giant spatula to put the parchment/pizza on the counter or a cooling rack for a couple of minutes.

parchment pizza

 

Once the cheese is cool enough not to burn the roof of your mouth, slice it up and enjoy!

pizza plate