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Extra tender pastry

A while back Deb wrote a post about pies to which I wrote a comment. She suggested that I do a post on pie crust since many people have problems making tender pastry.

I'll begin by telling you a family story. My grandmother, my mother's mother, died when mom was thirteen. She dropped out of school that year (after her eighth grade graduation) to take care of her "kid" brother, Ed, who I believe was about seven or eight years old. Some of the neighbor ladies gave her advice and taught her to cook a few things. She was a very good cook, but she did not really enjoy cooking very much. One thing that she never mastered was pie crust. All during my childhood the only pies that she made had graham cracker crusts. She made all kinds of cream pies with graham cracker crusts.

Sometime while I was away at college my grandmother, my dad's mother, gave her two recipes for pie crust which grandma said were "never fail." One of the recipes contained lard and the other contained an egg and some vinegar. Mom tried these recipes and with a little practice soon began baking absolutely beautiful pies. Her pies could have graced the pages of a cookbook. As the years went on she also used pie crust mix. I think by then her confidence and skill had increased to the point where she could work the pastry without overworking and toughening it.

Here is the version of pie dough that I use the most. It contains an egg and some vinegar, both of which promote tenderness. You can smell the vinegar as the crust bakes, but you cannot taste it. If you haven't found a pie crust recipe that you are satisfied with I hope you will give it a try.

Extra Tender Pastry

2 cups flour
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 cup shortening
1 egg beaten
1 Tablespoon cider vinegar
3 Tablespoons water

Stir together flour and salt. Cut in shortening until pieces are the size of small peas. In a small bowl blend together the egg, vinegar, and water. Add a few spoonfuls of the flour mixture to the egg mixture to form a paste. Add the paste to the rest of the flour mixture. Press into a ball shape. Divide in half and form into two disk shapes. Wrap each individually with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least twenty minutes. (This step is important and really helps to make the dough easier to work with by fully hydrating the flour.)

picture of Piedough

You can refrigerate this for a couple of days or place in a ziplock bag and freeze for a few weeks. (Thaw in refrigerator before using.) When ready to use roll the dough as desired and bake according to the recipe you are using.

picture of Piedoughpan

Here is a really good recipe for a chocolate pie from Hershey's:

Gone to Heaven Chocolate Pie

2/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup cornstarch
1/2 tsp. salt
4 egg yolks
3 cups milk
2 Tbsps. butter or margarine
1 Tbsp. vanilla
1 3/4 cups chocolate chips (they recommend the special dark but I usually use semi-sweet)
whipped topping or sweetened whipped cream
1 baked pie shell

Bake pie shell. (Prick with a fork and bake at 450 degrees for 10-12 mins.) Cool. Stir together sugar, cornstarch, and salt in a two quart saucepan. Combine the egg yolks and milk in a container with a pouring spout. Gradually blend the milk mixture with the sugar mixture. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly until the mixture comes to a boil. Boil and stir one minute (this is important). Remove from heat. Stir in butter, vanilla, and chocolate chips. Stir until chips are melted and mixture is well blended. Pour into prepared pie shell.

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Press plastic wrap onto filling. Cool and refrigerate several hours or overnight until well chilled and firm. Garnish with whipped topping or cream and additional chocolate chips if desired. Makes eight delicious servings!

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I realized this week that it's been a while since I wrote a post about one of my Christmas books. I have been reading a delightful biography about Dewey, the library cat from Spencer, Iowa.

picture of Deweybook

He was a tiny kitten when he came to the library. He had been shoved into the library drop box one cold morning in January of 1988 and went on to reside there until his death in 2006. He was quite famous in his time and there were news stories about him all over the world. If you like cats or animal stories you would probably enjoy reading about Dewey.

I have never been to a library with a cat, but I have been to a couple of stores here in Greenville which have cats in residence. How about you--do you know of any libraries or businesses where pets reside?

We have two cats as those of you who read my husband's blog know. They are very difficult to photograph, especially with a digital camera. By the time I take the picture they have generally moved on out of camera range. I did snap a couple of cute shots of one of the cats the other day. She was lying in the sun and enjoying herself so much that she didn't get up and run away. Here are the best pics I could find of both of them.

Here is Clementine:

picture of Clemmieposing

This is Adelaide:

picture of BestpictureofEpi


A new favorite gadget

A kitchen store here in town closed down a couple weeks ago and they had a two day going out of business sale.
I was sad to see them close because I enjoyed looking around in there from time to time.

I did find a couple of items at a great price. One of these was this Swing Away jar opener.

picture of Jaropener

I have found in the last few years that I have difficulty opening glass jars of things like pickles or spaghetti sauce, so I thought this might be a good investment. I have a Swing Away can opener that we have used for years that has served us faithfully. I have not been disappointed with this jar opener. It works great and I would recommend it to anyone who has had trouble opening glass jars.

Find other kitchen tips each Tuesday over at Tammy's Recipes.


Saint Patrick’s Day Recipes

Do you have any St. Patrick's Day traditions?

Our one tradition each year for St. Patrick's Day is to make St. Patrick's Day cupcakes using a recipe that I found a long time ago in a magazine. I often make the cupcakes for Valentine's day too by using vanilla pudding and decorating the tops of the cupcakes with pink or red colored sugar and M & M's.

picture of Stpatcupcakes

Each year around St. Patrick's Day you see corned beef on sale for a good price at many grocery stores.

picture of Rawcornedbeef

Last year I found a really good recipe for corned beef brisket that can be prepared in the crock pot. It works well for us as a Sunday meal. At first I was skeptical about the need to glaze it and put it under the broiler just before serving it, but it really does add a lot of flavor and eye appeal. So, if you try this recipe please go the extra mile and make the effort to add the glaze. Here are the recipes and pictures of the finished products:

St. Patrick's Day Cupcakes

1 3/4 cups flour
4 oz. package instant pistachio pudding mix
3/4 cup chocolate chips (minis are nice here)
2/3 cup sugar
2 1/2 tsps. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 1/4 cup milk
1/2 cup oil
1/4 tsp. almond extract
1 cup butter frosting (recipe follows)
green colored sugar
green M & M's (minis are nice here too)

Line muffin tins with papers. (I like to use the white ones.) In a large bowl stir together the flour, pudding mix, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Stir in chocolate chips. In a small bowl stir together the eggs, milk, oil, and almond extract. Stir the egg mixture into the flour mixture until the dry ingredients are moistened--you can do this by hand--no mixer needed. Fill the muffin papers 2/3 full. Bake at 375 degrees for 18-20 mins. Cool, then frost with the butter frosting, sprinkle with green sugar, and top with three green M & M's in a shamrock pattern. Makes 18 delicious cupcakes.

Butter Frosting
2 1/2 Tbsps. softened butter or margarine
1 1/2 cups sifted powdered sugar
3/4 tsp. almond extract
1-2 Tbsps. milk

Blend all ingredients together and use to frost cupcakes.

To save money on the M & M's buy a bag of red and green ones at Christmas time and squirrel them away. Then you will be prepared for both Valentine's Day and St. Patrick's Day!

Here are some pink ones I made for a friend's birthday in February. I did use a different icing recipe for these since I was trying to make them a little "fancier."

picture of Pinkcupcake

Orange Marmalade Corned Beef

1 piece corned beef brisket (I prefer the flat cut rather than the point cut)
3 cups water
1 bay leaf
4 whole cloves
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup dijon mustard
1/4 cup orange marmalade
potatoes (I like to use red ones cut into pieces)
carrots (baby carrots work well or use regular ones peeled and cut up)

Rinse all the goo off the corned beef and place in the crock pot. Add the water, bay leaf, and cloves. You can cook this for 6-8 hours on low, or for Sunday dinner cook 2 hours on high, add potatoes and carrots and then cook for 4 more hours. Before serving remove the beef from the slow cooker and cut off the fat. Place the meat on a broiler pan. (To ease clean up place a small amount of water in the bottom section and then spray the top slotted part with pan spray.) Prepare a glaze from the brown sugar, mustard, and marmalade. Glaze the meat and then place under the broiler for 3-5 mins. Slice and serve with the remaining glaze.

Here's the finished product:

picture of Cookedcornedbeef


A tale of two lentils and a two year old

Do you like lentils? I don't think I ever ate them until I was an adult. I grew up in the midwest where we ate a lot of great northern beans, navy beans, and kidney beans, but not lentils, blackeyed peas, or pinto beans.

The nice thing about lentils is that they cook quickly and don't need presoaking. At the moment I have two kinds of lentils in my cupboard.

picture of Twolentils

My favorite lentils are these tiny green ones that are French lentils or lentils du puy (pictured here on the left). I first had them in France a number of years ago and at that time they became my favorites. I had difficulty finding them around here until a couple of years ago when I discovered them at one of our favorite restaurants here in Greenville, The Pita House. They have a large array of middle eastern groceries including a rainbow of lentils. Unfortunately I still had some of the less favored brown lentils (pictured on the right) in my pantry, so this week I decided to try a new soup recipe to use up some of them. It was actually pretty good, so give it a try if you like lentils. In a future post I will give you my favorite lentil recipe, so stay tuned, lentil lovers.

picture of Lentilsoup

The recipe follows a picture of our grandson, Drew (who probably doesn't care for lentils) who just turned two!

picture of DrewTwoCake

Lentil Soup
1 pound lean ground beef
1 cup dried lentils, sorted and rinsed
1 cup peeled and diced carrot
1 cup chopped onion
1 cup chopped cabbage
1/2 cup chopped celery
generous grinding of black pepper
1 bay leaf
1 Tbsp. beef soup base or bouillon
4 cups water
2 cups tomato sauce (I used spaghetti sauce)
1 Tbsp. red wine vinegar

Brown ground beef in large soup kettle. Drain off fat and add onions and celery and cook a couple of minutes. Add all remaining ingredients except the vinegar. Heat to boiling and then reduce heat to a simmer. Simmer covered until vegetables and lentils are tender, about 30-40 mins. Just before serving add the vinegar.