The Basics

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When I started this blog my thought was that this would be a creative endeavor, an outlet if you will. I have always been creative, often sketching and drawing as a girl. After college I used my creativity in the field of marketing and event planning in the financial industry. And now, as a mom I use my creativity in other ways – brainstorming for a school project, sanding and painting the columns on our 90 plus year old house, recovering chairs found at a flea market, – all things I enjoy. But creativity in the kitchen is something different, more maybe. Cooking and baking for the people I care about, with the people I care about is…more.

I don’t want to dumb it down, I thought. Nor did I want to put complicated, multi-step recipes with hard to find ingredients on my site. But after some feedback from friends and realizing that I had help along the way – from family cooks and bakers, PBS and the Food Network – here it is – a page on my blog for the basics. A page to refer to in the midst of a recipe that calls for a rough chop, or a dice, or a mince. A page with step-by-step how tos and pictures for making pasta and pie dough. Who knows…someday I may even attempt a video how to!

I hope you find inspiration here and enjoy this page in the spirit in which it was intended.

This and That:

I use kosher salt for cooking, table salt for baking. Exception – salted caramels.

I read through a new recipe at least twice. Otherwise I am apt to miss an important step or ingredient and I don’t enjoy food shopping enough to go to the grocery store multiple times in one week.

I toast nuts that I use as a garnish, like in a salad. It is so easy and adds so much flavor to the nuts. See How to Toast Nuts below.

When my recipes call for pepper it is always freshly ground black pepper. I am a lazy typer. In fact I never really learned how, I just hunt and peck so it takes me longer and I don’t have the patience to type long words or phrases when I can simply shorten them. I have been toying with substituting AP flour for all-purpose – coming soon!

I believe that with the right tools you can do anything and cooking and baking are no exceptions. I do have tools I use more than others and those I will list here:

a good chefs knife

a good paring knife

a good serrated bread knife

a boning knife

a good carving knife and fork

a large wooden cutting board with a moat for meat juices

a medium sized plastic cutting board with rubber ends (to keep in place)

restaurant quality fry pans, one small one large

a good garlic press (Zyliss is my fav)

a heavy bottomed large soup pot

a dutch oven

a braising pan that can go from stove top to oven

a large pot with built in colander for cooking and draining pasta

baking sheets

a baking dish 9 x 13 x 2, for lasagna and brownies

measuring cups and spoons

Pyrex liquid measuring set

wooden spoons

candy thermometer

at least one spatula

a dough scraper aka a bench scraper

a fine grater – for grating fresh nutmeg and Parm. cheese

tongs

small ice cream scoop

rolling pin

pizza stone and peel

How to Toast Nuts:

Place nuts in a single layer on a baking sheet. Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Place nuts in oven and bake 8 to 10 minutes or until you can start to smell them. Not kidding. But keep an eye on them. You will also be able to smell them burning and it is not good!

How to Boil an Egg:

Place eggs in a saucepan and cover with cold water. Place on high heat and cover. Once the water boils turn off the heat but leave the eggs in the pan on the burner with the lid on. Set your timer to 9 minutes. When the time is up uncover the eggs, dump the hot water and cover with cold water. Let sit, replacing with more cold water after 3 or so minutes. Be patient here so they are easier to peel! After they have rested in cold water about 8 to 10 minutes you can peel them and serve as desired.

Pie Crust/ Pate Brissee:

Makes two 9 inch pie crusts.

2 and 1/2 cups all purpose flour

1 tsp salt

1 tsp sugar

1 cup (2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces

1/4 to 1/2 cup ice water

Add flour, salt and sugar into the bowl of your food processor. Pulse to combine. Add the cold, cubed butter and pulse until the mixture resembles coarse meal with some larger pieces of butter remaining. (You can do this without a food processor. just use a bowl and a pastry cutter or two knives. I don’t like to use my hands because I am trying to keep the butter cold = flaky crust!)

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Drizzle 1/4 cup of the ice water over the mixture and pulse (or mix with a fork) until it starts to form or hold together. Pinch the dough and if too dry to hold together, drizzle more ice water 1 tablespoon at a time until it forms.

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Divide dough into two and flatten into disks in plastic wrap. Refrigerate until firm, 1 hour or up to one day. (Dough can be frozen up to 3 months.)

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Remove the dough from the fridge onto a lightly floured surface and roll to 1/8 inch thickness. I like to place the pie plate on top of the rolled out dough to make sure it will fit with some overlapping the sides.

By the way, this is my grandfather’s porcelain topped table in the pictures. He baked on it as well and I think of him every time I roll dough. My husband added a shelf and legs to the bottom of the table and it is now my kitchen island and I love it. The porcelain top has a slightly cooler temperature than my granite counter and works like those marble topped tables used by so many bakers.

Once the dough is rolled out I use a dough scraper to help it from the surface and around the rolling pin, then gently place it into the pie shell, lifting the edges and folding them into the creases around the perimeter of the pie plate. I then take the rolling pin and roll the top edges of the plate to remove the excess dough.

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For a nice edge to the pie crust I simply pinch the dough around the entire pie. Pierce the shell all over with a fork and refrigerate 30 minutes. Preheat the oven to 375. Line the pie shell with parchment and fill with pie weights or dried beans. Par bake the pie crust for 20 minutes. Carefully remove the parchment and weights and bake another 10 minutes until golden. Let cool on a wire rack while you make the filling.

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Refer to my recipe for Pumpkin Pie

How to Coarsely Chop an Onion:

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Peel the onion. Cut it in half length wise, end-to-end. This makes it easier to cut because it will be flat and it will not move. Make cuts along the length of the onion half as shown above.

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Next cut it in half horizontally as shown above. Then slice across the onion creating a rough chop.

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Some recipes call for a dice or a mince. As size goes, a chop is larger than a dice is larger than a mince. Simply make your slices down the length of the onion and across the width closer together.

Refer to my recipe for Game Day Chili

How to make Pizza Dough

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3 and 1/2 cups plus* bread flour (you can use all-purpose but I found a better crunch with the bread flour)

1 tsp sugar

1 envelope instant dry yeast or 2 and 1/4 tsps if you have a jar of yeast.

2 tsps kosher salt

1 and 1/2 cups water plus* at 110 F (I found that my hot faucet water was about the right temperature for this)

2 tbs olive oil, plus 2 tsps for bowl to rest dough

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Combine the flour, sugar, yeast and salt in a standing mixer with dough hook attached. With mixer on low add water and 2 tbs olive oil and beat until a ball of dough begins to form. Pinch the dough and if too sticky add more flour* 1 tbs at a time. If too dry add more water* 1 tbs at a time until the dough feels like you can work it without making a complete mess out of your rolling pin and surface!

Scrape dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead into a smooth, firm ball. Grease a large bowl with the remaining olive oil, add the dough and cover with plastic wrap. Put in a warm place to double in size, about 1 hour to 1 and 1/2 hours.

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When you are ready to bake, place your pizza stone in the oven and preheat to 475. Divide dough into the number of pies you are making – I make four out of one dough recipe. Lightly flour your surface and rolling pin and roll out the dough to desired thickness. We usually do super thin. Let rest about 5 to 8 minutes, then roll again. This makes a really thin and crunchy crust.

Top with your favorite toppings and slide in the oven on a peel dusted with corn meal. Bake 8 to 10 minutes. For some ideas, see White Pizza with Prosciutto and Arugula or Pistachio Pesto and Sausage Pizza.