Strawberry rhubarb pie recipe: the folly of perfection

Perfection and pie crust are two words that, when arranged side by side, make me want to tear out my hair.

The perfect pie crust! The only pie crust recipe you’ll ever need! No more tears: perfect pie crust every time! Foolproof pie dough!

These are bait and switch words. They hook you and slowly reel you into the madness of trying to achieve perfection.

Can I let you in on a secret? The perfect pie is the one that you make today or tomorrow, filled with some gorgeous summer fruit, and shared with your family and friends. There are a gazillion ways to approach making a pie, and that many recipes to go with them.

Do not be afraid.

Here’s a fact that I have noted before: I have made at least 2,000 pies. I stopped counting after that. Luckily I did not eat all of them, or I would not be here today to tell the tale. My first efforts were not so stellar, but I soldiered on—it was my job—and eventually I came up with a formula that works. It’s a process. Keep going.

Oh, but that hasn’t stopped me from taking the bait. Yes, I am that fool in the kitchen seeking foolproof. As I worked through some difficult times recently I embarked on yet another pie project. Is there really such a thing as a perfect pie crust? Is there really a perfect chocolate chip cookie? Is there really a perfect husband? That depends. Or in other words, of course not. But it was good therapy.

My curiosity was piqued after reading about Kenji Lopez-Alt’s vodka pie crust, which he developed for Cook’s Magazine. I actually never got around to that one because I found his newest method on Serious Eats. I tried Kenji’s method and about seven other different pie crust variations. I baked off samples (and forgot to take photos, sorry) to compare them. I also froze the dough, so there are more pies in my immediate future. The results? Well, they were all pretty darn good.

I liked Kenji’s a lot, so I am sharing my version using his method. It was crumbly and flaky. But I also liked my old standby version, and truth be told, it was hard to discern too much difference. If you are newly embarking on pie or are just an obsessively curious cook like myself, then read his post—it has some great insights into the science of crust-making and explains why Kenji’s method works. If you just want to dig in, then skip the reading.

The main thing is to dig in.

There’s a lot to say about reaching for perfection, but we’ll keep it to pie, for now. Perfection is in that moment when your kitchen fills with the aroma of pie goodness, and everyone who partakes of the result is your new best friend. I don’t think you can ask for more than that.

Strawberries are at their peak right now, so I took advantage of them to make my most favorite (redundancy necessary here) pie in the whole world. I am not kidding. You will have the best results if you use a scale, but it you don’t have one, don’t sweat it. Use the fluff and spoon method of measuring: Fluff up the flour in the canister with a spoon, and then spoon it into a dry measuring cup so it mounds on top. Scrape the excess back into the flour canister with a knife. I also used some shortening in the recipe for tenderness, since there is no water content in it. For an all-butter dough, replace the shortening with butter. I have given instructions on how to roll dough between 2 pieces of parchment, which is quite easy especially if you are new to pie making. You can check out another rolling method here.

And now ladies and gentlemen, I hereby present the cheater, anti-perfectionist lattice crust.

Pie is just so much more than a tart. A tart is a beautiful thing, don’t get me wrong. But a pie? A pie answers the soul’s call for wonder.

Strawberry rhubarb pie with a cheater lattice crust: the recipe

For the flaky pie crust (Kenji’s method)

Makes enough for one 9-inch double crusted pie

13.5 ounces (3 cups) 

all-purpose flour

1.5 ounces (3 tablespoons) sugar

1 1/2 teaspoons fine sea salt

8 ounces (2 sticks) cold, unsalted butter, cut into 1/4-inch thick slices

1.5 ounces (3 tablespoons)

trans-fat free shortening

, cut into pieces*

5 tablespoons ice water

1 tablespoon lemon juice

*Substitute an equal amount of unsalted butter if you want to make an all-butter pie crust

1. Whisk the flour, sugar and sea salt together in a mixing bowl. Set aside 1 cup of the dry ingredients.

2. Tip the flour mixture into the bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade. Spread the butter and shortening pieces on top. Pulse the machine 15 to 20 times, or until the dough forms clumps. Transfer it back to the mixing bowl. (By hand, use a pastry cutter or a hand-held mixer, but be prepared to put in more time.)

3. Add the reserved 1 cup flour to the mixing bowl and with your hands, toss with the clumps until flour is well distributed. Sprinkle the ice water and lemon juice over the top. With your hands, toss like a salad, until dough comes together in larger clumps.

4. Tip the clumps onto the counter and divide into 2 piles, one slightly larger than the other. Press each pile into 2 flat, round disks and wrap in plastic. Refrigerate for 1 1/2 hours, or up to 1 day. Wrapped in several layers of plastic and foil, the dough can be frozen for up to one month.

For the pie

Makes one 9-inch pie

Pie dough (see above)

1 1/2 pints fresh strawberries, hulled and halved to make 4 cups

About 4 stalks (8 ounces) rhubarb, cut into 1/2-inch slices to make 2 cups

1 cup blond cane sugar, and a little for the top of the pie

1/3 cup flour

1/8 teaspoon fine sea salt

1 tablespoon butter, cut into small pieces

1 egg, beaten with 1 tablespoon water

Coarse sugar for garnish, optional

1. Have on hand one 9-inch pie pan.

2. Remove the dough from the refrigerator. Let it sit at room temperature for about 10 minutes to soften. Set an oven rack in the center of the oven and heat the oven to 375 degrees F.

3. Cut two 14-inch long pieces of parchment paper. Lightly flour the dough. Set the smaller disk of dough on 1 sheet and set the second sheet on top. Roll into a 1/8-inch thick circle. (If the dough has become soft while rolling, transfer it to a baking sheet (still between parchment) and refrigerate for about 10 minutes to make it is easier to handle.) Pull off the top sheet of parchment and flip the dough over the pie pan. Pull off the top sheet of parchment. Fit the dough into the sides and bottom, lifting it at the edges to avoid stretching it. With a paring knife, trim the dough so that it is even with the edge of the pan; refrigerate.

4. Roll the second disk of dough in the same way, into a 1/8-inch thick circle. Slide onto a baking sheet and refrigerate while you prepare the filling.

5. Toss the strawberries, rhubarb, sugar, flour, and salt together in a large bowl. Transfer to the pie shell and dot with butter. Brush the rim with water.

6. Slide the parchment paper with the second round of dough onto a cutting board and lift off the top piece of parchment. Now, for the cheater lattice crust, no weaving: With a pizza cutter or a sharp knife, cut 1-inch wide strips. Lay 5 strips on top of the pie, using the shorter pieces for the edges of the pie. Turn the pie 45-degrees, and lay 5 more strips across the pie. Trim the strips so that they are even with the edge of the pan. Cover the rim all around with more strips of dough. Crimp the edges or press down with the tines of a fork. Brush with beaten egg. Sprinkle with coarse sugar, if you like

7. Set the pie on a baking sheet and bake for 80 to 90 minutes, or until the crust is golden and the filling is bubbling. If the crust browns before the filling is done, cover the pie loosely with foil.

8. Transfer the pie to a rack to cool for at least 45 minutes before serving.

Are you pie-phobic? Ask me questions. I swear to tell the truth.

Process until large clumps form.

Dump into a bowl, and add the reserved flour. Toss together with your hands. Sprinkle water and lemon juice over the dough, and toss again with your hands, like you are tossing a salad, until clumps almost form a dough. 

Tip the clumpy dough onto the countertop and form it into two piles, one slightly smaller than the other. The small clump is for the bottom crust.

Gently press the dough into disks. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate for 1 1/2 hours to allow dough to completely hydrate.

Lightly flour the dough and place it between 2 sheets of parchment. Roll into a 1/8-inch thick circle (about 11-12 inches in diameter)

If the dough has softened during rolling, slide it onto a baking sheet and refrigerate for 10 minutes. Peel off the top sheet of parchment. Turn the dough upside down and lift off the second sheet of parchment. Fit it into the pie pan, lifting at the edges to avoid stretching the dough. Trim with a paring knife or scissors. Brush the the rim of the pie with water.

Use a rolling pin as a guide to cut 1-inch wide strips.

Fill the pie. Lay the strips over the pie and trim the edges. Lay more strips all around the pie. Crimp or press with a fork. Isn't it pretty? Brush with egg wash. Don't get attached to its perfection! Put it on a parchment lined baking sheet and bake at 375 degrees for 80 to 90 minutes.

An appetite for life: strawberry mango ice cream recipe, for Marina Keegan

It’s strawberry season in New England. Fat, juicy strawberries—not those bland, watered-down versions that we’ve been trying to pass off as fruit all winter—are now ours for the taking. They are sweet, luscious, full of life, full of intensity. We must savor them while we can. Their season is short.

We don’t think of ourselves as having a season. We go along with our ups and downs, with our ins and outs, with our personal little dramas. If we are lucky and if we choose it, we grow up and have children. We hug those children, feed them, watch them grow. They bring us immeasurable joy and sometimes pain. Then, if we are very, very lucky, if we are careful not to interfere too much, if we guide them lightly without burdening them with our own expectations and unfulfilled dreams, our children become passionate, engaged and joyful human beings. They have an appetite for life.

I want to discover the doubters in the shadows of the Taj, learn from the pilgrims pious only to mankind. I want to eat mangos with the orphans at the Kurukshetra Humanist School and tunnel the atheist transcripts in the ancient libraries of Delhi. I want to trace India’s rivers and railways for non-theist seeds – seeds planted by Gora and Roy and the authors of Hindi tradition. I want to go to India because I’m curious. Curious about the country and curious about myself. Curious about the crescendo of a secular movement for social change that’s setting a global precedent; a precedent with potential to alter the future of the nation and the world.

These are the words that my son’s close friend Marina wrote two years ago in her grant application to fund a study of Humanism in India for the summer. She got the grant; and she invited Luke along to travel with her. They shared a perfect set of qualities that engender good travel and enduring friendship: one part adventurer, one part intellectual seeker, one part fun-lover, one part possessor of humor and wit, all dashed together with a healthy measure of ebb and flow that make travel enjoyable for two people in close, often crazy, but never boring circumstances.

Her  words recall to me a life before. Do you remember? That time before the trappings of adulthood started to close in and make us forget the limitless sense of possibility that Marina had? The trappings that, if we are not watchful, will very subtly dull our appetite for living. With a few more years on us, the weight of our anxieties, problems, and past experiences start to accumulate, and we forget. We forget to take a bite out of every day. We forget to wake up and look around and say: WowLook at this. Look at all this.

“This” is absolutely wonderful. “This” is absolutely horrendous. “This” is everything and nothing all at once. Wow.

Marina Keegan died in a car accident just five days after her graduation from Yale. She was about to move to Brooklyn to share an apartment with Luke and some college friends. She was already exceptionally accomplished as a writer, but it was just the beginning. She intended to start a job at the New Yorker in a few weeks.  Her play will be produced in Central Park this summer. And much, much more.

Like the strawberries in season right now, Marina was intense, juicy, sweet. One of her professors, Deb Margolin, described her:

Marina Keegan and Death are two incompatible concepts for me. It is a parallax vast and unbridgeable. This was a young woman of outrageous intellect, probity, humor, hope. Her brilliance had a restive and relentless quality. She was all legs, all brains.

She was also immensely kind. She agonized over so many issues: “How can I eat at Taco Bell if it can save a child in Africa?” Marina saw the mess of our world yet still remained hopeful, still wished to make it a better place. Above all, Marina knew how to be a friend.

Marina’s last essay, The Opposite of Loneliness, has reverberated around the internet, as have so many of the words she left behind. You can read them here. I hope you will. I hope they will change you, wake you up. I hope you will take a bite out of life today and relish it, and say to yourself, Wow. I hope, as Marina so fervently wished, you will  “do something to this world.” I hope, as she implores, you will BEGIN from wherever you are now.

We don’t know the length of the season that is allotted us. I hope we can all be more like Marina.

She had an appetite for life.

Marina in Jaipur

On the Ganges

Desert near the Pakistani border

At the Beatles' ashram

Preparing an 'American meal' at the orphanage

Strawberry Mango Ice Cream Recipe, for Marina

Makes about 6 cups

This recipe is a bit free form. It started as frozen yogurt, but needed more richness, so I added cream. The yogurt gives it a little tartness, but you could use all cream. Sweeten to taste—you  may want to add more honey or agave syrup. The mangoes, yogurt and rosewater were meant to evoke India.

1 quart strawberries, halved

2 to 3 mangoes to make about 2 cups of mango chunks (frozen will do)

1/2 cup agave syrup

1/4 cup honey

1/2 cup whole milk plain yogurt

1 1/2 cups heavy cream

1 tablespoon rosewater, or to taste

Puree all ingredients in a blender. Chill until cold. Churn in an ice cream maker.

Going crackers: Absolutely worthwhile whole grain buttermilk cracker recipe

Well, yes. Since you asked. I am going crackers.  Why? Because I'm learning a lesson this week: If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, accept it.

While I chew on a craw full of hard-to-swallow immutable facts in an attempt to accept them, I am making crackers. The kind of crackers I am making are those that anyone who psychologically can commit to spending five or six dollars for fifteen crackers would buy in a box. Only much, much better. It’s not that I’m a cheapskate (well, maybe a little) but the fact is, I love crackers. I am the aficionado of crackerdom. Crackers are my comfort food. Weird, but in a good way.

If you’ve ever cringed at the taste of powdered garlic, onion and ‘other spices’ (read mystery ingredients) you will understand why I have chosen to do something about the cracker situation. Sometimes it’s best to just tackle the smaller problems, and let the bigger ones work themselves out. That’s what makes cooking so satisfying. So, I made these utterly addicting buttermilk crackers with olive oil. They’re not quite one hundred percent whole grain, but close enough. After I made them, I killed some more time making stuff to spread on them. Very therapeutic.

What I love about these thin crackers is that they are neutral without being bland. When you take the first crisp bite, you think, hmmm, nice texture, but not very….by the time you get to that point in your mental monologue, the olive oil and salt kick in. After that comes theje-ne-sais-quoi flavor (it’s buttermilk.) Now you are on your way to I-can’t-stop-eating-these.  I also love that you can make them at least seventeen different ways, depending on what you put on top.

One of my favorite versions is with sesame seeds and black Turkish salt, which I received as a gift from Mark Bitterman of The Meadow.  Thank you, Mark. I’ve been saving those samplers. And yes, I am also that person who saves her expensive new dress for a special occasion and then wears it only to observe the fashion police shake their heads in disgust. (They think I’m too out of it to notice, but I do.) Luckily, salt is not perishable and will never go out of style. If you have been hoarding some fancy salt, here’s your chance to use it. Other toppings you could use are seeds of all kinds—make them spicy or not. Toasted cumin seeds, coarsely crushed coriander, a bit of chili powder or red pepper pack some punch. You could also use caraway, fennel, celery seed, poppy seeds….you get the idea. Have some fun. I haven’t even scratched the surface with Parmesan or other cheeses.

This dough is easy to work with. Start by shaping it into a flat rectangle. It always makes sense to form dough into the same shape that you want the finished sheet of dough to be once it is rolled out. If you want wedges, shape the dough into flat rounds, and cut it like a pie. Let it rest in the refrigerator to allow it to completely hydrate (absorb the liquid) and to allow the gluten to relax. Roll it out as thin as you can. One-third of the dough, rolled evenly, will cover a half-sheet pan. Use the flat of your hands to push the dough around to stretch it if you need to. Press the seeds into the dough with a rolling pin to embed them. When you bake the crackers, be sure they are crisp all the way through before taking them out of the oven.

Absolutely worthwhile whole grain buttermilk cracker recipe
Makes 3 dozen thin crackers

INGREDIENTS:

1 1/2 cups (192g) whole wheat flour

1 cup (126g) allpurpose flour

1/2 cup (72g) brown rice flour, plus more for rolling

1 1/2 tablespoons organic cane sugar

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1/3 cup olive oil, plus more for brushing on the dough

1 cup buttermilk

6 tablespoons seeds such as poppy seeds, sesame seeds, flax seeds, celery seeds, etc.

Flaky sea salt, such as Maldon salt

METHOD:

1. Whisk the whole wheat flour, allpurpose flour, brown rice flour, sugar, baking powder, and
kosher salt in a bowl until combined. Make a well in the center and add the olive oil and
buttermilk. Stir, gradually incorporating the flour into the olive oil mixture, until it forms a
dough. It should be soft but not too sticky. Add additional buttermilk if it is dry.

2. Turn the dough out onto the countertop. Knead for about 20 seconds, until it is well mixed.
Shape into a flat rectangle and wrap in plastic. Refrigerate for 1 hour, or as long as overnight.

3. Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Line 3 half sheet pans (approx 18 X 13 inches) with
parchment.

4. Divide the dough into thirds. Lightly flour the counter top with brown rice flour, and flour a
rolling pin. Roll one piece of dough into a large sheet that is the same size as the sheet pan
and approximately 1/16 inch thick (about the thickness of a quarter.) If necessary, lift the 
dough and sprinkle a sparing amount of flour underneath it to keep it from sticking. If the
shape starts to go AWOL, place the flat of your hands on top of the dough to stretch it into a
rectangular shape. Transfer it to the paper. Slip both hands under the paper and lift it onto the
baking sheet.

5. Brush the dough with about 2 tablespoons olive oil. Sprinkle it with 2 tablespoons of the
seeds and a little flaky salt. Place a piece of plastic wrap on top, and roll over the seeds with a
rolling pin to embed them into the dough. Peel off the plastic.

6. With a pizza cutter or sharp knife, cut the dough into thirds the long way. Rotate the baking 
sheet and cut into 4 equal pieces crossways to make 12 crackers. Trim the uneven outside
edges with the pizza cutter. Leave the edges on the baking sheet. These are the cook’s taste
testers. (You can cut the crackers any size you want; this cut will make large squares.) Repeat with remaining dough.

7. Bake for 18 to 23 minutes, or until the crackers are golden brown and crisp all the way
through. Let cool on the pan and store in an airtight tin.

THE STUFF ON TOP:

Lemon flavored ricotta: Mix ricotta with some lemon zest (1/2 cup ricotta to half a lemon).
Season with salt and pepper and a few drops of lemon juice. Top with thinly sliced radishes,
some sliced sugar snap peas (raw or blanched), a few herbs, more salt and pepper. Eat for lunch.

Feta and honey: Mix ricotta and feta together to taste (about half and half). Spread on crackers. Drizzle with honey and sprinkle with black pepper.

Herby: Mix chopped fresh herbs (oregano, thyme, rosemary, tarragon, parsley, chives,
whatever strikes your fancy) into either of the above spreads. To make a molded cheese
spread, line a small ramekin or bowl with plastic or cheesecloth, pack the cheese into the
mold, and refrigerate. Unmold and cover with more chopped herbs.

 

Posted on May 21, 2012 and filed under Bread, Appetizers, Food gifts.

Rites of spring: A trip to Brimfield and a spring onion soup recipe

Note to self: don’t go to Brimfield by yourself again.

It was one of those perfect New England days. A slight breeze, puffy clouds floating in deep blue, temperatures hovering in the low seventies. I was having breakfast with my friend Louis when he told me he had been to Brimfield earlier in the week with his new friend. Snap.

You should go. It’s still early

, he insisted

. Just get in the car and go.

But you went with him

, I replied, feeling slightly miffed. I had forgotten all about Brimfield. I’m still living in March and we’re in the middle of May. That’s how life is right now. I count on Louis to remind me. It’s just something we usually do together in the spring.

Well, after all, it

was

a beautiful day, and my planned work involved paying bills and other secretarial duties in the interest of keeping this family on track. Blowing it off in a nano-second was a no-brainer. The trip takes about an hour, so I could easily be there by noon. Not. We’ve never encountered much traffic before, but the three-mile crawl from the main highway added an extra hour to the trip, so by the time I got there, I was hungry, thirsty, cranky.

I’ve learned a few things about trips to Brimfield with experience. I have seven rules.

1. Have no expectations.

2. Bring no more than $100.00 and when it’s gone, you’re done.

3. Eat as much junk food as you want, no guilt.

4. Bargain even though you hate to.

5. Go on the last day for the best prices. (I broke this rule.)

6. When in doubt, walk away. Bookmark the location in your head for later. Good luck.

7. Eat no more than two donuts. (This contradicts rule #3) (I broke this rule, too.)

I’m just here for the donuts.

I don’t even like cake donuts, but the donuts at

Faddy’s

stand at Brimfield….Let’s just say, I’m glad their donut shop is outside of Hartford (Connecticut), too long a drive for impulse donut consumption. I hesitate to talk about them or I will find myself in the car on my way to the last day of Brimfield five minutes from now. Luckily, I'm still in pajamas as I write this. By the time I change I will have reconsidered. 

The donuts are made with whole wheat pastry flour and apple cider. They’re small, so two donuts count as a normal portion size (rationalization here.) You can actually hear the crunch of sugar and crust as you slowly take the first bite. Inside is warm and soft, but not too soft, and not too sweet. The way a cake donut is supposed to be. Who knew? I have never eaten a cake donut before or since like a Faddy’s donut. Sometimes I bring them home for the family, but often they don’t make it there, unless I put them in the trunk of the car. Anyway, you can’t really replicate a warm donut just out of the fryer.

After I took these pictures of Mike and his donuts, he handed me another one. I guess three donuts are lunch. I didn't mind that they crowded out the other junk food I was anticipating on my long, slow drive. I missed Louis’s company and his keen eye for good stuff, so different from my own. I did find a few small treasures, but the pickings were slimmer than usual, or else I just found it hard to focus without a companion to keep me on track. It was worth it just for the donuts, though. And when I came home, I had some spring onion soup waiting for me, an excellent no-fuss light meal, not to mention, the perfect antidote to over-consumption of junk food.

If you want to go

:

Brimfield

is a huge antique fair located in Brimfield MA. 

Upcoming dates for 2012: July 10-15; September 4-9

Self+portrait+with+friends.jpg

About spring onions:

So what is a spring onion, exactly? The nomenclature is confusing, but a spring onion is not, as one might presume, a scallion. Rather, spring onions are simply regular onions that are pulled in the spring (April and May) to thin out onion beds. They look like large scallions with fat bulbs that are one to two inches across. If left in the ground, the bulbs grow large and round, the ideal size for storing over the winter. Spring onions, like other spring vegetables, are sweet and mild. After the fairly dead season of late winter produce, you can really get excited about cooking with them. That is, if you are the sort of person who gets excited about vegetables. And I am that sort of person (smiley face here).

That said, I was disappointed when I returned for more of them at the market last week. But we cooks must learn to improvise, so I picked up a couple of large leeks instead. (Note, leeks must be scrupulously cleaned in abundant water since sand often lurks deep in the layers.) The tough green stalks of both vegetables should be removed. Slice them and tuck them away in the freezer in a plastic bag to use for stock. They’ll keep for about 3 months.

Spring onion soup recipe

Serves 4

Ingredients:

2 tablespoons unsalted butter or olive oil

3 spring onions OR 2 large leeks, white part only, sliced

2 stalks celery, sliced

1 bunch scallions, sliced

3 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced

Salt and pepper, to taste

1 small zucchini, sliced

10 ounces (2 cups) fresh or frozen peas

4 cups light

vegetable stock

or water

1 large handful baby spinach leaves

1 handful parsley leaves (about 1 cup packed)

Finely grated zest 1 lemon

Juice of 1/2 lemon

Salt and pepper, to taste

Suggested garnishes: thinly sliced radishes, chopped chives and/or crème fraiche

Method:

1. Melt the butter over medium heat in a soup pot. Add the onions or leeks, celery, scallions, garlic, and salt and pepper to taste. Cook gently, stirring now and then, for 7 to 9 minutes, or until soft but not brown.

2. Add the zucchini and stock, and bring to a boil. Lower the heat to a simmer, and cook for 2 minutes. Add the peas and cook for 3 minutes longer. Taste and season with more salt and pepper. Turn off the heat and add the spinach leaves, stirring for about 30 seconds, or until they wilt. Stir in the parsley.

3. Puree the soup in a blender, half at a time, until fairly smooth; you are aiming for a slightly nubbly texture. Return the soup to a clean pot, and stir in the lemon zest and juice. Heat, and taste again. Season with more salt and pepper if you like. Serve garnished with one or all of these: a few thin slices of radish, a spoonful of crème fraiche, some chopped chives.

Posted on May 13, 2012 and filed under Soups, Vegetarian, Spring food.

Cooking 101: Vegetable Stock

Cooking 101: Vegetable Stock

Time passes. Thing change. Like it or not, we grow…. older. And so do our kids.

Just a few years ago I was crying in my soup (pun intended) because my one and only child was heading off to college. It wasn’t quite as horrible as I imagined. I had done most of my carrying on, worrying and grieving beforehand. So much so, that it came close to being a non-event. But that’s my style. Fear forward. If you can catastrophize ahead of time, go for it. Get the worst over with before it even happens. I don’t recommend that approach. And maybe, just maybe, this time I’ve learned my lesson. As it is turning out, Homer Simpson was right. It’s all good.

Although I have reckoned with my redundancy in the job of parenting, I still have some mopping up to do. For instance,

College Boy

, with one more year to go, still doesn’t know how to cook.  And I can safely say, many of his friends do not either. That is why I am introducing some fundamental recipes on this blog. They may not be over-the-top exciting, but they are necessary. If you want over-the-top exciting—of course you do if you’re in your twenties—you still have to know the basics.

So, welcome twenty-somethings  and your parents who are still fuzzy on the details (it’s never too late).

 Please ask questions or send me requests. I hope to make it easy for you to learn to cook something satisfying to sustain you through the times ahead. Whatever roller coaster you ride, and you will be on one, you gotta eat.

I recently noticed that many cookbooks, even the tsunami of new vegetarian cookbooks, do not have recipes for vegetable stock. Mysterious. It is convenient to opt for vegetable stock in cans or boxes from the market (and that must be the assumption behind the mystery), but I maintain you should save your money and either skip it (use water and vegetables in your soup if you’re vegetarian) or make your own. Do you use pre-fabbed vegetable stock? I’d love to hear your thoughts and recommendations. I think it’s awful. Disagree? Convince me.

Left front, light stock made with mushrooms; right, rich stock

About vegetable stock:

Three reasons to make your own stock:

1. Store bought stock tastes like dishwater.

2. Food you make with store bought stock tastes like it is made with dishwater.

3. Store bought stock tastes like dishwater.

BUT: I don’t have room to store it or a pot big enough to make it.

The recipe makes 2 quarts. It can be frozen. You can make half a batch. If you have room, double the batch, and optimize time spent on making it.

BUT: I don’t have time to make stock.

I’m not going to lie. Making stock takes time. Do you watch t.v? Multi task. Take ten minutes to throw some vegetables in a pot and cover them with water. Watch your favorite show. When the Mad Men episode is over the stock is ready.

BUT: I hate all that chopping and peeling.

You don't have to be too precise in the chopping; the aim is just to get the pieces small enough (1-2 inches) so you can extract maximum flavor out of them. It's more like hacking than chopping. Just rinse the vegetables. You don't need to peel, though it is easier to cut onions if they are peeled. 

These are not rules; they’re guidelines.

The short version

: cut up carrots, celery, onions, etc. Cover with water. Simmer for 1 to 1 1/2 hours. Strain. Refrigerate or freeze until needed.

Two kinds of stock

Light vegetable stock:

The vegetables are covered with water, some part of which can be white wine (2 cups to 10 cups water for example). This is good for delicate soups or risottos that need a flavor boost.

Rich vegetable stock:

  The vegetables are roasted in the oven first, for a darker, more intensely caramelized flavor. Good for winter stews and hearty risottos or farro dishes.

Vegetables to use in stock

As you will see from the ‘recipe’ much of what you might ordinarily throw away can go into stock, especially if you are a Frugal Frieda and tuck away bits and pieces in your freezer. Vegetables that are on their last legs are sometimes the best candidates for stock because as they dry out their flavors become more concentrated. Day-old mushrooms, for example, are a steal at the grocery store.  Avoid vegetables with overpowering flavors in your stock. Yes, you are using stuff you might throw away otherwise, but not everything.

Good for stock                                          Not good for stock

Onions                                                         Strong tasting veggies (overpowering flavors)

Carrots                                                         Broccoli

Celery                                                          Cauliflower

Leek greens                                                Cabbage

Scallion greens                                           Turnips

Parsley stems                                              Parnsips (too strong)

Thyme stems                                               Squash

Garlic                                                           Potatoes (will make stock cloudy)

Mushrooms (optional)

Tomatoes (optional)

Ginger root (for Asian soups)

Vegetable stock recipe

Makes 2 quarts

6 cups of sliced onions, leek greens and/or scallion greens

4 medium carrots, scrubbed put not peeled and thickly sliced, to make about 1 1/2 cups

3 to 4 celery stalks including leaves, sliced, to make about 2 cups

4 cups (12 ounces) sliced mushrooms, optional

3 tomatoes, diced, optional

1 small head of garlic, separated

1 large handful fresh parsley, or an equal amount of parsley stems

1 teaspoon black peppercorns

3 bay leaves

1 teaspoon kosher salt

12 cups water (or 10 cups water plus 2 cups white wine)

3 to 4 tablespoons olive oil if making rich stock

For light vegetable stock:

1. Place onions, carrots, celery, mushrooms, tomatoes, garlic, parsley, peppercorns, bay leaves, and salt in a large pot. (A small amount of salt enhances the flavor of the stock, without compromising it if you plan to reduce it. If you add too much salt at the beginning and want to reduce the stock later, it may be too salty.) Add the water, and wine, if using.

2. Bring stock to a boil over high heat. Adjust the heat so that the stock simmers. Cook, uncovered, for at least 1 hour. If you have more time, cook longer, up to 1 1/2 hours is sufficient.

3. Strain and store in containers in the refrigerator for 3 to 4 days, or in the freezer for up to 3 months. Season with salt when ready to use.

For rich vegetable stock:

1. Heat the oven to 400 degrees.

2. Spread the onions, carrots, celery, mushrooms, tomatoes, and garlic on 2 rimmed baking sheets. Drizzle with olive oil and toss to coat. Roast for 30 minutes, or until browned.

3. Tip vegetables into a large pot. Pour a little hot water onto the sheet pans, and scrape up the brown bits on the bottom with a flat-ended wooden spoon or spatula. Pour the water into the pot.

4. Add the parsley, peppercorns, bay leaves, salt, water, and wine, if using, to the pot. Bring stock to a boil over high heat. Adjust the heat so that the stock simmers. Cook, uncovered, for at least 1 hour. If you have more time, cook longer, up to 1 1/2 hours is sufficient.

5. Strain and store in containers in the refrigerator for 3 to 4 days, or in the freezer for up to 3 months. Season with salt when ready to use.

Tip:

When straining the stock, place the ‘receptacle’ pot in the sink and set a strainer over it. Then pour the stock into the pot. This enables you to pour at below waist level, instead of trying to heft a large pot of liquid at countertop level.

Posted on May 6, 2012 and filed under How To, Soups.