Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Pie Crust 101

The holidays are in full swing and if there is one thing people eat a lot of around this time of year, its pies. Pies are delicious. Who doesn’t love pies? Our family makes a Swiss pear pie that is out of this world, and tonight, I am making turkey potpie with leftover turkey and vegetables from Christmas dinner. It was easy and delicious! I just sautéed up some veggies and turkey, threw in a little leftover gravy and chicken broth, made a pie crust and… STOP! Don’t run away so quickly…it’s just a piecrust. Making piecrusts often strikes fear in the hearts of many, when there is really no need to be afraid. They are quite easy to make. Nutritionally speaking, piecrusts are pretty caloric, but we can make a few minor tweaks to the recipe to make them a little healthier as well.

Now there are many different tricks and tips for making the perfect piecrust. My mother in-law uses vodka instead of water and using a food processor is also helpful, however, my rule of thumb for piecrust making is: use butter. Toss that Crisco in the garbage if you haven’t already because the news is out. Partially hydrogenated soybean oil is disgusting. Not only does it taste gross, (did you ever try eating it as a kid because it looked like ice cream?) but also it is a nutritional nightmare. Partially hydrogenated oils are loaded with trans fat. Trans fat increases your LDL cholesterol (the bad kind) and decreases HDL (the good kind). It also increases triglycerides in your blood and causes inflammation in the body. The saturated fat that is in butter doesn’t have all these nasty side effects.

Okay I hear you saying, “Crisco makes the flakiest crust”. I’ll buy it. Shortening has a wider melting range so it is able to stay in solid form while you are preparing and rolling out the crust. The pea size granules that are desired in piecrust baking will then melt in the oven, creating layers in the dough and a flakier crust. But the same effect can be achieved with butter if the butter is extra cold and the dough is not over mixed or kneaded. Vegans can also use coconut oil or palm oil instead of butter as long as it is kept cold prior to mixing it with the flour and water.

In the piecrust that I made tonight I substituted ½ of the all purpose flour with whole wheat pastry flour to give it a little more fiber, protein, and a nuttier flavor. It was delicious! What kinds of pies do you enjoy making? What are your secrets to make the flakiest pie crust?

(adding the ice cold butter in small cubes to the flour in the food processor)

(pulse the butter in the food processor until pea size granules are not over mix!)

(after adding just enough ice water the dough should clump together when squeezed like this)

(Form the dough into a disk and wrap in plastic. Now pop it in the fridge for about 1 hour.)

(I roll out my dough in between 2 sheets of plastic wrap. My home economics teacher taught me this in high school. There are a few good reasons: 1) no flour used to roll which can make the crust tough and also a WAY easier clean up. 2) the crust is very easy to transfer to the pie pan.)

(Aw...isn't it pretty?)

(Dinner time! Delicious and flaky pie crust!)

Monday, December 6, 2010

Brain Food

Today kind of sucked. It’s finals week and I’m tired and cranky. I have been studying all weekend and all day and I am officially over it. The only thing that keeps me going during times like this is sugar-laden treats and knowing that it will all be over soon. After dinner tonight I might have whipped up some chocolate chip cookies or eaten an entire Theo chocolate bar, but with all this studying and with the holidays around the corner I thought I would do something good for my brain and my body and make a dessert that wasn’t so sinful.

Tada! Date and Walnut Balls. These walnut balls are so delicious, try making them as one of your Christmas cookies this year, people wont even realize that they are good for you. They also make great lunch box treats for kids!

They are a variation on Cynthia Lair’s Date Pecan Bon Bons, I just substituted walnuts for pecans because walnuts are super high in omega 3 fatty acids. You brain loves omega 3s, 60% of it is made from them. I figured I could use all the help I could get tomorrow on my Food Science final! Wish me luck!

Don't they look delicious? They kinda remind me of the SNL skit with Alex Baldwin. If you don't know the one...