Don’t Mess with a Classic (Crust)

One of the challenges of making a monthly pie is that is it very easy to fall behind, especially as the holidays approach.  We usually stay on schedule, but occasionally we use a savory pie recipe as a chance to get caught up if we’re off schedule.

This was the hot water crust that topped our last pot pie.  It just appeared in the Chicago Tribune on November 2, 2016.

Hot water pastry

Prep: 30 minutes
Cook: 5 minutes, plus baking time
Makes: Enough for a double-crust pie

2 cups flour, plus a little extra for dusting
1 pinch of salt
1/4 cup water, or 2 tablespoons water and 2 tablespoons whole milk
6 tablespoons (3 ounces) butter, lard or shortening

1 large egg yolk, beaten

1. In a large bowl, combine the flour and salt; whisk until well-combined. Set aside.

2. Place water and butter or lard into a small saucepan over medium-low heat. Cook until the fat has melted; turn heat to medium-high and bring just to the boil.

3. Immediately pour the fat-water mixture over the flour mixture and stir until a soft, pliable dough forms. Tip the dough out onto a counter dusted with flour and, while the dough is still hot, knead it lightly and quickly. It’s OK if you can only work the dough for a moment at a time but this dough becomes harder to work with as it cools.

4. Pinch off about a quarter of the dough, pat it into a disk and set it aside, covered with plastic wrap. This will be the lid.

5. Roll the rest of the dough into a flattened disk and use it to line an 8-inch springform pan, using your hands to work the dough up the sides as high as the top of the pan. Place your filling into the pastry, then quickly roll out the disk you set aside for the lid into a disk big enough to seal the filled pie. Place lid atop filled pie; crimp edges to seal well. Make a hole in the center of the lid to vent steam and brush the lid with the beaten egg yolk.

6. Bake the filled pie at 350 degrees for 1 to 1 1/2 hours, or until golden brown. Remove the filled pie from the oven and cool completely at room temperature. If the recipe you’re following requires it, when the pie is fully cooled, pour the gelatin through the vent, little by little, to fill in any gaps where the filling shrank from the crust in baking. Refrigerate the pie overnight, and serve chilled.

Nutrition information per serving (for 6 servings): 248 calories, 13 g fat, 7 g saturated fat, 61 mg cholesterol, 29 g carbohydrates, 0 g sugar, 4 g protein, 28 mg sodium, 1 g fiber

This dough was awful to work with.  It immediately became tough and crumbly as I rolled it out.  I didn’t worry since the I’ve patched pie dough before and it isn’t that noticeable.  There were modifications I had to make based on the pie filling itself (post coming soon).  There was no chance that our pie was going to fit in an 8-inch springform pan.  The idea of a bottom crust was cast aside; the entire portion of the dough became a top crust.  Our filling was ready, so there was no need to cover the dough while we finished prepping.  It did transfer relatively easily from the rolling surface to the casserole dish, where we had to do a little more patching before the pie went in the oven.  The breaking as we tried to tuck the crust under the edges was ridiculous; you can see it in the picture below.  We didn’t bother with the egg wash.


Verdict:  There’s a reason pie crust comes together with cold water:  the butter remains solid, creating pillows of flakiness to melt in your mouth.  This crust was not a pleasant eating experience.  It tasted as tough and dry as it looked, and needed more than a pinch of salt.  I have used a crust recipe where the butter was left cold during mixing but the 1 or 2 tablespoons of water added at the end was hot.  That crust was much better.  If I made this crust again, I would leave the butter alone and add the hot water at the end.  Oddly, there is no need to wrap and chill that crust; the hot water makes the dough pliable enough to roll immediately.  Lesson learned:  trust the experts and don’t mess with years of baking wisdom.



When I was in elementary school, my mom shared with me her love of the Ginny and Geneva books (Catherine Woolley, 1968), a sweet children’s book series about dear friends in the 1950s(ish) era.  It was all housewifey and gender stereotypical, with the young friends playing with their cats, starting a babysitting business, sewing, and a bunch of other activities that would make me crazy if presented now as the only life options for girls.  I bring this distant memory back to the surface–and believe me, I had to dig around on the internet to find the books–for one reason.  In one book, Ginny wants to have a bake stand of sorts– I guess I should be impressed that this girl was obsessed with starting a small business– and is trying to decide what her product should be.  The conversation with her mother includes popovers (“they almost always pop”) but she finally settles on brownies.

I’ve never made a popover in my life. I don’t remember my mother, baker extraordinaire, ever making popovers.  They are an odd concept to me, as I am a bread lover, and these little gems just aren’t, well, anything.  But I’ve never forgotten the scene in that book, and I had to see for myself.  This recipe promised to be simple (Good Housekeeping, October 2015) .

Classic Popovers

3 large eggs
1 cup whole milk
1 cup all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons butter, melted, plus more for greasing
1/2 teaspoon salt


Preheat oven to 375°F.  Generously grease cups of popover pan or eight 6- to 8-ounce ramekins.

 In a blender, puree eggs, milk, flour, butter and salt until smooth.
 Divide evenly among cups. Bake for 40 minutes.
 With a small paring knife, cut a small slit in the top of each popover. Bake 10 minutes more. Remove from oven; immediately transfer from cups to wire rack. Serve warm. Cooled popovers can be kept at room temperature up to 3 hours or frozen up to 1 month.

Reheat at 350°F until crisp.


Sweet Cocoa: 

Reduce flour to 3/4 c. Blend 1/4 unsweetened cocoa and 3 T sugar into batter.

Bacon Cheese

Reduce salt to 1/4 t. Blend 4 strips cooked chopped bacon, 1/2 c cheddar, and 1/4 c parmesan cheese into batter.

Savory Spiced

Blend 1 1/2 t cumin, 1 t smoked paprika, and 1/4 t black pepper into batter.

The variations are not listed on the GH website, but they were in the printed recipe.  I chose the Savory Spiced variation for this attempt.  I loved the idea of whipping these babies up in the blender.  I used both sizes of the ramekins– the smaller I keep around for creme brulee, and the larger I keep on hand for lava cakes.  I sprayed the cups with lots of non-stick spray.  As I poured the batter into the cups, I realized I completely forgot the salt!  Rookie mistake. UGH!


The salt obviously affected the flavor, but I don’t know if it affected the rising and popping of the rolls.  They definitely rose over the sides of the cups, and released nicely.  They were light and airy, but I think they could have baked longer– they seemed a tad wet in the center.  It was just so weird to bite into a hollow biscuit.  I didn’t get a lot of the spice flavors, maybe the cumin a little bit.  I would say they were bland at best; even sprinkling salt over them post-baking only livened them up a little.  I will try again, but I think I will add cheese and go heavy on herbs or spices.  I’d also like to try smaller sized popovers, so I may use muffin cups and fill them only halfway.  Verdict: not a complete fail, but not necessarily a recipe that’s going to get a lot of replay here.  Also, take the 3 hour room temperature rule to heart.  I left my leftovers out (in a plastic airtight container) in the dining room and they were moldy 2 days later.

It’s not Easy being Green

Farmer Season is drawing to a close.  Last week was our last regular season box, so after 4 more weeks of extended season, we’ll be done for the year.  We received a giant bunch of Swiss chard, a bag of baby Swiss chard, and for some reason I was temporarily insane enough to grab an extra bag of baby chard from the discard box.  I gave one bag to Jin, but I had already pulled this recipe in anticipation of the chard.  We did get rainbow chard earlier in the season, but we had to make do with the green stuff this week.   The recipe is from Better Homes and Gardens’ June 2016 issue.

Black Bean & Rainbow Chard Tortillas

We topped these beauties with sour cream, sweet chili sauce, and a generous squeeze of lime.  Despite the tostada connotation, we did roll them up and eat them like tacos.  Verdict:  Fantastic!  The recipe was light on prep, and I do love anything that gets cooked in one pan.  The tortilla was slightly crispy and the beans added a creaminess that was unexpected.  Great for meatless Monday or any day of the week.  You could easily use spinach or arugula or a blend of greens in place of the chard, but it was pretty perfect as is. Will definitely make these again!

Cat Treats for a Dog’s Birthday

About a year ago, one of my first posts was about frozen treats I brought to a doggy birthday party.  Almost 100 posts later, I attended Billy and Skeeter’s birthday once again.  This year, I made this recipe for their birthday treats, a clipping I’ve literally been holding since their last party.

The recipe was published in Family Circle, August 2015.  I couldn’t find a link to the Family Circle recipe, but I found the actual person who submitted the recipe to the magazine!  Check out her gorgeous and photogenic cat here:

10 oz canned salmon (undrained)
1 egg (beaten)
2 cups whole wheat flour

  1. Heat oven to 350°. Pulse 10 oz canned salmon (undrained) in a food processor and chop as finely as possible.
  2. In a stand mixer, combine salmon, 1 egg (beaten) and 2 cups whole wheat flour until dough forms. If dough is too dry, add up to 1/3 cup water. If dough is too wet or sticky, add a bit more flour. Dough should be tacky but not sticky.
  3. Roll out dough on a floured surface until about 1/4 inch thick. Use a 3/4-inch cookie cutter in the shape of your choice to create your treats.

Some very slight adjustments that I made include mashing up the salmon right in my mixing bowl, and beating the egg in the bowl, not before adding it to the bowl.  I needed more than 1/3 cup of water, but it was easy to tell when the dough was the right consistency to stick together.


Halloween birthdays get Fall and Halloween-shaped cookies.  I made the tiny bits and balls for our cats, but ended up giving most of the treats to the birthday boys.  My 3 doofuses weren’t interested in freshly baked treats, though Husband was able to get 2 of the 3 to each eat one at official “treat time”, instead of when I finished baking the stinky things.  This recipe is not difficult if you don’t despise roll-out cookies (I usually do).  The dough was quite easy to work with and didn’t require a lot of extra flour when rolling them out.  I wouldn’t make these again, only because my cats weren’t interested in the finished product.  I would happily make them for my friends’ cats and dogs (if you don’t tell the dogs about the cat treat part).  Happy birthday!



Vegetable Cake: Good, and (Sort of) Good for You

Carrot cake: polarizing? Or something that everyone loves? I wasn’t a big fan as a child, but somewhere along the way my mom borrowed a recipe from a lady (I think my brother’s friend’s mom) whose secret to carrot cake was baby food carrots.  No grating, no mess, and the moistest (sorry Jen!) cake you ever ate.  Even as a child I was the odd person who thought frosting was too sweet, so my mother would literally leave a quarter of the cake without its cream cheese adornment.   I pulled this recipe from Good Housekeeping, September 2014, a couple of years into our relationship with the Farmer.  We received parsnips in one or two boxes each season, which I promptly turned into a delicious puree, but I thought parsnip cake sounded intriguing.  Unfortunately we’ve only received turnips this summer, so adjustments had to be made.

PREP: 0:30
LEVEL: Moderate

  • 1 small butternut squash
  • 2 c. all-purpose flour
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • 2 tsp. ground ginger
  • 2 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • ¼ tsp. ground nutmeg
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 c. granulated sugar
  • ⅔ c. brown sugar
  • ¾ c. vegetable oil
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 3 c. coarsely grated peeled parsnips
Brown Butter Frosting
  • ½ c. butter
  • 2 packages cream cheese
  • 2 c. confectioners’ sugar
  • 1 pinch salt


  1. In glass baking dish, combine butternut squash and 2 tablespoons water; cover with vented plastic wrap. Microwave on high 10 minutes. Let stand, covered, 5 min. Drain well; transfer to food processor. Puree until smooth. Cool completely.
  2. Meanwhile, preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease two 9-inch cake pans (or eight 4 1/2-inch pans). Line bottoms with parchment; grease.
  3. In med. bowl, whisk flour, baking powder, ginger, cinnamon, baking soda, salt and nutmeg; set aside.
  4. In lg. bowl, with mixer on medium speed, beat eggs, sugars, oil, vanilla, and 1 1/2 cups squash puree until well combined. (Reserve remaining puree for another use.) Add flour mixture; mix just until incorporated. With rubber spatula, fold in parsnips. Divide among pans. Bake 35 to 40 minutes (25 to 30 for small pans)nor until toothpick inserted into centers comes out clean. Cool on wire racks 10 minutes. With small knife, loosen layers from sides of pans. Invert onto wire racks. Peel off parchment; cool. Can be wrapped in plastic and refrigerated up to 1 day or frozen up to 2 weeks.
  5. Place 1 cake layer onto cake plate. Top with one-third of frosting (recipe below); spread evenly. Add second layer on top. Spread remaining frosting on top of cake. Cake can be covered with plastic wrap and refrigerated up to 3 days.
  6. To make the frosting: In 1-quart saucepan, cook butter on medium 8 to 10 minutes or until brown and very fragrant, swirling frequently. Transfer to small bowl; refrigerate until just starting to set, about 30 minutes.
  7. In medium bowl, with mixer on medium speed, beat brown butter, confectioners’ sugar, and pinch salt until smooth. Makes 3 1/2 cups.

So I’ve made this recipe twice in the last 3 weeks.  The first time I used farmer squash, a winter variety called Hubbard. It’s pumpkin-like with a thick dark green skin.  I’ve roasted them and tried to eat them like acorn squash, but it’s on the drier side and clumpy, so I haven’t found a great application (until now).  I cut it in half, scooped out the seeds and roasted it (375°-400° until a fork pokes through easily, 40-60 minutes), cooled it slightly and scooped it from the shell. I used it in place of the butternut squash and subbed my turnips in for the parsnips (the grater disc on the food processor did this in a minute).  The layers baked perfectly and the mixture reminded me of a classic spice cake.  I used reduced fat cream cheese, which worked perfectly.


Yesterday, I used farmer pumpkin in place of the squash and made cupcakes instead of layer cakes, plus a 5 inch cake in a springform pan (dinner party next week!).  To use all of the pumpkin I’ve roasted in the last 3 weeks, I quadrupled the recipe (into 2 double batches), which made over 80 cupcakes.  The second bunch of turnips only yielded about a cup and a half of shreds, so I also grated a bag of baby carrots and mixed the 2 together.  I also reduced the white sugar to 2/3 of a cup (the frosting is sweet enough to make up for the change).


Verdict:  I cannot rave about this recipe enough!  Simple, versatile, adaptable, and delicious.  A definite keeper.  Even vegetable haters will eat this cake.  I put half of the unfrosted cupcakes in the freezer and have already pulled out a 1/2 dozen to frost for another occasion: cake is still tender and tasty.  Seriously, make this cake!

Clean Eating Pie

August Pie time came after a week of gluttony on our first-ever cruise to Alaska.  I caught a bug either the last day on board or the night we ate out upon returning home, and I was pretty convinced that I was never cooking or eating again.  But I got my strength back after the better part of a week, and we made this pie to honor our pie tradition while trying to get back on track to better eating habits.  The recipe came from the August 2016 issue of Prevention.  After much searching, I’ve decided this recipe is not anywhere on the web.  So there’s no link, only the recipe for the crust and the pie as published in my print issue.

The crust came together beautifully in the food processor, although the first time I made it I added too much water.  The dough was very sticky from my mistake, so it took a little longer to chill.  Other than that mishap, it was easy to handle (I used white whole wheat flour), rolled out easily (you can patch it; it’s very forgiving), and baked well (I used this dough as a crust for another pie requiring a pre-baked shell and experienced similar success).

Basic Whole Wheat Pie Dough

In food processor, pulse 2 1/4 C whole wheat flour and 1/2 t kosher salt.  Add 12 T (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, diced, and pulse until mixture resembles coarse meal. Add 4-6 T cold water and pulse until mixture just comes together.  Add more water if necessary but do not overmix.  Divide into 2 equal pieces, wrap each in plastic, and chill at least 30 minutes.

I hate biting into a freshly baked pie only to find that the center of the crust is all soggy and limp.  Though pre-baking is a terrible pain, it’s often worth the effort.  I was dubious that this crust didn’t call for a short pre-bake, but it turned out fully cooked after the filling did its thing.

Cleaned-Up Blueberry Streusel Pie

Serves 10
Prep: 10 minutes
Total Time 1 hour 20 minutes

6 cups fresh blueberries
1/3  cup tapioca flour
1 T lemon juice
2 t lemon zest
1/8 t nutmeg
3/4 cup brown sugar, divided
1 t cinnamon, divided
pinch salt
1 cup old-fashioned oats
1/4 cup sliced almonds
1 T unsalted butter, cut up
1/2 recipe basic whole wheat pie dough

Heat oven to 425°. Combine blueberries, flour, lemon juice, lemon zest, nutmeg, 1/2 cup of the brown sugar, 1/2 t of the cinnamon, and the salt.  In a separate bowl, combine oats, almonds, butter, remaining 1/4 cup of brown sugar, and remaining 1/4 t cinnamon.

Roll dough into 12″ round, press into 9″ pie plate, and crimp edges.  Add blueberry filling and top with oat mixture. Bake until topping begins to brown, about 20 minutes.  Reduce heat to 375° and tent pie with foil.  Bake until filling bubbles, 40 to 50 more minutes.  Cool before serving.

I realize that this recipe still has a lot of sugar and butter, and struggle with how this pie is justified as “clean,” but we do like our sweet treats in this house (I’m just putting it out there that I know this isn’t a healthy recipe choice, despite the title), so we’ll walk a little bit more after indulging.

Husband and I have executed many a terrible fruit pie fondly (or not so fondly) known as pie soup.  Fruit fillings can be so wet, since you can never count on the water content of the fruit or the amount of juices that can be released.  We met a pie cookbook author at a local book signing, and her recommendation is to pre-cook those fruit fillings on the stovetop with lots of cornstarch.  They magically transform from fruit to filling that literally looks like it came out of a can.  Tapioca flour has the same gelatinizing qualities, so I wasn’t worried about the filling in this pie being soupy.


We used a disposable pie plate because we cut the recipe in half (we only had 3 cups of blueberries), and it didn’t look like the filling would be enough to fill our favorite deep-dish pie plate.

Verdict: mixed reviews.  We ate the first slices after the pie had chilled overnight, and it was perfectly jelled, slicing like a bakery pie.  However, I felt like the chill dulled the flavor of the filling.  The texture of the crust and the filling was textbook.  The next night we heated the slices in the microwave for 30 seconds or so, and the flavors (the lemon and the blueberry) were more pronounced.  If using this recipe again, I would reduce the tapioca flour by about a tablespoon.  I’d prefer a little juice as opposed to a slice that completely stands up on its own.  I’m definitely using the crust recipe again (there’s a 1/2 batch in my freezer right now, and September’s pie used the other half.  That recipe is a keeper for sure.

Farmer Leeks

I’ve been waiting and waiting for leeks in the CSA box.  I know we’ve received them in the past, and I have been planning to make this soup for weeks and weeks.  My house has also been relying on chickpeas lately as a vegetarian protein source all summer long, so I’ve been stockpiling them (canned and dried) like crazy.  The best part of the leek showing up when it did was the opportunity I had to use up the rest of a bag of wilting power greens: baby kale, chard, and spinach.

Chickpea, Leek & Spinach Soup

Any tender green could take the place of the spinach. Try baby kale, watercress, or even dandelion greens.

  • Makes: 4 servings
  • Serving Size: 2 cups
  • Yields: 8 cups
  • Total Time: 25 mins


  1. In a 4-qt. pot heat oil over medium heat. Add leeks. Cook, stirring occasionally, 5 to 7 minutes or until very tender but not browned (reduce heat if leeks begin to brown). Stir in chickpeas and garlic. Cook about 2 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  2. Add stock and 1 cup water. Bring to boiling. Reduce heat. Add lemon juice. Simmer, uncovered, 5 minutes. Gradually stir in the spinach and thyme. Cook until the spinach is wilted, about 1 minute. Season to taste with kosher salt and black pepper. Serve immediately. Makes 4 servings.

Nutrition Facts

Per serving:  265 cal, 10 g fat (1 g sat. fat, 2 g polyunsaturated fat, 5 g monounsaturated fat), 0 mg chol, 856 mg sodium, 33 g carb, 9 g fiber, 6 g sugar, 13 g pro

The recipe calls for 2 leeks, but the farmer only gave me one.  I didn’t want to halve the recipe and have only 2 cups of soup as an end product, so I supplemented the leek with three big green onions.  Everything else I did as written in the original recipe.


I love this recipe!  Cooking the leeks was relatively hands-off, and they were so fragrant as they softened.  The rest of the cooking steps went quickly and I was tasting in no time.  I added salt and pepper in two stages.  The lemon in the broth was bright and fresh, and the rich onion-y flavor was deep and wonderful.  The greens gave an earthiness and the chickpeas were little grainy pops of texture.  Verdict:  I would definitely make this again. Happy soup weather!