Butter-Cream Dinner Rolls

    Butter-Cream Dinner Rolls

Early September, just after Labor Day – I’m already relishing the wonderful thoughts of my favorite time of year: Fall.  There’s HBCU college football; spawning of the largemouth bass and crappies in the lakes; the fish markets will soon have more black sea bass and spots on ice – and I will be a thoroughly happy camper!

For my fried fish, I want a wedge of cornbread, some fluffy rice with some Carolina Gumbo (see note below on that everybody-eats-it-in SC Carolina Gumbo!) on top of it. When I’m having that early-morning fall breakfast before getting out on the lake, I want some hot biscuits, butter and pure cane syrup with my scrambled eggs and sausage patties or country ham.  Of course, some sausage gravy for those biscuits will do just fine for my breakfast meat course also!  For dinner, I truly miss my Aunt Emma T’s hot yeast dinner rolls – something I didn’t learn to make!  Aaaaaaah, but fellow foodies, I’m some kinda dangerous guy now, ‘cause I’ve learned to make hot yeast dinner rolls!  And, that is what this blog entry is all about – light, fluffy, flavorful hot yeast rolls that are rich, and will make ya’ slap ya’self for eating so many!

 

I did my rolls in my cast-iron skillet.

You can use any rectangular baking dish if you prefer.

Here’s the story –

I’ve always loved French baguettes and use to stay in the HEB Central Market on Lovers Lane during my years in Dallas. They make them fresh every day.  And, of course, while in there, I’d get my yeast rolls and freshly-made loaves of Black Russian bread for sandwiches as well.  All these years, I’ve been wishing that I could make my own bread!  Well low and behold, about four weeks ago I saw a simple recipe for a crusty loaf of bread that was hailed as absolutely foolproof.  I made it, and sure enough it was indeed foolproof!  This gave me a confidence like I’ve never had before!  After just one try at breadmaking, I then got the “big head”!!!  Suddenly, I going to experiment and make my own bread recipe!  What was I thinking?  Flavor like the sweet Hawaiian breads; wonderful texture like the Parker House rolls; beautiful color and height like my Aunt Emma T’s hot yeast dinner rolls!  Wah-lah, I would think of how I make a pound cake:  Butter, milk, and sugar!

So, what I ended up with was a ratio calculation based upon that foolproof loaf I had made a couple weeks earlier. To that, I added some flavor and richness, but kept the roll light by increasing the amount of active yeast for rising; reducing the amount of flour to liquid ratio to keep them fluffy while still having the substance of bread!  What I ended up with was what I now call “Mack’s Butter-Cream Dinner Rolls”! Oh my goodness, these are good!  And, I assure you – they are also foolproof!  There’s no whole lots of fuss with the kneading and all that time-consuming rising, punching down, rising again, and such other nonsense that only leads to frustration of your waiting to delve into the wonderful end product!

I’m a member of several social-media cooking “groups” and showed photographs of these rolls already. I’m including all the photographs of the process to help you understand what I’m trying to say in the instructions I give for making these wonderful rolls!  But, first the recipe –

5 1/2 cups of bread flour (that I divided into 2 cups, and 3 cups and ½ cup)

4 TABLEspoons of active dry yeast (I do not use the quick yeast)

2 cups warm water

1/3 cup unsalted butter (melted)

2 cups heavy whipping cream

½ cup granulated sugar

½ teaspoon salt

Okay, let’s go to the kitchen and pull these items from the pantry and fridge. Let’s get out tools off the shelf, out of the drawers and cabinets, and make these wonderful rolls I’ve created – your family is going to sing your praises at dinner tonight!  They’ll think it took you forever to make them!  I won’t mention a word to them about the ease of making them, and neither should you – accept the praise; you deserve it!!!

Okay, let’s get a large bowl and butter it like you would a cake pan before pouring in the batter. Let’s also get another large bowl for the initial mix of ingredients.

You will need a small sauce pan; a cast-iron skillet; and a loaf pan. (This recipe will make 12 nice-size dinner rolls; and a loaf of bread for use for sandwiches later!)  If you only want to make the rolls, or only the loaf of bread, then make only half of this recipe.  If you don’t have a cast-iron skillet; if exact same-size rolls are important to you, then you will need a medium-size ice cream scoop and a 9 x 12 rectangular baking dish as well.

We are in the kitchen, and here’s how we’re going to make these rolls –

  1. In a large bowl, add the 4 tablespoons of active dry yeast, the ½ teaspoon of salt and the ½ cup of granulated sugar. Use a hand whisk and stir to mix it together. Then add the 2 cups of warm water to it. Wait for about two minutes – then add and stir in the 2 cups of bread flour. Cover with a very hot damp dish towel; sit on the counter; and leave it alone for 10 minutes.
  2. Now add the melted butter, the 2 cups of heavy whipping cream and the 3 cups of flour. Using a large wooden spoon or a large rubber spatula, fold in and mix. Now, pour this mixture of very soft dough into the large buttered bowl. Cover with a very hot damp dish towel; leave on counter for 30 minutes to rise.
  3. Oh wow, it’s dinner-roll time now. Turn your oven on and allow it to heat up to 500-degrees.
  4. Lightly sprinkle some of the remaining ½ cup of flour on your counter. Pour the dough onto the flour and knead for a minute or so, just to dry the dough a tiny bit. If dough is still too wet, sprinkle a little more flour. When you are done, this dough should be very very light, but dry! There is no more kneading to be done after this – hoorah!
  5. Using a medium-size ice cream scoop, scoop up the dough and rolls into a ball. Place in your cast-iron skillet or baking dish, whichever you’re using.  Note: If you are using your cast-iron skillet, you may not need to butter it since it’s probably already seasoned.  If you are using a rectangular baking dish, you need to butter it like you would a cake pan before pouring in the batter!
  6. If you’ve made the full recipe, you will now have about half your dough still on the floured counter. Using your fingers, “squish” it together and make a “sausage-type” roll of it and place it into your buttered loaf pan!
  7. Sit both of these on top your range and open your oven door slightly. Let the rolls and the bread loaf rise for about 15 minutes or so. You will know that its ready to go into the oven because the rolls will begin to slight touch each other!                                                                         Rolls slightly touch
  8. Turn the oven down to 375-degrees, close the door and when the oven gets back to temperature, put in your rolls and loaf of bread. Bake for 20-30 minutes, dependent upon your altitude and/or oven. Tops of rolls should be golden brown as in the photograph shown below!

Notice the beautiful brown tops on these rolls once they are baked.

 

Notice the beautiful texture of these rolls when opened.

 

Folks, I simply cannot describe the deliciousness that you’ve just baked! And, don’t you dare tell your family how easy it was! Sit yourself down and enjoy your dinner AND you praises!!!!

Lemon Pepper Braised Chicken

HamBonesCookingTechniques

Lemon Chx Braise 1

For as long as I can remember, my mother, all her sisters, my grandmother and all her sisters use to catch every sale on roasting hens at the local Piggly Wiggly, Winn-Dixie, IGA or the A&P.  Though most times they would roast these hens, many times they would “stew” them because they were tough birds!  I particularly loved the stewed chicken my mother would make because she would add celery, onion and carrot to the pot, cover it and just let it simmer away! Her secret seasoning that gave this chicken its superb flavor was ground thyme!

 This recipe is homage to all the women in my family famous for catching the sale on hens at the local food store! I enhanced the flavor a bit by adding lemon pepper, which really wakes up the chicken.  I cook this with breast intact with skin and rib bones.  Of course, traditionally you would use a whole cut-up chicken or hen and all parts are stewed!  I do not use boneless-skinless breast for this recipe!  (Just a quick note – I do not buy commercial lemon-pepper seasoning.  I do not like additives in my food, and it’s too easy to make lemon-pepper seasoning at home!  I provide my methodology for making lemon pepper as the second step in the instructions to this recipe.)

 Though this braised dish could be made in a crockpot, I much prefer it in my regular conventional oven on a very low heat for several hours!  The meat is so tender it will fall off the bone—but, unlike crockpot or pressure-cooker methods, will stay intact until you can get it to the plate!

 For this recipe I usually use my large enamel-coated cast-iron Dutch oven if I’m making this dish to serve four or more people.  Anything less than that, it is easily done using a cast-iron skillet for browning and a 9 x 12 casserole dish for the braising.  Super-easy is an appropriate description for this recipe. I happen to love green beans, as well as buttered rice with parsley which goes well with this dish.  However, as with many stews, this recipe is truly a meal unto itself and needs nothing with it other than a hot, fluffy biscuit with butter!  Enjoy!

 4 large                                     Chicken breasts (intact with skin and bone)

3 TABLEspoons                     olive oil

3 large                                     lemons to provide

3 TABLEspoons of lemon zest

3 TABLEspoons of lemon juice

1 teaspoon each                       salt, dry mustard, garlic powder, onion powder

2 teaspoons                             ground turmeric, ground thyme, fresh finely-minced garlic cloves

3 TABLEspoons                     ground black pepper

1/4 cup                                    corn starch

1 TABLEspoon                       granulated sugar

3 cups                                      water

1 teaspoon                               Worcestershire sauce

3 stalks                                    celery (cut into 3-inch julienne strips)

3 whole                                   carrots (peeled and cut into 3-inch stewing pieces)

2 large                                     russet baking potatoes (peeled and cut into stewing chunks)

1 large                                     parsnip (peeled, split-cut, then cut into 4 pieces)

2 cups                                      sliced mushrooms

2 medium-size                         white onions (peeled and quartered with ends intact)

Instructions:

  1. Preheat oven at 500°.
  2. Using a zester/micro planer – zest the lemons and set zest aside in a small bowl. Add the 3 TABLEspoons of ground black pepper, and 1 teaspoon of salt, stir to combine.  Add the turmeric, garlic powder, onion powder, turmeric, thyme.  Sprinkle over the chicken breast and let sit for 10 minutes.
  3. Using a hand juicer, juice the lemons after you zest the skin—remove any seeds. If the lemon does not yield a full 3 TABLEspoons of juice. Pour into a small bowl.
  4. Add the cornstarch to the lemon juice and stir. You will have a thick paste.  Using a mini-whisk or two salad-forks, stir in the water slowly until you have a milky-looking liquid–(a slurry if you will)! Stir in the sugar and Worcestershire sauce.  Set this “slurry”
  5. Heat cast-iron skillet until very hot. Add 3 TABLEspoons of olive oil and immediately turn heat down to medium. Add chicken breasts skin-side down and slowly cook until skin is golden brown.  (Do NOT fully cook the chicken—you only want to brown the skin!)
  6. Removed browned chicken breast, and then add fresh-minced garlic cloves and mushrooms to Dutch Oven and sauté for 2 minutes. Now, add all the cut up veggies (celery, potatoes, onion, carrots, parsnip).
  7. Place the browned chicken breast on top of all the veggies.
  8. Pour the slurry over the chicken and veggies.
  9. Cover the Dutch Oven, and place in the hot oven. Let cook at 500° for 10 minutes.
  10. Turn oven down to 250° and leave in oven to braise for 2 1/2 hours.
  11. Remove from oven and pour off the braising liquid into the cast-iron skillet and simmer until reduced by at least half. What you want is a thick gravy-type braising liquid for serving.
  12. (Shortcut: You can also add ¼ cup additional cornstarch to poured-off braising liquid and cook until thick!)

This recipe is from volume one of the Ham Bones books series.

 

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Joe2

The Way to Cook: How to BBQ

HamBonesCookingTechniques

The Way to Cook: How to BBQ

It’s getting along near that time – weather warming up; days are longer; lakes, rivers, beaches (and heated swimming pools!!!) are becoming more and more inviting! Hoorah!!! It’s almost bar-be-que season!

Now ladies, please don’t you get flustered; don’t you get insulted! But, pretty much, unless you are the Grill Queen in your house – this one time – this post is really meant for the fellas who always stick their chest out after cooking on the grill! Will you be sweet enough to print this and pass it along to them for me please?!!!!! But again, if it is YOU who master the grill at your house, then by all means, this blog post is for you!!!

Come Memorial Day; come Fourth of July; come Labor Day; come Football Tailgating Season – every guy thinks he’s a Grill Master; King of the Pit; the Don of the BBQ grill! It’s the time to brag and show off your outdoor cooking skills.

Now, we’re not talking about grilled salmon and other fancy grilled fish; stuffed jalapeno peppers; filet mignon; lamb chops and all the fare of culinary decadence that say we have arrived!!! No, no – I’m talking about good ol’ down-home true southern bar-be-queuing – and it is not an ostentatious event! Rather the opposite, it’s a social gathering in a most fundamental sense where the most polished of social graces are rather relaxed!!! So, these are the preliminary steps to get ready to bar-be-que:

1. Pull out your folding lawn chairs and put ‘em under a shade tree

2. Bring out your 50-gallon cooler with a couple dozen cans of beer sitting in some half-way melted crushed ice

3. Have your grill fired up burning the splint wood, shredded newspaper, and a couple split logs of wood, (I use pecan wood and peach wood), so that the coals are ready

4. Get your food-quality plastic spray bottle and fill it half with water, and half with apple juice infused with cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and cloves (i.e., don’t frown, work with me here boys, you gonna love the results)

5. Get your second food-quality plastic spray bottle and fill it with JUST WATER

6. Dependent upon the size of your grill, you will need one or two disposable aluminum rectangular pans (they will be filled with water and spices later. The spices you use will be two tablespoons of your dry rub!)

7. Now, sit yourself down and let’s chat about some ribs, chicken, and steaks! Burgers and franks are the preliminary appetizer meats–no need for discussion here!

Of course, I’m going to go out on a limb here and make a courageous and complimentary assumption that all of us sitting under this here tree have seen many a hot grills and cooked many a slabs of ribs! So, I will further assume that a couple days ago you took the time to trim ya’ ribs (but, don’t take off the silver on the bottom side it holds in the juices and flavor of the bone–[the diner takes that off when served]; and don’t take off that glorious fat)! By trimming, I mean using your filet knife and barely remove any hanging pieces of fat and/or tendon. If you don’t see any, all the better – “ . . . you don’t have no trimming to do”!!!

Okay boys, (and girls who are Grill Queens), let’s make sure we understand each other! I’m a sho-nuff born and bred South Carolina boy who will not, under any circumstances, hack up a beautiful slab of ribs trying to make them even and fancy and picture-book pretty, givin’ ’em the fancy name of a patron saint, all the while shorting my guests of some of the rib meat! No, no – not at my house! When I tell you to come on over for some ribs, you gonna get the whole SPARE rib! Ain’t gonna be no cutting off at the joint and calling those rib ends! I just ain’t gonna do ya’ like that! You gonna sit yourself down, and allow that bottom piece of your rib to spare you the time from putting lotion on your face in the morning—that fat in that piece of the spare rib is gonna moisturize your skin something wonderful!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Standing out here on this limb again – don’t y’all let me fall!!! I am also making the assumption that the slabs of spare ribs, and your split chickens were seasoned with your dry rub yesterday; your steaks were trimmed, put in zipper plastic bags (excess air squished out please) with your marinade, and all are getting happy in your refrigerator anticipating their warm sauna treatment on your grill of the next day to come! (Note: I have the perfect recipe for a dry rub for your grillin’.  See it in volume one of the series: “Ham Bones: Memoirs of a Southern Cook”)

Next step – pop open your second beer and let’s continue to talk. ( I’m having a Bourbon on the rocks with a twist of lemon if you don’t mind!) We need to chat about that almighty grill fire you seeing flaming up over there. Let it burn, burn, burn ‘til it can’t burn no more! Now, you’ve got a wonderful bed of coals waiting for that meat! Okay y’all, show time!

1. Lift your grill plates and sit your pan of seasoned water directly on the coals; this will be the source for your internal steam.

2. Put your meat on the grill, give it all an initial spray of your seasoned water and CLOSE the LID of your grill. Open your air vent only enough to release the smoke slowly, but NOT enough to fan your coals into a flame!

3. After 30 minutes, open the lid and make sure there is no flame. If so, spray a little of the plain water directly onto the flame—but, do NOT extinguish the coals. Flip your meat over, do a second seasoned spray and close the lid again.

4. After 30 minutes, open the lid and make sure there is no flame. Okay, close the lid back down!

Final step before presentation and eating – saucing!  (Not every grill master sauces! Years ago my cousin Kenny mentioned to me that he serves dry ribs because his spicing is so good and his ribs are so moist! He’s my cousin and I love ‘im, but that’s a carry over from his Tennessee days during his career. I gotta remind him he’s back home in Carolina—WE SAUCE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!)

Oh, how this is a conversation that’s always a debate! Well grill masters and grill queens, we will have NO debate! To sauce in the bar-be-que process is to glaze the meat – period, end of conversation! Sauce is NOT meant to cook nor help cook the meat. The sauce is already cooked! This is one of those major steps that separate the grill master and grill queen from the backyard cooker about to mess up some good meat! (How many times have you been invited over for bar-be-que only to see meat that is jet black charred from sugar in the sauce being burned during the cooking process? That’s because the cooker didn’t know that sauce is for glazing!!!!!)

So, now that the meat is done and the coals are just about completely burned out, the “oven” of the grill is still nice and warm – but, NOT cooking-temperature hot—you will now glaze your meat gently, but sufficiently. Put the meat back on the grill, close down the lid and allow the glaze/sauce to adhere to the meat.  This should take about 10 – 15 minutes. Now, remove the meat to your cutting board and allow the meat to rest so that you don’t lose your juices. Resting should be sufficient after about fifteen (15) minutes. It is now time to cut your ribs, cut your chicken, and put it on your meat trays for your guests to admire and praise you for your grilling skills!

As my Daddy use to tell me ever since he started teaching me to bar-be-que when I was fourteen years old: “Son, not everybody who brag can really be called a grillmaster; but now, YOU CAN!!!”

And, now — to all you grill masters and grill queens —

All best wishes for good eating; enjoy!

Joe

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Dressing – versus – Stuffing!!!

HamBonesFoodforThought

Dressing – versus – Stuffing!!!

Don’t  mean to start another Civil War – that ended in 1865; let’s leave it there!!!  But, let’s do have a little fun talking about food differences above and below the Mason-Dixon line!!!  But, remember, we’re just having some fun!

Okay, so now you want to know what’s so funny?!  Let’s say we are about to have a conversation a bit early in the year, about six to seven months early!  It’s April, and we’re going to talk about Thanksgiving Dinner!  This brings me back to my days living in New York City in the 1970s, and talking food with my northern friends that are affectionately known as “Yankees”!  They love a “bready” accompaniment with their turkey the same as we do down south.  But, we have different names for that “twice-baked bread”!

Years ago, while living in New York City some friends invited me over for Thanksgiving Dinner. On the menu was pecan-cranberry dressing!  It was absolutely delicious! ‘Twas a wonderful cornucopia of diced celery and onions, chopped pecans, chopped “craisins” (i.e., dried cranberries), delicious stock, shredded carrots and all sorts of proper Thanksgiving spices (i.e., sage, thyme, celery seed, onion powder, garlic powder, turmeric, salt, pepper, etc.).  BUT, it was not dressing – it was stuffing!

Now, hear me out—don’t chop my head off yet!  I call it stuffing, because down south if it’s made with loaf-bread, it’s stuffing!  If it’s made with cornbread, its dressing!  Again, as I said earlier, the pecan-cranberry dish was wonderful; absolutely delicious.  However, it was made with white bread, cut up into small cubes, dried in the oven before using to mix the dish. Down south – that’s stuffing; whether you stuff the bird or not stuff the bird–doesn’t matter–it’s stuffing!!!

Also, there were NO eggs in the mixture!  As Aunt Emma T and Bunch would have told me  — “boy, you gotta put some eggs in there to bind your dressing!!!” (Note:  Oh, you should read the story of these two fantastic cooks in the first volume in the series:  “Ham Bones: Memoirs of a Southern Cook”.)  No self-respecting southern cook is going to make dressing and not have eggs in it!  It holds it all together in a delicious sort of way!

So, what’s dressing and how do you make it?  It could have been everything that the pecan-cranberry stuffing was, with one substitution and one addition!  Don’t use the dried and cubed loaf bread, instead use some dried cornbread!  Add to the mixture a couple of eggs!  Don’t stuff it in the bird, (a little something I almost never do because of health precautions); instead, bake it separately in a buttered rectangular dish!

Whether you’re making stuffing or dressing, the key is moisture!  No one likes a dry stuffing; no one likes a dry dressing! Here is how you remedy that little malady of cooking—plenty of stock!  Once I finish mixing my dressing “batter” which is rather thick, I make sure that I have enough stock in it that is looks like a wet cornbread!  In the casserole dish (i.e., the rectangular pan), I want to see a bit of that moisture just above the batter – little tiny pools of stock being visible!  Ahhh, then I know for sure that my dressing will not only be delicious—it will also be moist because I have enough stock in it!  Also, stuffing and dressing are two of those “the hands and eyes perfect the recipe” type of dishes! Initially, you do the basic measuring, then it’s feel and eyesight the rest of the way!

Let’s chat a little bit about geography!  My thoughts on the dressing versus the stuffing thing is that it probably came about with a lot of baking of loaf bread in the north; lots of leftovers; and a use for catching turkey drippings inside the bird!  Personally, I don’t like my stuffing having been cooked inside the bird—I prefer it to have been baked in a separate pan.  Food experts also tell me that it safer to cook it separately as well.

Actually, growing up in South Carolina, I never saw a turkey that was stuffed.  All the dressing was baked separately from the bird.  When I ventured north, my relatives from the south that migrated to the north, though a nice divide of some of them preferring the stuffing they discovered once they migrated, also cooked such stuffing separated—thus NOT a stuffing—as nothing was stuffed!!!

So, to all my very dear friends north of my southern divide, we will not have another Civil War, though we may have a civil war as to preference of which dish.  But, for the most part, we will instead enjoy the wonderful variations of stuffing that I discovered in New York City; and this delicious cornbread dressing that we make as tradition down here in Dixie.  My family has a couple dressings that we make.  I start with the historical cornbread from my Daddy’s side of the family.  The Finch Sisters did wonders with cornmeal and you can read all about them, their cornbread, and their dressing.  See their recipes in volume one in the series:  “Ham Bones: Memoirs of a Southern Cook”!)

Okay, everybody put down your arms – grab a plate and fork! Turkey and dressing and stuffing and giblet gravy on the menu!

All best wishes for good eating; enjoy!

Joe

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The Clean Label

HamBonesFoodforThought

The Clean Label

Growing up in Small Town, South, USA, eating fresh food is rather common—no big deal.  In fact, during my growing up years, I don’t think I ever heard of long-hard-to-pronounce words in food, versus reading them in a chemistry textbook!

Unfortunately, with our advances in science that have extended our lifespans, the scientists have also found ways to change our food.  In my mind, I think that some of these changes have been to our benefit, while others have been to our detriment.

Sauce is one of those things that I love with a good roasted or grilled piece of meat.  Whereas, I enjoy making sauces at home, sometimes I feel like something already prepared in the kitchens of my local grocer and I’ll want the convenience of getting a sauce off the shelf to enhance my take-home dinner!  Viewing a grocer’s shelf of sauces recently gave me a bit of a scare!  The majority of the sauces had labels that listed ingredients far beyond just good ol’ plain whole foods and spices—what a disappointment!

Reading some food labels as I strolled through several aisles, I thought I was back in my high-school chemistry class again (i.e.,  butylated hydroxyanisole;  potassium benzoate; tertiary butylhydroquinone; tetrasodium EDTA; cyclamates; and a host of others)!  Of course, food does not have to have these ingredients in order to eat them!

Several folks have decided to eat only organic food!  In exploring that avenue, I found it quite an expensive undertaking!  Of course, with the increased cost per serving as a result of going totally organic, I may lose a few extra pounds due to smaller more affordable portion sizes!  Unfortunately, such a strategy would not alleviate my constant hunger pain as a result!

There are some foods that I do want as organic only.  Others, I’m okay with non-organic though I don’t care for food with hormones and antibiotics—both of which would be very dangerous for me as a cancer survivor who depends on antibiotics to fight chronic infections as a result of having had cancer.

Grocers are becoming more and more aware of the desires of their customers and are food sourcing items that are good to eat; safe to eat; nourishing to eat.  Several grocers list ingredients that are prohibited in the food products in their stores. This amounts to what the food brokers tell me industry calls a “Clean Label” product!

Two links that I think should be of interest to you are —

  1. Whole Foods’ list “Unacceptable Ingredients for Food”, found at:

http://www.wholefoodsmarket.com/about-our-products/quality-standards/food-ingredient

and, Earth Fare’s “Quality Standards”, found at:

https://www.earthfare.com/food/quality-standards

From one consumer to another; from one foodie to another; from one cook to another – eat goooooood as we southerners like to say!  Just make sure your definition of good includes the word “clean”!

All best wishes,

Joe

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The Perfect Pie Crust (every time!)

HamBonesCookingTechniques

The Perfect Pie Crust

There is nothing better in eating than a terrific pie crust on a chicken pot pie; or an apple pie; or a wonderful custard pie.  I have friends who much prefer cake to pie because they don’t like eating a pie with a bit of a wet, soggy bottom crust.  Well, guess what – neither do I; and a bottom crust need not be wet and soggy!  I, especially love a good custard pie be it potato, coconut, lemon, etc.  The way I make sure I have a nice crust that’s flaky and dry is to pre-bake!  However, pre-baking will not correct incorrect ingredients or flaws in technique!

The pie crust was one of the most difficult lessons to learn because I had difficulty with “looking like peas”!  But, I could and still can visualize “rough” and “coarse” and “lumps”!

The pie crust recipe below is the one that I use for almost any kind of dish that I make that call for a crust.  I have three versions of it, which illustrates its flexibility!  It’s just flour, shortening, water and vinegar (i.e., flexible with sugar)!  I don’t waste a good egg on a pie crust! I don’t use good cream cheese on a pie crust! I don’t use up good milk on a pie crust!  Just flour, shortening, water and vinegar–perfection every time!

Let’s stop talking – let’s get to the kitchen and make a crust!  Now, I want y’all to use my recipe and follow my instructions!  This recipe is from my Aunt Emma T, and taught to me by Bunch (my mom)!

(You can read the wonderful story about these two amazing cooks and see this recipe in volume one of the series, “Ham Bones: Memoirs of a Southern Cook”!)

Perfectly Flaky Pie Crust

(Not just sometimes, but EVERYTIME!!!)

There are some basic tricks to a perfect pie crust –

  • the first and most fundamental – all ingredients need to be icy cold! So, here is what I do just as routine:  I keep a pint-size Mason or Ball canning jar with ½ water and ½ pure white vinegar in my refrigerator (at all times), so that I can make a pie crust on the spur of a moment! Once I cut up my shortening/butter pieces, I put it in the freezer for 10-15 minutes. 
  • the second being the technique of adding the liquid to the dry, and I’ve given a bit of comical details in the instructions below. 
  • the third – I’m old fashion, I do NOT use a food processor to make pie crust. I use a pastry cutter (a knife and fork can be substituted for a pastry cutter) and my fingers!!! 
  • I use one of my stainless steel bowls. Of course, I’ve had it in the freezer for 30 minutes before I begin to make a pie crust!

So, let’s do this y’all!

I make three different pie crust (i.e., plain, savory, sweet)!  And, of course, with many different additions of spices, the list could go on and on (i.e., cinnamon, etc.)!

As your base for a –

PLAIN PIE CRUST (for meat pot pies and the like and dessert pies when you don’t want a sweet crust)

4 CUPS plain flour

1 ½ cups solid vegetable shortening

water/vinegar mixture as needed

SWEET DESSERT PIE CRUST (for dessert pies when you  want a sweet crust)

4 CUPS plain flour

½ cup 10X powdered sugar

1 cup solid vegetable shortening

½ cup unsalted butter

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

water/vinegar mixture as needed

[SAVORY] PIE CRUST (for meat and/or vegetables when you  want a sweet crust)

4 CUPS plain flour

1 cup solid vegetable shortening

½ cup unsalted butter

1 teaspoon each salt, pepper, garlic powder, onion powder, ground thyme extract

water/vinegar mixture as needed

Preparation instructions:

  1. Take your stainless bowl out of the freezer
  1. Add the dry ingredients, and using a hand whisk, blend all dry ingredients (no blending required for a plain pie crust)
  1. Cut your shortening ingredients (solid vegetable shortening and/or butter) into cubes
  1. Using a pastry blender (or a knife and fork), cut shortening into dry ingredients.

Hint:  The trick here is do NOT cut the shortening in too fine!  You really WANT TO SEE LUMPS of shortening still remaining in the blended flour.  Lumps should be about the size of sweet peas (i.e., English peas) as my mother would say!  I like to say the flour should now look a bit coarse and rough as a result of the lumps!!!  Visualization your choice!!!

  1. Using only a TABLESPOON at the time, add your water/vinegar mixture! Now, take you hand and mash the liquid into the flour mixture!

Hint:  First time, it’s going to still be very dry.  Now, add the second tablespoon of liquid and repeat the finger-to-blend step!  NOW STOP! 

Take a look/see at your crust – it should just BARELY come together.  Should be crumbly just a tad!

IF it will not come together at all, a third tablespoon is required.

IF YOU HAVE ADDED MORE THAN A TABLESPOON at the time and your crust comes together like a biscuit dough, you are NOT going to have a nice flaky crust.

The difference between a pie crust dough and a biscuit dough –

You want your pie crust dough to be like a DRY “play putty” (that kids use), that when you roll it out, you want to be able to see the large pieces of shortening in the crust!  It should not roll out to easy–it should be just a tad bit stiff!

You want your biscuit dough, on the other hand, to come together well, be pliable a bit that it will stay together when rolled out for cutting into biscuits!

  1. Now, for the technique of rolling out your dough! If you do not have a large marble slab (which I do not!!!!!), I form my dough into two balls, wrap in wax paper and put it back in the freezer for 5 minutes or so to get cold again.
  1. To roll out my dough, I put down a sheet of wax paper on my counter, lay dough on top, and a second sheet of wax paper on top the dough. Using my rolling pin, I hit the dough a couple time to give myself an indention in the dough to get started with the rolling process.

Starting at the center of the dough, I roll to the desired size and shape such that I can lift from the bottom wax paper and flip the dough into my pie plate!  Now, I must say I use the wax paper so that I don’t have to dust my counter with flour.  It’s the one instruction from Aunt Emma T and Bunch that I don’t necessarily follow:  They dusted their counter with a bit of flour!)

But, all in all – Boys and girls, follow this technique and you’re gonna get a perfect pie crust EVERY single TIME!!!!

All best wishes; enjoy,

Joe

The Perfect Pie Crust (every time!) Click To Tweet