Tag: food

Destination Northwest Arkansas

I know I know… You’re headed up to Bentonville, Arkansas to visit the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art. And you’re going to love it because it’s one of the most amazing places in Arkansas. But did you know the whole northwest portion of the state is filled with exciting things to do as well as some of the best food the region has to offer? In fact four Bentonville restaurant chefs where invited to cook at the James Beard Foundation in New York because, well, they’re just that good!

Boston Mountains in Northwest Arkansas

To help you get the most out of the trip I’ve created a Northwest Arkansas itinerary for you, which includes art, gardens, and of course food!

  1. Pig Trail Scenic Byway – If it’s on your route be sure to take the short cut between Ozark and Fayetteville lovingly referred to as the Pig Trail. This winding two-lane highway through the Ozark Mountains offers spectacular views, especially in spring and fall. Jump on Highway 23 just past Ozark and enjoy 19 miles of beautiful scenery. To get to Fayetteville take a left on Highway 16 at Brashears.
  2. Coffee Break – The first stop on your way to Crystal Bridges is Fayetteville. It’s a university town with lots of charm. I always like to take a coffee break on my road trips so I can stretch my legs. At Mama Carmen’s Café I can do some good while I’m at it. Mama Carmen’s was born out of a partnership with the namesake who runs an orphanage in Guatemala City. The café purchases the beans grown on Mama Carmen’s farm as well as donating 10% of the profits to the orphanage. And the coffee is good to boot. www.mamacarmen.com
  3. Garden Tour – While in Fayetteville be sure to visit the Botanical Garden of the Ozarks. There are 12 gardens to discover plus a butterfly house. www.bgozarks.org
  4. Lunch – The next town you’ll pass through on your way to Bentonville is Rogers. The historic downtown area is delightful with brick roads and classic storefronts. There are a number of wonderful restaurants, but I suggest Heirloom Food + Wine. Everything is made from scratch using only fresh, local ingredients – they even make the bread and condiments! Every day they create a soup, salad and sandwich based on what’s in season. www.heirloomfoodandwine.com
  5. Garden Tour and Crystal Bridges – From Rogers it’s just a 15 minute drive to Bentonville home of Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art. Either before or after visiting the museum take a stroll along the woodland trail at Compton Gardens. This public park is open from dawn to dusk and is a wonderful place to pick up ideas for using native plants. www.peelcompton.org  crystalbridges.org
  6. Dinner – At this point you’re probably looking to sit back, relax with a good meal. Petit Bistro is a French Mediterranean restaurant that is sure to please. Delicious 5 star recipes that is the perfect way to end a great day in northwest Arkansas. petitbistro.biz

Whew, that’s one very big day. If you decide to make it a weekend trip, I suggest the 21c Museum Hotel. It’s within walking distance of the museum and located right on the town square. Remember, there are so many more things to do here and all over Arkansas. The best way to find them is to visit Arkansas.com.

Arkansas Eats

As an Arkansas native I’ve always known that we have some stellar places to eat. Everywhere I go in the state there is a fantastic feast waiting at a restaurant, diner or roadside stand. Which is good because I love food.

The state is famous for southern staples such as fried catfish, barbeque and pie but our food is also influenced by our proximity to the southwestern flair of Texas. As we are an agricultural community a traditional Arkansas meal always includes a generous helping of something that was grown nearby. Purple hull peas slow cooked with a ham hock, cornbread, sliced tomatoes and fried okra are all sides you’ll find on the dinner table in Arkansas.

We’ve never strayed far from our culinary roots, but the national trend for locally sourced ingredients has produced a number of sensational restaurants that specialize in home-style cooking with a contemporary twist. How about catfish served over a bed of hoppin’ John and fried okra? Or perhaps a grilled pork chop with creamed corn, peppers and almonds. Are you hungry yet?

Arkansans aren’t the only folks who recognize what our state has to offer. Recently Forbes Travel Guides included our capital city Little Rock as one of five secret foodie spots with shot outs to Ashley’s, Ciao Baci, ZaZa’s Fine Salad + Wood-Oven Pizza Co. and Whole Hog Cafe.

Arkansas Farm to Table Restaurants

In addition to these recommendations I have a few others that I suggest you try for a plate full of local flavor featuring seasonal ingredients.

Brave New Restaurant – Get the mixed grill that includes a variety of grilled meats served with an herbed demi glace.

South on Main – This is where you will find the fried catfish and hoppin’ John. Yum!

Trio’s – In the summer they have a farmers’ market plate with seasonal vegetables that’s wonderful.

Table 28 – The restaurant offers unusual interpretations of southern favorites. Make reservations for a seat at the chef’s table (table 28) for an exclusive 6-course meal prepared and served by Chef Rains.

The Root Café – Great burgers and sweet potato fries. A definite must if you have a hankering for breakfast on a Saturday morning.

Capital Hotel Bar and Grill – The Friday lunch special is red sauce braised brisket with rice bread and chow chow. That’s what I’m talking about!

The Hive – If you love a good pork chop this is the place to go. Chef Matthew McClure sources the pork from a local farmer raising heritage pigs known for their exceptionally tender and flavorful meat. Oh, and be sure to stop in at the nearby Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art. The current exhibit is a collection of French modern masters including Matisse, Cezanne and Degas. It will be on view until July 7, 2014.

28 Springs – You can’t come south and not eat chicken and dumplings. Savory herb gravy and a flaky biscuit crust make these some of the best chicken and dumplings to be had.

The Farmer’s Table Café – One look at the breakfast menu and you’ll know why this place is the talk of the town. The Hash Skillet is to die for.

HEIRLOOM food + wine – A glass of wine and a platter filled with artisanal cheeses, seasonal fruit, walnuts, honeycomb and fig-rosemary crackers plus an amiable companion? Is there a better way to end the day?

Special thanks to Lyndi over at NWAFoodie.com for recommending some great restaurants in northwest Arkansas!

Fried Dill Pickles


It’s astounding to me but it wasn’t until 1963 that someone thought to fry a dill pickle. I know, right? Bernell “Fatman” Austin was the first to serve these treats at the Duchess Drive In in Atkins, Arkansas and they’ve been a southern staple ever since. If you don’t believe me try them and get back to me. Here’s a recipe that is similar to those served at a local catfish joint.

Ingredients
1 quart jar dill pickle slices
2 teaspoon red pepper
2 teaspoon paprika
2 teaspoon black pepper
1 eggs
8 ounces milk
5 – 6 drops hot sauce
2 cups flour
vegetable oil

Instructions
Mix egg, milk, hot sauce, and 1 tablespoon of flour in bowl and set aside.

In a separate bowl combine the red pepper, paprika, black pepper and 2 cups of flour.

In a large, deep skillet or fry cooker heat vegetable oil to 375 degrees.

Dip the pickle slices in the egg and milk mixture, then dredge them through the flour and spices, then the egg and milk again and then the flour once more.

Next drop the battered pickles into the hot oil and fry until they float to the surface and turn a nice golden brown.

Serve immediately.

We Eat A Lot of Pie in Arkansas

I’ve heard that food and music hold the personality of a region most strongly. After a recent road trip  I feel safe in taking it one step further and specify that a local favorite dessert really shows off a place’s personality.

Whether they’re fruit, nut, cream, meringue or cheese, baked, fried or frozen — pies come in a dazzling range of combinations. We like our pie in the south. The baker who masters the perfect flour to butter ratio in a crust is spoken about with the utmost reverence, given a place of honor in the community and undoubtedly, asked to bring a pie to every gathering until the end of time. While pies can be graham cracker or cookie crusted, hot or cold, latticed or exposed on top, they must all be delicious to survive in these parts.

Now you’ve probably heard the phrase easy as pie, but I’m not a fan. It strikes me as flippant. The creation of pies shouldn’t be reduced to anything less than an art. Bakers mix a tremendous amount care, thought and tradition into their pies, and most of them have worked on their technique for years. Respect for my favorite dessert led me to travel from Little Rock to Northwest Arkansas along Highway 65 in a quest to experience Arkansas’ pies.

Banana Split Pie

We first stopped at the Wagon Wheel in Greenbrier. Restaurants like these work as anchors and a hub of community life in small towns— a place to connect at lunch or celebrate with the team after a game. Don’t be fooled by this restaurant’s nondescript exterior. It boasts a spectacular spread and is known for its meringue pies. The bakers in this kitchen know how to whip egg whites and sugar into heavenly bliss. I had a banana split pie that had about three inches of meringue on top. So decadent!

Strawberry Pie

Every one of the restaurants we visited has a top pie, a pie that’s flavor is discussed like a legend, and at the Skylark Café in Leslie, that pie is strawberry pie. Cool and refreshing with impeccable balance between sweet and tangy, this dessert is a summer staple not easily forgotten. The filling is just the right consistency, not too thick and packed with juicy strawberry pieces. I dined on the porch and took in the café’s equally charming exterior. Originally a home, they remodeled the building into a restaurant, painted the outside turquoise with red trim and surrounded it with garden art and potted plants. Save me a seat on the porch. I’ll be back.

In addition to the sugary ecstasy, I also experienced a treat for the eyes. Highway 65 winds elaborately, offering dramatic views of the mountains and valleys, and the October leaf display has earned the region the nickname the New England of the Ozarks.

We detoured to Gilbert, an old railroad town with one sign that reads ‘population 33’ and another that reads ‘coolest in the state.’ They’re referring to temperature, but it works on multiple levels. The little town sits right on the edge of the pristine Buffalo National River. We had to pull over, not for pie, but for a view of the water.

The production crew and I stopped for lunch at Big Springs Barbecue in St. Joe after that, and I ate a bacon-filled “sammwhich.” It was nice to taste something fat-laden and savory to break up all the sweet. Plus they roast the meat themselves. I sampled an apple pie, and tried to wheedle the crust recipe out of the baker to no avail.

Apple Pie

In Jasper, we stopped at the Arkansas House, a restaurant that uses organic, locally produced ingredients, to learn the subtleties of the nut pie. Janet Morgan, the owner, showed me how to make her signature black walnut pie. Time, she said, makes all the difference between a mediocre dessert and a perfect dessert.

Black Walnut Pie

Tomato Tales

This is an excerpt from my column in AY Magazine. Read the entire article here.

Long before social media was even a spark in our collective conscious, bits of “wisdom” have been going viral via word of mouth in the form of old wives tales and folklore.

For me, these stories are interesting because they are part of our oral tradition. For instance, how many of you have heard that it is bad luck to place a hat on a bed or that going out in the cold with wet hair will make you sick?

Of course, my favorite anecdotes are about gardening and some of the best are related to growing tomatoes. It seems everyone’s grandmother had a pearl of wisdom about getting the growing the best tasting tomato.

Matt's Wild Cherry Tomato

Here are a few tomato tales that I’m familiar with. Some are based in fact, while others are pure fiction.

  1. Sprinkle sugar in the planting hole or water your tomatoes with sugar water to make them sweeter. This is untrue. The sweetness of a tomato is determined by the variety. If you want a sweet tomato try planting ‘Sungold’ or ‘Mr. Stripey’.
  2. If you have a tomato plant that is lush, but doesn’t set fruit, beat it with a broom. The idea behind this tip is that the beating will stress the plant and prompt bloom. More blooms mean a better chance for tomatoes. I haven’t tried this one, but the old-timers swear by it.
  3. To prevent blossom end rot add crushed eggshells to the planting hole. This suggestion actually has legs to it. The eggshells are a good source of calcium, which helps reduce blossom end rot.How about you? What’s the best tomato growing “advice” you know? Have you tried any of these tips?

Old Traditions, New Recipes

 

During the holidays, I always look forward to the sights, sounds, smells and tastes of a Smith Family Christmas. The holiday traditions of my family have been carried throughout the years, and I love passing our family stories and recipes on to my nieces and nephews. This year, though, I’m hoping to create a new tradition around the dinner table with an alternative to our typical recipes- this year, I’m making Pekin Duck.

Pekin Duck is one of my favorite “sounds fancy, cooks easy” main dishes, and when paired with a citrus glaze it is a beautiful and delicious meal with a holiday twist. Long Island Ducks are what we know as “Pekin.” They were bred in China and in 1873, exported to Long Island. It’s the most common duck meat consumed in the U.S. and in my opinion, the tastiest. We tend to rely on the holiday meal staples, but I think trying out a different bird this year will be a hit and hopefully start a tradition of trying new recipes each holiday.

Pekin Duck with Mandarin Sauce

Say Happy Thanksgiving with Brussels Sprouts

Thanksgiving is the big holiday for my family- no matter where we host it, we’re all in a frenzy of activity. The kids are playing in the yard, uncles and aunts are enjoying the fire, and my cousins, siblings and I are busy catching up while also putting the finishing touches on lunch. When we finally sit down at the table, though, it’s hard to talk to everyone during lunch because everyone in my family loves to eat.

I find that it just takes one recipe to bridge the gap between the adult and kid’s table, though. Desserts are always a good go-to, but last year I tried fresh Brussels sprouts. I know what you’re thinking- “my kids would never eat Brussels sprouts!” But try this recipe and I bet you’ll be surprised just how many members of your family ask for seconds.

Tarragon Pimiento Brussels Sprouts

Heritage Apples Welcome Autumn

Do you want more information on heritage apples? Check out my column in this month’s AY Magazine. Click here to read it online.

 

This time of year sends my senses into a whirlwind. I love how so many of the sights, sounds and smells around me proudly announce autumn’s arrival. Heritage apples are the perfect example- come November, their colors are bright, their taste is crisp and fresh, and their smell… well, there is nothing better than the smell of baking apples wafting through the house.

 

The week leading up to Thanksgiving is one in which I don’t spend much time cooking, but I couldn’t help throwing together this 5-ingredient Apple Tart Tatin recipe yesterday. It is quick and easy to make, and I might even add it to the Thanksgiving menu because it certainly gets me in the mood for the holidays.

Ingredients

1 pre-made piecrust

1/2 cup sugar in the raw

6 apples, peeled cored and quartered

7 ounces butter

3/4 cup sugar

Instructions

In a heavy, oven safe, 9-inch skillet combine 3/4 cup sugar, 1/2 cup sugar in the raw with 7 ounces of butter. Cook over a medium high heat until amber in color and brown around the edges. This should take about 5 minutes.

Reduce the heat and carefully circle the apple wedges around the skillet positioning them so they all face in the same direction. Place the apples as tightly together as possible because they will shrink during cooking.

Top the apples with a round pie crust that overlaps the skillet by about 1/2 inch all around. Fold the crust overlap toward the center. Push the edge of the pie crust down into the skillet with a rubber spatula or something similar to seal all the apple goodness inside. Cut 3 or 4 vent holes in the top of the crust.

Bake in the pre-heated 350 degree F oven for about 25 minutes or until golden brown. Remove the skillet from the oven and cool. Place a dish at least 1-inch larger in diameter than the skillet on top of the skillet. Carefully flip the tart to where the pie crust is now on the bottom with the plate.

 

Pickling Punk Rock Style

I’d like to introduce you to my friend and fellow gardener Laura Mathews. She’s a garden writer and photographer who contributes to several websites including Punk Rock Gardens. She’s also the Northeast Garden Guru for Proven Winners. Laura attended our annual blogger event at the farm, Garden2Blog, in 2011.

While scouring the virtual garden for harvesting and preserving tips I discovered that Laura knew quite a bit on pickling. I asked her to share her knowledge, which she very graciously did. Plus a recipe for bread and butter pickles you can freeze. I can’t wait to try them.

If you have questions for Laura and just want to find out more good gardening information look her up on Twitter (@punkrockgardens) or Facebook or visit PunkRockGardens.com.

At times in the growing season, the bounty from our vegetable gardens can be a bit overwhelming. Many of our backyard vegetable garden favorites mature within weeks of each other. One way out to this annual pickle… is to pickle.

Pickling may seem like a frightening black art practiced only by women of the past with extraordinary quantities of technical kitchen skill, but it’s actually much less complex than say, maintaining a quality compost pile. With attention to a couple important things, pickling is easy. It also generates a lot of value. Pickling turns inexpensive homegrown vegetables into crunchy, tangy delights that cost far less than they would at the grocery.

The first thing to grasp is that pickling via canning is that it’s not cooking. You cannot safely fiddle with the recipes. Follow modern recipes to the letter. Make sure your source for the recipe is reputable. Consider as well, employing safer methods of pickling. Grandma’s recipe for refrigerator pickles – that may include letting the pickles stand at room temperature for hours – aren’t considered safe by the USDA. The trendy practice of pickling by fermentation is also best left for those with deep understanding of food safety. Canning your pickles or making easy freezer pickles is the safest way to start.

Next, your pickles will only be as good as the vegetables you use. Find or pick very fresh young cucumbers for pickles. The fresher the cuke, the more natural pectin it contains. This pectin will keep your pickles crisp. Some recipes call for products like pickle crisp or suggest ice baths to preserve the crunch. Make sure to cut off the blossom end of the cucumber because it contains enzymes that will soften the cucumber. If you’re purchasing cucumbers, don’t buy any that have been waxed. The wax will interfere with the pickling processes.

Vinegar is key to pickling. Acidity in the vinegar is what keeps microorganisms from spoiling food. Be sure to check your vinegar labels for acidity percentage. Recipes are tested using vinegar with 5 percent acidity. Don’t skimp on the salt or substitute table salt for canning salt. Additives in table salt will cause cloudy brine. Stay away from Kosher salt unless the recipe specifically calls for it. Kosher salt is measured differently and can cause your pickles to be too salty.

For canned pickles, look for fresh pack recipes. You’ll need sterile jars and a pot large enough to boil several jars at once. A rack or good tongs will be needed to take the hot jars from the canning bath. The steps are easy. The recipe will dictate how to slice the cucumbers. Add the spices and the slices to jars. Cover the vegetables with the hot pickling solution which is mostly comprised of specific proportions of water, vinegar and salt. Seal with hot canning lids and cook for a bit in a boiling water bath. Cooking times for pickles are less than other forms of vegetable canning. After the jars cool, flavors will develop in a matter of weeks and you’ve made your own pickles.

If you want a no heat and no worries place to start, try freezer pickles. This is also fun to do with children. This recipe comes from Martha Zepp, Lancaster County Food Preservation Consultant with Penn State Cooperative Extension.

Martha’s Freezer Bread and Butter Pickles

Step 1
7 cups thinly sliced cucumbers
1 cup chopped onion
2 tablespoons canning salt

Layer cucumbers, onion, and salt in a glass bowl or non-metallic bowl. Weight down and cover. Do not add water. Let stand overnight in refrigerator.

Step 2
2 cups sugar
1 cup white vinegar
1 teaspoon celery seed (this can be adjusted for taste. Try adding some mustard seed.)

Next morning, combine, but do not cook, 2 cups sugar, 1 cup white vinegar, and 1 teaspoon celery seed, Zepp says. Stir until very smooth and sugar is dissolved. Drain sliced cucumbers and rinse well. Return to bowl, add syrup and refrigerate an additional 24 hours. Place into freezer containers leaving 1/2 inch headspace and freeze.

Pickling is simply an artful mix of vegetable, acid, spices, sugar and salt. Don’t limit your pickling to cucumbers. Dilly beans are a personal favorite. Adding a little vinegar, some spices and salt to vegetables is really all that’s required to preserve your garden veggies while adding flavor and interest.

Happy Thanksgiving

As a child, I remember Thanksgiving meals at my grandparents’ house. My brothers, sister, cousins, and I would play outside all morning and eat peanuts we roasted over the old wood burning stove. My grandfather grew peanuts so there was always plenty to keep us going until lunch.

Red cheeked and hungry, we would run into a house full of mouth watering aromas. After washing up, we would all gather around for the meal – we small ones at the kids’ table on the back porch and the adults in the dining room.  Before dining in we would stand in a circle holding hands around the “big” table and my grandfather would say the blessing.  All the wonderful dishes made it hard to sit through the prayer, but as I grew older I learned to listen to what he was saying and now, as an adult, I hear his words  echoed around my own Thanksgiving table. That’s what this celebration is all about, being thankful for the blessings of the year and rejoicing in the bounty of the harvest.

Many members of my family are gone now, but their memories are very much alive and with us on Thanksgiving. Every year I dig out my grandmother’s recipe for corn bread dressing and my sister always makes mother’s cranberry relish. My young nieces and nephews have taken the place of my brothers, sister and cousins around the kids’ table and we’re passing on to them this very American tradition that each family has made into their own.

This recipe is included in my cookbook. Click on the book image to learn more.Josephine Foster’s Cornbread Dressing

Ingredients:
2 tablespoons bacon drippings

Cornbread:
1 ½ cups yellow cornmeal
½ cup all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 egg, beaten
2 cups buttermilk

Dressing:
1 (6 to 7 pound) roasting chicken
8 tablespoons butter
3 to 4 celery rind, including leaves, chapped
1 medium onion, chopped
5 green onions, white and green parts, chopped
12 slices day-old white bread, crumbled
1 cup half-and-half or evaporated milk
2 eggs, beaten
1 ½ teaspoons salt
1 level tablespoon rubbed sage
1 ½ teaspoons freshly ground black pepper

Directions:
First, prepare the cornbread batter: Combine the cornmeal, flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a large bowl. Add the egg and buttermilk, stirring well to combine.

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. Add bacon drippings to a well-seasoned 10-inch cast-iron skillet and place in the oven for 4 minutes, or until it is hot.

Remove the hot skillet from the oven, and spoon the batter into the sizzling bacon drippings. Return the skillet to the oven and bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until the cornbread is lightly browned. Remove the skillet from the oven and turn the cornbread out onto a wire rack to cool.

Remove the giblets from the cavity of the chicken (reserve them if you’ll be making gravy). Thoroughly rinse the chicken inside and out. Place it in a stockpot, and cover it with cold water by about 2 inches.  Bring the water to a boil. Then reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer for 1 to 1 ½ hours, or until the chicken is cooked through and tender. Remove the chicken and set aside while preparing the dressing. Reserve the broth.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly butter a 13 x 9-inch baking pan, and set it aside.

Crumble the cooled cornbread into a large bowl. Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat.  Add the celery, onions, and green onions, and cook until they are tender, 7 to 10 minutes. Then add the mixture to the bowl containing the cornbread. Also add the crumbled white bread, 2 ½ to 3 cups of the reserved chicken broth, the half-and-half, beaten eggs, salt, sage, and black pepper. Mix everything well to combine.  Taste for seasoning. Spoon the dressing mixture into the baking dish. Place the chicken on top of the dressing – either whole or cut in pieces. Return the baking dish to the oven and bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until the chicken is brown on top and the dressing bubbly around the edges. Remove from the oven and serve immediately.

Poor Girl Gourmet Tomato Tart for Under 10 Bucks

It’s hard for me to use the words food and budget in the same sentence, but the reality is that eating is getting more expensive. This forces us all to be more conscious of where we spend our food dollars. For me this is a good thing. This awareness helps reinforce the idea of simplicity over convenience.

I recently did a cookbook exchange with Amy McCoy, author of the blog Poor Girl Gourmet. What initially appealed to me about Amy’s cookbook is her use of in-season ingredients but as I read through the introduction and recipes I discovered a shared belief that good food leads to a good life. She puts an emphasis on eating well with cost savings in mind. What I really like about her advice is she not only shares practical tips for food budgeting but also suggests that choosing in season, homegrown or locally grown produce will save money too.

With tomato season coming up I thought it would be timely to share her tomato tart recipe. According to Amy it costs $8.51 to make and will serve four people. If you really want to get frugal plant three ‘Roma’ tomatoes this summer. You will easily end up with a bushel of tomatoes, which will keep this tart on the menu all summer. What tomatoes you don’t eat you can dry in a food dehydrator.

As with any meal, be sure to make an event out of it and relish the idea of eating gourmet in your own home.

Poor Girl Gourmet
Andrews McMeel Publishing, LLC
ISBN-10: 0-7407-8990-2
Find a bookstore near you.

Photo courtesy of Amy McCoy

Tomato Tart

Serves 4, $5.00 to $10.00

If, for some unfathomable reason, you haven’t yet made the Savory Pie Crust, let this tomato tart be the motivation to get into the kitchen and do so. This is a wonderful do-ahead dish, and, as it takes advantage of vine-ripened summer tomatoes, also happens to make for an easy warm-weather meal with a simple salad of mixed greens.

Ingredients

  • 1 Savory Pie Crust, egg wash omitted (see Note; recipe follows)
  • 1 pound tomatoes (approximately 2 medium), cored, cut lengthwise into 1/4-inch thick slices, seeds removed
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • Kosher salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 cup grated Pecorino Romano cheese
  • 2 ounces goat cheese, cut into 1/2-inch pieces as best as you are able
  • 2 slices bacon, cooked to desired doneness and coarsely crumbled
  • 8 fresh basil leaves, roughly torn

Instructions

  1. Set one oven rack in the customary middle position, and another rack one notch below the middle. Preheat the oven to 400°F. Place a 9-inch tart pan with a removable bottom on a 10 by 15-inch rimmed baking sheet to prevent that removable bottom from having its way with you. If the tart pan is not nonstick, grease it lightly, using the wrapper from the stick of butter that you used for the dough.
  2. In order to make the transfer of dough to tart pan go smoothly, when I roll out dough for pie crust, I roll it out on a piece of reusable silicone parchment paper that is lightly—very lightly—dusted with flour. This same process will work with plastic wrap or disposable parchment paper, and saves you from having to fold the dough over your rolling pin—or worse, having to peel the dough off of the counter—to transfer it to the pan. So, roll half of the dough out into a 12-inch circle that is 1/4 inch thick. To transfer it to the pan (which is now sitting on a rimmed baking sheet and should be very near to you), simply pick up the parchment and slowly flip it over so the crust is facing down and centered over the pan. Lower the dough into the pan now, and gently peel back the parchment. Tuck the dough into the tart pan, folding a small amount of dough back over itself into the pan to form a crust edge. It is also important to know that if your dough round isn’t perfect, this is the time to go ahead and patch any areas that require patching, simply using a dab of water to adhere the patch to the rest of the dough. This is particularly handy if your crust edges come up a tad short during the final fold-over. Remember, no need to get frustrated, there’s always a work-around, and it’s going to be delicious, patch or no patch.
  3. Refrigerate your crust for 30 minutes to prevent it shrinking up on you during baking.
  4. In order to achieve a crispy bottom crust, the likes of which will make you wonder why you even bother with frozen crust varieties, you must first bake the crust without its fillings, a process known as blind baking. It’s quite easy, takes but a half an hour, and is worth the doing, for you will be amazed—amazed, I say—at the finished product. Remove the crust from the refrigerator, pierce the bottom of the crust all over with a fork, then cover it completely (edges, too) with aluminum foil, shiny side down, and pour in 1 cup of dried beans, distributing them evenly. No need for fancy pie weights—inexpensive dried beans will do the trick to keep our crust free from buckling while we blind bake it. Bake for 20 minutes.
  5. Keep the heat at 400°F, remove the tart shell from the oven, carefully—we don’t want any burns, now—remove the foil and beans from the shell, and set them aside to cool, as those beans are now your fancy pie weights. Return the shell to the oven until it’s golden brown, 5 to 10 minutes.
  6. While the crust is blind baking away, toss the sliced tomatoes with the olive oil and season them with salt and pepper. Place them in a small baking dish or roasting pan and roast them on that rack we placed one notch down from the middle rack (where the crust is baking) for 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and set aside.
  7. Keep the heat at 400°F. Remove the pie shell from the oven. Sprinkle the Pecorino Romano over the crust as evenly as you are able. Using a slotted spoon or tongs, remove the roasted tomatoes from their pan, leaving the accumulated juices behind, and arrange them in a single layer over the crust, tucking them into place as necessary. Place the goat cheese chunks on the tomato slices, creating a lovely goat cheese and tomato kaleidoscope pattern as you do. Top that kaleidoscope with bacon crumbles, and return the whole lot to the oven. Bake until the goat cheese is lightly browned, 30 to 35 minutes. Now sprinkle torn basil leaves over the top of the tart. Allow to cool for 5 minutes before removing the tart from its pan—using oven mitts to do so, as that pan is still hot a mere 5 minutes out of a 400ºF oven—and transfer to a cutting surface. Slice into 8 more-or-less-equal wedges, and, if the summer heat has really gotten to you, tell everyone to help themselves, they can find utensils in the drawer. They won’t mind, so crispy is the crust, so sweet are the tomatoes.

NOTE: The pie crust recipe will make two crusts, and you will only use one of them here. If you aren’t inclined to make another tart a day or two later, simply wrap the other half of the dough airtight and freeze it for future use. Oh, and there will be a future use.

Estimated cost for four: $8.51. The crust costs $1.02 as made in the Savory Pie Crust recipe, less the egg wash. The olive oil costs $0.12. Tomatoes should cost no more than $3.25 per pound. One-quarter cup of Pecorino Romano costs us $0.25. A 4-ounce log of goat cheese costs $3.99, we are using half, so that’s $2.00. The bacon will be about 2 ounces, so at $6.99 per pound, that’s $0.87. The basil consists of the leaves off of just one stalk of basil, but we’ll go ahead and throw a dollar in for them. Even though you and I both know that’s being more than generous.

Savory Pie Crust

Makes 1 thick or 2 thin (12-inch) crusts, $5.00 or less

We start this chapter with a recipe that will change your life—or, at the very least, will help you stretch your food budget all while appearing quite fancy, thank you very much. It is imperative that you know about savory pie crust.

Let’s just say you have some leftovers—perhaps a beef stew, perhaps some chicken in, oh, I don’t know, cider gravy—and you’re thinking, “Boring! I can’t possibly eat that again.” Well, my friend, should this happen to you, simply whip up a savory pie crust. In about a half an hour, you will be placing into your oven a dish worthy of
company. If you happen to be a guest at my house during the winter months, you need not worry about being gauche by asking if the meat and gravy part of the pie are leftovers. They most assuredly are. And yet, you will be overwhelmed with the transcendent buttery flakiness of the crust, and will not care that I am serving you leftovers, my dear guest.

The number of dishes that can be fancied up with this dough is practically limitless. Ok, so you’re a vegetarian. How about a vegetable stew, or a lentil and carrot stew? You there, Ms. Carnivore, let’s make a chili con carne and top it off with a layer of shredded pepper Jack cheese and then the crust. Or maybe a lamb and carrot stew would be more to your liking. Why not add a bit of goat cheese under the crust for that dish? You see what I mean? Practically limitless.

So, now, just forget that you’ve ever read anything that implies pie dough is challenging to craft. Get thee to thy pantry and gather up the flour and butter and vegetable shortening. We’re going to make a meal-saving, savory pie crust.

 

Ingredients

  • 3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 8 tablespoons (1/2 cup) very cold vegetable shortening
  • 8 tablespoons (1 stick) very cold unsalted butter
  • 1/2 to 3/4 cup ice water
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 1 tablespoon milk (any kind)

Instructions

  1. Now, you do not need a food processor for this, but I will provide instruction for both the by-hand method and the food processor method. It must be due to the fact that I have to hand-wash my dishes (that’s right, I have no newfangled dishwashing machine) that I’m not fully embracing the food processor method, but in the interest of full disclosure, I thoroughly enjoy working with dough by hand, or a mano. It’s soothing and also gratifying to know your two warm palms and ten cold fingers put it all together.
  2. To make the dough by hand, mix together the flour, salt, and baking powder in a large mixing bowl. Now, not to scare you about the dough, because we all know now that the dough is your friend and is infinitely useful, but the reason why the very cold items must be very cold is because you want a flaky crust, and that can’t happen if the fats blend into the dough completely. It is the little bits of fat that create flakiness and give you that buttery crust we all hold so dear. This is also why you should use your fingers, the cold part of your hands, and not your palms, which are the warm part of your hands, to work the dough. If it makes your life easier, you can put the butter and shortening into the freezer for 5 or 10 minutes to ensure that they are both very cold for the next step.
  3. Cut the very cold vegetable shortening and the very cold butter into approximately 1/2-inch cubes and add them to the flour mixture. Using the tips of your fingers, blend the butter and shortening into the flour. What this means is, you plunge your fingers into the flour, coating the fats with flour, while breaking up the fats until they are roughly pea-sized. It is perfectly okay for some of them to be larger than pea-sized, you just don’t want them to be close to the same size as the cubes you initially placed into the flour. Remove your fingers from the flour and fats mixture. Get yourself a fork. Pour 1/2 cup very cold ice water (yes, I know I’ve mentioned “very cold” before—I am trying to make a point) into the flour and fats mixture and blend the water into the dough with the fork. You are trying to moisten the dough just enough that it holds together, so if there are still dry spots in your bowl, and I’m pretty certain there will be, add very cold, oh, absolutely frigid, ice water to the dough, 1 tablespoon at a time, blending in gently, until the dough is just holding together. On a lightly floured surface, form the dough into a ball, wrap it in plastic wrap, and refrigerate it for 30 minutes.
  4. And now, the food processor version: In a food processor fitted with the metal blade, add the flour, salt, and baking powder. Then add the very cold butter and the very cold shortening, and pulse for about 10 seconds until the fats are pea-sized. Pulsing the motor, add 1/2 cup of the ice water to the flour mixture until it begins to form small balls. If there is still a fair amount of flour laying about in the processor, add ice water, 1 tablespoon at a time, until dry has become moist. Turn the small balls of dough out onto a lightly floured surface, being very careful of the metal blade—that thing is sharp—and form them quickly and gently into a ball. Cover the dough completely in plastic wrap, and place it in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.
  5. Now, let’s just say that you’re transforming Chicken in Cider Gravy (page 67) into pot pie, but let’s also say that you decided to use a rotisserie chicken that you picked up from the grocery store on your way home, and you’re going to make a cider gravy on the stovetop. You could pick the chicken clean and make the gravy in about the amount of time it takes for the savory pie dough to firm up in the refrigerator. Now, let’s pretend that your grocery store sells rotisserie chicken for $7.99 each. And that your cider gravy costs $4.16 as described in the Chicken in Cider Gravy recipe (page 67). And that the pie crust costs $2.60 to make. And that the pie serves at least six. Now, how much does that cost us? That’s right, people. It costs us $14.75 for the whole thing, or $2.46 per serving. With purchased rotisserie chicken. 6 Preheat the oven to 375°F.
  6. So now your gravy is done; it and the chicken are in the pie pan, and you need only to get the savory pie dough out of the refrigerator and, on a lightly floured surface, roll it out to approximately 1/4-inch thickness in some approximation of a circle (or a rectangle, or a square; whatever shape baking dish you’re using). As soon as the dough is rolled out, gently lift it and place it atop your baking dish. Push the dough down the sides of the dish to firmly cover the filling as though you’re tucking someone you love into a toasty bed, allowing for an inch or so of dough overhanging the edges of the baking dish. Crimp the overhanging dough over itself to create a thicker crust edge. Beat the egg yolk and milk together and brush it over the top of the crust. Cut five 1-inch slits in the dough over the filling—be decorative with it if you like—and place your masterpiece into the oven. I advise you to put the baking dish on a foil-lined baking sheet in order to prevent spillage on the bottom of the oven, which might result in copious amounts of smoke in your kitchen, and might require you to set the oven to clean the next day. Ahem. Not that this is has ever happened at my house or anything. Bake until the crust is golden brown, approximately 40 minutes.

NOTE: When making pot pies, be certain that there is some liquid in those leftovers you’re transforming. Don’t go putting meatloaf slices sans gravy in a pie dish and topping it with pie crust. No. In fact, you should wrap the meatloaf slices in this pie crust as though you’re mailing them off in savory little envelopes and call it pain de viande en croute. Now, that’s fancy.

Estimated cost for one pie crust: $2.60. The flour is $0.71 for 3 cups from a bag that costs $4.49 for 19 cups. The baking powder costs $0.01. The vegetable shortening is $0.90 for our 8 tablespoons at $5.49 for 49 tablespoons. The butter used is 8 of 32 tablespoons at $2.79, so that’s $0.70. The egg yolk is from 1 egg, which is $0.26, and the milk for the wash is $0.03, 1/64 of $1.99.

From Poor Girl Gourmet: Eat in Style on a Bare-Bones Budget by Amy McCoy/Andrews McMeel Publishing