Tuesday, July 28, 2015


I’ve had my old reliable bread-and-tomato salad recipe for more than a decade now, but there’s always room for innovation. I usually serve my panzanella alongside grilled chicken, so when I saw a Serious Eats recipe that just put the chicken right into the salad, it seemed like the logical next step. I do so love a one-dish meal.

Through three rounds of trial and (not very much) error, I’ve evolved the perfect hybrid between old and new. From my previous version, I kept the herb mixture (cilantro and dill as well as basil) and the trick of adding a couple of tablespoons of water to extend the dressing without making it too oily. I also swiped a simple grilled-chicken marinade from other recipes in my arsenal, and used my usual stovetop method of toasting the croutons. The new recipe not only adds the chicken, but also crisp cucumbers and a sweet hit of balsamic in the red-wine vinaigrette. The result might be one of my favorite summer salads, colorful, juicy, deeply flavorful and perfectly filling.

2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 large garlic cloves, smashed, plus 1 small garlic clove, minced
12 tablespoons olive oil, divided
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 to 1½ pounds boneless, skinless, chicken breasts (about 2 large), halved lengthwise
4 cups 1-inch cubed French bread
3 to 4 large ripe tomatoes, cored and cut into 1-inch cubes
2 large Persian cucumbers, halved and cut into ½-inch-thick half-moons
½ small red onion, sliced thinly
½ cup chopped basil
¼ cup chopped cilantro
2-3 tablespoons chopped fresh dill
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  1. In a large zip-top bag or a large glass bowl with a lid, mix together the lemon juice, 2 smashed cloves garlic, ¼ cup olive oil, 1 teaspoon salt, and pepper to taste. Add the chicken breasts, make sure they get thoroughly coated with the marinade, and let them marinate at least one hour.
  2. Meanwhile, heat 2 tablespoons oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add bread cubes, toss well, and sauté until lightly toasted, stirring occasionally. Season with salt and pepper, and let cool to room temperature.
  3. Grill the chicken until cooked through, let cool to room temperature, and cut into 1-inch cubes.
  4. Place tomatoes, cucumbers, onion, herbs, and chicken in a large bowl.
  5. Whisk remaining 6 tablespoons oil, red wine vinegar, balsamic vinegar, 1 small clove minced garlic, 2-3 tablespoons water, 1 teaspoon salt, and pepper to taste in a medium bowl until combined.
  6. Pour about ¾ of the dressing over the salad and toss thoroughly to moisten. Add bread cubes, toss well, add remaining dressing if needed, season to taste with salt and pepper, and let sit for about 15 minutes before eating.
Serves: 4 to 6
Time: 1½ hours
Leftover potential: Good, but store bread cubes separately, adding to the leftover portions about 15 minutes before you eat them.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015


 Or, My First Pie, Part II.

Blueberry is not my favorite pie flavor; that honor goes to strawberry, followed by lemon meringue. As a child, I also favored banana and coconut cream, and of course French silk; now I lean more toward peach and apple. But since I didn’t start really liking blueberry baked goods until 2008 or so, blueberry pie has never really been on my radar. It is, however, A’s favorite pie. And more pressingly, we had 10 pounds of blueberries in the fridge, because I happened to have some very helpful out-of-town guests on hand when berry-picking day rolled around, and it turns out that when conditions are favorable, five adults can gather a heck of a lot of blueberries in a very short time. So, blueberry cake, jam, crisp, salad, crumble, oatmeal, and then pie.

There are a lot of blueberry pie recipes in the world, and not being a connoisseur, I wasn’t sure what to look for in a good one, but I trust Annie’s Eats and this one looked solid. I love lemon with blueberries, and cinnamon seemed like a good idea (I of course added a pinch of cardamom as well). It came out well—a bit on the juicy side, but not too runny. And it turns out I like blueberry pie quite a lot, especially when it’s my own handiwork.

2 rolled-out rounds pie dough
4 cups blueberries (If fresh blueberries are unavailable, you can use frozen blueberries without thawing, increasing the baking time by 10-15 minutes.)
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
¾ cup sugar
3 tablespoons cornstarch
½ teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon cinnamon
1 tablespoon cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1 egg
1 tablespoon water
  1. Line the bottom of a 9-inch pie pan with one of the rolled-out dough rounds. Refrigerate pan until ready to fill.
  2. Place the blueberries in a large bowl, sprinkle with the lemon juice and toss to coat evenly. In a small bowl, stir together the sugar, cornstarch, lemon zest, salt and cinnamon. Sprinkle the sugar mixture over the berries and toss to distribute evenly.
  3. Immediately transfer filling to the dough-lined pan. Dot with butter pieces. Place the remaining dough round on top of the pie and and crimp the dough rounds together to seal the edges. Be sure to cut vents in the top crust to allow steam to escape during baking. Refrigerate the pie until the dough is firm, 20 to 30 minutes.
  4. Position a rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat to 375 degrees. In a small bowl, beat the egg and water with a fork to make an egg wash. Brush onto the top crust just before baking.
  5. Bake the pie until the crust is golden and the filling is thick and bubbling, 50 to 60 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool completely to set, 1 to 2 hours. Serve at room temperature or rewarm in a 350-degree oven for 10 to 15 minutes just before serving.
Serves: 8
Time: 1 hour 45 minutes, plus cooling time
Leftover potential: OK; keeps for a few days in a sealed container at room temperature or in the fridge, although it will get a bit soggier over time.

Sunday, July 19, 2015


I’m baaaack! I’ll skip the boring excuses because I have a huge backlog of recipes to record—starting with pie! I don’t usually post photos of myself here, but this picture is the best way to sum up how excited I was last month when I finally overcame my lifelong fear of making pie crust. It was an irrational fear, I’ll admit, born mostly of the difficulties my mother had with pie-baking when I was a child. Luckily, her mother was a pie master, so whenever she came to visit, Grandma would spend a day mass-producing dough for us to stockpile in the freezer. This was always hotly anticipated by me, because she’d make cinnamon-sugar-sprinkled cookies out of the dough scraps and I’d get to scarf them down straight out of the oven. (To this day, those cookies remain one of my most vivid and nostalgic food memories.) But from all this rigmarole, I got the idea that piecrust was tricky, even though dozens of people have since sworn to me that it’s not so hard.

Guess what? It’s easy. Granted, I may have overprepared, studying dozens of recipes and tutorials before following one solid authority (the always-reliable Smitten Kitchen) with military precision; I was so ready for frustrating disaster that surpassing my low expectations was probably inevitable. There are a host of pie-crust tips and tricks out there—use oil or shortening, freeze and grate your butter, add vodka or vinegar, mix in a food processor—but I’m pleased with this simple and sensible route. The recipe itself is just flour, sugar, salt, butter and water; the technique basically hinges on keeping everything cold, cold, cold. Stay calm and believe it will all work out. (Perhaps pie dough can smell fear?) I’ve rolled out three pie crusts now with no tearing or cracking, so I’m tempted to dub this method foolproof.

And of course I made pie crust cookies, and they tasted just like I remembered. My mother later told me Grandma always used lard in her dough, so it’s not an exact replica, but still enough to inspire a Proustian reverie.

Pictured is a blueberry pie; I’ll post the filling recipe separately, because this list of instructions is long enough. The level of detail will make you doubt my claims of simplicity, but it was helpful to me as a pie newbie. The one place where I fell down was sealing the two crusts together, and you can see there was some leakage as a result. The Smitten Kitchen instructions were sadly silent on how to add the top crust, and I foolishly tried to punt. Google would have set me straight, but instead I tried to fold the bottom crust over the top instead of vice versa, and didn’t think to use water to adhere them. I’ve clarified these fine points below to save you (and future me) from my mistakes. Fortunately, a leaky pie is still a plenty delicious one.

2½ cups (315 grams) flour, plus extra as needed
1 tablespoon (15 grams) sugar
1 teaspoon (5 grams) table salt
2 sticks (8 ounces or 225 grams) unsalted butter, very cold
  1. Fill a 1-cup liquid measuring cup with cold water and add a few ice cubes, or place in the freezer for 15-30 minutes.
  2. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar and salt. If your kitchen is warm, place the bowl of dry ingredients in the refrigerator for 15-30 minutes.
  3. Dice the butter into ½-inch pieces. If your kitchen is warm, rechill the butter cubes in the fridge or freezer.
  4. Sprinkle the cold butter cubes over the flour and begin working them in with a pastry blender, using it to scoop and redistribute the mixture as needed. When all of the butter pieces are the size of tiny peas, stop. (This won’t take long, and it’s OK if the mixture looks uneven.)
  5. Remove any ice cubes from the water and drizzle ½ cup over the butter and flour mixture. Using a rubber or silicon spatula, gather the dough together. Add more cold water a tablespoon at a time (you’ll probably need an additional ¼ cup or so) until the mixture comes together. Once you’re pulling large clumps with the spatula, use your hands to gather the clumps into one mound, kneading them gently together without overworking the dough.
  6. Divide the dough in half and wrap each piece in plastic wrap. Refrigerate the dough for at least two hours, preferably overnight, before rolling it out. (Dough will keep in the fridge for about a week, and in the freezer longer, well wrapped in additional plastic wrap or a freezer bag. To defrost dough, move it to the fridge for one day before using it.)
  7. When ready to roll out the dough, generously flour your work surface. Unwrap the chilled dough (if you’re making a double-crust pie, only take half the dough out of the fridge at a time). Put it in the middle of your work area and flour the top of it too.
  8. Start rolling out the dough by pressing down lightly with the rolling pin and moving it from the center out. (You’re not going to get it all flat in one roll, so be patient.) Roll it a few times in one direction, lift it up and rotate it a quarter-turn. Keep repeating this process, re-flouring the counter and the top of the dough as needed—you should be leaving no bits of dough on the counter or your pin. If the dough sticks to the work surface, run a bench scraper underneath the stuck part, peel it back, and flour that area before continuing.
  9. For a standard-size pie pan, trim your dough into a 12-inch circle with the tip of a knife.
  10. Transfer your crust to the pie pan. This should be no problem if you’ve worked briskly and your dough is still cool, but if you need help, you can roll it around your rolling pin and unroll it in the pan, or fold it very loosely into quarters and unfold it into the pan. Press the dough gently into the pan, making sure it is centered.
  11. For a single-crust pie: You should have a half-inch overhang; fold it under so that the dough becomes the size of the pan. Crimp the edge by forming a “V” with the tips of the thumb and index finger of one hand and pressing the dough into it with the index finger of your other hand, continuing around the edge of the whole pie. Return the pan to the fridge while you prepare your filling.
  12. For a double-crust pie: Place the pan with the bottom crust in the fridge while you repeat the rolling-out process with the other half of your dough. Before transferring the top crust to the pan, brush a little water around the edge of the bottom crust to help the two pieces seal. Gently tuck the top crust edge under the bottom crust edge, then crimp the two pieces together. Brush the top crust with an egg wash (1 egg beaten with a tablespoon or two of water), sprinkle with sugar if desired, and cut a few vents in it.
  13. Make pie-crust cookies with the excess dough: Gather the scraps into a ball, roll it out, cut it into circles using the top of a glass (or cookie cutters, if you’re fancy), continuing the gather the scraps, re-roll and cut it until you’ve used as much as you can. Sprinkle with cinnamon sugar, and bake at 350 degrees until crisp and lightly golden brown around the edges, about 8-12 minutes.
Makes enough dough for one double- or two single-crust pies.