This Guy

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Native son to the American Deep South - now living in Portland, OR. Lover of people, sustainability, justice, culture, writing, history, cuisine and coffee.

Monday, May 30, 2011


What is it about pie that makes us so weak in the knees? There’s the heavenly aroma of butter, sugar and fruits – the golden lattice reminiscent of the plaid tablecloths they’re known to sit upon after Sunday lunch on the grounds or festivals or diners.
Word on the street is that cupcakes are out. (Get back, you! Get back, you cupcake boutique mobsters!)

Since I work in a pastry shop, I’d like to think that my word is good. So, I say unto you, my friends: watch out for the pie revolution! More importantly, don’t get left behind! (Like we were supposed to last week! Thanks a lot, Harold Camping!)

It’s important to know what’s in season when you cook. Strawberries in January are a crime against Mother Nature. She knows what’s best, when it’s best. We should leave it up to Momma Earth to fancy our palates. So, in typical May/June fashion, we’re gonna’ do it up Strawberry Rhubarb style.

To be honest, I’d never tried rhubarb till a few weeks ago. It blew my mind! The tangy mystery vegetable of winter/spring growing seasons – not to mention how cool it looks with its beautiful reds and green webbed tops.

I tried a recipe I found, mixed with a few pointers from our pastry chef and set out to make my first strawberry rhubarb pie. It did NOT suck. In fact, it’s so easy; I think y’all need to give it a shot while strawberries and rhubarb are in season together.
First off, you need a good pie dough. I’ve tried a few and have yet to have one as good as Thomas Keller’s recipe from Ad Hoc.

Most other recipes call for shortening, which is fine, but I much prefer the taste of butter throughout the crust. And while I’m on the topic of butter, you’ll need a lot of it. I make a good amount of biscuits at home, so butter is one of my pantry items I try to keep stocked at all times.

Here’s the recipe for pie dough:
2 ½ cups All Purpose flour
1 ¼ tsp. kosher salt
2 ½ sticks unsalted butter, chilled (if not frozen)
8-10 tbsp. of chilled water, add one at a time

Mix together your flour and salt. Incorporate your butter into your flour. You can either do this by food processor or cheese grater. Lately, I’ve been using our food processor because it’s so much easier. Just don’t overdo it – you want the bits of butter to be about the size of peas and maybe a bit smaller. Once all the butter, flour and salt have been mixed, you can start adding your cold water one tablespoon at a time. I’m still working on my hydration levels, but I’ve found 8-10 tablespoons generally do the job. You can always add flour and water to get the consistency you want. Once the dough has come together [not too sticky, not too dry], divide the dough making one half slightly bigger than the other.

Press down into 1-inch discs, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least an hour so the butter has a chance to firm back up. When the dough has had time to rest, bring out your rolling pin. Start rolling out the bigger half of dough into a good 13-inch circle, respectively. It doesn’t have to be perfect because you will most likely be trimming off the funky edges. Roll your dough over your rolling pin and lay it ever so wonderfully over you pie dish, making sure to press the dough to the sides and bottom of the pie pan.

Do the same for the top crust. You can go either way here and make a sweet lattice or just a straight up flat crust. If you do make a flat crust, be sure to poke a few holes in the top because this pie will spatter a bit.

As for the filling, I’ve found this recipe to be delightfully toothsome:
3 ½ cups of (washed/trimmed) rhubarb, diced
3 ½ cups strawberries, quartered – depending on size
½ cup brown sugar
½ cup white sugar
¼ cup corn starch
1 tsp. cinnamon
¼ tsp. salt
1 tsp. lemon juice

1 egg + tbsp of water for egg wash

Mix thoroughly and dump into your bottom pie crust. Apply your top crust, paint with egg wash and bake at 400 degrees for 20 minutes. Reduce the temperature to 350 for an additional hour and 20 minutes. Make sure you have a jelly roll or baking pan below the pie because it will cook over a bit and you don’t want that sticky mess on the bottom of your oven smoking up your kitchen.

Once your pie is done, and if you can, let it rest for a while. It’ll give your filling a moment to solidify a bit, giving you better slices. Top with some fresh whipped cream or a scoop of vanilla ice cream, if you want to go over the top – I mean, why not!

Thanks for reading and I really hope you try making pies – I find them restful and enjoyable to make.

And as always, share with your friends – see y’all next week!

Happy cooking and bon appétit!

Monday, May 23, 2011

lentils, beans and peas [and why they're so, so good]

Recently, I wrote on the importance of stock – how to make it and why it’s such a valuable product to have around. I blabbered too much for your attention span most likely, so in this post I’d love to throw out some ideas as to what to do with it.
A good portion of our income in seasonal, so in the winter and early spring months, we’re left tightening our budget and letting go of that hard earned green stuff to pay off our electric bill that heightens over the colder months. So, like any human being looking for a full belly on a small dime will tell you, they tend to revert to eating beans and rice. There’s nothing bad about this. I used to hate beans and rice, but now, we eat them happily (which is a good thing.)

Whether it’s beans, lentils or split peas, we love cooking them with stock. This is why it’s good to pick some up at the store, or save your spare veggie and bone scraps. The ratio I’ve found useful for beans (without cooking them to a mushy pulp) is about 3:1. This is three cups water/stock to one-cup beans/lentils/split peas.

Depending on what your taste is, veggie or chicken stock will be your main cooking liquid. I like to save my beef stock for stews and anything I’m braising with red wine. By the way, lentils are amazing if cooked with red wine and beef stock. It takes a humble staple and jacks them up to a new level of greatness. The way I see it, if you can make beans taste good, then you have nothing to worry about.
This is my recipe for a simple bowl of lentils. It’s filling and really hits the spot.

(Serves two Harrod Casper-sized appetites!)
You’ll need:
1 cup lentils
3 cups chicken, veggie or beef stock
1-2 tsp. kosher salt (or ½ - ¾ tsp. table salt)
Black pepper
1 small yellow onion, diced
2-3 cloves of garlic, minced
½ tsp. yellow curry
¼ tsp. ground cumin
1 bay leaf
A few dashes of hot sauce
A tiny pinch of cayenne pepper (if you want some heat)

What you’ll do:
Heat up a tablespoon or so of oil (or bacon fat, if you have it!) Throw in your onions and garlic and sauté till the onions begin to turn translucent. While the onions and garlic are cooking, add your spices: salt, pepper, curry and cumin. Let them cook into the onions.

You want it to look somewhat pasty. These are your base flavors and will make your house smell utterly ridiculous. (In a good way, of course!)

After your onions are done, add your stock, bay leaf and hot sauce. Bring to a boil, then immediately reduce to a simmer. Add your lentils and cook till tender – about 30-40 minutes. I like a little chew with my lentils, but feel free to cook them however short or long you like them. And let’s be honest, they’re lentils. You can pretty much add whatever you want to them.
Also, you’re salt tolerance may affect the outcome, so start small and add more as you like. Remember, as you reduce stock, its flavors become more concentrated.

If making red beans, I’d generally leave out the curry and cumin, while adding some cayenne and hot sauce. Add to your taste, of course. Always remember to soak your beans overnight, if you can. There is a noticeable difference in the mouth-feel, but you’re not completely up the creek if you forget.

When making split pea soup, I use all of these same ingredients, but really try to use bacon if possible. At our local market, they sell bacon ends and pieces. These are really useful if you don’t want to use a ham hock. I like to render out the bacon fat to sauté my onions with. Then, when the soup is almost done, I throw in my bacon pieces and serve it with a little bit of crème fraiche on top.

I was actually just reading that cultured cream on top of beans, lentils and split peas help you to process their nutrients more efficiently. How rad is that? Plus, it gives your soup an extra creamy layer. What’s not to like!?

So, if you ever have any questions, feel free to comment! I’m a nerd about this stuff, so I’d love to be useful about it.

Happy cookin’ and bon appétit!

Monday, May 16, 2011

the poboy [a way of life]

“The Poboy is NOT a sandwich – it’s a way of life!” says Steve Zahn’s character in the HBO series, “Treme”. A series that I’ve grown to love and appreciate not only as a testament to New Orleans, but to the people who pressed on and continue to reclaim their city to this day. They are fighters for their way of life – music, people and food. Oh good God, the food. I may or may not have written about Poboys before and if I have, I must not have done them justice.

And like the statement above, a Poboy isn’t just a sandwich compared to the likes of a hoagie or sub – but a beacon of hope to the traditions of New Orleans and my Beloved Deep South. Everybody has their favorite and everybody has a place that does it just right. Once you get out of the Deep South and Louisiana, it becomes harder and harder to find a good Poboy. For one thing, it’s the bread!

It’s not French bread nor is it anywhere close to what they serve at sub joints. Poboy bread is painfully unique. I say painfully because what makes a good juicy Poboy is this elastic, airy, buttery goodness. It’s nearly impossible to find a recipe on the internet because it is such a widely kept secret for so many family run businesses. Don’t let this discourage you from building your own Poboy though – just sayin’, when you’ve eaten a Poboy out of New Orleans, there’s no turning back.

Historically, a Poboy was a way to stretch out your meager groceries. After all, bread is carbs and filler and we can’t deny that most things between it taste pretty damn good. One would simply pile leftovers in between two pieces of bread and feel the angels ascend from Heaven. Okay, it’s not that dramatic.

One of my favorite Poboy joints is located in Picayune, MS. -- my hometown, where Jesus is Lord, according to the big blue sign off the North exit. Most of the women in my family go for their roast beef Poboy. It’s the kind that drips down your elbows as you watch your bottom slice of bread surrender to the salty brown gravy. Here, I prefer the fried shrimp – or fried anything, really. Soft shelled crab, catfish and my mom’s favorite, French fries! That’s right – the French fry Poboy (smothered in gravy)!

We are lucky to live close to a New Orleans style restaurant up here in North Portland called, “Eat: Oyster Bar”. They serve some dang good Poboys. In fact, I have a hard time ordering anything else here besides their debris Poboy. It’s basically a roast beef poboy with the usual fixins of lettuce/cabbage/slaw, tomato slices and either mayonnaise or some form of Creole concoction that brings it ‘over the top’ good.

Those who know… know. Those who have yet to fill their bellies with this beautiful creation of a sandwich, I hope can meet their rightful duties as citizens of this world. And like I said before, it has always been more than a sandwich. It’s about cold Abita and Zapps chips on the side or the sounds of those familiar streets, with those familiar smells. Like the smell of cut grass or the beach; it has the ability to take us back and fill us up.

And when we’re filled up, we’ll talk about what else we’re going to eat. Food and culture go hand and hand, and I’m thankful to have been born into southern food ways. There’s nothin’ like the hospitality that food brings. So if you’re there, do me a favor and remember these words when the gravy drips down to your elbows – the Poboy is NOT a sandwich – it’s a way of life.