Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Greg's home! And a super pie crust

(At the end of this post is the best pie crust recipe ever -- if you haven't made yours yet, I urge you to give it a try!)

Today, Greg came home!!

So much mail was waiting for us when we got home!

We were all so excited to see him again. It's been four weeks!

I haven't been doing much cooking lately, so to ease into it, Andrew and I made my mom's Honey Whole Wheat Bread in the bread machine last night, and tonight I made hummus, and baked up a double batch of whole-wheat pita. I always forget just how great warm, fresh homemade pita is. Mmmm.

Tomorrow's Thanksgiving dinner has taken a bit of planning. Greg is not a traditional sort of guy, and doesn't enjoy most of the dishes that make up the usual meal (i.e. any sort of pie, sweet potatoes, turkey). We all love ham, but he wanted to keep the crowd to just our little family for tomorrow (since we've been apart for so long), and I didn't want to have to dream up ham-inspired dishes for the next 6 months just to use it all up. Another challenge is that I have a tiny oven here that has only one rack. Everything has to be done very strategically for a large meal. Thus, the following menu:

Appetizer: Shrimp with Caribbean inspired lime spiked cocktail sauce (Cook's Illustrated Best Recipes)
Salad: Spicy mustard dressing on mixed greens with pear (Gourmet Magazine, most current issue)
Side: Potatoes (not sure how yet -- probably just boiled with salt and butter)
Bread: Slightly sweet Cardamom Bread (Taste Of Home...I'll have to find the issue)
Main: Stuffed Beef Tenderloin -- meat is wrapped around a mixture of sauteed mushrooms, onions, garlic and water chestnuts. (Also Taste Of Home)
Dessert: Zabaglione Parfaits -- a Marsala flavored custard, layered with whipped cream. Mine will have chocolate curls on top, but it can also include fresh fruit.

I've also made a double pie crust (using the best recipe I've found so far! Its has the consistency of play-dough, and yet still manages to be tender and flaky), so the following may make their appearance, although Greg won't touch them:
Pumpkin Pie
Bittersweet Chocolate Pecan Pie - chocolate is layered between crust and filling rather than being mixed in. (Gourmet Mag -- current issue)

I might be eating pie for the next two weeks, but worse things could happen. I also considered cupcakes, but really, that might be taking things just a bit too far.

Pie crust recipe (Cook's Illustrated magazine):

Foolproof Pie Dough

- makes one 9-inch double-crust pie -

The trick to this pie crust is the inclusion of vodka. Eighty-proof vodka, which is 60 percent water and 40 percent alcohol, adds moistness to the dough without aiding in gluten formation since gluten doesn't form in ethanol. Although the recipe includes 8 tablespoons of liquid, the alcohol vaporizes during baking, resulting in a tender crust that only contains 6 1/2 tablespoons of water. Because of the extra liquid, the dough will be moister than most standard pie doughs and will require up to 1/4 cup more flour.


2 1/2 cups (12 1/2 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon table salt
2 tablespoons sugar
12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/4-inch slices
1/2 cup cold vegetable shortening, cut into 4 pieces
1/4 cup cold vodka
1/4 cup cold water


1. Process 1 1/2 cups flour, salt, and sugar in food processor until combined, about 2 one-second pulses. Add butter and shortening and process until homogeneous dough just starts to collect in uneven clumps, about 15 seconds (dough will resemble cottage cheese curds and there should be no uncoated flour). Scrape bowl with rubber spatula and redistribute dough evenly around processor blade. Add remaining cup flour and pulse until mixture is evenly distributed around bowl and mass of dough has been broken up, 4 to 6 quick pulses. Empty mixture into medium bowl.

2. Sprinkle vodka and water over mixture. With rubber spatula, use folding motion to mix, pressing down on dough until dough is slightly tacky and sticks together. Divide dough into two even balls and flatten each into 4-inch disk. Wrap each in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 45 minutes or up to 2 days.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Stuffed Beef Tenderloin

Recipe from Taste Of Home magazine February/March 2002

Stuffed Beef Tenderloin

Serving Size : 12

1 cup olive or vegetable oil
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon each dried oregano, basil and thyme
1 teaspoon garlic salt
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1 (3- to 4-pound) whole beef tenderloin -- trimmed
2 cups sliced fresh mushrooms
1/2 cup sliced green onions
1 (8-ounce) can water chestnuts -- drained and chopped
1/2 cup butter or margarine
2 cups seasoned bread crumbs
3/4 cup egg substitute
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon dried rosemary -- crushed
1 teaspoon fennel seed
1/2 teaspoon pepper

In a large resealable bag, combine the oil, Worcestershire sauce and seasonings. Make a lengthwise slit about three-fourths of the way through the tenderloin. Place in bag; seal and turn to coat. Refrigerate for 4 hours or overnight. In a skillet, saute mushrooms, onions and water chestnuts in butter until onion is tender. Remove from heat. Add remaining stuffing ingredients; mix well. Discard marinade. Open tenderloin; spoon stuffing on one side. Close and tie with kitchen string. Place in a greased shallow roasting pan. Bake, uncovered, at 350' for 1-1/2 hours or until meat reaches desired doneness (for rare, a meat thermometer should read 140'; medium, 160'; well-done, 170'). Let stand 10-15 minutes before removing string and slicing.

Finnish Cardamom Braid

Here's the bread that I'll be baking tomorrow (I'll add a photo when I get a chance). Recipe is from Taste Of Home magazine, and I've tweaked it just a tiny bit.

Finnish Cardamom Braids

2 pkgs.(1/4 oz each) active dry yeast
1/4 cup warm water(110-115 deg)
2 cups warm milk(110-115 deg.)
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup butter or margarine, softened
1 1/2 tsp. salt
3/4 tsp. ground cardamom
2 eggs
1 Tablespoons Vital Wheat Gluten
7 to 8 cups all puirpose flour

In a mixing bowl, dissolve yeast in warm water. Add milk, sugar, butter, salt, cardamom, eggs, Vital Wheat Gluten, and 3 cups flour. Beat until smooth. Stir in enough remaining flour to form a soft dough. Turn onto a floured surface. Knead until smooth and elastic, about 6-8 minutes. Place in a greased bowl, turning once to grease top. Cover and let rise in a warm place until doubled, about 1 hour. Punch dough down. Turn onto a lightly floured surface, divide in half. Divide each half into thirds. Shape each piece into a 13-in. rope. Place 3 ropes on a greased or parchment paper covered baking sheet. Braid ropes, pinch ends to seal and tuck under. Repeat with remaining dough. Cover and let rise until doubled, about 45 minutes.

After loaves have risen, before baking, I paint them with mixture of:
1 beaten egg
2 Tablespoons milk

Sprinkle librally with granulated sugar.
Bake at 350 deg. for 25-30 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from pans to wire racks to cool.

Yield: 2 loaves.

Note: if possible, after braiding loaves, place on parchment covered baking sheets. When pre-heating oven, put two baking stones in for 20 minutes to heat through. Slide loaves on parchment off of baking sheets on to baking stones and bake as directed. This adds to the great texture of the bread.

Monday, November 19, 2007


Yes, we did visit Paris about two months ago, and have been to The States since, but no time like the present to catch up, yes? (By the way, we did manage to return safely to Germany this past weekend, and I'll post pics of our Right.)

Note: all collages are clickable and will take you to their respective albums.

Paris. This was one of the coolest places we've been yet, I think. The top two pictures in the collage below are from a stop we took at the side of the road for the little guys to stretch their legs and Lavella to eat. Greg always knows how to make things fun for everyone, no matter where we are. (The boys are actually running on a deserted farm road that ran parallel to the road we were driving on, which was on the other side of the hedge.)

Bottom left, you can see the "roller cops". Would be interesting to be accosted by one of these dudes.

At bottom right, Andrew looks over the whole of Paris from the grounds of the Sacre Coeur.
Paris Misc.

The science museum was great! For the children, we had to buy a ticket for a 90-minute session of age-appropriate play and discovery. It was so cool. There's way too much to point out things in each shot, so here's an overview:
Paris Museum

The food. As expected, food in Paris is great. We weren't looking for the fancy super high-end places that give you "bites" of food in little towers on gold-edged plates. Instead we wanted the people's food, things we could sink our teeth into, get our hands dirty.

Bottom row: a diaper incident led to Elijah eating his dinner pants-less and proud.
Paris Eating

Top row (of collage below) is from an open-air market we came across. The breads, cheeses and cured meats were uncovered and just out there on the displays. So unsanitary! So utterly delectable!

Second and third rows are of a place called Fauchon. Now, I did just say that we were not in search of high end food. I must admit, however, that we were in search of high end chocolate. Fauchon is also a patisserie. It was an incredible place, and is recognized as one of the finest of chocolatiers. We were prohibited from taking pictures inside, so instead I went all around the outside and took shots of each of their display windows (!). (Really though, click on the Fauchon link -- you can buy their chocolates online too!!)

Bottom row is some souvenirs. I don't think I have to specify who got what of those last two. Not included in these pictures is a watercolor print of the Awful Tower (as the boys called it), which we hung in their room, and they love.
Paris Shopping

Here are some shots from just general sightseeing. The top left corner was of a random bronze statue of a man coming out of a wall. No explanation to it's significance, and the boys were a bit disturbed by it, but we thought that it was pretty cool. The picture immediately below it is of the Cartier flagship store, located on the broad, beautiful "avenue des Champs-Elysees", lined with other flagship stores like Gucci, Vuitton and Cavalli (just to name a few).

Third and most of fourth row are, of course, the Eiffel Tower. I never knew why it was there or what it was for. Now I do, but if you want to know, you'll have to read about it for yourself. It's pretty interesting, and not at all what I thought. (Well, actually, I don't know that I thought anything about it 'till I saw it in real life.) The image copyright portion of the Wikipedia article, however, just completely make me see red (if you click on that link above, click on number 7 in the contents box).
Paris Sights
Bottom row: Moulin Rouge, Sacre Coeur, and a view of Paris from the Sacre Coeur grounds.

We didn't go up into the Eiffel Tower, and we didn't plan to. There's no way that I'm going to wake up early to stand in line for hours to go up to the top of a tower -- especially when I can see it some other way. Through the use of a great guide book and some direction from a message board I'm part of, we felt like we got a great slice of the essence of Paris, and someday hope to return after Greg retires (from the military) to explore it fully.

One of my favorite things about traveling with Greg is that he makes it a point to take time to make sure each person has fun, from the smallest to the tallest. When we're plotting our journies, he always researches things that will be interesting to each one of us, not just things that he thinks would be cool. Because of that style of planning, the trip to Paris was a great success for all of us, and even the boys have great memories that they still talk about.