Sunday, November 13, 2011

Mark's Famous Pie Crust Recipe--How to make it! And a Strawberry-Rhubarb Pie (Jahoda-Rebarbora koláč)

This spring we were making pies and tarts like mad chefs due to all of the fresh fruit we were picking throughout the Czech Republic. Many of you asked, even begged, to have our pie crust recipe. Kindly obliging, here it is!

Through the years we have perfected the easiest way to make a flaky, non-tough pie crust for all of your uses...quiche (cheese pie), fruit pies, pasties and so forth.  The KEY with all pie crust-making is to not work the dough as it will toughen immensely! Remember this is not bread dough with a leavening agent.

Mark's Pie Crust & A Strawberry-Rhubarb (Jahoda-Rebarbora) Pie
The secret to this fool-proof recipe is to use a food processor, rather than to mix it by hand (where it is more likely to become tough)...

2 cups or 180 g flour (mouka--use the fine, green label type)
2 tablespoons crystal sugar (cukr)
0.5 pounds (2 sticks) or 500 g unsalted butter (maslo)
1/2 teaspoon salt (sul)
1/2 cup or 118 ml ice cold water (voda)

In a food processor, place the grater blade in place, put the cover on. Grate the butter into the container. Remove grater blade.
Next, add in the chopped blade that sits in the bottom of the food processor container. Sift in the flour, adding in the sugar and salt. Cover the machine. As look down into the machine, here's what you'll see:

 Gently pulse the dry ingredients a few times into the grated butter. Then, keep the blade running while you gently start pouring the ice cold water into the food processor. Do this until the dough forms a ball which turns around inside of the container. Stop adding water (you will not use all of the ice cold water)! Turn the food processor off and take the ball of dough out and put into plastic wrap or wax paper until you are ready to roll it out. Keep refrigerated unless you're ready to roll out the dough immediately. NOTE: you can also freeze the dough this way and pull it out of the freezer to thaw when you're ready to make your next recipe requiring dough!

Now you're ready to roll the dough out. Use a clean, flat surface such as a stone countertop or on a wooden board or pastry cloth. We prefer using the latter in case the dough sticks a bit.
Lightly flour the surface and roll your favorite wooden rolling pin (ours is a hand-made Czech rolling pin!) into the flour to get the rolling pin covered with a fine layer.
Take half of the dough and place it onto the floured surface. Gently press it down with your hand to flatten it a bit. Then start rolling it out with the rolling pin, gently rolling outwards in all directions to make a circle. Once it is ~6-10 cm larger in diameter than your pie tin, stop rolling.
Fold it over itself in half so it is easy to pick up and place into the pie plate or tin. We always prefer using glass or ceramic pie plates, rather than aluminum (due to health concerns with using aluminum!).
Unfold it over the entire pie tin (above). Let the extra pieces hang over the edge of the pan until you have put the fruit inside (see below)!
Now you're ready to place the prepared fruit inside of the bottom pie shell!

Strawberry-Rhubarb Pie, Jahoda-Rebarbora Koláč
For our example today, we'll use the spring mixture of strawberries and rhubarb! We just happen to have  (this May day, 2011), some freshly harvested and chopped rhubarb (rebarbora), fresh strawberries (Jahoda) which we picked near Eggensberg, Austria (our friend Nancy and Carl were visiting at the time!). Also shown below are fresh sour cherries (already pitted) that we picked down the street (Lesni, Trebon) at our friends house, as well as fresh apricots from southern Italy (just came to the Farmer's Market..we bought these at the market in Brno). The cherries and apricots will be for another pie (not discussed here...).

 Mix 1 pound (~900 g) freshly chopped rhubarb with 0.75 pounds (340 g) strawberries in a bowl. Add in 1/2 cup (45 g) flour, 1 cup sugar (190 g), the zest from one lemon (citron), and shave in 1/2 of a nutmeg seed (or 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg):
 Of course, taste it to see if it has the right proportion of spice, sugar, and lemon.  If you need more of one item, add in a bit more....

 Now, pour the mixture into your prepared pie shell (from above):
Trim off the excess pie crust at the top of the pie tin with a knife or pastry cutter.
Roll out the top crust (using the other half of the pie crust (from above). Again, make sure that the diameter of the crust is 6-10 cm larger than the pie dish. You will need to cut in vent holes so the pie crust doesn't steam too much inside. Here we've made an R and a J for "rebarbora" and "jahoda" (rhubarb and strawberry)!
 Again, fold the dough over itself in half. Life carefully and place on top of the fruit-filled bottom crust. Cut off any extra crust, leaving ~2 cm of extra crust around the outer edge of the pie dish. this will now be turned underneath the bottom crust at the edge of the pan and crimped or pressed together to seal it. Then, you can add fancy designs to the edging, if you like!
 Maybe you'll want to sprinkle a bit of sugar (cukr) on top for a crusty, sugary delight!
 Into the oven it goes! Place it into a preheated oven set at ~160C or 325F. Place a drip pan underneath to catch any juice that will run out later!  Bake for 1-1.5 hours until the pie is bubbly and running over a bit.
Remove from oven and cool.
Happy eating!  Dobro hjut!

Disclaimer: This blog is not an official University of Minnesota or Fulbright Program blog. The views expressed are my own and not those of the Fulbright Program, the U.S. Department of State or any of its partner organizations, or the University of Minnesota.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Athenian Greetings! Eating dinner at The Olive Garden Restaurant atop The Titania Hotel, Athens, Greece

Greetings from Athens, Greece!

 We are here in Athens for a week so Neil can attend a conference (The 6th Annual International Symposium on the Environment, sponsored by the Athens Institute for Education and ResearchArts and Sciences Research DivisionEnvironment and Agricultural Research Unit). Markie came along to see the sights as well and enjoy the great Greek food...who could resist?

 We're staying in the Titania Hotel in downtown Athens (52 Panepistimiou Avenue, Athens, Greece) where the conference is being held. From our room, as well as the rooftop restaurant, one can see the Acropolis.  Here, we are sitting in the rooftop restaurant where the Parthenon is in clear view...
 Our friends Larry and Rose are also visiting with us....thankfully Rose speaks Greek to help everyone out!
 We went for afternoon drinks and snacks at The Olive Garden restaurant on the 11th floor of the conference hotel....watching the sun dance across the mountains and the mighty Acropolis structures....staying here until after sunset to catch the entire venue of views.
 Join us for a glass of wine or fresh lemonade, along with some Greek cheeses....a bit of Feta, smoked and aged cheese, with a few sesame sticks?
 The Greek flag behind us catches the blue of the sky and transforms it into a blue and white fabric of colors on this gorgeous afternoon.
 Perched on top of this steep Lycabettus Hill is an old white church, Ag. Georgios....
From where Neil and Mark are sitting you can see this from one direction, 
 and the Parthenon from the other!

Here's the menu we have to look at before sitting down for dinner on the veranda on top of the hotel.
The first is a listing of the special Strawberry festival (this is the last day of it).
 followed by the main many choices!

 While we're deciding on what to have a basket of fresh, hot breads, dipped in olive oil, balsamic, and capers or perhaps some hummus, is sure to get your taste buds activated!
 The moon rises in the eastern sky above the Greek flag.
 We all decide to try the Farmer's Salad, being plated below.
 It is this tasty mixture of fresh tomatoes, Greek olives, feta cheese, cucumbers, caper buds and caper leaves (both pickled). The leaves are delicious!
Use the sprig of dried Greek oregano (below left) and rub it between your fingers to add the additional garnish of flavors.  Fantastic!  We just love Greek food!
 While we dine on our salads, the sun is slowly setting (below right in the panoramic photo below) and the mountains start turning a lovely red.
 The moon shines brighter above the olive tree and flag...
 Modern Athens becomes darkened for awhile until the lights start to twinkle on the distant hills.
 It's time now for the main courses to arrive. Mark chooses the lamb chops, resting on a bed of roasted red peppers and eggplants, plated along with an olive oil and balsamic reduction.
Then there's a Souvlaki plate....delightful skewers of meat, onions, tomatoes, embedded in grilled potato slices.
 while Neil dines on the traditional Mousaka resting on a pool of Greek yoghurt spiced with garlic and thyme, along with a garnish of Thyme.
Now the night has fallen and the Parthenon and other structures in the Acropolis become lighted. Our white roses growing tableside seem to reflect the white evening lights.
 Here's another panoramic view of the Acropolis when fully lit, along with the city lights starting to shine.

 Isn't it just gorgeous beyond belief? Here we are in a city that dates back to ~3,000 B.C.  We ponder the history of the many invaders, spoilers, and the long-term resiliance of the Greeks. Long live Athena!
 Once the darkness has settled in, a breeze comes up and it cools down outside, signalling time for dessert! One of us gets the cold strawberry soup with panna cotta floating on it, dusted gently with roasted Pistachios.
 While another feasts on the fresh strawberry tart, along with a side of mango sherbert festively adorned with chocolate and strawberry reduction.
 Mark smiles at his traditional Ekmek dessert....a delight for the eyes and tastebuds....chocolate, pistachio, cherries...
 and Neil enjoys the strawberry Mille Fleur embedded within a fluffy and light pastry.

We wish you all the best of meals tonight, from the historic city of Athens, the Acropolis, and the Parthenon!

Disclaimer: This blog is not an official University of Minnesota or Fulbright Program blog. The views expressed are my own and not those of the Fulbright Program, the U.S. Department of State or any of its partner organizations, or the University of Minnesota.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Dejeuner a l'Alsace Cafe, Champs Elysees, Paris

Dinner! We were so starved after spending the entire day at the Musee de Louvre in Paris that, as we crept back up the Champs Elysees, a particular cafe, l'Alsace--named after the Alsace Lorraine region where France, Switzerland, and Germany meet--just called out our names!

Perhaps it was the lovely red canvas canopy overhead with the gold fringe and lights, along with the busy chatter and smells wafting about le Champes Elysees that caught our senses!
Or, was it the color combinations of the glasses with the red Alsace wine that catches our love of complementation?
Cheers! (Mark seems to match the color combinations, of course.
We choose to share a couple of items from the menu, as otherwise we end up with too much food. One wants to have just enough, but not too much when walking along the Champs Elysees!
One can expect Alsace onions, wines, vegetables and meats from this spectacular region being served here.
Mark chooses une tart de l'oignon for the shared appetizer: a small quiche on a paper thin and flaky pastry topped with caramelized onions and a small side Ceasar salad du jour. Get your fork and dig in!
He then is served small lamp chops, carefully grilled and spiced with rosemary, olive oil, garlic and peppered with a fresh side of petit pois (small peas) and les haricots verts (green beans):
While Neil chooses the thinly grilled rib eye steak, pomme de terre, and...
fresh-made Bernaise sauce, resplendent with tarragon, saffron, blended in with a home-made mayonnaise (how French)!
Do stop by and see what other delights might befriend your palette! It is great fun watching the people parading by on the Champe Elysees, as well as the waiters and waitresses, all decked out in black and whites. The precision with which they operated was amazing, but rather humorous as the pecking order with the assemblage was very was like a small, well-organized division of Napoleon's army!

L'Alsace Cafe is located at 39, avenue des Champes-Elysees, 75008 Paris.

Disclaimer: This blog is not an official University of Minnesota or Fulbright Program blog. The views expressed are my own and not those of the Fulbright Program, the U.S. Department of State or any of its partner organizations, or the University of Minnesota.