Crusty Perfection

31 Oct

I’m always amused when it happens.

When after 10 years–a decade–the City throws me for a loop.  It crystallizes for me how confusing and dynamic and thrilling it must be to be a newbie or visitor here all over again, and reminds me why I live here, gives me that old thrill for just one second.  It also makes me blush like hell and mutter a bit to myself like a crazy lady.

Take Tuesday for example.  I had jury duty at Brooklyn Supreme Court.  What a simultaneously fascinating, and frustrating, experience!  Whatever algorithm the Kings County court system is using to ensure a diverse jury pool sure does work.  Sadly, the processes they use for picking juries are still a bit outmoded.

I got paneled for a case that I couldn’t sit on because the trial is scheduled for while Isaac and I are in Colorado visiting his family.  Could I tell the lawyers this and go back into the jury pool to possibly get on a jury I could sit on, thus possibly helping a fellow New Yorker?  No.  I had to sit there, for four hours and listen to the droning lawyers until my name was called, at which point, I could finally, officially, tell them I couldn’t sit on the jury because I wouldn’t be here.  Sigh.

But I did learn one very important lesson.  If you are forced to listen to a lawyer who is passionately in love with his own voice, don’t fight it.  No matter how smart you think you are, you’re never going to be able to read the Economist.  Do yourself a favor and bring a copy of US Weekly…. Just in case.

And that was it.  I was released back into the pool where I sat down, did some work, and was then, a few hours later, released back into the cold, windy, wet world.  Brooklyn’s court house perches on the edge of one of the most beautiful neighborhoods in all of Kings County, Brooklyn Heights, but sadly, it was too icky of a day to enjoy it. So I scurried to the Court Street subway stop as quickly, and dryly, as possible.

And here’s where the city threw me for a loop.  Court Street is a very deep, very old station. The sides of the walls are rounded, the platform is narrow and the trains feel very close.  It’s also a disorienting station with trains arriving in both directions and scarce singage saying “This way for Manhattan” or “This way for the rest of Brooklyn.”  So, I relied on my internal compass, something every New Yorker has whether they know it or not.

A train arrived.  My internal compass said, “Yep, that’s the one! That’s the train that will get you home hours earlier than you’ve gotten home in months and months and months.” So I hopped on, grabbed a seat and resumed reading about why the world is going to hell in a hand basket.

And then, after a few stops, I looked up, expecting to see us pulling into the Atlantic-Pacific station only to see scaffolding and workmen.  “Heeeey,” I thought to myself, “That looks like Cortland Street station in Manhattan… How’d I get here?”  And then, a few feet further on, there were the station signs.  It was, in fact, Cortland Street station in Manhattan.  I had been duped.

This is the point when I started blushing and muttering to myself.  Not that anyone on that rainy day-R train could possibly have known that I, seasoned New Yorker, humbler of the forgetful, mocker of the mistake-maker, had just pulled an “Oopsie!”  Regardless, I was embarrassed.  I slyly exited at City Hall, crossed the platform and re-started my journey home.  I still made it home hours early, but I had been humbled, for the umpteenth time, by the city I thought I knew so well.  It was kind of refreshing, actually.

So why am I telling you all of this?  Because sometimes after a great triumph, one must fall.  And what was my great triumph.  Pie crust my friends!  Isaac, for weeks, has been agitating to make both caldo verde and pumpkin soup.  And while I love soup, we settled on him making a version of the Portuguese kale soup over our long weekend and, riffing on his pumpkin idea, I decided to make Christina’s winter squash quiche.

But, before one can crack a few eggs, butter and flour must meet.  And since I was using up the bulk of our beautiful, incredibly tasty free-range eggs from farmer Dan, and a beautiful kabocha squash from the Chatham farmer’s market (which we finally got to go to since it’s held, rather inexplicably, on Friday evenings from 4-7pm), I knew the crust had to be special.  So I checked with Martha.

All of her crusts say to use a food processor.  Which is fine, I have one of those.  Only problem, it was down in the city, and I was up in the country.  So I decided to continue on anyway with my God-given food processor.  My hands.  I remembered reading somewhere about a lady who made the most wonderful pie crusts in all of creation, and her secret was using her hands.  I figured if she could do it, so could I.


I followed Martha’s pate brisee recipe, cutting the frozen butter into the flour with two knives until I got tired, at which point I used my hands, rubbing the butter into the flour and working in the water.  I didn’t over work everything, believing that the crumbliness would hydrate in the fridge. And I was right.

I know this is a “like duh” moment, but you don’t need a food processor to make absolutely perfect pie crust.  Seems logical given that women have been making pies for centuries and the Cuisinart has only been around for a few decades.

And so, we had an everything-must-be-in-a-crust dinner, and it was delicious.  Christina’s quiche is so magical.  It’s custardy and sweet and tangy and smokey and elusive and mysterious and gosh darnit delicious.  If you make it for friends, they will beg you for the recipe, she’s right. I can’t wait to make it for my family for Thanksgiving dinner.  And the pie? Oh my god, the pie.  It’s been so long since I baked an apple pie, and back then, it was kind of a disaster.  The crust was bad and the filling was meh.  But this time?  Sublime.

So if you’ve got some pumpkin guts hanging around from your pre-Halloween carving activities, roast them up and toss them with some eggs and make yourself a pie crust with your hands.  Don’t be shy. Go ahead, get a little dirty. Apparently they make guilt-free choose-a-size paper towels these days.

So make a mess!  It’ll be tasty, guaranteed.

Head below the jump for the recipes for Christina’s Squash Quiche and Ann’s Apple Pie.

Before starting either of these recipes, make a batch of Martha’s Pate Brisee which makes two pie crusts.  If you plan to only make either the pie or quiche, the other crust can be kept, wrapped tightly, in the freezer.

Christina’s Winter Squash Quiche

prep time: 10 minutes ~ cooking time: 1 hour – 2 hours depending on the state of your squash

  • 1 pre-baked Pie Crust in a 9-10 inch pie pan
  • 1 2-3 lb Kabocha squash, cut into quarters and roasted or 2 cups of pre-roasted squash puree
  • 6 small free-range Eggs
  • 1/2 c Kefir
  • 1/4 c Milk
  • a large pinch of Paprika
  • a large pinch of Pimenton de la Vera (aka smoked, spicy paprika)
  • Salt
  • Grated Parmesan or other hard cheese

If necessary, roast your squash until tender, let cool, remove from skin, stir up until pureed and set aside.

Pre-heat the oven to 355°F if necessary (this won’t be necessary if you have first roasted a squash and second, pre-baked a pie crust).

Whisk the eggs together with the kefir, milk, paprika, pimenton and a big pinch of salt.  When frothy, add 2 cups of the squash puree.  Stir to incorporate and the pour the mixture into the pre-baked pie crust.  Gently slide the quiche into the oven and allow to bake 30 minutes.  Gently pull the quiche out and dust with the grated cheese.  Slide the quiche back in and bake until the filling is puffy and just set.  Christina’s took 10 further minutes, mine took about 30 and I had to turn the heat up.

Do what is necessary for this quiche.  It is exceptional straight out of the oven, but even better the next day, cold, for breakfast.  Enjoy!

Ann’s Apple Pie

prep time: 30 minutes ~ cooking time: 1 1/2 hours

  • 1 Pie Crust in a 9-10 inch pan
  • 6 small Macoun apples
  • 2 small Gala apples
  • 2 small heirloom Pears
  • Apple Cider Vinegar
  • 3 tsps Sugar
  • Cinnamon
  • Nutmeg
  • Ground Ginger
  • 1 c Flour
  • 6 tbsps cold Butter cut into small pieces
  • 6 tsps Turbinado Sugar (aka Sugar in the Raw)
  • Salt

Preheat the oven to 375°F.

Slice the apples and pears into a large bowl.  Add two vinegar caps full of vinegar and toss. Add the sugar, a pinch of cinnamon, a pinch of ground nutmeg and a pinch of ground ginger.  Toss to coat and let macerate at least 30 minutes.  Pour the apples and pears and any accumulated juices into the pie crust and bake 45 minutes in the pre-heated oven.

While the pie is baking make the crumb topping by combining the flour, butter sugar, a pinch of salt and a pinch of cinnamon in a bowl.  Rub the ingredients together with your fingers until the mixture resembles a coarse crumb.  Place in the freezer.

After the pie has baked for 45 minutes, cover the fruit with the crumb mixture and allow to bake an additional 30-45 minutes or until the topping is golden, the fruit has shrunk a bit and the liquid is bubbling.

Martha says to always let your pies cool for 6 hours. I say baloney! Eat it as soon as it stops bubbling if you must. And enjoy!

12 Responses to “Crusty Perfection”

  1. Kate Bradford October 31, 2008 at 11:39 am #

    Great pictures, I enjoyed viewing them

  2. e October 31, 2008 at 12:39 pm #

    Oh, that private NYC-disorientation embarrassment — I know it well! Glad you made it home early anyway!

    Question about the quiche (though I realize it’s not your recipe) — any particular reason for the kefir? Would yogurt or buttermilk suffice? Just curious as I’d never seen kefir called for in a recipe — looks delicious in any case, and thanks to your friend for the recipe!

  3. ann October 31, 2008 at 2:08 pm #

    Kate — Thanks! I enjoyed taking them.

    E — Good question! I just used it because I had it hanging around. Christina’s recipe calls for marscarpone and chipotle puree, neither of which are things readily available in the average upstate NY grocery. I had some kefir on hand, because, man, I *love* that stuff, so I decided to use it . I thought the light tanigness would be play nicely with the richness of the eggs and squash, and I was right. It wasn’t that noticeable, other than it all tasted really darn good together. You could totally use buttermilk or yogurt, absolutely!

    And, I’m glad to know there are other out there that know the private embarrassment. It seriously feels like you’re broadcasting your flub to the world :-)

  4. Lydia (The Perfect Pantry) October 31, 2008 at 2:20 pm #

    I’m a native New Yorker, and I still get turned around on the subway from time to time. Oh well…. I’m sure I could find my way home if I knew there was pie at the end of the journey!

  5. Christina October 31, 2008 at 6:33 pm #

    Aw, shucks. Thanks for the public props here–you are so darned awesome.

    Sorry about your NY embarrassment. I get confused here in LA too–when it is clear, I know exactly where I am by the orientation of the mountains, but when that friggin summer smog rolls in, I have no idea where I am.

  6. ann November 1, 2008 at 6:58 am #

    Lydia — Shouldn’t every journey end with pie?

    Christina — Oh that quiche deserves public praise! It’s so delicious! I never thought of the fog and LA… That’s interesting. Of course, it would help if I’d been to LA since I was in 2nd grade… Ah, well, someday! Thanks again for the awesome recipe!

  7. Luisa November 1, 2008 at 9:05 am #

    That quiche sounds so wonderful. I am up to my eyeballs in squash, too, from my CSA and desperately looking for ways to eat it other than roasted in soup, because, well, I bore easily. Can’t wait to try this!

  8. ann November 6, 2008 at 7:29 am #

    Luisa — It looks like you’re doing a pretty good job of dispensing with your multitude of squash on your own!

  9. Paula November 6, 2008 at 12:40 pm #

    Beautiful photos! That quiche sounds great!

  10. Marie November 7, 2008 at 11:38 pm #

    Nice pairing of subway and crusts…Very New York. I know how ashamed you felt: I did the same thing two weeks ago, looking up out of my book after a suspiciously long trip between two stations to find myself 15 minutes upstream and in Manhattan instead of down and in Brooklyn. Blush, grrr.

  11. nbmandel November 27, 2008 at 2:45 pm #

    You really don’t want to get on the F at Lexington Avenue going the wrong way. It’s a long way between stops out there in Queens. I blame it all on literacy — if we didn’t have our noses in books or the Times, we’d pay more attention to our surroundings.

  12. ann December 2, 2008 at 6:50 am #

    Paula — I’ve made it twice now, and it’s really delicious!

    Marie — I’m glad to know others do it too.

    NBMandel — It is literacy! We should do something about that soon ;-)

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