Sunday, October 25, 2009

happy birthday, little blog (and our first giveaway)

carrot cupcakes and a pumpkin

This week, Thin Crust, Deep Dish turned one year old. If this were kindergarten, we would have brought in frosted cupcakes for the class. Regrettably, this is not kindergarten. We know this because: a) We haven't seen nap time in years, and b) No five-year-olds have asked Adriana to marry them lately (we'll tell you all about that some other time). Still, we wanted to celebrate with you. And so we've baked you cupcakes. Now, do not try to eat the screen. These cupcakes are actually, physically located in Brooklyn right now, though in spirit, they're in your tummy. Celebrating. If you want them to be actually, physically in your tummy, you can find the recipe here. Just bake them in buttered muffin tins, and only for 40 minutes.

blowing out the candle

Some of you have been here for Thin Crust, Deep Dish's entire life (hi, parents!), while some of you are just now visiting for the first time. And so we're inviting your participation. One of the things we hope for this blog in its second year of life is that more of you readers will join the conversation through comments. If you're reading this, please leave a comment telling us a bit about yourself. (ALERT ALERT! Our comments weren't working earlier, so if your comment disappears after you try to leave it, please send us an e-mail over at the right where it says Contact Us. We don't want to miss out on any more of your fabulous input. Meanwhile, we're trying to fix comment issues.) Please also tell us what you would like to see more of here on Thin Crust, Deep Dish. We'll then pick one commenter at random from a mixing bowl, and you will receive a gift of one of these: Fat, Ratio, or Super Natural Cooking. Each of these is a book we love, with an author we respect deeply. Think of it as a reverse birthday gift from us to you.

While we're chatting like this, there's something else we'd like to mention. You may have noticed some of the little design tweaks we've been making lately here at the blog. Well, there are more coming. We're in the process of changing things around to make this an even more fun space to be. As things change, feel free to drop us a line and let us know what works for you and what doesn't. After all, we like our guests to be comfy.

Thanks for being here to celebrate with us. Happy birthday, little blog.

-Adriana and Kylie

carrot cupcakes

Sunday, October 18, 2009

sugar freedom

Poaching Pears

This past couple of weeks, I've been joining in a virtual event hosted by Kimi of The Nourishing Gourmet called the Sugar-Free Challenge. If you know me, now is probably the time that you should say, "What? Sugar free?" I know; it's shocking. I'm the one who would rather smuggle candy than popcorn into the movies, the one who bakes cookies to share with coworkers for no reason at all. My hope is that, from this challenge, I'll still be the same sweet-loving person, but in a more natural and nourishing sense. And anyway, there are three levels of the challenge, and I started with the most basic. You can get more details about what the challenge is and the different levels here. While Kimi's challenge ended last week, I'm still going on my own personal challenge.

I don't know what it was that made me think I could successfully complete this challenge. Perhaps it's just that, similar to Adriana, I'm drunk with love over fall and everything the markets have to offer right about now. But usually my favorite fall things include a particular sandwich cookie with neon orange cream filling. And the small dishes of bite-sized candies that start popping up in every office and shop in mid-October. This year, though, things have been different.
When Kimi posted the challenge, I realized that I wanted to, and could, join in. So here I am. It's almost two weeks later, and extracting processed sugars and white flour from my routine hasn't been the tug-of-war of will versus desire that I had expected. Instead, sugar-free has felt simply like freedom. Please note that I've been debating with myself about whether or not to blog about this, afraid that committing this experience to keyboard would somehow break this sugar-free spell and that I would suddenly find myself incapable of resisting all highly refined products and slipping into a mire of darkness and ill-health with which I associate them. However, I'm taking that chance, as I think there are several elements of this sugar-free week from which others (and I) can benefit. Here are some of them.

1. Eat lots of fermented foods. This may not be true for everybody, but for me, eating fermented foods has really helped to reduce cravings for sweets and other refined carbohydrates. If you know why this is, please chime in. My best guess is that fermented foods are more easily digestible and increase healthy intestinal flora, allowing us to extract more nutrients from our food and decreasing cravings for nutrients we aren't getting. These days, if I'm hungry between getting home from work and making dinner, I snack on a half cup or so of Bubbies sauerkraut or my homemade 'kraut. I'm a little bit in love with it.

2. Eat more vegetables. This challenge has been a great excuse for me to fall back in love with my favorite vegetables. Last week, instead of packing my usual afternoon snack of almonds and an apple, I sauteed a red bell pepper and an onion. It was delicious. Funny that I didn't think of sauteed vegetables as a snack before, and that I so blatantly overlooked their natural sweetness.

3. Get enough protein. I know this can be a hard one, especially for the vegetarians and vegans out there.  Plus, who wants to go around calculating the amount of protein you need with each meal? My tactic is to make sure I have some form of animal protein at each meal, be it unsweetened whole milk yogurt, scrambled eggs, chicken or grass-fed beef.

4. Include high-quality fats. Some of my favorites of late have been my homemade cultured butter, coconut milk and coconut oil, almonds, olive oil and whole milk from grass-fed cows.

5. Experiment with natural sweeteners. Try out some sweet leaf Stevia in your coffee or tea, or add raw honey to your oatmeal instead of eating sugary packaged cereals. One of my favorite fruit-sweetened recipes is stewed prunes, which are simply luscious and decadent with yogurt. Oh, and this whole natural sweeteners thing is what brings me to my next point: poached pears. I know that even if you're going sugar free, you might still want to share a beautiful dessert with your friends when they come over for dinner. These poached pears are perfect for just such an occasion. Mine are sweetened only with apple cider, and I found them plenty sweet. However, if you want to add a teaspoon of raw honey to the cider as it reduces, I'm sure that would be lovely, as well. I love these pears because they fill the house with autumnal aromas without the sugar and white flour that are in so many fall treats.

Mulling Spices

Cider-Poached Pears for Fall
Serves 4

2 cups fresh apple cider
2 Tbs. mulling spices
4 pears, peeled, halved and cored
Optional: 1 tsp. raw honey

Add the cider and spices to a medium-sized saucepan and bring to a low boil. Stir in the honey if you are using it. Reduce the heat, and allow mixture to simmer, uncovered, for ten minutes.

Meanwhile, peel, halve and core your pears and place them gently in the liquid. Continue to simmer for 10 to 15 minutes, until the pears yield easily to the tines of a fork but are not falling apart. By now, your liquid should have reduced to half its original volume. If it has not, remove the pears when they are tender and continue to reduce poaching liquid.

Remove the pears from the pan and place in shallow bowls. Strain the liquid into a bowl to remove the spices, and generously spoon the liquid on top of the pears. Serve warm as a dessert, or cooled as an accompaniment to breakfast yogurt.

*Note: You'll notice that the pears I photographed were not halved and cored. I did this because they are pretty to serve that way. However, on second thought, it's much easier for people to eat these if you do the coring before you poach, which is why I included that step in the recipe.


Cider-Poached Pear

Thursday, October 15, 2009

life's little luxuries

I'm going to tell you a little story.  You see, when I was growing up, my parents decided to get rid of our TV.  Traumatic, I know.  They believed that the only way to free their children from the hounding influence of consumerism was to spare us from the hours of commercials we would most surely encounter while watching TV.  Instead of filling our impressionable little minds with jingles for domino's pizza and parades of the latest 'must have collectibles', our young family was going to create our very own sarcasm-free, happy bubble.  Such a lovely thought.

Now here I am, 24 years old and a complete sucker for even the most pathetic attempts of advertising.  I blame this on the fact that I never had the years of TV-watching practice that my peers did.  While most kids were growing into jaded and discerning American consumers with each passing day, I was frolicking through the pacific northwest woods, picking huckleberries, and learning to trust everything I saw and heard.  That's right, I'm now the girl who sees an infomercial for quadro-high-tech-ubber-gripping tires and promptly calls her daddy to ask if she needs to install them immediately on her aging Saturn.  

This innocence (ok, gullibility) is probably why I found myself shelling out an extra $2 at the farmer's market last weekend in exchange for a "Luxury Pumpkin."  There I was, walking amongst the rows of freshly picked gourds when I found myself flummoxed by two identical piles of pumpkins.  On my left I saw a sloppy, hand-written sign saying "Sugar Pumpkins, $2" and on my right a similar one saying "Luxury Pumpkins, $4". 

Well gosh darn if the two sets of pumpkins didn't look exactly the same to me. 

"They're...juicier?" the farm hand hesitantly responded after I asked what my extra two pumpkin dollars might be buying.  While I had no concept of what a "juicy" pumpkin might be like, it was enough information to sell me on the purchase.  That's some hard-core farmer's market advertising right there.  For once though, the advertising definitely worked out in my favor.  This was the meatiest, tastiest, most flavorful pumpkin that has ever graced my oven.  I'll have you know that the skin of a Luxury Pumpkin is a bit darker and thinner than that of a regular sugar pumpkin.  It's so thin, in fact, that you can easily slice right through it with your kitchen knife without softening it in the oven first.  In honor of my beautiful pumpkin, I made a ridiculously rich and delicious pumpkin pie with a friend from culinary school.  I don't know how much credit goes to the recipe, and how much credit goes to the pumpkin itself, but this was far and away the most scrumptious pumpkin pie I've ever eaten.  Ever.
  Ask Hillary, she'll vouch for it.

So, happy pumpkin season to you.  May your days be filled with juicy gourds and honest advertising!

Luxury Pumpkin Pie with Walnut and Brown Sugar Crumble
Inspired by a recipe from the November 2009 issue of Bon Appetit 


1 cup packed dark brown sugar
2 large eggs
½ teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground ginger
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
1.5 cups pumpkin puree (see below how to make your own!)
½ cup heavy whipping cream

½ cup walnut pieces, roughly chopped
¼ cup packed dark brown sugar
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
Healthy pinch of kosher salt

*To make your own pumpkin puree:  Preheat your oven to 350 F.  Cut your sugar pumpkin into 4ths, and remove the stem.  Scrape out the seeds and stringy flesh with a spoon.  Leave only the solid pumpkin flesh.  Rub all the flesh with a bit of butter, and lay face up in the large pan.  Roast your pumpkin until very soft, about 1 hour.  Don’t worry if it becomes darker and caramalized in some areas.  That will only make it infinitely more delicious when it's pureed.  When it's done roasting, peel off the skins using your fingers, and mash it by hand or pulse in a food processor.

Step one:  Make you pie crust.  If you feel up to the challenge, I recommend that you make your own pie crust.  I can gaurantee that it will be more delicious than a store bought variety.  I've found that everyone has their own favorite pie crust recipe, so I won't put one here.  What's important here is that you pre-bake the pie shell.  This means that after it's laid out in the dish, cover it with parchment and put in some pie wieghts or fill it with beans.  Bake it at 425 F for about 12 minutes, remove the weights and the parchment, and continue baking at 350 F for about 15 - 20 min, or until the shell is baked through.  Cool crust on rack while you prepare the filling.

Step two:  Make the filling.  Put brown sugar, eggs, salt, and spices into a food processor and pulse a few times until evenly blended.  Then add the pumpkin and cream and process until smooth.

Step three: Bake the pie.  Pour filling into the prepared crust and bake in the oven at 350 F until filling is almost set, about 30 minutes.  If the crust is browning too quickly, cover with foil.

Step four:  Add the topping.  While the pie is in the oven, whisk together all the ingredients of the filling.  Remove pie from oven when it has set, sprinkle topping over evenly, reduce oven temperature to 325, and return pie to oven for another 15 minutes.  Allow pie to cool completely before digging in.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

my marathon

Today, as many of you know, is the Chicago Marathon.  Runners from all over the country woke bright and early and set off on a course across the Windy City.  Good for you, I say!

Today, as many of you don't know, I had my own my kitchen (no surprises there).  While scores of toned athletes were burning off thousands of calories, I was in my kitchen turning thousands of calories into tasty autumnal treats.  Don't laugh, I've been training every bit as hard as those runners, and I have the ill-fitting jeans to prove it.  I've given up sleep and a social life in order to spend upwards of 25 hours a week in intense training.  I've lost blood (darn paring knife) and shed tears (dumb onions).  The only difference I can see is that after all that work, instead of crossing a finish line, I tucked into a big bowl of sweet potato gnocchi with fried sage and brown butter with a side of brussel sprouts braised in white wine and thyme, followed by pumpkin pie with walnut brown sugar topping, and vanilla sweet brown rice pudding.  And after that very last bite, I did indeed feel as though I had just run a marathon. 

Most normal people don't spend the first three hours of their Saturday morning browsing the farmers market.  And most normal people don't then come home and spend the next 7 hours cooking dinner (with breaks along the way for breakfast and lunch, of course).  But then again, most normal people don't love food so much that they read blogs about what other people are eating, so I feel as though I'm in good company here.  And that's why I'm going to share this recipe for homemade sweet potato gnocchi with you.  Even though it takes a painstakingly-long time to form each and every last gnocchi, you fine folks might just be crazy enough to try it.  By the way, I recommend that you do.  It goes even faster and tastes even better if you have some friends helping you.  Nothing is more delightful than spending a chilly fall day in your kitchen, rolling gnocchi with a friend.

Sweet Potato Gnocchi with Fried Sage and Chestnuts
Adapted from the October 2009 issue of Gourmet

1.25 lb russet or idaho potatoes
.75 lbs. sweet potato
1 large egg
1/2 teaspoon grated nutmeg
1/3 cup grated Parmesan
2 cups all-purpose flour, plus extra for rolling the gnocchi
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 cup sage leaves
1/3 whole chestnuts
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
freshly ground black pepper

Step one:  Bake potatoes.  Preheat oven to 450 degrees.  Pierce potatoes in several places and bake until tender, about 1 hour.  Peel and cool potatoes, and then mash them until no lumps remain.  Allow potatoes to cool completely.

Step two:  Prepare chestnuts.  While potatoes are baking, score an "X" into the bottom of each chestnut with a paring knife.  Roast or broil chestnuts under high heat until the skins begin to pull away from the "X", about 15 min.  Remove from oven, and peel away outer and inner shells while still hot.  If they cool too  much during this step, reheat and then continue to peel.  Slice chestnuts very thinly.

Step three:  Make dough.  Beat together egg, nutmeg, 1 tsp salt, and 1/2 tsp pepper.  Mound potatoes in the middle of a floured sheet pan, and form a well in the center.  Pour egg mixture inside, and knead until incorporated.  Knead in cheese and 1.5 cups of flour.  Add more flour if necessary and knead until the you have a smooth and slightly sticky ball of dough.

Step four:  Form the gnocchi.  Cut the ball of dough into 6 equal pieces.  Form each piece into a rope about 1/2 in. thick, and cut rope into 1/2 in thick pieces.  Roll each piece into a small ball and lightly dust with flour.  Roll each ball down the tines of a fork, so that you have a slightly-cylindrical and grooved gnocchi.  Place each on a baking sheet.

Step five:  Fry sage and chestnuts.  Heat oil in a skillet.  Fry sliced chestnuts until golden, remove from oil and set aside.  Using the same oil, fry sage leaves in 2 batches, leaving them in the oil for about 20-30 seconds a batch.  Transfer to paper towels and season lightly with salt. 

Step six:  Make the sauce.  Add butter to the skillet (without discarding the oil) with about 1/2 tsp salt and cook until golden brown, about two minutes.  Remove from heat.

Step seven:  Boil gnocchi.  Bring a large pot of heavily salted water to boil.  Boil half of gnocchi at a time, adding to the water and stirring.  Cook until they begin to pop up to the surface, about three minutes.  Using a slotted spoon, transfer to the skillet and coat with the butter sauce.  Heat all gnocchi in a skillet over medium heat, stirring so that it's evenly coated.

Step eight:  Serve.  Place a portion of gnocchi in a bowl.  Top with a few sage leaves and a sprinkling of chestnuts.  Add more grated cheese if desired.

Monday, October 5, 2009

spinning into butter

How to Make Cultured Butter

I grew up in a world awash with margarine. I remember dipping my knife into a beige tub of it straight from the refrigerator. With little resistance, I would scoop out a lump and slather it easily onto a whole wheat roll. It melted easily and soaked the bread with its oily yellowness. I didn't think a whole lot about it. It was the nineties, and my parents were into being healthy and exercising. Back then, margarine was part of that.

I can't quite pinpoint the moment my world shifted from margarine as health food to margarine as toxin. It could have been junior year of college when I read Michael Pollan's Omnivore's Dilemma and tried to understand trans fats for the first time. Maybe it really sunk in when New York City's Board of Health became the first in the nation to ban the use of artificial trans fats (the kinds in margarine and other hydrogenated oils) at restaurants. I guess it doesn't really matter when it was, but sometime between Y2K and now, my world changed from one where my friends and family cooked and baked with margarine for "health" to one where they use butter without fail.

Still, the mistaken association between butter and health problems pervades television commercials and women's magazines. Multinational corporations continue to produce butter substitutes made with rancid oils, selling products which are actually far more damaging to our health than the lowest-nutrient butters on the market. Soy, corn and cotton can all be used to make the ingredients that comprise a butter substitute, and food-producing corporations have a glut of all three due to monocropping practices.

The thing is, people will only be swayed by marketing for so long. High quality pastured butters become available at more grocery stores every day, and many boutique food stores now regularly carry cultured butter like that of Vermont Butter and Cheese Company. Once you taste a good cultured butter slathered on fresh bread, you're transported to a world where butter has taste and where it needs some good sea salt, a world where have to ask yourself, "How was I passing this up?".

This post is in the spirit of putting a stop to the passing up of butter. That is my mission, and I hope you'll accept it. I wanted to make butter because I came across this article while internet browsing during lunch at work, and butter making sounded to me both daunting and delicious. Subsequent Googling yielded the unanimous bloggers' consensus that homemade butter is far superior to even that of Vermont Butter and Cheese. I had to know.

And so Mary and I made butter. We bought our cream and yogurt fresh from the farmers' market, we fermented overnight, we cooled the cream in the fridge. We shook a jar for half an hour until the butter separated from the buttermilk, and (Eureka!) we were victorious.

Everyone else on the interweb was right: It's easy to make butter. It tastes good. Oh, does it taste good. And it's good for you. Really, really good. As I understand it, butter made from the milk of cows that have been eating grass (or "pastured") in the fall and spring is high in both Vitamins A and D. It is high in both selenium and cholesterol, protecting against cancer and heart disease. If you have questions about  more of the specific health benefits of butter, check out this Weston A. Price Foundation article, "Why Butter Is Better". It will also answer some questions if you scratched your head when I said that cholesterol helps to protect against heart disease. Culturing the butter increases its enzyme content and makes it easier to digest. It also makes it taste even more incredible.

The Butter-Making Process

Cultured Butter
Adapted from The Atlantic

1 pint of heavy cream (not ultra-pasteurized; that won't become butter)
3 Tbs. plain yogurt with live cultures
A pinch or two of good sea salt to taste

*Note: Do not make butter on a hot day, as the butter will not separate from the buttermilk properly. I made it on a day that was about 70 degrees, and everything went fine, as I chilled the cream before shaking it.

Pour heavy cream into a mixing bowl and add the yogurt. Stir to mix, cover with a towel, and leave at room temperature for 12 to 24 hours, until the cream has thickened slightly and developed a slightly tangy taste.

Pour cream into a large jar with a lid that closes tightly, and place in the refrigerator for an hour or two. The cream should cool to between 60 and 66 degrees Fahrenheit. Once it has cooled, you can separate the butter from the buttermilk in one of three ways. You can pour it into a food processor and process it for 5 to 6 minutes until the butter separates from the buttermilk. The butter will look clumpy and yellow, and the buttermilk will be a translucent white. You can also mix it with a stand mixer. Just be sure to cover it well so the cream doesn't splash you and your entire kitchen. You can also do it the fun way and work up a sweat like I did. Shake it vigorously in a jar until it separates, about 30 minutes. I recommend finding yourself a shaking buddy and alternating every five minutes.

One the butter has separated from the buttermilk, strain the clump of butter in a colander and reserve the buttermilk for use in another recipe. Place the butter in a large bowl of ice water, and work to buttermilk out of it with your hands. The buttermilk will make the water cloudy. Strain the butter out of that and put it in a new bowl of ice water, repeating this squeezing process until the water stays clear, to to three times. Remove the butter and pat it gently with a towel to remove water droplets on its exterior. Work a couple of pinches of good salt into it with your hands (if you want salted butter). Transfer the butter to a ramekin or small bowl and cover tightly. It will keep for several weeks in the refrigerator, or several months in the freezer.


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Adriana Willsie and Kylie Springman ©2009