I had the pleasure of cooking for Alix on Wednesday night. She's now long gone to Mexico, but I think I sent her (and Oscar!) off in the good-ole Judy fashioned way: I made lobster sandwiches and strawberry pie. Then Alix picked some of her lettuce that she's been growing on her balcony, and we had ourselves a mighty fine feast.
Growing up on the west coast we never ate lobster; it's kind of an eastern thing I guess. Of course, you can buy it out west, but it's rather expensive. Anyways, so are Dungeness crabs, but that's what I grew up eating whenever I was lucky enough to convince Dad that crab cakes were a must! Or when I went to Max's cabin on Sonora Island with a few other charming folk, and he came bursting in the door with buckets (yes, really buckets!) full of crabs. Then we drank tequila and shelled them all and made aioli and ate until there was nothing left. But now I live way out here in Montreal, and alas, lobster it is! And in season!
(My Lobster inspiration is thanks [again!] to Matthew Amster-Burton's book Hungry Monkey, and his delightful family. I have yet to meet them, but I'm quite certain they're 1st class individuals.)
Strawberries also happen to be in season, or they're just starting, and I bought a half crate; enough for the pie, my freezer and me. It also happened to be the perfect occasion to make Lee's pastry. Lee is Max's mother and last summer I was fortunate enough to be there when the event of Max's birthday called for a pie (blueberry apricot I believe it was). Luckily, in their very well-stocked cottage kitchen I found a copy of the Joy of Cooking and was able to put together some sort of filling while Lee started the pastry. I watched her work her magic, using white spelt flour, soft butter, egg, baking soda and apple cider vinegar to create an incredibly tender, flaky crust. Then I promptly quizzed her on the how-to and wrote it all down on the paper I use today. We then baked the pie in the wood-stove and burned the top a bit (the temperature is a bit tricky to control) but it was super delicious, and I was in love with this no fuss pastry crust.
Enough for two deep-dish pies (you can freeze what you don't use or make half the recipe)
1 lb soft butter *
4 C white spelt flour**
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt (with salted butter)
* Be careful how soft you let the butter get before you begin your recipe. If it's too soft the flour will take all the butter and you won't be able to incorporate the liquid. Then all you'll have is a big ball of butter that's impossible to roll out. You want it to be just spreadable, but not so soft it looks greasy.
** You can use all-purpose flour, or white pastry flour here to substitute for the spelt. I am avoiding wheat these days because I suspect that I have some sort of allergy, and the original recipe calls for spelt flour, so you can only imagine my enthusiasm. (Hit the health food store to find the spelt flour, yes it needs to be white, unless you want a whole-wheat crust, obviously.)
- In a bowl mix together the dry ingredients
- Cut in the butter using your fingers, two knives or a pastry blender. You want the butter to be in pea shaped pieces.
2 TBS brown sugar
1 TBS apple cider vinegar
- Fill up to the 1 C level with cold water.
- Drizzle the liquid over the flour and butter and use a fork to gently flick it together until blobs start to form. When most of the flour has taken to a blob and comes together when you gently squeeze it in you hand, it's ready.
- Judging how much liquid you need will take a couple tries. You want to use as little as possible, but just enough so that the dough holds together.
- Try to handle the pastry as little as possible.
- Transfer into a container in the fridge and let it sit for at least two hours so the butter can get really hard. (But you might also need to let it sit out on the counter for 10-15 minutes before you roll it out if it's too hard.)
- When you roll out the dough, flour your surface very well, and make sure you don't roll out the dough too thin, you want there to be a good pastry to fruit ratio.
- The beauty of this dough is that if you make a mistake when you roll it out, like it tears, or you didn't start with enough dough, you can ball it up and start again. Lee used to make this for young children to cook with because it gives a sturdy dough and will stand up to some extra handling.
- To get the rolled out dough onto the pie-pan, gently roll it around the rolling pin and lay it gently over the pan. Then, gently again, ease it down so that it molds to the shape of the pan. Leave a good inch of dough hanging over the edge so you can make a nice crust. Put this pan into the freezer while you roll out the top.
- Lee showed me how to do a lattice crust, but if you don't have Lee around, you can find out how in the Joy of Cooking. Or you could just lay it over top of your fruit, crimp the edges, and cut a couple slits in the top in the design of your choice (this is what I did this time).
Adapted from the Joy of Cooking
For a nine-inch double crust pie
4 C fresh berries
2/3 - 1 C sugar (depending on the sweetness of your fruit)
1/4 C all-purpose flour
1 1/2 TBS lemon juice or 1/2 tsp cinnamon
*if the fruit is really juicy, add 2 tsp instant tapioca
- mix together and put into pie and cover with the top.
Cook at 400 degrees F for an hour, or until the top is brown, things smell way too good in the kitchen, and you can see the fruit bubbling through the slits, lattice, maple leaves or whatever you cut into the top.
Cut and serve with ice cream
The crust crumbled under my fork, melted in my mouth, the strawberries weren't too sweet and the ice cream rounded everything off in it's smooth, creamy, succulent way. Oh summer here you come!
Just a note about the lobster sandwiches:
I bought 4 cooked lobsters, because they were 4 for $24, and I skipped the hassle and time it takes to boil them (although this is really not very difficult - the Joy of Cooking will tell you all about it and give you even more lobster inspired recipes!) Then I added 2 heaping TBS of Best Foods mayonnaise, 2 chopped green onions, and some salt and pepper to the shredded lobster meat. Serve the lobster on a warm white roll with lettuce that hopefully someone as stellar as Alix grew sur la terrace!
And Max I hope to see you soon!
And Lee, thanks for enriching my cooking repertoire! I look forward to the next time.