I Baked a Basic Pie Crust (oh yeah! and pop tarts!)

My library has subscribed to an online continuing education program called Universal Class, through which anyone with a library card can sign up for classes for free.  Pretty awesome right?  Well, I volunteered to be a guinea pig and signed up for Pie Making 101.  This post is what I turned in to my teacher.  Today’s assignment was to make a pie crust.  I took it a step further, and OMG was that crust flaky!


My mom always thought of making a pie crust as a meditative task.  After making one today, I can see why she would describe it that way.  There’s something about the rhythm of mixing the flour, shortening and salt that inspires an inner quiet.  Rolling out the dough is kind of similar as well.

I have to admit that I don’t have a pastry blender.  I also don’t have a stand mixer or special attachments for my hand mixer.  I remembered my mom using a fork with really long tines to mix her ingredients, so that’s what I ended up doing.

Little bits of dough

I mixed the flour, shortening and salt until it looked right: lots of little bits, no huge clumps of anything.  Then I added the water one tablespoon at a time, mixing slowly until the dough started to clump together.


I formed the dough into a ball with my hands, then split it into two separate pieces and placed it in the refrigerator for about 30 minutes.  I used that time to run to the store and pick up a rolling pin.

Unbaked Pie Crust

I used the wax paper method to roll out my dough.  The wax paper slid around too much on my table, so I dampened a towel to put down under it.  It worked pretty well.  I was able to transfer the crust to the pie tin with no problems.

I didn’t realize until after I blind baked it that I should have rolled the dough out just a little bit more.  I also over baked the crust just a smidge.  I’ll do it better next time.

Margarita Pie!

I didn’t want the dough to go to waste, so I chose to make a Margarita Pie  (http://allrecipes.com/Recipe/Margarita-Pie-II/Detail.aspx) with one half of the dough, and homemade pop tarts (http://allrecipes.com/Recipe/Home-Made-Top-Tarts/Detail.aspx) with the other half (photos below).  I just tried the pop tarts and those were pretty tasty.  The crust was so flaky my husband had to eat his pop tart over the sink!  I’ll call that a win.

DH Cooked: Black Bean Salsa

My husband’s continuing quest to learn to cook resulted in a black bean salsa that was waaay to heavy on the onion…

Soak a half cup of dried black beans overnight, then drain, rinse and set aside.  Chop a red onion and add it to the bowl with the black beans.

One Chopped Red Onion

Meanwhile you’ll need to rehydrate a large dried chili and roast 2 fresh jalapenos.

Rehydrate the Chili

Seed and finely chop the chili and jalapeno.  Add both to the black bean mixture, along with a couple tablespoons of beer, a bit of olive oil, salt and pepper.  Top with cilantro.  Refrigerate for a few hours and enjoy!

Black Bean Salsa

What we learned from this salsa: if you’re questioning the recipe, there’s probably a good reason.  DH said “a whole red onion?  But these are big!”  I said “Well, the recipe says to use it…”  This resulted in way to oniony a flavor.  It completely overpowered the black beans.  So the next time we make it, it’ll definitely have less onion and more beans!

DH Cooked: Tlalpeno-style soup, guacamole, and hibiscus margaritas

The week is almost finished, and I just realized that I haven’t blogged about DH’s Sunday cooking adventures!  Yikes!  This week, DH and his friend did the grocery shopping without me, because I was doing that Shop Hop.  They actually did really well, even though they didn’t know how to tell the difference between parsley and cilantro.

One of the most amazing drinks we had on our honeymoon was a hibiscus margarita.  It was fruity, flowery, tasty and the most amazing shade of magenta ever!  DH has been on a quest to re-make that margarita ever since.  Imagine his excitement to see dried hibiscus flowers in the Latin section at our grocery store.

Hibiscus Flower Syrup

DH used the hibiscus flowers to make a simple syrup.  He found the recipe online somewhere, but it basically involves hibiscus flowers, lots of sugar and some water.  Heat them all together on the stove and then simmer until the mixture reduces.  Use a cheesecloth to strain the liquid into a pitcher/pyrex measuring cup.  Then refrigerate until cool.  Once you’re ready to serve, mix the syrup with good tequila and serve.

Hibiscus Margarita

DH thought that the margaritas tasted like watered down Kool-aid.  I thought they were OK, but needed something more – maybe more tequila?  His friend BL said that they were good.  I’m not sure what to do differently with them… any ideas?

Next DH worked on his guacamole.  He’s become a bit of a tomato snob, so he used campari tomatoes instead of the regular roma tomatoes that seem to always be $1/pound.  I can see where he’s coming from – the romas have less flavor than the others – so I don’t mind the extra expense.

Campari tomatoes

Basically, for this recipe, you chop up 4 medium tomatoes and add them to the food processor along with 4 avocados, lime juice, 1/2 an onion, 2 garlic cloves, cilantro or coriander, 3 red fresno chillies, and salt.  Blend until the consistency is right, and serve.  The flavor on this was really, really good.  But the consistency was a bit too smooth for us; we definitely prefer a chunkier guacamole.

Mmm... guacamole

Finally, DH tackled the Tlalpeno-style soup.  This style of soup originates from Tlalpan, a suburb of Mexico City.  Put about 6 cups of chicken stock into a pot along with 1/2 of a seeded dried chipotle chili.  Bring it to a boil, and add 2 whole chicken breasts.  Simmer until the chicken is fully cooked.  I misunderstood those directions, so DH ended up simmering the chicken and the chipotle chili separately.

Simmering chicken

You’re supposed to shred the chicken when it’s done cooking and set it aside, but we like ours chunkier, so DH chopped it into pieces instead.  Then, you pour the stock and chili into a blender and blend until smooth before adding it back to the pan.  Once the blended stock is back in the pan, add a chopped up avocado, 4 sliced green onions, salt and pepper, and a drained can of garbanzo beans.  Don’t forget to put the chicken back in too!


Top the soup with shredded cheddar cheese before serving, and enjoy!  I really liked this soup.  It was flavorful, full of broth, and light.  Perfect for anyone looking for comfort food on a diet.  As we were eating, though, we could tell something was missing.  It wasn’t until cleanup that we realized that DH forgot to add in the garbanzo beans!  It was still really tasty though.

Ready to eat


I could see a lot of improvement between last week’s cooking attempt and this week’s.  DH is showing a lot more confidence in his cooking ability.  It’s great to see him so enthusiastic about something new!

DH Cooks: Tomatillo Cream Sauce and Avocado Butter

DH has realized that he needs hobbies that aren’t computer related.  He spends roughly 50-60 hours each week on a computer at work and then comes home to study and work on them some more at home.  Anyone who has worked with computers for very long knows how rough that can be on your hands, arms, neck, etc with all of the repetitive motions that requires.  So, he started his search for a new hobby and settled on cooking.

I don’t know if you know this, but DH is not a cook.  He can open a can of whatever and heat it up on the stove.  He can make a killer grilled cheese sandwich.  And his heart attach sandwiches are awesome!  We’ve even had some pretty good Swedish meatballs before.  Other than that, though…  DH doesn’t cook.  Don’t get me wrong; he can follow a recipe, but he admits to not understanding why someone would put salt AND pepper on meat that they’re cooking.  Well, his quest to understand cooking and food resulted in the purchase of a Mexican Cookbook from Half-Priced Books.  He planned to start at the beginning and work his way through.  Each week or so he’ll cook a different recipe.  This week it was Tomatillo Cream Sauce and Avocado Butter.

Tomatillo Cream Sauce

Tomatillos in Water

De-husk and quarter 11oz of tomatillos.  Put them in a pot with about 1/2 cup of water or stock.  Cook for 8-10 minutes or until the flesh is soft and transparent. (We used way toooooo much water, you’ll find out why it’s a problem later).  While those are cooking away, take de-seed 2 serrano chillies and smash 4 cloves of garlic.  Put the garlic, chillies, the cooked tomatillos and liquid in a blender.  Blend until almost smooth.

Blended tomatillo stuff

Heat a tablespoon of vegetable oil in a skillet and add the tomatillo puree.  Cook gently, stirring non-stop until it reduces and thickens.  You want it to look like the green sauce you’d put on tamales.  (We put way more than 1/2 cup of water in the pot with the tomatillos so this took FOREVER to reduce). Chop a bunch of coriander or cilantro and add it to the sauce with salt to taste.  Cook for a few more minutes.  Stir in 4 oz of heavy cream and warm the sauce through – don’t let it boil!  Serve at once.

Avocado Butter

This recipe is by Alton Brown of the Food Network.

Into the Food Processor

Put into the food processor: flesh from 2 ripe avocados, 1 minced garlic clove, 1 tbsp chopped cilantro, 1 tbsp lemon juice, 1 tsp ground cumin, 3 tbsp unsalted butter, salt to taste.  Blend until smooth.


Avocado Butter

Wrap the avocado butter in parchment paper (form into a log) and refrigerate for 3 hours or until firm.


We cooked some tilapia in a tablespoon of butter with salt and pepper, then topped half with the avocado butter and half with the tomatillo cream sauce, and ate it with a side of brown rice.  It wasn’t attractive but it tasted good!


Our First Tequila Sunrise

Final Thoughts

The tomatillo cream sauce was surprisingly good.  I was really worried that it would suck hard, but when you pair it with the tilapia, it works.  The avocado butter was really good on its own, but not so good with the tilapia.  I think it would be great as a spread on a BLT or just on some toast as a snack.

We have some extra tilapia because a dinner guest got his nights mixed up, so we’re going to try cooking it differently tomorrow – put the avocado butter on top while it’s cooking (so it gets all melty) and then top the fillets with the cream sauce.  It should be awesome!

You know, we’re doing this so that DH can learn how to cook, but what it’s teaching me is how to step aside and let him cook.  Before, I’d step in and kinda kick him out of the kitchen instead of explain how to do things.  On DH’s cooking nights he figures it out with only a few comments from me.  If there’s a technique to learn, I show him on one part and let him take over from there.  It seems to be working well… even if I have a lot of trouble letting go of that control.

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