Tag Archives: family

Introducing: Mr. U.

18 Oct

My husband gets big billing on Planned Overs.  He is always referred to as “Mr. U.” or “my husband”.  I do this because it’s not his blog, this is the internet, and I don’t want his identity made easily searchable on my blog, although it isn’t a big secret who we are.  We’ve been married over 20 years.

Some notes on Mr. U.:

  • He cooks.  Really well.  When I started dating him, I opened the door to his fridge expecting some sort of bachelor desertland of ketchup and beer.  Not so.  There was every bizarre condiment and ingredient known to man jammed in there, including Chinese bean paste.  I knew this could be the start of something beautiful.  His words on this are that if you like to eat, you need to learn to cook.  Amen.  Don’t let this fool you into thinking there wasn’t also beer in there, because there definitely was.
  • He eats.  Like me, he will eat just about anything.  He isn’t concerned with “What kind of meat’s in that?”  He’s not a meat and potatoes guy at all and in particular, he likes nothing better than a big bowl full of noodles from a Japanese, Vietnamese or Chinese restaurant.  In short, he isn’t picky.  He will eat whatever is planned for dinner without complaint, even on one famous occasion when we had literally no food and no money and I made lasagna out of canned pumpkin and some lasagna noodles.  When reminded of this event, he still claims that he liked that meal.
  • He appreciates the artistry of food.  I love that my husband understands that a great restaurant is theatre.  Sometimes you just have to splurge on some really great theatre tickets and enjoy the show.
  • He doesn’t like me to watch him cook.  He always thinks I think he’s doing it wrong.  It’s very hard for me not to offer advice when I see him doing something that could be done more efficiently.  Now I just say, “you want me to leave now, don’t you?”  He’s never turned that offer down that I can remember.
  • He mixes a great cocktail.  I’ll post a few of these as asides for your pleasure.
  • He works from home.  This means that we can have a roasted chicken on a weeknight if I truss it in the morning and leave it for him to put in the oven at 4 p.m.  It also means I can send him an email saying, “I forgot to defrost the ___!” and he will pull it out for me and save the day.
  • We share cooking and cleaning responsibilities.  I’m not saying this just for him to get some good press.  I write about planning meals and grocery shopping and so on because I’m better organized than he is.  More often than not, he is the one who actually does the shopping, or who finishes cooking the Frozen Overs.  In this case, I say, “Thank you for cooking dinner” and he says, “Thank you for cooking dinner.”

He’s also a talented artist and an avid reader of everything, including cereal boxes.  You can check out his literature and reading blog, Dispatches from Outer Libraria, on WordPress.

Planned Over Baking – OR – What My Mother-in-Law Taught Me About Pie

22 May

My mother-in-law, Jeanne, not only raised a wonderful husband for me to enjoy, but also is a fantastic old-fashioned cook. Christmas at my mother-in-law’s house is standing rib roast, Yorkshire pudding, roast beef pan gravy so dark and rich you can feel your arteries clogging just from smelling it, and pie. She’s a wonderful baker all around, really: Danish rings that take up half of the table, big soft ginger cookies, French Canadian raisin-filled wedding cookies that I call ‘hand pies’ because they are enormous. She has a special gift for pie, though. She makes a thick, flaky crust so perfectly that for years I never even tried to make pie. I took baking classes at culinary school and I fully understood the simple mechanics and chemistry of pie making, but I still never bothered trying. Why should I? It could never be as good as Jeanne’s! We just ate pie a couple of times a year when we visited her and left it at that.

My own mother does not enjoy making pie. She is an amazing hostess who will put herself out to make you feel welcomed and appreciated, but she doesn’t love cooking. She does it and does it well, but it just isn’t her thing. From my mother, I am told, I inherited a love not of cooking, but of bringing people together and making them feel special. It works out fine because my father and I both love to cook and my younger nephew is coming along. My mother bakes cookies with her grandsons and now with her great-grandson because she loves spending time with them, but unlike me, she isn’t running around looking for excuses to bake.

My father’s family has some amazing pie-bakers (and bakers in general). My dad is full of stories of pie that his grandmother made or that his Aunt Edie baked in her farm kitchen. The only thing that kept me from eating every single fresh raspberry on the vine in my Aunt Lois’s yard when we visited one August was the promise of her raspberry pie. My cousin Elizabeth, one of Lois’s daughters, posts her baking exploits on Facebook, as do I, and it’s good to see the legacy of dough enthusiasts creating yummy things for our families.

But back to my mother-in-law. It is getting harder for her to do the things she loved to do for us, like make pie, so I’ve picked up the habit. Like most things, I’ve gotten better with practice. I was honored a bit over a year ago when she asked me (ME!) if I would make the pie crusts for her that year.

When I am making pie, I always think of the expression: Pie crust promises are easily made and easily broken. I think pie crust IS easily made if you follow a few simple rules. Here are a few things I learned about pie crust, not in culinary school, but from my wonderful mother-in-law.

  1. It’s okay to make the dough in the food processor. Martha Stewart does. Mind you, this is Jeanne’s reasoning. I’m not saying that Martha Stewart is the final authority on pie.
  2. Process half of the butter/shortening to a ‘meal’ and then add the other half to ‘pea-sized’. From a baking chemistry standpoint, this makes sense – those pea-sized pieces of fat are going to give a really nice lift to the crust and keep it very flaky.
  3. Don’t worry if you break the pie crust. Patch it and keep moving. Especially on the bottom, no one will see. In other words, calm down!
  4. Keep everything VERY VERY COLD! My mother-in-law lives in South Florida and until recently did not have air conditioning, so this was extra important.
  5. You can measure shortening using water displacement instead of trying to mash it into a dry measure cup. Put a cup of water in a 2 cup glass measuring cup and add enough shortening to reach the level you want (in other words, when the water reads 1.5 cups with the shortening submerged, you know you have ½ cup of shortening). And you thought there was no point to learning about displacement.
  6. It’s pie. It doesn’t have to be perfect. That is true. I could put the whole pie in a blender and all my husband would want to know is if there was ice cream to go on it.
  7. Everyone wants pie. A while back, I couldn’t find my vegetable peeler and borrowed one from a neighbor. His Facebook post the next day said something like: I loaned my neighbor a vegetable peeler and she brought me a pie. I’m wondering what else I have that she might want to borrow.

Jeanne’s Pie Crust

  • 2 2/3 c. flour
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 c. butter (or half butter / half shortening), COLD, cut into chunks
  • 7-8 T. ice water (scant 1/2 cup)

Pulse flour and salt plus half of the butter in a food processor fitted with the knife blade until the mixture resembles a coarse meal. Add the remainder of the butter and process on bursts until the fat is in small pea-sized pieces. Add half of the ice water and pulse a few times. Add enough of the remaining water to form a soft, but not sticky dough. Knead a bit and then use immediately or refrigerate or freeze for later use.

Pie should not be intimidating. If you’ve never tried pie-baking, just set a simple rule. Anyone who mocks my pie will not be permitted to have any, not now and not in the future when I get really good at this. Practice will make perfect!

I will be posting more on Planned Over Pie in the next couple of days – just in time for Memorial Day!

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