Happy New Year 2014!

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                   Starting off the New Year with a homemade Breakfast Pasty courtesy of my Mom (using crescent roll dough)! Can’t think of any better way to kick off 2014!

                    Happy New Year to everyone, hope it’s filled with all the foods you fancy the most!

SFC: Pie on the Table, because the Sky is Too Far Away

                I spoke a little bit about holiday leftovers (and when I say little bit I mean LITTLE BIT) in the last post, only to realize soon afterwards of a very important thanksgiving component I had forgotten: Pie. Or, to be more accurate as far as leftovers are concerned, Pie Crust Dough.

                Perhaps my lack of initial attention given in the post was due to a glossing over of obvious thoughts; if you have leftover pie dough, you just make more pies right? I mean I LOVE pies, I want some more right now… more pecan! –throws a nut on the ground a-la Thor movie-

                -cough- Sorry. Anyways. As many can I’m sure tell of the many uses for pie dough in family dinners, various other desserts, even breakfast (quiche anyone?). At the same time, I recognize an opportunity to finally make something in representation of my favorite Pastie Truck… because I am NOT gonna try and reproduce their awesome pastry crust. But leftover pie dough… not too bad of a way to make your own tasty little at-home version.

                Now, to get started on instructions for making something probably featured in almost every culinary TV Show and most Blogs.

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Pie Dough (a-la Alton Brown)Amount: 1 ½ pie tins, ish

3 oz/6 Tb Butter

1 oz/2 Tb Lard (or in my case, Shortening)

6 oz/1 cup Flour + extra

½ tsp Salt

Up to ¼ cup Ice Water

1 Tb Apple Cider Vinegar

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                After weighing out the various components, cut and break up your fat sources into very small pieces, ½” dice equivalent works really well here. Stick in the fridge for a few hours, transferring to the freezer 15 minutes before using them.

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                The most important thing in making pie dough is keeping everything COLD. If you’re using any equipment, and fork for mixing, your bowls, and any ingredient in significant amount other than flour (it really doesn’t hold temp) should ideally be cold. This is all for the flour and butter (or more accurately, the water within), ensuring that the fat is fully incorporated, which takes some work, without the water leaking out, mixing with the starch, and getting warm enough to form gluten.

                With everything chilled, we can start mixing. This can all be done quite easily in a food processor if you have one, otherwise a bowl it is (something plastic, with rougher sides for better adherence) to work with your hands…  or that mazzaluna-ish butter cutter-mixer thing. But hey, I actually prefer working with my fingers when it comes to pie dough; I don’t know, I think it’s just that feeling of pushing in that butter, plus it allows for more actual control (like whipping cream with a whisk vs a stand mixer).

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              Combine the 6oz of flour, salt, and partially frozen butter. Blend, or work in with your fingertips, very thoroughly until “cornmealy.” This is the first step in the two-pronged attack on a quality dough, incorporating the butter around many individual molecules of starch. When cooked, these fats will soften while keeping the starches from connecting and forming some of those long gluteny chains, thus Tenderizing the dough.

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              But Tenderness isn’t everything in pie dough, so we’ll need to do something to make sure it’s Flaky. This is where the shortening comes in; though it can be any kind of fat, lard is traditional but one can also just use more cold butter. Work it into the dough like before, this time stopping when the lumps of fat are worked down to “pea” size. By keeping the shortening  larger, and not completely working it into the flour, we end up creating little fat pockets, almost like layers, in the soon-to-be dough. When cooked, these will expand and steam, expanding and creating layers similarly to what happens with a good biscuit (just, not as noticeable, smaller scale).

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               Last we add the actual fluids, the vinegar (not in the actual Alton recipe, but I always like it to ensure stability, or whatever it does) and a small amount of ice water, even more important to have the cold here due to the direct water-starch contact. If you can, adding this is done best with a spray bottle, spritzing over the flour and letting it integrate and mix faster than the sloppy-ish method of straight pouring.

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               Now, how much you’ll actually need is dependent on multiple measuring and climactic factors. Either way, only start with about half of what’s called and keep adding while mixing until it’s where it should be. When mixing by hand, this will be when the dough actually starts to naturally form into a ball (I don’t really follow the “when you squeeze and it comes together” concept, because I’ve had times where it follows that rule but the dough will still crack and not hold together when rolling), and the actual do is nice and SMOOTH, best seen when one cuts through it.

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                Wrap this in plastic, pressing down into a flatter round for easier rolling. This is the familiar point where many a recipe says to divide the dough in two; do NOT do that with this proportion of dough, as I found it’s only enough to roll out as-is for one pie. That was after dividing it and having to try and recombine them later, then the shape being all weird and filling in holes, but the flour on the dough made it impossible to fully stick and… well yeah. Just do one mound, or double the recipe for two.

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                Store in the fridge for at least an hour to firm the fats back up. Take out and let rest and soften a bit (a little too firm to roll straight from the fridge). Flour the countertop heavily, especially if it’s a random smooth counter like mine, roll out and use however. But if you’re only using a smaller amount of dough (leftovers), I found you could do a bit of rolling directly on the plastic. Which is great for these pastie-like items, since you don’t have the flour to get in the way when you have to seal any edges (though there is a downside, mentioned later).

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                Once rolled into whatever shape you want for your desired filled item, full circle for empanada-like half-fold or a longer strip to make a little package, we can get to stuffing. Take the desired inside mix, for me a Butternut and Cauliflower Saute with Curried Yogurt sauce, place near an end in a large mound.

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                Grabbing the plastic, lift some of the closer ends up around the filling to have something for the dough to overlap. Take the larger end and fold over, leaving a nice, smooth, perfect looking cover on our little savory pie package.

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                Cut off any and all excess and carefully pinch all edges, holes, and anything that could constitute a leak. Very important to be extra delicate and careful here with this unprotected, tender dough… I made sure to treat it gently, softly moved it underneath a spatula after making it nice and smooth, even and perfect, lifted and moved very carefully over to the pan for baking….

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                And of course it all screwed up after I actually pulled the spatula AWAY. Had to turn it upside down and put all this extra dough on top in a not-so-pretty configuration. Which is a lesson for you all (but really a message to me) to at least get some flour on the bottom before moving… or even better just stuff and fold the dough in the pan itself.

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                Wash and brush the top with a nice layer of milk to encourage good browning and slide into a 350F oven for, say, half an hour, maybe a bit more.

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                Finished, you’ll have a nice, good sized hot pocket of pie dough and delicious filling which, to my surprise, holds up very well to being picked up. The dough itself is obviously much flakier than the Pastie, so it can make a bit of a mess of pastry “snow” on the plate, but if wrapped up in a parchment sleeve it’d make for a very suitable to-go meal.

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                So yeah, that’s it. A longer post for pie dough than I thought I’d make, not I’m feeling tired and ashamed at my ramblings. Either way this should leave me with no more leftovers to forget about, at least until Christmas. Too bad I don’t have any more dough, for some reason I’m craving pie…

Top 10 Trucks, 2013

               The sky is grey, the weather is chilled, leaves are covering the ground and now soaked from overnight rain, and it is literally the middle of October. Sad to say, it seems the 2013 open season for Food Trucks on the streets has ended; we of course still have our various rallies and brewery-connected days, but the midday lunches of Trucks crowding the Twin Cities’ downtown area is just about over. Though this sad news brings much in lamentations of the missed bevy of our beloved street foods, it also means it’s time for the release of the 2013 Top Ten List of Minnesota Food Trucks!!

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                We’ve seen quite a few new trucks this year, and I’m happy to say that a couple were able to push themselves into the top rankings of my scoring system. And though many of the same trucks from last year still remain, that’s not to say there hasn’t been some interesting jumbling and a fun surprise abound. So let’s get to the big reveals then shall we?

 

10th Place: AZ Canteen with 46 points

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Sliding down to 46 points off of last year’s 48, AZ moves to the 10th position after a full review of their burger sadly ended up taking off points in the Holdability factor, not to mention some increased prices in a new Hot Dog. But they’re quality in food and dedication to the unique and authentic street food experiences are still top-notch, reserving their place in the top 10 for another year to come.

 

7th Place: Three-way tie at 46.5:

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            Chef Shack, MidNord Empanada, and Tot Boss

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            Same as last year but sliding down a notch, the 3 kings of Street Food, Empanadas and Fried Potato still stand as testament to what completely different kinds of cuisine focus can accomplish in the Truck world, each of these giants garnering a huge fan base in their own right.

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4th Place: ANOTHER three way tie! At 47.5:

            Eli’s Donut Burger, Paulette’s Bakery, and The Moral Omnivore

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            With an explosive start of their run and a well-placed sneak into the morning timeslot, Moral and Paulette easily insert their way into the top 10 with their first year of service, joining the rarely-seen Eli in score and bumping off both Scratch and the original 3-way tie.

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                And it’s certainly deserved. With a menu based solely on quality coffee and, more importantly, simple  and delicious hand-made croissants with various fillings, Paulette has successfully rolled out to personally kickstart the movement in the Minneapolis Food Truck breakfast scene (it may not be too present right now, but if rumors are true it’ll get there). Next to them, Moral has premiered as one of my favorite new trucks of the year, handing out successful Street-based versions of sustainable and healthy food in delicious packages (very well done sliders). They’ve even managed to make portable salad “boxes” that even I’M tempted to get.

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3rd Place: Vellee Deli with 48

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            With AZ Canteen down to 10th, the Mexican-Korean fusion trucks stands alone to occupy the 3rd place moniker, claiming its giant medal of bronze over one of the hottest styles/trends in the list of National Trucks. Though it may seem not as remarkable among many of the new and old trucks of our city, their ability to extract rich flavors and glazes in a very approachable, friendly, and simple menu, while giving a variety of options that all still tie together (among many other almost intangible factors) has kept them at the top of our line-up for so long, and will continue to do so for the years to come.

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And finally, to wrap it up nicely, still holding the top two spots with 49 and 50.5 accumulated points respectively are:

2nd Place: NateDogs and

1st Place: Potter’s Pasties

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            Is there anything else I can say about these two that I haven’t already? When it comes to the scoring criteria I base the truck idealistic by, these guys simply dominate; it’s no wonder Potter’s has been able to not only get a second truck for their lineup AND set up their own shop (I’d say restaurant, but it’s so not even close, and so perfect to their style). And though I’ve found many an amazing and perfectly-garnished hot dog in various trucks (Racer and Emconada have given us something nice), Nate still stands as the Ruler in the rich, encased sausages and their classic toppings.

 

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                Well, that’s it for this season, back to trying to dredge through the cold months of reduced Truck traffic. Whether any other entrepreneurs decide to open in the coming months or wait it out until spring is still up to see, but for now I’d say it’s been quite the eventful and successful season. I can’t wait until next year, not to mention the various little events that are sure to happen until then. But as always, until that all rolls around, I’ll be here reviewing and reporting on the various Truck-related happening in our northerly state. For the rest of you, Good Luck and Good Eating!

 

*Note: all lists, both now and future, are purely based off the cumulative score garnered in my Ratings System. It is not based off of only one aspect at a time, though if there is interest in that I can always form a Top Ten based purely from “Best Food,” “Speed,” or others.

Potter’s Pasties and Pies

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www.potterspasties.com/

https://twitter.com/PottersPasties  

 

Main Location: Minneapolis and St. Paul

            At some point during the 1800’s, the history-soaked baked good known as the Pastie arrived within the Minnesotan borders. For some reason or another (PLEASE don’t ask me the details, I don’t have a clue) it integrated itself into the food traditions much like the Polish, German, and other immigrant-brought foods. You should thank whatever God or Science you pray to that it did, and when you eat one, you shall understand why.

            Potter’s Pasties, the geniuses that they are, celebrate this old British and Minnesotan food tradition by selling these homemade pasties to the masses. Beginning their bread-laden renaissance three years ago in St. Paul, they have skyrocketed themselves to one of the most recognizable and popular stands. So much so, in fact, they were able to buy another truck this last year so that they could sell in St. Paul AND Minneapolis AT THE SAME TIME. I all but fainted the day I saw the new truck in my old Minneapolis stomping grounds.

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            Why are they so popular exactly? Well, let me inform you of what it is they’re selling. That being 5 different rich, comfort-bringing fillings, alongside whatever special pasties they decided to make. Slowly cooked with simple but strong, nostalgic flavors. These include the Traditional ground beef and potato, a Chicken Pot Pie, a Pulled Pork with Apples and Coriander (my favorite), and a Thai Vegetable made with red coconut curry (almost tied for my favorite).

[See the end of the Post for a FUN Lesson on Britain and Curry!]

            Around the fillings is wrapped this bread-like PASTRY crust, handmade of course, and extensively tested by the chef for what I’m guessing was quite some time, because it is PERFECT. It is thick and firm, crispy on outside yet tender with some flakiness on the inside, some of it soaking up the juices without making the entire thing soggy. It has FLAVOR, that perfect savory pastry flavor that works with the filling for a heavenly experience of handheld pie (god I think I just said something dirty…).

            It’s difficult to think about what else to talk about for Potter’s, when you start thinking about the food there you just stop caring about any other detail. When it comes to what I believe truly qualifies a Food Truck to be a Food Truck, , Potters stands as a shining beacon. Go there, I promise you will not regret it at all.

            Oh, did I mention you can order partially-cooked Pasties to take home and finish cooking yourself for dinner? Yeah, you can do that.

Food: 9

        The only reason which I do not place this at a perfect 10 is because every once in a good while, they have a slight problem with consistency. The filling isn’t as perfect as it always is. It is still good and great, but it is something that should be warned of and remarked on. Also, the desserts they offer aren’t exactly the best, though I have heard they’ve improved recently.

       Other than that, buttery rich crust with the tastiest, homiest fillings; and they are FILLING. Those without large stomachs will often find this their meal for the day. If you’re thirsty, you can get a cup of hot or iced Vietnamese coffee, very tasty with the Beef.

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Holdability: 10

       These were ORIGINALLY MADE just to be eaten with your hands, and though the stuffing is a stew of sorts, it does NOT fall out. One-handed perfection, there is no worry of mess at all. They are THE perfect street food, in every sense of the word.

                Price: 8.5

       Usually around 9.50, with some lower, but worth it, COMPLETELY worth it.

                Speed: 10

      You tell them what you want, give them money, and they hand it to you; that’s it! No waiting! It’s all precooked and held warm; which, normally, isn’t a good sign for food, but pasties were created for holding heat. Again, they’re the perfect street food.

                The TOE: 10

       When you have a place like this, that focuses its efforts on a specific, unique kind of food, and does it WELL, while inside a vehicle with the British flag painted on it, you’ve got something special. In my first post, when I talked about what this rating is for, when I mentioned the “unknown factors,” this is what I was talking about. There is just something… “about” this place that makes you love it. Every single point of Food Truck glory is hit and hit hard, but it isn’t just that; the place stands out, and reminds you of home. That’s why I’m going to keep going back to eat, and keep eating what they serve. As far as I’m concerned they are the best Food Truck in Minnesota.

                Service: +3

       The truck is Open-Air, making it so easy to talk to the people behind it when you order. I’ve had some nice little conversations about food and trucks, not to mention pasties. Do you remember me mentioning their “daily special pasties” earlier? Those aren’t just what the chef wants; you can make your suggestions on what kind of Pastie you’d like to eat a day or two beforehand, and they will most likely make one to sell for that day. Now THAT is how you do Daily Specials.

            Tally: 50.5/50

Final Thoughts

      Just go here, if you’re looking for food and Potter’s is on the street, visit and get something good; make sure to ask what their special is. It is perfect for the cool fall or early spring day, when you get that hot, soul-warming mixture with a nice cup of hot Vietnamese coffee.

      For now, avoid the desserts; see if you can trick a friend or see someone else buy one. Then judge whether it would be good or not (again, I hear they’re improved now, but unsure).

Indian Butter Chicken Curry

[What follows is a little paragraph discussing British Curry. Ignore if you want, read on if it looks fun!]

            Some of you may have reacted to an certain menu item saying “Wait, Thai Vegetable, that doesn’t sound British, are they just doing a little Asian twist here?” or something of the like. The answer is NO. Anybody that knows about English history and their cuisine can inform you that due to the old British Trade Controls taking center in India oh so many years back, in a sense ruling the country for quite some time, culinary habits and tastes immigrated, along with the people, between the two countries .

           This resulted in a large sub-culture of Indian and Thai cooking within the English cities, and a new love for Curries and the like; this can be seen within the many Indian restaurants all around the country. Which is why, if you ever get the chance to head to London, one should try to stop at an Indian restaurant for Curry; it is always a fun and divine experience.

[So now you’re looking at me in a weird way because I ignored how the Pasty came here and yet somehow know so much about British Curry history… well I have a very selective memory okay!!? And curry tends to take top priority!]