Kitchen prestidigitation

I’m not sure what will happen.

The Kid no longer eats orzo.  “It’s a texture thing,” my child insists.

I, on the other hand, love the rice-shaped pasta.  It works really well with a light dressing, and smaller pieces of veggies and proteins.  For some reason I equate it to the spring, with lemon, asparagus, and ramps.

By disliking orzo, The Kid has ended up on the horns of a dilemma.  I recently discovered an orzo recipe that will send my spawn into vapors of indecision.

For while the recipe is a one-pot, no strain pasta, which is pretty darn cool, that pasta is orzo, which usually given no love.

The other dilemma that may change everything is the author of the recipe.  It is Melissa D’Arabian, winner of Food Network’s Next Network star.

The year that Melissa competed, we watched every episode, and Melissa caught our eye.   She wasn’t loud or a drama queen, in fact she seemed to have no time for crazy.

What riveted us to the screen was her quiet confidence.

In that she reminded us of JJ Redick.  When he goes up for a shot, in his mind, of course he’ll make it; he’s never missed.  It’s not delusion or ego-driven arrogance, it’s more like a child’s belief in the good in himself—in his mind he’s never missed a basket, so he launches the ball with nothing but complete, untainted optimism.  The “Yips” are incomprehensible to him.  It would be like trying to explain the concept of electrical engineering to a gerbil.

My round ball crush, JJ Redick.

Melissa was like that.  She had knowledge, experience and a stack of awesome, no-fail recipes tall enough to reach the top shelf.  Above all she possessed a quiet form of supreme confidence.  Doubt didn’t seem to be in her vocabulary.

But back to the orzo.  This recipe is like a ski lodge in the summer—it’s very accommodating.  You can add anything to this dish; protein, different types of veg, various nuts.

Petey and I love this, but The Kid has not yet had an opportunity to try it.

Melissa’s Lemon Thyme Orzo (by way of Debbie)

lemon thyme orzoIngredients

2 ½ cups chicken or vegetable stock

½ cup white wine

1 tablespoon olive oil

2-3 garlic cloves, minced

1 cup orzo

½ lemon, zested + 2 tablespoons juice

2 tablespoons fresh chopped thyme leaves

2 teaspoons fresh minced rosemary

1 cup frozen peas

1/3 cup shredded Parmesan

Salt and freshly cracked black pepper

¼-½ cup crumbled crispy bacon (optional)

Pea shoots

Heat large skillet on medium and add olive oil.  Stir in garlic and rosemary.  When fragrant, add orzo and stir constantly until it’s lightly toasted.  Deglaze with wine.  Add stock, and simmer on medium until most of the liquid has been absorbed, stirring occasionally, about 15-20 minutes. Remove from heat, and stir in lemon zest, juice, thyme, peas, and cheese. Season with salt and pepper to taste, top with crispy bacon, a handful of pea shoots, and transfer to a serving bowl.  Serves 4.

Variations (Stir these in at the end of cooking, off the heat):

Instead of peas, use asparagus.  Or roasted broccoli and thinly sliced sun-dried tomatoes.

Drop the peas and add snipped Chinese chives and halved grape tomatoes you’ve blistered in a very hot skillet with 1 teaspoon olive oil.

Nix the pea shoots, and stir in 2 cups raw baby spinach.

Mix in salad shrimp or shredded rotisserie chicken.

Stir soft cheese (like brie or mascarpone) into pasta.

I watch what some people might consider way too much food television (but it’s purely for research purposes).  There are cooks that I love, some that are ok, but not my favorites, and a few that when they appear, I rush to change the channel.  Some hosts are very reliable sources for recipes, with many of their dishes recreated in my kitchen; most were big hits; a few, embarrassing flops.

But a Melissa D’Arabian recipe has never resulted in anything but success, yummy food, and kudos from family.  So much so, that at our house we refer to her as “Magic Melissa”.

Yup, that’s me in the kitchen…

I guess we’ll just have to see if she can cast a spell and make The Kid enjoy orzo.

Thanks for your time.

Melissa’s Pie

My paternal grandmother, Geraldine, made awesome pie crust.  The grandchildren would dance around for the little cookies she made with dough scraps, jockeying for position to score the first one out of the oven, gladly accepting the trade-off of burned little hands and tongues.

My mom makes great pies.  Lemon meringue, apple, and her world-famous pecan are only a few.  But her crusts come from the supermarket’s refrigerated section.

I always assumed that I didn’t have the patience to make crust from scratch, so on the infrequent occasions that I needed pastry, I used pre-made.

Evidently, they’ve been doing this for a long time…

But as I learned to cook, pie became my secret shame.  There’s nothing wrong with using pre-made, but not knowing how to make pastry was a hit to my ego, and a milestone I should have already passed.

Then I saw Melissa D’Arabian, a TV chef I admire greatly, make pastry dough on Food Network.  It looked do-able.  A French master baker/chef said that her crust was just as good as he could do.  So I tried and it worked like a charm.

I’ve made it probably 100 times since then and never had any problems.  It works great for single and double crust pies, and the hand pies that come from her dough are so pretty and tasty, I feel like I should pay someone for such glorious eats.

Melissa-inspired pie crust

pie crust

1 cup butter (2 sticks), cubed and chilled

2 ½ cups + ½ tablespoon cake flour

1 teaspoon salt

3 tablespoons very cold vodka (Vodka is tasteless in the cooked crust.  But feel free to add another kind to lend flavor to the finished product; bourbon for pecan or apple for example, or amaretto for peach pie.)

5-8 tablespoons ice water

Put the butter, flour, and salt in the food processor, and pulse lightly just until the mixture resembles wet sand. Add vodka then water, 1 tablespoon at a time, pulsing briefly after each spoonful. Keep adding liquid until the dough just begins to gather into larger clumps.  Pour dough onto flat surface and lightly knead just until it comes together.

Divide dough in half and transfer into re-sealable plastic bags and pat into disks. Let rest in refrigerator for 30 minutes. Or freeze for later. 

Before baking, chill formed dough for 30-60 minutes.  Bake at 425 degrees until golden, timing depends on size and shape of product.

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Chicken pies that I made with homemade magic crust.

I add vodka to lower the chances gluten developing.  Gluten is the protein that makes bread dough stretchy.  It also makes for a disappointingly chewy pie crust.  The secret of a light flaky crust is to stop kneading the second you can press a portion of dough in your fist and it keeps its shape.

And you want the crust to be cold when it hits the hot oven.  This accomplishes two things.  The butter will melt all at once, and the steam that is produced will create little air pockets, which contributes to a flaky mouth-feel.  And there will be very little shrinkage, so the pie crust won’t retreat down the sides of the pie pan.

The kids rode around the neighborhood on my old pastry dough.

I have, in the distant past, produced pastry dough that was so overworked and tough the only thing it was good for was the sole of a tennis shoe or a pencil eraser.  So I can’t emphasize strongly enough how shocked and delighted I was the first time I made tender, flaky pie dough.

And I owe it all to my cooking crush Melissa.  I figured if it was her procedure, there’s no way I could fail.

Melissa D’Arabian, America’s kitchen sweetheart.

Thanks for your time.