It’s all about the crust, ’bout the crust not the filling. It’s all about the crust, ’bout the crust…

Well, the filling is important too.  But in this post, just in time for Thanksgiving, we’re focusing on crust.

And a song that has been stuck in my head for weeks.

The following things top my list of fears: sharks, bears, spiders, making pie crust and fake hair pieces (don’t ask).  If I were ever to get caught in the storyline of Stephen King’s It, the fear scenario would include me in a mall with hundreds of those hair-piece kiosks while being chased by a bear toward a fountain filled with sharks as I tried to make a pie crust.  I don’t know where the spiders would fit in but they’d be there.

I’m proud to say that over the summer I conquered one of those fears.  And it isn’t the one about the fake hair.

During baking class we spent a week on pie crusts.  While we’d already learned the important “cutting-in” technique that combines the butter into the flour (snapping the butter and flour with your finger-tips), it was the discussion of pie-crust philosophy that helped make things click in my brain.

Butter is good for flavor.  Shortening or other 100% based solid fat is good for flakiness.

The deal with butter is that it isn’t 100% fat.  It also contains water.  Generally speaking, the higher quality the butter, the lower the water percentage.  Water plus gluten (by way of flour) equals chew.  So the goal with pie crust is to optimize both flavor and flake.

Which is where the vodka comes in.  And, I don’t just mean the cocktail I suggest you drink while making pie crust.  I’d heard about people who incorporated vodka into their pie dough and asked about it in class.  The instructor explained that the alcohol works as a sort of drying agent and the vodka is tasteless when it bakes-off.  So, the theory is that by replacing some or all of the water in a recipe with vodka the flakiness of the dough is potentially heightened.

This, I had to try.  I  replaced half of the water with vodka.  And went 100% butter.

The results of the trial were successful.  Always one to follow the scientific method,  I tried it several more times across the summer, all with consistently flakey and tasty crust.

Even the next day.

The other thing that has helped to eliminate my fear of pie crust is that I’ve gotten over whatever prejudice I had in my head about using the food processor to cut the butter into the dry ingredients.  Pie crust is pretty easy by hand.  It’s a snap with a food processor.

So my friends, do not fear those holiday pies!

Soundtrack: Do I really need to spell it out?

Pie Crust

adapted from Cooks Illustrated

this makes a double crust


  • 2 1/2  (12 1/2 ounces) all-purpose flour
  • 2 TBS sugar
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 20 TBS (1 pound 4 ounces or 5 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into 1/4-inch pieces and frozen
  • 1/4 C (2 ounces) vodka, chilled (I keep a bottle in the freezer for this and the impromptu Moscow Mule)
  • 1/4 C ice water


  1. Process flour, sugar and salt in food processor until combined.  If you decide to go old school and do this by hand, whisk together ingredients in a large bowl.
  2. Scatter butter in processor bowl and pulse  until butter cuts-in and is reduced to pea-to-lima bean size.  You want visible pieces of butter.  If doing by hand, using the tips of your fingers only, snap the butter into the flour, shaking the bowl every once in a while so that the larger pieces rise to the top.
  3. Sprinkle-in all of the vodka and half of the water, pulse so that the dough starts to come together.  If the dough is dry, add-in the remaining water one TBS at-a-time until the dough barely holds together–it’s okay if you have crumbly pieces you don’t want an actual dough.  If doing by hand, sprinkle vodka and half the water over the flour-butter mixture and, using clean hands, gather the dough together, working gently adding in the remaining water as needed.
  4. Whether working by hand or processor, dump dough out on to a floured surface.  Split it in half and  push each half into a 4-inch disk (still okay, in fact it’s good if the dough barely holds together.  Wrap each disk in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least an hour before rolling-out and proceeding with your pie.





The Spaulding

Right after finishing college but before starting graduate school, I lived with two friends in the heart of the Fairfax District.  It was a very well rounded neighborhood complete with orthodox Jewish families, a transvestite with fantastic legs and, of course, lots and lots of “actors.”  Years after the three of us left the neighborhood, a plane crashed into the apartment building across the street.

Being  young, nubile, recent college graduates, the three of us entertained quite a bit.  At one such get together, the Spaulding was born.  Like most good cocktails, its origins are hazy though I’m fairly certain this was a an adult beverage derived from convenience.  We had vodka.  We had ginger ale.  We had limes.  We had ice.  We lived on North Spaulding Avenue between Melrose and Beverly.  A cocktail was created.

It wasn’t until at least a decade later that I realized “our drink” is really just the Moscow Mule’s significantly less sophisticated sibling.

Early in our courtship, I turned TD onto the Spaulding (he was very disappointed it wasn’t named after Spaulding Smails.  In fact I think his direct quote was “double turds.” To this I responded, “you’ll get nothing and like it”).  Despite his ire, TD liked the drink and somewhere along the way, it became our preferred party beverage.  In fact, if you happened to get married in the last 15 years or so and TD and I happened to be at your nuptials, we probably enjoyed a Spaulding or two in your honor.

I know this isn’t much of a recipe, but it’s a drink we enjoy often and a tiny bit related to next week’s post.


Foster the People, a little summer music

The Spaulding

  • 2 ounces vodka
  • 4-6 ounces gingerale
  • lots of lime

Add everything in over ice.  Give it a mix.  Enjoy!


If cupid was a bartender

All around me it seems, delicious cocktails have been popping up.  I’m sure it’s a trend.  I’m sure at some point the cool kids who decide such fads will get tired of interesting flavors and turn their fickle taste buds back to the mellower white zinfandel or tasteless Natty Lite (okay, maybe not.  But, you know what I mean).  For now, at this moment at least, it’s almost okay to order something other than a vodka and soda while standing at the bar.  Examples?  I have several.  Let’s start with the Drunken Sow at Batch in Culver City.  Three words: bacon-infused-bourbon.  Too heavy?  How about a Moscow Mule from Tin Roof Bistro in Manhattan Beach.  True, it’s an oldie, but, when was the last time a man (TD) could pull off  drinking a concoction of vodka, lime juice and ginger beer–all served in an oddly effeminite silver cup?  I say, grasp the brass ring while you can.

And then there is the Old George  at Manhattan Post in Manhattan Beach.  It’s their take on a salty dog with ruby  grapefruit juice, basil and an odd sort of raspberry peppercorn relish deal.  Two of these babies over dinner and I was inspired to come up with a cocktail of my own.  Just in time for Valentine’s Day.

This cocktail begins with the blood orange.  Blood orange syrup to be specific.  They just happen to be in season right now.  But if they aren’t where you live, you can often find blood orange syrup with the other flavored drink syrups in the grocery.

Here I’ve made my own.  Equal parts juice and sugar are brought to a simmer.

Then strained and set aside to cool completely.  Go ahead and put your vodka in the freezer about now. 

No, there is absolutely nothing wrong with this photo–I just can’t seem to get over the color of blood orange juice.  Pantone…are you listening? 

Returning to the Old George.  So, a salty dog is called so because it is a greyhound (vodka and grapefruit) served in a salt-rimmed glass.  Like with margaritas, the salt plays well with the sour of the grapefruit juice.  Blood oranges fall somewhere in between regular oranges and grapefruit on the sour-scale, so I began with a bag of superfine sugar and then slowly added fine sea salt until I had a nice balance of salty and sweet (think kettle corn).  Go ahead and rim each glass with the swalty mixture..

Next comes chilled vodka followed by our blood orange syrup.  It’s all topped with plenty of crushed–almost snow-like ice.  This part is important.  If you don’t have an ice maker that will make crushed iced for you , a similar effect can be achieved with a food processor.  Think Snoopy Sno Cone machine without the interminable hand cranking.  Or, if you happen to have a Snoopy Sno Cone machine, use that.  

 The final ingredient is just enough soda water to give the whole thing a little sparkle.

Have you guessed the name of this little cocktail yet?  I’ll give you a hint, we’ve talked about salty dogs already.  And, what do you call a cocktail with regular orange juice and vodka?  That’s right a screw driver.

And so, on this Valentine’s Day, I give you, the Salty Screw (and TD says I’m not romantic).

The Salty Screw


  • 1 C blood orange juice
  • 1 C water

Combine sugar and juice in a medium saucepan and mix until sugar is dissolved.  Bring to a boil.  Allow to boil for a minute or two.  Take off heat, strain into a head-proof bowl and let cool.  Will save well in the fridge in a covered container.

Sugar Salt

  • 1/2 C superfine or granulated sugar
  • fine sea salt to taste.

Begin by adding in 2 TBS salt, combined and continue until reach desired balance of salty and sweet.


(serves 1 in generous low-ball glass) (yes, I realize the cocktail pictured in this post is not in a low ball glass. I made these babies during the SuperBowl.  The SuperBowl is really long, we needed larger cocktails).

  • 1 low ball glass
  • 1.5 oz chilled vodka
  • 2-3 oz blood orange syrup (depending on your taste)
  • Crushed ice
  • Soda water

Rim glass with sugar/salt mixture.  Combined vodka and syrup.  Top with crushed ice (fill glass to top as ice will melt quickly to start).  Top-off with soda water.  Mix.  Syrup can be drizzled on top of completed cocktail for a little fancy fancy.