Chow Town

Set new goals for cooking in the new year

Updated: 2014-01-04T20:22:36Z

By TYLER FOX

The year of 2014 still has that “new car smell” after only a few days of mild wear and tear.

The tinsel and balloons of holiday parties have been swept away, the reality of January weather is straight in our face, and those ever so precious new years resolutions are still fresh on our lips.

No doubt some resolutions have already fallen to temptation, but what were you going to do, really not eat pork or chocolate this year?

There are still plenty of ways to resolve to improve in the coming months and as per usual with me, I think it should start in the kitchen. Plainly put, take the opportunity of a fresh calendar to resolve to be a better, more adventurous cook.

Whether you are still mastering that whole “boiling water thing” or you are a battle tested, seasoned professional, everyday can be an opportunity to learn and improve in life. For some, it might be finally getting that beef bourguignon right or how to make a classic soup; for others it could be butchering a pig or figuring out ways to cook healthier meals for their family.

I think a great resolution for everyone is to continue to improve on what you do well, while also looking at things that you aren’t as strong at and begin working towards how to improve there.

It doesn’t have to be elaborate; it might be something as simple as just mastering a basic omelet. Not only will you improve one technique, you will advance your cooking overall exponentially.

Resolving to be a better cook also doesn’t have to be a laborious process either. Unlike like many resolutions, this one doesn’t have to be about doing something you don’t want to do, rather it can be taking a weak spot and applying it to something you really like.

If you are scared of animals with bones but love your grandma’s family heirloom recipe for chicken noodle soup, maybe you resolve to conquer that fear by learning how to cut up a chicken and use every part of it for the soup, making stock with the bones, cutting up the meat and so on.

In the end, you’ve added a new technique to your arsenal and can serve a delicious bowl of family history on the table.

Pastry is a word, for some, that must not be spoken. It strikes fear into the hearts and clean hands of many cooks. Baking and savory cooking are completely different disciplines. Count me among those that tread very lightly into the world of pastry, as it is a technique I do not have as much experience or find enjoyment in.

But everyday is a chance to learn and though I am not much of a dessert person, I always resolve to continue my skills as a cook in the world of sweets and baking.

One way I go about this is looking at something like a basic tart dough and applying it to ideas I am even more keen on, like savory pies. I adore savory pies, everything from Cornish pasty to potpie and beyond. They are like perfect little meals wrapped in a flaky crust, what’s not to like?

Mastering the right dough for the pastry crust is an ongoing quest, as different dishes call for slight variations on texture, thickness, sweetness and so on. Even for the pastry averse like me, the process of experimentation, trial and error is a great learning experience that helps break down barriers to other dishes and techniques within the pastry discipline.

While the crust of savory pies is within the scientific realm of baking, the filling is the place where you can get creative, my favorite part. I do variations with all manner of meat and offal from something like a pork, potato and bone marrow pie to blood sausage or steak and kidney pie, but the possibilities are endless.

You can do any meat or vegetable you like and this as an opportunity to use that resolution to be more adventurous in the kitchen this year. Try something new or be creative with what you have on hand even. Have a bit of roast chicken or pot roast leftover? Shred some up, wrap it in pastry and you have a delightful centerpiece to pair with a salad for a whole new meal.

Whatever your strength or weakness is in the kitchen, the new year is a great time to be more adventurous and tackle new dishes. The process of becoming a better, more well rounded cook is a perfectly easy and tasty resolution to keep for 2014.

Simple Pastry Dough for Hand Pies

This is a simple and easy pastry dough for making tarts or small hand pies. As with all pastry dough, keeping the butter and ingredients cold is optimal. It is best to not overfill the pie, keep balance in mind as you fill. These hold and reheat well, making them ideal for parties or any dinner.

Makes 6 hand pies

1 cup all-purpose flour, plus more for bench flour

1 tablespoon sugar

1/2 teaspoon salt

6 tablespoons unsalted butter, very cold and cut into 1/2-inch cubes

1 egg yolk

Ice water

1 egg, lightly beaten for glazing

Optional: Flaky sea salt for savory pie, flaky sugar for sweet pie, to top glaze

To make the pastry dough: Combine flour, sugar and salt in bowl of a food processor or stand mixer. Add half of the cubes of cold butter, trying to disperse throughout flour. Pulse or mix for 10-15 seconds to incorporate butter into flour. Add rest of butter cubes and pulse again, until mixture takes on a coarse crumb texture.

Add egg yolk and pulse again to incorporate, while adding a small amount of ice water at a time, just enough to make the dough come together. Take dough out, form it gently into a round shape, wrap and refrigerate for at least an hour.

To make pies or tarts: If making small hand pies, divide dough into 6 pieces or so. For tarts, this dough will give you one large tart or a few smaller. On a floured work surface, take dough piece and gently roll it out in a round shape. Add a touch of flour if anything sticks and roll until you have a nice round disk about 1/8- to 1/4-inch thick or so. A

dd your filling in the middle, brush bottom half edges with a bit of water and fold top over towards you. The key is to not overfill, and to get all air out. Press down edges to close, and crimp with a fork. Trim any uneven outer bits. Make a slit in the top of each pie to vent, and brush with egg to finish.

I like to add flaky sea salt or sugar on top for decoration, but you don’t have to. Bake at 350 degrees for 30-35 minutes, until the pies have a lovely golden finish. Serve as is, or with a sauce.

Tyler Fox, personal chef/event caterer who emphasizes ‘nose-to-tail’ cooking philosophy as well as vegan and local/farm to table foods.

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