Pecan Pie and the Hunters

Three little letters. P-I-E.  But they can strike fear.  There is the prospect of shrinking crusts (!), tough pastry (!), and gummy dough (!) for one.  Add a pinch of “meeting the boyfriend’s family for the first time” and you have yourself a down-home recipe for a thanksgiving disaster.

That is, if you don’t have the right recipe.  And if the family doesn’t happen to be one hundred and ten percent wonderful.  For me, both turned out to be quite lovely.  I was lucky enough to spend five days a few hours north of Portland with some very special people and enough food to feed a forest. 

Of course, there was the dinner of  turkey with two kinds of stuffing, sliced cranberry sauce, and mashed potatoes dug from the field next door.  But there was also venison sauerbraten.  Lasagna.  Pistachio cake.  Cheese.  Lots of cheese.  Tangerine poppy seed bread.  Red wine.  Bourbon.  And beer.  Lots of beer. 

Plus a whole roasted porchetta-style pig with a cider reduction.  Coriander beets.  Rosemary roasted potatoes.  And cooked down kale greens.  To name a few.

In the early morning hours, bright orange hats and warm coats went out in search of deer.  And when the sun went down, the hunters came back in search of beer.  Cocktail hour started at 4:30 pm sharp.  Dinner for twelve at a long table followed.  As it turned out, these were my kind of people.

And though no deer found their way to the house, it didn’t matter. The holiday housed a lot of laughs.  Some board games.  A hefty dose of football.  And pie. 

This pecan pie did not escape as easily as the deer did.  In fact, one leftover slice was hunted by many the morning after thanksgiving.  There were no rifles involved, thank heavens.

Just a few loaded fistfuls of pecans and a nice balance of gooey caramel, not overly sweet in nature.  A perfect compliment to the buttery crust.  And a pie straight from Joanne Chang’s pastry playbook, of the Flour Bakery + Café fame.

It wasn’t the world’s pretty pie, mind you.  But it didn’t matter.  It was delicious.  And an easy target for the hunters.  Being just P-I-E, and all. 

Pecan Pie
Adapted from Flour: Spectacular Recipes from Boston’s Flour Bakery + Café by Joanne Chang


for the pâte brisée

1¾ cup all-purpose flour
1 tbsp sugar
1 tsp kosher salt
1 cup (2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into 12 pieces in total
2 egg yolks
3 tbsp half and half (or cold milk)

for the filling

¾ cup sugar
½ cup water
3 eggs
1 tsp fresh lemon juice
1 tsp vanilla extract
¼ tsp kosher salt
1 cup light corn syrup
2 tbsp unsalted butter
2½ cups pecan halves


In a stand mixer with a paddle attachment mix the flour, sugar, and salt together for 10-15 seconds until combined.  Scatter the butter over the mixture and mix on low speed for about 1 minute until the mixture starts to clump and the butter pieces are the size of pecans.

In a small bowl, whisk the egg yolk and half and half (or milk) together and then add this mixture to the flour mixture; mix on low speed until the dough barely comes together (it will look shaggy); this should take about 30 seconds.

Dump the dough on an unfloured workspace and gather it together into a tight mound.  Using the palm of your hand smear the dough by pushing your hand down the mound so that the butter bits become streaked.  Do this once or twice on each part of the dough (you’ll do it a total of about eight times) until the dough looks a bit more cohesive.  Gather up the dough, wrap it in plastic wrap, and press it into a disk about one inch in thickness.  Refrigerate for at least four hours (and up to four days) before using.

When you are ready to make the pie, remove the dough from the fridge and set aside roughly ¼ of the dough to reserve for another use (see: pop tarts or hand pies in the notes section below).  On a floured surface, roll out the remaining dough into a twelve inch circle about 1/8 inch thick.  Roll the dough around a floured rolling pin and then onto your pie pan.  Gently ease the pie dough into your pie pan, you should have a fair amount of dough overhang, and then crimp or pleat the dough with your fingers around the edge of the pan (you can trim the edges, if necessary; you’ll want a little bit of an overhang, about ¼ to ½ inch though). 

Refrigerate the pie shell for about 30 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  When ready, line your shell with parchment paper and fill with pie weights or dried beans (about a pound or so of beans).  Bake for about 30 minutes or until the shell is light brown and the inside bottom of the pie crust is not super glossy, if you lift up the parchment paper and peer underneath.

When the pie is cooling (leave the oven set at 350), pour the sugar and water in a small saucepan and stir to combine.  Place the pan over high heat and bring it to a boil.  During this time do not move the pan or the sugar syrup may crystallize.  When the syrup turns a pale brown you can swirl the pan occasionally to even out the caramelization (still don’t stir it).  You want the syrup to turn golden brown; this will take about four minutes or so. 

Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, whisk the eggs, lemon juice, vanilla and salt; set aside.  When the sugar is golden brown, turn the heat down to medium and whisk in the corn syrup, working to remove the clumps that form; whisk until the mixture is smooth again.  Then remove from the pan from the heat and add in the butter; stir to combine.  Very slowly, pour the hot syrup into the egg mixture, a little bit at a time, whisking constantly.  (Really take your time to prevent the egg from curdling.)  When all the syrup has been incorporated, add in the pecans and stir until fully combined.

Pour the pecan mixture into the pie shell (be sure to remove the pie weights or beans and parchment first) and bake at 350 degrees until the pecan mixture has puffed and doesn’t move when you jiggle the pan, this took me about 30 minutes or so.  Let cool on a wire rack.

Makes one 9-inch pie

-You may wish to make the dough the day before.  It means fewer dishes and less work on the day of pie.

-I made the pâte brisée crust for a double crust with the intent to make apple pie.  That didn’t happen.  I had some dough leftover, which made for some pretty lovely [what I am calling] hand pies filled with jam.  I simply followed Chang’s recipe for homemade poptarts. You can find it here.

-If you want to make a single crust (and no hand pies), Chang calls for 1 cup of flour, 2 tsp of sugar, ½ tsp kosher salt, and ½ cup plus 1 tbsp butter, 1 egg yolk, and 2 tbsp cold milk (or half and half) instead.

-Passing by Portland each way we stopped at Duck Fat and Pai Men Miyake.  And I could not recommend these places enough.


Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Fish Sauce Vinaigrette, A Comforting Sort

Wait. Did I just give you a Brussels sprouts recipe last week?  Yes, yes I did.  And I have since singlehandedly taken down two additional pounds of sprouts in two days. I don't blame you if you want to turn back now. 

But I saw this other Brussels sprouts recipe and I had to go for it.  I am a glutton for Brassica.  So I am doubling down here.

I should probably clarify something: this recipe is really not about the sprouts.  It’s about the sauce.  The sprouts are a mere sauce carrier. And I was lucky to have some leftover last night because I did what you might refer to as a clean sweep of the fridge and kitchen cabinets for dinner. 

The leftover sprouts sauce was poured over some warm purple potatoes I had to use up.  And so Dave, my boyfriend, and I sat down to an unusual meal of Momofuku marinated purple potatoes and bowls of chicken broth with cilantro, garlic … and meatballs.  A meal that Dave—with his extensive restaurant background—referred to as a “staff meal” of sorts.

If you aren’t familiar with such a concept, staff meal is a collation which kitchen employees often make using of end bits of produce, proteins, and grains.  The selections tend to be motley in nature.  And sometimes it can get downright weird. 

Luckily, Dave described the potatoes as “oddly comforting,” as he started forking them from the serving bowl.  I don’t have a picture of this for you because, well, they’re long gone.  But slightly mushy purple potatoes aren’t exactly knockouts in the looks department, anyway. 

This recipe is a knockout though.  And—depending on the amount of sprouts you have and your personal saucing habits—you may find yourself with some extra vinaigrette that would take very kindly to any number of leftovers.  So, sure, you could make this dish for your Thanksgiving table.  But you could also use the vinaigrette to flavor your holiday remainders. 

Think of it as a component for a Thanksgiving staff meal of sorts. A motley gathering of leftovers. And, with any luck, an oddly comforting assortment.

Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Fish Sauce Vinaigrette
Adapted from Food52 and Momofuku


for the sprouts
2 pounds of Brussels sprouts, halved
A few tbsp of grapeseed or canola oil

for the vinaigrette
½ cup fish sauce
¼ cup water
2 tbsp rice wine vinegar
juice of 1 lime
¼ cup sugar
1 garlic clove
1 serrano chile, finely diced (seeded if you want less spice)
2 tbsp cilantro stems, finely diced (see below)
3 tbsp chopped mint

plus ½ cup cilantro leaves for garnish


Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  Combine the Brussels sprouts with enough oil to cover the bottom of a sheet pan (about two tablespoons give or take).  (Roast them cut side down; once the cut sides have browned you can toss them with a spatula if you wish.) The sprouts are ready when they are tender and browned; start checking after 10-15 minutes. 

Meanwhile, prepare the dressing by combining all the ingredients for the vinaigrette. Fish sauces can vary in flavor, so taste and add a little more water or lime juice if your mixture tastes really salty.

When the sprouts are done and you are ready to serve them, toss them with the vinaigrette to taste. (You may have leftover sauce depending on the size of your sprouts and how much you actually use; I had about a ½ cup vinaigrette remaining.)  Toss with cilantro leaves.

Yield will vary depending on the size of your Brussels sprouts (mine were small from the farmers’ market and yielded about 3 cups)

-Make sure your sprouts aren’t wet when you roast them or they won’t crisp up as much.

-The excess vinaigrette will keep for a week in the fridge.

- He may kill me for doing this … but this is a very nice article on Dave and his quest for mushrooms.

-The other David. David Chang, from Momofuku, will be talking at Harvard on Monday the 26th.  It’s free, but it’s first come first serve for seats.


Lemony Shredded Brussels Sprouts, an Old New Salad

This salad may not look like much.  It’s in an old, recycled jar, for one.  Plus, the texture of the picture is a little grainy. 

You can barely see the dried cranberry in the lower right corner poking its little slivered head out from beneath a cap of Brussels sprouts.  But it’s a doozy.  And when it’s sitting in front of you, with its chartreuse chards and bits of berry, it’s as inspirational as any salad made from tiny cabbages can be. 

Sure, arguably “the sprout” has seen its heyday come and go.  It has had to make way for millet, for sea beans, and for the lofty assertions that come with such plants.  “They’re superfoods!” they say. “They fight cancer.”  “They have fiber.”

“They mend dreams and fix broken promises,” they pretty much say.

“They’ll help you start that NGO.” “They’ll power your iPhone,” they say.

“They are the perfect post-recovery food after climbing Mount Kilimanjaro.” “They’ll give you energy to crochet that hemp yarn into a farmers’ market tote.” 

Too far, I say.  It’s just a plant.

It makes me sad to see a vegetable’s relevance come and go.  Debatably, sprouts have fallen faster on the trend scale than the pomegranate (who I am noting has recently been replaced by the persimmon).  

But nevermind all this.  This salad is delicious.  And—in my lowly opinion—that’s the best argument there is for its consumption.

Its inspiration came from a salad that Area Four had on their menu last (gasp) winter.  Also, their pizzas are great.  Especially the clam and bacon.   But I’m getting off track.  Salad. Yes.  If memory serves, their original sprout salad also had shredded kale in it.  Maybe even some apple pieces. 

I've made a number of versions of this dish since I first had it.  And I must confess, by the time I’m finished shredding the sprouts, I’ve about had it with the mandoline.  So I never bother with kale.  Thus, the salad comes together rather quickly.

So consider this salad without its past halo of health and PR hullabaloo.  Is it good for you?  Sure.  But it’s also tasty.  Is it cutting edge?  Doesn't matter.  What's old becomes new again.  And, in the meantime, I’ll be here.  Eating this salad.  

Lemony Shredded Brussels Sprouts with Pecorino and Cranberries


1 large branch of sprouts (between 2-3 cups shredded)
juice of 1 small lemon
a few gulgs of olive oil
¼ habanero pepper, seeds removed and minced
3-4 tbsp dried cranberries, roughly cut into slivers
2-4 tbsp pecorino cheese
a few juniper berries, crushed (use a mortar and pestle or rolling pin)
a few grinds of black pepper
pinch of salt
¼ cup walnut pieces, toasted


Slice the raw Brussels spouts very thinly with a mandoline, or by hand.  Toss in the lemon juice and olive oil.  Add in the habanero, cranberries, pecorino, salt, juniper, and black pepper. Taste and adjust for seasoning.  Mix in toasted walnuts.

Makes a few cups worth.

-To toast walnuts, I usually heat them in a saucepan on low heat.  It’s quicker than the oven and works just as well as long as you watch them. (They brown more quickly on the stovetop.)

-This is another recipe that lends well to adaptation.  I’ve used dried cherries … added thinly sliced shallots … used a spicy sesame oil … but after all that I’ve decided I like this way best. 

-If you don't have the juniper berries, leave them off.  I bought a surplus and I like then with cabbage-y things.


Saffron Vanilla Bean Butter Cookies, At Your Own Risk

I have these friends.  I call them “danger friends.”  But not in a bad way.  Mostly.  

What I mean to say is that they are not the “vanilla” kind.  They are the kind that you curse at 7 am when you wake smelling of bourbon and regret.  They are the kind with last names like “Maloney,” “Santangelo,” and “Samson.”  The kind that will bail you out of jail.  Or put you there.

And here is what happened.  I went to California wine country with a few of these friends.  We stalked the hills of San Fran and downed wine at NOPA.  We drove through Yountville, stopping for a late, pinot-soaked lunch at Bouchon.  We impulse bought macarons the size of doorknobs, cork-shaped brownie cakes, and cupcakes wrapped in fondant from their bakery next door.  

We toured the wineries of Preston, Bella, Adrian Fog, and Medlock Ames.  We drank wine.  We bought wine.  We made friends with people that owned wineries.  You get the idea.  Lots of wine happened.  And we—somehow—survived all of this.

The day after I got back home, I made these cookies.  They’re almost a savory sort. Almost.  They have a nice salty bite and enough saffron to nearly invoke paella.  But not in a bad way.  In fact, the vanilla reins you in.  Go figure.

And they are a spectacular pairing to the adventures noted above.  The original recipe hails from Blue Bottle Coffee, a San Fran spot.  They also have some life to them.  And definitely some saffron.  Sugar cookie purists should turn back now.

Given their nature, I imagine they’ll go quite nicely with the floral viognier I got from Garagiste, a micro-winery in Healdsburg.  Or anything with bubbles.  But what I’d probably recommend most is to pair them with danger friends.  And maybe some sunglasses and Advil.

Saffron Vanilla Bean Butter Cookies


About 30 saffron threads (1/8 tsp crushed saffron)
½ a vanilla bean
2 tbsp half and half
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
½ cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
½ cup sugar
½ cup packed muscovado sugar (I used the dark variety; you could also use brown sugar)
1 tsp kosher salt
1 egg, at room temperature
1 tsp vanilla extract


Crush the saffron threads with a mortar and pestle (or finely mince them; alternatively, you may be able to crush them with a rolling pin if you’re feeling up for it: the finer the powder, the more pervasive the flavor). Split half of the vanilla bean in half lengthwise and scrape out the seeds into a small saucepan. Add the vanilla pod, half and half, and saffron and cook the mixture on very low heat until bubbles start to form at the edge of the pan.  Take the pan off the heat, cover it, and let the mixture steep for about 10 minutes (a bright yellow color will appear).

Meanwhile, combine the flour and baking soda in a medium-sized bowl.  In a stand mixer, beat the butter on low speed for 1-2 minutes until it is smooth.  Add in the sugars and salt and beat to combine; scrape down the sides and mix on medium speed until the mixture is light and fluffy (this will take a few minutes).

Discard the vanilla bean from the saucepan (squeeze any liquid that collected in the pod to extract all the flavor you can).  Whisk the saffron mixture, egg, and vanilla extract together in a small bowl and then add the egg mixture to the creamed butter and sugar in a slow stream with the mixer is running on low speed, until everything comes together and is smooth.  Scrape down the sides of the bowl and then slowly add in the flour mixture until everything just comes together, with the mixer running on low again.  Press the dough together and wrap it tightly in plastic wrap; refrigerate it for at least 3 hours.

When you are ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.  Scoop out about 1 heaping tbsp of dough.  (Don’t put more than 12 cookies per tray.) It helps to use a small scoop if you have one.  Bake them for about 10-12 minutes, rotating the tray half way through the baking.  The cookies are done when their edges start to brown but still appear slightly undercooked in the center.  Let them cool for at least 10 minutes.  The cookies should buckle slightly as they cool.

Makes about 20-25 small cookies (or about 10 large ones)

-The recipe on 101 Cookbooks used a ¼ cup sized scoop per cookie, which yielded about 10 cookies.  I wanted more, so I made them smaller and cut the baking time down about 3-5 minutes.

-Store leftover cookies in an airtight container for up to two days.  Alternatively, you can throw them in the freezer.

-The dough can hang in the fridge for up to five days, so consider baking off only what you need if you are someone who likes the idea of warm cookies quite regularly.

-The original recipe called for milk, but I only had half and half.  I don’t think this addition impacted anything too terribly.  Adding half and half to things rarely does.  Use whatever you have.

-If you are doing the math, it looks like there are at least 16 cookies on that tray (I can’t get anything past you!).  I arranged them all on one pan to take their picture.  Don’t crowd the pan is all I’m saying.

-Thank you, Jen and Kara, for an awesome trip.  For all the fun.  And for not killing me.  You guys are really animals.