Michigan Pasties

My husband and I went to Michigan for our summer vacation this year. In honor of his Michigan heritage and our trip, I wanted to post a Michigan favorite – pasties. It’s pronounced past-ee, not paste-y, a mistake this non-Michigander has made several times.

I’ve read that pasties were brought over to Michigan by Cornish miners who needed a portable lunch for their work in the mines. Rumor also has it that the original pasties were boiled, and the dough may not have been eaten but torn aside to get to the sweet and savory fillings within.

That last one sounds unsavory to me, so I’m sticking with baked pasties. Pasties also range in size from small, handheld versions to the size of dinner plates. The filling also changes from ground meat to diced meat, depending on whose recipe you use. I like to keep it simple – ground meat, diced veggies, and a little salt and pepper. Pasties are hearty and filling, so I keep mine on the smaller side. I dice the veggies small and precook the filling so the pasties don’t take as long to bake, and I can make sure all the sturdy root vegetables are tender. I make no claims that this recipe is “authentic” – I’m sure I’d get a lot of flack for the butter crust instead of using the traditional lard, and the veggies casually whirled in a food processor and then precooked. But this is works best in my kitchen, so I’m sticking with it.

This recipe makes a little extra filling than you’ll need for the amount of dough. I like to freeze the leftover filling as a reminder to make pasties again. If you want to eat like the miners, consider making fruit-filled hand pies to serve alongside the pasties and enjoy a meal you only need your hands to eat, plates and napkins optional.

Inspired by Michigan Tech University’s Original Pasty Recipe. Check out their page – they have lots of great pasty variations and history on the pasty.

Michigan Pasties

Ingredients

  • For the dough:
  • 2 1/2 c. flour
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 14 T. salted butter, cold
  • 8 T. ice cold water
  • For the filling:
  • 1 lb. ground beef
  • 3 large carrots
  • 1 large or 2 small potatoes
  • 1 small onion
  • 1/2 small rutabaga
  • Butter, optional

Instructions

  1. To make the dough, combine the flour and pinch of salt.
  2. Cut the butter into small cubes. Using your fingers, rub the butter into the flour until pea-sized pieces of butter remain and all the flour is coated with butter. If you grab a handful of the flour and squeeze it, it should stay together in a clump.
  3. Add most of the ice water, and stir the dough together. Add more ice water as needed until a dough forms. I find that on humid days I need a little less water, and on dry days I need more.
  4. Divide the dough in half, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate until ready to use. The dough can be made ahead and refrigerated for a day or two or frozen for a few months.
  5. For the filling:
  6. Peel the carrots, potatoes, and rutabaga.
  7. Cut the vegetables into small dice. Or, if you want to save time, cut them into large cubes, and give them a quick whirl in your food processor like I did.
  8. Brown the ground beef in a skillet. Season with salt and pepper.
  9. Add the veggies and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally until the veggies are just becoming tender. Season with salt and pepper and taste filling. Adjust seasonings.
  10. Allow the filling to cool while you prepare the dough.
  11. When you're ready to use the dough, remove it from the fridge and let it warm up on the counter for a few moments. You can also give it a few hard whacks with your rolling pin to soften it. Sprinkle both sides of the dough with flour and roll out to 1/4-inch thick.
  12. Trace a circle 5" in diameter in the dough (I usually trace a small plate). Cut as many as you can, then gather the scraps and reroll the dough. Trace and cut more circles. I only roll the dough twice, because it gets stiffer and less tender the more you handle it.
  13. Repeat the rolling out and cutting circles process with the second disk of dough.
  14. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  15. Put two to three tablespoons of filling on one side of the dough round. I use my 1/8 cup and heap it up a bit. Dot the top of the filling with a bit of butter if you desire. It's optional, but it tastes good.
  16. Moisten the outer edge of the dough round with a bit of water, then fold the dough in half, covering the filling.
  17. Crimp the edge closed with a fork or roll it up with your fingers.
  18. Cut a few slits in the top of pasty. (Alternatively, you can use a small cookie cutter to punch out a design in the top part of the dough before folding it over the filling.)
  19. Transfer for a parchment lined baking sheet. If the dough is hard to handle, or the pasties are difficult to move, put the dough rounds onto the baking tray and fill them there.
  20. When all of your pasties are filled, crimped closed, and steam vents are sliced in the tops, put them in the oven.
  21. Bake for 25-30 minutes, until the they are golden brown.
  22. Let them cool a few moments, because the filling will be very hot. Enjoy!
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Pasties
Pasties

Chocolate Cake with Vanilla Buttercream

This chocolate cake recipe has a special place in my heart. I received it from my mom, who got it from her sister-in-law. It traveled by word of mouth, “Have you tried this new chocolate cake recipe? You’ll love it.” My mom even made it into cupcakes for my bridal shower.

Turns out, this special, secret family recipe is actually very close to Ina Garten’s Beatty’s Chocolate Cake recipe and Hershey’s Black Magic Cake. Since my family has Pennsylvania roots, I’m guessing they got it from the Hershey’s cocoa box. I was a little disappointed when I realized this, after googling the recipe. This cake isn’t a secret: it’s all over the internet!

And just as well. Because this cake, it’s that good. It’s so good, I want everyone to have a copy of the recipe and piece of the deliciousness. Good cake, like most good things in life, is best when it’s shared with loved ones. So make this cake, and invite all your friends over. What’s that famous Julia Child quote? “A party without cake is just a meeting.”

The last time I made this cake, I used 3 8″ cake pans. I’ve done it in a 9×13 pan as well. Sometimes the center sinks in the 9×13, and Laura’s Sweet Spot recommends cutting back the baking soda to 1 3/4 tsp. for a 9×13. I haven’t tried this, but I will next time I make the 9×13 size. Cupcakes also work well. I even made 1.5 times the batter for a decorative cake pan shaped like Mickey Mouse. I like to pair this cake with a thick buttercream. This cake can handle frosting, and I like the contrast from bright white vanilla buttercream. Chocolate frosting is also an excellent option. Mmm, now I really want cake!

Serious Eats has a great tutorial on buttercreams. I used their vanilla-flavored Italian buttercream this time. I was using really cheap store-brand butter, and to my horror, my buttercream separated. It looked like oily cottage cheese. I was so sad. I tried all the tricks I found online – I heated the mixture up, and that didn’t work. I tried cooling it down. I tried beating it until my mixer was warm to the touch, and there was no change. Finally, in desperation, I added more butter. It worked! I can only guess that this cheap butter had such a high water content that it broke the buttercream because there wasn’t enough fat. So, learn from my mistake, and buy quality butter for your buttercreams.

Chocolate Cake

Ingredients

  • 2 c. flour
  • 2 c. sugar
  • 3/4 c. cocoa
  • 2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 c. (1 stick) butter, melted
  • 1 c. hot coffee
  • 1 c. milk
  • 2 eggs (room temperature)

Instructions

  1. Heat your oven to 350. Butter three 8" round pans, then sprinkle flour in the pans. Holding the pan over the sink or trash can, swirl the flour around until it covers the sides and bottom of the pan. Tap lightly to dislodge excess flour, and dump out the extra flour. You can also use two 8" pans instead of three.
  2. Combine all the dry ingredients in a large bowl. I use my stand mixer, fitted with the paddle attachment. Stir the dry ingredients until combined.
  3. Add the melted butter and stir to combine. The cake mixture will look crumbly.
  4. Beat the eggs into the milk, then pour the mixture into the cake batter. Stir together and scrape down the bowl.
  5. Add the cup of hot coffee, and stir. The batter will start to get pretty thin. Scrape down the sides of the bowl.
  6. Divide the batter between the pans.
  7. For round pans, bake 30-35 minutes.
  8. For cupcakes, bake 18-22 minutes.
  9. For a 9x13 pan, bake about 35-40 minutes (start checking at 30 minutes, though)
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Chocolate Cake with Vanilla Buttercream
Chocolate Cake with Vanilla Buttercream

Make Your Own Yogurt At Home

Huh? You can make yogurt? That’s the typical response I get when I mention I make my own yogurt, coupled with a confused look. But do not fear, making yogurt at home is feasible. I’ll walk you through the steps and offer some tricks below.

I started making yogurt when I lived in Texas, and I haven’t stopped. For me, homemade yogurt has a much better flavor and texture. I like that there are no fillers or additives to thicken it, just good old bacteria doing their fermenting job. I strain my yogurt to get thicker, Greek-style yogurt.

Homemade yogurt is one of my favorite summer breakfast dishes because it’s cold, and I can mix in all the fruit I want. Top it with a drizzle of honey, a splash of vanilla extract, and maybe some homemade granola. Mmm, I’m getting hungry just writing about it.

Yogurt with blueberries

The Basics

You will need a large pot with a lid, a thermometer, and a spoon. Having a good thermometer is an important part of the process (something like this would be great!), because the temperature of the milk matters. If you take nothing else away from this post, remember that. The right temperature means the between delicious yogurt and funny-smelling milk.

For ingredients, you need milk and a yogurt starter. I use whole milk, because I like the extra milk fat gives the yogurt a great texture and balances the tart flavor.

Yogurt starters come in a few different forms. The easiest one, and the one I buy, is a cup of plain yogurt from the grocery store. Fage Total is my personal favorite, because it’s full-fat yogurt. There are lots of freeze-dried yogurt starters on the market, too. They come in packets or bottles, and you can get various strains or cultures for your yogurt. As I was researching this article, I even found vegan starter culture for non-dairy milk. I’ve never made non-dairy yogurt, and I don’t know if the same rules apply, but I’m sure you can find more info on the internet. Because I have experience using store-bought yogurt as my starter, that’s what I’ll be referring to here. If you purchase a freeze-dried culture,  follow the directions for best results.

So, get out your pot and lid, and get out your milk and yogurt. I usually make yogurt with a gallon of milk, but you can make more of less, depending on your needs. The minimum ratio is 2 T. of yogurt to 1 quart of milk. When I make a gallon, I use the entire 6 oz. cup of Fage yogurt in a gallon of milk (about 9 T.). I’ve also used a 6 oz. cup in a half gallon of milk, too. You can add extra yogurt, but 2 T. per quart is the smallest amount you should use.

Got all that? Pot with lid, thermometer, spoon. Milk of your choice and a cup of plain yogurt from the store.

Yogurt with blueberries

Making Yogurt

Now comes the fun part, putting it all together. Get out all your supplies and ingredients, including the cup of yogurt. It can sit on the counter and come to room temperature while you do this next step.

Pour your milk into your pot, and set it over medium heat. Stick the thermometer in the milk. Now, there are two routes you can go from here. The first is to heat the milk to 180F and then letting it cool back down to 110F-115F, which is the temperature where you’ll add the starter. This can take a bit of time, especially for the milk to cool down. This does produce thicker yogurt (you can read more about the process here).  Personally, I get frustrated with how long this takes and usually forget to check on the milk until it’s back down to room temperature, so I only heat the milk to 110F-115F.

Whether you take your milk up to 180F or only to 115F, the next step is to add the yogurt starter. The temperature range is narrow – the milk needs to be between 110F and 115F (I aim for 115F). Hotter, and it’s going to kill the bacteria. Cooler, and the bacteria won’t ferment properly and eat up the lactose.

I normally temper the yogurt by taking a spoonful of milk and stirring it into the yogurt, then pouring the mixture back into the pot. Mix the yogurt in, put the lid on the pot, and set the pot somewhere warm to rest for a minimum of four hours. The yogurt shouldn’t be moved or stirred for those first four hours. Set it somewhere and forget about it.

There are lots of ideas on where to set your yogurt. In the ideal place, the yogurt will not be disturbed, and the temperature will remain between 100F-115F without going over. I usually prep the milk and yogurt before bed and then leave it to ferment in my oven with the oven light left on overnight. Other times, I’ve set the covered pot out in direct sunlight on a 100-degree day. I’ve also had success wrapping the pot in some towels warm from the dryer and setting it in an insulated cooler to keep warm. The garage on a hot day is another great place for a pot of yogurt to sit. Warm and undisturbed, those are your goals.

After the fermentation, remove the lid and check on the yogurt. If it’s set up properly, it will look different – the liquid will be thicker, and the whey may begin to separate out. It will smell a little tangier, like yogurt. I find that the longer I let it sit (over 12 hours) the thicker it gets and the more the whey naturally separates from the yogurt. I find it easier to strain this way, so I like to let my yogurt sit for about 12 hours. This is where the cooked method has an advantage – the yogurt will set up more firmly in four hours than it will if the milk is only heated to 115F.

You have a just made your own yogurt. Congratulations!

You can eat it just like this, or you can strain some of the whey out to create thicker yogurt. If you strain it for too long, you’ve got yogurt cheese (which I’ve accidentally made on several occasions). The easiest way I’ve found to strain yogurt is a fine mesh grain bag for home brewing. I tried cheesecloth, but trying to pick the cheesecloth up and pour the yogurt into a storage container made a giant mess. The finer mesh of the grain bag holds the yogurt better. I place my chinois in the sink, line it with the grain bag, and pour the yogurt in. The whey runs down the drain, and I can let it drain for as long as I want. If you have a strainer that fits over your sink, that’s another great option. Otherwise, set a colander over a large bowl to catch the whey.

If the yogurt’s texture is uneven (sometimes it can look a bit grainy), run a whisk through it or stick it in a mixer and whisk with the whisk attachment. This really evens out the look. I’ve never noticed a difference in the taste or mouthfeel, so I usually skip this step because I don’t want to wash another dish.  Then, pour your yogurt into a container and store it in the refrigerator.

You can flavor the entire batch of yogurt, but I prefer to add things as I eat it. Honey is a great addition, and I like to play around with various flavored extracts. Lemon curd is another delicious treat to stir into yogurt.

Do you make yogurt? What are your favorite yogurt flavors? Tell us in the comments.

Make Your Own Yogurt
Make Your Own Yogurt

Orzo Salad with Summer Vegetables and Lemon Basil Dressing

I’m always on the hunt for a good side dish to take to picnics and barbecues. I need variety, because I get bored eating the same dishes, and I like dishes that feature fresh summer produce. That’s why I like this orzo salad so much. The dressing is light, and it allows the summer vegetables to shine through.

Another great thing about this orzo salad is it can be customized with whatever veggies and herbs you have on hand. Don’t like zucchini? Replace it with asparagus or green beans. Add some fresh bell peppers or chilis (if you like spice). You could even top it with a diced avocado. Next time I make it, I want to add some olives, use feta cheese, and substitute with parsley for the basil. I want to work on a caprese-style version, too, since those flavors always remind me of summer.

I know this is an unpopular opinion in some circles, but I don’t like mayonnaise-based side dishes at picnics. Macaroni salad, coleslaw, and potato salad show up everywhere in the summer, but many of them are bland and taste primarily of Miracle Whip. They’re one-note dishes that are short on flavor. There are so many better options to serve that do better in the heat and still incorporate pasta, veggies, or potatoes. I prefer slaws and salads made with oil or vinegar instead of mayonnaise. The best coleslaw I ever had was from The Salt Lick in Texas. It’s a great barbecue place outside of Austin that serves German-inspired potato salad and coleslaw. If you’re tastes are like mine, then check out their cookbook. I would eat their coleslaw and potato salad every day of summer.

Tell me in the comments about your favorite sides for summer events.

Inspired by Iowa Girl Eats and Pinch of Yum

Orzo Salad with Summer Vegetables and Lemon Basil Dressing

Ingredients

  • 8 oz. of orzo
  • 2 T. olive oil
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 zucchini, cut into 1/2" slices then quartered
  • 2 cups corn, fresh or frozen
  • 5 oz. spinach
  • 2 tomatoes, diced
  • 2 T. fresh basil, chopped
  • Juice of one lemon
  • 1/4 c. olive oil
  • Salt and Pepper
  • 6 oz. drunken goat cheese (regular goat cheese also works), diced or crumbled
  • Extra basil for a garnish (chopped or whole leaves)

Instructions

  1. Cook orzo according to package directions. Drain and drizzle with a bit of oil to prevent the orzo from sticking together.
  2. Add the 2 T. of olive oil and the minced garlic to a cold skillet. Set over medium heat and cook until the garlic begins to sizzle and colors slightly.
  3. Add the zucchini. Season with a pinch of salt, and increase heat to medium high. Saute the zucchini until it's tender but firm.
  4. Add the corn, and season with a pinch of salt. If the corn the corn is fresh, it won't need long to cook, 30 seconds to one minute, or until it's heated through. If it's frozen, it will take a few minutes to defrost and the water to evaporate.
  5. When the corn is heated through, add the spinach, and season with a pinch of salt. Wilt the spinach, then remove from heat.
  6. Add the orzo to the veggies, and stir to combine.
  7. Combine the basil, lemon juice, 1/4 c. of olive oil, a pinch of salt, and several grinds of pepper. Toss the veggies and orzo with the salad. Taste the salad and adjust seasonings.
  8. If you're serving the salad cold, now is the time to refrigerate it until it's cool.
  9. Before serving, stir in the goat cheese and diced tomatoes. Garnish with more basil. Enjoy!

Notes

Salting each veggie lightly as it cooks gives the dish a more well-rounded flavor. Salting once at the end will give the dish a saltier and less-balanced taste.

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Orzo Salad with Summer Vegetables

Grilled Garlic-Lime Chicken

As far as quick summer dinners go, hamburgers and hot dogs are great, but grilled chicken is my personal favorite. It’s also a must for me at cookouts. We went to a cookout recently, the skewers of marinaded chicken, veggies, and pineapple reminded me that I need more grilled chicken in my summer. I don’t have the patience to thread cubes of chicken and veggies onto skewers most nights, so I prefer to grill whole chicken breasts with fruits and veggies large enough that they don’t fall through the grill grate. I love to use a marinade or spice blend on the chicken before I grill it. This garlic lime marinade comes together quickly and marinates fast – the chicken only needs an hour to take on the succulent flavors. I prepare the marinade first, then start heating the grill and preparing the sides, so everything’s ready to cook at the same time.

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How Chicken Parmesan Didn’t Turn Out Like I Expected

I have been craving chicken parmesan all week. However, I hadn’t planned to make it, and I knew I was out of breadcrumbs. As I rummaged through the kitchen gathering supplies for dinner (it was a toss up between bucatini all’amatriciana and leftover pulled pork), I came across some old rolls I’d made last week. Breadcrumbs!

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Melon and Tropical Fruit Salad

Growing up, fruit salads were an ever-present dish at family gatherings. I don’t mean the fruit cocktail from a tin can with maraschino cherries. Homemade fruit salad, full of home-canned fruits, like peaches, apricots, and pears. Coming from agricultural roots gave my family a few quirks, and home-canning food in large quantities was one of them. My family loves to can food. Fruits, vegetables, juice, homemade jams and jellies, pickles, I’ve even seen large batches of homemade ketchup in the works. If it grows in their gardens, it goes in a can. “Can” is a misnomer, too, because everyone used glass Ball jars with screw-on lids.

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Mint Oreo Cookies Ice Cream

Where I live, the temperature is starting its steady climb into the 90s. And for me, that means summer, even if the solstice hasn’t quite arrived yet. Anything over 75 feels like summer to me, but I grew up in the North East where sustained 90-degree weather was that one week in August everyone complained about. Maybe two weeks, if we were having a “heat wave”. But summer or no summer, all this heat means one thing: ice cream.

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