On a recent visit to New York City, the weather was cold and crisp. On such days, my husband (David) and I always share a small brown bag full of freshly roasted chestnuts from one of the street vendors who seem to be on every other NYC street corner. After letting the chestnuts cool down for a few minutes, David always peels these delightful treasures so I don’t have to take my mittens off! They are so rich, sweet and tender!
When I saw fresh chestnuts at the grocery store, I thought it would be great to roast some at home for startcooking. For comparison sake, I bought a jar of pre-packaged chestnuts as well.
Before I begin, I would like to point out that Water Chestnuts are from an aquatic plant and are a totally different food than the chestnuts (from a tree) that I am about to roast.
To Roast Chestnuts:
Preheat your oven to 425 degrees F.
Wipe the chestnuts off with a damp towel and set them on a cutting board, flat side down.
With a small, sharp knife cut an X in each chestnut. (There are special chestnut-X-cutting knives that you can buy – see comments below. I would only recommend buying one of these knives if you roast a TON of chestnuts.) The X allows the steam to escape while they are cooking. (Do not omit this step, otherwise the chestnuts could explode in the oven!) This will also make peeling a lot easier.
For safety sake, you may feel more comfortable cushioning the chestnut on a (clean) dish towel to cut the X.
Put the chestnuts in a baking pan with the X facing up.
It will take 20-30 minutes to roast the chestnuts. When cooked, the shells will burst open, and the chestnut will be golden brown. The tricky part is actually knowing when they are done. If you over-cook OR under-cook them, they will get hard and the inner skin will be very difficult to remove.
Now comes the hard part: peeling them! You need to peel them while they are still warm. Let them cool just enough so that you can touch them, then start peeling. Be very careful not to burn your fingers!
Be sure to buy extra, because once they are open you may well discover that some have actually turned bad and are not edible.
This task is not as easy as David makes it look. My thumb is killing me!
So now comes the test: comparing the fresh chestnuts to the ones from the jar. There are four things to consider:
- Taste and Texture
Freshly Roasted (on the left) Vs. From a Jar
First let me say that the chestnuts I bought from Whole Foods did not end up looking at all like the magnificent ones from the street vendor. (Of course the 7 or 8 chestnuts from the street vendor that actually end up in your brown bag don’t look like the ones they have on display either!)
The ones from the jar have a preserved look about them.
2. Taste and Texture
They both tasted delicious but the ones from the jar actually had a moister texture.
The 17 fresh chestnuts from Whole foods cost $4.67
I ended up with 12 usable ones. (Yes there are only 11 in the above photo because I ate one!) Two I could not get peeled, two disintegrated when I tried to peel them and one was rotten.
The 7.4 ounce jar cost $8.99. 100% were usable.
When I was a kid, whenever my mom would bake, we would always have to shell the walnuts. (Way back then!) It was significantly cheaper to buy unshelled walnuts. It is a very labor intensive activity. Today, having to shell your own nuts sounds like it is on par with having to go milk the cow to get fresh milk! Peeling your own chestnuts is not an easy task!
All in all, my first preference is to buy them off the street vendor in NYC. ONLY as a special treat, is it worth the effort to roast the chestnuts yourself. The look, the taste and the aroma is wonderful.
BUT, for use in a recipe, I would probably skip roasting them myself and just buy the jar!
For some people, making your own pie crust is almost as scary as speaking in front of a large crowd! Fortunately there is a way around this. You can make both sweet and savory pies by buying a ready made pie crust at the grocery store. Here are a few basics that will help when using pre-made store-bought pie crusts.
You can buy a pie crust all ready to use in the frozen food section of the grocery store.
These come in a disposable tin pie dish. You definitely need to set this type of crust on a baking sheet with sides when you put it in the oven.
Pillsbury makes a great pie crust. You can buy this one in the dairy section of the grocery store.
The box contains two rolls of pasty, in case you want to make a “two-crust” pie like an apple pie. One roll would be for the bottom and the other would be for the top.
A one-crust pie, like for a quiche , pumpkin pie (shown below) or a pecan pie, has only a bottom crust.
Freeze the leftover roll. Be sure to use it within about 2 months: after that, it really starts to dry out in the freezer.
When working with this pastry, the trick is to make sure it is almost at room temperature when you unroll it.
If it is too cold, you might tear it. If it is too warm you may stretch it. Unroll it right over your pie dish.
Gently press it into the shape of the pie dish.
If the dough is hanging over the side of the dish, turn the edges under.
You could then press the edges down with the tines of a fork all the way around the edge of the dish.
Or you could crimp the edges with your forefinger of one hand pushed between the forefinger and thumb of your other hand.
You many actually find it easier to use your knuckle instead of your forefinger.
You end up with a lovely decorative edge all the way around the pie.
If your recipe calls for a pre-baked “shell”, this is when you would prick the sides and bottom of the dough with a fork and put it in the oven and bake it according to the directions on the package. Ice cream pies and pudding pies (like chocolate cream pie) usually need a pre-baked crust.
Recipes will often say to put tin foil around the edges of your pie so that the crust does not burn. You could just tear off some strips of tin foil but making them stay in place is often a bit tricky.
Rose Levy Beranbaum, who wrote the The Pie and Pastry Bible, suggests making a foil ring. (By the way this is probably one of the best and most comprehensive books on making pies. There are very few photos and the book is as big as a door stop, but it is excellent!)
Making a foil ring:
Tear off a piece of heavy-duty foil a few inches larger then the diameter to the pie. Cut a circle bigger than your pie dish. (As a guide, use a really large pot lid or a pizza pan). To mark a cutout in the center, use a bowl or a smaller pot lid.
Leave at least a 3-inch border. The hole in the center of the circle will expose the pie’s surface but not the edge of the pie. Use a pair of scissors, to cut out the circle. Shape it so that it will curve over the rim of the pie crust. (Don’t press it down on the pie crust. I should just be sitting on to of the crust.
Cover the edges of the crust after the first 15 minutes of baking. They will continue to brown, though more slowly beneath the foil.
There are some bakers that put the foil on the pie before sticking it in the oven. There are advantages to doing it this way in that you are not trying to fit this tinfoil ring on a very hot pie. Your best bet is to fit the ring on the pie before you put the pie in the oven.
After 15 minutes you can then just slip the tinfoil in place and you should end up with a perfect pie!
You can also buy pre-made cracker crusts…
…or make your own Graham Cracker Pie Crust!
Bread Crumbs are just that – crumbled bread. Bread crumbs can be used in a variety of ways. They can be used as a filler in things like meatloaf, as a coating for fried food like home-made fish fingers, pork chops, goat cheese, eggplant Parmesan or chicken cutlets, or as a topping to a baked casserole.
If you’re reading a recipe, watch out for whether it calls for “dry” or “fresh” breadcrumbs; the two are not interchangeable! You can buy dry bread crumbs at the grocery store (which I always do) but you have to make your own fresh bread crumbs. You can freeze fresh bread crumbs, just be sure to date the freezer bag and use the crumbs within two months of freezing.
I always have a box of dry breadcrumbs in the cupboard. I particularly like the seasoned variety.
Fresh bread crumbs are really a snap to make! You can use any bread you have in the house.
There are basically three ways to make bread crumbs;
- with a knife
- with a food processor,
- or with a blender
As you would expect, the food processor and the blender make really fine, uniform crumbs that are just perfect. But if you don’t own either of these pieces of equipment, a knife will work just fine.
Fresh bread crumbs made from slices of white bread need the crusts trimmed off first.
With a bread knife, cut the bread up into crumbs. If the bread is really soft just let it sit on the counter to dry out for a bit, and it should then be easy to cut into crumbs. Try to cut the bread as fine as possible.
Approximately 4 slices of bread will make one cup of crumbs.
Onion rolls make great, already seasoned, fresh bread crumbs. One big roll will make about 2 cups of fresh crumbs. A food processor makes perfect fresh bread crumbs in about 30 seconds.
You can also use a blender to make fresh breadcrumbs. While the motor is running add small chunks of the bread through the hole in the cover of the blender. Don’t over-fill the blender!
“Panko” bread crumbs are a Japanese version of dry bread crumbs that were once only available in Asian markets but you can now get them at the grocery store.
These dry bread crumbs are very light and SUPER crunchy. The Whole Foods grocery store in my neighborhood sells spinach flavored ones as well.
You can flavor your own dry or fresh unseasoned bread crumbs with different spices and herbs as well as cheese. The recipe below is one of my favorites that I have used for a topping over baked fish.
Seasoned panko bread crumbs:
Makes 1 1/3 cups
Crumb toppings or coatings can actually be made from a variety of foods. Corn flakes, potato chips, saltines or Ritz crackers can add a crunchy topping to almost any casserole, but that’s another day!