Saturday, September 28, 2013

Trying to Make the Perfect Pie Crust

I've been nerding out about pie crust these days. It comes from a place of nostalgia, amateur molecular gastronomy and desire to create a variety of perfect crusts. People who can't eat gluten have the right to enjoy pie, too!

It started a month or two ago. I roasted vegetables, tofu and wheat gluten meaty chunks in a loaf pan for lunch at work.

At some point I realized my lunches needed more starch and fiber. I wanted that postprandial feeling of full. Feeling sated had become a quest some time ago.

I don't binge eat. At least, I don't in any way that shows to the outside world. A fair amount of food still goes down my gullet, though. Yet I often remain hungry without appetite.

I read, I believe at, that protein, fiber and water act as main factors influencing sense of fullness. Long story short, they activate nerves in the stomach, hormones and neutrotransmitters that affect the sense of hunger and satiety.

Also I have experienced that slow-burning starches (like tapioca noodles) cut down on hunger pangs. They probably contribute to the same processes I mentioned above. Either way, doesn't hurt. We need to get easy energy somewhere.

Nostalgia-wise, I started making pie crusts back when Michi and I got together eleven years ago. I made a dinner pie with a mushroom-based thick gravy and veggies inside for when she returned from an out-of-town trip. Tasted great, but it got old, I moved on from the pie. Still some great, warm memories, though.

My first run at pie crust this time used the following ingredients:

  • Whole wheat flour
  • Vegan margarine (mostly soy-based)
  • Salt
  • Coconut sugar (most sugar uses an animal product bleach)
  • Water
I found it too thick, dry and tough. Enjoyable the first couple times, but I predicted it getting old easy. I played with proportions of flour and margarine. That experimentation made it too crumbly.

I thought of the Indian dish, dosa. Yes, the dosa dough usually comes off as too tough for a pie. Getting a crust that thin would make a good target, though. I could work on the texture later.

Years ago I tried making dosa. It didn't work well. I used either pea flour or garbanzo bean flour, not sure which. The result doesn't stick in my mind. It didn't work, though, it just plain didn't work.

Nonetheless, I tried garbanzo flour for pie crust. The combination of starch and protein should make a thinner, tougher crust, right?

Wrong. The result: maybe thinner, but too crumbly and fragile. I even mixed it with whole wheat flour to try moderating characteristics. It fell apart too much. It felt like eating soft cereal with vegetables in it. Not satisfactory.

I went back to the Internet. "The Pizza Lab: On Flour Types, Foams, and Dough" makes for great, innovative reading. Crust is a foam!

The main point of preparation involves breaking down the protein walls then having them glom together with new bonds. The article suggests using a food processor. It will help cut and break down the bonds better than rolling and mushing with hands.

I tried using the Kitchen Aid. The bowl ended up too big. The attachment couldn't reach all the dough.

Michi suggested I try our pastry/dough cutter. It accomplished the job. It cut through the dough and mushed it better than anything else I used. The final result improved but not as much as I would have liked.

"The Pizza Lab" article almost took for granted that gluten-heavy flour needs to be used. Despite taking on the defense of wheat gluten against haters who don't have celiac disease or allergy, I wanted to not depend on it. I wanted to think that any protein can do the job.

I felt desperate, though. The results didn't satisfy me. Either nature was wrong or I didn't understand nature. Nature can't be wrong. It is what it is. When Nature and Humanity disagree, Nature will always win.

Back to the drawing board. I will embrace the recipe known to work then play with it. I know my original recipe stays together. It only had one problem: too thick.

I won't consider using butter. I don't want to use animal products. Besides, we've found that the right Earth Balance margarine product substitutes for butter just fine.

Trying vegetable oil didn't help any, either.

I nixed using white flour, too. I think it increases blood sugar faster than whole wheat flour and has nutrients stripped away from it. Whole wheat flour also has more, better taste than white flour. Bleached flour bores my taste buds.

Powdered wheat gluten came to mind as a good compromise. Since I don't want to use white flour, why not go straight to the culprit that breaks down then bonds things back together? Again, I want to go back to the basics: wheat gluten.

I used a ratio of 1/3 wheat gluten and 2/3 whole wheat flour. Final results improved leaps and bounds. The crust ended thinner and remained intact.

Even the dough before baking came out better. It glommed together, stayed moist and didn't stick to my hands. I normally have to wash my hands before doing anything else, but I didn't have that problem.

It still needs some work, though. I want it thinner. Going thinner will help me understand how dough works better. I already have a couple ideas that I want to execute some day: calzones and empanedas with poutine inside. Should be fun.

Next time, I'll try 1/2 wheat gluten and 1/2 whole wheat flour. I hope it comes out perfect. Then I can stop focusing so much on figuring out my base model. I can get creative with it by producing different variations and forms. That's what I really look forward to.


Thursday, September 19, 2013

Geek Bar Chicago Kickstarter Campaign Victory Party

Michi and I went to the Geek Bar Chicago Victory Party at Chicago's Museum of Science and Industry. If you're familiar with Geek Bar Chicago, check out my previous write up here.

We arrived with enough time for a leisurely coffee and light socializing before heading over to the Museum auditorium (who knew they had one, and so nice?). The Geek Bar President and CEO, David Zoltan, and CMO (Chief Marketing Officer), Matt Wolff, put on something of a thank you and announcement event.

They have much to be proud of. Foremost, they raised $44,538 through their Kickstarter campaign (with only a goal of $9,750). In addition, hitting their original goal got them a $5,000 matching grant from MillerCoors as part of Seed Chicago. All this comes in addition from private investment they gathered before the Kickstarter campaign.

A couple announcements concerned a couple events they have conspired with other parties to run:

  • Tuesday, September 24, 2013 6 PM: Science and Nature trivia (and maybe a surprise or two) at the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum's adult-only Nature on Tap. Come have some drinks, see nature exhibits and hang out with butterflies and the Geek Bar Chicago crew.

    I'll admit, I've got a soft place in my heart for the Nature Museum. I got married there.
  • Thursday, October 3, 2013 8 PM: The Crownless King at The House Theatre. Enjoy some great fantasy drama then afterward, watch the Geek Bar Chicago crew host a talk back with artists that make the show happen. Audience members will even have the opportunity to ask their own questions for the artists.

They introduced their Executive Director of Cuisine, Tom Kern. Per the Geek Bar Chicago Kickstarter page, "Chef Tom plans on bringing his unique spin on comfort food to Geek Bar, utilizing his love for modern, sui generis technique applied to gastropub-style food." They mentioned an appealing concept for their food: keep it holdable in one hand so patrons can play games and enjoy other hands on geek activities.

Unfortunately, we didn't get to meet head bartender, Laura Green. I haven't had a drink she has made yet, but she sounds like a multi-talented interesting person to have as part of the team. If anything, announcing her addition to the team shows Geek Bar Chicago coming closer to execution for the general public.

One of the hot questions on everyone's minds: Where will Geek Bar Chicago get established? Right now, the team wants to set up in the Lakeview neighborhood, probably more in the Western part. Depending on the exact location, it should work out well. It will have proximity to the 'L' and some major bus lines. Plus, not so bad parking. Then again. . .Geek Bar Chicago could cause some issues for parking if it gets as popular as everyone hopes.

During a question and answer session, an audience member asked if Geek Bar Chicago will have dedicated rooms or areas for different activities, like gaming, watching movies, trivia, whatever you can think of. Plans presently don't include separate areas.

Instead, Geek Bar Chicago wants to include mingling and coexistence of all these activities and interests. Geeks, nerds and other dedicated activities have had separate spaces as far back as we remember. Geek Bar Chicago wants people to share these spaces, interests and for them to exist side by side.

I can see their point. Chicago has plenty of dedicated spaces for these activities. Gaming stores have game tables. People who want to read can go to a book store or library. People can watch TV at home and movies at a movie theater.

Do geeks have anywhere where they can mingle between these activities, socialize during downtimes or even lure a new person into a new activity on a whim? Do they have anywhere it's not considered strange or weird to take part in such activities? Not anywhere that is also a public space. We will have Geek Bar Chicago to create that space sometime soon.

After all the announcements and all the Geek Bar Chicago-centered conversation and activity, the team invited up some personnel from the Museum. I wish I remembered their names and more about their presentations.

The first person up discussed the place the Museum had in society and how they get support to follow their mission. I never really thought too in depth into the research done at the Museum or how much energy they put into educating and exciting kids about science.

They've even brought in a teacher (or more than just one) from The Second City to teach Museum staff how to interact with kids to keep their interest. From what I've heard about how science gets viewed in certain areas of the world, this kind of activity proves a valuable resource. This part got me so excited I wanted to find out how to donate money!

Somewhat surprising, this person mentioned how Geek Bar Chicago made them excited. Geek Bar Chicago didn't rent the space or seek the Museum to help them put together this event. The Museum approached Geek Bar Chicago to donate the event and provide support.

The Museum saw their missions falling close together, not just as two groups with similar interests. I can see the point, too. Geek Bar Chicago and its popularity helps legitimize a subculture that focuses a lot on rationality, knowledge and science. I see the Museum trying to realize all these things by making them exciting and growing these things through all the research they do.

Speaking of research and science, we also had the treat to receive a presentation from someone at the Museum who had much interest in robotics and the promotion of it.

They started off the presentation by introducing us to Paro, the therapeutic seal robot and passed it around to the audience. Really neat and fun. It reacted to be held and from pressure put on it. I think it may have even reacted to human gaze. A baby in the row behind us was quite taken by Paro.

Apparently the Museum does a lot on teaching about robotics and research into it. We heard about all types of robots out there, from gentle Paro to factory arms that won't heed you, tearing your arm off if you stand in the wrong place.

They also stressed that robots don't destroy human jobs. A readjustment may have to occur, but plenty of new jobs get created because of robots. Requirements for these jobs, however, may require a higher level of scientific and engineering education that we may not see as so prevalent now.

Institutions like the Museum hope to make a difference by encouraging these directions in education and interests in people. Geek Bar Chicago can also play a part, like I said above through legitimization of geek and nerd interests.

We filed out to a huge main area near the entrance escalator. President and CEO, David Zoltan, helped in presentation on fire and explosions. We learned that different elements burn different colors. I unfortunately can only remember that lithium burns purple. They had another element that burned green.

Zoltan participated in the finale. He got to throw some jet fuel onto a well contained flame. It made a big flame and boomed loud enough that we had to cover our ears. They had made quite the astonishing display there. I wonder if anyone's eyebrows had singed off.

Michi and I wandered the Museum afterward and socialized a bit. We watched The Last Reef in the Omnimax Theater.

Very enjoyable movie, even though we found ourselves falling asleep here and there. All the walking around had exhausted us! The score especially stuck out for me. By the end, I found it so transcendent I felt ready to cry with joy and rapture by being in the Universe.

Not bad for my second trip to the Museum. It gave me a bittersweet feeling. I feel overjoyed and in awe at what humans can accomplish. At the same time, I'm sad that I haven't taken part so much in any great discoveries like these. Feels like the times have left behind in some kind of rut just to wallow.

Well. . .I guess that simply means I just have to try harder, eh?