Posts Tagged 'cooking'

A Brief Stint as a Holiday Food Writer

Literally The Best Apple Pie Ever (Scroll down for the recipe)

We celebrate Thanksgiving with a pie-baking day at the office. During yesterday’s wind-whipped afternoon the kitchen was filled with nine women, cases of apples, a row of cutting stations and scattered rolling pins, handfuls of cinnamon and bowls of lemon juice. And lots of wine (which can be risky if you find yourself in the row of cutting stations).

Feasting may make a brain sluggish, but it’s always worth taking a step back from celebrations. Personally, I find it hard to strike a balance between good cheer and dealing with the aspects of Thanksgiving that I don’t support. Like (for example) the way that it gets used in elementary schools to perpetuate a myth about peaceful Indian-Colonist potluck dinners. Or the way that it promotes the image of an idealized, nuclear family: why does Dad carve the turkey if Mom prepared most of the food? The whole image is always a tiny bit awkward for anyone who isn’t married, or who isn’t straight.

I think those things are important to remember (even just subconsciously) when you pause for those Thanksgiving moments of reflection.

In any case, I definitely support Good Cheer. And I hope a sense of awareness, gratefulness, and graciousness spreads throughout everybody’s year. (I realize Thanksgiving is usually not a holiday for wishing, but eh!)

I also support pies, so here’s a recipe for Literally The Best Apple Pie Ever.

» Literally The Best Apple Pie Ever «

A combination of my dad’s semi-famous apple pies, and my foodie co-workers.

The Crust

Sometimes, storebought is just as good as homemade.

…when it comes to pie crust, this is not the case.

A flaky-crumbly-golden-crisp-crust is the difference between a B- pie and an A+ pie, and unfortunately, you can’t get it in the freezer aisle. It turns out that making your own crust doesn’t actually take much time at all, especially if you make the dough a day or two before and store in the fridge until you’re ready to bake.

The trick to a perfect crust is to use both shortening and butter: the shortening helps it to be firmer and crumbly, while the butter makes it flaky and golden. Also, don’t underestimate the importance of ice water! My brief lesson in dough-science yesterday taught me that the dough has to stay cold until right before it goes in the oven in order to get that beautiful flaky separation. If the dough gets warm when you’re mixing it, or if you take it out of the fridge too early, the butter begins to absorb the flour and they won’t separate into flaky goodness while baking.

You’ll need:

  • 2 ¼ cups unbleached, all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 10 tablespoons butter (soft, but not melted)
  • 8 tablespoons shortening
  • 6 to 8 tablespoons of ice water (I’ve heard you can substitute one spoonful of water with a spoonful of cider vinegar, though I’m not sure why)

Mix the flour, salt, and sugar in a large bowl. Then cut in the butter, shortening, and ice water– and take care not to overmix! Pie crust is not a smooth, whippy dough; it should be more bulky and just barely mixed up. Then wrap your dough in plastic wrap and put it in the fridge for 20 minutes (or overnight, or whatever).

The Filling

For this recipe, I’m sticking with a basic apple filling. In Advanced Pie 301, we can move on to subtle flavor additions like ginger, cranberries or bourbon, but for now we’ll have our bourbon on the side.

Selecting Apples

Some cooks like to combine different apple varieties to create a more complex flavor. You can use whatever combination you prefer, but the thing to remember is that you want to use apple varieties that are firm enough to cook beautifully without losing their shape or structure. We don’t want no apple sludge.

In general this means you should stay away from any apple variety that you would eat for lunch, such as Red Delicious or Gala. They tend to be softer and sugary-er, and don’t bake well.

The best varieties for apple pies are firmer and tarter: Granny Smith apples are a reliable choice, but I would recommend getting organic because I’ve found that the non-organic ones are weirdly tasteless and sour at the same time. If you want to branch out past Granny Smith, try varieties like Jonathan, Jonagold or Honeycrisp. A lot of cooks swear by Pippins, but they’re smaller which can make peeling difficult. I’ve also good heard things about Winesap, Northern Spy, and Pink Lady.

The consistency of the filling is not an exact science, but it shouldn’t be too watery, or too thick like canned preserves. The juices surrounding the apple slices should be the consistency of a silky syrup, with just a bit pooling in the bottom of your mixing bowl. You’ll probably develop an instinct about your preferred filling so the measurements below are just approximate.

You will need:

  • 8 to 9 apples (don’t skimp on this! You need more apples than you think to stuff a perfect pie)
  • Lemon juice (I recommend using a couple of Meyer lemons; they have a more complex flavor)
  • A couple teaspoons of tapioca powder (this is another addition from yesterday; before I would have used corn starch)
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar
  • 4-6 teaspoons cinnamon

Peel and slice your apples. Thinner slices will create a dense pie with the crust resting on top of the apples, while thicker slices will collapse and leave the top crust domed. Both pies are pretty, so it’s just a matter of preference.

In a large bowl, add the juice from the Meyer lemons to the apple slices immediately. If you’re a slow peeler, you might want to add the lemon juice to the  sliced apples earlier on.

So add all your spices, and use a big paddle spoon to mix everything up. Make sure you keep pulling the juices from the bottom of the bowl upwards, coating everything evenly. If you need to pour off some of the juice, do so.

Preparing and Cooking the Pie

You will need:

  • 3 or 4 pats of butter (¼ inch thick)
  • 1 egg, beaten

Take your dough out of the fridge and split it in half, putting one half back in the fridge. Make sure you’re using flour to coat the rolling pin and the counter surface. Now roll out your dough as evenly as possible, aiming for 1/8 inch thickness and creating a large, round shape.

To get the crust onto the pie dish: Make sure both the dough and your hands are coated in flour, and maybe you have a cute smudge of flour on your cheek in case someone takes a picture. Fold the dough in half, then pick it up and lay it over half of the pie dish. Unfold and gently adjust so that it’s molded to the dish. This method was another trick from yesterday and it helps to avoid stretching or tearing the crust.

Now pile in your filling. Like literally. Heap it as high as you can. Gently place the pats of butter on top of your apple-mountain.

Take the second half of your dough out of the fridge and roll it out using the same method as before. Transfer it onto your apple-mountain using the handy-dandy folding tip.

Depending on how much excess dough you have hanging off the sides of your pie dish, you may have to trim. Ideally, you want 3-ish inches of dough around the edges. If you do trim, cut the layers of crust together, using the knife to press them together as you cut.

Now, going around the edge of your pie, roll both layers of excess crust underneath and tuck them into the edge of the pie dish. The idea is to seal in your filling so that the top and bottom crust don’t separate while cooking.

Once you’ve done this step, go around the edge again and pinch the rolled part together every half inch or so. That’s how you get those beautiful magazine crust edges.

Using a knife or a fork, make ventilation holes in a pretty pattern. Maybe a smiley face. Then brush the egg onto the top crust thoroughly, but not thickly.

Oh right, you should’ve preheated your oven to 400°.

Assuming that you read the recipe all the way through before starting to cook, your oven should already be hot and you can finally begin to bake! And then make your roommate or spouse do the dishes while you rest and munch on cinnamon-sprinkled apple peels.

Bake at 400° for 10 or 15 minutes, then turn the oven down to 375° for the rest of the cooking time – another half hour or so. Your pie is ready when the innards begin to bubble out of the ventilation holes.

When that happens, take your pie out of the oven, let it cool, and feast.

MIA: Multi-tasking In Action

I’m in the middle of a few different projects right now, but nothing is really completed enough for a full post. I’m sure I’ll have a finished post for each of these eventually.

But for now, let us remember that most of Life is a Do-It-Yourself project… unless you have a wife, of course. Or nanny. Or housekeeper. Or personal assistant.

Okay, it turns out that many people don’t build their own lives. Shame on them.

Re-tiling the shower. And avoiding mold infections...

Painting the exterior of our apartment.

Making chicken salad, banana bread, and salsa. The salsa is in-progress, but the banana bread is in the progress of being eaten.

Oh, and this huge-ass painting.

and art.

Strawberry Rhubarb Crisps

Much more exciting things have been happening, but I only have a little time this evening so I’ll post about the simple things– like seasonal desserts! Rhubarb season coincides with strawberry season; thus, the strawberry-rhubarb phenomenon. Although we’ve gotten used to having strawberries year-round at the supermarket, rhubarb is still generally considered a seasonal crop.

I’m not a fancy chef, so I cooked up the student DIY-version using a cupcake tin and some old pastry dough that a friend had wrapped up and given me to save in the freezer.

Rhubarb 14

I’m not gonna lie– even homemade pastries use a heap of sugar.

In the Filling:

  • sliced rhubarb stalks
  • sliced strawberries (half the amount of rhubarb)
  • About a cup to 1.5 cups sugar
  • 3 tablespoons cornstarch

Let the mixture sit in the bowl until it gets, um, “sludgy”

Rhubarb 10Spread the table with flour, cover your pastry dough with the flour, and pat into cupcake tins.

Rhubarb 9Action shot

Rhubarb 8I didn’t get a picture of them covered, but make sure to cover them with another layer of the dough, and then pinch the sides with a fork or something.

Then, put them in a preheated oven (375 degrees) and check on them every five minutes until they turn golden.

Rhubarb 5At some point, they’ll start vomiting up their fruit filling, but don’t worry! That makes them delicious.

Rhubarb 2Done! One for each guest, and one for the chef.

Rhubarb 3Lick the fruit lava spill. Consume crisp/muffin thing. Enjoy summer food.


The Gourmet Side of Farming

This is an elaboration on my Summerfeast post.

In case it sounds like I’ve been eating granola and soil-covered vegetables all summer, I figured I should share some photos of the less stereotypical farm food that has been on my plate lately…

Waffles

Whole wheat waffles with home-brewed cauldron syrup, fresh whipped cream and strawberries

 

Chicory coffee with fresh whipped cream and cinnamon

Chicory coffee with fresh whipped cream and cinnamon

Salad

Salad with strawberries and goat cheese

Shepherds Pie

Shepherd's Pie (okay, this one is a little stereotypical...)

 

Summerfeast

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"Bosui / spring onions" by Plutone on Flickr

I’ve been cooking a lot lately. The dorm-kitchen situation at Kenyon College is abysmal, so summers are my time to indulge in real recipes, food experiments, and fresh produce feasts. The past two summers I’ve worked in farms and gardens, so I’ve been lucky to have access to fresh food– it takes real effort to screw up a meal when the vegetables are just minutes out of the ground. 

My boss invested in a fancy ice cream/gelato maker, so my first culinary luxury was vanilla ice cream. According to my well-loved copy of The Joy of Cooking, ice cream can be made from a syrup base or a custard base– the former is known as Philadelphia style, and the latter is French style. I made the ice cream from a custard base, which turned out… how do you say… delicious. I would have taken pictures, but, um, I ate it instead.

Also recently on the menu has been vegetarian chili, savory and sweet crepes, strawberry ice cream, sweet potato fries, and everything involving spring onions. 

There are few things more satisfying than having a job like this

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…which produces good eats.

Wild Garlic Mustard Pesto

Wild Garlic Mustard is an invasive species, and has nearly taken over the forest floor near the gardens where I work. Some friends and I decided to clear the Garlic Mustard and have a delicious pesto dinner. You have to pick GM when it’s young, before it flowers and begins to taste bitter. Apparently the roots are also very spicy, a bit like horseradish, and can be used it all sorts of ways. Perhaps we’ll get more ambitious with our cooking next year!

pesto 1

pesto 2

 

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The Recipe

11⁄2 cups fresh garlic mustard leaves 
1 clove garlic 
1⁄4 cup pine nuts or walnuts 
3⁄4 cup grated Parmesan cheese 
3⁄4 cup olive oil 

In a food processor, finely chop the 
garlic mustard leaves, garlic and nuts. 
Slowly mix in the cheese and olive oil.

Comfort Food

The last half of my spring break was spent job searching– always a stressful task in this economy, especially as a person in the arts. To comfort myself, and to thank my parents for letting me stay at their place, I baked bread and made some macaroni and cheese with cauliflower for a family dinner. I decided to bake a wheat loaf, which uses yeast and was much easier than the sourdough I tried in this entry. For the macaroni and cheese, I used this recipe from the latest issue of Real Simple magazine (don’t judge! it’s guilty pleasure). 

The Process

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The (Delicious) Results

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Mmm. Comforting.


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