Thursday, October 29, 2009

Cranberry Pork Chops

Cranberries seem to be in real abundance this year and when they're available fresh, this is a nice little autumn dish that I look forward to making. It's pretty simple, straightforward, no unusual ingredients, subtly flavored in spite of the presence of cranberries, but with a hint of a sweet-tart flavor that I enjoy.

I'm going to give you the recipe as it was presented and then I'll share my thoughts.

Cranberry Pork Chops
(from the Cape Cod Cookbook by Jean Childress)

6 center cut pork chops
1 1/2 tablespoons butter
1 1/2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 cup fresh cranberries
salt and pepper
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 tablespoon flour
1/2 cup water
1 orange, sliced thin, for garnish, optional

In a skillet or fry pan large enough to hold the pork chops without crowding, melt the butter and add the oil. Add the pork chops and brown on both sides. After browned, remove pork chops to a separate dish and drain the excess fat. Return the pork chops to the skillet and add the salt and pepper and brown sugar, cranberries, and water. Cover and simmer for one hour. Make a slurry by combining the flour with a little water, stirring out any lumps, and then gradually adding to the pan, stirring to combine. Continue stirring until thickened. Garnish with the orange slices.

OK, my thoughts. One hour simmering is much, much too long. I had chops that were a good 3/4 inch thick and they were done in 30 minutes or so (it took a bit for the cranberries to cook and burst). I'm pretty sure that if I let them go for an hour, I could've made a silk purse out of the chops. My only other thought is that there's really not a whole lot of sauce so if you'd like more than a couple of tablespoonfuls, I'd suggest doubling the sauce ingredients.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Mrs. Marks' Gingersnap Cookies ~ The Widow's Mite

I was going to save this post for closer to Christmas because it's a bit of a Christmas story, but these cookies are so good that I wanted to share them now with you. Plus there's a bit of a tie-in at the end.

I used to work in an insurance agency in Plymouth, Massachusetts (America's Hometown says their slogan, although their are other towns that were discovered and settled long before Plymouth, but it's still a catchy slogan), and there was quite a mix of clientele, ranging from descendants of the Pilgrims to immigrants , the financially secure, to those who struggled.

One of my clients was a dear old lady, a widow of some years, living on her meager social security check. She drove a 15-year-old Chrysler that would hiccup and puff clouds of blue smoke as she drove. Once a week she would come in and collect the soda cans we made a point of saving for her and cash them in for their five cent return deposit. For her, every nickle mattered, but we hardly cared, tossing them away. What is a nickle?

At Christmastime, clients came in with gifts for "the girls." There were big pots of perfect ruby red poinsettias purchased from the best florist, huge tins of buttery Danish cookies purchased from the best bakery, boxes of gourmet chocolates wrapped in gold foil and silk ribbons purchased from the best candy store.

About a week before Christmas, Mrs. Marks drove into our parking lot. I watched her from the picture window beside my desk. Her old Chrysler came to an abrupt stop when she hit the tar berm at the end of the parking space, a blue cloud of smoke settling around her. There seemed to be some flustering in the car, but eventually she rolled out the front seat. I got up from my chair to go to the agency's kitchen to retrieve the trash bag of soda pop cans we saved for her. When I came back in, she was already at the counter, smiling, eyes shining, wishing a softly-spoken Very Merry Christmas to everyone.

In front of her, laying on the counter, was a plain white paper plate filled with a dozen or so cookies, wrapped in clear plastic wrap. The wrap didn't cling to the flimsy paper plate, and she neatly tucked it underneath to make a prettier presentation. "I just made these this morning for you girls. " She pushed the plate towards me.

I lifted up one side of the plastic wrap and selflessly took only one cookie. She watched me as I bit into it, trying to glean every nuance of expression. A pause as the deep flavors registered in my brain and in my mouth. I think "WOW!" must have been written on my face. "These are excellent!" I declared.

Mrs. Marks' Gingersnaps are excellent, the very best I ever had. There is no skimping on spices and no skimping on flavor. They can be made soft by slightly undercooking, made crisp by longer cooking. I cannot begin to tell you how many times I've made these. And every time I eat one, I think of that beautiful lady, giving the very best she had, from her heart.

Let me share the recipe, just as she wrote it, on the back of her electric light bill envelope.

Ginger Snaps

1 cup sugar
3/4 c shortening
1 beaten egg
1/4 cup molasses
2 cups flour
2 teaspoons soda (she means baking soda)
1 teaspoon cloves
1 teaspoon cloves1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon ginger
1 teaspoon salt
a little additional sugar for rolling balling of doughs into

Mix all together. Roll in small balls and dip one side in sugar. Place on cookie sheet and bake for 10-12 minutes at 375 degrees Fahrenheit.

Grins. Her directions are as frugal as she was.

Okay, so I slightly change the method. In a medium-sized bowl, cream together the sugar and shortening. Add the egg and molasses, mix well. Sift together the dry ingredients and gradually add to the wet, just until blended. Do not overmix. Take small pinches of dough and roll into balls about the size of a small walnut (these cookies will spread).

In a separate small plate or bowl, sprinkle maybe 1/4 cup of sugar. Roll one side only of the ball of dough in the sugar. Place sugared balls on greased cookie sheet. Bake at 375 degrees Fahrenheit. I tend to like my cookies a little on the soft side so I start checking at ten minutes baking time.

And while we're on the subject of giving from the heart, I'd like to take a moment and acknowledge several fellow bloggers. I made it to my 100th post (four posts ago, grins) and along the way, these wonderful, beautiful ladies have gone far above and beyond in sharing their time and friendship with me. They have extended their hand in friendship, encouragement and inspiration and cheerful camaraderie.

Cooking is a soulcraft, I think. Those who love to cook for those they love and care about are nurturers. Once we have taken our first breath, it is our mother's breast and heartbeat that we crave. And once the babe no longer needs the breast, we still continue to show our love through the foods we prepare and present. The loving heart still beats and we still crave its comforting sound.

For my friends (in the order that I met you),
Trish, at The Mad Chemist and Schemmelhos
Coleen at Coleen's Recipes
Ang at Gulf Coast Gram
Chaya at Sweet and Savory Says It All and Have The Cake and The Bad Girl's Kitchen

I want to give you a small acknowledgment for the greatest gift, your friendship. Bless you and all you do.

And many blessings to my fellow foodies and bloggers. You give cheer and sustenance and lift up those around you. I pray that your hearts beat long and strong.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Easy Baked Stuffed Pork Chops and Carmelized Apples

Now this is a recipe I made way back when, maybe 30 years ago or so. It used to be on the back of the Pepperidge Farm Herbed Stuffing bag, has since been removed, but I still make this from time to time, and it's still a favorite. It makes a nice presentation and one that I prepare when I was something just a little extra special for the family.

I've pretty much used the stuffing recipe that's on the Pepperidge Farm website with a couple of changes indicated in parenthesis.

Easy Baked Stuffed Pork Chops

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease a 9 inch x 5 inch loaf pan, set aside.

Lightly brown 6 pork chops (bone in, boneless, loin, center cut, your choice), in butter or oil, not cooking all the way through. You're looking just to give it some color. Place chops in prepared loaf pan, standing the pork chops in a rows down the length of the loaf pan.

Prepare stuffing mix.
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter
1 stalk celery, finely chopped
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 can (10 1/2 ounces) chicken broth (you may not need the entire amount)
4 cups herb seasoned stuffing
1 medium apple, peeled, cored and chopped
A good pinch of Bell's Seasoning (optional)

Heat the butter in a 10-inch skillet or a deep sauce pan over medium heat. Add the celery and onion and cook until tender, stirring occasionally. Add the broth and heat to a boil. Remove the skillet from the heat. Add the stuffing mix and apples, stirring until well combined. Taste for seasoning. I like to add a little extra Bell's Seasoning because I like the flavor of sage, and I think the pork chops can use the little added flavor. The other note I'd like to make here is that you may not not need all that broth. The last time I did this, the stuffing was way too wet; I would go with half the amount, but that's personal preference.

Now, with a spoon (and probably your hands), lightly pack the stuffing in between the rows of pork chops, so that you'll have stuffing, pork chop, stuffing, pork chop, stuffing, etc. The stuffing will expand so don't pack it in too firmly.

Bake at 350F for one hour or until done, depending on how thick your chops are. When ready to serve, scoop out a pork chop with the stuffing.

I often serve pork with apples; the two flavors just seem to go together so well. This time I made a simple caramelized apple.

Caramelized Apple

Really, this is just too easy, not a recipe per se, but a method. A friend of mine from Kentucky shared her family's recipe with me.

Four apples, peeled, cored, and sliced as if for a pie. (Granny Smiths are good for this as they stand up to cooking.) Add a quarter cup of brown sugar, two tablespoons of butter. Put all into a frying pan and heat through over medium heat. The butter and the brown sugar will melt, making a wonderful caramel coating for the apples. Cook, stirring frequently, until apples are tender when pierced with a fork. Add a sprinkle of cinnamon if you want. It's really that simple. This makes a nice change from applesauce and a delicious way to use up apples.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Gingerbread Waffles

I'm enjoying a week's vacation at home this week, just puttering about, doing all those little things I've been putting off. I love being home, having become more of a homebody in my middle years. My wanderlust seems to have wandered off, grins, as I find peace and comfort in my little home.

Being at home, though, doesn't mean I give up "vacation food," those foods that are just a little unique, a tad more special, than our ordinary fare, and become a part of our vacation memory.

So, this morning, I was thinking about breakfast. If I were dining out this morning, what would I want to have, I wondered. I found the perfect solution, Gingerbread Waffles at Inn Cuisine. Honestly, as Ole Sweetie-Pi and I sat at the breakfast table this morning, each enjoying our waffle, it was as if we were whisked away to some romantic inn. There was heavy frost on the grass, breezes blowing the maple leaves from our trees, making the leaves dance and skip about the lawn, inside, the cats cozying by the heat. Coffee was waiting. And yummm.. the aroma of warm gingerbread tempting the nose and the belly... The next time I serve these, I think I'm going to pull out all the stops, flowers, music, tablecloth and napkins, the special little things that vacation memories are made of.

These waffles are light, very tender, warm spicy, sweet enough on their own, (maple syrup would be too much, in my opinion) and with a pat of butter, simple and delicious. However, I would like to dress these up; they would be good with a lemon sauce with maybe a scattering of raspberries or a dollop of whipped cream.

Gingerbread Waffles

Preheat your waffle iron. Have ready three separate bowls.

In a large bowl combine:
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 & 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon ground ginger
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves

In a medium bowl mix together until light and fluffy:1/3 cup packed brown sugar
1 egg yolk

Then add and mixed until combined:
3/4 cup buttermilk
1/4 cup molasses
3 tablespoons butter, melted

In a small bowl beat until egg white forms stiff peaks:
1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 egg white

Add the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and mix until just combined, being careful not to overmix.

Fold the stiffened egg whites into the batter.

Gently pour batter onto your preheated waffle iron and bake according to the manufacturer's directions.

Serve with topping or sauce of choice.

Close your eyes and dream those wonderful vacation dreams.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Simply Great Chicken

I visit all of your wonderful blogs and see so much delicious food that my must-make recipe folders are literally bulging and bursting. There are recipes that don't make it to my folders, however, and those are the ones that look especially delicious, easy and quick, perfect for those nights when I don't have the time or inclination to spend a lot of time in the kitchen but still want to prepare something nice.

Here's a three ingredient recipe that I think that at first blush many would pass by. However, don't let its simplicity deceive you; it's so simple and so delicious that the recipe has earned its name. I discovered this keeper recipe on Bunny's Warm Oven. Carol, who's an absolute doll and one of three fabulous cooks, posted this on Bunny's Warm Oven. If you haven't visited with them before, I hope you do because, as I mentioned, there are three fabulous cooks, each preparing a recipe for a portion of a meal so that we have the benefit of seeing a whole meal. A trio of delicious recipes in every post!

Simply Great Chicken

About 3 1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken (I've used both thighs and breasts)
1 ( .7 ounce) packet of dried Italian dressing mix (such as Good Seasonings)
1/2 cup brown sugar, packed

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease a 12 inch x 9 inch pan and set aside, and/or it may be preferable to line your dish with aluminum foil as the sugar tends to caramelize while baking.

Rinse chicken, pat dry with paper towels.

Combine and the dried Italian seasoning mix and the brown sugar, mixing together well.

Dip and press the chicken pieces into the mixture, coating front and back and place into your prepared pan, topside of the chicken facing up. Any extra coating that remains can just be sprinkled over the chicken.

Carol says to cook for 50-60 minutes or until chicken is done. I do that as well, but during the interim, I turn the chicken over a couple of times and spoon the resultant saucy melted brown sugar mix over the baking chicken allowing, with the final turn leaving the topside facing up for the last bit of baking. I want to get as much of that flavorful coating as I can.

Carol, I want to thank you again for such a delicious share. I've already made this recipe twice and am looking forward to it again and again!

Monday, October 12, 2009

For Ingrid: Cinnamon Rolls for Christmas

Ingrid, here it is ~ a really nice cinnamon roll recipe that I believe your family will love. This Paula Deen recipe makes 15 medium sized rolls, works up pretty easily, with ingredients that are typical to most pantries and kitchens. I hope my pictures and my narrative will help you serve these delightful rolls for your family's Christmas breakfast and many more!

First the ingredients.

Paula Deen's Cinnamon Rolls
For the Dough

1/4-ounce package active yeast (or 2 1/4 teaspoons if you're using bulk form)
1/2 cup warm water
1/2 cup milk, scalded
1/4 cup sugar
1/3 cup butter or shortening
1 teaspoon salt
1 egg
3 1/2 to 4 cups all-purpose flour, divided

Get all all your ingredients and any tools you might need. As I use my ingredients I put them away so if anything is left over I know it's one that I inadvertently admitted, grins.

Start by scalding your milk. Boil over medium heat; you will notice a skin forming, which is just the milk fat that has cooked. You can just scoop it out and discard. I then melted my butter in the heated milk and set it aside.

While the milk was scalding, I microwaved the wave, tested with an instant-read thermometer. The directions on my jar of yeast said to proof in water between 100 to 115 degrees Fahrenheit. I had heated the water too hot, cooled it down by stirring in an ice cube, took out any water added by the melting ice cube.

Add the yeast and stir quickly to combine. Within moments you will see the yeast start to "bloom," meaning that it's active and good to use.

Once the yeast is fully proofed, it will look nice and foamy. This will generally take about 5 to10 minutes. If your yeast does not fully bloom like this, throw it away and start over.

In a large bowl mix milk, sugar, melted butter, salt and egg. Add 2 cups of flour and mix until smooth. Sift the dry ingredients in as you add them to remove any clumps or lumps.

Add the yeast mixture and give it a good stir. The batter is loose, but heavy.

The directions say to add in the remaining flour, but I would exercise some caution and not blindly follow those directions. There is 1 1/2 to 2 cups of flour remaining. Start with one cup, give a good stir until it's well incorporated. Take a look and see how sticky it still looks. Then get your hands involved here because you need to feel how wet and loose the dough is. I sift additional flour in with one hand and massage it in with the other, turning and mixing the whole time. Now as I've stated previously you make not need all the additional flour called for, but depending on the humidity of your home or the amount of moisture the wheat had while it was out in the fields, you may actually need more. The only way you are going to be able to tell is by the feel of the dough.

You are looking for that balance where it loses its gloppy, wet look and acquires a craggy, raggedy look that will not stick on your surface when you begin to knead it. Keep in mind that you will be using additional flour on your work surface, so it may be better to err on the side of too little flour because you can add it in while you're kneading. Unfortunately, the photo above was after I had dumped my ball of dough on my dough linen, patted it out, and flipped it front and back to flour to begin kneading so there's a light dusting of flour on it.

What's really important here is that I'd like you to note just how raggedy and rough the dough looks.

Kneading is going to take care of that! I start by folding my dough into a neat little package. I fold it in half and fold it again.

And then with the heels of my hands at the edge of the dough that is closest to me, using my upper body strength, I push the dough away from me, as if I were trying to push it through the linen. Give it a really, really good push. It's almost like those old timely washer women with their washboards, if you know what I mean.

You should now have an elongated piece of dough. Fold in half, and half again, and give it a quarter turn.

You want to work all the dough around the clock, working each side, by folding and turning, and kneading.

You may need to add a dusting of flour to your work surface and the top of the dough to prevent it from sticking.

Most directions say knead for 5 to 10 minutes. I think, unless your Superman and you have arms of steel, you'll want to knead for the full ten minutes. Once you have adequately kneaded your dough, it should look nice and smooth and luxurious.

Put your dough in a well buttered bowl, flipping the dough over so that it doesn't stick and let it rise for 1 to 1/2 hours, or until doubled. I use my oven, with a hot bowl of water beneath it, and the oven light on. (Yes, I know my oven needs to be cleaned, but I'm always using it!)

My dough rose in about an hour. Once it's doubled, punch it down. Let the dough rest for five minutes or so because it will make it easier to work with.

For The Filling
1/2 cup butter, melted, plus additional for pan
3/4 cup sugar, plus additional for pan
2 tablespoons cinnamon
3/4 cup walnuts, pecans or raisins, or a mixture, optional

Once again lightly flour your work surface and a rolling pin, and the top of your dough. Roll the dough into a 9 inch x 15 inch rectangle.

Generously spread the melted butter on the dough. Sprinkle on the cinnamon, sugar, and the nuts or raisins if you are going to use them. (I didn't use all the butter or all the cinnamon-sugar mixture called for, because for me, it's just too much.)

Beginning at the long end that is facing you, evenly roll the dough into a cylinder towards the opposite side. It helps to use both your hands and roll both ends simultaneously, evening up the edges as you roll as best you can.

When you reach the end, pinch the ends together. I also give the cylinder another couple of turns to try and smooth the edges to stop the rolls from unraveling when I cut them or as they rise.

Generously butter a 15-inch x 9 -inch baking pan. Sprinkle in a little sugar and cinnamon on the bottom. Slice your cylinder into 15 one-inch-wide slices. My linen has one-inch markings on it so I just follow the lines. Otherwise I'd use a ruler to try and make the slices as even as possible.

Because I was doing the second proof on my counter top, I covered with plastic wrap. The directions said to proof for 45 minutes. My kitchen tends to run cool, it took about an hour.

You can see how the rolls are now touching.

Somewhere during this time, preheat your oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. When ready, bake your rolls for about 30 minutes, or until a nice golden brown. I start checking my rolls at 25 minutes and then check every couple of minutes for doneness, first by sight, and then by lightly tapping a roll with the back of a knuckle to see if the roll sounds hollow. If there's a hollow sound, it's done.

For the Glaze
4 tablespoons butter, softened
2 cups confectioners' sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
3-6 tablespoons hot water

While the rolls are baking, make the glaze. Combine the first three ingredients together and mix well. Add the hot water, one tablespoon at a time, stirring after each addition until a desired spreading consistency is achieved. I only needed two tablespoons, but you may like a thinner glaze. When the rolls are slightly cooled (maybe ten minutes or so), lavishly spread on glaze.

And so, we have it. Cinnamon rolls.

Let me pluck the last two roses of my garden and join me at my table. Tell me about your day and what's in your heart. I want to hear all you have to say.

A nice hot cup of tea or coffee and hot cinnamon rolls await you.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

For Ingrid: English Muffin Batter Bread ~ A Yeast Primer

My dear bloggy friend Ingrid of 3B's...Baseball, Baking and Books recently sent me a charming email in response to a post I did for mall-style cinnamon rolls. In her note she said she mentioned was a timid about working with yeast but it was a dream of hers to be able to make cinnamon rolls for her family. Well, I have a huge soft spot for children, and an equally soft spot for bakers with cinnamon roll dreams. I wasn't sure what I could do to help, so I enlisted the advice and wisdom of a truly great baker, Coleen of Coleen's Recipes. Between us, we've decided to post several recipes that will lead up to cinnamon rolls in an effort to give Ingrid and other yeast-phobic cooks an opportunity to build up their skills and confidence in working with yeast. Just take a look at Coleen's sensational recipe, Fool-Proof Butter Horns, so beautifully presented and delicious that experienced and inexperienced alike would love to make this.

I posted this English Muffin Batter Bread among my very first posts on this blog. There is no kneading, no second rise, and the results exceed the effort expended. There is no teacher like experience, and it is only through experience that one gains the "feel" and "look" of dough. In the beginning I made bread that, if shellacked, would have made perfect doorstops. I've left out the sugar, the salt, put them in twice, over- and under-proofed the dough. You name it, I've probably done it. Despair and resignation may set in for that day, but before you know it, I am pulling out my bowls, measuring cups and flour again.

Let's post the recipe first.

English Muffin Batter Bread II
(King Arthur Flour website recipe)

5 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, divided
2 tablespoons active dry yeast
1 tablespoon sugar
2 teaspoons salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
2 cups milk
1/2 cup water
Cornmeal for sprinkling the inside your baking pans and tops of the uncooked loaves

Gather your gear and your ingredients. That way you'll know immediately if you're missing something you're going to need. Prepare two 8 1/2 inch x 4 1/2 inch baking pans by greasing well and then sprinkling a couple of tablespoons of cornmeal around the inside by shaking and rolling the pans . Usually I do this over the sink so that any stray cornmeal is easier to clean up. (I forgot to take a picture of this, and would have gone back and done it with a clean pan but I had already used up the last of my cornmeal.) Anyway, moving on.

Combine the milk and the water in a container large enough to hold the liquids and heat until very warm, 120-130 degrees Fahrenheit. An instant read thermometer, while not critical, is a good kitchen tool to have for this and can save you from killing the yeast because the liquid is too hot, or slowing down the yeast because it's too cool.

In a large bowl, sift together 3 cups of the flour, sugar, salt and soda. I know that most flour comes to us presifted, but I'm going to suggest you sift again. My flour says it's presifted and look at those little flour clumps. You do not want those in your batter. Add the yeast and give the dry ingredients a quick stir to quickly incorporate everything.

Add the wet ingredients to the dry and give it a really good stir, scraping against the sides of the bowl with your spoon to press out any lumps.

The batter will smooth out and look like thick pancake batter. The bubbles tell me that my yeast is alive and working. There is a nice, yeasty aroma.

Mix in the remaining flour. Now this is where some experience is going to be helpful. There's 2 1/2 cups remaining, but I only sifted in two cups, stirred and took a look and feel at what I had. The dough, while it's supposed to be sticky, should not be wet. I added another 1/4 cup, stirred again, and it looked and felt right to me. The dough is heavy and sticky, craggy and raggedy in appearance, feels gloppy, but not wet. Depending on the humidity of your home or the amount of moisture when the wheat was harvested (and perhaps even the alignment of the moon?) you may need all or more flour.

Spoon (glop, actually) the dough into the two prepared pans. I happen to weigh my doughs and batters but if you have a good eye, use your personal judgment. Having equal amounts of dough and batter in your pans will help to ensure that your products will cook evenly and will make for a better appearance. This dough is sticky and elastic, you may have to pinch and stretch it into place a bit. The idea is not to have everything heaped to one side. Sprinkle tops with a little cornmeal.

There are any number of methods to proof dough. I personally use my oven and set a hot bowl of water underneath and leave the oven light on. I might replace the water once or twice during the proofing process just to ensure there's ample warm air. If your kitchen is particularly warm, you can tent tinfoil over the loaves or cover with a damp towel (I don't care for that method because your dough can stick to it and deflate when you remove the towel) . I'm not sure but I think I saw a tent-like gadget for sale that is used for proofing dough.

The directions say to let the dough rise for about 45 minutes or until it's just risen over the rims of the pans. I checked my dough after 35 minutes and it looked good. Too much longer and the dough might have overinflated and fallen.

I took the pans out of the oven (very important) and preheated my oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Once the oven was preheated, I set the loaves back in the oven, with the racks set at midpoint. Bake for 25 minutes or until a light thump with your knuckle on the top of the loaf sounds hollow.

When baked, remove the loaves to a wire rack to finish cooling.

I let the first loaf cool down for maybe 15 minutes or so and then I can bear the temptation no longer. There really is nothing like the smell of yeast bread to make a home smell homey. As gently as I can, I cut a couple of slices off the loaf (being careful not to squish the loaf because it is fragile when it's hot like this) and eat it as is with a pat of butter. What can I say, I am a weak person, and patience is not one of my virtues.

And what happened to the cinnamon rolls, you ask? Well sit tight. There's more that's coming!

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Apple Pie

I think anyone who loves apple pie probably has a favorite, and really, is there any such thing as a bad apple pie? There are some that are better than others, without question, but even apple pies made by novices have a certain appeal (one that comes to mind must have had a quarter cup of cinnamon in it. I ate it, enjoyed it, told the cook how wonderful it was.). And then there's Mom's apple pie. I have seen far-away looks of people who fondly recall their Mom's apple pie, and none will ever be as good as the ones in their memory.

I have a couple of cookbooks that I love so much that I own duplicates of them, with the second copy being stored away for safe keeping if the first one should ever wear out and become unusable. Jim Fobel's Old Fashioned Baking Book is one example. One of my two favorite apple pie recipes and my favorite cheesecake recipe are between those hallowed covers. This cookbook has been so well loved that it's even been brought back from being out of print and reprinted. I've made this recipe countless times, have served it to a number of friends and family who have declared this to be "the best." In all humility, I don't know if this can be crowed "the best" but I do know it's mighty, mighty fine.

I had to take these photos under fluorescent lighting as we've had a steady rain and no natural light to speak of. The red coloring is a bit too saturated (to compensate for the green of the fluorescent, I think). Also I do not know how to make a beautiful pie crust edge. Oh, well, what lies between the pastry is beautiful!

Apple Pie
(Jim Fobel's Old Fashioned Baking Book)

2 1/2 pounds (5-7) tart green cooking apples **
1 cup granulated sugar
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon lemon juice
Water or apple cider (optional)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into bits

Pastry for a double crust pie (your own, or store bought)

Glaze (optional, but very nice to give a finished look to the crust)
1 egg yolk
1 teaspoon water
1 tablespoon granulated sugar

Have your rack in the center of your oven and preheat to 425 degrees Fahrenheit.

Have one half of your pastry dough rolled out into a 12-inch circle and ready to be transferred to the bottom of a 9-inch pie plate. You can lightly roll it in half onto and over your roller, fold in half, or fold in quarters to transfer. Gently unfold and ease it into the plate, taking care not to tear or stretch the dough, but if you do, just moisten a finger and patch it (no one's going to see the bottom crust anyway). There should be a generous overhang of pastry. Refrigerate the dough until you need it.

Peel the apples and quarter them lengthwise. Core the apples and cut the quarters into wedges about 1/2 inch thick. You should have about seven cups of apples. Sprinkle with lemon juice to retard browning of your freshly cut apples.

In a large bowl combine the sugar, flour, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt. Add the apples and toss well. If your apples seem particularly dry add the tablespoon of water or apple cider. Remove the prepared pastry dough from the fridge, and turn the apple filling into the pan. Mound the apples in the pan, patting them firmly. Dot with butter.

On a lightly floured surface, roll out the remaining pastry to a 12-inch circle. Moisten the edge of the crust that's in the pie plate. Lay the newly rolled pastry over the apples and press the two crusts together, all around. Tightly roll the overhanging pastry under all around to make a raised edge. Then using your fingertips or a fork make a decorate edge. Cut three or four vents in the center of your pie to allow steam to escape.

For the glaze, stir together the egg yolk and water. Brush the top crust (but not the fluted edge), twice. Sprinkle with sugar.

Place pie on a baking sheet and bake at 425 degrees Fahrenheit for 20 minutes. Then reduce the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and continue baking for another 20-30 minutes longer or until the pie is golden brown and the apples are tender when pierced with a knife through a steam vent. Cool on a rack before serving.

Very good with ice cream, but here in New England, it's also served with a wedge of nice cheddar cheese.

**Let me share a secret with you about making some of the best apple pie ever. Most recipes just say 5-7 cooking apples and may make a suggestion of Granny Smith, Golden Delicious, Pippin, Braeburn, etc. Let me say that they are half right. To have the absolute best apple pie, you have to mix the apple varieties, at least two different kinds. Personally, I use Granny Smith and McIntosh. Granny Smith holds their shape while baking, but the McIntosh tends to cook down, filling in any gaps that might be caused by an uneven layering of the Granny Smiths. I probably use 5 Granny Smiths and 3 McIntosh apples, see how it looks in the pie plate and add or subtract apples depending on whim, fancy, size of the apple, and ability to resist snacking on sugar-cinnamon coated apple wedges, grins.