Friday, November 21, 2008

Apple Pie

I made this recipe with the vodka pie crust last weekend, and thought it was the best apple pie I've ever made. I think that's party due to the variety of apples I used, which were all picked at my grandma's house. They are mainly old-fashioned varieties, and I couldn't name any of them for you. America's Test Kitchen suggests using a mix of Granny Smith and Macintosh. Macintosh are my favorite apples, but they can be very hard to find in most grocery stores (I think they must not travel well, as they are very thin-skinned); use whatever good baking apples you can find in your neck of the woods.

The allspice in this recipe is an unusual touch. I liked it a lot, but if you don't care for it or want a more traditional flavor, you can omit or reduce. Mary actually ground the allspice in our mortar and pestle, which made it stronger than the average stuff in a jar. (I know! We are like the freakin' Ingalls here!). It is correct that the recipe contains no thickener or gluten, which adds to the fresh flavor. It holds together well, as long as you are together enough and patient enough to bake it early in the day and wait at least four hours to slice it.

Apple Pie

(America's Test Kitchen, from the original The Best Recipe book, no longer in print)

*4 lbs apples (preferably half each Granny Smith and Macintosh, about 8 medium total. As I mentioned above, I used a mix, and a couple more than 8)
*3/4 cup sugar
*1 1/2 tbs juice and 1 tsp zest from one lemon
*1/4 tsp salt
*1/4 tsp nutmeg
*1/4 tsp cinnamon
*1/4 tsp allspice

-Prepare your dough (obviously!)and refrigerate
-Remove one piece of dough from refrigerator. Adjust oven rack to middle position and preheat oven to 425.
-Roll out one disc of dough on floured surface into a 12" circlish shape (I can never manage a perfect circle). Fold dough into quarters, place dough point in center of your deep dish or regular pie plate (Pyrex is best) and unfold. Ease gently into sides of pan, leaving overhang. Put back into fridge.
-Peel and core apples and slice into 1/2" or so slices, larger than you might normally do. Toss with remaining ingredients. Turn into the pie shell, making sure all the juices make it in, mounding in center.
-Roll out second dough disc and place on top. Trim edges to 1/2" overhang, tuck under themselves, and crimp. Slice an "A" into the top crust with a sharp knife.
-Bake until top crust is golden, about 25 minutes. Reduce heat to 375, and bake until juices bubble through slits in crust and crust is deep golden brown, about 30-35 minutes longer.
-Cool on rack, at least 4 hours.

Vodka Pie Crust

The folks at America's Test Kitchen recently said this was their most ground-breaking recipe, or something to that effect. After trying it, I might agree with them.

Don't get too excited, though, if what you are hoping for is some sort of drunken pie (at a core level, I know that is what we are all searching for). The vodka in this recipe brings nothing boozy at all to the finished product. Instead, it magically creates a product that is very workable and forgiving in the dough stage, and incredibly flaky once baked. I made this, in an apple pie, last weekend for a University of Oregon football party at Jeff's Sports Bar (Nan and Jeff's garage, that is) and it was a hit. I think I'll try it again at Thanksgiving.

This is a generous amount for a double-crust pie. I had quite a bit left, probably enough for a third crust (so you could, for instance, do a pumpkin pie and an apple pie with one recipe). Stash the extra in your freezer in a flattened, well-wrapped disc.

The ATK folks say "vodka is essential to this not substitute. The dough will be more supple and flexible than most standard pie doughs and will require more flour to roll out, up to 1/4 cup".

And here's how these things go in my house: Get invited to a football party, with a theme of Thanksgiving Dinner. Promise to make pie, knowing I was almost out of vodka but had an emergency bottle stashed in the freezer. Get the dry ingredients mixed, then pull said bottle out of freezer and realize it's wasabi vodka. Search liquor cabinet. Find a tiny remaining bit of Absolut Citron. Shrug, and use it, though add an extra tablespoon of water as don't have quite enough. The lemon taste was undetectable, and the crust was perfect, so there you go. My lack of planning and procrastination is once again reinforced.

Vodka Pie Crust

*2 1/2 cups unbleached all purpose flour (12 1/2 ounces)
*1 tsp salt
*2 TBS sugar
*12 TBS cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/4" slices
*1/2 cup solid cold shortening, cut into big pieces
*1/4 cup cold vodka
*1/4 cup cold water

-Process 1 1/2 cups of the flour, the sugar, and the salt in the food processor just until combined. Add butter and shortening and process until dough starts to collect in lumps, resemble cottage cheese, and all flour is coated (about 15 seconds). Scrape processor bowl with spatula and redistribute dough around blade. Add remaining flour and pulse until mixture is evenly distributed and the mass has been broken up, 4 to 6 quick pulses. Empty mixture into bowl.
-Sprinkle vodka and water over mixture. Use rubber spatula to fold and mix, pressing down on dough until it is slightly tacky and sticks together. Divide into two balls, wrapping each in plastic wrap and pressing into 4"discs. Refrigerate at least 45 minutes, or up to 2 days. You can also freeze for a shorter amount of time, if you were in a hurry. Theoretically.

Use plenty of flour when rolling out; don't worry as much as you would with typical dough that using too much flour will make it tough. It will be fine. Don't worry if it's really moist.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Preserving Summer

I didn't make good use of my early summer, and failed to take advantage of one of the main advantages of living in Oregon's Willamette Valley: cheap and amazingly local produce (especially if you u-pick, which we normally do). Still, I have a bumper crop of late tomatoes, and have been preserving as fast as I can the last week or so, as we're clearly headed towards an early freeze this year. I may just start throwing tomatoes into freezer bags whole, and call it good.

I was up until 1:00 in the morning yesterday canning. Here's how it went:
-7:00 or so, come home from riding. Stop and buy 36 ears of corn from the little farmstand on Bodenhammer Road near my house. It's supposed to be $12 for the corn (corn is expensive this year. Yay, biofuels) but I realize later she only charged me $6. Also buy peaches and plums (only $1 a pound).
-8:00 Finally serve dinner-BLTs with avocado and basil mayonnaise. Insanely good.
-9:00 Mary shucks the corn for me and girls and husband head to bed.
-10:00 I realize how late it is. I also realize that I have to get the corn dealt with tonight, now that it's huskless. Start cutting it off the cobs. Think "Since it will take the corn an hour to roast anyway, I might as well can the apple butter that I made, while I'm waiting". Then think "If I have to heat up the canning kettle anyway, I might as well make a quick batch of peach jam, so don't have to do it tomorrow and heat the water twice. I'll be done by 11:00." I am pleased by my brilliance.
-10:45 Finally get the corn in the oven. Am realizing that my 11:00 prediction may have been overly optimistic. Set up the laptop in the kitchen and start watching "It's Always Sunny in Philadephia" on Start heating jars and lids.
-11:15 Finally get apple butter in the boiling water bath and start making peach jam. Things are getting progressively stickier. Morning and my hour long commute to work look too damn close.
-12:45 Finished.

But there isn't anything quite as satisfying as knowing that your shelves and freezer are full of good food. As hearing the "pop" of sealing jar lids as you set the jars on a towel to cool. As those satisfyingly flat quart bags of frozen sauces and vegetables that join the bean soups and stews in the freezer already. We're doing our modern-day version of hunkering down for winter.

Here's what I have so far:
*4 pints of fabulous Ginger Apple Butter, made in the crockpot. I've never thought of myself as an apple butter fan, but this was an easy way to use up the bag of apples I picked at my grandma's house a few weeks back. The girls both love this, and would eat it by the bowl. I would never stoop so low. Ha.
*4 pints of basic freezer strawberry jam. Nothing exciting, but the girls love it and it's going fast. I didn't u-pick any berries this year, but am finally using up the bunches I have in the freezer from past, more productive summers.
*4 1/2 pints of peach jam. Made from the indispensable Ball Blue Book, and my first attempt at jam without pectin. Jelled up very well, but the flavor isn't fabulous. Good, but not fabulous.
*6 quarts of Roasted Freezer Corn. Also good beyond belief.*
*4 pints of Tomato Basil Preserves. Good, but not great. Sweet, with a little tang from the tomato and lemon. I'd add some spicy peppers next time. The author says to serve with cream cheese; goat cheese was better because it added some tang. Great to bring as an easy appetizer to a party.
*4 pints of Pinot Noir Jelly. Designed, like the above, to be served with cream cheese and crackers. Again, I'd like it best with goat cheese instead. It does make a fabulous grilled cheese sandwich: sharp Tillamook white cheddar, whole wheat bread, a touch of this here jelly, and some Dijon. It's a great use for bottles of mediocre wine you might have around, and it's also very easy; one of those things you can do to help make it worth the bother of getting the canning kettle boiling and the jars sterilized.
*2 1/2 quarts of plain canned tomatoes. Not exciting, but I'll appreciate them later, I am sure.
*A couple of frozen quart bags of roasted tomatoes.
*3 quart bags of frozen tomato pasta sauce with shredded zucchini.
*3 quarts of puttanesca sauce, made in a crock pot.

Still to come:
-More jam, another batch of strawberry and some blackberry, I hope.
-Blueberry vanilla bean syrup, from the berries in my freezer.
-Infused vodkas! Definitely concord grape-maybe ginger?
-Dried apples and fruit leather
-Apple cider making at Grandma's house. Our first year without Grandma, and probably the last year of cider. It will be precious this year (and it's a fabulous year for apples here)
-more apple butter
-shredded zucchini in the freezer for later baking
-and something to use up all these damn tomatoes

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Miscellaneous Update

Watching now:
The Fringe. Hadn't heard anything about it until someone in my sci fi book club (mock if you must! you know you're really jealous) mentioned. Thanks to, we caught it last night. Pretty darn good, in the tradition of X Files and Lost. And..

Almost done with disc two; sadly enough it turns out, that's all there is. I do have a genius for falling in love with shows that have long-since been canceled (see also Firefly, Veronica Mars, Buffy).


Yeah, I'm definitely in a science fiction theme right now. This book is a fabulous read.


Spent a fabulous three nights at the Hotel Del Coronado in San Diego last weekend, courtesy of Debi, who was there for a manager's convention for Trader Joe's.

Missing even more:
Free hotel stay + frequent flier ticket = extra money to use on a spontaneous trip to Disneyland with her that Friday. The trip was fabulous; no children, no crowds, and lots of pants-wetting fun. Is it creepy that I woke her up at 6:00 am standing over her side of the bed in the dark hotel room whispering "disneyland disneyland disneyland"?


Fabulous. In a close race with the Toasted Sesame Brittle flavor. Must try again to try and decide.

Feels Like Fall-Roasted tomatoes and more

Even though it's approaching 90 right now, it's obvious we're nearing the end of summer. The nights are getting chilly, the trees are (barely) turning, kids are back in school, and I feel like canning. Raised in a family with the motto "Better make two batches for the potluck or we might all die because there won't be enough food", I feel driven to freeze and preserve food (which I then leave in the freezer or the jar all winter, waiting for the perfect occasion to eat it, which never arrives, especially as winter approaches.

More recipes will follow later, as I see how things work out. I'm contemplating wine jelly, tomato basil preserves (I picked 15 pounds of tomatoes yesterday alone), blueberry vanilla bean syrup, and frozen creamed corn.

Here's the basic roasted tomato technique I tried yesterday. I made two batches, each consisting of two 9x13" pans (about five pounds of tomatoes per batch). It's one of the simplest ways to preserve tomatoes I've found, short of just throwing them whole in ziploc bags in the freezer. It does ensure you get a rich tomato flavor in your finished product; I think sometimes freezing tomatoes damages their flavor in the same way refrigerating them is guaranteed to do. I used three or four big cloves of garlic per pan, just a little rosemary (because I had very little; more would've been good), olive oil, salt and pepper.

But, to be honest, I don't fully love the finished product. David pointed out that it tastes similar to sun-dried tomatoes, something neither of us really love. I made one batch with romas, that I froze, and then a batch with some unknown Beefsteak-like variety, that we pureed into sauce and ate with pasta last night. I added a bunch of fresh oregano and basil, then tossed with noodles and cubes of parmesan. I also added a little sugar, as this batch was very, very tart. I'm not sure if it was the variety or the recipe, and will do some more experimentation. And if I was going to make the recipe again for sauce, I'd throw some chunks of onion in to roast with the tomatoes, as tomato sauce without onion is just plain wrong.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

The Omnivore's One Hundred

From British food blogger Andrew Wheeler's blog, Very Good Taste, a challenge:

"Here’s what I want you to do:

1) Copy this list into your blog or journal, including these instructions.
2) Bold all the items you’ve eaten.
3) Cross out any items that you would never consider eating.
4) Optional extra: Post a comment here at linking to your results."

The VGT Omnivore’s Hundred:

1. Venison
2. Nettle tea
3. Huevos rancheros
4. Steak tartare
5. Crocodile
6. Black pudding
7. Cheese fondue
8. Carp
9. Borscht
10. Baba ghanoush
11. Calamari
12. Pho
13. PB&J sandwich
14. Aloo gobi
15. Hot dog from a street cart
16. Epoisses (I had to look; a pungent cheese from France)
17. Black truffle
18. Fruit wine made from something other than grapes
19. Steamed pork buns
20. Pistachio ice cream (My absolute favorite gelato flavor)
21. Heirloom tomatoes (waiting impatiently for some to ripen in our yard now, actually)
22. Fresh wild berries
23. Foie gras
24. Rice and beans
25. Brawn, or head cheese
26. Raw Scotch Bonnet pepper
27. Dulce de leche
28. Oysters
29. Baklava
30. Bagna cauda
31. Wasabi peas
32. Clam chowder in a sourdough bowl(a staple on the Oregon coast)
33. Salted lassi
34. Sauerkraut
35. Root beer float
36. Cognac with a fat cigar
37. Clotted cream tea
38. Vodka jelly/Jell-O
39. Gumbo
40. Oxtail
41. Curried goat
42. Whole insects
43. Phaal
44. Goat’s milk
45. Malt whisky from a bottle worth £60/$120 or more
46. Fugu
47. Chicken tikka masala
48. Eel
49. Krispy Kreme original glazed doughnut
50. Sea urchin
51. Prickly pear (if you count a prickly pear margarita last week in Sedona)
52. Umeboshi
53. Abalone
54. Paneer
55. McDonald’s Big Mac Meal
56. Spaetzle
57. Dirty gin martini
58. Beer above 8% ABV
59. Poutine
60. Carob chips (to my eternal regret)
61. S’mores (made 'em from scratch once, marshmallows, graham crackers, and all. In my days of dessert escalation, cooking for my weekly Stitch'n'Bitch group).
62. Sweetbreads
63. Kaolin
64. Currywurst
65. Durian
66. Frogs’ legs
67. Beignets, churros, elephant ears or funnel cake (all of the above, love beignets the most)
68. Haggis
69. Fried plantain
70. Chitterlings, or andouillette
71. Gazpacho
72. Caviar and blini
73. Louche absinthe
74. Gjetost, or brunost (A very odd man I knew in my early 20s, who came several times to our family Thanksgiving dinner, brought this one year as his odd contribution to the meal. Another year he just brought a bag of arugula).
75. Roadkill
76. Baijiu
77. Hostess Fruit Pie
78. Snail
79. Lapsang souchong
80. Bellini
81. Tom yum
82. Eggs Benedict (embarassingly for my friends, I love this dish, but order it without the eggs)
83. Pocky
84. Tasting menu at a three-Michelin-star restaurant.
85. Kobe beef
86. Hare
87. Goulash
88. Flowers
89. Horse (and no..I just can't).
90. Criollo chocolate
91. Spam
92. Soft shell crab
93. Rose harissa
94. Catfish
95. Mole poblano
96. Bagel and lox
97. Lobster Thermidor
98. Polenta
99. Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee
100. Snake

I scored a decent 52...

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Ellie Krieger's Chicken Sate with Spicy Peanut Sauce

Trying to get back on to the blogging horse here, and will start with just posting a quick link to a fabulous recipe we tried tonight. My sister introduced me to Ellie Krieger's recipes; I've never seen her show, but you can access her recipes, which manage to be both tasty and healthy, on I started with her Nutty Sweet Potato Soup, which is very rich and flavorful, and moved on to this recipe tonight.

Follow the link for the recipe; I made it largely as written, though didn't have shallots and substituted green curry paste for red. Served over brown rice cooked in broth and a little light coconut milk. Oh, didn't have the energy to fire up the grill, so cut the chicken into chunks to marinate and sauteed in a little vegetable oil. Thinned the peanut sauce with a little more coconut milk (the one drawback I found to the recipe was that it only used 1/2 a cup of coconut milk, leaving most the can. I've had good luck freezing it in the past but didn't really want to bother tonight). Also sauteed a bunch of lettuce with some soy sauce and sesame oil and sesame seeds; a good way to get rid of the lettuce we have exploding out of our garden.

We loved this recipe-David couldn't get enough of it. It tastes very rich, especially since it's calculated to be only 250 calories a serving.

Chicken Sate with Spicy Peanut Sauce