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Sunday, October 27, 2013

Feeling Crabby

Alright, folks, I feel I need to come clean.  I know in previous posts I have declared things my "favorite thing ever".  And it's true that they ARE in fact among my favorite things ever.  Peanut butter, chocolate, apple pie, a really good burger, bleu cheese, fountain sodas, coffee - these are all things that if stranded on an island I would really really miss.  But here is where I tell you what I hold as my favorite thing ever.  Seriously.  Are you ready for it?


Something you should know about me - I am allergic to oysters.  I found that out the hard way when I used to waitress at Red Lobster and tried oysters for the very first time.  Within 15 minutes I was covered in hives.  Same thing happens with clams.  Lucky for me, though, I only have issues with the mollusks, but crustaceans are still OK.  A couple months ago I had a small scare and thought that my days with crustaceans were over, but it turns out it was a false alarm.  This would have crushed me!  In my world, nothing, and I mean NOTHING beats the sweet and delicate flavor that you can only get from crab.  Now most people see lobster as the pinnacle of seafood and I get it, really I do.  A perfectly prepared lobster is hard to beat for sure.  But if given the choice between a lobster tail and a crab leg, I will choose the crab, hands down.  So last night when we were at the store doing our weekly shopping and my hubby asked me frequently asked question "what's for dinner?", I got an idea.
I try to make at least one really special meal a week. That's not to say that it's always expensive or super fancy, but something that I don't have time during the work week to pull off, especially since I work until 11 pm.  Sometimes it's a pot roast, sometimes pork and sauerkraut, sometimes a roasted chicken with all the trimmings.  One of his favorites (and one that I will blog the next time I make it) is pan seared pork chops with a creamy garlic, tarragon, and white wine sauce.  Sometimes it's themed: Asian, German, and Indian have all had their nights here.  Tonight was quasi-Mexican with Chalupas and caramel apple empanadas.  (Some weeks he gets two special meals!).  But I've gotten off track......

My idea yesterday came while standing at the meat counter at our local grocery store.  I decided New York strip steaks were in order.  After all, this was the first weekend in a month that we were able to stay home and just relax.  While waiting for them to cut me a couple thick steaks (go big or go home!) I glanced to the left and saw the seafood.  And then I saw the cans of crab meat.  And then my version of surf and turf seemed like the best idea in the world!

There was one problem - never in my life have I made a crab cake!  And I'm SUPER picky about my crab cakes. This is one of those instances where I sat back and asked myself "what do I KNOW?". Well, I know lemon and parsley are good with seafood.  I know there is mayonnaise and breadcrumbs in crab cakes to bind them. I know that crab is delicate and easily overpowered. And I HATE crab cakes with too much filler.  What's the point?  I know just a hint of heat elevates them to the next level.  And most importantly, I know a good crab cake should be able to stand on its own.  No tartar sauce, no cocktail sauce, maybe a dash of lemon.  But they should be flavorful enough that they aren't boring, but balanced enough that the crab shines through.  Then, I went with my instincts and created these super simple crab cakes.

Simple Crab Cakes
1 lb back fin crab meat (I used a good quality can from the seafood counter at my local grocery store)
1 Tbsp fresh parsley, chopped fine
1 tsp onion powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
4 tsp lemon juice
1/3 c plain bread crumbs
2/3 c mayonnaise

3 Tbsp butter (for cooking)

Special tools:
A round cookie cutter (optional)

Makes 8 crab cakes

Crab mixture
Mixing the ingredients is E-A-S-Y.  Seriously.  You ready?  Dump all of the above things (except the butter) in a bowl and gently mix with your fingers.  There's no order, no wrong way to do it.  When it's all mixed together it kind of reminds me of a tuna salad consistency.

Cover bowl and set in the refrigerator for an hour.  I think it helps everything to blend well and the crab cakes to bind together.  Honestly, I can't really tell you why.  I just know that every time I've seen a recipe for any kind of "cake" (salmon, tuna, risotto), part of the directions have included letting the mixture set for an hour or two.  And every time I've skipped that step, my salmon/tuna/risotto cakes have crumbled into a mess.  So just do this.  You'll thank me later.

Get a round cookie cutter and set on a plate.  Pack crab meat mixture into the cookie cutter and press down so it holds form.  Then, simply lift the cookie cutter, and you have the most beautiful, perfect crab cake you've ever seen!  Repeat until all the crab mixture is used up.
Easy as 1-2-3!
Almost there.....

Heat pan with butter over medium heat.  Don't make your heat to high, because butter browns (and burns!) really quickly.  I went a little over medium heat on mine and they got a bit brown for my liking. Still GOOD, I was just going for a bit more golden than brown.

Cook on each side 2 - 3 minutes.

Serve with a lemon wedge or on its own.  (OK, OK, I GUESS if you are insistent, tartar sauce too.  But I'm telling you....totally not necessary).

See what I mean about them being a little more brown than I would have liked?  Nonetheless - they turned out crispy on the outside and moist on the inside.  Best of all, the seasoning did not overpower the crab, yet they were not at all bland!  Hope you enjoy!

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Pumpkin love

It seems I've been a bit lax lately with the posts.  October has been a super busy month for us!  Between working a full time job and all of our social engagements on weekends (parties, weddings, more parties), I have found it hard to find the time to create and write.  Yesterday, we had a small gathering with friends to go to.  I was told I could bring something if I wanted to.  Really?  Of COURSE I want to!  It's what I do!  And seeing as this gathering was a Halloween party, what better way to get in the spirit of the season than with pumpkin!

Now, pumpkin rolls are one of my favorite things in the world.  But I really didn't feel like baking and cooling and spreading and rolling, not to mention finger food is much more manageable at a party.  This made me create my own version - Pumpkin Cupcakes with Cream Cheese frosting.  All the taste of a pumpkin roll without all the hassle.  And it's finger food!  These are wonderful for a party, a dinner, or just because.  

Pumpkin Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting
For the cupcakes:
1 c canola oil
1 c packed brown sugar
1 c white sugar
3 extra large or 4 large eggs
2 c pumpkin puree
2 1/4 c all purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp ground cloves

For the icing:
1 stick of butter, room temperature
1 8 oz package cream cheese, room temperature
1 1/2 pounds of powdered sugar
1 - 3 Tbsp milk

This recipe makes about 24 cupcakes

Tools needed:
Cupcake pans
Cupcake liners

Fresh Pumpkin Puree.  Such a
pretty color!
Note:  I used fresh pumpkin puree that I made by roasting a pumpkin, peeling and seeding it, and running it through a food processor.  Canned pumpkin may be used in its place.  If you decide to use canned, make sure it is just pumpkin puree, not pumpkin pie filling.  

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. 

Place oil, brown sugar, white sugar, eggs and vanilla into a mixing bowl and whisk until well combined. 

Whisk in the pumpkin puree, and beat until mixture is smooth. 

In a separate bowl, combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.  With mixer on low speed, slowly add the dry ingredients to the wet until combined.  

Add cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and cloves.  Mix on medium for 2 - 3 minutes.  

Place liners in cupcake pans, and fill with batter about halfway.
Like this!  

Bake for 20 - 25 minutes, until toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.  Allow to cool in pan for about 15 minutes, then remove from the pan and cool the rest of the way on a wire cooling rack.  

You KNOW you want to eat these!
While the cupcakes are cooling, make the icing.  Combine butter and cream cheese in a bowl and beat until fluffy.  

Add powdered sugar slowly in batches.  The icing will be very thick and crumbly.  Add milk 1 tablespoon at a time until the icing reaches the desired consistency.  

Once the cupcakes are completely cooled, pipe onto cupcakes.  


 I didn't even have the lid off the container for 30 seconds before the first one disappeared.  And my hubby confessed to me that he's eaten about 5 between yesterday and today.  So, yeah, they're that good! I promise, these will not disappoint.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Better with Chocolate!

I have a theory.  I'm not sure if it's a sound theory, but I do spend a lot of time trying to prove it.  What is this theory, you might ask?  Well, I pretty much think that there is no problem in this world that chocolate can't solve.  Or at least make you feel slightly better about.  And if you don't have any problems?  Then you should definitely celebrate your problem free existence with some chocolate.  I would say that it is on my list of the world's most perfect foods (right up there with apple pie, crab, and peanut butter).  And besides - it's high in antioxidants, so I'm practically doing my body a favor!  At least that's what I'm telling myself.....

I've been noticing a trend lately of flourless chocolate cakes.  I know, I know.  The increase in recipes for these cakes is probably due to the gluten free necessity of a lot of people, and the low carb demands of others.  But I see flourless chocolate cake, and all I can think is "how rich is THAT?". That's like chocolate overload, without the pesky filler.  I'm in!  But, of course, I couldn't stop there.

Here is my other obsession - cheesecake.  I.  Love.  Cheesecake.  If there is no chocolate or cheesecake involved  I call it a "dessert tease".  Sure, it appeases your sweet tooth, but if I'm going to eat dessert, I want decadence.  So I figured, why not a flourless chocolate cake with a cheesecake layer?  (Genius, I say!).  So, off to the kitchen I went to make this decadent dessert adventure happen.  (Warning:  this is not for the faint of heart or diet conscious.  The mere amount of butter is enough to send Paula Deen into a happy fit, y'all.)  

Flourless Chocolate Tuxedo Cake

For the crust:
2 c chocolate graham cracker crumbs
1 stick of butter, melted
1 Tbsp sugar

For the cheesecake:
8 oz cream cheese, softened
1/3 c sugar
1 egg
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

For the chocolate cake:
1 stick of butter
8 oz semi sweet chocolate, chopped roughly
1 Tbsp vanilla extract
5 eggs, separated
1/2 c sugar

Tools needed: 
Springform pan (9")

As always, start by preheating
your oven to 350 degrees.
Place graham crackers in a food processor and grind to a fine crumb.  Add melted butter and sugar and mix well.  Press buttery, graham crackery goodness into the bottom of your spring form pan and bake at 350 for 10 minutes to set.  Remove from oven and allow to cool. 

Once your crust is out of the oven, it's time to start that cheesecake!  In your mixer, place cream cheese and sugar, and beat on medium until well combined and fluffy.  Add in the egg and vanilla, and continue mixing until everything is incorporated and smooth.  Be sure to scrape down the sides and scrape up the bottom of the bowl so that you don't get chunks of cream cheese that haven't been incorporated.  Now, take that velvety cheesecake and pour into the middle of your cooled crust, spreading outwards towards the edge leaving about a half inch of space between the cheesecake and the sides of the pan.  Set this aside while you build the chocolate layer.

I'm not going to lie:  this part is FUN!  You get to employ many baking techniques here, and, of course, I will have pictures.  (Did you expect anything less?)  First, place a sauce pan on medium heat and plop a stick of butter into it.  Once that butter is melted, reduce heat to low and add your chopped chocolate. Once the chocolate starts melting, remove pan from heat and keep stirring to melt the rest of the way. Here's an important tip - make sure the spoon you are going to use to stir the chocolate is completely dry.  Make sure your pan is completely dry.  Make sure if you've washed your hands, they are completely dry.  I cannot stress this enough.  The problem with chocolate is that it is temperamental. If you get water in your chocolate, it will seize up.   If you heat it too high, it will seize up.  And once that happens, you're done.  There's no coming back.  I know this from experience. You will have a lumpy, curdled looking brown mess on your hands, and no one wants that!  You want a velvety smooth chocolate/butter mixture.  And if you are patient and pay attention and keep stirring, that is exactly what you will have.  Once the chocolate is melted and smooth, set aside to cool a little while you go on to your next step.  

Get out your five eggs.  These need to be separated.  I do this by grabbing two bowls and my mixing bowl.  The easiest way I have found to separate an egg is to crack it into your hand, then slightly separate your fingers to let the whites run through into the bowl.  I then place the yolk in the other bowl, then dump the white into my mixing bowl.  Repeat this four more times.  I always put each egg white into the mixing bowl so I have an empty bowl each time I crack and separate.  There is nothing more frustrating to me than getting four eggs in and having a bit of yolk drip into your pristine egg whites.  This will mess up your meringue.  Again, I know this from experience.  This way you know if you break one yolk, you're wasting ONE egg, not multiple eggs.  
Separating eggs can be easy....I promise!
Once all your eggs are separated, set aside the mixing bowl full of egg white, and dump the yolks into a large mixing bowl.  Whisk the yolks, sugar, and vanilla together until smooth.  Now, add the chocolate.  Because the chocolate is still slightly hot, you need to temper it.  If you were to dump the warm chocolate into the egg mixture, you'd get chocolate scrambled eggs. (EW!).  So, take a scoop full of chocolate (I usually just use a dry measuring cup), and pour into chocolate mixture while stirring constantly.  This will cool down the chocolate mixture.  You can do this a couple times to be safe, then pour the cooled down chocolate mixture into the remaining egg mixture in your mixing bowl.  Stir until well combined and set aside.  

Now,we make meringue.  I know, this all sounds pretty complicated, but I promise it's not!  Just breathe....this will all be worth it in the end.  Place the whisk attachment onto your mixer and whisk those egg whites!  Same principle as making whipped cream.  The aeration will stiffen up the whites and give you meringue.  So, place your mixer as high as it will go, and watch the eggs go from liquid to a fluffy little egg cloud. 
Hard to believe that egg whites turn into THIS!

See how it almost looks fluffy?
Once you have stiff peaks, it's time to add to the chocolate mixture.  I took about a quarter of the egg white and just stirred it in the chocolate with a whisk.  I then dumped the remaining egg whites into the chocolate, and with a rubber spatula, gently folded it in until well combined.  Then carefully pour the chocolate on top of the cheesecake layer and spread evenly in the pan.  Place the pan in the oven and bake for 45 minutes.  You'll be able to tell that it's done by gently shaking the pan.  If the outside is set and the center jiggles ever so slightly, you're good to go.

Once the cake is done baking, remove from the oven and place on a wire rack to cool.  Once the cakecools a bit, run a butter knife around the edge and gently remove the side of the pan.  Allow to cool completely before serving.  
Oh my!

I'm not going to lie, when I was taking the ring off the spring form pan, I was a little nervous.  All I could think was "did this work?".  I was half wondering if I was going to remove the ring and have a molten chocolate cake effect.  But, lo and behold, I could not have asked for a more beautiful cake!  The texture is amazing.  It's light and decadent all at the same time.  It's kind of like a mousse, kind of like a custard, kind of like a cake.  The crunch of the graham cracker combined with the creaminess of the cheesecake with the lightness of the chocolate is absolutely perfect.  And the top of the cake kind of cracks and forms yet another crunchy layer.  I served mine plain, but you could also top with whipped cream or raspberries or strawberries, or even just a sprinkling of confectioner's sugar.  This cake could definitely get me through a bad day.  

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Oh, the pasta-bilities!

I have a confession to make - I love carbs.  LOVE them!  As in I have an unhealthy love of anything starchy and would be very grumpy if I ever attempted one of those low carb diets.  I've been trying to offset my cravings for a crusty french bread or heap of mashed potatoes by substituting whole grain breads for white bread and spaghetti squash instead of pasta, but I stil indulge my obsession.  One of my favorites is pasta.  And when I say pasta, I don't just mean of the Italian variety (although it IS yummy).  Vietnamese noodles with pork, Japanese soba noodles, Thai cellophane noodles with peanut sauce, German spaetzle....any of these are a perfect meal for me.  Last night I gave into that yearning with linguine.
Homemade "sun-dried" tomatoes

Growing up, my mom had a dish that she made pretty regularly.  It was a simple sauce, that wasn't a sauce really.  She sauteed chicken and broccoli in some olive oil, added sun-dried tomatoes and white wine, and tossed it in with linguine.  Because I just made "sun-dried" tomatoes (I put that in quotes because the sun was really my food dehydrator) out of the abundance of large cherry tomatoes I picked from my garden, I figured this was the perfect time to take my mom's recipe and give it my own twist.  So, off to the kitchen I went to give it my take.  Here's what I came up with.

Shrimp and Broccoli Linguine in a Creamy White Wine Sauce
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 pound shrimp, peeled
1 nice size head of broccoli, cut into florets
1 Tbsp fresh basil, chopped finely
1 8 oz package of sliced white mushrooms
2 Tbsp sun-dried tomatoes, chopped roughly
Salt to taste
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 c white wine
1 c heavy cream
1/3 c shredded parmesan cheese, plus a little extra for the top.
1 box linguine

Minced garlic and tomatoes
This recipe works best if you prep everything ahead of time.  It cooks so quickly, once you get that heat going it'll be done before you know it.

Fill a large pot with water and a dash of salt and bring to a boil.  Once the water hits a rolling boil, add linguine.  You'll want the pasta to be done but not soggy (what we call "al dente").  Once it is done, drain in a colander and put back in a pot.  I drizzle a little olive oil over the top and toss the pasta to keep it from sticking (plus olive oil....YUM!)

In the meantime.....
Heat olive oil in a large, deep skillet.  Toss the broccoli into the heated oil and stir fry until it gets a bright green color.  Add garlic, basil, salt, sundried tomatoes, and mushrooms and continue cooking over medium heat until veggies start softening.  Keep an eye on this and stir very often - minced garlic can scorch VERY easily.

Add wine and continue cooking until veggies are about done.  Add shrimp and keep cooking until they turn pink and opaque.  (Side rant about cooking with wine - do not, I repeat DO NOT buy cooking wine.  It's all salt and it tastes bad.  My rule of thumb is if I wouldn't drink it, I'm not cooking with it.  Believe me, your taste buds will thank you.  Plus, if you buy an inexpensive yet tasty bottle of wine to cook with, you can pour yourself a glass or two while you make dinner!)

Veggies starting to soften up
Now is when you add heavy cream.  Yes, it HAS to be heavy cream.  Because the wine is acidic, the higher fat content will keep your milk from curdling.  Plus, it thickens up nicely and it's delicious!  Simmer until the cream slightly thickens.  This isn't an alfredo sauce so it's not going to be really thick.  Think of it as more of a coating for the pasta.

Once the sauce thickens a little, add the parmesan cheese and give it another quick stir to incorporate the cheese.

You KNOW you want to eat this!!!!
Place some of the linguine on a plate and pour some of the sauce over the noodles.  Garnish with fresh grated parmesan cheese.

This dish is proof that good food doesn't have to be complicated or take forever.  This is a good dinner for the weekdays when you don't have 3 hours to stand in the kitchen.  The surprising thing about this meal is that despite the heavy cream, it is pretty light.  The acidity of the wine cuts through the richness of the cheese and cream and gives a really good balance.   Of course, this one also got the hubby seal of approval.  I also made a flourless chocolate tuxedo cake for a decadent dessert, but that is a blog for another day.  Stay tuned....

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Accidental stuffing

Because I am me, and I am accident prone, I somehow managed to pull my back out this weekend (and no, I don't know how.....).  I was able to muscle through my work day on Sunday, but by the time I woke up on Monday morning I was hurting.  Long story short, after a warm bath (and a couple muscle relaxers), I was feeling almost normal.  Which is why when my husband asked me "what's for dinner", I gave him an answer instead of a dirty look.  The cooler weather plus the general ouchiness of my back made me want just simple, stick to your ribs comfort food.  And I can't think of better comfort than chicken and stuffing (and potatoes, and corn, and gravy, and cranberry sauce......I needed a lot of comfort that night, apparently!).

The previous paragraph of me whining about my back was my round about apology for not photographically documenting every single step of this process.  The good news is that I think you can handle ripping bread, and dicing and sauteeing onions without pictures (I have faith in you!).

So, why did I call this post "accidental stuffing?".  Because it truly WAS an accident.  I found out on Monday that my husband hates celery in his stuffing.  Really?  After 3 years, he decides to tell me NOW that he hates this?  You know, after I've been making it that way for the entire duration of our relationship? *sigh*  Luckily, I decided not to get annoyed and chalked this up to a learning experience (I love you, baby!) and decided I needed to get creative.  I started brainstorming what I could possibly do to plain white bread to make it interesting.  OK, let's back it up for a second so I can also tell you that I did not stuff the bird.  Now we're dealing with bread and onions cooked OUTSIDE of the chicken....what can I possibly do to jazz this up?  After rifling through my cupboards and grabbing miscellaneous things, I had the "aha!" moment and came up with this:

Stuffing with dried cherries and walnuts
1 large loaf plain white bread
1/2 stick butter
1 medium onion, diced
1 T fresh parsley, finely chopped
1/4 c dried cherries, chopped
1 c chicken stock
2 T chopped walnuts
Salt and Pepper to taste

This stuffing is sexy!! 

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  That's the temp I cooked my chicken at, so I just put it in the oven with my chicken.

Start by ripping bread into small chunks and putting into a medium casserole dish.  Set aside.

Melt butter in a medium saucepan and add onions and parsley.  Cook over medium high heat, stirring often, until onions are transparent and slightly brown.  Remove from the heat and pour over the bread.  Add chicken stock, salt and pepper, and dried cherries to mixture.  Stir well.

Yummy!!  It's even good cold!
Now, that's skill......

Sprinkle chopped walnuts over the top.

Bake uncovered for 35-45 minutes, until heated through and top gets a little brown.

Honestly, when I made this, I wasn't sure how it would turn out.  I mean, it SOUNDS good, but without the celery I was afraid it would be missing something.  Boy, was I wrong!!  I looked at my hubby and asked how it was and got the "happy food dance" (I get that a lot. Someday I should post a video of this.....).  He then informed me that this is how I make stuffing now. And only this way. I'd say I nailed it!

Edit: I LOVE this recipe, and decided to submit this to:
Joybee, What's for Dinner?

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Not quite pumpkin pie

This Sunday while I was working, my father in law came over to hang out with my hubby/watch football/raid my fridge.  No, no, it's not his secret plan to wait until I'm gone and eat all my food.  He appreciates my cooking, and therefore I give him free reign over the contents of my refrigerator.  My husband is a bit more stingy, telling him "No, that's MINE!" about everything in there, but I keep threatening that I will quit cooking if he doesn't play nice and learn how to share.  It's not limited to his father, though...every time he sees me leaving the house with something I've made he panics.  It's kind of funny, really.  In talking to my other female friends that cook, I found this is a common thing among the males in our life.  I keep reminding him that this isn't the last pie/jam/quickbread/beef stew that I'll ever make, but I don't think it's quite sunk in yet.  In any exchange for the food that he took (and LOVED!  Score one for me!!!!!), my amazing father in law brought me apple cider (my favorite!) and two of the biggest butternut squashes I've ever seen!  

Biggest squash EVER!
Seriously, look at the size of these things!

Even though I JUST made an apple crumb pie, my hubby's first request was "You should make me a pie out of these".  I didn't see any good reason not to, and besides, I've never had a butternut squash pie before.  And since it is so close to pumpkin, I figured it couldn't be that bad, right?  So, off to the kitchen I went and started on my next project/invention.  

First things first - roast those beautiful squashes!  The roasting makes removing the skin totally easy.  Once they're roasted and cooled a bit, just scoop out the seeds (SAVE THEM!!  Roasted squash seeds are both delicious and nutritious!).  Then just throw the peeled and seeded squash into a food processor until you have a smooth velvety puree.
 I then line a strainer with a paper towel, dump the puree into it and place it over a bowl. This will help some of the excess water to drain out.  I set this aside while I am doing the prep work.  So, I guess now is a good time to unleash the recipe.

Butternut Squash Pie with Vanilla Cinnamon Whipped Cream
For the pie:
1 can sweetened condensed milk
2 large eggs
2 1/2  cups butternut squash puree
1 Tbsp cinnamon
1 tsp ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp  ground ginger
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1 pie shell (get the recipe and tutorial HERE!)

For the whipped cream:
1 c heavy whipping cream
4 tsp confectioners sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp cinnamon

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Make your pie shell and set aside. 

Look familiar?

Place eggs in mixer and lightly beat.  Add condensed milk and butternut squash and mix on medium until well blended. Finally, add your spices, and mix until well incorporated. 
Action shot!
Should end up looking like this

 Pour the mixture into the unbaked pie shell and bake at 425 degrees for 15 minutes.  


After 15 minutes, adjust oven temperature to 350 degrees.  Continue baking for 35 - 40 minutes,  or until pie is mostly set and the center is slightly jiggly. No worries, that sassy center will set up once the pie cools.  

Once the pie is done baking, set on a wire rack to cool.

Say it with me - OOOOOOHHH!

That's it for the pie!  Seriously simple.  

While the pie is cooling, make the whipped cream.  Pour heavy cream and confectioners sugar into mixer with wire whisk attachment.  Beat on high until soft peaks form.

Here's your soft peaks
Use caution when working with cream - you can go from milk to butter very quickly if you don't watch it closely.  Once it gets to that point, you're stuck with it.  But with a little vigilance, this is not hard.  I promise.

Turn off mixer and add vanilla.  Turn back on high and mix until you get stiff peaks.  

And stiff peaks

Turn off and add cinnamon, and give it a couple more turns with the mixer.  Remove from the bowl and put into a covered container and stick it in the fridge.  

Once the pie is completely cool, it is ready to serve!  Cut a slice and serve with a dollop of whipped cream.  I was surprised at how good this is!  
Oh my that's BEAUTIFUL!!  

And it's not sickeningly sweet, which I liked.  So, I guess the next step is to call my father in law so he can try what his gift inspired.  I'll have to leave instructions with my husband so he knows he needs to share.....

Friday, September 20, 2013

An apple a day....


These (carefully placed and photographed) pumpkins can mean one thing and one thing only.....FALL IS OFFICIALLY HERE!!  Ok, technically Saturday, but still....

For those of you who don't know me, here's a tip.  I love fall.  Love it!  Currently, my lima beans have been replaced with my kale patch, my spinach is thriving, my fall peas are peeking out of the soil, lettuces have been planted in my window boxes.  Everything is new again and it's exactly the pick-me-up that I needed.    Now, don't get me wrong, I will miss the long days of summer, playing in my garden, trips to the orchard, the hot sun shining, night time thunderstorms, long evenings sitting on my deck with the grill going and drinking a beer with my hubby.  These are the things I live for!  But a change of season is always exciting for me, and part of the reason I love the region I live in. (I mean, why ELSE would you willingly live in PA?  Seriously?  Nothing happens here!  Unless you're in Philly or Pittsburgh.)  Just when you are getting a little bored with the season you're in....POOF!  New season!    I'd say the only time of year I can do without is from about mid-January until mid-March.  But, being a "glass half full" kind of gal, that's only two months out of twelve. Not too shabby in my opinion. Plus, those two very cold, very brown, very rainy/icy/snowy, very gloomy months makes that first day of spring time weather even better.  And then, before you know it, the flowers are blooming, the birds are singing, and it's time to start working the soil to get the first crops of the year going, and suddenly all is right in the world again.  But, it seems I've gotten off track.....

Back to fall!  One of the things I always associate with this time of years is apples.  They're everywhere!  It's the time of year that brings you some of my favorite things:  caramel apples, apple cider, and, of course, apple pie.  Now, I can tell you beyond a shadow of a doubt that if I was only allowed, say, five foods to eat for the rest of my life, apple pie would definitely make the cut.  (And peanut butter.  I could eat ANYTHING with peanut butter on it!).  There is nothing more comforting and wonderful than sitting down to a slice of homemade apple pie, fresh out of the oven and still slightly warm.  Add a scoop of vanilla ice cream and you have perfection.  Now, I started out today hoping to bring you a super impressive recipe of my own design, but sadly I had a kitchen fail.  Yes, it happens!  And it happens to everyone.  DO NOT EVER LET THIS DISCOURAGE YOU!  These things help you to learn and grow as a cook.  I started out with the idea of a Caramel Apple Crumb Pie.  The fail?  I BURNT THE CARAMEL!  And not super burnt, just enough that it had that bitter after taste.  It started off tasting delicious, then the aftertaste hit.  If I would have taken it off the heat thirty seconds sooner, I would be posting pictures and a recipe.  But, alas, it was not meant to be, and I learned something for my next attempt so I refuse to be upset.  (OK, maybe a LITTLE upset.  I don't take failure well.....).

This failure got me to thinking, though.  Why be fancy?  Sure, it's fun, and I love seeing the look on my hubby's face when I pull something like that off.  But so many people want to get right to that "how in the world did you do that" dessert, and forget to master a basic apple pie.  Or any pie, for that matter.  So, consider this post a recipe and tutorial all in one.  We are going to learn pie making.  Home made crust and all.
And, Really.  How can you have a pie plate
this pretty and not want to put a pie
in it? 

First and foremost, let's talk crust.  Nothing infuriates me more than store bought pie crust (Ok, that might be an overstatement, but still...).  I have actually turned down free pie on the sole premise that the crust was made in a factory and not someone's kitchen.  I just don't like it!  I blame my mother and grandmother.  Never did a pre-made pie crust pass my lips until I was old enough to procure my own pie.  And it was disappointing.  My father has the theory that mediocre pie is better than no pie at all, but I have to differ with that one.  With my insatiable sweet tooth, I cannot in good consciousness waste my time on a dessert that is merely OK. Which means in my world, homemade pie crust is crucial.  And easy!  It only takes a few simple ingredients and a little patience.  I will not lie - the first couple times I did this on my own, it was frustrating.  I'd either get the crust too "short" (dry) or too wet and I ended spending more time patching it than actually making the pie.  Because I am stubborn and refuse to be beaten by flour and shortening, I finally got it right.  Once you get that first perfect one, you remember it.  You can FEEL when it's right.  That's the funny thing about pie crust - you can have the best recipe in the world, but it will never ever ever take exactly the same amount of water each time.  Temperature and humidity actually do play a part in how much you add.  But once you "feel" that first perfect one, you know.  Trust me.  And once you get the crust in place, the rest is smooth sailing.  So, let's get on with this recipe!  (Are you excited?  I'm excited!)

Not That Mrs Smith's Apple Crumb Pie
2 c Flour
2/3 c Shortening
3 T Sugar
Ice water

6-8 apples
3/4 c Sugar
1 T Corn starch
3 T butter

Crumb Topping:
1 stick Butter (room temp)
1 c Flour
1/2 c Brown sugar

9" pie plate

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Pastry Blender.
Consider this your new best
We're going to start by making the crust.  Get a small glass and plop a couple ice cubes in it.  Fill the glass with water.  Set that aside.  The ice is important!  When you mix your other ingredients into a crumb (spoiler alert!), it cools the shortening while binding everything together.  When you bake the crust, that cooled shortening is essentially going to "pop" making your crust flaky.  Flaky is good!  I promise.

Get a big bowl and dump the flour, shortening and sugar into it.  Blend with a pastry blender or a fork.
Coarse crumb
 Yes, you can do this with a fork, and I did for a long time.  But I got a pastry blender as a bridal shower gift, and honestly, I don't know how I lived without it.  It makes it so much easier.  (Plus, you can use it to chop eggs for egg salad.  True story!)  Blend these ingredients together until they are a coarse crumb.

Ball o' dough
Add ice water, a teaspoon at a time.  Blend with your fingers and add more as needed.  You'll want it to form a dough ball, not too sticky, not too dry.  You don't want it to be crumbly or soggy.  Be careful not to overwork dough, or it will get tough and you will lose that flake.

Once the dough is formed and in a ball, turn out onto a lightly floured pastry cloth.  At this point I give it  good squish with the palm of my hand to flatten it and get it started.  Using a rolling pin, roll the dough until it is about 1/8" thick, alternating directions so you get a circular shape.  Doesn't have to be perfect, you can always tear and patch if you have to.  You just don't want to get a long oval. That'll just make your life difficult.

Transfer dough into pie plate.  The easiest way I have found to do this is to fold in half, and then in half again so it's a kind of triangle.  I then put the center of the triangle in the center of the pie plate and unfold.  This is pretty foolproof.

Press into pie plate
Once dough is unfolded, make sure it is molded against the bottom and sides of the pie plate.  Go around the edge and fold the extra that is hanging off the sides under and press.  Go around the entire plate using your thumb to crimp the dough.  Take a sharp knife, and press against the side at a 90 degree angle.  Use the knife to remove excess dough hanging over the edge.  I then go around and touch up my crimps so it looks pretty.
Tuck and roll!

That's the stuff!

Set the dough aside.

Next up - Filling.
Easy apple cutting
Wash and peel apples.  I'm going to pass on the easiest way I know to core and slice an apple.  I actually learned this by watching Master Chef.  I've picked up a lot of helpful things watching that show, and in addition to how to pan sear and cook the perfect steak (baste with hot butter, my friend), I learned this handy trick that really sped up the apple cutting process.  First, sit the apple upright, core perpendicular to your cutting board, and cut one side off of it, getting as close as you can to the core without cutting into it.  Turn your apple a quarter turn, and do it again.  Another quarter turn, another cut.  Do this until you have a little rectangle of core and 4 sides of core-less apple.  Then slice.  Easy!

Once your apples are sliced, placed half of them into the pie plate.  Sprinkle half the sugar and some cinnamon over top of the apples (this is where personal preference comes in to play, put as much as you like!).  Slice the butter and distribute over top of that, then sprinkle corn starch on top of that.
Halfway there
Filling complete!

Top with the remaining apples.  Your pie will be FULL, but you want that.  Apples cook down a lot, so if it's not full, you will end up with a sad, flat pie.  Sprinkle remaining sugar and a little more cinnamon on top.  Set aside.

Course crumbs for topping
Oooooooh, it's crumb topping time!! (My favorite!)
Get your pastry cutter out again.  Put softened butter, flour, and brown sugar into a bowl.  Blend until it makes a coarse crumb.  At the end, I use my fingers to finish the job.

Sprinkle over top of the pie.

Put the pie in the oven for about an hour to an hour and fifteen minutes.  I start frequently checking my pie at about 50 minutes (just in case) and pull it out when the crust is brown and I can see the filling bubbling.

Once done baking, remove from the oven and set on a wire rack to cool.

Before oven
Ta da!  So pretty! 
Hopefully, you now have the most beautiful apple pie you ever saw!  You can change things up a bit and put some chopped pecans in with the filling or the crumb, add some almonds on top, drizzle caramel over it when you serve it.....Just because this is basic doesn't mean you can't jazz it up a bit!  This just screams fall, and is the most perfect dessert/breakfast/late night snack ever!