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Posts Tagged ‘Family’

Now is the time for apples — crisp, juicy, glorious in their familiar, yet still sublime combination of sweet and tart. And what better way to celebrate them than baking a beautiful apple pie?

For this occasion, I chose a traditional double-crusted, deep dish apple pie. For this to work, the apples need to be flavorful and hold their shape while still being juicy, and the crust needs to be crisp and flaky.

Folks are often intimidated by making pie crust, these days. We’ve lost so much of our accumulated culinary knowledge in the home. We’ve forgotten what it means to be a good cook, and instead revere the celebrity chefs on our televisions. We have huge kitchens with cherry cabinets, stainless steel appliances and 6 burner stoves which too often are used just for heating up take-out food.

Pie crusts don’t require a degree from culinary school.  Generations of women (and it was mostly women) have rolled out pie crusts many times a week, without a recipe and in kitchens the size of my closet. Flaky pie crust is the result of adhering to a few guidelines, and then practicing enough so you get comfortable with the technique.

Keep your cool. Flaky crusts come from fats (butter, in this case) staying cold, and not coating the proteins in the flour. To keep that from happening, recipes often advise cooks to refrigerate their ingredients, even chill their bowls and utensils.  It’s best to make pie on a cool day, rather than in the heat of the summer.

Work quickly. This prevents the dough from warming up (see above) and prevents overworking the dough (see below).

Don’t overwork the dough. Gluten is a protein in wheat flour that creates long strands when stirred or kneaded.  This is wonderful when you are making pizza dough or baking bread, but it is anathema to tender pastry.

There’s not much more to it, honestly.  Details follow below. Don’t be intimidated, give it a try.

Double-crusted Apple Pie

Ingredients:

Filling:

8 apples,* peeled and sliced

Juice and zest of 1/2 lemon

1 tsp. vanilla extract

3/4 cup sugar

1/4 tsp. cinnamon

1/4 cup flour

Dash of freshly grated nutmeg

2 Tbsp. water

2 Tbsp. melted butter

* I suggest a mixture of apples, some tart and some sweet.  Choose varieties that hold their shape during baking. For this pie, I used Granny Smiths, Jonathans, and Golden Delicious. If you have access to an apple orchard or farmer’s market, you may find varieties not sold in normal supermarkets.  Ask the farmer about these — some heirloom varieties make the very best pies!

Crust:

14 Tbsp. (7 ounces) unsalted butter, cold

2 1/4 cup all-purpose flour

1/4 tsp. salt

1/4 tsp. baking powder

6 Tbsp. ice water

1 Tbsp. apple cider vinegar

Directions:

Cut the butter into little cubes (about 1/2″ ). Set aside approximately two-thirds of the butter, wrap loosely in plastic wrap, and put it in the refrigerator for at least a half hour. Wrap the remaining butter, and put it in the freezer. Combine the flour, salt and baking powder in a large Ziploc bag and put it in the freezer for about half an hour, as well.

Place the flour mixture in the food processor fitted with the metal blade and process for a few seconds to combine. Add the butter from the fridge (the larger portion) and pulse until the mixture resembles coarse meal, about 10-20 seconds. Add the remaining frozen butter cubes and pulse until the cubes are about the size of pease.

Add the ice water and vinegar and pulse five or six times. The dough will not “come together,” but you will be able to pinch it and have it hold together. Dump the crumbly mixture into a large Ziploc bag (you can use the same one from before). Close the bag, forcing any extra air out. Quickly knead the dough into a flat ball. Divide into two discs, and wrap each in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for 45 minutes or longer.

While the dough is chilling, prepare the filling.

Peel and slice the apples, tossing them with the lemon juice to discourage browning. Combine the remaining ingredients, except the butter.  Gently mix with the apples, tossing gently to coat.

Roll out one disc at a time, keeping the other cool in the refrigerator while you work.

On a lightly floured surface, or between two sheets of plastic wrap, if you prefer, roll out the first disc of dough to approximately 12″ in diameter.  Place the dough in the 9″ pie pan, and put it in the refrigerator while you roll out the upper crust to the same size.

Fill the bottom crust with the apples. Since the apples will shrink some in cooking, I find it best to take the time to layer the apples in the crust, leaving the least amount of space possible. The filling will be mounded over the height of the pan to some extent.  Do not worry about this, it is normal.

Drizzle the melted butter over the filling, and place the top crust over the whole thing. Fold the top crust edge over the bottom crust edge, and press together to make a ridge all the way around the pie. Crimp in any design you like. I usually make a zigzag by pushing the dough between my thumb and forefinger on my left hand, and the thumb of my right hand. But you can use a fork, or make any sort of design that encourages the two crusts to bond together and hold in the juices. Be creative.

Cut slits in the top to let steam escape. In the pie pictured above, I used a fancy device my Aunt Dusty gave me, that made a cute apple design. But you don’t need one to make a perfectly good-looking pie.

Brush the top with an egg white and sprinkle liberally with sugar.

Put the pie on a baking sheet, lined with foil to catch the inevitable drips and spills. Bake at 375 degrees for approximately one hour, or until the top is golden and the juices are bubbling.

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Just in time for Cinco de Mayo, I am sharing with you the recipe for my infamous margaritas.

The secret to a good margarita, first, lies in using fresh lime juice, a good quality tequila, and never ever using anything labeled “sweet sour mix,” or “margarita mix.”  Don’t even talk to me about frozen limeade concentrate.  No, the secret of an awesome margarita, like so many things in the kitchen, is in using good quality ingredients.  That, and not being afraid of alcohol.

My Uncle Steve knows how to have a good time, and he has shared with me the secret to more than one incredible cocktail (someday I will tell you about French 75’s, but you are not ready yet).  He introduced me to the basics of this fine drink.  Fresh limes.  Good tequila.  No sugar.  He taught me that limes can vary in their sourness, but never, ever use sugar to balance that out.  Just add more Triple Sec, which is sort of like sugar, but has that extra flavor and some extra alcohol, as a bonus.

Forgive me, Uncle Steve, but I tweaked your recipe a little bit.  I hope you’ll try it and decide the student has proven worthy…

Margaritas

Ingredients:

1 part Tequila (I like to use a 100% Agave tequila, reposado style, but use what you like)

1 part Triple Sec

1 part fresh-squeezed lime juice (nothing bottled or concentrated)

a generous splash of Grand Marnier

Directions:

Rub the rim of your prefered glass with a wedge of lime and dip into salt, if desired.

Fill a cocktail shaker, if you have one, half-way with ice cubes.  Pour all ingredients into shaker, cover, and shake until thoroughly mixed and chilled.

Strain into festive glass of your choice, over crushed ice.  The crushed ice is important, as it slowly dilutes this very strong drink, allowing you to sip it, savor it and not make a fool of yourself too quickly.

Enjoy responsibly.  This means, for most of us, giving our car keys to the host, just to be sure we don’t do something we regret.

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Red Cabbage and Apples

I’m not Irish. All those Saint Patty’s day cabbage recipes look good, but don’t quite stir my German heart like sweet and sour red cabbage with bacon and apples.  This is the food of my people.  I thought this recipe originated in eastern Europe, but when my mother-in-law served a similar dish as a part of a Norwegian dinner, I decided it might really be more accurately called northern European.  In any case, it’s good.

This particular recipe is from my mom’s mom, and includes bacon.  But, for years, I made a vegetarian version from Anna Thomas’ classic Vegetarian Epicure, made with butter and beer (but no meat, obviously). The bacon is delicious, of course, but the real star is the way the sweet and sour play off each other. It may be peasant food, but it has the perfect balance of sweet, salty, acid and fat that often eludes the most upscale cuisine.

Traditionally a side dish, this is great served with pork and egg noodles. But I must confess I ate a big bowl of it for lunch the other day, just by itself.  It was awesome.

Margaret Wellen’s German Red Cabbage

Aunt Hilde’s note: Use an iron skillet – it flavors the cabbage and gives you a good dose of iron in the doing.  Stainless steel or Teflon will work but the cabbage won’t taste authentic.  The final product should be soft (not mushy), tart, and balanced spice.  The amounts listed below are approximate since I never exactly measure the ingredients.

Ingredients:

1 good-sized red cabbage – about 8 inches in diameter – sliced in ¼ inch strips

10 – 12 strips bacon

1 large apple – cut to bite-size

1 large onion – coarse dice

8 whole cloves

12 whole allspice

1 cinnamon stick

Pinch of ground nutmeg

Salt and pepper to taste

Sweet & sour mixture:

¾ cup cider vinegar

1 cup water

½ cup sugar (brown works fine)

Directions:

Fry out bacon in iron skillet and reserve bacon and drippings.

Lightly sauté onion in bacon drippings, add cabbage and turn frequently to evenly coat the cabbage with the oil.

Add apple, allspice, cloves, cinnamon stick, nutmeg, salt, pepper and sweet-sour mixture.  Bring to a boil and simmer uncovered until cabbage is partially cooked (beginning to soften).

Cover and simmer for another 15 minutes or so, and then adjust the spice and sweet-sour balance to your taste.

Vent cover and continue simmer until cabbage is soft but not mushy.

Stir in crumpled bacon bits just prior to serving.

Serves 8 in some households, less in ours.

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Bunny Bread

My mother’s family has this fun tradition of making a sweet bread for Easter morning, in the shape of a bunny.  (Well, usually in the shape of a bunny, but some odd branches of the family tree have been known to bake an Easter Chicken or two… )  My mom used to make two, and she’d bring one to the newest neighbor or to the minister or some other lucky person.  I knew I had become an adult woman when I made my own bunny, and invited her to my house for Easter brunch, and she proclaimed it, “the best bunny ever!”  Sadly, she died just six weeks later.

I’ll be baking a bunny again this year, with my daughter’s help, no doubt. It’s a mildly sweet, rich, eggy bread that goes well with eggs and fruit and asparagus or whatever you’re serving.  I hope you enjoy it as much as we do.

Wellen’s Easter Bread

Ingredients:

3/4 cup milk

1 stick butter

1/2 cup sugar

1 tsp. salt

2 Tbsp. yeast

1/2 cup warm water (~110 degrees F)

4 1/4 – 4 3/4 cup all-purpose flour, sifted

2 eggs

Directions:

Scald milk.  Add butter, sugar and salt, and stir until butter is melted and sugar has dissolved.  Cool to room temperature.  In small bowl, dissolve yeast in warm water.  Add cooled butter mixture, eggs and 4 cups flour to bowl on stand mixer or large mixing bowl. Add yeast.  Stir to blend.  Knead 5-8 minutes. Dough should be soft and elastic.  Add just enough flour to handle easily.  Put dough into greased bowl, and cover with damp kitchen towel. Let rise in warm place one hour or until doubled in volume.  Punch down. Form into bunny shape on greased cookie sheet.  My grandmother always put a colored egg on the tail and used jelly beans for eyes and a nose.  Let rise.  Bake at 375 degrees F 20-30 minutes.  Glaze when cool.

Hilde’s Cinnamon Variation:

Roll out the piece of dough to be used for the body of the bunny.  Sprinkle with brown sugar, cinnamon and raisins.  Drizzle with melted butter.  Roll up, as you would for a loaf of bread.  Try your best to shape it back into a bunny body shape.  Remember that all sins can be covered with glaze later.

Glaze:

1 lb. powdered sugar

Milk, a few Tablespoons, just enough to thin

1/4 tsp. almond extract

As you can see, this is not exact.  I just put some powdered sugar in a bowl, add milk and stir, adjusting the amount of milk and sugar to get a glaze that will barely pour.  Wait until your bread is completely cooled to glaze.  I’ve learned it’s best to wrap up the bunny without glaze and glaze it on Easter morning, so it doesn’t get messed up when I wrap it.

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In my experience, kids love to be in the kitchen when you’re cooking.  When you can, it’s great to involve them, even when the “help” is not really so helpful.  At 8, Morgan actually contributes some real assistance from time to time, but mostly she tastes and comments and inspects things as I go along.  I credit her interest in cooking in part to her great preschool teachers at the Boulder Journey School.  There, the kids in her class made two cookbooks, one for bread and one for soup.  The bread cookbook was alphabetical, A is for Apple Bread, B is for Banana Bread, etc.  Not only did the kids participate in reading, measuring, mixing and baking, they also wrote out the recipes and illustrated the cookbook!  Needless to say, it was charming, and made a lovely gift for the parents.  But no doubt the greatest gift of all is a child who has an appreciation for and interest in real cooking. I believe that knowing how to cook brings lifelong happiness.  And that’s a lesson worth learning.

This yeasted bread is lightly sweetened, and studded with chunks of apple.  It makes a great breakfast bread, snack, or even a somewhat virtuous dessert.  I haven’t tried making sandwiches with it, but I bet they’d be awesome.

Makes two 9″ round loaves.

Ingredients:

3/4 cup milk

1/2 cup butter

1/2 cup brown sugar

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon sugar

3 packets active dry yeast

1/2 cup warm water (between 85 and 110 degrees F)

2 apples, peeled and chopped

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

2 eggs

1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour

3 cups all purpose unbleached flour, plus some extra

Directions:

Put milk, butter, brown sugar and salt into a small saucepan.  Heat until almost boiling (this is called scalding) and the butter has melted.  Set this mixture aside and let it cool down to room temperature.

Dissolve the yeast in warm water.  Add 1 teaspoon sugar.  After it foams up, add the yeast mixture to the (cooled) milk mixture in a mixing bowl on a stand mixer.  Add chopped apples, eggs, flour and cinnamon.

Knead with a dough hook in a KitchenAid mixer (speed 2) or by hand for 5-8 minutes, adding just enough extra white flour for the dough to come together in a ball and clean the sides of the bowl.

Put dough into another large greased bowl.  Cover with a damp kitchen towel and put in a warm (but not hot) place.  Let it rise for one hour, or until it is doubled in size.

Punch down the dough.  Shape it into 2 round domes and put each on a greased pie pan or a cookie sheet. Let it rise 20 minutes more.  (This is a good time to turn on your oven and let it preheat.)

Bake the bread at 375 degrees for 30 minutes.  You can check to make sure it’s done by thumping the top.  It should sound hollow, and be golden brown on the top.

Now the hard part: let it cool enough to cut off a slice.  Yum!

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Aunt Hilde’s Brownies

These brownies are rich and fudgy, with just enough lift to keep them from being too dense.  My Aunt Hilde made them whenever anyone needed a little comfort — funerals, break-ups, illness, celebrations, whatever.  When her elderly neighbor drove his car through the living room wall of another neighbor, Hilde, as always, knew just what to do.  She baked brownies. Because she knew that there are times when nothing else will help, and you just need a little chocolate.

A word of caution:  these are incredibly hard to resist.  If you find you have more than you can use right away, they freeze beautifully. I cut them into small squares, wrap them individually in plastic, and put them in a zip-loc freezer bag.  I can pop one of them into my daughter’s lunchbox and it will be thawed by the time she’s ready to eat, scoring me some major mom-points.  You know, they probably call that scoring “brownie points” for a reason…

Ingredients:

2 sticks butter

4 oz. unsweetened chocolate

2 cups sugar

1 1/4 cup flour

1/2 tsp. salt

1/4 tsp. baking powder

2 tsp. vanilla

2 Tbsp. dark rum or kahlua

4 eggs

handful chopped walnuts, optional

handful (~1 cup) chocolate chips

Directions:

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

Butter a 9×13 pan.

Melt butter and chocolate together in the microwave, stirring every 15 or 30 seconds to prevent burning.  Set aside.

Combine dry ingredients into bowl and combine thoroughly.  Add eggs, rum, vanilla and chocolate/butter mixture.  Stir thoroughly.  Add nuts, if desired, and chocolate chips.  Pour batter into prepared pan and spread to even thickness.

Bake 30-35 minutes, or until cracks begin to show over the surface of the brownies, and they have risen in the middle.

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