Sunday, January 08, 2017

Apple Pie, Now With Gadget

I've been baking apple pies for years, since I was a kid in 4-H back in New England.  I find the store-made pies too sweet, too expensive, too processed, or all of the above.   Back then I made my own pie crust, but now I cheat and use the pre-made rolled-up crusts you get at the store.  I'm not as fussy about the crust as I am about the filling!

I start with a good old-fashioned recipe, from my WWII-vintage Joy of Cooking.  I like this edition because it has a lot of older recipes, and also has a section on how to compensate for shortages of ingredients, what substitutions you can make.  Fun to read.  Here's the recipe!

Step one is to peel and cut up your apples into small slices.  Small slices cook more evenly and make a more satisfyingly filled pie, without the air holes and irregularities of using big chunks.  The gadget of choice is a modern version of Grandma's apple peeler, now with a vacuum base instead of having to be clamped onto the counter's edge.  

Take a look, it slices as well as peels and cores-- just quarter the apple and toss into a bowl!    Sprinkle with the requisite quantities of apple pie spices, salt, sugar (I use coconut sugar for more depth of flavor), and cornstarch.  The cornstarch soaks up juices and keeps the pie from being drippy.  I like to use the Penzey's Apple Pie Spice mix, to which I add a pinch of ground fenugreek if I have any around (I didn't tonight).  It gives it a muskiness and some punch. 

Lay out your bottom crust and gently fold it into the pan, so that it meets the bottom and sides without pulling or stretching.  Fill it heaping full with your apple mix, and dot some butter on the top for added yumminess.

 Now you can just put a crust on top and cut slits in it for the steam to get out, but I like to have more fun than that.   I like to cut out shapes with mini cookie cutters.   If you want to do this too, lay your top crust out on a surface, and cut out a number of holes.  Gently press the cutouts onto the crust for further decoration-- you need to do this on a flat surface or it won't work well.

Drape the crust over your pie, and press with your fingers around the edges of the pie plate, leaving depressions as you can see in the photo below.   Once you have sealed the pie edges, cut off the excess crust with a knife, tracing around the pie plate.


Very important tip when baking pies-- use a pizza pan or cookie sheet underneath, so that if the pie drips, it doesn't make black burnt stuff in your oven!  That also helps keep the bottom crust from becoming burnt.  For a regular apple pie, bake for about an hour or until the top crust starts to darken.  I ignore the part in the recipe about starting at 450F and then dialing down to 350F, I just bake for an hour at 350F.


The finished pie, cooling on the stove top.  Tah-dah!

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Gluten-Free Holiday Breads

I've had great luck with gluten-free goodies this year. The new flour mixes in Bette Hagman's "The Gluten-Free Gourmet Bakes Bread" are great for baking quickbreads and cookies as well as bread, and the recipes in Rebecca Reilly's "Great Gluten-Free Goodies" have let me add muffins to my breakfast repertoire again. Well, sheet muffins, the 9x13 pan's gift to the lazy. :-)

Rebecca Reilly has gone on to write a full-length book called "Gluten-free Baking", but what I have is a little small-press paperbound book from 1997 which seems like the precursor to her later work. The muffin recipe is easily adapted to blueberry, cranberry-orange, and banana breads, and I've had good luck baking in a sculpted braided pan as well as a glass sheet pan.

I haven't tested this yet, but the claim is that Bette Hagman's 4-flour mix can be substituted cup for cup in recipes calling for ordinary white wheat flour. You just have to add xanthan or guar gum to provide the elasticity, and possibly a little extra leavening. The 4-flour is 3 cups tapioca flour/starch (Asian market!) 3 cups cornstarch, 1 cup sorghum flour, 2 cups garfava bean flour. If you decide to grind your own garbanzo/fava flour, well, I hear you'd better have a fairly bronto stone-burr or steel-burr mill that's rated for tough jobs. The little tabletop mills may not cut the mustard. Ooh, mustard flour, that might be a neat addition to a cornbread. But I digress.

Bob's Red Mill has started selling the latter two in Whole Foods and other natural food stores. I find ordinary (Banned from) Argo cornstarch works fine, and get the tapioca flour from various large Asian markets for about half the cost of the stuff available at Whole Foods (sorry, Bob).

RR is a Cordon Bleu graduate, and apparently in her new book has taken the BH flours to a new level with arrowroot, coconut, and other specialty flours, but I find the BH stuff works for me.

Rose's Modified Muffin Mix
based on Rebecca Reilly's "Basic Muffins"
1.25 cups 4-flour gf flour or Bob's Red Mill GF Baking Mix
.25 tsp sea salt (round it a little)
2.25 tsp baking powder, aluminum-free please
2 Tbsp brown sugar
1 tsp xanthan gum (no magic, centaurs, or puns)
2 eggs, large or jumbo
1 cup milk (I use 2%, any kind ok)
2 Tbsp olive oil (little extra if FF milk)

Mix the wet ingredients together and blend well. Put the dry ingredients into a sifter and sift in one big batch into the wet ingredients. Stir in the dry by hand or with a mixer. Add the FLAVOR ingredients and stir or mix in. Pour into a greased pan and bake. 9x13 glass pan, about 40 minutes at 375F. 8x18 metal decorative loaf pan, 40 - 45 mins at 400F. Metal knife will come out clean but damp when done.

Note that these breads are not as sweet as commercial mix or grocery-store-bakery breads. Try making a loaf before adding or removing sugar, though, you might like the flavors shining thru better.

* substitute half-cup water, half-cup pulpy OJ for the cup of milk, add in WET stage
* generous quantity (1-2 tsp) grated orange zest
* 1 - 1.25 cups loosely chopped fresh cranberries (freeze for easier handling, and add a bit to baking time)
* optional 3/4 cup loosely chopped pecans or walnuts
* .25 tsp each of cardamom, cinnamon, cloves (or a bit more if you like it really jazzed up)
* mash 2 ripe bananas in the bowl and mix well at WET stage; do not subtract anything else!
* .5 tsp nutmeg, .25 tsp cardamom, dash of pumpkin pie spice mix
* 1 cup loosely chopped pecans or walnuts
* 1 cup frozen blueberries (big huckleberry type)
* 1.25 cup frozen small wild blueberries
* dash of pumpkin pie spice, .5 tsp nutmeg, .5 tsp cardamom
* nuts don't work so well here, but I have thought about adding a half-cup of almond meal for extra protein and to hold the blueb's together better. Hmmm. :-)

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Fresh Now Combo Burritos

Welcome, Weekend Herb Blogging readers!

I noticed that my cilantro has gone wild out in the garden, and it was starting to shade out the young broccoli plants sharing a garden bed with it. Clipping it back would give me a real pile of cilantro. No problem! Avocados are ripe now in California, so it sounds like time to make burritos.

I got a nice bunch of cilantro snipped out of the garden. Because I had a little time, and I like it better this way, I pulled the leaves off the cilantro instead of chopping it whole with the stems. This gives all the goodness of the cilantro without the annoying texture of the stems. Best way to freeze cilantro, too.

I have to say that the colors inside an avocado are my favorite greens. Beautiful! This avocado is one of the types that you can usually only get at the farmer's market, and unfortunately I forgot the name. I'll ask the folks I got it from tomorrow when I go. Did you know there are 7 types of avocados grown here in California? Me neither! I've only seen 2 or 3 in the stores.

Of course we can't do without our delicious winter lettuces, growing here in hydroponic solution in ordinary planters. I could leave it whole, but chose to just tear it up into pieces for the burrito. Make sure it's dry, of course, lest the tortilla suddenly sog away and drop filling on one's lap!

Ta-dah! With some ordinary grilled chicken in Trader Joe's yummy mole sauce (cut with a little mango juice for a nicer finish), some low-fat sour cream, everything comes together for a nice burrito. If I'd found low-carb tortillas, it wouldn't be bad as Atkins or South Beach, either.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Fresh Fall Snack Plate

Welcome, Weekend Herb Blogging readers!

I love going to Farmer's Markets this time of year. In the summer, not so much, since most of the things there are things I grow myself or don't get excited about. I'll pop in for pluots, apricots, and peaches, none of which (alas) I have here, but that's about it.

In the fall and winter, though, all the folks in the cool coastal areas have been growing their colorful root veggies, yet there are still summer foods from the inland valley farmers, and of course all the marvelous tree fruits.

Some friends of ours who host a social brunch every few months recently had a new baby, and I wanted to put together something special to bring. A fruit and cheese plate of all-local, all-seasonal goodies seemed just perfect!

I started with gorgeous forenschluss (speckled belly) and cimmaron heirloom romaine lettuces from my garden as a plate cover. In the middle, a tasty goat cheese log from either Half Moon Bay or Petaluma (I forget! and the wrapper is long gone!).

Everybody loves pomegranate seeds, but most people hate extracting them from the pomegranate. Plus, they're spectacular, like mounds of living rubies. Some pomegranate seeds on a cracker with goat cheese is a little slice of heaven, believe me-- that tart-sweet burst of flavor, and the creamy richness of the cheese. Yum.

I absolutely adore persimmons, and feel that they're one of the most under-appreciated fruits in the fall harvest pantheon. Most folks think of the hachiya type, the astringent persimmons that need to get soft, pulpy, and generally scary in texture to be delicious. Try an under-ripe slice of a fuyu type persimmon and your lips won't unpucker for days. There is an alternative, however-- the crisp, sweet, spicy fuyu type persimmon. Rounded, like a flattened tomato, rather than pointy like a pepper, the fuyu persimmon can be gloriously crunched like an apple, or sliced for a fruit plate. No scary texture adventures!

Photo courtesy of freshelectron's FlickR stream, CC-licensed.

Some feel that the flavor of a fuyu persimmon is not as wonderful as that of the hachiya persimmon. I think there's something to that-- for all-out persimmon intensity, the fuyu are marvelous. Bake the pulp into dark sweet quickbread, flavor a special kugel, or make exotic chutnies with it. Hachiya rocks! But the persimmon which sells itself to food skeptics, nervously turning over a slice in their fingers, is the friendly fuyu.

Finally, as a decorative yet practical touch, the nasturtiums. The hotheads who enjoy wasabi, Chinese mustard, and other sinus-popping fare will welcome a fiery nasturtium leaf on their cracker of goat cheese, or perhaps even wrapped, by itself, around a few pomegranate seeds. The flowers, lovely and spicy-sweet, are a real treat. Gather them first thing in the morning, before it warms up, and you can even beat the ants to them. Do inspect them carefully as you garnish, though!

I don't rinse the flowers, as we garden naturally and haven't had to spray soap or pepper for aphids on them this fall. Rinsing can rinse out the nectar reservoir in the back of the flower, which is a big part of why the flower is so awesome to eat. These are from our side yard. They've recovered from the August heat, and make a gorgeous cascade along the trellis.

I don't publish recipes here as often as I'd like, but there's plenty of action over at My Bay Area Garden!

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Summer Carrots with a Snap

I have been so busy lately that while I've taken photos, I haven't had time to write up the things I've been cooking out of the garden. We've gloried in wonderful heirloom golden, chiogga, and oxheart beets, just steamed in their sweet fullness. The Asian spinach came to center stage again recently, with fresh figs and chickpeas in a yummy saute. Another balsamic saute of portobello, rainbow chard, and fresh summer squash was consumed with gusto. But writing this stuff up always seems to get put off! So I have missed Weekend Herb Blogging for two or three weeks in a row, despite my best intentions.

This weekend, though, I really wanted to make an appearance, so here is my very simple steamed carrot dish, a five-minute microwave special! This is the first year that I've grown carrots with any success. The raised beds with 'fluffy' planting mix apparently were the bee's knees, and I got beautiful, stocky Royal Chantenay carrots in abundance. For full disclosure, of course, you see some of the baby ones that got pulled by mistake with the biggies, and a little 'hourglass' carrot that was elbowed rudely by a beet, and thus formed oddly. In a 12-inch raised bed, I could grow Nantes or various other long carrots, and almost certainly will do so later on. There are lovely little ball-shaped carrots that I want to try in my 9-inch self-watering planters, for instance. I had gotten the Royal Chantenay seed as a good carrot for our tough clay soil, as it doesn't have to drill down as far. Since I already had some on hand, I just used that.

If you want a sweet, glazed carrot recipe, this is not it! While sharing some ingredients with one, this recipe brings out the full earthiness of the carrots, and chases it with a snap! of ginger, hence the name. Please note also the little cup behind the casserole dish. I've started setting out a clean cup whenever I prepare veggies. When the prep is done, I add whatever I had to trim off into a plastic bag I'm keeping in the freezer. When I have enough, or feel like it, I'll use these trimmings to simmer down for stock, then strain them out and discard or compost. Of course, if you trim off something because it is sprouted, gone bad, or you find a bug in it, don't save that! :-)

Summer Carrots with a Snap

  • 3 - 4 cups fresh raw carrots, cut into thick wedges
  • Tablespoon of sesame seed
  • Quarter to half teaspoon of ground ginger
  • Teaspoon of honey
  • Water
  • Casserole dish with cover
  • Microwave

Into the casserole dish, put about a fingernail's depth of water. Add the raw carrots, and sprinkle the sesame seeds and ginger on top. Drizzle the honey over the carrots. Cover, and microwave on high for 3 minutes for still-crunchy carrots, and 5 minutes for fork-tender carrots. Note that the 5-minute carrots will lose more of their wonderful orange color, so you might want to try 3 - 4 minutes and see if your eaters are fussy about chewing. :-) I think if I'd used less water, the carrots might have kept more color. Will try that on the next batch.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Early Summer Veggie Mix

It's time for Weekend Herb Blogging, which I've missed for the past week or two-- too busy in the garden, alas. It's that time of year when cooking straight from the garden becomes extra fun, as things are just starting to become ready in small quantities. How to combine them? What shall we try this time?

I'd trimmed the flowering tops from my cinnamon basil (an impulse buy back in March) and had been using some leaves along with lettuce in chicken sandwiches. I'm becoming quite fond of cinnamon basil, it has a nice bite to it and a complex flavor. I started this veggie saute with light olive oil, adding some freshly trimmed cinnamon basil leaves, and lime thyme, along with my standard whole mustard seed and generous sprinkling of paprika. I look forward to when my two Hungarian Paprika peppers start fruiting! But for now, store-bought dried stuff from a good supplier.

The first squashes are coming in now for us, having been lagging due to chilly nights. We are getting a couple of small ones every week or two. I've had to do a little hand-pollinating in the early morning. We have so many ants that they mob the flower blossoms and steal the nectar-- pollinators are not stopping in, as there's no nectar to gather. Pesty, pesty ants. They aerate the soil, though, so without them we gardeners would be out of luck. Moderation in all things, please.

Now I know to pick them SMALL, no longer than 6 - 8 inches. I missed this courgette, a 'Romanesco Zucchini' from Renee's Seeds, so it's about a foot long. Luckily, still extremely tender. I love this variety-- it has a fresh kind of taste, unlike the blandness of the standard dark green zuke. I also love the little sprocketed shapes it slices into, showing the ribbing along the sides. I saw similar-looking cultivars at a garden show, in a display of seeds imported from Italy. They looked fascinating, but the prices were a bit rich for me at the time. Next year!

Putting It All Together

  • skillet, with cover
  • 3 - 4 Tbsp light olive oil
  • 8 - 12 leaves cinnamon basil
  • 12 - 20 sprigs fresh thyme
  • half tsp whole yellow mustard seed
  • generous dash paprika
  • 3 - 4 cups thin sliced summer squash
  • 1 - 2 cups fresh chard leaf & rib, snipped into smaller pieces
  • quarter to half cup water
  • large bowl or casserole dish with lid

On low heat, in a large skillet that can be covered, combine the olive oil and spices, and stir until aromas are released and hte basil starts to turn light yellow. Add the sliced squash, and increase heat to medium. Saute the squash until the slices are starting to become translucent at the very edges. Squash slices are still rigid-- don't overcook at this step or you'll get mush by the end!

Now add the chard, and continue to saute until the chard leaves are fairly limp, but still brightly colored. At that point, add the water and cover. Let simmer for 1 - 3 minutes, or until chard leaves start to darken, but ribs are still bright. Put the whole skilletful into the bowl or casserole dish and cover to gently steam. Scrape any liquid or stray leaf from the skillet.

  • 1 - 2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 large portobello mushroom caps
  • 2 - 3 Tbsp balsamic vinegar

Put the skillet back on the heat, and let any stray moisture evaporate. Now add the good quality olive oil. We're using that for this step, as the taste will be preserved, and we're not doing a full saute here. Snip the portobello caps into small pieces and add to skillet. If you have washed the caps, be sure to have patted them dry first. Break out the center stems first, unless you like those. Save for use in veggie stock, or put in your compost pile.

The portobello pieces will soak up the oil quickly, and you will be basically dry-frying them-- keep them moving, be sure to turn the pieces over. When all the sides have browned up, but the pieces are still quite firm, splash in the balsamic vinegar. Stir quickly, until the mushrooms have absorbed all the vinegar, and fry for a moment more. The vinegar will make almost a glaze on the pieces, but don't let it burn! Now throw the squash and chard mixture in on top of the mushrooms, stir together for a minute, and remove from heat. Yum!

Cooked this way, the squash pieces still have texture and resistance to bite. The chard leaf is largely dark green, and limp, but the ribs still retain some color and texture. The mushrooms are soft on the outside, but substantial and slightly chewy-- meat eaters who complain about veggie dishes will feel they're eating something 'real'. Key to this dish is staging. The actual cooking takes under 15 minutes, and the steaming and resting of the main veggies will result in a limp mass if overdone. Enjoy!

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Balsamic Chard Sauté

The garden is starting to overflow with leafy things! Oh no! Fortunately, leafy things are good for you and delicious, so let's use a huge amount of chard and make a balsamic chard sauté. Technically, there's some steaming involved, so it's not officially a sauté, but we who are still culinarily challenged don't know precisely what to call it.

We start with a very large colander of washed and mostly dried chard, snipped into strips a couple of fingers wide. You can just grab a bunch of chard and snip across the top, it's quick and easy. Remember to move your fingers as you get closer to your hand! Especially if you're talking to someone in the kitchen. Not that I've ever, well, nevermind. :-) Include the tasty stalks, cut to about finger-length or slightly shorter. Reserve a large double handful of leaf, with no stems, and set aside. If you have a range of sizes, try to reserve only smaller, more tender leaves to set aside.

Toss the rest into a pre-warmed pan in which a little light olive oil has been warming-- just enough to coat the bottom of the pan. Drizzle liberally with a good balsamic vinaigrette salad dressing, or your favorite balsamic, olive, and herb bread dipping concoction. Toss, or stir gently with tongs. As the chard cooks, it will release water, but if the pan looks too dry, sprinkle a little water on top. Lower the heat, put on a lid, and let the chard steam to soften the stalks. As you can see by the photo, which shows our chard about half done, most of the zippy color is still in place. However, we like the stalks nice and soft, and by that time, most of that color will be gone.

Reserved chard to the rescue! Toss in the snipped leaf-only chard that you set aside, give it a good stirring, and remove the pan from the stove. If you are going to be waiting to serve this for more than about 10 minutes, I recommend keeping it warm and tossing in the extra chard about 3 - 4 minutes before serving. That will give it time to soften, but not to lose its bright tones. Taste, and possibly add a last minute splash of pure balsamic for added zing. If you like slightly crunchy stalks, though, you can skip all this 'reserved chard' business and just stop when the color is about where it is in the photo.

Here is our yummy balsamic chard, plated with some lemon-dill halibut and fresh linguine. Doing this again, I think I'd have trout almandine as the fish, since the crunch of the almonds, and the brown color, would go much more nicely. As you can see, the chard cooks down to a small fraction of its former glory. The stems retain their color, but much of the leaf color is lost-- hence our tossing in the reserved chard leaf at the very end.

Hop on over to My Bay Area Garden to learn how easy it is to grow this beautiful and delicious veggie in your garden or on a sunny windowsill. And be sure to visit Weekend Herb Blogging, guest-hosted by SweetNicks, to see what other folks are up to in their kitchen gardens this weekend.