Thursday, March 15, 2012

An Extra Step to Improve Apple Pie

An article on apple pie caught my eye a few weeks ago. You can read it yourself here. I'm not a huge fan of pie. I much prefer the more elegant tart. The few pies that do get made in the Pinch kitchen - Pecan, Pumpkin, Cranberry, Lemon Meringue - are made in tart pans.

An old fashioned apple pie has always been the one exception; it will always be made in a regular pie dish. Apple pie should be mile high. I don't make it often (and I don't eat it often because it's usually way too sweet for my tastes) but after reading this recipe and needing to help my daughters celebrate Pi Day at school, a pie making night was planned.

The extra step that this recipe proposed was cooking down the apples before baking. I never did this before. I was always a little less than thrilled with the texture of the apples in my pie and frankly, am surprised I didn't think of this myself. The result was a much improved pie that won rave reviews.

Oh, I should note that I tried a new apple, too. The pastry chef referenced in the article recommended Pink Ladies. I've seem them at the market but never tried them. I've always reached for the Golden Delicious when making apple desserts. But the Pink Ladies were great.

I tweaked the original recipe a bit to include fresh lemon juice, my own trustworthy pie dough recipe, and a lot less sugar. The rest of the instructions are mostly from the original recipe. Here is the recipe:

Apple Pie
Print recipe only here

Makes one 9-inch pie

Pie dough (you will have some leftover) Prepare ahead of time.

2 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 pounds Golden Delicious, Honeycrisp or Pink Lady apples, peeled and cored, then cut into thick slices
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/3 cup (heaping) sugar
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons cornstarch
Juice of 1 lemon

1 egg, lightly beaten with 2 T milk

Make the pie dough first, giving it at least an hour to sit in the refrigerator.

Prep apples.

Melt butter in a large sauté pan set over medium-high heat and add apples to the pan. Stir to coat fruit with butter and cook, stirring occasionally. Meanwhile, whisk together the spices, salt and sugar, and sprinkle this over the apples, stirring gently to combine. Lower heat and cook until apples have started to soften, approximately 5 to 7 minutes. Sprinkle the flour and cornstarch over the apples and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, another 3 to 5 minutes. Remove pan from heat, add lemon juice and stir to combine. Scrape apples into a bowl and allow to cool completely.

Place a large baking sheet on the middle rack of oven and preheat to 425. Remove pie dough from the refrigerator and knead briefly on a floured surface to soften (be very brief - you want it to just come together). Use a rolling pin to roll it out (use flour sparingly, but as necessary) until it is roughly 12 inches in diameter. Fit this crust into a 9-inch pie plate, trimming it to leave a 1/2-inch overhang. Place this plate, with the dough, in the freezer.

Roll out the remaining dough on a lightly floured surface until it is roughly 10 or 11 inches in diameter.

Remove pie crust from freezer and put the cooled pie filling into it. Cover with remaining dough. Press the edges together, trim the excess, then crimp the edges with the tines of a fork. Using a sharp knife, cut three or four steam vents in the top of the crust. Lightly brush the top of the pie with egg wash (the egg/milk mixture) and sprinkle with a teaspoon or so of sugar.

Place pie in oven and bake on hot baking sheet for 20 minutes, then reduce temperature to 375. Continue to cook until the interior is bubbling and the crust is golden brown, about 30 to 40 minutes more. Remove and allow to cool on a windowsill or kitchen rack, about two hours.

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Pickle it, Just a Little Bit

I developed this recipe after two meals at Chicago Q in which I could not get enough of their house pickles. The restaurant is selling them by the jar now but it's way more fun to make your own. Best of all, they're done in a few hours. I made them a few nights ago. Within two hours of putting them in jars they had cooled and were quite enjoyable.

They are essentially a bread and butter pickle, but these have considerably less sugar and taste nothing like the sweet nasty that is the bread and butter pickle. These are crunchy and spicy and totally addictive. The onion bits are smashing, too.

My recipe is a based on the two recipes that looked most promising, one from Smitten Kitchen and the other from Lady Martha.

Oh, it should be noted that these are perfectly safe to keep in the refrigerator without making a canning event of it. If if you'd like to put up a great quantity just follow the recipe and sterilize your jars before filling, then just can as usual.

Here's that recipe:

Pickles for a Barbecue
Print recipe only here

Makes 1 quart

1 pounds Kirby cucumbers or pickle cukes, rinsed and cut thick on a diagonal
1/2 medium sweet onion
1 T Kosher salt
2 cups ice
3/4 cup apple cider vinegar
3/4 cup white vinegar
1/3 cup sugar
1 T mustard seed
1 t coriander seed
1/2 t whole black peppercorns
1/4 t celery seed
1/4 t turmeric
1/4 t chili flakes

In a large bowl, combine the cucumbers, onion and salt. Mix well. Cover the mixture with ice. let stand at room temperature for two hours.

In a pot, bring sugar, vinegars and spices to a boil. Drain cucumbers ann onions, discarding any unmelted ice. Rinse well and drain again.

Add cucumbers to pot and bring back to a boil, tossing. Remove from heat and cool. Transfer to mason jars and store in refrigerator.

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Friday, March 2, 2012

Duck, redux

On the weekends, en route home from my kids ski racing practice in Wisconsin, we pass a farm with a hand-painted sign on the road that read "Ducks for Sale." It always makes me smile. Ducks are my favorite bird. A recurring daydream involves living somewhere with a duck pond visible from my kitchen window.

This is a good time to credit foxypar4 for the photo. I selected it over other mallard photos because it best conjures the phobia, popularized by Gary Larson, of being watched by a duck.

My estimation of the steps involved between moving to a location with a duck pond and being in position to - with an Americano in hand - gaze upon a family or two of ducks cavorting around is this: Step 1:  Buy some ducks.

Stocking the pond would be a pleasure equal to the part where I stand in the morning sun with my hair looking perfect wearing an outfit (and shoes!) far more chic than the getup in which I presently find myself. The selection and purchase would have to take place in person at a shop like Bay Hay and Feed, a cozy  purveyor of gardening tools, clothing, gifts, livestock and feed located in the Pacific Northwest. On a visit many years ago they had several galvanized metal feed bins teeming with peeping birds of different feathers. I had to be dragged out of there that day, lured away with the promise of a latte next door.

If I had to order ducklings online (a common enough practice) I might be inclined to do the thing where you purchase eggs (incubation?) and then when the duckling busts out it thinks you're its mother. But that would blur the line between pet and livestock and the whole point of livestock is that they're not pets. You do your best to protect their outdoor environment but you can't have them shaking a tail feather inside unless you live in a barn.

It's such a lovely thing to live in relative proximity to the open spaces of Wisconsin and Michigan. Just seeing a silo now and then reminds me of the possibility of a slower pace. (This is what I was thinking when my blur of a car caught the attention of the state patrol last weekend.) Of course on every one of those farms is a woman with a view of a duck pond but she's too busy with her to-do list to appreciate them. I can relate to her. I'm in a busy time of life and there's lots on my list. I prefer to see this as evidence of a life well-lived, rather than a burden. Some like to knock the to-do list, suggesting that such a thing makes list-makers feel important or needed. I make lists because I am important and needed. And because I tend to forget stuff. Also, I love lists!

Ode to a list
Oh, to-do list
your python-grip on my neck
just makes me love you more.

With every addition and subtraction
my devotion to you multiplies.

Ok, that's all. I'm not even going to go into the part about how that farm in Wisconsin is much more likely to be selling duck meat as opposed to fluffy ducks.

Have a lovely weekend.

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Thursday, March 1, 2012

Cassoulet vs. Cassoulet

Winter is wrapping up but it's not going to get warm in Chicago for awhile. It's a great time of year for French Onion Soup, Spring Lamb Stew and a perfect time to make my first Cassoulet. Over the weekend Cassoulet recipes were popping up all over the place. I read Mark Bittman's recipe with great interest until I got to the part where he called for a pound of lamb shoulder. That didn't seem right. The Wall Street Journal also published a Cassoulet recipe last weekend and theirs has no lamb and appears to be a lot simpler to prepare. Plus, the WSJ got Thomas Keller's protégé, Philip Tessier, to write the recipe. Bittman, you've been outdone.

The two recipes reveal the centuries-old désaccord concerning appropriate ingredients for a Cassoulet. D'Artagnan's site quotes Andre Daguin, a famous chef of Gascony, who said, “Cassoulet is not really a recipe, it’s a way to argue among neighboring villages of Gascony.”  Bittman is hardly the lone wolf tossing lamb or something other than duck into the pot. Saveur Magazine posted a recipe that calls for ham hocks and pork shoulder.

Bittman does get credit for writing a very detailed recipe, which includes method for preparing the duck confit and stock. Also, he uses the whole duck. I like the simplicity and economy of that decision. Cassoulet has decidedly peasant origins. Not that I expect anyone's desire to eat Cassoulet has anything to do with wanting to eat like a peasant.

The drawback to the Tessier (no lamb) recipe is that it necessitates consulting another recipe for duck confit and sourcing 8 duck legs. I've seen whole ducks at Whole Foods but not packaged duck legs. When I make my Cassoulet it will be a tidy marriage of  the Tessier and Bittman recipes, using a whole duck and garlic sausage. I'll post that recipe if I'm happy with it.

It's interesting to note that sourcing ingredients for this humble bean stew, which has roots of being a communal dish, a sort of stone soup, will require nothing short of a line of credit at Whole Foods. Also, Cassoulet is not made to serve 4. You make it to serve a gathering of friends (friends who like duck and white beans). As Julia Child said, “Cassoulet, that best of bean feasts, is everyday fare for a peasant but ambrosia for a gastronome, though its ideal consumer is a 300-pound blocking back who has been splitting firewood nonstop for the last twelve hours on a subzero day in Manitoba.”

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