APPLE PIE – Best Ever!

apple pie textThere is a reason people say, “easy as pie”.  Making a pie IS easy.  Of course, making a great pie is as easy as making a bad one, so it’s important to have a great recipe.

There are 3 components to pies:  crust, filling, and topping.

  1. Crust:  You want it flavorful, but not overpowering.  You don’t want soggy-bottoms, but you don’t want crunchy (unless it’s a graham cracker crust, of course.) Yes, you can buy pre-made and it will be okay, but homemade is so easy and world’s better…with the right recipe.
  2. Filling:  The key to apple pie filling is…apples.  There is a myth that you should use Granny Smith or some other crisp, tart apple for apple pie. NOOOOO! Why would you want a tart and crunchy apple pie? I’ve found that the absolute BEST variety is Red Delicious (or possibly Golden Delicious). It will NOT get mushy, as some people seem to think. The pieces will soften somewhat during the bake, but will still retain their shape and individuality. And they’re sweet!
  3. Topping:  I’m not a fan of the double crust – a bottom crust is enough for me. A streusel topping provides added flavor (apples really don’t have that much flavor), with a nice crunch.
  4. Caramel drizzle: I guess this is optional, but drizzling on caramel adds an additional layer of flavor.

CARAMEL APPLE PIE

  • 1 par-baked 9″ pastry crust (suggested recipe follows)
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 3 T + 1/4 cup all-purpose flour, divided
  • 1/8 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 6 Red Delicious apples
  • 1/2 cup dark brown sugar, packed
  • 1/4 cup rolled oats (either old fashioned or quick-cooking)
  • 1/4 cup butter, cold
  • about 1/3 cup caramel ice cream topping

Preheat oven to 375º Fahrenheit.

Have ready a cooled, par-baked pastry crust. The best recipe I’ve found is America’s Test Kitchen’s Vodka Pie Crust (Don’t worry – the vodka evaporates away.) Recipe follows at bottom.

In a very large bowl (use large so you don’t spill as you stir in the apples), mix together the granulated sugar, 3 T flour, salt, and cinnamon. apple pie6Working quickly, peel and core the apples. Cut 3 of the apples into 1/8″ thick slices, and the other 3 a little thicker. Make sure they’re bite-sized for ease of eating – you don’t want long strips of apple. apple pie9Add apples into the flour mixture and blend well. apple pie7Pour into the cooled pie crust – there’s a lot of filling, so you’ll have to pile it high towards the middle. Make sure none of the apple pieces sit on the crust edge.apple pie8 To prevent over-browning, cover the pie edge with foil or purchased pie edge protectors (see photo of what I use).apple pie3 Bake at 375º for 25 minutes.

While pie is baking, prepare the streusel topping. Into the food processor put the remaining 1/4 cup flour, brown sugar, and oats. Run machine about 20 seconds to grind the oats and break up any hard brown sugar lumps. Cut cold butter into about 5 pieces or so, and add to processor. Pulse about 10 times to blend. apple pie5When the pie has cooked for 25 minutes, remove from oven. Evenly sprinkle on streusel and remove the edge protectors. Return pie to 375º F oven and bake another 20-25 minutes. Don’t let the top get too brown or it will make slicing difficult to cut through. apple pie4Place pie on a rack or stovetop and drizzle on the caramel topping. Let set at least 1 hour, preferably longer, or you’ll have a lava flow when you slice it.

VODKA PIE CRUST (AMERICA’S TEST KITCHEN RECIPE – amended) – makes 1 crust

Note: This needs to be made in a food processor.

  • 3/4 cup + 1/2 cup all-purpose flour, divided
  • 1½ T granulated sugar
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 6 T butter, cold
  • 4 T Crisco (or any shortening), cold
  • 2 T vodka
  • 2 T water

In the workbowl of your food processor, pulse together 3/4 cup flour, sugar, and salt. Add in the butter and Crisco. Run the machine (don’t pulse) 15 seconds. The dough will come together into a creamy mass. Add in the remaining 1/2 cup flour and pulse about 8 times. Empty into a bowl.

Pour in the vodka and water. Gently (so it doesn’t splatter) fold together to incorporate the liquid into the dough. This is a very well dough. Press it together into a lump, cover, and refrigerate at least 1 hour.

Empty the cold dough onto a very well floured, flat surface. Sprinkle flour on top and on your rolling pin. Begin rolling dough from center outwards.  Keep flouring the dough and the rolling pin lightly, so there’s no sticking.

Once the dough is rolled out large enough to cover the pie plate, with an inch to spare for crimping, you’re going to have to transfer the dough. Take your time – this is a wet dough! My favorite method is to take my bench scraper and go around underneath the dough a little at a time, lifting up the dough and pushing some flour underneath as I go. Once I get to the center, I lift up one side and fold dough in half. Then I carefully lift folded dough from sides and place in pie plate (Make sure you have it very close by!)

Unfold the dough and nudge it into the corners (don’t press the dough down – you’ll stretch it). Arrange the dough so it’s not folded anywhere. Fold over-hanging dough and crimp. Refrigerate 1 hour to prevent shrinkage.

Preheat oven to 375º.

Line cold dough with waxed paper or parchment, then fill with pie weights. (I use metal washers topped with uncooked beans.) Bake for 10 minutes. Remove paper and weights by grabbing the 4 corners of paper and gently rocking the weight package back and forth to loosen, then rocking it up and out.  Return dough to oven and continue baking until browned – about 15 minutes.  Keep an eye on dough, particularly when you return it to the oven to make sure the crust stays flat. If you notice it rising, gently press down with the back of a fork.

Once the crust is golden brown, remove from oven and let cool to firm up.

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APPLE-SWEET POTATO HASH: Don’t Wait For Dessert To Enjoy Apples!

apple yam hash textApple season is upon us. While there are a plethora of pie, tart, and bread recipes made from these red beauties, I decided to try something a little different:  APPLE-SWEET POTATO HASH. The combination of apples, sweet potatoes, and onions works surprisingly well.

Besides being tasty, it’s extremely easy and fast to make. Just chop and fry!

Note:  Choose an apple variety that’s crisp and tangy such as Gala, Fuji, or Honey Crisp.

APPLE-SWEET POTATO HASH – makes about 4 cups

  • 1/2 T vegetable oil
  • 1 large onion, sliced
  • 1 large sweet potato, unpeeled and cubed into 1/2″ pieces
  • 2 apples (I use Gala), unpeeled and cubed into 1/2″ pieces
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp dried dill
  • 1 tsp lemon juice

In a 12″ nonstick skillet (you can probably use cast iron, although I haven’t tried that since my cast iron skillet is only 10″), heat oil over medium/high. Add in onions and sweet potato. Sauté 3 minutes, uncovered, stirring now and then. apple yam hash2Cover, decrease heat to low, and cook for 8 minutes. Check to see if sweet potato is easily pierced by a sharp knife. If not, cover and let cook a little longer.apple yam hash3 When cooked, add in apples, cinnamon, salt, and dill. apple yam hash4Increase heat to medium/high and sauté until browned, stirring now and then. Add in lemon juice. apple yam hash5Adjust seasoning, if needed.

 

GRANDMA PIZZA – La Nonna Lo Adora!

grandma pizza text

It’s amazing how many types of pizzas there are. While the dough is basically the same for all, how they’re baked makes the difference.

A Grandma Pizza is square or rectangular, and baked on an oiled rimmed cookie sheet.  This produces a light, crunchy crust.  It’s a very wet dough so there’s no need to roll it out – you just spread it with your fingers.

Note: It’s easiest to use a food processor, but you can get a nice workout mixing the dough by hand in a bowl.

GRANDMA PIZZA

  • 2 T + 1 T olive oil, divided
  • 7¾ oz (1½ cups) bread flour
  • 2 tsp dry yeast
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • 3/4 cup water
  • 1 cup marinara sauce
  • 8 oz mozzarella cheese, shredded
  • 1/4 cup hard cheese such as Parmesan or Pecorino-Romano
  • about 1/4 cup fresh basil, chopped
  • any other topping you may like

Pour 2 T olive oil into the center of a 10″ X 15″ rimmed baking sheet (also called a jelly-roll pan). grandma pizza4Into the workbowl of your food processor (or a large mixing bowl if you’re going to do this by hand), put the flour, 1 T olive oil, yeast, sugar, and salt. Turn the machine on and slowly pour in the water through the pour tube. Once all the water is poured, let the machine run another 30 seconds or so. This is a very sticky, loose dough.grandma pizza10 Empty the dough onto the olive oil in the jelly-roll pan. Dip you finger tips into the oil so the dough won’t stick to them, and flip the dough so it’s now completely covered in oil. grandma pizza6Cover either with plastic film or a large pan (I use a rectangular roasting pan – it fits perfectly.) DON’T use a tea towel – it will just stick to the dough. (Been there, done that!) Let rise about 45 minutes.

Preheat oven to 500º Fahrenheit. 

Gently nudge dough to cover the entire bottom of pan. grandma pizza1Sprinkle on mozzarella, then drizzle on the marinara, followed by any other topping, and finally sprinkle on the Parmesan. grandma pizza2Bake at 500º F in the lower third of oven for 13-15 minutes. Sprinkle on fresh basil. grandma pizza3

Remove pizza to a wire rack and let set about 5 minutes before slicing.

 

 

CAULIFLOWER PASTA BAKE: A Make-Ahead Casserole…or Not!

cauliflower pasta casserole text

Cauliflower seems to be very popular now. So as a gal who likes to keep up with the trends, I decided to post a cauliflower casserole I’ve been making for years. Like most casseroles, this one can be prepared ahead of time and baked before dinner-time.

Note:  I included the recipe for the optional crumb topping. To be honest, I prefer no topping, but my husband loves it. If you find yourself in this dilemma, a compromise can be reached by serving the topping in a bowl and letting crumb-lovers sprinkle it on their own servings.

CAULIFLOWER PASTA BAKE

  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups milk (any kind – I use nonfat)
  • 1 T Dijon mustard
  • pinch of nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp ground black pepper
  • 2 T vegetable oil
  • 2 cups onions, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, pressed
  • 1/2 cup fresh basil, chopped (or 2 tsp dried – but fresh is best!)
  • 1/2 head of cauliflower, cut into bite-sized pieces
  • 3 cups chopped Roma or cherry tomatoes
  • 2 T lemon juice
  • 1/2 lb pasta (I prefer mini-penne, but it’s hard to fine, so I often use small elbows)
  • 5 oz Mozzarella cheese, shredded
  • 1/2 cup (1 1/2 oz) Parmesan cheese, grated
  • optional: seasoned bread crumbs (recipe follows)

Preheat oven to 375º Fahrenheit.

In a small saucepan over low heat, melt butter. Turn off heat and add flour, making a smooth paste. (Make sure you smash out any lumps – this is your only chance to do so.) Pour in milk, turn on heat to medium, and stir until sauce thickens – about 5 minutes. Stir in Dijon, nutmeg, salt, and black pepper. Remove from heat, cover, and set aside. cauliflower pasta casserole5In a 12″ skillet over medium/high, heat oil. Add onions and sauté until translucent, but not browned – about 5 minutes. Turn off heat and add in garlic and basil, stirring to bloom by using residual heat from the hot skillet.cauliflower pasta casserole4 Turn heat to medium/high and add in cauliflower. Sauté for 5 minutes. cauliflower pasta casserole2Add in the tomatoes and continue to cook until cauliflower is tender – about 10 minutes. cauliflower pasta casserole1In a saucepot, bring 2 quarts of water to a boil. Add in 1 T salt and the pasta. Cook until slightly under-done. Drain. cauliflower pasta casserole10In the now-empty saucepot, combine the white sauce, cauliflower mixture, pasta, and lemon juice. cauliflower pasta casserole8Pour half into a casserole dish. Sprinkle on half of Mozzarella and half of Parmesan. cauliflower pasta casserole9Cover with the remaining pasta mixture and top with the remaining cheeses. cauliflower pasta casserole7Cover and bake at 375º Fahrenheit for 30 minutes. Remove lid and cook 10 minutes longer, if covering with crumb topping. Evenly sprinkle topping over top. Return to oven, uncovered, and bake another 5 minutes. cauliflower pasta casserole12If not covering with topping, bake uncovered for 15 minutes.cauliflower pasta casserole13Let set 15 minutes before serving – it’s super hot! Pass around Seasoned Breadcrumbs, if desired.

SEASONED BREADCRUMBS – makes 1/2 cup

  • 1/2 cup panko crumbs
  • 1½ T olive oil
  • 1/4 tsp dried oregano
  • 1/4 tsp dried basil
  • 1/8 tsp onion powder
  • 1/8 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/8 tsp salt
  • 3 T Parmesan cheese, grated

In a small skillet combine the panko, olive oil, oregano, basil, onion powder, garlic powder and salt. Stirring constantly, sauté mixture over medium until crumbs are browned. (You can crank up the heat to medium/high, but keep an eye on it.) cauliflower pasta casserole6Remove from heat and pour into a bowl. Stir in Parmesan when crumbs are cooled.cauliflower pasta casserole14

“HAM” & CHEESE LOAF – Vegetarian Version Of A Fan Favorite!

ham loaf textSome people become vegetarians because they don’t like meat and/or it upsets their body. Not me. I grew up eating some sort of animal everyday – sometimes three times a day and loved it. So when I decided, for humanitarian reasons, to become a vegetarian, it was quite an adjustment.

I found that the key to not falling off the vegetarian wagon is to eat really good food. This is why I started my blog – to help others find delicious alternatives. Vegetarians don’t have to subsist on rice & beans and salads alone.

I’ve been a vegetarian so long now that I rarely miss meat, but when I do, I have my go-to fake meats. There are lots of them out there – some fabulous…and some not.

Which brings me to my “HAM” & CHEESE LOAF. The original recipe used real ham. I’ve found several good fake ham products out there that I substitute for the real thing. Now, let’s be honest – if I were to merely eat the “ham” (quotation marks denote imitation) on it’s own, it wouldn’t be worth the bother. But when I add it to casseroles or, in this case, the sandwich, it serves to give the illusion of ham (without the quotation marks).

Note:  For those of you opposed to imitation meats, just leave it out – it’s still a good sandwich.

“HAM” & CHEESE LOAF

  • 1 cup water
  • 2¼ tsp yeast
  • 2 T butter, soft
  • 1 cup (4-3/8 oz) rye flour
  • 2 T sugar
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp caraway seeds
  • 1/4 cup Dijon mustard
  • about 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 8 oz fake ham, cut into 3/8″ – 1/2″ pieces
  • 4 oz cheese, cubed – I prefer medium cheddar
  • 1/2 cup dill pickles, cut into 1/4″ pieces
  • egg wash (1 egg beaten with 1 T water)

Heat the water to 100º – 104º Fahrenheit. Stir in the yeast and let proof about 5 minutes. ham loaf1Put the rye flour, sugar, salt, caraway seeds, mustard, and 1 cup of the AP flour into the workbowl of a food processor. ham loaf2When the yeast is proofed, turn on the machine and slowly pour in the yeast water. ham loaf4When it’s mixed, add in remaining flour a little at a time, until dough starts to pull away from the sides. You may or may not need all of the remaining cup of flour. ham loaf14Empty dough into greased bowl, flipping dough ball so entire ball is greased. Cover with tea towel or plate and let rise 1 hour.

Place dough on floured parchment paper that lays on top of a tea towel (so the parchment doesn’t slide). Roll dough out into a rectangle, about 14″ wide X 7″ tall (it doesn’t need to be exact).ham loaf6Spread on the “ham”, cheese, then pickles down the center of the dough. Make 1½” cuts along both sides – cut the same number for both sides.ham loaf7Fold in one end, then grab the first dough tabs and twist them together, pinching to make sure they stay. ham loaf9Keep doing this for all the tabs.ham loaf10 Slide the parchment onto a large, rimless cookie sheet. Cover loaf with the tea towel and let rise 30 minutes. At this time, preheat oven to 375º F. 

When dough has risen the 30 minutes, brush with egg wash and bake at 375º F for about 25 minutes, until golden brown. ham loaf12Remove to rack and let set about 15 minutes before serving.

 

Cream-Free CAULIFLOWER GRATIN – Rich & Luscious!

cauliflower gratin textAs so often happens, I got the idea for CAULIFLOWER GRATIN from America’s Test Kitchen. Rather than using cream or milk for the sauce, they pureed some of the cauliflower with water to get the liquid. Brilliant!

However, I felt the overall flavor to be lacking. Cauliflower is a very bland vegetable and needs flavor to come from elsewhere. So I exchanged Pecorino-Romano (which has more of a bite) for the Parmesan ATK used, and added a little Gorgonzola, for good measure. Also, I bumped up the cayenne and added in a couple of scallions. Finally, since my husband complained there wasn’t enough topping, I doubled the panko (but not the butter). Perfect!

Note: If you’re not familiar with panko, they’re puffed bread crumbs.  You can find them                        in the bread crumb section or the Asian section of the market.

CAULIFLOWER GRATIN

  • 2 heads cauliflower (about 4 lbs total)
  • 3 cups + 2 tsp water, divided
  • 6 T + 2 T butter, divided
  • 1 cup panko
  • 2 scallions, sliced thinly – white and green part
  • 2½ oz Gorgonzola cheese
  • 1 cup + 1/2 cup (1½ + 3 oz) Pecorino-Romano cheese, grated, divided
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp white pepper (or black pepper)
  • 1/2 tsp dry mustard
  • 1/8 tsp nutmeg
  • 1/4 tsp cayenne
  • 1 tsp cornstarch
  • 1/4 cup chopped parsley

Preheat oven to 400º Fahrenheit. 

Remove and discard all green leaves from cauliflowers. Place heads upside down and, with a sharp knife, cut out cores. cauliflower gratin3Slice off and discard the discolored end of core. Then slice remainder into 1/8″ thick slices. cauliflower gratin2Place cauliflower right side up and slice into 3/4″ slabs. Remove florets from stalks. Cut the stalks into 1/8″ slices and place them with the core pieces. (The stalk and core pieces will become the basis for the sauce.)cauliflower gratin1Into a Dutch oven, place 3 cups of water, 6 T butter (cut into pieces so it melts faster), all the sliced stalks and core pieces, and 2 cups of the florets.  Bring to a boil.cauliflower gratin8Place the remaining florets on a large steamer basket. (It’s a bit of a balancing act!)cauliflower gratin9 When water/core slices comes to a boil, carefully place steamer basket in Dutch oven.   (You may need to remove some of the florets before placing the basket in the Dutch oven – they tend to roll – then replace them once the basket is set in place.) You’re going to steam the florets and boil the core/stalks at the same time.cauliflower gratin7Cover and let cook until florets are easily pierced with a sharp knife (about 15 minutes). Don’t undercook the cauliflower in the hopes it will continue to cook in the oven – it won’t.

While cauliflower is cooking, melt 2 T butter in a skillet. Add in the panko, and brown over medium heat, stirring constantly. Don’t walk away – the panko will brown in 1-2 minutes. Remove skillet from heat and let cool.cauliflower gratin4 When florets are tender, remove steamer basket from Dutch oven and pour cooked florets into a large bowl. Add in the scallions.cauliflower gratin5 Check to see if the stalks in the water are tender (mine always are). If not, cover and continue to cook until they are tender. Remove lid and let cool about 10 minutes.

Into a blender place the Gorgonzola, 1/2 cup (1½ oz) Pecorino-Romano, salt, pepper, mustard, nutmeg, and cayenne. Pour in the cooking water & core slices. (If you have a small blender, you may need to do this 2 batches.) Blend 1 minute, until creamy.

In a small bowl, mix the cornstarch and 1 tsp water together. (This will help thicken the sauce a little.)cauliflower gratin14 Pour this into the blender, then blend another minute. Pour sauce into the bowl with the florets and gently mix (you don’t want to break the florets).cauliflower gratin13 Empty mixture into a 9″ x 13″ casserole dish.cauliflower gratin12 Into the cooled panko stir remaining Parmesan (1 cup) and chopped parsley. cauliflower gratin6Sprinkle evenly on top of cauliflower. cauliflower gratin11Bake, uncovered, at 400º F for 15 minutes. Remove from oven and let set 20-25 minutes before serving.

PEA & CORN SALAD – A Refreshing Summer Salad!

pea & corn salad textWhen the weather is hot and you don’t feel like cooking a vegetable, try this non-cook vegetable salad. BONUS:  it’s fat free!

Add or subtract ingredients as you please. I’m still not sure about the dried cranberries – my husband and I both liked them, but the salad is very good without them.

NOTE:  This salad needs to chill at least 2 hours, so plan ahead.

PEA & CORN SALAD – makes 8 cups

  • 16 oz package frozen petite peas, thawed
  • 16 oz package frozen white corn, thawed
  • 1 cup jicama, chopped into bite-sized pieces
  • 2/3 cup (about 2 stalks) celery, chopped into bite-sized pieces
  • 1/2 cup scallions, thinly sliced (white & green parts)
  • 1 red or orange bell pepper, cut into bite-sized pieces
  • 1  8-oz can pineapple rings in pineapple juice, drained and cut into 1/4″ pieces
  • 1/2 cup dried cranberries
  • 1/2 cup seasoned rice vinegar
  • 2 T dark brown sugar
  • 2 T fresh parsley, chopped
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp ground white pepper
  • 2 T mint, chopped

In a large bowl, combine peas, corn, jicama, celery, scallions, bell pepper, pineapple, and cranberries.pea & corn salad4 In a small bowl, stir together the vinegar, brown sugar, parsley, salt, and pepper.pea & corn salad3 Pour on veggies and blend. pea & corn salad2Refrigerate at least 2 hours. Stir in mint and serve.