Sunday, October 25, 2009

Blog- the $32,000 Question!

Literally. In 2002 I was on "Who Wants to be a Millionaire" and the answer to my 32K Q was "blog." At the time I had never heard the word but thankfully my phone-a-friend had and I walked away with the money. Yes, I missed the 64K question, and yes, I will never forget what the question was... Now years later blogs are ubiquitous and here I am, blogging away! Why did I decide to start my own blog, seeing as how there are already kajillions of them about cooking? I don't expect anyone to ever find me and become a regular reader- I do this to be able to keep track of my recipes, my thoughts, my epiphanies, and just simply for the pleasure to put my thoughts into written words. I do tend to yammer on when the subject turns to cooking and I have seen (or imagined that I saw) eyes rolling back into heads when I start explaining the whys and wherefores of different types of flour. Not everyone appreciates the differences between high-gluten and regular flour. Can you imagine? When I joined Facebook I noticed that most people talked about their latest vacation or posted pictures of their grandchildren; I found myself sharing what I had baking in the oven or was stirring on the stove and posting pictures of breads and cakes that I made. Ohhhhhh I am turning into a "Foodie"!!! So, not wanting to mark myself as someone with nothing to do but cook (almost the truth!) I started this blog. In the short time that I have been writing it I have already seen that it will be a big help keeping recipes straight. I tend to cook something once or twice then forget about it. Or I will make some change in the recipe and then can't remember later what I did. This way I can always go back and see what worked and what didn't.
I have no illusions that I will ever be a font of cooking wisdom but if someone stumbles across this humble blog I hope they will at least leave a 'howdy!'

Pie Crust: Applejack, Eggs, and Vinegar

I love Alton Brown. He explains the science/art of cooking in a way that makes it fun and memorable. I have tried a few of his recipes and the only one that frustrated me with the results was his totally-made-from-scratch coconut cake. It took me days to complete and the end result was good but not worth all the trouble in my humble opinion. That being said, his applejack-laced pie crust rocks! My son had tried it first and since it was his first attempt at making a pie crust and it was successful I thought I should try it, too. He gave me the leftover bottle of applejack and I gave the recipe a whirl. I made the dough last night and let it chill overnight. I was so anxious to finish it that I awoke at 6am and started baking! There were only two sad little apples in my kitchen and not wanting to go to the store that early ( and who does that anyway??) I decided to make a mini apple pie using my smallest pie pan. I didn't do the whole grains of paradise thing that his recipe calls for- I simply cut up the apples and sprinkled them with a little sugar and a wisp of salt and let them sit to release some of their liquid. I drained the liquid off, added cinnamon and a little more sugar, and put them in the pan. I dotted the apples with butter and drizzled on some of my home-made boiled cider. The crust recipe makes 2 9" crusts so I used half of the recipe and made 2 crusts from it- top and bottom crusts. I rolled it perhaps just a taaaaaad too thinly to fit the pan but it still worked. The dough is soft once the chill was off so I rolled it out between 2 sheets of cling film. Worked like a charm and I didn't have to add but a minimal amount of flour to keep it from sticking to the film. AB's recipe said to bake it at 450 on the lowest level of the oven and bake it until the apples are tender and the crust is brown. I sat the dish onto the baking tiles that I keep on the lowest rack in my oven and that worked out perfectly. The bottom browned as nicely as the top did. The only thing I will do differently next time is to cover the edges with foil as soon as the crust is set. As you can see from the pictures they got a little too brown. Still all in all I think it was a success. I also brushed the top crust with an egg wash, sprinkled it with some demerara sugar (just for pretty!) and cut several slits in the crust to release the steam as it baked. Should I invest in one of those cute little pie birds??

The pie is cooling and it looks and smells gorgeous! I almost hate to cut into it but once The Critic gets home this afternoon the point will be moot...

I have several more crust recipes to try: Rose's cream cheese and butter, an old-fashioned one using egg and vinegar (which my sister assures me will always be easy to handle but perhaps not so flaky), and one using 2 ounces of lard with 6 ounces of butter. I have used pure lard in a crust before and it was heavenly flakiness but a little 'meaty' tasting. If I could find pure leaf lard I would be happy to use pure lard, but, alas, that seems to have gone the way of the dodo bird. I have rendered my share of lard in my day and if I can find a slaughterhouse that will save me the raw fat from the kidneys and intestines I will make it myself. Hey, you can't keep an old country girl down!

So for now I am crusted out. I have ciabatta in the oven (my first attempt) so I must tend to them!

More later!

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Pumpkin, yummy pumpkin!

Canned, schmanned. No more canned pumpkin for me- I am a convert to fresh 'punkin' from now on. Is it cheaper or easier to use fresh pumpkin? Nope, but it is definitely worth the trouble, time, and expense. I bought a smallish pie pumpkin at Walmart last week and after cutting it in half and scraping out the guts I baked it until it was soft. It yielded a little over 3 cups of golden orange puree- not as dark as the canned stuff. I drained all the liquid that accumulated and put the mass through my food mill, trying to preserve as much as the texture as possible. Today I made my pie- or was it a tart? I always try to use good 'real' ingredients ( e.g., butter- never margarine) so I didn't want to use evaporated milk. Instead I used heavy cream- hey, I never said I ever scrimp on calories! I also wanted to get away from using white sugar so I used a combination of brown sugar, which adds a depth of flavor that white sugar doesn't have, and maple syrup- the real stuff, of course. All I have available to me is grade A syrup. One of these days I will break down and order a gallon of grade B dark amber- I can only imagine how much more flavor it has. So for each cup of puree I used 1/4 cup of packed brown sugar, 1/4 cup of maple syrup, one egg (extra-large), and 1/2 cup of heavy cream. The ratio seems to have worked. Spices- for 3 cups of puree I used: 1 tsp. of cinnamon ( I used Vietnamese cinnamon which really packs a flavor punch unlike anything I have used before), 1/2 tsp. of ginger- maybe next time I will use a little more, 1/2 tsp or so of freshly grated nutmeg-don't EVER use the stuff in a can- there is no comparison, and 1/2 tsp of allspice. I started to use cloves but after comparing the two spices I found that the allspice was less overwhelming while still giving that traditional aroma I was looking for. I added 1 tsp. of Kosher salt and mixed everything together. Even though the mix had raw eggs in it I couldn't resist dipping a spoon over and over...I know, I know- salmonella, but hey, I live dangerously! The mixture would make heavenly ice cream if I can figure out a way to lightly cook it without destroying the texture and delicate flavors while sufficiently warming the eggs. I will work on that...

Since I have rarely ever made a pie crust that I have been happy with I turned to my stash of puff pastry sheets and lined a 9" tart pan with one. There was enough leftover filling to make 6 tarts in an over sized muffin tin, again using puff pastry for the crust. I baked everything at 350 until the filling was almost set. The puff pastry needed a little higher heat to encourage it to 'puff' so I turned the oven up to 400 for 15 or so minutes. Honestly I don't know how long I baked it but I think it was less than an hour. The tartlets cooked much quicker than the tart. They puffed up and were beautiful! I even got brave enough to ring my neighbor's doorbell at 8:00 at night and present them with 2 tarts- much to their surprise! What is the point in having all these gorgeous goodies if you can't share them??

So all in all the experiment went well. I think I have a workable recipe and if I can make a decent pie crust I can declare this a winner! Oh yes, and I finally found my camera so I actually have a picture to share!

Stay tuned for the pie crust cook-off....

Sunday, October 11, 2009

The Great White Flour Comparison

I have several different kinds of flours and one of favorite things to do when visiting a new place is to check out the baking isle in a local grocery store. I am always on the lookout for some new or better or cheaper kind of flour since I go through flour like you wouldn't believe! My daughter-in-law discovered a wholesale source of flour for me and I picked up two different kinds- one a hard winter wheat and the other a soft wheat. I have used them both but tonight I decided to do a comparison test. I made two different dough using 2 cups of flour, 1 tsp. of instant yeast, 1 tsp. of kosher salt, and 1 cup of water. I mixed the ingredients in the KA just enough to combine them, let it have an 8 minute autolyze, then mixed it for another 5 minutes on speed 4. I let them do their proof thing and the doughs were noticeably differnt. The hard wheat was slack but wasn't sticky. The soft wheat was pretty gloppy and I could tell there was less gluten formation. I decided to make foccacia with the doughs since they were way too slack for bread. The soft wheat dough became pizza crust for potato pizza. It sounds strange but it was really very tasty. I used the mortar and pestle to combine olive oil, garlic, maldon salt, and fresh oregano frm my herb patch. I mandolined paper-thin slices of potato and arranged them on the dough that I spread and coaxed (lliterally) in a round pan. I baked it at 450 for 15 or so minutes. Mmmmmmmm. Simple but pretty and tasty. Who knew?? The other dough became this pillowy soft, airy, crusty focaccia that I made in a rectangular pan. I used plenty of olive oil top and bottoma nd sprinkled it with a garlicky herbes-de-provence from my stash of goodies from Tuesday Morning. I love that place... We ate the pizza with shavings of peccorino romano and Jocelyn and I agreed that we like the peccorino better than parm reg. Again, who knew! So what lesson did I learn tonight? I will save the soft wheat for cakes, cookies, etc., and use the other for breads. But tonight we had a fine dinner and leftover focaccia for panninis tomorrow!