Saturday, October 22, 2011

Flaky Apple Pie

I'm not much of a pie person.  Growing up the only pie we had was my mom's banana cream pie (I'll post that one around Thanksgiving - it's pretty much insane), and it was only on Thanksgiving.  Clearly my mom isn't much of a pie person either.  Most of my friends are pie enthusiasts.  One of them is even the "Pie Expert".  I'm a subscribing member to Pie of the Month Club, but I've still never gotten into it (one time I was staying at the pie expert's house in Indiana and she asked if I liked pie.  I told her, "I like meat pies..."  A word to the wise?  Never say that to the pie expert).

Well, I married into a pie family.  My in-laws love pie, my husband loves pie, and my kids love pie. 

Since it's produce season I've been frequenting little farms and farm stands where I live.  Every time I've come home with peaches or apples the past month or two, Casey has jokingly asked if it was because I was making him a pie.  So a few days ago I decided to take the bull by the horns.  I did some research and found a crust in this book.  I figured that surely, if he's teaching me to cook EVERYTHING, there would be a stellar recipe for crust.  I did some more research and found a killer filling.  Since the caramelly sauce for the filling is poured in after the pie is already topped, it is baked with this sugary layer of goo which makes the crust delicately crisp and slightly sweet.  I had to refrain from breaking the entire top crust off the pie, putting it on a plate and taking a fork to it. 

Flaky Apple Pie
Crust by Mark Bittman, Filling adapted slightly from

2 1/4 cups flour
1 tsp salt (if you use salted butter, omit the salt)
2 tsp sugar
16 tbsp (2 sticks) cold butter (the recipe calls for unsalted, but I always use salted)
6 tbsp cold water

8 apples, peeled, cored and sliced (the recipe called for Granny Smith, but I used Golden Delicious and Gala- fresh from the farm)
2 tsp corn starch
1/2 cup butter (again, the recipe calls for unsalted)
3 tbsp all-purpose flour
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/4 cup water

To make the crust, put the flour, sugar and salt in the bowl of the food processor, fitted with the dough blade attachment and pulse once or twice.  Chop the cold butter and add it to the bowl.  Blend until the mixture looks like cornmeal (about 10-15 seconds).  Pour that into a large bowl and add the water.  Mix with a rubber spatula or wooden spoon (adding a tiny bit of water at a time if your dough isn't coming together) gradually gathering the mixture into a ball.  Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes (you can freeze it for 10 minutes if you are in a hurry). 

While your crust is chilling, peel, core and slice your apples.  Place them in a large bowl and sprinkle with corn starch.  Mix the apples so that the corn starch is no longer visible.  Set aside.  Melt 1/2 cup butter in a sauce pan over medium heat.  Add 3 tbsp flour to form a loose paste.  Add your sugars and water and bring to a boil.  Turn heat to low and simmer for 5 minutes.

Remove crust from the refigerator, split into 2 parts (refrigerating the top crust until you are ready to roll it out) and roll on a lightly floured surface, starting in the middle and working your way to the sides until you have a disc of dough about 1-1 1/2 inches larger than your pie plate.  Roll your crust onto the rolling pin and place it in your pie plate.  Fill the crust with apples, slightly mounding them.  Cover with either a lattice crust or a crust that has been vented liberally (I used several mini shape cutters for mine).  Gently pour the sugar and butter liquid over the top, so that it does not run off. (*See note, below). Be sure to lightly coat your top crust.  (Also, be sure to do this while the liquid is hot.  Otherwise it will firm up and will not reheat to the same runny consistency). 

Bake for 15 minutes at 425 degrees, then lower the heat to 350 and bake for an additional 35-45 minutes until apples are soft.  Let the pie cool completely before slicing.

*If you're doing a full two crust pie, pour the sauce in (reserving a little extra for the top crust) before you top it.  If you're doing a lattice top pie or one with lots of holes (like the one pictured), top the pie before pouring the sauce.

Friday, October 21, 2011

"Dead-On" Funeral Potatoes

I was trying to think of the most polite way to describe what funeral potatoes are, but there kind of isn't one.  Here's the deal.  This dish is a homemade take this hilarious but all too accurate recipe, which is something always served at the family dinner after a Mormon funeral.  Ask any Mormon in North America.  They all know funeral potatoes and they all love them.  Promise.

Casey loves funeral potatoes (as do I).  Once every few months I'll try out a new recipe for these because although I've always ALWAYS loved them, before I met Casey I had only made them once or twice.  I tried the semi-homemade version about 10 times before I just decided to make them from scratch and when Casey took a bite he looked at me and said, "These are dead on!"

"Dead On" Funeral Potatoes
Recipe by me

6 cups cooked shredded potatoes -

Sauce –
¼ cup butter
¼ cup flour
1 tsp salt
1 tsp freshly ground pepper
¼ cup dried minced onion
2 chicken bouillon cubes, crushed
1 cup water
2 cups milk – whatever you have on hand
3 cups shredded medium/sharp cheddar cheese

2 ½ cups panko bread crumbs (or lightly crushed corn flakes if you want a more authentic funeral potato)
4 tbsp melted butter
¼ cup shredded parmesan cheese

In a soup pot, melt butter and add flour.  Cook, whisking constantly over medium heat, for 3-5 minutes. Add salt, pepper, bouillon, minced onion, water, and milk.  Cook over medium-high heat, stirring constantly, until thickened.  Remove from heat and stir in cheese, one handful at a time, until melted and gooey and delicious.  Stir in potatoes, one cup at a time, making sure to coat the potatoes well.  Pour into a lightly greased 9x13 inch baking sheet.  Mix all three topping ingredients.  Spread evenly over the top of your potatoes.  Bake them at 400 degrees for 20-30 minutes or until golden and brown and bubbly and awesome.

You can make these a day or two ahead without the topping (to avoid it getting soggy) if you keep it well-covered.  Then before your event, take them out of the fridge and add your topping about 30 minutes before baking.

You *can* use frozen shredded hash browns; however, I've tried them both with fresh potatoes I boiled and shredded myself and frozen shredded hash browns.  Even following the exact same sauce recipe, the frozen potatoes yielded an inferior result.  It's not a huge amount of work to just boil and shred your own.  To do this, pierce 8 medium russet potatoes (about 6 large, about 10-12 small).  Place them in a pot and cover them with water.  Bring to a boil, then turn the heat to medium-high and continue to boil until fork tender (approx 15-20 minutes).  Drain.  Once the potatoes are still hot but cool enough to handle, rub the skins off the potatoes with your hands.  Then either shred your potatoes with a cheese grater or the cheese grater attachment of a food processor.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Easy, Delicious Bread

A few months ago I went to the baby shower of one of my cousins (actually the daughter of my dad's cousin).  There were snacks and salads and a cutting board with delicious homemade breads.  I had to ask my aunt (actually the mother of the new mom, who is in no way my aunt), "Who made the bread?"  She told me it was her daughter-in-law.  Of course I texted her and asked for the recipe.  She gave me the base recipe and then a couple of variations to go on.  There are a couple of "funky" ingredients (I consider it a "funky" ingredient if I a: don't have it in my pantry or b: have to go to a specialty store to get it), but once you have them in your pantry they'll become staples (and they last forever).  This bread is hard to screw up, easy to manipulate into different flavor combinations, and is ready to eat in about an hour - baking time included.

Recipe from Tiffany Ritchie-Petty, who got it from a "Pantry Secrets" class she took

5 cups bread flour (*See note, below)
1/4 cup sugar
1 1/2 tbsp instant yeast (the kind that needs no proofing prior to use.  I use SAF brand)
1 1/2 tsp salt
2 quarter-sized blobs liquid lecithin - do not measure, just eyeball it (**See note, below)
2 cups hot tap water

Mix dry ingredients in the bowl of your stand mixer, with the dough hook attachment.  Add lecithin.  Slowly add water while mixer is on low.  Knead with the dough hook on medium speed for 3-5 minutes.  Spray your hands and the counter top with nonstick spray and split into 2 loaves (if you're making a flavored variation of this bread, now would be the time for addins.  See variations, below).  Knead for an additional 1-2 minutes.  Form into loaves in a greased 9x5x3 inch pan or simply form into a ball and set on a greased cookie sheet.  Cover with a clean kitchen towel and allow to rise for 20-25 minutes.  About 10 minutes into the rising time, preheat your oven.  Bake at 350 degrees for 23-25 min (my oven is closer to 25 minutes...I've had doughy bread by taking it out too soon). 

*I never keep bread flour on hand  because it's expensive and takes up too much space.  In order to make my own bread flour, I simply add one tablespoon of vital wheat gluten to each cup of all-purpose flour in my bread recipes.  Store unused wheat gluten in an airtight container in the freezer and it lasts forever.  I can usually find it at the regular grocery store.

**Liquid lecithin is a preservative that helps keep your bread soft for days (if you look at the bread in your cupboard right now, chances are one of the ingredients is liquid lecithin).  Four months ago I bought a 16 oz bottle for $6.99 and I still have a significant amount left.  I make a variation of this bread at least once a week, so this is an ingredient that costs very little per use.

Some variations I've used that work well with this bread are:
-cinnamon swirl - combine 1/4 cup brown sugar with 1 tsp cinnamon.  When the dough is on the counter either knead the sugar mixture directly into the dough, or form the dough into a square and spread it on cinnamon roll-style then roll the dough into a loaf.  Lightly coat the dough with a couple teaspoons of honey and a light dusting of cinnamon-sugar before rising.
-cinnamon apple - peel and shred one medium apple (it should yield about 1/2 cup).  Place apple shreds in some paper towel and squeeze out most of the liquid.  Repeat the same steps as the cinnamon swirl bread, adding the shredded apple. Also add about 1/2 tsp salt to your cinnamon sugar just to add a little depth with the apples.
-spinach/feta- chop and saute 2 cups of spinach over medium heat until spinach is nicely wilted.  Place spinach in some paper towel and squeeze out most of the liquid.  Add to the dough, along with 1/3 cup feta cheese crumbles and knead until incorporated (small chunks of cheese and spinach add a good texture to the bread). 
-parmesan/herb - combine 1/3 cup parmesan cheese (I've used both freshly shredded and the cheap stuff in a green can and both are delicious), 1 tsp dried basil, 1 tsp dried oregano, 1/2 tsp garlic salt, 1/2 tsp ground dried garlic, and freshly ground black pepper (to your liking).

Any of these variations are delicious with a little bit of softened butter rubbed on top of the dough and just a light sprinkling of whatever seasonings you're adding to the inside.  Play around with it.  You will not be disappointed.