Monday, November 24, 2014

5-Star Apple Pie

This is my own 5-Star Apple Pie, adapted from a recipe for Grandma Ople's Apple Pie I saw on Allrecipes. My research shows that the original has 21,000+ pins on Pinterest ,and 6154 reviews and 8157 ratings with an overall 5-star review on Allrecipes.  Wow!

Pies are high on my favorite dessert list and fruit pies are at the top of my favorite pie list.

But ... when I pie recipe has such glowing recommendations from people who have actually made the pie and felt compelled to add another recommendation ... well, that is a pie to try!

So this is my pie a la Grandma Ople's recipe. Of course, I have altered it just a bit, based mostly on a couple of reviews I read on Allrecipes. I have no doubt the recipe, as written, is superb -- 8,000+ people don't take time to review and/or rate a recipe unless it is really, really good.

But you know how experienced cooks tend to be too -- good can be great and great can be greater with a little tweak here and there. Nothing personal, mind you, just creative expression.

So ... this is my own personalization:

  • a well-vented top crust instead of a lattice top ... I like lots of crust
  • add 1 teaspoon cinnamon to the sauce mixture ... reduce to 1/2 teaspoon next time
  • add 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg to the sauce mixture ... good
  • add 1 teaspoon vanilla extract to the sauce mixture ... a little more depth of flavor
  • mix the sliced apples with most of the sauce mixture before pouring into crust ... definitely loved every apple slathered in the sauce mixture!
  • brush reserved sauce mixture over the top crust before baking ... also a good idea
  • place pie on large baking sheet (I hate even the threat of burned sugar glazing the interior of my oven) ... no mess at all
  • next time ... reduce the amount of water slightly ... too much liquid pooled after slicing ... probably from very fresh, moist apples
5-Star Apple Pie 

pie dough for double crust 9-inch pie
1/2 cup butter
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2-4 tablespoons water 
8-10 Granny Smith apples - peeled, cored, quartered, sliced crosswise

  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
  2. Melt butter in a heavy saucepan. Stir in flour to form a paste. Add white sugar, brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla and water. Bring sauce mixture to a boil; reduce heat and simmer for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  3. Reserve a small amount of sauce mixture and set aside.  
  4. Place the bottom crust in glass pie plate.
  5. In a large bowl, pour remaining sauce mixture in saucepan over apples and stir to coat evenly. Pour apples over crust in pie plate; distribute apples to mound slightly in the middle to fill evenly to sides.
  6. Cover apples with top crust and crimp edges with fork. Make slits in top crust to vent pie. Brush top crust with reserved sauce mixture, being careful not to let it run over edges.
  7. Place pie on large baking sheet, if desired. Bake 15 minutes at 425 degrees. Reduce temperature to 350 degrees, and continue baking for 40-45 minutes, or until top is nicely browned.  
  8. Cool slightly before serving, or serve at room temperature. Top with ice cream or whipped cream, if desired.
My test results ... all of those pie-bakers/pie-eaters are right! It is an excellent apple pie. It is very easy to make. It is a delicious apple-y tasting pie with Granny Smith apples.

A true winner of an apple pie that will become my first choice for apple pie baking in the future.



Wednesday, August 20, 2014

The Best Refrigerator Bread and Butter Pickles

A true email story about Refrigerator Bread and Butter Pickles:

Cora to Joan:
The other day I was craving bread and butter pickles and, when I saw pickling cucumbers at the farmer's market, I decided to satisfy that craving. I located the recipe immediately in my obsessive recipe filing system and set out to gather the ingredients. Somewhere along the way, the recipe disappeared! I looked for hours, then days, to no avail. Gone! When I mentioned it to Mother, she remembered the recipe and said she still had a copy. The next morning she called to read it to me. Finally! I set out again to collect the ingredients and a bowl. Of course, there under the bowl in the pull out cabinet drawer, was the original copy of the recipe! Now I am enjoying my bread and butter pickles even more than I thought I would.  And so I say, "Thank you so very much for sharing your recipe with Mother and me so many years ago!"  They are the BEST!

Joan to Cora:
Save that recipe! I cannot find mine.  We used to serve those pickles as a vegetable side dish and eat a load of them.  Maybe it is the sugar that makes them so good.  Thanks for telling me you like them too.

All I have to add to the story is the testimonial of my friend and neighbor, Jim, who consumed the entire container I dished up and delivered to him. While we enjoyed one of this summer's incredibly pleasant evenings out under the big tree in Jim's backyard -- aka The Martini Lounge -- Jim ate every single pickle in the container I gave him and then, as he handed it back, he said, "You can fill it up again."

And just tonight, when I talked to my husband, who is out on a trip, he told me he had shared the pickle story with his First Officer and assured him he could get the recipe on my blog. Uh, oh! I've been so busy making pickles, eating pickles, sharing pickles and emailing about pickles -- I forgot to tell you the story!

So here goes ... and if you should copy this recipe and lose it, you'll know exactly where to find it -- right here. 

Refrigerator Bread and Butter Pickles
8 cups sliced and packed pickling cucumbers - 6 to 8 small
5 medium onions, sliced
1/8 cup pickling salt
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons mustard seed
1 1/2 teaspoons celery seed
1/2 teaspoon curry powder
1 cup white vinegar
1/2 cup water

  1.  Wash, dry and slice cucumbers in 1/4" slices
  2.  Peel onion, cut into quarters and slice in 1/4" rings
  3.  Place a layer of cucumbers in a bowl and sprinkle with a little pickling salt
  4.  Add a layer of onions and sprinkle with a little more pickling salt
  5.  Alternate layers of cucumbers and onions until all are used
  6.  Let stand for 2-3 hours
  7.  Drain, but don't rinse
  8.  Combine remaining ingredients in large pan and bring to a boil
  9.  Add cucumbers and onions, lower heat and simmer 5 mins - Don't Boil
10.  Spoon cucumbers, onions and liquid into jars or plastic containers with tight fitting lids and store in refrigerator

Pickles are best after a day or two in the refrigerator and will keep for several weeks -- if they last that long!

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Simple Homemade Boursin

Planning easy and delicious meals for house guests can sometimes be a challenge, but I have a helper for just such an occasion - a hefty computer file of my go-to recipes. Fast. Easy. Crowd-pleasers. Oh, and delicious! First and foremost -- everything must be delicious.

You know the recipes I'm talking about, don't you? They are on wrinkled bits of paper or stained recipe cards in your files. Most have someone's name scribbled on them to identify the person who gave you the recipe. These are the good ones you bring out for parties, a night with the girls, the neighborhood block party, holidays, a friend in need of comfort food and ... house guests. They are the best worry-free, no-brainer, everybody-likes-this recipes that never let me down. 

With company expected next week, I clicked through my favorite, signature, go-to recipes - Cora's Classics. I had a difficult time choosing - there were so many yummy choices. Today, I ended up making a list of ingredients for some dishes for next week and a couple of good ones we would enjoy anytime - even without company.

Because no trip to the grocery store is complete without forgetting something, I didn't think of this recipe for Boursin until after I returned home. Not to worry though, I actually had these ingredients on hand. Just add crackers, crisp apple or pear slices and a glass of wine -- perfect!

I'm kind of excited now that the sorting, choosing and planning are finished. I love that I've taken a little time to put all these recipe favorites together in one place. Now I'll be ready for a relaxing visit with friends.

Do you have a file of favorites that help you plan meals for house guests? What about breakfast ideas? I could use a couple of new breakfast recipes in my file, if you have some to share.  

4 ounces unsalted butter, softened
8 ounces cream cheese OR goat cheese, softened
1 clove garlic, mashed to a paste with a bit of salt
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/8 teaspoon dried thyme*
1/8 teaspoon dried marjoram*
1/8 teaspoon dried dill
1/8 teaspoon dried basil
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Mix ingredients together with mixer, food processor (pulse) or by hand with fork. Spoon into a small bowl; cover tightly and refrigerate.  Bring to room temperature and serve with crackers and sliced fresh fruit.

These herbs (in the ribbon-tied cellophane bags in the photo) are some I ordered  from Spartan Table, an Etsy shop owned by Jehny Koniditsioti of Sparta, Greece. Her family grows olives there and they also harvest the herbs that grow wild. They offer sea salt, olives, olive oil and new items being added all the time.

Boursin makes a cute gift basket with crackers, a small spreader and perhaps a packet of mixed herbs.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Mediterranean Spiced Apricot Almond Rice

Sometimes a restaurant will open up in our small college town and draw most of us out of our humdrum eating habits, at least for a while. But, all too often, the popularity and the newness wear off, and before long, the restaurant is forced to close.

Other times, though, a small local eatery fills a gap and times things just right to sustain that early success and actually survive. That's the story with Pita Alley, a self-described Turkish food - Mediterranean food - Sandwich Shop. The lines ran out the door when they opened in 2011, and have tapered off slightly to a steady stream of international students and professors hungry for home, and the rest of us who love gyros, shawarma and such.

For me, it is the "and such" that pulls me back to Pita Alley. Well, that and the jolly colorful decor, which is a bright spot in a strip center that is almost as old as I am. The menu is not overly ambitious, but everything is good, the portions are a gracious plenty and the service is friendly. I love Greek-style pita (the flat kind, not the pocket kind) and that's what they use. I also love tzatziki, hummus, dolma, tabouli, gyros, char-grilled chicken and baklava. I wish their Greek salad were larger, with more of the good stuff, plus cucumbers and mixed with crispy iceberg or leaf lettuce, instead of soft baby greens -- all in a big bowl, not a plate. And served with grilled pita wedges. Always have a dream!

But the dish than lingers on my mind is their rice. The menu describes it as a side dish of basmati with a mild blend of spices, topped with almonds and raisins. Ever the flavor detective, I have made my own version a couple of times and come so close to their spice blend, that I am very satisfied with my homemade version. I used dried apricots in place of golden raisins, and jasmine rice just because I love the flavor and flowery aroma. At home, the rice is especially good with grilled chicken or fish, but I've been thinking about adapting it into a cold rice salad for summer.

I'll still be at Pita Alley for favorites that I'm not even going to try to duplicate at home. Gyros, that would be you!

Mediterranean Spiced Apricot Almond Rice
Spice Blend - equal parts of the following, or to taste:
     Granulated Garlic
2 tablespoons salted butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup chopped onion
1/2 cup slivered or chopped almond
1 tablespoon Spice Blend
1/2 cup diced dried apricots - if too dry, soften with hot water and drain before chopping
4 cups cooked jasmine rice, refrigerated overnight, broken up with a fork

Mix Spice Blend and set aside. Press precooked and refrigerated rice with fork to separate grains. Heat butter and olive oil over medium heat. Add onions and sauté until translucent. Add almonds and Spice Blend; stir until everything is blended with seasonings. Stir in apricots and add rice; continue to stir over heat until well blended and heated through. Cover with tight-fitting lid to keep warm until ready to serve. Serves 4-6 as a side dish.