Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Cheese Blintzes with Berry Sauce

I thought it would be simple to put together a nice blintz recipe to put up in time for New Year's Day brunch.  But then again, somehow I forgot that I am a compulsive food nut!  I started with my original recipe which called for 3 eggs, 1 cup of skim milk, 1 cup of flour and a few other ingredients (we'll get to the filling in a minute).  These wrappers were good, but they weren't quite as sturdy as I would have liked them and the batter was just a tad heavy which made swirling the pan a little harder than necessary.  I had seen some recipes on the Internet that varied a bit, and so I proceded to make them again, and again, and again until I can barely stand the thought of blintzes (at least in the near future).  I tried adding more milk, using water instead of milk, adding melted butter, etc.  The ones made with water were flat tasting and didn't brown up enough.  The ones mades with less egg and more flour were tough and dry and stuck to the pan.  Finally I thought I would try adding a little more egg, and voila - I had the wrapper I was after.  As for the filling, you might see recipes that call for pot cheese, farmer's cheese, cottage cheese or ricotta.  Personally, I have never seen pot cheese in the store, and I knew that the farmer's cheese that we get here was totally wrong - it is a brick of cheese with a dense texture- not at all the right texture or taste (we don't get Friendship farmer's cheese, which I understand might be perfect).  Ricotta didn't work for me either because it contains vinegar, and the taste is all wrong.  After researching pot cheese and farmer's cheese I learned that traditionally, these are fresh milk cheeses that aren't readily available because they spoil fast, but that they are basically cottage cheese that has been drained so that the texture is drier and firmer (and that's what I had always used in the past).  I made my filling with a low fat cottage cheese, and also a full-fat cottage cheese, but the difference wasn't great, so I opted to stay with the lower fat cheese.  Don't forget that once you press out the liquid, the denser cheese is also denser in calories and most other nutritional elements.  Besides the type of cheese, there were instructions for processing the cheese, whipping the cheese, hand-beating the cheese or stirring it.  For my Light Jewish Holiday Dessert cookbook, I had made some lowfat blintzes, in which I had processed the filling.  I remembered that I didn't quite like the texture this made, but it hadn't made much difference for that book, because there was also an apple filling inside of the blintz.  But with just cheese,  I wanted this filling to be perfect.  I tried the processing method again, and also used the beater on another batch. Both of those methods created a cheese that was too thin. I decided to stir everything together by hand, pressing the cheese against the side of the bowl to make it a little smoother (I don't think for blintzes that you want a totally smooth filling).  I also used the filling at room temperature and one batch with refrigerated cheese and the difference was vast.  The ones with the room temperature  cheese were runny and grainy, while the chilled filling hung together nicely and remained creamy.  Even with the colder cheese, the filling wasn't as firm as I would have liked it.  I did some more experimenting adding more egg  and then egg and flour to the filling, and here again, the results were spectacular.  The filling with more egg and a little flour held on to its shape even after the blintzes were fried and warmed in the oven.  I'm sure that those of you who eat blintzes have a mental idea of what is perfect for you.  Now that you know the effects of these ingredients, techniques and temperatures you'll be able to tweak the recipe to create your own perfect version. By the way, the berry sauce was also an adventure (recipe follows). 
Happy New Year!

Makes 10 Blintzes

Blintz Batter
2 large pasteurized eggs
1/2 cup milk (skim to whole, your choice)
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoons sugar
1/2 cup (65 grams) all-purpose flour, measured by fluffing, scooping and levelling

Cheese Filling
2 pounds cottage cheese (brand matters - use one that tastes sweet and delicious to you!)
2 ounces light cream cheese, room temperature
2 tablespoons powdered sugar, or to taste
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 large pasteurized egg, whisked (instructions for regular eggs follow)

1 tablespoon all-purpose flour

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, for frying

Berry Topping
3 cups blackberries
3 cups raspberries
2 cups blueberries
1/3 -2/3 cup sugar, to taste
dash cinnamon, optional
1 teaspoon cornstarch,  optional

For the very best results, you'll want to make the filling far enough in advance so that it will be cold when you fill and fry the blintzes.   You can also make the wrappers a few days ahead, if you like.  If you want  the berries softer and sweeter, make them in advance, too.  At the very least, you want to make the berry topping at least 1-2 hours ahead of serving, especially if using blackberries, which have very firm center cores.

For the blintz batter, place the eggs,  milk, salt , and sugar  in a food processor bowl.  Process until well blended.  Add the flour, all at once.  Process for 5 seconds to blend the ingredients.  Scrape down the bowl and pulse for 3 more seconds to blend well.  Transfer the batter to a storage container.  Refrigerate for at least 1 hour, and up to 3 days.

To make the filling, you'll need to drain and press the moisture out of the cheese.  I've tried cheesecloth, the traditional method, but find it messy and inefficient.  I find that the easiest way to do this is in a knee-high stocking.  Cut off the top 3 inches of the stocking, and then put it in a tall glass with the top of the stocking cuffed over the top of the glass so that it will stay in place when you fill it with the cheese. 

 Hold the stocking over the sink with one hand, squeeze all of the filling towards the tip of the stocking. 

Continue to squeeze the cheese until the stuff coming out looks very thick or like curds are coming out.

The best way to get the cheese back out of the stocking is to put the stocking back into the glass, fold the top over the glass (as in the beginning), and then holding onto the stocking on the outside of the glass, turn the glass upside down over the bowl.  Shake the glass crisply and the cheese should start coming out of the stocking. Once it starts coming out, you can squeeze the stocking to help it along. 

You have now made pot cheese or farmer's cheese!  Add the cream cheese and press it against the sides of the bowl with a wooden spoon.  Once it is smoothly against the bowl, start mixing the cottage cheese and cream cheese together by mashing it against the side of the bowl.  The object is to mix the two together and to smooth out the cottage cheese a little - you are not aiming at a smooth filling - just one that is smooth enough to be pleasing on the tongue!  Stir in the remaining filling ingredients until well blended.  Transfer to a covered storage container, and refrigerate until cold or up to 1 day ahead.

Before starting the blintz wrappers (crepes),  have a piece of parchment paper near the stove onto which you will flip the crepes.  Remove the blintz batter from the refrigerator and stir it.  Heat a small nonstick pan over medium to high heat (depending on your stove and pan), until a droplet of water rolls around in the pan ( you can also use a carbon steel crepe pan, but you'll need to lightly butter it).  Ladle about 3 tablespoons of batter (a scant 1/4 cup) directly into the center of the pan.  Immediately pick up the pan and swirl the pan around and around so that the batter widens out  to fill the whole pan with batter.  By the time you do this, the crepe will almost be finished cooking.  Set it back down on the burner to finish cooking any spots that still look shiny.  As soon as the entire surface is dull, the crepe is done. 

To get the crepe out of the pan,  start the edge with a fork and then just turn the pan upside down over the parchment.  Once the edge is raised you'll be able to grab it and pull, and the whole crepe should come down onto the parchment paper.  You want this side of the crepe to be nicely browned, but not too brown or burned.  Adjust the burner accordingly.  On my heavy-duty gas range with an All-Clad pan, I start off medium-high and then need to turn it down to medium-low, but each stove will be different.

For my taste, the crepe on the left hand is too light, while the one on the right is just a bit too dark.  You can stack the crepes one on top of the other, and fill them as soon as they are all done, or cover them with wrap and refrigerator for several days before using.

Make the berry topping, sometime before you start filling the blintzes, either within 2 hours or ahead. 

In a small pot, combine 1 cup washed blackberries and 1 cup of washed blueberries**.  Place the remaining washed berries in a bowl.  Add 1 tablespoon sugar to the berries in the pot and 1/4 cup sugar to the berries in the bowl.  Let both sets stand for 10 minutes.  Mash the berries in the pot with a potato masher or fork. 
Place the cornstarch in a small bowl and stir in 2 teaspoons water.  Bring the berries to a boil, reduce the heat and let the mixture cook for 4 minutes.  Stir in the cornstarch mixture, bring it back to a simmer and let the mixture cook for 1 minute or until it goes from being cloudy to being clear. Let the cooked berries cool for 1 minute, and then strain them over the berries in the bowl.

Toss the berries with the cooked mixture until everything is well coated.  Set aside at room temperature for 1-2 hours, stirring occasionally, or transfer to a covered storage container and refrigerate until ready to serve (we like the berries at room temperature but you can eat them at any temperature you like).

 When ready to assemble the blintzes, preheat the oven to 200 degrees if you've used pasteurized eggs and to 300 degrees if you've used regular eggs in the filling.  Take the wrappers and cheese out of the refrigerator.  Set one wrapper on a piece of parchment or work surface with the browned side up.  Place about 2-1/2 tablespoons of the filling  on the crepe, just downward of the center in a mound that is about 1-inch x 3-inches. 

Most instructions call for folding over the bottom edge first and then the sides, but I think they are easier to make if the sides are folded in first, and then the bottom.  If done this way the crepe will stick to itself and you won't be fighting with it trying to get the sides to stay in.

Fold the bottom part over the filling and then continue to roll the blint up into a cylinder.

Add 1 tablespoon butter to a large frying pan (I use cast iron), and heat until the pan is hot and the butter has started to brown.  Add half of the blintzes to the frying pan  and cook for a few minutes on each side until they are brown on both sides.
Drain the blintzes on paper towels and then put them on a pan and set in the warm oven.  Repeat with the remaining blintzes.  If you have used pasteurized eggs in the filling, they won't need more than 5 minutes in the oven to warm them up.  You don't want the filling too hot or the blintzes will be hard to eat.  If you have used regular eggs, you want the filling to reach 160 degrees.  This should take 10-15 minutes in the oven.  Let them cool down before you eat them, or the filling will be unpleasantly hot.

Serve the warm blintzes with a bowl of sour cream and the berries.

**You can use any mix of berries that you like, but don't mash raspberries unless you are fond of the seeds.  Even if you strain them, lots of the raspbery seeds will get into the sauce (to strain raspberries you need a fine mesh strainer, a food mill or a chinois).  If you are using only blackberries, you can skip the heating process. Just mash 1/3 of the berries, add back into the  remaining sugared berries and let them macerate for 1-2 hours or overnight.

Enjoy the berry sauce on pancakes, waffles, blintzes, cottage cheese or ice cream.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Mushroom Barley Soup

I love soup  because it's so easy to make, doesn't really need fussing, measuring or gussying up - in other words, just the opposite of baking.  Especially when I've put all of my energy into making dessert and making it pretty, soup is just so easy!  And nothing is better on a cold winter evening, than a nice bowl of hearty soup.  My Dad, who loved to eat, didn't start cooking until later in life, after he and my mother both retired.  He, too was a great lover of soup.  This recipe is basically his with just a few minor changes and a fleshing out of the techniques.  He used equal portions of dried and fresh mushrooms, but I don't usually keep dried mushrooms around, and they can be hard to find.  I find that the cremini mushrooms are so tasty that the dried ones are not needed.  If you do decide to use some dried mushrooms, soak them in hot water, drain them reserving the liquid and then strain the liquid into the soup

Serves 6

1 tablespoon mild oil, divided
3/4 cup cremini mushrooms, washed, dried and chopped
1/4 Vidalia onion, skin removed, and chopped into 1/4-inch pieces
1 celery stalk, diced
2 carrots, peeled and diced
4 cups low-sodium chicken stock
4 cups low-sodium beef stock
1/2 cup pearl barley
1 cup non-fat half & half
salt and pepper to taste

Add the 2 teaspoons oil to a large stockpot.  Heat on high, and when the oil is hot, add the mushrooms, and saute until brown.

Reduce the heat, add the remaining oil, onions, celery and carrots, and cook for about 5 minutes, until the onions are translucent but not brown.  Add the stock and the barley.  Cover the pot and simmer for 1-1/2 hours.

You can leave the soup as it is, but I like to puree a few ladlefuls , which makes the texture more pleasant to me, and also thickens the soup.  I use a slotted spoon to transfer about a cup or two of veggies and barley to the processor, and then I process it until it is not quite smooth.  After it is ground up pretty well, you can add a little of the broth to help get it pureed.  Once it has the texture you like, scrape it back into the soup.  Stir in the half & half, bring back to a simmer, and serve.  Soup almost always thickens overnight.  If you want it more liquidy when you reheat it, add more half & half or puree some more of the veggies.

Saturday, December 18, 2010


Friday, November 26, 2010

Cranberry Pear Tart or Gratin

So, it's the day after Thanksgiving, and I had posted this recipe beforehand, showing the gratin but not the tart, which I planned on making for Thanksgiving.  I did go ahead and make this as a tart, which you can see came out beautiful!  And so tasty - everyone loved it.  As per my original assessment, I did add a little thickener so it would work better in the tart, but I also found that I didn't use all of the streusel, so I've adjusted the amounts below, and I didn't use all of the filling.  I'm not changing the filling, though, because you need that amount of liquid  to cook all of the pears.  Just save the extra as cranberrysauce, and that will be delicious, too.

Whether you make it as a tart or a gratin, the flavor is intense, but not as bitter as many cranberry desserts.  It seems to be adored by both those who love cranberries and those who usually don't like them, so give it a try!

For the crust   you can use either the Press-In SablĂ© Crust, weighted and partially baked, or you can use Sweet Pastry Crust, which is a more traditional tart crust recipe.  For this crust, roll the dough into a 13-inch round, about 1/16-inch thick. Transfer the dough to the tart pan, pressing it snugly into the bottom of the pan where it meets the edges and into the flutes of the tart pan. Roll a rolling pin over the top of the pan to cut off the excess dough. Press up on the edges to thin them out and to raise the edges about 1/16-inch (for a photo description, see Pies and Tarts Part 3. ) Refrigerate or freeze the crust for at least 15 minutes or up to 3 weeks (for long storage, place the tart in a jumbo zip-top bag).  For either crust, preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Press a piece of greased aluminum foil snugly on top of the dough. Fill the foil with pie weights or dried beans. Bake for 15 minutes, remove the foil and beans and bake 5 minutes more, just  until the bottom crust is cooked but not brown. Set aside to cool completely.

Cranberry Pear Filling
3 cups fresh cranberries ( about 1 package)
3/4 cup sugar
2 McIntosh apples, peeled,halved and cored
3-4 firm pears, peeled and cored, cut into 1/2-inch dice and tossed with 1 teaspoon lemon juice (using 4 pears will give a little more "tooth" to the filing)
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup fresh orange juice
1/4 cup golden raisins
1 teaspoon cinnamon
Water, as needed

1 teaspoon tapioca starch or cornstarch
2 teaspoons cold water

Streusel (Crumbs)
1/2 cup all-purpose flour, fluffed, scooped and levelled into measuring cups
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

Wash the cranberries and remove any soft or rotten berries. Measure out 3 cups and place in a saucepan with the sugar. Place the apples in a food processor and process as finely as possible. Add to the pot. Cook over medium-low heat until the berries release their juices, about 8 minutes. Add the pears, brown sugar, orange juice, raisins and cinnamon to the pot. Increase the heat to medium and cook, stirring occasionally, until the mixture thickens and the pears are cooked, through but still firm, about 10-20 minutes, checking every 5 minutes to make sure there is enough liquid in the pot. If the mixture does not seem to be saucy enough, add water, 1/4 cup at a time, until the mixture seems thin enough for the pears to cook and for the mixture not to scorch. ( If your pears were very hard to begin with, they will take the longer amount of time to cook). During the last minute of cooking, place the starch in a small bowl and gradually add the 2 teaspoons of water to the starch. Stir this into the cranberry mixture and boil for about 1 minute. Transfer the mixture to a bowl to cool, and then refrigerate until ready to use (can be made ahead).

For the Tart:
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.  For the streusel, combine the flour, sugar and cinnamon in a small bowl. Add the butter and mix with your fingers to distribute the fat. Squeeze the mixture into crumbs.  Fill the tart with the cranberry filling.

Top with the streusel, and bake at 375 degrees F. until the crumbs are browned, about 15-25 minutes. Let the tart cool at least 30 minutes before serving. The tart can be made 8 hours ahead and stored, uncovered, or loosely covered, at room temperature.

VARIATION - Cranberry Pear Gratins

For 8 gratins, you probably need half of the filling and a full recipe of the Streusel.
To make gratins, leave the thickener (tapioca or cornstarch) out of the filling.  Place about 1/2 cup filling in each of 8 mini-gratin molds (you can also use ramekins, but you get more topping with the gratin molds which are shallow and long).  Sprinkle the crumbs over the gratins and set in the oven for 15-25 minutes, just until the crumbs are nicely browned.  Let the crisps cool for at least 30 minutes before serving.  

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Pecan and Pistachio Chocolate Chip Fingers

I almost always have cookies in my freezer for emergencies, but I had just gotten back from vacation and found out that I was the only one making dessert for a fundraiser celebration that I recently attended. I had frozen a cake beforemy trip, but didn't have time to make anything else, and my freezer was totally void of cookies. The party was at 7 and it was about 4 when I got this news. I wanted t make a simple dessert but didn't want to make brownies or chocolate chip cookies, both of which could have been done in the time allotted. Most of my cookies need chilling time, so I knew they were out, but I do have a lovely Heath bits cookie in my book, and I thought that would be perfect. The only problem was that I didn't have time to shop for Heath bits and didn't have them in my cupboard. What I did have in my freezer, however, was a small bag of left over baklava filling. I thought this might make a very interesting variation on my original recipe, and I wasn't disappointed. The cookies were crispy, buttery and had an unusual flavor due to the pistachios in the recipe.
2-1/2 sticks butter (10 ounces), room temperature
1 cup + 2 tablespoons sugar

2 large egg yolks, room temperature
3 cups (390 grams) unbleached all purpose flour, fluffed, scooped and leveled
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup mixed nuts, chopped finely by hand or in processor
1/2 cup mini-chocolate chips

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1/4 cup Ghirardelli Sweet Ground Chocolate and Cocoa, for dusting
Decorating Glaze
1/4 cup (2 ounces) mini-chocolate chips
1 teaspoon oil
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. with shelves in the upper and lower thirds of the oven. Line 2 cookie sheets with parchment paper.

In a mixing bowl, beat the butter and sugar, just until blended. Beat in the vanilla and egg yolks, one at a time until well blended. Beat in the flour, a cup at a time (If you don't have a heavy-duty stand mixer, stir in the flour by hand.).  Stir together the nuts, choclate chips and cinnamon.  Stir this into the dough.

Shaping the cookies:
1. Use your hand to measure the ball size to about 1 inch.

2. Roll the ball in your palms in a circular motion to make it round and smooth.
3. Roll the ball into a log-shape by moving your hands back forth, parallel to each other.

4. Use your palm size to measure the length of the cookie to about 2-1/2-inches long. They will double in width, so go for a thinner, longer shape.
Transfer the cookies to the prepared cookie sheets, leaving about 2-inches between cookies.

Place the cookie sheets on the two shelves of the oven and bake for a total of 12-14 minutes, switching the pans from top to bottom, etc. after half of the cooking time.

Remove the cookie sheets and slide the parchment onto cooling racks to let the cookies cool for 5 minutes. Reduce the oven temperature to 275 degrees. When the temperature has come down, slide the parchment paper back on the cookie sheets and bake the cookies for another 10 minutes. Remove and cool, as above for about 5 minutes.

While the cookies are slightly warm, put the ground chocolate/cocoa into a strainer or sugar-shaker, and dust the tops of the cookies with the chocolate mixture.  Let the cookies cool completely before eating.

If you'd like to decorate them as shown in the opening photo, place the chocolate chips and oil in a small microwave-safe container. Micro-cook on medium power (5) for 1 minute. Stir until the chocolate is completely melted.

For this amount of glaze, you'll need a very small piping bag. You can make one out of a plastic storage or zip-top bag. Cut the bag in half, horizontally.
Put the bag into a small glass, and then fill the bag.

Hold the bag closed at the top, with the filled part resting in your palm, and your thumb and index finger holding the top (you can put a rubber band around the top if it is easier). Gently squeeze the filling toward the tip.

Make a very tiny cut in the tip with scissors. Pipe on the decoration.

These cookies keep for several days at room temperature, in a covered container. They may also be frozen in a covered container, with waxed paper between layers. This way you'll be able to defrost each cookie individually. They’ll keep frozen for 3 months. Defrost them at room temperature, uncovered.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Spiced Squash and Pear Soup

Here's my ultimate fall and winter comfort food.  And it's low-fat, high fiber and very easy to make - you can't say that about too many comfort foods!  For the soup pictured here, I actually used squash and about 1 cup of leftover canned pumpkin.  That's the great thing about it - you can vary the vegetables, the spices and the stock.  So whatever, your preferences are, jump in and make it the way you like it!

1 tablespoon olive oil
5-6 cups (about 2-3 pounds) peeled and seeded butternut squash chunks (or carrots or pumpkin)
1 pear, peeled, cored and cut into 1/2 inch chunks
1/4 sweet onion, peeled and chopped (optional and to taste)
1 teaspoon fresh ginger, finely chopped
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon curry powder
1 tablespoon fresh ginger, peeled and grated
1 teaspoon of Kabsa spice, optional ( if no Kabsa spice is availabe, add a pinch of cardamom, cinnamon, cumin and fennel - to equal 1 teaspoon)
5 cups low-salt chicken stock
fresh thyme stalks, for garnish

Place the oil in a large stockpot.  Add all o f the chopped vegetables, fruit and spices - except the ginger,  to the pot.  Turn the veggies in the oil so that everything is coated. Cook over medium heat for 5 minutes to lightly glaze the vegetables.
Add the ginger, and cook for another 2 minutes.  In case  you've never used fresh ginger before, it's an ugly brown tuber that you find in the produce isle.  It doesn't keep very long, so I buy a knob, use what I need and then peel and chop the remainder and throw it into a jar full of dry Sherry.  It will keep for months like that.

Add the stock.  It should just about cover the vegetables.  If there isn't enough, you can add water or more stock.  Bring the stock to a simmer, cover the pot and cook for about 1 hour until the vegtables are
soft enough to mash completely.
 To puree the soup, use an immersible blender.  Blend completely smooth, or leave some chunks, however you prefer.

Alternatively, the vegetables can be transferred to a food process and processed until smooth.  Process first to a rough chop, and then add a little stock, if necessary, to blend the vegetables to your desired preference.
 Stir the blended vegetables back into the pot.  At this point the soup will be a little thin.

Simmer it, uncovered, for about 10 minutes to thicken it up. If you plan to eat it immediately, you can continue to simmer it to the desired thickness. If making the soup ahead, don't over-thicken it, because it will dramatically thicken as it cools, and will stay thicker even after it gets reheated.

To serve, ladle the soup into bowls and garnish with the fresh thyme.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Pea and Bean Stew

With the cooler weather coming in, it's great to have a hearty dish that can be whipped up in under 1/2 hour.  A few weeks ago I was given a jar of Feisty Mama Medium Salsa.  I had never tried the salsa before, because I don't eat raw onions and garlic, but the owner of Feisty Mama is a collegue of mine, and I use salsa sometimes to save time in cooking, so I was thrilled to receive a jar from her.  Before I put anything in my cooking, though, I always taste it straight out of the jar.  Let me say, that I was bowled over by the fresh taste of this jarred salsa, that tasted like someone had just made it.  Kudos to you, Debra, for coming up with a recipe and technique to make this salsa so refreshing and fresh-tasting.  If I ate salsa and chips, I would get on that website and order a case! 

You can see from the label that the salsa is all natural, and fat free.

If you plan on cooking with salsa, you need to use at least the medium hot kind, and even the hot, if you want the spice to shine through when you are done cooking.  I prefer, not spicy, so the medium worked fine for me. 

In this "chili" type stew, I used frozen baby peas, frozen baby lima beans and canned kidney beans.  I loved this mix because the canned kidney beans are soft and velvety, while the lima beans are firm and a little grainy, and the peas, which were barely cooked, sort of pop in your mouth.  The mix was terrific.   To make the stew spicier, you can add more salsa, use the hot salsa, or you can add the salsa just before serving to preserve the spicy taste.  These are all variations you can use to make the stew the way you like it, and after all, that's part of the point of cooking something yourself!

Here are all of my ingredients: 
For 6 servings
2 jars of tomato sauce
1/2 cup Feisty Mama Medium Salsa
1 cup canned kidney beans, drained
1/2 - 1 cup of canned pumpkin ( in the baking aisle, but make sure it isn't filling that contains brown sugar, etc)
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 cup frozen baby lima beans
1 cup frozen baby peas
1/4 raisins
water, as needed

In a medium saucepan, combine the tomato sauce, salsa, kidney beans, pumpkin (adding the larger amount makes it thicker and sweeter) and spices. Bring to a boil, cover, reduce heat and simmer for 15 minutes.  Add the lima beans, cover and cook for 6 minutes.  Add the baby peas and raisins, and cook for 3 minutes.  Serve immediately, or refrigerate and serve within 5 days. If you want the stew to be thicker, you can always boil it uncovered until it is thick enough.  If you want it thinner, add some water.  The stew gets thicker as it sits, and up to 1/2 cup water may need to be added.  It also gets milder as it sits, so take that into consideration.  I like it best the day after I make it.

We like the stew served over brown rice, with cheese and sour cream, or in tortillas.  I thin it a little for the rice variation, and leave it thick when using for tortillas.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

The Best Apple Pie

I know I have unfinished business with my filled cupcakes, but it's been so long since I posted that it will take me quite awhile to figure out everything I did with the cupcakes.  In the meantime, it's apple picking time, and I wanted to re-post my recipe for apple pie, which I worked on last Fall.

This is a re-post from last Fall when we went to Boston to visit our daughter.
One of the trips she had planned was to a nearby apple orchard for an afternoon of apple picking. The farm had many different varieties of apples, and we came away with more than a bushel of Cortlands, Macintosh, Empire and Macoun apples. With so many apples, the logical thing to make was apple pie, so that’s what we did the next day. Expecting great things, we were disappointed when we tasted the pie, that evening. Why wasn’t this the best apple pie?

Let’s start with the apples. For an 8-inch pie, I usually use 10 cups of apples consisting of about 5 Granny Smith apples, 1 golden delicious and 2 Macintosh apples. It’s a blend that I’ve come up with over the years that satisfies my requirement for texture, moisture and taste.  Using the apples from the orchard instead of my usual mix, produced a pie that wasn’t sweet enough or juicy enough.  I decided to go back to the kitchen and write down what happens to each apple when it is cooked. For my experiment I used 2 ounces of each apple (about 1/2 apple, but I did it by weight for accuracy), 1 tablespoon of brown sugar and 1/6th tablespoon of butter. Each was covered with foil and baked in a 400 degree F. oven.

When I uncovered the apples there was a striking difference between the amount of liquid in each cup. The Macouns were gushers, giving off 6 teaspoons of juice, the Macintosh gave off 4 teaspoons (but the Macs I bought in the supermarket only gave off 1), the Empires 3 teaspoons (same for the store-bought Empires) and the Cortland only 1 teaspoon of juice. Since the pie we made in Boston was mostly Cortlands, I now knew why our pie was not as juicy as we would have liked. I also tested the apples that I normally use: Granny Smiths and Golden Delicious. The Granny Smiths gave off 3 teaspoons while the Goldens gave off 5. This would account for my pies almost always flooding into the plate when the first piece is removed.

Here's a chart showing my results:

Apple                   Texture        Juiciness               Sweetness

Macintosh------- Very soft-----Least------------Sweet/tart

Rome ----------- Very soft-----Least------------Sweet/tart

Cortland--------- Medium------Least------------Sweet/tart


Golden Delicious-Medium------Most------------Sweet


Granny Smith----Med-firm----Moderate--------Tart

Fuji--------------Extra Firm---Moderate--------Sweet/tart

Gala-------------Extra Firm--- Moderate--------Sweet/tart

So to start making YOUR perfect pie, you would decide whether you like your pie very moist, medium-moist or on the dryer side, and then you could choose the appropriate apples. If you wanted a very sweet pie, it wouldn’t be a good idea to use only Golden Delicious, though, because you’d have so much liquid, you’d never get it thick enough. Instead, you could add a little more sugar to the tarter apples and mix in only one or two of the very juicy, sweet apples. Because we wanted to use only the apples we picked (tarter , drier varieties) we should have added a little extra sugar, and could have added some fresh apple cider to make up for the lack of moisture. There’s also a question of tenderness with the filling and you’d want to combine apples that get pretty soft when cooked with those that are firmer. Some apples take forever to cook, and might not be a good choice for a pie in which the crust will be done in about 50-60 minutes. Romes and Macs tend to get very mushy – which I think gives a nice taste and texture when used in combination with firmer apples. Empires, Cortlands, Macouns, Goldens, etc. are medium-firm and Fujis and Galas tend to take longer than 60 minutes to get soft, unless sliced very thinly. Lastly, the amount and kind of thickener needs to be chosen. My mother always used tapioca to thicken her pies. But tapioca (cracked or pearls) leaves little gelatinous globules in the pie that I’m not fond of. Flour is really not a favorite of mine either because if it doesn’t get mixed well, it can be very unpleasant, and if the apples don’t heat up enough or for a long enough time, the flour will taste gritty or pasty. I usually use cornstarch, even though it doesn’t do that well with acidy foods like apple pie – another reason that my usual pie is on the runny side (maybe I should mix in some Cortlands next time). For a pie made with mostly Cortlands, I would cut way down on the amount of cornstarch used – maybe half as much. Yesterday, I tried tapioca starch, which actually gave me the absolute perfect thickness! I bought it in Earthfare, my local organic market. It looks exactly like cornstarch, and the box directions said to use the same quantity as cornstarch. I used the recipe you’ll find below, and have never been as happy with the results.

But back to Boston… Could more have gone wrong with my pie in Boston? You bet. The crust was really just mediocre. I knew from the get-go that I probably hadn’t used enough water in the dough. I was worried about the crust being tough – a problem I had had the last time I made flaky crust- and water is usually the culprit when crust gets tough. I thought it might be a little dry (it was), but was surprised that the crust was so tender that it barely had any texture in the mouth. As a bottom crust it was fine, but the top crust really didn’t work. So, of course, my challenge when I got home was to figure out exactly how to tell when you’ve added enough water. Here’s the answer: The dough should feel supple, but not sticky, and it should hold together. You should be able to pick up the dough ball and hold it above the counter without it falling apart.
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When you roll it, you should be able to fold it without it cracking.
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If any of these problems arise, add a little more ice water to the dough. If the dough is too sticky, it could be because it’s not cold enough, or it might need more flour. If it needs to be toughened a little, you can also fold it and then re-roll it. This works especially well for the top, because it makes it flakier. And so, here is MY Perfect Apple Pie

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Serves 6 - 8

Flaky Pie Crust
2-1/2 cups (325 grams) unbleached all- purpose flour, fluffed, scooped and leveled into measuring cups
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon sugar
10 tablespoons (5 ounces) shortening, frozen and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
5 tablespoons (2.5 ounces) unsalted butter, cold and cut into 1/4-inch slices
1/4 cup (or more) ice water, divided

3-5 medium Granny Smith apples
1 medium golden Delicious apple
2 medium McIntosh apples
1 lemon or 1 tablespoon of Fruitfresh mixed 2 quarts with water
3/4- 1 cup packed light brown sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 cup tapioca starch (or cornstarch)
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, cut into 1/4-inch cubes

1 tablespoon milk
1 teaspoon sugar

Place the flour, salt and sugar in a food processor bowl. Pulse-process to mix everything together. Place the shortening and butter on top of the dry ingredients. Pulse-process until the fats are cut into pea-size bits, about 5, three-second bursts. Transfer the mixture to a bowl. Sprinkle on 3 tablespoons ice water. Mix with a fork and then, using your hands, press the mixture into a solid mass. If necessary, add more water to bring the dough together. The dough should feel supple, but not sticky, and it should hold together. You should be able to pick up the dough ball and hold it above the counter without it falling apart. Divide the dough in half. Wrap each piece in plastic wrap and refrigerate several hours or overnight.

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. with a rack in the middle of the oven. Grease and flour an 8-inch glass pie plate . (Flouring the plate is controversial, as there is a risk that the dough could shrink off of the pie plate rim. However, it’s so much easier to get the slices out of the pan when the plate is floured, that I do it anyway. )

For the filling, peel, core and cut the apples into 1/4-inch slices, using as many as necessary to have 10 cups of apples. Squeeze the lemon into a large bowl of water, or use the Fruitfresh. Place the apples into the bowl of water, drain, and then return the apples to the bowl along with the brown sugar, cinnamon and tapioca starch.
Transfer the dough to the pie plate using one of these techniques: Flip the dough over the rolling pin. Pick the whole dough piece off of the plastic and lay it into the pan.

Flour the dough, fold it in half or quarters, and then transfer it to the pan and unfold it .

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There should be several inches of overhang. Trim the dough to 1/2-inch beyond the rim ( I use my thumbnail as a guide).
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Transfer the filling to the crust-lined pie plate, mounding it high in the pan. Dot with the butter.
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Brush the rim of the crust with water so that the top crust will adhere well.
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Roll out the remaining dough, making it larger than the bottom crust, so that it will fit over the mounded apples.
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Trim the top crust so it is the same size as the bottom crust. Squeeze the two edges together and then roll the edge up to make a nice border on the pan rim.
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Here you can see that I’ve rolled the right edge of the pie crust, but not the left side, yet. I also experimented with cutting out a diamond shape in the middle of the crust as a steam vent. It also gives me a good place to stick a knife into the apples to see if they are cooked. But I think I liked the round vent hole better (see opening photo). It was easier to get it in the center and it didn’t tend to rip the way the diamond did.
Flute the edge using one of the techniques from this post on Pies and Tarts:
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Make 4 or 5 slits in the pie with a sharp knife. Mix the sugar with the milk and brush this over the crust ( or brush with milk and sprinkle with sugar – your choice).

Place the pie on a baking sheet. Bake the pie for 25 minutes. Reduce the temperature to 375 degrees F. and bake for another 30 - 40 minutes more until both the top and bottom crusts are golden. Shield the pie rim with aluminum foil if it is getting too brown. To make a simple shield, take 3 pieces of aluminum foil slightly large than the pie. Crimp the edges up to make it less square and to hold the pieces together. Cut a cross in the middle of the foil and bend back the foil, from the center outward, to reveal the pie below. Set the shield on top of the pie – it should leave the center open to brown but will shield the rim crust, which always cooks faster.
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Cool at least 30 minutes before eating.

For best results, the pie should not be made more than 8 hours in advance (leave uncovered at room temperature). Rewarm it at 350 degrees F. for 15 minutes. Leftover pie should be covered with plastic wrap and refrigerated. Heat at 350 degrees F. to re-crisp the top crust.