Saturday, August 28, 2021

Classic Apple Pie

My Mom made the best apple pies. You might be able to say the same, but I've never tasted your Mom's, so I still believe that my Mom's is the best. Apple pie was one of my Dad's favorites. He actually enjoyed any pie, especially fruit pies, but since Mom's was the best, you can imagine how much he liked her apple pie! A few years ago I created a cookbook of family favorites and a double crust apple pie was, of course, included. 

Before I could make an apple pie, I had to learn how to make good pie crust dough, which I did. The truth of the matter is that I prefer to use Pillsbury ReadyCrust pie dough because it's almost as good as from scratch and much faster and easier...and Sweetie loves anything made with it. Still, I'll include the recipe for a two-crust pie dough in case you want to really experience the full apple pie making deal.

For apples I us Gravenstein apples because we have two trees loaded with them. They are ripe early for apples, getting just right about the middle of August. Still, later in the year I like to mix any that is still useable with a nice, tart apple like McIntosh or a sweet, crisp one like Honeycrisp. Use your favorite apple or a mixture, but do make an apple pie by the end of September and welcome in the fall. The traditional pie spices of cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg, plus a pinch of allspice, are those warm spices that herald the change of season to cool, crisp weather and crystal blue skies (we hope-right now we are having smoky skies from wildfires, but hope springs eternal).

Two-Crust Pie Pastry

2¼ cups flour, sifted
1 teaspoon salt
¾ cup shortening
Ice water

Sift flour and salt into a bowl. With a pastry blender or two knives, cut shortening into flour until mixture resembles coarse meal. Sprinkle water, a tablespoon at a time, over mixture, stirring gently with a fork until all is moistened (6-8 tablespoons). Press dough into a ball. Wrap in plastic and chill before rolling out. Divide dough into two pieces. Roll out each piece until it is slightly larger than the pie tin. Makes one 2-crust pie or 2 pie shells.

Apple Pie

6-7 cups tart apples. peeled and sliced
2 tablespoons flour
¾ teaspoon ground cinnamon (and you can add 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg and/or cloves and/or allspice)
1-2 tablespoons butter, in small lumps
Pastry for a two-crust pie

Mix apples, flour and cinnamon. Pile apples in large, pastry-lined pie tin. Dot top with butter. Place second crust over the top, sealing the edges with water, and flute the edges. Slash the top crust in a few (about 5) places to allow the steam to vent. 

Bake for 10 minutes in a 4500 F. oven. Reduce heat to 3500 F and bake for an additional 40 minutes. Remove from oven and cool on rack.

Wednesday, August 25, 2021

Applesauce Hand Pies

 The Gravenstein apples are ripe! We have a couple of trees and so I made some Gravenstein apple sauce with some of the apples. They are so flavorful that I only added some pie spice to sugar needed...then cooked the sauce down so it was pretty thick. A potato masher worked well to break up the cooked apples into a chunky sauce.

In the morning I had the bright idea to turn some of the applesauce into hand pies. Since I had my trusty ReadyCrust pre-shaped pie dough handy, I unrolled one crust worth of dough and cut the circle in half. Then I stacked the halves, long sides together, and cut the half into thirds. That gave me the dough pieces for three hand pies.

Bottom wedge of dough, two tablespoons of applesauce, leaving a half-inch edge, wet the edges, place the matching wedge of dough on top, press to seal all around, use the tines of a fork to double seal all around, cut a steam slit with a sharp knife, then onto parchment. Repeat with the other two sets of dough.

Before I started to assemble the hand pies I preheated the oven to 450 degrees F. and placed a baking stone on a lower rack in the oven. By the time I had the pies ready to put in the oven, it was ready. I slid the parchment and pies onto the baking stone using a cake transfer wide spatula to move the pies on the parchment. Have just the parchment between the pies and baking stone meant well cooked pastry on the bottom and any juices that escaped stayed on the parchment.  After 10 minutes I turned down the oven to 350 degrees F. and continued to bake the pies until they were browned, about another 6 -10 minutes.

Don't forget to let the pies cool a bit on a rack. The filling gets really hot!

Enjoy as is or drizzle with some confectioners sugar mixed into icing with a bit of hot water, for more sweetness. I like mine less sweet, so just ate them plain. They were outstanding!

Saturday, August 21, 2021

Sweet Potatoes and Orange

A number of years ago I published a cookbook of family favorite recipes, mostly from midcentury, as a way to remember my Dad and to keep the recipes in the family. It's been long enough that it's time to update the book. Part of the update includes getting more picture of the finished recipe into the book, so I've started making some of the recipes for just that purpose.

Tonight we had Sweet Potatoes Margherita, a lovely casserole that has boiled and peeled sweet potatoes (yams actually), a bit of brown sugar and butter, and very thinly sliced oranges. If you can find seedless navel oranges, use them. 

All these elements get layered in a buttered casserole dish and baked. During baking you baste the dish with some of the collected juices/syrup. I made about half the recipe since there are only two of us eating the dish, not a family of eight, nine, or ten people. I also reduced the sugar and butter a bit and removed the pith from the orange slices that were in the lower layer. It helps reduce the bitterness that comes with orange pith, but isn't really necessary to do. What I ended up with was a very fresh tasting dish where you could really taste and appreciate the sweet potato flavor and the oranges. If you make it exactly as the recipe suggests, it will be a bit sweeter and richer and more bitter but still tasty. A lot of people prefer candied sweet potatoes and the given sugar, butter and water will give you a true syrup with lots of orange flavor to complement the sweet potatoes.

Although the recipe was popular before microwave ovens, I suspect that you could substitute sweet potatoes that are washed, poked with the point of a knife to prevent bursting, wrapped in a paper towel to keep moistness, and microwaved until tender in place of the boiled sweet potatoes. Then cool, peel, and continue with the recipe as written.

This is a great Thanksgiving dish, which is when we usually had it, but it goes well anytime with pork chops or roast turkey breast. Add a green salad and you have a meal that can take you back to 1950. Here is how the casserole looked right before baking.

Sweet Potatoes Margherita

Boil 6 sweet potatoes in water to cover until tender. Slice the peeled potatoes and arrange in layers in a buttered or greased baking dish, alternating with brown sugar, dots of butter or non-dairy butter and slices of orange with peel left on. Add enough water to make a thick syrup. Bake for 1 hour in a 350 degree oven, basting occasionally with the syrup in the dish.

Thursday, August 12, 2021

Happy Birthday Max!

Sometimes days can be bittersweet. August 12this one of them. Almost 40 years ago Sweetie and I became the parents of a good sized baby boy. We called him Max after my Dad and his middle name was the same as Sweetie's Dad. An auto accident took him over 20 years ago, but it's still his birthday, so we still wish him Happy Birthday. You can see where the bitter comes from. The sweet was him, even though he also was so curious that it took an eagle eye to keep him out of mischief.

Today August 12th was also a cause for another celebration. Our daughter and HER Sweetie have bought a house! We are so excited for them and impressed with their choice and all of the avenues to a good life that come with it.

Hoping that you, dear reader, have some sweet in your day this 12th day of August in the year 2021.

Saturday, August 07, 2021


 Although my tomatoes are still about a week away from being ripe, this is really the time of year to enjoy fresh tomatoes in the Northern Hemisphere. I have yet to meet anyone who isn't allergic to fresh tomatoes who doesn't love bruschetta once served them. If you can, use heirloom tomatoes for the best flavor. You can often find them at the market as well as the farmer's market at this time of year.

You start with a baguette or other good bread, then brush with olive oil and toast. The best part is the tomato mixture which uses fresh tomatoes, fresh basil and fresh garlic. Unless you roast the garlic before making the tomato mixture, you will have strong garlic breath but I think it's worth it for the punch of flavors which go so well with the crunch of toasted bread.

If you have time, make the tomato mixture a day ahead and let it sit in the fridge so the flavors really mingle. The time to top the toasted bread is right before you plan to serve these. That way the toast stays crunchy. These make a wonderful appetizer. If you combine them with a green salad that includes some beans and corn, you have a complete meal and lots of deliciousness. Try it with some cooked Rancho Gordo beans and fresh corn, lightly steamed and cut off the cob. A taste of summer with the bruschetta!

Bruschetta for Two

4-6 1/2-inch slices baguette or other flavorful, firm bread
1 medium to large fresh, ripe tomato, preferably heirloom
1 tablespoon best quality olive oil
1 clove garlic or roasted garlic
3-4 leaves fresh basil
salt and pepper to taste

Brush the bread with olive oil. Toast the bread slices to a golden brown color. If possible, use a grill to toast them.

Chop the tomato into very small dice and place in a medium bowl, keeping as much tomato juice as possible with the tomatoes. Add the olive oil, mince the garlic and add, finely chop the basil and add it to the bowl.

Stir the tomato, oil, garlic and basil together. If possible, cover and let sit in the fridge for 2 to 24 hours. 

When you are ready to serve the bruschetta, warm the toasts, place them on the serving platter and top each with about a tablespoon of the tomato mixture, including some of the juices. If you have a few tiny basil leaves you can garnish the bruschetta with them. Add salt and pepper to taste...although you may not need any. Serve at once.

Monday, August 02, 2021

Spicy Tangy Plum Jam

 It's taken me longer than I had hoped, but today I made some plum jam using the small (an inch to an inch and a half in size) fresh ripe plums that a neighbor gave me. These plums have a yellow flesh, a green to rosy skin that is pretty tart, and a pit that is fairly easy to remove, but which takes up about a third of the plum.

Once processed by rinsing, cutting in pieces and removing the pit, the plums weighed two and 1/4 pounds. the recipe that I used, The Flavor Bender by Dini K., said to use one cup of sugar for each pound of plums. I decided to use brown sugar and to spice it up with a bit of cake spice and some ginger, both fresh and preserved. The tangy part came from the skins.

This is a great recipe. I didn't use pectin but I did grate an apple and use some lemon juice to help it set up as suggested by Dini. The mixture sat in the fridge for two days, except for the lemon juice which I added today when I started to boil the mixture. I made a great jam with just enough sweetness, offset by the tang from the skin and the mix of spices. 

The website, The Flavor Bender, includes great advice about jam making, so do read before going to the actual recipe. Because my jam was made with yellow fleshed fruit, it is an amber color, not the purple on the website, but if you use red or purple fleshed fruit, you will get that color.

Do give this a try...prepping the fruit takes the most time, followed by the stirring of the jam until it is thick enough. I used both a thermometer and the frozen small plate methods for deciding when to stop cooking. I boiled the jars, lids and bands while I was making the jam, so when it was ready I was able to remove the hot jars to a towel and immediately fill the jars. The amazing this was that it made exactly the right amount to fill three very small jars and one pint jar. Not too much, not to little. That never happens! 

Spicy Tangy Plum Jam
 from The Flavor Bender blog by Dini K.

Note: made by weight of prepared fruit - read all of the blog post HERE to get full information about making jam.

2 1/4 pounds fresh plums, washed, cut up and pit removed (from about 3 pounds fruit if small)
2 cups plus 2 tablespoons brown sugar
pinch of salt
1/2 teaspoon cake spice (mixture of cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, cardamom)
1/4 teaspoon minced fresh ginger
1 teaspoon finely chopped preserved ginger
/14 cup grated green apple (OK to leave peel on)
1 tablespoon lemon juice

1.             Wash the plums well. To remove the seeds - first cut the plum in half. Next, cut the plum half with the seed, in half again (into quarters). One of these quarters will have the seed attached, which you can easily pull out. Alternatively, you can cut the plum flesh around the seed.

2.     Repeat with all the plums.

3.     Cut all the plums into 1 inch chunks (roughly). It’s OK if the plums are a little crushed at this point, since they will be cooked down anyway.

4.     WEIGH the chopped plums, so you can decide how much sugar needs to be added. Place the plums in a large bowl (large enough to accommodate the sugar that will be mixed in too).

5.     Add sugar, salt, spices, ginger, preserved ginger and apple shreds into the bowl. Mix well.

6.     Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 8 hours (or up to 48 hours). Also, place some small saucers / bowls / spoons in the freezer for the jam test (explained below).

7.     When you're ready to cook the jam, scrape all of the plum-sugar mix into a large pot. Add the lemon juice and stir to combine.

8.     Bring the mixture to a boil over medium-high heat. Stir the mixture to let it heat evenly. Lower the heat to medium - medium low, and cook until the fruits start to soften.

9.     MASH the plums with a potato masher, OR you can pass about ¾ of the mix through a food mill (this will remove the skins).

10.   Continue to cook the plums until the mixture reduces and starts to thicken slightly. Stir frequently to prevent the jam from sticking to the bottom and burning. While the jam is cooking, sterilize some heat-proof jam jars and lids.

11.           Check the temperature of the plum jam every 10 - 15 minutes (more frequently as it thickens more). Cook the jam until the temperature reaches 220°F (105°C).

12.           If you don’t have a thermometer, you can perform the JAM TEST. To do this, drop a little jam on a frozen surface (saucer / bowl / spoon). Then keep it in the freezer for about a minute and check the consistency. If the consistency is jelly-like without being runny, then you’ve cooked the jam to the right temperature. (If you run a finger through the jam to create a streak, the jam shouldn't join back up in the middle to fill the streak, if it's at the right consistency).

13.           Remove the pot from the heat.

14.           Using clean tongs, clean ladles and clean paper towels, carefully ladle hot jam into the hot, sterilized jars. Please be careful, as the jam and jars will be very hot at this stage (wear gloves or oven mitts to protect yourself).

15.           Screw on the lids while the jars are hot. As the jam and jars cool down, this will create a seal.

16.           Allow the jars to cool to room temperature completely. Then label and store.