Monday, November 5, 2007

Awesome Apple Pie!

I'm not a huge fan of pie. I really can't remember the last time that I baked pie. It could have been last Thanksgiving, but in any case, none could have been as good as this apple pie that I created especially for my apple growing coworker.

As usual, I made this recipe up as I went along.

  • 1-1/2 cup flour
  • 1/4 cup COLD butter
  • 1/4-1/2 tsp salt (I use sea salt, cause I love it)
  • 2-4 TBS ICE COLD water
  • a little bit of brown sugar (please use the C&H pure brown sugar, not the colored, flavored white sugar that a lot of companies try to pass off as brown sugar)

The important thing about pastry is that everything should be cold and you DO NOT want to over-work the dough. The way that pastry gets light and flaky is through the expansion of the little bits of fat in the dough while it's baking. If all the fat is mixed in too well, it does not do the job. No tiny air pockets mean dense, tough pastry.

So with that in mind, you really should mix this by hand with a pastry blender. A fork will also work, but I find that they dig into my hand. OR, you could just mix it with your hands. This technique can work well as long as you work fast, because the heat from your hands will start to melt the butter.

Mix the flour and salt in a mixing bowl. Break or chop the cold butter into bits into the mix. You want the dough to form fairly uniform crumbly bits. Then add just enough ICE COLD water to hold the dough together.

Now most people will roll it at this point. Any of you who have followed my recipe posts know that I like to cook and bake simple. All I do with this dough is push it into the pie plate to form a crust. There will be some left over dough. Hang on to that.

With my crust, I put the lump of left over pastry in the middle, threw plastic wrap over the whole thing and stuck it in the refrigerator while I prepared the rest of the pie. I actually had the crust in the fridge over night as I only had enough time to make the crust that night. I have heard that you should let the pastry "rest", so maybe this helped too.

The Filling:
  • 4-6 apples-- cut, cored and peeled
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar (remember -- C&H!)
  • 1-2 tsp sea salt
  • 1-3 TBS ground cinnamon
  • 1-3 TBS ground ginger (depends on how much zip you want in the pie.)
  • a couple dashes (or more!) of Captain's spice rum

I used a variety of apples in the same pie since my apple growing coworker had given me so many different kinds. I think I mainly used Connelly Red and Honey Crisp.

To prepare the apples, I first cut the apples into wedges, kind of like you'd do for pizza. Then I made "V" shaped cuts in the center of each slice to remove the core. Then I cut the peels off. I have found that this is the fastest, easiest way to prepare apples for me; you do what you want.

Mix all the filling ingredients in a bowl and set aside.

Now would be a good time to turn the oven on as you want the oven to be HOT when you start baking. 325-350F


  • Left over pastry
  • flour
  • a couple handfuls of quick oats
  • 1/2 - 1 cup brown sugar (you know the drill)
  • 1/2 tsp of sea salt
  • 2-4 TBS ground cinnamon
  • 1-2 TBS ground ginger
  • 1-2 TBS COLD butter (optional, but the topping will be more dry)

Put the pastry in a mixing bowl. (If you did not have left over pastry, you will need to mix some flour, butter and water to get a gob of "pastry"). With your hands, mix in everything but the flour. You want this topping to form a fairly uniformly crumbly mix. If the mix is just too moist, add a little bit of flour at a time until it looks right.
crust -> filling -> topping

Simple, right?

Bake for about 30-50 minutes depending on your oven, the moisture content of the pastry, the moisture content of the apples, altitude, etc.
You want to bake this until the crust is golden brown.

Serve fresh and warm with whipped cream.

It made me like pie again. I will never eat any other apple pie again! It simply MUST be THIS pie!!

Tuesday, March 27, 2007


I had purchased a bunch of sushi-making stuff two weeks ago and tonight I finally got around to trying my hand at sushi.

I was really hoping that this nori would be good. I have had homemade sushi that used seaweed wrap that tasted like they had picked it up off a hot beach. NASTY!!

The rice wasn't too complicated. Rinse one cup rice. Add one cup water and simmer in a tightly covered pot until all the water is absorbed.

Add some sushi vinegar to the rice and fluff in.

While the rice was cooling I made a sushi omelet (tamago). That's just egg whipped with a little water and sugar cooked like a crepe. I put the heat REALLY low and let the egg cook slowly. It is really hard to flip, but it doesn't need to look perfect. There. I said it.

I got a phone call while making the rice and omelet so they probably didn't turn out exactly right.

The rice was VERY sticky and hard to spread out on the nori. I found that using a fork worked pretty well at getting it to spread out. Spread out the rice leaving ~1" clear at on end.

A couple of sites suggested using plastic wrap on the sushi mat to keep rice from squishing into the crevasses, so I heeded their advice.

I cut the omelet into 1" wide strips. I also sliced up an avocado, a cucumber, and baby carrots into strips. I placed a small amount of each on the layer of rice opposite the rice free end.

Use the nori straight out of the package.

Rolling was pretty self-explanatory. Roll toward the rice-free end. I moistened the rice-free end a little once rolled to get it to stick down on the roll. You need to roll a couple before you get the hang of getting the roll real tight.

This roll was my first one.
Not bad, huh?

Then it is just a matter of slicing the roll into uniform sized pieces.

Here is a plate of my finished sushi pieces. The middle ones are my first ones, the fatter outer rolls are my later ones. If you look close you can see a difference in the density of the rice and the neatness of the roll.

The nori was delicious! It was mild and nutty. There was no fishy flavor at all. I would highly recommend this brand.

I didn't find the sushi much more difficult to make than tacos. I will definitely consider having this in our quick-meal rotation! It was fabulous!

By the way, for those of you not in the know - BEWARE THE WASABI!!!
I love spicy, so wasabi and I are good friends, but when you aren't expecting it, it can be very painful. A minute amount goes a long way for those who aren't spice-fiends.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Digestive Quest

[Warning: this post is LONG! If you just want the final recipe go here]

While I was over in Scotland I became quite fond of the McVitie's Plain Chocolate Digestive Biscuits. I always had them with me on my travels. They made a great snack to get rid of hunger as well as keep me energized. They are extremely popular in Great Britain and Ireland. McVitie's is actually an Irish company. And coincidentally enough, on St. Patty's Day I found them in a store here.

World Market. One of the best stores ever. Love It! Love It! Love It!

We went there after catching a movie with some friends of SSB and myself. As I was walking up to my friend in the store, she showed me the package of McVitie's with chocolate and started to tell me I HAD TO GET THEM when I reached into my own basket and pulled out my own package! We both had a good laugh. SSB said it looked just like a commercial.

But they were fairly expensive too. $3.99 for a package of 18 biscuits. (I should point out at this time for those of you not in the know that biscuits in Great Britain/Ireland are actually cookies - not our biscuits). So I decided that I might just have to figure out how to make these myself. I mean, there's got to be a recipe for them SOMEWHERE on the internet, right?

Well, I found quite a few recipes for digestive biscuits, but I also found a lot of comments about how they weren't the same as McVitie's because those particular biscuits just couldn't be replicated at home. I was not discouraged. I figured that if I collected enough of the recipes, saw what they had in common and compared them to the ingredients on the package of the McVitie's that I had purchased, I might just be able to crack the code. I did some research on McVitie's digestives to find out how they were created, how they got their name, what makes them special, etc; to try and get some clues.

One clue that helped me in tweaking the recipes that I found was that they are called digestives due to the large amount of sodium bicarbonate in them that helps settle the stomach (and here I thought it was because of all the bran!). Most of the recipes that I found did not seem to have much baking soda in them at all.

I started with a recipe that I Frankensteined from several of the recipes that I had retrieved. I baked one biscuit at a time, recording the results and changes I made to the dough as I went along. The following is the unedited process of creating the biscuit I wanted:

Sy's first batch

3/4 cup whole wheat flour
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 tablespoon rolled oats
3 tablespoons butter
4 tablespoons brown sugar
1 tablespoons Crisco
1/4 teaspoon vanilla

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C). Grease cookie sheets.
In a large bowl, mix together the flour, baking powder, and oats with a pastry blender. Mix in sugar with a pastry blender. Throroughly mix in vanilla, then add fats. Mix these in with a pastry blender until the mix is uniform.
Knead dough on a floured surface until smooth. Roll out dough to
approximately 1/8" thickness. Cut into rounds with cookie cutter about
2 1/2 inches in diameter. Transfer to cookie sheets and prick with a
fork. Bake 15 to 18 minutes, or until golden. Let cool on wire rack.
Store in an airtight tin.

I would cut back on the sugar by about half.
I did add two singles of half-n-half after trying one biscuit. This made the biscuit a little less grainy. I think I would try adding more to see if I could get them fluffier this way too. I found a soda cracker recipe that calls for quite a bit of liquid. Maybe replace 1 TBS of the butter for liquids.
The McVitie's biscuits use palm oil - I would try that. It seems that there is a slightly bitter taste to the McVitie's that you can't get with this recipe and I think that it is the palm oil.
I tried chilling some of the dough before rolling and cutting. This really didn't seem to make too much of a difference in the final product, but it did make the dough easier to handle.
This recipe uses oats, but McVitie's does not contain any so I would substitute some wheat product for the oats.
They also need to be fluffier, so I might try adding a bit more baking powder - this would also add a little of that bitterness that I am looking for.
I also reduced the heat to 350F which got rid of the uneven browning that I got in the first batch.
I also did all the biscuits, after the first one, on the baking stone instead of a cookie sheet. I think this was a good move.

wheat flour, plain chocolate (29%), sugar, cocoa mass, palm oil, butter oil, cocoa butter, emulsifiers (soya lechithin, polyglycerol, polyricinoleic acid), natural flavor (vanilla), palm oil, wholemeal, sugar, glucose fructose syrup, raising agents (sodium bicarbonate, tartaric acid, malic acid), salt.

plain chocolate = bakers chocolate
sugar = dark brown sugar
cocoa mass = the precursor to cocoa powder
emulsifiers = things like egg yolks and lecithin - they hold the crumb together and give the biscuit greater shelf life
wholemeal = whole wheat flour
glucose fructose sugar = corn syrup
raising agents = baking soda, precursor to cream of tartar (it's a byproduct of wine), found in apples (makes things sour)

Sy's 2nd batch:
I halved the sugar and subtracted 1 TBS butter.
I added 1 TBS milk powder and 1/3 cup water
Along with the 1/2 tsp baking powder I added a 1/2 tsp baking soda as these biscuits are said to be known for their high content of baking soda - hence the name "digestive".
I substituted wheat bran for the oats as the original biscuits have no oat in them.

My first biscuit came out too chewy and blonde.
I added another TBS of both butter and sugar.
I also added a bit more wholemeal flour and baked another cookie.

The biscuit was still too sconey, so I added another TBS each of butter and sugar. I also raised the temp of the oven to 360-370F.

This batch was kind of turning into a train wreck, so I set it aside and started a new batch.

Sy's third batch:
I went back to the original recipe.
I realized after I mixed this third batch that I had added WAY too much wheat bran. It was supposed to be 1 TBS to replace the oats and I put in 1/4 cup. OOPS!! I think that this won't be so bad since oats puff up so much and wheat bran doesn't nearly so much.
I also added 1/4 tsp baking soda and 1/4 tsp cream of tartar (since the McVitie's use tartaric acid).
I also used 4 half-n-half singles this time.

After the first biscuit I added another TBS each of butter and sugar to make up for the extra bran.
I also turned the heat back down to 350F since I was getting the extra browning around the edges again.

That batch that I thought was a goner - the last biscuit that I got from it was actually REALLY CLOSE!!!
It just needed a bit more sugar and butter! WhooHoo!
So I went back to that dough, added 1 TBS of each and baked another biscuit.
I think baking these a little longer than 15 mins at 350F might also make them crispier - so I tried that too.

Actually, on second thought, I should have only added the butter - but c'est la vie! That's why I wrote down each step of this process.

In the end, I came 90% close to a perfect match with the third batch with all the extra changes. But the second batch with the final changes was pretty good too.

I have now been baking for over 6 hours, but not bad for cracking a mystery code of ingredients for such a sought after delicacy!

Once I had the biscuits I wanted, I baked the rest of them and coated the backs of them with melted semi-sweet chocolate chips. YUMMY! I, my family, and the neighbor kids highly approved!

The finally winning recipe is as follows:

3/4 cup whole wheat flour
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 baking soda
1/4 cream of tartar
1/4 cup wheat bran
4 tablespoons butter
5 tablespoons brown sugar
1 tablespoons Crisco
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
4 half-n-half singles (little more than 3 TBS half-n-half)

Preheat oven to 350F.
In a large bowl, mix together the flours, bran, baking powder, baking soda, and cream of tartar with a pastry blender. Mix in sugar with the pastry blender. Mix in fats with the pastry blender. The mix at this point should be crumbly and uniform. Mix the vanilla in the half-n-half and add to the mix. Mix with pastry blender until it is uniform and resembles really soft playdoh.

You can at this point refrigerate for 20 minutes to make the dough easier to handle, but it is not necessary. Be sure to roll out dough between two pieces of waxed paper! Roll to approximately 1/8" thickness. Cut into rounds with cookie cutter about 2 1/2 inches in diameter (I used the ring off one of my canning jars).

Transfer to cookie sheets and prick with a fork. Bake 15 to 18 minutes (adjust the baking time up to dry them out more if the biscuits are too soft and fluffy), or until golden. Let cool on wire rack.

Optional: spread the backs of the cooled biscuits with melted semi-sweet chocolate (as in chips - almost everyone has these for chocolate chip cookies). Set the biscuits chocolate side up on the rack until chocolate hardens.

Store in an airtight tin -if storage is even necessary! They will go fast!

Friday, March 23, 2007

Pomecranapple Chicken

This was the recipe on the opposite page of the Turkey Madeira. Well, actually the recipe was "Chicken in Pomegranate Sauce" but once I started making it I realized that I did not have the 1 cup pomegranate juice that it called for, so I substituted 1 cup cranapple juice instead.

Another slow cooker recipe! I really like cooking in the slow cooker because I don't have to be home all while it is cooking. It is great for throwing together in the morning before I go to work, and having a nice hot meal by the time I get home!

1 lb chicken
1 pomegranate
1 large sweet onion, sliced
1 cup 100% cranapple juice
2 cinnamon sticks
salt and pepper

You can use any cut of chicken for this. I used regular chicken breasts because the meat will be tender enough to take off the bone with just a fork and there are a lot of fantastic nutrients that are added to the meat and sauce from the bones while it cooks - wouldn't want to miss out on that!

Salt and pepper the chicken and place in the slow cooker. Add onion, all the arils from one pomegranate (I bought some back before Christmas and they kept very well in the veggie drawer in my refrigerator), cranapple juice, and cinnamon sticks - seriously.

Cover the pot, set to low, and cook for 8-10 hours. Just in time for you to get home for dinner - unless you are a masochistic commuter!

I served this with a side of whole kernel corn mixed with sea salt and a couple tablespoons of dried cilantro - yummy! And raw baby carrot sticks, as you can see.

This was very similar to the Apple and Herb Chicken I did a while back, but with a little more tanginess due to the cranberry juice.

It was very good, not as good as my Apple and Herb Chicken, but I think I would make it again before I would make the Turkey Madeira. Next time I would add some actual cranberries to the pot for added zip!

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Turkey Madeira

We were having a slow day at work so the girls were leafing through our recipe magazines for dinner ideas. Blue saw this recipe in the slow-cooker magazine and rushed it back to my desk. And she was right to do so, because it certainly looked intriguing.

I had just purchased asparagus (what luck), but had to go to the store after work for the turkey breasts and mushrooms. It wasn't until I got home and was getting ready to make it that I realized that the reason that it is called "Turkey Madeira" is because it is made with Madeira wine. I had no idea what Madeira wine was, much less did I have it. A little research was called for.

Turns out that Madeira wine is from a place called Madeira, an island situated in the Atlantic Ocean north of the Canary Islands. During the shipping/exploration age it was THE place to stop before heading out for a long voyage to The Far East. They produced a fortified wine (wine mixed with a stronger alcohol, such as brandy, for longer and easier storage) which initially was considered average, but on a fluke, a ship returned to Madeira after crossing the ocean twice with a good amount of the wine still on board. The wine had drastically improved in flavor. They began experimenting with the aging of the wine, trying to replicate the heat, humidity, and motion of the travel on a ship. Before refrigeration, it was the most popular wine - because it does not have to be refrigerated after opening! It can last up to a year without refrigeration after opening. MY KIND OF WINE!!

So, turns out that I really did need to get this wine. I was very lucky that my liquor store had this wine in stock - and one actually from the island of Madeira!! SCORE!!

I rushed home with my treasure and prepared to make this dish. First I opened the bottle of Madeira and had a healthy sip. YUM! It's a tiny bit dry but sweet with layers of spiciness. It's like the Coke of wines. I reiterate: MY KIND OF WINE!

  • 1/2 cup Madeira wine (1/4 more than the recipe asked for - it is good wine!)
  • 1/2 cup chicken broth (I used 1 bouillon cube dissolved in 1/2 cup hot water)
  • 1 cup sliced crimini mushrooms (the recipe called for porcini, but I couldn't find any and our local co-op has some very nice baby bellas)
  • 1 medium chopped sweet onion (the recipe called for thinly sliced onion, which would have been terrific; but I had accidentally chopped my last onion before I noticed the words "thinly sliced")
  • 2 lbs boneless, skinless turkey breast
  • 3-4 TBS parsley
  • 1/2 cup half-n-half
  • 8 spears fresh asparagus
  • corn starch or flour

Mix the wine, mushrooms, onion, and broth. Slice the turkey breast into 1" strips, placed them in the bottom of a crock pot, and pour the wine mix over the top. Set this on low and left it cook for about 5 hours.

Mix parsley and half-n-half (again, I used the singles since that is what I had) and mix it into the crock pot. Then chop asparagus and throw that into the crock pot. Let it cook an hour or so more.

If you want a thicker sauce, scoop out the turkey and asparagus into a serving bowl, pour the liquids into a sauce pan, added a little cornstarch mixed with water (or you could use flour) and heat it until it thickens.

I made my own noodles for this with flour, salt, water and oil. It was my first time making noodles and I'm not sure that I would make them again - but my family like them.

Here is a picture without and with the gravy.

Generally, I was expecting this dish to have more flavor. It was good, but not really a WOW. It is classic Midwest cooking. I would add more wine next time - maybe even marinade the turkey in it. But as it is a fairly good crock-pot recipe, it deserves a place in the rotation.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Spinach Pesto Quiche

There was a sale on eggs and I suddenly had the flavor of fluffy eggs, bacon and basil with a light, buttery pastry in my mouth.


I have only made quiche once; and although it wasn't terrible, it wasn't the best.
But this time, it was AWESOME!!!

The Pastry
Start with the pastry. It is very important that the butter be cold and that you do not over mix. The thing that makes the pastry flaky is the tiny bits of un-mixed butter melting and expanding, leaving air pockets.
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 stick COLD butter
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 2 tbs ICE COLD water
Mix the salt and flour well. Cut the butter into the flour until just crumbly. Whisk the egg yolk and water and mix lightly into the flour mix. DO NOT OVER-MIX! Just mix it until everything is incorporated. Some recipes will have you roll it out at this point, but then you risk over-working the dough. I just pushed it into the bottom of the pan in which I was baking the quiche until it was evenly distributed across the bottom and sides.

Bake it slightly at 425F before putting in the filling.

The Filling
  • 4 eggs
  • 2 cups light cream (the only cream that I had was half-and-half singles - the kind that you use for coffee. 48 of them equals 2 cups :)
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup cheese (usually, you would use Swiss - for this I used my four Italian cheese mix)
  • 2-3 tablespoons minced sweet onion
  • 1-2 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 1 cup chopped, raw spinach (I probably used more than this)
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh basil (and I probably used more than this too)
  • 1/4 cup pine nuts
  • 1/4-1/2 cup sliced mushrooms
  • Pinch of cayenne pepper
Saute the onion, garlic and pine nuts. Whip the eggs and cream. Mix in all other ingredients, as well as the sauteed ingredients. Pour into the lightly browned pastry crust and bake in a 425F oven for 15 minutes. Lower the heat to 350F and bake for another 30 - 45 minutes until a knife comes out clean.

This was even great as left overs!

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Pan Pizza

I love Pizza Hut Pan Pizza. I have been trying to replicate the crust for years. It has been slow going even with my awesome baking ability and my ace-in-the-hole - my husband was a Pizza Hut deliverer for four years.

The other day I stumbled upon a combination of ingredients that I think come pretty damn close.

I used a bread machine to make the dough - why not if you have one, right?
  • 3/4 cup warm water
  • 1 TBS olive oil
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1-1/2 TBS sugar
  • 1-1/2 cup flour
  • 1-1/2 tsp dry yeast

Place the ingredients in the machine in this order (for most machines - check your machine for specifics). Set your machine to "pizza dough", if it has that setting; otherwise "dough", or you could just be sure to take the dough out after the first rise if it is a really basic machine without any extra settings. You will want to push the ingredients from the corners of the pan as the dough mixes to be sure that every thing mixes in.

This is a really loose, sticky dough; but, it could still be made by hand. You will have problems trying to knead this, so I would recommend just mixing it well.

When taking the dough out of the bread pan, carefully remove the mixing blade first without tearing apart the dough - once the dough is torn it is VERY DIFFICULT to get back together. Use a lightly oiled silicon spatula to pull the dough away from the edges of the pan to get at the blade below. Once the blade is removed, reform the dough into a solid mass before putting it into a well oiled pan. I used my cast iron skillet.
Very nice.

Carefully push the dough, without tearing it, to fill the bottom of the pan evenly. Let the dough "proof" (as they say in the pizza biz) for a half hour before putting any toppings on it. I turn on the oven about fifteen minutes into the proofing to be sure that the oven is good and hot before I put in the pizza - 350°F to 375°F.

The sauce goes on first. I usually make my own, but I used a jarred spaghetti sauce for this one, any one you like should do. Then cheese. I like to use a few different kinds of cheese for more intricate flavor. We used Hormel turkey pepperoni, YUM!!!

Bake for 20-30 minutes. The pan gets really hot so be careful taking it out. Use a spatula or knife to run around the edge of the pizza, then slide the pizza onto a cutting board. I used a chefs knife to cut this bad-boy.

Although it is not exactly like Pizza Hut Pan Pizza, it was excellent. Thumbs way up from the family. I made an extra one and brought it to work, where I got all very good reviews including a "I have to tell you, YOU are the absolutely BEST pizza maker I know!!! I am in love with your pizza!!"

Awe shucks!

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Turkey Meatballs

These meatballs I made on the spur of the moment. We needed something to eat and I was sick of boxed meals.

1 lb ground turkey
2 tsp dried rosemary
1/3 sweet onion, minced
2 cloves garlic
1 egg
1 sleeve saltines, crushed
1 TBS oregano
1 TBS basil
salt & pepper
2 TBS olive oil

In a bowl I mixed the ground turkey, egg, saltines - crushed, onion, garlic, rosemary, oregano, basil, salt and pepper, and olive oil.

Form the mix into bite-sized balls and place them on a cookie sheet.

Bake in a pre-heated oven at 350F for about 20-30 mins.

These came out slightly crispy on the outside which was fantastic. I served them with spaghetti pasta and marinara sauce. The meatballs were YUMMMY! I will definitely make these again, but I would serve them with a sweeter sauce next time.