Abandoning the rules for apple pie

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I’ve always been a by-the-book, play-by-the rules kind of girl. I think with my head instead of my heart and always approach things from the most logical angle I can find. That’s why I always cook according to recipes, too. Except for pie.

Things are different for me when it comes to pie. I’ve made dozens and feel confident that I know what good dough feels like between my fingers, and can trust my senses to guide me to the perfect combination of spices for the filling. This is a rare departure from my normal approach to things. It makes me feel confident in my abilities, enough so that I let go a little and try new things on a whim, instead of following every single instruction in the book from beginning to end. Pie is one of the more forgiving things you can make because you don’t have to rely on leaveners and eggs for consistency. Without those things involved, there’s more of a chance to play without fretting that it will fail entirely.

I went to a friend’s place for a pre-Thanksgiving dinner last night. I volunteered to bring my pumpkin scalloped potatoes and an apple pie, both of which I’ve made a few times before. I based my apple pie on the one from The Joy of Cooking, but improvised on the filling by adding a vanilla bean, honey, and a bit of brown sugar. It turned out really well.

If you ever watched Lee Pace as the charming piemaker in “Pushing Daisies,” you might remember when he said “pie is home. People always come home.” For me, apple pie is something I’ll likely make throughout my life, and I can take comfort in knowing it will turn out, and there’s room to try new things.

Applepie112314So here’s my latest version of apple pie for you to share with your families and friends during Thanksgiving. I hope every bite reminds you of home.

Crust
2 cups flour
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
2 sticks of butter
6 tablespoons cold water

Combine flour and salt in a large bowl. Cut butter into mixture and mix with hands until mixture resembles pea-size pieces. Sprinkle water over mixture and mix in using your hands. When water is combined, divide dough in half. Put each half between two pieces of parchment paper and roll out to about a 12-inch circle. Put dough—still between papers—in refrigerator for about 30 minutes. Once 30 minutes have passed, line the bottom of an ungreased pie dish with one layer of dough, using your fingers to press it to the sides. Refrigerate. Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. While oven is preheating, make filling.

Applepie112314-3Filling
6 Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored, and sliced
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon arrowroot or corn starch
2 tablespoons honey
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise and insides scraped
1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
Dash of ground ginger

Combine all ingredients in a large bowl and let sit for 15 minutes. Pour mixture into bottom pie crust, letting apples heap in the bottom crust. Cut 2 tablespoons of butter over the top of the filling. Take the top pie crust out and cut holes so the filling can vent during baking. Place crust on top of filled pie and use a knife to cut any crust hanging over the pan. Press crusts together with fingertips to seal. Place pie on a cookie sheet and bake at 425 degrees for 30 minutes, then reduce heat to 375 degrees and bake for another 30 minutes, or until filling is soft when a knife is inserted.

Let cool for at least an hour before serving.

Carrot-ginger soup has a bit of a bite

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There is a booth at the farmers market that has the best carrots I’ve ever tasted. I buy a bunch of them each week. Last weekend, they had a bulk bag of them, and I picked one up, determined to do something with them. I had seen carrot soup on menus before, but never felt terribly enthusiastic about it. But then I came across this recipe for carrot-ginger soup.

Carrot soup on its own has always sounded bland, but the ginger in this recipe really made it interesting. It was flavorful in a way I didn’t expect, and I enjoyed it for lunch for a few days after I made it. The best part is that it was pretty easy to make, too, as long as you’ve got some time to devote to the simmering process. As usual, I used my immersion blender for this, and it worked perfectly. I’d highly recommend using one if you have one in your kitchen.

Ingredients
2 tablespoons sweet cream butter
2 onions, peeled and chopped
6 cups chicken broth
2 pounds carrots, peeled and sliced
2 tablespoons grated fresh ginger
1 cup whipping cream
Salt and white pepper
Sour cream
Parsley sprigs, for garnish

In a 6-quart pan, over medium high heat, add butter and onions and cook, stirring often, until onions are limp. Add broth, carrots, and ginger. Cover and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until carrots are tender when pierced. Using an immersion blender, blend the soup until smooth. Serve soup with a dollop of sour cream and a sprig of parsley.

Rainbow salad is pure gold

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I love the farmers market in the fall. All of the vibrantly colored fruits and vegetables fill the booths in an enticing display that makes me want to buy everything and then run home and find new recipes to try. But, I only cook for one, so I remind myself to keep it reasonable and pick up different things each week so I can still satisfy my desire to be creative in the kitchen.

Last week, I picked up some homemade root beer, as well as some beets and carrots to use for a recipe I had in mind.

In addition to being ridiculously gorgeous, this carrot-beet slaw is also quite tasty. With the exception of toasting the pistachios, it’s also completely raw.

Because I bought bullseye beets instead of regular red beets, I had to roast them in the over for about an hour to encourage the flavor to come out. Had I gotten normal beets, I’d have used them raw.

As with most first attempts at a new recipe, I always follow the instructions exactly. I was hesitant about soaking the raisins in vinegar, but decided to trust the creative chefs at Bon Appétit because they certainly know more about cooking than I do.

I was floored by how good this was. There was so much flavor and texture to make this interesting and completely delightful. The parsley, mint, and red pepper flakes made the flavor so dimensional. I devoured it. And then went back for seconds because, with this salad, there is no guilt in going back for more.

Ingredients
2 garlic cloves, crushed
3/4 cup golden raisins
1/4 cup white wine vinegar
6 medium carrots (about 1 pound), peeled, julienned
2 medium beets (any color; about 1 pound), peeled, julienned
1/2 cup (packed) fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves
1/4 cup (packed) fresh mint leaves
3 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
3/4 cup unsalted, shelled raw pistachios

Combine garlic, raisins, and vinegar in a large bowl; let sit 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Spread out pistachios on a small rimmed baking sheet; toast, stirring occasionally until golden brown, 6–8 minutes. Let cool; coarsely chop.

Remove garlic from raisin mixture and discard. Add carrots, beets, pistachios, parsley, mint, lemon juice, and red pepper flakes; season with salt and pepper and toss to combine. Add oil; toss gently.

Not your basic breaded chicken

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When fall rolls around, I tend to haul out my cookbooks and start looking for recipes I haven’t tried. The colder weather makes me crave savory soups and roasted meats, and I’m always looking for new ways to keep it interesting. I pulled out my copy of “Foolproof” by the Barefoot Contessa. I was shocked to realize that, although it was a gift I’d received last Christmas, I had yet to try any of the recipes.

Since it was a Tuesday after work, I wanted to keep it simple and use things I had on hand. Despite living pretty close to a grocery story, once I’m in my apartment and out of the rain, I’m reluctant to go outside again. I settled on this recipe for Crispy Mustard-Roasted Chicken.

It’s a pretty basic breaded chicken recipe, but the dijon mustard takes the flavor to the next level, so you really don’t need anything else to jazz it up. It was a perfect dinner for a weeknight and one I’ll definitely turn to again.

Ingredients
4 cloves garlic
1 tablespoon minced fresh thyme leaves
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 cups panko (Japanese bread flakes)
1 tablespoon grated lemon zest (2 lemons)
2 tablespoons good olive oil
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1/2 cup Dijon mustard, such as Grey Poupon
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 (3 1/2- to 4-pound) chicken, cut in eighths

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Place the garlic, thyme, 2 teaspoons salt, and 1 teaspoon pepper in a food processor fitted with the steel blade and process until the garlic is finely minced. Add the panko, lemon zest, olive oil, and butter and pulse a few times to moisten the bread flakes. Pour the mixture onto a large plate. In a shallow bowl, whisk together the mustard and wine.

Pat the chicken dry with paper towels. Sprinkle generously all over with salt and pepper. Dip each piece in the mustard mixture to coat on all sides, and then place skin-side down only into the crumb mixture, pressing gently to make the crumbs adhere. Place the chicken on a sheet pan crumb-side up. Press the remaining crumbs on the chicken pieces.

Bake the chicken for 40 minutes. Raise the heat to 400 degrees F and bake for another 10 minutes, until the crumbs are browned and the chicken is cooked through. Serve hot, warm, or at room temperature.

Plum cake: Not just for fairytales

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Plum cake has always sounded like something served in a children’s story, and I’d never really thought about it until one of my co-workers named it as his favorite dessert. I keep a list of my co-workers’ birthdays and favorite desserts so, if I have time when their birthdays roll around, I can bake something for them. I once baked a pumpkin pie for one of my reporters, and he sat at his desk and ate it out of the dish for his lunch that day. I loved that he enjoyed it so much.

Since this particular co-worker was out of the country when his birthday rolled around, I had some time to look through plum cake recipes before I settled on this one. I picked up plums from the farmers market and got to work on it. The batter is a pretty basic mix of ingredients, and it was stiffer than I expected it to be. I figured the juice from the plums would provide the extra sweetness and moisture once it was baked.

Though it isn’t normal for me to give someone something I haven’t first tried myself, I felt pretty confident that this cake turned out the way it was supposed to. My co-worker, of course, told me he had never had a plum cake, so his expectations weren’t as high as I had believed. He enjoyed it, and I was able to sample a bite of it and I was surprised at how good it was. I consider that to be a success for a first attempt.

Ingredients
1 cup all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

Large pinch of salt

1 cup granulated sugar plus 1 to 2 tablespoons (depending on sweetness of plums)

1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened

2 large eggs

6 large imperial plums, halved and pitted

2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Heat over to 350 degrees F. Sift or whisk together flour, baking powder and salt in a medium bowl. In a larger bowl, cream butter and 1 cup sugar together with an electric mixer until fluffy and light in color. Add the eggs, one at a time and scraping down the bowl, then the dry ingredients, mixing until just combined.

Spoon batter into an ungreased 9-inch springform pan and smooth the top. Arrange the plums, skin side up, all over the batter, covering it. Sprinkle the top with lemon juice, then cinnamon, then remaining sugar.

Bake until cake is golden and a toothpick inserted into a center part of the cake comes out free of batter, about 45 to 50 minutes. Cool on rack.

Leave it covered at room temperature overnight so the plum juice can soak into the cake around it.