Tuesday, August 28, 2007

The dawning of a new Apple Pie

The story of Apple Pie II

I figured out my problem with this Apple Pie from scratch thing...I don't like to follow directions. Baking isn't like cooking, you can't just wing it. There are steps that need to be followed in order to create the anticipated results. I have some wonderful recipes to work with, but I am having problems following them as written, which brings me to Apple Pie II (to further be referred to as APII).

I blame the fairy tale of the wife of yesteryear baking an apple pie and leaving it on the windowsill to cool. Her kids didn't watch tv while she sliced those apples. Didn't she have 10-14 kids anyway and was always pregnant? And the fable never mentions her complaining about all the dishes that needed to be cleaned. In fact, she also cleaned the house, milked the cow, gathered the eggs and then made her own butter while waiting for the pie to bake. I understand she didn't have the distractions of TIVO, the Internet, e-mail, voice mail or some ranting blog she feels she needs to write because maybe someone out there will read it. Yes, her life was a little less complex technology wise. Then again, I have a 2 minute drive to a grocery store with a complete dairy, meat and produce section, so I don't have to take care of any livestock, spend my daylight hours taking care of a kitchen garden or churn until my arms want to fall off. I bet I would have rock solid biceps if I started churning my own butter. Something to look into.

Tying this together...for some reason I thought I could start making an apple pie around 3pm and be done by 6pm and serve it for dessert that night. I guess if I want to make an ok pie with a store bought crust, I can do that. However, to make a 1st place prize winning pie, this will take 1-2 days. Who's got that kinda time?

For APII, I used a different crust recipe. It was very easy. However, it said to chill it before using it. Huh? I think this is going to take planning. Then one needs to go through a series of steps to bake the crust BEFORE even adding the apples. THEN, after the baked crust has totally chilled, the apples can be dealt with (which can take from 1-3 hours). THEN, the apples chill with the baked crust. THEN it bakes together for an hour. THEN you can eat it. I had no idea this could be so time constraining. I do understand why people make many pies at the same time. If you are going through all this effort, you might as well mass produce.

Here we have APII. My opinion is that the crust is much better than the last pie, however the apples are not as good. Two things I didn't like: the apples were sliced too thin and I only used Granny Smith instead of a mix. I started making this pie at 4pm on Monday and took it out of the oven at 9:50pm.

For APIII, I'm going to make the crust the night before, bake the crust in the am, cut up the apples around lunchtime, bake the pie as a whole around 4pm. This way we will get to eat it at dinner time. Also, I might start tinkering with different apples, so I will try making 2 pies at once.

This is the new crust recipe I'm using (super easy). I am weighing the idea of purchasing a leaf stamper to win some presentation points. Will I be able to amortize the cost of this stamper over the next 40 years of pie baking (since I probably won't recoup the cost in this contest!). I tried making leaves for this pie, which only reminded me that I am more analytical than creative.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Apple Pie Version 1.0

Today I made a pie from start to finish. As you can see from the pictures, it wouldn't win any contests (at least not the one's with Gale Gand as the judge). However, 3 out of 4 of my harshest critics said it was wonderful. I can even quote one of my favorite gourmands "Mom, it was fabulous!" With comments like that, I feel I can do no wrong or my kids will say anything to keep those desserts coming.

Yesterday I had a 1 1/2 year old hanging on my leg. Today I had a 4 year old who said she wanted to help me bake but the truth is she just wanted to play Barbies with me. So again I was distracted in my baking and in my opinion did a half assed job.

I used two books (lent from my friend Julie ;) One to make the crust and the other to make the filling. For the crust, I used the Apple Pie - Sweet and Simple recipe from Peggy K Glass' Home-Cooking Sampler: Family Favorites from A to Z. I do not blame Peggy for anything that went wrong. Just as I was measuring that first cup of flour I realized I didn't have enough for the second scoop (that's how organized I am). I ended up using 1/2 a cup of whole wheat flour as a substitute. If I wasn't so honest I could totally spin this and say how I am trying to incorporate more whole wheat fiber rich products into my family's diet. But the truth is I just ran out of bleached flour.

My 4 year old was not happy that I wouldn't let her roll out the very sticky dough I had put in the refrigerator. I forget that she has slightly less baking experience than me and that she didn't think there was anything wrong with the dough sticking to her, me, the rolling pin and the cutting board but not itself. You can't get upset if you have no expectations.

Eventually I smooshed the dough into the pie pan and decided not to even bother with the top layer, this was too hard for someone who should be hanging out in a Barbie penthouse with her afternoon playdate.

The only apples I had left in the house were 2 Granny Smiths and 3 Braeburns. I'm sure those aren't exactly what I'm supposed to use, but that's all I had and after the whole wheat flour experience, I didn't think the wrong apples would make much of a difference in this doomed pie.

For the filling I used The Best All-American Apple Pie recipe from Rose Levy Beranbaum's The Pie and Pastry Bible. It was a good recipe, I especially like how she suggests you reduce down the liquid from the apples with butter to create a nice caramel that you add back to the apples. It sounds so nice, I hope next time I can actually execute it properly. I don't have the patience to let something sit and boil without poking at it and messing it up.

Finally, or in the eyes of a 4 year old, after taking FOREVER, I just stuck the pie in the over and went to play. It wasn't until about 30 minutes later when I went to check on my creation that I realized a pie without a top crust might burn the apples. D'oh.

In the end, the apples were yummy even though they tasted a little dried out (no top layer to hold in the moisture). The bottom part of the crust was under cooked (so one can really enjoy that added wheat flour). However the small parts of crust that were on the outside edges were crunchy and tasty.

If I can run to the store in the morning, I will try this again during nap time (and distract the 4 year old in another room so I have no one to blame but myself).

Oh, and because I do try to encourage cooking with kids in the kitchen (yeah, right) this is what my budding chef made for snack. I call it ants on a log. She renamed it grass and the grasshoppers. I have no idea what she's talking about. It is amazing how simple this is and what pride my little girl has in something she created.

All you need is celery sticks, peanut butter and raisins.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Apple Pie Debaucle #1

Oh dear. I think I only have 24 days left until the Apple Pie Baking Contest and I have yet to test run a pie.

These are things I have learned so far: Do not try to make your very first pie crust ever with your 1 1/2 year old son hanging on your leg while you are talking on the phone. I was trying to multi-task (being the card carrying super mom I am) and I found myself trying to read from a cookbook, blabbing on the phone with a friend (hey Danielle) and entertaining my son while adding ingredients to my food processor.

More things I have learned: I am not the best at multi-tasking.

During the key moments of pie crust making where you need to decide if the dry ingredients need more wet or if everything is just right, I flaked (I think there is an intentional pun here as an apology for a future pie crust that isn't). I handed the kid my measuring spoons, pressed pulse a few more times and probably added too much water while agreeing that it is not my job to decide for others in my household to join or not join something called my dad and me. If only I had simultaneously listed a few things on Ebay, this could have turned into a more promising exercise.

Currently, there are two balls of raw pie crust in my refrigerator. During a certain toddler's nap tomorrow, I expect to be slicing apples, mixing sugar and cinnamon and having the smells of warm apple pie greet my family when they return home.

Who's up for a slice? I am taking reservations now. I know I've got Julie and Audra down for a slice each, I just need another 1 or 2 guinea pigs, I mean volunteers for this pie.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

I get by with a little help from my friends....

There are two people who have asked me to spread the word about their websites.

The first is my friend, Jody Garland. She has a photography business that specializes in weddings, bar/bat mitzvahs and portraits. She has come up with a great idea for something you might have lying around the house, your wedding dress. If you feel you have no need to continue storing that big white whale of a dress, you can plan a photo shoot with her where you trash your dress. Check out her website for these amazing pictures of women who have said a final farewell to something they probably wouldn't have used again anyway.

Second, I have met this great person named Ariela who runs a website Baking and Books that I am very envious of. I hope to some day have a site that looks as classy as hers! She is having a raffle of 70 cookbooks to raise money for a group called Hazon. Hazon's mission is to "change our world by educating people about our environment, the food we eat, and the ways in which our relationship to these essential aspects of our lives influences our spirituality" You can check out her site for more information, plus she takes amazing pictures of the food she bakes. I think I'm going to have to buy a new camera. My blueberry pie just doesn't dazzle.

If there is anyone else who would like me to mention their site or something worthwhile that is going on, send me an e-mail or post a comment on this blog.

Oh, the photo was taken by Jody when baby #3 was still in my tummy. And in case you didn't know, it was a boy! I know it loses most of it's surprise after 21 months, but at the time of the photo shoot, I was positive it was a girl. So much for maternal instinct.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Ooo, if you can just wait.

I made these awesome biscotti this afternoon. However, I really need to pack for an up coming trip, fill out my kid's school forms, plan my children's schedules while I'm gone, do the grocery shopping and pay bills before I leave, and pick up the dry cleaning. So, I just don't have time right now to tell all about how easy and wonderful these biscotti are. But I will be sure to tell you all about it after school starts. I promise. Just give me one more week.


Spatulatta Cookbook

My 6 year old is at a tough age. She’s too big to be treated like a baby, but not old enough to take on those big kid responsibilities like changing the oil in my car or getting a real job that brings home a paycheck. For that we’ll have to wait until 3rd grade.

Since most of my waking hours are spent in the kitchen, she often asks if she can help me cook. I usually say no. I’m a control freak. I can’t help it. She’s still my little baby who needs me to do everything for her (to prevent having to spend even more time cleaning up after her).

Recently, I have tried to bend and let her help. Unfortunately it tends to end in ”Don’t spill. Don’t touch anything. Don’t stick your fingers in that.”

There is a new cookbook out from the Spatulatta girls. It is filled with “recipes for kids, by kids from the James Beard award-winning” web site. This has been a great mother-daughter bonding experience for us.

The recipes in this cookbook are easy to follow. So easy, even a 6 year old can do it! The book is divided into sections based on the seasons, so we picked some of the summer recipes. There are also vegetarian and snack sections. The pages are vibrant colors (unlike my boring cookbooks!) with lots of great photos showing steps along the way and the final product. The authors, Isabella and Olivia Gerasole keep everything straightforward and simple.

A quick trip to the Farmer’s Market and we were on our way. Our first recipe was Papa’s Pesto. The key is using fresh ingredients. After ransacking my poor basil plant, we only had 1 cup of leaves and the recipe called for 2 cups. We halved the recipe and proceeded ahead. My daughter did a great job of putting Parmesan cheese, basil, olive oil, pine nuts and garlic in the food processor and I managed not to shove her out of the way and do everything myself (I’m very proud of me). Our only complaint is that the Spatulatta girls have a much greater love for garlic than us, and we found the pesto to be too strong to eat. Next time we would add the garlic gradually and stop and taste before adding more (ah, what a wise idea, I should apply that to all my cooking!). Hopefully my little basil plant will grow more leaves before summer’s end so we can try Papa’s Pesto again.

Later that day we tried making the Blueberry Pie. I have baked apple pies before (see previous posts), but never a blueberry one. We followed the directions exactly and the pie came out delicious. Fresh blueberries from the Farmer’s Market made this pie taste homemade even though we used prepared piecrusts. I am sure the picture might not be beautiful to you but as a first pie joint effort, we think it is fabulous.

After all of our cooking adventures, we surfed over to the Spatullata website. My 6 year old LOVED watching the cooking videos. Isabella and Olivia make every recipe seem so simple to follow.

The Spatulatta Cookbook was a perfect guide for this mother-daughter’s first time adventure in the kitchen together. If there is a budding chef in your life, you may want to steer them toward the Spatulatta girls’ website and cookbook. They may pick up a thing or two and blueberry pie could be in your future or at least breakfast in bed!

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Looking for Volunteers

There are a few spontaneous decisions I have made without properly consulting with my husband. They have not all turned out well. He is a "feet on the ground, let's think it through, read the fine print" kinda guy. I am a "jump first, think later" kinda girl.

Saturday at the Farmer's Market, I did one of those "it seemed like a good idea at the time" things. I signed myself up for the Apple Pie Baking contest. Last year, we were at the market during the judging. Observing the judges trying 10 very different looking apple pies and meeting some of the competitors (who seemed to be squirming) made quite an impression on me.

I have only baked 3-5 apple pies in my life and all of them have used store bought crusts.

This is where you come in. I need help. Please, lend me your experience, your knowledge, your know-how. Tell me your do's and don'ts for making a FIRST PLACE WINNER apple pie and crust. If I place in 1st, 2nd or 3rd place, I will gladly share the prize with you and maybe some of the fame :).

And for those of you who might not have a pie recipe in your repertoire, I still need your help. I need people to taste test these pies. I am glad we are nearing sweatpants season so I will be able to hide the extra pounds I am about to put on, but I can't do it alone. Let me know if you can volunteer yourself and/or your family for the greater good and accept a slice or two or three of pie-in-progress as I experiment towards the perfect recipe.

When I come back to post after September 15th about how the contest went, I assure you that there will be a line from my husband similar to "this was the most expensive piece of apple pie I have ever eaten". And why will he say that? Because after baking 1-3 pies a week over the next 4 weeks, the grand prize of a $100 gift certificate to Stoney River (a steak restaurant in downtown Deerfield) will pale in comparison to the money spent, time invested and chaos I will create in my kitchen over this spur of the moment quest for recongnition. But then again, life is about the journey, right? It's not about winning the prize, it's about the experiences you have along the way. And I will be sure to share them all with you.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Farmer's Market Soup

I love the idea of a Farmer's Market. I love the idea of going to an open air market early in the morning where fruits and vegetables are sold hours after they have been picked. No middle man, hopefully more organically grown than from the supermarket. You get to talk with the people who have had their hands in the soil, who know that this week their produce is at the peak of it's ripeness. It sounds great.

And every week, I do this walk of shame home wondering how am I missing the point? I try to set myself up for success. I avoid produce shopping at the end of the week in the hopes of stocking up at the market. But I never stock up when I get there! Maybe it is because I am so used to supermarket produce, I can't appreciate a superior carrot when I see it. Or maybe it is my lack of imagination when I go from stall to stall looking at the piles of multi-colored beets. It's August and I feel like I'm doing something wrong when I search for inspiration from this bevy of fresh food!

Last week I bought many items with the grand idea of roasting veggies. Let me preface this with whatever I originally plan on doing with a food item, I tend to blow off and do something completely different. I have grand scale dreams and a horrible lack of follow-through. I bought a zucchini, a yellow squash, a few candy onions and a bag of yellow and green beans. I was thinking I'd steam the beans like I always do and grill or roast the zucchini, squash and onions. That was the plan Saturday morning.

This is what actually happened. After a few days, the green beans were gathering moisture in their bag and started to scare me that they would rot before I got to serve them. I really wanted my kids to eat these veggies but I wasn't sure how. So, I went to Allrecipes.com and typed in green beans, zucchini and squash in the advance recipe search and found Jamie's Minestrone. Aha!

And that is the path I took. If you don't call this Minestrone or Farmer's Market soup, you can also call it "Empty the produce bin of your refridgerator" soup. On Monday, I started chopping veggies during the baby's nap. By the time the kids were off the camp bus, I had started sauteing the garlic and onions in the pot. Bing, bang, boom and dinner on the table at 5:30. (I should really say Yadda, Yadda, Yadda and we were all scraping our bowls with pieces of French bread. Start to finish it was an hour and a half. However, my sitter was watching the kids, so I had a rare moment of quiet in the kitchen to cook. That alone time always seems to fly.) It was a delicious soup that was enough to feed my whole family and a neighbor's family of 5. I'm sure it would be even better on a cold winter night instead of a really hot summer day, but there is no Farmer's Market in December, so you have to do the best you can with what you've got!

Feel free to improvise like I did based on Jamie's Minestrone. I felt the key to the great taste is adding the pasta to the bowl first, ladle the soup on top and then grate fresh Parmesan cheese before serving. It was delicious!

Lorna's Minestrone

  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 onions, chopped
  • 1 cup chopped celery
  • 2 carrots, sliced
  • 4 cups chicken broth
  • 1 can of diced or crushed tomatoes
  • 3 cups tomato sauce
  • 1 cup canned white beans, drained
  • fresh green beans cut into 1 inch pieces
  • 2 cups baby spinach, rinsed
  • 1 zucchinis, quartered and sliced
  • 1 yellow squash, quartered and sliced
  • 1/2 tablespoon dried oregano
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil (thank you Julie for the basil plant!)
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 box of macaroni
  • 2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese for topping


  1. In a large stock pot, over medium-low heat, heat olive oil and saute garlic for 2 to 3 minutes. Add onion and saute for 4 to 5 minutes. Add celery and carrots, saute for 1 to 2 minutes.
  2. Add chicken broth, diced/crushed tomatoes and tomato sauce, bring to boil, stirring frequently. Reduce heat to low and add beans, green beans, spinach leaves, zucchini, squash, oregano, basil, salt and pepper. Simmer for 30 to 40 minutes, the longer the better.
  3. Fill a medium saucepan with water and bring to a boil. Add macaroni and cook until tender. Drain water and set aside.
  4. Once pasta is cooked and soup is heated through place 2 tablespoons cooked pasta into individual serving bowls. Ladle soup on top of pasta and sprinkle Parmesan cheese on top.