Peach Pie, Pie Crust & Preserving Pie Filling

This is the first year that our peach tree has really done much of anything.  It’s very exciting.   It’s strange to see peaches this late in the summer, right?
Even though August in the usual time for looking at pretty pictures of peach pie on the internet, there are actually a lot of late season peach varieties available in California.  I know they’re still around at the farmers markets in San Francisco and I believe that the Gowans have them at the Ukiah Farmers Market up here in Mendocino County.

Still, it is strange that it’s almost october and we’re just now harvesting the peaches.  I’ve already canned a few hundred pounds of pears, so I feel like I’m driving in reverse through the summer. Food magazines, websites and blogs will follow this theoretical cycle of produce coming into season (strawberries in the spring, peaches in the summer, then berries, then apples…) but something about living in Redwood Valley means that instead of one by one, we’ll get everything, all at once, right around the end of September (with a few exceptions, like cherries and apricots.) There are still strawberries and rhubarb at the Redwood Valley Farmers Market – at the exact same time as pears – which seems impossible somehow. The reality of the fruit harvest here actually kind of emphasizes the important of preserving if you care at all about eating these most of things during any month that’s not September.

Once my cat and I finished harvesting our peaches, I realized I had some preservers-block when it came to what I was going to do with all of them.  I usually make a ton of this peach-vanilla bean jam, but these peaches seemed so precious since they came from our own tree which we’ve been caring for for years now. It really just seemed like a travesty to do anything other than eating them fresh or putting them into pie.Which brings me to two major revelations that I’ve had.  They might not seem very exciting or important reading them here, but I had to share them because they’ve helped me out so much.

1. I’ve been using pre-made frozen pie crusts.  I know, I’m going to hell! The thing is, they sell two-packs for $3 and change, and they’re organic, and they come out great, flaky and tender.  I know how to make pie crust from scratch.  It’s easy. There’s no way I can do it as quickly as popping one out of the freezer, though, and it also means I don’t trash the whole kitchen with flour, which happens whenever I try to bake anything.  It seems ridiculous to grow the peaches myself and then use a pre-made crust, but the time saved literally makes the difference between pie or no pie.  When I’d seen these crusts in the freezer section in the past, I also never realized you could do double-crust pies with them.  I’ve gotten the best results when I follow this process:

  • Put bottom pie crust on a cookie sheet so if it overflows you won’t have to clean up burnt fruit and sugar off the bottom of the oven. Ladle pie filling into crust. Gently pop the top crust, still frozen, out of the metal pie tin and place it facing down, on top of the fruit filling. Don’t press down or worry about the seam.
  • Put the cookie sheet with the pie in the oven and bake it for 10 minutes at 350 degrees.  Remove the pie (still on the cookie sheet), and then cut a few slits in the top crust,  brush with beaten egg and sprinkle with about a tablespoon of sugar.  If there are any cracks in the top crust, I’ll work them together a little bit by brushing egg on them.  I also brush a little egg around the seam to try and seal it. Then pop it back in the oven and bake until the whole thing is golden brown.

2. I realized that the best way to preserve peach pie filling, or any precious fruit pie filling, is just to put it in the freezer.  I know, you just read that and thought “that’s not a revelation, that’s completely obvious.”  Maybe, though, you’re like me and need a reminder that you have a thing called a freezer…  I had all these peaches out in front of me, I knew I didn’t have any clear-jel on hand (the thickening product that you have to use when you’d canning pie filling), and when I looked in my Ball Book of Home Preserving, the peach pie filling recipe didn’t have clear-jel in it but did call for apples and golden raisins.  Golden raisins? …. Um, no, I don’t think so, not in this pie. I was also really worried about how fragile our peaches are and was pretty certain they’d turn to much if I tried to can halves or slices.

Right about then, I had a lightbulb moment and realized:  put it in the freezer.  Then you can use your favorite fresh pie recipe, flour and all, put whatever you want in it, and not worry about it being shelf stable.  Or, you can be like me and not use a recipe at all, just eyeball a bunch of peaches, sugar, flour, lemon juice and cinnamon.  Then dump it in a jar and call it good. Obviously, this method would be horrible if you were trying to preserve a large amount of peaches, but if it’s only a couple jars, I would challenge you to think of a single item more worthy of your freezer space than peach pie filling.

 

So, I hope these tips help you eat pie more often.  I hope you don’t judge me for the crust thing.  Or,  you know, judge me if you want but I’m just going to keep doing it because I like pie. I hope that you can find a few last, precious peaches before the growing season’s over.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fresh Blackberry Pie: The Best Pie, Ever, In the History Of Pie

I picked up some gorgeous triple crown blackberries in town the other day, and (after we ate a bunch of them fresh) I knew I had to make this pie.  First off:  Westside Renaissance Market, the little neighborhood grocery where I picked up these berries, is the best local store I’ve been to in ages.  It has the highest quality, freshest local products, sourced from small family farms that put so much care and love into their work. It’s absolutely on par with places like Bi-Rite Market in San Francisco, but un-like Bi-Rite Market, it’s quiet and has plenty of parking.  If you live in Mendocino county and haven’t been there, you should go.  They’ve got everything from cold-brew coffee to nectarine cream pies to fresh breads made with freshly milled local flours.   Plus they have these crazy good blackberries right now.  (They are literally the best blackberries I’ve ever tasted in my life.)

This pie is what I meant to talk about, though.
This isn’t your average pie.  Only some of the blackberries are cooked, and only with a little bit of sugar, and then you fold in a bunch of fresh blackberries, so you end up with this beautiful finished filling that tastes juicy and just sweet enough. Serve the pie chilled, and it’s the perfect dessert for a hot summer night.

Fresh Blackberry Pie, adapted from Vegetarian Pleasures, by Jeanne Lemlin.  My mom made this pie all the time when we were little.  I’ve added even more blackberries than the original recipe calls for, since there’s no such thing as too much of a good thing.

Cook Time: 25 minutes or so, plus time to cool

Ingredients:

  • 1 9″ pie crust
  • 5 c . blackberries
  • 1/2 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp. lemon zest
  • 2/3 c. water
  • 2 1/2 tbs. cornstarch
  • 3/4 c. sugar

To start, you’ll need to blind bake a 9″ pie crust until it’s golden brown and fully cooked.  (Using whatever recipe you like, or, if you’re like me, which is really busy, you can cave and use a store bought one from the freezer section.  The organic ones were only $2.50 each here, and somehow the pre-made crust made the difference between having pie and not having pie.  Summer is crazy busy, don’t judge me).

While the crust is in the oven, make the filling: Stir together the sugar and cornstarch in a small bowl.  In a medium-sized pot, combine 2 c. blackberries with the water, nutmeg, lemon zest and the sugar/cornstarch mixture.  Cook on high heat for about 5 minutes, or until the mixture has visibly thickened. Stir often to make sure the cornstarch and sugar dissolve and that the blackberries don’t stick.  Remove from the heat, and fold in the remaining three cups of raw blackberries.

Pour the blackberry filling into the cooked crust.  Chill before serving.  (I put it in the freezer for awhile to make sure it’s really cold – something about cold, sweet blackberries is wonderful for a hot weather.)

Optional: Serve topped with powdered sugar, whipped cream, ice cream, etc.

 

I Love Rhubarb

I’ve spent the last few weeks totally fixated on rhubarb.  Before I move on to something new (there were cherries at the market last Saturday), I thought I’d gather together all the different crap on my computer desktop into one convenient spot.  These are the highlights from the great rhubarb extravaganza of 2012.

Jam

I’ve made many, many jars of this basic rhubarb jam that I posted a few weeks ago.  It’s a simple recipe that uses rhubarb, sugar and lemon juice, and it’s the perfect blank canvas for experimenting with different add-ins like vanilla beans, lavender, rosemary, cardamom….   (As the rhubarb season has progressed, the jams have gone from bright red to pale pink to greenish-brown….. )

Know what makes me really happy?  Greek yogurt + rhubarb jam + a drizzle of honey + granola.  You gotta do it.  It’s like dessert, but healthier.

Syrup:

Rhubeena, from The Hungry Tigress, should be considered a pantry staple like tomato sauce.  It’s that good. Before the rhubarb season is over, I also need to make this Rhubarb-Lime syrup, from Hitchhiking to Heaven, because  citrus sounds like the perfect partner for rhubarb.

Cocktails:  

Rhubarb Mojitos: a classic mojito pumped up with rhubarb syrup

Rhubarb Granita Cocktails: ridiculously good frozen cocktails made with rhubarb granita, vodka and soda.  (The other night, while I was drinking one of these, I decided that they’re the best fruity cocktail that I’ve ever had in my life, ever. I love these. They’re dangerous.)(We’ve also made Local Kitchen’s Rhubarbitas, because apparently, you know, I drink a lot and really like rhubarb.   I love me a fruity pink cocktail, what can I say).

Rhubarb Fruit Leather:

Making rhubarb syrups means that you’ll end up with some leftover cooked rhubarb pulp.  It depends on how long you’ve cooked the pulp, but sometimes there’s still a lot of flavor left in there.   I was pleasantly surprised by the way the rhubarb leather turned out;  the flavor in the pulp that was definitely a bit on the bland side concentrated in the oven and came out perfectly sweet, tart and bright by the time it was finished dehydrating.   You don’t need to own a dehydrator to make leather — it comes out fine in the oven using a cookie sheet with raised sides.

Cook Time: 8 hrs. or so

Ingredients:

  • a couple cups of cooked rhubarb pulp leftover from other recipes
  • lemon juice to taste
  • sugar
  • cooking spray or neutral flavored oil

Heat the oven to 150 degrees or the lowest setting available.  Use a blender to puree the rhubarb pulp.  Taste it, and add a splash of lemon juice if it needs some brightness.  Add a bit of sugar to taste, but remember that the flavors will concentrate and sweeten in the oven, so be careful not to overdo it or it will come out really sweet.  Lightly grease a cookie sheet with neutral oil or cooking spray, and then pour the rhubarb puree onto it.  The puree layer should be about 1/4″ thick.  Put it in the oven until it’s dry and looks like fruit leather, somewhere from 6-8 hours.  (Check it more often when it’s almost done so it doesn’t get too dry).

When it’s done, peel it off the cookie sheet and cut it into convenient sized pieces.   Theoretically, it will keep for a long time at room temperature in a jar or a tupperware, but we ate ours in just a couple days.

Desserts:

Everyone knows about rhubarb pie, but there are so many other sweet treats that you can make with rhubarb.  Like this cake (or is a tart? or a pie?):I give you: strawberry rhubarb kuchen, which is what happens when you stumble onto this recipe for Rhubarb Krack from the Hungry Tigress (which is an adaptation of  Cakewalk’s Rhubarb Kuchen recipe) and realize that you don’t have enough rhubarb to make it but if you just substitute some strawberries for part of the rhubarb, things could still work out well….There’s not really much point in writing the recipe out again since two other talented ladies have already done it.  The only information that really matters is that you can substitute some strawberries for the Tigress’ recipe if you don’t have enough rhubarb, but that it’s probably wise to reduce the sugar since strawberries are pretty sweet on their own.  I used 1 c. of sugar for the filling instead of 2 c. and it was plenty sweet for my taste.  (I also used all-purpose flour, not the whole wheat pastry flour that the recipe calls for, but it was only because I didn’t have the whole wheat on hand.)

I’m pretty sure this recipe would be amazing with any ripe fruit.  I’d love to try it with peaches, or pears, or plums….  That custardy fruit layer is really just everything I could ever want out of a dessert.

I wish I could say that I’m done working on rhubarb recipes, but I’m totally not. (I definitely still want to make the rhubarb mostarda from What Julia Ate and this Rhubarb Custard Pie from Saveur.) and I really haven’t experimented enough with all of rhubarb’s savory applications….  It’s a vicious cycle of rhubarb, it’s true.

Okay, I gotta go get a slice of that pie….

Paula Deen Would Be Proud Of Us

The time sure flies when you’re having fun…

So far, Cook it! 2012 has brought us all shapes and sizes of handmade pastas, a beautiful assortment of breads, and the most recent undertaking, fresh sweet butter.

Truly, nothing really says luxury like warm bread slathered with butter made from the best grass-fed cream.   I still haven’t found a local source for dairy other than the natural food store, but hopefully something will appear soon.

Or…

Maybe I need to get a cow?

Or a goat?

As usual, I loved reading the collection of everyone’s projects.  It is a constant inspiration to see the great things that other people are cooking.

Belated Bread and Butter, from Snowflake Kitchen: a touching post about making bread and butter as kitchen therapy during sad times.

Butter, and Buttermilk Mashed Potatoes with Garlic Shrimp, from Homemade Trade:  Aimee, you had me at mashed yukon gold potatoes with fresh buttermilk.  That should be a food group all to itself.

Buttermaking, from Oh Briggsy: green garlic compound butter sounds like something I could eat on pretty much everything.  More importantly, this post managed to find the theme song for the March challenge: C.R.E.A.M., from the Wu Tang Clan.  (In case you don’t have it on your iPod already, it stands for “Cash Rules Everything Around Me,” which is perfect since making good butter requires the best quality cream, which really does involve shelling out the big money.  Nice song choice, Briggsy…)

Calendula Butter, from Bunchberry Farm and Dogwood Designs:  Lots of nice ideas for using calendula in this post, including a charming calendula butter.   (Scones + calendula butter + jam =  sure sounds good to me)

Homemade Butter and Buttermilk Rum Pound Cake, from Adventures of the Kitchen Ninja: that pound cake looks divine, and that stoneware bundt pan that you scored for free at the dump? I’m jealous.

(On How Not To) Make Butter, from Grow and Resist: My favorite part of this post is that me and Meg’s four year old had the exact same thought process.  Shaking the cream in a jar = boring.  KitchenAid mixer = powerful superior technology.  You could have had the exact same shot of me dumping the jar of cream into the mixer….
And with that, we move on to the April project: cheese!

Happy cooking, everyone…

Cook it! 2012 March Resolution: Make Butter – Part 2

The New Year’s Resolution that I’ve been working on this month is making butter.  It’s a pretty great theme and has inspired several epic cooking projects.  A few weeks ago we used the buttermilk that was leftover from the butter making process to make buttermilk-marinated-bacon-fat-deep-fried-chicken that was ….too good for words.  It was dreamy.   My arteries whispered things to me about how they wanted me to do it and they didn’t care what happened.  I wish I had more of that chicken on a plate next to me right now.  We have 100 baby chicks down in the coop, and now that they’re a couple months old I’ve spotted a few roosters.  Sorry guys.  A few of you are gonna be dinner.  The post that I meant to write, before I got distracted by that fried chicken, was….

(just as ridiculous)

Buttercream frosting.

Oh yeah.    It’s not so much that I want to make a bunch of really unhealthy food, I’m just really interested in learning new things in the kitchen (I swear).  Up until this month, I had never made frosting before in my life, ever.  I don’t even really care about eating it (I have a fried chicken tooth, not a sweet tooth), but I want to know how to make these things from scratch.  I’ve worked as a professional cook in the past, and the fact that I can make really, really fancy savory things but literally cannot bake a simple chocolate chip cookie without totally ruining it somehow seems really absurd to me. I turned to Martha for a starting point, since her recipe for Swiss Meringue Buttercream Frosting was something that I’d noticed in the past. (Before the days of pinterest, back when you just bookmarked stuff in your web browser.)

So.  What happened, even though these pictures make it look like a continuous sequence, I completely ruined the first batch of buttercream since I have zero experience doing this.  My first batch turned out like runny pudding, which made me cringe since I just used my precious homemade butter for it.  (It won’t go to waste, though, I think it will be great on something like cinnamon french toast).  That means that the finished frosting that you see in these pictures is made with store-bought butter since I was worried about wasting a bunch of expensive cream making messed up batches of frosting.  The moral of the story:  It is so super important to follow the recipe and not change anything.  If it says “stiff glossy peaks” it means “stiff glossy peaks,” not “until you get sick of listening to the stand mixer running on the highest setting,” (Yeah, I know).

The first step in this frosting is whisking together egg whites and sugar in the mixing bowl set over a pot of simmering water.  Easy enough.  (I’m assuming that most people don’t have the intermediate steps of going outside, turning on the generator for 15 minutes since power’s not set up to use a stand mixer right then, fending off the cat who is highly interested in frosting, and then bringing the whole deal back inside once it’s properly mixed.)Beat the egg whites and the sugar in a stand mixer set on high speed for 10 minutes, and it magically turns into beautiful, snow-white meringue. Once you see those stiff, glossy peaks, you can start adding in the butter, a little bit at a time.  The frosting will look like it’s broken, but if you have faith in the power of the stand mixer and just let it keep going, eventually the frosting smooths out and becomes this lovely meringue buttercream.  I was inspired by the orange tree blooming in the greenhouse and decided to scent this frosting with orange blossom water.  The scent is so bright and ethereal, somehow, and so intoxicating. and the second confession of this post:

This frosting is good and all, but it’s really not my thing.  I know, that’s weird.  These cupcakes, though-  even though I don’t have much of a sweet tooth, I’m crazy about them.  For one, I baked something, and it actually worked.  That in itself is a victory.  What’s even more exciting is the way they came out.  They’re not just good, they’re delicious, easy to make, and a great way to use up marmalade.  The texture of the rinds mixed into the cupcake batter reminded me of pannettone, an sweet Italian bread that my mom makes every Christmas.  I had debated puréeing the marmalade before I put it in the batter but I’m really happy I didn’t, because those toothsome slices of rind are what made these cupcakes so exciting. Oh, and I’m fairly certain you could call them muffins and serve them with breakfast if you want, and I can’t emphasize enough: the frosting is entirely optional.  I think they might even be better with a simple powdered sugar glaze brushed on while they’re still hot than with all the fancy looking stuff I did this time. All I did yesterday was do my taxes and pay bills, so it seemed logical that I should spend the afternoon making cupcakes today.  If you’re trying to waste time in the kitchen, it only makes sense that you should take this whole thing a step further and candy a bit of lemon rind to top off everything nicely. (Some people might do the dishes while the cupcakes are in the oven- I find a way to dirty even more of them). And there you have it! Make butter: check.  Make frosting: check.  Bake actual cupcakes that taste good and aren’t burned: check!

Orange Blossom Meringue Buttercream Frosting 

This is adapted from Martha Stewarts recipe.  The main reason I’m rewriting it here and not just linking to her recipe is that I shrank the size of the batch way down (since the last thing I need around is a giant bowl of frosting…. a small bowl is bad enough).   If you want a big batch, just use her recipe here and add orange blossom water.

Cook Time: 45 minutes

Makes: frosting for 7 or 8 cupcakes

Ingredients:

Heat a pot of water up to a simmer on the stove.  Combine the egg whites and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer.  Set the bowl over the pot of water and whisk together the sugar and egg whites until the sugar is completely dissolved and the mixture feels hot to the touch.  Put the mixing bowl back in the stand mixer.  Use the whisk attachment and beat the egg whites on high speed for about 10 minutes, or until you get stiff, glossy peaks.  Keep the mixer going and add the butter, one piece at a time.  The frosting will appear to have separated or broken, but just keep whisking on high for a couple more minutes until it smooths back out again.  Switch to the paddle attachment and mix at the lowest speed for five minutes to get rid of any air bubbles.

If you’re using the frosting within a few hours, leave it out, covered, at room temperature so that it stays soft and spreadable.  If you make it in advance, store it in the fridge and give it a few minutes in the mixer on low to soften it back up when you’re ready to use it.

*FYI: one stick of butter has 8 tablespoons or 1/2 cup.  The original recipe didn’t really divide into perfect even numbers here, unfortunately, hence the 1/3 stick of butter.
Marmalade Cupcakes

This recipe came out so well – I’ll definitely be making it again. I used another Martha recipe here as a framework since, well… I don’t have my own secret cupcake recipe perfected.  Soon.

Cook Time: 30 minutes

Makes: 7 cupcakes

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 c. sugar
  • 4 tbs. unsalted butter
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 c. meyer lemon marmalade (or really any marmalade….)
  • 1 c. flour
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/3 c. milk

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Place cupcake liners in a cupcake tin and set aside.

Cream together the sugar and butter until it’s light and fluffy.  Add in the egg and mix well.  Add the lemon marmalade and mix well.  In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, salt and baking powder. Combine the flour mixture into the marmalade mixture, alternating flour with milk and stirring after each addition.  Stir gently just to combine everything.  Spoon the cupcake batter into the muffin tin, filling each cupcake liner about 2/3 full of batter.

Candied Lemon Peel
Cook Time: 5 minutes
Makes: garnish for above cupcakes
Ingredients:
  • 1/4 c. water
  • 2/3 c. sugar + 1/4 c. sugar
  • peel from 1/4 of a lemon

In a small saucepan, combine the water and 2/3 c. sugar.  Cook on high heat, stirring occasionally, to dissolve the sugar.  Meanwhile, use a sharp knife to a cut a few strips of peel off a lemon, trying to get only the yellow zest and little of the white pith.  Lay the peel on a cutting board and slice it into very thin strips.  Once the sugar has dissolved and the syrup is boiling, add the strips.  Cook for a few minutes on medium-high heat, stirring occasionally. When the lemon strips turn translucent, turn off the heat and use a fork to remove them from the syrup. Toss the candied lemon strips in the remaining sugar and then lay them on a paper towel to dry.  The candied lemon is ready to use once it’s cooled down.

There’s Flour Everywhere

Check off another resolution: the February Cook it 2012 challenge is done! Bread has been baked and our kitchens have been redecorated with flour.

I’m pretty sure you folks are better bakers than I am.   I made a bunch of edible loaves, but nothing was really stellar.  I got pretty close with a loaf of whole wheat bread with flaxseeds and herbs de provence, but the recipe’s not quite there yet.   I think I need to stop baking bread on cold, rainy days  – it doesn’t rise – and I need to get an oven thermometer since all the numbers are all rubbed off my oven dial and estimating isn’t really the best plan for bread-baking.

Look at all this beautiful stuff:

and the links to everyone’s bread posts:

Brioche from Homemade Trade: Aimee, your brioche looks perfect and that cardamom-rose french toast looks divine!

Gluten-Free Bread from Vonnie The Happy Hippie : these loaves look great… can we get a recipe? I’d love to give them a try.

No-Knead Bread & Slow-Roasted Tomato Bruschetta from Adventures of the Kitchen Ninja: Instead of buying an oven thermometer and baking it myself, can you just send me a loaf? It looks so crusty and wonderful.

Rosemary Bread from The Wholesome Epicure: I bet the kitchen smelled pretty wonderful while this was baking…

Rye Bread from My Pantry Shelf:  Reubens on homemade rye bread sound like something we need to be eating, asap.  That watercress soup sounds pretty elegant, too.  Basically, I need to make rye bread.

Sourdough Bread from Grow and Resist: Those pancakes sound really good. I admire your tenacity and I will be coming to your house for bread during the apocalypse.

Sourdough Bread from Oh Briggsy: This post has great information about getting a sourdough starter going. Also this post is hysterical.  I tried making a starter and it very much did not work (though I do have a really wonderful sludgy mess of flour, that’s always charming) so I’m trying again with this method.

Thank you all for cooking along. As usual, it’s really inspiring to see what other people are making.  I can’t wait to see what you guys do with the butter challenge! 

(Stay tuned for Butter Part 2…. post coming soon… )

How To Use Up A Whole Bunch Of Jam At Once: Spiked Peach Bread Pudding

Every once in awhile, the kitchen kind of gets out of control with my projects: Eggs everywhere. A million jars of jam.  The counter cluttered with stale ends of experiments in bread-baking.It’s rainy and cold today, but I didn’t make this dessert because I wanted to have something sweet and warm;  I made it because I had to figure out something to do with all the crap lying around in the kitchen.The only sweetener in this bread pudding is jam, so you might need to adjust it for your taste a little bit.  I used a peach jam that was a standard high-sugar recipe for this, so if you want to use a low sugar or no sugar jam, you might want to add more (or add some honey).Spiked Peach Bread Pudding

Cook Time: 1 1/2 hrs.

Serves: a lot

Ingredients:

  • 8 c. bread, cubed, from assorted odds and ends of stale bread
  • 5 c. milk
  • 1 c. sour cream
  • 1/3 c. whiskey
  • 1 pint jar of peach jam plus more for serving
  • 2 tsp. lemon juice
  • 1/4 tsp. nutmeg
  • 1 tsp. amaretto liqueur
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 6 eggs, beaten
  • garnish: powdered sugar, jam and mint leaves

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 10″ cast iron skillet.  Spread cubed bread evenly in the skillet.  In a pot on medium heat, combine the milk, sour cream, whiskey, jam, lemon juice, nutmeg, amaretto, and vanilla.  Bring to a low simmer for a few minutes and whisk everything together.  Once the sour cream and the jam have melted into the milk, turn off the heat and let the milk mixture cool for a few minutes.  Put the beaten eggs in a large mixing bowl.  This part is important: you can’t just combine the beaten eggs and the hot milk mixture together or the eggs will cook wrong and ruin the consistency of the custard.  Make sure that you follow these instructions here: Slowly pour the milk mixture into the mixing bowl with the eggs in a thin stream and whisk everything constantly while you pour. This is the custard for the pudding.

Pour the custard over the cubed bread and let it sit for 20 minutes to soak, then bake the bread pudding at 350 degrees for about an hour, or until the custard is cooked through.

Serve topped with powdered sugar and a spoonful of jam.

Note: All the important numbers (350, 375, 400, 450) have rubbed off the dial on my oven, and it doesn’t cook evenly or at the correct temperature anyway, so my cooking time might be off.  When I smelled the faintest bit or burning only twenty minutes into cooking, I realized that I had the dial set on, oh, 460? No good.  I caught it in time, though. I majorly need to buy an oven thermometer.

Cook it! 2012: February Resolution

I think that I should get extra points for blogging at all with our pathetic internet connection.  The little switch on my phone that turns on a personal hotspot implies that I could then be able to use the internet on my computer.  It seems to be more complicated than that. Trying to understand why sometimes the hot spot works perfectly and other times completely doesn’t work at all is like trying to understand the meaning of life, or god, or any of the other great mysteries of the universe.  Strange theories have been circulating about the weather, the time of day, the position of the phone, and possible government conspiracies to keep my boundless widsom from reaching the masses.

I did a little internet dance and I’m wearing my lucky purple shirt, so cross your fingers and let’s see if this works.

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COOK IT 2012! FEBRUARY RESOLUTION: BAKE BREAD

Last month I spent my free time covered in semolina flour, making batch after batch of fresh pasta.  It was deliciously messy, every bite of it.  This month, I’m focusing on bread baking.  I think I’ve mentioned on here before that I’m a horrible baker  (I made chocolate chip cookies the other day, and on my first batch, the bottoms were completely black and the tops were still semi-raw.  Nice, right?)  I really want to improve these skills.  I can make an amazing seville orange marmalade. I know how to cure my own bacon and grind my own sausage.  I can do remarkable things with butternut squash and kale.  Yet somehow if you involve flour and the oven, I’m lost.

I’ve seen all these great things on the internet about making wild sourdough bread, beautiful whole grain sandwich breads, and all kinds of other special techniques.  I knew that before I could attempt anything like this, I had to be able to bake a plain loaf of boring sandwich bread with absolutely no fancy bells or whistles.  I don’t usually do this, but I ended up just googling “white bread recipe” and going with one of the first ones that came up.  It used white flour and what seemed like a lot of refined sugar, but I just went with it anyway.  (The nice thing about experimenting with bread is that it’s cheap.   A batch of failed jam can set you back, oh, $20, but a failed loaf of bread is just a couple bucks, and can easily be turned into breadcrumbs, bread pudding or croutons if it doesn’t come out quite right.)

I’m not necessarily all that enamored with the idea of breads.  I don’t eat very much of it and I don’t really crave it the way I think some people do.  A wonderful thing happened while I was working on this project, though.  Part of the reason I wanted to do these resolutions is that spending time in the kitchen working on a project is very relaxing for me.  I may not actually care about bread all that much, but forcing myself to stop running around like a crazy person and spent a morning at home in the kitchen was a huge victory.  It reminded me of yoga class, when the instructor tells you to relax and clear your mind, to let go of all the stressful things you’re thinking about.  I tried to quiet my thoughts and let my mind settle in to the motion of kneading, the smell of yeast.  I realized: It’s amazing how hard it is to stop thinking running errands, working, chores, bills…  It kind of worked though.  I spent the morning at home.  I baked bread.  Everything stopped for a few hours.  It was great.  Right now, even, sitting here writing.  I have work I should maybe be doing – my greenhouse got totally destroyed in a windstorm two nights ago, and I really need to go put it back up and work on starting tomato plants.  It’s nice to take some time and say:

……….yeah, i’m not doin that now.

maybe later.

Strange how deciding to learn something new turns into a meditation on laziness and procrastination, right?

Whole Grain White Bread, adapted from the Amish White Bread recipe here

Makes: 2 loaves

Cook Time: 2 Hours

Ingredients:

  • 2 c. warm water
  • 2/3 c. white sugar
  • 1 1/2 tbs. dry yeast
  • 1 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/4 c. canola oil
  • 4 c. bread flour
  • 2 c. whole wheat flour

In a medium bowl, combine the sugar and the water.  If your kitchen is cold, it may help to warm the bowl in the oven a bit.  (My kitchen is freezing).  Stir in the yeast and set aside to proof.  When the mixture is ready it will look slightly foamy.  Mix the salt and the oil into the yeast mixture.  Mix in the flour, one cup at a time.  Turn out the dough onto a floured surface and knead until it’s smooth and starting to feel springy.  Put the dough into an oiled bowl and cover with a wet cloth.  Set it somewhere warm to rise for an hour or so, or way longer if you’re in my freezing kitchen.  When the dough has doubled in size, take it out of the bowl.  Punch it down and knead it for a few minutes.  Divide the dough in half and form it into loaves.  Put them in oiled 9×5” loaf pans.  Let the dough rise again, until it’s 1” above the pans.  Bake for 30 minutes at 350 degrees.  The loaf will be nicely browned on top and have a pleasant hollow-sounding thump when you tap the bottom of the pan.

For the more visual people….

Yes, one of the reasons that my baking suffers might be that I’m using a liquid measuring cup for dry ingredients. The kitchen smelled incredible at this point.  I’m always struck by how aromatic yeast is. I panicked when I checked my dough after an hour and it hasn’t risen at all.  Not one bit.  In the end, I had to turn my oven on to 350 degrees for 10 minutes, then turn it off, and then put the covered dough in the oven with the door slightly cracked.  That’s how cold my kitchen is.

And at last…

I want to tell you that I eat lots of bread and jam . . . 

Warm bread and peach jam is certainly very luxurious…  but what I really eat is this:

Is a recipe really required?  Toad-in-a-hole, eggs-in-a-basket, whatever you want to call them, they’re my favorite breakfast.  My dad referred to them as “sewer-lids” all through my childhood, which is charming.  I still wonder if this is some kind of reference to his upbringing in New Jersey.  J. decided that eggs-in-a-basket should be named “pregnant toast,” which I think is pretty hysterical.

Oh, one thing- melt some shredded cheese on top to make them extra delicious.

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THE DETAILS:

If you want to be included in the great pasta-roundup, make sure to get your posts to me by February 15th.

The deadline for this month’s challenge is March 15, at 12:00 PM PST.

Happy Baking!

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Chocolate Jam Thumbprint Cookies

I made cookies!

I’m a horrible baker. I can’t follow a recipe for the life of me, and I don’t own a timer. Simple instructions like “bake for 7-9 minutes” are virtually impossible for me to complete.  I never preheat the oven long enough, and I always decide to change an ingredient part way through and end up ruining the recipe.  I don’t know why.  I like making soups, stews, roasts and braises where the instructions are more along the lines of “put in as many carrots as you want, and if there are other vegetables that make you have warm fuzzy feelings, put those in too.”

Shockingly enough, I figured it out this time.  This is an adaptation of one of my favorite cookies that my mom makes every year.  It’s the same chocolate butter cookie dough, but her version tops each cookie with a half of one of those bright red candied cherries.  They’re delicious, and I love those cherries, Red #5 be damned.  I have about four hundred half-used jars of jam in my fridge, though, so I thought it might be nice to turn them into jam thumbprint cookies.

I’m giving myself an extra pat on the back for making these even though my kitchen aid mixer is fried right now.  I felt like a pilgrim actually creaming together butter and sugar using good old-fashioned elbow grease.  It was horrible, and I hope I can fix the mixer soon and go back to flipping a switch. The chocolate butter dough is so rich and delicious, and far superior to all of the usual thumbprint cookies floating around out there, if I do say so myself.  When I decided to post this recipe, I called up my mom and asked her where she originally found it.  She dug out the original clipping from the closet, and I’m proud to say that it was from a Land O’Lakes ad in a Sunset Magazine.  This recipe here looks pretty much the same, but has slightly different measurements. Chocolate Jam Thumbprint Cookies

Makes: 20-36 1″ balls, depending how good you are at measuring

Cook Time: 25 min.

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 sticks of softened butter
  • 1/2 c. sugar
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1 1/2 c. all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 c. unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1/3 c. raspberry jam or orange marmalade (I wanted to use marmalade but I also wanted to use up the raspberry jam. I think that marmalade would be even better).

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.  Cream together butter and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer (doing it by hand blows, don’t do it unless you have to).  Add in the egg yolk and keep mixing on medium speed.  Slowly add in the flour and cocoa powder.  Mix until everything is combined and the dough comes together.  Form into one inch balls and arrange on a greased cookie sheet.  Use your thumb to make a small indentation on each of the cookies.  Bake for 4 minutes. Remove the  tray of cookies from the oven and put a small dollop of jam or marmalade in each of the indentations (not too much or it will melt all over the place and burn). Cook for about 4 more minutes.  Be careful not to overcook them; they should be slightly moist and fudgy in the middle, not crunchy and dry like some of mine.

My cookies also look like a kindergartener made them.  My mom’s always look all perfect and smooth, and mine are lopsided and cracked.  I’m confident that these flaws are because of my lack of skill at baking, and not because there’s any problems with the recipe.

Happy Holidays!

P.S. Making eggs for breakfast when there’s perfectly good cookies sitting right out on the counter would just be . . . wasteful.

Marlborough Pie

I’m still laid up with a busted ankle today.  Hopefully this is the last day of this, but I’m still going stir-crazy in a motel room in town.  I’m going to try heading back to the farm tomorrow, but I’m not totally sure how it’s going to work.  I grudgingly let a bunch of boys come and watch the 49ers game on the motel tv since the other option seemed like it wouldn’t go over very well (which was this: “… but how am I supposed to sit in bed and feel sorry for myself if I have a bunch of laughing, happy people around?”)

I finally unwrapped my foot this morning and poked it a little bit, which was exciting. It’s a nice blue-ish gray, a shade that might be called Weathered New England Beach House, and still pretty puffy . Other than poking at my foot, the only other productive activity I can think of is writing more blog posts.  I’ve already replied to e-mails and looked at new recipes and ordered some supplies for holiday craft projects…   I think writing about pie is a reasonable next step.
Anyway, this is such a delicious pie recipe that despite the fact that all of these pictures are old, from the Days Before The Blog, I’m going to share it.  I’m sure I’ll make it again this fall and update these pictures with something newer and fancier.

Marlborough Pie is a traditional recipe from New England. It may not look like much at all in the above picture, but it’s one of the best pies I’ve ever eaten. I heard a dude on NPR do a program about regional apple pies and  he said Marlborough Pie was his favorite.  The crust can be either a traditional pate brisee or puff pastry, and the filling is this wonderfully luscious and sophisticated, slightly lemony apple custard. It’s a perfect way to use home-canned apple sauce and fresh eggs to make a wonderful fall dessert.   It’s somehow rich and light tasting at the same time, and you could serve it after a big holiday meal without sending everyone spiraling into food comas.

My family has been eating this pie for as long as I can remember.  We used to go to Old Sturbridge Village in Massachusetts every Thanksgiving, a fantastically nerdy family vacation.  Looking back, it was actually pretty fun.  I remember the crisp November air while we walked to all these different houses and watched “costumed historians” do reenactments of Thanksgiving dinners from the 1800’s.  As an eight year old, I was always super annoyed that the actors were eating turkey and pie while I was walking around in the cold.

Eight Year Old Me: “Hey Lady, lemme have some of that pie.”

Grownup: “No.”

Later in the evening, though, we would go to the big restaurant in the village and have a wonderful dinner.  Another traditional New England dessert we’d have was Indian Pudding, which looks like a bowl of gross brown schlop, but is actually this steamy spiced molasses and cornmeal custard served with vanilla ice cream.  Everyone should also be eating this, it’s delicious.  As a child, I really thought our Sturbridge trips were so dorky and annoying, but as an adult, I think it’s pretty great that my parents took us there so many times.

Marlborough Pie

Sometimes I wonder if I shouldn’t call it Apple Custard Tart or something so it doesn’t remind me of cigarettes.

Serves: 8

Cook Time: around 2 hours, including baking time

Ingredients:

One single 9″ Pie Crust: Use whichever recipe is your favorite, or click here for instructions from Martha (please note that this recipe is for a double pie crust, not a single pie crust, so split it in half).

For the Custard Filling:

  • 3/4 c. unsweetened applesauce*
  • 1/4 c. heavy cream
  • juice and zest from 1 lemon
  • 1 c. sugar
  • 3 fresh eggs, beaten
  • 1/2 tsp. ground ginger
  • 1/2 c. butter
  • 1/4 c. sherry (optional)

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream together the butter, sugar, lemon zest. Gradually beat in the eggs, lemon juice, applesauce, sherry, and heavy cream and ginger.

Lay out the pie crust in a 9″ pie dish. Pour in the custard filling.  Put the pie in the oven for 15 minutes at 400 degrees.  Reduce heat to 350 and cook for 45 more minutes or until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean.

This pie will set much better if you let it cool  and don’t serve it piping hot out of the oven.

*I use a chunky gravenstein applesauce from our pantry for this, but if you want to have a perfectly smooth custard you can puree the applesauce first or even run it through a chinois to take out any clumps.  I like leaving it chunky and calling it rustic.