Teaching myself to cook, one recipe at a time.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Thanksgiving Post #2: Apple Crumb and Pecan Pies

I’m going a little out of order and skipping to the pies. It’s what you all wanted to read about next, anyway, right?

Pie #1: Apple Crumb Pie


I had an apple pie recipe that I’ve made before that I really wanted to do again. This year, though, I wanted to up the ante and make my own pie crust. I’ve always bought the pre-made crusts from the store and they’re always just okay. This year, I figured I’d finally buy a pie plate and suck it up. So I did. I underestimated the process, though.

Start off with a ton of flour, shortening, a touch of sugar, and a good amount of salt. I used butter instead of shortening. Blend it up with a pastry cutter until crumbly. In reading those directions, I decided to soften my butter first. I read later than you’re not supposed to do that. Oops.


In another little bowl, mix an egg with some water.


Blend it into the flour mixture. I really, really wished at this point that I was using my kitchenaid mixer. Gooey floury dough is such hard work to beat, but honestly I didn’t want to get more dishes dirty. I’d already made enough of a mess!

The recipe makes dough for 2 pies (though I had to find this out by scouring the reviews, because the recipe itself, very helpfully, says “32 servings”). I divided the dough into two balls and chilled them in the fridge.

I suppose that I envisioned just smooshing the dough into my pie plate. Luckily, I decided to do a google videos search and learned about proper pie crust making technique, so I didn’t completely screw this up.

I love this non-stick roller. I bought it when I lived in small-town Pennsylvania and had invited friends over to help me make Christmas cookies before realizing that I didn’t own a roller. I then scoured my town’s stores before finally finding this. I hadn’t intended to spend so much on such a simple tool, but I guess it’s been worth it. Anyway, as with anything else you’d roll, put flour everywhere.


The google videos I saw said to spread the dough out so that it went a good 2-3 inches beyond the plate. In retrospect, my plate has such a big lip that this wasn’t really necessary, but whatever. Apparently rolling dough in an even circle is much harder than it sounds.


Getting the dough into the plate was much harder than expected. It was heavy but delicate, so I used the roller to help me out. Not perfect, but not bad for my first time.


Trim the edges with some kitchen shears. For some reason, I thought that part was really fun!


I beefed up the edges by blending in some of the dough that I snipped off. I also ate some. I was shocked to realize that it was not sweet like cookie dough, which I apparently thought I was working with. Still yummy. I wrapped my pie shells in plastic and put them in the fridge until the next day, when it was time to make pies.

Now for the filling.

I sliced up 6 apples very thinly. Sprinkle on some lemon juice.


Make a mixture of white sugar, flour, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Forget to take a picture of it. Just go on and dump it in your apples, tossing it as if it’s salad. Make sure the camera is on the wrong setting so that it appears dark and weird.


Spoon the apple mixture into your pretty homemade crust. The first year I did this, there were far too many apples for the store-bought crust, and I sent hubby (boyfriend at the time) to the store for another one. He was very happy about this (not). That’s when I learned that the apples shrink in the oven so it’s okay to heap them in there. Less of an issue with my deep pie plate.


Next, mix up some flour and brown sugar. Cut in butter and blend with that wonderful pastry blender. I used a butter knife before I had this thing.


And just sprinkle it all on top of the apples.


Cover it with foil and bake for 25 minutes, then remove the foil and bake for another 25 minutes. Then remove the pie and stand over it, inhaling deeply and fighting the urge to update your facebook status to brag about how amazing this pie smells/ looks.



Pie #2: Pecan Pie

This one is hubby’s specialty. He did this one all on his own, as he always does. According to his mom’s recipe, cream butter and sugar together. Then add karo syrup.


Add eggs one at a time, beating after each addition.


Hubby used to do this by hand, but he’s discovered that doing it with the mixer makes for a fluffier filling. At this point, add salt and pecans.


Pour it in my pretty crust. Because this will be in the oven for an hour, uncovered the whole time, I fashioned a crust shield with some foil to keep the crusts from burning to a crisp.


It worked!


Honestly, my presentation of the pies on plates sucked that night. It was like scrambled pies, so I didn’t bother with pictures. The next day, I tried again, and I did much better.



Delicious. Here is the crust recipe, and this is the apple crumb pie recipe. Pecan pie recipe will be in my tastebook at some point.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Thanksgiving Post #1: Turkey

I’ve got to say that the recent spike in views on this blog between Thanksgiving and today make me really happy because it means that people actually check this silly thing. It also makes me aware that I’ve been slacking on posting. I’m going to blame it on tryptophan.

I did cook a lot of food, and I took a ridiculous number of pictures. I’ve decided to split up the meal into a couple different posts, but I’m going to start my Thanksgiving posts with the post important one: the turkey!


Last year was my first year roasting a turkey. Feeling intimidated, I pretty much did exactly what I had grown up watching my mom and her sister do in our kitchen every year, though I turned to a recipe to give me specific ingredient amounts and step by step instructions. In searching for that recipe, I found a lot of recipes for brine. It looked scary and intimidating, so I didn’t give much thought to it and I certainly didn’t attempt it.

This year, I gave it a second glance. More brine recipes kept popping up, and when I started reading reviews, it became clear that brining a turkey is something that people generally try out of curiosity and then repeat every year because it’s so delicious. I was curious about this secret cooking method that everyone seemed to swear by.

The brine I selected (because someone pointed to it and said “Do this one”) had some ingredients I wasn’t familiar with. Like chopped candied ginger. I read that crystallized ginger could also be used. Same thing? Probably. Not sure. I’m a wannabe foodie, so I don’t have to know these things.


I’d never seen it before and expected it to be rock hard, but it was soft and was easy to chop up. I also used black peppercorns and whole allspice (which I hope is the same thing as “allspice berries,” which is what the recipe said to use).


Dump them in a large pot with a gallon of vegetable broth.


Also add a cup of kosher salt (no idea if that’s different than regular salt, but I figured I might as well buy it since I was using so much) and a half cup of brown sugar. God, this recipe is weird. Okay, not really, if you consider what you’re making. The point of soaking the bird in such a salty, flavorful mixture is that the moisture and flavor is drawn into the bird, making for a juicy and delicious meal. Something about osmosis, I don’t know. If you care, ask my brother. He teaches this stuff to high school kids. Maybe I should go back for a refresher course.


Confession: sometimes while I’m cooking, I think about the episode of Magic Schoolbus where Miss Frizzle takes the kids on a field trip inside a bakery, where their school bus is shrunken to the size of a fly and the kids learn about the chemistry of baking a cake literally from the inside of the cake as it’s baking. Is my nerdiness showing?


Okay, brine. I brought it to a boil, and then just removed it from the stove top to cool. When it was room temperature, I put it in the fridge for about 24 hours.


The day before our feast, I unwrapped our thawed bird, removed the neck and liver, and washed the whole thing in cold water.


Mix the cold brine with a gallon of heavily iced cold water. I used a large bucket. Immerse the bird, breast down. Since you’re assuming the breast meat will naturally be the driest, you want it to be the most likely to soak up the brine.


I planned to put mine outside on the balcony, so I wrapped it up in plastic wrap to keep out bugs. And puppies.


And that’s it for the brine!

Now for the other huge thing that I did differently with my turkey. My family has always stuffed our bird. Always. But this year I read a lot of bad things about stuffing the bird, such as the fact that it provides a beautiful place to grow tons of bacteria, or that it messes up the cooking time.

Two other factors were at play, as well. First, my stuffing last year was just okay. I normally love it, so I’m not sure what I did wrong, though I suspect I just put too much inside the bird. But it just wasn’t that great. Second, this year, hubby wanted to make the version of cornbread dressing that he grew up on, a southern alternative to the stuffing of my childhood. The combination of these two things, plus all the bad stuff I’d read about stuffing the bird, led me to follow the experts’ advice and stuff the bird with “aromatics” instead of stuffing.

This involved some fresh sage and rosemary.


It also involved a sliced red apple and a half onion (also sliced).


I added a cup of water and microwaved it for about 5 minutes.


Then I realized I was supposed to have added a cinnamon stick, so I put it in after the water was hot and just let it sit there in the hot apple-onion juice for a while.

I put the sage and rosemary in the bird’s cavity first, followed by the soft apple-onion-cinnamon stick stuff, which I inserted with tongs.

Another new thing this year:

I’ve always thought that turkey took all day to cook. Then I read online that slow-and-low cooking could help the bird dry out, so rather than doing that, you should start off with very high heat and then back off for a quicker cooking period. Also, no basting, because that just keeps letting all the heat out of the oven, kind of how you’re not supposed to pick the lid off your rice while it’s steaming. I was intimidated by this change at first, but after watching videos online, I decided to try it.

What did people do without the internet?

Anyway, I coated the bird in oil and a touch of butter, then placed it uncovered in a 500 degree oven for a half hour.

For that half hour, it smelled like I was doing an oven self-clean. If my guests noticed the bad smell, they didn’t say anything, but it was embarrassing.

Then I covered the bird with a foil shield and reduced the heat to 350 degrees, cooking for another 2 1/2 hours or so. That’s when it started to smell amazing.

It turned out beautifully! Look at that turkey!


Here’s a tip: always let it sit for 20-30 minutes before you carve. I went ahead and put an uncooked casserole in the oven at this point, setting the time for a half hour. If you cut in too soon, you lose all the juices.


While I was waiting, I suctioned out the drippings and worked on my gravy. Here’s the gravy separator that I still don’t really understand.


I didn’t take pictures of the gravy-making process so I’m not going to dwell on it, but I will say this: I’m glad I read reviews about the brine before I cooked. Some people said that you couldn’t really use the drippings for gravy because it was too salty. They were right. I used the fat and a touch of that brown liquid underneath it, but it really was too salty to use very much of it.

As for the turkey, it was a hit. It was so juicy that I had a few moments of panic when I cut in and thought, “Holy crap, it’s undercooked,” before  realizing that it was just really, really juicy. Hubby announced with a mouthful of meat that he’d never had white meat that he’d enjoyed so much. I’m telling you, this was one juicy bird. And flavorful. It tasted a little different than what I was used to, but in a good way. Just yummy.

Like all the other reviewers, now that I’ve done it this way, I’m not going back.

If you want the recipe, google Alton Brown’s Good Eats Roast Turkey, or just wait for me to post it in my tastebook. He does some videos, too. One of the videos even explains the osmosis thing.

So, should my next post be about my sides or my pies? Comment and let me know what you think!

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Thoughts About Thanksgiving

My first year not going home to mom and dad’s was also the first year that I lived in Maryland. I had just moved in with my boyfriend, and he took me home to Louisiana to meet his family. Thanksgiving in Louisiana is a lot different than Thanksgiving in New York and it was a lot of fun for me to experience it. I’d never had smoked turkey or cornbread dressing or even a Thanksgiving with weather warm enough to go outside in short sleeves. I was a little homesick, but his family welcomed me and that made things easier.

Unfortunately, the airline industry is hemorrhaging money and likes to try to make up their losses during holiday weekends. After that first year together, we never went anywhere for Thanksgiving because it was simply too expensive.

I couldn’t go without Thanksgiving, though, so I decided to make my own dinner.

That first year, I cheated. I bought a tiny turkey breast to roast and bought gravy in jars. After all, it was just the two of us. But I did make pumpkin bread, mashed potatoes, and green bean casserole, and I think it turned out well.


The following year, I think I got a little more adventurous, but not a whole lot. I did stumble across an amazing recipe for apple crumb pie, but I apparently didn’t think it was picture-worthy, because this picture of my dog playing with his buddy is all I have from that year.


The year after that, I got serious. I had a friend who was experiencing her first American Thanksgiving, and I took it upon myself to have her over and feed her until she couldn’t eat anymore. So I roasted my first turkey, made gravy from scratch, added cranberry sauce to the menu, and baked my own pies.


I didn’t take too many pictures, though, because we’d just adopted this little furball and I was occupied with compulsively taking pictures of her.


Somewhere along the way, I was starting to feel a bit less homesick. I still miss being with my family on Thanksgiving, but honestly, I love doing this. I love planning out my dishes, spending all day in the kitchen, and making a giant mess.

This year, I’m changing up my turkey technique, adding a few recipes, and letting my husband do a few things in the kitchen, too. I’ll definitely be posting with some updates.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Oven-Roasted Asparagus

I’ve always really liked asparagus, even as a kid. My parents have a garden of asparagus in the backyard, and during those long summer days as a kid, mom used to send us outside with a paring knife to slice off a handful of asparagus stalks for dinner. I thought asparagus was so much better than all the other vegetables we grew. They weren’t gushy like tomatoes, or seedy like cucumbers, and they didn’t have a sharp flavor like peppers or a bizarre color like the eggplants. Somehow they weren’t as threatening to a kid who hated her vegetables, and I ate my fill.


As an adult who loves her vegetables, my love for asparagus has dwindled as I’ve realized that store-bought asparagus is not the same as cutting it out of the garden and eating it within 2 hours. I’ve experimented with a bunch of different ways to prepare it, but I’m never quite satisfied with whatever seasonings I’ve tried with it.

Until now.

I have found the perfect asparagus recipe and only regret the fact that it’s November and I have wasted a whole summer of opportunities to get asparagus from the farmer’s market. Seriously, that good. Also very simple. You can have it ready in 15 minutes.

First, wash and trim a bunch of thin asparagus. Plop them in a bowl.


Dribble on 3 tablespoons of olive oil, 1 1/2 tablespoons of parmesan cheese, and a clove of garlic. The recipe said to add a teaspoon of salt, but all the reviews said to cut it by half at least, so I did. Also, 1/2 teaspoon of ground black pepper. Shake it all up, stir it, do what you gotta do. I put my hands in the bowl and kneaded it all around, figuring that was a lot easier than trying to use a wooden spoon or something.

I put a sheet of tin foil on a cookie sheet and greased it, then spread out all the asparagus on it in a single layer.


Just for the hell of it, I sprinkled on some sliced almonds. Figured it’d be a nice touch.


And popped it in a 425 degree oven. I reduced the cooking time based on reviews, and took it out at 9 minutes. It was perfect, crisp and tender at the same time.


And for the finishing touch: sprinkle on a tablespoon of lemon juice and stir it up. I started snacking at this point and couldn’t stop.


I ate far too much of this on my own. Hubby had a normal amount. And then I had the rest for lunch. Seriously, so good.

Have I mentioned that this was fantastic yet?


This is the original recipe. As I’ve mentioned, my changes were just to halve the salt, reduce the cooking time, and add almonds. I still thought my version was extremely salty, so be careful. Also, the recipe says that the cheese, garlic, and lemon juice are all optional. It lies. Don’t leave them out.

Highly, highly recommend this.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Garlic Broccoli Salad

I’ve had this recipe for a long time. I first dug it up when I was looking for side dishes for my first dinner party back when I was living in my small town Pennsylvania apartment. It went over surprisingly well, and I was asked to make it several times more.


I’ve held on to the recipe since then, though I don’t make it that often. It’s simple to make, and it’s absolutely delicious. The problem is that it is so, so, so heavy on garlic. It’s also addicting as hell. If everyone in the house is eating it, that’s fine, but I don’t think I’ve ever managed to convince hubby to give it a shot, so I haven’t really bothered to make it for myself.

But I thought I would now, since we’re eating so many veggies.

First, start off with garlic. A LOT of garlic.


I normally start off with real cloves though. I’ve never actually made this recipe starting with the minced garlic in a jar, regardless of what my last post says. I wasn’t sure how this would work, because the recipe just tells you to sprinkle the cloves with salt and then crush with the flat side of a large knife to make a paste. Might as well try it, though I found myself wishing I had a mortar and pestle.



After it was as paste-like as I could get it, I scooped it up into a bowl.


Added some olive oil, red wine vinegar, and Dijon mustard.


Kind of brownish-yellow all mixed up.


Added a bunch of fresh broccoli, all cut up.


Tossed it as much as I could, then covered and put it in the fridge to marinate for a few hours. I left the wooden spoon in there so I could come in to stir it frequently.


And here it is.


The only broccoli recipe that I’ve ever snuck to the fridge to snack on. And the longer it sits, the better it gets.