experiments in cooking

Posts tagged ‘apples’

Pulled Pork Sandwiches, Slaw, and Chocolate Cake

Pulled pork sandwiches, slaw, and chocolate cake—sound good to you?

It ought to. But it’s not just good food—it’s visionary.

Don’t scoff. Every few months, I embark on a new project to improve my life, to move me toward the vision of the person I really want to be. And things like pulled pork sandwiches, slaw, and chocolate cake are part of that vision.

See, a lot of these projects have to do with my management of our home. Actively working to improve my cooking and baking skills is just the latest project. One year ago, I started making monthly menus, because I was tired of standing in my kitchen after work every night, staring blankly around a kitchen full of food and coming up with no ideas on what to make for supper. And two years ago, I started keeping a budget, tracking all my spending, paying down debt, and living more frugally.

Oh, and then there’s the hospitality project. I guess it’s not exactly a project, but “hospitality” is part of my vision. I want to be someone who entertains regularly. I want friends to come over looking forward to tasty, home-cooked meals. Which I will have made from good, affordable ingredients purchased within a budget, planned carefully as part of an organized menu that makes everyone happy and is easy to follow.

All these projects—these efforts to fulfill my vision—have become ongoing habits, and they naturally intersect. So when I read through the weekly grocery sale papers I get by email (frugality), I look for sale items I can build into my pre-planned menu (menu organization) that will challenge or strengthen my cooking skills (kitchen savvy) and enable me to entertain guests properly (hospitality).

Several weeks ago, I decided it was time to invite to dinner some friends we haven’t had over in more than a year. I contacted the wife and settled on a date. Then I started to plan a menu, even though the date was a few weeks ahead.

Here were some of my considerations:

  • Our friends have five people in their family. We have four. What could I make to serve nine people easily?
  • What was on sale that I could buy ahead in order to make an affordable meal?
  • What menu would both challenge and strengthen my cooking skills?

I made a list of a number of possible main dishes. Then I checked that week’s sale ad and found that SuperSaver had pork butt roasts on sale. I would have to buy two roasts to get the advertised special, but if it turned out to be too much food for our guests, cooked pork freezes and reheats easily. I settled on pulled pork sandwiches, and because I knew my friend makes most of her own bread, I asked if she could bring homemade sandwich rolls.

Next, flipping through my Joy of Cooking, I found a simple recipe for hot apple slaw. I had a surplus of apples in my basement, so I wouldn’t have to buy any apples—just cabbage, which is inexpensive. The recipe called for cider vinegar, and I had only rice vinegar on hand, but I did some research on substitutions for cider vinegar and decided I could use the rice vinegar and add a splash of apple juice.

Next, I made a short list of simple desserts for which I had ingredients on hand and asked Chris to pick from the list. He picked chocolate cake, so I planned to make a sour cream fudge cake with homemade chocolate icing.

Here was the final menu:

  • Pulled pork sandwiches served with BBQ sauce
  • Homemade sandwich rolls (brought by my friend)
  • Hot apple slaw
  • Scalloped potatoes (brought by my friend)
  • Sour cream fudge cake with chocolate icing (all made from scratch)

And here’s what I had to do for the meal:

Pulled Pork

I did not have experience slow cooking two large pork roasts, although I’ve done one before. I had to borrow my mother-in-law’s oblong roasting oven and stack the roasts side by side.

First, I had to finish defrosting the roasts and used my microwave’s Defrost setting to do so. Then I rubbed each roast with salt, pepper, and garlic powder and stood them in the roasting oven. I did not add any water. I cooked the roasts at 350 degrees for two hours, then turned the oven down to 250 and cooked them seven hours long. At 5:45 I moved the roast to a large serving bowl and shredded it with a fork. Dish done!

Hot Apple Slaw

This was a brand-new dish for me, and I have never cooked with cabbage—or used caraway seeds, which I had in my cabinet although I’d never used them. The recipe called for frying bacon in a skillet and then using the hot fat for the rest of the slaw. Instead, I melted bacon fat I keep on hand, but you could skip the bacon fat altogether and use oil. Anyway, I melted the bacon fat and then added three tablespoons of rice vinegar, a splash of apple juice, two tablespoons of water, one tablespoon of brown sugar, and one teaspoon of lightly crushed caraway seeds. (I put the seeds in a plastic bag and used a meat tenderizer mallet to beat them, a process that didn’t pulverize them but did release their aroma.)  When this mixture came to a boil, I added three cups of finely chopped red cabbage (turned out to be easy to chop) and one finely chopped peeled apple. I combined all ingredients and then cooked the mixture for two more minutes. Next I transferred the slaw to a serving dish and garnished it with real bacon pieces. Dish done!

Sour Cream Fudge Cake with Chocolate Icing (all made from scratch)

This cake was easy to make, but to make it really work I had to sift all the dry ingredients using the old sifter my mother-in-law gave me, and I had to save one fourth a cup of coffee from my breakfast that morning to add as a liquid ingredient. The cake took only 25 minutes to bake perfectly—good height, good texture, nice and moist. Dish done!

The biggest challenge I had with this cake was selecting an icing. I don’t much enjoy thick frostings. I wanted something chocolate. I didn’t want anything super sweet. I wanted something easy. I wanted an icing that would keep frozen so I could make a large batch and reuse it later for another dessert. And I wanted something that didn’t call for any ingredients or tools I didn’t have, which ruled out, among others, recipes requiring a double boiler or milk chocolate.

After evaluating all the frostings and icings in my Joy of Cooking, I selected a Chocolate Glaze that turned out to be a nice, dark chocolate icing: not too thick, not too thin, not too sweet, and easy to make. Plus, any unused glaze can be frozen for up to six months. I’m telling you, I am never going to buy store-bought frosting again.

So my family and our friends ate all this food, and we had multiple bags of pork left over.

But does it really matter? Am I crazy for putting so much thought into a single meal?

I used to think that spending a lot of time planning a meal was pointless. I mean, you eat it, and then it’s gone. And you still have the dirty dishes to do. But here’s the truth: I enjoyed every minute of the planning process, I enjoyed cooking, I enjoyed serving our friends, I enjoyed eating my own food, and right now I am enjoying thinking back on the whole thing.

I tested and improved my cooking and baking skills. I had food left over for later. I didn’t waste money on expensive convenience foods I could make myself. I served fresh food instead of processed junk. I gave people I love a good meal.

There was nothing pointless about it.

Pulled pork sandwiches, slaw and chocolate cake really are visionary. You think I’m crazy, you come over and we’ll talk about it over some cake.

Advertisements

Delicious Mashed Apples, aka Homemade Apple Sauce

I have no idea what motivated some cook years and years ago to take perfectly good stewed sliced apples and put extra time and effort into mashing them up and calling them applesauce. Really, homemade apple sauce is just stewed apples with another name. But someone somewhere decided that mashing those stewed apples was an excellent idea. And, over the years, I’ve discovered that a number of women I know have, unlike me, made homemade apple sauce at one time or another.

They obviously saw the attraction. I never did, until recently. The apple sauce at the store was good enough for me. But over recent weeks, I began to think I might try taking stewed apples to another level and make my very own apple sauce.

It sounds so rustic, so authentic. “Oh, my dear, you buy your apple sauce at the store? Not me, oh no. I make my own apple sauce—from real apples that I picked in an orchard. Yes, this apple sauce is the real thing.”

Of course, as anyone who has made homemade apple sauce should know, store-bought apple sauce and homemade apple sauce are two different foods, really. I imagine that you can get your homemade apple sauce to resemble store-bought apple sauce if you really, really spend time and effort on it. But really—admit it—your average homemade apple sauce is stewed apples that, for whatever reason, possibly boredom, a cook has decided to mash up.

I did it with a potato masher. But let me back up: First I cored and sliced six apples, a mix of Jonathan, Honeycrisp, and Empire. I dumped them in a large skillet and added a ½ cup of apple juice, some lemon juice, and cinnamon. Then I let them simmer over low heat (stirring often) for approximately 20 minutes, mixed in ½ cup Splenda and ½ tsp. nutmeg, and removed the apples from the heat. Then I mashed them up.

I don’t why I needed to mash them up. As I’ve said, I don’t know why anyone originally thought that mashing stewed apples would improve on the dish. Even if you were toothless, it wouldn’t be easier to eat mashed apples than regular stewed apples. But mash them I did, because I didn’t want to be left out of the Homemade Apple Sauce Club.

The resulting mashed apples—not apple sauce, that’s the stuff in the jar that I bought at Walmart—were delicious, I have to admit. Last night I served them warm, as a side dish to accompany French bread pizza. Tonight we are going to eat more of the mashed apples, chilled, with chicken fillet sandwiches.

Anyway, now I can say I’ve done it. I have made mashed apples—okay, apple sauce, to those of you who think it should be called that. And I am now rustic and authentic and all that enviable stuff.

Also, I am now going to find some poor person who has not made mashed-up homemade apple sauce before and make her feel that she is missing out. She really is, poor thing.

Apple Day: Honeycrisp Apples, My New Apple Peeler, and a Molasses Apple Pandowdy

The Orchard – Run on the Honeycrisps

Beautiful Melrose Apples at Martin's Hillside Orchard.

Last week I got an email update from Martin’s Hillside Orchard that several varieties of apples had ripened, including early-season Fujis, Empires, Jonathans, and Honeycrisps. So I immediately planned a Saturday-morning family trip to the orchard, with the intention of using the freshly picked apples and my new rotary apple peeler/slicer/corer to make an apple dessert Saturday afternoon—a new dessert, of course. The one I had in mind was an old-fashioned apple pandowdy described in The Joy of Cooking. Chris loves apples and apple desserts, so he didn’t require much persuasion for the trip, even though he hates getting up on Saturday mornings.

Around 10:30 Saturday morning, all four of us were finally in the car on the way to the orchard, located about 15 minutes north of Lincoln, Neb. As we neared the driveway to the orchard, it became clear that the two cars behind us were also going to the orchard.

Chris was a little worried. “They’re going to take all the apples!” he said. So we had to rush from the car to the orchard, knowing there was a chance Jonah and Neeley would slow us down. So I made Jonah run along beside me and Chris tried to carry Neeley as fast as he could.

I found Alex Martin, the orchard owner, in the Apple Barn. I saw, happily, that we had beat the other two carloads of people into the building. So I got the first chance to ask Alex where to find the apple varieties we were interested in picking. As we turned to walk down the hill to the trees, the people behind us said to Alex, excitedly, “We’re looking for the Honeycrisps.”

As Alex began to describe where to find them, Chris and I exchanged glances. These Honeycrisps must be something good.

We made our way to the Honeycrisps first ourselves, curious. I’d never had one, myself. They were pretty apples, that’s for sure. I think we must have picked a couple dozen of them, exclaiming every time we got a “good one.” It wasn’t long before other people came running along the row. I had to haul Neeley out of the way as they rushed past. Chris heard one young man shout, “He said there’s more of them further down!” And the crowd ran by.

“Forget the other apples,” said Chris. “They’re all about the Honeycrisps.”

Sure enough, as we moved through the orchard to pick a few early Fujis (there weren’t many), some Empires (a new variety to us), and a fair number of Jonathans, we never crossed paths with another human. They were all in the Honeycrisp row.

“Those things must be really good,” I said.

In the end, we purchased $22.50 worth of apples. Back at the car, I noticed one of the Honeycrisps had been slightly damaged in the picking process. It was a huge apple—must have been about 10 ounces. I offered it to Jonah. “Do you want an apple?” I said.

Jonah’s eyes grew huge as he gazed at the apple. “Uh—yeah!” he said.

“It’s a big apple,” I said. “You’ll have to share it with your brother.”

“Okay,” he said.

In the car, secure in his booster seat, Jonah took a bite. “Mmmm!” he said. He took several more bites.

“Want apple!” said Neeley.

So I handed the giant apple from Jonah to Neeley.

“Mmmm!” said Neeley.

All the way back to Lincoln, Jonah and Neeley passed the apple back and forth. Juice dripped down onto Neeley’s jacket until it was soaked. And Jonah kept giggling and saying things like “I like this apple!” and “I’m eating a BIG apple!” and “Neeley likes the apple too!”

Finally I turned around and Jonah handed me the core.

“You ate it all!” I said, wonderingly. “It must have been really good.”

“Yeah!” he said, and added, “Can I have an apple with lunch?”

So we all had apples with lunch.

The Apple Peeler

After lunch, I put Neeley in his bed for a nap and went to the kitchen to try out my new apple peeler. Since Joy of Cooking suggested Empire apples for the pandowdy, I fit an Empire onto the apparatus and turned the handle. In less than 10 seconds, the apple was completely peeled, cored, and sliced. And I was in love with my new gadget.

Because I was squealing and yelling “Come look at this!” Jonah came running into the kitchen to see. He begged to take a turn. It was so easy, he personally peeled the rest of the apples I needed for the pandowdy.

I have never seen such a cool kitchen tool in my life. Why had I never seen one used before? Oh, if only my mom could have had one when I was a child. She would have loved it.

The Apple Pandowdy

I’ve wanted to try an apple pandowdy for several weeks now. An apple pandowdy is like a deep-dish pie—just fruit filling in a dish and a top crust—no bottom crust. According to The Joy of Cooking, it’s traditionally sweetened with molasses. For the one I made on Saturday, I used half molasses and half brown sugar, apples, cinnamon, nutmeg, salt, allspice, and a pre-made Great Value pie crust.

I used a 10-inch decorative pie pan for the baking dish. Per the Joy of Cooking instructions, I baked the pandowdy for 30 minutes at 400 degrees, then took it out of the oven, turned the oven down to 350, and cut the crust into two inch sections (like you would a brownie). Then I pressed the edges of the crust pieces down into the apple filling to allow the juices to come through, and I also spooned some of the molasses/apple jelly that was already bubbling up over the top of the crust and spread it over the surface of the crust. Next I returned the dish to the oven and baked it about 30 minutes more.

Early in the assembly process, I did make a mistake; the recipe called for ¼ tsp of cinnamon and ¼ tsp of nutmeg, but I added ½ tsp of both because I picked up the wrong measuring spoon. Fortunately, some people really like cinnamon and fall spices, so the pandowdy was a success even with the extra cinnamon and nutmeg. A friend who tried it Sunday at lunch said something about the fragrant spices—she’s a cinnamon lover.

Now, since pre-made pie crusts come in sets of two, I’ve got one more Great Value pie crust left to use. I will probably try an Apple Galette this week—which is essentially a rustic pie or apple pizza. And I cannot wait to use my new apple peeler again. I thank God for gadgets like this one—I really do.

Tag Cloud