experiments in cooking

Posts tagged ‘foods’

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.

Two Types of People: Those Who Love Sour Cream, and Those Who Don’t

When I was in college, there was one meal the university cafeteria served that I absolutely loved: poppy seed chicken over rice. Even after I moved off campus in the middle of my junior year, I always ate at the cafeteria the nights they served poppy seed chicken.

A few years later, I was a newlywed compiling recipes for my favorite childhood meals into a personal cookbook, and I thought about that poppy seed chicken. In a fit of nostalgia for the good old college days, I researched poppy seed chicken recipes online and added one of them to my cookbook, along with recipes from Mom and Aunt Marilyn and Grandma Tena and Granny Baker and my best friend’s mom, Linda Hensley.

Last week, I got to thinking that I’d never made several of the recipes in my personal cookbook. I sat down to read through the chicken section, and came across the recipe for “Poppy Seed Poultry Casserole.” Why not? I thought. I do miss that poppy seed chicken.

“Did you like that poppy seed chicken they served in the cafeteria back in college?” I asked my husband.

“Not particularly,” said Chris.

I wasn’t letting anything curb my enthusiasm. So I said, “Mind if I make some poppy seed chicken next Monday?”

Chris shrugged, and I think maybe he rolled his eyes. This means, Whatever floats your boat, Sarah. I guess he didn’t want to argue about poppy seed chicken.

Over the week I purchased a couple of ingredients for the dish that I didn’t have on hand—poppy seeds, dill, and one that concerned me: sour cream. I don’t like sour cream much. I’m not sure why I originally selected a recipe that included eight ounces of sour cream, but maybe back in the early 2000s there weren’t as many recipes online from which to choose. And I don’t mind sour cream when baked in coffee cakes or cookies, even though can’t stand it in a burrito or on top of nachos … I don’t know why I have these feelings about sour cream.

Maybe I wouldn’t be able to taste it in the final dish.

At any rate, I decided to forge ahead with the poppy seed chicken, and when Monday afternoon rolled around, I rushed home from my job and got to work.

While sautéing two boneless chicken breasts (cut into bite-size pieces), I mixed together one can of cream of chicken soup, eight ounces of sour cream, one tablespoon of poppy seeds, one teaspoon of dill, and 3 cups of cooked rice. I added the sautéed chicken, then pressed the mixture into a 9×13 baking dish. Then I mixed some Ritz cracker crumbs with a little butter and sprinkled the cracker crumbs over the top of the dish. Next I placed the dish in the oven to bake for 30 minutes at 350 degrees.

At dinner, I took one bite and knew: I hated this dish. All I could taste was the sour cream, permeating everything. This was not the poppy seed chicken of my memories.

As I sat, trying to force down a few bites, trying to like it, Chris exclaimed, “Hey, I love this stuff!”

I looked up. I paused, then said, “I don’t think I like it.”

“What?” said Chris. “You better not be telling me I’m not going to get to have this again! Because that would be bad.”

“I don’t like the sour cream,” I said, mournfully. “I was afraid this would happen.”

“I can’t even taste the sour cream,” said Chris.

“Well, I don’t think I can finish this,” I said. “And I’m afraid there’s going to be a lot left over.”

“That’s okay,” said Chris. “I’m going to have seconds—and maybe thirds.”

I watched as Chris cleaned his plate, left the table, and then returned, the entire plate heaped with poppy seed poultry casserole (with sour cream). And told me several more times how delicious it was.

Well, I’m glad he liked it. Maybe a lot of people would like it. But now I have to find the dish I dreamed of—I have to find a poppy seed chicken dish that tastes like the one I had in the college cafeteria.

And when I do, will I love it and Chris hate it? No, I won’t believe that. Somewhere out there is a poppy seed chicken and rice dish that we both can love …

I am looking for you, chicken.

Grilled Barbecue Bison Burgers

On Tuesday nights, I have my in-laws and (if he’s not at work) my brother-in-law, Jeremiah, over for dinner. So every Tuesday I have to come up with a meal that will serve four to five adults and two picky children. Most other nights of the week I only have to fix enough food for two adults and the same picky children. These meals are good practice for when the boys grow up and begin to eat real food (they will some day, right?), at which point I’ll be cooking for at least four every night. I say at least four, because I understand that teenage boys can eat way more than enough for one person.

This Tuesday Chris grilled barbecue burgers for his family and ours. My main contribution was buying the meat and making the patties. I always hand-form my burger patties because we haven’t had great results with pre-made or frozen burger patties. Also, I prefer half-bison, half-beef burgers. So, I mixed together one pound of grass-fed ground beef from the Nebraska Food Coop and one pound of ground buffalo (I think I purchased it at Super Saver, from the “Local Foods” freezer). I made 8 full-size patties plus one small patty. That seems like a lot of patties for two pounds, but I think there was actually a little over a pound in each package.

While Chris grilled the burgers, liberally saucing them on the grill, I sliced a tomato that we picked up Saturday morning from the Lincoln Farmer’s Market and tore some red leaf lettuce for the burgers and for a lettuce salad. We also had pickles, dill as well as sweet gherkins, for those at the table who don’t eat salad–namely, Chris’s brother Jeremiah and our boys.

The burgers turned out great, thanks to Chris’s grilling skills. Also, I was happy that the Russ’s Market buns we ate them on cost only 79 cents. I really like to get the better-quality buns most of the time (like Sara Lee’s whole grain white buns), but sometimes I just can’t pass up a deal like 79 cents for a bag of burger buns.

At Long Last, Real Barbecue Ribs

For Labor Day, Chris and I decided to try barbecue spare ribs. We’ve tried to cook ribs before and never been quite successful. This time I’d done my research and was ready. Plus, we were working with locally grown spare ribs purchased through the Nebraska Food Cooperative, and you can pretty much count on Nebraska Food Coop meat being good.

First I sliced the spare ribs into two-rib sections. Then I placed them in a small stock pot and covered them with water. I brought the water to a boil, then turned it down to medium and simmered the ribs, covered, for 20 minutes. After 20 minutes, I drained the ribs and sent them outside with Chris, who grilled them over a medium-hot grill, adding sauce however he wished, for 15 minutes until they were browned and slightly crispy. The result was delicious! We have finally succeeded. The best part: Mr. Picky himself, four-year-old Jonah, liked the ribs too.

We kept supper simple and paired the ribs with a lettuce salad for us and fruit for the boys, then a raspberry crunch with light whipped cream for dessert.

My First Pie – Peach Raspberry Pie

This past Saturday, I made the first pie I’ve ever made on my own in my entire life–a peach-raspberry pie made with fresh fruit from Martin’s Hillside Orchard just north of Lincoln.

I have to confess right up front that I used a storebought pie crust. I’ve been a little dough-shy since my last run-in with making a shortbread crust. I do know the mistake I made with that crust–adding sugar to sweeten it, which resulted in making it sticky and unmanageable. But even knowing what went wrong, I’m not yet ready to try another crust, so storebought it is, until I work up a little pluck. I am determined to try a crust again this fall. Just not yet.

I used a Joy of Cooking recipe for the pie; I use Joy of Cooking  recipes when they aren’t too complicated, because they do offer a lot of details around the fundamentals of cooking that I don’t find in recipes elsewhere.

The best tip I got on preparing the topping was to drop the peaches in boiling water for approximately one minute so that the skin would peel off easily. It worked like a dream. For the rest of my life, I will never peel peaches without boiling them first.

Last week, with baking pies on my mind, I did a fair bit of research online about the best temperature at which to bake a pie. Most recipes seem to call for baking the pie at 350 or 375 for at least an hour. Some recipes call for baking the pie at a higher temperature for 20-30 minutes and then lowering it to 350. This recipe was one of the latter, directing me to bake the pie at 425 for 30 minutes and then at 350 for 25-35 minutes more. In this case, I found that after lowering the temperature to 350, the pie was done in just 15 additional minutes, for a total baking time of 45 minutes.

In the process of making the pie, I discovered that I don’t own a 9-inch glass pie pan. I had to settle for a 10-inch pan, which did, as I had worried it would, result in juice from the filling bubbling up and over the crust which just wasn’t quite big enough for the pan. Fortunately, I had placed the pie on a baking sheet for the last half of the baking, and the baking sheet caught all the overflow. I faced quite a bit of work afterward getting peach-raspberry jelly off the baking sheet and pie pan, but better baked-on pie filling on those dishes than on the bottom of my stove.

I did make one mistake that I will not make again: adding too much lemon as a result of misreading the recipe. In fact, I tripled the amount of lemon juice. Which is probably why the finished pie was a little on the tart side–very tasty, but tart.

My next pie to try: apple pie. But first I want a fancy rotary apple peeler to avoid the nightmare of peeling apples by hand, something that I don’t think I’ve ever done. Currently I am waiting on a gift card for Bed, Bath & Beyond to arrive so I can get one.

All Good but the Crispy Garlic

Last night I tried two new dishes: angel hair pasta with olive oil and garlic, and a raspberry crunch (adapted from a cranberry crunch recipe).

The angel hair pasta was a side dish for salmon baked in lemon sauce. My Joy of Cooking warned me not to add cheese to the pasta dish, and I’m glad I didn’t. The fish and pasta went together well. The only problem I had was that the recipe instructed me to saute the garlic for about two minutes, but within just one minute it was browned and crisp. So we had a bit of crispy garlic  texture in our pasta.

The raspberry crunch also was based on a Joy of Cooking recipe. It was extremely easy to put together, and featured my favorite new baking ingredient: oatmeal. The recipe was originally a “cranberry crunch,” but I substituted raspberries for cranberries and cut back on the amount of added sugar. I also had slightly less than the 1 cup of brown sugar called for–about 3/4 cup, so I scaled back the other dry ingredients slightly as well and had to settle for less topping on top of the raspberries. I made sure the bottom crust. Also, I fortunately have an 8×8 pan, which the recipe is written for.

After dinner, I threw out the leftover pasta. We convinced Jonah to suck up a noodle or two, but Neeley wouldn’t touch it, so there was a lot left, and I don’t much like reheated pasta. I hope to eat more of the raspberry crunch tonight, however–and perhaps it will be firm enough, now that it is cool, to cut into bars as the recipe suggests–but I have my doubts.

Joy of Cooking‘s Cranberry [or raspberry] Crunch

Butter an 8″x8″ baking dish.

Combine:
1 c old-fashioned or quick-cooking rolled oats
1 c packed dark brown sugar (I had only light brown sugar)
1/2 c all-purpose flour
1/2 t salt. (I used only 1/4 teaspoon, with the salty apple crisp I made recently so fresh in my mind)

Add:
8 T (1 stick) cold, unsalted butter, cut into small pieces.

Cut the butter into the dry mixture until it’s crumbly but holds together when pressed. Spread half the mixture over the bottom of the baking dish, and press very gently with your hand, packing it very slightly.

Cover with:
3 c fresh or frozen cranberries, picked over. (I used raspberries) 

Sprinkle with:
1/2 c sugar. (I used approximately 1/3 cup sugar) 

Top the sugar-sprinkled cranberries with the remaining crumb mixture. Bake until the fruit is tender and the crunch is firm and well-browned, about 50-60 minutes. Let cool for 20-30 minutes. Cut into squares and serve warm.

Ginger Pear Muffin Success!

I have had a box of ripe pears, given by a friend whose mother has two prolific pear trees, sitting in my basement for a while, and Saturday afternoon I decided it was time to make something with the pears or be forced to throw them out. I decided to try Ginger Pear Muffins, a recipe that came from the friend who gave me the pears. I had a little trouble here and there, but, to my delight, they turned out delicious.

The hardest part of the process was peeling and chopping the pears. They were so soft that it was difficult to grip them or core them, and juice was flying everywhere. But eventually I got the job done. I also had to create my own “buttermilk” by adding a tablespoon of vinegar to a cup of milk. Finally, with different amounts of brown sugar called for in the muffin mix and the topping, I wound up using the wrong amount for the muffin mix itself and then having to figure out how much more I needed to make the amount approximately correct.

I would have been entirely happy with this cooking episode except that my sons refused to eat the muffins. Neeley wouldn’t eat a bite even when Chris and I tried shoving one into his mouth. Jonah took one bite, then said, “These aren’t good muffins,” and when told to eat more, he managed to gag several times at the taste of a bit of pear and actually vomited the muffin onto the table. The incident soured my baking victory somewhat.

I probably could have gotten Jonah to eat the muffin if I had rewarded him with a candy bar. But it just doesn’t feel right to reward a child with one sweet for eating another sweet. Somehow, I am going to have to teach the boys to appreciate home-baked treats.

Below is the final recipe, including possible substitutes for buttermilk.

Ginger Pear Muffins

Ingredients
2 ½ cups cups(625 mL) all-purpose flour (625 mL)
1 tsp(5 mL) baking soda (5 m
1 tsp(5 mL) (5 mL) ground ginger
½ tsp(2 mL) salt(2 mL) sss
½ tsp (2 mL) cinnamon(2 mL)
¾ cup (175 mL) (175 mL) packed brown sugar
1/3 cup (75 mL) vegetable oil
1 egg 
1 cup (250 mL) buttermilk (or milk mixed with 1 T vinegar or lemon juice or ¾ tsp cream of tartar)
2cups (500 mL) chopped peeled pears 

Topping:
1/3 cup(75 mL) packed brown sugar
2 tsp(10 mL) butter, melted
1/4 tsp(1 mL) ground ginger

Preparation:
In bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, ginger, salt and cinnamon. In separate bowl, whisk brown sugar with oil; whisk in egg and buttermilk. Pour over dry ingredients; sprinkle with pears and stir just until dry ingredients are moistened. Spoon batter into greased or paper-lined muffin cups.

Topping: In bowl, combine brown sugar, butter and ginger; sprinkle over batter in muffin cups.

Bake in center of 350°F (180°C) oven until tops are firm to the touch, about 25 minutes.

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