For the past few months Jeremy and I have gotten together with three other couples to have "wine dinners." Each couple brings a course (appetizer, first course, main course or dessert) and a bottle (or two, or three) of a wine they think pairs well with their dish. So far we have had three dinners with Italian, Spanish, and most recently "comfort food" themes. Jeremy and I were in charge of dessert this go-round and figured, what is a more classic comfort food dessert than apple pie? I began venturing into from-scratch pie making this holiday season, starting with an apple pie for Thanksgiving and followed by a strawberry-rhubarb pie for Christmas Day dinner, so this was my third pie-making attempt, second apple.
Jeremy and I both looked around online and through our library of cookbooks in search of the "best" apple pie recipe. In the end the Allrecipes.com iPad app provided the winning base recipe, Apple Pie by Grandma Ople. The recipe has over 4,400 reviews and had a five out of five star rating, so I figured with that kind of crowd-sourced recommendation, it was probably a good place to start. We knew we wanted to use spices in the pie filling (the original recipe does not call for spices oddly enough) so that was the first "tweak." We had some real cinnamon that we brought back from the Caribbean two years ago so that was the star spice in our blend, along with nutmeg and allspice. If you have never had "real" cinnamon, you are in for a treat. Most "cinnamon" you buy in the grocery store is actually from the cassia plant, and has a much sharper and spicier flavor whereas cinnamon is a much warmer, rounder and richer flavor. (To learn more about cinnamon and cassia, and to buy either one, Spice House is a great resource.)
Our second tweak stemmed from the step in Grandma Ople's recipe that called for creating a syrup out of water, butter and sugar to use to pour over the apples once you had mounded them into the pie. From our earlier recipe readings, and using a bit of science from Alton Brown's Super Apple Pie recipe, I decided to first put 2/3 of the sugar in with the apples and let them drain over a bowl for about an hour and a half, then used that juice in place of the water for the syrup, reducing it down to really intensify the apple flavor. This way there is not as much liquid in the pie to make the crust soggy and you capture and concentrate the apple flavor. We also opted to pour the syrup in with the sliced apples and mix it together rather than just pouring it over the apples once they were in the pie pan.
The third tweak was to use a trio of apples rather than just one variety. Jeremy found an article on Serious Eats testing the best apples for apple pie so using their recommendations for the two best "pie apples" (selected for their flavor) Braeburn and Golden Delicious, along with the "traditional" Granny Smith (for structure and acidity) we had our star ingredients selected.
I had very good luck with the pie crust I made for my Christmas strawberry-rhubarb pie so I reused that recipe, the combination of butter and shortening is the key, you get the flavor and flakiness from the butter plus a tender crust from the shortening.
So without further ado:
- 2 Braeburn apples, peeled, cored and sliced into ¼" slices
- 2 Golden Delicious apples, peeled, cored and sliced into ¼" slices
- 3 Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored and sliced into ¼" slices
- ½ cup unsalted butter
- 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- ½ cup white sugar
- ½ cup packed brown sugar
- 1 tablespoon cinnamon (fresh ground if possible)
- 1 teaspoon allspice (fresh ground if possible)
- 1 teaspoon nutmeg (fresh ground if possible)
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees F and place your oven rack in its lowest position.
- Combine the brown and white sugar, reserving ⅓ cup.
- Mix the sugars in with the apples, place in a colander over a large bowl to collect juices, let sit for at least 1 hour.
- Make the pie crust and refrigerate for 1 hour.
- Once apples and pie crust are ready, melt the butter in a saucepan. Stir in flour to form a paste. Add apple juices and remaining sugar mixture and bring to a boil. Reduce temperature and let simmer for a few minutes and then remove from heat.
- Roll out your bottom and top pie crusts.
- Place the bottom crust in your pan and brush with egg-whites.
- Add the spices into the melted sugar mixture and mix in with the apples.
- Layer the apples in the pie pan so there is little space between the slices, continue with as many apple slices as you can fit, mounding in the center.
- Cover with top crust, seal edges, cut slits to vent, brush with egg-whites and dust with sugar.
- Bake 15 minutes in the preheated oven on the lowest rack of the oven.
- Move pie up to the middle rack of the oven and continue cooking until the apples are softened, approximately 45 minutes.
So dinner is done and I have to say, it was quite tasty. I followed my plan mentioned in the prior post and chopped and sauteed the zucchini and squash in the same pan I browned and cooked the sausage in and I think that really added a lot of flavor to the dish. Served it with some (store bought) garlic bread and it made a very nice, filling, and moderately healthy meal. And I have enough leftovers for about 4 more meals even after sending 2 servings home with Jeremy.
I also ended up making the vegetable stock today as well as my started-off-as-minestrone-ended-up-more-a-vegetable soup. I didn't have enough onion based on various stock recipes I'd found so I walked over to Trader Joe's for a small bag of onions and quartered 3 of those, together with the half onion I had left over from the soup as the start of the stock.
|Veggies Before||Veggies After|
I then third-ed all of the remaining celery and carrots on the bias (to get more surface area exposed) and peeled and separated a half head of garlic and tossed it all together with a bit of olive oil, salt and pepper and stuck it in a 425 degree oven for about half an hour to get all kinds of good roasted flavors out of the veggies first.
Once they were ready I added just enough water to cover all of the vegetables to my big stock pot, added just about every dried herb I had in my pantry (rosemary, thyme, herbs de provance, bay leaves, random herb packet from Fresh Market, whole peppercorns and kosher salt) and got everything up to a simmer and let it go for an hour (more than that and, according to the internet, the vegetables get mushy and become bitter).
After the hour was up I made a quick ice bath in my kitchen sink (much to the chagrin of the cats, pouring ice into a stainless steel sink is very loud), strained the stock into a metal bowl and cooled things off as quickly as possible then divided the stock up into ice cube trays and a quart plastic container for later use (very tasty as base for rice or risotto), also added a bit of it to the minestrone as it was a bit low on broth after adding all of the vegetables and sausage. Overall, the cooking day was a success I think and all of the photos are posted on my Flickr page.
So I just came upon this New York Times article on the best (ie. most nutritional) ways to cook vegetables. It says
The amount and type of nutrients that eventually end up in the vegetables are affected by a number of factors before they reach the plate, including where and how they were grown, processed and stored before being bought. Then, it’s up to you. No single cooking or preparation method is best.
So first, that's real helpful right? an article that is titled "Finding the Best Way to Cook All Those Vegetables" that then concludes there's no "best" way. But in a way that's good, it avoids supporting the "everything must be steamed" craze we had a few years ago (not that I'm anti-steaming, just please put a little salt, pepper, herbs, butter...something on them when they're done, otherwise bo-ring). One of the things I found most interesting in this article was that eating raw vegetables is not always the best way to get the vitamins and nutrients and phytochemicals (yes, scientific word, Alton Brown would be proud) out of the food, which is great, since I'm not particularly a fan of raw vegetables (except carrots, celery and cucumber I'll take those with ranch dip or hummus anytime). The article concludes that any way we can get people to eat veggies is good, and having a little fat with the vegetable, butter with the broccoli, or mozzarella with your tomatoes, can actually help you absorb more nutrients. As long as people think something tastes good, they'll eat it, even when it's actually good for them. The study only looked at boiling, steaming, microwaving and pressure cooking...wonder how grilling affects the nutritional value (aside for the token bit of added carbon from the lovely grill marks) or sauteeing (in a wok perhaps ).