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Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The First Apple Pie of the Season...

This blog was actually written in October, 2011. I just never posted it for some reason. But I have had a few people ask for my apple pie recipe (including the crust) so I'll post it now rather than wait for next year.

This past weekend, I was ill.  This happens, on average, about once a year for me.  I just don't have time to get sick!  So when I get sick, it's not an achy, annoying thing.  It's a knock me down, and drag me through the streets by my toes kind of yuck.  And I don't do well when I'm sick.  Basically, I'm a monster.  My darlin' husband has learned to take my crankiness in stride and let the storm pass... but even then I feel bad about it after I'm conscience enough to realize how poor my behavior has been.  So when I get better, I suck up.

I intend to make it up to him tonight by making that from-scratch apple pie I've been talking about for two weeks now.  Hopefully, by the time he gets home, it'll be bubbling hot and coming out of the oven.  I hope the smells of spicy cinnamon, sweet sugar, and tart apples knocks him over when he walks through the door.

Have I told you lately how much I love my kitchen?  I have enough space for my laptop and all of my cooking accessories!
Every great pie starts with a fantastic crust.  I've tried more than a dozen crusts over the last two years.  Why only two years?  Because until then, I had heard the horror stories of how difficult pie crusts are to make.  It scared me.  I relied on the prepared refrigerated crusts that Mr. Dough Boy was kind enough to have ready for me when I had the urge to fill them.

No mas!  This recipe is BY-FAR the easiest, tastiest, flakiest recipe I've come across!  I found it here.  Give credit where credit is due, right?  What I love most about this recipe is that you are almost guaranteed to always have the ingredients on hand: flour, salt, butter, water.  Oh, and I do so love the fact that the fat is from butter, not that store-bought lard or Crisco.  No bueno.  Now, don't go callin' me a hypocrite in the future when I post a blog about my first attempt at rendering pig fat to lard.  In that blog, I'll discuss why it's good for you.

Back to my pie crust.  I buy butter in bulk from Sam's Club.  Four butter sticks stay in the fridge at all times for immediate use, and the rest of the massive pack stay in the freezer.  This is important because when I make this pie crust, I don't use the butter from the fridge.  I grab a stick out of the freezer so I can have the coldest butter possible.

Also, I am blessed abundantly. My husband spoiled me one year and purchased a Vitamix for my culinary pleasures.  You can absolutely make this crust without the Vitamix, but it seriously cuts down the time with incorporating the butter with the flour if you have one.  I am sure a food processor will work just as well, but I can't testify to that since I don't have one.


1 1/4 Cups All Purpose Flour (I use unbleached)
1/4 tsp salt (I use the coarse sea salt)
1/2 Cup butter (frozen and diced)
1/4 Cup ice water

I toss my Vitamix in the freezer for about 20 minutes.  The blades on that bad boy spin so fast that they actually heat things up and will melt your butter.  If you start with cold blades, that'll slow down the heating up process.

Throw 1/4 cup of water into a measuring cup, and put that in the freezer as well.  You want it to get so cold that ice crystals are just forming on the top layer of the water.

When your 20 (or so) minutes are up, grab your Vitamix (or food processor) and dump your flour and salt into it.  I turn it on setting 3 (a low to medium speed) and let the flour and salt mix a bit.  While it's still mixing, I start dumping the butter in.  I have the butter cut up in pieces that are just slightly smaller than a TB in size.  No measuring is actually necessary for this, but I'm just letting you know.  I get about 9 or 10 pieces of butter to toss in.  Don't toss the butter in too slowly, the blades will warm up pretty quick and start to melt your butter.  But don't do it too quick either.  You want the blades to chop your butter up pretty well and mix it with your flour for you.

Roll out your pastry mat or large cutting board, or just clear a spot on your countertop.  I used to use a bowl for this next step, but figured out pretty quick that the bowl just added an extra dish for me to wash.  I dump out my flour/salt/butter mixture on my pastry mat.  Then, I make a little opening in the middle of my mixture, much like you do when you want to open a space in your mashed potatoes for the gravy.  I forgot to take a picture of that part, but it does help to keep things tidy.

You'll have chunks of butter, and parts of flour without chunks of butter in it.  That's good.  You don't want it to be completely incorporated.  Those chunks of butter help make the crust flaky and delish.  The water will bind the flour that isn't holding onto butter for dear life.
Before you start to mix the water in, run your hands under cold water.  It'll cool your hands off slightly, and give it just a smidge more moisture to start mixing your crust together.  Slowly pour your ice water into the pond-like opening in the middle, and dig your hands in it.  A little at a time will serve you well with the water, but I have yet to find that 1/4 cup is too much.  Actually, I tend to use a cat's whisper more than a 1/4 cup... so don't worry if you over-poured.  If you have ice crystals in your measuring cup, use them.  Your warm hands will melt them before they melt the butter.  That's good.

You can see some of the butter bits in my dough.  Don't go all OCD on me and decide that you want it all incorporated and perfect.  You'll see why in a bit.  Now, here's the tough part: wrap your crust ball in saran wrap and put in the fridge for at least 4 hours.  Why is that hard?  THAT'S 4 MORE HOURS THAT YOU HAVE TO WAIT!  I try to remember to make my crust the night before so I don't have to worry about that four hour wait.  Overnight is just fine as well.

While we waited for our crust to rest and chill, we decided to slice our apples and marinate them.  I tried this recipe for an apple pie last year, and was getting a request for an apple pie each week for two months.  Apparently, it is well liked.  The website actually gives you a pie crust recipe, but as you can see it has more than 4 ingredients and it has Crisco in the ingredients.  NO BUENO!  I do love the filling though, so we kept that.  I use Pampered Chef deep dish pie stoneware, so I took the recipe and added 50% more to it.  Here's what I came up with:

7 1/2 Tart Peeled Apples*
1 1/2 Cup Sugar
3 Tablespoons Flour
3/4 Teaspoon Cinnamon
1/4 + 1/8 Teaspoon Salt**
1 1/2 Tablespoon Cider Vinegar
1 Lemon, Juiced

*In this house, food rule #1 is "Eat before it gets eaten".  This apparently applies to apples on apple pie making day.  So before I could stop my 19 month old, she had 1/2 a green apple in her belly.  You could probably get away with 7 apples, but I planned for 8 so we got 8.  For my nurse mom: yes, I cut the gnawed on part off and used the "clean" side only for the baking.  No germs here!

**I have no idea which measuring spoon to use for the salt, so I just scooped 1/4 tsp and dumped it in... then scooped an 1/8 tsp in and added that as well.

First squeeze the juice of a lemon into a super large bowl of cold water.  I have heard that this will "water down" the flavor of your apples, but I haven't received a single complaint on that.  I think it keeps your apples crisp and very flavorful.  Plus, I kind of like the tang the lemon juice adds to the filling.  You won't use the lemon juice in the filling, but it kind of sticks to the apples a little when you strain them. (I have since started making this pie without soaking the apples. I prefer it without the lemon water bath because the pie doesn't come out as watery. See final pictures below).

Then we peeled, cored, and cut the apples.  This made for super-fun role play afterward with the long "Rapunzel hair", fu manchu mustaches, and tasty treats.  Enjoy our goofy moments:
After goofing off for a moment, we dumped all of the above mentioned ingredients in a bowl together.  No apples yet...
Now, mix...
Lovely crumbly texture... you likey?
Now you get to add the apples.  This will take you some patience and strength if you are like me and just dump 7 peeled apples into a bowl.  You could go slow and easy with it and do it a little at a time so you can make sure you coat it properly.  Eh... maybe next time?
You can't really see it, but those apples are covered!  They're happy apples now.
Put a top on that bowl, and marinate in the fridge until you're ready to dump it into a pie crust.  We like to clean up as we have down time. My youngest has quickly learned that if you stand on a step stool by the sink and "help" with the dishes you get to lick them clean before the washcloth gets to it.  She loved the whisk I used to mix together the apple pie filling before we added the apples.
She really liked them...
I had to save that for last and go ahead and clean everything else while she did a thorough job of pre-washing for me.
Four hours later...
Put your chilled dough on a floured surface. I have this handy pastry mat with pie crust measurements for visual aid. Nice, huh?
Roll the dough out. It will be tough at first because the dough is kind of hard. Work through it. It'll be worth it!
Have one year old help. This will instantly melt your heart.
This is important: put your dough in a ball again and re-roll. See how the picture above has broken edges? Notice how pretty this next roll-out will be!
Round with no tears! Pretty.
Put your dough in your pie pan and poke holes in it.
Fill the crust. These apples weren't cooked, just marinated. When the pie has finished cooking, the apples will still have a little crunch in them. You could cook them on the stove top before you fill the pie crust, but we like them slightly crunchy.
I over fill my pie pan. The apples won't "settle" because they weren't pre-cooked. This pie will come out this full when it's done.
Now, I add a "few" pats of butter before I put the lattice work (or top pie crust) for the finishing touch. Butter makes everything better!
Finished pie! It cooked in a 400 degree oven for an hour. You'll know when it's done because the juices will be bubbly and your husband will ask what he has to do to get a slice of apple pie in his house!
In this particular pie, I put the sliced apples in lemon water so they didn't turn brown. I didn't drain the water from the apples very well before I put them in the marinade and the result was a pretty juicy pie. I don't soak the apples any more. My corer/slicer/peeler gets the whole pie ready before any apples turn brown. But notice how the pie stays full and yummy?!
For our slice of pie, we brewed some decaf coffee. I dropped an apple and some of the juices in the coffee for flavor. It was extra tasty!
Don't wait until next fall to make an apple pie. Start practicing now so it's ready for when you need to kiss up to your husband because you were a monster when you were sick!

Monday, October 31, 2011

Trick AND Treat?

Oh, the fun of having a family!  Picture it: a five year old princess-to-be waiting for daddy to come home from work so we may conquer all that is Trick or Treating.  A one year old, not sure why she was so excited, but was excited nonetheless because her big sister was bouncing off the walls with excitement.  Two pups, chasing the girls around the house in an attempt to butter up their owners into letting them go on the outing that had the whole neighborhood buzzing with funny looking humans of all shapes and sizes.  A mommy watching the clock, hoping it doesn't take her husband too long before he gets off of work... worrying that if the children and dogs get any more riled up, they'll likely burst.

And then it happened.  I let the pups outside in the backyard to get some bladder relief (and, let's face it... a little bit of down time from all of the excitement) when I smelled it.  It was a smell like none other.  Then I heard it: gushing, gurgling, running water.  I stepped out onto my back porch and watched (in slow motion) as my chihuahua puppy ran right into a puddle.  There hasn't been rain for days here.  How did a puddle suddenly appear?  Then, pieces of a puzzle started to not only appear in my mind's eye... but connect.  

The spare bathroom in our house started to gurgle this afternoon.  Thinking one of the girls decided to flush way too much toilet paper down it again, I took a plunger to it.  The odd part to me was that there was fresh, sparkly water in the bowl.  More gurgling.  I plunged until my arms got sore.  No water moved.  I flushed.  Bad mistake.  The water moved, but not down.  I watched the water reach the very top of the bowl, and make that bubbled-over shape just before it starts pouring down the side.  God heard my prayers: no spillage!  Thinking nothing of it, I called the work order in and was told to close the bathroom off and not allow anybody to use it until they could come out to fix it.  They were short handed on maintenance people, so it may take a few days.  No worries.

Now, that very same gurgling sound was coming from my backyard.  Not only was it coming from my backyard, but it was ten feet from my back door.  The sound wasn't what did it.  It was the smell.  I could run a daycare, give half a pound of prunes to each child and their parents, wait thirty minutes, and hold them all hostage in the same bedroom and still not be able to come close to that smell in my backyard.  My stomach hadn't turned over completely until I saw my puppy do the Baywatch run toward the puddle and bathe herself in it.  
The gurgling...
I couldn't help but laugh.  I mean, really.  Who would have guessed?  Who could plan such an event?  Who would I have been justified to be mad at?  Nobody.  I called the housing office and got the very same employee who took my "non-emergent" work order for a backed up toilet.  Laughing, literally out loud, I asked her to move that work order up to "come over to my house in five minutes or less".  She asked why and I explained.  Literally five minutes later, my husband had come home to a bummed out five year old, a curious one year old, a poopy covered chihuahua, and a wife who was running around the house wondering how we'd be able to trick or treat and clean off the poop.  Oh, the fun of having a family!

Anyway.  Here are my precious angels just moments before we plundered the neighborhood for booty.  I thought about dressing up as a pirate, but was busy having poopy water spew all over my back yard.  Basically, I dressed the girls and we hit the road while Josh was stuck working with Roto Rooter.  What a wonderful husband I have!
The whitest Princess Tiana ever.  
The girl likes to strike a pose.
The love bug was not thrilled with photography today.
In an effort to hurry things up and get going, we tried our
best tantrum.  Didn't work.
I did get my smiles!
Happy Halloween everybody!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Early Halloween

Since the local Botanical Gardens had their annual Bootanica celebration last Saturday, we decided to get dressed up and celebrate the festivities.  I love a good, wholesome event where the scare is fun, not gory.  The atmosphere is open and spacious, and the DJ isn't afraid to call the holiday by it's name: Halloween.  It's not a fall festival if you have people dressing up in costumes.

Every year, SJ gets the choice of what she wants to dress up as for Halloween.  Every year, she runs to her dress up closet and picks one of the dresses we already have on hand.  Super convenient for me, and cheap since I don't have to fight the crowds during the dress-up season for cheap costumes.  When we get a dress up costume, we go for gold.  Only the best (because it's the sturdiest) will do here.  It has to... we wear costumes for school work sometimes.

It's a good thing Josh and I have been super studious on unpacking the stuff that sat in Colorado for three years while we "vacationed" in Guam.  I found the box of SJ's baby costumes, which means I have several to choose from for Christina this year.  They range from an adorable pink bear (my personal favorite... it was SJ's first Halloween costume which means it will only last for this year), to an almost just as adorable monkey (with tail attached), to a ridiculously LOUD (as in color) yellow duck, and finally and beautiful green alligator.  These are each very responsible costume choices for the lil one as it apparently gets cold enough to make an eskimo shiver around here and they are each made of six inch thick snuggly fleece and wool.

After Bootanica, we came home to decorate our pumpkins.  This was huge for our family, since it's the first year that I've actually purchased pumpkins.  I know, I know... mom of the year here.  Enjoy the pictures of our day!

Not posing for the camera.  Just taking it all in as we enter.
This monkey doesn't throw poop.  Go ahead and
hug to your heart's content!
At a craft table, coloring a book mark.  We were debating
the true color of ghosts.
She moved on to the pumpkin because I couldn't produce
a white marker for her to color on the white paper.
We ride in style.  Massive bike strollers are super
convenient at events such as this for the massive
costumes to fit.  Both girls enjoyed the use of this.
Story time with "Grandma Witch".  She was wonderful.
Both of the girls loved the story time.  I love Christina's
tail on this costume!
Vampire teeth.  Grandma Witch didn't like them.  SJ
loved the reaction she got when wearing them.
Christina chows down when food is around.
The squeezable Grandma Witch.  We loved her.
Exploring some of the kid's area at the Gardens.
What else is there around here?  We still haven't been
able to explore the whole place!
1 Princess + 1 Bouncy Ball = Awesome
1 Daddy + 1 Bouncy Ball = Visual of how old you're getting
Taking it all in...
Washing pumpkins before we decorate...
Gotta get them all clean!
My mommy is brave to give me paint on a glass plate
and free reign!
Painting is a serious matter...
My pumpkin.  I wanted a bold blue.  I guess I shouldn't have picked a
watercolor paint.  More on my pumpkin later...
Helping Daddy carve his pumpkin.
Daddy said, "Shh. Don't tell mommy that I've never done
this by myself before..."
SJ's pumpkin...
Fun with the "leftover" paint on the plates after.
We're not done with our pumpkins.  We just had to "table" them because the pups decided to take an unauthorized tour of the neighborhood.  Good times.