Thursday, December 19, 2013

Apple moon pie al a mode

           Two things I never mastered, knitting and rolling out the perfect piecrust, or even a barely redeemable piecrust.  My motto has always been, “don’t learn to do anything that frustrates you or that you do not want to get stuck doing from that moment on.”  For that reason, I also never learned to scale a fish or dress wild game.  If you were ever married to a hunter/fisher male you understand.
            My friend Ada tried with all of her patience to teach me to knit, but I could never get my brain to coordinate with the needles between my fingers.  Ada finally gave up trying to teach me and instead knitted me three Afghans over the years.  The first, crafted of orange and olive green yarns (a hint to its age), continues to be my favorite.  I have tossed this thing over my legs on many a cold, winter night and thrown it in the washing machine more times than I can count.  Still, it holds its shape and barely looks used.  The other two, one a soft blue and the other a creamy pink, though more subdued in color are just as substantial and durable after much use.
            When Ada passed away this past October 25, my Afghans became irreplaceable.  Now when I wrap up in one, it is like snuggling in the warmth of her friendship.
            Mom Loretta, Grandmother Grace and Aunt Roberta, all gone now except in my memories, tried to teach me the fine art of rolling out a piecrust.  But try as I might, I could never get one to roll out without cracking open around the edges, sticking to the rolling pin or clinging to the counter no matter how much flour I threw about.  I tried all of the tricks, vinegar, refrigerating the dough for given amounts of time and turning the dough ball at intervals as I rolled.  Loretta, Grace and Roberta made the task look easy, but no mater how often I watched, listened and tried to mimic the process, nothing worked.  The result, after making many attempts at rolling out and putting the dough back into a ball, was a piecrust so tough it came out more resin than flaky.
            The day following the first Halloween after I married, my late husband, Lonnie Gray, requested that I make a pumpkin pie from the kid’s jack-o-lantern.  In response, I informed him that if he really craved pie, he should learn to bake one since I refused to endure that kind of anguish.  I then took myself off to work and put all thoughts of pie out of my mind.
            That evening when I came home two of the most beautiful pumpkin pies I ever saw sat on the kitchen table.  “You baked these?”  I asked.  He simply smiled and let the question hang.  I strongly suspected that he bribed his mother, my dear mother-in-law Bonnie Gray, into baking the pies, but I just acted impressed and said:  “Wow, your job from now on.”
            Those were the last pies made in our house until I discovered already rolled out piecrusts in the freezer and refrigerator departments at my local grocery store.  When I had family or company to feed, the frozen piecrusts worked well for making whole pies.  As a single person, however, having entire pies at one’s disposal is not a good idea unless you want to balloon to an outrageous weight.
            Still, one of my favorite desserts is a piece of warm apple pie with a scoop of ice cream on the side.  The answer to having your pie without needing to eat the whole thing comes in the form of what I call mini-moon pies that I make by cutting circles from already rolled out refrigerated piecrust dough.  There are several brands on the market and you can easily get sixteen mini moon pies from four nine-inch refrigerated piecrusts.  Of course, you can also make and roll your own piecrust if you feel compelled to suffer.  I never do.


Mini-moon apple pies
Ingredients for filling:
2 ½ pounds Granny Smith apples
Juice and zest of one lemon
¾ Cup light brown sugar
3 Tablespoons all-purpose flour
½ Teaspoon Apple Pie spice (available from Penzey’s Spice) Note: the original recipe called for cinnamon
3 Tablespoons Dr. McGillicuddy’s Intense Apple Pie Liqueur Note: the original recipe called for Calvados (apple brandy)

Directions:
1.     Peel, core and chop apples.  Toss with lemon juice.
2.     Combine brown sugar, spice, flour and spice and add to apples.
3.     Cook over medium heat until apples begin to soften and sauce thickens, 25-30 minutes.
4.     Add zest and liqueur and cook 1-2 minutes longer.  Cool filling before making dumplings.

Note:  Recipe loosely based on “My Mom’s Pie” found in Great Good Food by Julee Rosso.

To make the mini-moon pies:
            Bring two boxes (four 9-inch refrigerated piecrusts to room temperature but leave wrapped until ready to cut.  Using a 5-inch circle (I use a plastic lid), cut the rolled piecrust into 16 circles.  Wrap these to prevent them from drying out.
            Whisk together one egg and ¼ cup of water to make a wash to use as a sealant.
            Place 2 -3 Tablespoons of the filling in the center of the circle then fold over, coat the edge with the egg wash and, using a fork, seal the entire edge.  Cut three slots in the top of each to release steam while baking.
            Place pies on cookie sheet covered with parchment paper and bake in a 400°F oven until crust is golden and filling is bubbly, 15-20 minutes.
            Remove pies to a wire rack and cool.  Place rack on a cookie sheet and place in the freezer for 2 hours.  Remove frozen pies from the freezer and place in labeled and dated freezer bag before returning to freezer.  Allow individual pies to thaw in the refrigerator.  To warm, place thawed pie in the microwave for 30-40 seconds.  Serve with your favorite vanilla ice cream and enjoy.


Thursday, October 31, 2013

Disappearing Socks and Mushroom Brushes


           Most people agree there is a separate, secret dimension for lost socks.  Those of us who perform the task of washing dirty laundry frequently experience the phenomena of pulling only one-half of a pair of socks from the washing machine while feeling sure we placed the entire pair inside prior to turning on the wash cycle.  I save those single socks hoping for the mysterious return of their mates, which rarely happens.  Instead, the survivors of the pairs end up in the ragbag while I ponder a galaxy filled with floating lost socks.
            Something similar happens with me when it comes to mushroom brushes.
            While not a “shopper” per se, there are two types of stores I gravitate to when forced to stroll through a mall, those with books and those with kitchen gadgets.  Rarely do I leave either without a purchase.  Since my small kitchen allows minimal space for storing gadgets, I generally seek out small items such as basting brushes, tiny whisks, grapefruit spoons and mushroom brushes, which I know I purchased on at least three occasions.  Then comes the puzzle.

           Each of the three mushroom brushes disappeared somewhere between the shop and home.  I swear it.  Each time I would arrive at home, unload my bags from shopping and find the mushroom brush missing.  After the third mushroom brush disappeared, I regrettably gave up the idea of owning one and now resort to using a damp paper towel, which is the method of choice per most Internet instruction sites.  I could not tell you if a cleaning brush works better since I have yet to carry one to the dimension that houses my kitchen.
            However you clean one, the mushroom offers a wealth of health benefits along with being extremely low in calories, with only 15 in a one-cup serving.  In addition, mushrooms are low in Saturated Fat and Sodium, contain minimal Cholesterol and are a good source of Dietary Fiber, Protein, Vitamin C, Folate, Iron, Zinc and Manganese.  They are also a great source of Vitamin D, Thiamin, Riboflavin, Niacin, Vitamin B6, Pantothenic Acid, Phosphorus, Potassium, Copper and Selenium.  You can read more about mushrooms and other vegetables at nutritiondata.self.com.
            There are many ways to eat mushrooms either raw or cooked.  I love adding them them to salads and soups or finding ways to create sauces for serving over noodles or rice.  Below is my singles’ version of a sauce based on one found in the “Harvest 2013” issue of the Penzeys Spices catalogue.  Sabrina Powers of New Hampshire submitted the original recipe along with her story about a headless chicken.  In addition to being a great place to shop for spices, the Penzeys Spices catalogue now features great stories and recipes.  Go to www.penzeys.com for more information.


Chicken in Mushroom Sauce
Ingredients:
½ skinless, boneless chicken breast cut into 1-inch strips
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
½ Tablespoon unsalted butter
½ Tablespoon Canola oil
4 Ounces Button Mushrooms, cleaned and sliced (5-6 medium mushrooms)
2 Scallions, thinly sliced
1 Ounce Neufchatel (low-fat) cream cheese
¼ Cup skimmed or 2% milk
Salt and Freshly ground pepper to adjust seasoning
1 Serving egg noodles, cooked according to package directions

Directions:
1.     Season chicken strips with salt and freshly ground pepper
2.     Heat butter and oil in small skillet over medium-high heat.
3.     Add chicken strips to skillet and cook until juices run clear, turning once to brown both sides (5-6 minutes per side).  Internal temperature should reach 160°F
4.     Remove chicken strips from skillet and tent with foil to keep warm.  Add mushrooms and scallions to skillet.  Cook until tender and all moisture has evaporated, about 10 minutes.
5.     Whisk cheese and milk together before adding to the mushrooms and scallions in the skillet.  Bring to a boil, stirring often until the sauce becomes bubbly and thick.
6.     Add the chicken strips to the sauce and heat through.  Serve over the noodles along side a green vegetable such as broccoli or green beans.



Monday, September 30, 2013

Asparagus ditches and corn with tomatoes



         I just spent two days digging ten asparagus ditches.  This entails creating ten holes that measure one foot in circumference by one foot deep (Some suggest digging a trench, but the holes I dug last time worked well with my partially sandy soil.).  I did this same thing about 25 years ago, when I was much younger, and enjoyed freshly cut asparagus each spring until this past year when the bed suddenly gave out except for a few struggling sprouts.
            Once I decided to replenish the bed, I went to Gurney’s Seed & Nursery Store on-line in search of replacement plants.  Finding what I felt would be the best specimen for my part of the world in the sunny/shady spot I use for my asparagus bed, I placed my order.  Being a person who regularly proceeds backwards, I then went on-line to research the asparagus planting process.  Hey, it has been 25 years and I am a senior citizen.
            Imagine my panic when every site I found reported that spring is the best time to plant asparagus crowns.  I immediately e-mailed Gurney’s customer service asking if they thought I should cancel my order and reorder next spring or at least have them wait until spring to ship.  A quick replay from customer service noted that I need not worry.  The crowns I ordered are specifically meant for fall planting.  Sigh of relief.
            Then, a few days later I received an order confirmation notifying me to expect shipment between November 28 and December 12.  “Are you crazy?”  I fired back.  Well, actually I wrote: “I am concerned about this delivery date.  We are usually freezing by the end of October.  How am I supposed to plant these in the middle of a blizzard?  Do you know where northeast Colorado is?”
            Gurney’s customer service representative wrote back apologizing for my inconvenience, but assured me that they know where I live and that they ship according to grow zone, which in my part of the country would be mid-November.  She went on to inform me that the particular plants I ordered are out of stock and on back order until November 14.  She did agree to put a rush on the order and send it as soon as possible once the new stock arrives.  I now see myself dressed in coveralls and snow boots planting asparagus sometime between Thanksgiving and Christmas, possibly in a blizzard.  I do love my asparagus.  To bad I must wait until spring to enjoy the fruit of my labor.
            In the meantime, we here in the high plains are enjoying the tail end of tomato season with a few straggler ears of sweet corn.  Last weekend also marked the 92nd annual Haxtun Corn Festival with its “Cooking with Corn” contest although the festival actually celebrates the kind of corn generally fed to cattle or hogs.
            I have entered the “Cooking with Corn” contest for the last four or five years, earning a prize some of those years.  Last year I earned first place, but since I made the only entry that did not seem much of an accomplishment.  I thought about not entering this year, but decided to anyway.  I earned a third place, quite possibly because there were at least two other entries.  It was fun to get the ribbon and it felt much better having a little competition.  For those interested, here is my white ribbon entry in the 2013 Haxtun Corn Festival Cooking with Corn Contest.  This recipe serves one but you can can easily double the ingredients to serve two.

Corn & Cherry Tomato Sauté
Ingredients:
1 Tablespoon of unsalted butter
1 Medium to large ear of fresh sweet corn
2 Tablespoons water
Salt and pepper to taste
7-8 Cherry tomatoes, halved

Directions:
1.     Melt the butter in a small skillet over medium-high heat.
2.     Cut the kernels from the cob and place in skillet with the butter and sauté 8-10 minutes.  Toss the cob or save it to add flavor to a pot of vegetable soup.
3.     Season the corn with salt and pepper and add the water.  Continue to sauté until the water evaporates, 7-8 minutes longer.
4.     Add the cherry tomato halves and serve immediately.  Do not cook the tomatoes.

Note:  Can substitute a cup of frozen corn, thawed.