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Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Winnie-Approved Apple Pie

My Great Grandma Winnifred and I were very close. She was an amazing cook of foods people just don't make any more: scalloped potatoes with heavy cream and cheese; jellied salad with grapes and shredded cabbage; chicken soup with huge knobs of butter and tablespoons of salt, and apple pie.

Winnie married an American from Iowa in 1929, my Great Grandpa Everett. Everett and I didn't understand each other, and I'm not sure if he really appreciated me being around their house so much, as Winnie took care of me most days after school while my mother worked. I grew up on the foods she had raised 3 generations on, but was too young when she passed to learn all I would have liked to at her stoveside. Winnie died in 1998, at age 90. She was tall and bossy. She had an enormous diamond wedding ring, clackity shoes, and beautiful long snow-white hair she had done once a week into a high french twist. She had a twitch in her hand that made her spontanously grab things, and a cackling laugh. I miss her every day.

When I first read Michael Pollan's Food Rules I was drawn most to the rule "if your great-grandparents wouldn't recognize it, don't eat it". I can see so clearly in my mind's eye the look on Grandma Winnie's face if she were to come across GoGurt tubes or Bud Light Lime Mojito. "Don't eat that", she would say. And we wouldn't. In our family, you usually did what Winnie said.

Winnie's apple pie was legend, but I don't have the recipe. She had told us all that her recipes would go to the grave with her, and most of them did. My aunt does an amazing job of her scalloped potatoes, but I wanted to approach that pie, since no one else in my family of great cooks really tackles pastry, and I feel like it's a dying art that needs more attention. Winnie used chicken fat, which is another amazing thing that has gone by the wayside: keeping different fats readily available for cooking rather than throwing them away. Winnie's kitchen had a pot of chicken fat on the counter alongside beef tallow and lard. Fattening? Yes. Chemical-free and organic? That too.

She put chicken fat in her apple pie pastry, which just proves that fat makes everything taste better. It's not like the pie tasted chickeny, but there was a certain seasoning there you could taste. I don't personally put it in mine, but I do use mostly shortening or lard, and adhere mostly to the Canadian Living version, since it's the closest to the simple version Winnie made and only needs a few personalized touches to make it perfect:

Apple Pie


 cup (175 mL) shortening or lard
 tbsp (45 mL) butter, softened
 cups (550 mL) all-purpose flour
 tsp (4 mL) salt
 cup (125 mL) Ice water


 cups (2 L) thinly sliced peeled tart apples, (2-1/4 lb/ 1. 12 kg)
 tbsp (30 mL) lemon juice
 cup (125 mL) granulated sugar
 tbsp (45 mL) all-purpose flour
 tsp (2 mL) cinnamon
1/4 fresh grated nutmeg


 egg yolk
 tsp (10 mL) granulated sugar

In bowl, beat shortening with butter until smooth; stir in flour and salt until coarse and ragged looking. Pour in water all at once; stir until loose dough forms. With floured hands, gather into 2 balls. On well-floured surface, gently knead each into 3/4-inch (2 cm) thick disc. Handle as little as possible. Wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour or until chilled.

On well-floured pastry cloth or work surface (I personally have had much better luck using my formica dining table as opposed to the wooden chopping block in my kitchen, possibly because it retains the cold of the pastry longer) and rolling pin, roll out 1 piece of dough from centre, turning to maintain even thickness. Loosely roll dough around rolling pin; unroll into 9-inch pie plate.

In large bowl, toss apples with lemon juice. Stir together sugar, flour, cinnamon and nutmeg; sprinkle over apples and toss until coated. Scrape into pie shell. Brush pastry rim with water.

Roll out remaining dough to same-size circle. Using rolling pin, drape over apples, without stretching dough. Trim both edges together with scissors, leaving 3/4-inch overhang. Press top layer of dough into bottom layer with index finger, as in photo:

Cut vents in the top of pie in a decorative pattern.

Whisk yolk with 1 tbsp (15 mL) water; brush over crust. Sprinkle with sugar. Bake in bottom third of 425 oven for 15 minutes. Reduce heat to 350; bake for 40 minutes or until golden, filling is bubbly and apples are soft when pierced with knife through vent. Let cool on rack.

I hope that wherever she is, she's proud that I'm trying in my own way to carry on her legacy. I can never let apple pie cool completely before I dig in, which is the way I think Winnie would prefer it.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

This sounds like it would be awful. Let's make it

One of my New Year's resolutions is to stop making so many assumptions. Usually I assume, and usually I assume the worst. I realized not only was I usually wrong, I put myself through a lot of shitty feelings just to be proven that life was not as bad as I thought. No more! Life is short and assumptions are stupid.

I saw this recipe in the latest issue of Bon Appetit, and I thought, ew. Fishy greens with a soggy breadcrumb topping? No. But because I am turning a new leaf here, I thought what the hell. Besides I had a bunch of kale in the fridge that was getting so old it was resembling a pot scrubber.

Orecchiette with Kale and Breadcrumbs

1-2 bunches (depending on how green you want your pasta) kale
black pepper
5 tbsp olive oil
1 cup coarse fresh breadcrumbs
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 tbsp unsalted butter
4-8 anchovy fillets, chopped
1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
1 box orecchiette pasta
3/4 cup grated Parmesan

Cook kale in a large pot of boiling salted water until just tender, about 4 minutes. Using tongs, remove from the water and let cool on a cookie sheet. Set aside pot with water. When cool, squeeze out excess liquid from kale, chop leaves and finely chop stems, set aside.

Heat 3 tbsp oil in a small skillet over medium heat. Add breadcrumbs and cook, stirring often, until beginning to brown, about 4 minutes (if you use cast iron make it medium high heat). Add one third of the chopped garlic and cook, stirring often until breadcrumbs are golden, about 3 additional minutes. Season with salt and pepper and transfer to a plate, set aside.

Heat butter and remaining 2 tbsp oil in a large heavy pot or saucepan over medium heat. Add anchovies, red pepper flakes, and remaining two thirds of the garlic, cook, mashing anchovies with a spoon until a paste forms, about 2 minutes. Add reserved kale and 1/2 water. Cook, stirring often, until kale is warmed through, about 4 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.

Meanwhile bring reserved kale cooking liquid to a boil, add pasta and cook, stirring occasionally until al dente. Drain, reserving 1 cup pasta cooking liquid. Add pasta and 1/2 cup pasta cooking liquid to kale mixture and stir to coat. Increase heat slightly and continue stirring, adding more cooking liquid as needed, until sauce coats pasta. Mix in Parmesan and 1/2 cup breadcrumbs, toss to combine. Divide pasta among bowls, drizzle with oil, and top with remaining breadcrumbs.

Oh word:

Why do chefs like to use pasta water in pasta sauce? It turns out the starch and the salt in the pre-heated water helps a sauce to emulsify. It also works to give the dish a full-bodied, well-seasoned flavour. Huh.

See I told you my assumption was wrong. The key here is toasting the breadcrumbs, and toasting them well. This adds a textural dimension to the pasta that I assumed would be soggy and gross. The flavours are well-blended, thanks to the use of pasta water, and oddly, kale and anchovies go well together. If you're not a fishy flavour fan, use no more than 4 anchovies, and you should be good.

Eat Hearty!

(as usual with Bon Appetit and all other magazine recipes, I have altered the ingredients, instructions and recommendations based on my personal experience preparing the dish)