Thursday, November 18, 2010

Thursday Thanks and Apple Pie

It's Thursday again and time to count our blessings! Inspired by Tamara from 31 Dates in 31 Days, I'm taking time each week to slow down and take note of the goodness in my life.

Today I am grateful for crisp fall days, the promise of holiday fun and family coming soon, and for the goodness of homemade pie. Is there anything better than a flaky, salty, buttery crust filled with custard, cream, or fruit? You'd have to try hard to convince me.

As with everything else, I have a hard time choosing a favorite pie. Coconut cream, Banana cream, German Chocolate, Apple, Berry, Pumpkin, Lemon cream . . . I love them all. And I come from a pie-loving family. This year we will have 9 adults and 9 kids at Thanksgiving dinner (three of them babies) and we will have at least 7 pies. And more if we have time to tack on a couple more! So when I look at the grocery ads and see Sara Lee frozen cherry pies on sale, I feel sad for anyone that will be eating them at all, but especially on this feast day made for pies.

Now my husband, he's a decisive man. He has no problem choosing favorites-- and when it comes to pie, his is apple. No question. In fact, what he likes is a very traditional apple pie made with Golden Delicious apples. No added nuts or berries, no streusel topping for him. When I first learned this about him, I was resistant. Why not tinker? Why not jazz up a boring old apple pie? But over the years, I have learned to make a good apple pie just the way he likes it-- and guess what? I love it, too! I may not have a favorite, but this apple pie ranks in my top five (or seven). And that's saying a lot.

The recipe that I have used for the past three or four years came from a friend from church, Mary Jeane. She likes to use Gravenstein apples best, but did I mention that Jared likes Golden Delicious? If you make it my way, it won't be a tart pie, but you won't mind. I guarantee.

For a great crust recipe and tutorial on how to do your own pie crust, go over to my friend Prudence Pennywise's blog. She did an excellent step-by-step guide last year. Her introduction about making a pie crust as one of the top things people are frightened of is pretty darn funny. Don't be scared. You can do it. There's no comparison to homemade.

Now the filling. You will need:
  • 6 cups thinly sliced apples. Minimum. Use any variety that bakes well. If you don't know what that means, ask your produce guy or just buy Golden Delicious like I do.
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 3/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • pinch of kosher salt
  • a couple pats of butter
  • milk for brushing the crust
  • an 8 or 9 inch pie plate
I will tell you the honest truth-- I don't really measure this. I cut up 6 cups of apples, decide it will never be enough, and cut up some more. Once I've filled up my large mixing bowl, I start with the ingredients listed and then add a little more of everything because I put in more apples. If this style of baking freaks you out, just stick to the recipe. I just like my apple pies loaded with apples.

Put the apples, sugar, flour, salt, and cinnamon in a large mixing bowl and use your fingers to mix it all together. The pile it into your prepared crust and mash it down a little. The apples are going to cook down anyway, so if there are a lot of air pockets, the pie will collapse. I like to use enough apples to really mound it up. Now put two pats of butter on top of the apples.

Roll out your top crust and gently lay it over your filling. For a beautiful, bumpy pie, gently press to almost mold the crust to your apples. Don't stretch the crust, though. Now get your finger wet and run it along the bottom pie crust, then seal the two crusts together. I don't get fancy with my edges, I just pinch them between my finger and thumb.

Now put a few slits in the top of the crust. Or use a little cutter to cut out shapes. The steam needs a place to escape, but it's okay to make it look pretty.

If you want, to give it extra wow factor when it's baked, brush the crust lightly with some milk and sprinkle with sugar. For best results, cover the edges of the pie with a bit of tin foil or a pie guard to prevent the crust from over browning.

Now, pop it in a 350 oven for about an hour. When your entire pie crust is a beautiful golden brown and the filling is bubbly and looks thick. If you really aren't sure (and the slits you cut for steam are big enough), poke a knife into an apple and make sure it's soft.

Let the pie cool on a cooling rack. If you can let it sit for a few hours (I make my Thanksgiving pies on Wednesday for sanity's sake, but I'll admit that we occasionally dig into the apple pie the night before), the filling shouldn't be runny. Serve it with vanilla ice cream. Because it's just better that way.

Now go forth and conquer. And if apple pie's not your thing, find a great recipe online or in a magazine and try it out. Don't let food intimidate you. There is gratification in making good food for those you love!

And leave me a comment, please: What's your must have pie at Thanksgiving? Can you choose just one, or are you like me, who loves them all?!

For some reason, I've never taken a picture of this pie in all it's glory, and although I love you, dear readers, I simply can't make all these delicious goodies two weeks in a row without some serious consequences. So for now, you'll have to look at the top photo. The apple pie is the middle one in the pie stand.:) I'll throw in more photos next week.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Rolls

At least in my family, The Rolls are one of the most important parts of Thanksgiving (and Christmas) dinner. And those capital letters are intentional-- at this feast, no other rolls will do. They must be this recipe, usually quadrupled or more because there cannot be too many of them!

The Rolls are delicate, light, and buttery, while still being a cinch to make. At times I make them once a week to go with soups or Sunday dinner, but only when I'm feeling naughty-- who can eat rolls like this all the time without some guilt? Okay, most men probably could, but those of us who watch our waistlines know better. The point is that they are perfect for Thanksgiving but easy enough to be made anytime you have the hankering for a dinner roll. You need never buy another dinner roll. They just can't touch a homemade one.

The Rolls need to be started the night before, but I'm telling you, the beauty of a well-planned and well-executed Thanksgiving dinner is in stretching out the preparation over a few days. And the night before part only takes 5 minutes. You can do it. I promise you can.

Here's what you'll need to make 2 dozen of The Rolls (but unless there are only 3 of you eating dinner, you'll need more than that!):

  • 1 cup milk (skim is fine, but 2% or whole is better)
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon salt (heaping if it's coarse kosher)
  • 4 cups all purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup warm water
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 1/2 T. yeast (or one packet if you buy them that way)
  • a pastry mat or floured solid surface counter (but not until the next day)
  • a rolling pin
Put your milk and butter in a large, microwave proof bowl and put them in the microwave long enough to scald the milk and melt the butter (around two minutes). Let this cool for a few minutes, stirring in the sugar while you cool it down. While you wait for it to cool, proof the yeast by putting it in a liquid measuring cup with the warm water and the teaspoon of sugar. Watch it grow for a few minutes. Be sure that the butter and milk mixture is not hot enough to kill the yeast, then add the yeast mixture and the eggs to the bowl and mix well. Stir in the salt, then the flour. Dough will be quite sticky-- that's okay. Now you just put some plastic wrap over the top of the bowl and put it in the fridge overnight-- or if you live in a cold place (but not too cold) you could just keep it in your garage overnight. (By the way, these actually need about 4-5 hours of chilling time, just in case you don't want to do it overnight.)

The next day, punch down the dough. Sprinkle flour over your work surface. I use a pastry mat, but if you have a solid surface countertop, you can just use that. Take half of your dough and gently roll it out into a large circle, sprinkling dough with flour if it sticks-- but the less flour you add, the lighter the roll. Once the dough is in about an 14-16" circle, use a knife or pizza cutter to slice it in wedges like you are cutting a pizza. To get two dozen small to medium rolls, cut 12 wedges in each circle. If you want bigger rolls, cut each wedge into 10 or 8.

Take each wedge individually and roll it up into a crescent. Place it on a greased cookie sheet or baking tray. I put one dozen on my jelly roll pans (large cookie sheets). Allow to rise until double-- in most kitchens that will be about 90-120 minutes, but it depends on how warm your kitchen is.

Bake at 400 degrees until golden brown, between 10-14 minutes depending on your oven. If desired, brush with melted butter.

Look, see how easy those are?

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Turkey Tutorial

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. At least it is this month. If I have to choose a favorite, which frankly, I am terrible about. I have a hard time choosing a favorite movie, book, food, holiday, or child. And why should I? But at the moment, I am all about Thanksgiving.

I thought I'd share some of the recipes that I love to usane for Thanksgiving. I love seeing what other families eat and if you are scrambling for a good recipe, look no further.

Today, I'm sharing my method and recipe for the turkey, and hopefully I'll follow through in the next few days with recipes for rolls, pies, and more. Sadly, even though I've roasted a turkey for most of the last five Thanksgivings, I can't find a single picture of the bird itself, so for now we'll have to be satisfied with this picture of my Thanksgiving plate in 2008! Next week I'll be sure to snap a photo of our guest of honor and add it here as a post edit.:)

Call me crazy, but I love to make the Thanksgiving turkey. The truth is that roasting a turkey is not difficult at all-- any one of you could do it and turn out a decent bird without much effort. But I am not one to be satisfied with "decent" if a little more thought, preparation, and effort will produce "exceptional". If you are going to spend the week in the kitchen preparing this feast, you might as well present a feast that elicits oohs, ahhs, and moans, right?

I am fortunate this year to have lots of family coming to town and everyone is bringing a couple of side dishes, so my jobs will be easy and fewer than in years past: a few pies, some gluten-free dinner rolls for my Henry, the turkey and gravy.

If you want a turkey that turns out succulent, delicious, and moist, look no further. I'll walk you through it. Several years ago I studied out an article by Alton Brown in Bon Appetit (Nov 2003) on turkey technique. I combined the technique learned there with a recipe from Bon Appetit (Nov 2005) for an apple cider glazed turkey that is heavenly. It may seem labor intensive because of the brine, but it really isn't-- you just have to plan ahead. And if you can't plan ahead for Thanksgiving dinner of all the meals in the year, then you might be better off letting someone else make the turkey:)

You'll start this dance with your turkey 2 days before the feast. You will need:

  • A brining bag (or two if you want to be very careful about leaks) that will accommodate your bird OR a stock pot big enough for your bird-- at least 20 quarts.
  • A turkey. That's obvious, I know. I prefer a fresh turkey but can't stand the prices for a free-range organic bird when I'm cooking for a crowd. I generally get mine at Costco or order one from the butcher at my local nicer grocery store for under $1 per pound. You could do this with a frozen bird, but beware that they are generally full of injected saline and other chemical treatments to keep them tasting like they haven't been frozen. If you use a frozen turkey, give yourself plenty of time to defrost. This brine recipe makes enough to cover up to a 24 pound turkey.
  • 4 quarts apple cider, plus 2 cups more on Thanksgiving Day.
  • 1 1/2 cups kosher salt
  • 1/4 cup WHOLE allspice (I get mine at Smart and Final for a good low price.)
  • 8 bay leaves
  • 4 quarts of cold water
  • A large cooler or space in your fridge for the brining bird
  • A big roasting pan (if you are using a foil disposable pan, plan to double them up and then put on a jelly roll pan for stability)
  • A probe thermometer that can stay in the oven
  • tin foil
  • butter
  • aromatics (I use an onion, apple, celery, and fresh sage, thyme, and rosemary)
For the brine, simmer 1 quart of apple cider, the salt, allspice, and bay leaves for 5 minutes, stirring often. If you are going to brine right in your stockpot, use that for this step. I prefer doubled up brining bags so that I can put it in a cooler in my garage. Add the remaining 3 quarts of cider and 4 quarts of water. Place turkey in the brine and cover it up. Keep it cool in your fridge or large cooler.

The next evening, drain the turkey and rinse it. Arrange on several layers of paper towels in your roasting pan. Refrigerate it overnight UNCOVERED.

Now it's the Big Day. Calculate 15 minutes per pound of turkey, plus 30 minutes once it comes out of the oven to rest before you slice it. I find that it's best when serving Thanksgiving dinner to have a target time to eat, but you really need to let the bird dictate the actual time you sit down. Since I like to eat around 3 or 3:30pm, and my oven tends to run a little bit hot, I'll plan to put my 24 lb turkey in by 9:30 am, anticipating that he will be done around 3 and ready to carve at 3:30. If it's done a little earlier (which has happened to me before), it won't be so early that we can't flex with it.

Heat your oven to 500 degrees. This is not a misprint! You will turn it down later, but this will crisp the skin and basically sear the bird. You need to use a v-rack in your roasting pan or make a fat snake out of tin foil and coil it like a loose cinnamon roll in the bottom of the pan. You don't want the turkey sitting in it's juices. Prepare a piece of tin foil that will cover the entire breast of the bird. Placing it shiny side up, mold it into a breastplate. Then take it off and spray the underside with cooking spray (I use olive oil spray).

This recipe does allow for stuffing the bird, whereas most brined birds are too salt to be stuffed. However, I prefer to bake my stuffing separately. I stuff my turkey with a quartered onion, an apple, a stalk of celery, and some fresh rosemary, sage, and thyme. These are not going to be eaten, but they help keep the turkey moist and flavorful.

Now rub butter all over the skin of the turkey like you are a masseuse. This is going to yield crisp, golden skin. Put the turkey in the oven (no foil yet), neck end first. Set the timer for 30 minutes. Remove the turkey when the timer goes off and turn down the oven to 350 degrees. Apply the breastplate to the turkey. If you want your glaze (recipe below) to have the most flavor impact, put it on before you put on the breastplate. My only warning is that sometimes it will produce a bird that looks burned (even though it isn't). This year I am going to wait and put the glaze on at the end. Insert your probe thermometer through the foil into the deepest part of the breast. Put your armored bird back in the oven and set your thermometer's alarm to go off at 161 degrees. Don't worry, Tom Turkey will coast to done once you have him out of the oven. We don't want overcooked white meat--is there anything harder to choke down than dry turkey? So now just leave the bird alone and the oven door closed until the alarm goes off.

At this point, I will add my glaze, wanting a beautiful and delicious bird. Then, cover the whole thing with foil and let it rest for 30 minutes. This is important! In the meantime, you can make the gravy, put finishing touches on the table, and mash the potatoes. If you only have one oven, this is the time you can put in the sweet potatoes, stuffing, rolls, etc. All the while, the turkey is working to retain its juices-- if you carve too early, they will just spill out all over the carving board and leave dry meat behind.

Now take a moment to show off your beautiful bird to your dinner guests. It's okay to feel proud of what you've done! Carve in the kitchen or at the table, whatever your family likes to do. Now sit down to a glorious feast! Don't forget to give thanks-- that's the point, after all!

The apple cider glaze is easy. Put the remaining 2 cups of cider in a saucepan and simmer until it has reduced to about 1/4 cup. Remove from heat and stir in a stick of butter, unsalted if you have it. It's ready!

For other recipes that I use at Thanksgiving, look at Johnson's cranberry relish and The Rolls. As for pies, this one never lets me down:Toasted Pecan Pie. This apple is an absolute must every year-- in fact, I make two. And I'm going to try out these from Better Homes and Gardens: Banana Butterscotch Cream, Dark Chocolate Pecan (instead of the other pecan this year), and Lemon Velvet Cream.

Which recipe is a must at your Thanksgiving table? And which do you want me to post as soon as possible?

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Thursday Thanks

My dear SIL, Tamara, author of the 31 Dates in 31 Days blog (and soon-to-be-book), suggested last Thursday that we take time each Thursday this month to count our blessings and to feel grateful. This completely tied in with some counsel we recently received from Thomas S. Monson, counsel which hit home when he said it. Here is a little of what he said,

"We can lift ourselves and others as well when we refuse to remain in the realm of negative thought and cultivate within our hearts an attitude of gratitude. If ingratitude be numbered among the serious sins, then gratitude takes its place among the noblest of virtues. Someone has said that “gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all others.”
I also came across a little saying this summer that gave me pause, as being content instead of wanting stuff is a struggle of mine: "The secret to having it all is believing that you do!"

Anyway, I decided to take it a step beyond commenting on Tam's blog. I need to cultivate within my heart (and the hearts of my children) and attitude of gratitude. Additionally, I need to get back on the wagon with blogging. I miss it. I miss hearing your comments. I miss feeling like we are in this whole crazy thing together. So I am going to try to post every Thursday indefinitely about something for which I am grateful. Sometime it may just be a quick list, sometimes something more thoughtful. But I'm hoping it will help me to see how truly blessed I am and prompt others to count their blessings as well.

So, this Thursday Thanks post is going to be about how grateful I am that I feel supported and helped so much in raising my family. My mom, Jared's parents, and many friends help us all the time in making this work. I honestly don't know if I could have had five children without so much support from these people. I am thankful for the people who are a good example in my kids' lives; for Cub Scout leaders, teachers at church, piano teachers, coaches, neighbors, and friends who go out of their way to know my children and to help mold them into people of virtue, of integrity, of kindness.

Today during Kimball and Henry's rock climbing class, I took my younger kids to a nearby sanctuary zoo and invited a friend to come along and bring her granddaughter. We had a great time, but over the course of the outing a couple of my children had some not-so-nice moments that included whining, pouting, fighting with each other, and even hitting. The drive home was excruciating because they were over-stimulated, over-tired, and touching each other (heaven forbid). I was so thankful to have Nancy there with me-- not judging at all, but rather commiserating and giggling a little with me over their ridiculous behavior. As frustrated as I was with the kids, because of the way that she acted I wasn't mortified, nor was I afraid that she thought they were monsters. It's the little things that count in friendship and that help us moms feel supported instead of torn down. Thanks, Nancy!

To my mom and in-laws who are always so willing to help watch kids or take them on a fun outing, I am so grateful. I really believe that home schooling is the best choice for us and a blessing, but sometimes we need a little space from one another for an hour or two and our parents help facilitate that for the good of both the kids and me.

I'm thankful for Kimball's Primary (Sunday School) teacher, who never acts like she is irritated with him, nor grumpy that he is her responsibility, even when he is sliding out of this chair or making silly noises during a quiet moment. She does her best to understand his challenges, handles them matter-of-factly, and loves him for his strengths. She is as gem.

There are so many others who help and support me as a mom in raising these five wonderful, spirited, unique little people, and I am grateful for each and every one.

What are you grateful for today?

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Wordless Wednesday-- October

Yes, I know it's over. Nearly weeks ago. And I didn't post once. So here's a quick glimpse:

Somebody please tell me that they took pictures of my kids in their Halloween costumes. Our party was a great success but I was running constantly during it-- and my kids started throwing up immediately following (a tricky way to infect everyone we know with the stomach flu)--so I was dismayed, but not shocked, to see that these are the ONLY TWO PICTURES taken on my camera of my kids in their costumes. Not good. (And Kimball and Henry are still in the family, in spite of successfully avoiding the camera this month.)

More Showing Off

Ian wants everyone to know that he, too, learned a lil' monologue of Shakespeare's. His is from Othello and Iago is speaking. He is in his Halloween costume (a knight to King Henry V) at Nana's house. I am posting two versions because we disagree about which is better.

The kids had so much fun with this that we are working on some Thanksgiving poems now. Maybe this will motivate Kimball to finish learning his choice from Hamlet.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Henry as Henry V

Henry learned the St. Crispin's Day speech from Henry V (Act IV Scene iii) to go with his Halloween costume. This one isn't flawless, but it is precious and the best we got recorded. Leave him a comment! He'd love to hear what you think.