Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Culinary Chronicles: Classic Apple Pie

On Sunday we picked apples at our neighbor's house.  I think they are Granny Smiths.  [edited to say, no!! I think they are Golden Delicious.  They aren't tart like Granny Smiths.]  Since we still haven't eaten all the apple sauce or apple butter that we canned last year, I thought I'd make some apple pies.  I baked one today, and plan to freeze a few more.  I took this opportunity to try another recipe from yesterday's vintage kitchen cookbook, "learn to bake--You'll Love it!".  I had enough pie dough left to make a little four-inch pie too.  It'll be a perfect little present for a friend.

Both recipes transcribed with minimal annotations from "learn to bake-- You'll Love it!", General Mills Corp., ©1947.
(notes original to recipe) [my notes]

Pie Shell (Plain Pastry)
1 cup plus 2 Tbsp. sifted flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
6 Tbsp. lard or vegetable shortening [I used butter]
2 1/2 Tbsp. cold water (about)

Sift flour once, measure, add salt, and sift together into bowl.  Cut in 4 tablespoons shortening very thoroughly, using light strokes of blender or two knives.  (Mixture should first become fluffy and fine like meal, then start to clump together).  Add remaining 2 tablespoons shortening in several pieces and chop in lightly just until divided into pieces that are the size of large peas.  Sprinkle in water, a small amount at a time, mixing lightly with blender or fork.  When all particles are moistened, press pastry into a cake, cover with damp cloth, and let stand 15 to 30 minutes.  Roll out on lightly floured as directed by pie recipe.

Grand Apple Pie
Pastry (double recipe Pie Shell)
2/3 cup sugar [I reduced it to 1/2 cup]
1/8 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
4 to 6 tart apples, thinly sliced (5 cups)
1 Tbsp. butter

Line a 9-inch pie pan with half of pastry, rolled 1/8-inch thick.  Trim even with edge of pan.  (Do not prick pastry).  Mix sugar, salt, and spices; sprinkle half of mixture on pie shell.  Add apples and remaining sugar mixture.  Dot with butter.  (If apples lack tartness add 2 Tbsp. lemon juice and a bit of grated rind).  For top crust, roll other half of pastry 1/8-inch thick, fold in half and cut several slits near fold for escape of steam during baking.  Moisten edge of the bottom crust with water.  Adjust folded crust on filled pie, opening out folded half and drawing crust carefully across top.  Trim off surplus pastry with knife; flute rim to press crusts together.  Bake in a hot oven (425° F) 50 minutes, or until filling and crust are done.

I haven't tasted the pie yet, but they smell divine.  The pastry was really easy to work with.  I mixed it using my food processor, which I think makes it (the mixing) go faster, thus leaving the ingredients colder, which is supposed to make for a better crust, right?  I brushed the top with milk and sprinkled on a little more sugar for sparkle.  That's a trick learned from one of our old neighbors who was definitely a master pie baker.  Anyone consider themselves a really good pie baker?  Making this crust several times will also help me accomplish one of my yearly food resolutions, this year to perfect a pie crust and make croissants.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Vintage Kitchen: learn to bake... You'll Love it!

Courtesy of General Foods Corp., circa 1947, I bring you another vintage classic cookbook.  It's battered cover, loose pages and stained cover are a testament to it's frequent use.  Although, I must admit, I've never made anything beyond it's brownies, I looked at it more closely prior to this post and am definitely going to test out more recipes.  

I recently read The Marion House Book's archives, and really liked her post comparing her go-to brownie recipe to another.  Her go-to brownies look delicious and pretty decadent.  Someday I'll try them, but for a quick everyday brownie, this is my winner.  (It is seriously quick.  So quick that I've never understood why people would bother with a brownie mix when from scratch is just as fast).  

Here we go, super fast.  Mix the dry ingredients.

Melt the butter, add in the sugar, the beaten egg, and the vanilla.

Add the dry ingredients to the wet.

Mix in nuts or extra chocolate.

I like to use a loaf pan instead of square because it makes them a little thicker.  This is a pretty small recipe, which is good in the sense that there are less temptation.  At this point I sometimes put cream cheese or peanut butter across the top and then run a knife through to marble it in.

Out of the oven.

These were probably on the plate for about a minute and a half.  Delicious.

Life Goes On.

Okay, the wound is still fresh, but in the spirit of moving on, here are a couple of things that I'm really enjoying today.
Garden annuals mixed with wild flowers.
A version of this bouquet has been gracing both houses here on the farm for the past couple of weeks.  We are always lax when it comes to planting cut flowers.  Its something we always vow to remedy for the following year, but when spring comes around we're so busy planting vegetables and doing yard clean-up that we let it slide again.  So when my garden zinnias just weren't profuse enough to create a full bouquet, I started wandering the property looking for filler.  I'm loving it with the weeds mixed it.

Homemade granola with fresh peaches.
Peaches are without a doubt my favorite fruit.  Nothing can top a perfectly ripe peach, but if you have to buy them in the store they are often just terrible.  Peaches don't travel well!  Lucky for us, they grow well in Albuquerque, and everyone shares fruit.  These peaches are from a co-worker of my mom's and they were so delicious!  The granola is based on this recipe from Heidi Swanson at 101cookbooks, except we use maple syrup instead of honey, pecans instead of almonds, and  skip the dried fruit and coconut altogether.   The great thing about making your own granola is that you can customize it and you know exactly how much fat and sugar has gone into it.  Do you make your own granola?

Friday, August 27, 2010


This is my beautiful dog Simon.  He died yesterday.  It was really sudden and traumatic because he showed no outward signs of being sick until Wednesday when he refused to eat.  We took him to the vet and found out that he had an incurable form of bladder cancer.  We had to put him to sleep.  We will miss him a lot.  It makes me shaky and teary just to type this, so that's all I'm going to say.  R.I.P. Simon, we love you.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The Shopping Bug: Fall Fashion

Can't buy any of this, but the fall J Crew catalog followed by September Vogue arriving in my mailbox has reminded me that a lot of new merchandise is hitting the stores.  I utter a huge sigh when thinking of the following items.

J.Crew Coddington suede platform heel in dusk red, $228.

Shown on the foot.  Not digging the wool boyfriend's sock legwarmers.

That color of red and the forties feel of the low-vamp and the same color platform make for a beautiful shoe.

And then there is this bag, which looks slightly worn in and like you could use it forever.  Sigh, sigh, sigh.

Okay, hopefully posting this will purge these from my consciousness.

Anyone seen something they are coveting this Fall?

A Little Summer + A Little Fall

Fall seems in the air this morning, it's windy and cool.  Yet, it still feels summery because the wind is very fresh due to last night's rain.

This sunset drove me to pause the movie I was watching to go outside.  (I was watching The Ghost Writer.  Have you seen it?  Ewan McGregor and a spectacularly rainy Martha's Vineyard modernist beach house make it worth watching).

Orzo, fresh tomatoes, basil, garlic chives and a little asiago and mascarpone for creaminess.
Perhaps due to all the rain last night both here and on my television screen, I needed comfort food for lunch.  This simple pasta dish sufficed.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Scenes from Saturday

I always like those "day in the life" type posts, so here is one from my Saturday.  Be forewarned, it's not exciting-- I barely left the house!

9:00 AM -- Looking for green beans.
9:30 AM -- The day's harvest.
10:00 AM -- Coffee and decorating books in Mom's living room.
11:00 AM -- Frugality.  Hand washing another small oriental rug.  I was agitating the water by stomping on it. 
12:00 PM -- While the rug was soaking I caught up on an episode of Charlie Rose.  That's Bret Easton Ellis discussing his newest novel Imperial Bedrooms, which follows the same protagonist as Less Than Zero, but 25 years later.  Less Than Zero was one of the first rated R movies that I wanted to see in the theater, so I have a sentimental spot for it.  Somehow my friend Sarah and I convinced our moms that it was appropriate for 12 and 13 year olds.  (And compared to movies now it was pretty tame).  I never read the book, but this interview certainly made me curious.  I'm now on the library wait list for both books.
1:00 PM -- Lunch was straight from that garden harvest.  
2:00 PM -- The rug rinsed and drip-drying on a fence.
5:00 PM -- I discovered a stash of posters that decorated my rooms in college and I took them out to the studio so I could pin them all up and see what I had.  I have comments about them all, but I actually think I'm going to do a whole separate post about art, posters, etc.
8:00 PM -- Out for dinner in honor of my uncle's birthday.  This Thai restaurant on the west side has the best spicy Drunken Noodles in town (imho).
9:30 PM -- Embarrassing, but I sort of love the Rachel Zoe Project and never get to watch it since I don't have cable.  When I saw that the Season 3 premiere was on Hulu, I jumped at the chance.  
10:30 PM -- Then for something a little more intellectually redeeming I snuggled up in my favorite chair to read a few chapters.  I've been reading classics that my formal education seemed to have skipped this year-- like Anna Karenina, Robinson Crusoe,  and The Painted Veil.  I did read Wuthering Heights in high school, but got the bug to read it again.  Man, I really didn't remember what a bastard Heathcliff is.  How did this story get the reputation of being a romance?  I've spent the whole time thinking about how nice it would be if he were struck by lightening while out on the moors.

And that was it-- with visions of child abuse dancing in my head it was off to bed.  It was a lovely relaxing day!

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Culinary Chronicles: Refrigerator Dill Pickles

As I mentioned the other day, I've been using this recipe from Sharon Spain on Design*Sponge.  Its super easy and fast.  I always add garlic because I just prefer a garlicky pickle.  Its also tasty to throw a little red chile pepper in the jar if you like things spicy.  Mustard seeds?  Whatever, they are your pickles, go to town!  Here is what you need:

20 - 30 pickling cucumbers (small, about the length of your palm or a little bigger)
a big bunch of fresh dill
2 heads of garlic (you need at least one clove per jar)
2 quarts water
1 quart vinegar
3/4 cup salt
10 - 12 pint size canning jars, I prefer wide-mouthed
1 big pot of boiling water to sterilize your jars and utensils (especially tongs to pull the jars, etc. out of the boiling water)

Make the brine and bring to a boil.  (1 quart of vinegar,  2 quarts of water, 3/4 cup of salt).
Sterilize the jars and lids in boiling water.
After washing your cucumbers thoroughly, slice as thin or thick as you'd like your pickles to be, and pack each jar pretty tightly.  These are wide-mouth pint jars.  There is also a big sprig of fresh dill and a clove of garlic in each jar.
Once the brine has boiled and your jars have been packed fill the jars to about a quarter-inch from the top.  These are refrigerator pickles, so you can fill the jars a little more than if you were going to pressure can.  Clean the edges of the jar and screw on the lids tightly, and refrigerate. 
The following morning the pickles are already looking good.  We got seven pints out of this batch, which takes up a fair amount of refrigerator space.  Since they must be refrigerated until opened and eaten you need to plan for storage, or give them away!  

What are your favorite kinds of pickles?

Friday, August 20, 2010

Friday Fun: Floor Plans

Fun or not, depends on how you look at it.  I spent a good part of the day measuring one of the houses and drawing up it's floor plan.  Then I modified it to reflect the structural changes we are planning to make.  This is a sneak peak of the ideal "after" design of Mom's house.  I'm planning to do a post where I explain the changes, but tonight I'm just too tired.  Hours in Illustrator will do that to you.  Especially when you decide that you need to mock up each piece of furniture to scale to play with how it all fits. 

Thursday, August 19, 2010

It's About Time: Site Plan

Had I been an organized blogger when I started this site I would have begun my blog with this image -- our property's site plan.  Better late than never, here it is.  This should answer some questions about the lay of the land around here.  I'll get to actual floor plans of each house next.  As you can see, it's big for a residential property, but small for a farm.  It's approximately 1.75 acres.  I use the term farm loosely, as we don't have plans to sell produce, but just to feed ourselves and our friends and families.  We'd like to end up having chickens (about 6?), and one or two goats, and honeybees.  Figs, raspberries, an apple orchard in the front and mixed trees in the back (where there are currently three new apricots).  Ambitious, yes.  Do-able?  We'll see.

(clicking the image makes it a little bigger)


I seem to have fallen into a summer slump.  The beginning of the week found me with one of those headaches that would not go away.  It lasted for two days and was accompanied by basic nausea, particularly when I tried to look at my computer screen for more than a minute.  Ugh.  I tried to get back to my lingering projects, shelf and blouse.  The shelves are like the headache.  Its a project that just won't go away.  I switched from spray paint to a can of gloss enamel, which smells infinitely better but refuses to apply without brush strokes.  Sigh.  I'm just going to have to make due and relax knowing that no one except me will give my shelves a super close up view.  I didn't attempt to tackle the blouse with my headache.  In the meantime I have managed to photograph some of the other things that I've been doing.

Making TiramisĂș.
The recipe makes one loaf pan cake and two smaller portions.  
A cross section of one of the smaller portions which have been wrapped tightly and frozen for those times that I have a dessert emergency.  As in I need it and have nothing on hand.
I followed a recipe from the book "In Late Winter We Ate Pears: A Year of Hunger and Love," by Deirdre Heekin and Caleb Barber.  A collection of fairly simple Italian recipes based on those that the couple have learned and developed over the years that they've lived in and visited Italy.  They run a restaurant in Vermont called Osteria Pane e Salute that focuses on slow and local food, and have a blog.  I couldn't find the recipe online anywhere and it's too long to transcribe.  (Summer slump remember?)  The book is part memoir and part cookbook, and I like the recipes but was underwhelmed by the memories.  I really wanted to love it, but the prose seemed like it was over-embellished for literary effect instead of reflecting an authentic voice.  The wife's writing is the same on their blog but I still can't imagine that she speaks that way.  On the other hand the husband writes the recipes in a much more down to earth tone.

And on the home front, some of our local produce.

Yesterday's harvest.  I like the ombre effect of this composition.  The tomatoes are clockwise from the left: Brandywine,  San Marzano, Sasha's Altai.  Beans: Kentucky Wonder pole beans and one Chinese long bean.  Herbs: summer sorrel, mint, tarragon.  Cukes: Armenian cucumber, and Mountain Pickling cukes.
The fig was dug started from a side shoot of an unknown variety.  My guess is Turkey brown.  It produces  lots of small fruits and it is totally winter hardy in our climate.  
Last night we put up a batch of tomatillo salsa (posted recipe last year).  We tend to freeze it rather than can it because it holds up well that way and we usually make it in small batches.  Tonight we are going to make refrigerator dills.  Anyone got a favorite pickle recipe?  I've been using this one with the modification of added garlic for dills, and also plan to make more bread & butters since the turned out so well last year.  I'm also thinking of pickling some of the Armenian cukes and adding a cinnamon stick and some cardamon to the brine.  Haven't researched that one yet but the idea has potential, don't you think?

Friday, August 13, 2010

Friday Fun: Making your Cocktails a Little More Interesting this Weekend

I don't know about you, but a good story definitely whets my appetite to try new things.  Both of these liquor related stories excite the imagination and will give you something liquor related to talk about during cocktail hour this weekend.

Photo via NPR.org,  Antarctic Trust/AP
Did you hear that a case of 100+ year scotch has been uncovered in Antarctica under the cabin of a renowned explorer and slowly defrosted?  Of course you won't be able to buy any of it, but distillers are taking samples to recover its lost recipe.  My question is why didn't the explorer drink it himself?

Photo via NPR and Patrick McGovern.
Dogfish Head Brewery's Chateau Jiahu beer was developed using a 9,000 year old recipe from neolithic China.  Combining archeology with brewing beer = totally cool.  Apparently in neolithic times humans started to settle down permanently and discovered fermented beverages soon after.  The Jiahu beer is more of a combination of wine, beer and mead, which might seem a little weird to our modern palettes, but totally worth a try since it's the oldest known fermented beverage recipe in the world.  Of course the brewery has modified the recipe a bit to modernize it.  This isn't the first archeological beer the brewery has made either, their Midas Touch beer based on molecular analysis of 2700 year old beer from Midas's tomb in ancient Turkey.

Photo via dfour on flickr
Photo via dfour on flickr, modified to protect the privacy of the complete strangers in the photo.
And finally, because summer is starting to wind down just a little, I suggest you savor a little limoncello while it's still hot out.  Not only does this NPR story (it's an NPR day, what can I say) describe how to make limoncello yourself, but it gives many ways to use it too.  The first time I had limoncello I was sitting on the terrace above.  It was made into a sorbet, with an extra shot poured on top.  I can't drink it without remembering the five weeks I got to live in a villa.  Sigh.  

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Interior Inspiration: Mazen El-Abdallah on Canadian House & Home TV

Just saw this episode on the Canadian House & Home site featuring the house of Mazen El-Abdallah of Mazen Studio and thought it was one of the best modern renovations of a Victorian that I've seen.  (Sorry, slightly blurry screen shots... but you should just go watch the segment anyway and forget this post).