Tag Archives: Recipes

Homemade – The best way to eat pasta

Homemade pasta - cooked and drainedA little over a year ago, I made the decision to curb my carb intake significantly. Yes, it was a choice. I was so influenced by the books Grain Brain and Wheat Belly that I decided it was best to cut out breads and grain-based products. It was tough for the first month or two. I like bread, and I missed it.

Fast forward a year later, and I’ve gotten over it. I don’t miss bread. I don’t miss grains either, with one exception. Pasta was one meal I just couldn’t give up. Spaghetti dinners are a staple around our house. With our homemade sauce, I just couldn’t let go. I had to find some way, any way, that I could rationalize and enjoy a good bowl of noodles drenched in marinara and freshly grated Parmesan cheese.

How did I rationalize my decision to eat pasta? We make it ourselves. Granted, it’s still eating wheat, but I choose the ingredients.

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Pierogi – A Family Recipe

pierogiGrowing up, I can still remember when “the call” would come. Grandma had decided to make pierogi and my grandpap would call the house to tell us it was ready. It would usually be early evening when the call would come, and even if we had already eaten dinner, my dad would rush me out the door. We would speed over to grandma’s house, cutting the normally 5-minute drive in half. Somehow, my dad’s older brother, my Uncle Barry, would already be there working his way through the first batch. He lived 10 minutes away from my grandma’s, so how he got there faster than us is a mystery that remains unsolved to this day. My gut tells me he had inside information about when pierogi were being made, but neither he nor my grandparents ever fessed up to it.

My grandma’s pierogi recipe was a hand-me-down from my great grandma (my grandpap’s mother). She was an immigrant from the old country, Ukraine to be exact. My grandmother took over the recipe and mastered it, with a couple of minor tweaks. My mom and dad took over the recipe from my grandma, continuing the family tradition. Store bought pierogi are good, but they don’t come close to matching the real thing.

Someday, I knew that I should take over the recipe to continue the family tradition. I had procrastinated for years, but watching the Michael Pollan documentary “Cooked” inspired me to action. My parents visited this past summer, and I decided it was time to learn the recipe. I set aside an afternoon to spend in the kitchen with them. It was time well spent.

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Improving on Grandma’s Apple Pie Recipe

Apple PieOne of the things that I love about cooking is experimentation. Cooking is not an exact science, and small variations in ingredients, measurements, or techniques can lead to sometimes subtle and sometimes significant differences in outcome.

One of my favorite items to bake is apple pie, mainly because I love eating it (despite my recent decisions to reduce my sugar intake). When baking a pie, one of the things that I struggle with is making a light, flaky crust. I’ve tried different ingredients, made sure the water was extra cold, and tried various techniques to avoid over working the dough. Despite what I’ve tried. I just couldn’t get the dough as flaky as I would like it.

After doing a little research, I found a suggestion that I figured was worth a try – using vodka as a substitute for some of the water. The rationale is that vodka would provide the required moisture content for preparing the dough, but during the baking process, the alcohol would vaporize leaving a lighter, flakier crust. Given all that I had tried, I figured it was worth a shot.

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Homemade Tomato Sauce

As part of my efforts to cut as much added and refined sugar out of my diet as possible, I’ve been reading a lot more food labels this year. I was surprised by how much added sugar was in Orange Juice and Tomato Sauce, two items that were regular staples in my diet. I cut orange juice out of my regular routine at the end of last year, but I knew tomato sauce would be more of a challenge. Spaghetti is a regular meal in our house, and we use tomato sauce for other dishes as well. The solution was simple – I had to start making the sauce from scratch.

Thanks to the power of the internet, I was able to discover a couple of recipes for tomato sauce pretty quickly, What surprised me was how simple they were. All you need is a can of crushed tomatoes, a little olive oil, a couple of cloves of garlic, some basil, oregano, pepper, and a few hours to let the sauce simmer on the stove. It literally takes about 10 minutes to prep, and then about 2-4 hours (or more) to simmer.

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Stove Top Popcorn

One of my major fitness goals for 2015 was to cut out added sugar whenever possible. It’s a great goal, but it makes finding snacks really difficult. It’s amazing how much added sugar is put into just about every packaged snack food.

One of my favorite snacks is popcorn, but there’s a good chance that packaged popcorn will contain some amounts of sugar, or extra salt to enhance the flavor. So buying in the bag was out. Microwave popcorn is supposedly bad for you, so it got nixed, too. It left hot air and doing it on the stove as the other viable options.

Since I don’t own a hot air popper, it left finding a good stove top recipe as the best alternative. Of course, doing a quick Google search made one easy to find. Thanks to Elise over at Simply Recipes, I discovered a great, and easy to make popcorn recipe.

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Chocolate Chip Cookies: recipe, tips and secrets

Chocolate Chip CookiesI always enjoyed my mom’s chocolate chip cookies growing up. I can still remember the aroma that filled the kitchen while she baked them. Getting them while they were fresh out of the oven and still warm was a treat. The only downside was that the cookies would get hard after setting for more than a few days. Granted, this was rarely a problem since the cookies went fast. However, after using my mom’s recipe to bake cookies with the kids, I was convinced there was a way to make softer cookies.

A Google search for soft chocolate chip cookies pointed me to the “Award Winning Soft Chocolate Chip Cookies” recipe at Allrecipes.com. After just one use, we were hooked. Using this recipe, the cookies are soft and stay this way for days. The family absolutely loves them, and we get rave reviews anytime we take them somewhere as a dessert dish.

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Grandma’s apple pie recipe

One of my favorite memories growing up was going to my Grandma’s house after she baked her homemade apple pie. I can still remember the smell in her kitchen, and there was nothing like the taste of warm apple pie fresh out of the oven.

My mother, who is a great cook in her own right, took over my Grandma’s apple pie recipe. She can, and still does, make a pretty mean apple pie herself. I’d be hard pressed to choose which one I like better – Mom’s or Grandma’s.

In any case, I decided a few years ago that it was time for me to start learning how to make Grandma’s apple pie myself. On one of my mom’s trips out to Southern California, she brought the recipe and assisted me on my first try. It was good, but not like what I remembered.

Since then, I’ve made a few pies, but the one I recently baked over Thanksgiving came out best. It’s the closest I’ve come to matching my mom and grandma’s work. I still need more practice, but I figured I’d share my variation of the recipe along with a few secrets I’ve learned so far.

Apple Pie Recipe

Pie crust

2c flour
1 tsp salt
3/4c cold butter (or shortening)
4-8 tbsp cold water (very important that it is cold)

In a medium-large size bowl, mix flour and salt. Cut the butter into 1/2-inch squares, and cut into mixture using a pastry cutter until the butter has been reduced to pea-size (or smaller) balls covered with flour. Add 4 tbsp of cold water, lightly toss into mixture using a fork and test consistency. If dough holds together when lightly squeezed together, then press it into a ball trying to knead and handle it as little as possible. The more handling, the tougher the crust. If the dough doesn’t hold together, add water until it does. Add as little water as possible. Split the dough into two balls flattened to 1/2-inch disks. Place in refrigerator for an hour or more. You may be able to start rolling without refrigeration, but rolling it cold helps it stay together.

Apples

4-medium size apples, cored and peeled

Use a mixture of apples, preferably 2 Granny Smiths, 1 Braeburn, and 1 Pink Lady, although you can experiment with different kinds to taste. Jonathans, Jonagolds, Pippins or Macintosh apples are also good choices. Wash the apples, core and then peel. Cut the apples into slices of consistent thickness. A mandolin slicer can help to achieve this.

Spice (seasoning)

3/4c sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
2 tbsp flour

Mix sugar, cinnamon and flour in a small bowl until color of spice mixture has a uniform tannish-brown color.

Assembly and Baking

Liberally flour the work surface and place the first dough disk on it. Place a bit of flour on top of the disk as well as on the rolling pin. Roll the dough into a circle working out from the center, occasionally sprinkling more flour on the dough so it doesn’t stick to the rolling pin. Once the dough is rolled so that it will cover the bottom the tin, place it in the tin. Cut the extra dough from around the edges of the tin and set aside to use for patching as necessary.

Using a fork, prick the pie shell in the tin liberally on the bottom and the side, then put in a layer of spice. Then follow with a layer of apples, a layer of spice, and so on, until the pie is filled. Be sure to leave a small amount of spice (~ 1 tbsp) for the top of the pie shell.

Roll out the top shell the same as the bottom and place on top of the pie. Press the edges together and crimp for styling. With a pasty brush, brush the top of the shell with milk to moisten.  Sprinkle the remaining spice on the top of the pie shell. Using a knife, cut some slits in the top shell to vent.

Place in an oven pre-heated to 400 degrees for 35-40 minutes or until pie is a golden brown color on top.

Here’s a picture of my latest finished product using the above. It barely lasted a weekend in our house.

Homemade Apple Pie

 


Secrets and Lessons Learned

The ingredients

I’ve learned that the right apples and the spice (seasoning) are the two most important parts, in that order. For the apples, I’ve found that a mix works best, with Granny Smiths always being a part of it.  I’ve had pretty good luck with Granny Smith, Jonathans and Pippins, but my recent mixture of  Granny Smiths, Braeburns and Pink Ladies was the best. As for the spice, I picked up a tip from a Yahoo! video about the right mixture of sugar, cinnamon and flour.

The crust

This is the most difficult part of the pie for me. My first pies used a butter-based crust which just didn’t seem to have enough taste or flakiness to it. My better pies have used shortening, which is what I’ve been using lately. However, I’m thinking of switching back to butter to improve the quality of the ingredients.

An assembled apple pie

My other struggle is rolling the crust and getting it to stay together from the work surface to the tin. I’ve tried all kinds of tricks, including extra cold water, refrigerating the dough overnight, but it is still a struggle. I seem to always find myself having to do some patch work on the crust after I get it into the tin. Something tells me that practice will make perfect.

Apple thickness

Mandolin Slicer

In order for the apples to cook evenly, I’ve found it important to maintain a uniform thickness. I’ve been using a mandolin slicer for this purpose. My process is to wash the apple, core it, peel it, and run it through the mandolin slicer. I get a pretty consistent thickness which shows in the quality and taste of the finished product. The baked apples have a consistent texture to them.

The layering

When layering, I create layers with each type of apple. For my recent creation, I started with a layer of spice, a Granny Smith, a layer of spice, a Braeburn, a layer of spice, a Pink Lady, a layer of spice, a Granny Smith, and final layer of spice before topping the pie.

The baking

Putting the pie in the over for 35-40 minutes at 400 degrees seems to work best. This is a bit art more than science in that the look and smell are the tell-tell signs of when the pie is ready to come out.

Feel free to share any apple pie secrets in the comments. I’d love to hear them, especially any tips with making and handling the crust!