Archive for September, 2010

Apple Pie

September 29, 2010

When the harvest moon rose on the eve of the equinox and the north wind blew leaves across the grass, baskets of new crop apples began to arrive. Everyone was ready for pie.

My dad used to say Jonathans make the best pies. For decades, legendary apple farmer, Frank Owen of southwest Ohio, sold me bushels of Jonathans from his orchards. Here north of Chicago this year’s first Jonathan apples came from southern Michigan. Jonathans may not be a trendy newfangled hybrid, but the snappy taste of their crisp flesh is irresistible. When it comes to pies, they can’t be beat.

Gather round now, all pie lovers, and learn the old-fashioned secrets. There’s no short cut for a great apple pie, but with a little practice, “it’s as easy as pie.” No prepared crust, canned filling or frozen pie will compete with what you make yourself. Only with a homemade pie will you be assured of the best ingredients, minimal sugar and delicate spicing that lets the true fruit flavor shine through.

With a food processor, making the pastry is a breeze. I always prepare more than I need for one pie and freeze the rest for the next baking. Bandaging the edge of the pie with a strip of clean cotton sheeting (buy a white sheet at the next rummage sale) guarantees that the edges won’t burn and juices won’t run over in the oven. Baking the pie the afternoon of your dinner will fill your house with fragrant anticipation. Be sure to make enough to have apple pie with a slice of aged cheddar for breakfast the next morning just like Washington and Jefferson. Now is the time for all good cooks to bake the all-American apple pie.

Basic Pastry For Fruit Pies

1 lb. all-purpose flour (3 ½ cups)

2 tablespoons powdered sugar

1 ¼ teaspoon salt

8 oz. cold unsalted butter (2 sticks)

1 oz. cold lard*, white shortening or butter (2 tablespoons)

5 fl. oz. ice water (10 tablespoons)

*Buy kettle-rendered white lard from a meat counter; avoid shelf-stable lard modified with preservatives.  Good lard makes tender, flaky crust  and is worth seeking out.

Note: The most accurate way to measure the flour and fat for pastry is with a scale, and the proper fat/flour ratio is vital. Once you start to bake using a scale, you’ll wonder how you ever managed without one.

To make pastry in a processor, place flour, sugar and salt in work bowl. Process just to combine. Slice over the cold butter and lard; process on and off three or four times until the butter is flaked into small pea-sized pieces. With the processor running, steadily pour the ice water in through the feed tube and continue to process until pastry rolls into a ball. Remove from work bowl, rock into a thick log. Wrap and chill at least an hour.

To make pastry by hand, whisk the flour, sugar and salt in a large shallow bowl. Slice in the cold butter and lard and rub the fat into the flour using floured fingertips or a pastry blender. When the butter is in floury flakes, drizzle over the ice water a little at a time, forking it evenly into the crumbly mix. Bring the dough together into a ball with both hands and shape into a log. Wrap and chill.

Makes enough for two 9–10-inch two-crust pies. (Make ½ recipe for one pie.)

Apple Pie

15 oz. or half the above pastry chilled

½ cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar

1 tablespoon cornstarch

1/8 teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon ground cinnamon

¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

½ teaspoon vanilla

2 1/4  lbs. (7-8) tart pie apples Jonathans recommended

1 tablespoon butter

little milk or cream for glaze

Choose a 9- or 10-inch glass pie dish with a lip so you can check the bottom for doneness at the end of the baking. Have ready a 3-by-50-inch strip of clean cotton sheeting to wrap the pastry edges.

In a large bowl combine ½ cup sugar, cornstarch, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg. Mix in peeled and sliced apples (7–8 cups) and vanilla.

Preheat oven to 400º

Cut the pastry log in half. Place the cut end down on a lightly floured surface and press the top with the heel or your hand or tap it with the rolling pin to make a 6-inch patty. Dust both sides of the pastry with flour and begin to roll using a gentle rocking, back and forth motion with the pin swiveling the dough a quarter of a turn with each rolling. (Here’s the tip to rolling a perfect pie crust.)

Keeping the pastry lightly dusted with flour, gently roll it into a circle 1/8-inch thick and larger than the pie dish. Fold the rolled dough in half and then in quarters forming a triangle. Place the point of the pastry in the center of the pie dish and unfold the pastry smoothing it into the bottom edges of the dish. Sprinkle a generous teaspoon of flour over the bottom of the pastry and pour in the sliced, sugared apples mounding them in the center. Slice butter over the apples. Trim any pastry overhanging the pie dish lip.

Roll the second patty of pastry in the same manner. Fold the dough in quarters and cut three small diagonal slashes on each edge near the center (see photo for result). Brush the pastry on the pie dish lip with water, unfold the top crust over the apples and moistened pastry edges. Gently press crust edges to seal. Use a scissors to trim the top crust overhang ½ inch below the edge. Fold the trimmed overhang under the bottom crust on the lip and crimp decoratively.

Brush the top of the pie with cream or milk and sprinkle generously with 2 tablespoons sugar. Rinse the cotton sheeting strip and squeeze out excess water. Bandage the edge of the pie letting the strip cover the top edge of pastry on the pie dish lip while the other half clings underneath. The damp cotton will adhere to itself at the end.

Place pie in the center of the preheated oven and reduce heat to 375º. Bake for 40–60 minutes or until piecrust is golden both on the top and the bottom. If the top browns too fast, cover with a sheet of brown paper or foil. If the bottom browns before the top, place the pie dish on a heavy sheet pan. The pie is done when the crust is golden and the apples test tender when pierced with a toothpick. Remove to a wire cooling rack. Unwrap bandage while pastry is warm. Serves 6–8.

Mary Jo’s cookbook is available at


Rice With Stuff

September 20, 2010

Rice came to the table only as pudding when we lived in Potato Land. A little spaghetti drifted in on the sidelines, but rice seemed exotic, difficult to cook and not a dish to bring sighs of joy to the round oak family table.

Rice-curious nevertheless, I found Minute Rice tasteless and turned to Uncle Ben’s Converted, which was foolproof but still seemed like cheat’s rice. As I ventured into the culinary kingdoms both South and East, my shelves filled with Jasmine, Basmati, Arborio, sticky, brown, black and red rice—until rice became a pantry staple

To keep things simple, start with two types of rice: white and brown. For me that means Basmati and round organic brown rice. A rice cooker makes the preparation child’s play, but a heavy pot with a tight-fitting cover will suffice. Lately as I’ve been trying to incorporate more brown rice while quieting the “We want white” plaint, I’ve been blending the two. Since brown rice takes much longer to cook, I keep a bowl of chilled cooked brown rice and add it to white rice dishes halfway through the cooking cycle.

When leftovers seem to be taking over the fridge, make a rice and vegetable centerpiece for your meal and surround it with the remainders of roast chicken, spare sausage, baked eggplant, or flaked fish. This rice mixture, based on a pilaf model, can fit any season and can include almost any assortment of veg on hand. Here I’m using peppers and corn, but it works with carrots, celery and frozen peas; mushrooms and spinach; tomatoes and cooked lentils; roasted poblanos and Swiss chard. The possibilities are endless: once you begin with your base of sautéed onion, you’ll find comfort in the rice cookery that connects you to the global community.

Please note that the cinnamon stick used in rice should be Ceylon Cinnamon and not Cassia. Ceylon Cinnamon, usually known as Canela, is available wherever Latin products are sold. If “apple pie” cinnamon stick or Cassia is all you can get, use only a matchstick-size piece to keep the flavor in balance.

Rice With Stuff

4 tablespoons olive oil

2 large shards Ceylon Cinnamon, Canela

8 oz. onion chopped (2 cups)

4 oz. green pepper chopped (1 cup; 1 medium pepper)

4 oz. red pepper chopped (1 cup; ½ large pepper)

2-4 cloves garlic chopped

few slices hot green chili or pinch crushed red pepper (optional)

handful herbs, chopped (basil, marjoram, thyme, parsley)

l cup Basmati rice

1 1/3-1/2 cups water

1 cup corn kernels (cut from 2 cobs, or frozen or canned corn)

1 cup cooked brown rice

salt to taste

In a heavy saucepan with tight-fitting lid warm the cinnamon in olive oil. Add chopped onion and pepper; sauté until limp. Add garlic, chile, herbs and sauté until fragrant. Add Basmati rice, salt and sauté two minutes longer. Add water. (Use minimal amount if vegetables are juicy.) Cover and simmer 5 min.

Uncover; add corn and brown rice. Recover and cook another 5 min. Turn off heat and allow to stand 5 min. Uncover, fluff with fork, taste for seasonings and garnish sprinkling of fresh parsley. Serves 4.

Mary Jo’s cookbook is available at

Homemade Ketchup

September 13, 2010

Near my grade school in town, my Lapp grandparents had a tidy lawn, catalpa trees and spirea bushes in front of their house; a T-bar clothesline, vegetable garden, roses and a white fence in back. In the kitchen a fold-down ironing board hid on one wall, a pull-out under-counter breadboard added space, and windows all around the table let in plenty of eastern light. Summertime found canning kettles on the stove, jelly bags dripping purple juice and the grinder spitting out onions, peppers and tomatoes for chili sauce. The sauce with bits of vegetable, canned in pint jars, came out as ketchup later in the season when venison burgers sputtered on the patio grill waiting to fill soft steamed buns.

This homemade, less sweet and intensely flavored tomato condiment always kept me away from the Heinz variety. Throughout the years whenever I simmer a heap of late summer tomatoes into fragrant ketchup, my mind wanders back to the Lapp kitchen. Now I’m the grandmother. Although I haven’t yet convinced my grandchildren that homemade is better than Heinz, I’m working on it.

Ketchup came to us from the Far East when seafaring traders brought back a fermented fishy sauce that took different guises with the addition of sugar, vinegar and finally our New World tomatoes. Indian meals always include savory chutneys, Koreans serve kimchis, Germans use mustards and Americans are lost without ketchup. Next time a batch of late harvest tomatoes is about to get away from you, try some homemade ketchup and experience extraordinary flavor.

Homemade Ketchup

5 pounds fresh juicy tomatoes or 4 pounds plum tomatoes

2 tablespoons grated onion (use small holes on box grater or microplane)

l large clove garlic crushed

2 inches cinnamon stick (or ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon)

10 whole cloves (or ¼ teaspoon ground cloves)

2 allspice berries (or ¼ teaspoon ground allspice)

pinch of crushed red chili or cayenne

2 teaspoons kosher salt

1/2 cup each sugar and cider vinegar

1. Core and quarter tomatoes. Crush in large saucepan; bring to a simmer and cook until pulpy. Pass soft pulp through a food mill or colander. Discard skins and seeds. Measure 6–7 cups seedless tomato puree.

2. Bring the tomato puree to a simmer. Add the remaining ingredients. (Tie whole spices in a cheesecloth bag.)

3. Simmer slowly until reduced and thickened. Stir from time to time to prevent burning.

4. Ladle into warm, scalded jam jars and seal while hot or cool, cap and store in fridge. Makes 3–4 cups

Note: In winter make ketchup using one (strained) 28 oz. can of crushed tomatoes in tomato puree.

Mary Jo’s cookbook is available at

Hamburger Buns

September 3, 2010

The great American hamburger is a myth. In my book it’s a dream meal that never quite materializes. To reach the ideal, the burger must have a toasted, light bun, not too sweet or doughy; the meat, pristine beef, medium rare, richly charred over a hardwood fire; a crumble of melting blue cheese; a slice of garden-ripened tomato; pickled red onions; a spoonful of spicy homemade ketchup; a smear of Dijon mustard and a few leaves of fresh basil or soft butter lettuce. Plus it must be HOT. By the time all the parts are assembled, I’m ready to walk away, settle for a salad, and again try to make the myth real next year.

This Labor Day’s focus will be the buns. If they were just for me, I’d choose chunks of crusty baguettes, but with a crew of kiddies to please, we’ll have traditional burger buns, and they’ll be homemade.

The dough is the easy part, but the shaping is tricky. I’ve tried rolling out the dough and stamping wide biscuit-like circles, but the results are uneven. It’s better to ball-shape each nugget of dough as described in the recipe. Golden from the egg-wash glaze, gently browned and feather-light, a bag of these buns may be kept in your freezer for burgers on picnic holidays or weekday suppers throughout the year.

Hamburger Buns

10 fl. oz. lukewarm water* (1 ¼ cups)

tiny pinch powdered ginger (optional)

1 ½ teaspoons active dry yeast

1 ½ tablespoons sugar

2 tablespoons vegetable oil or melted butter

2 tablespoons raw wheat germ (optional)

1 egg

1 pound bread flour (3 ¼ – 3 ½ cups**)

2 teaspoons kosher salt or 1 ½ teaspoons fine sea salt

* Water: Never cook with hot tap water, which may contain unwanted chemicals sitting in the hot water heater. Always start with cold tap water and warm it for use.

** A reliable scale is a home baker’s best friend. Measurements are always quick and accurate.

Add a pinch of ginger to the lukewarm water in a mixing bowl and sprinkle over the dry yeast. Allow the yeast to soften a few minutes. Add sugar, oil, wheat germ. Beat the egg in a small cup. Remove 1 tablespoon for the egg-wash and add the rest of the egg to the mixture. Stir in the flour, sprinkle over the salt. Cover bowl with a towel and allow it to rest at least 10 minutes.

If using a stand mixer with a dough hook, knead in the bowl for 10 minutes. If kneading by hand, scrape the dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead 10 minutes. Work the dough with a drawing-up and pulling-over motion, using both hands. Keep the dough soft, trying not to add extra flour. The dough will grow satiny but may seem a bit sticky. Use a flat-edged scraper to lift the dough. Only very soft dough will give feather-light buns.

Cover the kneaded dough and allow it to rise 1½ hours. Release the dough from the edges of the bowl, gently fold it over to deflate, cover and allow it to rise for 30 minutes more.

Turn the twice-risen dough out onto a lightly floured surface and cut the patted-out lump into 10 equal 3-oz. pieces or 15 equal

2-oz. pieces. Shape each piece into a mini-ball. The technique needed here is to maintain the smooth surface tension of the dough, pulling the cut edges together and pinching them underneath. Cup each ball of dough in your hand with the pinched-together area on the bottom. Roll the ball gently on the countertop to seal the bottom and make the top even. Place each ball on the cookie sheet. Once all the balls are placed 3 inches apart from one another on 1 or 2 baking tins, cover the balls with a sheet of lightly oiled plastic wrap and flatten each ball to a half-inch thickness with the palm of your hand. Cover with a tea towel and allow the buns to rise for about 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 425º, brush the top of each bun lightly with the reserved beaten egg (use a damp pastry brush or your fingertips ever so gently) and bake for 10 to 12 minutes or until golden brown. Makes 10 3-oz. buns or 15 2-oz. buns.

Mary Jo’s cookbook is available at