Short Ribs With Tagliatelle

I really haven’t gotten out the pots and pans and did some real cooking since the New Year began, so I thought the long President’s Day weekend was the perfect opportunity for me to get back into the swing of things.  With my annual beginning of a new year diet and a busy work schedule over, the long weekend seemed perfect for me to get back into the kitchen.  Even though we’ve had a very mild Winter, the temperatures are still dropping below freezing, so I thought some comfort food was in order.  With that in mind, I settled on short ribs with tagliatelle.  Short ribs that simmer on the stove for an entire afternoon with a condensed sauce containing minced vegetables, beef broth and red wine sounded perfect.  This thick and rich sauce is then spooned over tagliatelle, which are long, thin, flat strips of pasta about 1/4 inch wide.  It is very similar to fettuccine.  This recipe is an old Giada recipe given to me by a friend and has been slightly modified from the original.  The final result can be a little dry at times, so follow the recipe and save some pasta water to moisten the dish up if it does turn out to be on the dry side.

Ingredients:

  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 ounces chopped pancetta (about 1/2 cup)
  • 2 1/2 pounds short ribs
  • Salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 carrot, chopped
  • 1/2 cup fresh parsley leaves
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 (14-ounce) can tomatoes (whole or diced)
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 1 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary leaves
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 1/2 cups beef broth
  • 3/4 cup red wine
  • 1 pound fresh or dried tagliatelle

Directions:

Place the olive oil in a large heavy soup pot over medium heat.  Cook the pancetta until golden and crisp, about 4 minutes.  Meanwhile, season the short ribs with salt and pepper, and dredge in the flour.  Using a slotted spoon, remove the pancetta from the pan and set aside.  Add the short ribs to the pan and brown on all sides, about 7 minutes total.

Meanwhile, combine the onion, carrot, parsley and garlic in a food processor and blend until finely minced.  Then add the tomatoes and tomato paste and pulse.

Once the short ribs are browned, carefully add the mixture from the food processor to the pot.  Return the pancetta to the pot and stir.  Add the rosemary, thyme, oregano, bay leaf, beef broth and wine.  Bring the mixture to a boil.  Reduce the heat and simmer, covered, for 1 hour and 15 minutes.  Remove the lid and simmer for another hour and a half, stirring occasionally.  Remove the meat and bones from the pot.  Discard the bones.  Shred the meat and return it to the pot.  Season with 1/2 teaspoon salt and 3/4 teaspoon pepper, or to taste.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat.  Add the pasta and cook until tender but still firm to the bite, stirring occasionally, about 8 to 10 minutes for dried pasta and 2 to 3 minutes for fresh.  Drain the pasta, reserving 1 cup of the cooking liquid.  Add the pasta to the pot and stir to combine.  Add the reserved pasta liquid 1/4 cup at a time, if needed, to moisten the pasta.  Transfer to serving bowls and serve immediately.

Good Food From Fellow Bloggers

It’s funny how my recipe hunting habits have changed since we started Acorns On Glen.  I used to spend hours reading cookbooks to find that one recipe that was  perfect for that night’s dinner or just the right dessert to end a certain meal on a high note.  I love to cook, but have always cooked using recipes from cookbooks.  I envy people like the Notorious B.I.G. (Brooklyn Italian Grandmother) that can cook a variety of dishes from memory, using just the right amount of this or that by feel versus measuring cups and spoons to get exactly the amount the recipe states.  I think it is the accountant in me that is the reason why I always cook from cookbook recipes.  I like to be able to read the step-by-step narrative and picture in my head what each step will look like and exactly when I will need to chop something or measure something out.

Cookbook reading can also turn into an expensive habit.  I have at least two bookcases full of them ranging from the newest selection from one of the chef’s on the Food Network to cookbooks from chefs that cook at one of the many restaurants we go to when staying in New York City or when we go on vacation.  So while I still spend a lot of time reading and looking for a recipe that will make that night’s perfect dish, I now do it through all the great cooks that blog here on WordPress.  Almost every day, I go into the list of WordPress topics and click on “Recipes” or “Food”.  That takes me into the best cookbook I have read in years.  I’ve been calling it “The WordPress Cookbook”.  There are so many cooks posting recipes for great dishes from all around the world and honestly, I’ve cooked a lot of them.

Which brings me to the sticky buns I made over the weekend from joshuafagans.  His writing about how they are his family’s Christmas tradition was great, but it was the picture of the buns themselves that made my mouth water.  I have to say that I don’t have great luck in making dough.  For whatever reason, my dough never seems to rise very high or seems like a big strip of rubber.  However, after seeing the picture from joshuafagans, I was ready for a little dough adventure.  Please read the original post over at joshuafagans and see how to make it the sane way as well as the quick way, which is pretty funny.  My version is below.  I followed the recipe exactly as written using the “sane” way….read his post and you’ll understand.  Thanks joshuafagans for such a great post and a delicious recipe!

  • 1 cup scalded milk (scalded milk is just heated milk.  You know you are there when bubbles come up on the sides of the pan, but the milk is not yet boiling)
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1 1/2 tsp kosher salt
  • 1 package yeast
  • 1/4 cup warm water
  • 3 eggs
  • 5 1/2 cups flour

Melt the butter in the scalded milk and allow to cool.  Soften the yeast in the water.  Mix milk mixture with the yeast, eggs, sugar, salt and flour.  I did this in a standing mixer until a ball formed and then took the dough out and kneaded it until smooth and elastic.  I let the dough rise for 3 hours inside of my oven with the “Proof” setting turned on.

Divide the dough in half and roll each half into a 10″ x 18″ rectangle.  Spread the butter onto each half.  Combine the sugar and cinnamon and sprinkle over each rectangle.  Drizzle the syrup over both as well.

Roll the rectangles up in a jelly roll fashion and then slice each roll into 12 slices.  Place into two 9 inch cake pans and let rise for another hour.

Preheat the oven to 350 and bake until nice and brown, at least 30 minutes.  Allow to cool for a few minutes before taking out of the pan.

So give “The WordPress Cookbook” a try if you haven’t already.  If you make these sticky buns, be sure to stop by joshuafagans and thank him.  Enjoy!

Christmas Cookie #4 – Cashew Brittle (Not A Cookie, But We Can Pretend)

This brittle has always been a Christmas staple in my household.  I can remember my mom making this brittle as a very young child.  It’s funny about old memories.  My memory of my mom making brittle is as clear as it was when I was actually watching her.  I can remember what the pan looked like that she used, I can remember the exact spoon and even what the candy thermometer looked like.  I can also remember eating pounds of it, including it at breakfast, lunch and dinner.  Over time, I have taken her recipe and made some modifications.  The biggest one is that I replaced peanuts with whole cashews.  The cashews give the brittle a little more crunch and a little bit more creaminess.  I also try to eat only a few pieces now versus half the container like I used to do when I was a kid.  One thing I haven’t changed from my mom’s recipe is that I try to stretch the brittle as thin as possible.  It is a lot more delicious when your pieces are thin versus thick.  Here’s how we made the cashew brittle this year:

Ingredients:

  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, plus more for pan
  • 2 1/2 cups salted, roasted cashews
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup light corn syrup
  • 1 tablespoon baking soda

Directions:

Butter a large baking pan; set aside.  Combine cashews, sugar and corn syrup in a medium saucepan.  Set over medium-high heat and bring to a boil, stirring constantly.

Insert a candy thermometer.  Continue boiling, without stirring, until temperature registers 295 degrees, about 6 minutes.  When sugar begins to brown, stir nuts gently to ensure even cooking.  Remove saucepan from heat, and stir in the butter and baking soda; the mixture will begin to foam up, so mix quickly.  Pour onto the prepared baking pan.

As soon as the brittle is cool enough to handle, use your fingers to stretch the brittle as thinly as possible over the baking pan.

Allow the brittle to cool completely, about 45 minutes, then break into bite-size pieces.

This cashew brittle is salty-sweet perfection.  Be careful though, it can become addictive.  You won’t be able to stop eating it once you start.  I like this brittle as well for all the memories it has brought me through the years.  It’s nice to include something in your Christmas cookie collection that reminds you of Christmas past.  So there you have it.  Our Christmas cookie and treat selection for 2011.  I love how the flavors are all unique and stand up well on their own, but also how they complement each other when you make a tin up for a friend.  Coconut pyramids that look like little modern pieces of art, the long biscotti with its red cranberries and green pistachios in the mix, the pretty cookie press cookies that are too cute to eat and the salty-sweet cashew brittle.  The four of these really make a nice little treat for Santa, but better than that, for you and your family to enjoy over the Christmas holiday.  Thanks for baking with us!  Do you and your family eat all of your Christmas baked goods or do you share them with other family and friends too?

Christmas Cookie #3 – Cookie Press Cookies (Depressed With My Press)

This cookie press recipe was a true test of my baking and decorating patience.  As most of you know, a cookie press is nothing more than a hollow tube fitted with a decorative nozzle at one end and a plunger at the other.  You insert your cookie dough into the hollow tube and then you press a trigger that makes the plunger press out the dough.  The dough is pressed out through the decorative nozzle and a pressed cookie is formed.  The nozzle holds discs that turn the dough into various shapes-hearts, wreaths, Christmas trees, flowers-the list is long and covers most of the major holidays.  Here is the cookie press I used at the start of my baking.  Little did I know that two more would follow.

I’ve discovered that my right arm has gotten incredibly strong.  That’s because my squeezing of the cookie press trigger achieved pressing out five dozen cookies, but, on the bad side, it broke three cookie presses.  Yes, three presses that broke-two triggers broke off and one shaft that holds the dough cracked into two pieces!  Is this bad luck or what?  I got my cookies done, but had to order a new press at the end as a result.  This time I paid a little bit more and got a “heavy-duty” press.  I’m hoping this solves the problem.

These cookies are very tasty, with a rich butter and vanilla taste.  The recipe calls for 1 tablespoon of vanilla, which seems like a lot, but really works well with the dough.  After the cookies had cooled, we decorated each one with a glaze made out of confectioner’s sugar and a variety of cookie decorating supplies-colored sanding sugars, melted chocolate, tinted glazes, chocolate sprinkles, etc.  Most of it was purchased at the supermarket so just have fun and get whatever supplies catch your eye.  With cookie decorating, there really is no bad way to do it.  Here’s the steps:

For the cookies:

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 large egg yolks
  • 3 3/4 cups sifted all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
  • 6 ounces semisweet chocolate, melted, for decorating
  • Confectioners’ Sugar Glaze (see recipe below)
  • Food coloring, preferably gel-paste, for decorating
  • Sanding sugar, for decorating
  • Other favorite items, to use for decorating

Directions:

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a nonstick baking mat; set aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together butter and sugar until light and fluffy.

Add egg yolks, flour, salt, and vanilla.  Mix until well combined.

Fit cookie press with desired disk and fill with dough.  Press out shapes onto prepared baking sheets.  Transfer to refrigerator until chilled, about 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Bake until cookies are lightly browned, 7 to 10 minutes.  Transfer to a wire rack to cool.

To decorate, tint confectioners’ sugar glaze as desired (dividing it among a few bowls to make different colors, if desired). Dip cookies in glaze and decorate with sanding sugar, nonpareils, or dragees.  Let set until the glaze dries, at least 1 hour before serving or storing. Cookies can be stored, between layers of parchment, up to 1 week at room temperature in airtight containers.

For the glaze:

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup confectioners’ sugar, sifted
  • 2 tablespoons water

Directions:

Mix confectioners’ sugar and the water to achieve an easy-to-pour consistency, adding more water as necessary. Use immediately.

These are a great cookie.  They taste great and look great.  Impress your family and friends with a cute little decorated cookie.  They will be impressed.  At our house right now, none of us want to eat my cookie press cookies.  Not because they don’t taste good, but because they are so pretty.  Knowing how we like to eat, this mood will change soon and we will devour them.  It’s the holidays right?  Overeating is expected!  Do you make any decorated cookies during the holidays?

Christmas Cookie #2 – Cranberry-Pistachio Biscotti (Or Hey You, Give Me Something To Dip Into My Coffee)

This is a batch of biscotti, which is technically not a cookie at all, but rather a biscuit.  However, it has always been part of my Christmas cookie baking timeline whenever the mood hits me to bake Christmas cookies.  Did you know that biscotti is the plural form of biscotto?   The word biscotto originates from the medieval Latin word biscoctus, meaning twice-cooked/baked.  So there you have the secret of making a batch of biscotti.  You make two long loaves of dough, bake them, let them cool a little and then slice them and bake them again.  The second bake actually hardens them up a little so that they last a little while longer than a normal cookie does.  Their hardness also makes it a favorite for dipping into coffee or tea.

That’s another reason I make them.  The holidays at our house see a lot of coffee that is drank on a daily basis.  I find it amazing that the people who are older and have the weaker kidneys are usually the ones that ask for the most coffee to drink and a little something to nibble on while drinking.  I have not done a scientific test on this factoid as of yet, but I know it would fall out as a solid statement if I did.  For each cup poured, many times there is the question “What do you have to dip into this coffee?”   Many times they ask this by calling my name and, more than a few times, my name is forgotten and a simple “Hey you!” starts out the request.

The biscotti recipe I always make is filled with cranberries and pistachios.  When you look down at the sides of the biscotti, there are little flecks of red (the cranberries) and green (the pistachio nuts).  What screams holiday more than bursts of red and green?  Here’s how we make the biscotti in our house:

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup dried cranberries
  • 1/2 cup boiling water
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 cup sugar, plus more for sprinkling
  • 3 large eggs, plus 1 large egg, lightly beaten
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup (2 1/2 ounces) unsalted pistachios, coarsely chopped

Directions:

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper; set aside.  Place cranberries in a small bowl; add boiling water.  Let stand until plump, about 15 minutes.  Drain, and set aside.  Sift together flour, baking powder, and salt into a medium bowl; set aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat butter and sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes.  Add 3 eggs, one at a time, beating to incorporate after each addition and scraping down sides of bowl as needed.  Beat in vanilla.  Add flour mixture, and mix on low-speed until combined.  Mix in cranberries and pistachios.

Turn out dough onto a lightly floured surface; divide in half.  Shape each piece into a 16-by-2-inch log, and transfer to prepared baking sheet, about 3 inches apart.  With the palm of your hand, flatten logs slightly.  Brush beaten egg over surface of the dough logs, and sprinkle generously with sugar.

Bake, rotating sheet halfway through, until logs are slightly firm to touch, about 25 minutes.  Transfer logs on parchment paper to a wire rack to cool slightly, about 20 minutes.  Reduce oven temperature to 300 degrees.

Place logs on a cutting board.  Using a serrated knife, cut logs crosswise on the diagonal into 1/2-inch-thick slices.  Place a wire rack on a large rimmed baking sheet.  Arrange slices, cut sides down, on rack.  Bake until firm to touch, about 30 minutes.  Remove pan from oven; let biscotti cool completely on rack.  Biscotti should be kept in an airtight container.

You know you have turned out a great batch when all you hear during “coffee breaks” is the crunch, crunch, crunch of a group of folks gnawing on your cranberry-pistachio biscotti.  Thanks for reading about our second cookie made for the season.  There will be other posts about our Christmas baking through the big day on December 25.  We hope you will come back and “bake” with us.  We like the company!!  What is your favorite kind of Christmas cookie?

Christmas Cookie #1 – Coconut Pyramids (No Trip To Egypt Needed)

This is always the first cookie I make if and when I get into the Christmas cookie baking mode.  Coconut pyramids start the season off right.  Front up, I will tell you, it’s not every season I get into the mood to make Christmas cookies.  When I do, these coconut pyramid macaroons are first up at bat.  Why coconut macaroons you may be asking versus something more traditional for the holidays?  I’m not sure I know that answer other than to say they are quick to make and bake.  It’s probably a mental thing…you start off with something easy that always turns out right and then you get into a state where you start taking more challenges with more complicated recipes.  Know that the hardest part of this recipe is finding unsweetened coconut.  The only place I have found it is at my local health food store.  I’ve used the sweetened kind of coconut from the supermarket, but it just does not work.

I first baked these macaroons in 2001 when I ran across the recipe in a cookbook I had purchased.  I remember thinking that they would look like little snow drifts among the other cookies that I had baked that year.  Since everyone I gave cookies to that year was really in the mood for coconut (I guess), these pyramids received a lot of compliments and I’ve been making them ever since.  Coconut macaroons are light and chewy.  The little tip of chocolate at the end of the cookie is a nice little touch as well.  It’s the pyramid shape that I find the best part of the cookie.  It looks like it takes a long time to shape them, but it is pretty quick and painless.  You don’t have to make them your first Christmas cookie of the season, but do give them a shot this year.  It’s always nice to start a new tradition.  Why not do it with a coconut pyramid?

Ingredients:

  • 1 3/4 cups sugar
  • 5 1/4 cups unsweetened shredded coconut (I find mine at a local health food store)
  • 7 large egg whites
  • 1 pinch salt
  •  2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
  • 1 teaspoon pure almond extract
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 4 ounces semisweet chocolate
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure vegetable shortening

Directions:

Heat oven to 350 degrees.  Line a baking sheet with parchment.  In a large bowl, mix together sugar, coconut, egg whites and salt.  Add butter and extracts and combine well.  Refrigerate for at least 1 hour.

Moisten palms of hands with cold water.  Roll 1 tablespoon of the coconut mixture in palms, squeezing tightly together 2 or 3 times to form a compact ball.  Place ball on a clean surface and, using a spatula, flatten one side at a time to form a pyramid shape.

Place pyramids on the prepared baking sheet about 1 inch apart and bake until edges are golden brown, about 15 minutes.  Leave on baking sheet on a wire rack to cool completely.

Place chocolate and shortening in a small heat-proof bowl and set over a pan of simmering water; stir occasionally until melted.  Dip top 1/2 inch of each pyramid in the melted chocolate.  Set each dipped macaroon on cooled baking sheet to allow chocolate to harden.

For some reason, my friends, family and I find it hard to eat just one of these cookies at any given sitting.  They go pretty fast, so be prepared.  I’ll be posting a few more Christmas cookie favorites over the next couple of weeks.  I’m in the mood to bake them this year, so why not share the recipes with the masses.  Enjoy!!  What is your favorite cookie that you make for the holidays?

Gobbling Up Our Turkey Shaped Cornbread

This is what happens when Martha Stewart inspires you way too much.  I try not to watch her show much anymore because I am the type of person that sees her do something and then I become obsessed with the idea and have to try it.  The problem is that I only complete about 50% of the things that I see her do.  Sure, I made this Thanksgiving cornbread in the special turkey pan she used, but still lingering are projects that I haven’t done, like making wax initials with a letterpress, wax sticks and a glue gun, glittering some pine cones for a crystal bowl I have on my dining room table and embossing my velvet Christmas stockings with a faux bois finish.  I’m serious, I actually have everything you need to do these projects.  They are in my hall closet.  However, the only thing I don’t have is time.  Oddly enough, when I do have the time, I just don’t have the energy.  I see Martha wincing now.

I turned on Martha’s show only once leading up to the Thanksgiving holiday.  It was the show where she made these cornbread turkeys.  I was obsessed and knew that it was happening again….the urge to make something beautiful that she made.  I ran to my computer and frantically searched for the right turkey mold pan.  I found it on Amazon.com.  I had it sent via overnight FedEx, which cost me about as much as the pan.  I received the pan late Wednesday evening and knew that it was perfect for the recipe to be made on Thanksgiving morning.  I was right on schedule.

The cornbread recipe to fill the mold was very simple to make.  The cornbread is actually a little more dense than the cornbread recipe I usually make, but still very delicious.  The addition of the jalapeno peppers and the cheddar cheese was a nice addition to the cornbread recipe.  They both gave the bread a little punch.  Here’s how I did it:

Ingredients:

  • Vegetable oil cooking spray
  • 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons (1 1/4 sticks) unsalted butter
  • 2 cups fresh (from about 3 ears) or thawed frozen corn kernels
  • 3 jalapeno chiles, minced (ribs and seeds removed for less heat, if desired)
  • 2 shallots, minced
  • 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 2 1/4 cups yellow cornmeal
  • 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon coarse salt
  • 3/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 tablespoon plus 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 3 large eggs
  • 2 1/4 cups buttermilk, well shaken
  • 1 1/2 cups grated cheddar cheese

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Coat two 5-cup turkey-shaped pans with cooking spray.  Melt 1/2 cup butter and let cool.

Melt remaining 2 tablespoons butter in a skillet over medium-high.  Cook corn, jalapeno, and shallots, stirring occasionally, until soft, 4 to 6 minutes.

Whisk together flour, cornmeal, salt, pepper, sugar, baking powder and baking soda in a large bowl.  Make a well in the center of the mixture and add eggs; whisk eggs into flour mixture.

Whisk together melted butter and buttermilk; stir into flour mixture, along with corn mixture and cheddar.  Mix until well combined.

Divide the batter evenly between prepared pans; smooth tops.  Transfer to oven and bake, rotating pans halfway through, until a cake tester inserted into the centers comes out clean, 30 to 35 minutes.  Let cool slightly before inverting onto a wire rack.  Serve warm or at room temperature.

Christmas is right around the corner.  I know Martha will do something that I will see or hear about and the free-for-all will begin all over again.  What will it be?  Hand felted Santa suits, carve your own reindeer antlers, a simple dinner for 100?  If you find out, please don’t let me know.  Well, maybe just a hint is fine.  Do you stalk have a favorite famous personality that you like and follow?

Using Booze To Make Holidays Even Brighter

This little drink can really make roasting chestnuts on an open fire or going over the river and through the woods a lot less painful.  It is a juice and vodka drink that we call a Pomatini.  It is made with fresh squeezed pomegranate, grapefruit and lime juices.  We made the drink on Thanksgiving morning and actually sat our Pomatini filled decorative pitchers outside so that the drink could cool down before serving.  During our appetizers before the big Thanksgiving meal, we poured, shaked and drank Pomatinis.  Wow, it sure worked to make good food taste even better.  We decided to make these drinks because pomegranates seemed so Thanksgiving-like.  If you think of it, you could really justify this drink for any holiday or occasion–the reddish color fits in well with Christmas festivities or the juice make-up is perfect for a July 4th party.  So the next time you have a get together, consider the Pomatini!

Ingredients for the Pomatini (fills half of a large decorative pitcher):

  • 1 cup freshly squeezed pomegranate juice
  • 1 1/2 cups vodka
  • 1 1/2 cups freshly squeezed grapefruit juice
  • 1/2 cup freshly squeezed lime juice
  • 1/2 cup simple syrup

Directions:

Combine pomegranate juice, vodka, grapefruit juice, lime juice and simple syrup and then pour into decorative pitchers.  Continue recipe, making it in the proportions provided, until all of your pitchers are filled.

Add ice to chill into the pitcher or pour drink into a shaker filled with ice.  Strain drink into a chilled martini glass.

Ingredients for Simple Syrup:

  • 2 cups sugar
  • 2 cups water

Directions:

Bring sugar and water to a boil in a small saucepan over high heat.  Cook, stirring, until sugar dissolves.  Let cool.

So why not use our Pomatini to help reduce your stress level during your next holiday get together or party?  Be warned, if you drink more than a couple of these Pomatinis make sure you use a designated driver when you go outside to drive your sleigh around.  What great cocktail recipes do you make during the holidays?  

First Pie Of Fall – Making A Concord Grape Pie

This is a slice of our first homemade pie of Fall, a Concord grape pie.  Like many people, hearing about a grape pie is a new thing.  An oddity in the homemade pie world.  I mean, how many times have you ever seen a grape pie in your life?  I have never seen one for sale at the supermarket or at a bakery.  However, when I was a young child growing up in Iowa, my grandmother made grape pies all the time when grapes were in season.  So when I saw this recipe, I knew I had to give it a try.  Remembering the taste of her grape pie made me want to make this.  Although not a common pie, grape filling is a really good way to fill a pie crust.  I do have to disclose that my grandma’s grape pie was different from my grape pie in one major respect.  Hers always had a lot of seeds in the filling.  I remember eating her grape pie and chewing on a seed and whining, “Grandma, there is a seed in the pie.”  She would reply, “Just shut up and eat it.  Do you think I have all day to sit and seed grapes?”  It is true that the grapes you use for this recipe, Concord grapes, contain a lot of flavor and a lot of seeds.  You can spend a lot of time scraping the seeds out of the pulp with a knife, but I have discovered a way to do it in a much faster manner.  I boil the pulp for less than 10 minutes and then strain the seeds out through a sieve.  To start this recipe, you need to find some Concord grapes.

Concord grapes are large, sweet grapes that appear dark purple (almost black) in color.  They have thick skins and are in season in my neck of the woods for a very short amount of time.  Most of the time, you see them in Connecticut at the beginning of October through the middle of November.  Originating in the 1840s near, not surprising, Concord, Massachusetts, the most familiar American grape is the Concord grape.  Winter hardy, the vigorous plants can produce up to twenty pounds or more of the fruit per vine per year.  Well-established grapevines can produce quality fruit for more than forty years.  The Concord grape is responsible for making the famous and popular Concord grape jelly that we all know and loved as kids (and probably as grown ups too).  Here’s how we made our first pie of the Fall…our Concord grape pie.

Ingredients:

Directions:

On a lightly floured work surface, roll 1 piece of pie crust dough into a 13-inch round.  With a dry pastry brush, sweep off the excess flour.  Fit dough into a 9-inch pie plate, pressing it into the edges.  Trim to a 1-inch overhang all around.  Crimp edge as desired.  Chill pie shell until firm, for at least 1 hour.  Repeat process for rolling out dough.  Using a 4-inch grape leaf cookie cutter, cut out 4 leaves from dough. Transfer to a baking sheet, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.

So now here’s the trick for removing the seeds from the grapes in a pretty quick manner.  Remove the skins from the grape pulp by pinching the ends of each grape, reserving both the pulp and skins separately.  Discard any accumulated liquid (you don’t want your pie to be too juicy).  Literally, just pop the pulp right out of the skins with a squeeze of your fingers.  Here’s the skins:

Now, here’s the pulp:

Place pulp in a saucepan and bring to a boil.

Cook until the seeds separate from the pulp and the pulp breaks down, less than 10 minutes.

Strain the mixture through a sieve into the bowl with the reserved skins.

Here are the seeds left over after your straining is complete.  Discard them.

Let cool to room temperature before placing in the refrigerator for 2 hours.

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.  Remove grape mixture from refrigerator.  Stir in sugar and cornstarch.  Pour into the prepared pie shell.  Beat egg with 1 tablespoon water.  Brush edge of pie shell with egg mixture, reserving any remaining egg mixture.  Transfer pie to oven; bake 10 minutes.  Reduce heat to 350 degrees and continue baking until filling jiggles when shaken, about 30 minutes.  Transfer pie to a wire cooling rack; let cool overnight.  Two things to remember on this step:

  • Do not overfill your pie crust with the grape filling.  It does expand and you don’t want it to overflow.
  • When you give your pie a little shake and see the filling jiggle, your first instinct is to think your pie is not cooked enough.  It is.  Remember all the cornstarch you put into the filling?  As the pie cools, the cornstarch thickens the juice and sets it firm.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Remove reserved grape leaves from refrigerator and brush with remaining egg and water mixture.  Bake until golden brown, 15 to 20 minutes.  Transfer to a wire cooling rack; let cool.  Before serving, place grape leaves on top of filling.

This pie has a great flavor.  Great flavor that also surprises the folks that you serve it to.  Maybe your friends have had a grape pie?  My friends seem to be shocked that I used Concord grapes to make a pie.  After one taste, they all want the recipe.  Since time is running out on Concord grape season, get to your supermarket and pick up some Concord grapes and make this tasty and different dessert.  You’ll be glad that you did.  Have you ever eaten a grape pie before?

The Sure Sign Of Fall – Making Pie Crust Dough

This is a the first pie crust of the season here on Glen Road.  Even though pies can be made any time of year, it seems we prefer pie more in the Fall and Winter seasons.  Our first pie is always made around Halloween and this year is no exception.  Making pie crust dough always brings about a little bit of anxiety for me.  No matter how many times I’ve made a crust, I am always nervous about the part of picking up the rolled dough and placing it in the pie plate without tearing or ripping the dough.  Even though I’ve made lots and lots of pies, I can’t ever seem to shake my crust anxiety.  That’s why it is important to find a crust recipe out there that works for you.  There are many….ones that use butter versus vegetable shortening, ones that use sugar versus salt, ones that use a pastry blender and ones that don’t.  Experiment with the many recipes out there until you find one that works for you.  Once you determine the right one, stick to it.  The more you use it, the easier it will be to make a crust that is flaky and golden.  Like they say, practice makes perfect.

My favorite recipe mixes everything up in the food processor.  It’s pretty quick and pain-free.  The crust always turns out flaky and browns very easy in the oven to golden without burning.  I make sure everything is cold when I add it to the flour, sugar and salt.  The butter is cut into cubes and then I place it back in the refrigerator to cool down again.  The water I add to the mixture is ice-cold.  After I form my crust into the pan, I place it back in the refrigerator for at least an hour.  Popping a super cold crust into a super hot oven produces a flaky pie crust that does not pull away from the sides of the pan.  Cold, cold, cold!!  So here’s how I have been making pie crust dough for at least the last ten years:

Ingredients:

  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 8 ounces (2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
  • 1/4 to 1/2 cup ice water

Directions:

Pulse flour, salt and sugar in a food processor until combined.  Add butter and process until mixture resembles coarse meal, about three pulses of the food processor (remember, your butter is already in small pieces so you don’t want to chop it up much more).  With the machine running, add water in a slow, steady stream until mixture just begins to hold together.

Shape dough into 2 disks. Wrap each in plastic, and refrigerate at least 1 hour to 2 days (or freeze for up to 1 month; thaw in refrigerator before using).

Like I said earlier, everyone you know has a different technique for making pie crust dough.  I like the easy technique the food processor provides.  My friends over at Rufus’ Food and Spirits Guide make their pie crust dough with a pastry blender.  The choice is yours.  At the end of the day, you want a recipe that provides delicious, flaky and golden brown crust that you enjoy eating.

Also experiment with the edges of your pie crust.  There is nothing more beautiful than a pie with a gorgeous finish on the edge of the crust…whether its a simple fluted edge or one decorated with cut-out dough shapes into forms like leaves, hearts or flowers, that attention to detail makes a good pie a great one.  Have fun making your crust and don’t get nervous…like me.  How do you make your pie crust dough?