November 7, 2006

Fear of baking

After yesterday afternoon's unsettling discovery, I set out to try some new recipes. With a meal consisting of Cook's Illustrated penne alla vodka and Southern Living's Apple/Cranberry pie, I won't admit it isn't just a little strange, but whatever. It's fall. Fall means apples, and apples go with pretty much anything. And one last thing before I start: today's moral is: follow the recipe, it's there for a reason.

Instead of scarfing down my freshly-made food like I do practically every monday (since I never seem to allot enough time for preparation, eating, and cleanup), I started quite early tonight (though that extra time was eaten, as it was, by the pie's cooling time). At any rate, it was a good first step to getting better.

Like some Cook's recipes, the penne was incredibly easy (like the coq au vin) and quick to prepare (unlike the coq au vin). Most of the ingredients were gathered at the 14th St. Trader Joe's, where I accidentally bought whole, peeled tomatoes with basil. When I got home and realized what I'd done, I decided the extra basil couldn't be a detriment. It was fun using liz's little chopper/grinder to 'puree' half of the tomatoes while I diced the rest (until I realized that the pureeing peeled whole plum tomatoes were splattering in a fine spray around the kitchen; still fun, but in a gross kind of way).

Everything else about the penne was straightforward, except my getting flustered and sprinkling the red pepper flakes instead of measuring them. I really wish I knew how much I used because it wasn't nearly enough, so the outcome was solid in the viscosity department, but sadly lacking any kind of heat. More onion seems wrong, but a bit more garlic may have been welcome.

Overall, totally worth it. I'll be making this penne again. (with added heat)

And onto the Apple-Cranberry pie. I've never really been excited enough about a pie on paper to want to cook it, but the damn-easy instructions in this month's Southern Living encouraged me to beat the fear of baking and I went down to the Union Square Farmer's Market to get some fresh locals (um, apples, of course), and only then remembered that it was Monday. Monday is the market's off day and usually disappointing, and instead of getting the suggested Gala, Macintosh, and Granny Smith apples, because the latter two weren't available, I ended up with Gala, Braeburn, and Romes.

My awesome roommate peeled the apples, about 9 of them (the recipe called for 12, but the growing pile began looking ridiculous). Some lemon juice, some flour, and 1 1/2 cups sugar (damn). They did reduce, but it was still quite overflowing when we got it into the shell. The shell, btw, was a bit annoying to work with; I chose a Pilsbury 2x9-inch refrigerated pie crust and it did not unroll well.

As the apples reduced I could see what would eventually become the pie's ultimate problem: soupy apples. The Romes (I'm pretty sure it was them) began gooeifying during the saute phase and continued on their slippery slope until they turned into a (delicious, but) soupy mess during the baking phase.

We decided against the lattice, as you can see (above), and I think the steam vents suited it fine. We also didn't cover the crust in tin foil, as suggested, to prevent over-browning; thankfully it wasn't an issue.

And the result: Braeburn apples rock for pie. Rome apples do not. Pilsbury crusts suck before their cooked, but once they are they're quite decent. And Southern Living can make a great pie.

Next time I might add some grated orange peel and cinnamon/nutmeg/allspice. This was Liz and my first pie, and it was a good, solid start. Oh, and to be a food nerd for a moment, Cook's Illustrated said that precooking the apples helps them keep their shape BUT you have to make sure the heat doesn't go past 140 degrees. They recommend using a Dutch Oven instead of a saute pan. If I'd read that before making the pie, things may have turned out better. Maybe.

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Extra special thanks to me for taking this photo. I should really take more photos.

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