Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Autumn Decorating

As a rule, I am not a big fan of the color orange. You won't find it in my home any time other than Autumn. But who can resist pumpkins and the deep colors of orange, and gold, and red that fall brings? Orange finally fits right in.
 I grabbed one of the wooden boxes Earl built for the wedding and the lace covered candles still had lots of life in them. By adding some mini pumpkins and some faux and real bittersweet I have a warm and cozy centerpiece that can be used anywhere.  It's candle lighting season after all, and I am not one to waste an opportunity to light the dreary days, (it's raining today!) or dark evenings with the warm glow of candlelight.
 Yesterday was probably one of the last warm days we will have here. We took the opportunity to walk an old wooded trail that used to be a railroad bed. I have been coveting bittersweet for a few years. I have heard it's protected, and besides, I wouldn't cut anything along a public trail that is for the enjoyment of everyone.
Lucky for me, the utility company had gone through and cut the brush along the trail that was directly under the phone lines. Along with the brush was a plentiful supply of bittersweet that had been cut right along with it. I filled my arms with all I could hold and felt as happy as if I had discovered gold.  Some of it went into an interesting old jar I recently found at a church sale. I have it next to the kitchen sink. By the way, there is nothing like blogging an area to inspire a good clutter clean up. Maybe I should systematically be photographing and blogging the house?  Ha!  Maybe not.

I hate to say it but the weather is turning colder and drearier. Friday we are supposed to get something that rhymes with the word NO! which in a word describes how I feel about that particular weather event most of the time.  Time marches on, Autumn is winding down.
Are you starting to think about Christmas?

Monday, October 20, 2014

One Set of Dishes

Earl and I were having dinner with friends recently.  I admired her dishes and she explained that they were the every day dishes that she had purchased years ago when she was first married, and that she liked them so much they were the only set she owned and used.
Earl's reply? "Yeah, we only have one set of dishes too."  I could only look at him and wonder who he had been living with for 34 years. "We only have one set of dishes?"
 Well, ok. There is the set of plain white dishes that I won in a giveaway a couple years ago. We use them the most right now.
 And then there is the set of brown transferware that I use for Thanksgiving dinners. I picked up the set at Salvation Army for a song, one of my best finds yet.
 Of course I love my set of red transferware too. Picked up at Marshalls years ago. I have been thinking of swapping the white ones out for these for a while just for a change. I lve red.
 And then the set of Johnson Brothers rose chintz that we have used for years for Christmas and Easter. The girls love these :>) Those came from the church garage sale. Another steal at $15 for a big box of everything from dinner plates to salad plates and tea cups and saucers.
 And you do remember the Wedgewood that I bought at the garage sale a couple years ago? $2 a plate, and I meant to put them in the etsy shop but I. just. can't. If I ever find more of these I'm adding to the set. You were with me at the garage sale. remember those?
And of course this sweet little tea and dessert set that you bought me just because I fell madly in love with them at an estate sale.   I didn't pull out the odds and ends of pretty dishes that I mix and match.
One set of dishes?  I don't think so.

How about you, are you a dish lover too?

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Apple Pie

I think we can all agree that apple pie is an all time favorite for most people.  There must be a million recipes floating around out there and I don't claim to corner the market on good pie. I will say this, I believe apple pie should be simple. It should let the flavor of the apple shine through.  I've seen recipes for apple pie with cheese (why? why would you do that?), caramel, berries, they all have their merits, but when I want apple pie, I want plain ol' apple pie with lots of apples, a little cinnamon and some fresh grated nutmeg.  You can't go wrong if you keep it simple.
Fancy up your crust if you must, but let the filling speak for itself, and regarding filling, it's all about what kind of apples you use. I prefer macintosh and granny smith. This last time I added some honeycrisp, because that is what the apple committee gave me! It was a really great combination, with the tart apples giving that tangy apple flavor and the honeycrisp bumping up the sweetness perfectly. So without further ado, here is the recipe for apple pie that I use. Simple, easy, cozy, and just plain good.

Crust

1 3/4 cups flour
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 Tablespoon sugar
1/3 cup shortening plus 3 Tablespoons of butter (these should be cold)
6 Tbsp ice water

Note*  Hydrogenated oils are BAD for you. I have been using an organic non hydrogenated shortening that I find at Kroger in the gluten free and health food aisle. It is called Spectrum Organic shortening and it works fabulously. If I can't find that I prefer to use non hydrogenated lard when I can find it.

Mix all the dry ingredients together, add shortening and butter and cut in using a pastry cutter or fork until the shortening is the size of small peas and incorporated throughout the flour mixture. You want these little chinks to make your pie dough flakey and tender.  Once you have the shortening and butter incorporated add ice water (no chunks of ice please) one Tbsp at a time, drizzled over the flour mixture and mixed in with a fork.  When you have all of the water incorporated you should be able to gather the dough all together into a ball. If it is still a little too dry you can add a little bit more water until it holds together.  You don't want it too wet, you just want it to hold together.  Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.  This is enough for a two crust pie.

Filling

For a 9" pie
6 cups thinly sliced , pared tart apples
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup flour
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp cinnamon (or a little more if you really like cinnamon. I usually use up to 3/4 tsp)
a dash of salt
2 Tbsp butter
 
Heat the over to 425. Prepare pastry by cutting it in half and rolling out 1/2 of the crust at a time. Place it in a 9" pie plate.
For the filling stir together the apples and all ingredients except the butter, and turn it into the prepared bottom crust.  Cut the 2 Tbsp of butter into chunks and dot the top of the filling with the pieces.  Roll out the top crust and lay it on, crimp it around the edge, cut slits in the top for steam to escape and pop it in the oven.  Some people say you should cover the edge with foil the first 15 minutes, I never do, and my crusts are fine. Bake for 40 to 50 minutes or until the crust is brown and the juice begins to bubble through the slits in the crust.  Just a suggestion, I always line a cookie sheet with foil and bake the pie on it. It catches any juices that might bubble through and it keeps my oven clean and is easier to clean up than gooey sugary filling baked onto the pan.
 
And there you have it, easy apple pie that will make your mouth water and your husband smile. Enjoy!


 

Monday, October 13, 2014

Michigan Apples

Last week we had a little mid week adventure. The Michigan Apple Committee emailed me and asked if I would like to be part of a bloggers tour for Michigan Apples. You must know how much I love apples for baking in the fall by now, so I said yes! I boldly asked if I could bring Earl with me, (why not make it a mid-week date!?) and they kindly said yes. The day was bright and sunny, windy, but not too cold. We grabbed a cup of coffee and drove the two hours to Grand Rapids for the tour.
  We started at Sietsema Orchard for a farm to table lunch served up by Saburba of Ada, Michigan.
It included all sorts of dishes that incorporated apples, including a veggie burger with slices of cheese and apple on focaccia, sausage with apples, a delicious slice of something like apple crisp but firmer and more like a cookie and a fabulous potato salad with tiny blue and gold potatoes. We enjoyed it all in the brisk autumn air at a table set up under a pergola before we got to tour the orchard.
 The only blurry photo I was able to get of all of us at the table. My only regret was that there was very little time to really meet and get to know any of the other bloggers. It was a jam packed tour and it didn't leave a lot for time for introductions.
It's a lot of fun seeing the behind the scenes reality of the orchard. Sietsema's Orchard makes not only regular cider, but hard cider. You can see the crates of apples and the vats and oak casks involved in the photo below. They have one type of hard cider that is made with heirloom apples and part of the proceeds benefit a local hospital. The orchard itself is homey and pretty. They offer farm to table dinners to the public and they seem to sell out quickly, so if you are in the area I would suggest you make reservations well in advance. If the food we ate was any indication, it would be a really great meal.
 Our next stop was Younquist Farms in Kent City, Michigan, where we learned about growing apples and got a first hand look at the harvest. It was so beautiful there, and amazing to see crate after crate of freshly picked apples ready to go to the plant to be processed. We also learned a lot about apple growing, and Earl and I think we might want to add a very small stand of apple trees to the garden in the near future.
 Then it was off to Jack Brown Produce, Inc. in Sparta. Jack Brown is a packing house and it was so interesting to see behind the scenes. The crates you see below are apples that are placed in huge storage areas to be stored throughout the year. Ever wonder how the apples you buy in March are as fresh and firm as the ones you buy in October? These storage areas are sealed and the oxygen is replaced with nitrogen to basically put the apples to sleep. I was also surprised at how many steps there are to packaging, everything from floating the apples out of the crates (because they have to be unbruised and undamaged through all of this!) to washing, sorting, waxing and bagging.
 But lets get real here. Most of us don't want to hear the statistics, like Michigan is #3 in apple production in the U.S., we don't need the details of how they are grown and processed.  Fascinating as it is, we are more focused on one thing. Eating them!
And of course, one of my favorite ways to eat apples is in apple pie!
I made 10 this weekend. And no, I didn't eat a single pie, not a bite.
But I'll share with you. Tomorrow, my recipe for apple pie :>)
What is your favorite autumn use for apples?

I was compensated for this post in the form of gas reimbursement and a bag of apples.  No profit was made and all opinions are my own, as usual ;>)
 

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Crust

It's no secret I have been baking pies every week for a mission trip that some of the young moms are taking this next spring. Pie making and I go w-a-a-a-y back. My grandmother taught me when I was about 6 or 7 years old and since my mom hated cooking and baking, pie making was delegated to me. I felt like such a big girl helper, I would proudly pull a chair over to the counter and mix up the crust and roll it out and put it in the pan while mom cut up apples. Being little, I didn't know that pie crust was supposed to be hard to master, I just did what grandma taught me and mom always made sure to praise my talents. Kids belong in the kitchen at an early age, it's a great way to build practical skills and confidence in the kitchen!
The old saying easy as pie is so true, just find a recipe that works for you (mine is straight out of Betty Crocker), and know that your shortening or butter or whatever fat you use (lard is best according to grandma and I can't argue with that!) has to be cold and it has to be incorporated into little pea size lumps in the flour. If you can remember that, you can make pie crust.
 The problem is, there is always pie crust left over. I hate wasting all those good ingredients, so I squish the trimmings all together, roll them out and would usually cut them up, brush them with egg wash and then sugar and cinnamon. Last fall we found this set of adorable pie crust leaf cutters at Williams-Sonoma. They were ridiculous price and we wistfully passed them up. I went back after Thanksgiving and they were marked way down. I snatched them up and used them as a stocking stuffer for Earl last Christmas. As I was making pie crust last week I remembered them and pulled them out. They are so perfect for Autumn!
They were adorable and since I had made an all butter crust that week they were flakey and flavorful too. I also made a batch of lemon curd and I spooned a little on top for a treat :>)  If you make pie, remember it's easy, making some cute cinnamon sugar treats is a great way to not waste the leftover pie crust. These would even be fun in a cellophane bag with a small jar of jam for a gift!
What is your favorite thing to bake in the fall?