Sunday, January 30, 2011

Day 101.5 - Sunday Night Apple Pie

Few things evoke the feeling of comfort and home more than the smell of baking apple pie. It's been a long winter already, and there's plenty left to go, so in an effort to off-set "winter-weariness" (an actual clinical term I recently heard a psychologist, hello, isn't that depression, Mr. Ph.D fancy-pants?), I thought baking an old fashioned apple pie might just do the trick. The great thing about this recipe is that other than the crust, there's relatively little fat or sugar involved, so eaten in moderation you're sure to rise above weariness of any kind. And, if that doesn't work, just cut yourself a second slice. That's right, I went there.

This recipe is a hodge-podge of some of my favorites - use it as is, or tweak it to give it your own distinct twist. Some adaptations you might consider: a little nutmeg, a teaspoon of lemon peel, a teaspoon of vanilla or maybe even a handful of chopped cranberries. Go for it!

Basic Pie Crust (for a two crust pie)

2 1/2 cups flour
1/2 tsp. salt
2 tsp. sugar
12 Tbsp. cold butter
1/2 cup cold shortening
4-6 Tbsp. ice water

In a food processor, combine the flour, salt and sugar, pulsing 3 or 4 times until blended.
Add cut up butter and shortening and pulse until it resembles pebbles, then slowly add water, 2 Tbsp. at a time. Pulse just until dough forms a ball and sticks to blade.
Remove from processor and form into 2 5-inch disks. Wrap disks in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 2 hours.
Remove dough from refrigerator. On a well floured surface, roll one disk out to a 12-inch circle. Place in pie pan, pressing gently into the bottom of the pan, leaving a 1/4-inch around the lip, then folding any excess dough over, crimping the edges. 
Heat the oven to 350F.
Place a piece of foil slightly larger than the pan, in the shell and fill with pie weights (beans work well), and bake for about 30 minutes until the shell is golden brown.
Prepare apple filling next.

Sunday Night Apple Pie

1 recipe Basic Pie Crust
4 large Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored and sliced to 1/4-inch thick
3 Macintosh or Rome apples, peeled, cored and sliced to 1/4-inch thick
3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
1/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp. kosher salt
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 egg, lightly beaten
2 Tbsp. brown cane sugar

Combine all ingredients except egg and cane sugar and toss gently to coat. Heap into cooled, cooked pie shell.
Roll out remaining disk of dough and cut into 8 (or more if you have extra dough) strips, using a sharp knife or pizza cutter.
Brush strips with egg wash, then lay 4 strips across top of pie, letting sides overlap. Next, lay 4 more strips diagonally across the top of bottom 4 strips.
Bake for 1 hour and 10 minutes until lattice is golden brown. Let cool on wire rack and trim any lattice overhang so the strips are even with the pie edge. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Day 101! Madagascar - Ginger-Lemon Coconut Chicken - Up Next, Malawi

Tonight's international health conscious meal is dedicated to my old (figuratively speaking) high school friend, Cathy. During our 4 years of school, Cathy excelled at pretty much everything she did:  great student, outstanding athlete and all around nice person.  She just made everything look easy. I, on the other hand, spent 4 years showing up to class when the spirit moved me, "competing" on our school swim team purely for the social rewards and oh, yes, infamously known to Mr. Lyons, our Dean/Disciplinarian,  as "the late Miss Scoble." It's no wonder that today, Cathy runs a thriving fitness business as a personal trainer, bettering the health and wellbeing of the lucky clients who work with her.  Check out her link if you want to get your butt whooped into shape after a long, sedentary winter.

One of the simpler dishes I've made, this was also one of my favorites due to the fragrant and hot/sweet combination of ginger, lemon, cayenne and coconut milk. I hope Cathy approves of my use of lean protein, reduced fat coconut milk and vegetables for this lovely Madagascar Ginger-Lemon Coconut Chicken.

Located in the western Indian Ocean, Madagascar is the 4th largest island in the world. It sits east of Mozambique across the Mozambique Channel. This island nation is home to as many as 12,000 of the world's plant species. Malagasy and French are spoken in this country, which was invaded by the French in 1883. In 1960, the country gained independence from France and has retained this standing ever since.

Cuisine in Madagascar is influenced by Indian, Chinese and French traditions. Rice forms the basis for all meals, except in the arid southern part of the island, where cassava (yucca) is substituted. Today, Madagascar produces 97% of the world's vanilla. Rum, along with wine, cocoa, coffee and tea are also produced on the island.

Garlic Lemon Coconut Chicken - (Adapted from Word Recipes)

2 boneless chicken breast halves, cut in bit sized chunks
2/3 cup canned lite or regular coconut milk
1 yellow onion, chopped
1 red bell pepper or tomato, sliced and chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tsp. ground or fresh ginger
1 tsp. grated lemon rind
1/3 tsp (or to taste) cayenne pepper
salt and pepper to taste
Juice of one fresh lemon
Olive oil

Marinate chicken in lemon juice for 30 minutes, drain and season with salt and pepper to taste.
Saute over medium heat until cooked on outside, but slightly pink inside. Drain oil and set chicken aside.
Saute onions, stirring constantly, until slightly browned. Add bell pepper or tomato, and garlic and saute 3-4 minutes, stirring constantly.
Reduce heat to simmer, add coconut milk, ginger, cayenne powder and lemon rind.
Add chicken back to pan.

Cover and simmer 20-30 minutes or until sauce is thickened. If mixture is too thin, simmer with lid removed until desired consistency is reached. Serve hot over steamed white rice.

Note: One pound of shelled and deveined shrimp can be substituted for chicken.

Final Assessment:  I loved, loved, LOVED this meal and will absolutely make it again on a regular basis, perhaps trying the shrimp next.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Day 100! Macedonia - Macedonian Honey Cookies - Up Next, Madagascar

Day 100! Only 93 countries left to go! Who woulda thought it? To celebrate this personal blogging milestone, I decided that Macedonian honey cookies were just the thing. It snowed another foot last night, so after shoveling snow on top of snow, these simple, beautiful cookies, accompanied by a steaming cup of raspberry tea were not only perfect, but well earned (like I really need an excuse to indulge, right?).

Eaten as is, these cookies are delicious, especially if you don't like overly sweet cookies, which I don't.  The combination of ground walnuts, honey and cinnamon make for a crunchy, rich, heavenly flavor that puts any gooey, cookie to shame. However, if you're feeling like you want to do something elegant and special, dip them in a little bittersweet chocolate for a doubly decadent, sophisticated confection.

Located in the Central Balkan Peninsula, Macedonia and shares iMacedonia is independent country (Republic of Macedonia) borders with Greece, Kosovo, Serbia, Bulgaria, Greece and Albania. Macedonia is a successor state of Yugoslavia, from whom it gained independence in 1991.

Cuisine in Macedonia is heavily influenced by Mediterranean customs, especially Greek and Turkish cooking. Middle Eastern, and to a lesser degree Italian and Hungarian traditions are also prevalent. Because the climate is relatively warm, a huge variety of herbs, fruits and vegetables are grown in Macedonia. Dairy, wine, cheese and coffee are also abundant in this beautiful, fertile land.

Macedonian Honey Cookies (Adapted from an original recipe on Macedonain food)

1 egg
1/2 cup ground walnuts
3 1/8 cup flour
1/2 cup oil
1 cup sugar
3 Tbsp. honey
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 1/2 tsp. cinnamon

Confectioners sugar for dusting and/or 4 ounces 60% cacoa bittersweet chocolate (melted)

Preheat oven to 375 F.
Using a stand mixer fitted with a paddle beater, beat the egg and sugar until the sugar is dissolved and the mixture is light yellow and double the size (about 5 minutes).
Add the oil and honey and mix until combined. Add the walnuts, vanilla, cinnamon and continue mixing until combined.
Mix the baking powder with the flour and add it to the egg mixture and mix. If the batter seems a little dry, add just a teaspoon or two of water. Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and knead it a few times until the dough is soft.
Working on a floured surface, roll the dough out to 1/4" thickness.
With a cookie cutter or cup, cut shapes and place on greased (or use parchment paper) cookie sheet, leaving space between the cookies as they expand while baking.
Bake them about 15 minutes until golden brown around the edges.
Cool the cookies. You may eat them as are, sprinkle with confectioners sugar or dip in chocolate.

Final Assessment: Deluxe, Divine, Delectable.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Day 99! Luxembourg - Moules a la Luxembourgeoise (Mussels, Luxembourg Style) Up Next, Macedonia

Want to know all the things that went wrong this week? Our pipes froze, my windshield was smashed to smithereens by falling ice, we have ice dams on our roof, hence water seeping into the ceilings, and my dryer and printer both seem to be on the way out...So what's a girl to do? Cook mussels in tons of garlic and Riesling wine! Turns out, everything thing will be just fine. This dish was easy to prepare, smells heavenly and is fun to eat. It's wonderful served alongside a green salad and crusty French bread. If you're inclined, a dry Riesling or Pinot Grigio are a great accompaniment. Traditionally, this meal is served with Pomme Fritte, or French Fries, but I'm trying to be good after my last sinful bout with bacon.

Located in Western Europe, Luxembourg is bordered by Belgium, France and Germany. Luxembourg is ruled by a Grand Duke, and is the only remaining Sovereign Grand Duchy in the world. The country boasts the world's highest GDP per capita, making for a thriving and vibrant economy. Culturally, Luxembourg is a mix romance Europe and Germanic Europe. It is also a tri-lingual country where German, French and Luxembourgish are spoken.

Cuisine in Luxembourg is heavily influenced by French and German traditions, and more recently, by  the Italian and Portuguese. Cooking tends to be less fussy than French cuisine and reflects a simple, yet sophisticated peasant style. Pastries, cheese, fish from local rivers, smoked ham, game such as hare and wild boar as well as broad beans and potatoes are all common fare.

Moule a la Luxembourgeoise

2-3 lbs. mussels, scrubbed and de-bearded (farm raised are fine)
2 leeks, washed and finely chopped
1 carrot, scraped and finely chopped
1 onion, peeled and finely chopped
2 shallots, peeled and finely chopped
1 large celery stick (with leaves) finely chopped
1 bunch flat leaf parsley, finely chopped
5 cloves garlic
1 1/2 cups Riesling wine
5 Tbsp. butter
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
1 sprig of thyme, finely chopped
2 sprigs tarragon, finely chopped

Pick over the cleaned mussels and throw away any that are not closed. Place in a bowl of water and wash the mussels further rubbing them together and changing water several times.

Melt 4 Tbsp. butter in a large pot, add the onion and shallots and saute for about 4 minutes, or until soft, then add the remaining vegetables along with the thyme and tarragon. Pour over 1/4 of the Riesling, bring to a simmer and cook for 15 minutes.

In the meantime, crush the garlic and mix in a mortar with the remaining butter. Season this mixture with a little freshly-ground black pepper.

Increase the heat under the vegetable mix to high, add the washed mussels then pour in the remaining wine. Cover securely with a lid and every two minutes stir to ensure the mussels do not catch the base of the pan. Continue cooking, stirring regularly, for three minutes then spring with freshly-chopped parsley and serve immediately.

Final Assessment: AWESOMENESS! I'm going to use the left over broth and vegetables to make soup tomorrow.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Day 98! Lithuania - Lasineciai Lithuanian Bacon Buns- Up Next, Luxembourg

Yes, it's true, I l-o-v-e, love bacon. After all my recent pontificating about eating less meat, I couldn't resist this Lithuanian recipe for Bacon Buns. I mean really, if I have to fall off the veggie wagon, let it be to eat crispy bacon. Add caramelized onions, wrap the mixture in a butter-rich, egg-based yeast dough, bake to golden brown perfection and well, all the remorse one typically feels after blowing a lofty resolution is virtually non-existent. I refuse to repent.

Once the largest country in Europe, Lithuania is the southernmost of the three Baltic states. Lithuania sits on the Southeastern shore of the Baltic Sea and borders Latvia, Belarus, Poland and the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad. This country is the first Soviet Republic to declare independence after being occupied by both the Soviet Union and then Nazi Germany.

Lithuanian's cool climate is perfect for growing barley, potatoes, rye, beets, greens and mushrooms. Cuisine in Lithuania is influenced by Polish, Ukrainian, Scandinavian, Hungarian and Romanian traditions. Dumplings, donuts, crepes, pork and sausages are all enjoyed by Latvians in the beautiful Baltic country.

Lithuanian Bacon Buns (Adapted from Lithuanian recipes)

1 1/2 lbs bacon
1 large sweet onion

2 cups milk
1/2 pound butter
1 tsp. salt
1 Tbsp. sugar
1 pkg. yeast
5 eggs
7-8 cups flour
yolk of 1 egg for glaze

Dice onion and bacon into very small, uniform pieces. In a large heavy skillet, saute bacon till it starts to crisp up and add onion. Continue cooking until onions are deep golden brown (do not burn!). Pour off some of the grease as you cook if needed.

Meanwhile, in a 2 quart saucepan, heat milk, butter, sugar and salt to 120-130 degrees F until butter is melted.
Pour off 1/2 cup of this mixture and dissolve the yeast in this 1/2 cup.
Beat eggs and add slowly to remaining warm milk mixture.
Add dissolved yeast.
Pour entire mixture into bowl of a stand mixture and attach a paddle.
Stir in sifted flour and beat vigorously. Add more flour very gradually if needed. Dough should be quite sticky, but not wet.
Cover dough with a towel and let it rise in a warm place for about 2 hours.
Punch down risen dough and refrigerate over night.
Next day, roll out the dough to a thickness of about 3/8 inch. The dough is very soft, so use lots of flour while rolling out.
Using a biscuit cutter or glass, cut rolled dough into rounds about 3-inches in diameter.
Place a tablespoon of the bacon mix in the center of each round and fold the sides of the circle over the bacon. Use your fingertips dipped in water to seal the edges if needed.
Place buns on lightly greased cookie sheet or parchment paper and allow the dough to rise again - about 2 hours if the dough is cold, 30-45 minutes if warm.
Preheat oven to 325F.
Mix one egg yolk with 2 Tbsp. water and brush the top of each roll with the yolk mixture.
Bake buns in the oven for 15-20 minutes.

Final Assessment:  This is a very rich dough, and of course, the addition of bacon makes it even more so. After making the first batch, I was instructed by the dudes in my house to "add more bacon!" which I did. These were delicious, sweet and savory rolls my kids scoffed down. I'm thinking they might be even better in the morning when the bacon flavor has permeated the rolls....we shall see!

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Day 97! Liechtenstein - Apple Fritter Rings - Apfel Ring Krapfen - Up Next, Lithuania

I have never flambéed anything before, and wow was torching these Apple Fritters fun! I let my son Tim, a.k.a. Sparky, due to his extreme boyish propensity for Big Bertha rockets, fire crackers, bonfires and flames of most any kind, put the match to the pan. It's probably a good thing that I had the camera in front of my face, otherwise I would certainly have lost my eye lashes. I just love family cooking projects!

The recipe I chose didn't specify which type of apple to use, so I tried  Cortland and Golden Delicious. While the Cortland tasted great, it was more like eating applesauce than a fritter. Should you chose to try this recipe, I suggest using Golden Delicious which is both, well...delicious and firm enough to keep its shape and texture during the frying and flambé process.

So I'll bet you're wondering where Liechtenstein is. Located in Central Europe, Liechtenstein is a doubly land locked Alpine country that borders Switzerland and Austria. It's the only Alpine country to be located totally in the Alps. Interestingly, Liechtenstein is the smallest, yet richest German speaking country and boasts the highest gross domestic product per person in the world.

Cuisine in Liechtenstein is heavily influenced by it's Swiss and Austrian neighbors, as well by French traditions. Dumplings, cheese, pork, bacon, schnitzel, tomatoes, apples and pears are commonly eaten in this country. Cinnamon, vanilla, fruit filled pancakes and pastries make up an impressive array of deserts.

Apple Ring Fritter - Apfel Ring Krapfen (Adapted from Celtnet)

7/8 cups flour
pinch of salt
1/2 cup white wine
1 egg, separated
1 tsp. butter, melted and cooled
4 apples, peeled, cored and cut into thick rings
butter for frying
1/8 cup Cognac

Sift together the flour and salt into a bowl. Add the white wine and combine to form a thick batter then stir in the egg yolk and melted butter. Beat the egg white until stiff, then fold into the batter.

Heat the clarified butter in a frying pan, dip the eggs in the batter, to coat, then add to the pan and fry on both sides until golden. Pour over the alcohol and set alight. Serve the fritters as soon as the flames have died down.

Final Assessment: Who doesn't love a desert that's lit on fire?! Browned to perfection in butter and sprinkled with a little powdered sugar, this makes a lovely, not too sweet desert any time!