November 24th, 2008

biscuits and apple butter

biscuits 4

there’s something about a chilly saturday afternoon that just makes you want to stay inside and bake all day. last november i tackled cooking and canning apple butter for the first time and i’m proud to say the butter i made last year actually preserved correctly and is just as delicious this year. but since i’m running low, i decided it was time to make a fresh batch. i’ll run through the steps as we go through the pictures and i’ve included the fully detailed recipe at the end of the post. there’s nothing like warm biscuits and apple butter on a lazy sunday morning.

apple butter apples 1

you’re going to get yourself a whole bunch of good cooking apples. i happened to have a ton left over from apple picking, but otherwise i would go with a good bunch of granny smith (my favorite). the best part of this recipe is that you don’t have to peel or core these apples (unless you don’t have a way to strain them out later). you’re just going to cut them up into quarters and empty them into a wide shallow pan filled with a bit of water and apple cider vinegar.

apples in dutch oven 1

pile the apples in your pan (i used my dutch oven) and bring the liquid to a boil. cook for another 20 minutes or so, stirring occasionally, and you’ll break down the apples completely.

cooked apples 4

this is what you end up with. it may look ugly but it smells incredible.

food mill 2

from there, the apples take a trip into your food mill, which is an amazingly simple hand powered strainer. i just got mine for my birthday a few weeks ago (thanks mom!) and i’m already on the lookout for more recipes that use it. give yourself a workout straining out the cores, seeds and peels, add a bit of sugar and cinnamon to the apple puree, and you’ve got…

apple sauce 3

…applesauce! if all you wanted was applesauce, stop now. eat! if you dare to make apple butter, press on, putting the applesauce back on high heat for a few hours. keep a close eye on the apple butter and stir it constantly so it doesn’t burn on the bottom and develop a crust.

apple butter 2

the apple butter goes a little crazy on high heat. like, bubbly, deadly crazy. i burned myself several times and covered the kitchen in hot apple puree. of course, i was cooking without a shirt on (it got REALLY hot in the kitchen) so i only have myself to blame for singed chest hair. your inclination might be to cover the pot, but leaving the pot uncovered actually helps the apple butter thicken more quickly because you can promote evaporation by stirring constantly, and at the same time moisture isn’t building up on the pot lid and dripping right back in.

canning apple butter is not as scary as it sounds, but i didn’t capture any pictures of it because i was concentrating on not burning myself (any more) while sterilizing the jars and then sealing the filled jars in boiling water. there are full directions for canning below.

biscuit dough

after the apple butter is all finished, the biscuits are a breeze. the recipe comes from alton brown, who, for whatever reason, was the first person that came to mind when i thought of biscuits. rest assured, it uses plenty of buttermilk.

biscuits 3

you can store and reheat the biscuits over the following week if for whatever reason you can’t devour a dozen at a time (you wimp). slather the apple butter on anything and everything. it’s good hot and cold, and a big ‘ole jar makes a really good gift for the holidays.

biscuits 9

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November 20th, 2008

all about baking stones

baking stones 2

when i eventually buy my own house, an in-house brick oven is at the top of my wish list. i’d also love an outdoor earth oven (susan has been building one over at wild yeast; i’m jealous). while in the meantime (and realistically, forever), i’m not going to have one at my fingertips, there’s no reason i can’t simulate a hearth oven in my own kitchen using baking stones.

what’s the point of baking on a hot stone? stones retain heat much better than metal baking sheets, giving your bread a better crust (like putting a good steak on an extremely hot cast iron pan). waiting for cold sheet pan to heat up can cause the bread to bake unevenly. the stones work best when you heat them up as you preheat the oven. i usually heat the stones up about 100 degrees hotter than the recipe temperature, then turn it down to the appropriate temp just before putting in the bread, making up for some of the heat lost when you open the oven door.

baking stones 3

i used to have a pizza stone (an awesome gift!) that worked very well for about a year. however, some kind of oil must have seeped into the stone because it began dripping and smoking profusely whenever i turned on the oven. more than once the apartment filled with smoke and eventually i had to trash it. the problem with pizza stones is that they can be incredibly expensive ($40-$100!) to replace.

i decided to do a little research and found a great alternative in unglazed quarry tiles. you can find them at any hardware/home store (my dad and i hit up home depot). these are 6″ x 6″ and about 1/2″-3/4″ thick, though 1″ thick is probably ideal. the best part? 12 of them cost me less than $5, so it’s definitely not just for die-hard bakers. since i started baking on these tiles, my bread has looked and tasted better than ever – and the crust is incomparable to older loaves. i have them arranged on a middle rack as in the above picture. a few quick tips:

  • make sure they are unglazed! glazed tiles can contain harmful chemicals and metals like lead in them. if you aren’t sure, ask someone at the store or contact the manufacturer. liquid should be absorbed by the tiles, not roll off of them.
  • cleaning: when you first bring the tiles home, wipe them with a solution of water and baking soda. you can do this if they get pieces of crust stuck on them as well. do not use soap, as it will seep into the stones and then get into any food you put on them.
  • transferring bread to the tiles: you might be asking, “if i’m not using a baking sheet, how do i get my dough onto a 500 degree stone without burning off my fingertips?” with smaller loaves, you can pull out the shelf a little bit and literally toss the bread onto the tiles. with anything larger, a cornmeal covered pizza peel is your friend. i recently invested in one (less than $10) and it’s made getting the bread into the oven a cinch.
  • care: these tiles require very little care. they may darken from use, but should be fine. you can also leave them in the oven even if you aren’t baking on them. if i need to bake on a sheet, i just move one of the empty shelves above the one with the stones. it won’t hurt them to heat up over and over. if your tiles ever do break from use, you can replace them for mere pennies!

baking stones 1

November 17th, 2008

bacon and leek mini quiches

quiche 5

thanksgiving is just over a week away, and i think i’ve found my contribution to the big meal.

leeks 3

these are one of those appetizers that never make it to the guests outside of the kitchen – people will wrestle each other to the ground for a good mini quiche. the only possible rival to the mini quiche is the pig in a blanket (another specialty of mine). why leeks? besides being an amazing fall crop, when the weather gets chillier, i get cravings for the nostalgic flavors of potato and leek soup. why bacon? honestly, i can’t think of a single dish that can’t be improved with bacon (including potato and leek soup).

bacon 1

quiches were actually invented by the germans – the word “quiche” comes from “kuchen,” german for cake. it has since been adapted by the french and has become a blank slate for any kind of meat or veggie you can think of. originally, german chefs used an actual cake as a base, but in it’s modern form, quiches usually have some kind of puff pastry. i’ve provided a very simple butter/flour/cream cheese crust recipe, but store-bought puff pastry certainly works just as well (they happened to be out of it when i went to the store).

qiuche 1

quiche 2

at the rate i’ve been eating these quiches,  i’ll need to make a new batch every other day or so. if you’re looking for a quick and easy thanksgiving appetizer, look no farther. you might want to make a secret batch just for yourself so you actually get to have a few.

quiche 12

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