Monday, October 31, 2011

Bountiful Michigan Apple Crop Makes Way For Autumn Apple Pie

To go through a Michigan autumn without a trip to one of our state's many apple orchards or cider mills would be to miss out on something very special. Sure, you can buy all the apples you want at the stores, but I'm here to tell you they taste better when you get them straight from the source! There's nothing better than acres of trees with the many varieties of apples ripe for the picking, fresh pressed cider, and sometimes you get lucky and find a place frying up some of those delicious doughnuts.

Up near the cottage we have a couple of apple orchards nearby. Moeller's Orchards and McCallum's Orchards. Both are great places to spend some time on a nice autumn afternoon and collect some delicious apples of many varieties. After picking up some Ida Red, Jonagold and Macintosh apples, it was time to get back to the kitchen. I have always liked to combine varieties of apples in pies, crisps, cobblers, etc. Each bring a different flavor and texture to the party. Once the apples were in-hand, it didn't take long to put our autumn apple pie together. This is about as classic as it gets - and a perennial favorite.

Pie Crust

2 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp salt
2/3 cup Crisco (best if cold - I keep mine in the fridge)
5-6 TBSP ice water
Combine flour and salt in a large bowl and whisk together. Add Crisco and using a pastry blender cut-in shortening with flour mixture until it becomes the consistency of small peas. Add ice water one tablespoon at a time and incorporate using a fork. You want the dough to be damp enough that there are no longer any small particles in bowl. When you pick up dough and press large pieces together, it should hold together. Form dough into one large ball and divide it in two parts. I generally make one half a little larger than the other - and I use the larger piece to roll out my bottom crust. The smaller one is for the top crust. Wrap each half in plastic wrap and put in fridge for 30 minutes.

Apple Pie Filling
6-7 apples (I used Macintosh, Jonagold and Ida Reds)
2 tsp lemon juice
1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/8 tsp salt
2 TBSP cold unsalted butter - cut into small cubes
Peel apples. Cut apples from top to bottom around the core, and then slice each of the four sections into thin slices and put in large bowl. Sprinkle apples with lemon juice and toss to coat. Add sugars, flour, cinnamon and salt and give it all a good stir so that each slice of apple is coated with the sugar-flour-spice mixture. The filling is now ready.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Roll out your bottom crust on a counter/board that is well floured. Lay the bottom crust into your pie plate (I use a deep 9-inch Pyrex pie plate for this recipe). Pour pie filling into pie plate on top of your bottom crust. Take butter cubes and distribute around the top of the filling. Roll out your top crust and place on top of the pie. Trim the edges of the pie crust and crimp the bottom and top crusts together. Vent the top crust by making 6-8 cuts in the top crust with a sharp knife (all of this is in the video). Optional: sprinkle a tablespoon of white sugar on the top crust. Place pie in the center of an oven preheated to 400 degrees for 45-50 minutes - crust should be golden brown. Remove pie from oven and allow to cool for a few hours. Wonderful served with vanilla ice cream, caramel sauce or with a slice of American cheese melted on top!

Monday, October 24, 2011

A Fun Fish Friday with this Parmesan Tilapia Topper!

I have a lot of fond memories as a kid growing up in Dearborn, Michigan and eating at a local hot-spot, Brown's Fish & Chips. The place was always busy, or so it seemed, and while the menu was fairly limited to "fried everything," the food was always good. Plus, growing up Catholic it seemed like we had fish on a lot of Friday's. Even now, I look forward to the Lenten season so I can taken in some of the wonderful fish frys hosted by some of the old Detroit parishes. I've been to a lot of them and in my mind the fish dinners at St. Francis and at Sweetest Heart of Mary are about the best you'll get anywhere.  But, as wonderful as a good piece of battered cod or lake perch can be, it's good to take a break from the deep fryer every once in a while!

The word "tilapia" is one that I can't recall hearing when I was growing up. I'm sure there was such a fish, but not in the world I lived in. Then, all of a sudden, tilapia began appearing on menus everywhere. I understand the appeal. It is a very mild, light fish that is versatile and easy to prepare. It's now something that I try to always keep on-hand.

This recipe is just one way to prepare tilapia, but it's my "go-to" because it's quick, simple and uses ingredients that are almost always in the pantry. And it tastes good. Even people who are not big fish fans enjoy this version of tilapia. It has a nice, crunchy exterior, and the fish remains flaky and moist. On those days when you want to take a break from meat and fried foods, don't crack open a box of fish sticks, give this a try!

Parmesan Topped Tilapia

4-6 tilapia fillets (fresh or frozen, if frozen they should be thawed and patted dry)
1 cup panko-style bread crumbs
1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 TBSP parsley (fresh or dried)
1 TBSP chives (fresh or dried)
1/2 tsp pepper (or to taste)
1/2 stick butter or margarine, melted in pie plate or shallow dish

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Prepare a baking sheet with parchment paper or spray generously with non-stick cooking spray. Combine panko bread crumbs, parmesan cheese, herbs and pepper in a pie plate or shallow dish. Make sure tilapia fillets are patted dry. Roll both sides of fish in melted butter/margarine and then dredge in crumb mixture. Make sure there is a generous coating on BOTH sides of the fish. Transfer to baking sheet. Repeat with all fillets. Put sheet into oven for 15 minutes - they should be golden brown on the top. Serve immediately. Enjoy!

Monday, October 10, 2011

A Fall Version of a Longtime Favorite - Pumpkin Chili

There’s no doubt about it – autumn is in full-swing here in Michigan. The colors are a feast for the eyes. Everywhere you turn fall’s kaleidoscope is around you. While I love the renewal of spring and the hope of warmer days that it brings, nothing beats the remarkable natural beauty – both simple and complex – that ascends on us with the return of each October.
A stroll through the market at this time of year is also a colorful experience. The last of the summer crops are trickling in; tomatoes, sweet corn, peppers, cabbage and beets. And then the fall standards take their place along with the rest, including the iconic pumpkin. I think most of us have carved a pumpkin or two in our time, and maybe even roasted up those delicious seeds that stick to the stringy goo on the inside. But when it comes to cooking with pumpkin, I think the majority of us are happy to reach for the familiar orange can of Libby’s pumpkin. While it’s great to use in pumpkin pie, pumpkin bread, muffins, and other baked goodies, it works well in many savory dishes, too.
Fall is perfect chili weather. I don’t argue with people about how they make their chili – ground beef, diced beef, ground turkey, with or without beans, how hot, etc. I’ve enjoyed lots of wonderful chili of countless variations all over the country. That’s the wonder of our cooking world!
This particular recipe calls for ground turkey and I think it works well here. If your chili has to be made with beef then please proceed with your favorite cut. Beef has a stronger flavor than ground turkey - I think - so the background of pumpkin is a little more muted in a beef version. Even if you use the turkey, this will not taste like a pumpkin pie with chili seasonings in it (thank goodness!). 
The pumpkin makes for a thicker texture and a note of pumpkin, which we help bring forward with a little cinnamon and allspice. We think it’s wonderful and every bit as warm and satisfying as any other chili we’ve enjoyed.  This chili is best made in a slow cooker, but if you don’t have one you could prepare on top of the stove over very low heat, covered and regular stirring. 

Pumpkin Chili
1 TBSP vegetable oil
1-1   ½ lbs ground turkey
1 medium onion, diced
1 clove garlic, diced
½ cup diced green pepper
½ tsp salt
½ tsp pepper
½ cup diced yellow, orange or red pepper (you can use 1 cup of green pepper if you don’t have the other peppers or care not to use them)
1 - 15 oz can of diced tomatoes
1 - 15oz can pumpkin (DO NOT USE pumpkin pie filling – just use the plain pumpkin)
2         TBSP chili powder
¼ tsp ground cinnamon
1/8 tsp ground allspice

Put oil in large skillet and bring up to medium high heat. Add turkey, onion, garlic, peppers, salt and pepper.  As turkey cooks, break apart with spoon to create smaller pieces. Cook until turkey has browned and vegetables have become soft. Transfer contents of skillet to slow cooker. Add diced tomatoes, pumpkin and chili powder and stir gently to combine. . (Note: if you want to make this chili for the next day, stop right here and put the covered slow cooker insert in the fridge until four hours before you want to serve).
Cover slow cooker and set temperature to LOW – allow to cook for three hours. After three hours, add cinnamon and allspice, stir to combine, put cover back on and continue to cook for one hour. If you like, serve in bowls and top with shredded cheddar cheese and a dollop of sour cream. This is great with corn bread on the side. Enjoy!

Monday, October 3, 2011

Making Cream Puffs for Sanders Hot Fudge!

Any Detroiter - of a certain age - can probably recall moments of great delight while sitting at their neighborhood Sanders lunch counters. These places were emporiums of confectionery creations and upon entering one was hit with the smells of cakes and breads and candies of endless varieties. And while Sanders is famous for many things, when someone says the words, "hot fudge cream puff," it's hard not to smile in pleasant recollection.

My mom would often take us to Sanders, or if we were in our neighborhood mall, we would make a stop there at some point in the shopping process. We would head toward the back of the store, where the lunch counter was located, and hopefully find a few empty stools that were next to each other. Mom would ask for a cup of coffee and I, still too young and uninterested in coffee, would request some water. While ordering a glass of water isn't ordinarily very exciting, at Sanders the water came ice-cold through spigot and into a white paper cone that was stuck in a heavy metal holder. I thought drinking water out of one of these cones was the coolest thing ever. I didn't occur to me that these cones meant that for the ladies in the pretty brown smocks, there was one less glass to wash. Either way, going to Sanders was a bonafide treat!

The ordering options were many, but four times out of five I would get a hot fudge cream puff. The craving for the delicious Sanders milk chocolate hot fudge could be satisfied by ordering a sundae, but there was magic in those cream puffs. Soft, eggy and light as air, the cream puffs were split crosswise and a big scoop of vanilla ice cream went in between the top and bottom. Then the whole thing was covered in that warm, sweet hot fudge. The combination of flavors and textures is what made this experience so amazing - that, and sitting next to mom who often ordered one for herself and enjoyed it every bit as much as us kids.

While there are a couple of Sanders stores around Detroit, the lunch counters, brown smocks and water cones of my youth are all gone. But the wonderful memories will always remain, and when I'm feeling nostalgic for my childhood, I've found a way to recreate these special trips to Sanders. My brother Greg and his partner came to town for a visit this past weekend, and spent a couple days up at the cottage. This seemed like a perfect time to celebrate some of the wonderful treats we enjoyed together as kids - and, like yours truly - he loves to cook and eat! So we got everyone involved in making cream puffs and they came out beautifully.

If you live away from Detroit and can't find Sanders hot fudge, I'm glad to say you can order it (and all their other goodies) through their website:

Cream Puffs

1 cup water
1/2 unsalted butter (1 stick)
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup sifted all purpose flour
4 eggs (room temperature)

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Put water, butter and salt in medium sauce pan. Slowly bring to a boil making sure that all the butter melts. Once at a boil, take off the heat and add flour. Return pan to stove over low heat and stir flour in with wooden spoon until a dough comes together and pulls away from the sides of the pan. Remove pan from heat and add ONE EGG AT A TIME to dough, stirring well after each addition. Stir briskly so eggs don't have a chance to begin cooking. By the addition of the last egg, the dough will start to look satiny - this is what you want.

On a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, drop dough by the rounded tablespoon. The dough will be soft, so use your fingers. This recipe should get you 12 cream puffs - if you want them extra large, you can get nine. Place in oven for 45 minutes until golden brown. You can tap the tops to make sure they are hollow on the inside. Remove from oven and allow to cool slowly on a rack.

You can make hot fudge cream puffs, fill them with custard or pudding, use them for sandwiches (we make ham and egg sandwiches for breakfast with the leftover cream puffs) or be creative! Enjoy!