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Posts Tagged ‘cider’

Flying in the face of tradition today, kids. I’ve decided I’m going to make New Year’s resolutions that I can get stoked about. Why should I come up with some gruesome list that will make me feel panicky and guilty? I might as well stay behind in 2012 with a pocket flask of Tanqueray in my hand and the covers over my head. I refuse.

Instead, here are a bunch of good resolutions; and not surprisingly, they’re all food related.

I’m going to…

1. …bake bread more often. I miss punching down dough, I miss the smell of it browning up in the oven, and I miss pulling apart warm chunks of it and scooping up butter with it.

2. …cook some classic treats from the UK that I have always wanted to try—Dundee cake, Cornish pasties, pork and apple pie, maids of honour pastries, game pie and toad-in-the-hole with onion gravy.

3. …illustrate recipes for my posts, along with photos. I want to get back to where I started: with Ebony and Berol Prismacolor pencils.

4. …get my paring knives sharpened.

5. …freeze more of summer’s fresh produce for the winter. I used to do that and it saved me extra trips to the supermarket, was more nutritious, was better for the environment, supported local farms, and even saved money. Just took an hour of prep time each week. I’m chicken, because Hurricane Sandy just defrosted my freezer for 11 days. But I’m going to do it anyway.

6. …keep up with making up vanilla extract. I don’t buy the stuff from the supermarket because there’s a much cheaper way, and that is to buy a bottle of plain vodka and some vanilla pods, slice the beans in half lengthwise, and stick them in the vodka. Every few days give the bottle a shake, and after a couple of months the extract will be brown and murky, with happy little bits of pod and seed floating around in it. The bottle lives in your fridge and will always be there for you. Unless you’re me, and you’re down to the last 16 drops and don’t have a backup bottle ready to rock.

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Lame.

7. …bake treats on Valentine’s Day to give to my teeny town’s local cops and volunteer firemen. I had a stressful December and was only able to make a small plate of cookies for each over Christmas. When my boiler blew, the cops came over inside two minutes and duct-taped off my most hysterically spouting radiator. The firemen cheerfully changed the battery in my smoke detector, at 1am, on my narrow, hairpin-sharp angled steps. They’re amazing, selfless guys, and deserve more than I gave. I’m making it up to them in spades.

8. …have company over more often. There’s nothing like sitting around my dining room table with my favorite people, eating something sweet, and splitting our sides laughing. I want to have a chocolate-off with one group of friends this spring and a local hard-cider-off with another group this fall. It’s so much fun to gobble and sip, compare and contrast, and write about what I learned.

9. …make little coconut souffles for my sister’s birthday. You take them out of the oven and then you dig a little hole in the middle of each and pour warm chocolate goo into it. I have a sneaking suspicion she will find this appealing.

10. …figure out a way to make food—writing it, editing it and shooting it—a full-time gig.

11. …go out for Indian food again because I miss those flavors, try authentic ramen noodles in NYC, and have the lardo pizza—which is exactly what it sounds like—at Porta in Asbury Park, NJ.

12. …try not to roll my eyes when, at a restaurant that prides itself on serving genuine Italian food, the pasta carbonara sports a cream sauce with little bits of ham in it instead of egg and pancetta. (No promises, though. I’ve already fouled this up this once.)

13. …learn to make an old-fashioned candy called divinity.

14. …buy my eggs from local farmers once they’re in season, when the weather turns warm.

15. …make pumpkin butter with nutmeg, cinnamon and brown sugar and eat it straight out of the pan.

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Coming soon, to a kitchen near me.

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Halloween was the one night a year when it felt as if kids ruled the world. And we did.

Below, a step-by-step description of what, to me, makes a perfect Halloween—and which is what I lived every year in the ’70s and into the ’80s.

Step 1: Be lucky enough to be raised in a small town—for example, Interlaken, NJ—that has 1000 residents, pretty much all of whom are extended family members, or are neighbors of extended family members, or go to school with you. Either way, they’re moms who work with your mom on the PTA and have your back. Your town will have hundred-year-old trees that grow together in the middle of the street just like Ray Bradbury described in the town of his youth, and which, despite a handful of streetlights, make the town inky black at night and heap it with fragrant leaves, rich and musky, to shuffle through.

It was Mayberry—and it still is, 30 years later.

Step 2: Choose your costume at the 5 & 10 one town over. It will be acrylic, make no mistake.

Three years old, across the street at the Boyds’ house.

Or, if you are seven and your two front baby teeth have recently come out and you look three-quarters of the way to a jack o’lantern as it is, your mom might be inspired to put you in the pumpkin costume she sewed for your little sister a few years back, stuff it with bunched-up newspaper, and draw triangles around your eyes and nose and an exaggerated smile around your mouth with black eyeliner. Hypothetically speaking.

Step 3: After school, your mom sends you and your brother and sister outside to play because you’re too hopped up to be inside. You meet your friends to go trick-or-treating after dinner. Unless you’re five, you don’t go out before dark. We lived in a safe town and helicopter parents then were few. My mom had just one rule: Don’t cross Westra. (That was the one moderately busy street in our town.) The rest of the town was fair game. Once you were old enough to go trick-or-treating alone with your friends, you did—and your parents did not fret, fuss, insist on coming along in their own costumes, tell you not to eat the candy you got, make you wait to eat any until you got home so they could check it for tampering, or text you incessantly—because, saints be praised, it hadn’t been invented yet.

Pendant of candy corn encased in Lucite, circa 1973. Yes, I do still wear it.

Step 4: You stop at every house with a porch light on. You make a point to stop at the Maguras’, because Mrs. Magura makes homemade popcorn balls, and Mrs. Panes’s house, because her family owns Criterion Candies on the Asbury boardwalk, and she always gives out gorgeous candy apples. And you stop at your cousins’ because your aunt gives out the yummiest candy and the most generous handfuls. When you pass other friends on the sidewalk, you stop and brag about how much more candy you have than they have, and then you tell each other which houses have the good stuff and which have the raisins. When you’re in the mood for candy, you eat it. When you’re full, you still eat it. Because you and your friends don’t eat like this on a regular basis. It’s one night a year. It’s okay.

Card from Auntie Phyllis, circa 1977. Each of us kids got our own Halloween card.

Step 5: Once your candy bag starts getting too heavy and a thick layer of leaves has attached itself to the hem of your acrylic dress, you say goodbye to your friends. You don’t walk home, but to your other aunts’ house, where your parents and your aunts and uncles are gathered around the dining room table. After a certain point that night, they stop handing out candy to neighborhood kids, turn off their porch lights and head over to relax together with coffee and apple cider and cinnamon-sugar apple cider doughnuts. It is always the same cider and doughnuts from the same place, Delicious Orchards, because nothing—to this very day—beats them for quality. We grew up on this cider, which is unpasteurized, murky and intensely flavored (and may be why none of us has allergies) and the doughnuts are crackly and delicately crumbed.

Cider doughnuts from Delicious Orchards, on one of my beloved aunt’s dessert dishes. Worth clicking to see it bigger. Seriously.

Step 6: Go home and dump all of your candy on the living room rug, making stacks for each variety and counting how many you have of each. This was a time when there were not many ‘fun sizes’ except maybe for Milk Duds, which came in tiny boxes and you got three to a box, and Hershey Miniatures. Most other candy came in full size—big Krackels, big Charleston Chews, big Chunky bars.

Give your sister all of the Snickers and Baby Ruths because you hate peanuts and she likes them, and she will give you all of her Reese’s peanut butter cups (because you do like peanut butter and she hates that). Your dad roots around for the Mounds bars and Hershey Special Darks, which is fine because you also hate coconut and dark chocolate. (What was I thinking?) Milky Ways, Skor Bars, Rolos, Whatchamacallits and $100,000 bars (their real name) get place of privilege. Mary Janes—these you and your sister and brother throw at each other just because they’re weird, always smushed, and aren’t chocolate. If it’s not going to be chocolate, at least have the decency to be Chuckles, those luscious half-dollar sized gumdrops, or Twizzlers.

Small ceramic witch I received when I was very young. My sister has a blonde one, with a pumpkin instead of a cat.

Step 7: Eat some more. Your mom does not rush you off to bed because you go to Catholic school and tomorrow, November 1, is All Saints’ Day. All Saints’ is the result of Christianity trying to co-op the pagan holiday and is kind of a weasel move, but I’m not about to quibble with a day off, especially the day after Halloween. You put all of your candy back into your candy bag. And finally you head to bed.

I bought some Mary Janes this year just to taste them, since I never had before. They’re peanut butter-molasses chews, and I was underwhelmed. I don’t know why I was expecting a miracle. Did that stop me from sticking the rest into two envelopes and mailing them to my brother and sister? It did not.

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About 10 years ago I tasted a new apple pie from a place here at the Jersey shore that’s famous for its pies (and deservedly so, for the most part, which is why I’m not going to reveal its name). The idea was a sound one: Bake apples and a sugary walnut topping into a bottom crust, but leave the top crust off. The pie’s got face appeal—an ooh-ah dessert. My family dug it, but I always thought it was lacking. Too dry, walnuts tasted meh, etc. So a couple of years ago, feeling ambitious, I decided I was going to keep the idea but doctor it up.

Because plain cut apples dry out in the heat of an oven without a top crust to shield them, I gave them a leg up by poaching them in really good-quality apple cider first. I toasted the walnuts, which gives depth and nuance to any nut on earth. And I made my own crust, which left out partially-hydrogenated animal shortening (as appealing as that sounds).

Relying only on my memory, I literally winged the spices and measurements. But I think I nailed it. This is a pie that tastes as good as it looks. Why else eat anything? Make it for a fall treat or for Thanksgiving or for Arbor Day and tell me what you think.

Peel and cut 7-8 apples into eighths. Don’t use Macintosh or they’ll fall apart as they cook. Any other kind will do, but a variety is fun. Put 2 c apple cider into a large saucepan. (Unfiltered, no-water-added cider will be more intensely flavored. And it’s thick. If you can lose sight of a spoon in it, it’s the kind I mean.) Add your apples and poach over medium-high heat for about 5-8 minutes. Stir them gently and occasionally. Then take them out and spread onto a platter to cool a bit.

Take out a shallow, heavy little pan, put in three or so handfuls of shelled walnuts, and set it over medium-low heat. Do not leave to check Facebook or they’ll burn.* Shake the pan a few times as they toast. When you can smell them, turn them out onto a cutting board and let them cool for a couple of minutes. Then give them a quick chop and add them to a small bowl. Add 1/2 tsp salt and 1/2 tsp cinnamon (Saigon cinnamon for the win here…and everywhere actually. It will change your life), and 1/8 tsp nutmeg. If you can get the nutmeg in its whole form and grate it, all the better. Stir in 3/4 c packed brown sugar. I like dark, but use any kind you like.

Right, now for the crust. It’s easy, honest.** Take out your food processor and put in 2 c flour, 4 tsp (or less) sugar, and 1/4 tsp salt. Pulse it a few times. Add 3/4 c very cold butter and pulse again a few more times until bits of the dough come together in marble-sized balls. Add about 6 tbsp of ice water, just a little splash at a time, and pulse as you go, until the dough comes together as sort of a loose mass. Don’t over-pulse or the crust will be as chewy as the soles of your New Balances.

Next, what they call blind baking. Again, not a big deal. You do this partially, in this case, and the goal is to dry up the crust a bit before the filling goes in. Otherwise, it can go soggy on you.

Turn your oven to 400 degrees. Scoop out the dough and form it into a disk. Then put it into your pie pan, spreading it out to the edges and up the sides with your knuckles. Take a fork and prick the bottom of the crust a bunch of times. (This is called docking, for you curious types. The crust wants to bubble as it heats, but this lets the air escape, keeping the crust fairly flat).

Next, set some aluminum foil on top of the dough and pour in some cheap dried beans. (This is a back-up system to keep the crust flat.)

Bake the crust for about 15 minutes. Check to see how it’s doing by lifting up your foil a bit. If it sticks, leave it in the oven a little longer, for 5 or so more minutes, then take the beany foil out carefully. Lower your heat to 375 and leave the crust in for another 5 minutes or until lightly golden.

If you’re feeling brave, you can load up your crust with apples while the pan is still hot, but be careful, okay? Start at the edges and go in circles. I have four or so circles in this pie.

Last, add 1/4 cup of cold butter to your little bowl of topping and mix it in with your fingers until it’s well dispersed. Then sprinkle the whole thing on top of your apples. Nummy.

Bake on a lined cookie sheet for 50 minutes. You might need to check it from time to time to make sure the nuts aren’t burning. If they’re getting dark too quickly, loosely cover the top with a little piece of aluminum foil.

This pie is great hot after dinner and even better cold for breakfast. Juicy, rich, sweet and totally addictive.

*If you’ve toasted nuts on a stove top before, you can be cocky and set it on medium or medium-high heat. But still don’t check Facebook.

**If you really can’t deal, at least get a frozen crust that’s made with natural ingredients.  It makes a huge difference, in flavor and in texture.

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I love pumpkin pie as much as the next chick, really I do. But October has this treat written all over it.

Cider syrup does not come in a jar or a bottle (not that I know of, anyway; and even if it was, this version is probably better just because it’s homemade in your own cute little cucina). You can cook it up in about 20 minutes, your house will smell incredible, and your family will think you’ve been sneaking away for private lessons with the Barefoot Contessa.

Take out a small saucepan and put in 1/2 c sugar, 2 tbsp cornstarch, 1/2 tsp cinnamon and 1/4 tsp nutmeg.* Mix it up.

Next add 2 c apple cider, and if you can get it with nothing added, all the better, because the flavor will be more intense.**

Add a couple of apples, peeled and sliced as thickly or as thinly as you like. Use different varieties, if you can get them. Any will do except maybe Macintosh, which tends to plotz in the pan. Hang onto those for applesauce.

Boil, stirring, for one minute. Take it off the heat and add a pat of butter for richness. Stir. Done.

The syrup should be goopy and gorgeously aromatic. It’s great hot over pancakes or waffles, which is how I grew up eating it (Dad would make pancakes with apples in the batter and then we’d spoon this stuff over it). Put a square of hot gingerbread or hot pumpkin bread in a shallow bowl and dump some of this, cold, on top, for breakfast, and you’ll feel like you have nothing to do all day but putter around the bed-and-breakfast wearing Ugg slippers and reading House Beautiful. Or do what I do: put the syrup in a Tupperware, stick it in the fridge until it gets good and cold, then take a spoon to it. Sometimes I feel guilty doing this, knowing full well how many other worthwhile ways I could be enjoying this, but it doesn’t last long.

I just bought little local, organic Bartlett pears from the farmers’ market and am going to try them in a riff off this recipe, with cardamom, my current obsession, substituted for the cinnamon, and pear brandy, steaming hot over vanilla ice cream.  Brown sugar instead of regular granulated sugar would be good too. Any other riffs you can think of? I’m all eyes.

*Saigon cinnamon, available in my local supermarket and possibly in yours, makes such a difference in pungency and fragrance that I don’t bother using any other kind of cinnamon in any of my baking. Same goes for using nutmeg in its original seed form. It’s about the size of a hazelnut, and again, can be found fairly easily. Just grab a cheese grater, or better, one of those neato microplane graters, and grate some right into your bowl. Don’t fret too much about measuring. Yes, you can use ordinary cinnamon and ground nutmeg and get decent results. But only decent.

** NJ shore residents: Don’t fool around and just head straight to Delicious Orchards.

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