Friday, September 27, 2013

Rosemary Apple Pie

This pie is a showstopper, but not just because it's pretty. It's delicious as well. I've always been a big fan of herbs and fruit together because, if they're done right, they can add another layer of unexpected, savory flavor. Adding rosemary and a bit of cornmeal in the crust accomplishes this quite nicely here.

This pie takes a good amount of time to prepare and make. It tastes like it took forever because it kind of does. I know that goes against my love for simple recipes, but sometimes you have to do more work to get a better result.


For the crust:
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
1/2 cup evaporated cane sugar
2 tbsp cornmeal
1/2 tbsp chopped rosemary
1 tsp kosher salt
12 tbsp Earth Balance buttery stick, cubed and chilled
1/2 cup ice-cold water

For the filling:
3 lbs of sweet McIntosh apples, peeled, cored and sliced
3/4 cup evaporated cane sugar
3 tbsp cornstarch
1 1/2 tbsp ground cinnamon
1 tbsp fresh lemon juice
1 1/2 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp kosher salt
3 tbsp Earth Balance buttery stick, cubed and chilled

Make the crust: Put all the ingredients except the water into a food processor and pulse them until the butter has been incorporated and reduced to pea-sized bits. It's important to have very cold butter for this, so what I do is cube up the butter before I start anything else. Then I put it in the freezer while I get the other ingredients together. It's never more than a few minutes, but it firms the butter up nicely. If you have room-temperature butter, it'll cream together with all the other ingredients (think chocolate chip cookie dough) and will be a total mess.



Add the water through the chute and pulse it continuously until the dough comes together.

Divide the dough into 2/3 and 1/3 portions. Roll them out separately into flat disks and wrap them both in plastic wrap and put them in the fridge for an hour.

Once an hour has passed, on a floured surface, roll out the larger piece of dough into a 12-inch round. Gently roll it over your rolling pin, pick it up and roll it out over your pie pan. Center it so that it hangs over the pie plate evenly on all sides, then trim the excess until there's only about an inch of overhanging dough around the whole diameter of the pan.

Roll the smaller piece of dough out to about 8 inches and slice it into strips. Try to make them relatively similar in width (you can see where I had to re-cut after not getting it quite right). You'll need 8 strips total. Put the strips on a plate and put both doughs in the fridge for another 30 minutes.

Make the filling: While the doughs are chilling, you can peel and slice your apples and then combine them with the cornstarch, cinnamon, lemon juice, vanilla and salt in a large bowl. A few minutes before you assemble the pie, go ahead and cube up the butter. You won't need to put this butter into the freezer or worry about it staying really cold.

Assemble the pie: Once the dough has chilled for 30 minutes, pour the apples into the pie pan, spreading them out evenly. Dot the apples with the butter cubes, tucking some of them into the apple mixture.

Here's the part that seems tricky, but really isn't. Lay four of the dough strips horizontally across the top of the pie, then fold the first and third strips halfway back on top of themselves. Lay another stripe perpendicular to them, just off center.

Unfold the first and third strips and then fold back the second and fourth strips and lay another strip perpendicular to those.

Repeat the weave pattern on the other side until you have the full effect. Put the completed pie into the fridge for 30 minutes.

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees and bake the pie until the crust is golden and the apples are tender, about 1 hour. Let the pie cool completely before serving.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Okra and Fig Stew with Fresh Corn Polenta

This dish was sort of a happy accident. I knew I wanted okra and zucchini for the stew, but the store had a screamin' deal on organic figs, which intrigued me (I've never cooked with figs). It was a gamble, but it paid off. The figs add a really wonderful element to the flavors of this stew.

This is another one of those versatile dishes. If you don't have one thing, you can certainly throw in something else to substitute. As long as it's in the same neighborhood flavor and consistency-wise, you should be okay. And if it isn't? Well, maybe you'll stumble onto something really great and unexpected. Or maybe you'll learn what not to do next time. I've had plenty of both experiences. Luckily, this is one of those dishes that's hard to screw up, no matter what you end up using.

The corn polenta is really easy and delivers an incredible flavor. In fact, I'll make a confession: the night I made the stew, I served it over rice. It was okay, but something was missing. Luckily, I'd made a ton of it and that gave me a chance to get it right the second time. The next day, I was at the Pike Place Market picking up some spices and saw all this beautiful sweet corn at one of the stalls. I'd always wanted to try making polenta from corn rather than cornmeal and this was an excellent opportunity to do so.

When we ate this the next night as a stew-and-polenta dinner, everything had changed. The polenta brought it all to life in a way rice never could. This approach to polenta is easier than the traditional way (none of that constant stirring), so give it a try. You won't regret it!


For the stew:
1 sweet onion, chopped
1 cup of okra, stemmed and sliced
2 zucchini, sliced
5 figs, quartered
1 can of diced tomatoes
6 basil leaves, chopped or torn

For the polenta:
5 ears of sweet corn
2 tbsp vegan butter
1 tbsp nutritional yeast
1 clove garlic, minced

Make the stew: In a large, heavy-bottomed pot, heat a little olive oil. Drop in the onions and cook over medium-high heat until translucent. Add the zucchini and stir it around, letting them cook for about 3-4 minutes. Add the figs and cook for another minute or so.

Add the tomatoes and basil and stir to incorporate them. Throw in a little salt and pepper and then bring it all to a boil. Once it gets going, reduce the heat and allow it to simmer, uncovered, for about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.

In a skillet, heat a little olive oil over medium heat and add the okra. Stir it around so that it browns evenly on both sides, about 5 minutes. Add the okra to the stew in the final 10 minutes of cooking time. It'll get soft and gummy if you do it sooner.

Make the polenta: Remove the leaves and silk from the corn, then stand each ear up on end and slice down the sides with a sharp knife to remove the kernels. I do this in the pot I'll be cooking them in, so when the kernels go flying, they stay in the pot and don't end up on the counter or the floor.

Once your kernels are removed, put just enough water in the pot to cover them. Bring the water to a boil and then reduce the heat. You want these to simmer gently for about 10-12 minutes.

Once they're ready, remove them with a slotted spoon or pour them through a fine-mesh strainer, reserving the cooking water. Put the corn into a food processor and let it run for a while to really break down the corn, checking it periodically and pushing down the sides, if necessary. It will be pretty thick, but it's supposed to be. If you need to loosen it up, use a little of the cooking water. Go sparingly with it, though. If you get it too liquid-y, there's no getting it back to the proper consistency.

Put the corn back into the pot and stir in the butter, garlic and nutritional yeast. It should look like a chunky polenta.

If you cook this while the stew is simmering, it should all be ready around the same time.  Spoon some of the polenta on a plate and top it with a ladle of stew. Top it with a few fresh basil leaves and you're ready to dig in.