Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Crazy Pies

Faithful readers, forgive me. It has been 19 days since my last post. I wish I had some brilliant excuse. Like travelling to an exotic locale or accomplishing some heroic task at work. But sadly, I just haven't had much to say. Shocking, I know! Hopefully this extra-long post will make up for my absence.

As the lines in the grocery stores would indicate, tomorrow is Thanksgiving. It's strange for me to celebrate a holiday that has been boiled down to devouring meat followed by watching football. Two things I rarely do. Scratch that, two things I NEVER do. But hey, I'm not one to complain about having four days off. Especially considering that until 2 years ago, most of my adult life was spent working on the day after Thanksgiving.

The infamous Black Friday. Just keep in mind that in order to facilitate the shopping orgy that you all enjoy so much, there are poor saps such as myself that have to climb out of bed at 4am to man a cash register or put away discarded try-ons or restock a shelf. So let's take a moment to salute those valiant retailers that sacrifice so much to satisfy our craving for a bargain. Now that I've made the switch to the wholesale side of our business, I am no longer a slave to Black Friday. For that, I am grateful. And I will show my gratitude by NOT stepping foot into a store on that fateful day. But in support of my livelihood which is still dependent upon your consumerism, I would encourage you to shop til you drop!

My family is soaking up the warmth of an Arizona Thanksgiving and Jeff's family is celebrating in their usual laid back style. So when our dear friend Cody invited us to join her family for Thanksgiving, we said "why not?". We met Cody around this time last year in Doernbecher where she works as a Chaplain. One of the many things we love about Cody is that she is a foodie. Listening to her describe preparing a laborious family recipe for lemon meringue pie was such a welcome distraction as we settled in to our hospital room for Thanksgiving last year. This year we are blessed to join forces in celebration of our mutual love of cooking. In fact, just last night we had a marathon pie making session. A few weeks earlier we did a test run at pie making and learned a lot. For example, if you want a top and bottom crust, you need to double the recipe. Freezing the dough for 15 minutes is not the same as refrigerating it for 30 minutes. You know, that kind of thing. With these valuable lessons in our arsenal, we were ready for battle. After four hours of pie making mayhem, we managed to make a pecan tart and caramel apple pie with streusel topping. I know it's an absurd amount of time to make just 2 pies but therein lies the fun.

I tackled the pecan tart while Cody began preparations for the apple pie. The recipes both called for a butter based crust to be made in a mixer. We watched Paula Deen make pie crust and she advised to do it by hand and not over work the dough. And in my book, what Paula says about butter and baking must be true.

Modification #1, no mixer for us!

My recipe said to make the dough, roll it out, press it into the tart form and then freeze. Cody's recipe said to make the dough, refrigerate and then roll it out. After cutting together the ingredients with a fork, I formed it into a ball with my hands. So far, so good. Then I rolled it out on a floured surface but the dough was so soft that it stuck to the counter and the rolling pin despite generous flouring.

Modification #2, form the dough back into a ball and press it into the tart form. Cody completed her dough, wrapped it in plastic wrap and put it in the fridge.

While I finished up the pecan pie, Jeff sliced the apples and Cody moved on to making the caramel sauce. Time was of the essence as we didn't want the apples to brown so we were moving quickly. The recipe called for water and sugar to boil rapidly until it turned amber. Five minutes later, we had not a beautiful amber lake of liquid sugar but a crystallized block.

Modification #3, let's not stir but swirl occasionally. Again, a crystallized block.

Modification #4, let's follow a different recipe and stir constantly with a different ratio of water & sugar. This recipe also called for butter, brown sugar, half-and-half, red wine and a vanilla bean. Cody miraculously had a vanilla bean and heavy cream in her car from earlier grocery shopping and Jeff was happy to crack open a bottle of wine so we thought we'd give it a try. Again, a crystallized block.

Modification #5, new recipe for caramel candy involving no water or white sugar. We halve the recipe and combine the ingredients into a saucepan. Then we notice that the recipe is supposed to take 45-60 minutes for the candy to come to hard ball state. Oh heck no. By now it's 9:30pm and we are not about to spend another hour getting this silly caramel to work.

Modification #6, follow a similar caramel sauce recipe by adding cornstarch and water, bringing to a boil and simmering for 2 minutes to thicken. We don't have any cornstarch?! You've got to be kidding.

Modification #7, use kuzu root in place of cornstarch. It's a relatively flavorless organic thickener which should work just like cornstarch. After simmering for a couple minutes, it still looks a little thin.

Modification #8, we keep it on the heat a bit longer. Looking good, now for the vanilla.

Modification #9, the recipe calls for 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla but we had already split and scraped the vanilla bean so in it goes. It's a little clumpy but a good whisking takes care of that.

Cody moves on to rolling out the dough. I give the caramel a few more minutes to thicken and then pour it over the apples. It smells delicious, that's a good sign. We each try an apple. Mmmmm, heaven. Cody masterfully rolls the dough and places it into the pie plate. We pour in the caramel apples.

"Shoot, we still need to make the streusel topping," I said.
"I already made it," Cody smiled triumphantly.
God bless her.

I retrieve the streusel from the fridge and we sprinkle it on top. Cody's not sure she likes the streusel recipe of butter, sugar, flour and spices. "Shouldn't it have oatmeal in it?" she asks. Oh well, we throw it in the oven as is. An hour later our second masterpiece is complete. By now it's 11pm and even though I think it could use another couple minutes to brown up, we pull it out anyway.

Cody had to go after the pie went in the oven so I sent her a picture of it today. She wrote back that she still thinks the streusel needs oatmeal. I just happen to have an oatmeal streusel type mixture in the fridge left over from a bar cookie recipe I made the night before.

Modification #10, tomorrow we're going to sprinkle some of the oatmeal mixture on the pie, bake for another 10 minutes to re-heat and brown the topping.

Phew, that is a lot of modifications! Typically a failed recipe would really irritate me. I would be impatient and frustrated and grumpy. But going through this with a friend made it fun. We agreed that the "do-overs" made for comic relief. And bouncing ideas off each other for variances to the recipe made these pies more personal.

So let's see, among many other things, this year I'm thankful for...

  • ...not working on Black Friday.
  • ...those who shop on Black Friday.
  • ...foodies.
  • ...dear friends.
  • ...a husband who does the dishes.


Krissy Keelan November 21, 2007 at 11:42 PM  

Happy Thanksgiving!

May God’s Blessings upon you and your family be many. Remember to preserve today’s events for tomorrow’s memories.

I'm glad to hear you haven't forgotten the days of working the day after thanksgiving. What a dreadful day! I don't think I'll ever forget working those days in retail, and pray I'll never have to do it again.

Have fun spending Thanksgiving with Cody. I wish it could be spent with Lillian or a new little baby, but since that isn't the case, why not a good friend.

Anonymous November 22, 2007 at 9:42 AM  

Pie crust is something I've decided I will never be able to make, so I'm completely impressed by how beautiful your pies came out!

Enjoy the Holiday your friends and family!

Love, Mindy

emily November 22, 2007 at 10:11 PM  

Happy Thanksgiving to you! I hope you had a blessed one. I'm praying for you and Jeff. How awesome that you got to bake with a friend. I know, as you said it's so much fun to do it with a friend, and the little mistakes along the way don't seem as irritating as they would if it was just you. I guess that kinda goes with all of life, not just baking. My friend and I used to bake and cook together a lot and let me tell ya, we had plenty of mess ups, but since we were together we could laugh about it and fix it together. Did you know that a tablespoon of baking soda is NOT the same as a teaspoon? I know, very much common sense, but I made that mistake, and boy, could you taste the difference! (just so you know, I did know there was a difference, I just accidentally grabbed a tablespoon instead of a I know to double check!)

Anyways, I hope you had a really great and yummy day! Love, Emily

The Tucson Gang November 23, 2007 at 11:00 AM  

You go girlfriend. Power to the foodies! For those of us not skilled enough or patient enough to make such beautiful creations such as yours...I'm thankful (among other things) that Marie Calendars makes such a GREAT Razzleberry Pie and Chocolate Silk Pie. And, I know Mom is thankful that Costco makes wonderful pumpkin and pecan pies! :-)

Missed you all this year - can't wait to see you both at Christmas! Wonder what our resident foodie will make for Christmas dinner?!? :-)


Anonymous November 26, 2007 at 7:37 AM  

I am glad to hear you got to spend Thanksgiving with friends. This was my first time ever spending Thanksgiving without extended family. It was a little different. You were much bolder than I. I would have never made pie from scratch. As a matter of fact we just went to the Officers club for brunch :) Cooking just isn't my thing! Hopefully we will see you around Christmas time. We will be there for almost a month.


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