Sunday, July 09, 2006

Birthday Pie

There's nothing like apple pie to celebrate 25 years. Why apple pie? The pie is a significant representation of the past year of my life. I learned to make pie while I was home for Christmas. Before then, I thought pie crust was too hard to make. However, with a quick lesson from my dad and the help of a pastry blender, I figured out why people say "easy as pie." The apple pie pictured above is a variation of the first pie I made - which my mom said was "the best apple pie I've ever had," which is quite a compliment, considering how many awesome pies my grandma has made throughout the years. Since then, I have discovered how much I enjoy baking pies, and pastries in general.

Over Memorial Day weekend, I made shortcakes to go with the abundant fresh strawberries. I've been working on the perfection of a scone recipe (they've all turned out just fine, but I have yet to replicate the exact flavor and texture of my favorite orange cranberry scones at the Upper Crust in Columbia, Mo.).

My 25th birthday was somewhat a celebration of the cooking accomplishments throughout the past year. My mom got me "Apple Pie Perfect," a cookbook dedicated entirely to apple pies by Ken Haedrich (I also have his cookbook, "Pie" which is awesome, I'll include a recipe I made today from it). My mother-in-law got me a new pie dish. Neither one of them knew ahead of time I was making an apple pie for my birthday dinner!

Menu for a birthday dinner

Appetizers: bruschetta and Pear-Brie Turnovers
Wine: Stoneleigh 2004 Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc (New Zealand)

Pork Loin
Apple Pie


Pear-Brie Turnovers (adapted from Ken Haedrich's "Pie")
1 recipe cream cheese pastry, divided and refrigerated
2 tsp. all-purpose flour
2 tsp. granulated sugar
4 tsp. raspberry preserves (I used seedless)
1 large pear, peeled, cored and thinly sliced
Approx. 1/3 lb. Brie (I used baby Brie)
Milk or light cream
Granulated sugar

1. Make pastry dough; divide into 4 balls of equal size. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate (at least one hour). Lightly grease (or use silpat) one large baking sheet.
2. Mix flour and sugar together in a small bowl. Using a floured rolling pin, roll one ball of dough into an 8" circle on a sheet of wax paper or a pastry mat (I love my Pampered Chef pastry mat). Spread 1 tsp. raspberry preserves in center of dough (leave at least 1" border); lightly sprinkle with flour-sugar mixture. Arrange a single layer, overlapping, of pear slices on half of the dough, within the 1" border. Sprinkle with a little more flour-sugar mixture. Cover pear slices with slices of Brie. Moisten the edge of the pastry (with a pastry brush or fingers), then fold the empty half of the pastry over the filling. Pinch edges together, forming a rope-like edge. Place on prepared baking sheet. Refrigerate while you make the remaining three turnovers, adding each to the sheet in the fridge as it is finished. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
3. Remove sheet from refrigerator and brush each pastry with milk (or cream, or half-and-half, whatever you have on hand). Poke surface 2-3 times with fork to vent. (Optional - sprinkle with granulated sugar after brushing with milk). Place sheet on center rack in oven and bake 10 minutes. Reduce oven heat to 375 degrees an bake an additional 25 minutes, or until golden brown. It may help to rotate your sheet a couple of times during baking.
4. Transfer turnovers to a wire rack to cool.

To serve as an appetizer, let cool 30 minutes and slice into strips.
To serve as a dessert, dust with confectioners' sugar and serve 15-30 minutes after removal from the oven.

Bruschetta (from my mom)
1. Toast thin slices of baguette or French bread in oven.
2. Brush with olive oil.
3. Top with Salami, provolone cheese, one slice of tomato and one sprig of lettuce.
4. Serve immediately.

Apple Pie (adapted from Better Homes and Gardens)
Single pie crust (I'll post my pie crust recipe later)
5 cups thinly-sliced, peeled Granny Smith apples (2 lbs.)
3/4 cup sugar
2 tbsp. all-purpose flour
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp. salt
Crunch topping (to follow)
1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
2. Combine apples, sugar, 2 tbsp. flour, cinnamon, and 1/4 tsp. salt in a large bowl. Spoon into pastry-lined pie plate; spoon crunch topping over top. Cover pie edges with aluminum foil; bake pie for 40 minutes. Remove foil. Bake another 20 minutes, or until crust is golden brown, topping is golden, and fruit is tender. Cool on a wire rack. Serve or cover and chill within 2 hours. Serves 8.
Crunch topping:
In a medium bowl, stir together 3/4 cup sugar, 3/4 cup flour, and 1/4 tsp. salt. Using a pastry blender, cut in 1/3 cup butter until mixture is crumbly.

The topping really makes the pie - and it's much easier than doing a double crust!

I will post the pie crust, pork loin, and asparagus recipes later!

The wine is purchased from St. Petersburg Mercantile, a great shop in downtown Hannibal, Missouri. I've heard the the nice people who own St. Petersburg Mercantile found it while visiting one of their children on a study abroad program in New Zealand. It has a lot of character for a Sauvignon Blanc - everyone who tries it loves it!

Looking forward to another year of cooking adventures
I learned to make pie, biscuits, etc. during the past year, so what culinary challenges lie ahead during the next year?

Here are a few of my goals for the next year:
to perfect my orange cranberry scone recipe
to learn to make bread (challah in particular)
to make more entrees, or at least more non-pastry recipes

Maybe by the time I celebrate 26, I'll be baking more bread and making more meals (and less pies and scones!).
My mom and my mother-in-law both felt guilty because I cooked my own birthday dinner, but I thought it was fun! My parents are probably the reason I enjoy cooking so much, so it was nice to share my progress with them, even it took my birthday to get them all together to sample my recipes!

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