Thursday, September 30, 2010

Learning to Invert: Apple Sponge Pudding

I guess you could call it a trifecta. Three great apple recipes in succession to celebrate our wonderful friend, the apple. I love apple season and the vast array of apple varieties and products that we can choose from this time of year. I like trios too and there are three reasons why I chose to make this dish. One, it completes the apple series. Two, the Mennonite Community Cookbook says it is "very old" and the older I get, the more respect I have for the aged treasures among us. Three, the last step in the recipe is to invert the baked product. Inversion is a lovely idea and one I have been attempting to practice.

This dish was fun. I'm warning you though, it's a heavyweight in the sugar department. But it was awesome to make. My favorite part was the final step. After baking this creation, I slipped a knife around the edges, procured the largest platter in the house, and inverted. It was spectacular underneath. The apples neatly laid in a row, surrounded by soft crust with a brown sugar syrup oozing around it. "Come look" I yelled, "it's beautiful!" And delicious, delectable, and different, since we are honoring all things trinitarian.

But back to inverting. When I am in a conflict, my husband advises me to try this. "Invert" he says, "always invert." This is engineer speak for trying to see things from another point of view. Sage advice. Before I criticize or grumble about someone I try to think how the situation might look from his/her perspective. What we find, when we invert, helps us grow and can give us pause, lest we judge. It is an intentional action, to turn our own thoughts upside-down. So, like my apple sponge dish, I can look at the part not readily seen and appreciate the view from another vantage point. We don't have to agree but we can try to understand. We might catch a glimpse of someone else's reality.

Here is the very old recipe from the Mennonite Community Cookbook:

6 medium apples, sliced
2 eggs, separated
1 cup sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup water
1 tsp vanilla
2 T butter
1 1/2 cups brown sugar
Make batter by stirring together beaten egg yolks and sugar.
Mix dry ingredients together and add to the batter alternately with water and vanilla.
Fold in stiffly beaten egg whites.
Melt butter and brown sugar in the bottom of a glass 13x 9 pan.
Add sliced apples.
Pout batter over top of apples.
Bake at 350 for 45 minutes.
Run knife around outside edges and INVERT!
Serve with cream or ice cream.

This recipe was adapted from the Mennonite Community Cookbook (1950).

Wishing you some upside-down goodness,

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Courage: Apple Pie

For us, there is only the trying. The rest is not our business. T.S. Eliot

This week I made a stalwart attempt to let go of two things: the need to have an excellent outcome and my problem with crust envy. In my most recent cooking adventure, there was an opportunity for the confluence of the two things that have thus far plagued my pie baking efforts.First, I must confess something that I know my grandma full of grace, would forgive. I hope the same from those staunch pie bakers out there who would never dream of doing the deed I am about to uncover. For about the past 20 years, I have been purchasing pie crusts. I know. I love the idea of pie, the smell of pie, the taste of pie but I have been so afraid of the crust and the filling and getting it just right that I didn't dare to do both. I thought if I purchased a crust, I could focus on the filling and I would increase the odds that I'd end up with a decent pie. Oh, I knew I was betraying the sisterhood and the brotherhood, possibly motherhood and the flag, but it seemed safer to me. I confess to being so jealous of those delicious flaky crusts that other people seemed to produce with nary a sign of stress. But now you know the truth that lies beneath my sweet fillings. And I suspect it really isn't a big deal to you. As my husband wisely tells me when I am in danger of losing perspective, "Honey, there are big problems in the world, and this isn't one of them."

Even so, it took some words of wisdom to grant me courage to make a whole pie bottom up from scratch. First the quote from Eliot. So wise about the true things in life, our vocations, our calling, our attempts to make a difference. "For us, there is only the trying"...I figured it could apply to pie as well. The second source came just last evening. Heidi Regier Kreider, my pastor, was talking with me about this blog and I shared my fears about how my pies turned out. She told me her family's motto: "Just get it in the pan any way you can". Freedom. I felt I had heard the gospel of pie baking.

So, this evening I came home from work and made a crust. I was sure that when I picked it up it would fall to pieces on my counter and I would be left with a jigsaw puzzle to solve (any way you can) but what do you know? It stayed together and acted like a crust should. I sliced the apples, mixed the crumb topping and baked it. I just pulled it from the oven. Call me sentimental but I went down and opened my antique pie safe and slid the hot pie right in there. I think it knew it was home.

Here is the crust and filling recipe I followed:

2 1/4 cups flour
2/3 cup shortening
1/2 tsp salt
1/3 cup cold water
Combine flour and salt in a mixing bowl. Cut shortening into flour with a pastry blender or two knives until particles are the size of small peas. Add water gradually, one tablespoon at at time. Toss (great choice of verbs) lightly with a fork until all particles are damp. Use only enough water to hold the pastry together when pressed between the fingers. It should not be wet. (I am so glad they told me that). Roll dough into a round ball, handling as little as possible. Roll out onto a lightly floured board into a circle. Put into pie plate and do something nice to the crust edges.

6 tart apples (I used Braeburns)
1 cup sugar
1/3 cup butter
3/4 cup flour
1 tsp cinnamon
Slice apples thinly. Mix 3/4 cup of the sugar and cinnamon together and sprinkle over apples. Put apple mixture into unbaked pie shell. Combine remaining sugar and flour. Add butter and rub together until crumbs are formed. Sprinkle fine crumbs over apples. Bake at 425 degrees for 10 minutes and then reduce oven to 350. Bake 35 minutes longer.


Sunday, September 19, 2010

Back to the Basics: Apple Dumplings

A is for apple. This phrase often begins our formal education and is basic to the essential understanding of the complicated world of lexicons. Apple dumplings are a back to the basic food for me. I have a long history with the apple dumpling. This deliciously simple food graced our table many times. A warm, gently browned pan of fresh dumplings were often set on the table, a pitcher of milk as companion, for my family to eat. Apple dumplings are uncomplicated, easy on the stomach, and simply kind to the palate.

Do you ever find yourself hungry again for the basics of life? Living and working in modern society, I admit to frequently feeling overwhelmed . Constant noise, blinking screens, beeping gadgets, and endless piles of papers overload my sensory system after a couple of hours. I yearn for stillness and solitude like someone in the dry desert thirsts for water. One of the unexpected outcomes of this cooking experience is discovering that peace of mind can be found in the kitchen. Who knew? Going back to the basics of my upbringing while working the dough, slicing the apples, and washing the dishes provides simpatico sensory experiences. I feel at home with these subtle sounds and smells. I feel they work with my spirit, not against it. The added benefit? Some pretty amazing food.

The page in Grandma's cookbook where I found this recipe was stained and worn so my guess is, Grandma visited this page a lot. My Aunt Marion from Pennsylvania also turned out some wonderful apple dumplings and I recall that it made my Uncle Ed very happy when she did so. I had never made them so I asked mom if I could come over to her house to make a batch. I love it that I can still ask her to cook with me. She and I have always been compatible in the kitchen. Neither of us feels the need for idle chatter, we stay focused on the task but without urgency or stress. Like a great dance partner, mom reads my movements and know when she knows to lead with more certainty. She made the dough ahead of time and talked me through the process of peeling, coring, filling, and covering. It was like the old days when I was her best help. (At least she made me think I was!) The next night, my hungry husband and I made a meal of apple dumplings. He topped his with ice cream while I poured half and half over mine. Truly terrific, basically comforting, wonderfully tasting like love.

Here is the recipe as we made them:
Apple Dumplings
Your favorite pie pastry for a two crust pie
8 apples, peeled and cored
1 cup brown sugar with 2 tsp of cinnamon added
Roll out pastry into squares. Set apple on top and spoon in the brown sugar and cinnamon mixture. Pat dough around apple to cover it completely.
Place apples 1 inch apart in buttered baking dish.
Just before baking mix together:
1/2 cup butter, melted
1/3 cup brown sugar
1 T cinnamon
Pour this mixture over the apple dumplings and bake at 375 degrees for 35-40 minutes.

This recipe is adapted from the Mennonite Community Cookbook (1950). Thanks to my wonderful mother for her kind direction!

Hoping you find peace in your kitchen,

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Fall Colors: Sweet Potato Pudding

This is one of my favorite times of the year. Fall colors begin to come out, the weather cools and there are some new seasonal foods. Sweet potatoes can be found in the farmer's markets and I recently made a wonderful dish featuring the sweet potato. The sweet potato is both homely and beautiful, a little knobby, weathered in flesh tone, but warm in its appearance. Not unlike my midlife self.

I wanted to submit an entry to a local holiday cookbook contest and the new category was a secret ingredient-ginger. I pondered on this challenge for a few weeks, trying to decide what I could do with ginger to create a new dish or alter an old one. So, where did I turn? Grandma's cookbook. I found a recipe there that interested me: Sweet Potato Pudding. So, I changed it up just a bit and the result was quite satisfactory. We ate this dish recently as we celebrated Grandparents' Day on Sunday. I served it with some grilled pork loins and a salad. It was really delicious and family members were complimentary. I didn't have marshmallows (having banned foods that are sparkling white from my kitchen!) so I put pecans on top. I liked that variation. This dish will be invited back for Thanksgiving dinner!

Here it is:
Sweet Potato Pudding
2 1/2 cups mashed sweet potatoes
2 eggs
1 cup half and half
6 T sugar
1 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp ginger
2 T butter
Marshmallows or chopped pecans
Cook sweet potatoes with skins on until soft. Peel and mash. When well mashed, add sugar, salt, cinnamon, ginger, melted butter and half and half. Beat eggs well and add to mixture. Top with chopped pecans or marshmallows.
Bake at 350 for 45 minutes.
This recipe is adapted from the Mennonite Community Cookbook (1950).

Happy Fall,

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Friends with the Soul : Hamburger Casserole

All that you have is your soul. Tracy Chapman

This line, one of my favorites, in a song entitled the same, talks of a woman who learned the hard way that you can love and live and try to hang on but when it comes right down to it, all that you have is your soul. When I heard this song, sung by Emmylou Harris in a beautiful venue in Colorado a few years ago, I felt as if I had found my theme song. Finding out that our birthing, creating and giving are a wonderful part of the journey, but not the journey, is when we grow up. When we realize that apart from our trappings, however fancy or plain they may be, all that we are and all that we have is our soul.

Rather heavy subject this, and so is the casserole which I offer today. Perhaps that is what led me to the topic. I was thinking of a hearty dish which was suggested to me by a gracious person who attended the Kauffman Museum presentation in early August where we discussed favorites from the Mennonite Community Cookbook. She didn't speak up in the large session but as she went through the line, she told me, "The hamburger casserole on page 60 is one of my favorites." Impressed that she knew the page number, I wrote it down that day and determined to make it before my year of Mennonite cooking expired. Turns out my mom used to make this one and I ate it a few times as a youngster. I loved the mashed potatoes slightly moistened by the tomato soup. An atypical combination but it works. A complete meal in a casserole dish. A meal of substance and simplicity. A dish that can holds it own. You kind of get the idea that if this casserole met tofu on the street, it wouldn't back down. I love tofu but I gotta say, if we are talking about solid, mashed potatoes wins, hands down.

But on this subject of soul I have been ruminating. I remember the many days I sat in a pediatrician's office waiting for a doctor or nurse to come and help me and one of my three children. One room contained a poster that said, By all means, take some time to be alone. See what your soul doth wear. It had the word Anonymous written on it. I saw that poster over and over and every time I had the same two thoughts. First, who said that? It was so darn smart, deep and philosophical that someone ought to take credit for it. Second, Exactly! Bingo, Right on, Tell it. This was some good advice for young parents, for teenagers and for anyone who lives and breathes. Be friends with your soul.. listen to it... feed it. It is really, in the end, what you have. It's a long row to hoe, feeling one with your soul, but the most necessary gig we've got to show up for.

While you are hoeing that row, here is a great casserole to sustain you.

Hamburger Casserole: A One Dish Meal
1 large onion, minced
1 lb lean ground beef
1 lb cooked green beans
1 can of tomato soup
4 medium potatoes, diced and cooked
1/2 cup warm milk
1 beaten egg
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
Brown onion and ground beef. Add beans and soup and mix together.
Pour into buttered baking dish.
Mash potatoes and add milk, egg and seasoning.
Put the mashed potatoes on top of meat mixture.
Bake in 350 oven for 30 minutes.

By all means, take some time to be alone,

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Knowing what you Need: Cinnamon Rolls

These are a few of the things I need to keep my balance. Water, sunshine, homemade food and flower. Years ago, I heard a friend speak about individuals with disabilities and their need to have choices about what they wanted in their lives. Too many times, those choices are made for people who must be supported in the activities of daily life. Well-intentioned caregivers may assume they know best what a person who struggles with less than average cognitive ability might need or want. His point was that we all need to identify those things we need in our lives so that the crazy things others do don't scare us so much. When I feel as if I am reacting only to what others expect, when duty compels me to weariness, or when fear rather than love is driving my actions, I recall my friend's excellent advice.

What puts the less in your fear? What makes you feel your feet are firmly planted, your nerve endings are covered and your eyes can stay wide open? It is different for all of us. But this Labor Day weekend, I am thinking less about labor and more about balance. I work well. I don't always take care of myself well. So, lately I am making time for that. I went to play in the water, to buy myself some flowers and I baked up an amazing batch of cinnamon rolls. And I ate them warm. I am feeling more balanced already.

Here is the recipe for truly wonderful cinnamon rolls. It is adapted slightly from the Mennonite Community Cookbook (1950).
1 cup scalded milk (I used 3/4 cup half and half and 1/4 cup 2% milk)
1 cup lukewarm water
2 packages of yeast
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup sugar
1 1/2 tsp salt
2 eggs, beaten
6 -7 cups of flour (I used one cup whole wheat, the rest white flour)

Scald milk and pour it over sugar, salt, and butter.
Dissolve yeast in lukewarm water.
Add beaten eggs.
When milk has cooled to lukewarm temperature, add the yeast and beaten eggs.
Beat well.
Add flour gradually, beating well.
Knead lightly, working in just enough flour so that dough can be handled (think soft and supple) easily.
Place dough in a buttered bowl, cover and let stand about 2 hours.

Make into cinnamon rolls by rolling out dough into an oblong shape. about 1/4 inch thick. Spread with melted butter, sprinkle brown sugar mixed with cinnamon and add chopped pecans. Roll up like a jelly roll and slice. Lay down in a buttered pan. Let them rise for about one hour. Bake at 375 degrees for 20 minutes.

While still warm, frost with butter frosting:
3 T butter
2 T milk
powdered sugar to desired consistency

Here's to knowing what you need,