July 2, 2019

Apple Pie

If you already have an apple pie recipe you plan on making for July 4th (or any other event this summer/this year/the near or distant future), throw it out. Keep the apples and all the other ingredients, but throw away the recipe. If you don't have any apples or pie-making ingredients, go out and buy them right now. I 10000% guarantee this is better than any other recipe out there, and all my friends and family agree. There's two components for a perfect pie, the filling and the crust, and this recipe has perfected both. The crust has to be crisp and flaky, not susceptible to becoming soggy from the filling, which has to be moist and tender without being too liquidy. A scoop of ice cream really takes it over the top, so trust me when I say this is exactly what your summer barbecues are missing.

There are a lot of methods out there for making apple pie filling. There are so many types of apples, a million ways to cut them, the decision to pre-cook or not, and all sorts of other ingredients you can throw in. For my perfect pie, I peel, core, and slice the apples fairly thinly. No big halves or small dices, just eighths or sixteenths depending on the size of the apples. I go with Granny Smiths for that tart-sweet balance and ideal texture after baking (no mealiness allowed!).

Even the best cut apples can yield a dry or liquidy pie if not treated properly. I messed up countless pies but my family kept requesting them each year for Thanksgiving, and it's a good thing they did because I figured out that macerating the apples is the key to success. Macerating sounds pretty intimidating, but it just means tossing the apples in sugar and letting them sit for a bit to draw out the moisture. The water wants to dilute the sugar, so it is pulled out of the apples in only 15 or 20 minutes. Enough moisture stays in the apples for a pleasantly saucy, juicy filling without making the crust soggy or spilling all over your plate. The macerated apples are drained then combined with a bit more sugar, flour, yummy spices, a pinch of salt, and a squeeze of lemon juice. At this point, the sugar is just to taste depending on how tart your apples are. The flour soaks up the extra juice to form a velvety sauce. Of course you need spices and salt to round out the flavors, too. The lemon enhances the tartness, helps break down the other ingredients, and just balances all the flavors.

The pie crust is my basic recipe, as always. It's a flaky all-butter crust that can stand up to the apples and still form a lattice, if that's what you're going for. The main tricks are to keep the butter (and really all the ingredients plus the finished dough) as cold as possible and handle it minimally to avoid overworking it. I make a double batch so I can do a bottom crust and a top crust, though if you're going for a lattice and don't have much practice you may want to make a triple batch so you have plenty to work with. Regardless of how you choose to decorate the pie, there's no need for blind baking since it will be the oven for a while just to cook the apples.

I start the pie in an extra hot oven to almost shock the dough with heat, locking in the shape and keeping it extra flaky. Of course, if you kept it that high the dough would burn and the apples would be raw, so I lower the temperature to let the pie finish cooking evenly. You may still have to cover the edges of the pie to keep them from burning, since tender apples and a perfectly golden crust are definitely worth the trouble. As hard as it is, I do force my family to wait a few minutes for the pie to cool before digging in so it's slightly less messy. Honestly, it's easiest to cut after sitting in the fridge overnight. While nothing beats a hot slice of pie with a big scoop of ice cream, this pie is great at any temperature and you should give it a try at least once, even if you think your grandma does it better.

1 Double Recipe Sweet Pie Crust Dough (See Below)
3 lbs Granny Smith Apples (8)
1/2 + 1/3 Cup Sugar
1/4 Cup Flour
1 tsp Cinnamon
1/4 tsp Nutmeg
Pinch Cloves
1/4 tsp Salt
1 T Lemon Juice

Split the pie dough in half and roll each to about 10" in diameter. Press one round into a greased 9" pie plate. Cut the other into strips to form a lattice. Chill until firm.

Peel, core, and slice the apples. Toss in 1/3 cup sugar. Set aside for 20 minutes, then drain off the liquid.

Heat oven to 425F.

Whisk the remaining 1/2 cup sugar, flour, spices, and salt together. Add to the apples with the lemon juice. Transfer to the pie crust, top with the lattice, and crimp the edges.

Bake the pie for 15 minutes at 425F, then lower to 375F and bake for an additional 30 minutes or until the apples are tender, covering the edges as necessary.

For the crust:
Pulse 2 1/2 cups flour, 1/2 cup sugar, and 1/2 tsp salt in a food processor until combined. Add 2 sticks chilled and cubed butter and pulse until small pieces remain. Combine two egg yolks with two tablespoons of cold water and add in. Pulse until it begins to form a ball, adding more water as necessary. Chill.

Makes 1 9" Pie
Recipe Adapted from Pillsbury

June 26, 2019

French Onion Chicken

If you haven't been keeping up with my Instagram account, you should know I crammed a dozen of New York's top spots into a 48 hour trip and basically doubled in size. Now that I'm back home, I'm trying to cook more since I ate at enough restaurants to last through the rest of the year. I'm getting creative with some basic cuts of meat, like boneless skinless chicken breasts. They can be bland and dry and tough if you don't cook them right, but I found a way to keep them tender and juicy and flavorful. I personally consider this the epitome of health food because it's covered and vegetables and low-carb, meaning I don't feel guilty eating this with a big pile of mashed potatoes on the side.

This recipe is essentially a quick French onion soup thickened to a gravy for the chicken, which is then smothered in cheese and baked until hot and bubbly. A big skillet is the key to the dish so you keep building the layers of flavor and also don't have to wash too many dishes. The onions go in the pan first with a bit of butter, and they're sauteed until tender. I add some beef broth, which I swore I would never do with a poultry dish (it's actually a long-running debate within my family, especially for Thanksgiving). However, it's basically required for any good French onion soup, so I'll let this one go.

The chicken itself is pretty simple: just get some boneless, skinless chicken breasts and pound until even and fairly thin. I know you can buy thin chicken breast cutlets, but those are usually far to thin for my taste and overcook pretty much instantly. I try to keep mine maybe 1/2" to 3/4" thick so they can get nice and brown on the outside but stay juicy in the middle.

You can sear the chicken in the same pan as the onions, as long as you take the onions out first so they don't burn. The gravy is also made in the same skillet so you can take advantage of the chicken drippings. A few spoonfuls of flour will thicken it into a roux in just a few moments. The onions go back in the skillet along with more beef broth. It should become a nice smooth gravy as soon as it comes to a boil, then I add some fresh herbs for some extra flavor. Once it's the right texture and flavor, the chicken can go back in. As everyone knows, the best part of any French onion soup is the cheese on top, so I pile it on each piece of chicken. My personal favorite here is Swiss, but the traditional route is Gruyere. Really any good mild melting cheese will do, so provolone and mozzarella are some more approachable options.

The chicken really only needs to bake for a few minutes depending on how thick you pounded them out ahead of time. The real goal here is to get that cheese all brown and bubbly (and of course make sure the chicken is cooked so nobody gets salmonella). The dish doesn't really take all that long to make, but if you wanted to prep it ahead of time a good pause would be after you assemble the skillet but before you bake it off. Chicken straight from the fridge will obviously take longer to heat up and cook through than if you had cooked the dish in one go, but it only took me about 10 minutes in the oven. It's still doable for a weeknight dinner, and the leftovers are even better.

2 lbs Boneless Skinless Chicken Breasts
2 Medium Yellow Onions
2 Cloves Garlic, Minced
3 T Butter
1 1/4 Cups Beef Broth
2 T Flour
2 Sprigs Fresh Thyme
8-10 Slices Swiss Cheese (or Gruyere, Mozzarella, or Provolone)

Heat oven to 400F.

Slice the onions in half, then cut into thin crescents.

Melt the butter in a large oven-safe skillet over medium heat. Add the onions and saute for 4 minutes or until translucent. Reduce the heat to medium-low, add the garlic and 1/4 cup beef broth, and cook for another 15 minutes, stirring frequently, until very tender. Remove from the skillet and set aside.

Pound the chicken breasts to an even thickness, about 1/2" to 3/4" thick. Season with salt and pepper. Increase the heat on the skillet to medium-high. Add the chicken and sear on both sides until brown, about 4 minutes per side. Remove from the skillet and set aside.

Add the flour to the pan drippings over medium heat and whisk until smooth. Add the onions, then stir in the remaining 1 cup beef broth. Bring to a boil, then season with salt, pepper, and the thyme. Return the chicken to the pan and spoon some of the sauce over each cutlet. Top with two slices of cheese. Transfer to the oven and bake for 10 minutes or until the chicken is cooked through and the cheese is golden brown.

Serves 4-6
Recipe Adapted from Creme de la Crumb

June 10, 2019

Blueberry Cobbler Cookies

Blueberry season is upon us! Well, almost, but given the insane number of buckets my family always lugs home after berry picking each summer I have to start planning early. Blueberries are one of my favorite fruits to bake with because they're so versatile. They work for pies, frozen treats, smoothies, all sorts of breakfasts, and pretty much anything else you can dream up. I rarely see them in cookies, though, so I made it my personal mission this summer to do some sort of blueberry cookie. Well, mission accomplished. I cook those tasty berries down to a jammy consistency, pile them on top of buttery vanilla cookie dough, top it all with crumbly streusel, and bake them into the perfect treat: the irresistible taste of a fresh cobbler with the convenience of a cookie.

The jam is extremely simple, just blueberries, sugar, and a squeeze of lemon juice. That all cooks down for about a half hour until the berries burst and turn nice and thick. This will make more than you need for these cookies, but it won't keep as long as a jar of store-bought jam, especially if you don't can it properly, so use any extra within a few days. It would be great on top of ice cream, spread onto toast, or used to dip these cookies in for maximum blueberry flavor.

All good cobblers need good streusel, and these cookies are no exception. This one consists of sugar, brown sugar, a bit of cinnamon, flour, and lots of butter. It comes together in seconds and should be perfectly crumbly. If it's a little dry, add more butter, and if it's a little wet, add more flour. You can add more cinnamon to taste, too.

The cookies are also easy to make since a simple sugar cookie is all you need to highlight the tart berries and sweet streusel. It starts by creaming softened butter and sugar together until fluffy, adding an egg and plenty of vanilla, then stirring in the dry ingredients. I scoop them into small balls and roll them in more sugar for a little extra texture and pop of sweetness. You can use your thumb or a small measuring spoon to press an indent into the center of each cookie, then fill each pocket with that tasty blueberry jam. The streusel goes on top, then the cookies go in the oven. When they're just golden on the bottom, it's time to eat. They're fantastic hot and fresh, or you can top them with a scoop of ice cream for a delectable summer treat.

1 1/2 Cups Blueberries
1/3 Cup Sugar
1 tsp Lemon Juice

3 T Sugar
3 T Brown Sugar
Pinch Cinnamon
Pinch Salt
1/2 Stick Butter, Melted
2/3 Cup Flour

1 3/4 Cups Flour
1/2 tsp Baking Powder
1/2 tsp Salt
1 1/2 Sticks Butter, Softened
2/3 Cup + 1/4 Cup Sugar
1 Egg
1 tsp Vanilla

For the filling, combine the blueberries, sugar, and lemon juice in a small pot. Simmer over medium heat until thickened, about 30 minutes, stirring frequently. Set aside to cool.

For the streusel, combine the sugar, brown sugar, cinnamon, and salt. Stir in the butter, then add in the flour.

Heat oven to 350F and line a baking sheet with parchment.

For the cookies, combine the flour, baking powder, and salt. Beat the butter and 2/3 cup sugar together on medium speed until fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add the egg and vanilla and beat until combined. Stir in the flour mixture.

Scoop the dough into 1" balls and roll in the remaining 1/4 cup sugar. Transfer to the prepared trays and press an indent in the center of each. Fill with the blueberry jam and top with the streusel. Bake for 12 minutes or until just golden.

Makes 20
Recipe Adapted from Joy the Baker