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Thursday, August 11

Gapers Block

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I like the idea of eating food that is in season. I like the idea of only eating organic foods. I like the idea of only eating foods that are completely good for me.

In practice? I eat non-organic foods that are bad for me and that are out of season. It's not that uncommon, and I refuse to feel guilty about it. If I only ate organic foods during their natural season, I'd never have a fresh vegetable cross my lips during the winter. And winter in Chicago is too depressing to accept that.

This weekend's brunch with friends was a perfect example. We were asked to bring a sweet treat to go with the savory dishes, salads, fruit and mimosas the hosts were making. Since this would involve baking, and since that is a realm I lack comfort or ability in, I turned to my co-chef and asked him what he would like to make.

"I was thinking of baked apples with cheese."

*blink* "Say again?"

"You know, just some apples baked with cheese." I think he meant something like this.

And it could be the stomach flu that I'm still recovering from, or it could be the lingering urge I have to say "ew" when presented with something unusual by someone else (it's delicious if I come up with it myself, of course), but I just couldn't get excited by the idea of baked apples and cheese. And instead of trying to convince me without having edible proof at hand that he was right, he agreed to compromise and make an apple pie with cheddar cheese in it instead of just apples and cheese. Baked. Together.

And I have to say my skepticism was put to rest the minute I took a bite of the delicious and not-too-sweet apple pie thingy, with cheddar cheese. I say thingy because it wasn't a traditional pie. It wasn't molded into a pan and then topped and trimmed and pinched and prettied up. What it was was a semi-traditional pie crust that was rolled out, placed on a cookie sheet, had a pile of apples and cheese placed in the middle of it, and then the outer edges of the crust were simply folded over the top.

It was delicious and rustic looking, and took much less time than doing the traditional pie style, and it was a lot tastier than any frozen thing I could have pulled out of a freezer and popped in the oven. The cheese added a nice salty counterpoint to the sweet apples. And even though I didn't make it myself, it looked fairly easy. I give full credit for the crust recipe and formation method to Alton Brown, food geek and Food Network host.

2 sticks of butter (1/2 cup)
2 1/2 cups of all purpose flour
1/2 cup of cornmeal
3 tablespoons of sugar
1 teaspoon of kosher salt
1/4 cup of apple juice (we just used more water)
1/4 cup of water
1 egg
1/4 cup of sugar

Apple Cheddar Mixture
12 ounces of tart firm apples
3 tablespoons of cider vinegar
1/4 cup of sugar
pinch of grated nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon of ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon of ground mace
2 tablespoons of butter
1/2 cup of shredded cheddar cheese
1 teaspoon of flour

Cut the butter sticks in half lengthwise, turn them 1/4 turn and cut them in half again. Now cut those strips into small cubes. Place them in a bowl and put them in the freezer for at least 10 minutes (which should be enough time for you to get the apple mixture prepared). Also put your baking sheet into the freezer. Place the rest of the dry ingredients into a food processor and pulse four or five times. Add half of the butter and pulse eight to 10 times, or until the lumps look like their about the same size. Add the rest of the butter and repeat. Place the water and apple juice into a spray bottle (or just use water) and spray the top of the flour until the top layer seems uniformly wet. Pulse three times. Wait for 30 seconds and pulse three more times. Take the top off the food processor and press on the dough; it should come together when where you pressed it. If it doesn't, add a little more water and pulse a couple more times. Place the crust into a zip-top bag and use your hands to mold it into a flat disk that is about 5 inches across. Put it in the refrigerator for about 30 minutes. (This rest lets the flour soak up all the liquid and will make it easier to roll. If you skip this step, it will likely turn crumbly.)

While the dough rests, preheat your oven to 400° F and make the filling. Peel and core the apples and then slice them into even and thin slices. Place a skillet over medium heat and add the apples. Toss them constantly for about 30 seconds before adding in the vinegar. Stir for about 30 seconds so the liquid evaporates, then add the sugar and cook until the apples start to soften, which should take about 2-3 minutes. Remove from the heat. Add the spices and the butter and stir until the butter melts. Stir in the shredded cheddar cheese and sprinkle the flour over the top. Let this cool to room temperature before adding to the pie crust.

Remove the bag from the refrigerator and spread out pieces of parchment paper. Use a rolling pin to smooth out the dough, turning it slightly less than a quarter of a turn after each roll. Once the disk is about 1/4" thick, remove the baking pan from the freezer and place it upside down over the dough. Hold the paper taut against the edges of the pan and in a swift, smooth motion, flip the pan right side up so the dough turns with the pan. Peel off the paper from the dough. The edges don't need to be even and if any of the dough cracks or breaks, just pinch the dough back together. Pile the apple mixture in the center of the dough and then fold up the sides up and toward the middle. Brush the crust with the white from an egg and sprinkle the crust with a handful of sugar. Bake the pie for about 30 minutes. The filling should bubble and the crust should be a golden brown. Remove it from the pan to a rack to let it cool. This can be served at any temperature, but let it set for 20 minutes before serving.

So instead of feeling guilty for eating the wrong way, or eating the wrong foods during the wrong time of year, I'm going to simply enjoy this dish as much as possible, which is quite possible. And I think this could be a simple way to make other tasty meals — like a spinach and cheese pie.

I think the best way to do this would be to follow the pie crust recipe above, but remove the sugar, increase the salt to 1 1/2 teaspoons and add 1/4 teaspoon of pepper and 1 teaspoon of dried herbs (oregano, basil, thyme or marjoram). Instead of sprinkling sugar across the top of the crust, use parmesan cheese. To make the filling, follow the recipe below.

Savory Spinach and Feta
12 ounces of frozen spinach, thawed
1 small onion
1 tablespoon of olive oil
1 clove of garlic
4 ounces of crumbled feta or goat cheese
2-3 tablespoons of shredded parmesan cheese

Place the spinach in a colander over a sink or a bowl and let it sit to drain. Once much of the water seems to have been drained out, grab small handfuls of the spinach and squeeze to remove even more of the water. Place it on a chopping board and chop into smaller pieces. Place the skillet over medium-high heat. Chop the onion and add it to the hot skillet along with the olive oil. Stir the onion for 5 minutes, or until the onion is just starting to brown, mince the garlic or run it through a press. Add it to the skillet and let it cook for about a minute before adding the chopped spinach. Cook for about 2-3 minutes, or until the spinach is warmed through. Remove it from the heat and let it cool for about 15 minutes. Stir in the feta cheese and pile into the center of the crust. Continue as above and sprinkle the parmesan over the crust after you brush it with the egg white. Bake for about 30 minutes and let it sit for about 10 minutes before slicing and serving.

You could use this idea for any mixture of fruit and sweet ingredients or savory ingredients. Just make sure the filling mixture is fairly dry so you don't get a soggy pie, and cook the filling before adding it to the crust since it won't be in the oven very long. You could even use seasonal, organic and locally-grown produce to make your own pie. But I won't judge you if you don't.

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clay / March 26, 2008 11:39 AM

Hey Cinnamon,

Love the posts, keep up the good work! Everything always sounds pretty darn tasty but I am a visual learner. Any chance we could start to see some pics of the final product? I am a lot more motivated to make something when I see the tasty food, rather then just read about it...


About the Author(s)

Cinnamon Cooper is an untrained cook. Most of what she's learned has been by accident. The rest has been gained by reading cookbooks, watching The Food Network and by scouring the Internet. Oh, and she also hates following recipes but loves the irony of writing them down for others to follow.

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