Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Just in time for apple season: Apple fritters

Local apples are just coming into the markets and being sold in stores.  Recently I made some apple fritters with some local apples I bought at Joe's Garden http://www.joesgardens.com/ in Bellingham.  We kind of forgot about them (The summer can get quite busy around here.) and they were getting a bit soft.  I'm super picky about fruit in general and so I won't eat an apple unless it is crisp and hard.  I didn't want the apples to go to waste so I decided to try out a recipe that I saw on Essential Pepin. 

First of all I would like to say a bit about Jacques Pepin.  He is an amazing french chef that I've been following for almost 20 years.  I first began to watch his cooking shows on KCTS (public channel) when I was in college.  I loved the way he made the preparation of food seem so simple and elegant.  Over the years I have also enjoyed how he never lets anything go to waste.  I too hate any type of waste and have been using his techniques and recipes for quite a few years now.  We are such fans of his in our house that everyone knows to keep quiet when Jacques is on.  My husband has experimented with his recipes as well and my youngest son (3 1/2) watches him with me.  He especially likes the Essential Pepin episodes where Jacques brings in his granddaughter to cook with him.

Here is a link to the Essential Pepin episode that I watched.  The section regarding apple fritters is on 19:25.  Fast forward if you don't have time but be sure to watch in full later on because it really is a good episode about utilizing late summer fruit. 

**In general I followed Jacques' recipe but I made a few changes based upon my personal preferences and what I already had in the house.  If you watch this episode you will see that Jacques uses beer in his fritter batter.  Well, I like beer and I prefer to drink it instead of using it in recipes.  After looking in my fridge I noticed that we had a bottle of hard cider that a patient had made and given to my husband.  It's quite tart and we tend not to drink it all by itself.  It was a perfect replacement for the beer.  Also, instead of using plain powdered sugar to dust the fritters I sifted in some cinnamon. 

Here's my rendition of Jacques Pepin's Apple Fritters:
*1 cup all-purpose flour
*3 apples (It doesn't really matter what kind you are using.  Use what you prefer and what's available at your local market/farm/store.)
*Vegetable Oil (lots of it.  I used a bottle of it that I had had for a while and wanted to use it up.)
*LeCreuset Dutch oven or heavy duty pan.  (No non-stick pans)
*Candy or frying thermometer
*Powdered sugar (about 1 tbsp.)
*Cinnamon (about 1 tsp)
*1 bottle of hard cider
*sheet pan
*wire rack

Put the flour in a medium bowl and gradually whisk in the hard cider.  Keep mixing until the batter is thick but not watery.  Slice the apples (Keep the skin of the apple intact.  This is one of the reasons why I prefer to utilize no-spry or organic apples.) and dust with a small amount of cinnamon.  Place the apple slices into the batter and mix with a spoon.  Gently drop a small finger full of battered apples into 320-330 degree vegetable oil.  Use a spoon if this is your first time frying or if you are nervous.

**A word about oil and frying.  I refuse to buy a fryer.  If you have one then you can definitely use it.  I just prefer to use the equipment that is already in my kitchen.  The vegetable oil is super duper hot so BE CAREFUL  about splashing oil.   Also, please do not use non-stick pots or pans for frying.  Many non-stick pans are only supposed to be used up to a certain temperature.  The oil in this recipe should be around 320-330 degrees and many non-stick pans cannot handle that high of a temperature.  Also, the taste of whatever you are frying is more difficult to clean away with a non-stick pan. 

After the fritters have cooked for a few minutes turn them over with a fork. When both sides are a nice brown color use a slotted spoon and place on a wire rack with a sheet pan underneath.  White the fritters are still hot sprinkle with powdered sugar and cinnamon.

Keep frying until you run out of apples and batter.  Once the apples have cooled a bit sprinkle them again with powdered sugar and cinnamon.  Serve and enjoy.  They will be very hot inside so taste gently. 

Tasty Travels: Pasty or Hand Pie?

My family and I just got back from a trip to England, Scotland and Wales. One of the things we enjoyed the most there, believe it or not, was the food.  Stop laughing.  I'm serious. We ate at a lot of local pubs and the food was fantastic. Apparently, pub grub in Great Britain has come a long way and we were all very impressed.
In general the food was very savory, included some kind of meat and usually involved a pastry of some kind. Since I am a person who loves savory fare, I was in absolute heaven. However, one of the sad things about coming home from a trip is that you generally miss the food and experiences. What's a gal to do? I'll tell you. I recreated one of my favorites. Hand pies!!!
What's a hand pie? Simply put a hand pie is a meat pie that you can eat with your hands. Some people confuse these with pastys. A Cornish pasty (PAH stee) is also a meat pie that you eat with your hands, but it must have a special "D" shape.  A hand pie can have any shape it desires. I made both with a sausage, apple, and kale filling. It was so amazingly delicious. Here's how I did it.
Ingredients: Pasty/Hand Pie Filling:
*Olive oil:  Extra virgin, cold pressed (about 1 tbsp.)
*Dry white wine or apple cider vinegar
*About 1lb. sweet italian sausage  (chicken, pork...It doesn't really matter)
*1 medium onion (chopped)
*1 tart apple (Granny Smith is preferable)
*1 bunch swiss chard, chopped and ribs removed  (I've used beet greens or kale as well)
Put a small amount of olive oil in the pan and heat over medium heat.  In a large bowl put in the italian sausage (remove casings if included).  Next pour a bit of the white wine or vinegar over the sausage and mix together with your impeccably clean hands (no rings, eeeew).  A bit is about 1/4 cup.  You can use more or less but you really just want to moisten the sausage.
You might be asking yourself, "What?  Why are you putting wine/vinegar into this glorious sausage?  Can't I just brown it without?"  Well, you can...but the results will be far different.  Using wine or vinegar is an old cooking trick when browning meat.  The wine or vinegar is an acid and helps break down the proteins in the meat thereby helping it break apart in the pan.  It also imparts great flavor to the meat and pie.  I didn't want to open an entire bottle of white wine so I used a new local apple cider vinegar I was trying out.  I must say that this quality apple cider vinegar is well worth the extra money.  It was only a few dollars more than the generic or major brands.  Those others are usually pretty tasteless but the BelleWood Acres Apple Cider Vinegar was amazing.  I think it gave more flavor than the wine I normally use.  That is saying something!  I highly recommend trying it. 
Anyhow, after browning the sausage spoon it out and place onto a plate with a paper towel.  Add the chopped onion and tart apple.  This is the time when you get to scrap off the brown tasty bits from the bottom of your pan.  They really should just call them flavor bits because that is exactly what they are.  mmmm.  If the bits aren't coming off because the apple and onion aren't releasing enough water then you can add some more wine or vinegar to the pan to deglaze it.  Use only a little because otherwise you will overpower the filling.  Finally, add the swiss chard and cover for a few minutes.  When the swiss chard has cooked down add the sausage back to the pan and heat together.  Once heated let the filling cool for about an hour.

Now, it's time to make the crust. 
I make a homemade pie crust.  I got this recipe from The Better Homes and Gardens: New Cook Book.  Feel free to use your favorite double pie crust recipe.  You can use a store bought one I guess, but I've never liked how they turn out.
Ingredients: Crust: 
*1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
*1/4 tsp. salt.
*1/3 cup shortening ( I use Crisco)  Someday I'll get around to using bacon fat.  Now that sounds decadent.
*4-5 tbs. cold water
Mix together salt and flour.  Using a pastry cutter, cut in the shortening until the pieces are pea-size.  Using a fork, gently mix in the COLD water one tablespoon at a time until all the dough is moistened.  Form the dough into a ball and roll out onto a lightly floured surface. 
Now your choices begin.  You need to decide what kind of shape you are going to make your pasty/hand pie.  A hand pie is usually square and a pasty is a D shaped creation. 

For a pasty:
Cut the dough into a circle and fold in half.  Spoon the filling inside the folds and squish out all the air.  Then seal the edges by pressing down on the exterior dough.  Place your thumb against the inside of the pastry and press the dough around your thumb with your other hand's thumb and index finger.  An easier way is to use the tines of a fork and press the edges together. 

For a hand pie:
Cut the dough into a square (about 5 1/2 inches on each side) and put a tablespoon of filling in the center.  Then fold the corners and seal in the center of the hand pie. 
After your creations are finished place them on a greased cookie sheet and brush with an egg wash.  An egg wash is 1 egg mixed with 1 tbs. of water. 
Bake the pastys/hand pies in 400 degree over for 25-30 min.