Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Oh, My: Pie!

Grossly overdue, but here I am to talk about the pie I baked for Christmas at my parents'.

This was my first foray into a true all-butter (as in no other fats--this broad don't mess with lard or shortening!) pie crust. Really, it wasn't as terrible as I feared, and was hugely successful and sinfully flaky and delicious. Another thing I can add to the "what took me so long?" list.

I made the crust ahead of time, knowing it would keep just fine in the fridge until I was ready. This saved me a huge amount of waiting around and work time on the day I needed to make the pie. With all the other holiday baking I had going on, anything I could do to economize on my time was certainly worthwhile!

When the crust came together, it stayed rather crumbly, but that was exactly what the recipe said to expect. And so I simply balled it up, flattened it into two disks (the recipe makes enough for a double-crusted pie), and refrigerated them both for a few days until I was ready to get my pie on.

The rolling-out is the tricky part. You've got to keep it from sticking to the rolling pin as well as the rolling surface, while also making sure it rolls into what loosely resembles a circle. Oh, and also you can't handle it too much or roll it too thin--that will cause it to tear*.

Then the next anxiety-ridden step was lifting the dough and molding it in the pie plate. Thankfully, I was able to lift and place it with no tears and no cracks. Whew! I decided on the simplest crimp for the crust, but even that took a bit of work to get the hang of--it's simply pinching the dough, but you have to make sure it holds correctly (you're pinching the "extra" dough that had been trimmed and left hanging over the edge of the pie plate). Just like using a piping bag, it took a little work (and practice on scrap bits) to get it right.

By the time I was done, I was actually quite pleased with my very first pie crust! I mean...it looked like all the photos I had seen! Thankfully, the only step left for the crust was to pop it in the fridge while I worked on the filling. This crust simply bakes with the filling, so I didn't need to use pie weights to blind bake or anything. I didn't even need to prick vents in it. I like it: keep things simple!

The filling for this particular pie was apples and cranberries. Because the recipe used 3 Honeycrisps and 2 Granny Smiths, that's exactly what I used. As well as half a bag of fresh cranberries. Perhaps the best part was that once the apples had all been peeled and sliced, you mixed them with some lemon juice and spices and left them to macerate and give up quite a lot of juice! The juice was then caramelized on the stovetop and dumped over the apples and cranberries once they were placed in the pie crust. Oh my!

Caramelizing the spiced apple juice.

Almost ready for the oven!
I think next time I make this, I will use only apples (wasn't a huge fan of the tart cranberries), and I will not use all of the caramel juice. It never quite thickened up, and so when the pie was sliced into, a lot of the juice came running out. It was delicious, don't get me wrong! But I tend to like a bit more of a gelled pie--less gooey and more thick.

Now, I said earlier the pie crust recipe makes enough for a double-crusted pie. This is just a bottom-crust pie. So what topped it? Why, a delicious crumble!

The crumble was just enough coverage to keep the apples from burning during baking while getting juuuust perfectly browned itself. Thank goodness it came out so well--I'm not scared off from making future pies! Which is good because come peak farmer's market season, it's gonna be a whole new ballgame.

*Should your crust tear, you can just use some of the extra scraps to make a little patch--once it's baked, no one will ever know.

And as for that other crust left waiting in my fridge? I used up a few leftover ingredients in the pantry/fridge to make a lemon buttermilk pie with an orange cranberry jam sauce on top. MMM MMM!


Monday, January 12, 2015

Porridge is the best breakfast on a chilly morning!

This post is mainly for my mom, as she's often curious what I mean when I say I had some porridge for brekky.

What I really mean is that I had "complicated oatmeal." It's sort of like you can have tea or you can have Tea: the first is a simple cuppa, brewed up in a lovely ceramic mug and sipped while watching TV or having a workday morning brekky of cold cereal; the latter is more of an experience--a fancy teacup, perhaps with a saucer situation going on, and a little pitcher of milk rather than glugging some in from the carton in the fridge. Both drinking experiences start the same: water is boiled, tea leaves are steeped, and their deliciousness is ultimately consumed. The difference is what you make of the whole experience. Do I always want to, or have time to, set out a giant Tea spread to make the English gentry proud? Hell to the no. But when I do, I love to make a true experience of it. It's a reminder to slow down and enjoy things rather than shovel things in my mouth before rushing off to do my next task.

Likewise, there is oatmeal, and there is porridge. I'm going to sound like a math teacher here for a second, but bear with me: all oatmeal is porridge but not all porridge is oatmeal--think of those little ven diagrams or whatever you looked at in math class for these kinds of comparisons. To wit: porridge is basically just hot cereal--it can be oats, millet, barley...anything you cook up with a liquid and eat hot off the stove (or out of the microwave). Oatmeal is called oatmeal because it's made from oats. Quinoa is currently having a moment where it is leaping from dinner plates and finding itself served in the morning hours with fruit, almond milk, and tea (or Tea).

So that aside, when I say I make porridge, I use oats, and so yes, I am having oatmeal. But "porridge" just sounds fancier and sets it aside from the instant stuff. I pour out these oats, not from a little brown paper packet, but from a box where I have to actually measure out each serving. (My favorite brand is above.) I dump the oats into a pot on the stove--if I'm making enough for me and John, I'll use my trusty 2-quart saucepan; if I'm making enough just for me, I'll use a cute little Corningware ceramic pan. Rather than cooking the oats in water (which never tasted good to me, and may be why I've always hated the over-sugared packet oatmeals), I cook them in milk--cow's or almond. Regular old cow's milk, of any percentage you like, makes not only a thick and luscious bowl of oats, but it also adds a subtle sweet flavor, much like the sweetness milk takes on when you steam it to add to your coffee. I've also used vanilla almond milk, and this, too, makes it feel like a special meal. The whole cooking process takes about 10-15 minutes, so again, not really the thing to do if you need to dash out the door, but if you've got the time, it is so well worth the effort. See? It's complicated oatmeal.

A few of my favorite servings are thus:
  • Brown sugar
  • Jam/compote
  • Fruit butter
  • Honey
  • Chopped nuts

These can all also be mixed and matched. And I've recently gotten into savory porridge as a fabulous new idea for breakfast for dinner (or a nice brunch option). I cook it the same way (using milk on the stovetop), but then I will cook a sunny-side-up egg and plop it on top and season the oats with salt, pepper, and whatever other savory spices speak to me.

I hope this inspires you to make some complicated oatmeal and start the day nice and warm!

Monday, January 5, 2015

2015: The Year to Keep Rolling

I started a lot of good habits in 2014: I joined a gym, I completed ambitious races, and I made a commitment to better eating habits.

And so in 2015, I hope to further these endeavors and continue building my body back up. I realize that while, no, I haven't totally let myself go, I am entering an age where it will be harder to get fit, to lose weight, and to maintain healthy choices if I don't lay out some hella foundations now.

I've been impressed (and depressed) to see friends who have had kids grow with their babies, and then snap back pretty immediately. I mean...what the hell? I have no kids, and don't look that good! Then I realized the snap-backers were healthy and fit before kiddos, so of course their bodies remembered what to once they were no longer a human garden. I need to be that girl.

Of course, as I've increased my running distances and goals, I've realized I really do need to integrate a more rounded (pun intended) approach to my overall health. Joining the gym as my outdoor running season came to a close means that I can build up the muscles I don't use as actively when running--aka my entire upper body. I need my midsection to become more of a power house to carry me over long distances; I need my back to be strong to maintain my posture and form while running (and perhaps even more so when I'm at my desk at work or logging hours in the kitchen I won't be aching at the end of it); I need my arms to be stronger and leaner to propel me during bursts of speedwork, but I am also fighting the good fight against the lady-wobbly-arms. Oh gosh, when I forget to pose in the "skinny arm" stance in photos, I kick myself.

And the truth is, I love going to the gym! I love using the machines. The monthly fee makes sure I am guilted into going at least 2 days a week (though ideally, I'd love to be there 3-4 days during my off-season). What is hardest is running on the treadmill. Because I knew I would hate it, I set myself very moderate goals for treadmilling it in my off season: run 2 miles at the start of every workout. 2 miles is my limit, guys. It's pretty much like adapting the marathon motto and shrinky-dinking it to miniature size: I run the first mile with my head and the last with every shred of heart I have. It is the slowest damned 2 miles I have or will ever run. But it is important. I have already far outrun my mileage last winter, which I hope is a stab in the dark at maintaining my baseline running fitness. What I am most hoping to see results from is the ability to set a consistent speed. I'm still monkeying around with what is most comfortable while still presenting a challenge, and trying to find what is most similar to my road speed. I truly hope that when I again hit the pavement, I'll have better stamina and better form. Because I don't have to worry about avoiding pot holes, cars, intersections, or changes in incline, I have been able to focus on keeping my form true for the duration of the robotic runs. Coupled with the strength training I am subjecting the rest of my body to, I am both eager and nervous about getting back into my seasonal training, as March 14 is the start of race season. I've got some good PRs to beat, and I think this will be the year I really impress myself.

I should also say I'm not expecting to come out of this a fitness champion. My middle will still be flabby and somewhat like an inner tube. I loathe ab workouts. I've yet to find one that doesn't make me want to cry from boredom or pain. I know those are exactly the workouts I should suffer through, but I just can't. When I run, the tiredness and pain feels good because I enjoy their cause. My my arms get the crap beat out of them from weight lifting, I love that ache because I enjoy its cause. I can't find a cause to justify the abdominal discomfort. Which is unfortunate because the discomfort of tight pants is pretty intense. The discomfort of not liking myself in a bikini anymore is fierce. So I use a few of the ab machines at the gym until I want to cry and then just cross my fingers and hope the rest of the exercise I am doing will make up some of the difference.

I've also been eating better...ish...betterish. I sometime wish I didn't love food so much. It would make things so much simpler. But I do love food. I really do. And so instead of cutting myself off, I'm just trying to have a healthier attitude about that intense devotion to meats and butter and cheese and sugar. I hope in 2015 to master the art of the salad-as-meal. I've already stepped up my breakfast and snack game, so if I can transition to salad-meals as my workplace lunches, I'll be gaining good ground. With the help of Blue Apron and feeling more confident in my savory cookery, dinners have been getting healthier, too. Thank goodness for my better breakfast choices--it really is true that if the first food decision you make is a good and considered one, the rest of your choices will follow suit. Or will at least be balanced if you "accidentally" eat 2 extra slices of pizza for lunch. I'm only human!

2015 is also the year I hope to shake off all the bad things that came about in late-2013 and persisted through much of 2014. I will very soon (by month's end) be getting my second tattoo, an idea I have been planning on for a while, but was finally struck with inspiration on my way home from work one day in early September. And so getting the tattoo will symbolize the true fresh start for me, and will be something I can point to as a physical reminder that I am strong, and that I can keep rolling on.

Stay tuned, friends, for my progress.

In other news, we get our second Blue Apron delivery this week, and I have quite a few holiday baking adventures to write about, too. Which is good cuz I'm taking a bit of a baking hiatus (see above about bettering my relationship with food), but am glad for things to write about and pretty pictures of tasty treats to share.

Happy January, y'all.