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A Not So Proper English Crumble September 1, 2009

Posted by alwaysjan in Food, Recipes.
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My friend Cathy and I made this blackberry/peach crumble with only one emergency email to England for advice.

To my mind, heaven on earth is a piece of pie for breakfast. So when I went to Suffolk, England last May for a week, I was only too happy to find a gooseberry crumble waiting on the counter with my name on it.

Americans are more familiar with fruit cobbler, or a fool, or a grunt, depending on what region of the country you live in.  I’d never even heard of a crumble, but dang it was good!  My friend Lesley showed me how to make one –  a rhubarb crumble, which is the hands down favorite in England. According to her, all school girls in England learn to make a “proper” crumble. So when they talk about passing their “A” levels, they’re talking about being able to make “A” proper crumble.

When I was back visiting my friend Cathy in Kansas City, we decided to see if we make one ourselves with some blackberries from Cathy’s garden and peaches. It was delicious and her family devoured it (with a little help from me).

A Not-So-Proper English Crumble

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

The Filling
4 c. of fruit (pretty much the same as you’d use for a pie) Strawberry/rhubarb is a sure combination
1/4 to 1/2 c. sugar (rhubarb requires more – I tend to go light on the sugar)
If you’re so inclined, you can put a squirt of lemon juice in or a pinch of cinnamon.
Mix and put in an 8 x 8 or 9 x 9 ceramic dish.

For the crumble:
1 cup flour
3 oz. butter straight from the fridge, the colder the better.
3 oz. sugar
pinch of salt
1  handful or  1/4 to 1/3 cup of uncooked oatmeal

To make the crumble:  Cut butter into squares and combine with flour. The key is to work quickly while the butter is cold. Work out the butter lumps using your thumb and index and middle fingers. It’s sort of a “show me the money gesture.” Keep your ring finger and pinky out of the action.

Stir the  sugar into the mix and add a scoop of oatmeal. I used half a packet of instant oatmeal with flax the other day. Lesley used muesli cereal.

Sprinkle the crumble on top of the fruit, but don’t tap it down. Bake uncovered for 45 minutes. It will turn just slightly golden. It’s great served with vanilla ice cream, but I like it best the next day. There’s no day after that cause it’s all gone. Enjoy!

Yes We Pecan! November 26, 2008

Posted by alwaysjan in Recipes.
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I love pecan pie, but these squares are just as good AND easier to make. The recipe is from Cookies – Food Writers Favorites.  I like these because they’re lighter on the corn syrup so you don’t lapse into a Karo coma.  The only time I messed this recipe up was when I didn’t grease the pan well enough and pressed the crust in too tightly.  I had to chisel the squares out, but worked off some of the calories to come. Enjoy!
Pecan Pie Squares
2 c. sifted all-purpose flour                 1/2 t. salt
1/4 c. granulated sugar                       1/2 c. unsalted butter, melted
3 eggs, lightly beaten                          1 T. butter, melted
1 c. granulated sugar                           1 t. vanilla
1 c. light corn syrup                             2 c. chopped pecans
For Crust:  In a large mixing bowl, combine flour, sugar, salt and butter. Mix on medium speed of electric mixer until mixture resembles coarse meal. (This can also be done in a food processor). Press crust mixture firmly into a greased 13 x 9 x 2-inch baking pan.  Bake in a preheated, 350-degree oven 20 minutes, or until golden brown.
For Filling:  In a mixing bowl, combine eggs, sugar, corn syrup, butter, vanilla and pecans.
Pour filling over baked crust.  Return to 350-degree oven and bake 25 to 30 minutes, or until filling is just set.  Let cool before cutting into squares.

Coke for Breakfast August 12, 2008

Posted by alwaysjan in Food, Health.
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When my computer starts up in the morning, my husband likes to say, “That’s Jan booting up.” When I snap open the can of Coke that’s part of my not-so-balanced breakfast, he adds, “There’s the second sound that tells me she’s alive!” It’s pathetic, I know, but I’m a creature of habit. Besides, I’m a third generation Coca-Cola drinker.

I never knew my dad’s mom, as she died when he was a teenager. But he inherited her sterling silver coffee urn and liked to tell how she kept it filled with Coca-Cola. I thought this might have been because back then, it WAS the real thing. But Wikipedia set me straight. Although the formula for Coca-Cola was originally intended as a patent medicine (and did once contain an estimated 9 mg. of cocaine per glass), the “real thing” was removed in 1903. So my grandmother wasn’t a junkie – not unless that’s what YOU call someone who enjoys a Coke for breakfast. (For additional “Cokelore,” click here.)

The other story that was oft repeated about my grandmother was what happened when her daughter, after an argument, announced she was leaving home. My grandmother said, if that were the case, her daughter would leave the same way she arrived. She then proceeded to strip her naked and shove her out the front door. I think I would have had a lot more in common with my grandmother than just our love of Coca-Cola.

My mother liked to drink Coke. But once she switched to diet, I had no choice but to disown her. There’s only so much one can take and I don’t do diet. Really, my highly evolved taste buds can taste the difference.

When I was growing up, you could order a cherry Coke at the soda fountain and watch them squirt in the cherry syrup. It’s not the same in a can, so I don’t do Cherry Coke either. My friend, Kristina, likes to tease me that I’m old school as I’m the only one at school who keeps a Coca-Cola Classic in the fridge. At least I don’t have to worry about anyone else drinking it.

I actually drank Dr. Pepper for years. But after I was pregnant, I developed a craving for Coke. We were living in New York City when New Coke was introduced on April 23, 1985. This was a red letter date, as all dates pertaining to Coca-Cola are “red letter” dates. My taste buds knew instantly that New Coke was just a sad-ass version of Pepsi. What I loved about Coca-Cola was its battery acid tang.

Disgusted, I switched back to Dr. Pepper and cultivated a friendship with a woman whose husband managed the Gramercy Park Hotel, because the hotel had a stockpile of “old” Coke. It was like Prohibition, only the stakes were higher. When the New Coke fiasco ended (a little less than three months later on July 10th), old Coke was re-christened Coca-Cola Classic. Ah! It was back to my daily 14 ounces of sugar, caramel syrup, and caffeine – which I personally think deserves its own category on the food pyramid.

Yeah, I’ve heard all the stories about how, if you put a metal spoon in a glass of Coke overnight, it will be eaten away by the morning. But, I have an iron-clad stomach and am of the opinion that what doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger. So I take take my Coke like I take my vitamins – once a day.

Pie to Die For August 9, 2008

Posted by alwaysjan in Recipes.
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I’ve already specified that when I die, I want my pie crust recipe read aloud at my memorial service. This will assure a standing room crowd, and if that’s what it takes, hey, I can live with that. But I can’t live without pie.

It was my love of pie that got me into trouble in the first place. My mother had baked a cherry pie for my paternal grandfather who was visiting from California with wife #3. While they were at the racetrack (my mother would die if I didn’t mention that she has never placed a bet in her entire life and it was the only time she ever went to the racetrack), I came along and saw the pie cooling on the stove. I ate a big piece. My mother called home and mentioned something about the pie. Hey, I didn’t know it was “for company.”

Panicked, I found my mom’s yellowed recipe for cherry pie. I’d seen her make it a zillion times so how hard could it be? I made the crust from scratch and even stirred the red food coloring into the can of cherries to give them that radioactive red glow, just like I’d seen my mother do. Then I ate what was left of the original pie to hide the evidence. No one was the wiser. On that day, a pie fiend was born. If you give a man a fish, he can eat for a day, but if you teach a man to make pie…you get the idea.

In college, I stopped by to see my friend Cathy and found her chopping some exotic vegetable (or was it a fruit?) that she’d harvested from her garden. She called it rhubarb. I was still under the impression that all fruit came from cans so this was a revelation. I ate my first piece of rhubarb pie and it was love at first bite. I jilted cherry for my new favorite, strawberry-rhubarb, which I believe is proof there is heaven on earth.

I upped my game after my mom sent me a church cookbook titled “My Cup Runneth Over.” It included a sprinkling of scripture and admonitions to add a half jar of marshmallow cream here and a can of mushroom soup there. Somewhere mixed in with all those recipes that called for Jell-o and canned pineapple slices, I found what was to become MY pie crust recipe. Hallelujah!

Over the years, I’ve branched out a bit. I can now make a wicked pecan pie and a variation that involves three kinds of nuts. One year, for Christmas, my husband bought me a Mexican lime tree and I learned to make a Key Lime pie with a kick, even though it has a lowly graham cracker crust. I once happened upon my son Ian standing in the garage just as he was finishing off the last bite of an entire Key Lime pie. Obviously, the fruit doesn’t fall far from the tree and when it does, it’s into a waiting crust.

When my sons were growing up, Taylor liked a banana cream pie for his birthday and Ian held out for a frozen mud pie. No cake for us, thank you. Pie is in our DNA.

When we moved to Port Townsend on the Olympic Peninsula outside Seattle, I was ecstatic when I realized the vacant lot next door was overgrown with blackberry bushes. I gave Taylor and Ian a small red tin pail with instructions to pick enough berries for a pie. How was I to know that blackberry bushes have thorns? When they returned they were covered with scratches and welts, but even worse, they hadn’t collected enough blackberries to make a pie.

I told them to follow me and I’d show them how it was done. The vacant lot hadn’t been graded and the bushes and grass hid this fact. When I leaned over to reach a plump blackberry, I felt my foot slowly sliding down into what seemed to be a bottomless pit. It kept going and going. It was the only time in my life I’ve ever done the splits. And there I sat, unable to get up but unwilling to set down the tin pail holding the precious berries. The boys ran to get their dad who, trying not to laugh, extricated me from this indelicate pose. I then drove to the supermarket and paid $4 for a small box of blackberries and considered it a steal.

So, I make pie to die for, but not literally. Since I haven’t set the date for my memorial service and you probably already have something planned, I thought I’d share MY pie crust recipe with you along with instructions on how to make one incredible strawberry/rhubarb pie. I’ll even throw in the calories for free! Enjoy!

Perfect Pie Crust

Note;  Makes about 4 single crusts/that’s 2 pies if you don’t eat any dough! ( I have cut this recipe in half and given my dogs half the egg to make their coats shiny.)

Ingredients:  3 cups flour, 3/4 tsp. salt, 1 1/2 cups Crisco, 1 egg (beaten), 5 T. COLD water (put ice cubes in a bowl of water), 1 T. vinegar (I prefer apple cider vinegar.

Sift four and salt; cut in Crisco with a fork until fine.  Make a “well” in flour mixture; add rest of ingredients. Stir until well blended.  Form dough into balls.  Roll it out between sheets of floured wax paper.

Strawberry-Rhubarb Pie

Preheat oven to 450 degrees

Ingredients:  2 cups of strawberries, halved, 2 cups of rhubarb, cut into 1/2 inch pieces (2-3 stalks), 1/3 cup white sugar, 1/3 cup dark brown sugar, 1/4 cup flour, 1 T. grated/chopped orange rind,

1-2 Tbs. butter, 1 tsp. cinnamon, 1/2 tsp. nutmeg

In a large bowl, put all ingredients in first paragraph and stir gently until blended.  Turn the fruit into the pie shell.  Dot with the butter then add a lattice top.  Sprinkle with cinnamon and nutmeg.

Bake the pie at 450 degrees for 10 minutes .  Reduce heat to 350 degrees and bake 35-40 minutes or until golden brown.

Best served warm with vanilla ice cream.  This pie tastes just as good the next day.

Photo credit:  Pie in the Sky by Kentee on flickr.