Sunday, July 31, 2011

Baking Day Review (Revue?)

This past Monday, my mom, siblings, Claire, and I went to visit my Grandma. We helped her clean up a bit since she had some overnight guests coming and then we hung out and had snacks, because you can't visit a good Dutch woman's home without being fed at least once.

She also offered us some rhubarb from her garden. She had picked all she would use, and apparently no one else was interested in it. I'd never cooked with it before but had been wanting to try, so I cut half a brown paper bag's worth.

That afternoon, after work, I went to Meijer and purchased 32 ounces of strawberries. Then, around 6:30pm, I invaded the kitchen. I began with a strawberry-rhubarb pie. Here's the recipe I got off the internet:

Glazed Strawberry-Rhubarb Pie
1 1/4 c Sugar
1/8 ts Salt
1/3 c Flour
2 c Fresh strawberries
2 c Fresh rhubarb, cut in 1" pieces
2 T Butter or margarine
1 T Sugar
1 Pastry for 2-crust pie

Combine 1 1/4 cup sugar, salt, and flour. Arrange half the strawberries and rhubarb in a pastry-lined 9" pie pan. Sprinkle with half the sugar mixture. Repeat with remaining fruit and sugar mixture. Dot with butter. Install top crust and flute edges to make high-standing rim. Brush top of pie with cold water and sprinkle on 1 tablespoon sugar. Cut steam vents in top crust. Bake in hot oven (425 F) 40 to 50 minutes or until rhubarb is tender and crust is browned.

I made my own pie crust, following this tried and true recipe:

Pie Crust:
1 cup flour
1/3 cup + 1T butter
1 T sugar
1/2 tsp salt

Mix with pastry blender until evenly flaky throughout. Add 2 T cold water. This should cause it to ball up.

I did dot with the butter on this one, although I'd never tried that before. Instead of putting on a full crust, I attempted a lattice crust (although I didn't actually weave, I just laid them all one way and then all the other way).

This pie was great! Our oven tends to be on the hotter side, so I only cooked it for 40 minutes, and I had a pie-crust protector on for the first 25 minutes. I loved the sugar on top, and the rhubarb/strawberry blend was the perfect mixture of tart and sweet.

Next, I set aside a cup of the strawberries for a later recipe, and then used the rest for a berry pie. I went out to our garden for raspberries, but could only find about 12 berries, so I finished off the 4 cups of fruit from our frozen blueberry collection. Here's another recipe I found online:

2 (9 inch) unbaked pie crusts
1 1/4 cups white sugar
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
4 cups fresh strawberries (or any fruit. Frozen works fine, too)
2 tablespoons butter

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F (220 degrees C). Place one crust in a nine inch pie pan. Mix together sugar, flour, and cinnamon. Mix lightly through the berries. Pour filling into pastry lined pan, and dot fruit with butter or margarine. Cover with top crust, and cut slits in the top. Seal and flute the edges. Bake for 35 to 45 minutes, or until the crust is slightly browned.

Again, I made my own pie crusts. This one, I forgot to dot with butter, but it still turned out amazing. I'm not sure I really mixed the sugar mixture "lightly" through the berries. Many of my berries were crushed, but again, it was still amazing. On this one, I did the lattice top again, although this time I wove it and it turned out a lot better. Even from a non-aesthetic point of view, the woven lattice burns less than the pretend lattice. I also brushed the top of this one with water and sprinkled with sugar (as I did on the strawberry-rhubarb pie). This was AMAZING! I tried this recipe again with Claire and Chloe on Friday, using blackberries, raspberries, strawberries, and blueberries. I never got to eat it, but it looked great and they said it tasted great.

Again, I baked this one for 35 minutes, with a pie-crust protector on for the first 25 minutes. They say to leave this on for all but the last 15 minutes, but with the heat of our oven, I'm discovering that I like to do 10 minutes better.

I used my leftover pie crusts (since a lattice top doesn't use the whole mess) and our cookie cutters and made dinosaur-shaped pie crust cookies. These go in the oven with the pie for about 5-7 minutes.

Once the berry pie was in the oven, I cleaned up my pie mess and began a new mess. I peeled, cored, and sliced 4 apples and tossed them in a pot with 3 diced rhubarb stalks (long ones) and 1 cup of halved strawberries. I added 1/4 cup of water to keep it from burning and turned the heat on. With that going, I started another recipe, but I'll finish reviewing this one so you don't get as confused as I was.

The apple-rhubarb-strawberry mess gets cooked (covered) on medium heat until it boils. Keep stirring it occasionally so it doesn't burn. Once it boils, turn the heat down and tilt the lid so steam can escape. Keep stirring occasionally. This will cook for around 30 minutes. I used a potato masher to break up some of the larger chunks. When it reaches a consistency you like (I like it like a chunky, homemade applesauce), remove from the heat. You're done!

I really liked this recipe. I've had apple-rhubarb sauce before and loved it, but I liked adding the strawberries even more. Since rhubarb is often not the lovely pink we want it to be, many recipes require adding food coloring or a Jell-O mix. But the strawberries provided the pink color and, together with the apples, enough sweetness to counteract the bitter/tartness of the rhubarb. No sugar added!

My final recipe for the evening was a Rhubarb Crunch. I was getting really warm by this point, but wanted to keep going. This is my grandma's recipe:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Grease an 11x17 pan and coat the bottom with 4 cups diced rhubarb.
Put 3/4 cup sugar, 2 T cornstarch, and 1 cup water into a pot and cook until thick and clear.
Add 1/2 tsp vanilla and some red coloring. Mix this in and pour over the rhubarb.

1 cup flour
3/4 cup rolled oats
1 cup brown sugar
1 t cinnamon
1/2 cup melted butter
Mix all these together and spread over the rhubarb.

Bake for 40-50 min.

Again, because our oven is hotter, I baked for 40 minutes. For red coloring, I squirted in a few drops of red food coloring (and then stirred it all in to make sure I liked the shade of red), but you can also use part of a red Jell-O mix.

By the time I got this in the oven, I was hot, sweaty, and quite pleased with myself.

The crunch came out of the oven around 10:30pm and my family proceeded to dig into the Strawberry-Rhubarb pie. By 9:30pm the next day, both pies were completely devoured, so I take this baking day to be a success.

Here's a picture of my exploits in the kitchen:

The crunch is obviously in the big pan, followed by some pie crust cookies (pterodactyls and stegosauruses) and the sauce. The back pie is the Strawberry-Rhubarb pie. You can see that the fake lattice burned a little bit more. The pie also overflowed a little bit in the oven; I probably should have made the edges a bit higher. The front pie is the berry pie, which made a great breakfast the next day.

Love and pie,
Leah Joy

Friday, July 22, 2011

Pre-Marital Counseling, Nannying, and Scarlett - Oh My!

Believe it or not, I've been trying to post on here for a week or two, but I couldn't get on. It just wouldn't log me in for some reason. I have it set to store my password, too, so I couldn't even change it. I finally went on another computer tonight and logged in there and changed the password. Anyway, all this to say, I'm sorry for neglecting you, but only the last 2 weeks weren't really my fault. Okay, sort of.


To catch you up on all that has happened would be impossible, impractical, and lots of other negative words. So, as is clear in my title, I'll focus on the three big things, in reverse order.

I've finally read Gone With the Wind. Yes, I should have read it years ago - but I didn't. I loved it. I started it on Friday, July 15 and finished on the 20th. I couldn't put it down! I have some friends (identical twins, actually) who love the book - but they each feel differently about who was right, Scarlett or Rhett. They were both very curious which one I'd pick, and I've got to say I pick Rhett. Scarlett did what she had to survive, for a while, but then she was never satisfied. "When I get enough money...." But she never had enough! She kept pushing and pushing for better positions. And then when she finally had all the money she wanted, what did she do? Flaunt it - just like her "white trash" neighbors! That makes her exactly as horrible as they. Okay, so she kind of reformed at the end, but too late! Sorry, Mrs. Butler, there are consequences!

Whereas Rhett, despite his cynical heart, did everything in his power to reform for the sake of his daughter. And he kept it up even after she died. (Okay, he turned to drinking, but he did go to his family in Charleston to try to make amends there!) And seriously? I don't blame him for not believing Scarlett. She lied and used her feminine wiles to get what she wanted for 1030 pages before she finally spend the last 7 pages longing for Rhett. Not a great percentage there, Scarlett O'Hara Hamilton Kennedy Butler.

In other news, I've taken up my old job at my neighbors'. The warehouse world is a very interesting one full of so much unnecessary drama and I was glad to get out of there. If you really want the whole story, just ask me, but when my neighbor let her former nanny go (Claire was crying all day... really? I think the nanny's gotta go) I gladly put in my 2 weeks. So I'm installed next door 45-ish hours a week taking care of a sweet little 10-year-old girl. Her 13-year-old sister is there, too, but as she's 13, she doesn't really need a nanny. I'm more there as her friend. So we've been doing all sorts of things: making Jell-O, reading princess and fairy books, patching serious gaps in her education (i.e. watching The Wizard of Oz), and other such nonsense.

Caleb and I are getting closer to the day! 43 more days. I'm so excited to spend forever getting to know each other and love each other. And fight once in a while, because let's be realistic. We had premarital counseling scheduled with the pastor of our church (and his wife) but then he resigned, so that made it a little ... difficult. Caleb found a good friend of his who pastors a church between Cedar Springs and Greenville, MI. We finally had our first meeting with him yesterday and we've got a book we're going through with him. We're also doing another one on our own. As another one of Caleb's pastor friends said, "Premarital counseling isn't really about fixing all these problems. It's about starting discussions that you'll get to talk more about later when you're married and annoyed at each other." (Or words to that effect.) So we've discussed a lot of important things, like who cleans the toilet, and how we understand apologies.

I've also made a list of everything (I think) that needs to get done before the wedding. It's a deceptively short list, but I'm glad. I'm not really a stresser and I don't want to be.

In other wedding news, we've got 2 showers coming up. The first one is a week from Sunday, and is being thrown by some people at the camp where Caleb works. It's a co-ed shower, which is good, since Caleb knows all the people and I know about 4 of them. We're having another one the Saturday after that and that's for both of our families and all my friends. (Most of my friends are boys, and since the shower is only for girls, it's a nice small crowd.) We wanted to keep it simple since neither of us has a lot of female relatives in town - why have more than one shower? I've never been too excited about showers, but with my family and friends, it should be pretty fun!

I made chocolate-chip scones today and they were delicious.

Love and Thank-You Notes,
Leah Joy