Another lovely Thanksgiving

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Another lovely Thanksgiving spent in New Jersey, this time with 100% more cute baby nieces.  All the cuteness plus a lot of desserts and visiting with friends and family made for a wonderful holiday weekend!  Hope yours was great, too!.

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Happy Thanksgiving

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Happy Thanksgiving!  I’m taking today and tomorrow to relax and spend time with family and friends in New Jersey and New York.  Hope you have a wonderful day filled with food, loved ones, and lots of pie!

A couple of fun memories from this time last year:

Caramel cider apple pie

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It’s taken a couple of tries, but I finally got got the caramel apple pie to come out perfectly and just in time for Thanksgiving.  As I mentioned in my previous post, I first saw this recipe on Cup of Jo over the summer and set it aside for apple season.

I found the recipe to be very inspiring, but a tiny bit sloppy.  There were details missing that I found frustrating, particularly with the cider caramel, so I took the liberty of making a few changes, which I’ve outlined below.

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A few tips and what I changed:

Given that the original recipe’s crust is from Martha Stewart, it’s probably perfect good to use.  I however, have a lot of faith and experience with Mark Bittman’s flaky pie crust and made two of those for this pie.  Bittman’s recipe is easy, always flaky, and has never gotten soggy on me.

Getting the caramel right took a few tries.  What ended up working for me was to keep the cider at a steady medium boil, and actually measure the liquid to see how far it reduced.  Once it was down to about a cup, it was noticeably thicker, but not as thick as I expect caramel to be.  If I cooked it much longer it burned, so at the one cup mark, I put it in a mason jar and stuck it in the fridge.  That finally did the trick.

I like the apple pie filling to be perfectly soft and have no sort of undercooked bite to the apple texture.  Once I’d cut up the apples, I sauteed them in skillet until they softened.  The additional benefit of pre-cooking your apples is that it removes some of the juice and the pie will be less likely to be watery (the pie in the original recipe photos looks very liquidy.) This takes about 10 minutes in my Le Creuset, and about 20 in a regular kitchen skillet.  I let them cool in the skillet for about 10 minutes, then mix the other filling ingredients directly into the apples in the skillet.  Mix well, then transfer to your prepared pie crust.

Lately I’ve been wanting to improve my pie crust making skills, so I’ve been toying with these dough circles I saw on Food 52.  I found that it was important to keep the dough thin and cold, so I rolled the extra crust out on a piece of parchment paper, then transferred the paper and dough onto a sheet pan and refrigerated them for about 15 minutes.  When I was ready to assemble the top crust, I pulled the sheet pan out of the fridge and cut the dough circles with a shot glass. I got the best result by arranging the dough cut-outs in concentric circles over the apple pie filling, then arranging another set of circles along the edge of the crust.

Given that I used dough circles instead of a regular top crust, I found the browning on the pie crust to be more even if I brushed it with a little milk, rather than egg.  Don’t forget to sprinkle the crust with cinnamon and sugar before popping the pie in the oven.

Lastly, as with most pies, it is very important to let the pie cool completely before serving.  This will help the filling set and not ooze out of your cut pie, as well as help prevent your bottom crust from getting soggy.

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Wanderings: Thanksgiving in New Jersey

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This year we drove up to New Jersey to celebrate Thanksgiving with our new sister-in-law and her family.  It was a lot of fun to blend two families together and I enjoyed the nods to both families’ Irish and Italian traditions.

The Mister and I both really enjoy cooking so we were glad to get there a day early, roll up our sleeves, and get started with the cooking.  I baked an apple pie and did a lot of the food prep work; he helped our sister-in-law with most of the dinner’s heavy lifting–turkey, stuffing, gravy, etc.  He also spent the night before we left making a large lasagna with meatballs to take up to New Jersey with us.  It was great to have something ready for everyone to eat for the dinner and lunch before the big meal.

We probably won’t see either of our families again until next year, so it was really wonderful to have time together to laugh, share food, and snuggle adorable babies.  Here are a few photos of family and food.

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Happy Thanksgiving!

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We’re celebrating with family in New Jersey.  Hope your day is full of laughter and amazing food!

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Hitting the road

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Today we are hitting the road to visit family in New Jersey for Thanksgiving.  We’ve been lying low since our two week trip to California in September, so I’m excited to stretch my legs and have a change of scenery.  While I’m sure there will be some traffic, I’m feeling pretty good about not having to spend time in airport chaos.

The Mister is half Italian and his family typically does half traditional Thanksgiving fare, half Italian-American fare.  Tonight he is baking a lasagna to share with the guests who arrive early.  I’m looking forward to it!

Where are you heading for Thanksgiving?

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Friendsgiving

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Thanksgiving 2011

We live in the District of Columbia, and it’s always a surprise to meet people who actually grew up in the area.  We and most of our friends came here from all over the U.S.–and from countries all over the world–to work in politics, government, education, advocacy, and a hundred other kinds of public service.  It’s a wonderfully easy place to make friends, and the people we’ve met are so fascinating and warm.  They have so many different beliefs, passions, educations, experiences and travels; even when I don’t agree with them politically, they are amazing people to know.

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Thanksgiving 2010

Coming from so many different parts of the country, few people stay in town over the holidays, and the few who do typically put out a call on Facebook or email to round up anyone else still in town for a Thanksgiving meal.  Some friends will even throw “Friendsgiving” a week early just to have a chance to eat with everyone before they head home for the holidays.  In years past we’ve rounded up friends in town (and from as far away as Philadelphia) and put together some fantastic meals.  Living here, with so many of us far from family, people like to emphasize “the family you make,” and as we get ready to head north and visit new family members, I’ve been thinking a lot about the friends I consider family and wishing I could be with them, too.

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Practice makes perfect pie crusts

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What I love the most about baking is the precision of the process.  How important it is to measure, to have the right ingredients, to know the temperature of the food or the oven, to understand what happens when you emulsify certain combinations of ingredients.  I always feel a little like a scientist in a lab when I’m baking.  Every new recipe is like an experiment, and it fun to try again if something fails, because I know, with practice, I can likely fix it.

For Thanksgiving next week, I’m in charge of the apple pie.  I’ve been working with this recipe I spotted on Cup of Jo over the summer, making just a few adjustments to suit my taste.  I nailed the bottom crust, the filling, even the apple cider caramel reduction.  A beautiful top crust, however, eludes me.  This one worked, but I couldn’t help but immediately start calculating how to improve it.  I want a thicker ruffled edge and thinner disks that cut more evenly and didn’t shrink away from the edge.

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The taste was amazing and we’ve enjoyed it for breakfast over the last few days–I like pie for breakfast more than dessert–but I really want to nail down a beautiful crust.  We have a friendsgiving to attend this weekend, so I have another opportunity to practice before the real deal, next week.  I’ll probably revisit this topic in a few days after I’ve had another go at it, and to talk a bit more about how I changed the crust recipe and the filling.  Until then, here’s to practice makes perfect.

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Chocolate dipped coconut macaroons

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I remember the first coconut macaroon I ever had.  During a grad school break, I was visiting a friend who was interning in Washington, D.C.  While my friend was working, I was exploring the Capitol Hill neighborhood and popped in to Eastern Market for a snack.  At the time, the Market was housed in a temporary location across the street from its historic building, which was being restored after a fire the summer before.  At one of the bakery counters I bought a macaroon and a piece rugulach, neither of which I’d ever tried.  The rugulach wasn’t memorable, but the coconut was a revelation.  It was everything I’d ever wanted in a cookie.  Crispy outside, dense and chewy inside.  Mildly sweet and made from coconut, one of my favorite flavors.

Sea salt, vanilla, honey, dark chocolate, eggs, sugar, flour, shredded unsweetened coconut

Sea salt, vanilla, honey, dark chocolate, eggs, sugar, flour, shredded unsweetened coconut

Ready for Dessert by David Lebovitz

Ready for Dessert by David Lebovitz

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Since I’m working on my cookie-making skills and we had a party to attend, I thought this would be a good weekend to learn to make macaroons.  We own several David Lebovitz books, including Ready for Dessert, which contains a great macaroon recipe (a halved version of the recipe can be found on his website).  These baked like a dream, were a hit at the party, and are my favorite new cookies.  Since the batter can be made ahead and refrigerated, I’m thinking of making another batch next weekend and baking them to take to Thanksgiving with the Mister’s family.

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A few tips:

Be sure to add and mix all your ingredients in the pan or dutch oven BEFORE heating it.  If you were to heat the pan first, you’d risk cooking the egg whites prematurely.

When you are cooking the coconut mixture, you are trying to get to a consistency that is neither runny nor dry, but rather sticky and clumpy.  Right as mine started to look right, I noticed the scorching on the bottom of the pan and pulled them off the heat.

The mixture is much easier to shape into balls or pyramids once it has thoroughly cooled.  Let it sit until cool to the touch or pop the mixture into the fridge for half an hour.

Since I wanted pyramids, I found the best process was to roll tablespoons of the coconut mixture between my palms to form little balls and then set these on a parchment-lined baking sheet.  Once I’d rolled out all the balls, I went back and used my fingers to shape them into pyramids.  The cleaner your hands are, the less the coconut will stick to them.  I found my fingers got too tacky after shaping about 7-8 pyramids, so I’d just give them a quick rinse and dry, then start on the next 7-8.

You can make these without the chocolate dip at the end, but it really really adds a little something special to these cookies.

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As cookie season draws near

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This year we aren’t straying too far from home for the holidays.  We’ll probably make a quick trip to see family for Thanksgiving and will be in town for Christmas and New Years.  Last year was the first time we had Christmas at home and the Mister’s parents came down to spend it with us.  It was fun to have a first go at creating our own traditions and decide how we wanted to decorate, eat, and celebrate.

When baking, I usually gravitate towards everyday cakes, but this year I’d like to work on my cookie-making skills, both in baking and decorating.  To get in the swing of things, I baked up a batch of Deb’s delicious toasted coconut shortbread cookies and used them to practice tempering chocolate.

I got these adorable little maple leaf and acorn cookie cutters and gave them a try.  Admittedly, they weren’t the best for this kind of cookie, but I’m not quite ready for sugar cookies and royal icing yet.  The tempering seemed to work pretty well, but I think I can do better and neither the Mister, nor my work colleagues seem to mind eating all my test batches.  Hope you have a great weekend!

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