Saturday, February 27, 2010

Honey-Thyme Apple Pie

Goodness me, what a lovely Saturday in Memphis.  It feels like spring is almost here, and I couldn't wait any longer to plant my lettuce and cucumbers.  Tomatoes, though, I've got to hold off on... they'll just get all leggy inside before I can get them in the ground!

Anyway, so I've been sitting on my porch studying for the ethics part of the bar exam, which I'm taking next Saturday.  In case you were curious:
  • Don't sleep with your clients.
  • Informal arrangements on the golf course with your dentist to set up reciprocal referrals are NOT ok unless you tell your clients.
  • Securities lawyers are probably golden in wrongful termination suits arising out of Sarbanes-Oxley.
  • You can pretty much always enter into a business arrangement with your client.  Seriously.
  • "CIRY?" ("Can I Represent You?") is a bad BarBri joke.
I bet you're sorry you didn't scroll down immediately.

With fewer than two months until the markets reopen, you may be wondering how to use up the odds and ends of produce you squirreled away.  Honey-Thyme Apple Pie is a yummy tide-over until strawberry season and is easy to make.  Then you'll be set for breakfast dessert for the week.

Honey-Thyme Apple Pie
Adapted from Edible Memphis Magazine

Pie Crust (From The Art of Simple Food by Alice Walker)

You can use store-bought pie crust, but I find it cheaper just to make some up the night before with ingredients I already have.  There's nothing super-hard about it; you just have to get in there and try it.  But, your call.  This is all you need:

1 cup AP flour
1/4 cup ice-cold water
6 tablespoons cold butter, cut into small cubes
1/2 teaspoon salt (omit if using salted butter)

Apple Filling Part
4 medium cooking apples, peeled, cored and sliced (I used Arkansas Blacks from Jones Orchard)
1/2 cup honey (not technically mid-south local; I used orange blossom honey my mom sent me from Florida)
6 fresh thyme sprigs (I used a couple of pinches of dried thyme)
1/4 cup unsalted butter, diced
2 tablespoons cornstarch, mixed with 2 teaspoons of water to form a slurry
1/3 cup light brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon salt

First, Make Your Pie Crust (also instructions here)

The night or several hours before:

Cut the very cold butter into dice and work it into the flour with your hands.  Aim for some bigger pieces and some pea-sized pieces. 

Run about 3/4 of the cold water into the bowl and work the dough with a spoon until it forms clumps (use more of the water if necessary).  Form it into a ball and wrap it in plastic.  Let it chill out in the fridge until you're ready for it.

When you're ready, roll it out on a floured counter.  It's easiest to do this if you thwack it good and hard with a rolling pin a few times.  You will probably enjoy this as well.

Once you've got it rolled out, place it in the pie tin and prick it all over with a fork.  Place a piece of tin foil over the top and weight it down with some beans.  This keeps it from shrinking when you make the actual pie.  Bake it in the pie tin in a 375 degree oven for about 15 minutes.   Then take the pie weights and tin foil off and bake the shell for about 5-7 more minutes, until it's golden brown and getting all nice and crusty.

Now, Make the Filling Part

In a large saute pan over medium heat, bring the honey to a boil and cook until caramelized, about two minutes.  Add the thyme (removed from sprigs if using fresh). 

Add the apples and the butter.  Cook until the apples are golden brown, but still crisp, stirring occasionally, about six minutes.  Remove apple mixture to a bowl, and add cornstarch slurry, sugar, ginger, and salt.  Or you could just do this right in the pan and skip having to clean another bowl, because who has time for that?!

Spoon the apple filling into your yummy pie crust.  Bake at 400 degrees for 15 minutes, then reduce heat to 350 degrees and continue baking until the crust is golden brown, about 45 minutes.  Cool for one hours before serving.

There's a lot going on here, what with the apples, ginger, thyme, and honey and all (and my orange-flavored honey added another strange element), but somehow it all works without being jarringly weird or cloyingly sweet.

The honey-butter mixture makes some seriously thick syrupy goodness, and the chewy caramelized parts that form against the pie tin while cooking taste kinda like pecan pie (so said my unbiased taste tester).  This will be on the make-again list!  I can't wait to try it with some (non-orange blossom) local honey.*

*not to say that orange-blossom honey isn't delish.  It absolutely is.  Thanks, mom!

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Why I Cook

I saw this on another cooking blog and liked the idea of sharing what keeps me chopping veggies, stirring soups, and freezing leftovers.

Why I Cook
  • It's fun!  I can take disparate ingredients and combine them to create new tastes.  Sometimes I'll make something that blows my mind (like, I just made a quiche with salty ham and caramelized onions and it was awesome) and I'm super-pleased that I made that.  It's also a nice creative outlet when I need to leave law-world.
  • It lets me keep control.  I'm totally convinced that when Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote "Trust thyself" he also meant, "Don't trust the partially hydrogenated soybean oil."  Cooking lets me avoid all of the nasty preservatives, added sugars, excessive salt and general crap that's in prepackaged food, and I definitely notice a difference in the way I feel when I get too tired to cook (yes, it does happen) and I binge on a box of Cheez-Its (yes, they are delicious.  In moderation).  I never feel bad about eating a slice of homemade apple pie for breakfast or whatever, because I know exactly what's in it.
  • It connects me with raw ingredients, which connects me to farmers, which connects me to my community.  I've learned a lot about cooking in the last two years, and the most important thing I've found is that you can't make a great meal without great ingredients.  Technique can fall to the wayside when the produce or meat speaks for itself.   Discovering how good food can taste, all on its own, is a sensual treat that keeps foodies like me going back to the market to find the most colorful, flavorful veggies.  While I'm there, it also doesn't hurt that I catch up with friends and find out what's going on in my city.  Take that, Forbes Misery Index!
  • It calms me down.  As the dearth of posts might indicate, law-world is a go-go-go, always-something-else-to-do world.  Cooking makes me slow down.  It makes me pay attention to what I'm doing:  dice the onions.  Turn down the heat.  Stir the sauce.  It's a brief, welcome respite in a busy life.  Everything else falls to the side, if only for a moment.
  • It connects me to memories of meals cooked in the past.  I have vivid memories of Friday Night Pizza at home, when my mother would let the dough rise all day and we would top our pizza however we wanted at night.  I also remember the chicken and (big, puffy, delicious) dumplings that took seemingly forever to make that she made every year, special, for my birthday dinner.  I remember so many dinners at my grandmother's house, predictable for pairings so perfect there was no need to fiddle with what worked: roast beef and Yorkshire puddings, leg of lamb and mint jelly, roast chicken and carrots.  Those were labor-of-love meals.  And I remember the simple meals my friend JoBeth and I ate in Paris---dinners of baguette and brebis cheese, breakfasts of thick natural yogurt with honey and granola, nettle tart eaten as soon as we could sit down after shopping at the marche on the Boulevard Raspail.  All of those are with me, and I think part of me longs to create food memories for myself that comfort and connect. 
  • It tastes good.  Dude, I love to eat.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

New Restaurants in Cooper-Young

Check out this piece from the Memphis Flyer about new places to eat and drink opening in Cooper-Young. Dish and the Blue Fish both closed recently, and while it looks like we'll be getting seafood back in Blue Fish's new incarnation as Reef, a more pleasant surprise to me was that Grace will be expanding into a new coffee shop and that we'll also be getting a Carolina low-country place to eat (the only other one I can think of in town is Felicia Suzanne's, a little off the grad student budget radar).

Now, I proudly call Cooper-Young my 'hood, but I think the writing has been on the wall for Dish for a while now. It just wasn't inviting or inexpensive enough to attract me on my casual nights out (ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I present to you Exhibit A: the trifecta of Young Avenue Deli, Cafe Ole, and Celtic Crossing). And I always thought its tapas were a little precious and overpriced to be considered finer dining. Besides, when Grace moved in, it cornered that market. I only ate at Blue Fish a few times (see Exhibit A), so I don't have as much to say there, but I always enjoyed it when I did. Probably because someone else was paying. I think the neighborhood is right to focus on more casual eateries, so I'll be intrigued to see how this new low-country restaurant, Sweet Grass, plays out.

There's also chatter on the comments about a Mellow Mushroom moving in. Does anyone have thoughts on that? I ate at one in Gainesville, Florida about a million years ago and honestly didn't think it was anything special.

Today I'm going to make a honey-thyme apple pie from a recipe in the winter Edible Memphis. It looks pretty awesome, so check back soon for the post!
ETA: Blue Fish, not Blue Fin! I always mess those two up. For the record, Blue Fin is still kickin' downtown and has not closed.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

A snow day is a gift. A gift of Split Pea and Sausage Soup.

I'll be honest, yall.  There is some serious sophomore slump feeling going around.  Maybe it's the cold, or maybe my friends and I have figured out our summers and our 3L positions on the law review, or maybe the newness of the new building has begun to wear off... all of a sudden, we find we are in school when we don't much want to be.  So the surprise, snow-induced three-day weekend was a welcome relief.  I caught this piece on NPR before snow fell, and the message of it (well, underneath the gentle mockery of east coast city slickers) rang true:  the time off this snow storm is giving people is a gift.  Relax, stay in your jammies, don't do much of anything.  Let time slow down.  Or use it to make soup or something.

Split Pea and Sausage Soup
Adapted from a recipe on

1 cup dried split peas
3-5 cups of water
1/4 lb loose pork sausage (Freezer Pig, you never fail)
1 cube chicken bouillon
2 new potatoes, diced (have no clue where mine are from, but probably Ly Vu's produce)
1/2 tsp dried oregano (dried from the U of M edible garden)
2 bay leaves
1 onion, chopped
Salt and pepper

Brown your sausage.

Chop your veggies.

Throw your veggies+herbs in a skillet in a compromising position.  Olive oil is encouraged for social lubrication.  Saute just until the onion starts to go translucent.

Heat up your water + bouillon in a large pot, add in peas and bring to a boil.  Reduce to simmer.

Add in your veggies + sausage.  Simmer, covered, for 2-3 hours.  Discard bay leaves before serving.  I like to smash the potatoes against the side of the pot for a creamier soup.  Also, I like to put in creamy things, like sour cream or heavy cream.  If you would like this soup to be a tad healthier, I recommend stepping away from the cream.  But my, it is awfully tasty.

Actually, much about this soup is awfully tasty, namely, the tasty sausage parts.  Don't get me wrong, split pea soup flavored with the classic ham hock is great.  But sometimes, don't you just want to bite down on some pork?

. . . 

That's enough offensive cooking-related commentary for now.  Back to Serious Research and other assorted catalysts of cabin fever.  Spring, save me!