Bread has such esteem in this world that it is often the tongue-in-cheek term for money. Valuable. Necessary. And the process of making it – the mixing, the kneading, the shaping – is soul enhancing. The kneading alone is an excellent way to work through angst and anger and frustrations. That in itself is enough of a reason for me to bake bread.
I have one thing I do in the kitchen that helps me stay on task and keeps me organized: I ALWAYS start with a sink full of hot, soapy water. I learned this trick from the days when I followed FlyLady. It is what keeps me sane no matter what I have going on. It could be as simple as preparing tonight’s dinner or as complicated as catering for a party for 75 people.
Any cooking, for me, begins with filling that sink.
I wash up as I go. Once meals are bubbling away on the stove or popped into the oven, I set to washing what needs to be washed, scrubbing counters and wiping down the cooktop. You’d be amazed at the difference this can make at the end. Instead of being left with a counter piled with the dirty aftermath of cooking, I usually only have a few key things to hand wash. What we use during dinner gets loaded into the dishwasher. It’s how Thanksgiving – with 14 pies, turkey 3 ways, too many sides to count and a slew of vegan options – becomes doable for me.
Having that sink ready to go also makes it easier for others to jump in and help. I know, I know…it sounds too good to be true, and often it is. But it’s nice to be prepared. Actually, I am blessed to have a husband who is not afraid to get dishpan hands (that’s pretty sexy to me!)
So next time you are ready to cook, try filling up that sink and see if it makes a difference for you as well!! Happy Cooking!
Why am I writing about Thanksgiving in the month of July? It is almost 6 months from now. I write because – if it was possible – my entire year would revolve around Thanksgiving. It is hands down my favorite holiday of the year. It is a time to give thanks rather than gifts. A time to celebrate our relationships with family and friends. And of course there is food involved. This is the one time of year when I go a tad [ahem] overboard on the cooking front. That is, if you consider 14 pies, turkey 3 ways (roasted, smoked and fried), a ton of sides, and an entire menu of vegan options thrown in for good measure to be overboard. It’s all Love to me!
Cherries. This is what brings me to pondering the next Turkey Day and causes me to salivate while reminiscing about past celebrations. Last week I walked into my local Whole Foods and saw organic cherries. Fresh. Greeting me as I passed through the entrance; daring me to only grab one pound. I bought 4 1/2 pounds, thank you very much!
When I see fresh, sweet, organic cherries I think ‘Cherry Pie’. It is one of the favorites around here come Turkey Day. I buy sweet, red cherries at the peak of the season, perfectly ripe. I pit them myself with my favorite cherry pitter by Oxo. I should have taken a photo of my hands when I was done (Note to self: latex gloves). Then I freeze them. Four and a half cups of pitted cherries goes into each pie. The recipe I use is called ‘Double Cherry Pie’ because it also has 1 cup of dried tart cherries mixed in.
*The actual recipe (see below) also calls for Tart Cherries rather than Sweet; however, I have never seen them fresh around here, so I use sweet cherries and cut out some of the sugar.
In my freezer right this very moment I have enough cherries to make two Double Cherry Pies. There were enough left over to make a recipe of Brandied Cherries (stay tuned for that tomorrow!). AND, I have another 2 pounds I bought yesterday to pit. I will use some of them now, the rest will also go into the freezer for future recipes.
Because one can never have too many cherries, eh?
Double Cherry Pie
1 double pie crust recipe – your choice. I use a cream cheese pastry
4.5 cups pitted sour cherries, fresh, individually frozen (not packed in syrup; partially thawed), or canned drained. NOTE: If using sweet cherries add 1 T lemon juice and reduce overall sugar in recipe
1 cup dried sour cherries
1 cup of sugar; NOTE: If using sweet cherries only use 1/2 cup sugar
2 T quick-cooking tapioca
1/2 tsp almond extract
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg, freshly ground is best
1 T cold, unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
**Preheat the oven to 375 F with the rack in the center of the oven. I like to place a large baking sheet on the rack below to catch any juices that might overflow from the pie so it won’t mess up the bottom of my oven. Or sometimes I place the pie directly on the baking sheet (as an alternative). Either way makes clean up that much easier.
Roll the larger portion of the pastry into a 13″ circle and tuck into a deep 9.5″ pie pan, letting the overhang drape over the edge. Place in the refrigerator for 15 minutes.
Combine the pitted cherries, dried cherries, sugar, tapioca, and almond extract in a large bowl and mix well. Set aside for 10 minutes to juice.
Roll the other half of the pastry into a 10″ circle. Turn the filling into the chilled pie shell, leveling out the mixture. Sprinkle the nutmeg over the fruit and dot the filling with the butter. Moisten the edge of the pie crust with some water (use a pastry brush). Invert the top pastry over the filling, center it, and press the top and bottom together along the dampened edge. Using a knife, trim the pastry and crimp into whatever decorative edging pattern you like. If desired, you can glaze the pie with a little milk and sprinkle lightly with some sugar.
Place the pie on the center oven rack and bake for 30 minutes. After 30 minutes, rotate the pie 180 degrees, placing foil over the edges if they are getting too dark. Bake for another 30-40 minutes, or until the juices bubble up thickly through the steam vents.
Transfer to a wire rack and let cool for 2 hours. This is best eaten warm or at room temperature.
As the Thanksgiving holiday quickly approaches my thoughts turn to pie. Pie has been a huge tradition in my husband’s family for Thanksgiving…and by huge I mean LOTS of pie. I was amazed at the quantity the first time I ate with his family for the Turkey Day festivities: TWELVE pies. Yes, twelve; 12; Ten plus two; Six plus six…you get the picture. His mom prepared a feast for not only their immediate family, but for aunts, uncles, cousins, etc. There were a lot of eaters – and a lot of pie. Once my husband and I married we spent practically every Thanksgiving with his family. And when our boys were born they eagerly looked forward to the pie tradition every year. So you can imagine the angst incurred when we finally realized we had to give up traveling for the Thanksgiving holidays. The first time the subject was brought up my husband asked, “But what about the pies? The boys will really miss all that pie” Translated: “But what about the pies? I will really miss all that pie”. So I agreed to make several pies. I knew 12 pies were absolutely out of the question, but I agreed to make 6…
Fast forward many years…Each year I have made more and more pies. I finally broke my record last year, making not only 11 pies, but the equivalent of 2 other pies in the form of mini-pies. Yes, some were duplicates. There were 2 Bourbon Pecan, 2 Cherry, 2 Apple (one had brandied raisins) and 2 pumpkin. Then I made 1 Chocolate, 1 Banana Cream, and 1 Coconut Cream. The final two ‘pies’ were Lemon Meringue and Cranberry Meringue, made into bite-sized portions to ensure meringue on each serving (don’t you hate when you have a slice of lemon meringue and get no meringue?!?).
I can hear all of you trying to wrap your brain around this concept of (essentially) 13 pies…”But why?” you ask, and “Do you EAT all that pie yourself?” and, the most common question, “ARE YOU CRAZY???” (to that one I of course say ‘yes’). I make all those pies because I love to bake, and I love a cooking challenge. And I especially love to continue a long-standing family tradition, one that my boys will remember and hopefully pass along to their kids someday (my apologies to their future wives). As to whether or not we eat all of that pie, well, we do solicit a bit of help. See, we do not have the good fortune to have our family near during the holidays. Usually it is only the 4 of us and my nephew (and my parents one year)…a lot of pie for five people. So we have ‘Pie Day’. This is usually the day after Thanksgiving – and on this wonderful day we invite our friends to join us in the eating of the pies. Often, they bring over their own leftover desserts from their Big Day…There are a lot of desserts! Everyone comes hungry and leaves full!!
So now here I am, fully in the process of readying for Pie Day. I have pie crust in the freezer and am looking for one or two new flavors/recipes to add to the mix this year. Many of my ingredients have been purchased and stored…the fresh ones will be bought a day or so ahead. And on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving I will spend the entire day in my kitchen, happily paring, dicing, slicing, rolling out crust, assembling and baking all those glorious pies…That night I will fall into bed tired (read: exhausted) but happy, and will drift off to sleep dreaming of eating lots and lots of pie!
Pie Night was another success. For me this night has evolved into almost another holiday all on its own. It began innocently enough several years ago after we had a ‘pie surplus’ and decided to invite a couple of friends over to help resolve the ‘situation’. It stayed smaller until last year, and then it just seemed to blossom!!! The best parts about Pie Night are the gathering of fabulous friends and family, the laughter, the stories, and of course, the pie. It is a wonderful way to wrap up Thanksgiving and really sums up what this holiday is all about. Thank you to all of our friends…we are truly fortunate to have you in our lives!