Culinary Cousins: Dutch Apple Pie

Fall means apples. Thanksgiving means pie. I was a little down for the count this year, but that didn’t prevent me from baking up a bevy of desserts.

Very little stands between me and my kitchen. Especially when sugar, butter and flour are involved.

Read all about it: Dutch Apple Pie

Dutch Apple Pie at www.culinarycousins.com

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Buttermilk Pie: The Experiment, Part II

It’s been busy days here around Constitution Lane, but I realized I need to tell you about the second part of my buttermilk pie baking experiment!

I’m always on the hunt for a good pie crust recipe — and nothing but homemade will do. If you’ve ever read the label on those ready-made, refrigerated crusts at the grocery, you’d probably join me in that. Handmade pie crust does require more labor and time, but not as much as you think. Plus, the finished product isn’t even comparable to crust in a box, and making it by hand lets you work out some aggression and build some arm strength. Always a positive.

I confess that pie isn’t really my go-to dessert — I’m much more of a cake (and frosting!) girl — but I bake a few at Thanksgiving and call on the same pie crust recipes when I make quiche to use up fresh vegetables. I’ve encountered a lot of different pie crust recipes in my time, with all manner of butter-shortening combinations. I find vegetable shortening to be kind of icky in its slick, opaque greasiness, and I just don’t feel right about using it in my food. But pie crust experts will tell you it’s a necessity for proper crust flakiness. Okay, okay. In my last few pie bakings, I’ve used shortening but always very sparingly. I reduce it to a tablespoon or two and make up the rest with butter. I know, I’m so rebellious.

The recipe I used last Thanksgiving was the best yet, and I was prepared to let that be the end all, be all. Until I read about the vodka pie crust.
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Buttermilk Pie: The Experiment, Part I

I’ve been catching up on episodes of “Who Do You Think You Are?” this week, which always makes me think of my own roots and family history. The truth is I couldn’t be more southern. My mom was raised in the lowcountry of South Carolina, and my maternal roots go several centuries deep in Savannah. My dad is from the Pee Dee area of South Carolina, and we can trace my paternal ancestry back to colonial times in eastern North Carolina and Virginia. I was raised near Charlotte, N.C. — so, like my mom says, we haven’t moved very far.

My exposure to the cuisine of the South while I was growing up included staple recipes that had been in my family and the classics we ate in family-run restaurants. I grew to love food that most southern families have enjoyed for centuries: puckeringly sweet iced tea, fresh figs off the tree, blackberries on the vine and homegrown, road stand vegetables like deep, red tomatoes and fuzzy, tender, juicy peaches. In the fall we picked up pecans under the ancient tree that canopied my grandparents’ backyard and cracked and shelled them inside by the fire. At home we ate fried quail or fish with grits for breakfast, country-style steak with rice, chicken bog, boiled peanuts, slow-cooked collard greens, red velvet and caramel cakes … the list goes on.
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Cooking Spree: Peanut Butter Pie

I’m not one of those people who’s in love with peanut butter … I like it, it’s okay, sometimes it hits the spot, but I don’t have to have it. I am, however, a big fan of peanut butter pie.

That love affair began back in the ’80s with the peanut butter pie at Reilley’s, an Irish pub and restaurant on Hilton Head Island, S.C. Reilley’s pie is legendary, decadent and ridiculously delicious. We still talk about it, though it’s been years, probably decades, since I’ve had a piece there.

Last week I was at Hilton Head helping Mom recover from her foot surgery. Mom, I should note, is one of those peanut butter fanatics. She eats it by spoon right from the jar. On crackers, sandwiched between Thin Mints, atop gingersnaps, in a Thai sauce on noodles. Any which way it will come, really. (Oliver thinks it’s pretty nifty as well.)

While we were out to lunch during the week, Mom and I shared slices of peanut butter pie for dessert at two restaurants. Each was a different interpretation on peanut butter pie schools of thought: one a dense, rich version covered in a layer of chocolate, so dense in fact it could almost be considered a bar, and clearly inspired by peanut butter cup candy. The second version is a more traditional pie, with a light, frothy filling of peanut butter whipped with cream or whipped topping. It’s often drizzled with chocolate sauce and plenty of whipped cream, but the filling can be so light that its flavor only distantly resembles peanut butter. I suppose there’s another category for frozen and ice cream pie concoctions, though those don’t interest me as much.
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Culinary Bucket List: Rhubarb

Somehow in my more than 30 years (ahem) on this planet I have missed (escaped?) a run-in with that lithe, fuchsia vegetable known as rhubarb. Sure, I know what it is and what it looks like. I know people bake with it, and that it is often married with strawberries and featured in things called “slumps” and “grunts,” or more familiarly, crumbs, crisps and pies. I’ve never actually had the pleasure (?) myself, though.

I sort of despise celery, unless it’s well cloaked in soup or sauce, so avoidance of rhubarb in its resemblance to pink celery could have been unconscious. That certainly doesn’t endear me to it.

But people seem to speak of rhubarb with a certain reverence — as a plucky little vegetable that transforms from a crunchy and bitter stalk to a tart, soft compote. It creates desserts that we associate with our heritage, like those old English puddings and American-settler era fruit crisps. I’ve heard rhubarb described as “what tart would smell like, if tart were a smell.”*
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