Pie Challenge and the “Kids” are Up

I have really been slacking on my “Operation Pie Challenge” I left off at week #7 so this would be week #8. I am not going to do a recipe this week. Instead, I am going to show you a technique with pie crust that my Granny taught me years ago that I think you will find interesting.

This technique is best used on a berry pie with its dark purple or red color.

Start by having your bottom crust and filling ready. The filling pictured below was a mixed berry from our raspberries frozen from last season.

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Next, roll out the top crust and instead of slicing completely from one side to the other as in a traditional lattice, create a cross shape instead.

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As you can see next you cut each corner of the cross into an “L” shape.

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Carefully lift the cross shape (it can be a little tricky not to break it, so go slowly) and place in the center of the filling. Next lift and position the “L” shaped pieces of crust just like they were on your floured counter but leave a little space so the color of the filling peaks through. Now add the corner pieces and crimp the pieces into place.

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Bake as you would any pie and voila!

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Not only is it impressive to look at but it tastes darn good too!

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The Kids are Up!

Last week I showed you how I started my seedlings in pop bottles. My hubby and I always call them our “kids.”

The kids are up and out of the soil and stretching towards the sky. Here are a few pics!

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So far the plum tomatoes, regular tomatoes, basil, cilantro and dill are all up. The peppers and celery will hopefully be up some time next week.

Are you starting any plants indoors yet? If so, what are you growing?

Can’t wait to report back next week. Happy baking and gardening everyone! -MM

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Birthday Wishes

Looking back on past birthdays and special days like Valentine’s and Mother’s Day I realize now what I really want for those days. Not what you might expect though. I am not a girl who needs a lot of material things. I don’t need jewelry or roses or even an expensive night out.

It means more to me when I receive a homemade card or flowers picked from the roadside. Don’t laugh but I would LOVE a load of compost for my birthday. I know, I am such a nerd, right?

Although receiving a present is wonderful on my God given day, I really just want one specific thing. What is that?

A day free of worry.

What does that mean? What it means is that I want a day free of worrying what I should make for dinner, how I will pay the bills, whether my son will hurt himself dunking his basketball while doing trick shots outside, how my sales will be for the week, how many people will show up for church, whether I covered the butter because the cat likes to lick it when we are not looking.

I want a birthday that I don’t have to worry about running out of gas because I am too busy to remember to fill the tank, or a day without worrying about the van breaking down because it needs it’s transmission repaired. A day without worrying about how to pay the taxes or simply not having to worry if I am being a good mother, wife, daughter or friend.

Whether we like to admit it or not, we all worry and deep down what we really want is just one or two days a year when we don’t have to.

So guys it’s not the big, expensive, sparkly gifts we want, though they are nice and often we women dream of those things. No, it’s a day free of thoughts that if you worried about them for us for the day, it would be the best present ever. -MM

Baking for Lent

For me Lent is a journey every year. Easter is less commercial and I get to enjoy and reflect and think in silence without the glitz and mad shopping days of Christmas.

Lent and Easter traditions are handed down from generation to generation. A few years ago I researched recipes for Lent and Easter and found that almost every country has it’s own Easter bread. Poland, Italy, the Netherlands, America, England, Scotland and Belgium to name a few.

In our family we love our St. Joseph’s Day Bread and Hot Cross Buns. St. Joseph’s Day is March 19th and is a traditional Sicilian bread to honor St. Joseph, Sicily’s patron Saint.

Hot Cross Buns are traditionally eaten in England on Good Friday. The cross atop the bun was said to symbolize the Crucifixion. Although there is no real confirmation on who actually created the Hot Cross Bun it is said they do have ancient origins dating back to the 12th century.

I have been baking St. Joseph’s bread since I was in my 20’s. It can be a difficult bread to master. Humidity, quality of yeast and enough proofing time are all factors in successfully making this bread.

If you have never tasted this bread you have missed out on its soft, anisey, rich flavor. Some have told me the smell of the bread has instantly brought them back in time. I have had people in their 90’s who haven’t had it in years eat it and feel instantly transported back to their grandmother’s table. It is a magical bread I say.

This recipe makes 9 or 10, 1-lb. round loaves (or you can braid them). You may also halve this recipe because not many people have the mixer capacity although this bread was mostly kneaded by hand.

St. Joseph’s Bread Recipe

5 cups warm water

3 Tbsp yeast

4 eggs

1-3/4 cup sugar

1-1/4 cup shortening

2 Tbsp salt

2 Tbsp baking powder

2 Tbsp anise seeds

5 lbs. flour

Mix the water and yeast and let sit for a minute or two to dissolve the yeast. Don’t get that yucky yeast from the grocery store. I buy mine in bulk at Sam’s or BJ’s or Costco. I store the yeast in the fridge or you can freeze it.

Next add the eggs, sugar, shortening and salt. Then mix in half the flour. Then add the baking powder and the anise seeds. Mix until the flour in incorporated and then slowly add the rest of the flour. When you have a soft ball of dough and it clears the sides of the mixing bowl or your hands don’t get sticky if you are hand mixing, knead for about 8-10 minutes until smooth and elastic. Add more flour if it gets sticky. Believe me if you hand mix this recipe you will get a full body workout. But it will be worth it!

Place the kneaded dough in a large greased bowl and cover tightly with plastic wrap. Here is the crucial part. Let rise in a warm place for at LEAST 2 hours. This bread takes a LONG time to rise properly. Also the quality of the yeast makes a big difference too. I have thrown more batches of this bread out because the yeast from the grocery stores sucks. If you want to be a serious bread maker don’t waste your time with the store brand yeast.

After the dough has risen to double it’s original size roll it out of the bowl onto a floured surface. Punch it down and divide the dough into 10 pieces. If you have a scale, weigh each one to get even sizes.

Either braid or shape the dough into round loaves and place on parchment lines baking trays or in greased disposable pie pans.

Let double again in a warm spot, covered with a clean dish towel. (At least another hour or so.)

After the dough has proofed again brush the tops of them with an egg wash and sprinkle either sesame or poppy seeds on them.

Bake at 350 degrees for approximately 20 minutes. They will be a golden brown and smell Heavenly!

 

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Hot Cross Buns Recipe

In my opinion Hot Cross Buns should be made with either raisins or currants but many commercial recipes add candied fruit which is way too close to a fruit cake for me.

1-1/2 cups warm milk

1-Tbsp yeast

1/3 cup  sugar

1 tsp salt

1/3 cup melted butter

2 eggs

4 cups flour

3/4 cup of raisins or currants

1/2 tsp mace

The original recipe I tried had 5 cups of flour and it really dried the buns out. I prefer the 4 cups myself but you can always add more if the dough it too sticky for you. I prefer the soft sticky dough because it makes a softer, less dense bun.

Mix the yeast and the warm milk together. Add the melted butter, sugar. salt, eggs, currants or raisins and the mace in. Add the flour in a cup at a time until a soft ball forms. Knead the dough for about 5 minutes adding enough flour here and there to keep it from sticking too much. Dough will be soft and probably a little sticky. That is ok. Place the dough in a greased bowl and cover tightly with plastic wrap. Let rise in a warm place until doubled in size.

When doubled in size turn the dough out onto a floured surface and punch down. Divide the dough evenly depending on how big you want the buns to be. I made 12 out of this recipe but they were really big so I would make them smaller next time.
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Form each piece of dough into a ball and place in a greased 9 x 13 cake pan or a parchment lined cookie sheet. Make sure the buns slightly touch each other.

Let rise again in a warm place covered with a clean dish towel.image

After doubling in size again brush the tops with egg wash and bake at 375 for 25 minutes or until golden brown.Let cool.image

For the Cross: mix together a cup of confectioner’s sugar, 2 Tbsp milk and 1/2 tsp of vanilla. Drizzle the frosting in a cross like pattern over each bun. Don’t worry if it is not perfect. Mine never are! Eat with butter and enjoy! (Sorry I forgot to take a pic of them with the cross on them).

 

Does your family have Easter baking traditions? I would love to hear from you! -MM

Seed Starting

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I worked on my gardening goals today and started some seeds indoors. Every year I do this and I thoroughly enjoy it. I take my phone down in the basement with me and prop it on the windowsill and watch Desperate Housewives with my Hulu phone app. Just me, and Susan, Bree, Lynette and Gabby gettin’ dirty with seed starter.

Here are a few pics of what I accomplished today.

Every Fall I dig up my geraniums and pot them and then overwinter them in our basement. Today I cleaned them all up, getting rid of any dead leaves and flowers. Now I will make sure they get plenty of sunshine and fertilizer to get them ready to go outside in a month or so. It is supposed to be mid sixties this week so I might put them outside just for the day to give them a boost.
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Believe it or not this plant is a tomato that I rescued last fall while bringing in the geraniums. It had just sprouted and only had 2 leaves. It has grown steadily and surely over the winter and I just re-potted it this afternoon in it’s new home.
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Last year I posted about starting my seeds in a pop bottle construction container. I liked it so much I decided to expand my pop bottle garden this year.

I started paste tomatoes, regular tomatoes, bell peppers, jalapenos, basil, dill, cilantro and celery. I’ll start cabbages and some other plants in a couple of weeks

Thank you to my wonderful mom-in-law for providing me with the bottles!

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I can’t wait to update you on their progress. I am sure by next week they will have sprouted.

Unfortunately though by the end of the Desperate Housewives episode I was watching, Mike Delfino, Susan’s husband was shot. Damn, he was cute too. Oh well, keep calm and dig in the dirt I always say! -MM