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Laura Holmes Haddad

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San Anselmo, California

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Laura Holmes Haddad, a.k.a. The Grrl, is a freelance wine and food writer. A graduate of Smith College and the California Culinary Academy, Laura worked as a caterer and then as a cookbook editor at Simon & Schuster before devoting her time to writing.
Laura’s work has appeared in Wine Mutineer, Beverage Media, The Tasting Panel, and Wines & Vines magazines as well as iVillage.com, WineEnthusiast.com, MyRecipes.com, and travelandleisure.com. Her book Anything But Chardonnay: A Guide to the Other Grapes was published by Stewart, Tabori & Chang in 2008. She is co-author of Pure Flavor: 125 Fresh, All-American Recipes from the Pacific Northwest and Lulu Powers, Food to Flowers: Simple, Stylish Food for Easy Entertaining. Her latest collaboration is Plats du Jour: A Journey Through the Seasons with the girl & the fig restaurant, due out in November 2011.
Laura launched her website www.gourmetgrrl.com in 2004 where she offers advice to busy foodies seeking a one-stop spot for the latest trends in food, wine, and cocktails. Laura currently resides in Los Angeles with her husband and daughter, where she can be found drinking Champagne and wondering what to make for dinner.

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10 Ways To Up Your Salad Game This Summer Image

Looking for a new, healthful yet satisfying option for lunch or a light dinner? Skip the old standbys (Caesars, wedges, mixed greens) and upgrade your salad bowl with these 10 tips.

This Mexican tortilla salad features jicama in a tangy dressing. Credit: Copyright 2015 Laura Holmes Haddad

This Mexican tortilla salad features jicama in a tangy dressing. Credit: Copyright 2015 Laura Holmes Haddad

Make your own salad dressings.

Homemade dressings put store-bought bottles to shame; the flavor is unparalleled. And they’re easy to make, especially if you have a blender of any kind or a food processor on hand. (It’s also easy to bolster the nutrition level by adding a tablespoon of chia seeds or flaxseeds.) Try matching your dressing to a salad based on its regional or seasonal ingredients. Making a Mexican tortilla salad? Whip up a batch of cilantro, lime and pumpkin-seed dressing (recipe below). Or liven up a chilly day with hazelnut-orange dressing over winter greens such as radicchio.

Fresh romaine hearts can stand up to heavier salad dressings. Credit: Copyright 2015 Laura Holmes Haddad

Fresh romaine hearts can stand up to heavier salad dressings. Credit: Copyright 2015 Laura Holmes Haddad

Practice the golden rule of salads.

The lighter the lettuce, the lighter the dressing. That means pairing hearty dressings such as Caesar, lemon-buttermilk and creamy ranch with heavier greens such as romaine, kale and cabbage. Save the more delicate mâche and baby lettuce for lightweight dressings such as lemon-garlic vinaigrette or three-herb vinaigrette.

Crunchy nuts and seeds can add a whole new dimension to your salad. Credit: Copyright 2015 Bigstockphoto.com

Crunchy nuts and seeds can add a whole new dimension to your salad. Credit: Copyright 2015 Bigstockphoto.com

Add crunch with a handful of nuts.

From peanuts, walnuts, almonds and hazelnuts to pecans, macadamias and cashews, nuts can bring a burst of flavor and texture to an ordinary bowl of greens, elevating it from blah to wow. Toasting them is an easy step that boosts their flavor immensely: Just place a pan over high heat, add the nuts and toast for 1 to 2 minutes while shaking the pan (be careful not to burn them). Seeds offer a similar crunch: sesame, pumpkin and sunflower seeds are easy to find and full of flavor.

Take a day off from the olive: nut oils bring an unexpected layer of flavor to salad dressings. Credit: Copyright 2015 Bigstockphoto.com

Take a day off from the olive: Nut oils bring an unexpected layer of flavor to salad dressings. Credit: Copyright 2015 Bigstockphoto.com

Add an unusual oil.

Give a flavor and nutrition boost to your salad by drizzling it with walnut, pecan or hazelnut oil. Pistachio oil drizzled over steamed asparagus is sublime. (Note that nut oils are highly sensitive to light and heat, so store them in the refrigerator.) Meanwhile, avocado oil is a neutral, healthy option that can be substituted for canola oil.

Swap ordinary proteins for tangy cheeses, sliced prosciutto or roasted chickpeas. Credit: Copyright 2015 Bigstockphoto.com

Swap ordinary proteins for tangy cheeses, sliced prosciutto or roasted chickpeas. Credit: Copyright 2015 Bigstockphoto.com

Punch up the proteins.

Ditch the roasted chicken breast and try a new source of protein: Roasted chickpeas, marinated feta, roasted pork loin and broiled shrimp make quick and easy alternatives. Chop up leftover ingredients from a weekend cookout — grilled steak, barbecued chicken, grilled peppers or mushrooms — and toss with a hearty lettuce such as romaine.

Broccoli slaw makes for a quick, healthy and hearty lunch. Credit: Copyright 2015 Bigstockphoto.com

Broccoli slaw makes for a quick, healthy and hearty lunch. Credit: Copyright 2015 Bigstockphoto.com

Make a side salad the main dish.

Sides like coleslaw can easily achieve main-course status with the addition of a few ingredients. Tossed with roasted turkey and a few tablespoons of homemade poppyseed dressing, chopped or shredded broccoli and roasted walnuts make a hearty, portable lunch or quick dinner. Prepackaged, shredded veggies are available in nearly every grocery store if you’re in a time pinch.

Sweet fruit balances out the bitter and salty elements of a salad. Credit: Copyright 2015 Kitchen Gardeners International/kgi.org

Sweet fruit balances out the bitter and salty elements of a salad. Credit: Copyright 2015 Kitchen Gardeners International/kgi.org

Add fresh fruit.

Tomatoes are the gold standard, but fresh orange segments, sliced pears and grapes add brightness and seasonality to a salad. Sliced strawberries are perfect paired with peppery arugula and balsamic vinegar, while hunks of fresh papaya offer a sweet contrast to crunchy green cabbage. In summer, sliced peaches make a great counterbalance to creamy mozzarella.

Acid is key for any salad dressing, be it a drizzle of vinegar or a tablespoon of fresh lime juice. Credit: Copyright 2015 Freefoodphotos.com

Acid is key for any salad dressing, be it a drizzle of vinegar or a tablespoon of fresh lime juice. Credit: Copyright 2015 Freefoodphotos.com

Remember: A is for acid.

An often-overlooked but key salad ingredient is acid, whether in the form of vinegar, citrus juice, soy sauce or pickled vegetables. Just a few tablespoons of high-quality balsamic vinegar or rice vinegar or a squeeze of fresh lemon can brighten the flavor of any salad. And pickled veggies, from kimchi to plain old cucumber pickles, can add oomph to a can of tuna or a plain roasted chicken breast.

With a bit of heat, your salad will sizzle. Credit: Copyright 2015 Freefoodphotos.com

With a bit of heat, your salad will sizzle. Credit: Copyright 2015 Freefoodphotos.com

Spice things up.

Adding chili peppers to a salad or its dressing gives a big flavor boost. Chopped jalapeños, raw or pickled, are a must for Mexican-style salads; you could also try a chipotle dressing. Or add sliced red Thai peppers to cabbage, peanuts and rice vinegar for an Asian flavor.

This vibrant spring salad from cookbook author Maria Speck combines asparagus and kamut. Credit: Copyright 2015 Erin Kunkel, from Simply Ancient Grains by Maria Speck, Ten Speed Press

This vibrant spring salad from cookbook author Maria Speck combines asparagus and kamut. Credit: Copyright 2015 Erin Kunkel, from “Simply Ancient Grains” by Maria Speck, Ten Speed Press

Expand the definition of “salad.”

Go beyond greens to incorporate grains like quinoa, farro and bulgur wheat. Carbs such as rice, couscous and orzo add a little bulk and act as a neutral base for other flavors. Pasta comes in so many varieties these days that even gluten-free eaters can enjoy pasta salad. Cooked vegetables can also star: Brussels sprouts, asparagus and roasted beets become salads with the addition of just one or two other ingredients, such as roasted nuts, shaved ricotta salata or Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. (Time-saver tip: you can cook the grains on the weekend so that they’re ready to go for a weeknight supper.)

Mexican Salad With Cilantro, Lime and Pumpkin Seed Dressing

Note: This is an easy salad that pairs crisp lettuce and jicama with a tangy, satisfying dressing. Add cooked chicken or a handful of shrimp for a more substantial meal.
Prep time: 15 minutes
Total time: 15 minutes
Yield: Serves 4

Ingredients
2 1/2 cups chopped romaine lettuce (about 2 large heads)
1 large jicama, peeled and sliced into 1/8-inch pieces
3/4 cup thinly sliced radishes (about 10)
1 cup Cilantro, Lime and Pumpkin-Seed Dressing (see recipe below)
1/2 ripe avocado, diced
1/2 cup tortilla chips, crushed, for serving (optional)
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

Directions
1. In a large bowl, combine the lettuce, jicama and radishes.

2. Add the dressing and gently toss to mix. Add the avocado and tortilla chips and gently toss again.

3. Season to taste with salt and pepper and serve immediately.

Cilantro, Lime and Pumpkin-Seed Dressing
Prep time: 5 minutes
Total time: 5 minutes
Yield: 1 1/4 cups

Ingredients
1 cup fresh cilantro leaves
1/2 cup avocado oil (canola oil can be substituted)
1/2 cup fresh lime juice (about 4 limes)
2 small cloves garlic, peeled
1 medium jalapeño pepper, halved and seeded
1/4 cup unsalted, roasted pumpkin seeds
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon salt

Directions
1. Combine all ingredients in a blender or food processor. Blend until smooth.

2. Season to taste with salt. The dressing will keep in the refrigerator for up to three days.

Main photo: Prosciutto over baby spring greens. Credit: Copyright 2015 Laura Holmes Haddad

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Deviled Eggs: A New Spin On A Nostalgic Dish Image

Embraced, hated, embraced again: such is the cycle of food trends, and eggs are no exception. Once reviled for their high cholesterol, eggs are back on the American table, and they’re not just scrambled, boiled or fried. Deviled eggs, the staple of summer picnics and church suppers, are making their way into cocktail parties and onto restaurant menus across the country.

But the standard filling of egg yolk, mayonnaise, salt and pepper is about as inspiring as a can of mushroom soup. Instead, think capers, cured meats and unusual spices such as za’atar. In Chicago, white truffle oil and black trumpet mushrooms set Sable’s deviled eggs apart; Los Angeles chef Susan Feniger adds both red and green Sriracha sauce to her “angry eggs.” New Orleans-based chef Susan Spicer of Mondo serves a trio of deviled eggs: one with curry, one with avocado and one with mustard. Smoked deviled eggs are the signature dish at Park Tavern in San Francisco, and New York City’s The Green Table offers them four ways: with smoked salmon, butternut squash and bacon relish as well as “classic Southern” ingredients.

Even home cooks are embracing this throwback protein. Paleo dieters, gluten-free enthusiasts and ovo-vegetarians — using grandma’s recipes or classic cookbooks — are serving them by the dozens at happy hour and Sunday brunch as snacks, appetizers or the main course. These days, anything goes.

Prosciutto and Caramelized Onion Deviled Eggs

Here, sweet and savory onions are mixed with the yolks, and the perfect texture is achieved with a topping of crispy prosciutto. It’s as though a regular deviled egg got a little black dress.

Prep time: 20 minutes

Cook time: 25 minutes

Total time: 45 minutes

Yield: 24 deviled eggs

Ingredients

12 large eggs

2 teaspoons white vinegar

1/4 cup olive oil

2 slices prosciutto

1 small white onion, thinly sliced

1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt, plus more to taste

1/2 cup mayonnaise

Cracked black pepper to taste

Directions

1. Add eggs, vinegar and enough cold water to cover by 1 inch to a large pot. Bring to a boil over high heat. (Adding vinegar to the water softens the egg shells, making them easier to peel.)

2. Reduce heat to medium-high to maintain a medium boil and cook eggs for 8 minutes. Drain and run eggs under cool water. Fill a bowl with cold water, add eggs and let sit for 20 minutes to cool at room temperature. (This, too, makes the peeling process easier.)

3. Peel eggs and halve lengthwise. Carefully scoop out the yolks and transfer to a medium-sized bowl. Place the egg whites on a serving plate. With a fork, break up the yolks and mix until fluffy.

4. To a large saucepan over medium heat, add the olive oil. Add the prosciutto and cook until crisp, about 1 minute, turning the slices over with tongs so that they don’t stick to the pan. Remove the prosciutto to a plate lined with paper towels, break it up into small pieces and set aside.

5. Returning to the pan, reduce the heat to medium-low. Add the onion and 1/2 teaspoon salt and cook until golden and softened, about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Transfer to a plate lined with paper towels to drain any excess oil, then finely chop the onion.

6. Add the mayonnaise and chopped onions to the egg yolks and mix with a spoon. Taste and season as needed with salt and pepper.

7. Using a teaspoon, fill the egg whites with the yolk mixture. Garnish each with a piece of prosciutto and serve immediately, or cover and refrigerate until ready to serve, adding the prosciutto just before doing so (otherwise they will get soggy).

Main photo: Deviled eggs with caramelized onions and prosciutto. Credit: Laura Holmes Haddad

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12 Ways To Get Out Of Your Wine Rut In 2015 Image

With every new year comes a resolution or two, so this is the perfect time to make a few changes to your wine-drinking routine. Take the opportunity to uncork (or unscrew) a bottle you’ve seen but haven’t tasted; try a new food pairing; make a detour on your next winery tour. A chat with the owner of your local wine store can get some ideas flowing, and a new cookbook may inspire you in the kitchen. Here are 12 ways to start new gastronomic traditions right now.

1. Drink bubbly with dinner.

Don’t save that bottle of bubbly in the fridge for a special occasion; open it up the next time you order sushi, Thai or even Indian cuisine. Sparkling wine’s naturally high acidity and minerality make it a natural partner with food. And there are so many affordable bubblies now that there’s no reason not to let it perk up a weeknight. Besides Champagne, try a Crémant de Bourgogne or Crémant di Limoux from France; Spanish cava or Italian Prosecco; a sparkling wine from California or New Mexico; or even a sparkling Shiraz from Australia.

2. Buy large-format bottles.

It may seem like a luxury, but depending on the occasion, buying a large-format bottle can actually save you money — and make you the life of the party. Here’s some easy math: a magnum (1.5 liters) is equal to two bottles; a double magnum (3 liters) equals four bottles; and a jeroboam (4.5 liters of still wine) holds six standard bottles. (A jeroboam of sparkling wine is 3 liters, equaling four standard bottles of bubbly.) Sommeliers rave about these larger bottles because they often age better than the traditional 750-milliliter bottle; the oxygen-to-wine ratio in them is far lower, which allows for a slower maturation. More wineries are offering large formats, and stores such as Costco often carry them for the holidays.

3. Try a Rhône varietal from California’s Central Coast.

There are some exciting wines coming out of California’s Central Coast. The terroir is similar to the Rhône Valley, and winemakers are producing reds based on Syrah, Mourvèdre and Grenache, as well as whites with Viognier, Marsanne and Roussanne, that whisk you off to France by way of the West Coast.

4. Order the wine-pairing option.

The next time you’re at a restaurant with a tasting menu, opt for the wine pairings as well (usually available for a supplement). The beverage directors and sommeliers work with the chef to create something out of the box, so why not take advantage of their expertise? It’s a chance to get creative and open your palate to new pairing ideas.

5. Try Italian whites.

Sick of Sauvignon Blanc? Try one of Italy’s white varietals. They may be hard to pronounce, but they’re easy to drink (and generally affordable). Falanghina, for instance, tastes like bananas, apples and pears; look for producers Feudi di San Gregorio and Terredora. Vermentino tastes of crisp apples and citrus; producers include Antinori and Pala. And Piedmontese Arneis offers flavors of lemons and apples; look for Vietti. All three pair beautifully with seafood, chicken, pork and anything fried.

6. Try a new wine-and-food pairing.

Break out of the mind-set that classic pairings (for instance, red meat with red wine, white meat with white wine) are your only options. Here are some creative examples:

  • Chicken fajitas and guacamole with still or sparkling dry rosé
  • Beef chili and cornbread with Zinfandel
  • Grilled swordfish with Beaujolais
  • Grilled sardines with Pinot Noir
  • Arctic char over tomato-olive tapenade with Sangiovese
  • Roasted veal chops with Viognier
  • Roasted pork chops and caramelized onions with Chardonnay or Riesling
  • Roasted asparagus with Chianti Classico
  • Roasted cauliflower with sparkling wine

7. Serve a French dessert wine with chocolate.

While Port is a natural with chocolate, try a glass of Banyuls for a change. Banyuls is a Grenache-based wine from the Languedoc-Roussillon region of France, fortified (as it has been since the 13th century) with clear brandy and aged for at least 10 months. With flavors of mocha, coffee and dark plum, it’s the perfect complement to any chocolate dessert. Serve it at around 58 F in small dessert-wine glasses. Ranging from $25 to $60 for a 375-milliliter bottle, Banyuls may not be easy to find, but it’s worth the effort. M. Chapoutier and Domaine La Tour Vielle are two to look for.

8. Drink white wine with cheese.

Many consumers don’t realize that cheeses generally taste better with white wine than red. Here are some starter pairings:

  • Goat cheese with Sancerre, Pinot Grigio or Sauvignon Blanc
  • Parmigiano-Reggiano with Prosecco or Orvieto
  • Brie with Pinot Gris or Chardonnay
  • Triple crème with Riesling
  • Stilton with Sauternes

9. Try a white wine that you think is sweet.

Many wine lovers stay away from a varietal because they associate it with a characteristic they dislike. Take Rieslings: despite their reputation for sweetness, they’re not all sweet. Rieslings are wonderfully food-friendly whites that deserve a place at the table. Juicy and crisp, dry German Riesling sets the standard, but domestic Rieslings are on the rise, so there are plenty of options at a wide range of prices.

10. Visit off-the-beaten-path wineries.

Do your homework before your next California wine trip. It’s worth seeking out small family-run wineries that may be a bit out of the way. Picturesque Preston Family Vineyards in Dry Creek Valley has a farmstand and bocce ball court in addition to a tasting room. Iron Horse Vineyards boasts an outdoor tasting facility with spectacular views of Sonoma County. Cliff Lede Vineyards may be just minutes from a busy Napa highway, but its sculpture garden, art gallery and specialized wine tastings make it feel like a special getaway. (You can even book at a night at Mr. Lede’s Poetry Inn in the Stags Leap District.)

11. Sign up for wine-and food tours.

You should also check out wineries that do more than just pour a glass of wine. Many in California offer additional activities such as olive-oil tastings or farm tours. Here is a sampling:

12. Join a winery-run wine club.

They’re not just for tourists anymore. Wineries have been honing their club memberships in recent years to make them more personalized, and the rewards can be great — particularly the discounts. If you live within a reasonable distance of the winery to take advantage of their special members-only events, do it. But even if you just receive monthly or twice-yearly shipments, you’ll benefit from such programs.

Main photo: A sparkling selection from Domaine Carneros by Taittinger, paired with salmon. Credit: Courtesy of Domaine Carneros

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Pumpkin Sage Puffs a Great Holiday Appetizer Image

There’s a lot of waiting on Thanksgiving Day. There’s waiting for family and friends to arrive, waiting for the turkey to roast, waiting for the potatoes to cook. All that waiting makes you work up an appetite, especially, and inevitably, when things run late.

Forget the sad bowl of nuts on the coffee table. Something warm and lovely is in order on Thanksgiving Day. Feed your guests a small bite to hold them over until the main event. These savory, autumn-inspired puffs are just the thing. They’re creamy, crunchy, and bite-sized and perfect with a glass of Champagne. They look fussy but are actually a breeze to pull together.

Pre-baked phyllo cups are found in virtually every supermarket and you can make the filling the night before. Now just don’t keep your guests waiting too long.

Pumpkin Sage Puffs

Makes 30 pieces

Ingredients

2 packages miniature pre-baked phyllo cups

2 tablespoons olive oil

½ small onion, minced

1 15-ounce can pumpkin purée

½ cup ricotta cheese

1 large egg

2 tablespoons chopped fresh sage

3 slices cooked bacon, chopped fine

Salt and freshly ground pepper

Directions

1. Place the phyllo cups on two baking sheets. Preheat the oven to 350 F.

2. Heat the olive oil on medium-high heat and add the onions and a good pinch of salt. Sauté the onions until soft and slightly golden, about 5 minutes.

3. To make the filling, whisk the pumpkin, ricotta, and egg together until smooth. Add the sage and bacon, and season with salt and pepper; stir to combine.

4. Fill each cup just to the top with the filling. (You can make the filling one day ahead and keep it in the refrigerator.)

5. Bake for 15 minutes and serve.

Photo: Pumpkin sage puffs. Credit: Laura Holmes Haddad

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Raising the Pumpkin Bar: A Pie-Free Dessert Image

I’m a fairly tolerant parent when it comes to food. I give in to my daughter Penelope’s chicken finger cravings once in a while, indulge her preference for plain cheese pizza and let her lick the whisk after I’ve whipped heavy cream.

And while you might think kids will eat every sweet placed in front of them, Penelope won’t touch pumpkin pie. Dealing with finicky eaters is not how I want to spend my Thanksgiving holiday, so this year I’m planning ahead and making a separate desert for the kids’ table: pumpkin bars in a gingerbread crust.

These bars are a mom’s dream: a light filling (a fluffy combo of cream cheese and canned pumpkin) is pressed into a gingersnap crust. Make the bars the day before if the oven is occupied with the turkey (and even get the kids to help stir). A dollop of whipped cream on top doesn’t hurt. You might even see some adults ditching the pie and heading for the kids’ table.

Pumpkin Bars

Serves 14-16

For the crust:

8 ounces gingersnap cookies (about 32 cookies), coarsely broken (see note)

¼ cup (½ stick) salted butter, melted

For the filling:

8 ounces cream cheese, softened

½ cup granulated sugar

3 large eggs, at room temperature (see note)

1 (15-ounce) can pumpkin purée

½ teaspoon cinnamon

¼ teaspoon nutmeg

½ teaspoon ginger

¼ teaspoon ground cloves

¼ teaspoon allspice

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Whipped cream, for serving (optional)

Directions

1. Preheat the oven to 350 F. Grease a 9-by-13-inch baking pan.

2. In a food processor, break up the cookies until finely ground and add the butter. Process until moistened. Press the mixture evenly into the baking pan. Bake for 10 minutes.

3. For the filling, combine the cream cheese, sugar, eggs, pumpkin purée, spices and vanilla in a large mixing bowl. Mix on medium speed until combined.

4. Remove the crust from the oven and pour the filling into the pan. Smooth it until fairly level.

5. Bake for 25 minutes. (Check the bars around 22 minutes; they should be set and look firm but not brown). Let the bars cool in the pan on wire rack until sliceable, about 15 minutes.

6. You can store the bars in the refrigerator in a sealed container for up to 3 days. Just bring them to room temperature before serving.

Note 1: The eggs should be at room temp for at least 30 minutes before baking. Cold eggs will make the cream cheese mixture seize up.

Note 2: Most boxes of gingersnaps are 12 ounces, so use three-quarters of the box.

Photo: Pumpkin bar with gingersnap crust. Credit: Laura Holmes Haddad

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Apple Pie and Politics at ‘Dough for Obama’ Event Image

Writer Joyce Maynard’s philosophy is that pie brings people together.

Pie certainly brought people together  Sept. 30 when more than 15 women and a couple of men gathered at Maynard’s Marin County, Calif., home to learn how to make pie and raise money for President Barack Obama’s re-election campaign.

What Maynard dubbed “Dough for Obama” broke down into two groups — pie makers and eaters — and each group donated to the campaign to spend an unusually warm autumn afternoon making pies, eating pies and talking politics.

Gathering around Maynard’s worn wooden table, guests absorbed her step-by-step instructions on how to make her famous apple pie and then tried their hand at it. Women ranging in age from their 30s to their 70s (and who are artists, writers, photographers, health care workers and a police detective) discussed what brought them together: their political passion, Maynard and their love of pie. For some, it was the first pie they had ever made, and the lure of a hands-on instruction was irresistible.

A tradition of pie and politics

This wasn’t Maynard’s first pie party. The parties started in 2000 after Maynard donated a pie-making lesson to her school’s auction. The $2,000 winning bid from Oracle CEO Larry Ellison, who bought it for his wife, attracted the attention of the local paper. When a journalist asked Maynard whether she was planning any more pie parties, she replied, “I’m baking to defeat Bush.”

She then promptly planned a party to raise money for Vice President Al Gore’s presidential campaign. Since that day, she has taught more than 1,000 people how to make pie while raising money for Gore, Sen. John Kerry and Obama. She also has hosted a daylong baking marathon to benefit victims of the 2010 Haitian earthquake.

Sharing pie wisdom

Maynard’s love of pie is bittersweet. Her mother always told her, “If I ever get a brain tumor I won’t count calories.” In 1989, doctors diagnosed Maynard’s mother with a brain tumor and gave her only weeks to live, so Maynard moved in with her and baked for her mom and her friends.

“Making pie was a comfort to me,” she said.

After her mother passed away and Maynard planned her first Thanksgiving without her kids and ex-husband, she invited friends over to learn how to make pie. Her role as pie-making guru had begun.

The pie lesson that September afternoon was sprinkled with stories and reassuring tips. Maynard’s demonstration was straightforward:

  • To make the filling, use tart, firm apples like Granny Smith, never red delicious.
  • Do not add too much sugar (Maynard uses only a couple of tablespoons).
  • Cut the apples into fairly large pieces.
  • To make the perfect crust use an even mix of shortening and butter.

Maynard loves talking pie. Ever wonder about those airy pies with huge domed tops that look like applesauce when you cut into them? The apples are cut too small. (“I believe in a nice, high pie,” she says.) Her secret pie ingredient? Tapioca. Sprinkle it on the bottom crust before the apples are added to prevent a soggy crust. And she recommends a glass pie dish because it distributes heat more evenly and you can see when the crust is done.

Her teaching is kind, patient and encouraging to first-time bakers and experienced ones. When transferring the top crust from the parchment paper to the pie Maynard said, “Now is moment that requires dive-in courage.”

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Apple pie at the "Dough for Obama" event. Credit: Laura Holmes-Haddad

Maynard’s philosophy puts less emphasis on looks and more on taste. “Mine is not a pretty pie; you can tell it’s made by hand,” she said.

Singer Linda Ronstadt, an avid baker and friend of Maynard’s, surprised everyone by joining the party. Her advice? “Make a pie every day for a week to practice.”

Joyce Maynard’s Apple Pie

Joyce likes to say, “It’s not about the recipe; it’s how you make the pie.” Although she doesn’t use a set recipe, I used her measurements and my notes from the party to create this recipe. This is an adaptation, but it’s the closest thing to being in the kitchen with her!

Makes two 9-inch pie crusts

For the filling:

5-6 crisp apples, such as Granny Smith or Gravenstein

sugar, to taste

cinnamon, to taste (about ½ teaspoon)

1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice (optional)

2-3 tablespoons instant tapioca

For the crust:

3 cups all-purpose flour

¾ teaspoon salt

1 stick cold unsalted butter (plus a little)

½ cup cold shortening (Joyce uses Crisco brand)

1-4 tablespoons ice water

3 tablespoons milk

Equipment:

peeler or paring knife

pastry blender

parchment paper or waxed paper

rolling pin

pie dish (preferably glass)

pastry brush

measuring cup

measuring spoons

Directions

1. Peel the apples and cut them in medium-sized, fat slices.

2. In a mixing bowl combine the apples with the lemon juice (if using), a handful of sugar (depending on how sweet you like it) and a sprinkling of cinnamon. (If you’re not sure if you have enough apple slices, pour them in the pie dish; add more apples if necessary to make a nice, high pie.) Set aside.

3. Before you make the crust, assemble everything you need because once you start you want to work quickly to keep the dough as cold as possible. In a large mixing bowl combine the flour and salt.

4. Cut the butter and shortening into pieces.

5. Add the butter and shortening and using a pastry blender or two forks cut it into the flour until you see little pellets of butter and shortening.

6. Making a well, add 1 tablespoon of ice water and gently mix it in with half the flour using your fingers. (You will make the top crust first.) If the dough seems dry add 1 more tablespoon ice water. The dough should come together but not be too moist or too ragged.

7. Once it sticks together transfer the dough to a parchment or waxed paper-lined counter-top or table. Lightly flour a rolling pin and roll the crust into about ¼-inch thick circle. If it sticks, add a light dusting of flour. You want to handle the dough as little as possible and work quickly to prevent the butter and shortening from melting; that makes a tougher dough. Place the pie pan over the crust and gently flip it over into the pie dish.

8. Press the dough into the pan and cut off any overhanging dough.

9. Sprinkle the bottom crust with tapioca. Set aside while you make the top crust. (If it’s a hot day it’s best to stick it in the refrigerator.)

10. Make the second crust: Add a tablespoon of ice water to remaining flour mixture and gently mix it together until a dough forms, adding more ice water as needed, a tablespoon at a time. Transfer the dough to a parchment or waxed paper-lined counter-top or table and repeat the rolling process listed above.

11. To assemble the pie: Add the apple mixture to the pie dish. In one swift motion carefully flip the bottom crust over the top of the apples. If your aim is off, don’t worry; just adjust the crust and patch any tears or holes. Crimp the edges of the two crusts, sealing them. Using a pastry brush, brush the top of the pie with a little milk and sprinkle with a little sugar. With a sharp knife cut four slits in the top crust to allow steam to escape.

12. Bake the pie at 425 F for 50 to 60 minutes until golden brown and bubbling.

Photo: Apple pie from Joyce Maynard’s “Dough for Obama” event. Credit: Laura Holmes-Haddad

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