The Big Apple: Behind the Scenes at The Martha Stewart Show

Exciting times this week! I was in New York yesterday making apple dumplings and apple butter with none other than Martha Stewart for her Martha Show. The episodes will air this Thursday, October 20, at 10 a.m. on the Hallmark Channel.

Officially listed

Anyone who has paid attention to food or home design or crafts or magazines or television can imagine how exciting this was. I’ll never forget the first time I leafed through my mother’s copy of Martha’s first book, Entertaining, in 1982. Pouring over those pages like an 11-year-old Talmudic scholar, I absorbed that impossibly perfect vision of domestic life as a roadmap for what I wanted my grown-up life to look like.  Of course, my grown-up home doesn’t come close to looking like Martha’s. I could never match her precision or drive, let alone her resources. But her products still inspire me. Her team boasts some of the most talented designers, cooks, crafters, producers, and stylists in the field today, so heading to the studios was like being called to the Mother Ship of creativity. And I’m grateful for her message that the domestic sphere can be important and beautiful. Apparently, she also believes that the professional sphere should be beautiful, too, because her studios are stunning. The first view, after snaking our way through several hallways, was of a very swanky dressing room.

The dressing room, with signature Martha colors and MSL-branded furniture, naturally.

Across the hall was the Green Room, with its display of Emmys.  Martha’s office was just around the corner, but the frosted glass gave me only brief glimpses of her perfectly layered blonde tresses.

I was then called into the kitchen, to go over the dishes we were to prepare that day: apple dumplings with cider-rum sauce and overnight apple butter. The kitchen team, like everyone else, was incredibly gracious and welcoming, eager to make sure that what went on set was true to my vision for the recipes. I rehearsed my segment with producer Greta Anthony, had the makeup and hair treatment (including false eyelashes and a wing-y head of curls that were designed to give my flat hair some pizzazz and keep it out of my face), and after some torturous hurry-up-and-waiting and deep breathing, it was showtime. Walking toward set, I felt like a tiny thing, a mouse headed into the lion’s ring. But within seconds,  all fear dissipated. Martha was warm and gracious and TALL. A head and a long model’s neck above me even if she hadn’t been wearing stilettos, which she was.

I heard the staff and audience cheering me on and got swept up in the good feeling.

Discussing the dough. Martha can roll out pastry like a master.

My husband, Scott, was in the Green Room and he took these shots off the monitor.

We got through the dumplings, paused for a break, and then it was time for the apple butter.

“Martha, I just love my slow cooker!”

The final segment was  shorter. I did make the mistake of calling the apple butter a “dump and go recipe,” to which she shot back, “I don’t like the word ‘dump.'”

But where some might have read “scolding” I read, “sassy,” so I came back with “Ok, it’s an ‘artfully arrange and go recipe*,” and she smiled. I think she has a better sense of humor than some people might assume.

In fact, as I left the set, the producers said, “Wow, you could tell that Martha really liked you!” I think that’s a good thing.

Leaving the set with Kyle, the stage manager who keeps everyone calm and happy backstage

My one regret: Because Martha Stewart Omnimedia has its own magazine, they were reluctant to mention my Yankee title in my intro, so my real employer went unmentioned. It would’ve been nice to give a shout-out to my New England family.

*All quotes paraphrased until I can watch the actual tape on Thursday.

Pub Date (and a free recipe)!

In the past week, I traveled to upstate New York, western Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Maine, all to promote this book, which officially launches today!

What a thrill it is to spend so much time talking to people about apples, signing books, demonstrating  recipes. For the past 5 years, I have been a  apple nerd in private, working alone in my kitchen. Now I’m finding a whole community of like-minded people. Initially, the thought of getting out there to promote this book felt completely terrifying. What if nobody likes it? What if I screw up? But the trepidation is giving way to real happiness.

Yesterday was a particular thrill, as I was invited to do a demonstration at the Common Ground Fair in Unity.

The Common Ground Country Fair is a celebration of rural life in Maine and if you have any hippy or transcendentalist or DIY or crafty or foodie inclinations, you have a place here. Out of a field in Unity Maine springs a peaceable tent city, an annual meeting of like-minded folk who eat organic food and raise happy animals and have a thing or two to teach you about making jam or herding sheep or spinning wool. I LOVED it, and just wished we had come for the whole weekend instead of just a day.

I demonstrated 4 recipes: Autumn “Coleslaw” with Dates, Apples, and Pecans, Simple Apple Nut Cake, Quick Bread-and-Butter Apple Pickles, and pie crust. Overall, I’d say things went swimmingly. But I did make one tactical error: I forgot that many people in the audience would be devoted locavores.  Some eat only what they themselves grow. Which means that the dates in the coleslaw aren’t in their pantries, nor the pecans. And the cilantro season in Maine is long gone before the apples are ripe.  What I had was a recipe for Californians. No one complained, but their polite questions about possible substitutions did not go unnoticed. Next year, I’ll bring strictly local recipes.

One thing I am learning for certain: Apples make people happy. Johnny Appleseed knew this. I’m learning it. It’s a delight to be an apple ambassador.

Here’s the recipe for the apple pickle, which always seem to surprise and please people in equal measure.

Quick Bread-and-Butter Apple Pickles

Okay, this relish is actually a bit different from the bread-and-butter pickles you may know from childhood. It’s also much simpler. It does have a similar flavor profile, though: sweet and bright, with warm spices.

It’s a quick pickle in every sense—just a thirty-minute bath in the vinegar before it’s ready to serve, and I simply keep it in the refrigerator for up to two weeks, rather than canning it. It never lasts long enough to put up, anyway. Serve as a side salad, or on sandwiches and burgers, or chop up and mix into potato salad.

Apple Notes: Red-skinned apples look prettiest here, so consult the apple portraits on pages 31–60 of the book to find some red firm-sweet apple varieties. I often use Jazz, Baldwin, and Melrose here.

Note: To make this pickle truly pretty (and easy), the mandoline and biscuit cutter are essential. The mandoline because you want paper-thin slices, and the biscuit cutter so you can create apple slices that are the same size as the cukes. You don’t need anything fancy, though.
Equipment: Mandoline; 1½-inch biscuit cutter (see Note)
Makes: About 4 cups • Active time: 25 minutes • Total time: 60 minutes
1 large seedless (English) cucumber (about 14 ounces or 400 g), unpeeled
1 tablespoon kosher salt
2 large firm-sweet apples (about 1 pound total), unpeeled and halved lengthwise
2 medium shallots
1 cup (240 ml) rice vinegar
½ cup (120 ml) water
½ cup (120 ml) honey
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1 cinnamon stick
1 sprig fresh tarragon, cut into 4 pieces

1• First, prep your cucumbers: Cut off the ends and discard, then slice on a mandoline. Put in a colander and toss with the salt. Let sit for at least 20 minutes.

2• Meanwhile, prep the apples: Trim the seeds and core from each apple half, then set, cut-side down, on a cutting board. Use a biscuit cutter to push down into the flesh, extracting two little cylinders from each apple half. Because the apples are round, the cylinders won’t be perfectly level. That’s fine. Thinly slice each cylinder on the mandoline (again, don’t worry if some slices are not perfect circles). Slice the shallots on the mandoline as well, then put in a medium bowl with the apples.

3• In a small bowl, whisk together the vinegar, water, honey, and sugar until the sugar dissolves. Add the cinnamon stick and tarragon, and pour the mixture over the apples and shallots.

4• Rinse the cucumbers well and lightly blot dry (still in the colander) with paper towels. Add the cucumber slices to the bowl with the apples and stir well. Let sit for at least 30 minutes before serving. Refrigerate for up to two weeks.

How to make perfect pie crust

I have a deep and abiding fondness for pie of all flavors and stripes. It speaks of home and seasons and holidays and all good things. And for many years, I struggled to come up with a crust a truly love. But now I have it.  In my mind, it has just the right proportions of butter, water, flour and salt. And that’s all you need. Some cooks add vinegar to their crust to limit gluten development and thus produce a more tender crust. But with this method, I find that I don’t need it. For sweet fruit and other dessert pies, I usually also add a little bit of sugar.

As for technique, I think hand-mixed crusts are the best. I’ve tried making dough in my food processor, but I really believe that making it by hand is easier, both in terms of being able to know when the crust is done and in not having to clean up the equipment. And the result is wonderful: flaky and tender. They key is to keep your ingredients as cold as possible so that the butter doesn’t melt into the flour. When those little solid pieces of butter go into the oven, they melt, creating steam, which in turn creates thin, flaky layers.

It really does just take a little bit of practice to build your confidence. This dough has plenty of butter, so you’re unlikely to end up with a tough crust, even if you’re just a beginner.  The extra butter also prevents the crust from getting dry when you roll it out on a floured counter.

I photographed each step to try to help you along. When I photographed this process, I happened to be making the crust for a savory pie and therefore didn’t add sugar. However the recipe does list the correct amount of sugar and tells you when to add it.

Also, this is a recipe for a double-crust pie. To make a single-crust pie, simply cut the recipe in half and do not divide the resulting dough—just press it into a disk, wrap in plastic wrap, and refrigerate.

 

Pastry for a Double-Crust Pie

Pie crust ingredients (minus the sugar)

 

Ingredients:

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons granulated sugar (optional, but recommended)
1 teaspoon kosher salt

18 tablespoons (2 1/4 sticks) chilled unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
6 to 8 tablespoons ice water

Method:

In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, sugar (if using), and salt until well combined.

Whisking dry ingredients

Sprinkle butter over flour mixture.

Butter goes in

 

Use a pastry cutter, 2 knives, or a fork to break the butter into smaller pieces. This is an optional step, but I always do it because using utensils instead of your fingers keeps the butter cooler.

Breaking down the butter

Once the butter pieces are small, use your fingers to work the butter into the flour mixture: Rub your thumb against your fingertips as if you’re making the universal sign for “money,” smearing the butter as you do.

Working the butter in with your fingers

When you first start out, the flour will be white and the butter will be yellow. As you continue to work the butter in, the flour will begin to look moist and slowly turn pale yellow, too.

Early stage mixing

 

Stop when the mixture looks like cornmeal with lumps and bean-sized bits of butter remaining.

 

Done

Sprinkle 6 tablespoons ice water on top and stir with a fork until the dough begins to come together. If needed, add more ice water, a tablespoon at a time, but proceed cautiously.

Stirring in the cold water

Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and knead three times, or just enough to make a cohesive dough—do not overmix!

Briefly kneading the dough

Here’s a close-up look at the crust. See how mottled it is? That’s what you want.

A well-mixed dough
A well-mixed dough

Gather the dough into a ball and divide into two pieces, one slightly larger than the other. The larger piece will be the bottom crust.

Crust, divided

Press each piece into a disk and wrap in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Wrapped and ready to go into the refrigerator
Wrapped and ready to go into the refrigerator

Next week, I’ll talk about rolling the dough out and getting it into the pan, as well as crimping. Until then, happy baking!