Thursday, January 28, 2010

Review: The Heritage Pie Company: Award Winning Apple Pie?

I love apple pie. I even have my own favorite recipe for it right here on good ol' Chop Onions, Boil Water! That's the pie I prepare most often. It's made from wholesome ingredients, simple to prepare and damn delicious if I do say so myself! Recently though, Fed Ex delivered a large insulated box containing a fully-baked, frozen apple pie from The Heritage Pie Company in Jasper, Texas. Upon reading the enclosed card we discovered it was a gift from a couple of our friends in Auckland, New Zealand. 

Now, a mile high apple pie from Texas via New Zealand is a peculiarity in itself. It was surely not unwelcome, but it did make one think "PIE?". Plus when I read the description inside which noted that it was an award-winning pie, I must admit, I thought it might be a dubious claim. This is America, the land of endless dubious claims, so to say I was skeptical was an understatement. So I did a little research.

I found that The Heritage Pie Company writes that it recreates "down home, old fashioned, handmade pies from scratch", and that the apple pies are "Texas Sized " and "filled to the brim with 12-14 fresh, hand-peeled apples". Also, that each pie stands a whopping 7 inches tall and weighs in at 6 pounds. The Heritage Pie Company also claimed that their apple pies are culinary works of art and that they are hand-made from scratch. That's a lot of tall talk, but coming from Texas, you have to expect it. Their boots aren't tall for nothing you know!

Pressing family business prevented us from immediately trying the pie, but the company's literature assured us that we could freeze it with no ill effects, and that is what my wife did. Several days later, we invited my mother over for dinner and we thawed and prepared the pie as instructed in the accompanying literature from The Heritage Pie Company. It heated in the oven as we ate our main dish and entertained each other.

When we were ready for dessert my wife removed it from the oven and let it sit to cool a bit. She then carefully cut each of us a wedge and added a dollop of good vanilla ice cream to it. A plate of pie and ice cream was placed in front of each of my daughters (ages 5 and 2-1/2), my mother, myself and finally my wife. I must admit, it looked really, really inviting and promising. Flaky crust, a mountain of thinly-sliced apples, and the seeming, gooey goodness of the golden sauce blending with the cold ice cream. Yes, it looked damned good. A few moments went by for everyone to get seated and ready and we all tucked into it.

You know, I've tried a lot of visually promising foods in my life. Sometimes they're true to how they appear and other times they fall flat. Barbecue, pizza and especially desserts are prime examples. I've had some pretty awesome looking versions of each that while looking incredible, were utter disappointments when eaten. Also, there's something I read in an old "how-to" book a long time ago. When the author of that book wanted to make an impression and be sure you remembered what he was writing he wrote "What I write three times is law!" and then proceeded to write that truth three times. It's a habit I've picked up and used many times in my own writing and dammit, I'll use it now:

What I write three times is law!

The Apple Pie I had from The Heritage Pie Company was the best I have had in my life so far!

The Apple Pie I had from The Heritage Pie Company was the best I have had in my life so far!

The Apple Pie I had from The Heritage Pie Company was the best I have had in my life so far!

It was incredible and everyone at the table agreed. We were all "mmmmmmmm-mmmmmmmmm-ing" through each bite and my 2-1/2 year old at one point said "This is DE-EE-EE-EE-EE-LICIOUS!" striking the table with her hands on each "ee-ee-ee-ee-ee"! We all concurred it was the best apple pie any of us had ever had. Everything from the delicious flaky crust, the apples, etc., everything was excellent. The spice blend was perfect, even the cinnamon which is easy to overdo was pushed to the height of perfection! The Heritage Pie Company Apple Pie kicked ass!

I immediately jumped on Face Book and described the pie and offered a link to The Heritage Pie Company to my friends who may want to sample it. Thankfully, the informality of Face Book allowed me to use the proper expletives to drive the sincerity of my high praise home. Let's just say, my message was delivered.

I've had several slices of the pie since and its impact has not faded. It is a remarkably good apple pie and it really is the best I have had in my life thus far. If you love apple pie, the apple pie from The Heritage Pie Company is worth every penny. TRY IT!

Thank you Amber and Martin for your well-timed, generous and delicious gift!

The Heritage Pie Company

1616 F.M. 776
Jasper,TX 75951

1-877-816-1400 Toll Free

1-409-386-4081 Fax


Monday, January 4, 2010

Recipe: Chicken and Corn Stew

I have eaten some pretty strange things in my life. From my dad's side of the family there was morcella (pig's blood sausage) and all manner of odd things from the ocean including lapas (pronounced "lah-pizsh") which are small limpet-like creatures that adhere to rocks and themselves all over the world. These my father taught me to eat raw, first pulling them off the rock and then digging the animal from its shell with my finger and eating it live and raw. He also taught me how to get and eat mussels, clams, razor clams, periwinkles and conchs. I'm not complaining, they are all pretty tasty, raw or otherwise. So thanks dad those are good, but no thanks for making me eat a dollop of Vick's Vapor Rub when I was 7. What the hell were you thinking? I was only 7 but I could clearly see "for external use only" on the damn jar!

From my mom's side of the family I learned to eat the strangest things. My mom's father was part Native American and grew up on a New England farm during the depression. He was a bar room-brawling, tough-as-nails maniac. In the course of his life out of necessity, he learned to eat anything and he was lucky enough to have married a woman who could cook it all very well.

When I was a child it didn't take me or my cousins long to figure out one thing: DO NOT ASK WHAT YOU ARE EATING UNLESS YOU REALLY WANT TO KNOW! Now your yuck level is directly related to the place you grew up and the means available to you. So for some of you, when I mention that rabbit stew and squirrel pies were staples, you're going to say yuck or yum. It depends on whether or not you were ever exposed to these two DELICIOUS dishes. So the hunters out there say, "what's the big deal?" The city folk say "Eeeeeeeeew!"

The stuff I ate at my grandparents ran the entire scale of the yuck factor. For instance one day I was presented with something that appeared to be turkey dinner. Except that the turkey was a deep reddish brown, kind of, but not exactly like beef. I had to know, so I had to ask. "Hey Pep, what is this?" "Go look in the oven" was his answer. I did, and what I saw looked like a red turkey with 4 drumsticks. Pep recognized the confusion on my face and replied "It's the raccoon your cousin Rocky shot yesterday." It was pretty good too as I remember it. Think of roast beef with a texture somewhere near turkey.

I ate a lot of things in that house. I can say with certainty that I DID eat: deer, goat, pig, sheep, rabbit, quail, duck, pheasant, and a host of other common acceptable food items. The more uncommon things that I know I ate there included: bear, woodchucks, squirrels, snapping turtle and raccoons. I THINK I ate possum and maybe muskrat there, but I am not sure. I'd LIKE to think I never ate skunk but again, I am not sure. Let me make one thing clear, it was all delicious. Both my grandmothers were incredible cooks (aren't everyone's?), and I wish I had some of their recipes.

You may be asking yourself what the relevancy to the recipe is? Just memories. This dish reminds me of the stuff my mom's mom used to make. Good, hearty, stick-to-your-ribs-I keep-my-family-healthy-old-school-Yankee-cooking. The perfect dish after a day of skiing or hunting, or shoveling the damn snow from the driveway for the 15th time in 4 days!

Recipe: Chicken & Corn Stew

3 lbs boneless chicken breast (cut into 1/2" chunks)
4 Tbs unsalted butter
1 Tbs olive oil
1-1/2 cup chopped onions
1-1/2 cup chopped carrots
1-1/2 cup chopped celery
2 lbs boiling potatoes (peeled and cut into 1/2" cubes)
1 clove of garlic (minced)
2 tsp fresh thyme (chopped)
2 Tbs flour
4 cups chicken broth (I use bouillon)
2-4 cups of water
2 cups super-sweet corn kernels
1 cup of heavy cream
4 green onions cut in 1/8" rings
3/4 to 1 cup of chopped cilantro
Salt and pepper to taste

Season chicken with salt and pepper.

Place butter and oil into a preheated pan set on a medium flame. Cook stirring lightly, until the foam from the butter disappears.

In small batches, brown the chicken well on all sides. Remove chicken to a waiting bowl as it browns, set aside and keep warm.

When all the chicken is removed, add onion, carrots and celery. Sauté until the onions are translucent.

Add the garlic and half the thyme. Continue to sauté stirring occasionally for a few minutes (be sure not to burn the garlic).

Add flour and stir in well, while cooking for 1 minute.

Pour in broth and water, being sure to blend or whisk it in well. Bring mixture to a boil.

Add the potatoes and return to boil. Cover, reduce heat and let simmer, stirring occasionally. Cook this way until the potatoes begin to get tender.

Add the sweet corn kernels, chicken (with any resulting juices) and cream, simmer uncovered until the stock begins to reduce.

Salt and pepper to taste, add the rest of the thyme, green onions and the cilantro.

Serve in deep bowls with a wedge of lime and biscuits on the side.