Made in America – The Book

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These days it’s more than a phrase of authorship.  It’s a gauntlet thrown down to remind us of how much we’ve ceded to the rest of the world and why we should take a look around us to support those folks who are, well….us.  What we often forget is that food is the one thing that we still make in America all over America that is affordable, accessible and easy to support.

While many of us have walked back into our kitchens as an economy move (it’s a great place isn’t it?) we still occasionally long for a peak into a chef’s kitchen.  Well, the uber connected Lucy Lean gives us just that in her splendid book Made in America:  Our Best Chefs Reinvent Comfort Food

Disclosure:  I was one of the contributing chefs.  My Apple Chess Pie is the last recipe in the  book.  Save the best for last I always say.

The project began when Lucy found a cookbook from 1894 called How We Cook in Los Angeles.  She decided to ask a group of local chefs to each take a recipe from the book and give their spin on it.  Soon the group of chefs enlarged to the current 100 from all over the country and her vintage inspiration expanded to include many cookbooks from years way past.

Happy Pie Class - Including Chef Ludo! (The original image is no longer available, please contact KCRW if you need access to the original image.)

Lucy’s talent turned out to be knowing just which old recipe to pair with each chef.  Not surprising given her true talent, bringing people together and creating serendipitous synergies as she networks the old fashioned way, by meeting people, especially culinary folk and creating relationships.  I’ve discovered that each of us who is food obsessed finds a particular way in.  For some, it’s the ingredient, for others, the recipe or the culture or geography.  For Lucy, it’s the chef.  She has a particular affinity for chefs and their professional kitchens and her genuine enthusiasm and curiosity opens doors.  Lots of doors to nearly everyone.  Few say no to Lucy.  And why would we as we find ourselves launched onto another adventure with new colleagues and another reason to play in the kitchen.

And so months after giving her my recipe for Apple Chess Pie I found myself at Hualalai Four Seasons Resort on Kona with Chef Ludo Lefebvre, his wife Krissy and Lucy Lean and her family.  We were asked there to work with the chefs to teach guests and residents.  What a blast!  Of course there was pie class in the pastry kitchen with Executive Pastry Chef Linda Rodriguez and her staff.  Chef Linda’s Lemon Ricotta Pancakes are sublime (page 30).  Chef Ludo’s famous Duck Fat Fried Chicken with Piquillo Ketchup took center stage one night at The Beach Tree Restaurant. We all paged through the book looking for his recipe (page 222).  A highlight was dinner cooked for us by Peter Merriman the original locavore chef for Hawaii.

Meeting the resort’s executive chef was the real treat though.  Chef James Babian is ground zero for knowledge of local food resources on The Big Island.  A full 75% of the food used in all the resort restaurants are sourced locally.  Each year Chef Jim holds a summit at which local farmers, fishermen, dairymen, and ranchers share what will be available for the coming year.  The challenges of moving the food around the island are considerable and he uses his charm and persistence to accomplish the task.

Our last event at the resort was a bacchanal brunch where we each served a dish from the book.  Linda was there with her pancakes, Chef Jim made his Paniolo Breakfast Skillet Roast Beef Hash with fried Eggs and Crispy Onions (page 24).  I served my Apple Chess Pie inspired by a recipe from Mrs. Lincoln’s Boston Cookbook, 1884  (page 312) and Ludo went “off book” to make the most luscious Uni Scrambled Eggs with Champagne Sauce.  Can you say “butter”?

So pick up the book and have fun.  There are truly great recipes to try from an interesting and varied group of chefs from all across the country (and, of course, your hometown).


3-2-1 ratio Pie Dough (see below)

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 pinch of salt
1 cup fat, such as unsalted butter, lard, vegetable shortening, or solidified coconut oil
1/2 cup cold water
1/4 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
Makes two 8- to 9-inch pie crusts or one 8- to 9-inch double pie crust
Pie Filling
5 to 6 sweet juicy apples, such as Golden Delicious or Fuji, peeled, cored, and sliced into 3/8-inch slices (not too thick)
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons brown sugar
Pinch of salt
3 large eggs
1/2 cup granulated sugar
8 tablespoons (1 stick) melted, unsalted butter
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 tablespoon fine corn flour
Pinch of ground cinnamon
To Make the Pie Dough
1. Mix the flour and salt together in bowl. Work the fat into the flour, using your fingertips or a pastry blender. Cut the fat in until most of the dough looks like crumbs the size of peas but some of the fat is still in bigger clumps about the size of shelled almonds.
2. Add the lemon juice to the 1/2 cup of water. Add this lemon-water mixture to the dough one tablespoon at a time, using a fork to mix. When the dough holds together, you have added enough water. Give a couple of quick gentle kneads to hold the dough together. Divide the dough into two equal-size disks, wrap each disk with plastic wrap, and set them in the refrigerator to rest, preferably for at least 1 hour.
3. Before you start rolling out the dough, be sure you’ve cleared off your work surface; you will need room to move. To roll a single piecrust, remove one of the disks of dough from the refrigerator, reserving the second disk for another use. Place dough on the work surface that has been lightly dusted with flour. Dust your rolling pin, too, but not too much. Gently rap the dough disk several times across the surface with the rolling pin to make it thinner and easier to roll out. Flip the thick dough disk over, lightly dust it with flour again, and, again, rap the dough with the pin, this time in the opposite direction. Now you’re ready to roll.
4. As you roll, remember not to press down directly on the dough. Think of rolling the dough away from you. Always start rolling from the middle of the dough outward, giving the dough a little quarter-turn after each couple of passes. then flip the dough over and once again roll from the middle outwards, giving the dough a quarter-turn each time. Lightly dust the pin, the counter, and the dough with additional flour as needed. When the dough circle is a couple of inches larger than your pie pan, you’re ready to move the dough from the counter to the pan.
5. Gently fold the dough in half, and in one movement lift it off the rolling surface and into the pie pan. Unfold the dough circle and gently ease it into the pie pan; do not stretch the dough. When it heats up in baking, it will bounce back. If there is excess dough hanging over the lip of the pie pan, simply fold the dough under so that the rim of the pan supports it. You can then either crimp the edge with the tines of a fork or flute the edge with your fingers.
6. Refrigerate or freeze piecrust for 1 hour.
To Make the Pie
1. Preheat the oven to 375°F.
2. Remove the piecrust from refrigerator or freezer. Mix the sliced apples with the brown sugar and arrange them in the cold crust. Cover the pie, including the fluted edge, tightly with aluminum foil. Place in oven and bake for 30 to 40 minutes, or until the apples are just tender when pierced with a knife.
3. While the pie is baking, make the chess pie custard. Whisk the eggs, sugar, melted butter, lemon juice, corn flour, and cinnamon together until well blended.
4. When the apples are done, remove the foil. Don’t be scared by the amount of juice you may see, the custard will bind the juice. Pour the custard over the apples using a knife to help the custard fill the gaps.
5. Return the pie to the oven, uncovered. Bake until the custard is set, the top is dotted with deep golden brown spots, and the crust is done, 15 to 20 minutes. serve warm or chilled.