Friday, December 11, 2015

Meet our newest cook, Melissa Cook!

Hey there, I am Melissa Cook. I live in Shreveport, Louisiana with my husband, Sid, and our two sons, Trey and John. I was born in Arkansas and have lived all over the southeastern United States. I have been in Shreveport all of my adult life. I worked in hospice before having kids and love helping people. I have been home with my boys for almost 17 years. In 2011, with some guidance from friends and the guys at the local welding supply company, I taught myself to weld. I make furniture and small decorative iron pieces. Having a high schooler and an 8th grader has slowed me down some, but I still get out and make things when my favorite decorators call.

I grew up with great cooks. I love the warmth and comfort of a home cooked meal. Some of my favorite memories include the gardens of my grandparents', shelling peas with cousins, and helping my grandmother put up vegetables for the winter. My dad and I still have contests every summer to see who can grow the best tomatoes. He usually wins. My go-to meals are classic, southern home cooking, but I also love to try foods from other regions and cultures. I'm fortunate to have a husband willing to try everything I cook and kids that are becoming more adventurous. While I grew up with good food, I didn't really cook until I was out on my own. I had a great group of neighbors when I first got out of school. We would plan meals and gather to cook. Everyone was responsible for their part of the meal, but it was a group effort. Those meals were always filled with laughter and love. That's what I like the most about being in the kitchen.

I'm always up for an challenge and pretty fearless. I am so excited to be one of 37.

My husband, Sid, loves to celebrate by having family over on Sunday evenings. This is usually something we decide on Saturday, but a few weeks ago we decided during lunch, after church. This left little time for preparation so we bought a caramel apple pie at Sam's Club for dessert. As we were eating the perfectly fine pie, I decided that it could be divine if it was made with homemade caramel and real butter in the crumb topping. So I pulled out my favorite caramel recipe and made it my own. We had it for Thanksgiving and it was a big hit!

Better than Sam's Caramel Apple Pie
by Melissa Cook
Adapted from Caramel Pecan Sundaes in Ina Garten's "Barefoot Contessa at Home" (I borrowed her caramel sauce)

1/3 cup water
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 1/4 cups heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
6 medium Granny Smith apples, peeled and sliced 1/8-1/4 inch thick
1 Pillsbury Refrigerated Pie Crust
1 stick salted butter, cold and diced to 1/2 inch
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 cup flour

Preheat your oven to 350°F.

Mix 1/3 cup of water and 1 1/2 cups of sugar in a heavy, medium saucepan. Cook over low heat 5-10 minutes, without stirring, until the sugar dissolves. Turn up the heat to medium. You may gently swirl the pan to stir the mixture. Cook until the sugar becomes a warm, golden brown. Turn off the heat or remove the pot from the burner. Carefully add the 1 1/4 cups of cream and 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla. This will cause some bubbling and steam so use care. The caramel will harden, but never fear! A couple of minutes over low heat with a gentle stir will soften the caramel and it will become smooth. Remove from heat. Add the sliced Granny Smith apples. 

Lightly grease a 9" tart pan or pie plate. Unroll your Pillsbury Refrigerated Pie Crust and press gently into the pan. Fill the crust with pie weights or, my personal favorite, dried peas and bake for 5 minutes. In a medium bowl, add one stick of cold, cubed butter into the brown sugar and flour. I use a large fork to press the ingredients together. When the mixture is crumbly and forms pea sized bits it is ready. Remove the crust from the oven. Using a slotted spoon, fill the crust with the apples and caramel. Leave a little room for the crumb topping. Top with the crumbly butter, sugar and flour mixture. There should be some caramel left in the pot. Save it for later or drizzle over the pie when you serve it. It is really good on a spoon!

Bake in 350°F oven for 45 minutes. Make sure you let the pie rest long enough to set. I waited an hour and mine came out of the tart pan and sliced beautifully.

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