Archive for November, 2008

Breton Apple Pie

November 29, 2008
Yesterday was my big boy’s 4th birthday. We celebrated today by having a bunch of kids over and a couple of fire engines came by to take them for a ride. I wish I could tell you I made this adorable cake and then give you the recipe complete with instructions on how to make a fire made out of frosting, but the truth is, I bought it. However, I did make this…


A little history. As a child, I never liked Thanksgiving dinner. That was a little strange because I was far from a picky eater. I was taught to eat everything my mom served me and, being the rule-following oldest child, I did as I was taught. Thanksgiving was really tricky for me though because I never liked turkey – even as a very young child – and certainly didn’t like gravy. To top it all off, we always had pumpkin and pecan pie for dessert – neither of which I like to this day. Suffice it to say that Thanksgiving was tough for me.

Once I became a vegetarian and it became “ok” for me to not eat turkey, things began to look up. Once I began to cook, it all changed. I started bringing side dishes that I wanted to eat and started making vegetarian gravy which totally changed the meal. I can eat mashed potatoes and stuffing endlessly if there is good gravy to pour over them. Once I started to bake, I would always bring some kind of “other” dessert so that I could enjoy dessert too. Some years I did chocolate, other years I did a Nutcracker Tart from Bon Appetit, but most years I made something apple.

About a month before Thanksgiving this year, I picked up Nick Malgieri’s The Modern Baker and while paging through it, I found the recipe for Breton Apple Pie. I loved that it looked like a cake but was closer to a pie and I especially loved that he said you could make it in advance and freeze it. With so much food running through my kitchen the week of Thanksgiving, I really appreciated being able to make this and forget about it. It was, by the way, delicious.

Breton Apple Pie
Adapted from
The Modern Baker
Serves about 12

There is a scary moment right before you unmold this dessert. I looked at it and thought there was no way it was coming out of the pan, but it did beautifully. You have to work quickly to get it back to right side up so it doesn’t crack too much. Just lightly put another cooling rack on top of the bottom of it, and re-invert.

APPLE FILLING
3 tbsp. unsalted butter

2 1/2 pounds Golden Delicious apples, peeled, halved, cored, and each half cut into 6 wedges

1/2
cup sugar

1 tbsp. lemon juice

1/2
tsp. ground cinnamon

BRETON DOUGH
2 sticks unsalted butter, softened

1 cup sugar

1 tsp. vanilla extract

4 large egg yolks

2 3/4 cup all-purpose flour

Egg wash: 1 large egg beaten with a pinch of salt

Equipment: One 10-inch wide and 2-inch deep layer pan, buttered and the bottom lined with a disk of parchment paper.

1. For the apple filling, melt the butter over medium heat in a pan that has a tight-fitting lid. Add the apples and sprinkle them with the sugar, lemon juice, and cinnamon. Cook the apples covered, checking them and stirring occasionally, until they are swimming in liquid, about 10 minutes. Uncover the pan and let the liquid evaporate, about 10 more minutes. Keep an eye on the apples while the liquid is evaporating, and stir occasionally to prevent the apples from scorching. Most of the apples will disintegrate while the filling is cooking, making it like a chunky applesauce. Allow to cool.

2. Meanwhile, set a rack on the lowest level of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees.

3. For the dough, combine the butter, sugar, and vanilla in the bowl of an electric mixer. Beat with the paddle on medium speed until very light, about 5 minutes. Add the egg yolks, one at a time, beating until smooth after each addition. Remove the bowl from the mixer and use a large ruber spatula to incorporate the flour.

4. Place half the dough in the bottom of the prepared pan. Using floured fingertips, press the dough evenly over the bottom of the pan and about 1 inch up the sides. Spread the cooled filling over the dough.

5. Flour remaining dough and press into a 10 inch disk on cardboard or tart pan bottom. Use a long-bladed knife or spatula to make sure the dough isn’t stuck to the cardboard. Carefully slide the dough onto the filling.

6. Brush the top of the Breton with the egg wash and trace a lattice pattern on with the tines of a fork.

7. Bake the Breton until the dough is well colored and baked through, 50-55 minutes.

8. Cool on a rack in the pan for 10 minutes, then unmold and turn right side up again. Cool completely on a rack.

(Keep the Breton loosely covered with plastic wrap at room temperature on the day it is baked. Wrap and freeze for longer storage. Defrost and bring to room temperature before serving.)



Recovery

November 28, 2008

Oh. My. God. Where to begin?

Well, let’s start with the turkey, since that was the part that I was most worried about. To review, I bought 2 15 pounders and we decided to roast one and deep fry the other. Randy did a great job taking out all the innards of both turkeys and stuffing the one-to-be-roasted with onions, celery and lemons. I did not have to touch a bird! Earlier in the week, I bought 6 gallons of peanut oil for the deep fryer (at $16/gallon) and we set up a little deep frying station outside. Meanwhile, while worrying about the turkey, I made:

Stuffed mushrooms
Balsamic Glazed Cippoline Onions

Brussels Sprout Hash with Caramelized Shallots

Potato and Fennel Gratin

Leek and Mushroom Stuffing

Pecan, Chocolate, and Bourbon Pie

Breton Apple Pie

I will spare you the blow by blow and just tell you that we took the oven turkey out too early. When we went to carve it, it was clear – even to me – that is was undercooked. And so, back into the oven it went while we waited for the deep fried turkey. At this point, I had taken all the side dishes out so we could serve the kids and everything got a little cold. Fortunately, the fryer was done soon after and that turkey was a huge success by all accounts of those who ate it. Unfortunately, for the first time in I don’t remember how long, I wasn’t thrilled with the food I made.

Oh, the mushrooms were a hit and were as good as I remember. The onions were also delicious and, garnished with pomegranate seeds, they looked beautiful. I used 40% milk fat cream in the gratin, so it was sinfully rich – almost too much so. It wouldn’t stop me from making it again however! The apple pie was a beauty and perfectly spiced and delicious. A new recipe to me, but one I will make again and again. But the stuffing was dry and bland. Remember those brussels sprouts I bragged about? I made a slight mistake in cooking them and so they ended up tasting really bland and, well, like brussels sprouts. Almost no one ate them. And my pie had an all butter crust which wasn’t flaky at all and the filling was soupy and just not good.

So, I learned. We learned. I think we will deep fry the turkey next time, no more brussels sprouts (sob!), I will go back to the Pepperidge Farm stuffing mix that my mom used for 30 years and everyone loved. I will make a green bean casserole or some such “other” green vegetable dish. I will go back to the Nutcracker Tart that has five different kinds of nuts and is served with a Cranberry and Orange Compote – a huge hit everytime I have made it. Overall the lesson learned is, don’t mess with tradition.

Aside from some misgivings about the food, we had a wonderful night. We were able to squeeze all 19 adults into our dining room so it felt lovely to all be able to sit down together instead of be scattered all over the house. The kids were great and didn’t destroy our basement. I loved all the people there and it was fantastic to be able to share my favorite holiday with them.

I will have recipes and photos tomorrow. No energy today!



Appetizers or Not?

November 26, 2008


Do you have appetizers on Thanksgiving? Appetizers in general are something I have always struggled with. If I am cooking a big dinner for a party, do I want to serve people food
before the food? Over time I have learned to go one of two directions. Either really embrace the appetizer and make something great and maybe tone down dinner a little, or serve something really simple (like olives and nuts) and really amp up the dinner. Either way, you have to serve something.

My mom always worried about the appetizer thing on Thanksgiving. She had cooked for days, so if anyone was not starving, she was insulted. Gradually, she learned to let that go and would actually allow a little cheese plate that my friend Michelle puts together to grace the coffee table.

This year, our first year of hosting, I am having no problem serving appetizers. We have so many people coming (19 adults, 10 children) that I am not sure if I have way too much food or not enough, so I figure if everyone nibbles when they get here, we will be fine. (My husband will tell you that, if I am worried that there is not enough food, that means there is exactly 1 and half times too much.) I farmed out app duty to two friends and then, at the last minute, because I don’t have enough to do, decided to make these mushrooms.

I first made these at a party that I catered back in January. A partner of one of my clients was throwing a baby shower for his daughter and asked me to make the food. It was my first big-ish party (60) and my baby was not yet 1, so this was a real challenge for me. It all turned out great and the clients were really happy. I like to think it was partly due to the mushrooms. I set out A LOT of food, and these were the first to go. Like in the first 20 minutes – just gone. The recipe comes from the people at Cook’s Illustrated and you know that when they make something, they make it to death until it’s perfect. These are great party food, no plate or even napkin necessary. Just pick up and eat. And repeat.

Spinach and Lemon Stuffed Mushrooms
Adapted from Cook’s Illustrated

Makes 24

Note that the photo above is the “before” picture. You can make these up to 3 days in advance through this stage (before being dipped in bread crumbs and baked). If you are having a crowd, don’t hesitate to either 1 1/2 or double this recipe. You won’t be sorry. Also, choose large mushrooms, they lose a lot of their size when going through the roasting.

1/2 cup frozen spinach, defrosted and squeezed dry
1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese

2 oz. cream cheese, softened

2 tbsp. olive oil

1 garlic clove, minced

3 tbsp. lemon juice

3 scallions, sliced thin

1/2 tsp. salt

24 large mushrooms, stems removed

1/4 cup olive oil

1 tsp. lemon juice

Salt and pepper

1/2 cup store-bought bread crumbs or panko

1. For the topping: Process first 8 ingredients in food processor until smooth. Transfer to zip-loc bag until ready to use.

2. For the mushrooms: Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 450 degrees. Line rimmed baking sheet with foil and set wire rack inside baking sheet. Toss mushrooms with oil, lemon juice, 1/4 tsp. salt and 1/8 tsp. pepper in bowl. Arrange mushrooms gill side up on rack and roast until juices are released, about 20 minutes. Turn caps over and roast until mushrooms are well browned, about 10 minutes.

3. Remove baking sheet from oven. Flip roasted mushrooms gill side up and cool slightly. Snip off one corner, then fill mushrooms. (Mushrooms can be made to this point, up to three days ahead. Cover with plastic wrap and store in the refrigerator.)

4. Press each cap (stuffing side down) into bread crumbs and arrange (topping side up) on rack. Bake until filling is hot and topping is golden, about 10 minutes. Cool about 5 minutes before serving.



Bounty

November 24, 2008


This is my vegetable basket. Sometimes, during the summer, it looks a little bit like this – stuffed to the gills with produce. But now, instead of peaches and berries, I have lots of onions, potatoes, garlic and even a pomegranate. All the makings of holiday dinner. I’m choosing to focus on this beauty rather than the two 15 pound turkeys that are in the downstairs refrigerator…



A Different Kind of Salad

November 21, 2008
I make a lot of salads for my clients. At least once a week and sometimes twice. Because of that, I am always looking for new and interesting ones to serve. I have been cooking for them for 2 1/2 years (with one six month maternity leave) and I think I have only repeated a handful of salads – and only those because they were so good.

This one might just into that “so good” category. I like a lot of “stuff” in my salad, the lettuce is there so it can be called salad, but it had better have more interesting friends in the mix. This one has an incredible balance of flavors and not a lot of lettuce, and the lettuce that is there is radicchio which is kind of the rock star of the lettuce/chicory world. The bitterness of the broccoli rabe and radicchio is balanced by the sweetness of the carrots and the honey in the dressing. As a bonus, it can be dressed in advance and looks beautiful on the plate.

Broccoli Rabe, Carrot and Radicchio Salad
Adapted from Martha Stewart Living Cookbook – The Original Classics

Serves 4

I increased the amount of dressing, but try adding half and tasting to see if there is enough for your taste. I also increased the amount of radicchio since the heads tend to be small. Stewart suggests plunging the broccoli rabe into an ice water bath but I just drained and ran very cold water over it to shock it. I also made the broccoli rabe a day ahead, wrapped in a clean kitchen towel, and refrigerated it.

Kosher salt
1 1/2 pounds broccoli rabe, tough stems removed, cut into 2 inch lengths

1 tbsp. fresh lemon juice

1 tbsp. sherry vinegar

1 tsp. honey

1 tbsp. soy sauce

2 tbsp. olive oil

Freshly ground black pepper

4 small carrots, sliced into thin strips, using a vegetable peeler

1/2
head radicchio, quartered and thinly sliced crosswise

1. Bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Add the broccoli rabe and cook, just until tender, about 2 minutes. Drain and rinse with very cold water until cool. Place on paper towels or in a kitchen towel to absorb excess moisture.

2. In a small bowl, whisk together the lemon juice, vinegar, honey, soy sauce, and olive oil. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

3. Combine the broccoli rabe, carrots, and radicchio in a medium bowl. Add the vinaigrette, toss well, and serve.



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