Cherry Sweet

I bought sweet cherries at the market recently, at S11’s insistence. She ate most of them, but we bought more, and a cherry pitter to go with them. The cherry pitter is a big deal because I am not one for single-use gadgets in the kitchen. I shun such frippery with zealous disdain. However, after manually removing pits from a few dozen cherries for a fruit salad, I hastily pulled up mobile Amazon from the kitchen and ordered one tout suite. Hooray for the single-use cherry pitter gadget.

Our local discount store had cherries on sale for $1.99 a pound, which- after paying $5.99 a pound at another store- is an enormous bargain. Accordingly, I bought an enormous amount… about 10 pounds’ worth.

Of course, we ate a couple of pounds right off the bat. Hey, we had to test out the cherry pitter.

20150626_110546This pitter is a relatively inexpensive model by OXO, which can be found on Amazon for about $13. I like it because the shield minimizes splattering as the pit is pushed through. (It’s also removable for cleaning.) I also like that the pit drops out on its own, so you don’t have an extra movement to unload it. That’s important when you’re processing a lot of cherries! It pits correctly about 80- 85% of the time (I did have a few that needed extra “help”, especially if the cherry was overly ripe), which seemed like a pretty good percentage considering what a pain cherries can be to process.

Enough about the pitter. I have several projects in mind for these cherries over the next few days.

20150626_164034

I have already turned a pound of them into Candied Sweet Cherries, because I am on a mission* to make all the ice cream recipes in David Lebovitz’s The Perfect Scoop, and those are a main ingredient in Toasted Almond and Candied Cherry Ice Cream (page 60)!.

20150626_111415

I have also turned three pounds into sweet cherry jam. This lovely jam, courtesy of PickYourOwn (one of my go-to canning resource websites) uses low-no-sugar pectin and 2.5 cups of sugar. I included the optional lemon juice for a bit of acidity since these are destined for holiday gifts and I don’t want to give botulism to my friends and loved ones. That’s worse than coal.

20150626_202534

Hey, do you see my new jam pot there? I read about it on another canning blog, though sadly I can’t tell you which one (Food In Jars, perhaps?); and since I’m highly suggestible interested in outfitting my canning kit with quality equipment, I gave it a go. It was expensive, but I make a lot of jam every year and I think it will be worth the extra price in the long run. Silly thing, but my favorite feature is the graduation markings inside the pot. I hate guessing how much product I will actually end up with, and found the yield markings to be surprisingly accurate (for this first batch, anyway).

20150626_210458

Tomorrow, I plan to make a different cherry jam recipe, one that uses tart apples instead of powdered pectin. I will probably turn the rest of the cherry haul into either frozen cherries for snacking and baking, or canned ones in syrup for winter fruit.

*Just because a mission seems nearly impossible does not mean it’s not worth attempting!

Valentine Pie

How do you (a) wish your sweetheart a happy Valentine’s day, (b) celebrate in a really unique way and (c) overachieve at the same time?

You bake a heart-shaped apple pie.

Valentine Pie

Here’s how it happened:

Last night I stopped at the grocery store to get milk and bread.

Many dollars and several grocery bags later, I came home with milk, bread, and a slew of other things too good to pass up. Like heart-shaped baking pans for a buck.  (You see how this would be irresistable on Valentine’s Eve, right?)

Sadly, I had to resign myself to waxy grocery-store Granny Smith apples instead of the delicious, local Jonagolds, Ida Reds, Braeburns and Melroses I normally bake pies with.  But that’s the trouble with adult ADD  doing things on a whim  being spontaneous: you sometimes have to  settle for what’s available.

I used my new favoritest-ever pie crust recipe for this pie.  It ended up making a bit too much pastry for the pan, but I’m sure we will suffer through a few hand-pies tomorrow once I whip up some more filling.  Or maybe we’ll just have a little baked sugared dough.  There are far worse problems to have.

Happy Valentine’s Day.

Fricassée de poulet à l’ancienne

Last night I made the Fricassée de poulet à l’ancienne, or “old-fashioned Chicken Fricassee with Wine-flavored Cream Sauce, Onions and Mushrooms” (page 258).

I was pleased to discover that I “invented” (my term for “winging it”) something similar to this recipe many years ago.  I used to brown chicken breasts in fat, sprinkle them with some seasoned flour, then cover them with broth and simmer til they were done.  Of course, fricassee is not quite that simple.  But that’s the gist of it.

This particular recipe was actually three recipes in one.  Besides the main chicken dish, you also had to make an Onion and mushroom garniture, which meant you had to make the “white-braised onions” on p 481 AND the “fresh mushrooms stewed in butter, lemon juice & water” on p 511.   I was going to skip that step at first, but then I saw where you had to take the cooking liquids from those two recipes and add them to “the sauce” for the fricassee.  So it seemed kind of necessary.  Fortunately, I had pearl onions in the freezer and shrooms in the fridge, so it all worked out.

I did this recipe exactly as the Book said to.  My only fudge-y moment was using half-and-half instead of cream, which I hopefully made up for with a bit of extra butter.  Good lord, this French cooking uses a lot of butter.  I thought I had a crazy amount of butter left over after all the holiday baking, but it’s down to almost nothing after just two dishes.  I’m going to have to make a butter-less dessert at this point, or else we will have to go out and buy more butter.

So now I shall regale you with camera-phone impressive shots of my really mediocre impressive French cooking.  I even used my French cook-pot.  And French wine.  Well, American wine with a French name.  Whatever.  It was dry enough.

First, we had to procure the cut-up fryer.  I learned, after reading a lot of other blog posts extensive research, that it is important to use chicken of the correct age for the cooking technique you want to use.  Fryers are called that because they are suitable for frying.  Broiling will make them bland and stewing will make them stringy.  Or maybe it’s the other way around.  Anyway, just make sure you match up the type of bird with your preparation method, okay?  Oh, and don’t go by weight.  A fryer, according to the Book, should be between 2-3 pounds.  I read somewhere else that fryers were between 3-4 pounds.  Mine was 5.25.  It’s all about the age of the bird, not the weight.  (In case you’re curious, a fryer is a bird that’s 3-5 months old.)

Untitled

Anyway, so we have a lovely cut-up fryer (I have mad chicken dissection skillz, tyvm) and also some mirepoix or trinity or whatever people are calling the onion-celery-carrot aromatic mix these days.  Now, I have always finely diced my veggies when used for this purpose, but the Book says I’m supposed to slice them thinly.
Untitled

So I did that.

Untitled

Look, it’s blurry-poix.

I took a lot of blurry pictures for this post. Sorry about that. This is a surprisingly “active” recipe, meaning I was constantly moving around the kitchen and adding ingredients and stirring and consulting the cook-book and whatnot. And that meant at least one hand was dirty/stirring/pinching in spices/holding a lid most of the time. So I did a lot of one-handed cell-phone photography. Some day, when I’m famous, I will hire someone to photoshopgraph me while I am cooking so the pictures are in focus.  Or maybe I will hire someone to do the cooking so I can do real photography with my real camera.  We’ll see.  I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch it was time to start, as all good recipes do, by melting some butter in a heavy pot.  I added the veggies, as directed, and cooked them for about 5 minutes until soft but not brown.

Untitled

Then I added the chicken.  It’s supposed to be cooked for 3-4 minutes on a moderate heat, turning every minute, until it’s stiffened slightly (but without browning it).  Then I had to turn the heat all the way down, put on the lid, and cook for 10 minutes more, turning the meat only once.

Next, you add the flour- about 3T, plus some salt and white pepper.  Ooops, I don’t have white pepper.  I used black pepper.  At least it was freshly ground.

Untitled
And that is the only photo you will see of the adding-the-flour stage, because I had to turn the chicken a lot to cover all of it with the flour and not let it burn, and also I didn’t have any other burners on which to set the hot lid because they were all full of other cooking pots.  See?

Untitled

Oh, wait, let me stage that better. Here’s the wine.

Untitled

Now it looks like a French cooking project. Anyway, as I was saying, there was no spare burner on which to set the lid, and also at this precise moment my kids decided they wanted to go sled riding, so that is why there is hot chocolate on my front left burner.  And that was where I would have set the orange lid to take a picture.  So, no pictures.

The hot cocoa is also my camping cookpot, because all of my other pots are In Use.

Untitled

Anyway, here we can see the mushrooms cooking in water, lemon juice and salt:

Untitled

And here, tightly covered but in a convenient glass-lidded pot, are the onions, in white wine, butter and herbs:

Untitled

I do have one other sauce pan, but it was in the sink. I believe it still had the morning’s oatmeal in it.

So once all the flurry of hot cocoa and boiling mushrooms came to an end, I added the liquid to the chicken: 3 cups boiling chicken stock/broth plus 1 cup of dry white wine. There are substitutions offered, but as I did not take them I don’t feel like typing them out right now. Oh, and you’re also supposed to put in a bouquet garni of parsley, bay leaf and thyme. I did not feel like getting out my cheesecloth so I just threw the herbs in the pot loose.

Untitled

And then we simmer, slowly, covered, for about 30 minutes. The Book gives really questionable “doneness” indicators, like “when the drumsticks are tender if pinched”. I opted for the more modern, less salmonella, meat-thermometer technique.  When the chicken was at a satisfying temperature, I removed the chicken to a “casserole dish” and let it sit with the “Onion and mushroom garniture” while the sauce cooked.

Untitled

Untitled

The sauce was the part I wasn’t really sure about.  In the end, it tasted good, so I won’t complain, but I should probably go back to Paris and order chicken fricassee from several places to get a feel for what the sauce is supposed to taste like.  Because I’m not sure mine was right.  More research is definitely in order here.

So I added the liquid from the mushrooms and onions to The Sauce.  It then simmers for a couple of minutes, during which you skim off any fat.  Then you bring it to a boil and keep stirring it while it reduces to about 2 or 2 1/2 cups.  I could probably have reduced mine a little more, but it was dinner time and the natives were restless (and hungry).

Next, take 2 egg yolks and 1/2 cup whipping cream and whip them together in a metal bowl.  Then add some of the hot sauce to the egg yolks to temper them.  Keep beating, add more sauce, beat more, add more sauce (you can see where there is absolutely no free fingers for photography here, right?) until all the sauce is beaten in with the eggs and cream.  Then you put it back in the pan and, stirring constantly, boil for about a minute.

Next you “correct the seasoning”.  I wasn’t sure what this meant, because the sauce was boiling and I didn’t know what “correct” was, anyway.  But I dipped a spoon in and tasted it, and decided to throw in some salt since I tend to totally undersalt my cooking.  I added a couple drops of lemon juice and some scrapes of nutmeg (as the Book suggests).  And then I dumped poured the sauce over the chicken and garniture.  Et voilà!  Chicken fricassée!

The verdict: I should have re-heated the chicken. It was slightly cool, even with the hot sauce over top. It was also just a tiny bit overdone. I should have pulled the meat out of the pot earlier. The mushrooms and onions were fabulous. Family tolerated it; they would probably eat it again if I waited long enough for them to forget this first attempt.

Joie de Vivre Quiche

Whee!  The quiche worked out great!  It could definitely use some tweaking, but I am pretty happy with the result. I made it this morning, had a piece for breakfast, and ate another for lunch.  I don’t even want to know how many points it has.  Points are not relevant when you’re discussing French food, anyway.

First, before I get all hypercritical about the results, let me just say it’s very, very edible.

Quiche, plated

One Slice Gone

Now.  Down to business.

The short crust technique that Child (et al) calls for in this recipe is a bit different from how I make pie crust. And my pie crust is all kinds of awesome.  Just ask my husband, who complains regularly and loudly about the complete dearth of pie crust in our house. But, hey, I can’t just have all that butter and lard hanging around. Bad things would happen.

So, back to quiche.  Which is like pie, but not pie, and not enough like pie for me to have spent all this time talking about pie.  And, damnit, now I want pie.  I will have to stick with quiche.

I promised myself I would be true and faithful to the Book and not make any changes to the recipe, like subbing something I thought would taste better (even though I didn’t even know what the original recipe tasted like yet) or leaving out a step that seemed annoying or redundant.  And I did pretty well with that.  There was a slight alteration with equipment, which one can hopefully forgive since I wasn’t about to go out and buy a quiche pan just to make a quiche.  Not when I have forty seven pie plates and cake pans and tart pans and who knows what else hanging around this kitchen.  So I made do with a 9″ springform cake pan.  It’s not ideal, but it worked well enough that I’ll use it again next time.  I also fudged one little ingredient.  See, the spinach quiche recipe refers to the Leek quiche recipe for the proportions of egg and cream.  And the Leek recipe refers to the Quiche Lorraine recipe.  And the Quiche Lorraine recipe has a baconless variation that says you can either use part cream and part milk, or all milk.  So even though the Spinach quiche via the Leek quiche called for all cream, I didn’t have any cream and didn’t want to waste half-and-half on a quiche, so I used all milk.  Ahem.

So, first, there was a partially baked shell.

Partially baked shell

Actually, first there was defrosting and de-liquiding of the frozen spinach.  Then there was dough.  Then there was refrigeration.

Ingredients

And THEN there was a partially baked shell.

It came together like this:

2 cups of sifted AP flour, 1/2 tsp of table salt, and two pinches of sugar, mixed together in a bowl.

Then there is a large quantity of butter that shows up, cut into small bits. The butter should probably be chilled for a couple of minutes after cutting it up into bits. Oh– and here was my only “I thumb my nose at you, Julia Child!” moment. She says to use 1/4 pound (1 stick, or 8 TBS) of butter and 3 TBS of VEGETABLE SHORTENING. Ack. Vegetable shortening does not exist in my world. So I used all butter. (Perhaps I could have used some lard, but I did not.) Anyway.

Butter!

Now you gently and quickly rub the butter bits with the flour between your fingertips. The idea is to encase the butter in a sheath of flour so that, when it bakes, it makes lovely flaky crust. That’s a lame explanation but I’m ready to move on with this blog post.

Cutting in fats

Rubbing butter and flour together

Rubbing butter and flour together

Please do not look at these photos as a definitive example of how to do this. This is the first time I’ve used my fingers to make crust. And while the crust was good, it was not perfect (though I think the problem was with the pre-baking, not the rubbing). Still, let me just disclaim right here that I have no idea what I’m doing rubbing butter and flour between my fingers. The Book said to do it. And I quote:

Il faut mettre la main à la pâte!

See?  So we Rub.

Eventually (it took me about 10 minutes), we have this:

Flour and fat combined using fingers

a blurry picture of flaky, shaggy dough bits.

Next, you add 5 T of ice water. It’s best to sprinkle it over the dough as you gather it with your hand shaped like a backhoe.

Moistening dough

If you just pour the water in, the dough on top will be puddly and sticky and you’ll have to work the bowl too much to get the bottom dough incorporated. Sprinkle.  I don’t know how to say “sprinkle” in French, but do that anyway.

Gather the dough on a board and make it into a ball.

Gathering dough ball

Then you fraisage.

Fraisage is a French word that means “a firm, quick smear of about 6 inches.” Basically.

Frissage

This was very hard for me, because while I like to make bread and have done the fraisage thing many times (on BREAD DOUGH), I have never, never, never EVER ever never fraisaged (is that even a word?!) a crust.  That goes against everything I have ever learned or heard or known about crust-making.  It was hard to trust the Book.  But I did it.

Finally, you pretty up the dough ball and smooth it out with just a couple of quick kneading-like movements. And then you pose for the camera.

Ball of dough, ready for chilling

Wrap and chill. The Book says 2 hours or overnight. I was exhausted already, so I opted for overnight.

This morning, fresh and full of coffee, I took my little ball of dough out of the fridge and rolled it out.  I made it big enough to fit my [very nonstandard springform] quiche pan.

Short-paste shell

Shell

Shell

And then other things were happening in the kitchen, like kids wanting breakfast and telephones ringing and all sorts of chaos, so I do not have photos of my very clever weight-system for baking the unfilled crust. I used a slightly smaller cake pan (8″) on top of the crust, which everybody does, but since I do not have any dried beans in my house, I put two water-filled ramekins in it to hold the whole shebang together. And then I dutifully baked it at 400F for 8 minutes.

After 8 minutes, I took the weights out, pricked the bottom of the crust a few times with a fork, and let it bake about 2 minutes more.

Partially bake shell

While that was happening, I assembled the filling ingredients.

Three eggs:

Eggs

A shallot, diced fine and sauteed in 2T of butter:

Sautee shallots

Not pictured are 2 cups of milk, a defrosted and drained package of frozen spinach, some nutmeg, salt and pepper, and 2 oz of Gruyère cheese.  Well, they are pictured here, just already mixed with the other ingredients.

The filling

Except the cheese.  It goes on top.  Like this:

Ready for the oven

Back to the shell, though.  When the shell was partially baked, I removed it from the oven and took off the springform ring. It seemed unnecessarily precarious to try to get the shell off the pan bottom, so I put the shell still on the metal bottom right into a 10″ pie plate. If you look closely, you can see the metal under the shell in the previous picture. This arrangement held everything together nicely and -bonus- the pie plate also caught a tiny bit of filling that overflowed when I put this contraption back in the oven. I will use that technique again.

And then I baked it for about 30 minutes at 375F, and life was mostly good.

Finished spinach quiche

Finished quiche

The filling was set perfectly, but the all-milk was a little… milky.  It was kind of bland, especially when you had a bite of all filling and no crust. Next time I will either use half and half or suck it up and go buy cream. It’s good- don’t get me wrong, but it could be so much good-er.  It also needed a bit more salt.  Again, that could be due to the lower fat content.

The side of the crust was fabuloso. (Sorry, I think that might be Italian.) The bottom, however, was a little underdone. Next time, I will bake the shell longer before adding the filling.

What a shame that I will have to make this recipe again.

Spinach quiche

Mastery Might be a Bit of an Overstatement

This year, I’m going to make stuff out of this book.

Mastering the art of French cooking
Untitled

Stop laughing.  Seriously.

This book, along with its companion, Volume II, have been sitting on my kitchen shelf for years (like, 10 of them).  I inherited them from my dad, but have never made a single recipe out of either one (though I did consult Volume I for croissant technique back in December). I decided that if I am going to waste precious cook-book-shelf-space on these, I need to make at least something from them.  And then of course we are all still a bit giddy from three days in Paris, so everytime we see anything that has to do with either French food or the Eiffel Tower, we go a little crazy.

Over the last two days, I read said books and decided there were several things I wanted to make:

  • a quiche
  • a chicken dish
  • a beef dish
  • pâte à choux
  • a fancy dessert

Untitled

Settling on a specific recipe, however, was hard.  So I eliminated everything that had anchovies and foie gras.  There were still many, many recipes to choose from.  Eventually, I decided on the following:

  • a quiche: quiche aux Épinards (spinach quiche, p 153)
  • a chicken dish: Fricassée de poulet à l’ancienne (old-fashioned chicken fricassee with wine-flavored cream sauce, onion & mushroom, p 258)
  • a beef dish: pièce de boeuf braisée / boeuf à la mode (braised beef-pot roast / beef braised in red wine, p 309)
  • pâte à choux (cream puff paste) p 177
  • a fancy dessert (to be decided yet).

I have all the ingredients for the first four dishes, which I (probably overly-ambitiously) plan to make this weekend.  Vraiment.

Tikka Trouble

During a recent trip to a used bookstore, I found a copy of the “Best Ever Indian Cookbook”.

 

Best Ever Indian Cookbook

 

Since we now have three fabulous places to get Indian food here in town, I have been enjoying this cuisine several times a month.  So I was pretty excited to get a cookbook, and hoped to recreate a few things at home.  While I am not convinced it is the “Best Ever”, it is a cook book, and I have tried a recipe out of it: Chicken Tikka.  Based on this recipe alone, I would probably call it “Reasonably Passable Indian Cookbook”.  But I am willing to try some more recipes to be sure.

This version of Chicken Tikka was overly lemony, and my family, sadly, does not seem to like lemony chicken.  I don’t know what the hell is wrong with them, because I am of the opinion that one can rarely go wrong with lemon, unless one is putting it in coffee (which one should never, ever do).  But they are strange, those people I eat with.  So I humor them, mostly because there are more of them than there are of me.  I avoid making chicken that is lemony.  Unfortunately, it was a little overpowering in this recipe, even though I cut back on the amount of lemon called for.  My husband ate it but secretly shook his head at me when the kids were not looking.  O6 ate it, but she will eat anything chicken.  S8 did not like it at all, but she does not like anything chicken, so that hardly counts.  Overall, I felt it was a weak success, if not a failure.  I’m probably going to have to cross it off the list.  Sigh.

On to curry.  Who can mess up curry?

 

 

Texas Caviar (Or, Picnic Crack)

DH and I took the girls to their final Camp Fire picnic today.  It was a Family Sports Day, with things like water balloon tossing, three legged races, a hula hoop and jump rope contest, and a big tug of war.  Whatever.  The important thing is that A7’s mom, L, brought a giant bowl of picnic crack.  That is all I remember clearly about the entire afternoon.  Since I am now addicted, we will just refer to her as the Pusher Woman from here on.

The Pusher Woman’s dish was a cold salad of beans, corn, and other yummyness that was absolutely perfect for this hot day.  I couldn’t get enough.  I ate as much as was reasonably polite, and then eagerly accepted her offer to take home the leftovers.  It was going to be my lunch tomorrow, but as tomorrow is not even here and the leftovers aren’t, either, it’s obvious I couldn’t wait.  And neither should you.

The original recipe is called “Texas Caviar” and was most excellent eaten with blue corn chips, but is also delectable when shovelled into one’s mouth with a spoon.

  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1/2 cup cider vinegar
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup chopped celery
  • 15 oz can black beans, drained
  • 15 oz can black eyed peas, drained
  • 11 oz can shoepeg corn
  • 4 oz can pimientos
  • 1/2 small onion, chopped
  • finely chopped jalapenos, to taste

Boil first three ingredients together and let cool to room temperature.  Combine the remaining ingredients.  Pour the vinegar-sugar mixture over top and allow to marinate overnight in fridge.  Drain slightly and serve cool.