Saturday, June 14, 2014

The Virtues of Cucumbers

I have always loved cucumbers and was delighted to learn that in addition to being refreshing and delicious (and low in calories), they have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties (like many fruits and vegetables). Moreover, they contain three powerful "lignans" that research indicates can reduce risk of cardiovascular disease and several cancer types (breast, uterine, ovarian, and prostate.) So I have vowed to eat a cucumber a day. For that reason I have collected a number of ways to consume this virtuous fruit (which, like tomatoes, we tend to think of as a vegetable.) But first some tips about cucumbers:
Cucumber tips
Color: Select cucumbers that are bright medium- to dark green, firm, and rounded at their edges.
Storing: Refrigerate cucumbers.
Skins and seeds: The skins and seeds of cucumbers are both richer in nutrients than the white flesh.
Wax: Cucumber skins are "waxed." Organic cucumbers are waxed naturally and are chemical free, so the skins may be consumed safely. For conventional cucumbers it is better to peel and discard the skins or wash the cucumbers under cool running water while gently scrubbing with a natural-bristle brush.
Removing seeds: The seeds can easily be removed from a cucumber if it is cut lengthwise and the tip of a spoon is used to gently scoop out the seeds; the seeds are the healthiest part of the cucumber, however, so it is better to leave them in.
Removing Bitterness: Cut off one tip of the cucumber. Rub the tip vigorously in a circular motion against the end of the cucumber. If it is bitter a white substance will froth up. Rinse and wipe off and continue rubbing until all has been release. Repeat at the other end. 

Scandinavian Cucumber Salad
These marinated cucumbers retain a summer crispness and serve as a light, fresh complement to meat or fish. The dish is sweet yet vinegary, an unusual combination.


1 cucumber (long English)
¼ cup white wine vinegar
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 teaspoon sugar
2 teaspoon salt
⅛ teaspoon white pepper
1 teaspoon celery seed
¼ cup finely chopped onion
2 tablespoon finely chopped fresh parsley


Wash and peel cucumber. Cut into paper-thin slices. Mix all of the rest of the ingredients until the sugar has dissolved. Place in a container with the cucumber slices. Marinate in the refrigerator for at least one hour before serving. If you have any left over, the marinated cucumbers will keep in the refrigerator for up to a week.

French Cucumber Salad


2 long English cucumbers
¼ cup red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
¾ cup peanut oil
1 cup crème fraiche, or ½ cup heavy cream mixed with ½ cup sour cream
1 teaspoon lemon juice


Wash and peel cucumber. Cut into paper-thin slices. Make a vinaigrette in a bowl by whisking the vinegar and mustard and adding the oil one third at a time, whisking at each addition. In a separate bowl, mix the cream and slowly add half of the vinaigrette, whisking all the time. When well mixed add the cream mixture to the rest of the vinaigrette. Whisk and add the lemon juice. Place the sliced cucumbers in a serving dish with the cream sauce and mix so that all of the cucumbers slices are covered with the cream sauce.

Cucumber and Tomato Salad


Salt and pepper
2 cloves garlic, minced                                                                                                                                                     1 tablespoon red wine vinegar                                                                                                                                          3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil                                                                                                                                 ½ pound Vidalia Onion, chopped
1 pound cherry tomatoes, cut in quarters                                                                                                                         1 pound Kirby cucumbers, peeled and cubed                                                                                                                


In the bottom of a salad bowl, make a vinaigrette by adding salt, pepper and garlic to the vinegar and whisking in the oil one third at a time. Add the onions and mix. Add the cucumbers and tomatoes and mix gently, adding more salt and pepper. Sometimes I add cubed avocado.

Cold Cucumber Soup


2 large English cucumbers, halved and seeded, ½ cup finely diced, the rest coarsely chopped
1½ cups plain Greek yogurt
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 small shallot, chopped
1 garlic clove
⅓ cup dill
¼ cup chopped parsley leaves
2 tablespoons tarragon leaves
¼ cup olive oil
Fresh ground white pepper
½ red onion, finely chopped


In a blender, combine the chopped cucumber with the yogurt, lemon juice, shallot, garlic, dill, parsley, tarragon and the ¼ cup of olive oil. Blend until smooth. Season with salt and white pepper, cover and refrigerate for at least eight hours, or overnight. Season again with salt and pepper just before serving. In the bowls, garnish with the finely diced cucumber, red onion and a drizzle additional olive oil.

Cucumber Gazpacho with Shrimp Relish

2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
¾ pound peeled and deveined medium shrimp, chopped
½ teaspoon salt, divided
½ teaspoon black pepper, divided
¼ teaspoon ground cumin
¼ teaspoon paprika
2 cups quartered grape tomatoes
⅓ cup fresh cilantro
2½ cups chopped English cucumber
1 cup chicken broth
1 cup whole-milk plain Greek yogurt
¼ cup chopped onion
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
Dash of ground red pepper
1 large garlic clove, peeled 

Heat oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Sprinkle shrimp with ¼ teaspoon salt, ¼ teaspoon black pepper, cumin, and paprika. Add shrimp to pan; sauté 2 minutes or until done. Stir in tomatoes; remove from heat. Add cilantro. Place remaining ¼ teaspoon salt, ¼ teaspoon black pepper, cucumber, and remaining ingredients in a blender; process until smooth. Ladle 1 cup soup into each of four bowls; top with ¾ cup relish.

Cucumber–Cream Cheese Hors d'oeuvres


1 8-ounce package cream cheese, softened
1 package dry Italian-style salad dressing mix
½ cup mayonnaise
1 French baguette, cut into ½-inch-thick circles
1 cucumber, sliced
2 teaspoons of dill


In a medium bowl, mix together cream cheese, dressing mix and mayonnaise. Spread a thin layer of the cream cheese mixture on a slice of bread, and top with a slice of cucumber. Sprinkle with dill. Repeat with remaining ingredients.

The Perfect English Cucumber Sandwich
The English traditionally serve these sandwiches at afternoon tea, but I prefer to accompany them with a glass of Rosé wine. Either way they are cool and lightweight enough not to spoil your appetite for dinner.

½ English cucumber, peeled
6 thin slices white bread
Unsalted butter, at room temperature
White pepper


Cut the cucumber into very thin slices and put in a colander or sieve. Sprinkle lightly with salt and leave for 20 minutes. This will draw out excess liquid.  Rinse and pat dry with a paper towel. Lay out the bread and butter each slice generously. Arrange the cucumber on half the slices, overlapping each round, and sprinkle with ground white pepper. Top with the remaining slices. Pressing down firmly, cut the crusts off, and then cut into triangles. Serve immediately.

Recipes with Teriyaki Marinade

If you really want to, you can mix your own teriyaki marinade (by combining equal parts of water and soy sauce and adding brown sugar, lemon juice, and crushed garlic). Or purchase a ready-made bottle.  It makes for a delicious marinade that works well with pork, beef or chicken.

Grilled Teriyaki Pork Tenderloin
Pour marinade over the pork tenderloin in a fairly small container so the liquid covers the meat. Let it marinate in the fridge for 30–60 minutes (the longer the pork is marinated, the stronger the teriyaki flavor). If the marinade doesn’t fully cover the meat, then flip the pork halfway through the marinating process. Heat up the grill to a medium-high temperature (spray a little cooking oil first to prevent sticking). Grill the pork for about 10–15 minutes on each side, or until the internal temperature reaches 150° F.
Grilled Teriyaki Chicken
Place chicken parts (with or without skins and/or bones) and teriyaki marinade in a zip-top plastic bag. Seal bag and shake to coat. Place in refrigerator for 24 hours, turning every few hours. Preheat grill for high heat. Lightly oil the grill grate. Remove chicken from bag, discarding any remaining marinade. Grill for 6 to 8 minutes each side, or until juices run clear when chicken is pierced with a fork.
Grilled Teriyaki Salmon
Use 6-ounce boneless salmon fillets with the skin on, at room temperature.  Lightly oil the grate and preheat the grill. Pat the salmon dry, brush both sides with oil and brush the flesh side with some of the marinade. Place the salmon on the grate, skin side down. Baste the salmon with the teriyaki marinade. Cover the grill and cook, occasionally basting with more of the marinade. Cook until the fillets just opaque, about 6-8 minutes. (The salmon should be served rare or medium-rare. Transfer the salmon to plates and drizzle with the additional teriyaki.)

Grilled Teriyaki Flank- or Skirt Steak
Put the steak in a large zip-top bag and pour the marinade in. Seal the bag and turn it in different directions so the marinade is evenly distributed. Put the bag in a baking dish (in case of leaks) and refrigerate for four-plus hours. (For more teriyaki flavor, refrigerate overnight.) Turn the meat over now and then so it marinates evenly. Take the steak out of the refrigerator and out of the marinade about an hour before cooking. Preheat grill (lightly coated with oil). For medium-rare, grill the steak for three minutes on each side. Remove the steak from the grill and tent it with foil to “rest” for five minutes. To serve, cut diagonally in thin slices against the grain.
If you enjoy these recipes on the grill, you can try them in the oven over the winter. They are just as good, but not quite as much fun.

About Marinades

Marinades have two purposes: to tenderize and to enhance the flavor of meat, fish, poultry or even veggies before they are cooked. To my mind, if you have a great steak that is naturally tender and flavorful, it is a culinary crime to marinate it. An average piece of meat, however, can be much improved with a good marinade. To help you master the art of marinating, I have put together a short explanation of how marinades work and a list of "Do's and Don'ts in Marinating."
Tenderizing Ingredients
A marinade must include an acidic component to tenderize the meat. Some of the most popular are:
Citrus juice (Lemon or Orange)
Vinegar (red or white wine, balsamic or cider)
Soy sauce
Prepared salad dressings
Tomatoes and tomato sauce
Teriyaki sauce
Extra virgin olive oil and other oils with emulsifiers
Milk and buttermilk
Pineapple juice
Dry sherry
Worcestershire sauce

Flavoring Ingredients
Bell peppers
Fresh herbs and spices
helps the flavors absorb into fatty tissue. It is best to choose one with high smoke point, as they are the most grill- and flame friendly. In order of highest smoke point:
Safflower oil
Grapeseed oil
Soy or soybean oil
Olive oil
Peanut oil
Sunflower oil
Canola oil

—Onions or sweet ingredients in a marinade can help form caramelized, crispy coatings on grilled meats.
—Always marinate in the refrigerator. At room temperature dangerous bacteria can grow and lead to food illnesses.
Place meat in a glass or food-grade plastic container or a heavy zip-top bag with the air squeezed out, and turn often to be sure all surfaces benefit from the marinade. 
—Marinate vegetables for 15 to 30 minutes.
—Marinate fish and seafood for 15 minutes to one hour.
—Marinate poultry for 30 minutes to 3 hours.
—Marinate beef or lamb for at least 30 minutes or as much as overnight.
—Use ¼ cup of marinade per pound of meat.

—Do not marinate very large, thick cuts of meat; they often end up with a mushy exterior and a tough, chewy center.
—Do not puncture the meat to help the marinade penetrate. It gives an uneven result and allows the meat's natural juices to run out during cooking, making the meat dry. 

—Don't use much salt in the marinade. Salt will draw moisture out of your meat, causing it to dry out and prevent flavor from absorbing in. Salt should be added later.
—Do not reuse marinades. Marinades are in contact with raw ingredients, which may contain harmful bacteria. Always discard your marinade after use.
—Don't marinate in metal containers. Metal can react chemically with the acids in the marinade and cause a change in flavor.
—Don't over-marinate fish. Fish is naturally quite tender and can become mushy if marinated too long. Keep marinating times for seafood between 15 minutes and one hour.
—Do not freeze meats in their marinade. Prolonged exposure to the acids in the marinade combined with damage from ice crystals can cause meat to become mushy.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

A tale of two turbots: one baked in salt and one not

Ever since I first had this dish in a restaurant in Madrid in the 1980s, I have wanted to bake a fish in salt. I remember the head waiter bringing a mountain of hardened golden salt to the table and then cracking it open to reveal a moist, evenly cooked and fragrant whole fish. I am still not sure just how much was due to the novelty of the presentation and how much to the flavor—but I have always considered it the best fish I have ever eaten.
So when our friends Jean-Louis Dumonet (president of the Master Chefs of France and executive chef at the Union Club) and his beautiful wife Karen came up on Saturday, I asked Jean-Louis if we could bake a fish in salt. He brought with him another great chef, our mutual friend Sylvain Portay (a restaurant consultant whose resumé includes corporate chef at Alain Ducasse Enterprises, executive chef of Le Cirque 2000, and so on) with them. He also brought two turbots.
You are unlikely to find turbot, a large, flat fish, at your local fish store, and if you do, it will be of the aqua-farmed variety, which is not quite as good as these, which were wild—fished from the North Atlantic Sea and flown to New York to be served at one of our top restaurants. 
We baked each fish on a large cookie sheet, one surrounded with garlic cloves (in their skins) and the other buried in a cement like mixture of kosher salt and egg whites to which cracked white pepper and pieces of bay leaf had been added. The salt-encrusted fish was baked for 50 minutes at 450° F and the plain one for  just 30 minutes in the same oven. 
We enjoyed a healthy portion of each fish. They were both so wonderful that it was hard to choose. Garlic lovers preferred the fish cooked with the garlic, not because it had a garlic flavor—it did not—but because they could eat the delicious roasted garlic on the side. I had a very slight preference for the salt-encrusted. The salt insulates the fish, cooking it gently and evenly to preserve its delicate flavor and fine texture—and, of course, its presentation is quite spectacular.

The Entire Menu
(I made the salsa, the veggies and the dessert)
Before Lunch: At 11:00 a.m. in the kitchen, the chefs were busy preparing the asparagus and the fish, so Gerard refreshed their palates with a Saint-Bris 2012, 100% Sauvignon Blanc from the region of Chablis, to accompany the crevettes grises they were munching on. They had brought these tiny gray shrimp, which do not exist here but are a specialty of the waters off the coast of Brittany. 

Aperitif:   Around noon we served an Ahi Tuna and Avocado Salsa as well as Carpaccio of Sea Scallops, with a 2010 Chablis.
First Course: White Asparagus with Hollandaise Sauce, with which Gerard proudly served a Coulée de Serrant 1998, Vin de Loire 100% Chenin Blanc.
Main Course: Baked Turbot with Baby Yukon Gold potatoes and Carrots, with a magnum of Chassagne-Montrachet 1996 1er cru. 
Cheese: An assortment of cheeses, including a spectacular aged Comté with a mixed green salad. Gerard stayed with white wine, which he felt paired better with some of the cheeses, but some of us preferred the more classic pairing with a Saint Estèphe 2010, Château Haut-Beauséjour.
Dessert: Lemon Soufflé with a Mango Coulis, accompanied by a Vouvray Moelleux de 1985 de la Vallée de la Loire. 

Le Club Sandwich

This began when Gerard and I lived in Paris and many of our friends would invite us to stay with them for long weekends in the country. Traffic back to Paris at the end of the weekend was so terrible that we would return to the city in the morning and meet in our garden for lunch and an afternoon of cards. After a weekend of traditional French meals, I would prepare the American favorite—"Le Club Sandwich."  But life was still in the "making everything at home" era in France, so I would actually boil the chicken, make my own mayonnaise and compose the perfect Club Sandwich. It is so much better than what you can do with store-bought items that I continue to regale my family with My Famous Le Club Sandwich.  
Ingredients (Serves four)
1 chicken
2 carrots, peeled
2 stalks celery
1 parsnip
1 onion, peeled
3 sprigs parsley
4 eggs, hard-boiled and sliced
12 slices bacon
8 large but thin tomato slices
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 raw egg yolk                                                                                                                                            Salt and pepper to taste
1 cup peanut oil
12 slices white bread

Place the chicken in a pot of chicken stock and/or water. (The more stock, the better the flavor, but it works with water.) Bring to a boil and skim off the foam. Lower to medium heat and add carrots, celery, parsnip, the onion and the parsley. Simmer for one hour and fifteen minutes, or until the chicken is done. Meanwhile boil the eggs, cook the bacon, slice the tomatoes and make the mayonnaise.
For the mayonnaise: Put the mustard in the bottom of a bowl. Add the egg yolk and whisk. Add salt and pepper, whisking some more. Slowly trickle the oil into the mixture, whisking vigorously as you go. The mayonnaise should thicken until it reaches the right consistency. Add a tablespoon of vinegar and whisk some more.
Take the chicken out. Strain and reserve the chicken broth for soup or stock. (Degrease it first). While chicken is still warm (not hot), cut meat into slices—both white and dark—and keep aside.

Lightly toast your bread. As the slices come out of the toaster, immediately spread mayonnaise on one side. Cover the bottom slice with the warm chicken, mixing both white meat and dark meat. Top with slices of hard-boiled egg. Cover with a toast, mayonnaise side down, and smear mayonnaise on the open side. Place bacon slices and tomato slices on the second layer and cover with the third slice of toast (mayonnaise side down). With a large knife, cut the sandwiches in half diagonally and again to make triangle quarters. Stick a toothpick in each and serve. 

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Recipe: Lemon Souffle

I have made and given the recipes for both Cheese Souffle and Chocolate Souffle before (both can be found by searching this blog.  but I wanted to find a lighter dessert recipe and decided to try this one for Lemon Souffle. It was delightful, and even my chocoholic daughter—who thinks "It is not dessert, if it is not chocolate"—had great praise for it. She has given me permission to make it again—but I think I will try Lemon Tart next. 
Serves six)
unsalted butter, at room temperature
½ cup granulated sugar, plus 2 tablespoons for coating souffle cups
8 large egg yolks, plus 10 large egg whites, at room temperature
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour                                                                                                                
2 tablespoons finely grated lemon zest                                                                                                           1 cup whole milk 
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice (from 2 lemons) 
Preheat oven to 375° F.  Butter six 12-ounce souffle dishes and then dust with granulated sugar.  Whisk together yolks, flour, zest, and 2 tablespoons granulated sugar. Bring milk to a boil in a medium-size saucepan. Slowly pour hot milk into yolk mixture, whisking constantly to prevent yolks from cooking. Return mixture to pot, and whisk until thick like a pudding, 1- to 2 minutes. Whisk in butter and lemon juice.
Beat whites until foamy. Gradually add remaining ¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar, and beat until stiff peaks form. Stir a third of the whites into the yolk mixture. Gently fold in the remaining whites, using a rubber spatula.
Fill each souffle dish to the top, and smooth.  (These may be refrigerated for up to four hours and then brought to room temperature before baking.)
Bake on a rimmed baking sheet until souffles rise and are golden, about 16 minutes. Serve immediately, before souffles lose their height.

Anyone Can Roast

Roasting is probably the easiest cooking technique, with the most satisfying results. Your oven does most of the work while you spend time on the side dishes or dessert. Roasting involves cooking food in an uncovered pan in the oven. It is a dry cooking technique, as opposed to wet techniques like braising, stewing, or steaming. Dry, hot air surrounds the food, cooking it evenly on all sides. Depending on your recipe, you can roast at low, moderate, or high temperatures. It is the ideal method for large cuts of meat or poultry: rib roasts, ham, whole turkeys or chickens, or tenderloins. Smaller cuts, such as boneless chicken breasts or fish fillets, tend to dry out in the oven (they're usually better sautéed). Roasting is also ideal for dense vegetables such as potatoes, beets, and winter squash, as it concentrates their natural sugars and intensifies their flavor.
My chef friends have taught me that pan roasting is the best cooking method for large cuts of meat. It saves time and delivers a thick cut of meat to the table perfectly seared and juicy medium-rare throughout. The technique is rarely explained in cookbooks but is taught in every culinary school and is used by professional chefs every day. It involves searing all sides of the meat in fat in the roasting pan on the stove before putting it the oven to roast. Since it shortens the roasting time, it requires a meat thermometer to ascertain when the meat is cooked to the desired doneness.
To pan roast, the meat must be at room temperature. The oven must be preheated so it is at the correct temperature (usually 350° F) when the meat is ready. Preheat the metal or cast-iron pan on the stove and, once hot, add enough fat (canola or other oil, margarine, duck fat or pork fat, and so on) to coat the pan. Wait a minute or two for the oil to get good and hot, season your meat with salt and pepper, and place it in the pan. Make sure there is a lot of room around the meat. If you crowd the meat, it will steam and not sear. Sear all sides of the meat and then place in the oven. This will produce a good crust and a moist, juicy interior. Use an instant-read thermometer to check the internal temperature of the meat and remove it from the oven about five degrees cooler than the desired final temperature. Remove from the oven and allow to rest loosely covered (or tented) with aluminum foil. This "carryover cooking" will finish the process. Do not wrap the foil tightly around the roast, or it will steam and change the flavor and texture.  Another bonus of pan roasting is using the resting time to make a quick pan sauce with the drippings. De-glaze with the liquid(s) of your choice (wine, stock, and so on), reduce, check for seasonings and finish the sauce with a pat of butter or maybe a splash of cream.
Chefs disagree on whether meat should be basted or left alone. In my opinion, if you purchased good quality, well-marbled meat, a standing rib roast (beef, veal or pork), should not be basted because one of the best features is the salty crust that forms over the meat as it roasts, and it could be washed away if over-basted. On the other hand a lean piece of meat could dry out without basting. Whole chickens or turkeys need frequent basting (every 15–20 minutes). 
All roasted meat should rest for 10 to 20 minutes (tented) after it is removed from the oven. Larger cuts―a standing rib roast, for example―retain enough internal heat so that they continue to cook out of the oven, up to 5 or 10 degrees or so. Smaller cuts like pork tenderloins do not have enough mass to continue cooking more than a couple of degrees.
But the main reason meat should rest is to allow the juices to redistribute. If you slice into a roast immediately upon removing it from the oven, all the juices pour out onto the platter and the meat dries out.
About doneness
For rare roast beef, lamb, or veal take the roast out at 120º and allow it to rest tented until it has reached 130º , for medium rare remove at 125º and rest until 135º, for medium 135º and 145º and medium well 150º and 160º. Roast pork should be served medium - removed at 135º and served at 145º or medium well 150º and 160º. Chicken and turkey removed at 160º and served at 170º.

Roasting vegetables
Roasting vegetables in a very hot oven gives them a caramelized exterior and flavor while keeping the inside moist and tender. Some vegetables, such as onions, potatoes, carrots, sweet potatoes and other root vegetables, are especially good when roasted. I like to coat the pan (Pyrex or other roasting pan) with olive oil, salt and pepper before adding the vegetables. I roast them, uncovered, about 30 minutes, shaking the pan or stirring once or twice. 

Roasting potatoes with the beef
Potatoes make a tasty side dish that goes very well with beef, and they are very easy to roast in the oven alongside the meat. (Do not try this with pork—it is too fatty). About an hour and a half before the meat should be done, peel, quarter (if large) and parboil potatoes for approximately ten minutes. Remove the potatoes from the boiling water and place them along the sides of the beef. The potatoes will absorb the drippings along with their flavor, and will turn deep golden brown as they bake. Baste the potatoes often until they are tender and ready to eat. (If they finish cooking before the meat is done, remove them when ready and heat them up in the pan once the meat is removed for its resting time). They will take up to one hour and fifteen minutes to fully cook in the oven. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Friday, March 21, 2014

: Apple Pie or Apple Tart?

All-American Apple Pie
1 box Pillsbury refrigerated pie crusts, softened as directed on box
6 cups thinly sliced, peeled apples (six medium)
¾ cup sugar
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
¾ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon salt
⅛ teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 tablespoon lemon juice

Preheat oven to 425° F. Place one pie crust in ungreased 9-inch pyrex pie plate. Press firmly against side and bottom. In large bowl, gently mix filling ingredients; spoon into crust-lined pie plate. Top with second crust. Wrap excess top crust under bottom crust edge, pressing edges of the two doughs together to seal. Make it pretty by crimping with a fork (use the side of the fork to create little lines all around the crust edge or finish off the edges by using your finger on one hand to pinch (“flute”) the edge of the crust between your thumb and the side of your index finger of the other hand or just use one hand to pinch the edge of the crust between your thumb and the side of your index finger all along the crust edge.  Cut slits or shapes in several places in top crust. Bake 40 to 45 minutes, or until apples are tender and crust is golden brown. Cover edge of crust with 2- to 3-inch-wide strips of foil after first 15 to 20 minutes of baking to prevent excessive browning. Cool on cooling rack at least 2 hours before serving.

French Apple Tart
1 Pillsbury refrigerated pie crust, softened as directed on box
3½ tablespoons sugar                                                                                                                                     
 1 tablespoon flour
4 large Golden Delicious apples—peeled, cored and cut into ¼-inch-thick slices
2 tablespoons melted and strained apricot preserves
Roll out and place the crust on a tart pan. Prick with a fork a few times.
Preheat the oven to 400° F.
In a small bowl, combine 2 tablespoons of the sugar with 1 tablespoon of flour and sprinkle over the dough.  Arrange the apple slices on top in overlapping concentric circles. Brush the apples with the melted butter and sprinkle with the remaining 1½ tablespoons of sugar. Refrigerate the unbaked tart until slightly chilled, about 10 minutes. Bake the tart in the center of the oven for 1 hour, or until the apples are tender and golden and the crust is deep golden and cooked through. Brush the apples with the melted preserves and bake another 3 minutes.  Let the tart cool slightly before serving.

"Easy" as pie

I have often wondered who in the world thought that pie was "easy" to make. The different crusts, the various fillings, when to pre-bake the crusts, which of the many types of pie dishes to use—I sometimes find it quite confusing. An instructive trip to Wikipedia cleared up the first mystery. It explains that "as easy as pie" is a “popular expression used to describe a task or experience as pleasurable and simple. The idiom does not refer to the making of a pie, but rather to the act of consuming a pie (‘as easy as eating a pie’).  The phrase is often interchanged with ‘a piece of cake,’ which shares the same connotation.” Ah, yes, eating pie is very easy indeed. But let's try to clear some of those other questions.

First it is important to recognize that, historically, pies of one sort or another exist in almost all cultures, with varying differences in definitions, forms and recipes creating confusion and overlaps. In today's international culinary world, the following distinctions are generally used:

Both pies and tarts can be sweet or savory. Pies are deep, and tarts are shallow. They both have a crust and a filling. A pie may have just one crust on the bottom or also a second one on top. A tart has only a bottom crust.

A very major difference is in the baking dish.
The pie pan is round with a sloped side and a flat or fluted rim to hold the edge of a pie crust. Often the pie pan is made of Pyrex glass. The pie is served in the baking dish, and most cooks struggle to cut out a presentable first piece to serve. 
Tarts are baked in a pan with a removable bottom. A tart pan has straight sides (some fluted, some not) that turn out neat, more "professional"-looking pastries than the slope-sided pie pans. Most tart pans are made of metal, and the best have a removable bottom, allowing you to slip off the outer ring without marring the beautiful crust. Unlike pie pans, tart pans may be round or rectangular,
Traditionally pie crust has a higher dry ingredient (flour) to fat (butter and/or shortening) ratio than tart dough, giving it a flaky texture. Pies are often filled with sweetened fruit that releases a quite a bit of juice when cooking, so the drier dough and use of a second crust helps to absorb some of that moisture without becoming soggy. The flakiness makes it easier to get a fork through the double layers without a knife. The dough for tarts tends to be sweeter than that of a pie, and it is usually rolled a bit thicker. Tarts are generally filled with a custard, pastry cream or lemon curd that sits directly on the crust. These custard bases are quite heavy, and a thick, solid foundation is needed as structural support. The extra sugar that is often present in tart-dough recipes balances the bite of a lemon curd and cuts the richness of pastry cream, while the eggs (usually yolks alone) bind the dough for extra durability. The goal is a firm and crumbly rather than flaky crust.
I sometimes make my own dough—for very special occasions. But I often use Pillsbury refrigerated pie dough. It was my great secret until some of our chef friends came up for a weekend and, as they were busy cooking, one of them asked me to make a tart. It was too late to make my own dough and be ready in time, so I proposed the Pillsbury shortcut. They all approved and told me that they sometimes used it, too. It is a good compromise between the flaky and the crumbly crust and can be used in sweet or savory recipes. I have it in the refrigerator at all times. (Watch the expiration date). For best results I roll it out onto the proper baking pan or dish and fit it well into the form. Then, with a fork, I prick it five or six times (to avoid air bubbles) and put it into the freezer for at least 15 minutes. Afterward I follow the recipe.

Ever since my chefs sanctioned the use of the store-bought dough, to the delight of my friends and family,  I have been making more pies, tarts and quiches than ever before. Not having to make the dough makes baking pies—"a piece of cake!"

Braised Lamb Shanks

(serves four)
Ordinary olive oil (not extra virgin or first cold  press)—enough to coat the pot
4 shanks lamb (about 1 pound each)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 medium yellow onion, coarsely chopped
1 medium leek, white only, quartered and washed
2 medium coarsely chopped carrots
1 large coarsely chopped celery stalk
1 extra-large shallot peeled
1 large can plum tomatoes, peeled and seeded
1 cup red wine
4 cups chicken stock
1 cup veal stock
2 sprigs fresh thyme
1 bay leaf
Sprigs fresh parsley leaves

Preheat oven to 325° F
Coat a large Dutch oven generously with oil. Bring to a high heat. Season the shanks generously with salt and pepper and add them to the pot. Brown well on all sides. Remove shanks and set aside. Add two tablespoons of butter and sauté the vegetables until they are golden brown (but not burned), about 15- to 20 minutes. Add the tomatoes and brown for 5 minutes. Stir in the wine. Stir frequently and cook until the wine has reduced by about half. Add the shanks back to the pot and pour in the stocks. The shanks should not be submerged, just one-third- to one-half covered in liquid. Add the thyme and bay leaf to the pan, cover and put in the preheated oven. The cooking time will be about 2½- to 3 hours. Turn the shanks over about halfway through the cooking time. Check the shanks every 45 minutes or so. If the liquid has reduced too much, add more stock or water. Shanks are done when meat is tender if pierced with a fork and can be pulled cleanly away from bone. Remove from the oven. Allow to cool. Refrigerate for 8- to 24 hours). Remove the layer of yellow fat that has congealed over the liquid. Reheat. When ready, remove the shanks and vegetables to a warm platter. Keep warm in a 200° F oven while you strain and reduce the sauce. Sprinkle with parsley and serve with mashed potatoes, polenta, noodles or rice.