Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Pear & Almond Tart

(Tarte Bourdaloue)
This is a very festive traditional French tart that is delicious when pears are in season. I made it for   Thanksgiving but it is also great for Christmas or New Years.

1 Pillsbury Pie Crust
 6-7 medium size firm but not hard pears (Anjou or Bartlett)
 juice of 1 lemon
 ¾ cups granulated sugar
 1 cup (5 oz of blanched almonds (ground to a fine powder in a food processor or blender)
 1 egg + 1 egg yolk
 2 oz ( ½ stick) of unsalted butter (melted)
 2 tablespoons of dark rum (or cognac or bourbon)
 ¼ teaspoon of almond extract
 1 cup of apricot preserves (or jam)

The pastry can be homemade, but I use the store bought Pillsbury pie crust. I shape it into a greased pie pan with a removable bottom. Once the crust is shaped into the pan, I poke holes with a fork in five or six places and then freeze it for at least 15 minutes but can be as much as a week or two.

Preheat oven to 375F
Line the pastry shell with aluminum foil and fill with dry beans or pie weights if you have them). Bake in the oven for 20 minutes (not on a cookie sheet- directly on the rack or the bottom will not bake properly). Remove the foil and bake another 10 minutes until the pastry is lightly colored. Take out of the oven and allow to cool.

 In a small bowl, beat egg and extra yolk and stir in the almond extract, 1 tablespoon of the rum, ½ cup of the granulated sugar, melted butter, and the ground almonds. Set aside and prepare the pears.

Cut the pears in half lengthwise. Peel and core them (Take out the center stem and pits)

Spread the almond cream filling evenly in the baked pastry shell. Place the pear halves flat side down into the cream with the wide side near the edge and the narrow side towards the center. Place a small trimmed round pear or fan some slices to fill the center. Brush some lemon juice over the pears and sprinkle some sugar on the pie. Bake at 375F for 20 minutes and turn down to 350 for another 25-30 minutes.

After the tart has been baking for 30 minutes prepare the glaze by mixing the apricot jam and the other tablespoon of rum in a saucepan. Bring to a boil and allow to simmer for 5 minutes. About 8-10 minutes before the pie is done, brush the apricot glaze over the pears and the almond cream and return to the oven for three minutes. This will give it the golden brown color.

Cool on a rack and when ready gently slip a knife between the crust and the pan sides to ensure that it is not sticking and place your hand on flatly under the pie allowing the side your slip down your arm. Place the pie with the false bottom on the serving plate for a lovely presentation. 

Turkey Pot Pie

After you have eaten the turkey and the next day’s turkey sandwiches, here is my favorite meal with the bits of t turkey still left over:

•  1 package of Pillsbury Pie Dough (or you can make your own)
•  4 tablespoons butter, divided
•  1 small onion, minced
•  2 stalks celery, chopped
•  2 carrots, diced
•  3 tablespoons fresh parsley
•  2 cups chicken or turkey stock
•  3 potatoes, peeled and cubed
•  1 1/2 cups cubed cooked turkey
•  3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
•  1/2 cup milk
salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F
Roll out bottom pie crust, press into a 10 inch pie pan, and freeze (for at least 15 minutes or up to 24 hours)
Melt 2 tablespoons butter in a large skillet over medium heat; add the onion, celery, carrots. Season with sat   and pepper. Cook and stir until the vegetables are soft. Stir in the bouillon and water. Bring mixture to a boil. Stir in the potatoes, and cook until tender but still firm.
In a medium saucepan, melt the remaining 2 tablespoons butter. Stir in flour. Slowly add the milk stirring to make a béchamel sauce. Add the cubes of turkey. Stir the turkey mixture into the vegetable mixture, and cook until thickened.
Cool slightly, then pour mixture into the unbaked pie shell. Roll out the top crust, and place on top of filling.
Flute edges, and make 4 slits in the top crust to let out steam.
Bake in the preheated oven for 15 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees F and continue baking for 20 minutes, or until crust is golden brown.

I often like to do this individual ramekins, which makes the baking time shorter – but the rest of the recipe holds up.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

How to Roast Your Turkey

My first Thanksgiving in France, I invited about 14 people and went to the local butcher and ordered a full 3 weeks in advance a 22 lb. turkey. I was baffled that Wednesday before Thanksgiving when I went to pick it up and the butcher told me with a smile that he could not get a 20 lb. bird, so he had gotten me two ten pounders instead! Shocked and dismayed at how to get two turkeys into my oven at the same time and how and why to do twice the work for half the impression, I might have gone into a state of depression, but I had too much work to do! I quickly found someone to lend me a rotisserie (of course, in France you can find anything you need for cooking) and cooked one in that and the other in the oven. And much to my great surprise, these turkeys were moist and succulent as no large bird had ever been. That was my first lesson in cooking large poultry. The dirty secret is that dark meat takes longer to cook than white meat, and the bigger the bird the bigger the difference in timing required. I have since learned other ways to turn out moist white meat without overdoing the dark meat.  I have combined a couple of them to ensure the best roasted turkey. (Some people like to brine the turkey first – I do not. I find it transforms the texture and the taste in a way I do not favor.) Try this!

Selecting your bird
Fresh, free-range, naturally raised without hormones or antibiotics is a must, Heritage is a plus. Local is obvious. Weights are according to the number of portions below.
12-15 lb. turkey for 10-12 people
15-18 lb. turkey  for 14-16 people  
18-22 lb. turkey for 20 - 22 people 

Roasting Times for Unstuffed Turkey
Turkey Weight
6 - 8 lbs.
2½ - 3 hrs.
8 - 12 lbs.
3½ - 4 hrs.
12 - 16 lbs.
4 - 5 hrs.
16 - 20 lbs.
5 - 5½ hrs.
20 - 24 lbs.
5½ - 6 hrs.
Roasting Times for Stuffed Turkey
Turkey Weight
6 - 8 lbs.
3 - 3½  hrs.
8 - 12 lbs.
3½ - 4½ hrs.
12 - 16 lbs.
4½ - 5½ hrs.
16 - 20 lbs.
5½ - 6 hrs.
20 - 24 lbs.
6 - 6½ hrs.

Before roasting

You need to decide whether or not to stuff the bird. I prefer not to, because as you can see from the above chart it increases the required roasting chart further exacerbating the problem of potentially overcooking and drying out the white meat. If you want stuffing, it can be made in a separate dish in the oven and be just, if not more, delicious.

Bring the turkey to room temperature. Rinse the outside and cavities of the bird under cold, running water. Cut away and discard any fat remaining on the bird. Place the turkey on several layers of paper towels to drain. Using additional paper towels, pat the outside and cavities dry. Lather the inside of the cavity with the juice of half a lemon. Take a small handful of salt and rub all over the inside of the turkey. Sprinkle cavity liberally with salt and pepper. For flavor, put a half a yellow onion, peeled and quartered, a bunch of parsley, a couple of carrots, and some tops and bottoms of celery inside the turkey. Cap the body cavity with some aluminum foil so that the stuffing doesn't easily fall out. Close up the turkey cavity by stitching or lacing butcher string around metal skewers. Make sure that the turkey's legs are tied together, held close to the body, and tie a string around the turkey body to hold the wings in close. Rub melted butter all over the outside of the turkey. Sprinkle salt generously all over the outside of the turkey. Sprinkle pepper over the turkey.

Place a cheese cloth soaked in melted butter. Every 15 minutes baste with turkey or chicken stock in which you have boiled the turkey neck, gizzard, an onion, stalk of celery and carrot. When the cheese cloth gets brown, remove and change for another cheese cloth soaked in butter – until one hour before roasting time is finished. Remove the cloth and allow to brown. Allow turkey to rest 20 – 30 minutes outside the oven with some aluminum foil loosely draped over it before carving. This will allow the juices to settle in the meat and keep warm without much further cooking.

Making the gravy
While turkey is resting, scrape all the drippings off of the bottom of the roasting pan. Pour drippings into a smaller skillet. Ladle off excess fat with a gravy spoon. In a separate small bowl take a quarter cup of corn starch and add just enough hot liquid from the drippings (or hot water) to dissolve the corn starch. Beat cornstarch with a spoon to remove lumps. Slowly add the cornstarch mixture to the drippings, stirring constantly. You may not end up using all of the cornstarch mixture. Only add as much as you need to get the desired thickness. Allow time for the cornstarch to thicken the gravy. Add salt, pepper, and fresh thyme,. 

Carving the turkey
(The cook should hand these instructions to someone else to carve while he or she is finishing up all of the sides and the gravy)  After the turkey has been allowed to "rest" for 20–30 minutes place it on the cutting board. Remove the leg on one side and place it on a pre-warmed platter. Steady the turkey with your big carving fork and use your knife to slice between the leg and the body of the turkey. Use the tip of the knife to probe the area just above thigh to find the joint that connects the leg to the turkey. That's the magic slice point. Once you find the joint, cut it firmly but smoothly. It will cut through with relative ease but if not, make sure you are not trying to cut through bone. Separate the thigh from the drumstick by cutting through the joint that connects them. The thigh is simple to carve—just slice the meat parallel to the bone. Leave the drumsticks intact because many people like them that way. Before you attempt to carve the breast you need to cut off the wings. Much same way you did the legs. Find the joint near the turkey's body and cut through the magic slice point. You can cut the breast one slice at a time away from the bird but it is easier to do as the restaurants do which is cutting the entire breast away from the bird and then slicing it into pieces, stacking the slices as neatly as possible on the warm serving platter. Repeat on the other side of the bird. Serve immediately!

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Pumpkin Soup

Most of us think of pumpkin as purely decorative and few actually eat the delicious squash meat inside. Here is one of my favorite pumpkin recipes that I learned when living in France. Once, I even cleaned the pumpkin shell and served the hot soup in it ! Much work but very impressive.

Pumpkin Soup
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon good olive oil
2 cups chopped yellow onions (2 onions)
1 lb of fresh pumpkin (cleaned no seeds, no strings-cut into cubes )
1½ pounds butternut squash, peeled and cut in chunks
3 cups chicken stock or canned broth
2 teaspoons kosher salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
chopped parsley to garnish
1 cup half-and-half
Grated Gruyère, Emmenthal or Swiss Cheese

Heat the butter and oil in a heavy-bottomed stockpot, add the onions, and cook over medium-low heat for 5-10 minutes, or until translucent. Add the pumpkin, butternut squash, chicken stock, salt, and pepper. Cover and simmer over medium-low heat for about 20 minutes, until the squash is very tender. Process the mixture in a food mill or mash. Return to the pot, add the half-and-half, and heat slowly. Add more salt if needed. Sprinkle with parsley. Add grated cheese and serve hot with crusty French bread. 

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Warm Lobster Salad

Inspired by Eric Ripert’s (Le Bernardin) recipe, this warm lobster salad is a sure thing to impress guests. Lobster is always respected, and the convenience of being able to do most of the work hours ahead of time is very precious when entertaining.  

If serving as an appetizer, plan on one half lobster per person. If it is a main course, use a lobster per person.
(for 8 people)
4 One Pound Lobsters (alive!)
1 cup Lobster or Seafood Stock
8 cups of Mixed Baby Greens (mesclun, arugala, frisee, spinach, etc).washed and dried
Salt & Pepper
1 Teaspoon Fresh Lemon Juice
1 Shallot peeled and diced
For the Vinaigrette
1 teaspoon of Dijon mustard
½ teaspoon of fine sea salt
1½ tablespoon of Red Wine Vinegar
1½ tablespoon of Sherry Wine Vinegar
¼ cup + 1 Tablespoon of Olive Oil
¼ cup of corn oil

Killing the Lobsters
Ask your fishmonger to kill the lobsters and cut them for you (you want the tails and the claws). If you must buy them a day in advance, get them live, place in the refrigerator overnight and do the slaughtering yourself. Place the live lobster on a cutting board holding it firmly with your left hand (if you are right handed) where the tail meets the head. With your other hand hold a large knife vertically over the lobster, with the tip at the point where the vertical and horizontal crease in the lobster head intersect. Quickly thrust the knife straight through the head until the tip touches the cutting board then cut through the head. The lobster will die immediately, though it may still move..
Poaching the Lobster.
Twist off the claws and the tails. (You may save the head and legs to make or improve a stock.). Run a skewer through the meat of the tail to keep it straight during cooking and wrap the tail tightly in plastic wrap. Bring a few inches of water to boil in a large wide pot. Place the lobster tail (in the plastic) into the boiling water. Two minutes later add the claws and poach for 4 more minutes.  Drain and cool and then shell the meat.  Cut the tails in half lengthwise and the claw meat in ¼ inch strips. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate the meat.
Preparing the Sauce
In a saucepan over high heat bring the stock to a boil, lower heat to medium and allow to simmer until it reduces to 1/3 cup.(about 10 minutes). Put sauce in a bowl and allow to cool. Make ½ cup of vinaigrette by whisking together the mustard, salt and pepper and vinegars. Continue whisking while slowly drizzling in the oils. When done drizzle  vinaigrette to the cooled reduced stock, whisking to ensure that it emulsifies. . Cover tightly and refrigerate until you are ready to use.

Up to this point everything can be done early in the day. Just before serving pull it together:

Preheat oven to 500F. 
Put the salad greens in a bowl and toss with the shallot, tarragon, salt, pepper and lemon juice. Add 6 tablespoons of the sauce and toss again. Spread the lobster on a cookie sheet, drizzle some of the remaining sauce on each peace and place in the hot oven until it is warmed through (about 1 minute). Plate the salads and  lobster garnish and serve immediately.