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.

Praising Braising

Praising Braising

By Rona Boyer

In his book Braise, A Journey Through International Cuisine, Daniel Boulud
explains that every new cook who comes to work in his kitchen is asked to prepare for the staff a dish from his or her home country. While the chefs come from the four corners of the earth and the taste and ingredients differ, the dish is almost invariably braised. This ancient technique is popular everywhere because it transforms inexpensive, tough cuts of meat (beef, lamb, veal, pork, poultry or seafood ) into succulent morsels and creates a perfect sauce to accompany it. The technique is therefore very economical—especially for a large group. It is also very easy to do. For anyone who has mastered the basic "secrets," braising can make a casual cook seem like a talented chef.

The Differences between Braising and Stewing

Both braising and stewing cook pieces of meat with selected vegetables in liquid at fairly low temperatures, but there are many differences:


Meat cooks in the liquid
Meat cooks in the moist heat created by the cooking liquid

Chunks of meat size
Fairly small
Fairly large
Covers the meat
Covers very little
of the meat
Searing before adding liquid
Meat and veggies slowly seared on all sides before adding the liquid

Secrets to Successful Braising

Make the braise the day before you plan to serve it. Allow it to sit overnight in the refrigerator, and then remove any fat from the surface before reducing your sauce. This way you get all of the flavor from the fat but do not actually eat it. An added bonus is that you only need to reheat the braise when the guests arrive. No mess, no stress—making the dinner party enjoyable for the cook as well.

             You will need a heavy-lidded pot or Dutch oven. An enameled cast-iron pot (like Le
             Creuset) heats evenly and retains the temperature well. It is the perfect pot.

    Pour some oil and/or butter into the pot over medium-high heat, then add the meat. Don’t crowd the pot (brown the meat a few pieces at a time if need be.  Brown until there is  deep color on all side of the meat. Remove meat; set aside. DO NOT CLEAN THE POT.

Add more oil and/or butter if needed and cook the vegetables (chopped onions, celery, carrots, etc.), in the drippings left behind from searing, stirring frequently. As with the sear, use medium-high heat and cook until you have a caramel-brown color—without burning the ingredients. DO NOT CLEAN THE POT.
Add the braising liquid, stirring and scraping up any bits left from the searing of the meat and the veggies. They are full of flavor, and when they dissolve in the cooking liquid, they enrich the entire dish and create the base for the sauce.
·        BRAISE IT
Return the meat to the pot, with any accumulated juices and add enough liquid (wine, broth, stock or water—whatever the recipe calls for). The liquid should not cover any of the meat. (If the meat is submerged, it will boil, not braise, and the sauce will be diluted). Bring the liquid to a simmer and then cover the pot and slide it into a 275° F- to 325° F oven. Cook until the meat is so tender it will fall off the bone.
Remove the meat and veggies and keep warm while you reduce the sauce until it is thick enough to coat the meat pieces. (You can speed up the process by removing some of the liquid and that adding it, bit by bit, once the sauce is at desired thickness.)

Best Cuts of Meat for Braising

Beef & Large Game
Poultry & Small Game
Short Ribs
Osso Bucco

Poultry Legs
Whole Quail Rabbit Pheasant


Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Couscous Royale

When our children were small, Gerard went hunting almost every Saturday and I took the girls to lunch. We alternated between our favorite Chinese restaurant and a Moroccan one for a Couscous Royal. When we moved back to the States, it was easy to find good Chinese food, but the couscous was nearly impossible—so I learned to make it myself. I did not have a "couscousier" or the super-fine grains to steam, so I improvised. To this day, my daughter, Jennifer, asks for it on her birthday. We had it Sunday, so I took the opportunity to ask Gerard to take a photo and I wrote down my recipe. Here they are. You can just make the Lamb Couscous or add any or all of the other meats, which make it a "Royal."

Couscous is actually the name of the granules of semolina served in North Africa instead of pasta or rice. It has also become the name of dish of stew served with it.

Lamb Couscous
(Serves 4–6 people)
3 pounds lamb shoulder, cut in cubes (use all bones in the stew)
3 onions, peeled and quartered
2 cans diced tomatoes (no basil)
Salt and pepper
1 can chick peas
2 small turnips, peeled and quartered
5 carrots, peeled and cut into ½-inch slices
1 medium eggplant, peeled and cubed
2 zucchini, peeled and cubed
2 quarts water
1 cup golden raisins
1 box couscous (I use Near East)
Harissa sauce (optional)
In a Dutch oven, place the lamb, onions, tomatoes, water, salt and pepper. Cover and simmer for about 30 minutes.  Add turnips and carrots and bring to a boil. Lower flame and allow to simmer for 30 minutes, uncovered. Add the eggplant and zucchini and chick peas and simmer another 30 minutes. Soak the raisins in ¼ cup of boiling water (this will make them fluffy instead of dry and hard).

Make the couscous according to the box instructions.  Serve the grains in a separate dish and the raisins on the side.  (The stew can be slightly improved by making it the day before, chilling it overnight  and degreasing it before reheating—but the Moroccans do not do that, so it is not necessary).  The store-bought Harissa is extremely strong and should be used sparingly, but it is recommended for those who love spicy foods.

Lemon Chicken
Good-quality organic chicken pieces
Lemon juice (bottled is fine)
Peanut oil
Salt and pepper
Lemon slices (optional)
Parsley sprigs (optional)

 Quantities are not important, but spacing is! Make sure that you fill up the roasting pan with just enough chicken to make one row of pieces that do NOT touch each other, and add just enough liquid to cover most of the chicken while marinating. Prepare liquid marinade: equal parts lemon juice and ½ peanut oil in a roasting pan to come half way up the roasting pan.  (salt and pepper the chicken pieces and place them in the marinade in the roasting pan. Turn them over so that all sides are basted with liquid and then leave skin side down. Marinate for at least 45 minutes, or up to 4 hours.

Preheat oven to 350° F. Pour out and discard most of the marinade (leaving the lower quarter of each chicken piece to cook in the marinade). Turn the chicken pieces right side up so that the skin side is showing. Only the parts of the chicken that are out of the marinade will brown. Place in the oven and roast until the chicken is golden brown (usually 45–60 minutes). When you take the chicken out of the pan, drain on paper towel and place on serving platter with lemon slices and parsley sprigs as a garnish.

Lamb Meatballs
1 pound ground lamb
1 pound ground beef
1 package sausage meat
Salt and pepper
1 egg (beaten)
½ cup plain bread crumbs, soaked in 1 cup of water
Preheat oven to 350° F. Mix the meats, season, and add the egg and the bread crumbs. When mixed, quickly form meatballs. (If you work them too much, they will become hard.) Place them in a roasting pan with 2 tablespoons of water at the bottom of the pan. Bake until golden brown (usually about 30–40 minutes).

Merguez (lamb sausage)
Olive oil
These lamb sausages should be cooked in a frying pan with a tablespoon or two of water until they are cooked inside. Remove them from the pan and discard any excess water. Wipe the pan clean, and, just before serving, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in it. Add the merguez and brown. 

Chocolate Fondue

A romantic dish for two or a fun dish for 4 or 6, chocolate fondue can be tricky if you do not know the simple secrets to its success. It is best served in a ceramic fondue pot, but never cooked in the fondue pot.

Ingredients: (for two)
1 cup (12 oz) of semi-sweet chocolate (Ghiradelli is my favorite)
1/2 stick of butter
1 cup of heavy cream (at room temperature)
6-8 strawberries
1 banana
8 one inch cubes of pound cake

This dish is prepared at the last minute just before serving. Prepare fruit and cake before melting the chocolate (or have your companion handle that while you concentrate on the chocolate). The chocolate is first melted over the stove, over low heat to avoid scorching then transferred to the fondue pot with the tea light to keep it warm.  Use a double boiler, if you have one, or use two pots of about the same size.  Put the chocolate in a pot and place it over the other pot half filled with boiling water and keep them over a medium heat so the water continues to boil softly. It’s important not to place the chocolate on direct heat or it can burn. Add the butter and stir a bit until the chocolate starts to melt. Once chocolate and butter begin to melt, add half of the  cream. Continue to stir slowly and gently over the boiling water until the mixture is smooth and creamy. Transfer the chocolate to the fondue pot, put a tealight underneath to keep the chocolate warm and serve! Transfer the rest of the cream to a small pitcher and if the chocolate starts to harden add some of the extra cream and stir.