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Archive for June, 2010

While chatting with my mother last week I got some good news.

“You did it.”

Uh oh…  just what DID I do?

“That lemonade recipe you sent tastes just like my Babcia’s,” she said. Mom’s casual statement closed the book on a 27-year odyssey. We now have the right ratios in place to duplicate her Polish grandmother’s lemonade.

How hard could this be?… one may wonder. For nearly three decades, my mother, sister and I have been experimenting with lemons, water, sugar, and yes, EVEN powdered drink mixes to replicate the tasty beverage. The results have been either too tart, too sugary-sweet, or just plain yucky.

Just in time for your 4th of July…

Babcia’s Lemonade

2 cups granulated sugar
1 cup boiling water
2 cups fresh lemon juice (do not substitute)
8 cups cold water
mint sprigs and lemon slices for garnish

  1. In large container, place sugar. Add boiling water. Stir to dissolve sugar.
  2. Add lemon juice and cold water. Stir until mixed.
  3. Chill several hours. Garnish with mint and lemon slices.

Mix up a pitcher, close your eyes, and pretend you are sitting on Jay Gatsby’s veranda.

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Happy Father’s Day!

Today, I made fried chicken for Mr. Amiable Taster, the wonderful father of my (OK–our) two children. I have to give the man some credit…

Back when we were a dual income family, I purchased Thomas Keller’s newest cookbook, Ad Hoc at Home.  I had been meaning to review this Papa Bear of a cookbook (weighing in at slightly more than five pounds!!) A friend had lent me his and I had to have one for myself. I raved about it to my sister, who also picked one up.

This book is perfect for a Father’s Day review as Keller’s father makes a cameo appearance early in the front matter. The story goes, after a lengthy estrangement, Keller and his father resolved their differences and spent the rest of the elder Keller’s days making up for lost time. After Keller began the Ad Hoc project, his father died. He writes lovingly of having the honor to cook his father’s last meal and gives us a menu–including all the details.

Best known as the proprietor of nine stellar gastronomic establishments in New York and California, Keller has authored three cookbooks, including The French Laundry Cookbook, Bouchon, and Under Pressure: Cooking Sous Vide, where he de-mystifies the vacume-bag cooking technique.  Ad Hoc is a departure from Keller’s other volumes, which require more than just sharp knives and a great set of All Clad.  This book is all about comfort food.

My sister and I have made several of the recipes in Keller’s book. We’ve both made the blueberry cobbler (p 296) which coincidentally happened to be on the menu of the last meal she made my father at home before he went to the hospital–never to return.  Dad was a big fan of cobbler. It was the only dish he ever insisted I learn to make. Keller’s version is excellent. Believe me, the dish tastes better for breakfast the next morning. Be forewarned, the top crust of this dish is of the cakey variety. I happen to prefer a little more crunch to my cobbler, but wouldn’t turn a warm bowl of this down.

Today, I made the buttermilk fried chicken ( p 16) for Father’s Day.  A chief complaint of many of Keller’s recipes is that they are long and involved–often taking hours of prep. You will find the same with this recipe–but believe me–the results are worth it.  I took advantage of a 40 percent sale on Perdue at my market this week and bought the smallest whole chickens in the place. (Keller suggests 2.5 to 3 pound birds). I also splurged on a bag of lemons as the brine calls for five lemons, along with 24 bay leaves. The house smelled heavenly as the brine was boiling.

Keller does a great deal to instruct in this book. He offers several lessons on topics from blanching to trussing a chicken.  For this mission, I had to gather up my pluck to conquer the 10-piece cut.  I waited until the children had left the house so I wouldn’t embarrass myself.  (Senator, this was not Ten Easy Pieces and you sir, are no Jack Nicholson).  But I digress… Suffice it to say that I emerged victorious–but it wasn’t pretty.  The 10-piece cut on 2 birds only yielded 19 pieces–but who’s counting. Thankfully I can always make stock of what was left.

The results were quickly eaten.  I BARELY had time to snap this shot of the platter by the pool. (One does not get in the way of a man’s growling stomach on Father’s Day.)  Michael Ruhlman says the fried chicken recipe alone is worth the hefty price of the book ($50 MSRP) and he’s not lying.  The bird was moist and juicy–just dripping down the chin. I brined for exactly 12 hours and could taste a hint of bay leaves. The crust was poifect.

The verdict: a unanimous thumbs up. My daughter said, “I gotta make this when I get back to college.” Unexpected surprise: I have additional kitchen street-cred with my mother in law (a butcher’s daughter), who was impressed that I started with whole chickens–all thanks to Keller.

This book will take home cooks to the next level. It is a visually pleasing to thumb through and you will dog ear many future adventures. Scattered throughout are “lightbulb” ideas that impart Keller’s kitchen wisdom.  The price is a bit steep but your children will ask you to will this book to them. Make sure you mark it up with a pencil and make it your own.  Ad Hoc will remain on my culinary joyride list for many months to come.

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Apricot Tart

My local market had some yummy apricots in from California. I bought three. Usually, the early apricots we get in are dry and mealy and I buy a few only to taste a memory. What usually happens is that I disappoint myself. So I limited my purchase to a mere amount so I wouldn’t create a guilt complex in the event I had to toss them (or feed them to the dogs).

This time I was very surprised. These puppies were drip-down-your-arm good! I went back to the store and bought a pound of those suckers.

A girl can eat so many apricots for breakfast. So what to do with the rest?…

I was inspired to make an apricot tart after watching my all-time favorite chick flick–Enchanted April. There is a great scene where an apricot tart is used by the character Lottie to butter up her oppressive husband Mellesh in order to escape to a gorgeous Italian villa for a month. Set in the 1920s, the film is an unassuming, quiet tale of four women who get away from dreary post-war London and figure their lives out. The garden scenes are always a great picker-upper during the dreary winter months.

So…  I was jonesing for almond apricot confection. Nick Malgieri has a nice frangipane in his Perfect Pastry book. I fiddled with it a little and came up with this:

Apricot Tart (Adapted from Perfect Pastry, by Nick Malgieri (MacMillan, 1989)

1 recipe sweet pastry dough (pate sablee), enough to fill a 9-10 inch tart pan with removable bottom
(Malgiere has an interesting version that incorporates baking powder! But the recipe is incomplete in my copy of the book. The directions call for adding water with the beaten egg, yet it does not give the amount in the ingredients list. I went with the tried and true instead.)

1 stick  cold butter
1 2/3 cups flour
pinch of salt
2 tablespoons sugar
1 egg yolk mixed with 3 teaspoons cold water

Cut butter into 1/2-inch cubes and place in bowl with flour, salt and sugar. With your hands, rub the butter into the flour until it is the consistency of sand. Add egg-water mixture and mix until dough becomes a ball.  Wrap ball in plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight. The next day, roll dough and line your tart form. Place in refrigerator while you prepare the frangipane.

1-4 oz. can almond paste
1/4 cup sugar
4 tablespoons butter, soft
1 egg
3 tablespoons flour

1 pound fresh apricots

Dice the almond paste and place in bowl of electric mixer. Add sugar and mix until blended. Do not over mix as the almond paste will dry out. Add butter and blend. Add egg and blend. Add flour and stir just until flour disappears. Do not over mix. (Nick suggests adding lemon zest to the mix but I feel that it makes the tart too tart–if you get my meaning). Spread the mixture in the bottom of your lined tart pan.

Halve and pit the apricots. Slice each half into thin slices. Lay on top of your filled tart starting on the outside and working your way to the center in a concentric circle.

Bake at 350-degrees for 45 minutes until the frangipane is set and your crust is a nice toasty color.

Glaze

Place 2 oz. apple jelly in small saucepan. Cook on low heat until the jelly is melted. Brush on to warm tart. Serve tart at room temperature.

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Unfinished Business

Last week I was surfing food sites.  My chef-friend Damon had recommended Michael Ruhlman’s page, which offers wisdom on all things food as well as some brilliant photography (ably supplied by his wife Donna). An accomplished author, Michael has rubbed shoulders with many culinary luminaries, including Thomas Keller and Anthony Bourdain. I’ve got his newest book, Ratio: The simple codes behind the craft of everyday cooking, on reserve at my local library.

This week’s post on Ruhlman.com invited comments on unfinished business.  The tie-in was Lee Kravitz’s new book by the same title, which was being offered as a giveaway. I felt inspired to dash off a few quick words (visit Ruhlman.com to see what I had to say). To make a long story short, yesterday, I received a note from the man himself  informing me that I had been selected.  I was delighted to be recognized!  Thank you Michael!

If you read my comment on Michael’s site, you will learn that I made the decision to retire early as my life’s priorities shifted after my father’s death. I had been working at an all-girl private school and felt I needed to save what was left of me to spend more time with my family and do what made me happy. Those around me applauded my “courageous decision” but in reality it was the easiest decision I ever made.

Not that it doesn’t have consequences. We are now a one income family and that takes a bit of getting used to. I can’t go to the specialty store and buy caviar on a whim.  But to say everyone is happy here at Casa de Plucky is an understatement.

So what are my plans?  My big kitchen goal is to master my great grandmother’s Polish faworkis. My mother is the only person left alive who has actually tasted them. My sister and I had tried but have not quite gotten them right (Mom says they are like munching on “sweet air”). I have to get them right before Mom passes away or part of my family’s culinary heritage is lost forever.

This summer,  I am working on a cookbook for a non-profit organization I belong to. It is about tea time and all that goes with it.  All the proceeds will benefit the organization and the museum properties it owns/supports. (More on that later.)

I am still playing catch up in my garden. The weeks away caring for Daddy put me way behind on things.  I am growing my own potatoes for the first time.  I learned a new technique to grow them in a container and the very helpful old guy in the garden center says he got almost 100 pounds of potatoes using this method. I also started my tomato plants from seed. I know they are a little late getting started but if I get JUST ONE tomato, it will be worth it.  If the weather starts to turn cold too soon, I will bring the container into the house and baby those little things along until Christmas.

That’s all the rambling for today.  Thanks again to Michael for the kind words. Stick around to see what’s coming out of Plucky’s oven. The next post has a cinematic tie-in!

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Shrimp Gazpacho

I had lunch with a former colleague today. We needed to do some serious catching up. It has always been difficult to make the stars and moon align properly so we can find a mutually available time to gossip about the old job and fill each other in on what’s happening with the kids.

As luck would have it, Cathy was available on a gorgeous day and we had lunch outside at my place.

The menu had to be easy and do ahead because I didn’t want to be spending time in the kitchen when we could be outside yakking about all our former co-workers. Cathy was bringing a salad and dessert, I would scrounge up the rest. I had some tomatoes and shrimp, along with a lot of veggies. Gazpacho seemed like the perfect starter course for a long al fresco lunch.

Shrimp Gazpacho

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup white wine
juice of a half a lime
1 tablespoon sherry wine vinegar

Mix above ingredients in a bowl and set aside.

Blanche 3 medium tomatoes. Plunge in ice water. Peel and seed. Place in bowl of food processor along with:

1 red bell pepper, seeded
1 green bell pepper, seeded
1 medium cucumber, peeled and seeded
1/2 Vidalia onion

Pulse just until veggies are chopped (about 8 pulses). Turn out into large bowl. Add 2 cloves minced garlic. Stir in 1 teaspoon salt and let mixture sit for one hour.

Finely dice one Japaleno chile. Add to veggie mixture. Add 2 cups tomato juice (I use Sacramento brand). Stir.

To finish the Gazpacho, add the lime-vinegar mixture to the veggie mix. Add:

1/2 pound medium cooked shrimp, coarsely chopped
1 small bunch cilantro, minced
1/2 teaspoon worcestershire sauce
1/2 teaspoon Tabasco sauce (may add more depending on your preference)

This dish is best served the next day. Garnish with a dab of yogurt or creme freche and top with snipped cilantro or chives.

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