Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Got left-over pastry dough? Make some savoury pies!

Savoury pies whether mini or full-sized are found in many cuisines. Since I called the area in Manhattan's East Village known as Little Ukraine home for a long time before meeting The Calm One, I am familiar with Eastern European food like pierogi which are delicious filled dumplings as I had frequented The Kiev along with other similar eateries which at that time dotted the neighbourhood. Once when we visited London after relocating from California to the UK decades ago, The Calm One whisked us off to a favourite hangout from his younger days, the Borscht N Tears Restaurant in Knightsbridge, where I saw piroshki on the menu. Guessing it was the Russian spelling for pierogi, I ordered some. They turned out to be wonderful meat pies. These particular ones were presented in the form of small, upside-down ice cream cones, very much like the shape of some chicken croquettes I have eaten. So what makes a croquette a croquette, a pie a pie, and a dumpling a dumpling? And in what category would be calzone? Yes, those questions are rhetorical. So let's get stuffed like the amazing variety of available filled comestibles. On to the enthralling endeavour of using left-over pastry to encase a filling of your choice! In my case it's one of tuna, capers, tomato paste, cream, garlic, and dill.

I have been rolling out thinner pastry than usual which brings out the tenderness and flakiness of the all-butter dough I now use instead of lard-based. That means way more left-over pastry scraps than in the past when I would make a couple of mini-tarts or added to the freezer bag of doughy odds and ends until I had a big ball from which to make a full-sized pie. Recently there was enough remaining from making rhubarb pie for a large savoury turnover (oh, yet another term!). The dough was rolled out and a pie plate used to cut out a round. On one half of the circle, a mixture of tuna, capers, cream, tomato paste, minced garlic, and dill was spread while keeping some space free close to the perimeter. The edges were moistened with water, folded to meet each other to make a half-moon, sealed, and crimped. It was baked in a hot oven, that is, within a range of 200 to 230°C (400–450°F) for about fifteen minutes.

The dough had a touch of sugar in it which contrasted beautifully with the salty fish

The turnover, cut in half, was warming (the temperature has dropped to near freezing for several days), satisfying, and fun to eat. As for fillings, look for what you like and what's available in your kitchen. The ingredients should already be cooked, well-seasoned, and the mixture moist enough to have a pleasing texture.

Disclosure: I do have a bias in defining savoury pies which is not by their shape but based on the parameters of the pastry being flaky, having no leavening, and was baked in an oven. I am forgiving towards a pie with just a top crust as long as it is not an already baked puff pastry ridiculously placed on a heated filling like an ill-fitting top hat ready to blow away. That should be against the law. 

À la prochaine!

(Savoury pies and close cousins)

Spinach Cheese Burek (Balkan savoury pie)
Caprese Socca (Chickpea pancake filled with Tomatoes, Mozzarella & Basil)
Butternut Squash Gozleme with fennel dipping sauce (Turkish stuffed bread)
Chicken Pot Pie
Leek Apple Thyme Tart/Rustic Galette
Braised Leek, Bacon, and Parmesan Calzone


New Orleans meat pie

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Yes, I Finally Made That Rhubarb Pie But . . .

. . . due to the frenzied pace of gardening chez nous all I have time for is to present a few photos and provide the link to the excellent New York Times recipe I used which is here.

I substituted sweet butter for the recommended shortening

The filling consists of sliced rhubarb, sugar, flour (to absorb the abundant juice), and cinnamon. A delicious touch for this pie and I would say for all fruit pies is to dot with butter just before putting on the top crust.

Rhubarb is from our potager

Crimped, slashed, and ready to go into the oven.

The dough has a bit of sugar in it which encourages browning plus gives the crust a slight sweetness. Happy is the kitchen filled with the incomparable fragrance of a pie baking in the oven!

Tart and sweet, with the right amount of richness

The zing of the cinnamon makes it a refreshing breakfast.

Goes great with a cup of coffee

À la prochaine!

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Let Us Eat Chocolate

Rhubarb pie was to be the topic of this week's post. As you can see there's no rhubarb pie in sight. The buyer of butter chez nous, The Calm One, couldn't find any that was reasonably priced. He had to hunt around to get some at his preferred price. But it was salted. We prefer sweet especially for pastry. He then put on a science exhibit at the château de l'Oisellerie while I planted three bed of potatoes. Eventually he went back to hunting butter and got the sweet kind but by that time I was harvesting and cooking the daily asparagus bounty; sowing carrots, beets, and parsnips; not to mention trimming various hedges like brambles and lavender which are putting out exuberant growth. The good news is that a ton of rhubarb has been harvested and is waiting in the fridge to be made into pie. However it soon will be Eostre. You know the time we all get to eat chocolate without guilt? So I will hoist my three-ingredient, microwave molten mudcake in a mug to you and yours. Happy Eostre!

Ingredients are cocoa powder, eggs, and icing sugar. It  can be happily flooded with cream.

And come back next week for rhubarb pie.

À la prochaine!

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Bearded Irises, Tulips, Rosebuds, Asparagus Recipes & Eli the Kitten!

The Bearded Irises have started their wave of violet-blue that eventually will progress down a side of the central garden path.

The vanguard as they get the most sun

Many blooms are yet to come.

They resemble a shoal of minnows!

Days are sunny enough to warrant wearing a straw hat. This one which The Calm One was given at a community event fits snugly unlike the tattered one it replaced. That old companion often went flying into the wind with me running after it, but regardless served me well for six years. There's lots of work at hand presently and a simple pleasure of wearing a bonny hat puts me in the right mood. Seven of the annual veggie beds have been planted with just four more to do (tomatoes, shelling beans, parsnips, and kale).

Onion, newly planted potato, and pea beds

To make sure that the laundry doesn't act like my old straw hat, the washing is secured with many a clothespin.

Roses unfortunately are subject to blackspot, a fungal disease which rapidly defoliates them. Since a few spots have appeared, our ten bushes have been sprayed the first windless day of the season.

Triumph tulips bloom in midseason along with Darwin Hybrids, that is, before lily-flowered, fringed, and parrot tulips.

Candytuft ground cover and tulips

Miss Elegance gleams like the finest porcelain with delicate tinting of white and pink.  Their stunning blooms are an excellent choice for cut flowers.

Though a creamy, pureed asparagus soup is wonderful, so is a clear one made with a broth from simmering the woody ends and trimmings in water for twenty minutes. Strain, boil some egg noodles in it, stir in a beaten egg or two, season with salt and freshly ground black pepper, and top with asparagus tips/Parmesan cheese.

Just as delicious is buttering some cooked spears, topping with poached eggs and Parmesan, then seasoning the whole lot with salt and freshly ground black pepper. A sprinkling of breadcrumbs would be nice also.

Butter, egg yolks, and cheese combine to make a sauce as you eat

Eli the Kitten greeted the new straw hat with eager curiosity. Yes, his eyes are that fabulous: topaz with an emerald circle surrounding his pupils. Going on five months old, he still energetically rushes Dirac the Cat so they get together only when we are in the room with them, otherwise they are kept apart for Eli's safety and Dirac's peace of mind.

À la prochaine!

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Asparagus & Green Onion Soup

Our asparagus patch is going great guns. So much so that a soup is in order. Felicity Cloake's recipe intensifies the asparagus flavour by using a broth made from the woody ends and trimmings of the spears instead of the more usual chicken broth while safeguarding that potency by adding just a smattering of cream and flour. An even more of a jolt of taste and colour is provided by including green onions. The result is Spring in a bowl.

Garnished with asparagus tips and crumbled bleu d'Auvergne

makes 2 ample or 4 smaller servings

  • Asparagus, green, 500g
  • Butter, 50g
  • Springs onions/scallions, 6
  • Flour, white, 1 T
  • Cream, 2 T
  • Asparagus tips and bleu cheese for garnishing

Rinse the spears.

Wash, trim, and chop the green onions.

Onions were planted thickly last autumn so as to allow thinning and harvesting of the young'uns

Snap off the woody bits and chop them coarsely. Slice the tips off and cut the tender stalks into chunks.

Put the woody ends/trimmings along with 1 litre of water in a pot. Cover and simmer for 20 minutes. Strain and reserve. Discard the ends/trimmings.

Simmer the tips with water to cover for about 3 minutes. Reserve.

Melt the butter and soften the green onions for a minute or two. Stir in the flour.

Add slowly the asparagus water while stirring. Toss in the chunked, tender stalks and cook for 8 minutes. Puree with a stick mixer or blender. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste. Add cream and garnish.

C'est parfait! Silky but with enough body so that the incomparable flavour which makes asparagus so delectable baths your tastebuds long enough for you to realise that life is good. And that tending a potager is worth the effort.

Some dark rye topped with thinly sliced ham and hard-boiled eggs would work a treat with this soup.

À la prochaine!

Thursday, March 23, 2017

The Bloomin' Rain!

Days of rain. And mud. But also flowers!  The little troop of about two dozen, cherry-red Darwin hybrid tulips are showing off their bold colour, alluring sheen, and elegant blooms. 

Tulips for the most part are not as reliable as daffodils, therefore they are worth planting each fall for an incomparable jolt of Spring colour.

Iberis sempervirens (candytuft) is an evergreen ground cover that blooms the same time as many spring bulbs. The dying foliage of knobby-rooted flowering plants stores nourishment for future blossoms. But being in a state of decline is not pretty so candytuft does a fantastic job of covering up limp and yellowed leaves.

White species (this type does return reliably each spring) tulips and candytuft

We recently tootled off in our electric Zoe to the south of chez nous. The Calm One dropped me off at a plant nursery as he needed to go to one of several community associations with which he is involved as consultant, tinkerer, and teacher. Whipping out my list, I got loads (OK, OK a few unlisted items found their way into my cart!):  bulbs to plant now for summer blooming like tuberous begonias and dahlias, potting mix for indoor tomato sowing, potted herbs/veggies like chives/basil/sweet red peppers, treatment for black spot in roses, 2-9-9 fertiliser for tomatoes/strawberries, and . . .

. . . wondrous dehydrated horticultural mix. A pot only needs to be one-third full and then watered copiously. Voila, before you know it, you got a completely filled container. Yes, baby! Did I say that it is light as a feather? I was able to tuck the bag under my arm as if it was a pillow. Upon The Calm One's return (I had told him via the portable, that is, mobile phone, that I and the contents of my cart were ready to be picked up), we unloaded the groaning cart into the roomy hatchback boot of the Zoe, and then sans fumes and noise, we zipped on back home. Life, at times, can be a breeze.

Peas are always a challenge to grow in southwest France. They have to be sowed by mid-March to avoid the heat of summer which is significant by June, but the soil also has to be workable which is hard to do with all the rain. Happily, those conditions were met and there will be peas this season! The day after planting, the rain considerately did the watering for me. The bed is covered with horticultural fleece to stop the starlings from disturbing the seeds as birds know when cultivation is happening. I had left the area briefly and on my way back, I saw a gleaming and deceptively black beauty flying away from that bed with a squiggling worm in its beak.

The fleece allows rain and sunlight to get through to the planting

Within a day or two, rhubarb harvesting will begin!

The middle plant is small because it is recovering from being forced last season

The strawberries are putting out more and more flowers so it's time to scratch-in around each plant some fertiliser high in phosphorus and potassium like the one with a NPK of 2-9-9 which I recently bought.

The overwintered leeks are doing well

Our getting two colds in three months plus the inclement weather stopped The Great Iris Transplant in its tracks as lengthening days and abundant rain have resulted in their becoming bushy and close to flowering. So transplanting will wait until after their blooming.

Pink perennial geraniums are popping up on the middle right

À la prochaine!

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Tagliatelle, Asparagus & Parmesan in Lemon Butter Sauce

Quick, delicious, and nutritious pasta dishes work. All the time. But especially in asparagus season.

Lemon and butter brings out the best both in pasta and asparagus

It's the first time that our asparagus which was planted about five seasons ago can sustain a full harvest lasting two months therefore asparagus picking chez nous will continue till mid-May. Yay for mature asparagus beds!

The bed was weeded and fertilised about two weeks ago. Spears are cut with a sharp knife at an slight angle just below the soil

For one large serving, boil up a couple of fistfuls of pasta. Wash about six spears. Thickly slice the stems on the diagonal, leaving the tips whole. About two minutes before the pasta is almost al dente, toss in the sliced asparagus. After a minute, add the tips. Scoop out a large ladle of pasta water and reserve. In another minute, drain the pasta and asparagus, keeping them in the strainer. Depending on how fresh your asparagus is, it could take less or more time so check for tenderness as it cooks. No mush please! In the same pot that the pasta was cooked, melt a nice knob of butter. Add the freshly squeezed juice from a small lemon and a slosh of the pasta water. Simmer for a minute. Then add the pasta and asparagus, stirring for about a minute or until most of the liquid is absorbed. Serve with a good sprinkling of fleur de sel, freshly ground black pepper, and Parmesan shavings. 

My favourite tagliatelle are short, broad, and slightly curvy noodles made with eggs

Though not as decorative as non-fruiting trees, our peach beauty is putting out a decent enough show of deep-pink blossoms.

Ditto for the purple plum.

L'herbe (includes any herbaceous, soft-stemmed plant so that term is perfect for our weedy lawn!) got its first edging of the season with the dresse-bordure (metal lawn edger shaped like a half-moon) and grass clippers. An effective method is easing the edger close to the concrete/tiled edge while at a slight angle towards the grass so as to undercut the roots. Remove the tool by slightly rocking it from side to side as the handle is pressed towards the grass side so as to compact the wodge of soil (slightly moist soil is the most malleable) so it doesn't crumble into the little ditch that is being made. Using your gloved fingers, pull out the cut strip, shaking off and squishing any excess soil back into the ditch. The edge is cut with well oiled, sharpened, and cleaned grass clippers. The clippings get scooped out and the patio swept. Even our 'lawn' looks great with such precise treatment! Such edging usually needs refreshing several times during the growing season while clipping the grass along the ditch needs to be repeated when the lawn is mowed. As pesky as this maintenance is, it is one of the tasks that drastically improves the appearance of any garden. As my British sister-in-law says, it makes the garden look posh.

Culinary sage in the lower right which soon will be be pruned back severely

Our neighbours bring us their clippings which include lots of fragrant camomile from their front garden.

The clippings are turned frequently to dry them out, so they can be used as mulch, along with partially decomposed leaves from this past autumn (in background)

The two overwintered beds of onions, garlic, and shallots have been weeded and fertilised. They are awaiting to be mulched to conserve soil moisture until their harvest in July.

The Darwin hybrid Apeldoorn tulips charm in their cherry-red, silk dresses.

Italian arums are putting out their distinctive, shield-shaped leaves, making tuffs of lush green.

À la prochaine!


L'herbe is not exactly a lawn. Explanation in French here.
Le Déjeuner sur l'herbe