Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Linguine in a Creme Fraiche, Sorrel, Capers & Garlic Sauce (Quick Recipe Series)

Herbs, preferably fresh, can enliven the flavour of a dish during the winter months, for example, if they are minced finely and stirred into spaetzle batter or into creamy potato soup. Sage, rosemary, thyme, parsley, and chives can be coaxed into providing vibrant bounty all through cold weather either by them being potted and placed on a sunny window sill/under plant lights or being overwintered in the garden by covering them snugly with horticultural fleece. Also more and more markets are stocking a lovely variety of fresh herbs all year round.

Our sorrel has had a banner year, poking up early in February and staying fresh and green all through a normally wilting summer to its present lushness so it was a matter just of going out to the garden and harvesting a big handful.

Sorrel is noted for 'melting' when sauteed in butter so it features nicely in a fast and easy pasta sauce.

A chiffonade is a good way to prepare sorrel. Wash and dry the leaves. Stack them in a pile and trim off the stems. Roll up like a cigar and slice.

makes one meal-sized serving, can be multiplied if desired

  • Linguine, bunch measuring about 2.5 cm/1 inch in diameter, cooked until almost tender
  • Crème fraîche, 4 T
  • Sorrel, 1 large handful (reserve a few for garnishing)
  • Capers, drained, 2-3 tsp (if you love capers as much as I do, then the full dose is for you)
  • Butter, sweet, 1 T
  • Garlic clove, large, 1, peeled & minced
  • Pasta cooking water, 6-8 T
  • Parmesan, freshly grated, 2-3 T
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Saute the garlic briefly in the melted butter, add the chiffonade of sorrel, and gently cook for a few minutes or until the leaves have turned an olive green and have started to disintegrate.

Add the capers, crème fraîche, and the pasta water. Give it all a good stirring.

Toss in the pasta to finish its cooking and stir for a minute or two over medium heat until the sauce thickens, coating each strand. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste.

Serve hot with the grated Parmesan. This dish turned out to be Alfredo Fettuccine's cousin who while singing the lemony praises of sorrel was whisked off to paradise to be enthroned on a buttery cloud which was anointed with garlic, laced with sour cream, seeded with piquant capers, and graced with cheese. Savoury salvation, indeed. Of the super supper kind.

Dirac the kitten after successfully completing his course of How Not To Hog Michelle's Computer Screen has developed a routine. He at first politely keeps to the right of my screen while maintaining a sentinel stance...

...which after five minutes or so morphs into a drowsy demeanor...

...ending with, well, complete abandonment of his guardian duties.

À la prochaine!


Sorrel as an ingredient in Gözleme, a Turkish stuffed bread
Sorrel as an ingredient in Minestrone
Sorrel added to scrambled eggs

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

The Adventure of the Speckled Pie!

A while back, OK, very much back, like many moons ago, one stormy night found me curled up on a sofa while intently poring over my culinary bible, Fannie Farmer. A description of how well cheddar goes with apple pie intrigued me as until then I thought the only worthy accompaniment was another slice, right next to the first one. Since I would forget to put some cheddar with a serving of pie, it was only when Pinterestyes, fast forward to the presentpopped up in my stream a photo of an apple pie cleverly made with a cheddar-enriched crust that I finally got around to tasting this wonderful pairing.

The cheddar causes the mottling

Though I was tempted to do a lattice crust on top, I remained instead committed to regarding pie as a lidded vessel for braising fruit. Simmer away, baby.

A potent mingling happens when fruit is well sealed within pastry: does the juice comes from the fruit or does the juice form the fruit? Where does the filling end and the crust begin? Primordial pie. 

makes a 9 inch/23 cm double crust pie

Pastry Dough:

  • Flour, white, plain, all-purpose, 20 fluid oz/350 g
  • Salt, 1/2 tsp
  • Butter, sweet, cold, cut into small pieces, 4 fluid oz/115 g
  • Lard, cold, cut into small pieces, 4 fluid oz/115 g
  • Cheddar, not colored, finely grated and lightly packed, 8 fluid oz/235 ml
  • Water, cold, 4-7 T


  • Apples, large, firm, tart, 6 (I used Granny Smith apples)
  • Sugar, white, 8 fluid oz/200 g
  • Salt, 1/2 tsp
  • Cinnamon, 1 tsp
  • Nutmeg, freshly grated, 1/2 tsp
  • Flour, 1.5 T
  • Butter, sweet 2 T
  • Optional:  lemon, small, freshly squeezed, about 3 T can be added if apples are not that tart or very fresh or if you prefer a more tart pie

To make the pastry, in a large bowl work the lard and butter into the flour and salt using your fingertips until the mixture resembles coarse sand.

Stir in the grated cheese and blend thoroughly.

Add the cold water, one tablespoon by tablespoon. The moisture content of the flour I used called for just four tablespoons; moister, that is, fresher flour would call for less while dryer and older, more water. Though it is important as it is often advised to keep the fat cold to achieve a flaky pastry, what is probably just as important if not more is to use the right amount of water. That's why I use my fingers so I can feel how wet the mixture is getting.

I test right in the mixing bowl after each addition of water if the dough will come together into a ball.  When it does, knead gently about five times on a lightly floured surface until the dough is mostly smooth. Halve into two equal parts by weighing them and lightly flatten both. Put in the fridge for at least thirty minutes.

Mix together the flour, sugar, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Reserve.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F/220 degrees C. Quarter a washed apple. Core the quarters. Peel, slice, and put them in a large bowl. The thinner they are, the more they will become saucier when baked. Repeat with the rest. If adding lemon juice, toss well with the apples.

Roll out one half of the cold dough on a floured surface. Use a pie plate for a template and cut all around, leaving a bit in surplus. Collect any scraps for later freezing. This pastry could be used in fresh fruit/veggie rounds.

Putting a tea towel/dish cloth under the pastry board prevents it from slipping

Using a thin, long, straight spatula, loosen the round from the surface. Fold in half.

Place the folded pastry midway in the pie plate. Unfold and press it gently to fit. Toss the spice/sugar mixture with the sliced apples. Put them first evenly into the plate and then pile the remaining in the centre to make a rounded hill shape. Dot with butter.

Roll out and fold in half the top crust and slide it midway over the apples, then unfold. Press together the top and bottom edge. Crimp around the perimeter either using the tines of a fork or as I did, with my fingers: thumb and first finger on one hand goes on the inside while the first finger on the other hand is doing shaping duty in the opposite direction on the outside. Decoratively slash the pie. I did four longer slashes in the shape of a cross leaving the very centre unmarked. Four shorter ones were added in between those. Line a shallow baking pan with parchment paper and put the pie on it.

If you prefer to hide the speckles, then coat the top with egg wash (beaten egg diluted a bit with water)

Bake for ten minutes at 425 degrees F/220 degrees C and then for another thirty to forty minutes at 350 degrees F/180 degrees C. The crust should be nicely browned, juices bubbling, and when a wooden skewer is inserted near the centre, it should penetrate the apples easily.

Slices are cleaner in shape if cut when the pie is just slightly warm or cool which could take at least an hour. Back in the day, that's why they were put on a sill of an opened window. For the first piece, I didn't do that. Maybe twenty minutes after this fragrant mound of lusciousness left the oven, I took a knife to it. The resulting pool of gooey juice was easily handled by spooning it around the slice. Think of it as soup being served with a fruit cheddar casserole. I did.

When warm, this pie wreathes you in aroma that of spice, butter, cheddar, and apple. It tastes great too!

Dirac the kitten is approaching the ripe old age of seven months. He's still teething, but less so, and he still gets into everything, but less so. He has graciously allowed me to teach him how not to hog my computer screen. Though a long series of classes were required, he now discreetly stands to the screen's right side.

Dirac preening with pride at his hard-earned accomplishment

À la prochaine!


The truth about what kind of apples Johnny Appleseed planted
The Adventure of the Speckled Band

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Crespelle en Brodo

This very special version of crespelle en brodo is taken from Ivonne's blog, Cream Puffs in Venice, and is a treasured recipe of her family. I first made this dish which originates from the area of Le Marche in Italy about six years ago when The Calm One was in Paris constructing huge mainframe computer mockups for a Renault TV commercial. A definite symmetry: he was erecting rectangular structures while I was building a pile of pancakes. 

Supposedly way back when, an Italian chef working for a French household while making crêpes accidentally dropped some into a nearby pot of chicken broth. I, for one, am glad he/she did! Crespelle is usually made by rolling up herb-flecked, cheese-filled crepes and covering them with chicken broth or slicing unfilled ones into wide ribbons, pouring the broth over them and sprinkling well with cheese. This approach instead gives you a soaked-in-broth, quartered, plump stack layered with a mixture of Parmesan and freshly ground black pepper.

makes thirty 6 inch or about fifteen 8 inch crespelle, enough for a hearty lunch for two or a first course for 4
  • Flour, white, plain, all-purpose, 16 fluid ounces
  • Water, tepid, 14 fluid ounces
  • Eggs, large, at room temperature, 8
  • Parmesan, freshly grated, 16 fluid ounces
  • Pepper, black, freshly ground, 1-2 tsp (if you adore black pepper and can never get enough of it then go for the full dose!)
  • Broth, chicken, homemade, (recipe here), reduced enough that it forms a jelly when cold, if not available, then the best that can be bought, around 32 fluid ounces, less if the crespelle are stacked snugly in the pot
  • Vegetable oil for the skillet, I used olive oil.
These are much less delicate than the French version because of a greater proportion of eggs and the substitution of water for milk. In a large mixing bowl, blend with a wooden spoon the flour and the water into a thick but still lumpy batter. Then whisk until smooth. Continue to whisk, incorporating a few eggs at a time...

... to get an unctuous consistency like that of rich cream.

For each crespelle, you will need to grease an already hot skillet. To do this safely, use a wodge of paper toweling, making sure you keep it safe from any water contamination. I had placed mine first on a counter invisibly spotted with water. The sizzling that resulted probably was heard down the block!

Cup of olive oil and greasing towel wisely secured on a dry plate

Heat a heavy-bottomed skillet till very hot. Test by carefully dribbling a few drops of water which should dance if the pan is ready to receive the first crespelle.  Lower the heat to medium. Then spread a thin film of oil via the paper towel. For an eight-inch skillet, ladle a scant 2 fluid ounces/60 ml of batter into a small measuring cup. While pouring, swirl the pan around to get an even coating. If you miss some spots just dribble a bit of batter on those. Feel free to experiment on a few to get the technique down and to arrive at the right amount of batter for your pan. I did, and ate right away a couple deemed too thick! Cook for about two minutes.

Flip it over without any additional greasing and cook for another two minutes.

Pile them on a plate as you make them.

I keep the spotted side up because I think it's prettier!

Mix the black pepper and grated cheese together.

Using a suitable, lidded container, like a deep, stainless steel skillet or a round, ceramic pot, place the first crespelle, spread a heaping tablespoon of cheese on it, and repeat until they are all nicely layered. Do not put cheese on the very top at this stage. Quarter the stack, checking that all four pieces are truly separated from each other.

Carefully ladle the hot broth until it reaches the top one which does not need to be completely doused in liquid. Sprinkle on the remaining cheeseOnce the lid is on, a magical transformation will happen during the next ten minutes. The sturdy crespelle will absorb the broth giving them the texture of scrumptious egg noodles while the cheese melts and the black pepper is encouraged to impart fully its trademark pungency.

Place a quarter in a soup plate and spoon some broth over it. Any extra can be kept on the table in a pitcher. Additionally leftovers can be reheated easily in it.

An exceptional first course or in my case, a wonderful lunch!

Elegance often embraces simplicity, and this dish has that aspect in abundance, reflecting what regional cuisine frequently does so well; with just a few ingredients, but with those that the chef are most familiar, that is, the best, the freshest, often local therefore ensuring the most suitable technique is chosen, an unassuming recipe is made that is memorable.

Dirac the kitten's gymnastic training continues at a nice clip. Since he is self-coaching, he often makes executive decisions that we wouldn't. The rocking chair gifted to me such a long time ago by a New York City roommate has been chosen to be Dirac's main work-out area. Additionally, he has decided it makes a great scratching post!

We think Dirac is trying to do push-ups on a decline

À la prochaine!


Regional cooking, Abruzzo style

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

The Versatility of Irish Soda Bread

Quick breads which are comprised of batter leavened with baking powder/soda are the ones I made early on in my continuing love affair with a hot oven. The yeasted glories came later. Cornbread, muffins, and griddle cakes, all boasting a hefty dose of levure chimique, topped my list way back then. One day a spunky upstart invaded the kitchen in the form of Irish Soda Bread.

Its fragrant crustiness made bumpy by raisins and caraway seeds along with its humility as it was neither too airy nor too rich won my heart...

...though this spartan aspect does not preclude slathering a wedge with sweet butter.

Or merrily drizzling a lemon glaze*. Or dusting a fine veil of icing sugar. Or filling a split wedge. With what you might ask? How about cream cheese, perhaps lemon curd? And the best tuna salad sandwich I ever had, was made with, you guess it, Irish Soda Bread.

The addition of caraway helps this bread straddle the line between sweet and savoury

makes 6 good-sized wedges
recipe adapted from my culinary bible, Fannie Farmer
  • Flour, plain, white, 16 fluid ounces/280 grams
  • Baking powder, 4 tsp
  • Salt, 1/2 tsp
  • Sugar, 1 T
  • Butter, sweet, 3 T, cut into small pieces
  • Milk, 5 1/3 fluid ounces/1 1/2 dL
  • Raisins, 4 fluid ounces/1dL
  • Caraway seeds, 1 T

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F/190 degrees C. Butter a 9 inch/23 cm round pan. Put the flour, baking powder, salt, and sugar in a large bowl. Using your fingers, work the butter into the mixture until it resembles coarse meal which takes just a few minutes.

Stir the milk in all at once to get a lumpy, moist mass. Add the raisins and caraway seeds, blending just enough to distribute them evenly, or as evenly as you can!

Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and knead about twenty times to get a fairly smooth, cohesive ball.

Place the dough in the center of the pan and press it to the sides. There shouldn't be any very thin spots, but in general the lumpy shape of the bread is one of its charms. Pop in the oven for about twenty minutes until a golden brown, and when its center springs back just a little when pressed. Cut into wedges of the size desired.

I would be the last one in the world to advise against the butter-melting indulgence of eating it hot from the oven, but when cooler or cool, the crumb is more conducive to making sandwiches. In any case, the raisins and caraway seeds along with an exceedingly tasty crust do a stand-up job of focusing your taste buds.

In the potager, the fall harvest is finally over. The Calm One and I have been conversing for the last month thusly:
Me (huffing and puffing up the sous sol stairs lugging a basket of just picked late-season tomatoes): Okay, these are the last!
Him:  You said that the last time.
Me:  Yes, you are right. Perhaps these are not the last.

I hate when an unusually long growing season makes a liar out of me, especially since we both look forward to topping The Calm One's macaroni and cheese with our tomatoes, sprinkling with even more cheese, then broiling the dish until they become saucy and the cheese bubbly.

The green stuff is chiffonade of basil

As there are no tomatoes whatsoever on the vines, red or green, I can say with certainty, these are the last! Whether or not they all will turn red is another story. So begins the impatient wait for next season's bounty as we do without fresh ones until then.

On the right is a jar of bay leaf cuttings waiting for their eventual potting up

À la prochaine!

*To make a fluid lemon glaze, add lemon juice to confectioner's sugar until you get the desired consistency. For extra punch, stir in some lemon zest.


How to make lemon curd
How to make griddle cakes
Drying bay leaves for culinary use and potting up cuttings


Joe Pastry discussing 'the continental divide', that is, the use of different leavening agents in America and Europe.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Lemon Curd Almond Shortbread

Cookies. Kids love them, right?  Well I didn't. That is until shortbread found its way into my young life via Nabisco. How was I ever to know that those usually crunchy, hard things could melt in your mouth? And when they did, I was hooked. Could that childhood memory lead to a new, improved version sans the assistance of a multinternational conglomerate? Bien sûr!

One aspect of living in France that speaks to me is the ease with which one can find ground nuts, especially almond and chestnut, which usually are stocked in regular supermarkets. These 'flours' are added to tortes, tart crust, crêpes, and sablés (French shortbread); their contribution of flavour, texture, and nutrition is significant. It just happens that there is some homemade lemon curd in the house, and as its pairing with shortbread is nothing short of sublime, who am I to keep those two from each other?

makes sixteen 7.5 cm rounds

  • Lemon curd, about 16 heaping teaspoons, recipe here, ample enough for these shortbreads
  • Sugar, icing/powdered/confectioners, 90 grams
  • Flour, plain, 185 grams
  • Cornflour/starch, 60 grams
  • Almonds, ground, 30 grams
  • Butter, 250 grams, cut into small pieces
  • Vanilla extract, a scant 1/8 teaspoon
  • Extra icing sugar for dusting

Preheat oven to 180 degrees C. Sift together into a medium-sized mixing bowl the icing sugar, flour, cornflour, and ground almonds. Add the vanilla extract and the butter, working the mixture with your fingers until it resembles coarse sand (it took me about five minutes). Press the mass to see if it mostly comes together.

Then turn out onto a floured surface and lightly knead a couple of times to get a smooth ball. First divide it into two roughly equal pieces, and then keep halving each resulting division into two until there are sixteen in total. Form into small balls. Gently press one into each cup.  The dough should fill about one third of the tin. As the pieces won't be identical in size, you could pinch a bit off the more heftier ones to boost the size of the smaller ones which will encourage more even baking.

I used a full twelve-cup muffin pan and a six-cup one though there were two empty places! Depending on what you have available, you may need to bake in batches, making sure that the pan to be reused has cooled off before placing dough in it.

Bake for fifteen to eighteen minutes until golden. Wait a minute and then make a well in each shortbread using your thumb or a couple of fingers, protecting them with a tiny piece of paper towel. Wait a few minutes more until there is a slight pulling away from the sides of the muffin tins. Carefully upturn the pans and while gently tapping each cup, remove all the shortbreads.

There's the bit of paper towel I used in the left upper corner! 

Let cool on a rack (I used one from the oven).

Lightly dust them with icing sugar. You may want to test one to see if that extra sweetness is a little too much. It sure looks pretty though! Then put a heaping teaspoon of curd into each depression. Though I wouldn't refuse a packaged shortbread, I certainly prefer homemade. These were fun to make and beyond delicious to eat.

The best way to get an even dusting of icing sugar is to use a small sieve

The weather is still remarkably warm which has encouraged some irises to put out an autumnal blooming.

Crimson mums in the left background and  two, makeshift bird baths to the right of them

Comme d'habitude, I didn't deadhead the hydrangeas, as their dusty violet and silver tracery is one of the joys of the autumn/winter garden.

We now know why Dirac the kitten bites onto a hacky sack for about five minutes straight. He is going through pronounced teething and has cleverly chosen his own teething ring!

Thank goodness we have a ton of these cloth 'pucks'!

À la prochaine!