Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Corn and Tomato Pie 2012

Hi Marg,

I know it's almost Labor Day but I am holding on to summer with both hands. I haven't had nearly enough corn, cherry tomatoes, green beans, or even zucchini. The other night I made your favorite, Corn and Tomato Pie, a la Laurie Colwin. Though I have never been a huge fan of her novels, her cooking books are great. I have both Home Cooking and More Home Cooking, and can't remember which I like better. What I really appreciate is her it's-no-big-deal attitude, that cooking is easy, after all, how bad can it be?

Well, let me tell you. I followed the recipe pretty closely. Of course I didn't puree the corn, that's silly. Do you? And I substituted about half a cup of whole wheat flour for white. But other than that I was pretty good. Except that I did eat some of the biscuit dough raw so there wasn't quite as much as there should have been. I know you probably think that's gross, and maybe it is, but I can't help it. Any raw dough is irresistible to me. I think there's a word for the disorder but I don't want to know it. Anyway...

I followed the recipe for the most part. And it wasn't as good as in the past. The mayonnaise had a weird taste. It wasn't Hellman's but some organic olive oil based stuff from Whole Foods that I never liked but kept because I'm too cheap to throw away. Maybe that had something to do with it. By the way, did you know that Americans throw away nearly half their food, wasting about $65 BILLION every year? Ever since I read that I've felt like I should eat the slimy lettuce. But I don't. It's not raw dough. Anyway...

The pie was swimming in liquid. Granted it was flavorful liquid but there's something unnerving about cutting open your pie and finding soup.We ate it up, but I wasn't as taken with it as in the past. Did you love it this year?

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Birthday Dacquoise


A Birthday! A Birthday! A friend with a Birthday! AKA an excuse to bake!

Christiana likes vanilla. (I know.) I have been emboldened by my success with macarons. (Still giddy from those fabulous feet.) I decided to make a dacquoise. Most dacquoise are chocolate or involve chocolate. I needed a vanilla one. I found what I was looking for at Tartlette

Her cake is rose scented and raspberry jellied and lemon glazed and visually perfect. I asked you what you thought, and your reply was “fussy.”

But I really, really had my heart set on dacquoise and the thought of a plain old yellow cake, or God Forbid, the coconut, vanilla bean cake, made me want to forget the bake fest altogether and just make another chicken salad.

This is not a true dacquoise, as it calls for a little flour. Next time, ixnay on the flour. Flour in a meringue makes it sturdy. If you were making a cake that needed to last a week, maybe travel on an airplane, hold up to some manhandling and also look perfect all the time, then be my guest, have your way with the flour.  But know that it will be about as satisfying as an inflatable doll.

I have fantasies of starting a cake company. I’ll make cakes that taste fabulous, but messy will be the polite word for how they look.  I’ll call my company Magenta Arborvitae and my slogan will be, “The only thing pretty is the name.” My bf is always disappointed when I announce that I have a fantasy and then tell him about some particularly long bike ride I want to do. He says, “That’s not a fantasy, that’s a thought!” So I think about starting a cake company.

At any rate, up until this point, I was following the recipe, at least as closely as I ever do, and I added the flour. I also took Brave Tart’s advice and used Almond Meal instead of grinding my own almonds. And will do so forever more, forever more more more

I know this will come as a surprise to you, but I couldn’t deal with the whole jellied raspberry layer. I decided to use fresh raspberries and a raspberry sauce. 

Gets me to the good part more quickly—The Bavarian Cream. I wasn’t familiar with Bavarian Cream. Are you familiar with Bavarian Cream? It is a vanilla custard folded into whipped cream. Why wasn’t I told?! It’s my new favorite food!

But naturally, I had to try too hard and ruin it. Well, as much as you can ruin vanilla custard folded into whipped cream. The custard thickened beautiful to a silky heaviness and I thought, well this is pretty good, but maybe it can be thicker. Now I know why it can’t be thicker. No matter how frantically you whisk, at a certain temperature, eggs cook. I guess that is why the anxious or precise among us use candy thermometers. It was late. The custard had gelatin in it. It tasted good. I put the curdled mass in the fridge and went to bed.

The next day, the custard was very firm. I could have sliced it. I could have carved it into a sculpture. I beat it with the mixer and folded in that whipped cream. And you know what?  The curdled part didn’t matter at all. OK, Pierre Herme would have noticed. Julia Child would have noticed but she wouldn’t have cared. It was that good. 

Assemble assemble. I had made the dacquoise cakes in 9” rounds and I arranged the layers as follows: cake, Bavarian cream, raspberries, cake and so forth, ending with Bavarian cream.

Skipped the lemon glaze. Shocker!

I made Julia Child’s raspberry sauce—raspberries (I used frozen), sugar, a splash of lemon juice, whizzed in the food processor until the sugar has dissolved or the noise is driving you crazy. 

The result? Not pretty, you have to admit. But good! 

Next time I will eschew the flour and put Bavarian cream on both sides of the raspberries and the Bavarian cream will subtly permeate the meringue layers creating a meld of vanilla and cream and custard and berries, and it will be bliss. 

What are we making for your birthday?

Love, Margaret 

Monday, August 20, 2012

Boat Food

Dear Marg,

You know we were on a sailboat for a week. You know Erin is a great cook. You know I like to eat and try to cook. What you may not know is how frickin' small boat kitchens are. First of all, they're not called Kitchens, they are Galleys. Not Gallows, though with all those ropes (called Lines) around and the steep narrowness of the stairs that lead into them, it's not out of the question.

And? No refrigerator. An ice box works surprisingly well, as I'm sure Gram would have told us. Actually, when we got back to the starting dock (Port, apparently) we discovered that there was in fact a refrigerator, we'd just been using it as an ice box.

But never mind. In spite of this, we turned out some amazing meals. All the credit goes to Erin who planned and prepped everything. I tried to be more help in the galley than I was in the sailing, which truthfully wasn't asking much. My greatest contribution to the sailing was in not having to be told to stay out of the way. I figured that one out pretty quickly, what with the Lines flying and the sails banging and the boat about to tip us all into the water like a Luge Sled only without tracks.

The Galley:

What it produced:

Lamb kebobs. salad and roasted potatoes, onions and zucchini

This is how we cooked the potatoes, onions and zukes

Chicken in a spice rub

Vinho verde, only more rosso than verde...

Composed crab salad, made with fresh caught Dungeness crab we bought on the docks at Friday Harbor

Aviation cocktails. I know, not really appropriate, but fabulous nonetheless


Even the leftovers were delicious

You would have loved the food. As for the rest of it, probably not enough happened for you. 

Love, Elise

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Superfood Cottage Pie

Several years ago, when I was in my Superfoods craze, I tried to see how many superfoods I could get in one dish. I wanted one recipe that didn’t resort to anything peculiar like blueberry, salmon, pumpkin, kale, walnut hash bound with yogurt and topped with a tomato sauce. It had to be something I would actually want to eat, although not necessarily serve to company.
Superfoods became a way of life, I became less obsessed with them and as these things go, I settled in to eating the ones I like—sweet potatoes, spinach—and neglecting the ones I don’t—soy.
When I discovered Sweet Potato Cottage Pie in Fine Cooking, I was reminded of the super food challenge. I altered the recipe to include more super foods and also to taste better.
I have now made this for several people and everyone has requested the recipe, even Abby, chef extraordinaire.
Here it is.

For the topping
3 large sweet potatoes (about 2 lb. total)
1/2 – ¾ cup whole milk 
2 – 4 Tbs. unsalted butter
For the filling
Some olive oil
3 celery stalks, diced
3 carrots, diced  
1 large onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced 
2 TB ground cumin 
1 TB dried oregano 
1 TB chile powder 
2 tsps. ground cinnamon 
2-3 lb. ground turkey 
1 – 2 14-oz. cans tomatoes, whole or crushed. (
I like the fire roasted crushed. If you use whole tomatoes, use 2 cans, for crushed tomatoes, use about a can and a half, you don’t want it to be like tomato sauce.)
1 lb spinach or another green
3/4 cup coarsely chopped pitted black olives 
3/4 cup raisins, preferably golden

Bake the potatoes, scoop out the flesh and mix it with the rest of the topping ingredients to make mashed potatoes, using more or less milk and butter to suit your tastes.

Sauté the mirepoix in the olive oil until softened. Add the spices and cook for another few minutes. Add the garlic and allow it to just soften but not brown. Remove all this from the pan, add more olive oil and turn the heat up. Brown the turkey, stirring it and breaking up any big pieces. Add the vegetables back in. Add the tomatoes and cook this for a few minutes so flavors meld. Now taste it and add more salt (the olives will add some saltiness so don’t go overboard salting here) and pepper or more of the other spices if it needs it. Add the greens and cook just until wilted, then stir in the olives and raisins.
Put this in a large pie pan or a 9 x 13 pan or some sort of baking pan that will hold it. I often make all this in the All Clad Braiser and then bake it in that also. Spread the potatoes on top and bake in a 400 oven for 30 – 45 minutes or until the filling is bubbling.

Only 4 super foods—turkey, sweet potatoes, greens and tomatoes, but you could add a can of chick peas and maybe even some pumpkin seeds or walnuts and get it to six. I wonder if you could use yogurt in the topping, making seven, and I wonder if you heat the yogurt and kill the probiotics if it would still be a super food.

Of course, these are Steven Pratt’s Superfoods. If you consider Dr. Furman’s Superfoods, then you already have an extra one bc Dr. Furman includes onions on his list. And you could add mushrooms, another Dr. Furman recommendation, and you’d have one more.

The point is, this is a recipe that lends itself to tinkering and can accommodate a lot of Superfoods. Then you can take your earned virtue and spend it on dessert.

Ice Cream

The summer project was Ice Cream.
But wait, the summer’s not over and there are weeks left for ice cream eating!
Yes, but I’m home, the ice cream maker remained in Idaho and you’ll be back in Seattle soon where it is probably not all that warm, summer or not.
We perfected one. Vanilla. It took two trials and one bold move.
I started with David Lebovitz’s  vanilla. That seems to be where everyone starts, but then they all also finish there. His recipe calls for a cup of milk, 2 cups of cream, 6 egg yolks, ¾ cup sugar, a vanilla bean and some vanilla extract. This made crème anglais ice cream. The consensus was too sweet.  I thought too custardy and yellow as well as too sweet. It might do for some things, to accompany a steamed pudding perhaps, but not for vanilla ice cream.
So on to the second trial where you played your part and we made a bold move. I thought we should make an incremental change, drop the sugar to 2/3 of a cup and see how that was. You said half a cup. You were firm. Mom backed you up.
I made the recipe again using 1/2 cup of sugar and only 4 egg yolks.  Also, because I didn’t check the milk supply before hand, I used ½ cup milk, ½ cup half and half and 2 cups of cream.
It was perfect. Just like that. Wonderful cream and vanilla flavors, creamy texture, splendid. Just like that.
Next summer—Chocolate!