Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Season's Greetings!

Dirac the kitten, The Calm One, and I all wish you the happiest of holidays! Laugh, eat up a storm, pet the furry one(s) you love, and don't forget to do something especially nice just for yourself. 

My apple pie recipe is here (sans cheddar in the crust)

Dirac already told us what he will be doing. Catching up on his reading!

He has many catalogs to browse...

See you in the new year!

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Parmesan Polenta with Tomato Sauce (Quick Recipes Series)

Polenta if made with the fast cooking variety presents its sunny goodness in minutes. Mounded in a bowl, it invitingly glistens. A possible response? Make an ample indentation, sprinkle some Parmesan, pour in a simple, easily made tomato sauce, and top with more cheese!

provides a huge serving for a very hungry person
  • Polenta, quick cooking (I used fine grain), 120 ml/4 fluid ounces
  • Water, 355 ml/12 fluid oz
  • Tomato paste, 3 T to be diluted with 8 T of water
  • Garlic, one large clove, minced
  • Thyme, dried, 1/4 tsp
  • Olive oil, 1 T
  • Parmesan, freshly grated, 2 heaping T plus some 'ribbons' made with a veggie peeler for garnishing
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Put the 355 ml/12 fluid oz of water into a medium-sized saucepan and bring to a boil.  In a skillet, saute minced garlic in olive oil for a minute or two over medium low heat, and then add the tomato paste and thyme.

Carefully pour in eight tablespoons of water and blend.

Simmer for a few minutes until thickened. Add salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste. Reserve and keep warm.

Into the boiling water, very gradually add the polenta in a fine rain, all the while stirringContinue to stir over low heat and simmer for a few minutes. Test taste to see if it's cooked to your preference. Pile into a bowl. Make a well in the centre and line it with one heaping tablespoon of Parmesan.

Puddle some sauce.

Scatter another heaping tablespoon of cheese and finish with cheese ribbons.

Dwarf snapdragons are still blooming chez nous!

This colourful duo of polenta and tomato sauce are made for each other. The sauce brings to each substantial spoonful of warming porridge a fragrant reminder of summer.

Dirac the kitten often assists in my publishing posts at Souped-up Garden. Here he is identifying some prose needing revision.

He attentively observes my editing.

He thoughtfully approves.

À la prochaine!

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Quick Coffee Cake

Coffee cakes which are raised with yeast and served when still warm from the oven are my preference. Their steamy softness emitting a whiff of spice and topped either with buttery crumbs or a plain icing makes me happy that an aromatic, invigorating brown liquid exists.

But this type takes time. My culinary bible, Fannie Farmer, to the rescue! It contains a recipe for a baking powder version whose simple cinnamon sugar topping becomes transformed into a carmelised crust which seals in moisture. Barely an hour is needed to put a freshly baked delice on the table!

makes nine approximately 2.5 inch/6.5 cm squares

  • Sugar, white, 200 grams/8 fluid oz
  • Flour, white, 245 grams/14 fluid oz
  • Baking powder, 2 tsp
  • Butter, sweet, 60 grams/4 T (cold and cut into small pieces)
  • Egg, large, 1, slightly beaten
  • Milk, whole, 1 dL/4 fluid oz
  • Topping:  1 T sugar mixed with 1.5 tsp cinnamon
  • If desired, cake squares can be split and filled with lemon curd, recipe here (decrease sugar by 2 T because this cake is pretty sweet)

Preheat the oven to 190 degrees C/375 degrees F. Butter an 8-inch/20 cm square pan. Mix the sugar, the flour, and the baking powder in a large bowl.

Work in the butter with your fingers until the mixture resembles coarse sand.

Add the egg and milk...

...and blend till mostly smooth.

Spoon into pan. Shake to level out the thick batter. If required, smooth out to the edges with a wet, metal tablespoon. Sprinkle the sugar mixture evenly all over the top.

Bake for about thirty minutes or until the sides pull away just a bit and when the centre is pressed it springs back slightly. Served warm, this cake has a pleasing doughy crumb and a crust close to toffee in taste and texture. It still is pretty good when completely cooled and in that state it can be easily split and filled with lemon curd. You are right if you are thinking that I didn't wait for either the cake or the curd to cool completely. Hence the yellow lava flow.

A fabulous pairing!

Dirac the kitten is slated to start a course where he will learn not to run in circles around my computer screen. Well, at least not continuously for thirty minutes. Yes, he is still teething and thank goodness for hacky sacks and the international conglomerate who inserts them in our cereal boxes.

One half of the circle: back of the screen

The other half of the circle:  front of the screen

À la prochaine!

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, 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 their being potted and placed on a sunny window sill/under plant lights or overwintered in the garden by covering them snugly with horticultural fleece. Also more and more markets are stocking an enticing 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, 3 fluid oz/82 g
  • Lard, cold, cut into small pieces, 3 fluid oz/82 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 appropriate 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