Friday, April 17, 2015

Beautiful Boneless Chicken Thighs

The thigh is my favorite part of the chicken.  I think I have always been of this opinion (I have always preferred dark meat turkey, too…).  For many years I was in the minority…the poor thigh was out of favor with most…no doubt a victim of the fear of fat.  In recent years, this most flavorful and moist part of the chicken has been gaining some ground….but mostly in its boneless, skinless form.  This new preference may have something to do with a still ingrained fear of fat (much of the fat resides in the skin), but I also suspect the fact that people want to purchase boneless thighs may have something to do with the fact that a thigh…when cooked surrounded by some kind of delicious liquid (which is one of the best ways to prepare and eat the thigh)….is not the neatest thing to eat.

A fried or roasted thigh is of course easily eaten with ones hands.  But most Americans…self included… are a bit disinclined to pick up a saucy piece of meat with their hands when in polite company.  Trying to remove all of the meat from the bone with a knife and fork can be done….but it takes more time and effort—and creates more of a mess on the plate—than most people seem to be willing to deal with at the table. 

Poulet à la Fermière

Despite all this, I still prefer to cook thighs on the bone…with the skin.  It is an undisputed fact that meat always tastes better when cooked on the bone.  Just as bones give flavor to a stock or broth, they impart flavor to the meat as they cook together.  I would also maintain that meat cooked on the bone is ultimately moister and juicer than corresponding boneless cuts.  As for the skin….besides being delicious in and of itself…I am convinced that since it provides a natural protective coating of fat, it is also responsible for a juicier and tastier final result. 

But just because something has been cooked on the bone doesn’t mean it must be served on the bone.  We routinely carve large roasts in order to serve the meat without the bone—a whole chicken, prime rib, leg of lamb, etc.  There is absolutely no reason not to treat chicken thighs the same way…removing the bone before it ever gets to the table so that you…and your family or your guests….can eat and enjoy a delicious, boneless piece of meat. 

Poulet Basquaise

So today, instead of posting a recipe, I thought I would explain the simple process of de-boning a cooked chicken thigh.  I hope no one minds the lack of a recipe (I have posted several in the past…and have provided images and links throughout this post—you can also find a list under the chicken section on my “recipes” page).  But if the popularity of my other basics posts (as tracked by my new “popular posts” feature below) is an indication, this is actually the kind of information that many people are looking for.    

Before I get started, for safety reasons I want to mention that when you are boning a piece of meat…whether raw or cooked… you should always keep the hand that is holding the knife (your “working hand”) clean and dry.  Use your other hand to handle the meat as you work.  If you allow your working hand to get wet or greasy (by touching the meat) your hand might slip on the knife handle, possibly causing you to cut yourself. 

To de-bone a cooked chicken thigh:  Let the thighs sit until they are cool enough to handle (they don’t have to be cold…in fact, the meat comes away from the bone more easily if it is still slightly warm).  Pick up a thigh with your non-working hand and lightly scrape any sauce clinging to the meat back into the cooking vessel using the back side of your boning knife.  Place the thigh on a cutting board skin-side down. 

While stabilizing the thigh with your non-working hand, 

use the tip of your boning knife to make a shallow incision from knuckle to knuckle along the length of the bone. 

Continue to run the tip of your knife over the incision until your knife is scraping the bone.  This should only take one or two passes with the knife—the idea is that you are “searching” for the bone with your knife tip so that you can actually scrape the bone clean of meat with the tip of your knife without making unnecessary cuts into the meat itself.     

When the bone is exposed, use the fingers of your non-working hand to grab one end of the bone.  Twist slightly while you simultaneously use the tip of the knife to slice and scrape the cooked flesh neatly away from the bone.  If the thighs have been cooked properly (until the meat is fork-tender), the meat will pretty much release itself from the bone.  You may need to do a bit of knife work on the opposite side of the bone from where you started…but not too much.  

Next, lift the bone up and away from the meat. 

Then, using the fingers of your non-working hand, gently probe the portion of the thigh where the knuckles of the bone were attached.  It is likely that the hard white cartilage that covered the knuckles has detached itself from the bone and is still attached to the meat.  If this is the case, simply pinch it away from the meat and discard it.  Check both ends.  

Now, tuck any bits of meat that have been separated from the main piece of meat back into the interior of the thigh (where the bone was).  Flip the thigh back over so that it is skin-side up. 

By way of encouragement...  I have been de-boning chicken thighs for years.  And because I like to serve chicken thighs to my classes, I have lots of practice.  Even with all of this practice, the bone does not always come away beautifully and cleanly.  

But rest assured, if you tuck all of the bits of meat back into the cavity that has been left by the bone, when you flip the thigh over, no one will ever know the difference.  You will still have a beautiful, boneless thigh.  

Since most of the saucy sorts of dishes that will benefit from this process are even better in taste and texture after they have had time to cool and sit awhile (overnight…or even just a few hours) it makes sense to take the few minutes necessary to remove the thigh bones.  If the sauce needs de-fatting, do this before you return the meat to the sauce.  After any de-greasing, place the boneless thighs back in the cooking vessel (skin side up), nestling them down into the sauce.  Refrigerate until an hour or so before you want to serve.  If you are serving your dish family-style, instead of putting everything back in the pan the dish was cooked in, take a minute to transfer the entire contents of the pan into a clean dish (preferably one with a lid) that is oven-safe and table-worthy.  As long as your pan is covered, there is no need to worry that the meat will dry out—one of the wonderful things about thighs is that unlike white meat, there is enough fat and collagen in the dark meat to keep them moist and juicy—even when reheated.

The beauty of this process is that it produces a beautiful portion of meat that still resembles a whole chicken thigh.  A chicken thigh that is cooked from its boneless skinless state may taste good…but the nubby and lumpy portion of meat that results is not terribly attractive.   Once you get the hang of it, removing the thigh bones is fast and easy to do….and in every way that matters—taste, texture, ease of consumption and appearance—it is totally worth the effort involved.  Certainly any guests you have will notice and appreciate the difference…and I would be surprised if even your family won't notice a difference too.  

Baked Chicken with Garlic, Leeks & Thyme

Friday, April 10, 2015

French Potato Tart…with Ham & Cheese

Shortly after I posted my winter vegetable crostata I ran across a link on my Facebook feed to a list of savory tarts that had been published in the New York TimesThe picture attached to the link was of a double crusted potato tart by David Tanis.  His tart is almost identical to one in Susan Loomis’s French Farmhouse Cookbook.  I had forgotten about this unusual tart…I haven’t made it in years…but after seeing it, it seemed to take up residence in the front of my brain.  Later, as I considered the remains of my Easter ham, it seemed obvious to me that this tart would be a great place to tuck a few slices of that leftover ham…along with a bit of  Gruyère cheese….

The main difference between Tanis’s version of this tart and Loomis’s is the type of potato and the amount of heavy cream   Loomis specifies waxy potatoes, while Tanis uses Yukons—which to me are starchy.  His version also uses four times as much heavy cream.  I suspect you can use as much—or as little—heavy cream as you like, but that you will get better results with less cream if you choose a waxy potato …and more cream if you use a starchy potato.  When I made mine, I had Russet potatoes on hand (which are starchy) and used twice as much cream as Loomis (and half as much as Tanis).  I was perfectly satisfied with the way mine turned out.  I mention all of this mostly to illustrate the flexibility of this tart. 

Because the tart is essentially nothing more than potatoes and pastry crust, it is important to season it well.  It should contain a generous quantity of garlic—2 nice fat cloves for 1 1/2 to 2 pounds of potatoes…and 1 to 2 tablespoons of fresh thyme.  Without enough salt, your tart will be bland, so when you toss the potatoes with the garlic, thyme and cream, taste carefully for salt—remembering that if you are adding ham and cheese (as I did) that you will need a little less. 

This tart makes a fine dinner…or lunch…accompanied by a salad or side vegetable of some kind.  We enjoyed ours with a shredded Brussels Sprouts salad (Buvette‘s is particularly good…I like to add a squeeze of lemon to this one), but it would also be very nice with a kale or a spinach salad…or a small fluff of baby lettuces.  Blanched green beans or asparagus—tossed with some herbs or a few toasted nuts—would be delicious on the side…as would a big pile of honey glazed carrots.

I admit that advocating the serving of a cream-laced pastry and potato concoction as the main event of your meal may seem a bit audacious in our current culture of—take your pick—gluten-, carb- or fat-avoidance….but I choose not to see it that way at all.  Rather, I think of this tart as a special and delicious treat in the midst of a sensible—“all things in moderation”—approach to eating.  Enjoy!

French Potato Tart with Ham & Cheese

1 recipe pâte brisée (see below), rolled for a double crust tart, bottom shell partially baked
1 1/2 lbs. potatoes
2 cloves garlic, peeled and finely minced
1 T. picked fresh thyme, chopped
Salt & freshly ground pepper
1/2 c. heavy cream (or crème fraiche)—You may use as little as 1/4 cup for waxier potatoes and as much as a cup for more starchy potatoes.  A half cup is a happy medium, working well for either kind.
5 to 6 oz. ham, trimmed of excess fat and cut into a small dice
4 oz. Gruyère cheese, grated
1 T. unsalted butter, cut into four pieces (optional)

1 egg yolk
1 T. heavy cream

Peel the potatoes.  Using a mandolin, slice the potatoes as thinly as possible. Place the potatoes in a large bowl and add the garlic and thyme.  Season well with salt and pepper and pour in the cream.  Use your hands to mix, making sure all the potato slices are coated and that the seasoning is evenly distributed. Taste the potatoes and cream and correct the seasoning. 

Place the partially baked tart shell on a baking sheet.  Arrange the potatoes in two or three even layers, scattering the ham and cheese in between each successive layer.  Pour any cream remaining in the bowl over the potatoes in the crust, scraping well with a rubber spatula. 

Whisk the yolk and 1 tablespoon of cream together.  Carefully paint the rim of the bottom crust with the egg wash.  Using a 1/2- to 3/4-inch plain or fluted cutter, cut a hole in the center of the top crust.  Place the top crust over the potatoes, being careful not to stretch it, but allowing it to drape naturally over the surface of the potatoes.  Press gently along the edges to seal and to cut the top crust off flush with the edge of the tart pan.   Paint the top crust evenly with the egg wash.

Place the baking sheet with the tart on the middle rack in a preheated 375° oven. Bake the tart until the potatoes are tender and the crust is a beautiful golden brown.  Depending on the potatoes you use, this will take anywhere from 50 to 70 minutes.  Start checking the potatoes after about 40 minutes.  If you like, about 10 minutes before the tart is done baking, insert the four pieces of butter into the center of the tart through the hole cut earlier….the butter will melt and baste the potatoes in the center of the tart as the tart finishes baking.

When the tart is done, remove it from the oven and place on a sturdy bowl so that the rim can be lowered away from the tart.  Slide the tart off of the bottom portion of the tart pan and onto a wire rack.  Allow the tart to cool for five minutes before serving.  (Often the crust will release butter while the tart is baking, by removing the tart from the pan right away you are insuring that the crust will not become greasy or soggy by reabsorbing this butter.)

Transfer the tart to a cutting board or platter and serve warm or at room temperature.  Tart serves 6 to 8. 

Pâte Brisée
 (Savory Tart Dough)

2 1/3 c. all-purpose flour (265g)
5/8 t. salt
14 T. cold unsalted butter, sliced into 1/4-inch thick pieces (200g)
5 to 7 T. ice water (up to 100g)

Combine the flour and the salt in a medium-sized bowl.  Rub the butter into the flour until the butter is in small pea-sized pieces. Drizzle 5 T. ice water over the flour/butter mixture.  Using your hands, fluff the mixture until it begins to clump, adding more water if necessary.  If, when you squeeze some of the mixture it holds together, the dough is finished.  Turn the dough out onto a counter and form into a mound.  Using the heel of your hand, gradually push all of the dough away from you in short forward strokes, flattening out the lumps.  Continue until all of the dough is flat.  Using a bench scraper, scrape the dough off the counter, forming it into a single clump as you do.  Divide the dough into two pieces—one (for the bottom crust) should be slightly larger than the other.  Wrap the dough in plastic wrap, pressing into a thick disk.  Chill for at least 30 minutes.

To roll out, let the discs of dough warm up for a moment or two.  Butter a 10-inch removable-bottom tart pan and set it aside.  Flour the work surface and the rolling pin.  Begin rolling from the center of the dough outward.  After each stroke, rotate the dough a quarter turn—always making sure that there is sufficient flour to keep the dough from sticking.  Keep rolling and turning until you have a round of dough that is about 1/8 to 1/6 –inch in thickness and is about 11 1/2- to 12-inches in diameter.  Brush off the excess flour and fold the dough circle in half.  Slide the outspread fingers of both hands under the dough and gently lift it and transfer it to the prepared tart pan.  Unfold the dough and ease it into the pan being careful not to stretch it.  Cut the dough off flush with the edge of the pan by pressing gently against the edge.  Chill the shell for at least 1/2 hour.

In a similar manner, roll out the second disc into a round that is at least 10 1/2-inches in diameter.  Transfer to a baking sheet and chill. 

To partially bake the bottom crust, line the chilled pastry with aluminum foil (dull side up), gently pressing it into the corners and edges.  Add a layer of pie weights or dried beans.  Bake in a 425° oven for 15 minutes, or until the pastry begins to color on the edges, remove the foil and weights and continue baking until the pastry dries out and turns a light golden color—another 2 or 3 minutes.  Let cool before filling.

Notes:  If you have never made a basic pâte brisée, you might want to check out this detailed post on how to make short crust pastry.   Similarly, you will find a few pointers on partially baking a pie shell in my post about quiche basics.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Marbled Peanut Butter Cheesecake Brownies

Some of you may have noticed that my blog got a bit of a facelift last week.  Nothing too dramatic…a slightly new color….a gently tweaked layout…  I did add one entirely new feature:  a sidebar that shows the ten most visited posts each week.  As I glanced at this list when it first popped up, I was curious to see what it was that had attracted the most traffic.  The thing that caught my eye was the post hanging out at number ten: a recipe for a favorite brownie…posted nearly five years ago.  I hadn’t thought about brownies in a while, but was of course immediately hungry for one after taking a peek at that post.  Some cravings go away.  This one did not.  It continued to nag me all week.  So, on Saturday morning, I finally gave in.

As it turned out, I didn’t end up making the exact thing that had triggered my craving.  I did make brownies....but it was a different recipe entirely.  Like most cooks I have more than one favorite brownie recipe.  And when I walked into the kitchen I was planning on making one of these other favorites—specifically a recipe originally based on the famed Katharine Hepburn brownies.  I have altered the recipe enough over the years that it isn’t really recognizable as the original.  Still…I always like to give credit when I can.

While gathering the ingredients for the brownies, my plans took an even bigger turn.  First, I ran across a half package of cream cheese that has been taking up space in my refrigerator for a while.  It occurred to me that some marbled cheesecake brownies would be a good home for it.  As I considered this though, I began to feel like 4 oz. wouldn’t produce enough of a cheesecake swirl for even a small pan of brownies.  It then occurred to me that I could augment the cream cheese with a little bit of….peanut butter.  I don’t know what sparked this thought.  But at that point I was ready for a taste of peanut butter cheesecake brownies. 

I think that most brownie recipes—provided the batter isn’t too liquid—can be turned into a marbled cheesecake brownie.  Simply make the basic recipe and spread it into the pan first.  It is best if you choose a brownie that isn’t too deep…but I think even such a recipe could be made to work.  You would just need to choose a slightly larger pan…or maybe increase the total baking time.  I had to increase the baking time for my brownies by almost 10 minutes from what it would have taken for the “plain” version.

As for the cheesecake portion, any basic cheesecake batter should work. For an 8- or 9-inch pan of brownies, just make a batch of batter that only uses 6 to 8 ounces of cream cheese.  Dollop this batter evenly over the brownie batter and swirl in.  

As always, don’t be too aggressive with the swirling—too much swirling and you lose the beautiful look of large blocks of contrasting colors.

I finished my marbled brownies with chocolate chips.  I like the look…and the additional chocolate…  But you could leave this off…or use peanut butter chips….or maybe some Reece’s Pieces…

In the end, these brownies hit the spot.  If you like brownies and cheesecake—and the combination of peanut butter and chocolate…I think you will enjoy them immensely.  Of course, they could never replace the original…which I love.  But it’s nice to have variety…and the option to the occasion—or the craving—demands.     

Marbled Peanut Butter Cheesecake Brownies

4 oz. cream cheese, softened
3 T.  peanut butter (50 g.)
1/4 c. sugar (50 g.)
1/4 t. vanilla
1 egg yolk
1/4 lb. (1 stick) unsalted butter
4 oz. bittersweet chocolate (I use Ghirardelli 60%)
2 large eggs
2/3 c. sugar
1 t. vanilla
1/2 c. all-purpose flour (55g.)
1/4 t. salt
1/2 c. chocolate chips (optional)

Butter an 8-inch square baking pan.  Line the pan with parchment paper allowing the parchment to hang over the edges on 2 sides.  Butter the paper.  Flour the pan and set aside.  Preheat the oven to 350°. 

In a small bowl, beat the cream cheese and peanut butter together just until smooth and homogenous.  Beat in the sugar and vanilla.  Beat in the egg yolk.  Set aside

In a medium saucepan, over low heat, melt the butter and the chocolate.  Set aside to cool for a moment or two. 

In a large bowl, whisk the eggs just to break up.  Whisk in the sugar and the vanilla just until smooth.  Whisk in the salt.  Stir in the cooled chocolate-butter mixture.  Sift the flour into the bowl and fold in.  

Spread the chocolate batter in the prepared pan.  Dollop the peanut butter mixture evenly over the chocolate batter in 8 or 9 equal portions (a miniature ice cream scoop/cookie scoop works well for this).  Smooth the peanut butter dollops slightly so they are more or less level with the chocolate batter.  Marble the two batters together.  Scatter the chips over the surface if using.  Bake until a toothpick comes out just clean—about 25 to 30 minutes.  Cool completely and cut into small rectangles or squares.  Makes 16 to 24 brownies. 

Note:  If you prefer your cheesecake brownies light and fluffy, store them at a cool room temperature.  For a more dense and fudge-y texture, store them in the refrigerator.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Winter Vegetable & Apple Crostata

Several years ago a food writer and cookbook author told me that it would be a good idea if I learned to work at least one season ahead.  This way my menus…class offerings….anything I might be writing….would be ready when the appropriate season arrived.  Alas, I have never fully mastered the ability to do this.  Today’s post is a good example.  Yesterday was the first full day  of Spring—and it was a glorious first day of Spring where I live….sunny, warm......everything on the verge—and here I am, posting a recipe for a late winter vegetable crostata.

It is true that I could wait until next winter to share this recipe (in which case I could think of myself as a super-planner: “I’m three seasons ahead!”), but as it happens I have a good reason to want to post it now.   If you follow along with me on a regular basis, you might remember a post I wrote a couple of weeks ago about the importance of having a handful of basic recipes that you know so well and make so often that you can make them—and improvise with them—on a whim or as the occasion demands.  Like the almond and chocolate braid in that post, the winter vegetable crostata that I’m sharing today fits perfectly into this category, thus making a nice follow up post. 

If you know how to make short crust pastry (and really, everyone can learn to make a respectable short crust just takes a little knowledge and a little practice) the makings of a delicious dinner are almost always within reach.  Often, you will be able to use ingredients that you already have on hand.  Among other things, short crust pastry (a.k.a.pâte brisée or pie dough) can be turned into empanadas or turnovers, a quiche, a formal tart….or a rustic crostata/free form tart.

The night I made my winter vegetable crostata, I had a lot of odds and ends in my refrigerator….  Half of a celery root….  A chunk of butternut squash….   (The reality of life in a two person household is that rarely do you use all of either of these two for one meal…unless you’re making a puréed soup….).    I also had a couple of cups of thinly sliced and washed leeks (left from some over-zealous purchasing for a private event) and a lone golden delicious apple (my favorite baking apple, but not one I’m likely to snack on).  

I had other leftovers too, but these four seemed like they belonged together.  I suppose there are a lot of things I could have made with these items, but as I pondered them, it suddenly seemed obvious that with the addition of half of a package of goat cheese (also a leftover) I had the makings of a delicious crostata. 

The crostata itself is one of these basic/workhorse recipes…creating one is easy, as long as you learn a few basic guidelines.  The filling shouldn’t be liquid (as for a quiche custard) since it might leak and create a mess in the oven.  (Save liquid fillings for a more stable, traditional tart shell.)   Also, since the crust cannot be pre-baked, always put something in the tart first that will act as a bit of a barrier—protecting the crust from becoming soggy before it has the opportunity to cook through.  Cheese works well for this….or a layer of caramelized onions…or even just a thin smear of Dijon. 

To fill a crostata, simply layer in a pleasing combination of cooked ingredients (raw ingredients can release a lot of water as they cook—producing a watery filling and possibly a sodden crust—despite the presence of a “barrier”)…always remembering that less is more.  You might have noticed that I said I had “other leftovers” that I chose not to use when I prepared my crostata.   Only include components that complement one another and are needed to produce a well-rounded, harmonious whole.  Add flavor exclamation points with garlic, herbs, spices, olives/capers/anchovies, nuts, dried fruits, cheeses, etc.,…incorporating them when you cook the individual components, or layering them in as you build the tart.

You can cook the filling ingredients for your crostata however you like, but for the most part I prefer methods that don’t introduce more liquid.  Roasting, sautéing, grilling/broiling, sweating or étuvéeing* produce the best results.  Étuvéeing is particularly useful since it produces cooked ingredients that are still moist, and yet are not so wet that they will release more water when they are baked again in the tart.  As I pointed out above, you don’t want a wet filling…but neither do you want a filling that is so dry as to be unpalatable.

For my winter vegetable tart, I étuvéed the celery root with the leeks 

and sautéed the squash and apple together (finishing them in the oven).  

When I began, I thought I would wilt the leek by itself and then dice and roast the celery root, butternut squash and apple together.  But as I thought about it, I decided that I preferred the softer, sweeter flavor of celery root that has been étuvéed (roasted celery root can be bitter).  Étuvéeing the celery root with the leeks also served to increase the volume of the portion of the tart that, while not wet, was inherently moist.   

In the end, the apple—which was the ingredient that had me a bit stumped when I first considered the ingredients (I almost left it out)—was what really lit up the flavors of the tart.  It added a contrasting tangy sweetness that I loved.  In fact, we loved this tart so much, I will definitely be making it again.  And since spring is just getting started….and the weather is still a bit unstable…I might even make it again this year. 

Winter Vegetable & Apple Crostata

1 recipe Pâte Brisée (see below)
2 large leeks, white and pale green parts only, halved lengthwise, thinly sliced crosswise and thoroughly rinsed
1/2 of a celery root (1/2 lb.), peeled and cut into 1/4-inch batonnettes
2 T. butter
18 oz. butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cut into 1/2- to 3/4-inch dice (to get 2 1/2 cups)
1 Golden Delicious apple (about 7 oz.), peeled cored and cut into 1/2- to 3/4-inch dice
1 T. olive oil
1/2 T. butter
Salt & freshly ground black pepper
1 recipe Pâte Brisée (see below)
1 T. Dijon mustard
1 1/2 to 2 T. toasted pine nuts
2 oz. Goat Cheese

Roll out the crust: Let it warm up for a moment or two at room temperature. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper; set aside. Roll out the dough on a lightly floured surface into a circle that is about 1/8-inch thick and is about 13 inches across. Trim any ragged edges. Brush off the excess flour. Transfer the dough to a parchment lined baking sheet. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and chill for at least 30 minutes.

Melt 2 T. butter in a medium-sized sauté pan that has a tightly fitting lid. Add the leeks and celery root along with a pinch of salt. Toss to coat in the fat. When everything begins to sizzle gently, reduce the heat to low and cover. Cook until the leeks and celery root are tender—about 20 to 30 minutes. If there is any liquid remaining in the pan when the vegetables are tender, uncover and continue to cook until the liquid has evaporated. Taste and correct the seasoning. Set aside to cool.

While the leeks and celery root cook, heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a sauté pan set over moderately high to high heat. Add the squash and apple and sauté until tinged with golden brown.

 Transfer to a 375° oven and roast, tossing occasionally, until tender—about 20 to 30 minutes. About five minutes before the squash and apples are done, add a half tablespoon of butter to the pan. Taste and correct the seasoning. Set aside to cool. 

Build the tart: Smear a tablespoon of Dijon over the prepared crust, leaving a 1 1/2- to 2-inch border. Spread the leek mixture over the Dijon,

followed by the squash and apples.

Scatter the pine nuts and crumbled goat cheese over all.

Pull up the edges of the crust and gently flip them over the filling to form a wide, rustic edge. Pleat the dough as necessary, pressing lightly into place.

Transfer the baking sheet with the tart to a preheated 375° oven, placing the pan on the lowest rack or on a pre-heated stone set on the middle rack. Bake until the cheese is tinged with brown and the crust is crisp and golden brown—about 40 to 45 minutes. Drizzle the tart with olive oil if desired and let rest for 5 minutes (or cool until just tepid) before serving. 

Tart serves 4 as an entrée, or 6 to 8 as an appetizer with a small salad. 

  • Add a clove of garlic, minced, to the leeks as they cook. 
  • Add a tablespoon of picked thyme or minced sage to the leek mixture. 
  • Omit the apples and scatter a handful of golden raisins (plumped in hot water and drained) over the tart before adding the pine nuts and goat cheese. 
  • Substitute a pear for the apple. 

Pâte Brisée (Short Crust Pastry):
1 1/3 c. all-purpose flour (150g)
1/2 t. salt
8 T. cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces (114g)
3 to 4 T. ice water

Combine the flour and the salt in a medium-sized bowl. Rub the butter into the flour until the butter is in small pea-sized pieces. Drizzle 3 T. ice water over the flour/butter mixture. Using your hands, fluff the mixture until it begins to clump, adding more water if necessary. Turn the dough out onto a counter and form into a mound. Using the heel of your hand, gradually push all of the dough away from you in short forward strokes, flattening out the lumps. Continue until all of the dough is flat. Using a bench scraper, scrape the dough off the counter, forming it into a single clump as you do. Form the finished dough into a thick disk. Chill for at least 30 minutes.

Printable Version

*The present participle of the French word étuvée is not, I think, technically a word. There really isn't a good English translation for this French technique. If one is “étuvéeing” something, in French one would “cuire à l'étuvée”…or “cook in the manner of étuvée”…which is cumbersome in English. I described the method in a previous post, but basically, it means to cook something over low heat, in a bit of fat, and covered tightly so that it cooks very gently in its own juices. 


Monday, March 16, 2015

Marking the Passage of Another Year: Pistachio Pancakes with Blueberries & Clementines

Four years ago today, to celebrate the fact that I had actually managed to maintain a food blog for a whole year, I shared a recipe for a favorite pistachio cake.  On the same day one year later, I decided to publish the recipe for another pistachio cake. At that point, it seemed to me that I had established a tradition of sorts:  posting something pistachio to mark the passing of each year.   That “something pistachio” has more often than not been cakebut not always.  

Each year it has been a fun exercise to come up with a recipe that features pistachios.  Some of these recipes have been involved, and consequently the focus of my attention for some length of time.  Others have been the result of a happy and inspired moment in the kitchen.  In either case, the question of what I will do for the current year hovers in the back of my mind as the day approaches.   It is no doubt for this reason that a couple of weeks ago, while I was finishing up a plate of particularly fluffy and delicious buttermilk pancakes, it occurred to me that pistachio pancakes would be a nice thing to do this year.

Most baked goods respond well to the replacement of 20 to 25 percent of the flour with a finely ground nut (basically a nut flour)…and this is what I did to make my pistachio pancakes.  If you don’t have an implement that will grind nuts flour fine (I use a rotary cheese grater fitted with a fine drumthe food processor will create nut butter…not flour), you could just make plain pancakes and sprinkle a few extra finely minced pistachios over the cakes as they cook. They will not be quite the same, but you will still have pistachio pancakes…and they will still be delicious.

In general, I love pancakes that are dressed with nothing but butter and real maple syrup, but because pistachio is delicious with fruit, I decided to add blueberries to the pancakes, and to serve the cakes with a scattering of fresh blueberries and Clementine filets...and more chopped pistachios.  To the aforementioned maple syrup I added the juice from the Clementines, simmering briefly to thicken the syrup since the juice dilutes what is already a relatively thin syrup.  If I had thought about it beforehand, I might have added the zest of the Clementine too.  The finished plate of pancakes was delicious, festive and colorful.  (And since the cakes happen to be tinged with green, they would make a fun way to start off your St. Patrick’s Day tomorrow.)

So there you have it: pistachio pancakes to mark year number five.  In some ways it is hard to believe it has been that long….and in others, not so much.  Blogging has become a normal part of my days…an old friend really.  Sometimes it occupies more of my thoughts and my time than others…but for now it has become a fixture in my life.  I love the way it forces me to “finish” recipes and to follow through on dishes that I am working on and experimenting with.  Mostly though, I love the way that it allows me to share the things I make with even more people.  When I hear back from someone who has made something I posted—and in so doing has learned something that makes their time in the kitchen more efficient and enjoyable…and the food on their table more deliciousit truly makes my day.  So thank you for visiting…and for trying some of the recipes…and in the process, allowing me to share a part of my table with you.

Pistachio Pancakes

3/4 c. plus 2 T. (100 grams) all-purpose flour
1/3 c. (30 grams) finely ground (flour fine) pistachios
2 T. (25 g.) sugar
1 1/4 t. baking powder
1/4 t. baking soda
1/4 t. salt
1 egg, beaten
2 T. melted unsalted butter
1 c. buttermilk
1 to 2 T. Butter for the griddle/pan
1/2 to 3/4 c. blueberries
3 T. finely chopped toasted pistachios

Soft Butter
Warm Maple Syrup (see note)
Blueberries (1/3 c.)
Clementine filets (from 2 clementines)
coarsely chopped toasted Pistachios

Place the dry ingredients in a bowl and whisk to combine; set aside.
Place the egg in a small bowl and whisk in the butter. Whisk in the buttermilk.

Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and pour the wet ingredients into the well.  Mix together in as few strokes as possible using a wide rubber spatula.  The batter will be lumpy with a few spots of flour showing…this is OK.

Melt some butter in a nonstick or cast iron pan over medium to medium-high heat, or in an electric skillet set at 365°. Scoop each pancake using a scant quarter cup ice cream scoop, spreading slightly with the back of the scoop to form 3 inch cakes. Scatter a few blueberries and some of the finely chopped pistachios over each cake.  

Continue to cook until bubbles begin to form and pop on the surface or each cake—about 2 minutes. 

Carefully flip the pancake over and cook until springy to the touch—another 1 1/2 to 2 minutes or so. Keep the pancakes warm in a low oven until all of the cakes have been cooked. Makes 8 to 9 pancakes.


  • Replace pistachios with any favorite nut flour. Pecans would be particularly nice…almonds would be good too. 
  • Omit the blueberries
  • Substitute chocolate chips for the blueberries. 
  • Add the zest of an orange to the batter.
  • Top with a dollop of yogurt (plain or sweetened) or fresh ricotta

Note:  If serving with the Clementine filets, add the collected juices of the clementines to the maple syrup and simmer until the syrup has thickened slightly.

Printable Recipe