Saturday, September 25, 2010

An Abundance of Apples


We are long in apples right now. Sauce apples, eating apples, cider apples, baking apples, apples my grandmother loved, new-fangled apples (most too sweet for my taste). I stick to my favorites as I find them—I picked up some Jonathans, Cortlands, and Macintosh, last week—and then try local varieties that I haven’t seen before. Last year it was Arkansas Blacks. This year it’s the Wolf River. It looks very much like our Rhode Island Greening (hard to find, now), but not as versatile. Still, I was glad to find it.

The abundance of apples to be had for a very good price got me thinking about how much I absolutely love to cook and bake with this fruit. In fact—and I thought about this long and hard before putting down the words—if I had to choose apples over my other fruit obsession, sour cherries, I think I would have to go with the apples. This feels a little like choosing which of your children is your favorite. While everyone says that’s not possible, there is some recent research saying that, actually, you can—that people do have favorites among their children. So of my beloved fruits, I am a bit more partial to the apple.

This only makes sense, if we consider that, for me, the apple is something analogous to the first-born. I learned to make applesauce when I was very young; it was, if not the first, among the very first of my lessons in cooking at my grandmother’s side. The first pie I ever made was apple (the second, as I recall, was lemon meringue). I made apple butter for years and years before I ever made cherry preserves. Of course, availability has a lot to do with it, what with apples being grown everywhere in great quantities and variety, and sour cherries both few and far between. This is another reason for choosing them—if one had to choose.

Fortunately, I don’t. But while it is apple season and not cherry season, I will certainly put them to good use. And in honor of thinking back to baking in my younger and much younger days, I offer this quintessentially French apple tart. I made it all the time back in the 70s and 80s, when I cooked mostly French food. I haven’t made it in years, but it’s due for a comeback.

Country French Applesauce Tart

This homey tart combines an applesauce base with sliced apples and an apple glaze. Use an all-butter pastry for this. The directions are general; this is more of a method than a recipe. Serves 6.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Tart Pastry 

2 cups a-p flour
8 oz (1 stick) cold unsalted butter
1 egg
½ tea salt
2-3 T ice water

In the food processor, pulse the flour and salt briefly. Place the butter into the bowl, cut into 8 pieces, and turn them over to coat; drop in the egg. Pulse until crumbly. With the machine running, add the water, a little at a time, until the dough comes together. Form into a disc and chill.


1 ½ lb apples, cut in quarters
3 T butter
½ cup white wine
½ cup sugar
½ tea cinnamon
1 tea grated lemon rind

Put everything into a pan and bring to a boil; reduce somewhat and cook until the apples are soft. Strain, without pressing, the liquid, and reserve. Then put the apple mixture through a food mill. Taste the sauce and add a little more cinnamon if you want; this tart should not be as heavily spiced as an American apple pie, though.

The Tart

3-4 firm, tart apples
1 ½ -2 cups applesauce
The reserved liquid from making the applesauce

Preheat the oven to 400F. Roll the dough out to 11” or so to fit a 9” tart pan with a removable bottom. You will have extra dough, with which you can make little jelly turnovers or a mini version of the tart if you want.

Cook the reserved liquid from the applesauce down until it forms a light, soft, syrupy jelly; add a little sugar if needed. It should be fluid enough to use as a glaze. Thin it with hot water if you overdo.

Put about 2 cups of the applesauce into a small bowl. Beat the egg and stir it into the applesauce. Fill the tart shell about 2/3 full with the applesauce (perhaps 1 ½ cups or so; you will have leftover). Peel and core the apples, and slice them thinly. Arrange the apples in concentric circles, slightly overlapping each slice, working from the outside in and reversing direction of the slices with each circle. Form a little circle of apple and place it the center. Bake for about 30-35 minutes, until the edges of the apples begin to brown. Remove and let cool for at least 20 minutes; glaze with the apple jelly, slightly warmed. Remove the tart from the pan.

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Contact Me: Who Knew

Somehow along the way of doing this blog over the past three years, my email address disappeared from my profile information. I had noticed that not as many people were emailing me as during the first year or two that I started Little Compton Mornings, but it wasn’t until one of you mentioned recently that you could not find an email address for me that I realized that I had dropped the ball when I changed my account information. You may remember that sometime after that, I discovered I had dozens of unanswered comments. So apologies again; I didn’t realize there was still no contact information.


So I have put a little “Contact Me” button under my photo and, well, you are! I have gotten an amazing number of emails in a very short time (my readers have always been more the letter-writing than the commenting kind, it seems). I’ve had several nice notes, and requests for help sourcing ingredients. I got a request to re-publish some of my posts on a regular basis in The Sakonnet Times, Little Compton’s local newspaper, which I granted. And I got an invitation to judge the New England Dairy Cook-Off and Chef's Challenge, sponsored by Hood Milk, in Portland, ME on Oct 30. I have a prior commitment that date and cannot go, but perhaps you can. In fact, perhaps you can enter! Information is here. 

Keep in touch, Jane

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Baby Artichokes…and Fava Beans


Baby artichokes have a brief season, and appear once or twice a year, usually around early September and/or in May. They are little and cute, and their chokes are undeveloped, making them easy to prepare compared to their larger counterparts. And as a consequence, they are more expensive. At $5.00 a pound, I bought four, picking out the nicest ones.

Fava beans also make a brief appearance, usually around April-May and into the summer. I bought some last month and promptly lost them in the refrigerator, forgetting about them in the crush of the start of the academic year. After I bought the artichokes, I remembered them—both are so ancient Roman, the association just jumped into my mind—and went hunting through the bins, ultimately finding them behind the bottles of cream and buttermilk, where they should not have been and somewhat explaining their oversight. A few I had to toss, but most were absolutely fine. After all, they are protected by a tough pod; they look a lot like big lima beans. This may be one of the reasons for their popularity back in the day—you know, when there was no refrigeration. They could be carried around for a long time, then ultimately shelled and dried.

Not that fava beans are not delicious in their own right; they are. Both favas and baby artichokes represent a different kind of seasonal treat than, say, berries or corn. Instead of juicy or sweet and refreshing they are earthy, meaty, satisfying. They lend themselves to long cooking and simple methods of braising, roasting, or boiling. They are good simply prepared on their own, or in a homey, saucy dish like a stew (they like lamb and beef as companions) or a pasta. A little goes a long way.

Pasta with Baby Artichokes and Fava Beans

Use a pasta with some bite to it. Serves 2.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

4 baby artichokes
½ cup shelled fresh fava beans (about ½ lb)
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 T olive oil
1 tea bacon fat (optional)
Juice of 1 medium orange

1 cup good beef stock
2 T sour cream, preferably homemade
3-5 T unhomogenized heavy cream
½ fresh red, ripe chile pepper (I used Serrano), seeded and finely minced

1 cup dried tubular pasta, such as mini penne
Salt and pepper
Fresh mint, roughly chopped
Freshly ground imported parmesan

Remove the outer leaves of the artichokes and trim the stems and the tops so that the little artichokes are squat little blocks. Quarter them and put them in a small bowl with half the orange juice and enough water to cover. Break the pods of the favas, much as you would the pod of a pea, their cousins, and remove the beans.

In a chef’s or other heavy pan, heat the olive oil and the bacon fat if using. Add the drained artichokes and beans, and sauté for a few minutes over medium-high heat; when they begin to brown, add the garlic and sauté a few minutes longer, reducing the heat a bit so the garlic does not burn, until nicely golden.

Add the remaining orange juice, the beef stock, and 5 or 6 twists of the pepper mill. Bring to a boil, then reduce and cook at a low bubbly, partly covered with a lid, until the artichokes and beans are tender and pierce easily with the sharp tip of a knife—about 15 minutes. At this point the stock should be reduced by about half; if not, continue cooking, raising the heat a bit, until it is.

Cook the pasta in salted water according to directions, and while it is cooking, add the sour cream, 3 T of cream, and the chile to the artichoke/bean mixture, stirring. Cook until it reduces to a sauce that coats the spoon, then add a tablespoon or two more, repeating the reduction of the sauce.

When the pasta is ready, drain it, and toss it with the vegetables. Taste for salt and pepper. Serve with lots of chopped mint and a little parmesan cheese.


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Saturday, September 11, 2010

New Cuisinarts: Two!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA                         Good things come to those who wait.

I have been without a food processor, of any size, for about a year now. My little processor, which I love for making pesto, Mexican sauces, grinding nuts, mayonnaise, and any number of other small and 1-person-family tasks, actually died some time before that, so before it passed I had been doing everything in my larger one, not always with optimal results. My “big” machine was, oh, maybe 28 years old or so—a 7-cup Cuisinart® classic workhorse. A number of years ago the bowl cracked, so I ordered another, content with the machine, even though the switch had required me to hold it down to operate it for at least 10 years. Then last year I sort of killed it myself. I didn’t burn out the motor, which I’m convinced would have kept going forever, much like my Acura. I cracked the stem on which the blades fit—I can’t remember now how I did it, but it was while doing some utterly simple task like shredding carrots—rendering the loyal motor powerless (ha) to perform. I put the bowl and blades aside, figuring I’d try to see if I could just order the base with intact stem.

I kept putting off calling to see if that was possible, then began to look at full machines, thinking I’d buy one if the price to come down, but then becoming sidetracked by the bigger and shinier models that have since been introduced (over 30 years, that happens…), which of course are more expensive. So waiting for them to come down again…and hence, no food processor for a year. I reverted to doing lots of stuff by hand that I usually do with the machine—pastry, pizza dough, etc. OK, in small batches. But I also stopped doing things that are quick work with the machine and otherwise require pounding with a mortar, so last millenium, which meant that I stopped eating certain things.

Then, for my birthday this August, two boxes arrived from my son: a GIANT, beautiful 14-cup Cuisinart®, and a SMALL, cute 4-cup Cuisinart®. And guess what? The 7-cup bowl fits the large machine, essentially giving me the momma, papa, and baby bear of food processors. A few years ago my son also gave me a second bowl for my Kitchen Aid® standing mixer: happiness for the cook is multiple bowls for efficiency and minimal washing between tasks. We’re easy to please.Cheesecake, murbteig, chopped burger 007Salsas

As you can imagine, pent-up demand took over immediately. Over the course of a single afternoon, I made 3 quarts of gazpacho (a snap in the new poppa machine), five different Mexican sauces in various quantities in the baby, a huge batch of fresh bread crumbs (once, and only once, did I sieve bread by hand during my processor lacuna—not recommended), and some pizza dough for the freezer. I made myself a fresh-chopped hamburger. 

All this food processor richness reminded me that, among my outsized cookbook collection, I had a book that focused on making traditional pastry using the food processor and other “new” shortcuts, published in the 1980s when food processors were starting to make inroads in this country (coincidentally, at the time I worked for the brother of the prescient guy who founded Cuisinart®). The book was The New Pastry Cook: Modern Methods for Marking Your Own Classic and Contemporary Pastries by Helen S. Fletcher. I had never used it—in fact, I made pastry completely by hand for years after getting my first food processor before transitioning almost entirely to the processor—but had held onto it when culling my collection a few years ago. I decided to pull it out now, and christen my new Cuisinart with one of Fletcher’s pastry recipes.

I decided to make the Mürbteig pastry, a Viennese short dough that is very rich with butter and egg yolk. It is a breeze to make with the food processor, much trickier by hand. I used this pastry to make her European-style (what I would call “old New York”) cheesecake, which is sensational and authentic—the cheesecake of once upon a time. Here is the full recipe, with some minor changes and rewriting/updating of directions and additional notes. If you can find the book online, I recommend it—it is very well done, and Ms. Fletcher, considering the time, was a pioneer in giving weights in metric and U.S. standard measures for dry ingredients.

Helen Fletcher’s Cheesecake

This recipe calls for an 8” spring form pan. Naturally, I have a 4”, 6”, two 9”, and a 10”, but not an 8”—the story of my life in a nutshell. I used a 9”, and trimmed the pastry walls down about 1/3”. I really think the 9” is the right size for the amount of filling. Those of you who grew up in the area of New York City will recognize the very dark, shiny top of the cheesecakes of your childhood (for me, those from the gone-but-not-forgotten Claremont Diner). This is not baked in a water bath. Serve it on the day it is made if you can; you will not believe the texture. It is good for many days, if a little different. Serves 10 (Fletcher says 8).


The finished dough will weigh about a pound and a half; you will need a pound (2/3) for the cheesecake. I suggest you divide it accordingly and freeze the rest, well-wrapped, which you can use to make rolled cookies or a few little tartlets.

1 medium lemon
½ cup sugar
2 ½ cups sifted a-p flour (10 oz)
½ lb (2 sticks) cold, unsalted butter 
Yolks of 3 large eggs (freeze whites)OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA         OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Using a microplane, grate the lemon into the sugar in the bowl, fitted with the steel blad. Whiz to combine. Add the flour and process for 5 seconds. Cut each stick of butter into four pieces (8 total); arrange it in circle in bowl and process for about 20 seconds until completely incorporated but the mixture remains powdery. Add the yolks in a circle and process another 20-30 seconds until the dough forms a circle. Process another 10 seconds. Chill thoroughly.        

The Cheesecake

2/3 recipe of Mürbteig pastry, divided in half, chilled.
2 tea citrus zest, half orange, half lemon
1 ¼ cup sugar
¼ cup a-p flour
2 cups (16 oz) cream-style cottage cheese (I used 4%)
1 lb (2 8-oz pkgs) Philadelphia cream cheese, cut into 8 pieces, softened
4 large eggs
1 cup sour cream (I used homemade)
¾ cup heavy cream, unhomogenized if available
1 T Grand Marnier or similar*
1 tea pure vanilla extract

Lightly spray an 8” x 3” springform pan with oil. Preheat the oven to 350 F.

To finish the pastry case

Place a piece of chilled dough between two sheets of wax paper and roll to a circle to fit the pan, lifting the wax paper carefully to smooth out any wrinkles if needed (I did not); turn it over occasionally as you roll. Carefully peel back one sheet of the wax paper and turn it over to ease the dough into the pan, peeling off the second sheet of paper. What I did is remove the bottom, turn the dough directly onto the bottom, peel back the paper, then re-insert the bottom into the ring. Bake for 18-20 minutes (I did 20+) until pale gold and thoroughly baked/firm in the center. Remove to rack to cool; can be done the night before and left on the counter in a cool, dry spot.

Divide the other half of the dough, and keep one piece in the refrigerator while you roll the other between wax paper into a strip about 13 x 3 ¾”. Place it on a baking sheet; refrigerate; and repeat with the other piece of dough. The strips will be very thing. Remove the first strip from the refrigerator, trim it neatly to 12 ½ x 3”, lift and lightly replace one sheet of paper, turn it over, remove the other sheet of paper, and then gently lift and fit the strip along one side of the inside wall of the pan. If the dough becomes too soft, refrigerate again after trimming. Repeat with the remaining strip, overlapping the edges slightly, and pressing the walls gently into the bottom crust to ensure a seal. You can patch if needed with any scraps; trim the top edge even with the pan. Chill while you make the filling.




Grate the zest with a Microplane and pulse it with ½ cup of the sugar until combined. Add the flour and pulse 20 seconds. Add the cottage cheese and process until you have a smooth mixture (about 30 secs). Place the cream cheese sections in a circle around the bowl, and do likewise with the eggs (in the photo, 3 cage-free brown eggs and 1 conventional white egg, an obvious difference). Process another 30 seconds or so, til smooth. Add the remaining ¾ cup sugar, the sour and heavy creams, the Grand Marnier, and the vanilla. Process 10 seconds; scrape down; and process 10 more seconds til smooth. 

Pour the filling into the chilled pastry and bake for 70 minutes. Turn off the oven, prop the door ajar with the handle of a wooden spoon, and leave the cake in the over for an hour. Remove it to a rack to cool completely. The top will be a dark coffee-caramel color. Refrigerate.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

To serve, remove from the refrigerator at least ½ hour before serving; it should not be too cold when eaten. Slice with a serrated bread knife; it slices beautifully. Accompany  with black and blueberry sauce if you have any hanging around, or just as is. You could fill the center indentation with something colorful, like raspberries standing up with whipped cream piped between them or Amarena Fabbri cherries if you don’t have your own preserved cherries in syrup.

*Fletcher calls for 3 T Grand Marnier. I thought this was too much, possibly a typo. I started with a tablespoon, generous, and decided it was enough.


Saturday, September 4, 2010

Muscadines and Scuppernongs


Now here is something we don’t have in New England. They look an awful lot like our gooseberries—same colors, similar translucence, bigger, although the smaller ones close to some of our giant gooseberries—but they are no family relation, genetically speaking.

The muscadine is a large grape with a very tough skin, sometimes referred to as a hull, that is native to the South. It is primarily used for making jams, jellies, and wine, although some people eat muscadines as table grapes; apparently, there is a local art to using the teeth to puncture the skin, suck and scrape out the flesh, and, presumably, spit out the seeds. I haven’t seen it done, and haven’t tried to master it myself. There are many varieties of muscadine, and for some reason the green ones are always called scuppernongs, even though they are, like the others, technically muscadines. Not sure why it’s not just black (or red) and green muscadine, but the South, like most regions, works in mysterious ways when it comes to naming its food. New Englanders being among the most egregious of odd food-namers, I accept the distinction and use it here out of respect.

In a side-by-side test, the scuppernong is intensely sweet and simpler and more straightforward in taste, while the darker (red/black) muscadine has a, well, musky undertone and is slightly less sweet. The scuppernong flesh is also a little greener, the muscadine flesh still green but a little subdued. When I first tasted muscadine jam at a James Beard Foundation dinner at the Belle Meade Plantation during my first week living in Nashville, I really wasn’t sure what it was made from; “grape” did not immediately spring to mind, so I now think it may have been made without using the skins, which hold a tremendous amount of unusual but markedly grapey flavor. Many jam recipes call for chopping up the skin and blending it into the preserve. In the recipe below, not liking the idea of lots of bits of skin in the final product, I pureed them. As I was making this, originally with the objective of a jam, I loved the look of the green flesh in the red syrup so much that I decided to allow the fruit to remain whole and cook it just to a saucy OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA         consistency. This meant that I wouldn’t mush up the fruit first and strain out the seeds. Never having made anything with muscadines/scuppernongs before I’m not sure whether I will come to regret making an aesthetic choice. I suppose I can always put the sauce through a food mill again and sieve out the seeds if they turn out to really be unpalatable; I will keep you posted as I use it. But for now, the sauce is very pretty.

Tennessee Muscadine and Scuppernong Sauce

2 cups skinned (hulled) muscadines (from about 1 ½-2 lbs muscadines)
The hulls of the muscadines
2 tea freshly squeezed lemon juice
¼ tea cardamom
Pinch salt
1 tea Jack Daniels

Cover the hulls with just enough water to cover them and bring to a boil, cooking until soft, about 10 minutes and being careful not to scorch (add more water if necessary).  Put the hulls through a food mill directly into the pan holding the muscadine flesh—it will equal about a cup of purple puree. Add the sugar, salt, lemon, and cardamom, stirring gently. Bring to a boil and then cook, lowering the heat somewhat so it boils but not too wildly, muscadines panstirring occasionally. Add the whiskey, and continue cooking until it reaches a soft gel stage, about 10 minutes. Put into jars.

To skin (hull) muscadines: Using your fingernail, pull a slice of the skin back from the stem end and then squeeze out the fruit; do this over the pan in which you will make the  sauce to catch the juice. Scrape as much remaining flesh from the hull in the process. Set the hulls aside in another pan. Another method is to whack the muscadine with the flat side of a heavy knife, splitting the skin and popping out the fruit, but I think using your fingers is more efficient.


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