Tuesday, March 30, 2010

classically classic apple pie



I've been working on my pie crust lately, due to a tub of wonderful leaf lard that came at the end of our pork CSA. I think I've found the perfect balance of high fat European butter and lard. Flaky layers of delicate crust, it never gets too hard, but holds it's shape well. It's my favorite crust ever.

So what is the perfect pie with which to test out your crust? Something utterly classic, simple, and dependable - apple pie. And not my usual sour cream walnut apple pie, but the truly classic straight apple pie with spices and a touch of lemon juice and not much else.



I've made dozens and dozens of fruit pies before, and I've often come across the same problem of excess moisture and an unwillingness for the filling to set up. The key to avoiding this problem is to pre-cook your filling, and with apples it really can't be simpler. Just saute until starting to soften, spread out on a baking sheet to cool down, then fill. You end up with a sturdy apple pie that cuts well even while still warm. Serve with some vanilla ice cream if you like, but I'll be honest, it didn't even need it. Recipe after the jump:



MY BEST PIE CRUST
Makes enough for a 2-crust 9-inch pie.
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
12 tablespoons unsalted butter, preferably a high-fat, European-style butter like Plugra, chilled and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
8 tablespoons leaf lard, chilled
2 to 5 tablespoons ice water

1. In a food processor, briefly pulse together the flour and salt. Add butter and pulse until mixture forms chickpea-size pieces (3 to 5 one-second pulses). Add ice water 1 tablespoon at a time, and pulse until mixture is just moist enough to hold together.
2. Form dough into a ball, wrap with plastic and flatten into a disk. Refrigerate at least 1 hour before rolling out and baking.


SUPER CLASSIC APPLE PIE

3 pounds apples (6 to 8 medium-large. I use a combo of sweet and tart, like Empire and Granny Smith)
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground cinnamon
pinch ground clove
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 tbsp lemon juice (optional. If your apples are very tart, leave it out)
1 tsp pure vanilla extract

Melt butter in a very wide skillet or pot over high heat until sizzling and fragrant. Add the apples and toss until glazed with butter. Reduce the heat to medium, cover tightly, and cook, stirring frequently, until the apples are softened on the outside but still slightly crunchy, 5 to 7 minutes. Add the sugar, spices, lemon juice, and salt.

Increase the heat to high and cook the apples at a rapid boil until the juices become thick and syrupy, about 3 minutes. Stir in the vanilla extract. Immediately spread the apples in a thin layer on a baking sheet, and let them cool to room temperature.

Position a rack in the lower third of the oven. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Pour the apple mixture into the bottom crust. Cover with a pricked or vented top crust or a lattice. Bake until the crust is richly browned and the filling has begun to bubble, 30 to 40 minutes. Let cool completely on a rack, 3 to 4 hours.

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Thursday, March 25, 2010

the velveteen chicken



Complete and total comfort food. And one of those odd recipes that doesn't necessarily sound like it will work. The majority of the "cooking time" for this chicken recipe involves no actual heat.

And does it really feel like velvet? Yes, actually, it really does. Smooth and not at all stringy, super moist and flavorful. I even used some of the poaching liquid to saute baby bok choy for a perfect homestyle cozy dinner.



VELVET CHICKEN

1 3-pound chicken, rinsed and dried
4 cups low-sodium chicken broth (low sodium)
1 cup dark soy sauce
1 cup Chinese rice wine (preferably Shaoxing)
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
1 bunch scallion, cut into 3-inch pieces
2 inches ginger, peeled and sliced 1/4-inch thick
4 strips of orange zest
1 tablespoon salt
3 whole cloves
2 whole star anise
1 dried red chile
1 teaspoon Sichuan peppercorns
Chopped cilantro

Add everything except the chicken and the cilantro to a large pot. Bring to a boil. Carefully lower the chicken in breast side down. Immediately reduce heat to a simmer. Cover the pot and cook for 15 minutes.

Turn off the heat and don't touch the pot for 30 minutes. Then flip the bird over, cover, and let sit for another 15 minutes.

Remove the chicken. Break down into legs, thighs, wings, and breasts and arrange on a platter. Pour some of the poaching liquid on top of the chicken and garnish with cilantro.

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a bit of counteraction


Alert! I don't just eat all day!

I run. And I'm running this June in the American Heart Association's Wall Street Run/Walk.

Please visit my page to donate and learn more.

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Monday, March 15, 2010

the definition of "intoxicating aroma"



With the sad, sad end of our 12-week pork CSA, it's time to give a little attention to some other delicious animals. This week we're eating some lamb. A lot of lamb. I made this sweet and savory Lamb and Apricot Tagine a few days ago, and J-Cat followed that up with sweet and spicy Lamb Ribs last night. You'll be seeing those soon, but for now, what is better with lamb than tangy sweet apricots?



Add the crunch of sliced almonds, the warmth of cinnamon and cumin, the ultimate aroma of coziness bubbling away in the oven. I don't have a true tagine pot, this recipe can easily be made in a good heavy dutch oven. Served simply over some plain cous cous, we were swooning on a chilly, rainy night.

LAMB TAGINE WITH APRICOTS AND ALMONDS
Adapted from In the Kitchen and On the Road with Dorie

2 cups chicken broth
1/4 pound moist, plump dried Turkish apricots
6 tablespoons olive oil
1 3/4 pounds boneless lamb shoulder, fat removed, cut into 1-inch cubes
4 medium onions, peeled, trimmed and chopped
4 cloves of garlic, peeled, trimmed, and finely chopped
One 14 1/2 - ounce can diced tomatoes, drained
2 teaspoons ground coriander seed
2 pinches saffron
1/2 teaspoon finely grated fresh ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
About 1/4 cup chopped cilantro leaves
1/2 cup toasted sliced almonds
Salt and freshly ground pepper

Couscous or rice, for serving.

Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.

Bring chicken broth to a boil in a small pot, turn off heat, and add apricots to the pot and let them soak and plump while you prepare the rest of the tagine.

Put the base of a tagine, a heavy, high-sided skillet or a Dutch oven over medium-high heat and pour in 3 tablespoons of the oil. Pat the pieces of lamb dry between sheets of paper towels, then drop them into the hot oil - don't crowd the pan; work in batches, if necessary - and brown the meat on all sides, about 4 minutes. Lift the meat out of the pot and onto a plate with a slotted spoon. Season the lamb with salt and pepper. Pour out the fat that it's in the pan, but leave whatever bits may have stuck to the base.

Return the pan to the stove, adjust the heat to low and add 2 more tablespoons of the olive oil. When the oil is warm, add the onions and garlic and cook, stirring, for about 5 minutes, just to get them started on the road to softening. Add the tomatoes, season with salt and pepper, and continue to cook, stirring often, for another 10 minutes, adding a little more oil, if needed. Add the chicken bouillon/broth to the pot as well as the coriander, saffron - crush the saffron between your fingers as you sprinkle it into the pot - ginger, cumin, cinnamon and 2 tablespoons of the chopped cilantro leaves. Stir to mix and dissolve the spices, season with salt and pepper and spoon the meat over the base of vegetables. Top with the plumped apricots, seal the pan with aluminum foil and clap on the lid. Slide the pan into the oven.

Bake the tagine for 60 minutes before carefully lifting the lid and foil and scattering the almonds over the meat. Recover the pan and allow the tagine to bake for 15 minutes more. Serve over cous cous or rice, topped with chopped cilantro.

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Monday, March 08, 2010

ante up: a new kind of chip



I never really spent time contemplating the chocolate chip cookie. I have my moments when I enjoy them - hot and melty right out of the oven, or Chips Ahoy soaked through with milk, or the giant deli ones with chips stuck all over the top - but they were never on the top of my cookie list. Despite my relative disinterest in the classic treat, I was definitely intrigued upon reading this article (a while ago) in the New York Times about the quest for the ultimate chocolate chip cookie. Even though I'm not a die-hard chocolate chip cookie fan, that article made my mouth water.



Well, as luck would have it, the very shop that the recipe in this article is based on - the very chocolate they recommend - is right downstairs from my office. The new Jacques Torres Shop in Chelsea Market is a dangerous thing, because even though I've always said I'm not a huge chocolate lover, if there is one way to make me want to eat chocolate it would be to open the best chocolate shop in town literally under my nose. The recipe calls for their dark chocolate wafers; flat round disks of chocolate about the diameter of a silver dollar. In place of the classic chip, these wafers melt to create amazing thin chocolate strata all throughout the cookie. You get a bit of melty chocolate in every bite, rather than a disproportionate hunk.

And then, the pi├Ęce de r├ęsistance, the salt. The salt not only within the batter itself, but the flaky sea salt sprinkled on top of the cookies. The salt that makes the chocolate taste chocolatier, the cookie taste cookier. Salt on desserts, one of my favorite things. Find the recipe HERE.

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Monday, March 01, 2010

get in my belly, belly



I daydream about ramen. I based our vacation destination decision this year on my love of ramen (Tokyo & Kyoto). I waited for a table at Ippudo for over an hour, and I wait for nothing for that long. So give me a hunk of pork belly, and there is not really any debate over what I'm going to do with it.

I'm going to braise that sucker - in soy and cinnamon and anise and maple syrup - until the aroma is driving me insane.



Then I'm going to slice it up, and lay it on top of a giant bowl of shoyu ramen, and let J-Cat think I'm listening to him tell me about his day of snowboarding while really I'm swimming in a delicious sea of porky ramen. And I can't hear much beyond a muffle when I'm under the ramen sea. Recipe after the jump:



SWEET SOY BRAISED PORK BELLY

2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 tablespoons sugar
1 pound boneless pork belly, cut in three equal-sized pieces
1/4 cup soy sauce
3 tbsps maple syrup
2 sticks cinnamon
2 whole star anise
3 allspice berries
3 1/3-inch slices peeled fresh ginger
3 cloves garlic, peeled
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
Water

1. In a large Dutch oven or wok, heat oil and sugar over medium-high heat, swirling pot until sugar liquefies and turns a warm amber color.

2. Place pork belly slices in wok and sear on all sides, about 1 minute per side, using tongs to turn.

3. Pour enough cold water into vessel to cover the pork. Add soy sauce, maple syrup, spices, ginger, garlic, and salt. Bring to a boil and skim any scum that rises to the surface. Reduce heat to low and simmer, uncovered, for 3-4 hours, until pork is very tender and fat is easily penetrated with a spoon. If water level falls during cooking, replenish so that pork remains submerged.

4. Remove pork belly and set aside. Strain solids from braising liquid and return liquid to pan. Over high heat, reduce until lightly thickened and glossy. Adjust seasoning if necessary.

5. Slice pork into 1/4-inch thick slices. Lightly coat in reduced braising sauce. Serve atop ramen, or in steam mantou with sliced scallions and hoisin sauce.

Note: It often crack the shell on a hard-boiled egg and add it to the braise to get the lovely spiderweb soy eggs. This is an especially good addition if you are eating the pork belly atop ramen.

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