Cream Potatoes Anna.

Pommes Anna is a classic potato dish in French cuisine. It’s usually made with butter, but, taking a page out of chef Laura Calder’s book, I used half and half. It’s melty and creamy. It’s herby and warm. It’s the perfect side to any kind of meat, but especially pork chops. Or chicken breasts. Or steak. Or buffalo. Or zebra filets. Okay fine, everything! And pommes Anna is fun to make too. Lots of layering and a bit of flexibility with herbs and spices. These were very calming to make, and the finished product proved a satisfying reward after having spent the morning tiring out a new puppy. Please welcome Penny the Black Lab Puppy, a much-loved new addition to our family!

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She tried her hardest to get at these potato goodies while I was shooting them, but only managed to snag my red and white checked towel in her little mouth, prancing away as she tripped over the dragging ends of it. What a little troublemaker.

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INGREDIENTS

4 potatoes (small-ish – this recipe makes 2 ramekins, so adjust accordingly), peeled and thinly sliced into discs
1/2 cup half and half or heavy cream
rosemary and thyme, chopped
pinch of paprika
salt and pepper
butter or non-stck spray

Just the Recipe link: Cream Potatoes Anna

DIRECTIONS

Preheat oven to 400 F.

Place the potatoes in a large dish and toss them in the half and half. Let them soak about 15 minutes.

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Meanwhile, break out the parchment paper. You’ll need to trace a sheet of paper that will fit into the bottom of whatever baking dish you’re using (I used two ramekins, so I cut two circles to fit into the bottom). Then, you’ll need a slightly larger sheet of parchment paper to fit on top of the dish, covering the assembled potatoes. I find it easier to just cut all the parchment paper pieces at once and then set the top pieces aside. Butter or spray the bottom piece(s) and place into the bottom of the pan, butter side up.

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Next, take the potatoes out of the cream and start layering them into your dish. Make a single layer of potatoes, then sprinkle with a bit of the salt, pepper, paprika, rosemary, and thyme. Keep alternating potatoes and seasonings until you use up all the potatoes.

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Butter the top piece(s) of parchment paper and place firmly on top of the potatoes. If you’re using ramekins, place them in another larger pan.

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Place a heavy pan on top of the potatoes; this weighs them down and bakes them into a creamy potato cake. Yum. Bake until super tender and let cool before turning out into a beautiful, delectably melty potato cake.

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Enjoy! Oh and P.S. – happy Mayan end of the world day! See you all tomorrow….or not?!

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Back from Scotland! and a Strawberry Custard Tart Recipe.

Hello again! I am safely returned from an amazing adventure in Scotland. Good whisky, otherworldly fish and chips, fun people, and gorgeous hills and sky everywhere you look—not to mention, my calves still burn with the effort (and satisfaction) of summiting Ben Nevis, the British Isles’ tallest mountain. Here are a few highlights of the trip (culinary and otherwise)…

First, some gorgeous sightseeing with my family, who hosted me for a night of authentic Scottish food and great fun!

Then in Edinburgh, my fabulous traveler friend Caroline and I met up. We had a very tasty breakfast and great cup of tea at an adorable cafe called Urban Angel (note the butter portion):

   

My first souvenir purchase was, of course, Nigella Lawson’s new book Nigellissima (which I love with every centilitre of blood in my body, despite the book’s use of the metric system).

We tried haggis

…and devoured it!

And we couldn’t say no to my favorite Irish late-night classic, garlic cheese chips:

One of my favorite parts of the trip was our visit to the battlefield at Culloden Moor near Inverness. Not only was it very moving and historically cool, but you could pretty much turn your camera in any random direction and still end up with a gorgeous photo:

Then in Fort William, we befriended an Aussie and a Kiwi, and together we climbed Ben Nevis in a rather impressive 6 hours flat! I’m pretty proud of us. Fans of The Simpsons will appreciate the similarities between Ben Nevis and Springfield’s Murderhorn (“yes, that’s it….just to the right of the one you’re looking at.”) Who needs PowerSauce Bars?

And another favorite moment was our glorious high tea at Stewart Victorian Tearooms in Glasgow. Mmmmm. Clotted cream.

It was a fantastic trip.

But my hands were itchin’ for the kitchen by the time I got home, and this was the first treat I prepared: my own birthday custard fruit tart. This tart is inspired by a custard from Laura Calder and a shell from Ina Garten, and it’s every bit as good as you’d expect a dessert from those two to be. It was super easy even though I did make the shell myself, but if you really want to streamline the whole process, you can buy a premade pie shell and simply cook the custard and top with berries. Creamy and light and a great alternative to birthday cake!

INGREDIENTS

for tart shell:
12 tbsp cold butter
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
pinch of salt
water, if needed

for filling:
3 eggs
1/4 cup sugar
splash of vanilla
1 scant cup Greek yogurt
pinch of ground nutmeg
2 cups strawberries, sliced
lemon juice

DIRECTIONS

First, prepare the tart shell. In a food processor, pulse butter and sugar until just combined. Add the vanilla and pulse. Then combine the flour and salt in a bowl and add in two batches, pulsing until just combined. The dough should just hold together when pressed, so if it doesn’t at this point (mine didn’t), add a few drops of water and pulse until it reaches the right consistency. Turn the dough out onto wax paper and press into a disc. Wrap in paper and let it rest in the refrigerator at least half an hour.

Take the cold dough and carefully roll it out to to the size of your greased tart tin or pie dish. Press the dough into the dish and up the sides. Put it back into the fridge for 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350 F. Take the tart shell out of the fridge and carefully lay a sheet of parchment paper over the dough. Fill the parchment-lined shell with dried beans, or fit another smaller pan into the shell. This will help it keep its shape while it bakes.

Bake for 20 minutes, then remove the beans or pan and use a spatula to touch up any thin or slipping parts of the shell base or sides. Prick a few times with a fork and place it back in the oven to cook another 13-17 minutes until golden brown.

Remove shell from heat and set aside to cool slightly while you prepare the custard. Whisk together eggs and sugar. Then add vanilla and yogurt and stir until smooth.

Pour the custard into the shell through a sieve so that it’s totally smooth. Sprinkle with a pinch of nutmeg.

Bake 18-24 minutes, until set. Let cool completely.

When the tart is completely cooled, arrange the strawberry slices on top of the custard. Top with a squeeze of lemon juice and enjoy! Happy birthday to me.

Naked Apple Tart.

Crinkly leaves, still attached to the tress, bristling as the wind moves. Staggering your gait so that each footstep crunches an acorn. A season of transition: from breezy summer to homey fall warmth. At this time of year, I have an uncontrollable urge to bake—and thank goodness my mother and sister are nearby to help me with the eating! This hybrid tart-galette, inspired by a similar smitten kitchen recipe, is a rustic apple and nut dessert that I’ve gussied up a bit. A brush of butter, a sprinkle of sugar, and a coating of pink spiced apple syrup—this on top of melt-in-your-mouth apples, nestled on a bed of sweet ground nuts. It’s a “naked tart” because the apples are the centerpiece here, with very little dough. For me, galettes tend to be too crust-heavy, so this tart is my compromise. And whether you’re describing or eating it, that’s quite a mouthful.

INGREDIENTS

crust:
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp sugar
pinch of salt
3 tbsp cold butter, cubed
2 tbsp cold water

filling:
2-3 apples, peeled, cored, and sliced (save the peels and cores)
squeeze of lemon juice
1/8 tsp cinnamon
1/4 cup walnuts
1/4 cup almonds
1 tsp all-purpose flour
2 heaping tbsp sugar, divided
1 tbsp butter, melted

glaze:
the reserved peels and cores from the apples
1/4 cup sugar
pinch ground ginger
pinch nutmeg

DIRECTIONS

First, the apples. In a mixing bowl, toss the slices with lemon juice and cinnamon. Set aside.

In a mixing bowl, combine flour, sugar, and salt. Add the cold butter to the bowl and combine using the tips of your fingers. Little lumps are okay.

Stir in the cold water, little by little, until the dough just holds together. Form it into a disk, wrap it in plastic wrap, and refrigerate 1 hour.

To make the almond filling base, pulse nuts, flour, and sugar in a food processor until finely ground.

Preheat oven at 400 F. Take the dough out of the fridge and let it sit for 5 minutes, to bring the temperature down a bit so that you can work with it. Place it on a floured surface and roll it out to a thin thin circle, slightly larger than the size of the pan you’re using. Lay it in the pan.

Spread the nut mixture over the bottom of the crust.

Now, lay the apples in an overlapping spiral. I suggest putting the less-asthetically-pleasing slices on the bottom layer, quietly tucked out of sight. Fold any extra dough up and over the sides of the apples (there won’t be much–this is a naked galette, after all). Brush crust and apples with 1 tbsp melted butter, sprinkle with sugar, and pop in the oven. Cook about 45 minutes, rotating every 15 or so. If you find that the slices of apple are browning too quickly (I did!), cover the pan with a sheet of foil, and just remove the foil 10 minutes or so before you take the pie out, so it can finish browning up.

While the tart cooks, prepare the syrup topping. In a saucepan, combine apple peels and cores, sugar, nutmeg, ginger, and just enough water to cover them. Simmer for about 25 minutes, then remove from heat and strain out the pieces.

When the crust is golden brown, remove from the oven and cool for 15 minutes. Then brush all over with the spiced apple syrup.

Serve as is, or with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Yummy.


One final note: it’s never too early to start baking in your Christmas apron.

Poule au Pot.

Sunday didn’t start out rainy. I woke up at 9:30, and despite feeling a bit low-energy, I grabbed my yoga bag (which I somehow had the foresight to pack the night before) and headed out the door to get my butt kicked for an intense hour and a half. By the time I left the studio, it had become overcast, and a cool, late summer rain was falling. As I walked an umbrella-less mile back to my apartment, I realized it was the perfect weather for that rare and elusive treat: light comfort food. In other words, it was time to make poule au pot! I first saw this peasant’s poached chicken and vegetable dish being prepared on one of my favorite cooking shows, Laura Calder’s French Food at Home. It’s incredibly easy and serves up all beautiful and mellow, with buttery flavors that make you think it’s more indulgent than it is. Since the chicken and veggies are poached, you not only have a very healthy dish on your hands, you’ve also got a whole bonus pot-ful of super-flavorful chicken broth leftover, to do with as you wish. And as for the chicken, I serve it in a pool of hot broth with the veggies and a little pile of quinoa on the side, but let me tell you, it is perfect for chicken salad too. Whatever you do with it, poule au pot has all the warming and homey power of comfort food, with none of the greasy richness. This is the magic of chicken in a pot–what’s not to love?

INGREDIENTS

1 whole chicken
2 bay leaves
5 whole cloves garlic, skin on
1/2 tsp dried thyme
1/2 tsp dried rosemary
1/2 tsp dried sage
1/2 tsp dried parsley
1/2 tsp dried tarragon
salt and pepper to taste
3 turnips, halved
2 parsnips, peeled and cut to about the size of the turnips
3 carrots, peeled and cut to match the parsnips
3 celery stalks, cleaned and cut in two
2 leeks, sliced longways, halved shortways, and washed (I find it’s easier to cut leeks first, then wash them after)
1 onion, quartered (Laura Calder suggests pearl onions, but I didn’t have any)

DIRECTIONS

Place the chicken in a deep pot, breast-side up. Fill the pot with water until it covers the chicken. Add the bay leaves and garlic and bring to a boil. Skim the foam off the surface of the water every few minutes.

After the foam has stopped forming, add the thyme, rosemary, sage, parsley, tarragon, and salt and pepper. Cook on a low boil for 30 minutes.

After 30 minute have passed, flip the chicken over so that the breast side is down. Turn the heat down slightly and cook another 10 minutes.

Next, add the turnips, parsnips, and carrots. Cook for 10 minutes.

Then add the celery and onion. Cook 5 minutes.

Finally, add the leeks to the pot. Cook 5 minutes.

That’s all! After a total of 60 minutes of chicken-poaching, with the veggies staggered so that they’re all just perfectly fork-tender, you’ve got an efficiently glorious dish that will make you pat yourself on the back a few times. My, you’re a good chef. Now eat some chicken.

An Award! and, Brown Butter Pecan Cake with Chocolate Ganache.

I arrived home from a fun weekend in New York to find a nice surprise—I’d been nominated for the Versatile Blogger Award by Laurie from A Taste of Morning! Laurie is a fellow philosopher who writes a beautiful blog from her bed & breakfast in Kansas. In particular, I love her photography of flowers and plants. Thanks for thinking of me, Laurie!

Nominees share 7 things about themselves and then nominate 15 of their favorites blogs for the award in return. Here are my 7 things:

1. I majored in philosophy in college. Ethics is my favorite.
2. I’ve lived in St. Louis, Chicago, Massachusetts, Ireland, and Moscow. I was only in Moscow 2 months, but I love that city so much that I just have to count it!
3. My favorite TV shows are Arrested Development and The Simpsons.
4. I’m a crazy Cubs fan. I’ve been to more than 50 Cubs games in my life and don’t plan on slowing down any time soon!
5. My favorite foods are baklava, quesadillas, grapefruit, Wienerschnitzel, and raspberries.
6. Every time I pass someone walking a Siberian Husky on the street, I have to stop and give that puppy some love!
7. I refused to eat seafood of any kind until 2009. Now I love it.

And here are my 15 nominations, in no particular order, for the Versatile Blogger Award:

1. Hungry Hinny
2. Grown in Texas
3. We Call Him “Yes! Chef!”
4. Fiona Grows Food
5. The Soulsby Farm
6. The Patterned Plate
7. Natalie’s Daily Crave
8. The Sprout Diaries
9. The Budget Cooking Blog
10. With the Grains
11. Natasha’s Kitchen
12. Charles and Kimberly’s Recipes
13. Hungry Foodie Pharmacy
14. Toy Kitchen Chef
15. Czech That Out

To all my nominees, I love your blogs and I’m happy to give you a shout-out for your great work!

…….

And now, the recipe:

Some recipes are born of utility, and this is one of those. Or, more simply said, a few days ago I wanted dessert. The things I had in the house were: pecans, Greek yogurt, and standard baker’s materials. No fruit, just a tiny bit of chocolate, and in general, nothing particularly interesting, and that meant not a lot of options. But I nosed around a few of my favorite cooking blogs and found some inspiration that sent me down the path of cake-making. If you’re a cake maker, and you’ve never tried this method of preparing your wet ingredients, I highly highly recommend it. It’s the same method I used in Drunken Squirrel’s Cake, and I love the way it makes the cake so airy and fluffy, but dense at the same time. And the chocolate ganache…just make this cake already!

INGREDIENTS

Cake:
1 cup pecans
1/2 stick (4 oz.) butter
2 eggs
1/2 cup sugar
2 tbsp milk
1 cup minus 2 tbsp Greek yogurt
squeeze of lemon
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
pinch of salt

Ganache:
1/3 cup heavy cream
3 oz. unsweetened bakers chocolate
3/4 tbsp butter
3 tbsp powdered sugar, plus more to taste

DIRECTIONS

Preheat oven to 350 F.

In a large sauce pan, toast your pecans until they’re fragrant and slightly browned. Let them cool, then blitz them in a food processor to the consistency of wet sand.

In a saucepan over medium high heat, melt and brown your butter, stirring occasionally. When little brown bits are bubbling to the surface and the butter itself is brown, remove from heat and set aside to cool (you’ll know it’s done because it will smell amazinggg).

Now, the eggs. Separate the whites and the yolks. Put the yolks in a metal bowl and add the sugar.

Place the bowl over a pot of gently simmering water and whisk like crazy. At first, the yolk and sugar seize together and stick inside your whisk, but keep beating them and they’ll eventually turn into a thick, pale yellow cream.

Remove yolks from heat and gently stir in the ground pecans, yogurt, milk, lemon juice, and cooled brown butter.

Meanwhile, beat the whites until they form stiff peaks.

Take a scoop of the whites and gently stir it into the yolk mixture, to even out the textures a bit. Then fold in the rest of the whites.

Combine the flour, baking powder, and salt. Sift into the wet ingredients, and gently fold together until combined.

Pour batter into a greased spring-form pan.

Bake for 30-35 minutes, until the top just starts to turn golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out clean. Allow your cake to cool completely before you cover it with the ganache.

Now, the chocolate glaze. Gently heat the cream in a pan over medium heat. Just when it reaches the boiling point, remove from heat and pour over the chocolate and butter.

Add the powdered sugar and stir well until all the chocolate has melted and you’re left with a smooth ganache. Taste and add more powdered sugar as necessary to reach desired sweetness.

Pour evenly over the cake.

Place your cake in the fridge to firm up a bit. That’s it!

Bacon and Egg Salad.

The French really know how to dress up a salad. I ate a dish just like this in Paris a few years ago, and I’m thrilled with how my recreation turned out! Thanks to Laura Calder for the recipe, which is really just an extravagant excuse to eat bacon and eggs for lunch. All the fatty, breakfast-y glory of the bacon and eggs, served atop a salad that helps you rationalize away all your nutritional doubts. One suggestion: to avoid wilting leaves and a hardening egg, this salad should be eaten immediately after it’s prepared. I’m betting you won’t have a problem with that.

INGREDIENTS

3 strips bacon
1 egg
2 tbsp white wine vinegar, plush a splash
olive oil
2 cups arugula, washed and dried
salt and pepper to taste

DIRECTIONS

Cook bacon to your liking and remove from pan.

Crumble into pieces and set aside.

On low heat, add 2 tbsp vinegar to bacon fat and boil to reduce to about a tbsp or two.

Then add enough olive oil to the pan to make a dressing for the arugula and stir. Remove from heat.

Meanwhile, poach the egg: heat a pot of water with a splash of vinegar until it’s about to boil. Crack an egg into a ramekin. Stir the water gently so that it flows in a circle and gently pour in the egg. Poach until the white is cooked but the yolk is still runny. Remove from water with a slotted spoon.

Toss arugula in the pan of warm dressing.

Then, assemble! Arugula first, then bacon, then egg. Add salt and pepper to taste. Garnish with parsley. Make sure to break the yolk over the arugula so that it becomes a sort of dressing of its own. Mmmm.