Friday, February 21, 2020

Gracious Mount Vernon


This beautiful estate, located along the Potomac River, in Mount Vernon, Virginia, was George Washington's dignified and cherished home. He inherited the property from his half-brother Lawrence, who named it Mount Vernon after Admiral Edward Vernon, whom he served under in the Caribbean. George continually improved the property, by doubling the size of the Mansion house, re-shaping and adding a series of gardens, and buying surrounding property to increase the size from 2,126 acres to approximately 8,000 acres! Over time, the "farm" would include vineyards, orchards, a dairy, a sawmill, a flour mill, a small fleet of fishing boats, and a distillery! With the exception of some nauseating color schemes within the Mansion house, Mount Vernon is quite impressive and definitely worth a visit! 

If you're ever in the Washington, D.C. area, I strongly recommend setting aside an entire day to tour the property. While you're there, don't forget to grab a bite at the charming Mount Vernon Inn, featuring Virginia Peanut and Chestnut Soup, pies similar to Chicken Pot Pie for Realists, and "Homemade Bread Pudding." This is the original recipe, featured in Gourmet magazine. More creamy custard than bread pudding, it is deceptively delicious, reminiscent of french toast. I recommend serving this piping hot, straight out of the oven, so pop it in when you begin your meal to truly enjoy this colonial treat.


Homemade Bread Pudding

Serves 8

Ingredients:

2 cups fine dry bread crumbs (I made from leftover baguette, crusts removed)
4 cups half-and-half
1 cup sugar
1/2 tablespoon unsalted butter, cut into bits
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
5 large eggs, beaten lightly
2 teaspoons vanilla
1/2 cup raisins

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a bowl, let the bread crumbs soak in the half-and-half for 6 minutes, stir in the sugar, butter, salt, nutmeg, cinnamon, eggs, vanilla, and the raisins. Pour into a buttered 13x9" baking dish. Put the dish in a larger baking pan, pour enough hot water into the pan to reach halfway up the sides of the dish, and bake in the middle of the oven for 1 hour, or until it is golden.

Thursday, February 20, 2020

By George! It's Your Birthday!

George Washington was born on February 22, 1732, in Westmoreland, Virginia Colony. He began his career as a surveyor, soldier, then senior officer in the French and Indian War. In 1775, he was chosen to be commander-and-chief of the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War. Through many difficulties, victory was finalized in 1783. Washington then returned home to his beloved Mount Vernon estate. However, in 1789, Washington was unanimously elected the first president of the United States. At the time, no one was more universally loved and respected to hold the new country together. He reluctantly accepted a second term as president, but refused to run for a third term, establishing the maximum of two terms for a president. In 1797, he again returned to Mount Vernon, until his death in 1799. Although he was a slave owner, he detested slavery and freed all his slaves in his final will. He truly was the "Father of our Country." Thanks, George! Happy Birthday!

So, continuing my Mount Vernon-inspired menu, I chose to make "Chicken Pot Pie for Perfectionists," from Dinner Chez Moi, by Laura Calder. This recipe should be renamed "Chicken Pot Pie for Masochists!" I started the recipe at 12:30, roasting a chicken, then making and straining stock, making the lard crust (as recommended), blanching the vegetables, cooking the bacon, browning the vegetables, making the sauce, then putting it all together, baking it, and then finally serving it, at 7:30pm! I put so much work into it, but I wasn't too impressed with the final results. ****! In fact, I prefer my recipe, which I am going to call "Chicken Pot Pie for Realists!" It's spiked with Sherry, loaded with fresh herbs, peas served on the side, and topped with a delicious puff pastry top! Perfect for any self-respecting Inn or Tavern of Washington's day!


Chicken Pot Pie for Realists

Serves 4

Ingredients:

4 tablespoons butter
1 rib celery, chopped
1/2 small onion, chopped (can use leeks instead, click here for more on leeks)
2 carrots, peeled and cut into coins
4 ounces button mushrooms, cleaned and cut into quarters
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 cups chicken stock (click here to learn how to make a quick stock)
2 cups shredded cooked chicken (click here to learn how to poach chicken)
1/4 cup Sherry
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon paprika
1/4 teaspoon rosemary, chopped
1/2 teaspoon thyme, stems removed and chopped
1 tablespoon sage, chopped
1/4 cup parsley, chopped
1/2 package puff pastry sheets, thawed (e.g., Pepperidge Farm)
1 egg, beaten with a little water (to brush pastry)
Pinch of sea salt, fleur de sel, or Kosher salt (to sprinkle on top of pastry)
1 cup peas (to pass at the table)

Directions:

In a medium saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. Cook the celery, onion or leeks, carrots, and mushrooms until tender, about 5 minutes. Add the flour and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Gradually add the stock and cook, stirring, until sauce thickens. Stir in the Sherry. Season to taste with salt and pepper, and add the paprika. Stir in the chicken and herbs. Pour into a 9"-pie plate and set aside.


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Roll out the puff pastry and cut vents in the top. 


Brush the edge of the pie pan with the egg wash. Carefully lay the pastry on top, making sure it's sufficiently "glued down." "Ruffle" the excess pastry around the edges. Brush the top with more egg wash. Sprinkle the top with a pinch of salt.



Bake for 45 minutes or so, until golden brown. Serve with the peas on the side to pass around the table. Yum!

Monday, February 17, 2020

Ye Olde Goober Soup

In honor of Presidents' Day and upcoming George Washington's Birthday, I had a Mount Vernon-inspired "Dinner Night." Here's the menu:


I started my menu with the traditional Colonial recipe, from Mount Vernon (George Washington's home), for "Virginia Peanut and Chestnut Soup." When Africans were brought to North America as slaves, peanuts came with them. Slaves planted peanuts throughout the southern United States. The word "goober" comes from the Congo name for peanuts - "nguba." This soup is surprisingly tasty, but is a little thin for my taste, so next time I will add 1/4 cup flour for the roux, as opposed to the 1 tablespoon called for by the traditional recipe. Either way, it's goober good!


Virginia Peanut and Chestnut Soup

Ingredients:

1 medium onion, chopped
1/4 cup butter
1 tablespoon flour (I recommend 1/4 cup.)
2 quarts chicken broth
1 cup smooth peanut butter
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1/2 cup peanuts, chopped (for garnish)
1/2 cup water chestnuts, chopped (for garnish)

Directions:

In a soup pot, saute the onion in the butter over medium heat, until translucent, approximately 5 minutes. Stir in the flour and cook for 1 minute. Whisk in the chicken broth and bring to a boil. Remove from the heat and strain. Return the liquid to the pot and stir in the peanut butter and Worcestershire sauce. Hold on low heat until ready to serve. Garnish each serving with the chopped peanuts and water chestnuts.

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

The Birth of Aphrodite

Botticelli Birth of Venus 450x230 Botticellis Birth of Venus
Birth of Venus, by Sandro Botticelli, c. 1484-86
Botticelli's Birth of Venus is my favorite painting from the Italian Renaissance. Venus, in all her naked glory, is depicted riding to shore on a scallop shell and sea foam, being blown by Zephyrus (who is carrying the nymph Chloris) to be greeted by Pomona, the goddess of Spring. Venus's beauty was so great that wherever she stepped flowers would bloom and sand would turn to grass. Impressive! Venus embodies love, beauty, sex, fertility and prosperity in Roman mythology. She is also known as Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love, beauty, pleasure, and procreation. But do you know the story of her birth?

According to Hesiod's poem, Theogony, Gaia was the primal Greek Mother Goddess, creator of the Earth and all the Universe. Gaia created and married Uranus (primal Greek God of the sky) and had many children. Some of the children became the Titans, three were cyclopes, and three were monsters known as "hecatonchires" (which had 100 arms and 50 heads each), some became giants, and the youngest child, a Titan, was named Cronus. Uranus could not bear the sight of his hideous children, specifically the cyclopes and hecatonchires, and hid them away in the bowels of the earth. Well, Gaia wasn't too happy with this and set out for revenge. She created a flint sickle and with the help of Cronus set up a trap. As Uranus was coming to join Gaia, Cronos castrated him and threw his "stuff" into the sea. The sea began to bubble and foam "from the immortal flesh" and "with it a girl grew." Yes, it was Aphrodite, whose name means "risen from the foam." Wow and gross! That would make an interesting family tree!

Anyway, it was the birth of Aphrodite/Venus gliding on a scallop shell that has given scallops their aphrodisiac reputation. In fact, scallops are believed to raise sexual hormones in men and women, and have the ability to elevate moods! Check and check! This exquisite recipe, from Chef Eric Brenner, for "Seared Scallops, Saffron Risotto and Beurre Blanc" is the perfect Valentine meal! Luscious sweet scallops, served on a bed of creamy saffron risotto, and a generous drizzle of the best damn beurre blanc I've ever tasted is sexy, elegant, and extremely romantic! In addition, you will need to enlist the help of your mate to stir the risotto while you finish the rest! Cooking together is sexy! So, light the candles, pour some wine, and let the pleasure begin!   


Seared Scallops, Saffron Risotto and Beurre Blanc

Serves 4 (I have halved this recipe with great success, if you prefer dinner for two!)

Ingredients:
For the Beurre Blanc
1 lemon
1 bay leaf
1 shallot, minced
2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons white wine
2 tablespoons white vinegar
1/4 cup heavy cream
1/4 pound (8 tablespoons) butter, softened

For the Saffron Risotto
1 pinch saffron
2 quarts chicken stock
2 tablespoons butter, divided
1/4 cup minced shallots
2 cups Arborio rice
1/2 cup white wine
1/4 cup fresh peas
Kosher salt and pepper, to taste

For the Scallops
12 dry-packed sea scallops
Kosher salt
3 tablespoons olive oil

Directions:
Remove and discard the side muscle from the scallops. Set the scallops on a paper towel and allow to come to room temperature while you make the beurre blanc and risotto.

For the Beurre Blanc
Remove the zest from the lemon with a vegetable peeler and place in a small saucepan. Add the juice of the lemon. Place the bay leaf, shallot, wine and vinegar in the saucepan and reduce by half. Add the cream and reduce to less than 1/4 cup. Remove from the heat, strain into another small pan and gradually whisk in the softened butter. Don't let the sauce go over 130 degrees. Do no try to reheat or refrigerate the sauce. (Sounds tricky, but it's not. You can do it!)

For the Saffron Risotto
In a saucepan, combine the saffron and chicken stock and set over low heat until almost simmering. In a medium saucepot, melt 1 tablespoon butter. Add the shallots and saute until translucent. Add the rice and saute until lightly toasted, but not browned. Add the white wine and cook, stirring, until evaporated. Slowly incorporate the chicken stock a few ladles at a time, stirring constantly, until reduced and the rice is tender. (This can take anywhere from 25-40 minutes. Taste, taste, taste!) When tender, fold in the remaining tablespoon of butter with a rubber spatula. Fold in the peas and season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve right away.

For the Scallops
Just before you think your risotto is almost ready, lightly season one side of the scallops with the salt. Heat a heavy skillet until it is screaming hot. (I use my cast iron pan!) Add the 3 tablespoons olive oil. When the oil begins to "dance" (just before smoking), place the scallops in the pan salt-side down. Cook until the scallops begin to caramelize, just a couple minutes. Flip the scallops and immediately remove the pan from the heat. The heat of the pan will cook the scallops through in about 3 to 4 minutes. 

To Plate
Place a 1/2-3/4 cup risotto onto each serving plate. Top each with three scallops. Spoon the sauce around the perimeter of each plate.

Recipe slightly adapted from Chef Eric Brenner.

Sunday, February 9, 2020

The New Yorker

Now that I've shared Ken Forkish's recipe for Same-Day Straight Pizza Dough from Flour Water Salt Yeast, it's time to make his version of a classic New York pizza, which he calls "The New Yorker"! This fabulous pizza is topped with red sauce (I use my easy Homemade Marinara), grated fresh mozzarella and provolone cheese (which I request an un-sliced chunk of from my local deli), pepperoni, and finished with fresh basil and chile flakes. Delicious! As Ken notes in his book, because this is baked in a home kitchen, the pizza will only be about 12 inches diameter. He suggests compensating for the lack of size by cutting the pizza into no more than four pieces. This allows you to fold it, if you want to be authentic!

While Ken's adapted recipe for Same-Day Straight Pizza Dough makes enough dough for two pizzas, I use one to make a Margherita Pizza (which my kid's love) or a White Pie (which I find most women love and often call a "girl pizza"), and the other dough for my new favorite, The New Yorker. Although this may seem like a lot of effort for making homemade pizza, I promise you won't be disappointed! *Note: Check my Gadgets to find out my replacement for inferior pizza stones! Brilliant!

Look at that crust! Yummy!

The New Yorker

Makes one 12" pizza

Ingredients:
1 dough ball from Same-Day Straight Pizza Dough
White flour for dusting
3 ounces Smooth Red Sauce (I use my easy Homemade Marinara)
3 ounces fresh whole-milk mozzarella cheese, grated
2 ounces provolone cheese, grated
4-6 whole basil leaves (optional)
12-15 slices of pepperoni (optional)
Chile flakes (optional)

Directions:
Preheat the Pizza Stone (or tiles!)
Put your pizza stone on a rack in the upper portion of your oven so the surface is about 8 inches below the broiler. Preheat the oven to 600 degrees if your lucky enough to have an oven that goes that high: otherwise, simply preheat to the highest possible setting. (My oven's highest setting is 550 degrees.) Once the oven is preheated, continue heating the pizza stone for another 30 minutes, for a total time of about 45 minutes.

Set up your Pizza Assembly Station
Give yourself about 2 feet of width on the counter top. Generously flour the work surface. Position your peel next to the floured area and dust it with flour. (If you don't have a pizza peel, a flat metal baking sheet also works well.) Have the sauce, cheese, basil, and pepperoni prepared and at hand, with a ladle or large spoon in the sauce.

Shape the Pizza
Remove the dough ball from the refrigerator, put it on the floured work surface, and gently pat it down a bit to coat the bottom with flour. Turn it over and repeat on the other side. Leaving about 1 inch of the outer rim undeflated, punch down the middle, then flip the dough over and repeat.


Using both hands, grab the rim and lift so the dough hangs down vertically. Let gravity pull the rest of the dough down and stretch it. Run the rim between your hand, working all the way around the circumference of the dough several times.

Next, make two fists and position them just inside the rim, with the dough still handing vertically. Gently stretch and turn the dough repeatedly, still letting the bottom of the dough pull down, expanding the surface. You want it thin, but you don't want it to tear or develop holes. If you end up with a small tear, don't panic-it's okay to patch it.

Spread the dough on the floured peel and run your hands around the perimeter to shape it into a round and work out the kinks.

Superheat the Pizza Stone
About 30 minutes after the oven has reached its set temperature, switch to the broil setting for about 5 minutes to saturate the pizza stone with heat.

Top the Pizza
Spread the tomato sauce over the dough to within an inch of the edge, smoothing and spreading it with the back of the ladle. Sprinkle the cheeses evenly over the pie and distribute the basil leaves and pepperoni evenly over the top.

Bake
Turn the oven setting back to bake. Gently slide the pizza onto the pizza stone.

Bake for 5 minutes, then switch to the broil setting and broil for 2 minutes, keeping a close eye on the pizza. Bake until the cheese is completely melted and bubbling, with a few spots of brown and a few small charred spots. If the oil separates out of the cheese, it's overbaked. Use tongs of a fork to slide the pizza from the pizza stone onto a large plate. (I just slide it onto a nice cutting board to serve.)

Slice and Serve
Transfer to a large wooden cutting board. Drizzle extra-virgin olive oil lightly over the top if you like. Slice and serve immediately, passing the chile flakes at the table.

Saturday, February 8, 2020

What Calvel, Forkish, and Degas can teach You about Pizza Dough!

Raymond Calvel was born in 1913 in the Tarn region in south-west France. In the 1930s, he apprenticed as a baker in Toulouse, then studied at the Ecole des Grands Moulins de Paris. In 1935, he accepted an offer to become professor of baking at the Ecole Nationale Superieure de Meunerie et des Industries Cerealieres (ENSMIC) in Paris. In addition to authoring many books on bread baking, he also taught Julia Child and Simone Beck for their chapter on bread in Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Calvel has been credited with creating a revival in French-style breadmaking, researching and improving technique, and the development of the "autolyse." Autolysing is a process where flour and water are mixed together, then allowed to rest, which hydrates the flour to relax gluten, making the dough easier to knead and easier to stretch, perfect for making pizza dough!

Ken Forkish is a Silicon Valley software engineer turned bread baker in Portland, Oregon. He runs three of Portland's most acclaimed eateries: Ken's Artisan Bakery, Ken's Artisan Pizza, and his newish tavern and bakery called Trifecta. Ken is the author of  the James Beard Foundation Award Winning and International Association of Culinary Professional Cookbook Award Winning Flour Water Salt Yeast. After picking up his cookbook from my local library, I was inspired to make his recipe for "Same-Day Straight Pizza Dough." Although, My Basic Pizza Dough recipe is excellent when you're rushed for time and are craving pizza right away, I still wanted to find a recipe that recreated the exceptional crust that I fell in love with in Philadelphia, New Jersey, and New York. This recipe fits the bill! It's crisp yet soft and chewy inside, filled with air bubbles and perfect to satisfy my urge for really good pizza dough!

I learned a lot about bread making from Flour Water Salt Yeast, like the process of autolysing and the process of squeezing the dough between your thumb and pointer finger all along the dough to fully incorporate the yeast and salt mixture, which Ken calls the "pincer method." Unfortunately, the recipe in his book makes enough dough for five pizzas, too much for my needs. So, after careful experimentation, I was able to break down the ingredient amounts to successfully recreate enough dough for two pizzas, just the right amount for my family! Finally, after feeling quite pleased with myself, it was time to shape the dough into balls when I stumbled across his instructions "not to 'degas' the dough." Hmmm? Sounds like some fancy French baking term? After searching and consulting all my bread books, I realized this term has nothing to do with French baking terminology or the master painter Degas, it simply means not to break the air bubbles in the dough....don't "de-gas" the dough! I'm an idiot... 

*Try Ken's fabulous recipe, and one of my new favorite pizzas, The New Yorker!


Same-Day Straight Pizza Dough

Makes enough for two 12" pizzas. 

**Note: You need to start this recipe first thing in the morning and allow at least 8 hours before baking! Don't worry, it's well worth your time!

Ingredients:
1/4 teaspoon instant dried yeast
1 1/2 tablespoons warm water
3 1/2 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups warm water
1 1/2 teaspoons fine sea salt
Olive oil, as needed

Directions:
Hydrate the Yeast
Mix the 1/4 teaspoon yeast with 1 1/2 tablespoons warm (90-95 degrees) water in a small bowl. Set aside.

Autolyse the Flour
Combine the 3 1/2 cups flour with 1 1/2 warm (90-95 degrees) water in a large bowl. Mix by hand just until incorporated. Cover and let rest for 30 minutes.


Mix Yeast/Flour Together and Salt
Sprinkle the salt over the autolysed dough. Stir the yeast mixture with your finger, then pour it over the dough. Use a small piece of dough to wipe the remaining yeast goop from its container, then throw it back in the dough.


Mix by hand, wetting your working hand before mixing so the dough doesn't stick to you. (It's fine to rewet your hand three or four times while you mix.)

Reach under the dough and grab about one-quarter of it. Gently stretch this section of dough and fold it over the top to the other side of the dough. Repeat three more times with the remaining dough, until the salt and yeast are fully enclosed.

The Pincer Method!

Use the pincer method (see above) alternating with folding the dough to fully integrate the ingredients. Cut and fold, cut and fold. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let rest in a warm location. (My oven has a "proof" setting that is designed to proof dough.)

Fold the Dough
This dough needs one fold. It's best to apply the fold 30-60 minutes after mixing. (I wait 60 minutes.) After folding, lightly coat the dough and the bottom of the tub with olive oil to help prevent sticking.


When the dough is about double it's original volume, about 6 hours after mixing, it's ready to be divided.

Divide the Dough
Moderately flour a work surface. With floured hands, gently ease the dough out of the tub. With your hands still floured, pick up the dough and ease it back down onto the work surface in a somewhat even shape. Dust the entire top of the dough with flour, then cut it into 2 equal-size pieces with a dough knife or plastic dough scraper.

Shape the Dough Balls
Shape each piece of dough into a medium-tight round, tucking seams down on the bottom of each ball, working gently and being careful not to degas the dough.


Refrigerate
Put the dough balls on a lightly flour baking sheet, leaving space between them to allow for expansion. Lightly oil or flour the tops, cover with plastic wrap, and let rest at room temperature for 30-60 minutes. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes to make the dough easier to shape. The dough is now ready to be used. Stored in the refrigerator and tightly covered, any leftover dough will keep for up to 2 days.


Recipe adapted from Flour Water Salt Yeast, by Ken Forkish.