Wednesday, January 28, 2009

(My Boyfriend's) Mom And Apple Pie

We all have our favorite comfort food; food that evokes warm memories or just warms us from their soothing taste. When I was 16, my boyfriends mother Rita, sent over the best apple pie I had ever eaten. I didn't know how good the perfect crust and balanced mixture of cinnamon and nutmeg could be. She topped it with a gently spiced crumble "crust" that I thought was heaven on a spoon. I grew up without knowing about the subtleties and robustness that spice can bring to food. It was a meat and potatoes household. Rita used curry and and other spices I had never heard of. Her hair was always neatly up in a bun and she was beautiful without a stitch of makeup. It was her food she embellished, not herself. She knew about where to buy the best ice cream and they ordered their steaks specially cut. I think she started the American trend of piling a plate generously high, as I remember wondering how I was supposed to fit all of that food in my skinny teen aged body. Apple pie just brings together some of my favorite tastes and thoughts. I guess there is a reason it is associated with Mom and all of the comforts of home. Looking at the wooden bowl of apples in my kitchen I had an urge to make a quick and simple rustic apple pie. I deviated from making a top crust that is so fun to roll and decorate with cut out leaves or elaborately pinched edges. I was in the middle of a busy and hectic day as I submitted to baking this treat and wanted the tastes without the fuss. The crust got a little too brown as I tried to balance baking with the phone ringing, but once I sat down and dolloped on the freshly whipped cream, all was forgiven.

Pate Brisee (Pie Crust)
adapted from Martha Stewart

1 1/4 cup all purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1 4 ounce stick unsalted butter, chilled and cut in small pieces
3 tablespoons ice water (approximately)

In the bowl of a food processor, combine flour, salt and sugar. Add butter, and process until the mixture resembles coarse meal, about 8-10 seconds. With the machine running, add the ice water, a little at a time, in a slow steady stream through the feed tube. Depending on the humidity, less or more water may be needed. Pulse until the dough holds together without being wet or sticky, being careful not to process more than 30 seconds. To test, squeeze a small amount together. If it is crumbly, add more ice water, a little at a time. Shape the dough into a disc, cover in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least an hour. Dough may be stored, frozen for up to one month. Makes one single layer of pie crust.

Rustic Apple Pie

8 medium apples*, peeled, cored and sliced
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup white sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons flour
1 tablespoon butter
optional: 1/4 cup chopped walnuts
2 tablespoon raisins soaked in
1 tablespoon brandy, until plump

*I used mainly Granny Smith apples for their firmness and sweet/ tart flavor and Fuji and Macintosh to round out the taste.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees
Roll chilled pie dough, between 2 sheets of plastic wrap (to prevent sticking), into a rough 15 inch round. Place dough into a 9 inch pie pan, letting excess to hang over the sides.

In a large bowl, mix apples, sugars, cinnamon, nutmeg, salt and flour. Add optional nuts and raisins and stir. Spoon into the prepared pie pan, dot with butter and fold the overhanging dough over to cover apples. The center will be left uncovered. Sprinkle with a little sugar. Bake in preheated 375 degree oven for about an hour, until crust is golden brown and apples are cooked and juicy. Check after half an hour to make sure it is not browning too quickly. If it is, loosely cover with aluminum foil for the remaining time. Serve warm with vanilla ice cream or whipped cream.
Eight servings

Written and photographed by Diane

Download recipe (pdf)

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Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Oh, What A Night

Oh, what a day. We headed to Leicester Square in London to buy tickets for the matinee of “Jersey Boys”, on a very temperate and sunny winters day. The charming Prince Edward Theatre had only a few tickets to offer the seven of us. We scooped up the last handful and felt lucky as people clamored behind us to do the same. Forget that their location was in the vertigo/nosebleed section of the theatre. We’d manage, after all we are Earth Angels. Now we had a few hours before show time and wandered over to London’s Chinatown, which is just a few blocks away. Chinese New Year, celebrating the year of the Ox, is in a few days and the preparations were well underway. Rows and rows of brilliant red Chinese lanterns were hung from building to building and swaying in the afternoon breeze. Merchants goods displayed on the closed street called out for our attention. Vendors selling scarves, chefs making Dragon's Beard candy, hawkers of Chinese chatcha’s, and fruit and veg stands, stood side by side. The sizzling aroma of exotically spiced food made an easy decision of where to have dinner after the play. Walking back to the theatre, it was time to show our tickets and make friends with the shiny brass handrail as we climbed up to our seats. “Jersey Boys“ is a musical about the story of Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons. Their music transcends age and the story is part of rock and roll history. The show started, the music rocked and the audience swayed. The lives of these kids from the rough side of Jersey was told through their music. It was a spectacular show. All of that action revved up the appetite. Chinatown here we come! Settled in, we all ordered different dishes. Mary Jo had the Peking Duck that was shredded at the table, and Bobbie had a prawn dish so hot that we had to remind her that Big Girls Don't Cry. My chicken in a spicy black bean sauce was devoured. Cindy had a chicken curry that she shared with me as I hummed I Can't Get Enough of you Baby. We were left Beggin' for a Chinese beer to wash it down. Oh-o-o My Eyes Adored You!

We left the restaurant happy and sated, and took
the tube back to the hotel where we met up with newly engaged friends and celebrated. Later in the evening as I pulled the curtains to my room, looking out over the London cityscape I muttered...........Oh, What a Night.

Written and photographed by Diane

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Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Farl, Farl Away

It was another snowstorm in Boston, in what has become a very white winter. We were 3 hours delayed getting out of Boston's Logan Airport on our way to London. Wearily, the next morning I went in search for comfort food for breakfast to go with my tea. I happened upon some Irish Soda Farl. What the F...arl?? I had never heard of it. Not even my Irish roots and foodie leanings had brought this comforting looking hunk of bread to my attention. I needed it. There aren't too many breads that haven't become my new best friend and especially if they are hot and fresh. Farl actually describes the size and shape of the bread. It is a term used in Ireland and Scotland for a piece of bread that is flat, about 3/4 inches thick and cut into a rough quarter circle shape. Who knew?! In Old Lowland Scots, fardell meant a fourth or a quarter. The word fardell was reduced in time to farl. This bread is super easy to make, and best eaten fresh. It doesn't have a long shelf life since it only has a small amount of oil in it. Make this rustic soda bread to soothe the inner chill and serve hot from the oven with unsalted, fresh creamery butter and my Blackberry Ginger Jam. Invite three friends to even out the circle and don't forget the tea!

Irish Soda Farl

2 cups all purpose flour
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt

2/3 cup buttermilk
2 tablespoons canola oil

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and with 1 tablespoon of the canola oil, and grease a 9 inch cast iron skillet.

In a large bowl mixing bowl, mix together the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Add the buttermilk and remaining 1 tablespoon canola oil. Mix well with a spatula, without over mixing. Dough should hold together without being too sticky. On a lightly floured board, shape dough into a 9 inch round circle. Only add enough flour to just keep it from becoming too sticky. Put the dough circle into the greased cast iron skillet and bake about 30 minutes or until it is a nice golden brown.Take out of the oven and loosen from the pan, beginning with the edges. Turn out onto a cutting board and cut into pie shaped quarters. Serve hot. Store any remaining bread in an airtight bag or foil.

Written and photographed by Diane

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Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Pearl Couscous Feta Salad

The first time I saw pearl couscous, I clearly realized how the name was derived. When cooked, they are small white, round pearly treasures. They are big enough to have a "bite" to them, but small enough to pick up a big spoonful. Served hot or cold they are a perfect foil to a multitude of spices. My new favorite way is adapted from a salad that I get in London. I found that I was consistently craving this and of course, had to come back home and duplicate it. I added a few ingredients of my own to round it out. I eat it as a main course although it would really perk up grilled chicken as a side dish.

Pearl Couscous Feta Salad

1 1/2 cups pearl couscous*
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 3/4 cups water

1/3 cup white wine vinegar
1/3 cup olive oil

1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 teaspoons chili oil

1 cup cooked chickpeas
1 tablespoon mint
1/3 cup cilantro, chopped
1/4 cup shallots, diced
1 teaspoon mustard seed
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 large tangerine
1/4 cup pomegranate seeds or dried cranberries

2 ounces feta cheese, crumbled

*Pearl, or sometimes called Israeli couscous can be found in the international or grain section of the grocery store. I was thrilled to see that Trader Joe's and Whole Foods also carries it. If you can't find it, then use smaller couscous and still saute it but after adding water (amount according to package directions), do not boil. Just cover until water is absorbed.Heat olive oil in a skillet and saute couscous over medium heat until golden brown, about 5 minutes. Slowly add 1 3/4 cups boiling water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium low and cover. Simmer for 12 minutes or until all liquid is absorbed. Put into a medium bowl.Whisk together the olive oil, vinegar, lemon juice and chili oil and pour over couscous. Add chickpeas, mint, cilantro, shallots, mustard seed, salt and cayenne pepper, and stir thoroughly. Peel tangerine, and cut into 1/2 inch pieces with the membranes removed. Add tangerine, pomegranate seeds (or dried cranberries), and feta cheese. Gently toss and serve room temperature or chilled.
Makes 2 main course, or 4 side servings.

Written and photographed by Diane

Download recipe (pdf)

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Sunday, January 4, 2009

Boston Tea Party

There are coffee people and tea people. Some are crossovers and dabble in both sides. Well, I am mainly a tea person and also enjoy a good strong cup of coffee occasionally. The java jolt certainly has its place. Somehow sitting at a Parisian sidewalk cafe with a cup of tea just doesn't feel right. Coffees' "in your face" strength grabs me with its flavor and power. Tea has a friendly gentle nudge and comfort. My friend Debbie, (she's a coffee person) gave me the most delightfully packaged tea for my birthday. I have to admit, I haven't tried one yet because the pyramid packages are just too much fun to look at and play with! Tea can be complex in taste and in culture. It had a starring role in the American Revolution as colonists protested its taxation and dumped it into the Boston Harbor. Its endurance can be found in any stores long aisle of choices. The immortal French tea shop, Mariage Frere, would send an indecisive person into shutdown mode. It has so many types of tea to choose from that just when you think you know what you want, you have a choice of the tea seasons first picking (green) or second picking or many options! Deciding can be enjoyable though, as you read the descriptions and are taken care of by handsome men in coarse linen suits with a British East Indian trade atmosphere. There is even a tea museum and tea room that you can indulge in after your selections. My friend Lisa and I were beguiled by the dried tea blossom bundles that unfurl as the hot water is poured into the teapot. We chose a cellophane bag of Fleur d'Orient to share. Lisa surprised me last week with a gift of a new glass teapot. It really makes a cup of tea a ceremony as you watch the floral tea blossom. After having a very snowy December here in Boston, I needed that comforting and friendly tea. Being a new year with a precarious economic outlook, I brewed a beautiful pot of tea and celebrated my own version of The Boston Tea Party. Happy New Year.

Written and photographed by Diane

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