Sunday, August 25, 2013

Plum Galette with Blue Cheese and Cracked Pepper


Give a man a spectacular pie crust, and he will make a spectacular pie. But teach a man to make a spectacular pie crust, and he will make pie after pie after spectacular pie. And he will turn any and all conversations onto the subject of pie crust. And he will bore people with talk about the critical size of butter lumps and the importance of proper cold rests until he has no remaining friends. But that is okay. Because he will have pie.

So yeah, I've been a bit obsessed lately. But really! Pie crust! Delicious and flaky and like a buttery dream! A week or so ago, I mentioned that I was introduced to a new method of crust-making. And since then, I have made that crust three times. I have made dozens of hand pies, and I have made this plum galette. And I aim to make quiches, turnovers, and lord knows what else until I run out of butter. Yes, it takes some timing and planning and work. But it's oh so worth it.

But back to this plum galette. Yes, it had a spectacular, flaky crust. But its charms did not end there. It had a paving of the season's ripe plums, sliced thinly, fanned out beautifully, and brushed with a generous glaze of plum jam. It was so pretty, I almost just left it at that. But then, to gild the lily a bit — and to win the coveted "most interesting combination that still manages to be tasty" award at an annual pie party — I added a sprinkling of blue cheese, and a few cracks of coarse-ground black pepper. The end result is surprisingly delicious — still clearly in the sweet camp, but with surprising savory notes that add interest, and keep it from being a one-note summer fruit pie.

And if you're wondering the best accompaniment for such a complex combination of flavors, let me point you to a recent story about Cicerones — beer experts who specialize in finding the best beer to drink with your food (and many other fields of beery knowledge, like figuring out if your taps have gone all nasty, how best to store your brew, how to make it, and all that good stuff). You can hear more about it over at NPR. And if you're wondering how I fared in the pie competition — first place. It's all about the sweet and savory. And the crust.

Plum Galette with Blue Cheese and Cracked Pepper

adapted very loosely from the template on Cafe Fernando, as inspired by Chez Panisse, but they are not responsible for the crust obsession and topping "creativity."

About 1 1/4 cups (150 grams) flour
1 1/2 tablespoons sugar
1 scant teaspoon coarse salt
1 stick (1/4 pound) unsalted butter, cut in half-inch pieces
~1/4 - 1/3 cup ice water

3 tablespoons sugar, divided
1 tablespoon almond meal or flour
6 smallish red plums, sliced into slim 1/4-inch wedges (or fewer larger plums)
~1/2 cup plum jam (if your jam is particularly lumpy or has lots of skin and such, you may need to start with a larger amount)
1 egg, well beaten

1 handful crumbled blue cheese
1 teaspoon black peppercorns, very coarsely ground (I just bashed them with a mortar and pestle)

To make the dough: Place dry ingredients in a stand mixer or food processor. Add butter and pulse until broken down to sizes varying from peas to almonds to walnuts. Pour mixture into a large bowl, and add the smaller amount of water recommended. Toss together and squeeze the dough to determine if more water is needed. The dough should just hold together, with shaggy dry areas as well as areas that are moister. If the dough is too dry, add the remaining water and toss. Transfer dough to a shallow container or wrap into a rough square in plastic wrap. Chill at least a couple of hours, or overnight.

After the dough has chilled, unwrap it onto a floured surface. Pat the dough into a square, then use a rolling pin to roll it into a 1/2-inch thick rectangle. The dough will crumble and be rough around the edges, but don't add more flour or water — it will come together during rolling. For the first "turn," fold the dough into thirds, like a letter. The seam should be on the left side. Chill 30 minutes.

For the second turn, take the dough out, this time with the seam at the bottom. Again roll the dough into an 8 1/2 x 14 inch rectangle and repeat the previous step. Chill 30 minutes.

For the third turn, repeat the previous step, then wrap the dough in plastic and chill for at least 2 hours, or overnight.

After the dough has chilled for the final time, roll it to a 12-inch circle (or slightly larger, then trim to 12 inches). Transfer to a parchment-lined cookie sheet. Sprinkle 1 tablespoon of sugar over the dough, leaving an inch of unsprinkled border. Sprinkle the almond meal or flour over the sugar. Starting from the outside, fan the plum slices, slightly overlapping, in three concentric circles, leaving an inch or so of border (the overhead picture of the tart shows how I did this). Sprinkle another tablespoon of sugar on top of the plums. Then fold the edge over, crimping it around the filling as needed. Brush the crust with the egg wash, and sprinkle it with the remaining tablespoon of sugar. Transfer the galette to the freezer while you preheat the oven (just 15 minutes or so).

Preheat the oven to 375° Fahrenheit. When hot, remove the galette from the freezer, and transfer the galette and its parchment to a non-frozen baking sheet. Bake until the crust is deeply golden and the plums seem cooked, ~40-45 minutes.

When the galette is almost done, heat the jam in a small saucepan until runny and melty. Push through a strainer to remove lumps and skins and such. When the galette comes out of the oven, brush the glaze generously over the fruit (the baked plums will be soft, so use a gentle touch). You can leave as is, or else sprinkle with the blue cheese, and then return to the turned-off oven for a minute or two, until it just begins to soften and start to run. Remove, sprinkle with the black pepper, and serve.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Poached Salmon with Cucumber Sauce

Salmon and cucumber seems like a combination from a long time ago. I'm not sure if I come by this opinion from my own personal history, or obsessive reading of old cookbooks (it's hard to tease apart the two sometimes). Regardless, it pulls up thoughts of gelatin-set salmon molds, of cucumber slices made to look like fish scales, and other tropes that were the height of luncheon catering some twenty-five years past. But I clearly need to readjust my thinking. Because poached salmon with cucumber sauce is a timeless combination. It's what I had for dinner last night, and last week as well. And what I should be having once a week every summer.

The inspiration for this particular incarnation of the classic comes from the always-in-style Julia Child. And it couldn't be simpler. Salmon is slipped into a barely-simmering bath of water, where it manages to delicately set without overcooking (and, thanks to a generous helping of salt and vinegar, doesn't wash out but instead gains even more flavor). And then it is served with a cool, slippery sauce (if you could even call it that) of sour cream, Greek yogurt, cucumbers and dill. Pair it with a simple summer salad (I went with arugula, peaches and corn), maybe a chunk of leftover bread for sopping up the plate, and you've got a summer meal that's just about perfect. Timeless, even.

Poached Salmon with Cucumber Sauce

inspired by Julia Child's The Way to Cook
serves 4

Cucumber Sauce:
1/2 cup sour cream
1/2 cup Greek yogurt (not nonfat)
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
1/2 teaspoon vinegar (cider or sherry work well)
1 cucumber, chopped in a 1/4-inch dice
~2-3 tablespoons chopped fresh dill

1 pound salmon, cut into 4 slices
salt and white vinegar (see below)

To make the cucumber sauce: In a bowl, stir together the sour cream, Greek yogurt, sugar, salt and vinegar until well combined. Taste, and adjust as needed. Stir in the cucumber and dill, and set aside to chill while you prepare the salmon.

To prepare the salmon: Pour water into a very deep-walled saucepan, or wide-bottomed pot, to a depth of three inches. For every quart of water this requires, add 2 teaspoons coarse salt, and 3 tablespoons vinegar. Bring to a boil, then slip in the salmon, and adjust the heat so that it is just barely about to simmer. Cook at this level until done, meaning it has a bit of internal firmness, and is thinking about flaking but not quite there yet — the exact time will vary depending upon the thickness of your fish, but start checking before 5 minutes are up. Remove with a slotted spoon (no need to rinse off), let drain a moment, and serve with cucumber sauce.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Brown Butter Zucchini Cornbread

I am totally loving on zucchini this summer. I have been making versions of this summer stir-fry, shaving it into long thin ribbons, and (more often than not) stewing it with garlic and olive oil forever, until it just slumps into deliciousness. And I also made this cornbread.

I have long been a fan of the many uses of zucchini, and how its flaws are actually its assets, if you just look at them in the right light. Like you know how it has a fairly subtle flavor, and can be kinda watery? Well, that just means you can easily slip it into your cornbread, where it adds a gentle green note, and keeps things tender and moist. I know, right?

This recipe is a fairly standard quickbread, though it goes a step further and browns the butter for a nutty taste ( a step I always recommend taking). The end result is somewhere between cornbread and zucchini bread, and a nice welcome change from either of the two. While less desserty than zucchini bread, it definitely falls on the sweeter end of the cornbread spectrum — but after a childhood relationship with doughnut shop corn muffins, that's how I like it (I even play up the subtle sweetness a bit more with a sanding of sugar across the top). It's a delicious snack to go with your afternoon tea (or iced tea, depending on the weather), and paired with a handful of blackberries or slice of cheese it makes for a perfect summer breakfast.

And if you'd like to hear me say more kind words about zucchini, you can check out this intervew I did with No Chefs Allowed, over on Heritage Radio. Complete with ummms and upspeak and awkward oh-do-I-talk-now? pauses. It turns out being interviewed on the radio is totally nervous-making. Who knew?

Brown Butter Zucchini Cornbread

from Bon Appetit, via Epicurious
yields 1 loaf

1 good-sized zucchini (about 12 ounces)
1 cup flour
1/2 cup whole wheat pastry flour (or just use additional flour)
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon coarse salt
3/4 cup medium-grind cornmeal (this type of cornmeal is somewhere between finely-ground standard cornmeal and coarse-ground polenta — I happened to have some on hand (thanks, Ken & Heidi's pantry!), and it made for a nicely nubby texture, but standard cornmeal would work fine)
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, plus additional for greasing pan
1/2 cup buttermilk
2 large eggs
1/3 cup sugar, plus additional coarse sugar for sanding the top

Preheat your to 350° Fahrenheit. Butter and flour a loaf pan, and set aside.

Trim the ends off the zucchini, and slice a half-dozen whisper-thin slices off to reserve as garnish. Grate the remaining zucchini on the coarse holes of a grater, then set aside in a colander to drain while you prepare the rest of the recipe.

In a large bowl, sift together the flours, baking powder, baking soda, salt and cornmeal. Set aside.

Melt the butter in a small saucepan over medium-high heat. Continue cooking until butter solids at bottom of pan turn golden brown, about 3 minutes, then pour out into a medium bowl. Let cool slightly, then pour in the buttermilk, whisking to help cool the butter and take the chill off the buttermilk. Add the eggs and sugar, and whisk well to combine. Give the zucchini a quick press in the colander to release any liquid, and stir into the bowl as well.

Gently fold the dry mixture into the zucchini mixture, stirring until *just* combined (the mixture will be quite thick). Pour into your prepared pan, and smooth the top. Gently lay the reserved zucchini slices in a row down the top, then sprinkle generously with coarse sugar. Bake until golden and a tester comes out clean, ~45 minutes to an hour. Let cool in pan for 15 minutes, then turn out onto a rack and cool fully before slicing.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

More Hand Pies!

A few weeks ago, I shared a recipe for my delicate little pillow-shaped strawberry hand pies. And I am still a fan of those hand pies. But recently I met another hand pie. A slightly different hand pie. A larger, flakier, hand pie, with its fruit peeking through. It's not quite the two-bite delicacy of my strawberry version, but it's kind of amazing in its own right. And it also totally changed how I make my pie crust. I mean seriously — look at those flakes! You can learn more about this crust (aka rough puff pastry), and the beauty of hand pies in general, over at NPR.