Friday, August 29, 2008

44. Grilled Pizza Margherita (p. 195)

I wanted to be sure to make this recipe before grilling season came to an end. So, a couple of Sundays ago, I woke up early to make my own pizza dough, stashed it away in the fridge, and then headed out with my wife for a nice day of lazing around by my in-laws' pool.

We got back home a little later than I expected, and we were hungry. But that was OK, because I had it in my mind that this was going to be quick and easy. And it is, but just not as quick and easy as I thought it was. You see, when I picked this recipe, I didn't actually read it. In the past, when I've had Pizza Margherita in restaurants, it usually involves a thin pizza crust topped with thinly sliced fresh tomatoes and fresh buffalo mozzeralla topped with basil and olive oil.

I didn't realize that The Book wanted me to peel the tomatoes and simmer them for 10 to 15 minutes. With a hungry, pregnant wife breathing down my neck, and a new episode of Mad Men about to start, every minute counts. I made the executive decision to skip the step of skinning the tomatoes. Foodie purists may sneer at such unabashed corner-cutting, but I don't think that the finished product was harmed by the presence of tomato peels in the sauce.

After I made the sauce, I was ready to get to pizza-making business. I stretched my two balls of pizza dough into approximately 9-inch rounds, brushed them lightly with oil and laid them on my preheated grill (which had also been oiled). After a few minutes, I flipped the dough and added the sauce and cheese.

About the cheese ... for some strange reason, The Book calls for tossing the grated mozzerella with a tablespoon of oil. I can't imagine what purpose this serves (Teena didn't know either). The result was that the topping was very oily. The next time I make this pizza, I'll skip this step.

Overall, I was less than impressed with my first attempt at grilled pizza. But I think that it has everything to do with my grill and nothing to do with The Book's recipe (oily cheese notwithstanding). The Book says to grill the pizzas for three to five minutes "until undersides are golden brown and cheese is melted." Well after about 10 minutes, the cheese finally melted, but the undersides never browned. I guess my gas grill just doesn't get hot enough. (It takes forever to cook chicken, too.)

I'll make this pizza again someday ... in the oven, with my pizza stone ... and next time I will peel the tomatoes (are you happy now?). Pizza Margherita is a great example of just how good simple food can be. The sauce, which is nothing more than ripe tomatoes and a little salt and oil, is absolutely delicious.

Date Cooked: August 17, 2008
Degree of Difficulty: Medium
Rating: B-

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

43. Lemon Bars (p. 691)

Ever since Kevin gushed about this recipe, I've been looking forward to making these lemon bars. And do you know what, he was right, they're fantastic!

The base of these bars is a simple shortbread made by pulsing together flour, sugar, cold butter and just a bit of salt. The result is a coarse meal that you press into the bottom of a baking dish. The Book calls for a nine-inch square baking pan. I don't have one (and neither does Kevin, so I wonder if it's an odd size?) so I improvised by using a rectangle pan with almost the same surface area (I knew that grade-school math would come in handy for something someday). The shortbread bakes in the oven for a while until "pale golden brown."

While the shortbread is baking, it's time to make the lemon custard. The Book's directions are simple ... perhaps too simple. All it says is "Whisk together eggs, granulated sugar, flour, heavy cream, zest, juice and salt in a bowl until combined." So, that's what I did. I just dumped all of the ingredients in a big bowl and started whisking away. The result was lumpy with little globs of eggy flour floating throughout. It took me a while to get it smoothed out. Next time I make these (and there will be a next time ... these things are great!) I'll add the ingredients one at a time to make sure that they all get incorporated evenly. The custard is poured over the baked shortbread and the whole thing goes back in the oven until the custard sets.

Once completely cooled (in the refrigerator for at least four hours), cut into 24 bars, dust with confectioner's sugar and enjoy. These bars were excellent. The shortbread crust was sweet and buttery with just the right density. The lemon custard was zesty without being too puckery, and sweet without being cloying. A perfectly balanced bar, and just the thing to end any springtime or summer dinner.

Date Cooked: August 16, 2008
Degree of Difficulty: Medium
Rating: A

Thursday, August 21, 2008

42. Herbed Lima Bean Hummus (p. 15)

So, in my last post, I picked on lima beans. (Did I say something about hipsters eating edamame and grandmas eating limas?) Well, if anything can give lima beans the cache of edameme, it's this recipe.

The recipe starts with simmering frozen baby lima beans, chopped onions and garlic in water for a few minutes until tender. Simmering the garlic and onions is a nice touch, since it mellows their flavor. Then you stir in a 1/4 cup each of chopped parsley and cilantro and let it stand off the heat for a few minutes. After that, you drain it and process it in the food processor with the other herbs and spices (mint, dill, cumin, cayenne) and lemon juice and oil. Season with salt and pepper and additional lemon juice to taste.

This hummus is a really nice change. It's got the familiar texture of chickpea hummus, but the variety of fresh herbs give it a nice bright flavor. Of all of the herbs, I felt that the dill came through more than the others. Generally, I'm not a huge dill fan because it tends to take over in a dish. The finished hummus could have used more lemon juice, but I used all of my lemons making Lemon Squares (check back later for more on those). This is a great dip to make for a party if you're looking for something a little different. I served the hummus with Pita Toasts (not burned this time, thank you very much).

Date Cooked: August 17, 2008
Degree of Difficulty: Easy
Rating: B+

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

41. Summer Vegetable Succotash (p. 582)

I've been wanting to make this recipe ever since I came across it in The Book's Vegetables chapter. The only thing stopping me from making it is the fact that it calls for pattypan squash. And while I've been keeping my eyes peeled for pattypans at the grocery store and the farmers market for weeks now, they never seem to have it. So, I decided to just go ahead and make it while fresh corn (the other key ingredient) is still in season and plentiful, and I'd just substitute regular yellow squash for the pattypans. I'm glad I didn't wait any longer. This was an excellent dish.

The Book departs from the traditional succotash recipe by substituting edamame for the usual lima beans. The two beans are pretty similar in size, color and texture, but The Book notes that limas are starchier than edamame. That, and the edamame has a milder flavor which I think is a good change, not to mention the fact that edamame has more cache than limas. (Hipsters eat edamame; grandmas eat limas.)

The recipe is pretty straightforward. You start by simmering a pound of baby Yukon gold potatoes until tender and then cut them into bite-sized pieces. (Why do they need to be baby potatoes if you're just going to cut them unto little pieces? I'm just asking.) Then, and this is the brilliant part of the recipe, you saute the potato pieces in a little bit of butter and oil until they're nice and brown and crispy. Remove the potatoes and cook the squash and kernels from three ears of fresh corn in some butter until "crisp-tender." Add the edamame (which you've cooked according to the package instructions) and cook until warmed through. Add the potatoes and serve.

The finished dish is great. It's buttery and flavorful with lots of great textures from all of the different elements. The sweet, crisp fresh corn and the tasty fried potatoes are the real stars of the dish.

The Book doesn't say how this dish fits into a menu. Is it a side dish? If so, what do you serve it with? We ate it as a vegetarian entree (along with the Watermelon, Tomato and Feta Salad as a first course) and it was very satisfying.

Finally, I have to mention that the whole time I was cooking this dish, I couldn't stop thinking about Sylvester the Cat and his catchphrase, "Sufferin' Succotash!" I came across this clip on YouTube. It's a cute spoof on Iron Chef (they call it "Aluminum Chef") in which Sylvesyer is pitted against Aluminum Chef Chinese "Twee-Tee" in a battle with the secret ingredient: Corn! What do you think Sylvester made?

Date Cooked: August 10, 2008
Degree of Difficulty: Medium
Rating: B+

Thursday, August 14, 2008

An Impulsive Spy in the Kitchen?

It's no big secret that Julia Child worked for the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), the predecessor of the CIA, during WWII. But today, the government released hundreds of thousands of pages of OSS personnel files, including Julia's.

These newly released documents give us a little bit of a glimpse into how Julia saw herself. In her application to join the OSS, Julia admitted "impulsiveness" as a character flaw.

She expressed regret that she quit a job at a department store because she didn't get along with her boss. Well, the department store's loss was all of our gain, and Julia went on to serve her country in the OSS, and then to serve us all with great food.

And while the idea of Julia Child sneaking around in a trenchcoat and dark glasses spying on Nazis is pretty appealing, she wasn't exactly doing covert ops (at 6'2", nothing Julia did was covert). She did, however, have assignments in Washington, D.C. and Sri Lanka (where she met her husband, Paul), and she even worked on a project to develop shark repellent to protect explosives intended for German subs. Pretty cool, if you ask me.

Do today's celebrity chefs have what it takes to be spies? The folks over at Best Week Ever think so. Are you listening CIA? (Silly me, of course they're listening. They're always listening.)

40. Dark Chocolate Shortbread (p. 688)

As I was flipping through The Book this past Sunday morning, I came across this recipe, and I decided to make it on the spot because I happened to have all of the ingredients on hand and it looked pretty easy to make.

The short list of ingredients is made up of all "pantry items" like butter, superfine sugar, vanilla, salt, all-purpose flour and Dutch process cocoa powder. I wasn't sure whether the Hershey's coca powder in my cupboard was "Dutch process" or not, so I took a chance. Apparently, I was wrong. Dutch process cocoa is treated with an alkali to neutralize its natural acidity. Hershey's is unalkalized, but I don't think that it made a difference, since I thought that the shortbread came out just fine. Based on what I read on the Internets, the Dutch/non-Dutch issue probably only makes a big difference when you need it to cooperate with baking powder, and when you want to make sure that the chocolate taste isn't too bitter.

You start by mashing the softened butter, sugar, vanilla and salt together with a fork (I used a potato masher, 'cause I wasn't messin' around). Then you sift the flour and cocoa over the mixture and keep on mashing until it forms a soft dough. You divide the dough in two and pat it into two six inch circles on an ungreased baking sheet. (Yes, I used a ruler, do you wanna make something of it?) You put the baking sheet, uncovered, in the refrigerator for about a half hour for it to firm up a bit. When my wife saw the baking sheet with two circles of dough on it, she asked, sensibly enough I guess, "Are you making one for me and one for you?"

Then you put it in the oven for 15 minutes "until centers are dry to the touch and edges are slightly darker." I was a little concerned about this because I was using a non-stick baking sheet, which has a tendency to make things brown too fast, so I kept an eagle-eye on my oven temperature, and I pulled the cookies out before they got too crispy around the edges. You cool the shortbread on the baking sheet for about ten minutes, and then, while it's still warm, you cut each round into eight wedges with a large, heavy knife. I did this very carefully so as not to scratch my baking sheet. Then you transfer the wedges to a rack to cool completely.

I liked these cookies quite a bit. They were buttery and chocolatey with that familiar shortbread texture. While they were very crumb-y, they weren't too fragile. (My wife even made a little ice cream sandwich by putting some vanilla-fudge ice cream in between two wedges. Yum!) I though that they tasted like flat, crispy brownies. My wife said that they were like "fancy Oreos." Either way, they were pretty good and they're easy enough to satisfy an emergency chocolate craving if you've got some basic ingredients on hand and about an hour to spare.

Date Cooked: August 10, 2008
Degree of Difficulty: Easy
Rating: B

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

39. Apricot Raspberry Pie (p. 763)

On Saturday, we had dinner with our good friends Tricia and Kenny, and their adorable, thirteen-month-old son, Jack. We ate at Amrhein' s, an upscale neighborhood joint in South Boston where they serve comfort food on crack. My wife had a an outrageous chicken pot pie and a rich clam chowder garnished with a clam fritter. I had macaroni and cheese with ... wait for it ... lobster! The food was excellent, and it almost made up for the huge piece of broken glass at the bottom of Tricia's beer glass (Eeek!). After dinner, we went back to Tricia and Kenny's place to enjoy pie and good conversation on their deck.

I wanted to make this recipe while apricots and raspberries were still in season. I went to my local mega-mart to pick up the fruit I needed for the pie, but much to my dismay, they didn't have a single apricot. Not even one. But, you'll never guess what they did have ... the sour cherries I was looking for last week for my cherry pie. How's that for timing? But now that I know how hard they are to come by, I decided to buy all that they had, three pints. Here, I have to make a little aside about my glorious cherries.

I took the cherries home, washed them, pitted them, and froze them. So, I was going to tell you how much I love my cherry pitter. This seriously is the best kitchen invention ever. I've never used a kitchen gadget that was so perfectly suited to its task. There are lots of kitchen tools that don't work that great, or that do something that you just don't need a separate tool to do. But pitting an cherry or olive without one of these babies would be an impossibly frustrating job. Even if you only pit cherries once in your life, it's well worth it to have a pitter. As I worked my way through my three pints of cherries, I developed a nice rhythm, and it was a pretty pleasant and zen-like chore. In the end, I had over nine cups of frozen sour cherries packed away full of promise and possibility.

OK, back to the pie. I went to another grocery store in search of apricots, and ... success! Eight juicy apricots wrapped in that uniquely velvety skin. The filling for this pie is made up of apricot wedges, raspberries, sugar, cornstarch and just a bit of salt.

I put it into a pie plate with a rolled-out round of The Book's Basic Pastry Dough. This is the second time I've made pastry dough in just as many weeks, and you know what they say about practice making perfect. Well, I wouldn't say that it was perfect, but it was better, and easier to make and roll. I topped the pie with an egg wash and a generous sprinkling of sugar and popped it in the oven. Even though the oven temperature gets turned down after the first few minutes, the edges of the crust were still browning too fast. To keep them from burning, I pulled out my trusty pie shields. These little wonders have been knocking around in our kitchen junk drawer for a few years. I'm not even sure where they came from, and I only just recently learned what they were for.

As you can see from the photo at the beginning of this post, the finished pie wasn't going to win any beauty contests. The filling oozed out onto the top crust, and I was a couple of minutes late in putting the pie shields on, so the crust was a little dark around the edges. But what it lacked in good looks, the pie made up in taste. The crust was flaky and delicious. The sprinkling of sugar gave the crust a nice sweetness and just a little bit of crispiness. The flavor of the filling was an intense combination of sweet and tart, and it had a beautiful magenta color. It reminded me of the strawberry rhubarb pie that my grandmother made when I was a kid with rhubarb from her garden. This was an excellent and unusual celebration of some of summer's best fruits. A real treat.

Date Cooked: August 10, 2008
Degree of Difficulty: Medium
Rating: A-

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

38. Watermelon, Tomato, and Feta Salad (p. 145)

What's with Gourmet's obsession for putting watermelon in places it doesn't belong? Before starting The Project, the most exotic thing I'd ever done with a watermelon was to make watermelon sorbet from Alice Waters's cookbook. That, and playing the greased watermelon game at Boy Scout camp when I was a kid ... but that's another story. So far this summer, however, I've already made Watermelon Gazpacho and Watermelon Rind Chutney. Now, I've made this strange recipe for a savory salad featuring watermelon. And I'll be darned if it wasn't half bad.

The recipe is simple enough: just combine diced watermelon, diced tomatoes, crumbled feta and chopped cilantro, along with some oil, vinegar, salt and pepper. I cut the recipe in half since it's just me and my wife, and after the Watermelon Gazpacho incident, I didn't have high hopes for leftovers. Turns out, I was wrong, and the salad held up pretty well in the refrigerator for a day or two, and I enjoyed some with my lunch today.

The recipe calls for white Balsamic vinegar. I've never heard of such a thing before. According to this site, white balsamic vinegar is:
A version of Balsamic vinegar that is made with white wine vinegar and grape must (fresh pressed juice with seeds and skins). Traditional balsamic vinegar is made with red wine vinegar, thus providing a deep reddish color which may add a undesirable tint to the food being dressed. The white variety is often used when the color of white sauces or foods will be adversely affected by the dark brown color of traditional balsamic vinegar. White balsamic vinegar is milder and less sweet than regular Balsamic vinegar and is often considered more suitable for use with salad dressings, since it does not have a strong flavor that can be overpowering when used on salad greens.

I was impressed that my local mega-mart not only carried it, but even had it as a product in its in-house line of "fancy food." Way to go mega-mart! I tasted some of the vinegar on its own before I put it into the salad, and it certainly is milder and thinner than regular balsamic. I thought that it was actually a little sweeter than regular balsamic, and reminded me of cider vinegar. (Hey, wait a minute. Did the mega-mart pull a fast one on me? If so, shame on you mega-mart!)

As was the case with the Watermelon Gazpacho and the Watermelon Rind Chutney, it was hard to find a perceptible watermelon flavor in the finished salad. I sensed a glimmer of watermelon every couple of bites, but for the most part, I couldn't tell whether I was eating watermelon or tomato, or both. What I did sense was refreshment and a nice melding of cool flavors and different textures. The feta gave the salad a nice saltiness and tang, but if I had it to do over again, I'd add more feta. Not surprising, since I always want to add more feta to any recipe that calls for feta. What can I say, I like the stuff.

My wife put it well when she said that this salad was very good, but it wasn't a "revelation." She also accused me of "grade inflation" with my ratings, and suggested that I should reserve "A" ratings for dishes that are revelations. So, it's for that reason that this recipe gets a B.

Date Cooked: August 10, 2008
Degree of Difficulty: Easy
Rating: B

Friday, August 8, 2008

37. Parmesan Chicken (p. 356)

A few weeks ago, my wife was craving "mustardy" chicken. I looked through The Book for a recipe that fit the bill, and came up empty. So, I modified the recipe for Pork Chops with Mustard Crumbs by cooking it with chicken breasts. I'm not sure how I missed this recipe in my search, but I'm glad I found it now.

The "Gourmet twist" in this recipe is the use of English muffin crumbs as the coating. This is one of those little tricks that seems odd at first, but in the finished dish, it makes perfect sense. The crumbs were crispy and moist at the same time, and they were a nice compliment to the mustard and cheese flavors.

The recipe is pretty easy. First you coat boneless, skinless chicken breasts with Dijon mustard, vinegar, salt and pepper. Then you dredge the chicken in the English muffin crumbs, patting them into the surface to make a nice crust. Finally, the chicken goes onto a parchment-lined baking sheet and bake. That's it. As you can see from this picture, I set up a little assembly line for the chicken, crumbs, and baking sheet. Aren't I efficient?

The Book says to bake for 15 to 20 minutes, but that's probably because the Gourmet test kitchen doesn't use the genetically-altered, giant chicken breasts that they sell at my local mega-mart. If I had it to do over again, I'd pound them out a little bit to make them flatter.

The flavor of this dish was great. The chicken was very moist with a nice crispy coating and a good parmesan-mustard flavor. It was nice an light. Nothing dramatic. Just really good, week-night chicken.

One last thing. If you make this recipe, you might not want to make more than you can eat at once. I was less than impressed with the leftovers. The crumb coating got a little soggy in the microwave. I suppose that I could have kept the crispiness if I reheated it in the oven. But who's got time for that?

Date Cooked: August 3, 2008
Degree of Difficulty: Medium
Rating: B+

Thursday, August 7, 2008

36. Parsley-Leaf Potatoes (p. 568)

The Book calls this recipe a "party trick." The essence of this dish is a simple recipe for basic roasted potatoes. But a clever twist and a few minutes of extra work turns them into something that will impress the pants off the guests at your next dinner party.

The "trick" is a single parsley leaf fused onto each potato half. It doesn't add anything to the flavor of the potatoes (not that they need it, they're buttery and crispy on the outside, and soft and creamy on the inside), but the individual leaf is like a little golden seal on each potato. What a neat way to turn a lowly side dish into something really fancy!

I made sure that I selected a bunch of parsley with large, pretty, flat leaves. I washed and dried the parsley, and plucked off the appropriate number of leaves. I also lined them up in little rows and took this picture. That part's not in the recipe. I'm just a little bit obsessive-compulsive, that's all. Then I melted the butter (Six tablespoons! I guess I take back what I said about the Gourmet folks using sensible amounts of butter.) and poured it onto a foil-lined jelly-roll pan.

Working on a couple of potatoes at a time, lest they turn brown from being exposed to air too long, I sliced the potatoes in half, pressed a parsley leaf onto each half and put it cut-side-down onto the buttered pan. I roasted the potatoes for about 45 minutes. As the potatoes cook, the parsley leaves fuse onto the potato halves, so when they're done, and you transfer them to the serving dish, they're just so impressive to look at. And they taste great, too.

The Book calls for eight russets for this recipe to feed eight to twelve. But, we were in the mood for red potatoes, and so I used most of a three-pound bag of baby red potatoes. The result was a bit more labor-intensive than what The Book has in mind (There are 16 potato halves if you do it their way. I had about 40 potato halves my way.) But I was really happy with the result.

Of course, if your in a rush, you can skip the parsley leaves and just use this as a basic go-to roasted potato recipe.

Date Cooked: August 3, 2008
Degree of Difficulty: Medium (Easy without the parsley leaves)
Rating: A

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

35. Peas with Spinach and Shallots (p. 555)

I just love this picture. You can actually see the steam rising off the dish. And if you try really hard, you might even be able to smell the buttery shallot-and-garlic-scented aroma. (Ouch! I think I just hurt my arm patting myself on the back.) But seriously, folks, this was one tasty side dish.

I've always been a fan of peas. Frozen ones, that is. (Don't get me started on canned peas. Yeah, sure, they come in a spiffy silver can and have a fancy French-sounding name. But none of that changes the fact that they're mushy and have that dingy-looking army-green color.) And while I used to think that frozen peas were low-brow, I've recently been gratified to learn that many of the pea recipes in The Book allow for frozen peas as a substitute for fresh, and in some cases, even call for them specifically. And while it seems like the "foodie" thing to do to use only fresh peas, let's face it, sometimes there just not that good. They can be hard, dry and mealy. So, for me, it's frozen peas.

Now, I like peas on their own just fine, but this recipe was just the thing to take them to the next level. And it couldn't be easier to make. Start by melting one tablespoon of butter in a 12-inch skillet. (Kudos to the folks at Gourmet for using a sensible amount of butter in this recipe. It's easy for recipe writers to go all "Paula Deen," and put a whole stick of butter in every dish just 'cause. But here, the one tablespoon of butter was just enough to give the dish a pleasant buttery flavor without making it too rich or seem like the peas were floating in butter.) Quickly cook some sliced garlic and shallots. (Or "charlottes" as the cashier at Stop-and-Shop called them. That's another point for me in "Stump The Cashier.") Throw in the frozen peas and a little bit of water, cover and cook for a few minutes. Then stir in the baby spinach until just wilted. That's it.

For some reason, I felt compelled to follow this recipe precisely as it was written. The recipe calls for 10 ounces of frozen peas and 5 ounces of baby spinach. I bought a 16 ounce package of peas and a 6 ounce package of spinach and carefully weighed out the required amounts and packed away the rest. No need to be so persnickety here. The next time I make this, and I will make it again, I'll just throw in the whole package of peas and spinach.

Date Cooked: August 3, 2008
Degree of Difficulty: Easy
Rating: A

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

34. Basic Pastry Dough (p. 790)

My wife is a bit of a culinary non-conformist. As I've already mentioned (and much to my dismay), she doesn't eat beef, pork or lamb. Nor is she a big cake-and-frosting fan. She'll always pick a fruit dessert over cake, ice cream or chocolate. So, for her birthday last week, she told me that instead of a birthday cake, she wanted a birthday pie ... a cherry pie, no less. While I am a huge cake fan, I also love a good pie, so I was more than happy to oblige the birthday girl's quirky request.

Much to my surprise, however, The Book doesn't have a recipe for a good-old-fashioned cherry pie. Sure, there's the Cherry Almond Pie, and the Sour Cherry Crostata, both of which I'll make in good time, but what my wife had in mind was a classic cherry pie.

So, for the filling, I turned to my well worn 1975 edition of The Joy of Cooking (on permanent loan from my mother-in-law's kitchen library). But for the crust, I decided to try The Book's Basic Pastry Dough. For most of my cooking life, pie crust looked like this ...

But, in the spirit of trying new things and learning to become a better cook, I resolved to make my wife's birthday pie completely from scratch. The Book's pastry dough is easy enough to make, and it tasted great. As you know, I've already sworn off boxed brownie mix. And after making this pastry dough, I'm ready to say so long to the Doughboy for good. It's been good knowing you, man.

The Book says that this dough can be made either by hand or in the food processor. I used my trusty Kitchen Aid food processor and I was very happy with the results. Maybe I'll do it by hand one of these times, but for the first try with this recipe, I wanted to make it as easy as possible. You start by pulsing together some flour, butter and vegetable shortening (My wife's not going to be happy when she reads this ... butter's bad enough, but shortening? That's pure fat, right?) until it resembles coarse meal. Then you add some ice-cold water, a little bit at a time, until it just comes together.

The dough then gets turned out onto a surface, and divided into eight pieces. Then comes the frisage, the very chef-y sounding, but easy-to-do process of fully incorporating the fat into the dough by smearing each of the eight pieces across the work surface a couple of times with the heel of your hand. After that, the dough is formed into two five-inch disks, wrapped in plastic, and chilled for at least an hour.

After chilling, you can roll the dough. I could be better with a rolling pin, and with practice, I'll get there, but, nevertheless, the dough is easy to work with. It's not too sticky, and any tears or cracks are easily repaired.

I rolled out two large circles and placed one of them in the bottom of the pie plate. I filled it with the filling (more on that in just a second), and then I cut the second circle into strips and made a pretty lattice top. I brushed the pie with a lightly beaten egg, and cooked it according to Joy's cherry pie instructions.

The filling was not all I hoped and dreamed it would be. First, I didn't have the foresight to get enough sour cherries for an entire pie. A few weeks ago, I picked up a pint of beautiful sour cherries at the Downtown Manchester Farmers Market. I guess I never realized that pie cherries and the sweet cherries you get in the grocery store aren't the same thing, and I never knew that sour cherries had such a short season and are hard to come by once the season is over. Well, next year, I'll know better and I'll stock up when I get the chance. I was about two cups short, and I made up the difference with sweet cherries, and reduced the sugar a little bit. (Remind me to tell you sometime how much I love my new cherry pitter. What a great invention!) The filling's flavor was fine, but it was very liquidy. I'm sure it had something to do with the cherry substitution. That, and the fact that I used tapioca flour as a thickener rather than the quick-cooking tapioca called for by Joy. The bottom crust was a little soggy, but I'm not going to blame The Book for that ... it was all Joy's fault (and I suppose I bear some of the blame for my modifications to Joy's recipe).

The filling aside, the crust itself (and that's what this post is about, after all) was delicious. Crispy, flaky and buttery without being greasy. It's everything you want a pie crust to be.

The Book has lots of pie and tart recipes - many of which call for this dough - so I know that I'll get lots of practice making it as I work my way through the project. I wouldn't be surprised it I'm able to make it by memory before long.

Date Cooked: August 3, 2008
Degree of Difficulty: Medium
Rating: B+

Monday, August 4, 2008

33. Udon Noodle Salad with Grilled Chicken and Asian Dressing (p. 247)

This tasty noodle dish starts with the chicken. First, you marinate four skinless, boneless chicken breast halves in soy sauce, garlic, grated fresh ginger, and rice wine vinegar. I had to make the marinade twice, though, because I threw in the entire "1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon" of the vinegar before I realized that I was only supposed to put one tablespoon into the marinade. For a second, I thought about leaving it, but I was a little worried that I'd end up pickling the chicken (can you make chicken ceviche?). I figured that it would be better to do it over correctly, rather than risk it. After marinating for about an hour in the fridge, the chicken breasts go onto the grill. After that, you let them cool a bit, slice them into strips and set them aside for the final dish.

Then there were the noodles. The Book calls for 3/4 pound dried udon. I'd never heard of such a thing. I've only seen udon in shrink-wrapped shelf-stable packages like those pictured here. I suppose I could have found them at an Asian specialty market, but I decided to go with what was available at the mega-mart. The result was good, but as I'll explain later, I think that I needed more noodles. (I should have figured that dried udon weighs less than the "fresh" noodles that I got.)

The dressing consists of chicken stock (my own homemade stock from my freezer! hooray for me!) simmered together with an obscene amount of cilantro and parsley. This is transfered into the blender to be pureed until smooth. Now, I've heard all of the warnings about putting hot things in a blender. I read and followed The Book's instructions on the topic on page 97. But, nevertheless, once I flipped the switch on my Oster-izer, a geyser of hot, green soupy liquid shot into the air and sprayed all over my counter and cabinets. It didn't look as bad as this ...

... but it was shocking just the same, and a pain in the butt to clean up.

The Book says to "Toss noodles with dressing in a large bowl." At this point, I knew I had done something wrong. I had so much dressing and so little noodles, that it was more like broth than dressing. I really needed about twice as much noodles, but, oh well, I'm learning as I go, here.

The finished dish was really good. The huge amounts of cilantro and parsley gave the noodles a very fresh, almost grassy taste (I mean that in a good way). It was vinegary, but not too, vinegary. The chicken was very moist and tender with a very mild and enjoyable soy, ginger flavor.

Date Cooked: July 27, 2008
Degree of Difficulty: Medium
Rating: B