7.28.2009

a good thing

If there’s one thing I’ve learned from pie, it’s that it is possible to have too much of a good thing.

The trouble is this business of the double crust. I love a flaky, buttery crust as much as the next person. But for me, one crust per dessert is plenty. Now, before you write me off as a heartless, un-American pie-hater, you should know that despite my misgivings, when someone offers me a slice of pie, I take it. I have a plan in place for such occasions, though friends, it isn’t pretty. I slide my fork beneath the top crust, and pull down and out, taking the fruit filling and bottom crust with me. I hollow that crust right out, until only a sad, soggy shell of a slice remains on my plate.

Then, one day, I learned that it doesn’t have to be this way.



In her memoir, Comfort Me with Apples, Ruth Reichl includes a pie recipe that, in terms of crust, takes a good thing to its limit and stops, mercifully, right there. This pie is a member of the all too rare single crust variety. You are no doubt familiar with several pies of this species: pumpkin, pecan, and lemon meringue, to name a few. Oozy, fruit-filled pies that rely on a single crust are considerably harder to come by. If this pie catches on, I believe it could change all that.

In place of a top crust, Reichl’s pie sports a crackly, crumbly shell that begins as a spreadable paste. “Paste,” I realize, is not the most appetizing word to use when you're talking about pie, but bear with me. This pie begins in the ordinary way: roll out a bottom crust, fit it into a pan, and fill with just-ripe fruit. The genius begins here, when you trade in your rolling pin for a saucepan and a spoon. Melt some butter over a medium flame, add a little flour, sugar, and nutmeg, and stir until the mixture forms a paste. (Suddenly “paste” doesn’t sound so bad, right?) Spread the paste over the bare fruit, and there you have it. The topping hardens in the oven, and adds a welcome crunch to each tender, juicy bite.

The result is a cross between a pie and a crumble. A pie-rumble, if you will. Though now that I’ve typed that, all I can picture is a West Side Story street fight in which dancing, finger-snapping gangsters wield pies instead of knives. Perhaps prumble is a better fit. Whatever you call it, with its solitary crust and crackly finish, this pie is a very, very good thing.

[p.s. If you’re in the market for another one-crust wonder, click on over to The Blue Hour, where Brian has just baked a blueberry and peach pandowdy. Unlike prumble, the pandowdy features its single crust on top. Also unlike prumble, pandowdy is a real word.]



Peach (or Apricot or Anyfruit) Pie
Adapted from Ruth Reichl’s Comfort Me With Apples

Reichl’s original recipe calls for apricots, and I have to admit that the apricot-nutmeg combination is hard to beat. But when apricots are scarce, peaches more than do the trick. I like using stone fruits in this pie because they can be pitted and thrown directly into the bottom crust. No peeling, no extra sugar or flour necessary. In the fall, I make this pie with apples, which I do peel, slice, and toss with a little lemon juice, flour, cinnamon, and vanilla. I bet this pie would also be wonderful with berries, cherries, or rhubarb. Without a true upper crust, the sky really is the limit!

½ recipe of Martha Stewart's pâte brisée (or use the pie dough recipe of your choice)
2 lbs peaches (or the fruit of your choice)
1 stick (1/2 c.) unsalted butter
¾ c. sugar
¾ c. flour
½ tsp. nutmeg

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Roll out the pie dough and fit it into a 9-inch pie pan. Using a fork or your fingers, press down along the edges to form a pattern. Place the pan in the freezer while you complete the following steps:

Wash and dry – but do not peel – the fruit.

If using apricots: Break them in half with your fingers, and remove the pits. The halves will go directly into the pie shell; no slicing required.

If using peaches: Halve the peaches with a knife, and twist the fruit to separate the halves. Remove the pits. I find that larger peaches do best when each half is split in two. That is, each full peach should be quartered before placing the fruit into the bottom crust.

In a small saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. Stir in the sugar, and turn the flame down to low. Add the flour and the nutmeg, and stir until the mixture becomes a smooth paste. Remove from heat.

Place the fruit into the unbaked shell. Using a spatula, cover the fruit with the sugar mixture. Don’t worry about covering every last bit of fruit. The fruit should peek out from the cracks; during baking, juices will bubble up through the holes.

Bake in the center of the oven for 10 minutes. Then turn down the oven to 350 degrees, and bake for 35 minutes more, until the top is crusty and brown.

Transfer the pie to a rack and cool – but not all the way. Serve warm, preferably with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

Serves 8-10.

7.24.2009

leisurely bites



It's been a while, I know, and so I wanted to pop in for at least a minute before the weekend rolls in. I still have a recipe or two from our Seattle trip that I would like to share with you. But for today, I've brought a few photographs instead. I hope you don't mind. They capture the best of my last, leisurely bites out west.

There were steaks and grilled onions eaten at dusk, leaning pancake towers, and feet on the table.







After a little over two weeks at our friends' lake house, we drove into Seattle for the remaining days of our trip. We ate a very special meal at a restaurant that feels more like a home, and sipped wine until our eyelids were heavy.





Pike Place Market is always swarming with a kind of vegetable paparazzi, and I happily joined their ranks. It's fun to play the tourist in a city that once was home. Who wouldn't be star-struck by dreamy vegetables like these? I walked through the market with my camera thumping against my stomach, and snapped away with the rest of the crowd.



We scooped cherries from upside-down-elephant boxes, and brought them to a barbeque at the home of friends. That Jocelyn makes a mean french fry.





Then, we flew home. I got right back down to business: I took another one of my comprehensive exams (just one more to go!) earlier this week; I'm settling back into my kitchen; I'm sending off friends who are moving across the country and around the world; and, at long last, I'm catching up here with you.

Vacation is lovely. But coming home is nice, too.

Enjoy the weekend, friends.

7.04.2009

squish



On a warm summer night in 1985, I awoke somewhere between our house and the next door neighbors’. I was in my father's arms, and we were headed somewhere fast. What in the heck was going on? Before I knew it, I was standing in the neighbors’ doorway clad only in my giraffe pajamas, that’s what. I won’t bore you with the details of the neighbors’ gigantic, snarly dog that had to be barricaded in a back room to prevent it from eating me alive. But let’s get one thing straight: On the night that Little Sister Number One was born, I sacrificed, people. I risked life and limb.

My bravery would be rewarded.

Today, dear reader, we celebrate the woman who single handedly granted me that most cherished title, Big Sister. There would be more little siblings to come, but you, sis, were the first. Happy birthday, Kasey.

From the very beginning, poor Kasey put up with a lot. In true big sister fashion, all I can say is, “Don’t look at me.” Her ridiculously squishable cuteness was to blame. I had no choice but to squeeze her pink, doughy cheeks between my hands whenever her face was within reach. This gesture would not have been complete without an appropriate cheek-squishing sound effect. I was more than happy to supply one. Here it is, for the first time ever in print: “Kweeek!”

I’m not sure how she managed it, but unlike most of us who move in the general direction of less cuteness as we age, Kasey just kept getting cuter. Two decades later, my family still has not recovered from a certain backyard sprinkler and water balloon scene, when a young Kasey in a soaked-through tank top performed a seriously rocked-out rendition of “It’s raining, it’s pouring.” I don’t think we ever will.

Kasey and I traded many kicks under the dinner table, and vehement denials, of course. But we were also partners in crime. There was the recipe-less baking experiment that included the questionable combination of peanut butter and maple syrup. Somehow, it ended up tasting sort of like Mom’s honey cake. Success! And who could forget our stage-worthy choreography to Paula Abdul’s “Straight Up?” We were hot. Just ask anyone who ever sat on our living room sofa and watched us lip-synch our hearts out.

Kasey is a taster, the kind you want at your table when you’ve taken great pains to prepare a special meal. She walks in the door already wide-eyed and sniffing about, asking questions, sighing and swooning before she even takes a bite. And when the dishes are done, she soundly whoops you in a game of Speed Scrabble (a.k.a. Bananagrams). The whole thing is very gratifying.

She keeps me honest. She keeps me real. When she throws back her head and laughs, whether it’s at me or with me, I can’t resist cracking a smile. Ohhh Kasey. I just love you so much. Thank you for moving to Boston so that I can squish your cutie, 24-year-old cheeks any time.

(And no, I’m not making a face at you. As Mom would say, my face “just looks like that.”)



Ginger Sour Cream Bundt Cake
Adapted from Bon Appetit, April 2009

Don’t worry, Kasey, I haven’t forgotten. I know which cake you want for your birthday, and I’ll happily bake it for you just as soon as we’re back from the West Coast. To tide you over, how about a slice of this ginger cake? I have a feeling you’re going to like it. You too, dear readers. This cake features a delicate armor of turbinado sugar that gives way to a soft and buttery crumb. The original recipe includes chopped, crystallized ginger, but I leave it out. I like my slice with a smear of raspberry jam. It’s perfect for a mid-morning snack, with a cup of tea. This cake also dresses up nicely with whipped cream and strawberries spooned over top.

Softened butter (for brushing pan)
½ c. raw sugar (also called turbinado or demerara sugar)
2 ¼ c. all-purpose flour
4 t. ground ginger
2 t. baking powder
½ t. salt
1 c. (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
2 c. granulated sugar
4 large eggs
1 large egg yolk
2 t. vanilla extract
1 c. sour cream

1. Position rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 350°F. Brush softened butter generously all over the inside of 12-cup Bundt pan. Sprinkle the raw sugar over the buttered pan. Tilt and shake the pan to coat completely.

2. Whisk the flour, ground ginger, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl. Using an electric mixer, beat 1 cup butter in a large bowl until smooth. Add 2 cups granulated sugar. Beat on medium-high speed until blended, about 2 minutes. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in the 1 egg yolk and vanilla. Stop to scrape down the bowl, as needed.

3. Add the flour mixture in 3 additions alternately with the sour cream in 2 additions. (That means start and end with an addition of flour.) Beat on low speed after each addition until just blended. Pour the batter into the pan, being careful not to dislodge the raw sugar.

4. Bake until the top is light brown, and a tester inserted near the center comes out with a few small crumbs attached, 50-60 minutes. On a rack, cool in the pan for 15 minutes. Then, gently tap the bottom edge of the pan on the counter, while rotating the pan. When the cake loosens, place the rack on top of the pan, and invert cake onto rack. Remove pan and cool completely.

Serves 12-14.

7.02.2009

more than food



It’s about time I made a formal introduction. Dear reader, meet Amy, my stepmom.

If you have been following Sweet Amandine for a while, you may have caught a glimpse of Amy in passing, stirring a pot of risotto, or pulling a yellowed recipe card from her file. Or maybe you remember her as the woman behind the almond tart that inspired the name of this blog. The truth is, Amy is a much bigger part of my kitchen than I have let on. Recipes. Menu planning. Stove-side crisis management. More than once, I’ve considered installing a special red phone in my kitchen that rings through straight to her.

I first met Amy at a Dairy Queen in Cleveland. (Smart move, Dad, staging our first encounter over ice cream.) She wore silver howling-at-the-moon coyote earrings. She ordered a Blizzard. I liked this woman. Good thing, too, because when I was eleven, she married my dad.

Right away, I noticed something about Amy. Hers was a kitchen where food just tasted good. I never gave it much thought. I simply knew it to be true, and that I wanted to have a kitchen like that someday, too. Amy kept her sugar and flour in old tinted-glass canisters with metal lids. She swirled homemade salad dressing in an empty Grey Poupon jar, and mixed chocolate chip cookie dough in a yellow plastic pitcher. Her spoons were wooden, her pots heavy and worn. Amy’s kitchen was more like a studio of sorts, with its tools and towels and three kinds of flour. It was beautiful. And it was there that I began to figure out that food is about a heck of a lot more than food.

In the kitchen, Amy taught me the virtues of a tall glass of water before bed; that butter should soften on the counter before it hits the table; how to toast pine nuts in the oven, and say your own name out loud with proper exasperation when they burn. Before I had ever heard of Alice Waters, I learned from Amy that the best food is food that tastes like itself, simple and clean.

Amy and I talk a lot about food. And about things that have nothing to do with food. Very often, we do both at once.

This story could have gone very differently. Stepmothers are, after all, quintessential fairytale villains. Lucky for me, Amy’s not so into poison apples.

I love you, Amy. Happy birthday.

Green Beans and Red Potatoes Vinaigrette or, “Amy’s Potato Salad”
Adapted from the New York Times, via Amy’s kitchen

Until I met Amy, potato salad meant one thing: lots and lots of mayonnaise. That Amy’s tangy, crisp potato salad went by the same name as that gloppy stuff amazed me. When I asked Amy for this recipe, she added the following note: “This one is very forgiving -- halve, quarter, or use what you have on hand. I often go easier on the olive oil because I like a tangier dressing and hate to be swimming in olive oil.” I suggest starting with 7 T. of olive oil, tasting, and adding more olive oil as you see fit. I like eating this salad with the potatoes still slightly warm, but it’s great chilled, too.

2 lbs small red potatoes, scrubbed
2 lbs green beans, washed and trimmed

10 T. red-wine vinegar
7-10 T. olive oil
2 t. dry mustard
1 c. sliced scallions
1/4 c. chopped basil
Salt and pepper to taste

1. Boil the potatoes in lightly salted water until fork-tender, approximately 10 minutes.

2. While the potatoes are boiling, whisk together the vinegar, olive oil, mustard, and scallions. (Or, shake the vinaigrette together in a Grey Poupon jar, à la Amy.)

3. Lightly steam the beans, or try this shortcut: Slide the green beans into the pot, alongside the fork-tender potatoes. After about a minute, the beans should be tender, but still crisp. Remove the pot from the stovetop, and drain. Run the beans under cold water to keep them from cooking further.

4. Cut the potatoes into quarters and stir them together with the dressing. Season with salt and pepper and set aside, until ready to serve.

5. Just before serving, toss the beans and basil with the potatoes and adjust the seasonings.

Serves 8.

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Amy’s Salad Dressing
Adapted from Amy’s Kitchen

I feel a little silly sharing such a simple recipe, but I can’t resist. I love this dressing, with its vinegary kick and confetti of fresh herbs. This recipe is best prepared with a pile of lettuce leaves nearby, so that you can dip and taste and adjust as you go.

2/3 c. olive oil
1/3 c. red wine vinegar
1-1/2 T. Dijon mustard
1-2 cloves of garlic, minced
2-3 T. of finely chopped herbs (Parsley, chives, basil or any combination)
Ground salt and pepper, to taste

Whisk all ingredients together in a bowl. Or, take your cue from Amy, and shake together in a Grey Poupon jar.