Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Apple Tart

I am hooked on the British period drama series that airs on PBS called Downton Abbey. I literally can't wait for Sunday nights at 9pm when the 7-part series of Season 2 airs in my local area. My obsession with this show, which is said to be an updated version of the beloved PBS mini-series, Upstairs Downstairs, began last year when Season 1's 3-part series first aired. Since then I can't get enough of it and look forward to my Sunday evenings in front of the TV.

For those unfamiliar with the series, it is a tale of an aristocratic family and their servants, set in the early 1900's right before and into the Great War. The setting, in a real-life English manor fictionally called Downton Abbey, is enchanting, very much like what you would see in a Merchant-Ivory movie. The costumes depicting the era are stunningly beautiful. And, the stories, both rich and intriguing, focus on the life, and scandals, of the Crawley family (aristocrats) and those of their servants. The script is simply scrumptious, with the best lines given to Maggie Smith, all making for great television viewing

So, my Sunday nights are special, and to honor the evening viewing I like to have dessert. For this weeks episode 4 viewing, I chose to make this simple but delicious apple tart. First, because I just saw Jacques Pepin make it on TV. Second, because I had two huge Granny Smith apples that soon needed to find a purpose.

Dessert don't get much easier than this. It starts with a simple pastry dough that requires no rolling. Just pat it into a tart pan or pie plate. Cover it with peeled and sliced apples, sprinkle with some sugar, scatter a few small clumps of butter, and bake. Brush the baked tart with some apricot jam to give it a bit of a shine and serve. It's not too sweet or rich, just delicious. Perhaps not so worthy of this elegant drama series, but just enough for a cold Sunday evening. 

A third season will now air in September. Though delighted at the prospect of more shows, I suspect that means I will probably have to wait to find out if Lady Mary marries Capt. Crawley or if Anna and Mr. Bates can finally be together. 

Jacques Pepin's Apple Tart 

1/4 c. warmed milk
1 1/4 c. all purpose flour
1 tsp. sugar
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/8 tsp. salt
6 T. softened butter (or combo of butter & Crisco)

2 lbs. apples
3 T. sugar
2 T. butter
2-3 T. apricot jam, warmed

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

In a medium sized bowl or Cuisinart, mix together the flour, 1 tsp. sugar, salt, and baking powder. Add the butter/Crisco and mix till crumbly. Add the milk and mix till dough comes together.  

Pour into a tart pan and with hands push dough into pan, over bottom and up sides of pan.


Peel, quarter and core apples.  Cut into 1-inch thick slices. Arrange apples wedges in a concentric circle on the dough and sprinkle with a generous amount of sugar.  Dot the surface with the butter cut into small pieces.  Set on a baking sheet and bake for approximately 1 hour until the apples are completely soft. Watch the dough edges. Cover with aluminum foil if they begin to over-brown.  Brush the surface with the apricot jam, warmed up to loosen. 

Monday, January 23, 2012

Chuckwagon Stew - A Quick & Versatile One-pot Dish

I can't believe I haven't yet posted this recipe.  It is one of my daughter's favorites, and one I have been making for over 40 years. Not a dish that would fall in the 'gourmet' category, but one that lends itself to infinite variations and is super quick to make.

As a college student majoring in Home Economics, I was required to take a demonstration class where I had to prepare and deliver a series of demonstrations ranging from 1 minute to 1 hour. As part of the course, our class attended a demonstration where this recipe was prepared. All of the students were given a copy of the recipe, that I have been making ever since.

It's essentially a ground beef-based, one pot dish, that cooks up in less than 30 minutes, and utilizes ingredients one usually has on hand. The basic ingredients include ground meat, canned tomatoes, noodles, cheese, sliced black olives and some simple veggies, layered in a particular order and cooked stove-top. It can be made into a gazillion variations to accommodate whatever ingredients you have on hand, or modified to reflect any flavor or ethnic preference you may have. The recipe is written and prepared in its original format, however, I very rarely use ground beef anymore, replacing it with ground turkey instead. I also don't use the stewed tomatoes, though it is quite tasty with them, using regular canned tomatoes and a greater variety of veggies instead.  The celery and black olives play important roles in this dish, giving it an unexpected amount of flavor, so don't eliminate them. 

My favorite variation is to make it Mexican-style. For this, I add some black beans and/or frozen corn, chili powder and cumin, chopped jalapeno peppers (canned or fresh), and a Mexican blend of cheeses. I top the finished dish with some sour cream, chopped green onions and cilantro, and dinner is done.  

As I said, not terribly gourmet, but quite hearty and satisfying. Served with a simple tossed salad it's a great dish for those busy weeknights when you're too tired to 'really' cook and time is short.  I Aced that demonstration course, by the way.

Chuckwagon Stew
1 lb. ground beef
1 small onion chopped
2 cups uncooked medium noodles
8 oz. American Cheese slices
1 cup chopped celery
1/2 c. sliced ripe black olives
14.5 oz. can stewed tomatoes
1/2 cup water
1 tsp. salt

In a skillet, brown the beef and saute the onions. Drain any excess grease from pan.  Season the meat mixture with a pinch of the salt. Add the noodles, then arrange the cheese slices to cover the entire surface of the noodles & meat mixture. Now layer on the celery, then olives, the tomatoes, and water. Season with remaining salt. Cover the pan and simmer until the noodles are tender, about 25-30 minutes.  

For better presentation (optional) sprinkle with chopped celery leaves and more olive slices.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Leek Tart

I still have a few ingredients I have yet to use from my holiday cooking. A sheet of puff pastry and a bunch of leeks were of particular concern. Since my husband and I couldn't stomach the thought of another dessert, my options for the puff pastry leaned towards something savory  The leeks were originally intended for a potato-leek soup I never got around to making, so I needed to put them to good use now as well. With my sister, her husband and my dad coming for dinner this seemed like a good opportunity to finally incorporate them into our meal. A leek tart came to mind perhaps as a nice appetizer.  

There are plenty of recipes out there for leek tarts that range from simple to quiche-like creations. The one I like best is more quiche-like, meaning the leeks are encased in a creamy, cheesy custard. My preference would have been to use a savory pie/tart crust, but I wanted to get rid of that puff pastry, so I made do with that.  A good custard base for a tart or quiche usually calls for some real cream, either half n' half, or the heavy stuff. Since I didn't have either, I added some leftover cream cheese to the milk which gave it just enough tang and a nice creamy texture. Gruyere cheese would have also been preferred, but, here again, I settled for what I had on hand. This time it was a small amount of an Italian cheese blend, you know, one of those packages of pre-grated cheeses you find in the dairy section that I used for the stuffed shells I made for New Years Day. This one included finely grated mozzarella, Parmesan, Asiago, and Romano cheeses.  I didn't have quite enough so I added a bit more freshly grated Parmesan.

The resulting tart was delicious. But in all honesty, I wish I had made the savory pie crust instead. One sheet of puff pastry wasn't big enough for the amount of filling I made. So, in addition to the tart made with the puff pastry, I lined a pie plate with a few slices of multi-grain bread that I rolled out flat and buttered.  I filled it with the remaining filling and baked. An easy fix that was equally delicious. 

Savory Leek Tart
2 large or 3 small leeks 
3 T. butter

2 sheets of puff pastry, or savory pie crust
2 eggs
1 green onion, chopped
3 T. cream cheese, softened
3/4 milk
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1/4 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 c. grated medium to sharp cheese - any variety

Prepare crust:
Roll 1 sheet puff pasty on lightly floured sheet pan into a 12" x 12" square or any shape you prefer. Trim 1 " strips from all four sides. Using an egg wash or milk, brush all four edges. Place the 1" strips around all four edges and press lightly to adhere.  With a small, sharp knife, score around the inside of the 1" strips being careful not to cut all the way through the dough. Repeat with 2nd pastry sheet. Blind bake in a 400 degree oven for 20 minutes. 

Remove the dough from the oven. Remove the blind baking beans and set aside. 

Make filling:
Prepare leeks by removing the stem and hard stalks and discard both. Now slice the white portion in half lengthwise, then crosswise into 1/2" slices. Put in a cold water bath to clean. Strain and repeat one or two times to be sure grit and sand is thoroughly removed.

In a medium sized saute pan melt the butter. Add the well drained leeks and saute on medium to med-hi heat for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until leeks are tender and all liquid has evaporated.  Set aside to cool.

 In a medium bowl beat eggs, add softened cream cheese, milk. green onions (white and green parts), salt, pepper, nutmeg and mix till ingredients are well incorporated. Add grated cheese.

Spread cooled leeks inside pastry shell.  Carefully pour the filling over all the leeks. Don't overfill, as filling will puff up slightly when cooked. 

Put in a 400 degree oven and bake another 20 minutes till custard is cooked - knife inserted in center should come out clean. Slice and serve warm. 

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Salmon Patties

I did it again! I put that big filet of salmon I bought from Costco in the freezer before cutting it in half. I am a big fan of the fish they sell at Costco and always pick up a slab or two of the salmon or steelhead filets to have on hand for summer grilling or roasting. They are easy to prepare, priced right, and make impressive entrees for parties or family get-togethers. Unfortunately, I tend to forget I am cooking for just two people these days. Roasting a full filet is more than the two of us can eat for a meal, so I always have half a filet left over. Other than adding cold salmon to salads, I needed to find a way to use the leftover piece for another dinner meal. Salmon patties have become my go-to option. Not only do they make a great tasting dinner entree, they are delicious, cold, in sandwiches. 

This recipe is a compilation of several recipes I found on the internet and in my cookbooks. It's a fairly basic patty recipe that uses ingredients I usually have on hand, but any other vegetables, herbs or spices you have on hand will do. 

I generally roast my salmon, so most of the patties I make use roasted salmon leftovers.  This was the case this time and I roasted it in this fashion: I lightly splashed a bit of lemon juice all over the filet, then smeared it with a tablespoon of Dijon mustard, and then seasoned it with dried dillweed, salt, pepper, and a some finely chopped fresh parsley.  I placed it on a lightly oiled sheet pan and roasted it at 400 degrees for roughly 15-18 minutes -- so simple, and always delicious. 

 Salmon Patties
1/2 filet cooked salmon
1-2 eggs
1 slice wheat bread
2 T. fresh minced parsley
1 stalk celery, finely chopped
2 green onions, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, finely minced
1/4 sweet pepper
1 T. Dijon mustard
1/2 tsp. Old Bay Seasoning


Remove the dark, fatty portion and then flake the cooked salmon.  Put bread in a food processor and pulse a few times to produce coarse crumbs. 

Finely chop green onion (white and green parts), pepper (red, yellow, orange or red - whatever you have on hand), celery, parsley and garlic.  

Add the bread crumbs, egg/s, Dijon mustard, Old Bay Seasoning to the flaked salmon, and mix together.   

Add the chopped vegetables and mix till very well combined. 

Using a 1/3 measuring cup, mound mixture onto a waxed paper lined baking sheet. Press into patties approximately 1/2 inch thick.  Put in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.  

When ready to fry, coat in some Panko breadcrumbs.
Carefully pat Panko onto both sides of patties and gently place in a hot frying pan that contains a light coating of oil - I use olive oil. 

Fry till light golden brown on both sides about 3-4 minutes per side. Remove from pan onto paper lined dish to absorb the oil. Place fried patties on a baking sheet and bake another 10 minutes in a 375 degree oven.  Remove and serve. I used a little of my Herb Dip thinned with some milk as a sauce, but either a sprinkle of lemon juice or tartar sauce pairs well with the patties.