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Free food from nature: Apple-cheddar pie

The house we rent has the most miraculous apple tree. Last year, we harvested buckets and buckets of huge red-green apples. They grew so tightly on the branch that, in removing one, three or four more would fall to the ground. There were too many even for the worms to keep up with. At the end of the harvest, though, the gardener came by and pollarded its branches back to the quick and, I’m sorry to say, this year there were no apples. I’ve been obsessively monitoring and scavenging other peoples, and finding ways to use any and all that come to me so as not to waste the resource (although I understand that returning to the soil and providing food for animals are also legitimate uses of the resource). It helps that it’s the Jewish New Year, for which, at least in the Eastern European tradition, eating apples is auspicious for a round and sweet year to come. And I enjoy the English pride in local heirloom apple varieties, similar to what I grew up with in the northeastern US, and with some overlap – but I’ve barely begun to scratch the surface of tasting all the colorfully named fruits.

One of my favourite ways to eat apples is with sharp cheddar. I’d be happy to make a daily habit of lunch consisting of alternating slices of apple and cheese. But variety is good, too, and baked goods are another perfectly good way to eat up a glut (whatever that is) of apples and, if you’re so lucky, cheese. Hence this pie, based on Williams-Sonoma’s recipe. I like to use a good Canadian or Welsh cheddar as many of the cheaper English varieties have a certain flavour-note that I don’t get on with. Fortunately my mother-in-law’s tree was heaving with apples this year, so when we brought her back to Cambridge – with a bucketful – it seemed like a good opportunity to try the recipe which, while a bit long and fiddly, benefits from the detail.

With its crisp, flaky, cheesy crust and melting apples, this pie did not last long.

Apple-cheddar pie

Ingredients:
For the dough:
315 g (2.5 cups) plain (all-purpose) flour
2 tsp salt
1 Tbs sugar
170 g sharp cheddar cheese, finely grated
225 g (2 sticks) frozen unsalted butter, cut
 into 1/2-inch dice
75 to 120 ml (1/3 to 1/2 cup) ice water
For the filling:
1.75 kg (3.5 lbs) cooking apples, peeled, cored and cut
 into slices 1/4 inch thick
1 1/2 lb. Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored 
 and cut into slices 1/4 inch thick
3/4 cup sugar
1 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
3/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp salt
1 Tbsp unsalted butter
3 Tbsp cornstarch
2 Tbsp cream

Directions:
Dough:
In the food processor bowl – without processing, yet – add the flour, salt, sugar and cheddar, breaking apart any large clumps of cheese. Put the diced butter on top and put bowl in the freezer for 10 min.

When the mixture is chilled, return the bowl to the machine and pulse until combined, about 25 to 30 pulses. Add 1/3 cup of the ice water and pulse twice. The dough should hold together when squeezed with your fingers. If it is crumbly, add 1 Tbsp more water at a time, pulsing twice after each. Divide dough in half and shape each half into a disk. Wrap the disks separately in cling film and refrigerate for a good hour or more; the dough is much easier to work with if quite cold.

Filling:
While preparing your apples, have lemon juice ready in the bottom of a large bowl, and toss the slices in the lemon juice as you go along. Add sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt, and stir to combine. Let stand at room temperature for 30 minutes to 1 hour.

Rolling out the bottom crust:
While the apples etc. are macerating, remove one dough disk from the refrigerator. Flour a smooth work surface. Peel back the cling film partway, and place dough on the work surface. With the cling film on top, roll the dough into a 12-inch round about 3/16 inch thick, evening out by hand any uneven edges. Scraping it up if you need to, drape the rolled-out dough onto your rolling pin; transfer it to an ungreased pie dish and press into the dish Trim the edges if needed to leave a 1/2-inch overhang. Cover with plastic wrap and chill for 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 200°C (400°F).

Filling, continued:

Reduce the apple/lemon juice as follows, to produce a glaze for the apples: Remove the juice by draining apples through a sieve over a small saucepan, then transfer the apples to a large bowl. Heat the juices over medium-high, add 1 Tbsp butter and cook until reduced to 1/3 cup, 3 to 5 minutes, then remove from heat. Sprinkle the cornstarch over the apples and toss to combine, then stir in the reduced juices. Transfer apples with juice to the pie shell.

Rolling out the top crust:
As above, roll out the remaining dough disk into a 12-inch round about 3/16 inch thick. Drape the dough over the apples and press gently to eliminate air pockets. Trim the dough flush with the rim of the dish. Fold the bottom crust over the top crust and squidge the top and bottom together as decoratively as you’d like; I did it with my fingers. Cut slits in the top of the crust to allow steam to escape. Brush the top of the crust with the cream.

Bake for 20 minutes at 200°C. Cover the edges and top with aluminum foil if they begin to get too dark. Reduce the oven temperature to 175°C and continue to bake until the apples are easily pierced with a knife and crust is nicely browned, 65 to 70 minutes more. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool for at least 1 1/2 hours before serving, or eat warm, with poured cream or vanilla ice cream.

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Now what have they done to bagels?

Posted without comment, except to thank Simon for the pics.

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Meet the new fish, (almost) like the old fish.

There’s something about Passover that makes me want to cling to traditions, to the way I’ve always done things – not to everything, but to some critical mass of practices or foods tied to family, the Ashkenazi culture I was raised in, and plain old childhood memories. Firmly in all of those streams of tradition was gefilte fish: the kind in a jar of jelly that you could just barely convince yourself was tasty, or a good vehicle for really hot horseradish, or something so much a part of the ritual that you couldn’t not have a bit. Some seder attendees always boycotted it outright. Funny, there was always an extra jar at the end of the holiday, and I remember finding one at some other time of year and wondering how long it had been there. More than a year? Possibly.

If I ever had homemade gefilte fish it was only once or twice. It was one of those projects that seemed only ever to be undertaken by Eastern European-born bubbehs or do-everything yummy mummies, either of whom were happy to stay up till 2 in the morning elbow-deep in ground fish, if they even knew where to get the right kind of freshwater fish that you weren’t supposed to eat raw because of parasites, adding an element of danger for the OCD among us. The frozen kind that comes in logs that are boiled with an onion and a carrot and then sliced were nicer, almost gourmet by comparison, so I would sometimes contribute that to group seders.

In Britain, it turns out, they do gefilte fish differently. It’s fried; how exciting! What doesn’t taste better fried? You can even get it in little trays during the rest of the year at Marks & Spencer. Fried gefilte fish does seem to be a British thing, according to this article in the Forward. And obviously fried doesn’t lend itself to jars full of fishy jelly, and to have it in quantity for a family seder, you’d want to be able to make enough. Finally, Britain is islands surrounded by salt water, and the relative lack of freshwater fish means that people are not too fussed about what kind of fish you use. Homemade was starting to seem less of an insurmountable ideal.

Reader, I made my own fried gefilte fish. It wasn’t hard or technical, didn’t keep me up till 2 am, wasn’t even that messy, and I would do it again. We even enjoyed eating it. What surprised me the most was how much it tasted like what I expected gefilte fish to taste like, even though it was more or less a fish cake… but I doubt anyone would miss the jelly.

Fish mixture and shaped, matzo meal-breaded balls.

The wok: my new secret weapon for deep-frying.

Also breaking from tradition, we decided to have gefilte fish balls for our main course, rather than yet another a starter that risks being forgotten in the fridge.

Fried Gefilte Fish (adapted from the Forward’s recipe)

Makes 10-12 patties

1 pound fish (I used farmed trout fillets, and pulled the skin off before grinding in the food processor)
½ onion
1 egg
1 tablespoon cracked black pepper
½ tablespoon sea salt
3 tablespoon plus 1 1/2 cups matzo meal
¾ cup oil (the original recipe said olive oil, which is kosher for Passover but not so great for frying at high temperatures; your decision)

1) Grind fish and onion in food processor, then combine with, egg, pepper and salt and 3 tablespoons of the matzo meal.

2) Form the mixture into small balls, each about the size of a lemon. Roll each of these in the remaining matzo meal, creating an even coating.

3) Fill the bottom of a wok with frying oil and set carefully over a medium-high flame. When a sprinkling of matzo meal sizzles in the oil, add as many patties as will fit without crowding the pan.

4) Fry for 2 minutes on each side, at which point patties should be crisp and golden brown. Check that the fish is cooked all the way through (the center should be white rather than translucent). If not cooked through, continue cooking on lower heat.

5) Serve hot or cold with chrain (horseradish). (I also threw together some tartar sauce with mayo, a pickle, a hard-boiled egg and some dill, as I wasn’t sure how the fresh horseradish would go down.)

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52 Loaves by William Alexander

So what have I been doing this week, during Passover, when it’s forbidden me to eat bread? Reading about bread, of course, and wishing I’d written this book, which my mother gave me for my birthday; clever Mum.

American writer William Alexander also wrote a book called The $64 Tomato. He’s not a professional gardener or baker. What he’s great at is capturing the zen, the process and the frustrations of learning to master something that he finds important to master. 52 Loaves is a quick read – I read it in no more than 4 hours – as he covers his subject most efficiently. The gist is that, a lifelong bread hater, he experiences an epiphany upon tasting real bread in a good restaurant, and sets about learning how to make the perfect peasant bread, even growing his own wheat, building a clay oven in the garden and of course developing a levain. He spends quite a lot of time doing research, and is hardly a DIY genius, so it’s a bit surprising that he gets he far as he does in a year (evidently). The culmination of his bread-baking experience is reviving the craft of breadbaking in a French monastery, and you’ll definitely want to read about it; the balance of humility and confidence he has to muster to accomplish this is in itself awe-inspiring.

I think all of my intrepid bread-baking friends – and those who eat their bread – will want to read this book, as many of Alexander’s adventures will be familiar. Alexander is funny and honest, particularly poignantly so about the impact of his project on his family.

The book does include a few recipes; I will try the one he offers for baguettes. The recipes are designed to be manageable; more importantly, I can tell that the details he’s chosen to convey are in fact the result of the experiences he’s relayed in the rest of the book.

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill (4 May 2010)
  • Language English
  • ISBN-10: 1565125835
  • ISBN-13: 978-1565125834

It’s available in the UK at Amazon, and more widely in the US.

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British tea in New York City

Tea & Sympathy is what it sounds like. Serious Eats reviews here what British food looks like from the other side of the pond, if you’re a vegetarian.

And here’s their own website:  http://www.teaandsympathynewyork.com/home.php

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Grocery shopping in the UK

Here’s my latest Culinary Ambassador contribution to Serious Eats, mostly about supermarkets.

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Sainsbury’s, you need a recipe editor

I can’t resist browsing recipes, even if they’re in outdated women’s magazines in a tatty pile at the doctor’s office or, in this case, in a Sainsbury’s ad circular with the weekend papers entitled Executive Chef. I’m glad I did read this item over breakfast this morning, because it contained a doozy, the most nonsensical thing I’ve ever seen in print. At first I thought it was a historic recipe, or perhaps something from Harry Potter, but it really made no sense at all. As I squinted at it I realized it must have been written in Spanish (or Basque?) and cranked through Google Translate, which used to be Babelfish – a web-based machine translation tool. The amazing thing is that, clearly, no native English speaker bothered to read the result before it went into print. The rest of the circular is fairly shoddily edited as well, but none is as much fun as this.

Juan Mari Arzak’s Pretty in Bonfire of Grudges

For the gravy of skins and grudges:

30 g       of bread
1             tomato
2            chives
60 g      of skins with grudges of pretty (black)
200 g   of olive oil o’ 4
70 g      of 20 fried almonds
g            of vinegar of Módena

For the backs of pretty:

600 g    of pretty
Salt, jengibre in dust

For the red oil of pepper:

10 g       of red pepper
60 g      of olive oil o ‘ 4

For the gravy of skins and grudges:

To cut the tomato and to pass it through the plate with a little of oil. On the other hand, to fry with half of the oil the skins of pretty until they are crujientes. To slip them well.
To mix all the ingredients. To crush and to strain. To ripen.

For the backs of pretty:

To cut the back of pretty in rectangles (2 you unite. to /per.). One of the rectangles will have to be something greater than the other. To ripen, to give point of jengibre to grease the gravy and to pass it through the plate leaving the substantial back.

For the red oil of pepper:

To each other to rub well all grains of pepper. To recover single the skins and to mix them with the oil. To reserve.

END AND PRESENTATION:

In center of the plate to place the backs of pretty standing up. To its side, with the aid of a tube, to draw circles with the gravy of skins. Salsear slightly on the backs of pretty the pepper oil.

Delightful, isn’t it? But probably not quite what the recipe author had in mind; the English bit of Arzak’s own website, while not entirely idiomatic, was at least written by a human.

Here’s a guess at what the recipe-writer may have intended; remember, mine is not from the original Spanish but from the crazy not-quite-English above!

Juan Mari Arzak’s Bonito with Sauce of Grilled Scales

30 g bread
1 tomato
2 chives
60 g skin of black bonito with scales
200 g olive oil
70 g fried almonds (about 20)
15 g Módena vinegar [about a tablespoon; this is purely a guess]
salt and sugar

For the bonito fillets:

600 g bonito (4 fillets, about 150 g each)
Salt, powdered ginger

For the red pepper oil:

10 g ground sweet red pepper [again, a guess, but I think hot would be a bit much here]
60 g olive oil

To make the bonito scale sauce:

Cut the tomato and and pass it through a sieve with a little oil. Fry the bonito skins in this purée and the rest of the oil until they are crisp. Mix all the ingredients, crushing the fish skins, bread, and almonds; strain; and set aside.

To cook the bonito fillets:

Cut the fillets into rectangles, 2 per person, making one rectangle somewhat bigger than the other. Marinate the ginger in the sauce. [Here’s where it gets really obscure, so I’m completely making up the next bit]. Sauté the bonito in a bit of oil on both sides, so that the skin is crispy and the flesh is opaque.

To make the red pepper oil:

Mix the red pepper grains with the oil and set aside.

Presentation:

Stand up the cooked bonito fillets in the center of the plate. Alongside, with a spoon or a piping bag, draw circles with the scale sauce. Drizzle small drops of pepper oil on the fish.

************

Sainsbury’s, if you need any help with such items in future, my Spanish isn’t bad, I know my way around a recipe, and I’m available. Just call.

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