When the Party’s Over

Between our New Year’s Day celebration and last weekend’s bridal shower party we amassed a lot of inexplicable leftovers.  How we wound up with Camembert cheese left over, I’ll never know.  That’s fancy French cheese from Normandy, for goodness sake!  As I recall, we Americans fought our tails of to liberate that cheese!  And the gouda!  For pity’s sake everyone ignored the gouda!  Other than tulips, legalized prostitution and hash bars gouda is the Netherland’s #1 attraction!  

The leftover cauliflower and broccoli is easier to understand.  They’re always the last stragglers on a veggie tray.  The Kalamata olives went first and then the carrots.  By the time the carrots were gone, so was the creamy ranch dressing dip.  Poor cauliflower and broccoli always get left behind, like a scrawny kid who gets picked last during recess, when teams are chosen. 

So, now it’s time to scrape together all of the those party leftovers and make a meal. 

Rustic Chicken with Winter Vegetables and Whipped Potatoes

My first step was to make the puff pastry for the chicken dish.  From there I prepped much of the rest of the meal in advance and kept it cool until nearly service time.  I finished by roasting the vegetables and frying some matchstick onions.

Ingredients for the puff pastry:

2 cups flour

1 tsp salt

1 ½ cup cold butter (2 and a half sticks)

½ cup ice cold water

Directions:

Puff pastry is really not too difficult to make at home as long as you adhere to a few rules.  There are only a few ingredients but the important thing to remember while making the pastry is to keep all of the ingredients very cold during preparation.  I chilled the flour, in addition to chilling the butter, and I put the water in the freezer, just prior to using it. 

Since hands are warm, and warmth is a pastry killer, I added the flour, salt and butter to a food processor.  I pulsed the food processor several times until the flour and butter combined to make a grainy mixture. 

I added the ice cold water and pulse again, until the dough began to form a ball.  I turned out the dough ball to a clean work surface and formed the dough into a 12” x 6” rectangle.  I worked quickly, using the rolling pin.

I folded the dough over into a tri-fold and squared the dough by pushing the edges with the rolling pin.  I added a little more flour to the work surface to keep the dough from sticking to the surface. 

I rolled the dough out again to a 12” x 6” rectangle and folded it in thirds again.  I repeated this process three more times.  Rolling the dough multiple times increases the amount of flakiness of the finished puff pastry.

I wrapped the rectangle of dough in plastic wrap and kept it refrigerated until I was ready to use it. 

This recipe makes enough dough for 24 pastry cups. 

Ingredients for the rest of the meal:

Infused blueberries:

1 ½ cup water

2 tsp dried rosemary

½ cup blueberries

1 Tbs sugar

Roasted chicken:

4 chicken thighs (bone–in)

5 cloves fresh garlic, sliced thin

2 tsp dried rosemary

1 Tbs rendered bacon fat

½ cup roasted red bell peppers

4 oz sliced mushrooms (I used canned mushrooms)

1 Tbs olive oil

6 oz Camembert cheese (rind removed)

Whipped potatoes:

6 small russet potatoes

2 Tbs butter

¼ cup sour cream

¼ cup milk

5 cloves roasted garlic

Matchstick onions:

1 yellow onion, sliced into very thin rings

1 cup buttermilk (I used 1 cup milk and 1 tsp vinegar)

1 cup flour

1 tsp seasoning salt

Winter vegetables:

               1 ½ cup carrots, sliced and chopped

               1 cup broccoli florets

               1 cup cauliflower florets

               1 Tbs olive oil

               ½ cup gouda cheese, shredded

Directions:

Fill a small bowl with 1 ½ cups of boiling water.  Add the rosemary and sugar.  When the water has reached room temperature, remove the rosemary and reserve for later. 

Add the blueberries to the fragrant water and allow them to soak at room temperature for a few hours.

Remove the skin from the chicken thighs and discard.  Using a small, sharp knife, make several incisions in the chicken and insert the slices of garlic. 

Add bacon grease and olive oil to a baking dish.  Smear the chicken with the grease and oil and nestle the chicken in the baking dish.  Sprinkle the reserved rosemary onto the chicken.

Roast the chicken, uncovered, in an oven at 350° for 90 minutes.  Baste the chicken occasionally.  Remove from the oven and allow to cool down to room temperature.

Once the chicken has cooled, shred by hand.

Dice the roasted peppers and add to the shredded chicken.  Add the mushrooms to the chicken and mix to incorporate.  Set aside.

Wash and scrub the potatoes.  Put the potatoes in a large pot and cover with water.  Cover the pot with a lid and boil the potatoes at low heat for about one hour, or until the potatoes can be pierced easily with a fork. 

Using a hand-held mixer, blend the potatoes, including the potato skins, with the butter, sour cream, milk and roasted garlic.  Store in warm place.

Drain the blueberries and set aside.

Remove the pastry from the refrigerator and place on a clean work surface.  Divide the dough in half.  Use one half for the chicken dish and reserve the other half for a dessert dish.  Roll the dough out to about ¼” thick.  Slice the pastry into 4” squares.  Form fit the pastry into the muffin pan.

Slice dough into 4″ squares

Place the squares in muffing pan and fill the pastry with the chicken mixture.  Top with a teaspoon of Camembert cheese and a 3 or 4  blueberries.

Bake at 400° for about 20 minutes, or until the pastry puffs and turns golden brown. 

Roasted Winter Vegetables

Toss carrots, broccoli and cauliflower in olive oil.  Spread the vegetables out on parchment lined backing tray.  Roast in the oven at 350° for 30 minutes.  Remove and keep warm.

Or, if you want to burn them, leave them in a 400° oven for 45 minutes, like I did.  There I was trying to salvage leftover vegetable tray fodder and I incinerated the whole lot.  Oh well, that’s the way things roll in my kitchen, sometimes.

Matchstick Onions

Slice the onion very thin and set aside. 

Mix the milk and vinegar together in a large bowl (this is a decent substitute for buttermilk).  Soak the onions in the buttermilk for several minutes.

Heat a pot of oil on the stove at medium/high heat (325° to 350° works well.

Add the flour and seasoning salt to a large mixing bowl. 

Toss the onions in the flour mixture to coat.

Add the onions to the oil and fry until golden brown and crispy.  Remove to a paper towel-lined platter and keep warm.

Serve two stuffed pastry shells with mashed potatoes, topped with turkey gravy and fried onions.

Dessert:  Cherry and Cream Cheese Tarts

Assemble 12 pastry cups using the same method as before.  Fill each one with 2 teaspoons of cream cheese and top with cherry pie filling.  Bake at 400° for about 20 minutes, or until the pastry puffs and turns golden brown. 

Pear Tart: Good Things Gone Bad… and then Good Again

It all started so innocently.  I just wanted to find a way to use some pears.  “How about a tart,”  I thought. 

A true tart has exposed fruit filling on top.  I actually made a pie, since I used a top crust.  But, I called it a tart anyway because I’m a rebel.

Ingredients for the pie crust:

½ cup lard

¼ cup butter

3 cups flour

¾ tsp salt

¼ cup cold water

Ingredients for the pie filling:

8 Bartlett pears

Juice of ½ lemon

3 Tbs flour

½ tsp cinnamon

¼ tsp cardamom

Ingredients for the egg wash:

1 egg, beaten

1 Tbs sugar

¼ tsp cinnamon

Directions:

Cut butter into smallish pieces chill in the freezer, along with the lard, for about 20 minutes.

Sift flour and salt together. 

Cut butter and lard into flour.  Continue to use a cutting action until the flour mixture resembles corn meal, in texture.  Cover and return to refrigerator to chill.

Rinse, wash and peel pears.  Quarter the pears by cutting the pears in half, lengthwise and then cutting them in half again.  With a  paring knife, cut a small arc across the ridge of the slice pear to remove the seeds and hard membrane. 

Add the pear pieces to a large mixing bowl.  Add juice of ½ lemon and toss the pears to coat.  Set aside.

Mix together 1 tablespoon flour, ½ tsp cinnamon and ¼ tsp cardamom in a small bowl.  Sprinkle the mixture over the pears and give the pears a few tosses.

Remove flour mixture from refrigerator.  Add water, 1 tablespoon at a time.  Gently incorporate the water and continue adding water until the dough begins to hold together.  Divide the dough into two equal parts.  Set one part aside. 

Lay one of the dough halves onto a lightly floured surface.  Form the dough into a ball and press down to flatten into a disc.  Turn the disc over and roll out with a rolling pin.  Start in the middle of the disc and roll toward the edges.  Continue rolling until disc is 10” to 11” wide. 

Center the pie crust on a 9” glass pie pan.  Press the dough down gently to conform to the pan.  Pour the pears into the pie pan.

Roll out the other half of the dough and center it on top of the pears, in the pie pan.  Press the two pie crusts together at the seams to seal them, or use a fork or other tool to seal the edges.

Prepare the egg wash for the pie crust by whisking and egg in a small bowl.  Apply the egg wash with a pastry brush.  Sprinkle some sugar and cinnamon on top.

Place the pie pan on the middle rack of a 400° oven.  Bake for 30 minutes and then turn the oven down to 350°.  Bake for another 20 minutes. 

Rest the pie pan on a cooling rack for an hour before slicing.  The pie filling will thicken as it cools. 

This is when things took an unexpected turn.  I was impressed with how well the crust baked.  I could rotate the pie within the pie plate with just a little effort which meant that the crust did not stick to the pie pan, while it baked.  I decided to invert the pie pan and inspect the bottom pie crust.  I figured that I had already taken pictures of the competed pie so I had nothing to lose.  Once I had the pie resting  upside down on a cutting board, I felt along the surface of the crust.  It didn’t feel as crisp as the top crust, which makes sense, because it wasn’t exposed to air while it baked. 

The oven was still hot and I wanted to give the pie a few more minutes in the oven to crisp the bottom crust.  I inverted the pie again and set it on a metal rack.  As I took the metal rack to the open oven, the pie slid off and crashed onto the open oven door.  It all happened so quickly, yet it seemed like slow motion at the same time.

The pie was a total wreck.  There was no way to hide the massive damage.  It all happened so quickly that I didn’t even find time to curse.  I just stood there and stared, numb and unblinking.  I grabbed a piece of pear that had  broken free from the crust and tasted it and I came up with a plan.

Pear Tart a la Mode

Ingredients:

1 broken pear tart

1 cup brown sugar

3 Tbs hot water

½ gallon, high quality vanilla ice cream

Directions:

Break apart a pear tart and put the chunks in large mixing bowl.  Set aside.

Heat 1 cup brown sugar in a heavy bottomed stainless steel pan, at medium-low heat.  When the sugar melts, reduce heat to low and stir for one minute.  Remove the pan from the heat.  Carefully add the hot water.  It will sputter and put on a spectacular show.  Return the pan to low heat and stir for another 2 or 3 minutes, or until the sugar has turned reddish brown.  Remove and cool.  The cooled sugar should have a crunchy quality to it.

Put 1 ½ cups of the broken pear tart in a large serving bowl.  Add 1 large scoop of ice cream (about 1cup) to the bowl.  Top the pie and cake with caramelized sugar and sprinkle some raw brown sugar on top, for good measure.