Friday, May 15, 2015

Baked Ham in Pastry with Figs

After making liquamen (fish sauce) in the previous post, I perused my Cooking Apicius (by Sally Grainger) book looking for a recipe or two that I wanted to try.

ISBN 1-903018-44-7
One that caught my attention did not use liquamen as anything more than an optional seasoning but I wanted to try it anyway.

Baked ham in pastry with figs (page 62)

1 kg piece of gammon, pre-soaked if necessary
5 dried figs
3 bay leaves
250 g plain white flour
1/4 tsp salt
2 tbsp olive oil
100 ml water
100 g set honey
olive oil for brushing
fish sauce, or salt and honey for seasoning

Cover the gammon in cold water, add the figs and bay leaves and bring to the boil.  Simmer for 20 minutes per 500 grams plus an extra 20 minutes.  Remove from the heat and cool in the water.  

While it is cooling, sieve the flour and salt together into a bowl and add the oil and the water gradually to form a dough.  Knead until smooth and pliable.  This amount of dough should cover at least a two-kilo joint so adjust the amount to suit the size of your joint.  

Cut the dough in half and roll one portion out into a large thin sheet.  Follow the method in the recipe for tracta on page 37.*  The pastry sheet should resemble that used for apple strudel rather than filo and the thicker edges of the sheet should be trimmed before you begin to wrap the meat.

Place the meat on a board and remove the skin.  Score the fat with a knife right through to the flesh to create a criss-cross pattern.  Spread the honey over the fat and into the cuts.  Spread it over any surfaces of the lean meat too.  

Brush your first pastry sheet with olive oil  and lay the meat at one end.  Roll the meat up in the dough, fold over the edges to make a parcel, and brush its exterior with more oil.  Trim away any excess pastry.

Roll the other half of the dough into a sheet and brush its upper surface with olive oil.  Wrap the meat again, this time tracking the minimum amount of excess dough under the joint.  Brush the exterior with more oil.  

Bake in a medium oven (375 degrees F, 190 degrees C, gas 5) for 1 hour until the pastry is crisp and light brown.  Remove and allow to stand for 10 minutes.  

Strain 250 ml of the cooking liquor into a small pan and season with a little fish sauce or salt if desired, and a little honey. Taste and adjust the balance of flavors.  Carve thick slices of meat and spoon a little of the liquor over them.  Serve it forth.

*To paraphrase these directions, you would roll the dough, turn it over, roll it more, and repeat until very thin.  Do not push from the center but use brisk "back-and-forth" motion at the edges.  Make it as thin as possible without it tearing.

My Notes

Gammon is a hind leg of pork that is cured like bacon by dry-salting or brining.  It is sold uncooked.  The difference between it and ham is that ham is already cooked.

I do not know of any place in my area that sells gammon.  Ham is easy to obtain and that is what I used.  However I was concerned about the amount of cooking time called for in the recipe as I did not want to overcook the already cooked ham.  So I shortened the amount of time simmering in the water to 30 minutes.

It took about 15 minutes of kneading to get the dough smooth.  Then I let it rest while the ham finished cooling and the dough's pliability improved because of it.   I rolled it out to what I thought was very thin (I could read through it) then used my hand to spread the oil on its surface.

Note that when you remove the ham from the simmering liquid you want to keep that liquid for later (that is the "cooking liquor" mentioned for the sauce).

My honey was runny, not set (solid), and that created a problem in keeping it on the ham.

The second layer of dough made a nice, neat little package of the whole thing.  It looked great!

It cooked about an hour in order to get the dough browned.

The Verdict


I will call this a success but not anything glorious.  I don't think there is anything wrong with Ms. Grainger's recipe and feel that the problems were all mine from making too many changes.

The shortened cooking time did not appear to adequately flavor the ham with anything more than a light herbal scent from the bay leaves.  The figs did not seem to add anything at all although the water and the ham's exterior became darker.  The bay flavor was nice but weak.

The runny honey did not add anything to the tasting experience.  Ms. Grainger says, "The meat finishes cooking in its case while retaining the juices, which caramelize with the honey -- wonderful!"  My already-cooked ham did not have any juices and the honey was just a thin layer.

I probably could have gotten the dough layers thinner.  I thought they were thin enough and I even baked the scraps to see what they would be like as crispy.  They were very tasty but the wrapped ham layers were tough and dry.  Only the parts that were absolutely thin were pretty good.

The cooking liquor's flavor was weak and watery, so I added in about two tablespoons of liquamen and then reduced it by about 1/3 on the stove.  This tasted pretty good but only added a little bit to the ham's flavor.  It did soften and moisten the crust.  If I had a weak liquor again, I would reduce it first and then add the liquamen.

My guest taster thought it was fine.  I thought the ham was fine but not much different from the ham as it was purchased and the crust was okay.

I really liked the concept, though, and would love to try it again some time using a piece of uncooked pork, like a tenderloin or roast.

I looked around the Internet to see if I could acquire a gammon and found I would have to import it at a cost of around US $80 before shipping fees.  I will pass on this!

Friday, May 1, 2015

Liquamen -- Fish Sauce from the Roman Empire

In 2007 I was fortunate enough to travel to England; in particular I got to visit Vindolanda and Bath, both sites that were influenced by the Roman Empire about 2000 years ago.  At one of their museum stores (I can't recall which!), I purchased -- what else? -- a cookbook!

Not just any cookbook, though.  It was Cooking Apicius, Roman Recipes for Today by Sally Grainger.

ISBN 1-903018-44-7
Ms. Grainger is a researcher interested in experimental archaeology, food history, and food in antiquity.  I have seen references before to Apicius, "a collection of Roman cookery recipes, usually thought to have been compiled in the late 4th or early 5th century AD." (  The problem I had with it was most of the references were to recipes we would consider very strange, like cooked dormice.  It was almost enough to make me believe the Romans ate nothing but weird (to us) food, however I know that old cookbooks often give us recipes that were for feasts or other special gatherings.  Thus the food tends to be exotic.

Ms. Grainger has, in my humble opinion, focused on reasonable recipes:  ones where we can easily find or make the ingredients.  When I read them over I get excited rather than revolted about making them.

In the Introduction, she discusses "fish sauce" as a fundamental ingredient to Roman food.  There are various types, depending on how they are prepared.  I focused on liquamen:
This was made by dissolving whole small fish, as well as larger pieces of gutted fish, ... into a liquor with salt.  The fish, often anchovy, were layered with salt in a barrel or pit and left for anything up to four months.  The whole mixture cleared from the top and settled into layers.  The paste at the bottom was called allec and was used as a pickle in its own right.  The liquor was called liquamen.
(If you would like to learn more about the different fish sauces, read her paper here.)

Fortunately she gives us a recipe that does not require us to buy fish or to wait four months.

Adapted fish sauce  (page 29)

1 liter carton white grape juice
1 bottle "Oyster brand" fish sauce or a pale variety of fish sauce

Note the color of the grape juice
Tip the grape juice into a large saucepan and bring to a gentle simmer.  Cook at the lowest setting for however long it takes to reduce by half.  This is never set in stone as grape juice can have a higher or lower sugar content.  Cool and store.  

You can use this for other recipes in Apicius as well as for your fish sauce.  The ratio that works for me is two-thirds fish sauce to one-third grape syrup.  This produces a blend that is neither too salty, nor has it lost too much of the cheesy/meaty elements that you need.  

You might find that you need to adjust this ratio depending on the type of fish sauce that you have.  The darker varieties tend to be saltier but unfortunately this is not always the case!  You might try half and half to achieve the correct blend.  Experiment!  The initial cost is low and well worth the effort in the long run.

My Notes

It took several hours to reduce the grape juice to half its original volume.  The first hour was spent trying out different heat levels:  I wanted to reduce it quickly but not boil or burn it.  The lowest setting wasn't enough to produce any visible evaporation so I bumped it up to just below a simmer.  I would not recommend this as a project to start in the evening when you need to go to bed at a reasonable hour.

Once it was at half volume (I measured it!), I poured it in a heat-proof container and put it in the refrigerator.

Now a beautiful golden color
The fish sauce I had already was not even close to being pale.  I just decided to hope I could find the right blend as Ms. Grainger suggests.


First my guest taster and I tried the fish sauce by itself.  This gave us an idea of how salty it was as well as the "cheesy/meaty" flavor it had.  My taste buds said, "too strong, too salty, and a very fishy aftertaste."  My guest taster said the same thing and he loves anchovies on his Caesar salads (I don't).

We also tried the reduced grape juice by itself.  It was a pleasant, grapy flavor.  As he said, "What's not to like?"

Then we started tasting different ratios of fish sauce to juice.  I used a teaspoon measure, a separate spoon for each liquid, put the liquids in a little bowl, and stirred them to mix.  Between samples we cleansed our palates with water crackers and plain water.  Here are our results:

1 part fish sauce to 1 part grape juice:  Too fishy!  I found that the salt was almost burning my mouth.

1 part fish to 2 parts grape:  Still too salty.  The fish was overwhelming the grape.

1 part to 3 parts:  Better.  We could still taste the fish but started tasting the grape.  It was more balanced but still not good.

1 part to 4:  Starting to like it.  Getting to a balance.

1 to 5:  Still too salty but finally not too fishy or grapy.

1 to 6:  Seems just right!

1 to 7:  Very good.  Less salty than 1:6 and we liked it better.

1 to 8:  Too grapy.  Not enough fishy/umami flavor.

The Verdict

We decided that for the very dark and strong-flavored fish sauce I had, the best combination was 1 part fish sauce to 7 parts grape juice.  It was good enough that after tasting a spoonful, we actually wanted to taste more. Success!

Since liquamen is mostly an ingredient to recipes and the reduced grape juice can be used alone or mixed with other items, I did not turn the juice into a big batch of liquamen.  I kept the two liquids separate but with the ratio marked on them so I could mix up what I needed when I needed it.

Now I have to decide which of Ms. Grainger's mouthwatering recipes I want to try using the liquamen!

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Seer Torshi -- Persian Pickled Garlic!

This is a case of blogger imitating blogger.  My daughter shared with me a food blog post about pickled garlic:  the traditional slow way (takes about 7 years) and the "quick and dirty" way (takes 3 months to 1 year).  I was intrigued. 

My internet research indicates this is a popular technique for preserving vegetables.  See "Tursu" in Wikipedia:  "The pickled vegetables of the cuisines of many Balkan and Middle East countries.  The word torshi comes from torsch, which means 'sour' in the Iranian languages."  I strongly suspect it is an old, old technique since, when you get down to the basics, it really only needs a clean container, garlic, white vinegar, salt, and honey.  And a lot of time!

The idea is to fill your container with garlic heads or cloves, unpeeled, then surround it with vinegar in which honey and salt have been dissolved.  Put a weight on top to keep the garlic submerged and let the mixture ferment for a week or so.  This softens the garlic and causes it to sink, so you remove the weight, top it off with vinegar, cover it, and let it sit in a cool, dark spot for 1 to 7 years.

This website, Novel Adventures, recounts a story of a person who was offered a taste from the family stash of seer torshi:  "My mother-in-law explained the condiment's origins.  Her grandmother had made the seer torshi forty years earlier, and every time the family ate it, they could feel her presence with them."

Forty years and more!  What a way to remind your family of you long after you are gone.

I decided to try the fast method to seer torshi, as per's recipe.

Method 2:  "Quick and dirty" Seer Torshi (1 pint batch)

4 - 6 heads of garlic, or enough to tightly pack a 2 pint mason jar
2 cups distilled white vinegar
1 tablespoon salt
1 tablespoon honey
3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
That's all, Folks!
  • Split heads into individual cloves but do not peel them.
  • Add garlic and white vinegar to a stainless steel pot and heat uncovered on medium-high until simmering.  Add salt and honey and simmer for an additional 5 mintues.
  • Remove from heat and allow to cool.  The garlic cloves will have softened somewhat but should still be fairly firm with their skins intact.
  • Pack the garlic cloves into pre-sterilized 1 pint mason jar.  Add 3 tablespoons of balsamic vinegar and then fill the jar with the cooled white vinegar mixture, leaving about an inch of headspace.
  • Unlike the traditional method, this garlic pickle should not ferment.  Also as that garlic is pre-cooked, it tends to sink in the brine and shouldn't need to be weighed down.  I imagine you could process the jar at this point to seal it -- I didn't bother.  Store in a cool, dark spot for a minimum of  3 months or up to 1 year.
My Notes

I made just one pint jar of this recipe as I only had 6 heads of garlic.

To sterilize my mason jar, I used the directions from Ready Nutrition:

Microwave Method
  1. Pre-heat the oven to 280 degrees Fahrenheit or 160 degrees Celsius.  The hot oven will be used to dry the jars once they have been sterilized in the microwave.
  2. Fill the jars halfway with cold water.  Place the jars in the microwave.  Depending on the size of the microwave, more than one jar can be sanitized at the same time.
  3. Heat jars in the microwave on high for around three minutes or until the water boils.   The boiling water will sanitize the inside of the jar.
  4. Place jars upside-down in the oven.  Allow the jars to drain and dry in the oven.  Once the jars have dried and are still hot, they will be ready to be filled with preserves and sealed.  Heating the jars allows them to expand so they will not break when filled with hot preserves.
Once the jar was done in the microwave (and the water definitely boiled as I found it all over the inside of the oven!), it sat in the regular oven until the cloves in vinegar had cooled.  I put the lid and band in the oven just to get them heated and possibly sterilized, too.

You can see a definite change in the garlic cloves before simmering
and after the simmering was through,

I used a slotted spoon to transfer the garlic cloves from the saucepan to the sterilized jar. 

The garlic did not float in the liquid, as the recipe specified.  I used almost all of the liquid in the saucepan to fill the jar.

After that, I sealing the jar with the band and lid.  Then I let it sit on the counter overnight before I put it away in the cupboard while it aged.  About a half hour after I sealed it, I heard a "pop" and noticed that the lid was pulled down -- a vacuum seal had been generated.

Not shaken or stirred
The Verdict

I don't know!  It certainly was easy to prepare.  I really liked not having to peel the garlic.  It didn't take long to simmer and it cooled down quickly enough that I got to bed on time.  I guess we will all have to check back on this blog in three months to a year.  I don't know how long I can actually wait!

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Lemon Chicken Stew -- North African Cuisine

The book from which this recipe comes is Medieval Cuisine of the Islamic World, by Lilia Zaouali.

ISBN 978-0-520-26174-7
However, it is in the chapter on contemporary North African cuisine.  So while it is not terribly historical, it is from a region I wanted to explore.  And it looked good!

The medieval recipes are translated but unredacted and make for some interesting reading.  One I want to try some time soon is on page 65, "Marinated Olives with Thyme" and one I am dubious about trying is on page 64, "Fish Drowned in Grape Juice."  Yes, you take a live fish and immerse it in grape juice so it will "thrash about and swallow the juice until its body is filled with it."

Getting back to what I did do, I present to you (from page 148)

Lemon Chicken Stew

1 chicken (about 3 1/2 pounds), cut into pieces
4 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/4 teaspoon ground white pepper
2 medium (or three small) potatoes, peeled and thinly sliced
1 medium onion, peeled and thinly sliced
2 tomatoes, thinly sliced
2 small lemons, thinly sliced
1 bunch fresh parsley, leaves only, finely chopped

Moisten the best pieces of the chicken (thighs, wings, and breasts) with a tablespoon of the oil and season them with a pinch of salt, the cinnamon, and half the turmeric and white pepper.

Arrange the potato and onion slices in the bottom of a terrine.  Sprinkle them with salt and the rest of the turmeric and white pepper, and add enough water to cover them completely.  Add the remaining 3 tablespoons of oil and mix well.  Arrange the chicken pieces on top along with the tomato and lemon slices.

Put the terrine into a preheated medium oven and cook for about 45 minutes, turning the chicken pieces from time to time.  Before serving, sprinkle with the chopped parsley.

My Notes

I used three pounds of boneless, skinless chicken thighs, black pepper instead of white, two potatoes, half of the shown onion, and 1 1/2 of the shown lemons.  The parsley was skipped.

Instead of a terrine I used a round casserole dish.  The recipe did not say to cover the dish, so I didn't.
Filled to the brim and ready to cook
The oven was heated to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and it took 1 hour and 20 minutes to ensure the meat was cooked through.

I didn't turn the chicken much as the dish was very full and I worried about spilling and splashing.  Just a few times at the end to make sure the meat was cooked thoroughly.

The Verdict

Success!  This was quite good.  The tomatoes and lemons cooked to tender and started melting into the sauce around the meat.  I could taste the lemon juice in the sauce -- it made the sauce "sparkle" in flavor -- and yet the potatoes and onions were still robust enough to make this dish more than just chicken in sauce.

I was glad I sliced the lemons as thinly as I could as they get eaten (rind, white, and pulp) with everything else, adding a nice twist in flavor.  The turmeric makes the sauce an orangey-yellow and that is attractive against the other specks of spices and colors from the tomatoes and lemons.

A beautiful presentation
If I were to do this again, I would put in less water with the vegetables or perhaps use broth instead.  The rounded bottom of the casserole dish fooled me, I think, into putting in more water than I really needed to make a good sauce.  It did taste a little thin on flavor.

I would also use more spices than called for, especially salt.  This says a lot because I don't usually salt my foods.  My guest taster discovered that seasoned salt was a good enhancement and from that, I conclude that increasing the amount of cinnamon and pepper would be the right thing to do.  This could be because of too much water for the sauce but perhaps not.

The stew was perfect served with rice.  I would add a cucumber salad to it next time, too.

Dig down deep to get the onions and potatoes

Friday, March 20, 2015

Scottish Border Tart, Take Two

On an early post, I tried the Scottish Border Tart but neglected to include the eggs in the filling.  They were listed in the ingredients but did not show up in the instructions.  So I tried the recipe again, this time adding the eggs at the bold text.
To make the filling beat the sugar and butter together until the mixture becomes creamy.  Beat in the eggs. Add the sifted flour and ground almonds. Spread a layer of jam over the bottom of the pastry and then add the filling.  Arrange a lattice design of pastry strips on top.  Cover with the flaked almonds.  Bake in moderate oven (350 degrees F) for 30 minutes.  15 minutes before the tart is cooked remove from oven and sprinkle over a layer of confectioner's sugar.  Return to oven. 
I used the same pan so everything was the same except for the eggs.

The first thing I noticed is that the filling spread like a batter instead of like a crumble.

Then the almonds on top sank into the filling more.

The finished tart looked softer and showed off the powdered (confectioner's) sugar better.

And the individual pieces looked and tasted fluffier than the first attempt.

Take Two:  Fluffy
Take One:  Crunchy
The Verdict

It tasted great!  The softer texture was nice and more like a coffee cake than a shortbread.

I liked it and so did my coworkers.  Success!

In comparison, they were both good.  However I and my guest taster enjoyed the first version the most because we liked the shortbread crunch along with the almonds.  My recommendation:  fix whichever one appeals to you the most.  Crunchy or soft -- your choice.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

An Elizabethan Meat Pie for Super Pi Day

March 14 is recognized as Pi Day in the United States -- mostly by schools who want their students to think about the irrational number π.   March 14 of this year was special, a Super Pi Day, because it is the only day in the century where you can write out the date and time to get π to nine decimal places:
3.141592653...  gets written as 3/14/15 9:26:53.  Super!

So in honor of Super Pi Day, I made a super pie:  an Elizabethan deep dish chicken pie.  Not only does the size make it super but the ingredients are not what we usually expect in a chicken pie.  You cannot find any onions, carrots, potatoes, peas, or even mushrooms in it.  Also the spices are different from the typical modern chicken pie.

My source was Gervase Markham's The English Housewife, originally published in 1596.  The author wrote it for his young wife to instruct her on "the inward and outward virtues which ought to be in a complete woman..."

ISBN 0-7735-1103-2
It is a fascinating look into the culture of an Elizabethan England household because the nine chapters cover a wide variety of topics:  physic (medicine) and surgery, cooking, distillation, wines, preparing fibers for dying and spinning, making cheese and butter, making malt, using oats, and brewing and baking.

On page 100, recipe #116 tells us how "To bake a chicken pie."
To bake a chicken pie; after you have trussed your chickens, broken their legs and breast bones, and raised your crust of the best paste, you shall lay them in the coffin close together with their bodies full of butter.  Then lay upon them, and underneath them, currants, great raisins, prunes, cinnamon, sugar, whole mace, and salt: then cover all with a great store of butter, and so bake it; after, pour into it the liquor you did in your marrow bone pie, with the yolks of two or three eggs beaten amongst it, and so serve it forth.
I needed to explore the details of this recipe a little.  What is the "crust of the best paste"?

On page 96, recipe #108, "Of the pastry and baked meats", he says,
...your chickens, calves' feet, olives, potatoes, quinces, fallow deer, and such like, which are most commonly eaten hot, would be in the finest, shortest and thinnest crust; therefore your fine wheat flour which is a little baked in the oven before it be kneaded is the best for that purpose.

And in recipe #109, "Of the mixture of pastes",
...your fine wheat crust must be kneaded with as much butter as water, and the paste made reasonable lithe and gentle, into which you must put three or four eggs or more according to the quantity you blend together, for they will give it a sufficient stiffening.
My next quest was to note the "the liquor you did in your marrow bone pie," which is in recipe #115:
... and after it is baked pour into it as long as it will receive it white wine, rose-water, sugar, cinnamon, and vinegar, mixed together, ...
My Redaction

From all of this I decided a regular pie crust would do.  I decided not to use eggs in it because I was baking it in a deep dish ceramic pie pan instead of having the pie stand up on its own.  It did not need "sufficient stiffening."  I used a recipe from The Great Food Processor Cookbook, by Yvonne Young Tarr  (ISBN 394-73284-7).

Pie Pastry (page 357)

(Yield:  Enough pastry for 1 double-crust pie)

11 to 12 Tablespoons cold butter (1 1/2 sticks) and 2 tablespoons cold shortening (or, for a tart pastry that is less rich, 7 tablespoons each cold shortening and butter)
2 1/2 Cups all-purpose flour
1 1/4 Teaspoons salt
8 Tablespoons ice water

Arrange cold butter and/or shortening by tablespoons around bottom of container.  Combine flour and salt and sift together over shortening.

Turn machine quickly on and off 3 or 4 times or until the mixture resembles coarse meal.

Add as much ice water as necessary, 2 tablespoons at a time, until the dough forms a ball.  Chill for at least 15 minutes before rolling out.

I didn't take any pictures of the pastry being made since my focus was on the filling.  I used 8 tablespoons of butter (one stick) and 6 tablespoons shortening.  Both had been in the freezer.

Filling (before baking)

3 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs
1 cup raisins
16 ounces prunes
<currants are unavailable in the stores at this time>
1/4 cup sugar
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground mace
1 teaspoon salt
4 ounces (1 stick) butter, cold

Mix the sugar, spices, and salt together in a small bowl.  Sprinkle a generous amount on the pie crust and then put about 1/3 of the raisins and prunes on top of that.

First layer of fruits and spices is complete
Put in a layer of thighs, setting them close together.  Sprinkle more of the sugar/spice mixture on top.  Put in another layer of raisins and prunes, more of the spice mixture, another layer of the thighs.  I tried to use all the thighs but they didn't all fit despite me squishing them into place.

Sprinkle on the spice mixture, add the rest of the raisins and prunes, and then add on the rest of the spice mixture.

The pie pan is stuffed full.
Cut the butter up into thin slices and scatter them all over the top of the filling.

Mmmmm.  Butter!
Roll out the top crust, cut some holes or slits to let out the steam, and fit it to the top.

There was enough dough left over to make decorations.
I baked the pie at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 1 hour and 15 minutes, until the crust was browned and the kitchen smelled lovely.

Oh. My.
In the last few minutes of the pie baking, I made the liquor to pour into the pie.

Liquor (after baking)

1/2 cup white wine
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
1 teaspoon rose water
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
2 egg yolks, beaten

I mixed everything but the yolks and tasted it.  It had a slightly rosy scent, with the vinegar and sugar balanced well to shift the white wine flavor to a bit more piquant.  Satisfied with the flavor, I mixed in the two egg yolks.

Once the pie was out of the oven, I carefully poured the liquor into the slits in the top crust.  I made sure to pour some in each slit.  I knew the pie had received as much as it could take when some of the liquor came out of the crust on the sides.  The hot temperature of the filling appeared to cook the egg yolk.

Some of the liquid missed the holes.
I let the pie cool for awhile before tasting it.

The Verdict

I am pretty new to redacting recipes myself.  So when I was preparing everything, I worried:  I worried that it would be too sweet.  And that the spices would be too strong.  And that the liquor would taste weak or strong.  That I added too much rose water (yes, I love the stuff but not everyone is accustomed to its floral taste).  That the chicken wouldn't be cooked all the way through.  That it would be too greasy from all the butter.

I should not have worried!

The pie was excellent.  Fruity and spicy without being sweet or dessert-like.  The chicken was cooked beautifully.  The filling was not dry and not greasy.  The rose water added a very subtle scent to the meat and fruit without being overwhelming.

The crust was one of the best I have ever made.  Not as rich as a dessert pie but still flavorful and flaky.

I had several guest tasters.  Some had it hot and some ate it cold.  The general consensus was that it was very good; several wanted the recipe and all found it intriguingly different from what we usually think of when we consider chicken pie.

Many noticed the layers and were interested at the effect they had.

I was very pleased I used boneless, skinless thighs.  I was able to press them down into the pan and fit nearly the entire three pounds.  The half cup plus a little of the liquor was just right, too.  The filling soaked up most of it right away.  The rest was absorbed after some time in the refrigerator.

I would call this a resounding success!  I would make it again, too, just as it is described here.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Scottish Border Tart

A number of years ago I visited the quaint town of Solvang, California and, in the shop "Tartan-n-Things", I purchased a book titled Scottish Fare.  It is charming because it is filled with recipes with their Scottish names (like "Roastit Bubbly-Jock" and "Cullen Skink") along with some history, culture, and interesting facts about Scotland.

Published in 1983 by Norma and Gordon Latimer
I was in a dessert mood and the description of the Border Tart looked very appealing.

Border Tart  (page 62)

For the pastry:
1 cup plain flour
2 1/2 ounces butter
1 ounce sugar
1 egg yolk

For the filling:
2 ounces butter
2 ounces sugar
2 ounces self-rising flour
2 eggs
2 tablespoons raspberry jam
1/2 ounce flaked almonds
1 ounce ground almonds

(Note that the measurements are mostly by weight so get out your kitchen scale!)

I love my ceramic salt cellar!
Make up the pastry and roll out on floured board to line an 8 inch flan ring.  Keep the scraps and roll out to make strips for the lattice design on top of the tart.

To make the filling beat the sugar and butter together until the mixture becomes creamy.  Add the sifted flour and ground almonds. ** (See notes below.)  Spread a layer of jam over the bottom of the pastry and then add the filling.  Arrange a lattice design of pastry strips on top.  Cover with the flaked almonds.  Bake in moderate oven (350 degrees F) for 30 minutes.  15 minutes before the tart is cooked remove from oven and sprinkle over a layer of confectioner's sugar.  Return to oven.  Serve with fresh cream.

My Notes

**The recipe does not specify when to add the eggs to the filling.  I didn't notice this until after the tart was in the oven!  I would add them with the flour and almonds.

For the pastry, I mixed the flour and sugar, cut in the cold butter until the mixture looked crumbly, then added in the egg yolk.  Then I let the dough sit covered in the refrigerator for about 15 minutes to give the flour a chance to absorb the moisture.  It rolled out well.

It took three heaping tablespoons of raspberry jam to make an acceptable layer on the pastry.

Instead of self-rising flour, I mixed 3/4 teaspoon baking powder with 1/4 teaspoon salt then added enough all-purpose flour to make the mix weigh 2 ounces.   Then I blended it all together well.

Does this filling look dry to you?
My pan was a 7 inches by 10 inches rectangle and so it took the entire batch of pastry to cover it. That meant no lattice design on it, so I added extra flaked (actually toasted and slivered) almonds and it looked great.

I wasn't sure how thick a layer of confectioner's sugar to make so I kept it thin.

I took the pan out of the oven after 25 minutes of cooking as the crust was getting very brown.  I think I should have reduced the temperature to 325 degrees F since my pan was dark.

Still looks pretty.
The Verdict

I let the tart cool completely before tasting it.  I was concerned that the filling would be awful since it didn't have the eggs and it did look pretty dry when I spread it on top of the jam.  However I held out hope it would still taste good because the filling without eggs is very similar to a shortbread.

And yes, it did taste good!  It was a bit dry so I should have pulled it out of the oven sooner or baked it at a lower temperature.  But the flavor was lovely -- crunchy and nutty and not too sweet.  The raspberry jam was an excellent tart counterpoint to the more subtle crust and filling.

A very closeup cut-away view
Overall it was thin and that was just right.  My guest taster thought it especially tasty with a cup of coffee and I liked it with cold milk.  We did not put any cream on it.

So despite the lack of eggs in the filling, it was a success!

I would like to try it again with the eggs in the filling, just to see how much more they contribute to it.  I'll save that for the next post.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Minutal Ex Praecoquis -- Ham and Apricot Ragout

I recently acquired The Roman Cookery of Apicius by John Edwards.  I already have some other cookbooks on the Roman Empire era but this one seemed more substantial and possibly more accessible for modern cooks.
ISBN 0-88179-008-7
What I like best about it is that it offers a translated version of ten of the books (chapters) of Apicius' work along with a modern adaptation for most of the recipes.  Some of the adaptations bothered me a little; for example Mr. Edwards suggests green beans, which to me is a New World bean.  I think the right substitution would be fava (broad) beans, which were used before Columbus brought back New World beans.

This book offers quite a few recipes that caught my interest, and this one fit in with what I already had in the house.

Original translation:

Minutal Ex Praecoquis

Into a cooking pot, put olive oil, stock, wine, dry chopped shallots, and a cooked leg of pork chopped into squares.  When these are cooked, grind pepper, cumin, dried mint, and aniseed [in a mortar].  [Over these seasonings] pour honey, stock, raisin wine, a little vinegar, and liquid from the ragout.  Blend.  [Cook.]  [Pour over the pork.] Add pitted apricots and heat until they are completely cooked.  [Add them to the ragout.] Break pasty into the dish to thicken it.  Sprinkle with pepper and serve.

Modern adaptation (given in two parts):

Ham and Apricot Ragout (page 93)

1 pound cooked ham, diced
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 cup pork stock
1/4 cup white wine
1/4 cup shallots, chopped

In a casserole, put ham, olive oil, stock, wine, and shallots.  Cook, covered, in the oven for 1 hour.

Tasty at this stage!
pinch each of whole pepper and cumin seed
1 sprig mint
pinch of aniseed
1 tablespoon honey
1/4 cup pork stock
1/4 cup sweet raisin wine or muscatel
1 teaspoon wine vinegar
1/4 cup casserole liquid
10 fresh apricots (or dried, presoaked in water)
ground pepper

To make the sauce, in a mortar, grind pepper with cumin, mint, and aniseed.  Combine with honey, stock, sweet wine, vinegar, and liquid from the casserole.  Bring the sauce to a boil and add to the ragout for the last 15 minutes.

When ragout is nearly done, take the apricots, divide in half, and pit them.  Add them to the casserole and cook together for 5 minutes. Finish by thickening with flour.  Serve with a sprinkling of pepper.

My Notes

I had no pork stock so I used instant chicken broth.

The recipe did not specify the oven temperature so I decided on 275 degrees F.  It seemed like the purpose was to slowly cook the shallots and to allow the flavors to mingle.

The ham, shallots, and liquids in the casserole smelled wonderful while it was cooking!

I used dried mint as per the original recipe and guessed about how much a sprig would be when dried.

It was amazing to find out that, in my large collection of spices, I had no aniseed.  Fortunately fennel is a good substitute so I used that. (Thank you, Cook's Thesaurus!)

Try as I might I could not find muscatel or raisin wine locally, so I used moscato, a sweet, slightly sparkling white wine and just hoped it would taste right.

Apricots are not currently in season so I used 20 dried halves and soaked them while the casserole was in the oven.

After the casserole had cooked for an hour, I made the sauce and added it to the casserole.  Then I set the timer for 15 more minutes.

The dried apricots made me think I would need to cook them longer than the five minutes given for fresh ones, so I put them into the casserole in the last 5 minutes of sauce and checked them when the timer buzzed.  They did not appear very tender and, following Apicius' advice, put them in for another 30 minutes to make sure "they are completely cooked."

At the beginning of the apricot's 30 minutes, I mixed about 2 tablespoons of flour with a little of the casserole liquid until it made a smooth, thick batter.  Then I added it to the casserole to thicken the dish.

The Verdict


Very tasty -- the spices and mint blended together to make a savory sauce, the shallots were nearly melted into the sauce, the ham chunks were tender and flavorful.  The apricots were, surprisingly, a background accent.  I thought they would stand out more but they did a great job of accenting the ham and broth.

If (when!) I make it again, I would cut the apricots up into quarters just to increase the odds of getting a piece with each spoonful of ham.

My only mistake was using the instant chicken broth as it made the dish too salty for me.  My guest taster loved it as it was.  But I thoroughly enjoyed it both at dinner with a green salad, buttered sourdough bread, and red wine, and for lunch the next day with crackers.

I would make this again and plan better on the broth.  I recommend it with enthusiasm!

Yum.  Give it a try.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Aebelskivers -- Swedish Pancakes and a Kitchen Gadget!

A long time ago I had a friend named Joe K.  One neat thing about Joe was how much he admired his mother and her talents.  When he found out I liked to cook, he got me some of her favorite recipes, among which was aebelskivers, AKA Swedish pancakes.

The recipe is written in her hand and I cherish it and the others with it.  I have made them and loved them; the recipe cards are yellowed with age and stained with food splatters.

Page 1.  I think her name was Betty.
My house was filled with family and I wanted to make a fun breakfast for them all.  Then I realized my blog goal to use some interesting kitchen gadgets would be perfect for this:  to make aebelskivers, you need an aebelskiver pan.

Mine is cast iron.  I don't know how old it is; I probably got it from one of my grandparents and I recall that aebelskivers were a bit of a fad in the 1960s and 1970s, so that could be when they purchased it.

Aebelskivers are tasty like American pancakes but they are lighter and ball-shaped.  The pan allows that shape to happen.  They are good served with a dusting of powdered sugar, or syrup, or jam, and a little bit of soft butter.  A great start to a fun breakfast.

(makes 56 cakes)

6 eggs, separated
1 3/4 cup buttermilk
2 1/2 cup sifted flour
1 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 tablespoon vanilla
1 teaspoon baking powder

Separate eggs.  Add cream of tartar to whites and best until stiff but not dry-looking.  

Sift flour (pre-measured), sugar, salt, and baking powder together.  

Beat egg yolks, buttermilk, and vanilla together.

Add liquid ingredients to flour mixture and beat until smooth.  Fold in egg whites carefully.

Heat aebelskiver pan over burner until drop of water dances on bottom of cup.  Brush cups with salad oil.  Spoon 1/2 full with batter.

Turn once, using fork and paring knife (some people use knitting needles).

When brown on both sides, remove to hold in oven at approximately 250 degrees F.  

Frequently refold batter, as whites tend to rise to top.

Batter's up!
My Notes

The directions are straight-forward and easy to follow.  That being said, it has been a long time since I made aebelskivers so I made some mistakes when cooking them:

  • I put too much oil in the cups.  Just brush them lightly.  You don't want oil puddles.
Do not do this at home.
  • I beat the egg whites too much -- they got dry-looking and that made keeping the aebelskivers in their ball shape difficult when turning them.  They kept deflating!  
Stop before this stage
or they will be too flat!
  • I had some issues getting the pan to heat evenly, which I don't recall ever happening before.  I'm not sure why.  What I did was put the aebelskiver pan over an inverted cast iron skillet so that the skillet evened out the heat.
This burned off all the seasoning on the skillet
The Verdict

Success!  Oh yes, they were tasty!  We all enjoyed them despite my blunders and I would do them again any time I had the opportunity to feed a crowd.

Just some of the batch
We did discuss what could be done if you wanted the aebelskivers but didn't have the special pan. We tried baking them in mini-muffin pans at 350 degrees F but the texture was not the same.  They were certainly edible and tasty but they weren't pancake-like.  I think they would make good quick breads, especially with a spoonful of jam in the middle.

We also tried cooking them like regular pancakes, and had good results.  The flavor and the texture were right; the only thing missing was the cute and interesting ball shape.  So this is how I would recommend cooking them if you want to give them a try but you don't have or want to buy the pan.

By the way, the other recipes in the set are Apple Pfankuchen, Pfeffernüsse, and Lebkuchen.  All quite yummy!