Friday, January 22, 2016

Apple Praline Pie | A Baker Is Born

I'm no spring chicken . . . . it's taken me the best part of my cooking life to finally make a great pie, repeatedly.

This is despite the fact that my mother had a reputation as one great pie baker.  This is despite the fact that I (I think I) paid attention at her elbow. And despite the fact that I have tried many recipes, many times, and end up wanting to throw the rolling pin through the kitchen window.

It was last fall when I felt I'd mastered the pie crust I always wanted to make, thanks to this recipe. This is the vodka recipe, developed by J. Kenji Lopez-Alt, managing culinary director at Serious Eats. He developed the technique while working at America's Test Kitchen, though, so Chris Kimball gets all the credit :(

Still it's a great recipe ~ and it's even better when it envelops this pie.

My sister-in-law Liz gave me this recipe and she got it from a friend's mother.  No credit on the recipe card, but the closest thing I found to it on the Internet is this.

What I found different about this recipe -- and utterly delectable -- is the fact the it's a double-crusted pie, with the the praline topping on top of the second crust. Talk about gilding the lily!

So, if you have no fear of making your own pie crust, give this apple pie a try.  You can also use Pillsbury's crusts.  The friend's mother who shared this recipe quietly confessed that she used refrigerated crusts.  "Didn't used to," she says, "but they've gotten so much better and they're just as good."  Good in a pinch, but not when I can ~ now, anyhow ~ pack a couple disks of this dough in the freezer!

And if you want to learn more about picking just the right kind of apples, read my piece on the Kitchen Journals, a beautiful and informative website.

Praline Apple Pie
For the pie:
Pastry for two crust pie -- your favorite or mine
6 cups thinly sliced, peeled apples (I used Northern Spy)
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup flour
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 reaspoon salt
2 tablespoons butter

Prepare your pie crust. Heat the oven to 350 degrees F. In a large bowl gently toss the apples with the flour, sugar, cinnamon and salt.  Spoon into pastry lined pan. Dot with small pieces of the butter. Top with second crust, and cut several slits for venting. Bake for 50 to 55 minutes or more, until the apples are tender and crust is golden.  Cover the edges of the crust if it starts to brown too much.  (My SIL advised me that her pie took at least an hour, maybe more. She warned me to "wait til it's bubbling through the slits some." Good advice.)

For the topping:
1/4 cup butter
1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar
2 tablespoons half and half
1/2 cup chopped pecans*

In a small saucepan, melt the butter. Sir in the brown sugar and half and half. Slowly bring to a boil. Remove from the heat and stir in pecans. Spread over the top of the baked pie. Place pie on a baking sheet to catch any spills. Return the pie to the oven and bake 5 minutes more or until topping bubbles. Cool at least an hour before serving.

* Although I used pecans the first couple times I made this pie, you'll see walnuts in these pictures. Just a little cheating!

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Is It Vichyssoise or Potato Leek Soup?

Mr. Rosemary strolled through the kitchen, spied the leeks on the counter and asked, "Whatcha makin'?"

"Potato and leek soup for lunch," I said.

"You mean Vichyssoise?"

The man surprises me all the time. How could someone who confuses broccoli and cauliflower ("What's the white one?") know that potatoes + leeks = Vichyssoise?

Technically, I don't like Vichyssoise because -- technically --Vichyssoise is served cold, and, although I like to drink a cold smoothie, I want to eat my warm soup with a spoon.

I should like Vichyssoise because, according to Mr. Rosemary, if it has any semblance of something "foreign," I'm gonna love it. But Vichyssoise isn't really French; Potage Parmentier is.  Read on.

Vichyssoise was created by a French chef, Louis Diat, while he was working at the Ritz Carlton in New York in the early 20th century.

Apparently, in the days before air conditioning, the Ritz had a Japanese roof garden and Diat was searching for a something that would cool his customers in the blistering summer heat. He remembered the peasant dish, a potato soup, his mother had made when he was a boy. He and his familywould cool the soup by adding milk to it.  So he prepared this same cold soup and called it "creme vichyssoise" after a famous spa near his boyhood home. A welcome treat by his summer patrons, by popular demand he placed it on the menu full-time in 1923.

Although you won't find Vichyssoisse on a French menu, Potage Parmentier, Vichysoisse's cousin, is definitely French, and was popularized in America thanks to Julia Child and Mastering the Art of French Cooking.

This soup is deceptively hearty. And it's definitely adaptable: You can use your immersion blender and make it smooth, even more so, if you strain it. Or you can add cooked bacon or ham to it to satisfy any carnivore predilections.

But I like it a little chunky with the bits of lumps in it, mashing the potatoes a bit.

There's only one problem with this soup and that's working with the leeks. First of all, they're inconvenient. They take up a lot of space and they're pretty dirty. No quick rinse will do -- they need a thorough washing to make sure you get all the bits of sandy dirt from between the layers.

But that bit of effort is worth it. Mais oui?

Potato Leek Soup
Adapted from several sources: 
Once Upon A Chef, The Splendid Table,  Serious Eats
Makes about 6 servings

3 tablespoons unsalted butter
4 leeks, white and light green parts only, roughly chopped
3 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
2 pounds potatoes, peeled and roughly chopped into 1/2-inch pieces
7 cups chicken broth
1 teaspoon salt
1 thyme sprigs
3 whole bay leaves
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 cup half and half

Melt the butter over medium heat in a large soup pot. Add the leeks and garlic and cook, stirring regularly, until soft and wilted, about 10 minutes. Adjust the heat as necessary so as not to brown.
Add the potatoes, stock, bay leaves, thyme, salt and pepper to pot and bring to a boil. Cover and turn the heat down to low. Simmer for 15 minutes, or until the potatoes are very soft.
Fish out the thyme sprig and bay leaves, then purée the soup with a hand-held immersion blender until smooth. Or, you can just slightly mash, as I did, with the back of a wooden spoon or a hand-held masher) Add the half and half and bring to a simmer. Taste and add sal t and pepper to your liking. Garnish with some chopped herbs, just to make it pretty.