Monday, December 31, 2012

Grubbus Cooks: Apple Tart

So, by part three of my New Year's Eve posting marathon, you may be wondering - what's up with the year-end spree after just about disappearing this fall? And all this home cooking? Grubbus? Hello?

Grubbus has been a little light lately because, well, I'm writing a book. I'm still getting used to how that sounds. A few months back, I signed a publishing contract with an amazing little publisher out of Charlotte, The History Press, to write a book we're calling Austin Food: The Story of a Local Eating Revolution. Very excited about this. We're chugging along getting that all researched and written, and, as a result, Grubbus hasn't had quite the attention it had before. That's fixing to change in 2013, but for now, that's what's been keeping the posts infrequent.

So infrequent, that, round about this afternoon, I figured out I was a couple of posts short of where Grubbus needed to be, year-end-wise. And so, this. Three of my favorite recipes of 2012. Things that I've made for friends, food that's marked special occasions all year.

This recipe - the last one for tonight - is for a wickedly simple, absolutely beautiful apple tart.

Apple Tart

The Filling:
2 lbs apples (my favorite: half granny smith and half braeburns)
1 tablespoon lemon juice
3 tablespoons butter, melted plus 1 tablespoon butter cut into 1/2 inch chunks
3-4 tablespoons sugar (I like coarse sugar best here)

The Tart Dough
1 cup flour
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 1/2 inch chunks

1/4 cup cold water

The Dough Part 1:
Work the butter into the flour with a pastry cutter or two knives. It just takes a few minutes - and you don't need to worry about consistency - some decent-sized pieces of butter will still be in place. You can also run this about 5 seconds in a food processor. Pour in the water, just a little at a time, and work the dough until it comes together in a ball. Get it good and stuck together, flatten it a little, wrap it in plastic wrap and let it rest in the refrigerator for at least an hour.

The Filling:
Peel and core the apples, and cut into thin slices - about 1/8 inch. If you happen to have a Mandoline - game on - it's perfect for this. Sprinkle the slices with the lemon juice and set aside while you roll out the dough.

The Dough Part 2:
Preheat the oven to 400.

Unwrap the dough and set out on a floured board. If it's really cold you may need to let it sit a bit. Roll it out from the center to the edges, adding flour as needed to keep it from sticking, until it's about 1/8 inch thick. This is a free form tart, and, just like the empanadas, I like to use a plate as a template to cut it into a circle - in this case I use a 10 1/2 inch dinner plate.

Put the rolled out crust on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Lay the apple slices on the tart dough in concentric overlapping rings, starting about an inch from the outside edge and working your way in. You should be able to fit 2 overlapping layers with a little space left in the middle. Overlapping is the key here: I try to cover about a third of the apple slice next in line for each slice within the ring, and layer the next ring about a third over the last one, with the slices facing the opposite direction. This all sounds harder than it is - just approximate the illustration, and you're golden.

To close up the crust, just pinch a little of the dough together every inch or so along the perimeter. This will lift up the dough to make a short wall around the apples. Brush the pinched-together outer edge with the butter. It's a lot of butter. Keep brushing. Drop the extra butter chunks over the apples, and start sprinkling sugar, with extra attention to heavy sprinkling on the crust.

Bake for about 40 minutes - you're looking for golden brown on the crust.

That's it. Wickedly simple. Absolutely beautiful.

Adapted from Alice Waters, The Art of Simple Food.

Grubbus Cooks: Chicken Empanadas

I should be clear about this right up front. These are really good empanadas, better than just about any you could score in town. Just about. Because the empanadas at Buenos Aires Cafe, full of delicious and some kind of black magic, beat the pants off any other entrant in the entire grand empanda universe.

Chicken Empanadas
12 empanadas - about 4 servings.

The Filling
1 split bone-in chicken breast (2 breasts, about 1.5 pounds)
1 tablespoon neutral oil (I like grapeseed)
1 medium-size onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1-2 teaspoons ground ancho chile (or good chili powder - I like Ancho Mama)
4-5 chipotles in adobo (I like San Marcos better than Goya - a 7oz can works well)
4 cups chicken broth
1 tomato, peeled and chopped
1 lime, juiced
1/3 lb. Cotija Cheese, grated (sharp cheddar works OK as well)

The Dough
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup masa (or masa harina - in Austin, the easiest to find is Maseca, in the 5lb bag)
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup butter, chopped into 1/2 inch cubes (lard works well here too)
1 egg yolk
3/4 cup water
1/2 cup milk

The Dough, Part 1
Whisk together the flour, masa, baking powder, and salt. Use a pastry cutter or two knives to cut in the butter, or just toss it all in the food processesor with the regular blade for about 5 seconds. Just like pie dough, the texture should be gritty, along the lines of super-coarse corn meal.

Whisk together the egg yolk and the water and add to the dough a little at a time, gently working the dough until it comes together into a ball - this may or may not take all of the water/egg mixture. This is a dry dough, and it'll be a little crumbly until you get it good and chilled.

Cut the dough ball into 12 sections, wrap each in plastic wrap, and throw them all into the fridge for at least 20 minutes. 20 minutes works, but best results for me were when it chilled for about an hour. While the dough is chilling...

The Filling, Part 1
Preheat the oven to 450

Season the chicken generously with salt and pepper. Heat a large pot (at least 6 quarts) over medium high heat. Add the oil and sear the chicken breast for a minute or so on each side. It should stick a little. This is good. We'll use all those bits that stick to the pot later. Remove the chicken to a plate to rest.

Add the onion to the pot and saute for about 5 minutes, until softened, then add the garlic and saute for a minute or so more. Add the broth and deglaze the pan with a wooden spoon.

Now, everything else goes in. Cumin, ancho, chiplotle, tomatoes. Crank up the heat. When it comes to a boil, add the chicken. At this point, you are dealing with some seriously spicy broth, at least by my standards. No worries. The chicken that comes out has only the mildest of kicks. Reduce the heat to low, maintaining a simmer, and cover. Let the chicken simmer for another 25 minutes. While the filling is simmering...

The Dough, Part 2
Take each little dough ball in turn and roll it out to about 9 x 9 inches on a floured board. If it's too hard to work the dough, warm it up just a bit in your hands. If it's too sticky, more flour. I use an 8 1/2 inch salad plate as a template, and cut around the edge to get the dough to an even circle. Hang on to the extra dough until you're through assembly.

The Filling, Part 2
Remove the chicken breasts from the broth, and into a good-sized bowl. Remove and discard the skin. Add about a cup of the broth. Using two forks, shred the chicken down to the bone. Toss the bone. Add the lime juice. If it still seems a bit dry, add more broth.

Final stretch here. Take a dough-circle, add a good-size dollop of the filling, top with the cotija, brush the edges of the dough-circle with water and fold it over. Using your fingers first, fold the edge of the dough over, rolling the bottom layer over the top layer. Use a fork to crimp the edges together securely. If things start to fall apart a little at this stage, just patch it up with the extra dough left over from rolling it out.

Place the empanadas on a parchment-lined baking sheet (I use a little high-heat spray to make sure they come up easy, but that may just be paranoia - I think they'd be fine without it). Brush each empanada with milk, and bake for about 20 minutes, or until they're golden brown.

Serve with the lime wedges and salsa (don't laugh -  but I love the La Frontera Chipotle Salsa with this).

That's it. You can stuff these with anything, though I don't have a reliable source for black magic. You need to hit Buenos Aires Cafe for that.

Grubbus Cooks: Lemon Ricotta Pancakes

I love Saturday mornings. No one pays much attention to the clock, the kids stay in their pajamas all morning, and, sometimes, we get it together to get ingredients for something interesting for breakfast. If the smells coming from the kitchen are good enough, and we get a first round of coffee going early, no one complains much about eating a bit later than usual. Bliss.

This week – Lemon Ricotta Pancakes with Macerated Berries. I’ve tackled this a few times, with a few different variations, but consensus was that this particular combination worked the best.

Lemon Ricotta Pancakes
6-8 servings

· 2 cups ricotta (a 16oz container works well)
· 2 tablespoons plus 2 tablespoons sugar, divided
· 1 lemon zested and juiced
· 2 cups all-purpose flour
· 2 tablespoons baking powder
· 1/2 teaspoon salt
· 4 large eggs, separated
· 2 tablespoons butter (melted and cooled) plus about 2 tablespoons for cooking
· 1 1/2 cups whole milk

For macerated berries (optional)
· 2 cups raspberries
· 1/4 cup sugar
· 2 tablespoons lemon juice (about 1 lemon)

Bowl 1: Dry
Whisk or sift together flour, baking powder, and salt.

Bowl 2: Frothy
Beat the egg whites and 2 tbs of the sugar until soft peaks form.

Bowl 3: Wet
Whisk egg yolks, milk, 2 tbs of the sugar, 1 tbs lemon juice and the zest together. Gradually add the melted butter while continuing to whisk to work it in completely.

Bowl 4: Berries (Optional)
Combine berries, sugar, and lemon juice. Stir every few minutes as you work through the rest of the recipe.

Pour Bowl 3: Wet into Bowl 1: Dry and stir gently until the flour mixture is combined Lumps are not a problem. There’s more stirring coming up.

Add a dollop from Bowl 2: Frothy and all of the ricotta and give it a few more gentle stirs to combine.

Add the remaining contents of Bowl 2: Frothy and fold it in to the batter. The egg whites should just barely disappear into the batter, which should be getting good and silky.

At this point, you may be noticing that there are TWO tablespoons of baking powder and 4 egg whites in this stuff. And, yes, as a result, these are major league fluffy. Fluffy clouds of pancake. The trick is cooking them slow.
Preheat the largest decent skillet or griddle you have over medium-low heat. Add a pat of butter and drop the batter in – about 1/3 c. per pancake. Cooking time will vary, but you’re shooting for a minute and half on the first side, about a minute on the other. Adjust heat to accommodate. Stash finished pancakes in a warm oven as you work through batches.

I like these with Bowl 4: Berries and a little powdered sugar. If you don't do the berries, these are also mighty tasty with maple syrup.


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