Archive for January, 2010

The Last Gasp of Christmas

Wednesday, January 6th, 2010
Marty at Work (Courtesy of Deborah Yaffee)

Marty at Work (Courtesy of Deborah Yaffee)

The New Year has arrived, and like everyone else I know I’m making an effort to eat a little more lightly.
Once the cream in the refrigerator is used up it will not be replaced. Salads are making a big comeback, dessert is limited to plain fruit, and my comfort food of choice is now something healthy like pea soup rather than a heavier dish like a pot pie.
Today, however, all dieting is suspended—for today is Epiphany.
Twelfth Night, the time at which the wise men (or kings or whoever the heck they were) finally found the Baby Jesus, marks the end of the Christmas season.
Americans generally celebrate this occasion rather sadly by taking down their Christmas trees and putting away the decorations that have made the season extra festive.
In contrast, the French celebrate the arrival of the wise men with A TON OF BUTTER. (The French know how to welcome people as American G.I.s learned in 1944.)
The traditional French Epiphany food is the Galette des Rois (kings’ cake), which is basically puff pastry baked around rich almond cream.
Like a New Orleans King Cake the Galette contains a tiny prize (a crown or a bean or an almond) baked within its folds. Whoever finds the prize in his or her slice of cake is crowned king or queen for the day.
Marty Yaffee, a talented local chef who recently opened the Little Cooking School in Shelburne Falls, Massachusetts, conducted a Galette des Rois workshop on Sunday at a nearby church.
Marty kindly supplied me with the recipe for his creation, which appears below.
I’m going to try to make a version of it tomorrow so you’ll see photos of MY galette on Friday. (I’m going to try the “blitz” version of the puff pastry to keep things simple.)
I have a feeling—no, a certainty–that my galette won’t be nearly as lovely as Marty’s. But it will taste fantastic, I know. Did I mention that the recipe calls for a ton of butter?
Happy Twelfth Night, everyone. I wish you moments of epiphany all year long…..
Chef Marty’s Galette des Rois (Three Kings’ Cake)
Marty makes standard amounts of Puff Pastry and Frangipane filling so the recipes for those actually make more than you will need for one galette. Your choices are to make more than one galette (you may actually make a rectangular cake called a jalousie if you are so inclined), to freeze some pastry and frangipane for a future occasion, or to cut down on his recipe.
for the Puff Pastry (enough for at least 2 to 3 galettes):
3-1/2 cups flour plus 1 cup for dusting during dough “turning”

7/8 cup cold water

1-3/4 teaspoons salt

1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons vinegar (either rice vinegar or white wine vinegar)

4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted

3-1/2 sticks unsalted butter, slightly softened

Put the flour in a mixing bowl and make a well in the center.
Add the water, salt, vinegar, and melted butter into the well in the center.
Turning the bowl slowly pull small amounts of the flour into the liquids and then mix all ingredients into a dough. Knead with the heel of your hand until ingredients become almost homogenous, but don’t overknead. (Knead as little as possible to make an almost smooth dough).
Form the dough into a ball and cut an “X” deep into the dough.
Using a rolling pin, roll the “arms of the “X” until you have a starfish shape.
Cover and refrigerate for at least a half hour.
Using two pieces of plastic wrap, line the sticks of slightly softened butter up on the plastic wrap, cover with the other plastic wrap, and beat the butter gently with your rolling pin to shape the butter into a square.
Before making your dough “turns” make sure the butter is about the same consistency as the dough (if the butter is too warm it will not roll out with the dough; nor will it roll well if it is right out of the refrigerator).
Put the butter square in the center of the “starfish,” fold the arms of the starfish over the butter to completely enclose it. Now roll the dough out on a lightly floured surface until it is a rectangle about 15 by 26 inches.
Imagine the rectangle divided into thirds.
Fold one end of the dough over, then fold that to meet the other end to achieve 3 layers. This is the first “turn.”
Use a brush to remove extra flour that is on the dough as you are folding.
Turn the dough 90 degrees and roll it out again to the same 15-by-26-inch size.
Fold in the ends again. That was the second turn.
Now wrap the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate it for 30 minutes to relax the gluten in the dough (the substance that makes dough get stiffer as you work with it).
Keeping your work surface slightly floured and removing excess flour as you fold, roll out the dough to the same size again and do the folds.
Turn and repeat.
Now refrigerate the dough again if you wish. You may do 2 more dough “turns” to make it even flakier, though 4 turns is the minimum recommended.
You may refrigerate the dough if you are going to use it in an hour or 2, or freeze all of it or pieces of it for future use. It will keep well in the freezer for up to a month. 
Thaw in the refrigerator overnight before using frozen dough.
for “Blitz” Puff Pastry (a little quicker than the standard version), which again makes enough for at least 2 to 3 galettes:
Note from Marty: If you feel like you don’t have quite enough time for making the classic puff pastry and you don’t mind your dough puffing up about 30 percent less than regular puff dough, you may save some time and effort with the “Blitz” puff pastry.
3-1/2 cups flour

4-1/2 sticks slightly softened unsalted butter

1 teaspoon salt

1 cup cold water (maybe a drop or two more)

Put the flour in a mixing bowl and make a well in the center.
Cut the butter into 1/2-inch cubes and put them in the well.
Sprinkle the salt over the butter.
Work the butter cubes into the flour until the mixture starts to look grainy but there are still some small flakes of butter visible. Add the water, a little at a time, until the dough just comes together.
Roll out this dough into a rectangle about 8 by 16 inches.
Fold in thirds.
Roll out to the same size again and fold in thirds.
Refrigerate for 30 minutes.
Make 2 more turns and the dough will be ready to use. Again, you may freeze a least half before making this recipe.
for the Frangipane Filling (make enough for at least 2 to 3 galettes):
1 pound 2 ounces almond paste (either store-bought or combine 3-1/3 cups whole almonds with 2 cups of confectioner’s sugar and process in a food processor until the almonds and sugar make a thick paste)

2 sticks plus 2 tablespoons butter, at room temperature

1/2 cup flour

5 large eggs

1/2 teaspoon almond extract (optional, but it may be needed if you have made your own almond paste)

Beat the almond paste in a mixer with a paddle attachment.
While beating, add the butter a little at a time and beat until smooth.
Beat the flour in.
Add the eggs one at a time while beating; then add the extract if you are using it.
Scrape down the sides of the bowl and beat once more to make sure the mixture is homogenous.
Get ready to make your cake!
for the Three Kings’ Cake
Puff Pastry dough as needed

1 egg, beaten, for egg wash

Frangipane filling as needed

1 almond (for the traditional prize)

confectioner’s sugar and a sieve for sprinkling it

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
Roll out a piece of puff pastry until it is 1/16 inch thin.
Make two circles, one bigger than the other. (The smaller should be 8 to 9 inches in diameter.)
On the smaller circle, put a mound of frangipane and smooth it until it is about 1/2 inch thick, leaving an outer circle of dough without frangipane about 3/4 inch wide. Place your almond somewhere in the middle.
Dab egg wash on the outer circle.
Place the larger circle of dough over the pastry lining up the edges with the smaller one.
Egg wash the top of the dough.
Use a fork to press the 2 layers of dough together.
Cut pieces of dough away from the edge for “sunrays.”
Gently score the top surface of the pastry with “sunray” design.

Bake at 425 for 10 minutes then turn the oven down to 375 and bake until the frangipane filling gives resistance to the touch (springs back).
Remove the pastry from the oven and sprinkle with a dusting of confectioner’s sugar.
Turn the oven to 475 and bake until the sugar forms a slightly browned and glossy glaze.
I asked Marty how many people his galette would serve, and he said, “It depends on how much they want to eat!” Dainty pieces would serve up to 10; small servings, about 6.
Marty's Galette (Courtesy of Deborah Yaffee)

Marty's Galette (Courtesy of Deborah Yaffee)


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Thinking Ahead in 2010

Monday, January 4th, 2010


New Year’s Resolutions can be tricky things. If we take them too seriously—try to turn our lives around completely—they can be dangerously difficult to maintain.
Instead of making impossible resolutions this January, therefore, I’m using the turn of the year for reflection and planning. Naturally, In Our Grandmothers’ Kitchens is coming in for its share of both activities.
This weekend I looked over many of my posts from the past year or so in an effort to figure out where the blog goes from here. I have selected several types of post that have turned out to be very popular with readers, with me, or with both.
Here they are, in alphabetical order:
Characters I Have Known such as Florette Zuelke and Sylvia Hubbell;
Comfort Food like Faith’s Tunafish & Noodles or Irish Stew;
Contributions from Friends & Readers, such as Erin’s Pizza or Mike’s Louisiana Red Beans & Rice;
Historical Figures, Events, and Places, including Susan B. Anthony and George Washington’s Gristmill;
Holidays, from Mardi Gras to Oatmeal Month (I know oatmeal month isn’t technically a holiday, but we did celebrate it last year!);
Local and Seasonal Foods, from Rhubarb to Squash;
Songs and Music, including such popular standards as “September Song” and “Moon River”;
TV and Film Figures and Foods, featuring people like Vivian Vance and Harriet Nelson.
In the next year I hope to touch on each of these categories at least once a month (which probably means I’ll get to them once every other month; I AM a procrastinator!).
I’ll also be continuing my monthly Twelve Cookies of Christmas series.
And naturally I’ll frequently have to resort to posting a recipe for What We Just Ate.
Some people might argue that each of my categories could spark its own blog. It’s always been both a weakness and a strength of mine that I have many, many passions.
This scattered interest makes it hard for me to focus at times. I think it makes me a more interesting person, cook, and writer, however.
As the year goes by I hope regular readers—and even irregular readers—will help me build up the different categories. Please let me know which of them you favor.
And of course please tell me what I have left out that you’d like to read about.
Two of the categories—Contributions from Readers & Friends and The Twelve Cookies of Christmas—will depend on you in large part for contributions. The name of this blog is In OUR Grandmothers’ Kitchens, after all. Please consider submitting a recipe (with background information) to me in the next few months.
I hope together we’ll have a delicious new year!
Paula Rice, the Supreme Leader of the Meat Counter at Avery's, slices dried beef.
Paula Rice, the Senior Slicer at the Meat Counter at Avery’s, slices dried beef.

Frizzled Beef

Since I’ve spent so much time mulling over the past year recently today’s recipe naturally falls into the What We Just Ate category (although it’s also highly eligible for Comfort Food!).
My mother and I invited friends to supper Saturday night. What with snow falling outside and lots of work to do, we didn’t have much opportunity to shop or cook that day.
So we ended up with Frizzled Beef (a.k.a. chipped beef, a.k.a. S.O.S. or Same Old … um … Stuff).
Our local general store, Avery’s, stocks lovely dried beef at this time of year. The nice folks behind the meat counter will slice as much or as little as one likes.
The beef saves for weeks so it’s a great fallback food on snowy days. And it cooks up in minutes.
The recipe I used for the beef came from Gam, our neighborhood matriarch, as did Saturday’s oyster recipe. (I used to stay at her house a lot at this time of year so I guess I’m thinking of her!)
If you want to vary it, you may sauté a little onion and/or celery in butter in your frying pan before you add more butter and the dried beef.
You may also throw cooked peas and/or a pinch of thyme into the final product.
Frizzled beef may be eaten over biscuits, puff pastry, cornbread, or a baked potato. My mother and I had just baked some fresh oatmeal bread the other evening so we served it on toast. A salad and brownies completed our supper.
The guests didn’t complain about the simplicity of the meal. It was warm and tasty. And it was enhanced by candlelight and conversation. (Don’t forget those important ingredients when you serve it yourself.)
1/2 pound dried beef
a pat of butter the size of an egg
flour as needed
1 egg yolk beaten into 1 cup milk (plus a little more if needed) and 3/4 teaspoon Dijon mustard
freshly ground pepper to taste
If you are averse to a lot of salt, rinse the beef carefully and pat it dry. Dried beef is heavily cured (that’s why it lasts so long) so it can be very salty.
Melt the butter in a medium frying pan. When it is hot, add the beef and toss it around to coat it in the butter.
Dust the warm beef with flour and toss it around for a minute or two. Pour in the egg mixture. Bring the mixture just to the boil, adding a bit more milk if it looks very thick; then dish it up.
Serves 4.

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Oysters of Elegance

Saturday, January 2nd, 2010

oysters of el web

I was thrilled to find oysters a couple of days ago in the meat case at A.L. Avery & Son, my local general store.
Avery’s only stocks oysters between late November and early January, and I make a point of buying these expensive treats at least once during the holiday season.
My mother, our neighbor Alice Parker, and I threw them together into a simple New Year’s Eve supper at our home before going off to enjoy music and the company of good friends elsewhere.
I am not known for my modesty so I don’t hesitate to mention that Alice and I brought the house down with our rendition of “Santa Baby” and other songs at the Charlemont Inn that evening!
But back to oysters: I’m always amazed to recall that oysters remained plentiful and cheap as late as the early 20th century.
When my grandmother was a freshman at Mount Holyoke College, she used to walk into the center of town and bring back inexpensive oysters for secret feasts in her dorm. (Eating in one’s room was emphatically NOT allowed at the college in 1908!)
In her old age she chuckled as she recalled encountering a faculty member on the main street of town as she returned from an oyster-fetching errand.
The professor engaged her in conversation for several minutes. Both the faculty member and young Clara studiously ignored the oyster liquor dripping from the paper bag my grandmother was clutching.
Oyster suppers were common occurrences in former days in my hometown of Hawley, Massachusetts, where voters often enjoyed them after Annual Town Meeting in the 19th and early 20th centuries.
In a scrapbook from the Civil War era preserved by my late neighbor Ethel White’s family, a newspaper clipping describes an oyster-filled surprise party held for J.G. Longley, one of the town’s “old bachelor citizens.” According to the clipping Mr. Longley returned home from shopping to find
to his surprise and consternation that forty or fifty of his neighbors, whom he had never suspected of any ill before had taken possession of his house and were practically converting the old mansion into a saloon for cooking oysters, melting sugar, &c. At first he was somewhat disconcerted, being hardly able to decide whether he was himself or somebody else. He very soon recovered his sense, however, and satisfying himself that their motives were not of an incendiary nature, went in and rendered very efficient aid in disposing of the oysters and other delicacies with which the tables were spread, and joined quite freely in the “laugh and song that floated along” as the wheel of time went round.
By the mid-20th century overfishing rendered an oyster feast for 40 to 50 people unaffordable for most Americans. It also did damage to the environment as both oysters and their reefs fulfill important ecological functions.
I support the efforts of state and national groups to create new habitats for oysters—and I treasure the few oysters I eat each year!
I prepared this year’s ration with a simple recipe supplied by Alice. It came from her mother Mary Parker, known to neighborhood children as Gam. Gam called the dish “Oysters of Elegance.”
The recipe definitely dates from the early-to-mid-20th century, using as it does a now underappreciated condiment, chili sauce.
The combination of ingredients sounded a bit odd, but it the flavors melded wonderfully, producing a stew-like concoction that was divine sopped up with the homemade bread Alice brought to the supper.
I prepared it in a 1-1/2-quart casserole dish, but I think another time I’ll try using individual serving crocks. Alice remembers that Gam served the dish this way.
I may also try cutting back on the chili sauce (maybe reducing the quantity to 1 cup) and adding a little more oyster liquor, which I love. Alice says that the measurements she has on paper weren’t exact because her mother didn’t actually measure!
It was pretty darn tasty as transcribed below, however.
Here's what the oysters looked like before we sprinkled cheese on top.

Here's what the oysters looked like before we sprinkled cheese on top.

Gam’s Oysters of Elegance
12 ounces chili sauce
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 pint oysters
1/4 cup oyster liquor
2 tablespoons butter
grated cheddar cheese as needed (we used about 2/3 cup)
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
In the bottom of a small casserole dish (or four crocks) combine the chili sauce and Worcestershire sauce. Sprinkle the chopped onion pieces on top.
Arrange the oysters on top of this mixture, and toss on the liquor as well.
Dot the top of the oysters with the butter, and sprinkle grated cheese on top so that the oysters are covered (but not blanketed!).
Bake the oysters for about 25 minutes, until the cheese browns a bit around the edges. (The crocks should take less time–perhaps 15 minutes or so.)
Eat the casserole with spoons. Make sure you have plenty of homemade bread to soak up the yummy sauce.
Serves 4.
Coming next to In Our Grandmothers’ Kitchens: NEW YEAR’S RESOLUTIONS for this blog!

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