Monday, November 9, 2009

Apple Clafouti - a Recipe from a French Girl

Apples are bliss for me. I buy a box or two of rose-and-gold farm apples in the fall, mixing up the varieties as much as I can. Then I have lots for thick apple pies, almond hazelnut crisps, rich homemade applesauce and this clafouti. I can make an apple something at the drop of a hat.

This clafouti recipe is an old French country dessert with a batter that holds together whatever fruits are ripe in the back yard. It’s one of those recipes that everyone asks for. When I bring it to family parties, sweet old Uncle Phil has as many helpings as he can nab. When I ask him if he’s had a bite his eyes just twinkle and he shrugs his shoulders and then looks over at empty pie plate. I’ve worked it over from a recipe I found in Savuer by Sally Schmitt, who owned The French Laundry until 1994. I leave out the cinnamon, much of the butter, and the cream becomes milk, but I don’t skimp on the brandy.

It is an aromatic and plump, heady dessert, so let it glow in your favorite deep dish pie plate. I use a10-inch Emile Henry, but if I had an old French oval pottery dish I’d switch to that. The batter creeps gently between the apple slices so in the end each slice is held lightly against its neighbor, in a state of sweet creaminess.

Apple Clafouti
by Alicia Arter

3 eggs
1 cup low-fat milk
4 Tbsp. butter, melted
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2/3 cup all-purpose flour
2/3 cup sugar
¼ tsp. salt
¼ teaspoon pepper

For the apples:
1 Tbsp. butter
4 apples, using three or four different types
½ cup sugar
3 Tablespoons of brandy

For the pie plate:
½ teaspoon butter
1 teaspoon sugar

Preheat oven to 400 degrees

1. Peel and core the apples, then slice in ½-inch thick pieces (so they cook uniformly).
2. In a large frying pan on medium heat, melt the butter and then add the sugar and rum. 3. Stir to blend. Add the apples and stir to coat. Cook for 10 minutes covered until apples are beginning to get softer. When done, reserve the juice in the pan to glaze the clafouti just before serving.

Pie Plate:
1. Grease the pie plate with the butter then coat with the sugar. Put it in the oven to warm while you make the batter.

1. While the apples cook, put all the batter ingredients in a food processor and blend thoroughly. There will be no lumps in the batter.

1. Take the hot pie plate out of the oven and fill with about 2 cups of the batter. Put the apple slices in the pie plate and then cover with the rest of the batter. Sprinkle 2 teaspoons of sugar over the top. Bake in the center of the oven for 30 minutes until golden and the center is set. When done, remove from oven and pour the pan juices over the top. Serve warm or cooled.

Recipe (C) Alicia Arter 2009. Do not publish without permission

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Hand Churning Butter

Last week I ran into the old glass and wood Dazey butter churn from the family farm, so I decided to try it out with a pint of non-homogenized cream from a local dairy.

After 40 minutes of hand churning the curds appeared in a puddle of buttermilk. Draining the curds didn't make them look much like butter, so I grabbed a circa 1880 cookbook for instructions. Wash the butter in water. So I did and then stirred and pressed it.

How was it? Sweeter and creamier than any butter I've ever eaten, be it local, Plugra, Irish, French butter in Normandy, English dairy butter in Stratford, Polish butter in Lancut, Poland and what have you. And rather than the fatty mouthfeel and neutral taste of commercial unsalted butter, this all-Jersey cream butter was silky and ethereal.

Its pronounced sweet taste, though, was what surprised me most of all. The cream it came from wasn't sweet, the whey/buttermilk it made wasn't even tangy, so something really good happened during those long minutes of hand cranking. All that remains to see is if I can get the same effect with my standing mixer. There’s a good reason those old butter churns aren't used anymore.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Rum, rye and beer for the 4th of July

The signers of The Declaration of Independence were fervent beer and rum drinkers back in the day. In the European tradition, and with 18th century water purity often dicey, the new Americans knocked back beer for breakfast and rum as often as they could.
To this end cocktail savant James MacWilliams of
Seattle's Canlis Restaurant gives us a proper potion for the 4th of July: the Declaration Cocktail. So much more than a boilermaker, the rye, rum and beer are melded by the goodly amount of brown sugar syrup. Keep the rest of the beer in a pewter vessel and you’re very 1776.
If you can’t make it to Canlis for this jubilant quaff you can make it at home. Here’s the recipe in James’s own words. Here’s to America – Happy Birthday!

The Declaration:
In 12 oz glass, mug or glass drinking boot pour:
- 1oz. Pyrat XO rum (any fruity rum will do but we did commit mutiny after all)
- .75oz. Rittenhouse Rye Whiskey, high proof and spicy.
- .75oz. brown sugar syrup (simple syrup made with brown sugar)
- 6 oz. Ale ( I like something malty with some body. Firestone Walker Double Barrel Ale is my choice, and is close to the beer Thomas Jefferson might have brewed. - James MacWilliams

Friday, June 19, 2009

Jersey Sweet Milk

Beautiful bottles of local Jersey cow milk – with the cream floating on the top – are at the local market and we’re on our first couple of bottles. The milk is pasteurized but not ultra-pasteurized, and that’s so good for flavor and for cheese makers.

But the fun thing is that it's not homogenized. There’s a good 1-2 inches of cream at the top of the bottle and so you get to shake it before you pop the cap. Even the 1% milk has a cream cap so that nearly-nonfat milk is an adventure instead of a penance.

The milk is rich in your mouth and you can taste a splash of green meadows in each sip, which makes me think of milk ages ago on our family farm in Harrah, Washington.

The dairy has Jersey cows, and this milk is a unique experience because haven’t we all wondered how pure old-fashioned Jersey milk tastes? It’s long had the reputation of being the finest in flavor, as long as you don’t ask a Guernsey fan.

All in all, on busy days when I hurry into the neighborhood market with a short list like MILK EGGS BREAD it’s nice to have this thoughtful choice. It’s not earthshaking but it makes an everyday food taste wonderful.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Rhubarb Pudding Pie for a rhubarb jones

Spring, actually every spring, is when this rhubarb jones hits, flattening me like a falling sequoia. Last Thursday I bought a piece of artisan rhubarb pie at a fancy pants market to quell my madness, but it was so good it only increased my longing. That night I ordered a grandmotherly rhubarb cobbler at dinner. It was so big I took half home and ate the rest the next day.

Yet the rhubarb love is still pestering me. I went to the market again and found others had the longing, because the market was sold out of local rhubarb.

Today I made this Rhubarb Pudding Pie that has its own sweet sea of lushness. The custardy pudding envelopes the tender rhubarb and lends comfort while keeping the sour pie plant from being too tart. It's a recipe I came up with a few years ago during my spring jones.

It's an old farm-style pie and it is a dandy.

Rhubarb Pudding Pie
Serves 8

It's easy to make – just mix and bake. The whipping cream and rose petals make it even prettier.

1 unbaked pie crust in a 9.5” deep dish Pyrex glass pie plate

1 cup whipping cream
6 farm egg yolks, beaten lightly
4 tablespoons cornstarch dissolved in 4 tablespoons warm water
1 teaspoon salt
2 ½ cups sugar
8 16” stalks of local red rhubarb (4 cups) cut in ½” pieces
1 cup whipping cream
1 teaspoon vanilla
½ cup sugar
1 handful of fresh, unsprayed rose petals or pansies

Oven: 375 degrees

To make filling:
Blend the egg yolks and heavy cream with a fork.
Thoroughly mix corn starch and warm water in a small bowl until smooth. Add to the egg/cream mixture and stir gently, then mix salt and sugar in.
Add the rhubarb pieces to the egg/cream mixture. Pour filling into the unbaked pie crust.
Bake at 375 degrees for 15 minutes. Then cover pie crust edge with aluminum foil or a pie crust ring so it won’t get too brown. Turn oven down to 350 degrees and bake for 45 minutes, or until filling is just set. It will wiggle a little when shaken, but it should not be liquid. Cool on a baking rack for about an hour.

To make topping:
When pie is cooled, whip the cream at high speed on a mixer, or by hand. As it thickens, add the vanilla and sugar and continue whipping the cream until it is thick.
Spread the whipped cream on top of the pie, sprinkle with rose petals and serve.

Recipe and photo (C) 2005 Alicia Comstock Arter. Use only with written permission of author.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Bobby Flay and Columbia Crest Winery contest put your recipe and video on

If you’re an amateur cook the “Flayvors of Washington” contest wants your original recipe inspired by Columbia Crest Grand Estates wines and made with local Washington state ingredients. Drunken Draper Valley Chicken? Wenatchee Apple/Riesling Pie? Your recipe entree must also have a two-minute video showcasing the dish.

What’s pretty cool is that everyone who submits will have their recipe and video appear on the Food Network web site, where web visitors will vote for them.

What are the steps to quick fame? They’re in the contest rules, along with a sample video of last year’s winner to help you get started.

All entries must be submitted by June 8, 2009. To submit an entry and find out what you need to know go to

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Happy Ham Days

Pounds and pounds of joy here, all in a Bavarian Meats cured ham. It took five hours to cook, 10 minutes to carve and it may be around the house for a week, even though we gave away half of it. It was the center of our Sunday breakfast party, and when we eased it out of the oven and our friends could see what they’d been smelling for an hour they ran to the cutting board to grab first greedy bites.

Smoky, porky, juicy and a little salty, it jazzed up perfectly the plates of grits, poached eggs, citron buns and tender blueberry sour cream coffee cake.

The Controlled Chaos of Homemade Fromage Blanc

…and mascarpone, ricotta, mozzarella, cream cheese and thick buttermilk have been glupping along in the kitchen and tasting spectacular. They have a freshness and loads of flavor levels not found in commercial varieties.

Gil (le hubbeau) has a math and science mind and has taken his precised-ness into the area of fresh cheese lately. It’s like seeing the ages-old story of cheese evolve as he happily moves from one recipe to the next, mixing milk, lemon, rennet, cream and what have you and cooking them into formed tastiness. Even he is thrilled with how little a large lump of the stuff costs when you make it at home: about $3 for several pounds of fresh cheese.

And then someone has to eat it. We’ve mounded it on a plate, then drizzled honey and salty pistachio bits on top, and slathered it on toast with a thick frosting of homemade raspberry jam. Sometimes it’s lunch – just big blobs of delicious white cheese.

Anyone who says these cheeses practically make themselves are not presenting the entire picture. This is controlled chaos, and the cheese maker carefully manages the curdle, the temperature, the bacteria. He measures, follows instructions and obeys the thermometer – there’s nothing slapdash about this.

But in the end a gallon of milk has blurped into a plump, beautiful, incredibly delicious mass of radiance and joy.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

The glass was more than half full - TASTE Washington

TASTE Washington last weekend exceeded my down-modified expectations this year–it was packed with 3,500 food and wine lovers, and full of wines (250 wineries) paired with food from over 60 restaurants. Scooting through the aisles I came upon a Mangalitsa pork tamale – delicate white corn masa and pork and spices tied into a corn husk – from Brix 25 in Gig Harbor. Many tamales are too corn-mealy, but this one made the wooly pig flavor hum. Although it’s unwise to form an opinion on small and very public samplings, it made me very very curious about the restaurant.

In a minute I had a yummy 2006 Sleight of Hand Spellbinder red blend in my glass and felt that Big Joy when you’ve found a really terrific every day wine. Trey Busch, their wine maker came from two of my other favorite wineries, Dunham and Basel Cellars after years as a Nordstrom buyer. Spellbinder is my new favorite wine at $19 and if you want to grab a bottle in the Northwest look to Esquin Wine Merchant, Top Foods, Whole Foods, QFC, and Haggen. Funny thing, my other go-to bottles of red wine right now are Basel Cellars Claret at $20 and good old Metropolitan Market Red # 5 for $10.

Nibbles here, mouthfuls there, and I nearly passed by the Bacon Brownies from The City Catering Company because I was sure this was pork huckstering. Whenever I think that, it’s my big red flag and I know that I have to actually try it. Flash judgments aren’t based on fact, so eat it and find out. It’s the only path to food truth.

The Bacon Brownies were delicious and all the flavors made a recombinant yum, for the same reasons that Vietnamese drunken chicken does. Salty, crispy, sweet, tender and in this case porky, all in a life-changing mouthful. The brownies were split horizontally (like a cake) with a layer of bacon spread across the center plus a cone of bacon on the top. Three days later and I still want more Bacon Brownies so soon I’ll be making some. Maybe every brownie I ever make again will sport a bacon hat instead of chocolate ganache.

ÁMaurice Cellars from Walla Walla poured the 2006 Syrah, again entirely delicious. I first had their wine at a white tablecloth luncheon in the middle of a vineyard at Vintage Walla Walla last year and everyone at the table, most of them distinguished palates, loved it. It’s not on the every day list only because it is $34.

You have to draw the line somewhere.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Cool beans, iron-ically

If it doesn't freak you out it'll make you stronger. And getting in a cooking contest with Bobby Flay on national TV with a mystery ingredient might be freaky for many of us. 

That's what Seattle's Sabrina Tinsely of Osteria La Spiga faced on Iron Chef America, the Food Network TV show, televised on January 4, 2009. To her credit it appeared she was not freaked.
She was Seattle's second Iron Chef contender: Tom Douglas paved the way in 2005 in his sauté-to-the-death with Iron Chef Morimoto over wild salmon. (Tom prevailed.)

Tinsley flew to New York with two sous chefs and no idea about what she would be cooking. All she knew was that she'd have to magic up dishes using the "secret ingredient," which is identified on-air in a flashy furor at the start of the show.

Tinsley's ingredient was beans, and fortunately it was a huddle of hipster beans, not just pounds and pounds of old canned kidneys. She had haricot vert, fava, edamame, cranberry, and green beans, and less than an on-air hour to make them sing and dance.

Even for a seasoned chef the set-up is a challenge. As if an unknown ingredient upon which you will be judged in front of judges and on national TV isn't enough, chef contenders have the added surprises of working in a kitchen they aren't familiar with (where's the refrigerator?) and of having a camera in their face every time they wiggle. As they push their talents to invent really boffo dishes they are also juggling a million internal questions - will the crostini burn, will the soft-boiled eggs release from their shells, where's the wine kept? In Tinsley's case the two house wines available in the Iron Chef kitchen were dry and sweet - except that one of her sous chefs didn't realize that and poured the sweet wine into a savory sauce. Make it over, pronto.

After learning in the beginning of the program that she must glam up a pod of beans, she quickly settled on:

Crostini con Fava e Guanciale: Crostini with fava bean purée and cured pork jowl

Crocchette d'Uovo con Haricot Vert: Encrusted soft-boiled egg with haricot vert beans and truffle

Polpette di Farro ed Edamame: Farro and edamame vegetable balls with herbed cream sauce

Strozzapreti Neri con Borlotti e Vongole: Rolled pasta that looks like very small rolled towels, only skinnier (see photo) with cranberry beans and clams

Carne Salada con Insalata di Fagiolini, Pomodorini e Condimento di Vino Bianco e Scalogno: Spice-cured beef tenderloin with green bean and heirloom cherry tomato salad, with white wine and shallot dressing

And what did Bobby Flay come up with? Tuna tartare with plantains and edamame sauce, crispy haricot vert beans, trio of Greek-style dips with bean salad, Portobello mushrooms with fava bean pesto, and smoked lobster and haricot vert salad.

It took seven hours to do the one hour show - minus time for commercials - and in the end Bobby won, and Sabrina was taken to dinner by Joe Bastianich, a primo wine guy, Mario Batali's buddy and co-restaurateur and Lidia's son.

Curious about how the menu tasted? I had a handful of them recently and they were way tasty. Sabrina's dishes from Iron Chef will be rotating in and out of the Osteria La Spiga menu, or you could call them up (206-323-8881) and ask when they'll appear again.

Or you could make this yummy bite from the show:

Serves 4

5 eggs
1/2 pound haricot vert (French green beans)
1 cup julienned truffle ham
Oil for frying
Salt to taste
Truffle oil
Shaved black truffles

Soft-boil 4 eggs. Peel and keep in salted ice water to hold. Meanwhile, trim and blanch
the haricot vert in salted boiling water. Drain and transfer beans to an ice water bath to
stop the cooking. Drain. Split the beans lengthwise. Toss beans with ham, truffle oil, and
salt to taste. Set aside.

Preheat oil for frying to 350 degrees.

Beat remaining egg. Dip each soft-cooked egg into the beaten egg and gently dredge in
breadcrumbs. Fry in oil until the outside is golden brown. You do not want to the fry the
egg all the way through. The middle should still remain soft.

Divide the bean salad among plates and place an egg on each mound of salad. Shave
black truffle over the egg and serve.

Recipe courtesy Sabrina Tinsley, Osteria La Spiga, for "Iron Chef America"

Photos courtesy The Food Network