Radio Silence

The last few weeks of school are always really busy. The kids have had overnight trips, day trips, awards ceremonies, plays or some other event pretty much every day since the early part of May. So I've not actually even had time to cook a blog meal, let alone write a blog post. So that's the reason for the radio silence. One of them, anyway.

The whole month of May went roughly in this direction ...
Photo by Ajith Kumar.

A friend of mine died unexpectedly a couple of weeks ago, and my other problem is when I sit down to do anything (even that job I have that actually pays money) I suddenly find myself reading her old Facebook posts. So it's been a real month of distractions and reasons to not be particularly motivated about cooking and/or writing about cooking.

This weekend we are headed up the coast on a short family road trip, which I hope will be brain-clearing. After that, school's out--believe it or not that actually frees up some time for marathon international cooking sessions. I can't work while the kids are at home, but I can definitely cook. Of course, that's always at the expense of the kids trashing the house while I'm distracted in the kitchen, but what else is new.

See you in a couple of weeks. :)
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Recipes from Macau

I didn't set anything on fire this week, but I did cause a minor explosion. So you know, hopefully that will be entertaining reading.

This week were in Macau, which I have to admit I had not actually heard of until I made this meal. Strange, because I have of course heard of Hong Kong (who hasn't), and Macau is sort of a sister nation. Actually it's not really a nation at all, but a "Special Administrative Region" of China, which is the same status that Hong Kong has had since 1997 when the British colonists finally packed up and went home. Macau is across the Pearl River from Hong Kong, and it's actually a former Portuguese colony. In fact Macau was the last remaining European colony in Asia until it was finally handed back to China in 1999.

There are 636,200 people in Macau, and all of them live in an area of about 11 square miles. Yes, you read that correctly and it is not a typo. Macau is the most densely populated place in the world. Don't feel too bad for the Macanese people, though, because their densely-populated little corner of the planet also happens to be one of the world's richest cities, and despite the close quarters the people who live there have the second highest life expectancy in the world. So they must be doing something right.

Macanese cuisine is, of course, heavily influenced by its past association with Portugal. The result is a cuisine that's actually quite unique, because it's largely based on the only marginally-successful attempts of Portuguese settlers to replicate their traditional dishes with Chinese ingredients.

 Macau. Photo by Karl Pang.

Because Macau is so small, though, it wasn't that easy to find good collections of recipes. But I did find one that appealed to me almost immediately. My daughter loves duck, and I've actually had a raincheck to get one for $1.99 a pound for a couple of months now, so when I saw this recipe I knew I was going to have to make it:

Duck Rice 
  • 1 whole duck, cut into eight pieces
  • 2 large onions, chopped
  • 4 large garlic cloved, minced
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 oz bacon, chopped into large pieces
  • 1 chorizo sausage, chopped into large pieces
  • 1/2 cup long grain rice, steamed
  • 1 3/4 oz Parmesan cheese
  • 1 egg, boiled, peeled and cut in two
  • 3/4 cup duck stock
Duck rice sounded like a meal all by itself, so the only other recipe I chose was a dessert:
Sawdust Pudding
(from Wendyinkk)

  • 4 1/2 oz Marie biscuits
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream 
  • 1/4 cup condensed milk
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
OK, we'll make the duck first. First you have to cut the duck up, which for me was a first. I don't think I've ever even cut up a chicken before.

Anyway you're supposed to cut the duck up into eight pieces: two breasts, two thighs, two legs and two wings. That leaves the back, which I used to make the duck stock. I just threw mine in a pot with some water and an onion and boiled it until the stock was nice and rich. 

While you're doing that, saute the duck pieces in hot oil on both sides until the skin is golden brown. Use a deep pot, because you'll be adding stock later. Remove the pieces from the pan and add the chorizo.

Oh, the chorizo. Here in California, the only kind of chorizo you can get is Mexican chorizo (at least until the week after I made this recipe, when I found Portuguese chorizo at the Grocery Outlet of all places). Anyway Mexican chorizo, if you're familiar, is really crumbly. As soon as you take it out of the package it just falls apart, which doesn't really mesh with the whole "cut into pieces" part of the instructions. So I thought I'd be clever and transfer all that crumbly sausage into a couple of casings and cook it up so it would hold it's shape and I could slice it.

 It doesn't look like an explosive ...
Now, if you know anything about sausage you are probably laughing at the notion. Me, on the other hand, well clearly I know nothing about sausage because I did all this, thinking I was very clever, and when I cooked the sausages they  exploded.

This is all that remained of my exploded chorizo.

Now granted, this was a minor explosion. But it was really messy and distressing, partly because after the explosion the sausage looked just like something you might get at The Chum Bucket, and partly because it was the only thing I had to work with and I'm pretty sure you can't do duck rice without sausage. So I ended up just throwing the remains of the exploded sausage into the pan with the duck and then calling my husband to get him to bring some linguica home from the supermarket. I know, it's not chorizo but it does slice and it is Portuguese, so I hope Macau can forgive me.

Anyway after your sausage explodes, fry the onion and garlic in the pan and add the duck pieces. Saute until everything is well-incorporated.

Now pour in the duck stock and add the bay leaf. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer until the duck is tender and cooked through.

Take the duck pieces out of the stock, then debone them and set the meat aside. Drop the chorizo into the stock if you have some that didn't explode, and add the bacon, too. Let cook for a few minutes and remove with a slotted spoon.

Now spread half of the steamed rice out over the bottom of a casserole dish.

Spread the duck meat over the top, then cover with another layer of rice. Now scatter the bacon and chorizo pieces over the rice and add the boiled egg pieces.

Finally, sprinkle the Parmesan cheese over and transfer to the oven. Bake at 350 degrees until golden brown. (I served mine with roasted asparagus.)

Now for the dessert.

First grind up the biscuits. Note that I got mine in the ethnic food section at Safeway, but they were called "Mary" biscuits, not Marie. They looked exactly the same, though. If you can't find either version, English "digestive" biscuits are also basically the same thing.

Now whip the whipping cream until you get some stiff peaks, then fold in the vanilla and condensed milk. Place the cream into a piping bag (I just used a ziplock with the corner cut off). Pipe a layer of cream into each of four wine glasses ...

... then top with the biscuit crumbs. Gently level out the crumbs with the back of a spoon, then add another layer of cream, followed by another layer of crumbs. Repeat until you've used up all your ingredients. Chill and then serve.

The duck rice was a lot of work, and I regret to say that it wasn't really worth the trouble. I think if the rice had been something other than just steamed, it would have been a different story--but there wasn't enough interesting flavor in the duck itself to make up for the fact that the rice was just plain white rice. There was no sauce or anything for the rice to soak up, so it was an unfortunately bland meal.

My kids all liked the sawdust pudding, though. It was quite fiddly to make but rich and refreshing, and fun for the kids because they got to eat it out of wine glasses. I'd make it again--it would make a particularly lovely summer dessert.

Anyway, I promise I will never again try to put Mexican chorizo in a sausage casing. Lesson learned.

Next week: Macedonia
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Recipes from Luxembourg

I am happy to report that this week’s meal was not the comedy of errors that last week’s meal was, though that does generally make for less entertaining reading. In fact this week’s meal was actually fairly painless, so, sorry about that.

This week we are in Luxembourg, which you’ve probably heard of though I’ll bet you ten bucks you couldn’t point it out on a map. It’s in Western Europe, bordered by Belgium, Germany and France, or maybe I should say “enveloped” because this place is so tiny that it’s like a freckle on the nose of western Europe. At 998 square miles, Luxembourg is about 150 square miles larger than Jacksonville, Florida, and considerably smaller than all four of Alaska’s major cities.

 Grand-Duché de Luxembourg. Photo by Antonio Ponte.
There are more than 100 castles in Luxembourg, which automatically makes it a place I’d be keen to visit. Compare that to 600 to 700 castles in the UK and at first you might be unimpressed, until you realize that the UK has about six to seven times as many castles in roughly 94 times as much land area. So to put that in perspective, at its most generous estimate the United Kingdom has one castle every 134 square miles, while Luxembourg has one every 10 square miles. Yeah, I’d definitely like to go there someday. I love castles.

Given its diminutive stature and geographical proximity to France and Germany, I’m sure it will not surprise you to hear that Luxembourg shares many of the same culinary traditions as those two larger nations. I actually stayed away from the more French looking recipes because I wasn't game for anything complex this week. Instead I chose a pretty rustic menu:

Gequellte Grompere mat Porrettenzapp (Jacket potatoes with leek sauce)
(from Gekonnt Gekocht)
  • 3 1/3 lbs medium-sized potatoes
  • Coarse salt
  • 4 leeks
  • 4 1/4 cups sour milk or buttermilk
  • 3/4 cup heavy cream
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 tbsp mustard (I used Dijon)
Luxembourg stuffed roast beef
(from Kochmeister)
  • 3 1/3 lbs rump roast
  • 6 tbsp oil
  • Cayenne pepper to taste
  • 2 large onions, sliced thinly
  • 4 large carrots, peeled and cubed
  • 4 large tomatoes
  • 2 bunches parsley
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • 2 cups gravy 
  • 10 1/2 oz cooked ham
  • 10 1/2 oz Gruyere cheese
  • 24 whole mushrooms
  • 1/3 cup whiskey
Schuedi, the great Luxembourg sugar cake
(also from Gekonnt Gekocht

For the dough:
  • 2 3/4 cup all purpose flour, sifted
  • 2/3 cup milk
  • 3 1/2 tsp active dry yeast
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 1 whole egg
  • 2 1/2 tbsp sugar
  • Lemon zest
  • 1 pinch salt
For the topping:
  • 6 tbsp butter
  • 5 tbsp sugar
Let's do the beef first, because it has to go in the oven a couple of times:

First rub the meat all over with oil and season with cayenne pepper. Transfer to a roasting pan and surround with the onions, carrots and parsley. Roughly chop three of the four tomatoes and add to the pan. Melt the butter and pour over, then bake at 425 degrees until an internal thermometer reads 125 degrees (note that the original recipe said to cook for an hour, which I think would have overdone the meat). While cooking, baste with the gravy.

Let the meat rest for 10 minutes, then slice thickly.

Put thin slices of cheese and ham between each slice of meat, then tie the whole roast back together with some kitchen twine.

Pour off the juices from the roasting pan and transfer the roast back to the pan. Top with the rest of the cheese. Slice the last tomato and place the slices on the top of the roast, then scatter the mushrooms around in the pan.

Now pour the whiskey on top and cook for another 20 to 30 minutes at 425 degrees (I took mine out as soon as the cheese melted). Serve.

Now the potatoes:

First wash the leeks, then split them lengthwise and slice thinly. Leeks are always full of grit and dirt--I actually wash them when they're whole and then again in a colander after I've sliced them. Set aside.

Now mix the mustard with the buttermilk and cream, and add salt and pepper to taste. Heat over a medium flame, and then reduce heat to a simmer and let cook, stirring continually, until slightly thickened.

Meanwhile, cook the unpeeled potatoes in salted water for 20 minutes. Serve immediately with the leek sauce poured over.

And now for the cake:

First proof the yeast by mixing 3 1/2 tbsp of melted butter with the sugar, a pinch of salt and about 1/4 cup lukewarm water. Add the yeast and let sit until frothy.

Now mix the flour with the egg, lemon zest and milk. Add the yeast and knead for 12 minutes. Transfer to a floured surface and shape into a ball. Cover with a clean towel and let stand in a warm place for about an hour, or until doubled in size.

Spread the dough evenly into a buttered cake pan, then let rise for another 30 minutes.

Press down gently with your thumb to make some indentations in the dough, then place shavings of the butter into the dents. Melt some butter and use a pastry brush to paint the melted butter over the rest of the cake. Sprinkle thickly with sugar.

Bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes, or until golden. Let cool and serve.

Both the beef and the potatoes were delicious, though a bit on the rich side. I thought the cheese and ham stuffing was really different and very tasty with the beef, but I couldn't eat a lot of it. Unfortunately the dish was also a lot of wasted vegetables, because my kids don't eat vegetables. Now, I am well aware of how bad that is so I like to point out that they eat a lot of fruit at other times of the day but yeah, most vegetables are wasted on them. I loaded up my plate and so did Martin, but we still ended up throwing a lot of them away.

I don't have to tell you what they thought of the sugar cake, though. Because, cake.

Looking back it does seem like there were some complexities to this meal but next to Lithuania it was easy. The hardest part was probably just putting the roast back together after slicing it, and if you compare that to potato water soaked beach towels in the living room, well, I can guess which one you'd choose.

Next week: Macau
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Recipes from Lithuania

OK, so Lithuania was a strange combination of failure and triumph. It was like the Wide World of Sports of blog nights. You know, the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat. Yes, I am old enough that I remember that.

Lithuania, as you may know, is one of those European nations that is sort of on the fringes of the continent. It's one of three Baltic nations (the other two are Estonia and Latvia), which means that it borders the Baltic Sea in northern Europe. Despite the northernliness of it, I was surprised to learn that Lithuania actually has a pretty mild climate--it never really gets any warmer than 70 degrees, even in July, and it doesn't get much colder than 20 degrees (though those are averages, of course). My husband would love it there.

 Castle of Trakai, Lithuania. Photo by SU.

Lithuania is a former Soviet state--today it is kind of a funky democracy. It has a president, but much like the Queen of England, the office is largely ceremonial, though the president does have some foreign affairs and national security powers. She also appoints the prime minister and a bunch of other offices, and those are the people who do the actual running-of-the-country stuff.

Lithuanian cuisine is pretty similar to eastern European fare, at least in my mind. They eat a lot of barley and potatoes and other stuff that grows in cool climates, like beets and mushrooms. Influences range from Polish and Jewish to German culinary traditions (you'll find dumplings, crepes and kugel on Lithuanian menus). Here are the dishes I chose:

Baked Pork in Mushroom Sauce (Kepta kiauliena grybø padaþe) 
(from The Anthology of Lithuanian Ethnoculture)
  • 2 lbs pork, any cut 
  • Juice of 1 lemon 
  • Powdered bay leaves 
  • Salt and pepper to taste 
  • 6 tbsp vegetable oil or butter  
  • 3 oz dried mushrooms 
  • 2 onions, finely chopped 
  • 1 cup mushroom cooking juice 
  • 2 tbsp sour cream 
  • 1 tbsp flour 
  • 4 tbsp butter 
Vedarai (Potato Sausage)
(from Eastern European Food)

For the sausage:
  • 12 medium peeled russet potatoes, finely grated
  • 1 large onion, finely chopped
  • 3 tbsp butter or 3 strips bacon, chopped
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/2 tsp marjoram (optional)
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Hog casings, rinsed three times
For the gravy:
  • 1/2 lb bacon, diced
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • Black pepper to taste
Beets with Horseradish
(also from The Anthology of Lithuanian Ethnoculture

  • 4 beets, cooked, finely grated 
  • 1 cup grated horseradish root 
  • 1/4 tsp pepper 
  • 3 tbsp vegetable oil
  • Juice of 1/2 lemon 
  • Salt to taste
Lithuanian Honey Cake  
(from Natasha's Kitchen)

For the cake:
  • 1/4 honey
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 3 large eggs, beaten with a fork
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
For the cream:
  • 5 cups crème fraiche
  • 5-7 tbsp confectioners sugar
  • 3-6 tbsp fresh lemon juice
  • 2 lemons, zest
For the candied orange peel:
  • 2 oranges
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 4 cups water
So I'm going to start with the sausage, because it was the most disastrous part of the meal. Now, here's me thinking that because I made sausage that one time, back in Belgium, that I would just be able to whip it up again, no problem. After all it's not even real sausage, it's potato sausage. I guess I overestimated myself.

Anyway, first you're supposed saute the onion in the butter, or with the bacon (that's what I did). When the onion is soft, take it off the heat and let it come back to room temperature. Now mix the grated potatoes with the onion and add the eggs, marjoram, salt and pepper. The thickness of the mixture should be roughly equal to the thickness of ground pork. If it isn't, add some flour.

So I did all that after I dug out my meat grinder, which I've used exactly that one time, and I frustrated myself mightily trying to remember how to put it together and use it. Now, the unfortunate thing about my meat grinder is that the clamp that secures it to the work surface doesn't actually open wide enough to fit on my counter, or my dining room table for that matter. In fact the only surface that it will go on is one of those stupid little folding TV stands. So I set my TV stand up in the living room, because I figured that's where I could sit most comfortably and make sausages, and I attached the meat grinder to it and here's what happened:

As per the instructions, I stuffed the potato mixture into the grinder and turned the handle, and liquid went everywhere. It dripped out of every single crevasse in the machine and spilled all over the wobbly TV tray and onto the floor. It was an absolute mess, and by the time I filled all the casings I'd also soaked an entire beach towel in potato water.

Anyway, I twisted the casings to make links, pricked them and then boiled them in salted water, which is not what I should have done because they promptly untwisted and I was left with one giant sausage instead of a bunch of small ones (the recipe also says you can bake them at 350 degrees). Either way they should take roughly 1 hour to finish.

I kind of tried to twist them back, with limited success.

While the sausages are cooking, fry the rest of the bacon with the onion until the onion is translucent and the bacon is cooked through. Drain off the fat and then mix in the sour cream and black pepper. If the sauce is too thick, add a little bit of milk. Serve the sausages with the sour cream sauce poured over.

On to the pork:

First rub the meat all over with lemon juice, then sprinkle with the salt, pepper and powdered bay leaf. Now put the oil and meat into a casserole and bake at 350 degrees, basting occasionally. The meat is done when the internal temperature reaches 145 degrees.

Meanwhile, cook the mushrooms in boiling water and remove with a slotted spoon, reserving the cooking water. Melt the butter in a medium sized pot and julienne the mushrooms. Add the mushrooms and onions to the melted butter, then whisk in the flour. Add the mushroom juice, sour cream, salt and pepper while continuing to whisk. Turn down the heat and let the sauce thicken.

Slice the pork and pour the sauce over to serve.

OK now for the easy part, the beets:

First roast your boats in a hot oven until soft. Peel them and grate them.

Now grate the horseradish, then mix everything together. Done!

Now, for the cake. First, do some deep breathing. If you're into yoga, do that, too. This cake is complex and labor intensive. By the time I was done making it, I vowed I would never do it again ... Until my kids made it clear to me that they would quite happily eat that cake for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Here goes.

First, you're going to be making some candied orange peel. To do this, you need to peel the oranges and then cut off as much of the pith as you can (that's the bitter white part). I actually scraped mine down so I could only see orange.

It kind of took a while but it was worth it. In fact I might actually make my own candied peel next year for the Christmas cake, instead of buying it. It tasted much nicer than that uber-expensive packaged stuff.

Now boil two cups of the water and add the peel. Let it soften up for a few minutes and then drain and set aside. Next, bring the other two cups of the water to a boil and add the sugar. Reduce heat, then drop in the peel and let simmer until the peel is translucent. This should take about 30 minutes. Drain and transfer to a drying rack (I used my pizza screen because it has smaller holes so the peel wouldn't fall through). Let dry for three to four hours, then chop fine. Reserve the syrup it cooked in, not because the recipe said to but because it's yummy.

OK now mix the crème fraiche* with the lemon zest, sugar and lemon juice. Please note: don't use an electric mixer. That's what I did and my crème fraiche curdled. It was awful, though my husband did manage to save most of it by straining it. So don't use an electric mixer, instead just fold it all together. Keep tasting it until it's to your liking. It should be a little bit sour with a hint of sweet. Finally, fold in the candied peel.

*Note: Crème fraiche is super expensive, and super easy to make. The day before you make this cake, mix 5 cups of heavy cream with 2/3 cup of buttermilk. Cover it with a clean towel and let it sit out overnight in a warm place. In about 12 to 18 hours, you will have crème fraiche.

OK now put the sugar, honey and butter in a medium pan and heat gently until melted and blended. Use a low flame so you don't scorch the ingredients. Remove from the heat and add the eggs, but keep whisking as they go in, otherwise the heat from the melted butter will scramble them.

Now whisk in the baking soda until well incorporated, then add the flour in 1/2 cup increments. Fold it in gently--when the texture is a bit like Play Dough it's ready.

Cut the dough into 8 equal sized portions. It's important to do this while it's warm. Trust me on this one, because I didn't believe the author when she said that and I let mine cool down. When cool, it's really difficult to roll out.

Which brings me to the next part: rolling out. Flour a rolling pin and a large surface and roll each piece out into a circle with about a quarter inch thickness. Use a nine inch plate as a template to make sure all the circles are exactly the right size. Save all those trimmings--you'll be using them later. Unless you literally can't make your circles large enough because you were dumb and tried to do all of this with cold dough.

Are you tired yet? Next you'll be baking each circle at 350 degrees for four or five minutes on a sheet of waxed paper, until golden. When done each circle should resemble a sort of large, thick tortilla. Let them cool separately on a wire rack. Keep going until you've baked them all.

Now bake all those little scraps, if you have any little scraps. Put them in a food processor and pulse until you get some fine crumbs.

The home stretch: spread 1/3 cup of the crème fraiche mixture on each cake piece. Top with the next piece, pressing down, and repeat. Keep going until you're out of layers, then frost the sides with the leftover crème fraiche mixture, unless you curdled all yours and don't really have enough left over to do that.

 Now dust with the breadcrumbs and refrigerate overnight. Or don't--it's a lot moister once it's absorbed some of the crème fraiche, but pretty delicious the day you make it, too.

I didn't have enough crème fraiche to frost the whole thing.

Here's what we thought. But wait, first I have to say that between grating potatoes and grating beets and grating horseradish by the time I was done with this my arms ached so badly I could hardly lift them. So now that you know just how out of shape I actually am:

Beets are my new favorite thing, so I loved the beet salad with the grated horseradish. Yum. And I enjoyed the pork, too, with the mushroom sauce. It was basic, but basic in a nice, hearty way. The sausage was, meh. It had a lot of potential but it was an awful lot of mess and trouble for what basically amounted to some mashed potatoes in a sausage casing. If I did this again, I would definitely use more bacon. A lot more bacon.

Now, I bet you wanted to know what we thought of the cake. It was a ton of work and like I said I swore I would never do it again, but you know what? I would totally do it again. It was that good, and worth the work for sure. Anyway now that I got all the kinks worked out I'm pretty sure I could make it a lot more quickly next time. And I promised my kids there would definitely be a next time.

Next week: Luxembourg
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Recipes from Lorraine and Alsace, France (Part Two)

OK, so the bad news is, I missed last week's posting because of spring break. So I am officially about five weeks behind in actually posting all the meals that I cook. Gah.

The good news is, I already told you about Lorraine and Alsace, France in the last posting. Because remember? This was a two part entry. The whole "I cooked that meal two years ago and forgot about it" thing.

Paysage de l'Aisne, France. Photo by Franck Vervial.

So instead of telling you more things about Lorraine and Alsace, France (if you missed the info you can check out the last entry), I'm just going to dive right into what I cooked:

Coq a Riesling 
(from Interfrance)
  • 3 1/2 pound chicken, cut into pieces
  • 1/3 cup unsalted butter
  • 4 shallots
  • 4  garlic cloves
  • 1 cup Riesling wine,
  • 1/2 cup chicken stock
  • 1/2 lb large mushrooms, quartered 
  • 1/4 cup brandy
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream or creme fraische
  • 1 1/2 tbsp all purpose flour
  • Pinch freshly grated nutmeg
  • Salt and pepper to taste
Alsatian Cheese Tart
(from Epicurious)
  • 1 puff pastry sheet, thawed
  • 1/2 cup whole-milk cottage cheese
  • 1/4 cup sour cream
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp black pepper
  • 6 bacon slices, cut crosswise into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 1/3 cup onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 tbsp freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Alsatian Apple Tart
(also from Interfrance

For the dough:
  • 1 1/3 cup all purpose flour,
  • 1/2 cup cold margarine,
  • 1 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1 tbsp baker's sugar
  • 1/4 cup cold water
  • Pinch of salt.
For the filling:
  • 2 lbs Golden Delicious apples, peeled, cored and quartered
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/3 cup bakers sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 4 pinches cinnamon
  • 3/4 cup heavy cream or half and half
To make the chicken, first season the pieces with salt and pepper. Now melt 4 tbsp of the butter in a heavy skillet over a medium flame and saute the chicken until golden on all sides.

Pour off most of the fat and add the shallots and garlic. Saute for a couple of minutes, then add the brandy and set it on fire. Shake the pan gently until the flames die down. Try real, real, hard not to burn your kitchen down.*

Now add the mushrooms, wine and chicken stock. Let the liquid start to boil, then reduce the heat and cover the pan. Simmer for 30 to 40 minutes or until a meat thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the thigh reads 175 degrees (165 is a safe temperature, but I think the texture of dark meat is really unpleasant if you only cook it to 165).

OK now take the chicken out of the pan with a slotted spoon and place it on a serving platter. Turn up the heat and let the cooking liquid boil. When it has reduced down to about a half cup, add the cream and stir until the sauce thickens a little. You can also add a tablespoon of melted butter mixed with some flour if it doesn't thicken up enough. Serve the chicken over egg noodles and top with the sauce.

* Please note that I almost burned my kitchen down. The flames were really big and I was trying to take pictures of them with one hand and shake the damned pot with the other. Even though this is a pretty standard French cooking technique, I do not condone or recommend actually lighting your food on fire unless you really know what you're doing, because if you burn your kitchen down you will blame me. You have been warned.

OK now for the cheese tart:

First heat your oven to 400 degrees. On a lightly floured surface, roll out the pastry sheet until it is about 12 inches square. Place on a baking sheet (I also crimped the edges of the dough so the cheese mixture would stay put).

Put the cottage cheese, sour cream, salt and pepper into a blender and pulse until smooth.

Now cook the bacon over a medium flame until it begins to brown. Don't let it get crispy. Remove from heat and set aside.

Spread the cheese mixture over the pastry like you would with a marinara sauce if you were making a pizza. Leave about 1 inch around all four edges.

Now scatter the onions over the tart, sprinkle the bacon on top, then add the Parmesan cheese.

Put the tart in the oven and bake until golden (20 to 25 minutes). Cut up into pieces and serve.

And finally, the apple tart.

First blend all the pastry ingredients except the water with your fingers until the mixture looks like fine bread crumbs.

Gradually add the water until the mixture starts to turn into a crumbly dough. Don't overdo it, but eventually you should have a smooth ball. Dust it with a little bit of flour and wrap it in plastic wrap, then place it in the fridge for an hour.

Preheat the oven to 425 and butter a 10 inch tart pan. Lightly flour a surface and the roll the dough out until it's a large circle. Line the pan with the dough and prick it all over with a fork. Return to the fridge for another 10 minutes.

Now cut each apple quarter into four slices and place neatly over the pastry, overlapping the slices as you go. Your tart should look something like this:

Bake for 15 minutes. While the tart is baking, make the filling:

Whisk the eggs together with the sugar, vanilla and cinnamon. Add the cream. When the tart has finished baking for 15 minutes, pour the filling over the top of it and return to the oven.

Bake for an additional 30 to 35 minutes. When the apples are tender, the tart is done.

So I'm sure you'd like to know if I preferred this to the frog's legs, and since I do enjoy trying new foods but I'm not a snob about it, I will not pretend that I liked the frog's legs any better than the chicken. I mean, they were the legs of a slimy creature who lives stagnant water, right? I did like the flavor of them, but when you eat frog's legs there's always that voice in the back of your head that goes, "ew."

Anyway I liked the chicken, and yes I would probably choose it over frog's legs in the future. It had a sweet flavor from the Riesling and like many French dishes, was pretty mild in flavor, but quite rich. The cheese tart was yummy--I guess it was basically just a French pizza--but my kids missed the red sauce. And cottage cheese isn't really their thing, even though it was cleverly disguised.

The apple tart was yummy and looked very pretty when it was done. Again, not really different than a lot of other apple desserts I've had, but still yummy.

OK onwards.

Next week: Lithuania
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