August 15, 2012

Happy Birthday Julia! A Summer Dinner with Julia's Chicken Salad and Peach Tarte Tatin

It would have been the utterly fabulous Julia Child's 100th birthday today, and to honour and celebrate her life, there have been hundreds of extravagant dinners served this month, featuring some of her best known and loved classics.  While it's true that Julia introduced the wonders of rich, complex French cooking to millions over her lifetime, she was also the master of dishes that are easy and quick to prepare. The constants? Top quality ingredients, seasonal goodness and of course, real butter.

If you're not inclined to whip up a roast duck and big gooey cake tonight - Julia's favourite birthday dinner, and the inspiration for this blog's name - try this simple and simply delicious summer meal instead.  Featuring flavourful chicken salad and an in-season peach tarte tatin, it's the perfect meal to enjoy on a warm summer's evening.  Pour a glass of chilly white and toast the woman who continues to bring us into the kitchen and inspire us to cook with thought, care and passion.

Bon appetit!

Julia's Chicken Salad
serves 6-8
adapted from Julia's Kitchen Wisdom  

6 c leftover roast chicken, white and dark meat combined, cut into generous chunks
Salt and freshly ground white pepper, to taste
2 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp fresh lemon juice
1 c chopped celery tops (include the leafy bits)
1 c chopped walnuts
2 tsp chopped fresh tarragon
⅔ c homemade mayonnaise
Fresh mixed salad greens

1.  In a medium non-reactive bowl, toss the chicken with the salt, pepper and the next four ingredients, and mix thoroughly.  Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 20 minutes or overnight.

Use the leafy green tops of the celery for extra flavour

2. While the salad is chilling, make the mayonnaise (watch this space for Julia's recipe coming soon!)

3.  When you’re ready to serve the salad, drain any liquid from the bowl.  Add the tarragon and just enough mayonnaise to coat the salad very lightly.  Or, as Julia says, to enrobe the salad – a lovely word! Place the salad greens on plates, placing a generous scoop of chicken salad on each, and serve.

Peach Tarte Tatin
serves 6-8
adapted from Julia's Kitchen Wisdom

With delicious peaches at their peak of goodness right now, I thought I'd adapt my favourite Julia Child dessert - classic apple tarte tatin - using peaches instead. The results were spectacularly good: must be the butter!

Here’s my version of Julia’s pie dough, which can be used for the tarte or for any sweet or savoury pie you wish to make. You will need about half of this recipe for the tarte. Or use your favourite pie dough; you will need enough dough for a single pie tart.  

For the Tarte Tatin:
6-8 firm but ripe peaches, peeled and cut into wedges
The juice and zest of 1 lemon
½ tsp cinnamon 
¼ tsp ground cardamom 
tsp ground mace
1½ cups sugar
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
Heavy oveproof 9-inch skillet for cooking and baking

1. Preheat the oven to 425F, with the rack in the lower middle position.

2.  In a large bowl, combine the sliced peaches with the lemon juice, zest and spices.  Set aside.

3.  In the skillet, melt the butter over medium high heat.  Slowly stir in the remaining sugar and cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture begins to turn syrupy and golden brown.  Be careful not to overcook, as the mixture can burn easily.

4.  Remove the skillet from the heat.  Arrange the sliced peaches in a circular pattern in the skillet, starting at the outer edge of the pan and working your way into the middle, until you have used all of the peaches.  Leave any accumulated juices behind.

5.  Return the skillet to the stove and cook over moderately high heat, pressing down on the peaches every few minutes.  Cover the skillet after ten minutes, but continue to press down on the fruit, and brush the tops of the peaches with the juices in the skillet. Watch the peaches carefully, as the sugar can carmelise and burn quickly.  When the juices are thick and syrupy (about 20 minutes) remove the skillet from the heat.

5.  On a lightly floured surface, roll out the chilled dough until it is about ⅛ of an inch thick and slightly larger in diameter than the skillet. Drape the dough on top of the peaches, pressing the edge of the dough between the peaches and the edge of the skillet.  Cut four steam holes on the dough and place the skillet in the oven.

6.  Bake until the pastry has browned and crisped, about 20 minutes.  Let the tarte rest for a few minutes and then unmold onto a serving dish.  This is a bit tricky but even if some of the peaches stick to the skillet, just arrange them onto the tarte.

7.  Cool slightly and serve.   

August 10, 2012

BSP3 Part Two: Peachy Keen Canning - Peach-Plum-Ginger Jam

Do you know Food in Jars? It's the absolutely wonderful blog authored by that genius of jam, Marisa McClellan.  Marisa's warm and inviting writing style welcomes you into her kitchen as she shares her preserving adventures, experiments, successes and near misses.  No matter what's bubbling in the pot, Marisa's blog makes you want to take a peek inside, dip a spoon in, and taste whatever deliciousness she's cooking.  Or better yet, load up at the farmers' market and try to capture all that ripe goodness in a jar for yourself.
I was beyond thrilled when I saw that Marisa was going to be at BSP3 this year.  But I also couldn't believe she had been at last year's gathering; Marisa, how have I missed meeting you two years in a row? 

Never mind.  A highlight of BSP was watching Marisa make plum jam, demonstrating her canning alchemy with grace and humour in 90˚ heat.  And best of all, I won one of Marisa's hot off the press cookbooks, the gorgeous Food in Jars.  With peaches in season and the best they've been in years, it was time to get back into the kitchen with Marisa.   

Peach-Plum-Ginger Jam
from Food in Jars, Marisa McClellan
makes approx 8 half pint jars

If you haven't canned before, this link will take you to my blog post on making plum jam, filled with step by step photos and further links to great canning sites (plus a super easy recipe for Italian plum jam).

Marisa doesn't specify what type of plums to use; whatever is in season and bursting with ripeness is the right choice.  I was lucky to get sweet and sunny Shiro plums; their bright yellow added a golden glow to the jam.

8 c peeled, pitted and mashed peaches (about 4 lb)
4 c pitted and mashed Shiro plums
6 c granulated sugar
1 c ginger juice*

*To make ginger juice, shred an 8 oz piece of peeled ginger, cut into large chunks, in a blender with ½ c of water.  Pour the ginger pulp into a cheesecloth lined sieve and squeeze out the liquid, discarding the remaining pulp.

1.  Prep your canning equipment. Clean and sterilise half pint jars by washing them in warm soapy water and rinsing thoroughly; putting them through the quick wash cycle in the dishwasher is even easier and ensures sterilization. Set aside on a clean tea towel.

2. Wash the lids and the bands.  Keep the lids hot in a small pot of simmering water.  Fill your canner with water, add the clean jars, and put on the stove over medium high heat.

3.  Combine the fruit, sugar and ginger juice in a large pot.  Attach a candy thermometer to the side of the pot and bring the jam to a simmer.  Increase the heat and boil the jam briskly until it reaches 220˚F, or it passes the saucer/spoon test.

4.  Drain the jars from the water bath, and pour the hot jam into the jars.  Apply lids and bands, put back in water bath and bring to a boil.  Process for 10 minutes, remove from water and set aside to cool thoroughly.

Peach-Plum-Ginger Jam; delicious with freshly baked croissants

August 05, 2012

Big Summer Potluck 3 Part One: Water Bugging

This morning I did something rather unusual.  I started my day by not water bugging.

No matter what day of the week, my mornings unfold in more or less the same way.  Make tea, coffee for Richard if he’s not travelling.  Feed Trixie, and whatever neighbourhood cats show up at the front door.  Turn on the radio.  And finally, impatiently, eagerly, sit down at my computer and re-establish my place in the digital world.  What Facebook updates have I missed?  Did anyone repin something from my Pinterest boards? What photos were posted on Instagram? Twitter…ah Twitter, how I love and hate you.  With my two accounts, there are endless conversations to be part of, articles to read and retweet, messages to launch, like so many tiny missiles, into the vast endless Twittersphere universe.  

And then there are work emails.  While I’ve been sleeping, Asia and Europe have been busy as bees, filling my inbox with questions, FYIs, requests and projects.  I’m fully engaged with all neurons firing, even though it’s only 6:30 am.

But here’s the thing. With all that activity, I haven’t had a single live human moment. I’ve been so busy trying just to keep up that I haven’t really tuned in.

So as I’ve been thinking about BSP3 and imagining what I might share about that transformative experience, I keep going back to water bugging.   

Have you heard of water bugging?  It’s the speedy skim, the surface conversation, the lightening quick flitting from one thing to another, all, of seeming very important and making you feel terribly busy.  But water bugging never gets beneath the surface, down into the depths of things: to that scary place underneath the rock in the deepest part of the lake; to the magical beauty that inexplicably survives 30 feet below the water. 

The Big Summer Potluck is all about what lies beneath.  It’s the antithesis of water bugging, made evident in every minute with abundance of real human moments abounding all around us.  It’s about bringing together the natural community that forms around food and amplifying it, shining a megawatt light on all that really should matter.

Unexpected beauty

As so as they have magically done for three years now, Maggy, Erika and Pam bring together people that force us to get our hair wet, to dive deeper into the lake that is our hearts and really connect with not just each other, but ourselves.  I’ll share more about the collective awesomeness of Brooke Burton-Lüttmann, Joy Wilson, Marisa McClellan and Molly O’Neill in a future post, and how, in their very distinctive ways, each of them pulled us into the lake with joyous splashes.

But right now it’s 9:30 am.  I’m in my garden, the cacophony of honey bees burrowing in the anemones impossibly loud and delicious.  The digital world is a click away, but I’m swatting that particular water bug down for the moment.  I have a husband to call who’s far away, and human moments to create.

With heartfelt thanks to Maggy for her water bugging intro to BSP3 and the amazing sponsors who made BSP3 possible, memorable and tasty!