Saturday, September 29, 2012

Worthy of the Barley Neck Inn, circa 1983

When I was a very little girl, Cape Cod was a lot less built up than it is today.  In particular, nice restaurants (as opposed to tiny fried fish and clam shacks) were often quite far from my grandmother's home in quiet Falmouth. But the Barley Neck Inn* wasn't just a "nice" restaurant.  It was truly fine dining, in a quintessential New England setting, a sea captain's house built in the late 1800s.  Back in those days, you used to dress up for this sort of thing, and the Barley Neck was formal.  I can still hear my grandfather complaining bitterly about wearing a tie, while my Nana would tell him to stop fussing with it.  We would drive a solid hour out to Orleans; it was an occasion and I loved it.  Going out to a fancy dinner was just about one of my favorite things.  In truth, I was a precocious brat who would have been insulted if a place had a kid's menu, much less invited me to select from one. I don't remember too much about the specifics of the menu probably because when I was little I was a creature of habit, more even than I am now and I likely ordered the same thing every time.  My favorite appetizer was artichoke hearts au gratin which came in its own little casserole dish and was completely heavenly.  I'm fairly sure that the piece de resistance was Beef Wellington (sweet heavens how I love Beef Wellington).  It was that kind of restaurant.  Classic dishes, New England dishes, but never banal, the chef clearly knew how to innovate. (e.g. my grandfather's favorite was a cauliflower and clam chowder).  While I could never tell you if they featured a shrimp (more likely lobster, considering New England's seafood supply) pot pie, it's certainly the kind of dish that would have fit in perfectly: elegant, rich, well-executed and with a classic Cape Cod spirit.

*Don't bother looking it up, the horror show currently bearing the name has no resemblance to the fine old institution.

This makes two hearty main dish portions.

puff pastry (I needed 1/3 of a sheet) - thawed
1 lb shrimp, cleaned, deveined and chopped into bite-sized pieces
3 T butter
3 T flour
1/2 C white or yellow onion chopped fine
1/2 C mushrooms (I used baby bella) chopped
2 t Old Bay Seasoning
2 T vermouth or dry white wine
1/3 C milk
salt and pepper to taste

Preheat your oven to 400 F.
Prepare a baking sheet by covering it with foil and placing the two oven safe dishes you plan on using on top of it.  It will be much easier to pull a pan out of the oven instead of two smallish dishes.  I used these Pyrex baking dishes of my Nana's that are marked 12 oz.  They're smaller than a bowl, but bigger than a ramekin.

In a large skillet, melt your butter over low heat.  Add the flour and whisk to make a thick paste.  Allow this (the roux) to cook for 3-4 minutes until a nice warm goldeny-brown color.  Add the onions and mushrooms and stir to incorporate them with the roux.  Cook for 5-7 minutes over medium heat until they are soft. Add the shrimp and toss with the Old Bay Seasoning. Increase the heat for medium high.  Cook for 1-2 minutes, stirring frequently.  When the shrimp have lost their translucence (honestly, you're going to bake them later, they'll be cooked, don't worry about it) add the vermouth and continue to stir or whisk until the liquid is sort of absorbed to make a sauce.  Then add the milk and continue stirring a bit.  Give it a few minutes to thicken.  Taste the sauce and add salt and pepper accordingly (mine needed quite a bit of salt).

On a well floured surface, roll out the puff pastry and cut two pieces that will fit the top of your baking dishes. Spoon your thickened pot pie mixture into the bowls, top with the puff pastry and place in the oven.  Bake for 15-20 minutes.  You want the top to be golden brown and puffed up.  Serve immediately.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Tasting Fall

I can't help it.  When the weather finally starts to turn and there's a chill in the air, I immediately think of  New England.  In my mind they are almost synonymous, so that when I think of fall, I picture the warm  coppers and fiery oranges of the foliage in Connecticut. I can practically smell the leaves burning in Massachusetts yards.  I can taste the crisp apples from Lyman Orchards*, the tart freshness of cranberries from the Cape Cod bogs.  But if there's one flavor that New England has exclusive rights to, it might be maple walnut.  No where else in the country does the maple have so much depth and richness.  It's not the cloying bland impostor known as "pancake syrup", it's not a faint background sugary-ness.  And the walnuts are never sad little bland bits of crunch.  They are substantial with an earthy smoothness behind the chew.  Now usually the combination is the star in cool, velvety ice cream, but these cookies will deliver all of the deliciousness in a form compatible with brisk evenings and warm cups of tea.

*More on Lyman Orchards in upcoming posts!

adapted from Cooking Light
Makes between 2-3 dozen small cookies

NB: If you're interested in baking with maple syrup you might want to invest in some Grade B syrup which is darker in color and deeper in flavor.  It will stand up better in recipes than it's lighter pancake loving Grade A counterpart.


1 1/2 C all purpose flour
1/2 t baking soda
1/2 t ground ginger
1/2 t ground cinnamon
1/4 t salt
1/8 t ground nutmeg
3/4 C packed brown sugar
1/4 C softened butter
3 T maple syrup (if you use Grade B, you might get away with 2 T)
1 large egg

1 C powdered sugar
3 T maple syrup
1 T milk
2 T butter, softened

1/2 C chopped walnuts, toasted (toast by popping them on a sheet pan in a toaster oven or oven set to 350 for about 5 minute)

Preheat your oven to 350 F.  In a stand mixer, combine the butter and brown sugar and beat until light and fluffy.  Add the maple syrup and the egg and mix until combined.  In a separate bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, ginger, cinnamon, salt and (which you can skip if you use salted butter), nutmeg. Stir well to combine thoroughly.  Add the flour mixture to the wet ingredients and set the mixer on low until it comes together.

Use a spoon to help form small balls.  I found that these are rather puffy if left in ball shape which makes them harder to glaze and top with walnuts.  I sort of gently pressed down the tops once I placed them on the baking sheet to encourage a flatter shape.  Arrange balls on the baking sheet, leaving space between (as I mentioned, mine didn't spread a ton, but you know, better safe than sorry).  Bake at 350 until lightly browned.  I started checking mine around 10 minutes.  It averaged 10-12 minutes although the original recipe said 14, so know your oven.  I was able to transfer them to a cooling rack pretty quickly.

Mix together the frosting by combining the maple syrup, milk and butter and then adding the powdered sugar.  You can whisk or stir until smooth.  Mine was a bit liquidy which resulted in the sort of rustic poured look you see above.  The magazine had sort of perfectly round frosting spread on each cookie.  That was not happening in my world.  One you've frosted, press the walnuts on top quickly so they stick.

Enjoy autumn!

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Bad Wife

Ryan went to get his cholesterol checked last week and yesterday his numbers came back.  They are all still borderline high.  I feel terrible for him because he exercises and generally eats healthy food and has never smoked anything and yet he has this hanging over him.  And what kind of wife am I?  Do I cook healthy meals out of great concern for his well-being?  Do make sure we have tons of vegetables and whatever else is good for your cholesterol?  Do I even know what is good for your cholesterol?  No.  I do none of those things.  I just fry up some chicken and pop it on a plate with some carbs.  What can I say?  Korean Fried Chicken just tastes good!  It's light and crispy and spicy and savory.  Next week I'll make something that won't kill him.

(Confidential to Dr. Who fans - Bad Wife?  Bad Wolf?  Am I leaving myself a message to remind myself to save my husband?)


Package of 5-6 chicken drumsticks
3 cloves of garlic
1/2 t powdered ginger
2 T soy sauce
2 T gojujang (Korean chile paste)
1 T rice vinegar
1 T sesame oil
1 T honey
1/3 C cornstarch

vegetable oil for frying

In a food processor, combine the garlic, ginger powder, soy, gojujang, rice vinegar, sesame oil and honey.  Blend until fully combined.  Taste it.  It is spicy, right?  Not spicy enough?  Add some more gojujang. Too spicy?  Balance with a bit more honey.  When you have it just right, pour it into a large bowl.  You're going to toss the fried wings in the sauce, so make it a bowl that will let you do that.

In a large heavy bottomed pot, pour 1-2" of oil.  Heat the oil to 350 degrees fahrenheit. Take your drumsticks and coat them in cornstarch, shaking off the excess.  You can certainly use flour or a mix of cornstarch and flour.  Cornstarch makes a very light coating, not a heavy crispy one.  More of a light crackly one.  When your drumsticks are coated, pop 2-3 at a time into the oil (how many you can fit depends on the size of your pot, don't overcrowd).  Watch your oil temperature closely, you want to maintain around 350.  Fry the drumsticks for 4 minutes on the first side, then using metal tongs, flip them and fry for another 4 minutes.  Have a tray covered in paper towels waiting and when they're done, pull them out.  Keep at it until all your drumsticks are fried. I checked to see if they're done by using a meat thermometer.  You want an internal temperature of at least 165 degrees fahrenheit for poultry.  Try to stick the thermometer into the meatiest part of the drumstick.  My temperature was okay after the first frying, but when I put the probe into the chicken and pulled it out, red blood burbled out of the thing like something out of a horror movie.  I'm not kidding.  If you know why this is, PLEASE reveal in the comments.  Anyway, the red blood creeped me right out so I threw those suckers right back into the oil and fried them for another 3 minutes per side.  This time the temperature was way over 165, but there was no scary blood.  Give them a minute or two to drain their oil onto paper towels and then toss them in the sauce until they are well coated.


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