I had planned to cook the recipes in the order in which they are presented in the cook book, but the governor has declared a state of emergency, which required me to jump ahead to the most appropriate snow day recipe– the ninth in the Winter section:
The menu: Butter Lettuce with Brie and Pears, Curried Vegetable Pot Pies, and Spiced Lemon Cookies
Only three recipes this time!
The plan: Mix dough and make cookies; cut puff pastry into squares and refrigerate; cook potpie filling, assemble and bake; assemble salad.
Curried Vegetable Potpies
Martha says that potpie is one word. My spell checker isn’t freaking out, so maybe that’s true? I dunno. She also says to serve the pot pie before the salad. She’s full of helpful little style hints this time, like using antique pudding molds as your pot pie ramekins, and serving hot tea in English creamware cups along with the cookies. I find this irritating. I don’t know why–I am not a Martha hater, like so many people are. It’s her job to come up with precious ideas (or hire people to do it) that I normally coo over, so I’m not sure why this bugs me. Maybe because it’s not funny, like the Swiss-chalet thing?
Back to the pot pies- this was the least expensive of the menus so far, which is good because I was beginning to wonder if this was such a good idea, based on the mixed results thus far. I also was glad that I got to buy almost everything in one regular, common-man grocery store for this meal. The first store didn’t have parsnips, or butter (or Boston) lettuce, so I had to go to a second store, the hippie one, which also didn’t have any Boston lettuce, but did have a helpful “Guide to Root Vegetables” poster. I never remember which are turnips and which are parsnips, and consequently, which of the two I don’t like. I don’t eat them frequently, so I forget how I feel about them in between times. I matched the parsnips to the photo on the poster, but then the check out lady argued that they were turnips. DID SHE NOT READ THE POSTER? The joke was on me, because it turns out that parsnips cost more than turnips so I should have kept my yap shut.
First you thaw out the puff pastry according to the package directions, which should have been 40 minutes, but since it was freezing outside and I have a drafty house, it took more like 90. Then it was to be cut into squares a tad larger than the 10 oz ramekins the pies would be baked in, and refrigerated for 30 minutes. I didn’t have to do that since it took so long for the dough to thaw; I cut them out right before baking the pies, and they were still very chilled.
The ramekin thing was problematic–we have two Le Creuset ramekins that hold 8 oz, and two Pyrex bowls that hold 2 cups, but not four of anything ovenproof that match, and neither of these was the “right” size. Evidently, I do need antique pudding molds. Damn.
The filling was pretty easy, but once again she asks you to whisk flour and butter that has big chunks of stuff in it into a roux. Also, she wanted the potatoes cut into 2 by 1/2″ matchsticks. Seriously? The thought of having matchstick potatoes inside my pot pie seemed very wrong to me. She does have a useful little blurb in the back of the book on how to clean leeks. If someone sold pre-washed leeks they could make a fortune. It took four soaks to get them clean, so prep wasn’t fast and easy on this one. I had to clean the leeks, and peel and chop the parsnips, a potato and two carrots.
Matchstick Martha says to melt 3 T butter, and cook the leek, carrots and three parsnips (mine were large, so I used two) with some salt for 3-5 minutes until slightly softened. Reality check–it takes longer than that to soften a carrot and some parsnips. Then 3 T flour is added and cooked until golden. Four cups of milk, 1 T plus 1 t curry powder, and the potato (which I diced, like a normal person) are whisked (?) in, and the mixture is brought to a boil. Then it’s simmered (I used a gentle boil so the sauce would thicken) for 8-10 minutes until the potatoes are tender, and seasoned with salt and pepper.
The mixture is then poured into the ramekins. I had leftover filling, and if my math was correct, so would someone using the preferred size ramekins. Another, larger Pyrex bowl was enlisted–there was extra puff pastry so that wasn’t an issue. A quarter cup of unthawed frozen peas was stirred into each pot; the pastry was placed on top, cut with steam vents, and brushed with milk.
They baked until the crust was golden and the insides bubbled, about 20 minutes. The recipe says to cool 10 minutes before serving, but that was not long enough, I found.
Look, a size for everyone!
The results: These were great for a snowy, cold day. We found them quite hearty and filling. The buttery puff pastry crust went well with the filling, which had only a slight curry taste. (I need to get some Penzey’s curry powder, I think). The Husband isn’t a parsnip fan, so he found them too parsnip-y (every time I think of this I think of Parsippany, NJ); it was the dominant flavor. He also thought it tasted very “green” but the only green thing was a bit of the light green section of the leeks. I would make these again, but switch the ratio of potatoes to parsnips, and add a bit of extra seasoning to make up for the blander potato flavor. Like a true carnivore, he wondered how it would be with some chicken broth in the sauce.
Butter Lettuce with Brie and Pears:
I really shouldn’t even comment on this one, because it was so far removed from what the recipe called for it was a whole other beast. The salad was supposed to combine butter or Boston lettuce, brie and a sliced pear, with a honey/Dijon dressing.
As mentioned above, both stores were out of Boston lettuce–is that what people buy when stocking up for a snow storm these days? I had to go shopping pre-apocalyptic snowstorm and it was a madhouse. It did amuse me that at the second store, all I bought were parsnips and some lettuce off the salad bar. Snow=dietary austerity.
So, as I just mentioned, I decided to makes things easy on myself and just get some red and green lettuce off the salad bar. Brie doesn’t agree with us due to the lactose-intolerant thing, so I didn’t want to buy a big hunk. I decided to use some of the leftover apenzeller cheese, because that goes as much, or as little, as brie after a curried pot pie, right? Does that combo seem weird to anyone else? I realized as I was making the salad that I needed Marcona almonds, which I neglected to put on my list. It’s a pity because I love them. I got the wrong kind of pear, but that’s no big thing–pears is pears. The dressing was Dijon mustard, honey (she recommends orange blossom, but we had rosemary lavender (oh, SNAP!), plus olive oil, pepper and salt.
The results: I was so full from the pot pie that I did not need to eat a salad right after. And I REALLY didn’t need to be eating any cheese. I put two slices on my plate, but only ate one bite to see how the flavors went, which was not at all. I didn’t care for the dressing–the pepper didn’t go with the honey. Fail.
Spiced Lemon Cookies:
I cannot tell you how excited I was to get to make cookies for desert, instead of weird dairy things, or something in a simple syrup or booze (foreshadowing!). Flour + butter=love!
I was also excited to try these, as it seemed they’d be like Mexican wedding cookies/Russian tea cakes, with lemon and coriander. Here’s the recipe (adapted from MS’ Dinner at Home, natch):
Preheat oven to 350. Crush 1.5 t coriander seeds (or use 1.5 t ground coriander), and whisk together with 1 c + 2 T flour and 1/4 t salt. Cream 1 stick room-temperature butter with an electric mixer until pale and fluffy, then add 1/2 c confectioner’s sugar and beat until smooth. Add the flour mixture and the zest of one lemon plus 1-2 T water; mix just to combine. Pinch off a teaspoon of dough, roll into a ball, place on parchment paper on a cookie sheet, and bake for 20 minutes or until edges are lightly golden. Cool completely and toss in confectioner’s sugar.
The results: As made per the recipe as published, the dough was so, so dry. It looked like the panko crumbs from my last entry. I got it to form a dough slightly by mixing it with my hands–the heat made the butter softer. There was no rolling the dough into balls, though. I pulled out my Russian tea cake recipe, and it calls for vanilla, but this recipe had no liquid. I added a T of water to moisten it, and was so convinced that the recipe was a dud that I baked up a test cookie. She said to roll the dough in a tablespoon- sized ball, but I found that the outside got browned before the middle cooked–they also didn’t spread like in the photo of her cookies. So, I added another tablespoon of water, and made the balls smaller.
The flavor is great, but the cookie itself is a bit hard. It may be that I overworked the dough trying to get it cohesive, or maybe it needs more water. I would try these again because I like the flavor; they are a tad salty, which I kind of like with the lemon.
I started the meal around noon, and we ate at 3. I don’t know where the time went–I did have to make a test batch of the cookies, and I meandered a bit in the middle, washing dishes and talking to The Husband, but not that much.
The pot pies: B (The score would be higher with fewer parsnips)
The salad: Not fair to grade, since we didn’t make it as published. I suppose the salad is a good palate cleanser after all the parsnip flavor, but we were left wondering, ‘What is the point?’
The cookies: A- The flavor is good, but the texture needs work