Picnic Sandwiches: French Edition

Preparing for the 4th of July in Seattle usually means making sure your raincoat is still waterproof and looking into putting a tarp up for your BBQ attendees to stand under while they inhale the intoxicating smoke from your grill. Every third year or so it’s actually nice on the holiday itself, but usually it doesn’t start warming up significantly until the 5th or later.

You don’t have to take my word for it though. Here is an actual weather forecast for Seattle, current as of this morning.

In other words, roasting a chicken for dinner is still a totally viable option right up through the first month of summer.

This is great news for people who like picnics, because cold chicken makes excellent picnic food. And, unless you’re feeding a huge family, you will probably have some chicken leftover to turn into a baguette sandwich that even the most jaded French picnicker would be glad to indulge in. Especially if it’s a fancy picnic held on a holiday.

When we had left La Rochelle and were in Saint Simeux, where the chateau my uncle was living in with friends was located, we realized how ridiculously hot it was. We had been spoiled by the cool breezes blowing off the Atlantic, and now were being inundated with weather at least 15-20 degrees hotter than it would have been back home at that time of year.

It inspired us to dine al fresco more often than not–taking meals in any shady spot we could find, dining late into the evening as the stifling air became more and more bearable. Aided of course by lots of pineau, produced by the owner of the vineyards nextdoor, chilled to perfection so that beads of condensation would roll lazily down the sides of your glass between sips.

I can remember roasting a chicken at least once while we were there–even in the tremendous heat. For us it didn’t go as far–there were 6 adults dining that evening, so one was just enough. The dogs probably nibbled the leftovers, and we didn’t get to have any sandwiches the next day.

Now though, I love nothing better than a hearty baguette stuffed to overflowing with creamy, savory sandwich fillings. Summer is the best time for things like that, so I’ve been practicing for when the good weather does show up.

If you are lucky enough to be somewhere that’s got sunshine and you’d rather not turn on the oven, then by all means save this recipe for a cooler day and make your fancy pants Fourth of July (or Bastille Day…) chicken sandwiches from chicken that has been cooked a different way. What really matters is that you all your ingredients are excellent quality. You will never regret buying the best baguette you can find for the express purpose of making simple sandwiches.

You should probably also make sure your picnic basket if full of wine and delicious pickles, olives and assorted other savory snacks. Maybe some fancy pastries or a nice tart to have alongside the chilled tea you’ll serve after the meal, and after the requisite relaxing and gossiping have happened. That is the only way to picnic after all.

I’m a huge fan of thyme and grapefruit together. The floral notes of a freshly picked sprig of thyme are such an incredible complement to the sweet tart juice from a squeeze of grapefruit, and both are excellent foils for the empty flavor palette that is a whole chicken.

For the sandwiches themselves, all you need to do is shred or cut the chilled chicken into small pieces and mix in your favorite chicken salad accompaniments. I kept it simple with a touch a mayonnaise, lots of black pepper, and more fresh thyme. A little celery goes a long way to add a bit of crunch, but really the possibilities are endless.

With the addition of a piece of garden fresh lettuce, you really don’t need much else to make an incredibly satisfying sandwich. If you want to change it up completely though, just swap the whole thing out for a sandwich of soft goat cheese with a few pistachios tucked in, the whole thing drizzled with honey before being sealed up and placed into the basket.

And if your picnic basket never makes it further than the living room due to inclement weather, so be it.

Grapefruit and Thyme Roasted Chicken

4 1/2-5 lb. chicken, rinsed well and patted dry
1 good sized bunch fresh thyme (about 1/2 a little box if you buy it from the supermarket)
1/2 large pink grapefruit
olive oil or margarine (This makes it kosher–feel free to use butter if that’s not a problem for you.)
salt
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp garlic powder

Preheat your oven to 400 F, with a rack about 1/3 of the way from the bottom. Make sure you have enough room above it for the chicken to slide in without hitting another rack.

Place the chicken in your roasting dish and coat it liberally with olive oil or margarine, pulling up the skin to get your fat underneath as well. Give a good squeeze of the grapefruit and then start adding the spices. Sprinkle a good pinch of salt (skip this if your chicken is a kosher one) over the top and bottom of the bird, and sprinkle the paprika and garlic powder over. Rub the chicken all over (under the skin too) to coat. Tear off the leaves from most of the stems of thyme and spread those around too. Add the rest of the thyme along with the squeezed grapefruit to the cavity of the bird. Add any vegetable you’d like to roast along side, and kind of toss them around to coat them in the residual oil.

Roast until the thermometer registers 165, about an hour, depending on the size of your bird. If you dont’ have a thermometer, cut into the meat: the juices should run clear, and the joints should be easy to move. Allow to rest , tented with foil, for 15 or so minutes before cutting into it. This is a great time to make pan sauce if you’re so inclined–just crank up the heat on a skillet and whisk a bit of flour into about 1/4 cup of drippings to make a paste, then slowly slowly add more liquid while whisking continuously to prevent lumps from forming. Heat to a boil and let it reduce if necessary until it reaches a consistency you’re happy with.

If you aren’t planning on eating the chicken hot for dinner, and are instead roasting it only for sandwiches, you can skip the pan sauce and put the whole thing straight into the fridge once you’ve cut it into pieces to allow it to cool faster. The veggies will be optional but they make an excellent companion to a cold sandwich so I recommend you don’t skip them if you can help it.

Butter Sold Separately

Sometimes you need to buy something that you wouldn’t normally consider buying. Like non-fat milk.

Wait, I never buy that. Ok. A better example might be kirsch, which I found myself buying last week and I chose to buy Monarch brand (gasp!). I know. I’m sorry. It was the only brand that came in a pint. I just couldn’t bear the thought of flambéing a cherry tart with 35 year old cognac, which was the only thing alcoholic enough to catch on fire that I had in the house.

One other thing I don’t buy very often is new cookbooks, unless they are for cookbook club. But this book was published recently, and I decided I totally needed to buy it.

It has some very delicious recipes in it. Most of them have butter and sugar and a lot of them have chocolate. All of them definitely have love and devotion written between the lines.

My copy already has several pages covered in grease and grit, even though the book is still practically brand new. I’ve cooked or sampled about a dozen recipes from the book, and I’ve loved almost every one. It’s been hard for me to stick to the recipe sometimes, mostly because it’s hard for me to stick to any recipe exactly as printed. I did use ingredients that I’d like to think Joy would have approved of, like adding coconut and cherries to the cinnamon rolls in place of raisins and nuts.

My favorite so far has been the carrot cake pancakes. I am always looking for a way to A) let myself eat cake for breakfast and B) get that family of mine to eat veggies for breakfast. A conundrum, I know. Those things seem at odds with each other, but Joy got it figured out for sure. These pancakes are superb, but I won’t go into detail about them because somebody else already did that for us. I might skip the cream cheese topping next time though, as it did turn out to be a little sweet for our breakfast time crew. Turns out feeding kids frosting for breakfast makes for an interesting morning.

One of the recipes that is stellar in a more subtle “you’ll eat me someday and wonder why you didn’t do it sooner” kind of way is the Grapefruit Soufflé Pudding. It’s sort of a mouthful to say, and when you get a mouthful of the actual pudding you will be totally glad you came across it.

The crackle of the minuscule bubbles in the souffléd top hide a bottom layer of custard that’s perfectly smooth and creamy without being too rich. The grapefruit notes snap at your tastebuds and leave a heady floral aroma on the palette. You can make one big one, or you can make some little ones. You can turn it into a pie if you make in on 3/14, like I did. You could share it with your friends or you could eat it all by yourself and only feel a little guilty for not sharing it with your friends.

Of all this things I’ve so far tried from the book, this one is the least assuming but absolutely one of the best. I was glad I had some grapefruit just waiting to be turned into pudding. And I can’t wait to try more of the recipes–a lot of the pages have dog ears, so I know it’ll be making many appearances on my kitchen counter. For instance, I’m trying to figure out how to make the chili cheese fries kosher for passover, just so I have something to look forward to that week.

Grapefruit Soufflé Pudding in a Tart
(reprinted with Joy’s permission and adapted just a hint for the dishwasher’s sake)
makes one 9″ tart with a bit leftover OR one 9″ pan of straight pudding OR 6 individual dishes

1 9″ tart crust’s worth of pate sucrée (optional)
3/4 cup plus 2 Tbsp granulated sugar
2 Tbsp grapefruit zest
3 Tbsp unsalted butter, room temp
3 large eggs, separated (I used 4 smallish ones and it still turned out great)
1/3 cup flour
1/4 tsp salt
1/3 cup fresh grapefruit juice
1 cup whole milk
1/8 tsp cream of tartar

Preheat the oven to 325ºF with a rack in the middle spot. This is the part I changed, which is optional: Line the pan with a thinly rolled tart shell and par bake it like you would for just about any tart. Don’t bake it all the way as it will bake the rest of the way with the filling inside. The rest of this recipe is pure Joy. (pun intended)

Place 3/4 cup of sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer (or a large metal or glass bowl) with the grapefruit zest. Using the back of a spoon, grind the zest into the sugar until very fragrant–this releases the essential oils. Add the butter and beat with a paddle attachement (or your hand mixer or a wooden spoon) for a minute, just until combined. Add the egg yolks one at a time, beating until fluffy and lighter in color, about 2 minutes. Scrape the sides of the bowl as needed.

Add the flour and salt and combine thoroughly. Next add the grapefruit juice and milk in turns and mix until well combined. The mixture will be loose and soupy. Transfer this mixture to another large bowl and set aside. Wash and dry the bowl, you need it to be very clean to whip the egg whites.

Now, add the egg whites and beat on medium speed until frothy. Add the cream of tartar and beat until soft peaks form. Slowly beat in the remaining 2 Tbsp of white sugar. Using a rubber spatula, gently fold the egg whites into the egg yolk mixture, in three batches. Be very gentle, you’re not trying to break down the eggs whites.

Carefully pour the batter into the tart shell and slide into the oven on a cookie sheet. Any leftover batter can be baked as follows, which is the way the original recipes call for it to be baked:

Carefully pour the batter into the pans greased with butter. The batter won’t rise much while baking, so it’s OK if they are pretty full. Place the dish with the batter inside into a larger baking dish with high sides. Slide the larger baking dish (with the smaller ones inside) into the oven, leaving a corner sticking out. Carefully pour boiling water into the larger baking dish, being careful not to splash the soufflé. Fill the pan until the water reaches about halfway up the sides of the soufflé dish, and then carefully slide the whole thing the rest of the way into the oven.

Bake for 25-30 minutes for small dishes, or up to 40 minutes for one large dish. My tart baked for about the same as a large dish would bake for. The top of the souffle will be just barely browned on top and a skewer inserted in the middle will come out clean. Serve the pudding warm or at room temp. (We even tried some cold the next day and it was still excellent, though it’s best the day it’s made.)

Three Corners

I have a huge stash of things in jars.

Sometimes I go to pull one thing out of the stash and I find something else entirely and I’m all like “Yeah! This is gonna be sooo good.”

I did that yesterday when I was looking for some sort of jam to put into the cookies the kids and I were making. I found a jar of curry pickled green tomatoes that I had completely forgotten about. I still have an open jar of a different kind of tomato pickle in the fridge so I restrained myself and didn’t pull the new jar out of the bench.

I’ll just have to find an excuse to use up the other pickles so I can eat the new ones.

But in the meantime I’m also restraining myself from eating all those cookies we made.

It’s Purim this week–a Jewish holiday marking the saving of the Jewish people of the city of Shushan by their secretly Jewish queen, Esther. It’s traditional to give gifts of food to neighbors and loved ones. Actually, pretty much anybody. This is a tradition I have no trouble getting behind, because I am really good at making huge batches of things for the sole purpose of giving them away. Usually one of the things that is included in the goodie bag is a few hamentashen.

Yesterday I was home with all three little Goldbergs while Joe did a 70 mile ride with his bike team. We went to the park and did some other stuff, but the best part of the day was the cookies. We made the dough in the morning and once Lilli was down for the count after lunch, Isaac and I (Aaron was out with a friend) rolled out the dough and got them into the oven.

We used kumquat marmalade and crab apple jelly to fill them. They’re not exactly traditional Jewish fillings, but whatever. I’m not exactly a traditional Jew.

The last couple of years I have tried different recipes for hamentashen and not been happy with any of them. I’m not really sure why it took me so long to figure it out. It’s basically a sugar cookie dough, sometimes parve (no dairy or meat ingredients) or sometimes not, and then you fold it up into little three cornered treasure boxes of fruit or poppyseed filling. They’re pretty basic as far as technical skill goes.

This year I think I finally got them right. The trick is to use a solid fat instead of oil, which is what some recipes call for. The oil makes them parve, but you can just as easily use vegetable shortening, or I guess margarine, if you need them to not have any dairy. A recipe I got from a friend had a substitution to make them vegan even.

If you’re looking for a basic recipe this is the one. I based it on a recipe I got out of a cookbook that I think came from my mother-in-law, a cookbook called “Daf Yummy.” I tweaked some parts of it to meet in the middle with the recipe my friend swears by, and ended up with a dough I can finally be proud to call “my hamentashen recipe.” You could add orange zest in addition to the orange juice, you can switch up half of the flour for whole wheat, you can add a tsp of cinnamon or another spice to the dough. You could even make them chocolate by substituting about 1/4 cup of the flour for cocoa powder.

Now, when you’re eating all those cookies, you might need something to wash them down with.

Another Purim tradition, one that is actually commanded by the Talmud according to some Rabbis, is to drink. Heavily. There’s a lot of drinking in the story–it pretty much saved the day. So, you are supposed to drink until you are perfumed with wine and can’t tell the Hamens (bad guys) from the Mordechais (good guys). To help you along I worked out a recipe for a cocktail that is the perfect embodiment of the heroine in this Purim story: Queen Esther.

She’s strong and sweet. She’s bold, but knows exactly when to play her cards. She’s everything a heroine needs to be–just like this cocktail. It’s smooth and sweet and comes on slowly, building up to end each sip with a little fire.

There’s a long tradition of sweetened citrus drinks in the Middle East, dating back centuries, to the time of Esther and her kin. The grapefruit is a new twist on that idea, playing against the herbal notes of the thyme perfectly. I like to think that Her Highness would have approved of this refreshing mix, and would have gladly served it to her King. Maybe she wouldn’t have used good bourbon for old Hamen though.

Hamentashen
makes about 36 cookies

3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
3/4 cup sugar, depending on how sweet your filling will be
2 cups all purpose flour
1 large egg, broken up with a fork
2 Tbsp fresh squeezed orange juice (or lemon)
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 tsp baking powder
2 tsp salt
2 1/2 cup all purpose flour

Filling of choice such as jam, ganache, or a more traditional filling such as prune or poppy seed

In a food processor, blend the sugar and butter until well combined. Add the egg, orange juice, vanilla extract, baking soda, and salt. Pulse just until everything looks mixed in. Add in the flour and blend until the dough comes together in a ball. Wrap in plastic or parchment paper and refrigerate for several hours.

When you are ready to bake your cookies, preheat the oven to 375ºF. Line 2 (or 3 if you have them) cookie sheets with parchment paper.

Working with 1/2 batch at a time, roll out the dough on a lightly floured surface to about 1/8″ thick. Cut out circles about 2 1/2″ in diameter, using a cookie cutter or the rim of a glass dipped in flour. You can re-roll the dough, but you might need to chill it a bit longer depending on how cold it was to begin with.

Line the circles up on the trays and place about 1 Tbsp of filling in each cookie. I like to use a small ice cream style scoop for this job, it makes it slightly less messy. Fold up the edges of the cookies on three sides, making a nice little triangle around the filling. Be sure to let some of the filling show in the center. If the corners won’t stick together on their own, use a wet finger to trace a circle around each piece of dough, then fold them up.

Bake for about 10-12 minutes, or until the corners are a nice golden brown. Cool completely on wire racks before eating these cookies, or you run the risk of burning your mouth on the filling. Just take my word on this.

The Queen Esther
makes 1 cocktail

2 oz good bourbon
1/6 Ruby grapefruit
1 large sprig thyme
1 Tbsp simple syrup
3-4 dashes grapefruit bitters, I like Fee Brothers

In a cocktail shaker, muddle the grapefruit and the thyme, squeezing as much juice out of the grapefruit as you can. Add the bourbon, syrup, and bitters. Put in a handful of ice, put on the top, and shake it up. Pour over fresh ice and garnish with grapefruit and more thyme, if desired.

Marmalade Mash-up

One time I went to three or four different hole-in-the-wall asian markets looking for green papayas to make green papaya salad. It was probably the only legitimate craving I had the entire time I was pregnant with Lilli.

It wasn’t even that much of a craving, really. More of an “I think I want to make this” and then it got more and more important the harder I had to look for those stupid papayas.

Anyway, last week Lilli and I took another journey down to those hole-in-the-wall asian markets, this time with two important differences. One, she was an actual kid and not just a zygote, or whatever. Two, we were looking for citrus, preferably weird varieties, but not with anything too specific in mind. Unfortunately we didn’t find anything that weird.We did come home with a couple of huge pomelos and about 3 pounds of kumquats, all for about 8 bucks.

This is awesome because unless you happen to live in california and have some sort of citrus tree (that actually produces fruit, unlike the one in my dining room) somewhere within, oh, say, 200 miles of your front door, those little babies will cost you an arm and a leg. I knew I wanted to make some sort of marmalade so it really didn’t matter what we found, as long as it was cheap. I have also been collecting other citrus. By the time I was getting ready to go to work on this marmalade, I had a bevy of grapefruit, a small stash of Meyer lemons and more oranges than I could count, of several varieties.

So I set to work reading a ton of awesome posts about marmalade. I read some over at Food in Jars (Whose kumquat recipe I followed…the whole thing. Which is unlike me.), and there’s been tons of good ideas for citrus in general on Punk Domestics. I wanted to make a batch that had just one fruit and also one batch that was a medley. I peeled an orange for Lilli and then set to work chopping everything up.

And then I decided that I am a total crazy person. Making kumquat marmalade is like making strawberry jelly where the first step is taking out each individual seed with a pair of tweezers before you cook the fruit. It’s ridiculously time consuming. As good as it tasted, I recommend you find a crazy-person friend to make it for you instead of attempting it yourself. Unless you’re crazy too, in which case you have my blessing.

The other batch I made was the medley and I kind of just made it up using the rule of thumb that says you should add about 3-4 cups of sugar for every pound of fruit. Marmalade isn’t like other jam. Since it contains the peel of the citrus you kind of need to let it soak and soften and then cook for a really long time. It’s better that way. There are ways to get around it, but not with kumquats.

I used the way around when we made the lemon marmalade back in San Francisco. When I cut up the pomelos I followed this “way around” too. You can basically make supremes of the fruit. First, use a vegetable peeler to take off all the zest in big strips which you then chop into very thin slices. Next, cut the flesh from the membranes, and chop it into smallish pieces, setting aside the seeds and membranes like you would if you had cut them whole. For the pomelos it was kind of the only way to go since there’s so much peel and the membranes can be kind of tough. I added one delicious pink grapefruit, mostly just to give it a little more rosy color than the pomelos would bring and also cut up 5 Meyer lemons. And I let it soak the entire 24 hours, even though I’ve never done that part before.

When I got around to cooking it, I realized I had probably added too much water, because it boiled forever. It boiled for probably over an hour before it hit the jelly point (220ºF), which is sort of on the ridiculous end of the spectrum.

In the end, it was kind of on the bitter side. Not inedible, just a little bit not sweet even though I knew it had plenty of sugar in it. So, I’m not going to share the recipe. I hope you don’t mind. I think it will be excellent as part of a sweet cookie or made into a sauce to go over ice cream…Why don’t I have any ice cream?

Well, good thing the kumquat marmalade was delicious. I guess I’ll have to eat that first.

One thing I did deem a success was the pomelo sugar I made using the rind from one of the pomelos. I had decided that since they’re such a big fruit, I only needed to add part of the zest, and was pretty glad about that later. To use it up (because I hate to throw stuff out if I can help it) I ground it up very very fine in the food processor and then dumped in a couple cups of granulated sugar to absorb all the oils from the rind. The sugar also serves as a medium for the zest to get into whatever it is you want it in.

You can just mix any sort of citrus zest in with some sugar. About one orange or lemon per cup of sugar, or two of each fruit it they are pretty small. Mix it up and then store it in an airtight container. I went the wacky route and physically cut up the zest, but a microplane style grater is the best tool for the job. You can use it anywhere regular sugar would be called for but a hit of citrus would be welcome.