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.

World Party Day: Snack Time

This is a post for World Party Day, which is coming up April 3rd. If you don’t know much about it, you can find out more here, and catch up on the previous tutorials at Big Things, who are organizing this whole big shindig.

Let’s face it you guys. It’s not a party without some snacks.

You can forget about filling up on candy from the piñata, because that will only take you so far. A delicious breakfast is a good way to start the Day, but late in the night you might need a little something extra. Well, there’s always bags of chips and hummus…But that’s just not REAL party fare, am I right? And who wants to spend hours in the kitchen making snacks before hand (well, besides me…)?

Here is a snack that is super easy to make and IT’S TWO FOR ONE.

That’s right! You can do the work for just one awesome home made snack and still get two different ones. That’s what I call a win-win.

We’re gonna make little snacky bread puddings. They’re snazzy snacks. We’re gonna make 1 batter, then split it in half and flavor it 2 different ways. This version is vegetarian, so you won’t have to worry about all those non-meat eating party guests. BUT–this is a super versatile recipe. If you don’t like the add-ins I have here, you can swap them out for similar ingredients, just be sure to keep the same ratio.

Here’s what you need:

1 1/2 loaves of bread: any bread will work, but decent bread is better. Not too fresh now, you want the bread to be a little bit thirsty.
4 cups of whole milk, or even 1/2 & 1/2
4 large eggs
2/3 cup sugar plus 2 Tbsp
1 cup dried cherries
1 tsp almond extract
1/2 cup feta cheese, crumbled
1 14oz package of a savory veggie sausage, I used Tofutti brand Italian style
3-4 good sized sprigs fresh thyme or 1 1/2 tsp dried
1/2 cup or so sliced raw almonds
salt and pepper to taste, plus a pinch of salt for the custard

Here’s what you do:

Put on a fancy apron, if you’ve got one.

If the crust on the bread is particularly tough or thick, cut it off. If your bread isn’t sliced, use a serrated knife to cut it into good thick slices, maybe 3/4″-1″ thick. Now either cut the slices into cubes or get down and dirty with your bread and tear it into bite sized chunks. Divide the chunks in half, and put each half into a big bowl.

Chop up the cherries and add them to one of the bowls of bread. Add the thyme to the other bowl–if you’re using fresh, strip the leaves from their stems first.

Next, heat up the milk to a simmer. Add a pinch of salt in there. When it’s good and warm but not boiling, pour out 2 cups (important to measure here) and add that to the bowl with the thyme. Add the sugar and almond extract to the remaining 2 cups of milk, give it a good stir to dissolve the sugar and then pour it into the bowl with the cherries.

Put a plate into each bowl and weigh it down with a can or something heavy. You want the bread to be immersed in the liquid as much as possible.

Let the bread sit for an hour or so. Then, preheat your oven to 350 F and put racks in the top and bottom thirds of the oven.

When you’re almost ready to bake these babies, take out your sausage and heat up a skillet. Slice the sausages into 1/4″ rounds and toss em in. Let them get good and brown on at least one side, then turn off the skillet and set aside.

Grease 2 regular muffin tins with butter or pan spray. Don’t use cupcake liners to bake the puddings in, you want them to get brown and crusty from contact with the metal pan. Save the cups for later when you serve the puddings.

Now, take the “lids” off your bread and give each one a good stir. Crack 2 of the eggs into a little bowl and break them up with a fork. Add them to one of the bowls with bread. Repeat for the other bowl. Stir the eggs in really well, so that no streaks of egg are visible. Add the sausage and the crumbled feta to the pudding with the thyme, then a big dose of fresh cracked black pepper and an extra pinch of salt, and toss to coat.

Fill each tin with one type of pudding. You want each cup to be full and heaped out of it’s little well. For the cherry almond puddings, sprinkle a pinch of sliced almonds on top–they’ll get nice and toasty when they bake. If you have leftover bread mixture, that’s OK, just bake more once the first batches are done.

If you have large roasting pans, you can put each muffin tin into a roasting pan and add some boiling water until it reaches about halfway up the sides of the cups. You can skip this if you don’t have pans big enough–the puddings might not stay as moist but they’ll still be delicious, I promise.

Bake for about 15 minutes then spin them around, switching the top pan for the bottom one and vice versa. Bake for about 15 more minutes, until the tops look nice and brown. Let the puddings cool for a few minutes, then pop them out of the muffin tins so that they don’t steam themselves as they cool. If you need to bake more mix, be sure to re-grease the pans and fill the wells in the middle of the tin first so the puddings don’t burn before they’re done baking.

This recipe makes about 2 dozen, and it can be made a day in advance–just wrap the puddings in foil and reheat for 10 minutes or so in a low (250 F) oven before serving. They’re good at room temp though too.

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.

Your New Fave

Sometimes I have no idea what to make for dinner. Sometimes when I’m planning the menu for the week (Yes, I plan a menu. Or else I would go insane.) I just put “veggies” “salad” “pasta” and then make up the rest later.


This past week I put something like “roasted squash” which could actually just be that. Roasted squash. But we were eating it with pasta so I wanted to jazz it up a bit. (Joe was cooking the pasta, so I figured the other half should be a shining star…no offense Joe.)



I looked around. 


I saw a huge basket of apples and ginger, and thought of the plans for pickling said ginger and making apple pie filling for the freezer.


I saw a bag of walnuts that I pulled out of the freezer with the intention of using them in rugelach for a cookie exchange that I ended up not making it to. 


I saw a glass with a few little branches of rosemary taking a drink, which reminded me to go pick sage out of the garden for the brown butter sauce.


Then, I saw a huge bag of persimmons that I bought that day at Uwajimaya. Unsuspecting persimmons, just hanging out all by themselves in a little persimmon clique over there by the blender.



And I realized, why couldn’t I just roast persimmons instead? They have a similar texture to raw squash, firm and crunchy. They’re sweet but not too sweet. They’re orange. Heck, they’re practically a squash camouflaging as a fruit! 


I decided it might be a little bit much to just roast persimmons and nothing else. After all, the squash might feel left out. So I cut up a little baby butternut that had been loitering on the front porch since I harvested it back in October, and while I was out getting the sage I also nabbed a few little branches of thyme. And I threw in a half dozen or so little shallots that have just been begging to get used up. And I tossed in a big handful of those walnuts, with plenty to spare for rugelach, should I ever get around to it. 



A little drizzle of maple syrup, another of olive oil. A pinch of salt, a grate of nutmeg. Into the oven it went. 



I have to say, I was a little bit skeptical, even though it smelled good. There aren’t too many original savory persimmon recipes out there (not that roasting fruit is original, or all that savory) but I figured it would at least be unique so I went ahead and stole a bite while no one was looking.


No need to worry! It was delicious through and through, and even Joe liked it. Though he did claim that I had “tricked him” into eating persimmons, which are not his favorite thing. I think this might be my new favorite thing though. Next to everything else new I made this week…



I’m thinking this dish might be the perfect thing to cook to go along a roasted chicken (or turkey, or any other type of meat). I’m also thinking it could easily contain sausage of either the meaty or veggie variety and make for a more hearty dish in and of itself. These thoughts lead me to believe that if you are in charge of a holiday meal coming up, or in charge of bringing some sort of delicious and show stopping side dish that will upstage all the other foods on the table…I mean, a humble side dish to delight the senses without overwhelming the other dishes being served, then this might be the one. It practically cooks itself so you will have plenty of time to make rugelach!


Roasted Butternut and Persimmon Medley
serves about 4 as a side


One small Butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cut into chunks
2 medium sized Fuyu persimmons, peeled and cut into 8ths
5-6 small shallots, cut in halves or quarters
2 small branches fresh thyme, leaves removed
1 Tbsp maple syrup
1 Tbsp olive oil
pinch salt
few scrapes of freshly grated nutmeg


Preheat oven to 400ºF


Toss everything together in a small roasting pan, making sure everything is evenly coated. Place dish in oven, closer to the bottom is better. Bake about 40 minutes, stirring every now to get even caramelization. Serve piping hot.