You can't make everything from scratch

...but you can sure try!

Thursday, February 28, 2008

The many facets of pot pie

Growing up, the only kind of pot pie I ever knew was the frozen, individually packaged kind. I'm sure we didn't eat them that often, but I feel like there was always a supply in the freezer for those nights no one felt like cooking. The fact is, I was never a big fan.

The reason? In a word: pastry.

Let's face it, pot pies are all about the pastry, otherwise they would just be stew. And the pastry on the pre-fab pot pies from the freezer case was essentially flavourless with a not-great texture.

When making pot pie at home, there are a couple of pastry options to consider: Single-crust or double-crust? Regular pie crust or puff pastry? But the choices don't end there. There's the question of individual portions vs. one large pie, and what exactly goes in the filling. (I once made a quite successful pot pie using leftover coq au vin.) There are so many variables to pot pie that it would be hard to ever become completely bored with it.

The night before last, we had individually portioned, single puff pastry-crusted, classic chicken pot pies. The recipe was from Anita Stewart's The Flavours of Canada, and it hit the spot on a chilly winter's evening. (Full disclosure: I used frozen, store-bought puff pastry, so the dish wasn't entirely "from scratch." It's been a long time since I made my own puff pastry, but I've been thinking about doing it again soon...)

My digital camera is currently on life support, which isn't a huge deal because it wasn't that great a camera to begin with. For a variety of reasons, I won't be able to buy a new one until at least April. I've decided that it doesn't make sense to stop posting altogether just because I can't post pictures but, well, I won't be posting any pictures in the near future.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Ice cream, sauce and texture

Ice cream may not be the first dessert food you think of in the middle of winter: This is a season for molten chocolate cakes and warm tartes Tatin. But things change if you think about ice cream differently: ice cream is a sauce.

Sure, there's nothing wrong with having a big bowl of heavenly hash all on its own, and nothing beats an ice cream cone in the middle of summer at the amusement park. But I believe that ice cream really comes into its own when it forms one element of a composed dessert plate. It can provide an invigorating counterpoint in temperature and texture to the other items on the plate, and it provides an element of dynamism as the diner tries to eat it before it melts.

Or maybe that's overthinking it just a bit.

A while back, I was discussing a local gelateria with a friend in Ottawa. She mentioned that they sold carrot gelato, and the first thought that occurred to me was that, if carrot gelato was good, parsnip gelato would be even better, since parsnip is just as earthy, but sweeter and perhaps a little more delicate than carrot.

In an amusing example of serendipity, I ended up having parsnip gelato on a "steamed winter pudding" at Toronto's Canoe restaurant a few weeks after that discussion, and all my suspicions were confirmed. I asked the server if the pastry chef would be willing to share the recipe, but he didn't seem optimistic...

Fast forward to the other night. One of my favourite Christmas gifts this year was David Lebovitz's book The Perfect Scoop. Although there's no recipe for parsnip ice cream in the book, there's enough general information that I was able to cobble one together. (Actually, I just used the sweet potato ice cream recipe, substituting parsnips for the sweet potatoes.) For a first try, I was really happy with the result. If I hadn't had the guidance of Lebovitz's book, I probably wouldn't have thought to put vanilla in it, but I think the vanilla is really important to the flavour. I haven't sprung this dessert on anyone but my husband yet, but because the colour is so neutral, it'll be interesting to see if my first victims tasters can figure out what it is without being told.

I'm still working on the other elements of the composed plate, though...

Parsnip Ice Cream
This recipe is a close transcription of how I made the ice cream this time, with a couple of additional notes. It should be considered a work in progress

1 lb. parsnips, diced
9 fluid ounces whole milk [It might be a good idea to use a little more than this]
2/3 cup granulated sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract [1/2 tsp. is probably sufficient]

1. Cook the parsnips in water to cover until tender. Drain.
2. Heat the milk with the sugar just until the sugar is dissolved.
3. Run the parsnips through a food mill into the milk mixture. [It would be a good idea to run it through a fine-mesh strainer to make sure it's completely smooth.]
4. Add the vanilla and mix well.
5. Chill thoroughly and process in your ice cream maker.