Thursday, January 16, 2014

Apples, etc.

Let's say it's a bright but still cold very late-winter day, and we have so much to do. Shampoo the carpets, prepare to take delivery of new furniture tomorrow, plan for company for dinner. Shall we then keep today's culinary themes simple? Why not apples? -- and bread. Chicken, and cream, and whiskey.

Dinner will be Chicken Soup with Apples and Leeks, from James Peterson's Splendid Soups (1993). To accompany it, we'll have challah, which we have made before. For my household there is no bread quite as delicious as this egg bread, strewn with poppy seeds this time, and made from start to finish in only three hours.

To while away the soup-simmering and dough-raising time, we'll try a new cocktail, and this one is also all about apples: the Stone Fence, attested by Nora Maynard of the Kitch'n to date from Revolutionary times. Her recipe is nothing more than one part whiskey to three parts fresh apple cider, served over ice. I intend to omit the ice, not wanting to chill myself on a day when the robins are still fluffing themselves up against March's brisk temperatures, and also reasoning that Revolutionary heroes in New England's fresh-apple-cider season would hardly have had access to the luxury of ice. Nor wanted to chill themselves, either.

Further investigation reveals that Ms. Maynard's version is rather a namby-pamby one, compared to what we get for example in big, masculine Esquire magazine. In his column the Wondrich Take, Esquire's cocktail historian tells us that to make the Stone Fence, one mixes hard cider with a generous slug of rum. (He also permits a few ice cubes, which I still find an unpleasant notion.) This simplifies matters, as hard cider has no particular season surely. And it renders the Stone Fence a far more potent drink with which to fortify oneself -- before heading out from Zadock Remington's tavern in Castleton, Vermont, to attack Fort Ticonderoga on a (chilly?) May evening in 1775 -- than mere fresh cider and a thimbleful of whiskey.  Like so:

The Stone Fence, from Esquire's "The Wondrich Take
  • 2 ounces dark rum
  • hard cider

"Pour the rum into a pint glass, add 1 or 2 ice cubes, and fill with hard cider. This drink, otherwise known as a Stone Wall, can also be made with, in order of authenticity, applejack, rye whiskey, or anything else in place of the rum. The name "Stone Fence" alludes to the effect produced by getting outside too many of these, which is not unlike that produced by running downhill into one."

Treat yourself. Meanwhile here is Chicken Soup with Apples and Leeks.
  • 1 3-pound chicken, quartered (I used 3 boneless chicken breasts)
  • 2 Tbsp butter
  • 3 leeks, diced
  • 2 tart apples, peeled and diced
  • 1 cup apple juice or cider
  • 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar (this struck me as too much -- try 1/4 cup)
  • 4 cups chicken broth
  • 3 Tbsp Calvados ("optional" -- retailing at about $50 per bottle, I should say so)
  • 1 cup heavy cream
Season the chicken with salt and pepper. Melt the butter in a heavy bottomed saucepan, and put in the chicken pieces. Gently saute for about 10 minutes, until one side is browned. Turn the pieces and lightly saute them on the other side for about 5 minutes more.

Remove the chicken to a bowl. Add the diced leeks to the drippings. Stir and cook gently for about 10 minutes more.

Return the chicken to the pan with the leeks. Add the apples, apple juice, cider vinegar, and broth. Bring the soup to a low simmer, cover the pot, and simmer gently (so as not to toughen the meat) for about 10 to 15 more minutes, or until the chicken is completely cooked.

Remove the chicken and let cool. Remove and discard skin and pull the meat from the bones (or simply cut the meat in bite size pieces if you are using only breast meat) . Add the Calvados and the cream. Bring to a simmer, add salt and pepper. Return the meat to the soup to heat through again.

Serve with "toasted French bread," or the challah you've made while enjoying your Stone Fence.

And for dessert? If you are lucky enough to have had a customer at the store bake you a fresh apple cake, by pure coincidence on your birthday, why then that part of the menu is filled effortlessly and you have carried on the day's signal culinary theme as well. I would gladly give the recipe for Edith's apple cake if I had it, but I think even at this angle you can just tell the thing is loaded with butter. Delicious. Thank you.

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