My dear new friends, as you learned in the recent post Gourmet Ketchup, I am Pierre LeChat, gourmand and expert on all that is food. As you can tell by my name, I am French, but my love of good food extends to all points on the globe.
It is not my way to attempt to impress you by resorting to food snobbery. After all, it goes without saying that the enjoyment of any food is a matter of personal taste. Yet now that I have said that which goes without saying, I will tell you that I have met food critics who would want you to think that all food must be judged by their own narrowly defined personal tastes. Critics like these have no place in my world and they will never be acknowledged by me so long as I am a staff member of the soon-to-be-world-famous Serendipity Farmhouse Test Kitchen.
Nevertheless, there must be some standard criteria by which to judge the labors of an amateur chef or team of chefs. Throughout my career, I have pondered this most important question: What are the appropriate criteria for judgement? Although, my notes concerning this question fill multiple volumes, for the sake of simplicity, I have settled upon five criteria that are critical to the success for any amateur chef. Here they are.
Persnickety Pierre’s Criteria of Excellence
1. Level of the challenge
2. Selection of good-quality ingredients
3. Use of cooking techniques
4. Development of superior taste and flavor
My Test Case – Julia’s Tartlets by SFH TK
Now that you know my general philosophy, criteria, and approach to evaluation, let us quickly observe how I will go about my task of revealing the talents of some of the world’s finest amateur chefs. The obvious best place to begin, of course, is right here at my new place of employment, the almost world-renowned Serendipity Farmhouse Test Kitchen (SFH TK). My dear employer, Mme. Blondie graciously offered the services of SFH TK and a select cooking team to undergo the scrutiny of Persnickety Pierre. She knew that I would be brutally honest and that I would not withhold criticism – it would be her challenge and she willingly accepted. – Let us move on to the review.
- Level of the challenge: Although Mme. Blondie was only preparing an appetizer, barely a moderate technical challenge, she knew that the whole world would be watching. She knew the golden reputation of the SFH TK was at stake. She accepted this added pressure and managed to maintain her composure throughout this test case. – High marks here for Mme. Blondie
- Selection of good-quality ingredients: Both Mme. Blondie and her somewhat less capable assistant M. Fuzz Face seek to prepare high-quality meals on a tightly controlled budget. After all, SFH is not the house of their dreams; it is the house of their realities. I see this as an excellent objective. In our test, I was not displeased nor offended by any choice of individual ingredients. This chef team hit the mark on quality while remaining well within their allotted budget.
- Use of cooking techniques: This, most unfortunately, was where the SFH TK team stumbled. While Mme. Blondie displayed outstanding ability in cleanliness, selection of proper tools, and use of high-standard process and procedure, her junior partner was not so well disposed. It was my observation that M. Fuzz Face is clumsy, lazy, and lacking in proper respect for food and its preparation. His particularly disturbing blunder during this test was the way in which he clumsily employed the tart tamper, breaking the bottoms of the tartlet shells. His shaping of the shells in the cups was crude and uneven. And to add to those failures, he departed from proper procedure by stabbing the base of the tartlet shells multiple times, rather than lightly pricking the shell just once. Please view for yourself the slovenly work of M. Fuzz Face.
- Development of superior taste and flavor: Mme. Blondie is a most creative chef. She has an innate sense of what will lift the taste and flavor of a dish from the merely superb to the heavenly sublime. If you compare the original recipe to Mme. Blondie’s adaptation, you will find that she does not fear to experiment and innovate. Later in the day of this test case, the tartlets were presented at a family gathering. There were no leftovers! That is the highest form of praise.
- Presentation: I had to score Mme. Blondie a little lower on this criterion. But that was not due to any failure on her part. Her appetizer only made it to the kitchen at the family gathering – it was totally consumed before there was a chance for it to make it to the dinner table. In this test case, the aroma, taste, and flavor outweighed all other criteria; final presentation could not be judged due to the rush by all to engage Mme. Blondie’s tartlets in a first-hand taste test.
And after review of the pictures, reference to my notes, and, of course, my personal evaluation of taste and flavor, I can now inform the world that the SFH TK has won the first ever Persnickety Pierre’s Paw of Excellence. It would have been two paws, but the inept and bungling preparation of the tartlet cups by M. Fuzz Face made it impossible for me to award a highly coveted second paw.
With regard to the blunders made by M. Fuzz Face, Mme. Blondie was more than ready to provide some rather enthusiastic and dramatic remedial action. The French rolling pin you see in her hands was going to be the instrument used to deliver the remedial action. M. Fuzz Face, recognizing that his goose had been cooked, offered to administer penitential remedial action to himself using a 6-inch tart tamper. Mme. Blondie mercifully accepted his compromise and now the blundering chef wears the marks of his self-chastisement. – As M. Monte had informed me, M. Fuzzy definitely “is not the sharpest claw on the paw.”
Julia’s Cheese Tartlets the SFH TK Way
- Chicago Metallic Professional Mini-Pie Pan with Cutting Tool, 13.8-Inch-by-10.6-Inch
- Baking Dual-Sided Pastry Dough Tart Tamper, Hardwood, 6-Inches
- 1 cup Heavy cream
- 3 tbsp Cultured buttermilk - Original uses 1 tbsp plain yogurt
- 1 Large egg
- 1 dash Hot pepper sauce
- 1 Frozen, ready-to-bake pie crust - Original uses pre-made tart shells or your own pie dough
- 12 3-inch tartlet shells
- ½ cup Cheddar, Fontina, Gruyère or Swiss Cheese - A good melting cheese
- ⅔ cup Creme fraiche - Recipe below
Creme Fraiche Recipe:
- In saucepan over very low heat, combine heavy cream and buttermilk, warm, stirring constantly, just until mixture reaches body temperature. Pour into metal or glass bowl; cover with plastic and place in warm spot. Let thicken for 24-48 hours. It should look like yogurt. Refrigerate until ready to use (it will thicken more in the refrigerator).
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees. (Original uses 425 degrees)
- If you make your own small tart shells, roll out pie dough to ⅛-inch thickness and cut into circles a little bigger than the tops of the cups in the tartlet pan. Press pie dough circles into cups, with piecrusts coming to the tops of the cup. (We use a tart tamper to do this.) Prick bottom of shell with fork.
- Place grated cheese in each tart shell, filling almost to top.
- Mix egg and hot pepper sauce into creme fraiche. Then, pour a little of this mixture into each tart shell, filling almost to top of each shell. (NOTE: You can add a sprinkle of dried herbs on top, such as thyme or herbes de Provence, as a garnish if you like). Place filled tartlet pan in oven and bake for 15-20 minutes, until lightly browned and set in centers.
- ** Salt may not be needed if a salty cheese is used. Taste your cheese before deciding how much salt to add.
SFH Gardens – By the Numbers
The following links will provide the latest ketchup on what has been planted, harvested, and preserved since our last Journal post:
Official SFH Weather Station Statistics
Likewise, the following links will provide the latest ketchup on what has been recorded by the Serendipity Farmhouse Weather Station – KVAFLETC4 since our last Journal post:
Report – Last Three Months