Category: Persnickety Pierre

SFH TK Renovation – Feature #1

What can happen in a 13.50 x 11.25 foot room in the course of 95 years? Of course, the possibilities are endless. In the case of what is now the Serendipity Farmhouse Test Kitchen, let’s consider what the realities might have been:

  • 1927 (or thereabouts) – The kitchen was a barebones cooking space. There were few cupboards. There was no electricity. The only known water well was in the front yard, so water had to be carried to the kitchen. A probable wood cookstove dominated the southern end of the room which vented to a chimney that remains standing to this day.
  • The hidden period – The Millers owned the house and several relatives and/or apple orchard workers moved in and out. Electricity finally arrived, an electric pump for the well brought water into the kitchen. The woodstove was replaced, likely with an electric range.
  • 1978-1987 – The Millers sold the house to the Settles. During the next nine years, the kitchen was ‘modernized’, cabinets and storage space was increased dramatically.
  • 1987-2000 – The Wyants bought the house and probably added some of their own touches.
  • 2000-2009 – The Crosleys owned the house during this period. They were responsible for a number of innovations and improvements in the kitchen. The refrigerator was moved from its rather awkward position at the northwest corner of the kitchen to the northeast corner of the kitchen. This was a good move for several reasons, but it caused the loss of quite a bit of cabinet and counter space. Big improvements included, using paint to make the room brighter, installing black granite countertops, the introduction of a beautiful farm sink, and adding hardwood floors.
  • 2009-2013 – The Grainers made relatively few changes to the kitchen, but they were responsible for many major projects throughout the house and the addition of two new sheds.
  • 2013- Present – Keeping the best of what had come before and looking forward to the arrival of the next occupants, we, the staff of the soon-to-be-world-famous SFH TK have renovated the kitchen, bringing it into the 21st Century while maintaining a memory or two from 1927.

And my dear Friends, I Pierre LeChat, working under the inspiration and guidance of SFH TK Executive Chef Blondie, have now brought you to a level of historical knowledge that will enable you to understand the importance of each and every feature of the renovation as I presented it to you in my post Oh Yes, it is!. And for the first feature to be discussed, I have chosen the one that is perhaps closest to Chef Blondie’s heart: The Custom Corner Cabinet.

You now know that cabinet storage space and counter space were sacrificed when the refrigerator was moved from its very awkward and inefficient location in the northwest corner. The SFH TK had placed a movable cabinet there with a microwave on top. Storage was minimal to say the least. The picture below will give you an idea of how much storage space has been recovered with the advent of the new cabinet.

The new kitchen storage configuration

Great attention was paid to the design and construction of the new cabinet. Mr. Monte inspected every facet of the cabinet to ensure that it met the highest SFH TK standards. Every step along the way, he consulted with me and with the contractors, pointing out minor imperfections and never allowing work to resume until all discrepancies were corrected.

Then came the day when the paint was dry. All that was left was for Chef Blondie to add the finishing touches. Not a single piece of kitchenware or any item was put in place until she gave her go-ahead.


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Windfall Okra

C’est une situation très grave. The final piece of the renovation of the soon-to-be-world-famous Serendipity Farmhouse Test Kitchen was to have taken place yesterday. But that did not happen. Non, instead, two days ago the vendor called to inform us that the new electric stove had not yet arrived at the warehouse. The delivery date is now uncertain, but certainly no sooner than this coming Wednesday. – – There was indeed a mood of great disappointment amongst the members of the highly dedicated SFH TK staff.

But I, the indomitable Pierre LeChat, was able to restore the spirits of the staff and renew their sense of mission. And I was able to do that with the help of recourse to the SFH TK secret ingredient – ‘serendipity. In this case it was the ‘serendipity of ‘Windfall Okra’. – And you might ask, just what is ‘Windfall Okra’?

Mon amis, in this case, ‘Windfall Okra’ is the unexpected ringing of the telephone with the news of a serendipitous event. And that event was that a class at the Rappahannock County High School had planted okra earlier this year and the okra was ready for harvest – ready for harvest, but no one really knew what to do with that harvest. The caller, however, knew that the SFH TK was always willing to take in any stray or unwanted harvest and turn it into a gastronomic delight. (Perhaps this blog should refer to itself as a “Homeless Harvest Rescue Site”.)

Within minutes, the homeless harvest found itself in the safety and security of the caring hands of the Test Kitchen staff. I immediately devised a plan to transform this abandoned okra into a gourmet snack – it would soon become crunchy pickled okra for snacks and dinner side dishes. (See the recipe we used below.)

It will be a week or so before we perform a taste test. We suspect that this will be a test with mixed results. Pourquoi? The poor abandoned okra pods we received were somewhat past their prime (6-7 inches). When okra pods grow beyond 3-4 inches in length, they tend to become stringy and fibrous. We anticipate that some of our crunchy, pickled okra will be well beyond crunchy. If that is the case, then we will let the neighborhood dogs use them for chewing exercise. I, for one, am quite hopeful though that ‘serendipity‘ will continue to prevail, and that at least some pickled okra will become the tasty and crunchy delight for which we hope.

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Crunchy Pickled Okra

This is a crunchy dill-style, vinegar-based pickled okra recipe. It is a refrigerator pickle to preserve a summer harvest without canning. It is based on a recipe by John Amato in The Culinary Garden.
For step-by-step instructions refer to the video


Ingredients for Mason Jar

  • 4-6 sprigs fresh dill Note #1
  • 12 oz 1 QT washed and trimmed okra
  • 2 large cloves garlic
  • 1 small hot pepper Serrano or Fresno - Note #2

Brine Ingredients

  • 1 Tablespoon whole coriander seed Note #3
  • 1 Tablespoon whole black peppercorns Note #3
  • 1 3/4 Cups white distilled vinegar
  • 3/4 Cup water
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 4 teaspoons pickling salt - Add same time as sugar
  • 2 dried bay leaves


Note #1 - Our homegrown dill was at a perfect stage for use.
Note #2 - All we had available was a small homegrown jalapeno. We sliced it lengthwise and removed the seeds to avoid excess heat.
Note #3 - We had no coriander seeds, so we resorted to using mrs. wages Mixed Pickling Spice 

Oh Yes, it is!

C’est pas possible! Non! It just can’t be! – – Oh Yes, it is!

Oui, after over a year of waiting, after endless staff meetings, after adjusting plans and schedules, after resigning ourselves to the fact that it just would never happen, and finally, after living part time in El Camino Del Monte and part time in a house in utter upheaval, the contractors have completed their work. Now it is up to the weary and ragged SFH Test Kitchen staff members to organize a renovated kitchen, removing all construction debris, dust, and dirt, and bringing the soon-to-be-world famous test SFH Test Kitchen to a new level of excellence. – – Truly, it is a task most formidable!

To tell what had to be done and what remains to do is a story far too long for a single post. So, I will give you just the first taste here and then follow up with more detail in subsequent posts.

Here a just a few pictures of how the kitchen looked the morning after the contractors completed their work.

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Below, I have painstakingly listed the major changes to the kitchen and have provided the purpose for the change or the upgrade. It will demonstrate that this renovation was not founded on a plan without a purpose.

SFH Test Kitchen Renovation

Uninstall, repair, and re-install 2 wall cabinetsEnsure safety & integrity; increase storage capacity
Install new handles on all cabinetsMatch other fixtures and improve uniformity
Install new slides on all drawersRestore full functionality
Remove hood fan and replace with under cabinet lightingProvide a more open cooking area with improved lighting
Install under-cabinet lighting under all cabinetsImprove lighting for countertop working areas
Install wafer light over sinkProvide dimmable LED lighting for sink and adjacent work areas
Install additional 20 Amp circuitUpgrade capacity for operating electrical appliances
Install 3 new GFCI outlets above kitchen counterIncrease number of areas for electrical appliances and ensure safety
Install subway tile backsplash above kitchen counterImprove backsplash surface and add feeling of openness
Paint kitchen walls, ceiling, and trimLemon Twist Yellow replaces darker color adding to brightness
Repaint all kitchen cabinetsBrighten up surfaces which haven't been painted for almost 10 years
Build custom corner cabinetProvide storage for all electrical appliances and other kitchen items

C’est pas possible!

C’est pas possible! Non! It just can’t be! After over a year of waiting, after endless staff meetings, after adjusting plans and schedules, after resigning ourselves to the fact that it just would never happen, then the contractor called just a few days ago saying he will be here on Monday the 13th. He and his crew will be ready to start just after 9:00 AM.

Oui! The long-awaited renovation of the soon-to-be-world-famous Serendipity Farmhouse Test Kitchen (SFH TK) will begin tomorrow morning. And, because the highly motivated and, with one obvious exception, the highly capable SFH TK staff members have been working feverishly, night and day, since the contractor’s call to make all things ready for the work to be done. Here is some of what’s been going on:

  • Mr. Monte, the SFH Chief of Security, has drawn up a comprehensive work site security plan. This is to ensure that the work crew observes all protocols for safety in accordance with Occupational Safety and Health Administration rules and, more importantly, to adhere to Mr. Monte’s special protocols for non-disturbance of feline activities and non-introduction of intolerable noise or odors.
  • Blondie, the SFH TK Senior Executive Chef, has taken direct charge for clearing of cabinets, countertops, kitchen appliances, and utensils. She is also taking advantage of this renovation period to discard all non-essential items that have accumulated in the kitchen over the past eight years.
  • At the direct request of Blondie (in acknowledgement of my vast experience in the art of kitchen crafting, especially in the areas of efficiency and utility), I have assumed the role of project manager and scheduler. Using both traditional planning techniques and computer aids, I fashioned a faultless plan for completing all necessary preparations. As of this morning, I can confidently say that we are on schedule and will be 100% ready when the workers arrive tomorrow morning.
  • Ol’ Fuzz Face has been of some help in this task. He occasionally follows directions correctly and he has broken nothing of great value. He is most useful for lifting and carrying heavy objects. We try not complicating his work by requiring actions that involve serious thought.

As the renovation project proceeds, I will try to update you and explain why we have made various choices relating to the changes we are making. I must stress that we are not remodeling the kitchen. Our intent is to maintain the best of what previous owners have done since the late-1970s, while at the same time, adding touches that recall the early history of the house extending back to the 1920s.

The earliest picture we have of the kitchen was taken circa 2000. It reflects features commonly found in kitchens going back to the 1970s. Note the stainless-steel sink, Formica countertops, and wallpaper. Not quite as visible is the linoleum tile flooring.

The following set of photos show the kitchen just prior to when Blondie and Fuzzy acquired the house – “as is”. Note that by that time there was an authentic farm sink, black granite counters, and quality wooden flooring. However, cabinet space was lost when the refrigerator was moved to the corner of the eastern side of the kitchen.

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If you view the cabinet and vent over the stove, you will notice that they are sagging and breaking away from the wall. There are many other things going on that are part of the “as is” quality of the kitchen. Time has a way bringing about undesirable changes in people and kitchens. Fortunately, renovation can restore a kitchen. (Prayer does the same for people.)

We are now less than 24 hours from the beginning of the project. I, your most caring and capable host, will keep you informed of the progress.

Jacques’ Lentil Salad – SFH TK Test

If you have not had the good fortune to meet me and experience my fascinating wit and charm, I am Pierre LeChat, gourmand and expert on all that is food. Recently, I have been most graciously invited by the soon-to-be-world-famous Serendipity Farmhouse Test Kitchen (SFH TK) to host this series of posts called SFH Food Talk. (See: Gourmet KetchupJulia’s Tartlets – Pierre’s Test Case, & French Cuisine & GRITS)

This particular adventure in French cuisine was inspired by an encounter with Jacques Pepin and Julia Child in the cookbook Cooking at Home. Blondie and Ol’ Fuzz Face had recently received the book as gift. I myself found it to be most interesting and recommended that the SFH TK test some of the recipes therein. Of course, the wisdom of my advice was immediately recognized and this last Wednesday the entire SFH TK staff moved into action. Their testing criteria would be in accord with my personally developed – 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
5. Presentation

To most of you, it stands to reason that something that is soon-to-be-world-famous is not already world-famous. That, of course, would imply that the soon-to-be-world-famous Serendipity Farmhouse Test Kitchen does not possess all the financial and test equipment resources that are available to already world-famous test kitchens. Consequently, the SFH TK staff often has to make on-the-spot substitutions and adjustment to recipes when a particular resource is lacking. For example, in this test, chives were not available to be added as garnish. So, without a moment’s hesitation, Blondie made the excellent decision to go immediately to SFH Herb Garden #1 and pick a bunch of fresh parsley. – – Problem solved!

All of that said above is merely to highlight that the grand purpose of the SFH TK is to test a recipe under the same conditions and with the same challenges that confront any amateur home chef. The only difference being, the SFH TK staff is scientific and methodical, recording each step of the recipe process and analyzing the results. The end goal is to have a failproof, go-to recipe that can be listed on your weekly menu with the highest confidence. – – It works for the SFH TK and it will work for you. 

Test Results & Commentary

First, let me say Jacques Pepin has developed a marvelous salad recipe and Chef Blondie has penned on her printed copy “Excellent!”. But, let me go further. Although it is called a ‘salad’, this dish can stand alone as a meal or a main course. And so it did at Serendipity Farmhouse on two nights this past week. The point to be taken here is that this dish can survive refrigerator time and be used as tasty leftovers. – – The secret of the recipe is in the burst of flavor produced by the ensemble of ingredients, especially in the choice of shallots and herbs.

1. Level of the challenge: For a salad, this recipe presents a moderate challenge. Should you decide to presoak the lentils, that will increase your prep time. If you do not presoak, then you will have to monitor the cooking of the lentils to ensure they are fully cooked. – The choice is up to you.
2. Selection of good-quality ingredients: Quality of ingredients does make a difference in this recipe, but, even with lower quality ingredients, the flavor in this salad is superior. Jacques recommends lentilles du Puy, which have a greenish color. These were not readily available, and the SFH TK used less-preferred Walmart generic lentils. Currently, the SFH TK is awaiting the arrival of a package of lentilles du Puy for use in future testing.
3. Use of cooking techniques: The SFH TK staff encountered little difficulty in preparation of this recipe. The techniques used are simple and straightforward.
4. Development of superior taste and flavor: Here is the key to the success of this recipe. Jacques has assembled just the right ingredients to add zing to the taste and aroma of this dish. The unusual characteristic of this salad, however, is that the flavor does not diminish as you eat. The last bite is just as tasty and refreshing as the first.
5. Presentation: Be careful in presenting this dish. An SFH TK staff member, probably Ol’ Fuzz Face, selected the worst possible dish for showing off the charm of this delightful salad. Willow Pattern China tends to detract from the visual appeal. I strongly encourage Fuzzy to use a simple white plate or bowl when displaying similar dishes.

So, without further ado, here are pictures of the process keyed to the two primary instructions listed in the recipe. Enjoy!

Step 1 – Preparing the Lentils

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Step 2 – Preparing the Dressing

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Jacques' Lentil Salad

Course Salad
Cuisine French
Servings 6


To cook the lentils:

  • cups French green lentils rinsed and picked over
  • cups water
  • cups vegetable broth optional, see Note 1
  • 1 cup chopped onion about 4 ounces
  • 1 or 2 sprigs fresh thyme optional
  • 1 bay leaf
  • ½ tsp salt
  • Pinch of ground cloves optional

For the dressing:

  • 2 Tbs white-wine vinegar plus more to taste
  • 4 Tbs virgin olive oil plus more to taste
  • ½ tsp salt plus more to taste
  • ¼ tsp freshly ground black pepper plus more to taste
  • 1 Tbs Dijon-style mustard or to taste (optional)
  • Drops of Tabasco to taste (optional)
  • 1 large ripe tomato cored and seeded, chopped into /2-inch pieces (about 1/4 cups)
  • cup finely chopped shallots scallions, or onion
  • 2 tsp minced garlic about 3 cloves
  • 2 Tbs chopped fresh chives for garnish, see Note 2


  • Put the lentils, water, chopped onion, optional thyme, bay leaf, salt, and optional cloves in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil, cover, and reduce the heat to a simmer. Cook for 25 minutes or longer, until the lentils are cooked through but still hold their shape. (See Note 3.) Cool to lukewarm; at that point drain off any remaining liquid. Pour the lentils into a mixing bowl and discard the herbs.
  • To make the dressing, whisk together the vinegar, olive oil, salt, and pepper (and mustard and Tabasco, if using). Stir in the chopped tomato, shallots (or scallions or onion), and garlic. Pour the dressing over the warm lentils and fold in gently, then taste and adjust the seasoning. Sprinkle with chopped chives before serving. (See Note 2.)


Note 1: Vegetable broth used instead of water to enhance flavor
Note 2: Chives were not in season, so we used our own parsley.
Note 3: We opted to presoak the lentils. Consequently, the lentils require less time for cooking, perhaps 15-20 minutes.
Recipe from Julia and Jacques Cooking at Home, Knopf, 1999, p.128, as adapted by the Serendipity Farmhouse Test Kitchen

French Cuisine & GRITS

My dear new friends, today, I Pierre LeChat, the official fine food connoisseur in residence at the soon-to-be-world-famous Serendipity Farmhouse Test Kitchen, will amaze you with a most edifying discussion and review of a world-class French dinner prepared and served in the most unlikely of places. This review will shatter long-standing myths and, hopefully, transport you to a new level of confidence in your ability to take on any culinary challenge, no matter how difficult it may seem. – Before you embark on this journey, it would be considered wise for you to refer to “Persnickety Pierre’s Criteria of Excellence” as outlined in my last post: Julia’s Tartlets – Pierre’s Test Case

Let Us Set the Table – The Story Behind the Story

It is common knowledge that Mme. Blondie, my employer and culinary collaborator, was born and raised in the South, that beautiful and enchanting region of your United States, where women possess great charm and a strong attachment to traditional ways. While reading through past posts on this excellent blog, I came across a most interesting post, a post that showed me how Mme. Blondie has made it her task and her duty to pass on her traditions in the style of the South. That post was How to Host a Tea Party – SFH Style, a truly marvelous description of how a wise and knowledgeable grandmother can influence the future and enrich the lives of the ones she loves most. Mme. Blondie can proudly say that she and her daughters and her granddaughters are truly Girls Raised In The South (GRITS).

And that brings us to Mme. Blondie’s Daughter #2, a most remarkable woman of strong character and, I say this with firm conviction, a woman of great culinary courage. She currently lives in the majestic Shenandoah Valley, once known as the breadbasket of the South. In the Valley, food of all types surrounds you. Beef, poultry, dairy, and a vast assortment of crops – good food is plentiful and the folks there know how to make a great meal. But Daughter #2 is a woman made for culinary adventure; she’s a woman ready to step out of familiar everyday meals. Like her Momma, she possesses the gift of a mind open to new possibilities, a mind that does not fear to explore.

The Challenge: An Ina Garten French Dinner

Now that you know something of the character of Daughter #2, let us discuss the nature of the challenge. Recently, Daughter #2 has been studying French cuisine through the eyes of Ina Garten and her cookbook Barefoot in Paris: Easy French Food You Can Make at Home. She knew well how strongly her Momma had been influenced by Julia Child and her cookbook Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Volume I and she thought it would be a grand idea for Mme. Blondie and her to bring what they had learned together in a semi-formal sit-down dinner party. The plans were made, the menu was decided, and the date was set – January 23, 2022, would be the day for French Cuisine & GRITS.

Both chefs started preparations early, actually days in advance. In the post Julia’s Tartlets – Pierre’s Test Case, you saw how Mme. Blondie prepared Julia’s Tartlets. At noon that day, I was chauffeured by Monsieur Fuzz Face to Daughter #2’s residence. Fortunately, I was able to sit in the back seat with Mme. Blondie and was not subjected to Fuzzy’s foolish prattle. When we arrived at Daughter #2’s home, just a short distance from the beautiful North Fork of the Shenandoah, I quietly walked into the kitchen. Daughter #2 was quite busy, and it took a moment or two for her to turn in my direction. When she saw me, dressed as I was in my usual dapper way, her mouth fell open and she uttered a most surprised yet sincere welcome. Recognizing me, perhaps the world’s most distinguished gourmet, she immediately dropped everything and hugged me lovingly, kissing each cheek in the customary French way. I was most flattered and I’m certain that I blushed with the attention she showered upon me.

I knew that my presence would increase the pressure on her to make the perfect meal. I did my best to let her know that she could continue without worry about me. I was here to enjoy the food and to make a new friend. – This is, after all, the way it should be in the world of fine food.

Le Menu

There are those that foolhardily say that a typical French dinner consists of this or that number of courses. Of course, they seldom take into account the customs in different regions, nor do they even consider that perhaps there is room for variation. In but a few minutes of searching, you can find any number of discordant answers to the question of “How many and what are the courses in a typical French Dinner?” I mock these so-called experts. Here, see for yourself how they never can agree:

The 7 Courses of a Formal French Meal
Formal Dinner Party Courses
What are the Courses in a French Dinner?

Here in a loose form is what Daughter #2 served her guests and yours truly, Persnickety Pierre, on this day of days in her culinary life:

  • L’Aperitif: Serendipity Cocktail – This drink was chosen for its name and significance to all associated with Serendipity Farmhouse. For the history of the drink and a recipe see: Serendipity, a Paris Cocktail from the World’s Greatest Bartender
  • L’Entree: Julia’s Tartlets – The background on this appetizer is described in the post Julia’s Tartlets – Pierre’s Test Case.
  • La Soupe: Winter Squash Soup – Taken from Ina Garten’s recipe. See: Winter Squash Soup (Recipe here; Barefoot in Parish (BIP), p. 81)
  • Le Plat Principal: Beef Bourguignon – Taken from Ina Garten’s recipe. See: Beef Bourguignon (Recipe here; BIP, p. 121)
  • Salad: Green Salad Vinaigrette – Taken from Ina Garten’s recipe. See: Green Salad Vinaigrette (Recipe here; BIP, p. 102)
  • Le Fromage: Cheese Plate – This plate featured an assortment of Spanish & French cheeses, from cow, goat, and sheep milk. An appropriate bread was used as the base for the Beef Bourguignon and eating separately.
  • Le Dessert: Mixed Fruit Tart – See: Wegmans Large Mixed Fruit Tart
  • Dinner Wine: Côtes du Rhône – A moderately priced red wine and an excellent pairing with Beef Bourguignon

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My Flawless Professional Review

Among my first impressions was the fact that at various points during meal preparation there were as many as six people in the kitchen. Daughter #2, of course, was the primary chef. She received some minor assistance from Son-in-Law #2 and Granddaughter #4, but, for the most part, Daughter #2 had to prepare the meal with a horde of bystanders in a very small kitchen. – To her very great credit, Daughter #2 maintained her composure throughout. Now, let us examine her meal from the perspective of Persnickety Pierre’s Criteria of Excellence:

  1. Level of the challenge: I am happily compelled to score Daughter #2 very highly on this criterion. In fact, there is not the slightest doubt in my mind that she has earned the coveted Persnickety Pierre’s Paw of Excellence (PPPE). Not only was her menu exceedingly ambitious, filled with many potential pitfalls, but each item was artfully chosen with the intent to please her dinner guests. Daughter #2 also had to deal with the totally unexpected arrival of Persnickety Pierre and remain calm and focused while under his intense scrutiny.  Oui, truly a remarkable performance worthy of a PPPE!
  2. Selection of good-quality ingredients: I have come to learn that Daughter #2 spent several days shopping for the ingredients to be served in her dinner. She carefully studied several cookbooks to enlighten herself concerning the right foods for an authentic French-style cuisine. She also sought advice from those whom she regards as knowledgeable. There were several calls to Mme. Blondie concerning selection of ingredients. She even called upon the assistance of M. Fuzz Face concerning selection of wines and European cheeses. Rather atypically, M. Fuzzy actually provided worthwhile advice.
  3. Use of cooking techniques: There are two reasons why I have chosen to award Daughter #2 an unprecedented second PPPE. As you can see from the featured image at the top of this post, when I first entered the kitchen, I was both amazed and delighted to see several courses in the midst of simultaneous preparation. My picture shows the blue pot containing the main course. Off to the left, preparation of the soup has begun. At the other side of the kitchen, Daughter was describing the history and ingredients of the aperitif to her guests. My picture also shows the second reason for awarding the PPPE. You will see in the foreground a very large pot containing a rendition of Ina Garten’s Homemade Chicken Stock (Recipe here; BIP, p. 84). Oui, Daughter #2 had elected to make her own chicken stock for use in the Winter Squash soup. Mon Dieu, what a great undertaking! Yet, Daughter #2 desired to make the extra effort.
  4. Development of superior taste and flavor: It goes without saying yet it is necessary that I say it. Daughter #2, due to her advance study, selection of fine ingredients, and diligent adherence to proper technique, was able to bring together in her masterpiece meal a symphony of tastes, flavors, and aromas. There were no sour notes. This music for the palate would render any audience breathless. The reason I have chosen not to award a PPPE is because I think it only right to allow this amazing amateur chef room to grow. I firmly believe that she should, when the time is right, depart from the recipe and explore her own native ability to experiment with herbs, spices, and techniques that will expand her repertoire.
  5. Presentation: Great care was taken to present the meal in a manner that was authentic but not overly formal. This was, after all, a meal for the family to enjoy. Interestingly, Daughter #2 called upon Granddaughter #4 to assist in setting the table. My earlier picture of the table setting shows that was done quite well. The attention to detail is evident. Daughter #2 personally served all guests. She did so with the charm, efficiency, and professional quality that would be worthy of a large tip, had this been a fine restaurant. I must point out that, in the future, Daughter #2 might be well-advised to consider portion size. This was a multi-course meal and use of a smaller bowl for the soup would have been more appropriate. That being said, I found myself happily pleased by the flavor of the soup and consumed all of it.

And there it is! Two amateur chefs, both Girls Raised in the South, a mother and daughter working together to prepare a memorable French dinner. The mother was awarded Persnickety Pierre’s first Paw of Excellence. The daughter won Pierre’s heart with her unusually challenging and most assuredly successful effort to bring fine French cuisine to the heart of the Shenandoah Valley, the breadbasket of the South. Indeed, it is without question that Daughter #2 deserves two PPPEs for her remarkable achievement of bringing together French Cuisine & GRITS!

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:

SFH 2021 Plantings

SFH 2021 Harvest

SFH 2021 Preserving

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

2021- December

2022- January

2022- February

Julia’s Tartlets – Pierre’s Test Case

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
5. Presentation

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.

  1. 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
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.


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18-inch French Rolling Pin

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.”

6-inch Tart M. Fuzzy Tamper

Julia’s Cheese Tartlets the SFH TK Way

This is the Serendipity Farmhouse adaptation of Jackie DeKnock's version of
JuliaChild’s Cheese Tartlets at Gourmet Safari.
Course Appetizer
Cuisine French


  • 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
  • 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).

Tartlet Preparation:

  • 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:

SFH 2021 Plantings

SFH 2021 Harvest

SFH 2021 Preserving

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

2021- December

2022- January

2022- February