A Fabulous Picnic
My friends and I went on a picnic a little while back, when the weather was still lovely not the cold gray snowy nastiness I am experiencing right now, and let me tell you: it was something fabulous.
Do you get it?
Do you see where I'm going with this?
It was a Something Fabulous picnic! Like Bonny and Valentine! Only, as one of said friends pointed out, with way less sexual tension. And fewer dicks. (We had none of either.)(At least, I don't think we had any of either?)(Then again, Valentine definitely didn't notice the sexual tension at his picnic.)(Anyway, it was three women, and I'm pretty sure there was no sexual tension.)
Of course, I couldn't post about it then because the book hadn't been published yet, BUT IT IS OUT NOW! You can all enjoy Bonny and Valentine and their ridiculously rompy adventures in love, lust, and literature, and I have my pretty paperback copy here in my hands and it is everything.
Seriously. How pretty is my bookshelf? You know you're jealous.*
I know, I know, you are all absolutely shocked that I loved something Alexis Hall wrote... absolutely no one saw this coming... a plot twist to put M. Night Shyamalan to shame.
It truly is something fabulous. It is a fucking ray of sunshine (Bonny in particular is basically sunshine personified) and if where you live you're experiencing anything like the gray cold disgustingness that I am, or honestly even if you don't we are still two years into a fucking pandemic: you need this book. You need this book yesterday.
The night I got my initial e-copy of Something Fabulous, I had to be in the office extra early the next day and I stayed up all night anyway because I just couldn't stop. I remember distinctly worrying at like two am that I was going to wake up my neighbors because I was laughing so fucking loudly. And, to be clear, I live in a house (admittedly it's a row home but it's well insulated).
It is just the most perfect book. I adore this story, I adore these characters. I adore the way Bonny sees and embraces the world, often with literal embracing, and I adore the way Valentine... doesn't? how he has to really learn to navigate the world and himself and it's very sweet and a little heart-wrenching but all just very lovely, and as a couple they are just so fucking charming (incidentally, their fucking is also charming). The book itself is irreverent and brilliant: it's like the Clueless of histroms (and if you know me you know that that is really the highest compliment I can think of) because it is lovely and funny and sweet all on it's own, but it also, lovingly, pokes fun at all the most ridiculous things about regency romances (how many dukes are there in England? Why are there dueling pistols in your coach?) while doing those things (THAT DUEL)... it's just beautiful and perfect and it's just so fucking good.
Anyway, if you haven't yet, please go read Something Fabulous. For your own mental health and well-being. I really truly believe it will make you smile. You can tell I mean it because I cannot stop cursing about how good it is. I'm saying "fucking" like Valentine says "I am a duke."
Where was I?
Oh right, the picnic. For those of you who have read it- how fucking adorable is this scene? With the bee? and Bonny being like, my friends call me Bonny? FLOWER. Just fucking adorable.
So, what's at this picnic?
Ginger beer, peaches, bread, cheese, pigeon pies, and sticky fruit tarts.
|I know my picnic isn't quite as cute as Bonny and Valentine's but it's pretty fucking cute, right?|
The ginger beer, bread, and cheese were purchased because I was making enough other stuff I didn't feel the need to make bread or cheese try my hand at making ginger beer, and my friends provided peaches, a picnic basket and plates/cups/cutlery, and a blanket, and I made the following "pigeon" pies and sticky strawberry tarts:
This is an amalgamation of Paul Hollywood's "Paul's Hand-raised Pies" in the cookbook, The Great British Bake Off: How To Turn Everyday Bakes Into Showstoppers which my lovely friend and procurer of picnic baskets lent me (the same one I used in my Rosaline Palmer's Pie post) and this Game of Thrones themed recipe from Bon Apetit (because who doesn't want to bake a pie that was used to killed someone?).
- 400g AP flour
- 80g bread flour (the Paul Hollywood recipe calls for "strong" flour. In the US, the easiest swap is bread flour.)
- 1 stick unsalted butter, chilled and diced
- 60g lard
- 200ml boiling water
- 2 tsp salt
- beaten egg (to glaze) (I didn't forget it this time!)
- Mix both flours in a bowl and rub in butter until looks like fine crumbs.
- Put lard in a saucepan or small pot with the salt and the boiling water. Heat until lard has melted.
- Pour into flour mixture, stir with a wooden spoon until comes together as dough.
- Tip onto a lightly floured work surface and gently work until it forms a smooth ball.
- Divide in two, wrap half in cling film and set aside
- Divide the dough into how many pies you're going to make plus the lids. I divided into quarters, made three rather large individual pies (we each ate about half and saved the other half, previously I used a large muffin tin and that was a better size for an individual portion, but might be hard to layer.)
- Chill while you make the filling.
This is a little more made up, loosely inspired by the recipe above.
- 1 cup dried Turkish apricots, chopped (maybe a little more, I didn't really measure and I went in pretty heavy on them)
- About 6 slices bacon, sliced into thin pieces
- One package (2-3 pounds) boneless, skinless chicken thighs, chopped into pieces (about 1/2-1 inch cubes) (cuz I see pigeons literally daily and I do not want to eat them)
- 1 onion, chopped
- Handful of fresh thyme leaves, pulled off the stems
- Handful of sage, julienned
- Kosher salt
- Black pepper
- 1/2 jalapeño or equal amount of your prefered chili, seeded and finely chopped
- 2 tbs apple cider vinegar
- 1 tbs dark brown sugar
- ¼ teaspoon ground allspice
- ¼teaspoon ground ginger
- 2 cloves garlic, finely grated
- Heat your preferred fat (butter, olive oil, lard, bacon grease... I fried up some bacon not used in the pies for this purpose) in a large skillet over medium heat. Add onion, season with some salt and pepper, and cook, stirring occasionally, until onion begins to soften, 5–7 minutes.
- Stir in chili, garlic, and thyme, scraping up browned bits from bottom and sides of pan, and cook, stirring occasionally, until onion begins to stick to bottom of pan, about 20 minutes.
- Take chilled dough out of the fridge. Roll dough and form around dowels, jars, or (in my case) drinking glasses. Roll last piece and cut out lids slightly larger than the top of the glass, and cut a whole out of the middle. Return all the dough to fridge to cool for at least 20 minutes.
- Add vinegar and brown sugar and cook, stirring and scraping up any browned bits, until liquid is evaporated and onion is very soft and golden brown, about 5 minutes.
- Season with salt and pepper.
- Let cool; set aside until ready to use.
- Season chicken with chopped sage, thyme, salt, pepper, ginger, and allspice. Set aside.
- Chop up apricots, set aside.
- Preheat oven to 400F.
- Take chilled dough out of the fridge. Gently remove the dough from the dowels/jars/glasses. If using jars/glasses, you can fill with a little hot water to help with removal.
- Layer the fillings in the pies as follows:
- Cover with lid and crimp edges.
- Beat egg and brush over pies.
- Place on an unlined sheet pan (I couldn't do it! I lined with tinfoil and it was fine!)
- Bake for 50 minutes.
- Allow pies to cool before serving (serve at room temperature).
Sticky Strawberry Tarts
Look, I know there are other pie doughs out there, and I know there are like, specific doughs for tarts even, and they like, have egg? But the truth of the matter is, Smitten Kitchen's All Butter Really Flaky Pie Dough is super easy and super delicious and super reliable so I use it for just about anything/everything pie-like and I suggest you do the same. Even though I *know* baking by weight is more precise, I usually do this by volume and it ALWAYS COMES OUT WELL. Just really super fucking easy. So if you want to do it by weight, follow the link above, which has both weight and volume. If not, follow the instructions below.
- 2 1/2 cups
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 1 teaspoon table salt
- 2 sticks unsalted butter, very cold, cubed
- Iced water, as needed (usually about 1/3 to 3/4 cup)
- Mix the dry ingredients in a bowl.
- Add butter cubes and work them with a pastry blender (or your hands, honestly, sometimes I'm lazy or don't have the pastry blender clean because I'm making a dozen kinds of pies in one week or whatever other nonsense I'm doing).
- Blend the butter and flour until the butter pieces are pea-sized. It won't take long. It is the correct mixture.
- Drizzle 1/4 -1/2 cup of ice water over the butter flour mixture and mix the dough together with a spatula, wooden spoon, or, again, your hands. (Remember what Toby said in For Real about unnecessary kitchen gadgets when you have two perfectly good hands? Because I do. Every time I bake. Which is often.) Be careful of overworking with your hands because they are hot and the ingredients need to be cold so you have to work very quickly if you're doing it by hand. Add more water, as needed, to bring it together, just a little at a time, until it looks like dough. Finish mixing it with your hands. l) of the ice-cold water (but not the cubes, if there are any left!) over the butter and flour mixture. If you're using a spatula or spoon, once you’re pulling large clumps with the spatula, take it out and get your hands in there to gather the clumps into one mound and knead them gently together.
- Divide the dough in half, roll each into a disk, and wrap each in plastic wrap, or if, like me, you're stuck in collective bargaining that was supposed to be wrapped up the day before and not on your day off so you're way behind schedule in baking, divide into quarters and chuck into ziplock bags while you wait for the agency to send you their counter proposals. They'll chill more quickly.
- Let the dough chill in the fridge for one hour, but preferably at least two, before rolling it out.
- Preheat oven to 325F.
- Roll them out one at a time (I got 2 pie tin's worth from each quarter, plus a lot of scraps to re-roll later), leaving the others in the fridge to continue chilling.
- Cut a circle of dough about 1/4 inch wider than your tart tin (or muffin tin or whatever you're using).
- Gently press the dough into the tin. Trim the excess (or do this after? they do shrink a bit). Poke the bottom with a fork (they will puff up! Maybe this is why people use tart dough instead?) Chill while you repeat with the others until you've made as many as you want to bake.
- Line with tinfoil and fill with pie weights (You can use rice or beans if you don't own pie weights. I use beans- the same ones over and over again that I keep in a container that says "PIE WEIGHTS! DON'T COOK!" in Sharpie.)
- Bake for 20 minutes. Remove tinfoil/pie weights and bake another 12-15 minutes or until golden brown.
- Chill completely before using.
I used a slight variation of this recipe from Serious Eats.
- 1 cup whole milk
- 1 cup half and half
- 1 vanilla bean, split and scraped
- 4 ounces granulated sugar
- 1 ounce cornstarch
- 1/4 teaspoon Diamond Crystal kosher salt (I did use Diamond Crystal. A lot of people care about this distinction, but I used to bake with whatever kosher salt I had on hand and honestly it has always worked just fine so don't stress if you can't find the fine stuff- coarse won't hurt you.)
- Yolks from 4 large eggs, straight from the fridge
- 1 ounce unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
- In a 2-quart stainless steel sauce pan or pot, combine milk and scraped vanilla bean along with its seeds. Bring to a bare simmer over medium heat. Remove from heat, cover to prevent evaporation, and let steep for 30 minutes.
- In a medium heatproof mixing bowl set on top of a dampened towel (this serves as a stable base) or the bowl of a stand mixer if, like me, you've used all your usual mixing bowls already and don't have the time/feel like washing them until you're done, stir together sugar, cornstarch, and salt.
- Whisk in egg yolks until mixture is pale yellow, smooth, and fluffy, about 1 minute.
- Uncover infused milk and remove vanilla bean.
- While whisking continuously, slowly pour milk into egg yolk mixture in a thin stream, until all of it has been added.
- Return the mixture to the same pot. Cook over medium heat, whisking constantly until pastry cream begins to thicken, about 5 minutes. Keep whisking and cooking it until it's the consistency you want. Serious Eats has a whole thing about this but I honestly think they're overcomplicating it. Pastry cream isn't that hard.
- Off-heat, whisk in butter until melted and thoroughly combined.
- Strain pastry cream through a fine-mesh sieve set over a heatproof medium bowl. This is important. You know I hate sifting/sieving so I wouldn't tell you to if it didn't matter. No matter how carefully you whisk, you will have at least a few little eggy bits that you do not want in your finished product, and when you use vanilla bean sometimes you get these stringy wooden kind of bits of bean mixed in with the seeds and you just don't want that nonsense in your pastry cream.
- Immediately cover the surface with place plastic wrap directly on the surface of the cream to prevent a skin from forming. Serious Eats suggested buttered parchment paper- personally, I've never greased my parchment paper. You can honestly use cling wrap, parchment paper, tinfoil.... whatever, and I've never buttered or greased it and it's all been fine. The important point is that it is directly on the surface of the cream to prevent a skin from forming.
- Refrigerate until cold, about 2 hours, OR again, if like me you are running way behind schedule, stick it in the freezer for about an hour while you finish everything else and run to the co-op for bread and cheese you forgot to buy earlier.
- Strawberries (or other fruits)
- Apricot jam (I like Bon Maman cuz it's delicious and was maybe founded by righteous gentiles and I support the hell out of that.)
- Half a lime
- Melt the jam with the juice of half a lime, and a little water in a small saucepan or pot.
- Strain the jam, let it cool while you deal with the pastry cream and fruit.
- Spoon or pipe the pastry cream into the cooled tart bases. I pipe everything now because I'm not as good as it as I want to be so I figure I should take every opportunity to practice even though it means making extra dishes (and I hate doing dishes).
- Cut the fruit and layer it over the pastry cream in a way you find aesthetically pleasing. Or in a way that puts the most fruit on the tart. Or to play around with it cuz you're not sure how you want to do it. Or however you like your tarts.
- Brush the jam over the tarts.
- Keep cold if not serving immediately.
Pack it all up and go on a truly fucking fabulous picnic.
And, with that... I'm off to shovel snow...
*Why yes, that is the Japanese edition of Boyfriend Material and the French editions of For Real, Glitterland, and Looking for Group. Thank you for noticing! Despite the fact that my Japanese and French skills are sorely lacking, I enjoy pretending I can still read the languages I spent so many years studying (and forgetting).
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