Tuesday, December 3, 2013
I was away last week in Paris. It was a short, but very sweet trip. I returned home exhausted and inspired by the sights, scents, and tastes of that beautiful city. Everywhere we went the culinary classics were on display: exquisite pastries, familiar savory dishes, and fine wine. Parisians were out in force, enjoying the neighborhood cafes and shops, children and dogs included. We did the requisite tours of museums, monuments, and a boat trip down the Seine. We walked for what seemed to me to be miles and miles, and there was always something beautiful and interesting to see. I made a trip to E. Dehillerin, the iconic kitchen supply store on the Rue Coquilliere.
The copper goods are beautiful! There is every piece of equipment that one might ever need for the kitchen, in every size! I have not seen a duck press since my culinary school days, but there it was at E. Dehillerin. The salesmen were charming and good-natured, rushing about, filling orders, and helping customers find that coveted item so many of us had traveled a great distance to obtain. If you go, be sure to make a list! It's easy to get distracted. When I got home I immediately went to my Cordon Bleu recipe binders. I was nostalgic for those familiar flavors, and dishes that I haven't made in a long time. In the days to come I plan a return to some of my favorite classic French cuisine and pastry recipes. But for now, these simple little butter cookies will have to do. I haven't completely recovered from the jet lag. Afternoon tea and cookies is starting to help in that regard, though.
Palets de Dames
(makes about 20 small cookies)
40 grams raisins, soaked in enough rum to just cover, for 1 hour
62 grams unsalted butter, at room temperature
62 grams powdered (confectioner's) sugar
75 grams all-purpose flour
A pinch of salt
Additional powdered sugar for the glaze (1/4 to 1/3 cup)
Freshly squeezed lemon juice for the glaze
Preheat the oven to 400°F. Line a heavy baking sheet with parchment paper (stack two sheets together if yours are not sturdy). Cream the butter in a medium bowl with a wooden spoon or spatula. Sift the powdered sugar into the butter and blend well. Add the salt and the egg and mix together (you may want to use a whisk to incorporate the egg). Sift in the flour and stir gently with the wooden spoon. Drain the raisins and add 2 teaspoons of the rum to the cookie batter; again, mixing gently. Fit a disposable pastry bag with a plain 1/2-inch tip (mine is #806), and scoop the batter into it. Pipe small cookies onto the prepared sheet, leaving about 2 inches between each (they will spread and flatten out as they bake). Press 3 or 4 raisins atop each cookie. Bake until the cookies are set and golden brown around the edges, about 6 to 8 minutes. Watch carefully that they do not burn. Remove to a rack to cool. Prepare the glaze by mixing the powdered sugar with enough fresh lemon juice to make a thin mixture that can be brushed onto the cookies. Apply the glaze to each cookie with a pastry brush and allow to set before serving. The cookies are best eaten the day they are baked but you can store them, separated by parchment paper, in an airtight container for a day or two.
(Adapted from a recipe inspired by the Cordon Bleu)
Monday, November 25, 2013
I'm feeling a little left out. The food blogosphere is full of Thanksgiving fare; some folks even have the leftovers accounted for! And here I am with my humble loaf of bread. I'm not cooking Thanksgiving dinner this year, or Christmas dinner for that matter. I will be away for both holidays and it will be be wonderful! I can't remember the last time this happened; it might have been about twenty years ago. As much as I enjoy the holiday meal planning and preparation, this year's plans are going to be a welcome change. It's all about spending time with family, which is what the Christmas season really ought to be about, don't you think? I will be in Paris later this week and then home to Winnipeg for Christmas next month. There will be lots of fun time with my family, and plenty of good food, no doubt. Sightseeing, shopping, reconnecting, relaxing, eating, drinking, laughing, visiting...I can hardly wait! In the meantime, I leave you with this simple loaf of bread. Fashioned after the texture of an English muffin, it has all the nooks and crannies needed to soak up butter and jam. It mixes up like a quick bread, with no kneading required and only sixty minutes of rising time before going into a hot oven. This is the perfect addition to a breakfast table shared with the ones you love. Happy Thanksgiving all! I'll be back next week...
English Muffin Bread
(makes one 9x5-inch loaf)
Fine cornmeal, for dusting the pan and the top of the loaf
Softened butter or pan spray for greasing the loaf pan
2 1/2 cups bread flour
1 envelope rapid-rise or instant yeast
1 1/2 teaspoons sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 cups whole milk, heated to 120°F
Butter a 9x5-inch loaf pan and dust generously with cornmeal. Combine the flour, yeast, sugar, salt, and baking soda in a large mixing bowl. Add the hot milk and stir until well blended. Cover the bowl with greased plastic wrap and let stand for about 30 minutes in a warm spot. The dough should be bubbly and doubled in volume. Stir the dough and turn it into the prepared pan. With a greased spatula, spread the dough evenly into the corners of the pan. Cover with greased plastic wrap and let rise again until the dough is level with the edges of the pan (about another 30 minutes). In the meantime, adjust the oven rack to the middle position and preheat the oven to 375°F. Remove the plastic wrap and sprinkle the top of the loaf with cornmeal. Bake until well browned and the internal temperature of the loaf is 200°F. Remove the bread to a wire rack to cool completely. This bread is meant to be toasted, so slice it thickly, toast it, and spread with butter and your favorite jam.
(from Cook's Country )
Thursday, November 21, 2013
Sometimes you want a simple fruit dessert. This is the perfect way to dress up apples (or pears) to make an appearance as a sweet and satisfying end to a meal. It's so much easier than a fruit crisp or pie, and then there's the bonus of having nut-oat crumble leftover. A little spoonful of mascarpone alongside the roasted apples adds a touch of rich smoothness to the dish, and another layer of flavor and texture. Use your favorite apple here, Honey Crisp or Braeburn are my top choices. If pears are looking good in your supermarket, substitute them and carry on. This is a dish you will want to make often. In fact, I think it would make a pretty tasty breakfast, if there's any left after dinner!
Roasted Apples with Nut-Oat Crumble
(makes 4 servings)
2 medium-sized apples, halved and cored (or 2 firm Anjou or Bartlett pears)
2 teaspoons plus 2 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 cup raw almonds, coarsely chopped
1/4 cup raw shelled pumpkin seeds
2 tablespoons light brown sugar
2 tablespoons old-fashioned rolled oats
Pinch of kosher salt
1 tablespoon black sesame seeds
1/2 cup mascarpone
2 teaspoons granulated sugar
Place racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven and preheat to 375°F. Place apples, cut side up, on a small baking sheet, drizzle with 2 teaspoons oil, and roast on the upper oven rack until soft, 20 to 30 minutes. Let cool slightly. Meanwhile, toss the almonds, pumpkin seeds, brown sugar, oats, salt, and remaining 2 tablespoons oil on a small baking sheet. Toast on the lower oven rack, stirring occasionally, until golden, 10 to 12 minutes. Remove from the oven and mix in the sesame seeds. Let cool. Whisk the mascarpone and sugar in a small bowl (if it seems too thick, add a few drops of cream). Spoon the mascarpone onto plates and top with the apples and nut-oat crumble. Any leftover crumble can be stored at room temperature in a tightly covered container. Use it sprinkled over yogurt or ice cream, or top slices of toast with peanut butter and crumble.
(minimally adapted from Bon Appetit 10/13)
Tuesday, November 19, 2013
I think braising is my favorite cooking method of all time. I am always amazed at how time, heat, and a little liquid can transform the toughest cut of meat to a tender, succulent forkful of deliciousness. Braising comes with other perks too. It's a method made for cooking in advance; braised foods actually improve in flavor after a day or two in the refrigerator. And it's easy! Just brown your meat, add some aromatics, top up with well-flavored liquid, and braise away. You can braise on the stove top or in the oven. And while your dish is simmering, you can go about your business with only an occasional check on the progress of your dinner. This recipe is my basic version of braised beef. Feel free to customize it to your liking. The most important step in the braising process is the browning of the meat. Take your time and allow the surface to take on a rich, dark color. This is where the flavor begins to develop and it will add so much goodness to your sauce. Choose a well-marbled cut of beef, such as chuck, and boost the flavor with onions, garlic, fresh herbs, and good-tasting stock. You can cook vegetables right in the pot with the beef or prepare them separately, it's up to you. And leftovers are a good thing; braised beef can be re-purposed as shepherd's pie, in pasta sauce, or as a hot beef sandwich. It's what I like to think of as maximum return for minimum effort. Give it a try and see if you don't agree.
(serves 3 to 4)
A 2 1/2 to 3 pound chuck roast
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
Olive or grapeseed oil
A medium onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 1/2 to 2 cups beef broth
A sprig or two of fresh thyme and rosemary
3 medium carrots, peeled and cut into chunks
3 or 4 Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and quartered
8 ounces button mushrooms, sliced
A tablespoon unsalted butter, for sauteing the mushrooms
Additional chopped fresh herbs, for garnish
Preheat the oven to 325°F. Pat the roast dry with paper towels then season generously on both sides with salt and pepper. Heat a heavy saucepan or Dutch oven (with a tight-fitting lid), into which the roast will fit snugly, over medium-high heat. Add olive or grapeseed oil to cover the bottom of the pan. Sear the roast on both sides, adjusting the heat as necessary, to achieve a deep brown crust on the meat. Take your time with this step, you are developing the "fond" that will flavor the cooking liquid. Remove the roast to a plate and pour off all but a teaspoon or so of the fat. Place the pan over medium heat and add the chopped onion and a large pinch of salt. Saute until the onion is translucent and beginning to brown a little. Toss in the garlic cloves and stir again for a minute or two. Add the vinegar and stir well to dislodge those browned bits on the bottom of the pan. Raise the heat and let the vinegar bubble away until there is only a glaze left in the pan. Add 1 1/2 cups of beef broth and the fresh herbs and bring to a lively simmer. Add the roast back to the saucepan, there should be enough liquid to come up the sides of the meat, but not completely cover it. (Add the remaining 1/2 cup of broth if necessary). Cover the roast with a circle of parchment paper, put the lid on the pot and place the roast in the oven. Braise the meat for two hours, turning it once, halfway through. Add the carrots and potatoes to the pot and braise for an additional hour or until the vegetables are cooked and the meat is meltingly tender. To serve immediately remove the meat and vegetables to a warm serving bowl, cover with foil, and set in a low oven. Strain the cooking liquid through a fine sieve, pushing hard on the solids. Let stand for a moment or two, then skim as much fat as possible from the surface of the sauce. Taste for seasoning and add salt and pepper, as desired. In the meantime, quickly saute the sliced mushrooms in the butter until lightly browned and tender. Add the mushrooms to the sauce and serve with the roast, carrots and potatoes. Rather than carve the meat you can simply pull chunks apart and plate them with the potatoes and carrots. If you prefer, cook the potatoes separately and mash them. Set the meat and carrots atop the mash then add the mushrooms and sauce. Sprinkle chopped fresh herbs over as a garnish. If preparing the roast ahead of time, cover it and cool slightly, then wrap tightly and refrigerate for up to three days. Package the sauce and vegetables separately and refrigerate. When ready to serve, lift any fat from the sauce, add the meat and vegetables, and heat in a low oven.
Thursday, November 14, 2013
It's uncharacteristically cold here these days. I'm not quite ready for the chill of winter. This pan of gingerbread filled the house with the scent of warm spices and brightened my mood. It's one of my favorite fall and winter desserts. It's also a recipe from one of my favorite food writers. Laurie Colwin wrote a column many years ago for Gourmet magazine. Hers was the first page I would turn to when the magazine arrived each month. Her food-related stories were funny, down to earth, and entertaining. She felt like a friend as she described the day to day events of her life. She had a daughter whom I determined to be about the same age as mine. I loved how she described the difference in her cooking style after having a child; how her fancy twine for tying up the chicken was being used by her child to form spider webs on the kitchen chairs. Ms. Colwin died suddenly at the age of forty-eight, leaving behind her husband, daughter, and the legacy of her wonderful writing. I treasure the two little books she wrote based on the Gourmet columns: "Home Cooking" and "More Home Cooking". It's nice to read them again, curled up in a comfy chair, with a cup of tea, and a piece of her delicious gingerbread. Although I've added a few additions of my own, the recipe is essentially Ms. Colwin's. So, if your day needs some warmth and spice, give this a try.
(makes one 9-inch square pan)
9 tablespoons unsalted butter
12 ounces Lyle's Golden Syrup (you will need the entire jar)**
2 cups plus 2 tablespoons flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 3/4 teaspoons baking soda
1 tablespoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon cloves
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground white pepper
1/4 cup finely chopped candied ginger
1 egg, beaten
1 cup milk
Mascarpone Whipped Cream, for serving
Pomegranate seeds, chopped candied ginger, or ground cinnamon, for garnish.
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter a 9-inch pan and line the bottom with parchment paper. Melt the butter with the syrup in a heavy saucepan over medium-low heat. Set aside. Sift the dry ingredients together into a large bowl. Stir in the chopped candied ginger. Add the syrup mixture and blend together. Add the egg and milk and whisk together until well mixed. The batter will be thin. Pour into the prepared pan and bake for 45 to 50 minutes. The edges of the cake will pull away from the pan and the middle should be just set. Cool in the pan for 10 minutes before turning out. Portion into generous squares and serve warm, with a heaping spoonful or two of mascarpone whipped cream. Sprinkle over a few pomegranate seeds, some chopped candied ginger, or a light dusting of cinnamon.
(adapted from a recipe in "More Home Cooking" by Laurie Colwin)
**If Lyle's Golden Syrup is not available to you, try substituting 3/4 cup each of light corn syrup and molasses.
Mascarpone Whipped Cream
(makes about 1 cup)
1/4 cup mascarpone cheese
1/2 cup heavy cream
2 teaspoons pure maple syrup
Whisk all the ingredients together in a small bowl until blended and very soft peaks form. Do not over mix. Store in a covered container in the refrigerator.
Monday, November 11, 2013
This hearty pasta dish is one of our favorites of all time. I have been making it for many years; I think the original recipe was one from Lidia Bastianich. Rapini, or broccoli rabe, is a pleasantly bitter green, with slender stalks, lots of leaves, and small florets (similar to ordinary broccoli). But the similarity ends with the flavor. Rapini is bold and bitter. It benefits from braising with a little stock and lots of garlic and olive oil. The texture and flavor soften and it becomes a hearty and satisfying green vegetable. The partnership of rapini with sausage and pasta is genius. The sweet sausage tames the assertiveness of the vegetable, and the little grooved "ears" of pasta catch all the good bits of the sauce. There is flavor and texture galore in every bite. In fact, rapini is so delicious that you could omit the sausage and still have a very good pasta dish. If you have tentative eaters in your family, just substitute ordinary broccoli for the rapini. It will still be a successful dish. But I urge you to try rapini; consider it a culinary adventure. You won't be disappointed.
Choose rapini with fresh-looking leaves and small, tender stalks. Trim any thick, woody ends of the stalks and wash the vegetable in a large bowl of cold water. Lift it out to drain in a colander.
Braise the coarsely chopped rapini with sweet Italian sausage, chopped garlic, a little chicken stock, and a sprinkle of red pepper for spice.
Orecchiette with Rapini and Sausage
(serves 3 to 4, depending on appetites)
1 bunch rapini (broccoli rabe), about 14 to 16 ounces
8 ounces sweet Italian sausage, in bulk form or removed from the casings
2 to 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/3 cup chicken stock
2 garlic cloves, peeled and finely minced
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
8 ounces orecchiette pasta
1 tablespoon butter
Freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Trim the thick ends of the rapini stalks and peel them if they are large. Swish the leaves and stalks in a large bowl or sink full of cold water. Lift out of the water, shaking to dry, and chop into 1 1/2 to 2-inch pieces. Set aside. Heat a tablespoon of oil in a large, non-stick skillet over medium-high heat. Add the Italian sausage and breaking it up with a wooden spoon, saute until browned and cooked through. If the pan seems dry, add another tablespoon of oil. Lower the heat to medium and add 1/3 of the chopped rapini. Toss well until the vegetable begins to wilt, then add the remaining rapini. Pour the chicken stock into the pan, add the minced garlic, and red pepper flakes, taste for salt, and season appropriately. Lower the heat to maintain a gentle simmer, cover the pan, and cook until the stalks and florets of the rapini are tender, about 8 to 10 minutes. There should be just enough stock in the pan to keep the mixture moist but not soupy. In the meantime, cook the orecchiette until al dente. Drain, return to the pot, and toss with the butter. Add the rapini and sausage and toss gently. Portion into warm bowls and top generously with grated Parmesan cheese and an additional drizzle of olive oil, if you like.
(adapted from Lidia's Italy: Recipes)
Thursday, November 7, 2013
This past week I noticed a new variety of persimmon in our local supermarket. This new persimmon (dubbed the "Percinnamon") is very versatile; soft enough to puree for baking purposes, and firm enough to slice into a salad, which I made with arugula, walnuts, and pomegranate seeds. I went searching in my vast collection of cookbooks and magazines for some new ideas that would incorporate persimmons in baked goods. I remembered an article in a very old edition of "Bon Appetit". It was the Thanksgiving 1983 edition, and at a whopping two hundred and forty-four pages, and with one hundred sixty-six recipes, it was the answer to my search. From an article titled "Pumpkins and Persimmons" come these simple and delicious persimmon bars. I've since seen updated versions of them, most notably in Saveur magazine. The only difference from the original recipe is the addition of a light lemon glaze, which adds a tart note to the spicy, sweet cake bars. I also substituted dried strawberries for the dates, but I think raisins, currants or dried cranberries would work well too. These go together quickly once you have the persimmon puree in hand; and it yields a large pan of bars, so be prepared to share with family and friends.
(makes thirty 3x1 1/2-inch bars)
1 cup fresh persimmon puree (from 3 persimmons)**
2 tablespoons plus 1 1/2 teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 large egg
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup dried strawberries (6 ounces), finely chopped (or raisins, dates, currants, or dried cranberries)
1/2 cup canola oil
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup (4 ounces) walnuts, toasted, cooled, and chopped
1 cup confectioner's sugar (for the glaze)
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter and flour a 10 x 15-inch jelly roll pan. Blend the persimmon puree with 1 1/2 teaspoons of the lemon juice and the baking soda in a medium bowl (there will be some bubbling and the entire mixture will turn into a gel). Whisk the egg and the granulated sugar together in a large bowl. Add the oil and whisk to emulsify the mixture. Stir in the dried fruit. Blend together the flour, spices, and salt. Stir the flour into the egg and oil mixture alternately with the persimmon puree; do not overmix. Fold in the nuts. Spread the batter evenly in the prepared pan, using an off set spatula. Bake until lightly browned and set, about 20 to 25 minutes. When the bars are almost done, mix the confectioner's sugar with 2 tablespoons lemon juice until smooth. Remove the bars to a wire rack to cool for 5 minutes. Spread the warm cake with the lemon glaze and allow to cool completely before cutting into bars. The bars will say fresh, in an airtight container, for 2 to 3 days.
**Peel the persimmons with a serrated peeler, cut them into chunks, and puree in a food processor)
(minimally adapted from "Saveur" magazine and "Bon Appetit" magazine)