Saturday, June 28, 2008

Lazy

I didn’t feel like going to the market today. When I don’t feel like going to the market, I make Pasta Puttanesca for dinner. I always have all of the ingredients around, and it’s quick, easy, and tasty.

Pasta Puttanesca
Printable Recipe

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
3 anchovy fillets, minced
Several pinches red chile flakes
1 28-ounce can whole peeled tomatoes
2/3 cup pitted Kalamata olives, quartered
2 tablespoons capers
1 pound spaghetti or bucatini
Kosher salt
2 tablespoons minced Italian parsley
Freshly ground black pepper
Grated Parmegiano-Reggiano, for serving

Heat a large, heavy sauté pan over medium heat until hot but not smoking. Add the oil and swirl to coat the bottom of the pan. Add the garlic, anchovies, and chile flakes, and sauté for about a minute, or until fragrant. Add the tomatoes (along with their liquid), olives, and capers, and simmer, stirring occasionally and breaking up the tomatoes with the back of a spoon, for about 15 minutes, or until thickened and saucy.

Meanwhile, cook the pasta in a large pot of boiling, salted water according to the package directions. Drain the pasta when it is al dente. Add the pasta to the sauce and toss to coat. Stir in the parsley and season to taste with salt and pepper. Arrange on individual plates, top with plenty of Parmegiano, and serve immediately.

Makes 4 servings. I like to use San Marzano tomatoes, which are wonderfully sweet, for this dish. They cost a bit more, but they’re so worth it. They’re available at most gourmet markets.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Advance

My advance check just came in the mail today! It’s actually the second half of my advance for Seared to Perfection, and it means that the publisher has officially accepted my manuscript. And what’s more, I recently found out the book is going to have photos! I celebrated with fruity martinis.


Cassis Martinis
Printable Recipe

1 heaping cup ice cubes
¼ cup freshly squeezed lemon or lime juice
¼ cup vodka
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon crème de cassis

Combine all of the ingredients in a cocktail shaker and shake vigorously. Pour into chilled martini glasses and serve immediately.

Makes 2 servings. If you like, rim the glasses with sugar by dipping into crème de cassis and then immediately into sugar.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Sprouts


My husband loves to garden. Me? I’d rather cook and eat than water and weed. And anyway, I don’t have much of a green thumb. Our bay tree is only now recovering from the time I tried to prune it a couple of years ago.

But even I can grow alfalfa sprouts. Just take a handful of seed.


Soak it in cool water for a few hours. Then rinse and drain a couple of times a day. I can handle that. I have a sprouter, you know how I love my toys.


You don’t need one though, I suppose you can do all of this with just a bottle and a fine mesh sieve.

In less than a week, the sprouter’s full. How can I describe the flavor of fresh alfalfa sprouts? Green. Alive. Downright yummy. Perfect on a salad or ham and cheese sandwich.


I’ll leave digging in the dirt to the gardener.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Apricot Floats

Oregon strawberries are amazing. They’re so soft, red all the way through to the core, and bursting with juicy sweetness. Each year, I look forward to strawberry season, it’s my favorite time of the year. My husband loves strawberries too. We like to pick our own, and we eat so many before we even get out of the field, we make ourselves sick. Yesterday, we drove all the way out to Sauvie Island for u-pick strawberries, but the strawberries weren’t ready yet. I almost cried. I had even called ahead to check, and I was assured that they were ripe. Several eager strawberry eaters were stooped among the rows, picking. But thanks to some unseasonably cool weather, the strawberries were tart, and most certainly not ripe. Almost ripe, but not ripe. Unlike all of those other people, I am willing to wait for the perfect strawberries and will go back next week.

But the farmers market did have apricots. My consolation prize. How is it that the strawberries weren’t ready, but they had apricots at the farmers market? Never mind that. Their aroma was so intoxicating, I just had to have some. Many of the apricots were already bruised and mushy. I took my time picking through the pile looking for perfect specimens, ripe but still firm. I got about a dozen before I sensed my husband’s patience wearing thin. He was already at the front of the line to pay. I didn’t plan on making anything with the apricots. I just like to eat them fresh, out of hand. And anyway, I figured they needed a day or two to get sweeter.

I didn’t plan on making anything, but I guess I had baking and, more likely, dessert, on the brain. It’s a good thing I keep homemade tart dough in the freezer. Before I knew it, I had made apricot-custard tartelettes.


The happy byproduct of the making the tartelettes was the apricot poaching liquid. And to think, I wasn’t even sure if I would bother keeping it. Until I tasted it. It was even more delicious than the tartelettes. I put soda water and vanilla ice cream on the shopping list.

Miraculously, the unseasonably cool weather cleared up and the sun smiled on us just in time for us to drink our floats!

Apricot Ice Cream Floats
Printable Recipe

1 cup sugar
¼ teaspoon vanilla bean paste
4 small apricots, ripe but firm
1 quart vanilla ice cream
2 cups soda water, chilled

Combine the sugar, vanilla bean paste, and 2 cups of water in a small saucepan. Heat until the sugar dissolves. Halve the apricots and remove the pits. Add the fruit and pits to the pan, bring to a bare simmer, and simmer gently for about a minute, or until tender. Remove from the heat and let cool.

Discard the pits. Puree the apricots in a food mill using the finest disc. Add the poaching liquid to the puree and chill.

Scoop the ice cream into 4 chilled glasses. Blend together the apricot mixture and soda water and divide among the glasses. Add straws and enjoy right away.

Makes 4 servings. Apricots that are slightly tart are perfect here, as their acidity will balance the sweetness of the syrup and ice cream.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Jealous

My little brother just went on a trip to Europe. He went to Hungary, Italy, and France. He’s a foodie, after me, so he visited the requisite foodie destinations. I’m so jealous. He brought my mother blini pans from Dehillerin in Paris and my husband a saucisson sec.


For me, he brought a packet of Herbes de Provence.


And a small jar of apricot and vanilla jam.


It’s not healthy to be jealous. Especially of your own brother. And especially when you, yourself, went on a trip to France just a few short months ago. But I can’t help it, he got to go to Pierre Hermé three times, and I only got to go twice. And I still haven’t gotten to see any photos!

But he didn’t get to go to a single marché in France. He says he spent enough time at the markets in Italy. And he calls himself a foodie? So he didn’t get to visit the spice vendor.


Or the egg purveyor.


He didn’t get to taste the entire variety of sausages.


He didn’t get to buy olives and buttery olive oil straight from the source.


And he didn’t get to see the garlic, piled high.


Nor did he get to inhale the savory aroma of the rotisserie meats.


Or the ripe cheeses.


When I was in France, I got to shop at the markets daily, this one in Arles was my favorite. Perhaps my little brother should be jealous of me.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Blanching

Meet Blanch. Blanch appears in a great many recipes and is a basic but versatile cooking method.

Blanching sets the color and flavor of a food. It can be a stand-alone technique or a way of preparing foods for further cooking. Take, for instance, blanched green beans—as is, they’re a classic component of Tuna Salad Niçoise, but for Green Beans Amandine, the blanched green beans are sautéed. Some foods are blanched to remove excess moisture that would otherwise make the finished dish too watery, like the spinach in Creamed Spinach. Foods such as tomatoes and peaches can be blanched to loosen their skins and aid in peeling.

To blanch a food, bring a very large pot of water to a rolling boil. The larger the pot and the more water, the faster the water will return to a boil after the food is added, and the faster the food will cook. And the faster the food cooks, the more appealing its appearance and flavor will be. Add plenty of salt, enough to make the water taste slightly briny.


Add the food and boil until the desired doneness.


The cooking time will depend on the particular food; it can take seconds to blanch bean sprouts, a couple of minutes for broccoli or cauliflower, or several minutes for green beans. Most vegetables should be just cooked through, which is referred to as “tender-crisp”. The best way to tell if the food is done is to taste it. Half a minute is long enough to loosen the skin on fruit. Quickly drain the food (a colander works, but if I’m blanching a variety of foods or several batches, I prefer to use a mesh sieve so that I don’t have to wait for water to boil between each batch), and immediately transfer it to a bowl of ice-cold water to stop the cooking process, this is known as shocking (again, I like to use a sieve to avoid having to pick ice cubes out of the food).


Drain thoroughly.


What a brilliant color, so appetizing!

If you’re blanching a variety of foods, cook each one separately because different foods have different cooking times. Also blanch a large quantity of any one food in batches.

One last note: blanching is sometimes used to mellow the flavor of certain foods. Bacon can be blanched to remove some of the salt, and citrus rind can be blanched to eliminate the bitterness. In this case, the food is added to a pot with cold water and then brought to a boil.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Whisk

There’s a new addition to my collection of strange and unusual whisks.


What a find! As soon as I spotted it at the store, I knew it was coming home with me. It came with these thoroughly informative photographic instructions for its operation.


Look at how practical it is, it’s convertible. It can function as a double-wide whisk, for whisking in long and narrow containers.


And it transforms into two skinny and nimble whisks, for those small or side-by-side whisking jobs.


I can imagine the many uses for it now, I’m sure I’m going to get my three dollars’ worth.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Paris Sweets


We went to Paris in late summer. We hurried by Notre Dame on the way to lunch and passed the Louvre on our way to eat dinner.

Lunch was fabulous. We visited one foodie destination after another acquiring all of the components. We bought stinky cheese, saucisson sec, a fragrant Charentais melon (saucisson sec and melon, by the way, is an even happier marriage than prosciutto and melon), a slab of country pâté, a quarter of a loaf of Poilâne’s famous bread, a pint of tiny fraise des bois, a bottle of red wine, and, after waiting in a very long and slow-moving line, a selection of goodies from Pierre Hermé. We picnicked under the Eiffel Tower.

Of course, I had heard about Pierre Hermé’s reputation before: God to pastry chefs and pastry lovers everywhere. But I guess I’m the type of person who just has to see it, or should I say, taste it, to believe it. I just didn’t believe all of the hype. At first.

When we finally entered the shop, I found myself inside my wildest fantasy. It was like being in a jewelry shop, only instead of diamonds, the display cases were full of cakes and tarts and macarons! Dizzy with excitement by the time it was our turn to order, I had no idea of what to get. I was never any good at ordering, I want to taste everything. My husband resolutely asked for a Kouign-Amann. I pointed at a Tarte Citron, a Carrément Chocolat, an Émotion Ispahan, and a chocolate macaron.

It was love at first bite. The Kouign-Amann was light as a feather, with croissant-like layers of slightly salty pastry and a shatteringly thin caramel crust. We fought over the last bite. The chocolate macaron melted in the mouth. We should have ordered more than one, sharing is for the birds. The lemon tart was so puckery it tingled. The chocolate dessert was rich and intense and deeply satisfying, even for a chocolate lover who can’t be satisfied. And the Émotion Ispahan was simply the most delicious thing that has ever crossed my lips. A layer of litchi gelée, a layer of raspberry gelée so vibrant it almost seemed effervescent, and a layer of slightly sweetened rose-scented cream, all topped with a wafer of pink macaron and a single red rose petal, made for a perfect flavor combination. It was divine.

But sweeter still was the passing schoolboy who, just as we were digging into our Émotion Ispahan, called to us with a broad smile, “Bon appétit!”

I have searched for Pierre Hermé’s Émotion Ispahan recipe everywhere, but my hours of effort have been fruitless. So here’s my own recreation of that oh-so-special treat. The recipe may look long, but, take my word on it, it’s really quite easy to make. Bon appétit!

Memory of an Émotion Ispahan
Printable Recipe

1 20-ounce can litchis in syrup, drained
1 ¾ teaspoons gelatin
6 ounces raspberries
3 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon Chambord, optional
1 ounce fragrant rose petals
½ cup heavy cream
1 to 2 drops red food coloring


Puree the litchis in a food mill using a fine disc.


Measure 2 tablespoons of water into a small bowl and slowly sprinkle over 1 teaspoon of the gelatin.


Place the bowl of gelatin over a small pan of simmering water and heat until melted.


Stir into the litchi puree. Chill the litchi mixture over an ice bath until just beginning to thicken. This will allow the bits of litchi to stay suspended in the mixture.


Divide the mixture among 4 juice or dessert cups. Refrigerate for about half an hour, or until set.

Reserve 12 of the raspberries. Puree the remaining raspberries in a food mill using the finest disc. If the puree has seeds, strain it through a fine mesh sieve to remove them.


Stir in 1 tablespoon of the sugar and the Chambord, if desired. Measure 2 tablespoons of water into a small bowl and slowly sprinkle over the remaining ¾ teaspoon of gelatin. Place the bowl of gelatin over a small pan of simmering water and heat until melted. Stir into the raspberry mixture. Arrange 3 of the reserved raspberries atop the litchi layer in each cup. Divide the raspberry mixture among the dessert cups. Refrigerate for about an hour, or until set.

Meanwhile, reserve 4 of the rose petals. Combine the remaining 2 tablespoons of sugar and 2 tablespoons of water in a small saucepan. Heat until the sugar dissolves. Add the remaining rose petals and bring to a bare simmer, stirring constantly. It will seem like a lot of petals at first, but they will wilt down quickly. Immediately remove from the heat and let cool. Strain through a fine mesh sieve and chill.

Combine the cream and food coloring in a large bowl and whip to medium peaks. Add the rose syrup and whip to stiff peaks. Divide among the dessert cups. Top each with 1 of the reserved rose petals. Leave at room temperature for about an hour and serve.

Makes 4 servings. Can be made up to a day ahead of time and kept covered with plastic wrap in the refrigerator. It’s best at room temperature, so take it out of the fridge about an hour before serving. Juice cups with a 5 to 6-ounce capacity are just right for this dessert. Make sure the rose petals you are using haven’t been sprayed.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Chile Rub

I really don’t know why they call it a spice rub. It works much better when you pat it on than when you rub it in. Rub a spice mix, and it ends up all over your hands. But pat it, and it sticks to the food instead of seasoning your fingers. Maybe we should call it a spice pat?

Whatever it’s called, I have to have a jarful of my chile rub in the pantry at all times. I can coat a steak or salmon fillet with it, throw it on the grill along with some veggies, and, voilà, dinner in 15 minutes!

This rub is fantastic on nearly everything, whether it’s grilled, broiled, roasted, or smoked. It’s fantastic on shrimp.


It’s perfect on vegetables and fish, especially salmon.


It’s absolutely delicious on a thick steak.


And it’s even great on pork and chicken.

Lucy’s Chile Rub
Printable Recipe

3 tablespoons ancho chile powder
3 tablespoons pasilla chile powder
2 tablespoons guajillo chile powder
2 tablespoons granulated garlic
1 tablespoon ground cumin
3 tablespoons packed light brown sugar

Combine all of the ingredients in a large spice jar. Cover and shake until well blended.

Makes almost a cup. Keeps for several months tightly sealed in the pantry. Season the item with salt first, then sprinkle generously or even coat with the rub, patting it gently so that it adheres. Don’t be afraid to use lots, it’s not too hot! Ancho, pasilla, and guajillo chile powders, which all bring distinct flavors to the mix, can be found at most gourmet grocery stores, Mexican markets, and online.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Julienne

Do you know Julienne? Well, let me introduce you.

Julienne means to cut food into small matchstick strips. Julienne can also refer to the resulting shape.

For one style of julienne, slice the item thinly on a bias.


Keep the slices together as much as possible.


Cut the slices into thin strips.


Carrots, daikon radishes, seedless cucumbers, and zucchini can all be cut in this manner. This knife cut is particularly nice for cucumbers and zucchini as each julienne strip will have a bit on skin on either end and a bit of seed in the middle, making for a nice color contrast. It’s common in Asian cuisines. If you’ve ever had a Vietnamese noodle bowl, you’ve seen it.

For another, and probably more familiar, style of julienne, cut the item into 2 ½ to 3-inch lengths.


Working with one piece at a time, slice it into thin planks, about 1/8-inch thick.


Stack the planks together and cut into matchsticks.


Meats and vegetables can be cut in this manner. This is the method usually taught in culinary schools. Instructors take pleasure in torturing students by scrutinizing their julienned carrots for any pieces that aren’t a perfect 1/8-inch square on both ends.

The Asian style julienne is my favorite since it’s quick and easy and beautiful to behold.


Click here for information on how to julienne onions.
Blog Widget by LinkWithin