Friday, June 29, 2007

Eclairs With Kirsch Soaked Cherries

Still searching for creative uses for the cherries, I decided that éclairs would be a welcome change. I make wicked good éclairs (and cream puffs for that matter). All the components of the recipe have been posted elsewhere throughout the blog at one time or another (the custard filling was the base for the rhubarb and custard, the ganache topping was used for a cake, the kirsch soaked cherries turned up in a clafoutis, and so on). I'll repost them here in a new post for the sake of convenience, but I'd like to make the point that most of these recipes are versatile. Once you master a few basics, a number of new dishes will be available to you.

For The Pastry:

6 tablespoons unsalted butter
¾ cup water
¼ teaspoon salt
¾ cup all purpose flour
3 eggs

For The Cherries:

1-cup dark cherries, stones removed and sliced
¼ cup kirsch liquor
½ cup granulated sugar
Toss together and set in fridge for an hour before using.

For The Custard Filling:

1-cup caster sugar
5 egg yolks
2/3 cup sifted all-purpose flour
2 cups boiling milk
1-tablespoon butter
1 ½ tablespoons vanilla or 3 tablespoons kirsch

For the Ganache:
2 1/3 cups semi-sweet or bittersweet chocolate
1-cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons corn syrup
1-tablespoon vanilla or liquors

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Place rack in upper third of oven. Grease a baking sheet. Boil together butter water and salt in a heavy saucepan (such as enamel over cast iron) until butter is melted. Reduce hat to medium and add flour, cooking until it comes together in a ball (half a minute). Transfer to a larger bowl and cool a few minutes. Add eggs using an electric mixer, one at a time. Beat on high speed.

Using a pastry bag if you have one (otherwise use two spoons) make 6 long strips. Bake 15 minutes and then reduce heat to 400 degrees F. Poke a slit in the side of each and return to the oven. Bake another 15 minutes. Then bake another ten with the oven on but the door propped open. You may need to go as long as another ten minutes to dry the insides out adequately. You likely will never get them completely dry. This is fine; just use a sharp, thin knife to carefully pull out the rubbery insides after they cool a bit. It's simply the nature of larger choux pastry items.

Cool on a rack completely before frosting and filling.

Make the custard.
In a large bowl, break the eggs and slowly beat in the sugar, beating until pale yellow and eggs form a ribbon. Beat in the flour. Slowly add the boiling milk in a thin stream, beating as you go. Pour mixture into a heavy saucepan and using a wire whisk, bring to a boil over medium heat taking care to scrape the bottom as you go. Cook an additional two minutes following the boil being careful not to scorch it.

Remove from heat; beat in the butter and flavourings.

Make ganache by heating 2 tablespoons corn syrup with 1-cup heavy cream. When it begins to steam, pour over 2 1/3 cups chopped chocolate. Let stand five minutes, and then using a whisk, blend until smooth. Add any vanilla or other flavourings. You will have a good amount left over which can be hardened and used for truffles.

When pastry is cool, split and clean out the insides. With a spoon, cover tops with ganache. Return to refrigerator to set. Fill with custard and drained cherries. Replace tops and chill well before serving.

An Unlikely Combination

As I've been up to my ears in cherries (and really, how many pies can you eat?) I thought I'd try them with goat cheese, mushrooms, shallots and herbs on a pizza. I didn't think of it until after we'd eaten, but the preserved goose in the confit would have been delicious on this as well. The cherries were intended to provide a bit of sweetness, as tomatoes typically would. It was tasty; though it would have been much better had I used decent goat cheese. As it was, this brand wasn't exactly cheap, but the depth one expects with goat cheese just wasn't there.

I also used a generous amount of thyme, rosemary and oregano in the pizza dough, which worked well. I don't think I've ever used the same pizza dough recipe twice. This one did not have any olive oil in it (flour, yeast, salt, sugar, water and herbs) and it came up very thick and doughy. It was a nice change from the cracker-thin types I've been making of late. It reminded me a bit of the hand-tossed pizzas we used to get in the North End of Boston before the neighbourhood became gentrified. And yes, I do recognise the irony of someone who made a goat cheese and cherry pizza railing against gentrification.

Anyway, my point is that fruit on pizza should not be limited to pineapple. Now I'm wondering if any of those salted preserved lemons would work well with tarragon and feta? Maybe next week.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Lemon Ice Cream Sandwiches

I've never lived in a place where the onset of summer is gradual. In Chicago and Boston, spring usually consisted of a few cold, rainy days and then suddenly it would be 90 degrees. It is much the same story here in Nebraska. Thankfully, I have an ice-cream maker that I really like (it's a very inexpensive Rival, electric) and a bit of imagination.

Everyone likes ice-cream sandwiches, don't they? Oh come on, you do too. The cookie recipe came from the July issue of Gourmet and make use of cornmeal and lemon zest, which I replaced with lemon oil (a good decision, I think). Oh the kitchen smells wonderful. Unlike the last time I worked with lemons (I didn't have to boil any, thank goodness).

My ice cream and sorbet recipes tend to be very light, and simple. I've had very good results using caster sugar (as it is so light) rather than going to the trouble of making syrup. I made a really wonderful sorbet on Sunday from mashed strawberries, 1-cup caster sugar and 1 cup cherry juice. I like heavy custard type ice cream, but not enough to make it.

You Will Need:

Juice and zest of two lemons
1-cup caster sugar
½ cup heavy cream
½ cup milk (I used 2 % as it was on hand)

Dissolve the sugar in the lemon juice and zest. Add the milk and cream. Process according to machine instructions.

For The Cookies:
(Makes aprox. 12-16)
2/3 cup all purpose flour
¼ cup yellow cornmeal
2 tablespoons cornstarch
¼ teaspoon salt
1/3 cup confectioner's sugar
1 stick unsalted butter-softened
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest (or a few drops of pure lemon oil*)
Granulated sugar for sprinkling

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Sift together flour, cornmeal, cornstarch and salt.

In a food processor, combine confectioner's sugar, butter, and lemon zest until mixed (about ½ minute). Add the dry ingredients and pulse until it comes together in a ball. Roll out on a well-floured board with a floured rolling pin to ½ inch thickness (it is quite sticky) and cut into 2-inch rounds (I used an iced- tea glass). Place on ungreased baking sheets, sprinkle with sugar, and bake 12-14 minutes until edges are golden. Cool on rack.

*Note- lemon oil can be damaging to some plastics so wash spatulas and bowls soon after exposure. For this reason, I do not use it with my ice cream maker, as the paddle is plastic. My food processor bowl is also, but we're talking about a couple minutes of contact as opposed to ½ an hour.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

No-Knead Bread

Arthritis got the better of me and I gave-in and tried making the "no-knead" bread that was printed in the New York Times a while back (November 8, 2006). It did indeed work. In order to do this properly, you really do need an enameled pot (enamel over cast iron) that can be heated in a 450-degree oven. Otherwise, the materials needed are a bowl and a couple of towels.

You Will Need:

3 cups bread flour with extra for dusting
¼ teaspoon instant yeast
1 ¼ teaspoons salt
1 5/8 cup water

Mix dry ingredients in a large bowl (I'd stick to glass or ceramic as it will be fermenting and metal might give it off odours). Add water and stir. Cover with plastic wrap and let sit eighteen hours. That's it.

At the end of the first rise, flour a work surface and pour the dough onto it. Toss a bit of flour atop the dough and gently fold it once in each direction. Cover loosely with plastic and let rest on surface 15 minutes.

Using just enough flour to prevent sticking, shape dough into a ball and let rise on a well-floured cotton (not terrycloth) towel and cover with another. Let rise two hours, but half an hour prior to baking, pre-heat oven with enameled pot (lid on) in the oven.

When dough has risen, remove pot (carefully-I burned myself pretty badly) from oven and very slowly lift lid. Lift the towel and plunk the dough into the pot, close tightly and return to oven for 30 minutes. At the end of thirty minutes, remove lid and bake another 15-30 minutes or until deep brown. I used an instant read thermometer and removed the bread when it reached 205 degrees F.

Cool on rack.


Brik is a Tunisian dish of tuna, capers and egg that is deep-fried in a spring roll wrapper until golden. Honestly, I Wasn't terribly wowed by it, though my husband ate his happily. I didn't dislike it, particularly; it simply did not seem worth the effort and cost of using so much oil for so few things. As bits of egg did leak into the oil during frying, I wasn't comfortable re-using it as the tuna smell also permeated. So yes, throwing out a couple cups of oil seems extravagant, particularly when paying for expensive Canola oil.

The recipe is available in the current issue of Gourmet-which also includes step-by step directions. Theirs look better than mine as I was unable to find square spring roll wrappers around here and had to make due with round. I also don't have a team of professional photographers and food designers to make them look so perfect.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Corn Relish

A colourful corn relish that tastes even better second day. I developed this recipe years ago when my Pennsylvania born husband requested something "like the Amish make."

This is not traditional Amish corn relish (I doubt very much they make use of Kalamata olives) but it is pretty tasty nonetheless. Traditional corn relished would have been cooked and subsequently canned rather than eaten fresh. All of the preserved corn relishes I've tasted over the years (strangely, I've tasted a fair number of them) have some sort of thickener that makes them slightly viscous-mine does not. It isn't a matter of better or worse, simply a different style.

Because I use cilantro in mine, it needs to be eaten within a few days or the leaves begin breaking down and become unpleasant. While the relish is terrific second and third day-after that you may wish to pluck the cilantro out.

You Will Need:

1 package frozen corn (tinned corn will work, but then you will want to cut the salt in the recipe) cooked and drained
2-3 tablespoons diced, roasted red pepper
1 small red onion-diced
3 tablespoons chopped cilantro
4-5 chopped Kalamata olives
1/8 teaspoon powdered mustard
¼ cup olive oil
½ cup cider vinegar
1-tablespoon sugar
¼ teaspoon black pepper

Toss it together and let sit in refrigerator at least eight hours before serving.

Spinach Quiche

If you can beat eggs, you can make this quiche. All right, you're going to need to grate a ¼ cup of Swiss cheese too-but really, that's hardly an effort. The beauty of quiche is that the partially baked crust can be made ahead and kept refrigerated as can the egg and cream mixture. Served hot, it is an impressive main course-cold it makes a nice surprise in the lunchbox.

You Will Need:

Single pie crust (I'd stick to a heavier one to accommodate the filling. Don't forget to build the sides up high) for 9 inch pie plate
1 package frozen spinach-cooked, drained and squeezed dry of liquid
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons shallots
Pinch nutmeg
½ teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon pepper
3 large eggs
1 ½ cups heavy cream
¼ cup grated Swiss cheese

Bake the piecrust until set (about 10-13 minutes at 400 degrees.) Be sure to weight the inside to prevent it puffing up. A piece of foil with the bottom lightly buttered topped with a handful of dried beans works well).

Lower oven temperature to 375. In a saucepan, melt the butter and sauté the shallots for a couple minutes over moderate heat. Add salt and pepper to taste. Set to higher temperature and add the spinach-cook a few minutes stirring constantly to take off any remaining moisture. Set aside.

In a large bowl mix the eggs, cream, salt, pepper and nutmeg. Stir in the spinach, mixing well. Pour into piecrust and top with cheese. Bake 25-35 minutes or until browned on top and a knife inserted into the centre comes out clean.

See, I told you it was simple.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

My Danny Dumpling Is Two And A Half

When I was a child, my mother would present me with half a cake on my "half" birthday. It was a cute thing she did that I always enjoyed. My yearly birthday cake would usually come from a bakery, but the half birthday cake was something she'd throw together and then freeze the other half. Honestly, I have no idea what happened to the other half-I suspect my dad would finish it off.

I always had a lemon cake for my half birthday (because I liked them), though in later years (once I started school) my mum would skip the cake thing substituting a frozen cupcake. I guess I ought to explain that. In Chicago in the late 1960's-early 1970's there was a company that sold frozen cupcakes. They came in a metal bottomed tin (like a Sara Lee cake) with a cardboard top and there were (I think) six to a package. For frozen cupcakes, they were really delicious and elaborately frosted. I remember there was a coconut topped one, a chocolate, strawberry and of course, lemon. Guess who got the lemon cupcake (I'll give you a hint-it wasn't my sister).

Rather than do the whole bake a cake, slice it in half routine, I decided to make a miniature cake for Danny's half birthday. I cut a 9x13 sheet cake in half and placed them atop one another. Yes, it IS lopsided, though the photograph seems to exaggerate it-the cake looked much better in person.

Do you have any idea how hard it is to draw a tractor in royal icing? No seriously-do you? You'd think living on a farm I'd be able to draw a better tractor.

Oatmeal Bread With Molasses

If you're not going to eat the oatmeal that's been sitting in your pantry since last January when you swore as a resolution to eat healthier-you might as well bake bread with it!

I hesitate to call any recipe "foolproof" but this is pretty darn difficult to ruin.

You Will Need:

2 ¼ teaspoons granulated yeast
½ cup warm water
1-cup oats (quick cooking ok)
½ cup whole-wheat flour
½ cup mild molasses
1-tablespoon salt
2 tablespoons butter
2 cups boiling water
5-6 cups bread flour

Dissolve yeast in warm water and allow to proof.

In a large mixing bowl combine everything EXCEPT the bread flour. Mix well and let sit until lukewarm. Add yeast and half of the flour. Turn out on a board and add remaining flour gradually. You may not need all of it-the dough should be tacky but not sticky. Place in a buttered bowl, cover and let rise until doubled (1 ½ -2 hours). De-gas gently and divide into two loaves. Place in buttered loaf pans. Brush tops lightly (or mist) with water and sprinkle with dry oatmeal. Cover and let rise until just about doubled (about 40 minutes). Bake in pre-heated 350-degree oven for 35-40 minutes. The loaves should sound hollow when rapped with knuckles. Cool on racks. This bread freezes well, but must be completely cooled first. To preserve bread in freezer, wrap first in waxed paper and then in plastic wrap, sealing tightly. I do not like plastic bags for most breads-but the waxed paper/plastic wrap combination seems to do the trick.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Radicchio and Mushroom "Pies" With Cream Sauce

I know hat you're thinking-and I didn't think it would work either. I'm as surprised as you are. I loosely followed the technique (but not really the recipe) in Sergio Mei's book, Ne Carne Ne Pesce. Obviously, fresh porcini mushroom caps aren't available in rural Nebraska so I was forced to make do with regular old button mushrooms. I completely improvised the sauce. It did however make for an impressive dinner.

You Will Need:

1-2 heads of radicchio (depending on size. As you only use the inner leaves, a large head doesn't buy you much except scrap).
8 oz package of mushrooms (portabellas, button mushrooms, etc.)
¼ teaspoon minced garlic(you may prefer more or less)
Pinch of dried savoury
Salt and pepper
4-5 sprigs parsley
Olive oil
1 tablespoon minced shallots
¼ cup white dry breadcrumbs
¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Wash and trim the radicchio discarding outer leaves. In boiling water, blanch the leaves for about a minute. Drain and leave in a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking. When cool, drain well and pat dry.

In a food processor, combine garlic, parsley, breadcrumbs salt and pepper. Remove to bowl and add about 1 teaspoon olive oil.

Sauté the sliced mushrooms in olive oil along with the shallots and salt and pepper. Toss on the savoury toward the end.

Take four ramekins and line them with the radicchio leaves, letting them hang well over the top and sides. You will use this overlap to seal the tops. Place some of the parsley mixture in the bottom, and then add a layer of mushrooms. Add a layer of Parmesan cheese and repeat with the parsley mixture. Close the top by folding down the radicchio leaves. When all four are complete, carefully unmould into a baking dish (I used a corning ware casserole). Top each with something decorative (I used roasted red peppers but an olive or tomato would work fine) and bake for about ten minutes-as everything is pretty much cooked, you're just heating them through and melting the cheese.

Serve with a cream sauce (I improvised one by de-glazing the drippings in the pan from the mushrooms and using butter, cream, and vermouth with a bit of stock. I followed the spirit of Mei's recipe but then went off in my own direction. The results were OK, though if you have a cream sauce recipe that works for you it is probably better than what I devised).

Friday, June 15, 2007

Sour Cream Raisin Pie

This is a very simple pie to prepare. You don't need to pre-soak the raisins, and it will work with just about any crust you prefer. The recipe is for a 2-crust 9-inch pie.

You Will Need:

For the crust:
3 cups all purpose flour
1-teaspoon salt
1-¼ cups shortening
1 egg, beaten
¼ cup cold water (you may need a tablespoon or so more-add slowly)
1 tablespoon white vinegar

Sift the flour and salt together. Cut in the shortening. Add beaten egg and vinegar to half the water and add to flour. Add the rest as needed. Let sit a few minutes before you roll it out.

For the Pie:

2 eggs, lightly beaten
1-cup caster sugar
1-cup sour cream
1-cup raisins
½ teaspoon vanilla
1/8 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons lemon juice

Preheat oven to 450 degrees F.
Combine eggs and sugar beating with a whisk until light. Add the sour cream, raisins, vanilla salt and lemon juice. Blend well. Pour into prepared crust and top with remaining dough. Cut slits to vent. Bake 15 minutes and then reduce heat to 350 degrees for an additional 30 minutes.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Cowboy Dan The Comedy Man

One of the very best things about being Danny's mum is watching him discover joke telling. I could never successfully tell a gag, as I always mess up the punch line. As his Pa is teaching him most of these jokes, Danny is really only laughing because he knows that's how the routine ends-not because he understands the joke ("why did the cow go to a psychiatrist? Because he had a fodder complex." Ha, ha, ha.) That was, he didn't understand until now.

He finally figured it out-the whole, question and answer/riddle aspect. Mind you, he's two and a half, so the jokes are not actually funny to anyone but a toddler-still, jokes they are indeed. For your amusement, here's my son Danny's first real joke of his own.

Q: "Why did the farmer eat an apple?"

A: "Because he was hungry."

That's my boy.

Corkscrew Wine And Cheese

"There's a cheese shop," I alerted my husband, "pull over."

I cannot begin to track how many times; over fourteen years together I've ordered him to stop the car for the promise of cheese. This happened with greater frequency when we lived in New England, though as you might imagine the nearby state of Wisconsin provides more than a few "pull over" opportunities. I once convinced him to make a detour an hour out of our way so I could visit Colby, Wisconsin. There isn't much there to reinforce the place's status as the birthplace of a rather uninteresting cheese, however the post office will put a cutesy postmark on anything you send out from the location.

Corkscrew Wine and Cheese in Omaha, Nebraska was a pleasant discovery. Located at 10924 Prairie Brook Road in the Rockbrook Village shopping centre, it is easily accessible with ample parking (beware the spaced-out petit bourgeoisie attempting to manouvere mammoth SUV's through the lot whilst balancing a cell phone and coffee without mussing a manicure). Phone 402-305-4055.

The selection of cheese at Corkscrew Wine and Cheese is small though thoughtfully selected. Certainly, one may purchase cheese at the corporate elitist grocery chain, however they do not carry products of the same quality. The manchego cheese pictured above (look at that gorgeous rind) was cut from an unopened wheel in exactly the amount we wished to purchase. It was not sitting in a case wrapped in cellophane for a month drying out. In fact, this was the first opportunity I've had to enjoy manchego as it is intended. I had always understood it to be a hard cheese intended to be grated, as that was the condition in which it is most likely to be found.

I am not a wine lover and make use of it only for cooking. That said, I would note only that Corkscrew Wine and Cheese sells wine as the name implies and features a wine bar. I wouldn't want to go out on a limb and draw conclusions on a subject I know nothing about. My level of wine knowledge would enable me to observe only that there were many colourful bottles available for sale.

As I had Danny in tow (a two year old in the vicinity of breakable glass is sort of asking for it) and didn't want to be shelling out money for what fate would make the most expensive bottle of wine in the place being smashed to the floor, it was a short trip. I left my husband to make the purchase, which he later told me included a sample of the cheese prior to buying (try that at your filthy corporate elitist chain grocer). We purchased a very small amount, yet were treated as though we were buying a $200. bottle of wine. Typically, I recoil at shops in places like Rockbrook Village as they often seem (along with some of the clientele) to be oozing pretension. Nothing sends me scurrying for the door faster than an employee or business owner labouring under the misconception that I am a yokel rube in need of enlightenment respecting the ways of better society. This did not happen at Corkscrew Wine and Cheese. I did not leave feeling condescended to, insulted, or otherwise disgusted. As a result, we expect to return.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Wicked Good Muffins

(Recipe follows long, boring story).

I've always been fortunate that I am able to deal with difficult times by puttering in the kitchen. I figure, it could be worse were I "stress eating" than "stress baking" and the later has the benefit of making other people happy when you give it away. To get a good idea of my need for distraction these days, I have, in the past couple days baked:

1) Anisette biscotti
2) Rugelach
3) Graham crackers
4) Muffins
5) Cottage cheese biscuits
6) Coconut/Cherry quick bread

The muffins, pictured above come from a recipe that claims to be the recipe for the blueberry muffins at Jordan Marsh. In the event you arrived at this post doing a Google search for Jordan Marsh blueberry muffins-let me save you some time-they're not even close. Now, I'm not saying they aren't good, in fact they are very good…"wicked good" as I suggest in the post title, but not the fabled muffins of the Jordan Marsh department store in Boston. I also made mine with raspberries, blueberries and strawberries-not exactly traditional.

One of my first jobs out of college was working in the Men's Furnishings department at Jordan Marsh. Actually, given the recession at the time, I was lucky to find the job-I knew PhD's that were doing janitorial work. Sure, I had my share of creeps ask if I would measure their inseam (can you imagine? I'd usually tell them I'd get a more experienced salesperson to do it and when I'd return with one of the guys the jerks would suddenly remember that they wore a 31-inch inseam. Funny how those memory lapses work).

Clearly, the best part of the job was lunchtime and those wonderful muffins. I remained in the job longer than I might have otherwise simply to be closer to those sweets, fresh on a daily basis. Remember when you were young and could eat two or three at a time without getting sick? For readers that still have youth on their sides-for heaven's sake, go overindulge in some bakery goods-it is the only time in your life you'll really be able to. Trust me, age catches you off guard.

My son really loves muffins. I think the appeal is partly the compact shape. Danny wandered into the kitchen after his nap as I was transferring graham crackers to the cooling rack.

"What are those?' He asked.
"Those are graham crackers." I answered, a little annoyed that he was asking about something he already knew quite well.
"No. THOSE." He informed me, pointing to the tray of muffins I had placed (I thought) out of view for later.

Busted. It is as though the child has a muffin-radar that can detect baking powder from five rooms away. I poured him a glass of milk and let him tear into one. Turning back to arranging graham crackers I heard Danny say in an excited-marveling sort of voice:

"Oh mama, they are blue AND pink."

It takes so little to impress a two year old. (The 46 year old liked them as well).

You Will Need:

Preheat oven to 450 degrees F

½ cup shortening
1-cup sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
2 eggs
2 cups flour
½ cup milk
1-teaspoon vanilla
2 cups total of berries (use whatever combination you prefer)

Cream together shortening, sugar and salt for three minutes. Add baking powder and eggs. Add flour, milk and vanilla and mix well. Fold in berries. Fill muffin cups to top of pan, greasing the tops so the mushroom top won't stick. Fill cups to the top and add a pinch of sugar to the top of each. Bake for five minutes, then reduce heat to 375 degrees and bake 30-35 minutes until golden brown. Cool on racks.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Green Beans With Garlic Tomatoes and Cheese Souffle

I'm now at the point where beating egg whites by hand is faster than using the mixer. That's good, as soufflés are quick and simple to prepare, once you get a handle on the egg whites.

I prepared the green bean dish well ahead of dinner and re-heated it in a casserole dish. Served with leftover rice, it was but a few minutes in the microwave warming before dinner. This worked well, as the soufflé needs to be eaten soon after being removed from the oven and trying to time both dishes would be disastrous.

For the Soufflé

Butter for greasing mould
Parmesan cheese for coating
3 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons flour
1 cup boiling milk
½ teaspoon salt
1/4teaspoon pepper
Pinch of nutmeg
4 egg yolks
5 egg whites
Pinch of salt
¾ cup grated Swiss cheese

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
Butter a 6-cup mould and coat with grated Parmesan cheese. Knock out the excess.
Melt the butter in a saucepan and add the flour. Stir about two minutes until foaming taking care not to brown it (about medium heat depending on the stove). Remove from heat and add the boiling milk. Using a wire whisk beat well and add salt and nutmeg. Return to heat and cook one more minute whipping constantly. Remove from heat.

Separate the eggs-whites into a bowl and yolks into the sauce, beating well after each addition. Dot the top with butter and set aside.

Add the extra egg white and pinch of salt and beat egg whites until stiff. I find a copper bowl and whisk work well. Stir into the sauce, a large tablespoon of the egg whites and then all but one tablespoon of the cheese. Then fold in the remaining egg whites. Pour into the mould and top with remaining cheese.

Place in oven and immediately reduce heat to 375 degrees F. Keep door shut for first 20 minutes. After 25 minutes, check for firmness. Mine was ready at 28 minutes-so it does tend to vary with ovens. Serve immediately as it will deflate quickly.

For the Green Beans:

2 cups thinly sliced onions
½ cup olive oil (it is a lot, I know)
6 large, firm ripe tomatoes, skins removed, seeded and juiced through a strainer, reserving juice.
(Then, tie in cheesecloth the following)
4 garlic cloves, smashed
1 bay leaf
2 cloves
4 parsley sprigs

¾ cup liquid from tomatoes, adding water to round up if needed
Salt and pepper
3 pounds of green beans, boiled for 6 minutes in salted water, drained and run beneath cold water to refresh.

Cook the onions in the olive oil over medium heat until soft but not browned. Add the tomatoes, juice and herb bouquet. Simmer about 30 minutes until most of the liquid has evaporated.

Cook the green beans while the tomatoes cook. Add to the tomatoes, cover and cook another 8-10 minutes until just about all the liquid is absorbed. Remove lid, blast the heat and reduce the last of the liquid, keeping the beans moving. Adjust the salt and pepper and serve. Can be refrigerated and re-heated, or eaten cold with bread.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Chickpea Flour Coated Fish, Stuffed Red Onion Dinner

The fish was a gamble that turned out pretty well. As I was serving a curried rice and pea dish, I thought the fish might do well coated in chickpea flour and fried. I did an initial coating of regular flour, ran the fish through milk and then the chickpea flour before leaving it to firm up in the refrigerator for an hour before frying. It worked quite well. Served with deep-fried green olives stuffed with goat cheese, and filled red onion, this was a special, and not-too-difficult dinner to start the weekend.

Recipe for onions follows below.

Stuffed Red Onion (Before and After Baking)

Some years ago, my husband presented me with a substantial cookbook, magnificently bound and filled with photographs of vegetarian dishes that put even the most elaborate presentation to shame. By the time I found the page with the snap-pea shells stuffed with finely minced black truffles, I was laughing too hard to offer sarcastic comments. The book was placed on a high bookshelf and forgotten.

My in-laws recently spent some time traveling through Italy. My mother-in-law is a wonderful cook. As she's taken numerous cooking classes, I thought perhaps I should send the book to her as she would make better use of it than I ever did-you know, to sort of prepare for a trip by making the cuisine at home. I never sent the cookbook, and their trip has come and gone. Once I began looking at the recipes, I kept stumbling upon things I'd like to try. Keep in mind-I'm never going to be stuffing snap-pea shells with truffles, or arranging pea tendrils on a terrine of baby carrots stuffed into hollowed-out courgettes-never going to happen. Still, I have found many combinations that interest me, though I have greatly simplified the presentation. The stuffed red onion I prepared tonight was one such dish.

I used almost entirely different ingredients than the recipe called for, but the technique of blanching a red onion never would have occurred to me. The recipe that follows is really an improvisation with what I had on hand-I suggest you do the same rather than going out and purchasing specific cheeses.

You Will Need:

1 very large red onion (buy an extra in case you cut it open and it is not so nice)
½ cup dry, white bread crumbs
½ cup finely minced parsley
½ cup drained cottage cheese (or ricotta)
¼ cup Parmesan cheese
½ cup manchengo cheese
Salt and pepper
1 egg
Olive oil

Remove the ends of the onion and outer peel. Carefully separate the layers. The very innermost part can be hollowed-out and served freestanding. In a pot of boiling water, blanch the onion sections about 1 minute. Drain and cool. Mix the filling (just toss it all together) adding as much olive oil as needed to have a moist filling. Place in a casserole dish and bake at 350 degrees about 30 minutes or until soft. Cover for the last ten minutes and reduce heat to 300.

Apricot/Cherry/Currant Bread

Every year, I struggle with what to send my father-in-law for his birthday, which always falls within a couple days of Father's Day. Usually, I end up sending food. One year, I sent a variety of "jerky" items that were produced locally including buffalo and pheasant. As my in-laws are avid campers, that turned out to be a great gift. Unfortunately, I can't send dried meat every year (well, I could, but that would just reinforce their perception that I'm weird).

Last year I sent coconut bread that was well received, so this year I figured I'd send another quick-bread type loaf. The following recipe is loosely based on the Apricot Bread recipe in Beard On Bread, though I added other fruit and eliminated the nuts. I also ran out of all-purpose flour and had to substitute 1 cup of cake flour (for each cup add 2 tablespoons extra). The bread turned out lovely. We'll eat it over the weekend and see how it keeps and if it isn't stale by Monday morning, I'll bake two more and get them in the post.

You Will Need:

1 cup boiling water
1-½ cups dried apricot
½ cup dried cherries
½ cup dried currants
½ teaspoon baking soda
1-cup sugar
2 eggs
2-¾ cups all-purpose flour
3 teaspoons baking powder

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Butter and flour two loaf pans. Pour the boiling water over the fruit and let sit about five minutes. They don't need a great deal of plumping. Drain, reserving water and round liquid up to 1 cup with water. Chop the apricots. Pour the liquid into a large bowl and add the baking soda, sugar and eggs. Mix well. Add the fruit, flour and baking powder. Mix again. Pour the batter into pans (will be very thick) and bake until a toothpick inserted in the centre comes out clean (about 35-40 minutes). Cool on racks.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Ohio Shaker Lemon Pie

The recipe comes from the November 1993 issue of Gourmet (yes, I'm still working through the stack of old issues). I'm not convinced this recipe comes from the Shakers as it is a bit on the fussy side for people who prefer their lives rather unadorned. I'm not even sure there are any Shakers left (maybe a few?) as they stopped admitting members years ago and take vows of celibacy-not exactly the best way to keep the group thriving. Anyway, genuinely Shaker or not, this pie was as big a pain in the ass as it was in 1993 when my husband tried making it the first time.

I was sure he did something incorrectly and that accounted for the mediocre crust and overall pie. My crust may have turned out marginally better but only due to the years of experience I've had handling very soft pastry. That said, I still had a difficult time rolling it out. I would caution readers that should you attempt this pie, you might wish to substitute your own pate brisee recipe. This one is not impossible, by any means, though it is frustrating.

You Will Need:

2 lemons
1 ¾ cups sugar
pate brisee
4 large eggs
¼ teaspoon salt

(For the pate brisee)
1 ¾ cups all-purpose flour
9 tablespoons cold unsalted butter
3 tablespoons cold vegetable shortening
½ teaspoon salt
3-tablespoons+-ice water

The day before:

In a large pot, blanch the lemons for 30 seconds in boiling water. Run under cold water and drain. Slice as thinly as possible and place in a bowl. Cover with sugar and let sit 1 hour. Stir once and then let sit 8 hours or overnight.

The next day:

Make pate brisee by cutting shortening/butter into the flour and salt. Add water until it comes together in a ball. Wrap in waxed paper and chill 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.

Roll out bottom crust and place in pie pan. Arrange lemon slices in crust. To the sugar, add the eggs and salt, whisking until well mixed. Pour over lemons. Place top crust on and make slits for steam. Place in the centre rack of the oven and bake for 25 minutes. Then reduce heat to 350 degrees F. and bake 20-25 minutes more. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

When Life Gives You Lemons...

...assume the air conditioner is leaking Freon.

This was my day to prepare lemons for various dishes later on. The worst part involved dropping whole lemons in a pot of boiling water for five minutes, which not only left a paraffin film on my good cookware, but also made the house smell "chemical." You'd think lemon would be pleasant enough, but believe me, vapourised into the air it is anything but. My son woke up from his nap and wanted to know why the house smelled of bleach. In fact, I was certain that yet another of our air-conditioning units had been leaking Freon (note to self: if you really think the air conditioner is leaking Freon, don't stand directly in front of the thing taking deep breaths to check). Nope, it was the lemon fumes, which changed as they dissipated through the house picking up and mingling with the scent of wet dirt in the semi-flooded storm cellar adjacent to the house. Or maybe it was the neighbour's cattle-God knows the 50 mph wind we're having today will waft some odours into the house. Anyway, it had better be a jolly good pie for all this smelliness.

The lemons are then sliced thinly and covered in 2 cups of sugar. They sit for an hour and then get stirred once and set in the fridge overnight. Tomorrow they will be baked into pie (recipe tomorrow). The idea is that the rind becomes like candied peel and is eaten along with the crystalised slices of lemon. Or something like that. If it ends up being horrible, I'll still post the results.

As I was already boiling lemons, I went ahead and made a jar of preserved lemons as detailed in this month's issue of Gourmet. The six boiled lemons are cut into eights and seeded then tossed in 2/3 cup coarse salt and placed in a jar with enough additional juice to cover. You shake the jar gently one a day for five days, add a bit of olive oil and then stick it in the fridge where it should keep for up to a year. I have no idea what I am going to do with six (much less, any) preserved lemons-I'm open to recommendations.

With any luck, there should be a rather exotic take on lemon pie posted here tomorrow afternoon.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Not-So Gourmet

After many years, I've re-subscribed to Gourmet. I must say I'm terribly disappointed. The recipes are terribly "dumbed-down" and they are broken up into how long a dish takes to prepare. I understand that not everyone has time to cook, however there are many publications that already cater to that particular market. Most of what is being presented in the pages of Gourmet is common knowledge to anyone that cooks.

I did however get a great laugh from an article on Moroccan cuisine.

"Paul Bowles was onto something when he decided to stay in Morocco for good"

Um. Yes, I'm sure he was, but I don't think it was the mint tea or rosewater peanuts.

Good heavens.

Friday, June 01, 2007

Apricot "Sunny Side-Up" Cake

You've asked for it, and here at last is a simple and quick cake that does not require beating egg whites, carmelising sugar or any other difficult tasks. It has a fun appearance (my son thought it looked like eggs on toast) and makes use of tinned apricot filling and preserves for the glaze. With cream cheese in both the cake and frosting, it is a dense, rich cake that would work as well after dinner as it would for breakfast.

You Will Need:

(For the cake)
8 oz package of cream cheese, softened at room temperature
½ cup unsalted butter (also softened at room temperature)
1 ¼ cups sugar
2 large eggs
1-teaspoon vanilla
2 cups all purpose flour
1-teaspoon baking powder
1-teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ cup milk
1 tin (12 oz.) of apricot filling (I use Solo )

(for the frosting/topping)

4 tablespoons softened butter
3 ounces softened cream cheese
2 cups confectioner's sugar
1-teaspoon vanilla

Apricot halves, drained

¼ cup apricot preserves, heated and strained through a fine sieve.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a 9x13 pan. Cream the butter, cheese and sugar together. Add eggs one at a time. Add vanilla. Sift the dry ingredients together and add, alternating with the milk.

Spread half the batter into the pan. Top with the apricot filling. Carefully top with remaining batter. Bake for about 40 minutes (it will get dark but should not burn). Check for doneness with toothpick. While cake cools, prepare the frosting and glaze. Frost the cake whilst still slightly warm (helps it spread). Top with apricots and with a pastry brush, apply the apricot glaze. Keep chilled, but remove about ten minutes before serving.

Tofu, Carrots, and Baby Corn Over Rice Noodles

After last week's cassoulet, I've been serving lighter, vegetarian dishes to hopefully compensate for all that lamb and preserved goose. A few observations about this dish;
It could be prepared without the tofu, exchanging grilled shrimp, or chicken or simply as vegetables alone. The tofu need not be deep-fried, though it does help the pieces to say together better in a stir-fry. In most Asian supermarkets, you can purchase blocks of already fried tofu, which is a great time saver. We live in a large home and as such, the smell of frying food does not overwhelm the way it might in a small flat. Out of kindness to neighbours that may not share your affection for deep fried food, the pre-made tofu might be the polite choice.

Most of the items called for are easily found in Asian markets as well. Sesame oil, while expensive is used so sparingly (you really only need a few drops at a time) that it will last. Once opened, it should be stored in the refrigerator to prevent spoilage. Black bean garlic paste should also be used sparingly as a little imparts a wonderful flavour to tofu dishes but too much will leave you tasting nothing but salt.

I originally planned this dish as a soba-noodle/miso soup recipe, but had to switch gears when I realised my soba noodles had an expiration date of 2003! I would have gone ahead and used them anyway, but the package was already open (I must have used half at some point) and I figured that even if they cooked fine, the mugwort flavour might have gone off. Good excuse to clean out my larder, I think.

You Will Need:

1 package thin, cellophane noodles (rice)
1 tin baby corn, rinsed and drained
½ cup chopped flat parsley
3-4 carrots cut into matchsticks
2 small courgettes cut into matchsticks
3 tablespoons finely diced fresh ginger
2 tablespoons sesame oil
4-5 tablespoons vegetable oil
Vegetable oil for frying
1-tablespoon black bean garlic paste
1 package extra-firm tofu (NOT silken) drained and pressed dry between kitchen towels.

Prepare the tofu ahead if possible. Once dried, cut into slices from the small end and fry in hot fat that just barely covers the slices. Drain on a rack placed over a baking sheet. Blot dry with paper towel and chill in icebox until needed. When cool, drain the used oil into a jar and reuse (oil from tofu almost never picks up any odd flavours and can be easily re-used).

Prepare the vegetables. I like to do this when I catch a moment through the day and keep them in a bowl that I fill as I go. Standing and cutting up all these carrots, squash and ginger at one time is a bit of work.

When you are ready to cook the meal, bring a pot of water to the boil and cook the cellophane noodles (read the package directions as they vary but it should take about 8 minutes for a block). While the noodles cook, heat up a large pan (or a wok if you have one) and stir-fry the carrots, corn, and ginger in a bit of vegetable oil. In the last two minutes, add the courgettes (please, don't cook these lovely vegetables until they are slime) and tofu. Stir in the sesame oil and garlic paste to coat. Toss in the parsley, stir well and serve hot. You may like a chili sauce to serve with this-the brand with the rooster on the bottle (a very popular brand of chili whose name escapes me at the moment as we always call it "Rooster Sauce") is a nice match. Hoisan also makes a good condiment with this dish.

Pasta With Peas, Beans, and Red Peppers

This simple dish dresses-up plain spaghetti with items you probably already have on hand.While I make use of shallots and crème fraiche, you could certainly substitute scallions and sour cream. The difference will be there, but not earth shattering. To make crème fraiche, combine ¼ cup sour cream in a jar with 1-cup heavy cream. Shake well and let sit at room temperature until thickened. It can take as few as three hours on a hot day, or as long as 24 on a cool one. Shake again once thickened. Store in icebox. Keeps about 10 days.

You Will Need:

Cooked Pasta
1 cup cooked baby peas (I used frozen)
1 tin great northern beans, rinsed and drained
1-2 shallots, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons olive oil for sautéing shallots
¼ cup roasted red peppers cut into strips (I used marinated ones in a jar from the "dollar aisle" at Sun Mart)
½ cup crème fraiche
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon dried chervil
Salt and pepper to taste

While the pasta cooks, sauté the shallots in the olive oil with the thyme. When soft and nearly transparent, add the peas, beans and peppers until heated through (this should happen by the time the pasta cooks). Drain pasta and toss with a bit of olive oil to prevent sticking. Before removing from pan, stir in the crème fraiche and sprinkle with chervil. Serve over pasta.