Thursday, May 31, 2007

Penzeys Spices

The long awaited (by me anyway) opening of Penzey's Spices(( in Omaha has finally taken place-it was worth the wait.

Located in what was formerly an Asian import store down the street from the Nebraska Furniture Mart (and directly across the street from Russell Stover, (where I used to buy 50 lb. Bags of rice at bargain prices). They pretty much gutted the place and started anew. The result is a light, spacious environment for browsing where there is adequate space between displays (important when trying to avoid knocking down hundreds of jars of spices). If you go, take a look down at the neat effect they achieved by painting the cement floor.

The help was friendly and helpful without hovering-something, which more often than not sends me out the door without a purchase. I don't know how much cooking the help actually do, but they had studied-up on their herbs and spices and had at least textbook, if not anecdotal information to pass along.

I was there on a weekday morning and it was pleasantly empty save for two middle-aged couples (I should talk!) who appeared to be making a destination of it. The displays are well organised and have suitable descriptions of the spices. I was put-off a bit by the pre-mixed items like bouquet garni (for crying out loud, buy some cheesecloth, and make your own) and rubs, but for Indian dishes, some of the pre-mixed curry powders make sense as not everyone keeps coriander and fenugreek on hand.

Years ago (over a decade, at least) we'd ordered something from Penzey's when they were strictly by post. I can't remember what, though knowing my husband it was probably something like asafetida for making some frightening thing I likely refused to eat. As a result, their catalogues kept arriving and though we never ordered from them again, we'd fantasise about being wealthy enough for the "good" saffron. Their catalogue prices were expensive, and with shipping, ordering from Penzy's was not something you would do for everyday spice items, as the cost would quickly become prohibitive.

I'm pleased to say their prices have become much more affordable. In fact, you'll find them competitive with most supermarket spices. That is not to say I'd encourage purchasing very common items there. When I need cumin, or black peppercorns, or bay leaves, I go to the Mediterranean Foods shop in Omaha, located in a tiny strip mall just behind the Shriner's headquarters. The street address would mean nothing, as it is off of main roads. There is also a Goodwill and in the next parking lot, a fabric store, and Salvation Army. You'd drive right past it if not looking-but it is definitely worth looking for. Their prices are terrific, the family that runs the place is lovely, and it is one of the few places in Nebraska where I can reliably purchase salt cod of good quality. They have fresh feta cheese in many varieties, olives and if you're not watching your waistline, halvah (fresh sesame paste candy cut to order from a large, cheese-like wheel). .

Among the items I purchased at Penzey's was a small container of dried tarragon. Comparing it side-by side with what I already had, there is little to compare-they are entirely different products. The Penzey's tarragon was fresh and green and actually smelled like something (um, it smelled like tarragon). With their reputation (built up over the years with catalogue sales) on the line, the retail stores are delivering with first quality spices. I wouldn't purchase a vanilla bean anywhere else (they come beautifully packaged in a glass vial to protect the fragile pod).

One last note is that they have anticipated young children wanting to run about the store and touch things. Someone used their noggin' and set-up a small table and chairs stocked with crayons and paper-a very welcome sight.

And no, I'm not getting paid, or compensated in saffron threads (though I wouldn't decline them if offered just as a general kindness) to review the place (no "Buzz Marketing" from this blogger).

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Fresh Cherry Cobbler

I did not grow up eating cobbler. Much like the mystery that always surrounded pineapple upside down cake, it just wasn’t something culturally familiar and as such I ignored it for years.

When I was a graduate student, I was strong-armed into “helping out” with an archaeological field school in the South. In July. In a drought year. Mind you, I’m a paleoanthropologist, and know next to nothing about stone tools and pottery in the Americas (and judging by the poor use of grammar and punctuation around here it is fair to surmise I did not do my undergraduate degree in English).

“It’s OK”, my mentor assured me. “You’ll get to drink beer and drive around it trucks-it’ll be fun.”

Indeed, she forgot to mention the beer would be domestic and warm, and the trucks would be ancient, International Harvester Scouts (anyone remember those heaps? Not much 4-wheelin’ fun to be had there). Unable to resist the lure of free alcohol or angering the person that would be evaluating my thesis, I went.

The university had contracted with a nearby farm family to feed us lunch and dinner each day.

“Wow, this is going to be great” I thought. Being a city dweller most of my life I envisioned fried chicken, corn on the cob, pies cooling on windowsills and every other foolishness I’d gleaned from cartoons in my childhood. What we got was bologna. On white bread. I think it was “Wonder.” Pretty much every day. I sort of remember there was often a bowl of “salad” though, “grass clippings” might be a better description.

Those jokes that begin, “It’s not so much the heat, as the humidity” with some pompous jerk opining about the weather were all-too-accurate descriptions of what we endured for six weeks. Horrible. Being a drought year, the river was quite low. One might expect a river during a drought to smell like the ocean at low tide (pretty unpleasant at that) however the locals had been diverting raw sewage into it for who knows how long and…well, you know.

Hot, stinky, and bologna sandwiches on Wonder bread without a drop of mustard or mayo. After a few weeks, we could stand no more, and a group of us “borrowed” one of those Harvester Scouts and went looking for something beyond bologna and beer for subsistence. You know, hunting and gathering-20th century style.

A few hours later, we hit a very small town much like the one in which I currently reside. We passed a farmhouse with a sign outside indicating that dinner was served nightly. My mind started re-playing those fried chicken and pie cartoons of my youth. We knew it was a gamble but after weeks of what we’d been eating, it was a risk worth taking.

We were greeted by an elderly couple that looked as though Grant Wood had painted them. I don’t recall if she had a brooch, but she might as well have. We were seated in their living room which had been converted into a dining room with oilcloth over card tables, family photographs on the walls. Jokes about various horror movies were made as we waited for our food.

I cannot remember what I ate for dinner. I remember that it was good, but not exceptional. Dessert however was, without exaggeration, the best thing I’ve ever eaten. I realise everyone thinks they have tasted the world’s best peach cobbler-but I genuinely did. Nothing I ever bake will come close to the perfect mixture of juicy peaches, and perfectly dolloped bits of biscuit dough, only slightly sweet. The recipe for cobbler that follows is good-but not that good. Nothing ever could be. Without trivialising drug abuse (which I’m told is a nightmare) it is like an addict chasing their first high-nothing will ever be quite as enjoyable. I could spend the next twenty years eating cobbler day after day and never come close to those rosy/golden peaches tasting faintly of ginger and nutmeg. I couldn’t find the place again if my life depended on it (and the American Gothic couple are likely long gone as this was some twenty years ago) and I wouldn’t want to. Some things ought to be preserved as one-of-a-kind experiences. As a result, I don’t make too many cobblers-not because I dislike them, but because it seems futile. That said, I think you will find the recipe for this cobbler satisfactory. Good even. But not extraordinary-only one cobbler gets that distinction.

You Will Need:

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

(To prepare the fruit)
2/3 cup caster sugar (aka “superfine”)
1 ½ tablespoons cornstarch
¾ cup water
4 cups cherries, stone removed (If using tinned, drain well and cut back the water a bit)
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1 ½ teaspoons butter
1 teaspoon vanilla or almond extract

¼ cup sugar for sprinkling the fruit

To prepare the dough)
1 cup sifted, all purpose flour
1/3 cup sugar
1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons shortening (solid)
½ cup milk

Mix sugar and cornstarch in a large, heavy pan. Add water slowly and add fruit and lemon juice. Cook over medium heat until cherries are softened and sauce begins to thicken. Remove from heat, add vanilla.
Pour into large casserole dish (at least 1 ½ quart). Dot with butter and sprinkle with sugar.

In a large bowl mix dry ingredients and then cut in the shortening. Add the milk and mix well. Add by spoonful to the top of cobbler. Bake 20-30 minutes.

This is not a “gloppy” pie-like filling. If you prefer a less-juicy filling, use 2 tablespoons cornstarch. You could also eliminate the extra sugar atop the cooked cherries if they are very dark and sweet to begin with.

Rainy Day-Cobbler or Pie?

It is a gloomy, rainy day here. Not quite 9 AM and my little boy is clamouring to go outside. It's OK, I have a plan.

My plan consists of two pounds of dark, sweet cherries waiting to be transformed either into cobbler or pie. While Danny is a bit small for de-stoning the cherries, I can put him to work removing the stems. I figure that ought to be good for at least an hour. Beyond that, it's finger-paints, blocks and that standby every mother saves for "inside days" like today-empty cardboard boxes and oatmeal canisters! Sure, go ahead and laugh, but they are better than any toys I could buy him.

Hopefully, if you check back this evening we will have something cherry (and cheery) to enjoy.

Blech, it just began to rain.

Beef Stock and Concentrated Glaze

I'm going to devote this post trying to dissuade readers from purchasing prepared stock. Making one's own is not only economical, it is quite simple and you have better control over the amount of sodium contained therein. You may prepare ahead for making stock by keeping a bag in the freezer into which you deposit trimmings from celery and carrots. Don't you love using every last bit of something? Glaze is a handy way to keep stock without taking up much space. It will last a few weeks and can be reconstituted into stock or used as flavouring as is. The technique works well with poultry too.

Yesterday, I made beef stock and today I intend to reduce it to meat glaze. Instructions (based loosely on the one in Mastering the Art of French Cooking) are as follows:

For beef stock:

About 3 quarts of beef bones (give or take)
Beef scraps (if the bones don't have enough)
2 peeled carrots
2 stalks of celery
2 teaspoons salt

Tied in a cheesecloth bundle:
¼ teaspoon thyme
1 bay leaf
4-5 parsley sprigs
2 unpeeled garlic cloves
2 whole cloves

In a large stockpot, cover the bones with cold water and bring slowly to a simmer-try not to let it boil as it makes for greasy stock. Begin skimming. When most of the crud (yes, "crud" is a technical term, thank you very much) has been removed, add the rest, more water and bring back to the simmer, skimming as needed. Cover with the lid permitting a couple inch gap (you don't want to make stock with a tightly fitting lid as it causes the stock to spoil). In about five hours, you have stock. Once an hour, check on it to make certain it isn't boiling or adding more water if needed. Adjust seasonings, drain through a cheesecloth-lined sieve into a bowl and let cool before de-greasing. The simplest method of de-greasing is to leave it overnight in the icebox and then skimming off the solid fat.

For the meat glaze

Using de-greased stock, bring it to the boil, uncovered in a pan and boil until it reduces to about 1 quart. Strain it through a fine sieve into a smaller pot and then continue cooking until it reduces to syrup that will coat the spoon. Take care that it does not burn. Strain it into a jar, refrigerate, and let cool completely before covering.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Eggplant Souffle

This made a nice, light dinner for a Summer evening served with Rosemary-Grape Foccacia. It should be served soohn after removing from the oven, so make sure everyone is home, and ready to eat before starting the dish. The eggplant may be prepared ahead and kept in the fridge.

You Will Need:

1 cup shredded parmasean cheese(and extra for preparing the souffle dish)
1 large eggplant
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons flour
1 cup whole milk
3/4 cup breadcrumbs
1 tablespoon grated onion (dehydrated fine)
3 eggs, separated
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/ teaspoon pepper

Remove eggs from fridge to warm before beating.

Peel and dice the eggplant. Place cubes in a colander and toss with 1/8 cup coarse salt. Let stand 1/2 hour to drain (brown juice should be released. Rinse well. Place in a large pot with just enough water to cover and boil until soft. Drain very well and then mash until pulp. At this point, the eggplant may be set aside until later.

Butter a 2 quart souffle dish and coat with additional grated parmesean. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Melt butter in an enamel pan (if you have one) and add flour. Whisk until foamy. Add milk slowly and keep whisking until it comes to a boil over medium temperature. Boil 1 minute more. Remove from heat.

Add the mashed eggplant, cheese, bread crumbs and onion.

Beat egg yolks and add to mixture.

Beat egg whites until stiff peaks form. Fold into the larger mixture making certain all the whites are evenly incorporated(scrape the bottom well). Pour into the prepared dish and bake for about an hour or until centre is firm and a think knife inserted comes out clean.

Serve at once.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Uh Oh, Look Who Got Caught In The Mouse Trap

Country living is getting to me. I returned home to find a ghastly scene beneath my laundry sorting station. First, a bit of background.

The barn behind our house was very nearly falling over and was a danger, so last weekend it came down. This left many of God’s creatures (cats=precious, rodents=less so) homeless. Seeing how we’re just twenty yards away, our place must have seemed like the obvious place to go. We usually deal with this sort of thing in Autumn when the corn comes down, but it is unusual for this time of year-and in such large numbers. Mind you, the weather has been bizarre-we haven’t seen rain like this in a generation-so all sorts of wildlife is coming out (turtles, bullfrogs) to visit. By the way, I think I know where all the missing honeybees have gone, if anyone wants to bring a hive and come collect them.

Conventional traps are useless on these fuckers. I hate like hell to do it, but we laid out a few glue traps before we left for the day hoping that in the quiet, the mice would come out to play.

Danny was helping me put away groceries when I heard a rustling from behind the cart. Expecting to see a rodent writhing away in glue, I shooed Danny out to the living room. “Oh shit”, I thought looking at the sizeable snake caught in the glue trap. The poor thing’s last thought must have been,
“These people are AWESOME! Look, they even left me a mouse for lunch.”

My husband did the honour of ending its misery, but I felt just awful seeing it not only stuck in glue, but wrapped around the wheel of the cart. I suppose if it were later in the season, the snake might have been upwards of six feet long (we had one of those big-boys in the kitchen the year we moved in). There’s not much you can do to “snake-proof” a home, and bull snakes, while they resemble rattle snakes (and will often shake their tails as though about to strike) are pretty harmless. I’m sure they would bite if you accidentally stepped on one, but otherwise, they’re not much of a bother. In fact, they usually help keep the mouse population down. I felt just awful about this one being caught like that.

Just as I was getting Danny ready for bed, two more little mice (and they are very tiny) scurried beneath the washer and dryer, taunting me. I’m going to get a cat. Allergies be damned, Siberians are supposed to be liveable for people with allergies and if I have to take allergy shots to put up with a cat, so be it. I cannot stand the mice anymore, and I don’t wish to sacrifice anymore snakes.


Friday, May 25, 2007

Friday Cakeblogging Returns!

Scroll down for all the details

Orange Cake With Chocolate Buttercream Filling and Bittersweet Chocolate Ganache

Friday cakeblogging returns with two of my favourite flavours-chocolate and orange. And yes, I am quite fond of Jaffa Cakes, and no, we can not find them in Nebraska. I’m also partial to Droste Chocolate Oranges, but as the American dollar is not worth as much these days, imported chocolate from Holland is a bit steep for our budget (I did purchase a box of powdered Droste cocoa which I ration-$8.00 a box!). So yes, chocolate and orange are a combination I can really enjoy-when I can actually eat.

I did get a very small piece. I’ll pay for it, but what the hell, it was cake.

The recipe is complicated, so I will break it down into cake, filling and ganache.

For the cake:

2 eggs
2 11 oz tins of mandarin oranges, drained.
2 cups all purpose flour
2 cups sugar
2 teaspoons baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
(yes, I know it has no butter or oil-that’s not a mistake).

Preheat the oven to 350degrees F.

Beat the eggs. Add oranges and dry ingredients. Beat 4 minutes with an electric mixer on low setting. The oranges should be well-broken apart. Pour into 3 8 inch cake pans. The layers will be slight, but that’s ok. If you wish to make the cake alone, it can be poured into a 9x13 rectangular pan.

Bake for 35-40 minutes or until the top springs back when pressed. The cake will get very dark-that’s ok, though you should take care that it does not burn. Remove from the oven, cool in pans for 15 minutes, then on racks. The cake may stick a bit, so it wouldn’t hurt to lightly oil the rack. Cool completely before filling with buttercream.

For the buttercream:

1 stick of butter, softened
3-4 cups sifted, powder sugar(or more)
½ cup sifted cocoa powder
2-3 tablespoons milk

Cream the butter with an electric mixer. Mix 1 cup of powdered sugar with the cocoa and work into the butter. Add 2 tablespoons of milk. Add the powdered sugar until you get a very thick, but spreadable consistency. You may over-do it, in which case you should add more milk. Use the buttercream to frost the layers. At this point, place the cake in the refrigerator for a couple hours to completely chill.

For the ganache:

1 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons corn syrup (light)
2 cups chopped bittersweet chocolate
½ teaspoon concentrated orange drops (if you cannot get your hands on it-I buy mine in a 3-pak with lemon and lime, orange blossom water would also add a nice flavour. I thought about using it in the cake but then remembered to do it after I’d put the cake in the oven!).

It helps to place the cake on a baking sheet lined with waxed paper. Make room in the fridge for it ahead of time.

Heat the cream and syrup until steaming. Pour over chocolate in a bowl and let sit for five minutes. Add orange flavouring and whisk until smooth. Pour over cake while still warm. Immediately move to the refrigerator to set. It should be chilled at least three hours before serving. Extra ganache may be scraped together and turned into truffles(mine atop the cake were rolled in parlsocker).

Then, before serving for dessert, try getting your two and a half year old to eat asparagus soup. Yeah, I know-but it’s Friday. We always have a cake on Friday. There’s six other days of the week for asparagus.

Asparagus And Tarragon Soup

I served this soup for dinner tonight and while everyone agreed that it was pleasant, I probably wouldn't bother to make it again as we're just not wild about cream soups. I do think it would be enjoyable chilled on a hot day for a light lunch.

You Will Need:

2 lbs. fresh asparagus
2 cups whole milk
3 branches of fresh tarragon (or 1 teaspoon dried)
1 cup white wine
black pepper
6 tablespoons of butter
6 tablespoons flour
6 cups chicken stock
2 tablespoons fresh (or 1 teaspoon dried) tarragon

Peel the asparagus. Trim away tough lower stalks and cut into inch long matchsticks. Boil in a large pot of water to which salt has been added just as it boils. Cook 15 minutes until quite tender. Drain and refresh under cold running water. Put through a food mill or the food processor until smooth. Place in a saucepan with the milk and simmer until smooth.

Add the chopped (or dried) tarragon to the wine and simmer until it evaporates to about 1 tablesppon of liquid. This should take about 20 minutes. Cool.

In another saucepan, melt 4 tablespoons of the butter (reserving the other two for later) and add the flour. Cook for a couple minutes without browning. Add the stock and simmer for a few minutes. Add to the puree. Strain the wine/tarragon mixture and add the liquid slowly to the puree. Bring to a boil.

Add two tablespoons fresh (or 1 teaspoon dried) tarragon and the two tablespoons of butter to the pan. Mix well, and serve warm. You may find that the soup would benefit from further thinning in which case extra stock may be added.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Why Won't She Post More Often?

(Aww, don't cry. I'll be back to regular posting soon-I promise).

I simply have not had a chance to sit down and write posts. You know that saying carpenters have about “measure twice, cut once”? Well, it applies to sewing as well. It seems I forgot the adage and ruined some very pricey, impossible to replace vintage fabric I’d been saving for years. I decided to use it as the outer border on a quilt I’m making as a gift-and then I screwed-up. I could salvage it by cutting smaller pieces as inserts to make-up the shortfall, but I don’t think that will look as nice as admitting I blew-it and starting over. I knew something would go wrong as I was congratulating myself on being nearly finished with the project. I should have sensed disaster when the embroidered quilt blocks came together so quickly. As the entire thing is being done without a pattern (I did plan it out on paper first) I can’t blame it on not following directions. After two hours of kneeling on the floor trying to pin-it, cut and fix it, I gave up. Unfortunately, I couldn’t get up off the floor! Eh, rheumatoid arthritis stinks. I laughed for a few moments remembering the commercial for those devices the elderly wear about their necks to ring for help. They had the most fantastic television ad years ago where a woman that looked like my granny was screaming into her necklace.
“I’ve fallen and I can’t get up!”

Strangely, the ad seemed less amusing from the vantage point of being stuck on the floor with my hip joints locked into place. I dragged myself over to the piano (let’s have three cheers for heavy furniture-hip, hip hooray!) and pulled myself upright. I looked around for my cane and remembered that I’d left it in the car-150 yards from the house. !

^@*(%()_+_(%@#farm house with impossibly long%*@#@()(*##!!^&%driveways.

Anyway, I’m ok as long as I don’t try to overdo it and spending anything beyond five minutes on the floor is pushing it. I don’t have better results using the dining room table and in truth, it is one of the main reasons I had to quit working at the fabric store years ago. I’m not terribly tall, yet leaning over a cutting table just does me in. Perhaps when we move I can design a built-in cutting table in a sewing room that is appropriate for my height. Until then, perhaps I ought to look into one of those emergency alert necklaces.

The up-side of this was the delicious egg sandwich my husband made me for dinner last evening (as I was stuck in bed). On a couple of well-toasted and buttered pieces of struan bread, it was really a treat.


I made good on the threat to turn the goose confit into cassoulet. The weather has turned unexpectedly cool here, and being the heavy dish it is, cassoulet was exactly the sort of thing my husband wanted. Me? Nah, can’t eat this stuff (without getting ill anyway) though I had great fun preparing it.

I omitted the sausages that typically go into cassoulet using “lamb” and preserved goose instead. I used Great Northern beans, though I don’t see why lima beans could not be substituted (I rather like the lamb and lima bean combination). I put “lamb” in quotation marks for a reason. As I purchased necks and rib-bones over a couple of months and set them in the freezer, I did not examine them too closely until it came time to cook and eat them.

In the United States, it is very difficult to fine mutton, per se. We do however, have rather aged lamb. As I was purchasing necks and rib bones for stewing, I cannot really return to the market complaining loudly that I was sold something that is only “lamb” in the most stretched definition as anyone, anywhere else in the world would call it mutton. I have nothing against mutton mind you, though paying lamb prices ($3.99 lb. mind you, for necks and ribs!) does irk me a bit. It is my fault for purchasing it at the supermarket rather than the butcher. I certainly would hesitate to purchase any ground “lamb” from that store as I could not be confident of what I was getting.

As it happens, my husband is quite fond of mutton (insert Scottish joke) and found the cassoulet delicious and not suffering for the lack of sausages either.

I prepared the cassoulet in stages soaking the beans overnight, cooking them early the next morning, preparing the lamb mid-day, and then assembling the entire thing about a hour before serving.

The recipe I followed (though really, you hardly need a recipe for assembling beans, cooking liquid, stewed lamb and breadcrumbs into a casserole dish) came from “Julia Child and More Company” Knopf, 1978. The recipe is on page 81, with the directions for the preserved goose confit preceding. Without direct permission to reproduce the recipe here, I’d rather send you to the library (or where it should be readily available.

I had my doubts about the preserved goose confit, but my husband has been eating it for three days now and there’s no sign of botulism, so as the kids like to say, “It’s all good.”

Pasta With Asparagus and Cooked Radicchio

On the surface, this pasta and vegetable dish isn’t terribly interesting to look at (some asparagus, mushrooms, cheese, olives, shallots) but what really added a special bit to the meal was the addition of radicchio sautéed in olive oil. Tossed on in the last moments of cooking, the leaves added a pleasant bitter element to the mildness of the asparagus and shallots. All these years I’ve been using the bitter lettuce in salads without realising it could withstand cooking-in fact, the flavour becomes more complex with heating and olive oil. I wouldn’t hesitate to serve it solo as a side-dish. Paired with lamb chops or some meaty mushrooms, it would compliment nicely.

Afterthought-I would have cut the asparagus shorter. I intended to serve it with linguine, but upon realising I has but ¼ of a package in the pantry, I had to shift gears and use a smaller pasta. Bite sized-pieces would have been nicer.

Mushroom and Asparagus Timbales With Mushroom Sauce

Returning to my timbale obsession…

These were not the most attractive vegetable custards I’ve made (though much MUCH more attractive than the beet root ones that separated into pink and grey layers and as my spouse observed “looked like ass.”) but the flavour was pleasant. I served them with a rich mushroom sauce made with butter and wine.

I opted for the unusual asparagus/mushroom combination as I had leftover asparagus from the previous evening’s dinner. I peeled and cooked the lower stalks separately so as not to waste the less delicate portion of the vegetable. It worked well. Were I to make these again (I probably will) I’d stick to all mushrooms or asparagus.

I have not tried the mushroom sauce as a crepe filling, but I’m inclined to think it would work well.

For the mushroom sauce:

8 ounces of baby portabella mushrooms, sliced.
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 small shallots, thinly sliced
4 medium garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons butter
1 cup good strong beef broth
½ cup dry red wine

Heat olive oil in skillet. Add butter, mushrooms, shallots, and garlic. Cook over medium heat, stirring often for about 4 minutes or until beginning to soften. Add beef broth and wine and simmer until reduced by 1/3. Cover skillet and reduce heat if cooking too quickly. Cook about 20 minutes or until most of the liquid is absorbed.

For the timbales:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Set some water in a large pan and place it on the centre rack of the oven, leaving room to add boiling water. Set a pot of water to boil. Depending upon the size of your pan you may need several cups of boiling water when you set-in the ramekins(water should go halfway up the sides of the cup). Keep the water at a simmer as you work so it will be ready when the ramekins are filled.

1 ½ tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons flour
1 cup boiling milk
¼ teaspoon salt
pinch of pepper

2 cups cut-up mushrooms or other vegetables (if using asparagus it should be cooked)
2 eggs
2 egg yolks
¼ teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon pepper

6 tablespoons whipping cream
2 tablespoons Madeira

1 tablespoon butter for greasing ramekins

Make a béchamel sauce by mixing flour and butter together for 2 minutes without scorching. Remove from heat and add milk and salt/pepper. Return to the boil and stir for an additional minute. Let cool.

In a food processor (or blender) add the mushrooms/asparagus, eggs, yolks and salt/pepper. Blend on high for 1 minute.

Add the cooled béchamel sauce and wine. Blend another minute until smooth. Strain into a bowl.

Pour into well-buttered ramekins and set in pan of water simmering in the oven. Add boiling water to the half-way mark of the cups. Bake approximately 30 minutes or until a sharp knife inserted in the centre comes out clean. Remove from heat, run a thin knife around the outside and gently (they are quite soft) unmould on plates. Makes 4-8 depending upon size of ramekins.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Rhubarb And Custard

The custard in this recipe is quite heavy as it contains flour. Typically, it is used as a base for a tart. I selected it as my husband has an intense dislike for gelatinous/eggy custard-I’m hoping this style might change his mind.

For the Rhubarb
-Roast as in preceding recipe. Drain well.

For the custard:

1 cup caster sugar
5 egg yolks at room temperature
2/3 cup quick mixing flour (I use Wondra)
2 cups boiling milk
1 tablespoon butter
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Optional sauce:

The leftover rhubarb can be put through the food processor with a handful of frozen raspberries to puree. It has an intense colour and pairs nicely with the rhubarb sorbet as well.

In a large bowl, beat the egg yolks whilst gradually adding the sugar. Beat until pale yellow and forms a ribbon when dropped from the whisk.

Beat in the flour.

Slowly add the boiling milk-continue whisking. Transfer to a heavy enamelled pot and bring to a boil over medium heat. KEEP WHISKING! The sauce will form lumps, but they will dissolve as it boils. Keep moving the whisk across the bottom to prevent scorching. After custard boils, reduce heat to low and cook 2-3 more minutes until thick. Remove from heat. Beat in butter and vanilla.

In ramekins, cover bottom with cut-up, roasted rhubarb. Cover with custard and top with additional rhubarb. Chill well before serving.

Rhubarb Sorbet

I wasn't really sure what to do with the many stalks of rhubarb I purchased last weekend, but as with the Brussels sprouts, it was coming time to decide. I compromised and used half of them for rhubarb sorbet, and the rest will be made into rhubarb and custard.

As my stalks were fairly young, I didn't bother to peel them. If you are working with thicker, older rhubarb, you may wish to peel them, though it is rather unnecessary for this particular dish.

You Will Need:

3 cups diced rhubarb
1 cup sugar
½ cup water
2 tablespoons lemon juice
Pinch of salt
1 packet unflavoured gelatine dissolved in ¼ cup water

Place 3 cups of chopped rhubarb in a casserole dish with ½ cup water and 1 cup sugar. Place in a pre-heated 350 degree oven for 30-40 minutes or until soft. Cool and mash. Reserve liquid. Take mashed rhubarb and force through a strainer to catch juice and finely squeezed pulp. In a separate bowl, soften 1 packet of unflavoured gelatine in ¼ cup water.

Add 2 tablespoons lemon juice and any additional sugar you think it may need. Add a pinch of salt. Add the gelatine. In an ice-cream maker, process until light and fluffy. The sorbet is very light pink-a colour I find attractive, but you may wish to add a bit of food colouring for a deeper hue. As I plan to serve mine with a few reserved pieces of roasted rhubarb, I think the colour contrast will do fine-you may desire a more dramatic presentation.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Brussels Sprout Mould

After three hours at the doctor this morning (with a two year old in tow) getting what amounted to not-so-great news, I should have returned home and climbed back into bed. Instead, I decided to make a Brussels sprouts mould. I’d splurged on fresh Brussels sprouts last weekend and it was coming down to the wire in terms of use it or lose it. I wanted to prepare them in a way that my son would be able to eat them (they are cooked and diced in this recipe) and since he really relies on eggs as his regular protein, this recipe was perfect.

Thankfully, it wasn’t difficult to manage.

Before I get to the recipe, I have to relate a funny story.

My son is on a bit of a cowboy kick lately, and as a result, wears his cowboy hat just about everywhere. People think this is simply adorable and as a result, they are inclined to fuss over Danny. He of course, loves all the attention and as it happened, he was given not one, but two lollipops today by our family doctor who being out here in the country probably never thought to ask the parents first if she can ply the kids with candy. I didn’t mind-it kept him occupied and quiet.

I was pleased when Danny remembered to say “thank you” but before I could appreciate it fully, he launched into serenading our doctor with “What Do You Do With A Drunken Sailor?”

I need to have a talk with my husband.

You Will Need:

1/4 cup white bread crumbs
½ cup finely minced onions
salt ¼ teaspoon
nutmeg (pinch)
½ cup grated gruyere or Swiss cheese
2/3 cup bread crumbs
5 eggs
1 cup milk brought to boiling with 4 tablespoons butter
3 cups cooked and chopped Brussels sprouts
additional salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Place a large pan that can accommodate a 6 cup soufflé dish in the oven in the lower third of the oven. with a couple cups of water. On the stove keep additional hot water simmering to bring to boil when you place the dish in the oven.

Oil a 6 cup soufflé dish and coat with the ¼ cup of breadcrumbs. Knock out any additional crumbs. Cook the onions slowly for about ten minutes in the butter until soft but not browned.

Transfer the onions to a large mixing bowl and add the seasonings, cheese and additional bread crumbs. Beat in the eggs with a wooden spoon. In a slow, thin stream, add the milk and butter. Fold in the Brussels sprouts. Add any additional salt and pepper it may need. Pour into the prepared soufflé dish and place in the pan of water. Add additional boiling water until it is halfway up the side of the dish. Bake for 35-40 minutes or until a sharp knife inserted in the centre comes out clean.

Remove mould from water and let sit for five minutes before unmoulding onto a plate. Serve with a béchamel sauce (I made one with parsley essence (3/4 cup white vermouth, 4 tablespoons parsley, 2 tablespoons minced shallot simmered until reduced to 3 tablespoons. Drain, squeeze excess liquid from parsley. Add liquid to prepared béchamel and add 2 tablespoons additional butter. Before serving, toss in 3 tablespoons freshly chopped parsley).

Black Salsify With Parsley Essence Bechamel

Black salsify is actually a variety known as scorzonera. Looking like a tidy bundle of bark covered twigs, the bunch yielded about two cups of cooked vegetable. Because salsify/scorzonera discolour quickly, drop the pieces into a bowl with water and a bit of lemon juice until you are ready to cook them.

I steamed them until tender as everything I read indicated that they can go from a lovely vegetable to inedible pulp rather quickly if boiled. After steaming until tender, I placed them in a casserole dish to cool until I was ready to serve. I simply re-heated them in the microwave and tossed with a béchamel/parsley essence sauce.

For the record, I did not detect any flavour one would call marine, oyster, or otherwise. Some people think they taste like asparagus or artichoke hearts-but I didn’t get that either. In fact, they didn’t taste like much of anything, and other than the novelty of the item, I can’t imagine making them again. I didn’t dislike them, but for the price, there are more interesting vegetables I’d rather have.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Salsify and Rhubarb-Not Together

We’ve all heard the advice to avoid grocery shopping when hungry as it leads to all manner of highly caloric impulse purchases. I’d like to add that shopping whilst fighting Methotrexate-induced nausea and general illness leads to equally strange, albeit not necessarily fattening impulse buys. I came home with salsify, shallots and rhubarb. I would have added a bottle of kirsch to the mix, but was too exhausted to push the grocery carriage another 20 yards to the liquor department.

I decided to live dangerously and bought a wedge of Camembert. Unpasteruised soft cheese is always a bit of a gamble but with the immune-suppressing medications I’m taking it is outright stupid (“stooopid!”) and I’m going to eat it anyway. And I’m not sharing. I mean, how many people really get listeria anyway? I eat crème fraiche that I leave sitting out on my counter to ferment-do you really think French cheese frightens me? When I’m feeling particularly death-wish-ish, I soft boil an egg. Mmm, mouldy rinds. Just wait until my cheesemaking adventure starts bearing results-oh you go ahead and laugh, but in nine months when I’m through scraping cheese maggots off a wheel of perfectly aged cheese, we’ll see who’s knocking at my farmhouse door wanting a taste of the “scary cheese.” Until then, I have to buy cheeses at Hy-Vee. I was kidding about the cheese maggots…everyone knows you don’t scrape them off…

I had insisted before leaving the house that I was only going to purchase basics, and that I was not going to cook/bake/housekeep in general this week as I’m not feeling my moxie at the moment. Right. I’m still a bit conflicted over whether to use the rhubarb in ices or custards. I haven’t a clue what to do with salsify, but that’s where having a vast cookbook collection comes in handy. The root is supposed to taste like oysters, though having never eaten oysters I’m sort of in the dark. I’m imagining a briny taste, like one gets from dulse. I’m sure if I drown it in béchamel sauce it will hardly matter at all.

Did I mention that for the second time in three years my spouse has forgotten Mother’s Day? Funny, I remembered to send HIS mother a card-a handmade card, mind you. As I’m far too mature to sulk(not really), I’m going to insist he assist Danny in preparing me a cup of Folgers Instant Coffee (you know, the stuff with the oh-so-pretty “crystals”) with two perfectly rounded teaspoons of sugar and enough powdered coffee “creamer” to make it light, and bringing it to me in bed. And toast. I want toast with some of the new sour cherry preserves we bought at the Mediterranean import store. I can’t believe he blew-off Mother’s Day…again. After 18 years of trying to get pregnant, Mother’s Day is sort of a big deal to me. Not the gift-I hate the idea of requisite gifts, but gee whiz, he could have helped our son make me a card. I’m being silly, I know, disappointment stinks. If I could drag my behind back out, I’d go buy myself a corsage.

I did not cook dinner this evening, save for Danny’s meal. I think my husband ate a tomato and cheese sandwich and I had a bowl of dry cereal (store brand Cheerio’s rip-offs). Danny had mashed potatoes with chilli beans, green beans with olive oil, spices and a bit of cheese. Plain yoghurt and a glass of milk rounded out the meal that he positively wolfed down-unusual for him. Kicking a ball around the yard for an hour really works up an appetite.

Here’s a last thought this evening:

If you were organising a grocery store (a fairly new store, I might add) where would you stock bread crumbs? I’ll give you an insight to the organisation of this store-the saltines are not in the cracker aisle, but rather next to the soup. Had anyone asked me, I’d have suggested placing bread crumbs in the bread aisle-kind of obvious, but consistent with most stores. I would not, have thought to place it on the bottom shelf next to cooking oil. What’s more, having the store manager feign shock that I was unable to guess that breadcrumbs would be stocked alongside cooking oil, and subsequently ask for assistance locating said breadcrumbs was not a nice touch. Why are people such arrogant, condescending dickheads? I can imagine how he treats his employees.

Hopefully, I’ll have salsify recipes and photos tomorrow.

Hope everyone has a Happy Mother’s Day. Don’t be a schmuck-remember to buy/make a card.

Friday, May 11, 2007

I Intended To Cook Dinner

I’d been planning to make a somewhat elaborate dish for dinner this evening. Fish, mushrooms and rice layered in a pastry dough rich with sour cream and butter (I believe it is called a kulebiaka in Russian, but my spelling may be off). I did a fair amount of the preparation ahead of time, but apparently, not enough as I’m back in bed sick again and dinner consisted of popsicles and oyster crackers. Generic oyster crackers from Hy-Vee, that have what some advertising jerk must have thought farmers look like on the label. “Midwest County Fair” my ass. My neighbour farms, and I have to tell you, I’ve never seen him wearing a straw hat or walking about with a stalk of wheat sticking out of his mouth. I’m sure he didn’t eat popsicles and oyster crackers for dinner this evening either-but if he did, I have to think he’d be insulted by the depiction of the happy-idiot-farmer on the package, particularly as we know the wheat they were baked with was probably grown in China and spiked with melamine.

I did however, make sure that Danny had plenty of staples prepared for the weekend so that Pop wouldn’t need to figure out meals if I ended-up unable to do much. I made a batch of cauliflower, and mushy peas with olive oil, garlic and basil. I know what you’re thinking-but he loves it. I mean, he already eats beans of some sort every day-what’s some gassy vegetables? I did teach him that bit about “Beans, beans the magical fruit, the more you eat, the more you toot!” I’d be neglecting my parental duties if I let that one “pass” (sorry) unmentioned.

I’m not sure why, but Danny has developed an aversion to winter squash which is unfortunate, as I purchase it frozen in boxes and can prepare it easily in a covered casserole dish in the microwave. Figures he’d take exception to the one convenience food I give him. Guess it’s carrots and sweet potatoes for the orange vegetable for a while. I’ve tried tinned pumpkin which is also a no-go. Still, most of the time I can convince him to finish lunch with a bit of entertaining distraction.

I’ve started a routine of reading to my son as he eats lunch. This is a great improvement over his desire to have me belt out show tunes as he dines. I have most of South Pacific, and just about all of Oklahoma committed to memory but I’m still working on The King and I, and State Fair. Anyway, poetry is always fun so I launched into Paul Revere’s Ride, which my third grade teacher has us memorise a good portion of. I’m pleased to say I was fifteen stanzas in before I had to get up and seek out my Longfellow volume for the remainder of the poem(which is under The Landlord’s Tale, should you ever need to look for it). Granted, I put on a pretty heavy Boston accent to do the “one if by land, two if by sea and I on the opposite shore (“shoooowah”) will be”, which really had Danny laughing, but the best laughs came from the improvised asides such as “Hey, didn’t you hear me? I said the BRITISH ARE COMING, and they’re going to have you eating chutney and marmite if we don’t get out there with flint lock muskets like-now! Um…like what part of “Country folk to be up and at arm” don’t you understand? Grab yer tri-cornered hat and get over to Charlestown NOW!”

So yes, lunchtime has been fun-just wait until I begin the Ancient Mariner.

Cooking posts to resume soon-I hope.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Not A Cooking Post

I wanted to take a second to promote a seriously fun waste of time. The Badge Generator lets you create spiffy badges. You do need some stinkin' badges after all (or you will, once you start letting your creativity loose).
Have fun, and please post links in the comment thread to your badges.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Apple Pie Made With "New" Crisco

They changed Crisco to a trans-fat-free product. I’m not pleased. While my husband insists he cannot tell the difference in my pie crust-I can. It also rolls out differently and is quite soft. I guess it is butter from now on, or at the very least, a mixture. I think it would be very difficult to cut a lattice crust from this dough. I’m going to post the recipe for the crust for those who may wish to try a trans-fat free recipe, but my inclination is to tell you it is not worth it. If you can use lard, by all ,means do so, otherwise I’d look into good quality butter.

I realise this sounds like whining. It took years for me to work out the perfect pie crust and now the food police have gone and ruined it! I don’t bake pie often enough for it to be a health issue and darn it, I just want it the way I want it. You know?

I can’t say I feel any healthier after eating a slice but then all that sugar probably balances out what I’m saving in trans fat.

For the crust:

3 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 ¼ cups vegetable shortening
1/3 cup very cold water
1 egg, beaten
1 tablespoon white vinegar

Mix salt and flour together. Cut in shortening. Add beaten egg to water and vinegar and piour into flour/shortening mixture. Work into dough and let rest a few minutes before rolling out.

For the Apple Pie:

6 cups sliced apples, peeled
¾ cup sugar
¼ cup flour
1 teaspoon cinnamon
3 tablespoons water
1 egg yolk plus 1 tablespoon water for wash
extra sugar for topping
(You can brush with milk or cream if you want a less shiny crust).

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Pour apples into bottom crust. Mix everything else together and pour over apples. Cover with top crust. Make slits for steam. Brush with egg was and sprinkle with sugar. Bake for 1 hour. If top browns too soon, cover with foil.

Carrot Salad With Cumin and Cayenne

I’m always looking for interesting ways to prepare carrots. This was pleasant enough served at room temperature with crusty bread. The recipe called for 1/4 teaspoon of cayenne. I found that a bit much, though no one else seemed to mind.

1 ½ pounds carrots, peeled and cut into ¼ inch rounds
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 ¼ teaspoons cumin
¼ teaspoon cayenne
½ cup water
3 tablespoons white wine vinegar
1/3 cup chopped parsley

Cook carrots in boiling salted water until tender (about 8 minutes). Drain. In a large frying pan, heat the oil, cayenne and cumin over medium heat for a minute. Add carrots and stir well. Add water and vinegar and simmer over medium heat until liquid has been absorbed. Stir often. Season with salt and pepper and toss with parsley. Serve at room temperature.

Apricot/Rosemary Chutney and Cheeses

I’m allergic to mangoes, which has really interfered with my ability to purchase prepared chutney. As I had two wonderful cheeses to serve for dinner (haloumi, coated with flour and fried in olive oil, and a wonderful gorgonzola) I decided to build on the half a bag of dried apricots sitting in the icebox and the rosemary growing like wild outside. The results were very good, and I wish I’d made more and sterilised a few jars for canning as it would make a lovely gift. As is, it will keep covered under refrigeration for about a week. The base of the recipe (I’ve made a few changes) comes from the January 1996 issue of Bon Appetit.

You Will Need:

12 ounces dried apricots (I used unsulphered which are not as pretty, but healthier overall).
1 large red onion, chopped fine
1 cup water
2/3 cup cider vinegar
2/3 cup packed brown sugar
3 ounces raisins
1 ounce crystalised ginger, chopped
2 tablespoons fresh rosemary-chopped
3 large garlic cloves, chopped fine
½ teaspoon salt

Combine everything in a heavy bottomed saucepan (I used enamel covered cast iron). Bring to a boil and stir until sugar is dissolved. Reduce heat to medium (slow simmer) and cook until most of the liquid has evaporated-about ½ an hour. Chill well. Cover and keep refrigerated.

Sunday, May 06, 2007


My mother wasn’t a very good cook. She had many skills-preparing palatable food was not one of them. A dish she frequently subjected us to was her ratatouille, except that it wasn’t ratatouille at all, but courgettes stewed to a slimy pulp in V-8 juice and tossed with some dried onion. Early on, I developed (not surprisingly) an intense dislike for summer squash.

The ratatouille I made today is quite different. Well sure, I didn’t cook it in V-8 juice-that’s the first obvious departure from my mother’s culinary repertoire No one had to gag it down either. The recipe comes from Mastering The Art Of French Cooking. I’m not going to reproduce it here as the book is widely available and I’m not sure what the copyright situation is. If you’re dying to make it and cannot lay your hands upon a copy, I can email you this recipe by request.

The recipe calls for green peppers in addition to the tomatoes, eggplant, onions and courgettes. I omitted the peppers as I find green peppers revolting. Believe me-you won’t miss them. Rich with olive oil, the dish goes well with rice or crusty bread. I found it interesting that there aren’t any spices save for salt, pepper and fresh parsley. The olive oil and onion are relied heavily upon in creating the pleasant flavours in the dish-and they are pleasant

Can be eaten hot or cold..

Friday, May 04, 2007

Rich Chocolate Cake With Caramel Frosting

This cake won’t win any beauty contests-but you probably won’t hear anyone complain as they’ll be too busy eating.

The chocolate cake is very assertive (with ¾ cup of Droste powdered cocoa) and the buttery caramel frosting makes a nice compliment.

For The Cake:

2 cups all purpose flour, sifted
2 cups sugar
¾ cup cocoa
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/8 teaspoon salt
½ cup oil
1 cup hot coffee
1 cup milk
2 eggs

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Mix dry ingredients together. Add wet ingredients. Mix just to combine-batter should be lumpy. It will appear very thin.

This cake will work best in a 9x13 pan (I really chose the wrong pan for this today, but was able to salvage it).

Bake 35-40 minutes or until toothpick tests clean.

Frost while still slightly warm.

For the Frosting:

½ cup unsalted butter
1 cup packed brown sugar (dark or light)
¼ cup milk
1 ¾-2 cups sifted confectioner’s sugar

Melt butter in saucepan. Add sugar and stir 2 minutes. Add milk and cook until it comes to a boil. Remove from heat and cool. Add powdered sugar until you reach the thickness you prefer.

Both recipes come from:
Amish and Mennonite Kitchens by, Good and Pellman

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Chocolate Mousse

This was my first attempt at mousse and it went rather well. My mother always hated mousse as she felt it was “slimy” but I rather think she would have liked this one as it has some real heft to it and while creamy from the whipped cream, it is anything but slimy. I used her stemware to serve in.

The recipe I intended to use frightened me off with the raw egg whites (I’m currently being treated for an illness with medications that suppress my immune system and I think raw eggs would just be asking for it). Instead, I turned to the internet and found a similar recipe without the use of raw egg whites.

I made this with Baker’s semi-sweet chocolate which was acceptable but not the best call. Were I to make this again, I’d use better quality chocolate and I’d go at least half bittersweet. My husband and son devoured theirs without finding it too sweet.

The recipe may be found HERE.

Lima Beans With Gruyere And Celery

This was a completely improvised dish. When I set the lima beans to soak last evening, I didn’t really have anything in mind other than perhaps a succotash. What I did have however, was a couple cups of leftover rice and some celery that needed to be used. Add to that some Gruyere cheese sitting in the icebox looking for a reason to be grated-up and well, here’s what I came up with…

You Will Need:

1 lb. bag of dried baby lima beans(sorted, soaked and cooked)
1 large, sweet onion, finely chopped
½ cup chopped parsley
1 ½ cups white rice
3 cups finely chopped celery
½ cup of butter
½ cup heavy cream
½ cup whole milk
1 tablespoon dried basil
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon dried chervil
salt and pepper
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 cups shredded Gruyere

In a large pot, cook the soaked overnight lima beans until soft (about 2 hours at a low simmer). Drain. Cook the white rice.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Chop the onion and celery. Sautee them in ¼ cup of the butter until soft. Add the rest of the butter and the beans, rice and herbs. Adjust salt and pepper. Add the cream and milk-mix well. Add the Gruyere and quickly mix and turn out into a greased casserole dish.

Bake about 1 hour uncovered or until nicely browned.

“This is good.”-Danny, aged 2

Salmon Burgers With Tarragon Mayonnaise

I changed so many parts of this recipe that it only vaguely resembles the original (Bon Appetit, March 1996). I did use tinned salmon as it was on hand.

You Will Need:

1 tin red salmon
4 green onions, chopped
1 tablespoon drained capers
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon fresh tarragon (or 1 teaspoon dried) 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon prepared white horseradish
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon pepper

Tarragon Mayonnaise:
(1 cup prepared mayonnaise
¼ cup plain yoghurt
4 chopped green onions
1 tablespoon drained capers
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon fresh tarragon (or 1 teaspoon dried)
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
2 teaspoons white horseradish
Combine and mix well.)

8 slices toasted bread
4 large tomato slices
1 tablespoon butter

Combine the first nine ingredients. Add the mayonnaise and refrigerate if making ahead.

Add bread crumbs and form into 4 patties. Heat the butter in a frying pan over medium heat and cook about 3 minutes on each side. Serve on toast with a generous slather of tarragon mayonnaise.

4 Sandwiches

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Carrot "Cakes" With Parsley Sauce

I’m not really sure how to describe these timbales. They are somewhere between custard and quiche, yet wholly unlike anything I’ve ever tasted. The recipe comes from the October 1992 issue of Gourmet (see, I’m making progress through the stack) from a feature on Lyons.

This was a relatively simple thing to prepare (relative to, I don’t know…goose confit?) and quick, provided you do the preparation of the carrots, onions and shallots ahead. I had my sous chef Danny helping out in the kitchen, so it went a bit slower but still just about an hour start to finish.

I paired the carrot “cakes” with an herbed tomato salad, the sunflower bread and apricot butter (unsulphered dried apricots diced and mixed into unsalted butter and permitted to soften for a couple days). The original recipe called for scallops to be served along with it, and I will provide the directions in the event you wish to make a more complete meal of it. The parsley sauce with the carrots is a lovely combination without the addition of seafood.

You Will Need:

For the carrot “cakes”:

1 ½ tablespoons minced shallots
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 pound carrots sliced very thin into rounds (about 1mm). A food processor would be helpful.
1 cup water
½ cup heavy cream
3 large eggs

For the parsley sauce:

1 ½ tablespoons shallots
1 garlic clove, minced and mashed (if you don’t have a mortar and pestle a drink muddler will do the trick)
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
32 small sea scallops (about 1 lb)
½ cup dry white wine
1 cup heavy cream
3 tablespoons minced, fresh parsley leaves (I used the flat Italian variety)
Lemon juice to taste

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

In a large skillet (actually, I used a large enamelled pot) cook the shallots in butter over moderate heat until soft. Add carrots and stir for one minute. Add the water, bring to a simmer and cover. Cook about 10 minutes or until the carrots are very tender. Drain.

Butter 4 ½ cup ramekins very well. Line the bottom with carrot slices, slightly overlapping as you go. Take the remaining carrots, cream and eggs and put through the food processor until very smooth. Pour into ramekins. Set in a pan with water that comes halfway up the cups and bake 25-30 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean.

While the cakes cook, prepare the sauce and scallops.

In a 9 inch skillet, cook the shallots in butter with the garlic over low moderate heat until soft. Arrange the scallops in one layer over the shallot mixture, add the wine, and simmer, covered for 3-4 minutes until they are just cooked through. Transfer with a slotted spoon to a bowl and keep warm. Boil the cooking liquid until it is reduced almost completely and then add the cream. Boil the mixture, stirring occasionally until slightly thickened. Add the parsley and lemon juice. Remove from heat and cover to keep warm.

Run a thin knife around the ramekins and unmold on plates. Arrange 8 scallops around the cake and spoon the sauce over them. Serves 4.