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Archive for the ‘dairy’ Category

that wasn’t that

A few weeks ago, a friend dropped by for dinner. Having no set plans for what to make, we scrounged around my apartment but, to borrow a line from Old Mother Hubbard, the cupboard was bare. Well, not entirely bare. (This is my kitchen we’re talking about here.) There were eggs in the fridge and onions in the basket.  And then we found 2 slices of good old American cheese. An omelette was on the agenda. More correctly, it was on the menu. Even more correctly, it was the menu.

We sautéed the onions, then let them brown even more. We cracked a handful of eggs (literally, one for each finger) into a bowl, whisked them up with a bit of milk, and poured them in the pan. They bubbled a bit  and we lowered the heat  and pushed the mix around , scraping up the cooking edges and letting the raw egg flow underneath. We salted and peppered and dropped down the cheese. A few more minutes and we folded the omelette onto a large plate and dug in with two forks.

One taste and the omelette reminded me of something. Another taste. And another. And then it came to me. The omelette tasted like Passover. The holiday when dietary restrictions can make life difficult for a week. Especially when one likes to eat as much as I do. Especially when one refuses to eat matzah or matzah meal (finely ground matzah crumbs used like flour) after the seder. Save for the occasional matzah ball.

So we finished the omelette and enjoyed the evening. And that was that.

But that wasn’t that. I had to get that omelette out of my mind. Denial about the upcoming Passover holiday (it’s now in 2 days!) can be a powerful motivator.

And so the next morning, I awoke with a craving for another omelette. I know, I know, that’s a lot of eggs in less than 24 hours. But I was determined to redeem the omelette with another that bore nary a resemblance to traditional Passover food.

So I scrounged a bit more and I found some arugula. Bingo! The peppery, slightly bitter green holds up quite nicely in an omelette, developing a delicate, not-mushy wilt. To keep with the Passover theme, some of my Sephardi friends place arugula on their seder plates in lieu of the Ashkenazi horseradish. A tour of my spice rack turned up some cumin. And then there was a handful of shredded mozzarella lurking in the back of my fridge.

Breakfast eaten, I hopped in the car to buy groceries.

Arugula and cumin omelette

Turn burner to medium-high and add a pat or two of butter to a nonstick pan.  While the pan is heating and the butter is melting, whisk together 2 eggs and a splash of milk. Chop up some angula (or fresh herbs – parsley, chives) and whisk into the eggs. Pour the egg mixture into the pan and swirl so that it covers the entire bottom. With a spatula, start to drag the cooking edges into the center, tilting the pan to help the runnier egg in the center move to the edges. Lower the heat a bit and work your way around the entire pan like this a few times. Don’t let the eggs firm up yet. Sprinkle with a handful of shredded mozzarella (or other mild cheese), a few grinds of pepper, a nice pinch of salt, and a really nice pinch of ground cumin. Bonus points if you first toast cumin seeds and then grind them really fine with a mortar and pestle, but I can’t imagine quite that much work in the morning while my coffee is brewing. Give the cheese a minute or two to melt. When the eggs are still a little runny, fold over one edge of the omelette towards the center. Loosen the rest of the egg, and then slide it onto a plate, flipping the folded edge over. Sprinkle with  a few more grinds of pepper and some extra arugula/herbs.

** PS, Ever wonder where the word omelette comes from? Well, for all  you etymology buffs out there, I did a little research and the history is a bit convoluted.  Start with the Old French (that’s old with a capital O) word “la lemelle” which means a small thin pan. Then pronounce it just a tiny bit differently to get “l’alemelle.” Now misspell it a bit for “alemette.” And then perform a metathesis — switch a few letters to get “amalette.” Voilà, omelette! For those of you really into etymology and linguistics, matethesis is used in French (and other languages) to develop slang. Verlan, a French slang, transposes letters and syllables. Its name itself is verlan for the word l’envers – the inverse.  A woman, une femme, becomes une meuf.  A guy, un mec, becomes un keum or un quèm. Cool (in English) becomes looc. French, francais, becomes céfran. Looc, no? But don’t go to Paris and use verlan as a foreigner — you will not get good service in a cafe, and that’s not a risk anyone should take.**

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our handiwork

For the past two Tuesdays, I’ve left the office early, made a mad dash through  Harvard Square and up Mass Ave, searched for a parking spot, and stood at a long table in a hot room with a bunch of strangers. It’s an exhausting end to a full day at work, but after the first week, I was ready. I brought a pair of ballet flats to change into. I wore a short sleeve dress. I mentally prepared myself to be patient.

Week two was tarts and pies. We skipped the food processor in favor of our hands.

There was squishing cold butter and flour between fingers and crumbling it into little pieces. There was scooping and tossing sandy dough with fingertips to mix it with water. There was pushing dough with heels of hands and smearing it across the counter.

I let my mind wander. I let my hands feel. I let my day slip away.

There was banter as my neighbors and I got to know each other while working the dough and making sure not to overwork it. We checked out each other’s progress, comparing doughs as they just  barely came together. We wrapped up dough and piled parcels into the refrigerator.

There was slicing and stirring and whipping and melting and tasting while doughs chilled and we made fillings.

There was pushing and pulling of French rolling pins, sliding of palms over tapered ends as dough flattened and thinned across the floured counter.

There was divvying up of tart pans and cutting up of dough. There was light pressing of dough into the slides of pans. There was rolling of pins across edges of pans and trimming of excess dough.

There were rogue pie weights to chase as they spun out of reach.

There were tart crusts to check in the hot oven. There were fillings to fill and filled tarts to bake.

We admired our handiwork.

Then I got a parking ticket.

Pâte brisée (short pastry) by hand

The key to makng a flaky crust is to start with very cold ingredients, to not overwork the dough, and to not add too much liquid. I love all the French terminology, so you may find a few quick French lessons thrown into the recipe.

This recipe makes one tart/pie crust. If you are making a double crust pie, you’ll need to double this recipe.

- 1 1/2 C flour

- 1/8 t salt

- 4 ounces (8 T) unsalted butter

- 3-4 T ice water

Combine. Combine the flour and salt on the countertop.

Cut. Weigh or measure the very cold butter. Cut it into 1-inch cubes.

Pinch. Place the butter on the counter and cover it with the flour-salt mix. Pinch and gently smush the butter into the flour until you get pea-sized pieces. 

Sabler. Sabler means to reduce into sand. (Sable is sand and French sables are crumbly cookies such as pecan sandies.) Cut into the butter flour mixture with a bench scraper until it resembles sand.

Papillon. A papillon is a butterfly. Spread the sandy mixture into a long rectangle and form a trough down the center. Drip a tablespoon of water all along the trough, and then with your fingers spread, fluff and flutter the sand into the center to gently incorporate it into the water. Using a bench scraper, gather the forming dough and repeat the papillon step a tablespoon of water at a time. The dough will start to come together in shaggy pieces. The dough is ready when you squeeze it and it sticks together. Don’t add too much water, or when you bake the dough, it will shrink down and away from the tart pan sides and your tart will be too shallow. Weather will affect the dough – if it’s humid, add less water.

Fraisage. Gather the dough together into a pile, and then with the palm of your hand, push it away from you against the counter a few times. The etymology of  fraisage is a little complicated, but here’s my best attempt. The non-cooking definition of fraisage is the act of drilling. The verb fraiser means to sheer. Though it’s spelled differently, I’m convinced that fraiser (and therefore fraisage)) s related to the shear forces of physics. Remember your physics? I remembered just  barely enough to look up the phrase. Essentially shearing is the deformation of a material in which parallel surfaces slide past each other. So, you push the pâte with the heel of your hand, and the flour and butter slide past each other. When I did this, I could imagine the layers of  flakiness starting to form. Check out the second picture – you can see distinct flaky layers on the front left edge of the tart.

Chill. Gather the dough together and press it into a disc (about an inch thick). Wrap in plastic and chill for at least 30 minutes.

Roll. Lightly flour the counter. Place the disc of cold dough on the counter and using a large rolling-pin, push the dough away from you, pull it towards you, and then turn the dough 90 degrees. Repeat the push-pull-turn combo until you’ve rolled the dough out into a circle 1/8-inch thick.

Cut. Place a tart or pie pan on the rolled-out dough and use a sharp knife to cut out a circle (or whatever shape your pan is) an inch from the pan edge for a tart or two inches for a deep-dish pie. You want to make sure that the dough will be large enough to go up the sides of the pan.

Press. Lift the dough and place it on top of the pan. Gently press it into the corners and up the edges. Roll a rolling-pin across the top of the pan to trim off the excess dough.

Chill. Chill the pan in the refrigerator for 1 hour or the freezer for 15 minutes.

Blind bake. Preheat oven to 425ºF. Prick the chilled dough all over with a fork, cover it with parchment paper and then fill the pan with pie weights. Bake for 10-15 minutes. Carefully remove the hot pie weights and parchment, and continue to bake for another 5 minutes until the crust is light golden.

Reduce heat. Lower the oven to 350ºF.

Fill. Fill the crust with whatever filling you’re using.

Bake. Bake for 30-45 minutes (will vary from filling to filling).

 Pear and dried cherry tart

After blind-baking a pâte brisée crust, fill it with this pear and dried tart cherry combination. This tart is not particularly sweet and the addition of rosemary provides a savory note. A friend of mine called it a  sophisticated, subtle, and grown-up  tart.

- 6 firm ripe Bosc pears

- 1 1/2 C dried tart cherries

- 1/2 C light brown sugar

- 3-4 sprigs fresh rosemary (1 t chopped)

- 2 T lemon juice

- 1 T cornstarch

Preheat. Preheat the oven to 425ºF.

Cut. Peel and core the pears and cut them into 1/2-inch pieces. Chop the rosemary leaves very finely.

Cook. Cook the pears, cherries, brown sugar, and rosemary in a pot over moderate heat, stirring frequently. It should take about 20 minutes until the pears are tender.

Thicken. Whisk together the lemon juice and cornstarch in a small cup. Then stir into the cooked pear mixture and bring to a boil for about 1 minute until the mix thickens.

Cool. Let the fruit cool before adding to the tart crust.

Prepare tart crust. Make, roll, and blind bake a tart at 425ºF for 15 minutes. Remove the pie weights and bake for another 5 minutes.

Fill. Fill the tart crust with the cooled fruit.

Bake. Lower the oven to 350ºF. Bake the tart for 30-40 minutes.

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the draw of the oven

You’ll never guess what I did.

No, really. Guess.

I threw a Superbowl party last weekend.

Correction. I offered up my apartment and TV to a few friends who were throwing a Superbowl party. If you want to throw a party, this is the way to do it. The original hosts organized. They brought salad and quesedillas and guacamole and vegetables and dip and beer and rice krispies treats. They brought paper plates. They told me not to make anything.

I tried. I really tried not to make anything.

But I couldn’t resist the draw of the oven and the promise of chocolate chips. So a few minutes before everyone showed up, I started whipping together a dessert.

Correction, whipping is an exaggeration. I did indeed start the recipe with an whisk, but quickly switched over to a spoon. This is a one pot, one bowl deal. The pot is for browned butter. The bowl is for whipping up, I mean mixing up, the blondies. You could even keep your pot hung up on its rack and melt the butter in the microwave instead of browning it. But I’d advise against it. And if I’m telling you to clean an extra pot, you know I’m serious.

Everyone arrived to the nutty scent of browning butter.

As the coats were hung and the table was set, the butter cooled and the oven pre-heated.

During kickoff, I held the glass bowl against my stomach and whisked the butter and sugar together. Then I set the bowl down to watch the first few plays.

In stolen moments between the game and the start of the first commercial, I snuck into the kitchen to switch to a wooden spoon and drop in the vanilla and egg.

A few more plays, a few more turns of the spoon, a few more seconds before a few more commercials, and I added the rest of the dry ingredients.

Back to the living room, I sat on the sofa and continued to stir, watching the game unfold. A fine layer of flour settled on my guests and sofa.

Back to the kitchen, a few handfuls of chocolate chips, a few more stirs, and into the pan and into the oven.

Out of the oven, the blondies stayed in the kitchen during the halftime show.

They made their appearance during the second half. They made their disappearance during the second half.

It was a sad day for the Pats, especially for the fans at a party that was half inhabited by Giants. It was all very civil, no brawls to break up.

When the game was over, we gathered the trash and packed up the leftovers and wiped down the remaining blondie crumbs spread across the table.

Brown butter blondies

I believe I have found the best blondie recipe in the world. And then, risking hubris, I bested it just a touch by browning the butter. The original recipe is from Garrett McCord’s blog Vanilla Garlic. I discovered it in a roundabout way when looking for an easy lemon dessert. I took a lemon mascarpone blondie recipe, contributed by Garrett to Elise Bauer’s Simply Recipes, cheated by using bottled lemon juice instead of freshly squeezed, and baked it in a tart pan. While looking at that recipe, I clicked on a link to Garrett’s base blondie recipe and flagged it for future reference. I’ve been making the blondies ever since, and got the idea to brown the butter from the only brownies worth making from scratch.

Makes 16 blondies.

- 1/2 C butter

- 1 C tightly packed dark brown sugar

- 1 egg

- 2 t vanilla

- 1/2 t baking powder

- 1/8 t baking soda

- pinch of salt

- 1 C flour

- 1/2 C milk chocolate chips

Prep. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter and flour an 8X8 pan.

Brown. Heat the butter in a small sauce pan over medium low heat. After it has melted, it will froth and the solids will start to brown. You’ll be able to scrape up the brown  bits with a spoon. Once the butter starts to smell nutty and the liquid butter turns a dark golden brown, it’s ready. This takes about 10 minutes. Cool the butter to room temperature.

Whisk. Whisk the cooled brown butter and sugar in a bowl. Add the egg and vanilla extract and keep whisking.

Stir. Stir in the flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt until incorporated. Mix in the chocolate chips. The batter will be quite thick.

Bake. Spoon the batter into the prepared pan and spread it out evenly. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean.

Cut. When the brownies are cool, flip them out onto a cutting  board. Using a big chef’s knife or a pizza wheel, cut the blondies into 16 2X2 squares.

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here we go

I’m taking another course! Last time was six weeks of cooking. This time, we’re baking.

I can fairly confidently call myself a cooker. But a baker? Not so much.

Sure, I bake. But serious baking takes patience. I take shortcuts. Baking needs precision. I need to taste and modify as I go. Baking requires a scale. I require … oh wait, I do indeed have a scale.

Well then, I guess I shall try to be a serious baker.

Here we go … let’s talk about serious baking.

Our first class was on pâte à choux.

What? You don’t know what that is? Let me give you a hint.

Need another hint? You fill them with crème pâtissière.

Then you cover them with chocolate.

Éclairs. Éclairs! We made éclairs!

Need another look?

I thought so.

Pictures aside, let’s get down to business.

Pâte à choux is cream puff dough which is the base for cream puffs (duh), éclairs, profiteroles (cream puffs that you fill with ice cream instead of pastry cream and drizzle with chocolate), and gougères (savory cheese puffs).

The main leavening agent in pâte à choux is steam, created by the high moisture content in the dough. You bring a water and butter mixture to a boil before adding flour – boiling ensures that the flour expands to accept all the liquid. But quick, you don’t want the water to boil for too long or you’ll lose some of that moisture, so you have to whip it off the stove the moment it starts to boil. You stir and beat the flour into the dough to strengthen the gluten structure which gives the dough a lot of elasticity. You bake the pâte in a very hot oven so that the steam puffs up the pastry, and then lower the temperature to let the puffs dry out a bit (you don’t want a wet center). When you take the puffs out, you poke a few holes in them to let steam escape and to help them keep drying out as they cool.

The attention to detail here made my head spin.

Here are a few mistakes that you don’t want to make:

- Don’t forget to stir the dough continuously on the stove top.

- Don’t add warm half-and-half to the pâte à choux dough instead of to the pastry cream.

- Don’t scare your baking partners by adding a large pinch of salt instead of a half teaspoon. (They gasped!)

- Don’t get air in your pastry bag.

Oy. Can you tell it was a long night?

By the way, do you know why the dough is called choux? Choux means cabbage  (plural) in French and that’s what my baking partners’ little cream puffs looked like. Want to know something else about choux? A French mother might call her child “mon petit chou” – my little cabbage – when he’s behaving and cute as a button. Probably when he’s asleep like a doll and she’s showing him off to her neighbors.

Look at all mes petits choux!

Pâte à choux master recipe

We made the pâte à choux by hand, but you can cheat and use your mixer if you have one. If you don’t have a pastry bag, use a ziplock bag snipped at a corner to pipe the pastry dough onto a cookie sheet and then a turkey baster to fill the pastries with crème pâtissière.

Makes about 16 small éclairs or 3 dozen small cream puffs.

- 1 C cold water

- 8 T unsalted butter – at room temperature

- 1/2 t salt

- 1 C flour

- 4 eggs

- Optional: 1 egg for eggwash

Boil. Add water, butter, and salt to a large saucepan (you’ll be adding flour to it) and heat over moderate heat until the water comes to a boil. Once it boils, remove the pan from the heat quickly.  At this point, the butter should be just melted. If the water boils before the butter melts and there are lumps of butter, take the pan off the heat and wait for the butter to melt.  Essentially, you don’t want to lose too much moisture by leaving the pan on the heat longer than necessary.

Mix. When you’ve removed the pan from the heat, add all of the flour at once. Stir the mixture with a wooden spoon until it has the consistency of mashed potatoes. Then return the pan to medium heat and stir vigorously to dry out the pastry. This takes about 5 minutes. When you stir, be sure to scape the bottom and sides of the pot. When it has dried out enough, the dough will be a shiny mass that small beads of butter will be on the surface of the pan (the pan will look like it’s sweating). When you stick a finger into the dough, a tiny bit of butter will pool in the depression.  At this point, remove the pan from the heat and let cool slightly.

Keep mixing. Transfer the dough to a large bowl (or the bowl of your mixer) and beat in eggs one at a time. The texture will change dramatically. After the first egg, it will separate into strands. Continue adding each eggs and the dough will start to become more cohesive. With the last egg, the dough will sling to the sides of the pan or bowl and whatever you’re using to mix. If it’s not,  you might need to add a little more egg.

Store. You can pipe the dough immediately (see  below) or cover the surface closely with plastic wrap so that it doesn’t form a skin like pudding. You can keep it at room temperature for a few  hours, in the refrigerator for 3-4 days, or in the freezer for up to 4 months. If you are going to freeze the dough, pipe the dough into whatever shape you want, freeze, and then store in a ziplock bag.

Pipe. Line a cookie sheet with parchment (spray the pan with a tiny bit of oil so the parchment sticks. Fit a pastry bag with a large round tip (#9 or 3/4-inch) and then fill it with pâte à choux dough. Hold the tip very close to the parchment, twist the end of the bag, grip the twisted part between your thumb and forefinger, and then use your other fingers to squeeze gently from the end (sort of like toothpaste) to form strips 2-4 inches long for éclairs or round puffs for cream puffs. Use a little water on your fingers to smooth out any mistakes.

Optional: brush. If you are not going to cover your puffs with anything (chocolate, glaze, etc.), use a pastry brush to lightly coat the tops of the pastry with a beaten egg. Don’t let the egg pool around the edges of the dough or it will stick and make it more difficulty for the pastry to puff.

Bake. Preheat the oven to 475º. Place the pan in the oven and immediately drop the heat down to 375ºF. Bake pastries until puffed by double, golden brown, and firm to the touch: 20-25 minutes for éclairs 0r 30-35 minutes for cream puffs. Then drop the temperature again to 300ºF and bake until the pastries completely dry out: another 20 minutes for the éclairs or 10-15 minutes for cream puffs. Remove the pan from the oven and use a toothpick to poke a hole in each end of the éclairs or at the bottom of the cream puffs, move it around a bit to expand the opening,  and cool completely on a rack. Poking the holes helps the pastries to completely dry out.

Fill. Fit a pastry bag with a small tip and fill the bag with pastry cream (recipe below). Twist the end of the bag and, like with piping, squeeze gently from the end to fill the éclairs or cream puffs in the holes you made earlier.

Enrobe. Dip the filled éclairs or cream puffs into the chocolate glaze (recipe below).

Crème pâtissière (pastry cream)

Makes 2 ½ cups

- 1 ¾ C half-and-half

- 1 t vanilla

- 4 egg yolks

- 1/2  sugar

- 1/3 C flour

- pinch of salt

- 1 C cream

Heat. Warm up the half-and-half in a saucepan over low heat (don’t let it bubble or boil). Remove pan from heat.

Mix. Whip the egg yolks and sugar in a bowl until very thick and pale yellow. This can easily take up to 10 minutes! Stir in the flour and salt. Very gradually, add the warm half-and-half to the yolk mixture, stirring with a whisk.

Cook. Transfer the mix into a saucepan. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring continuously with a wooden spoon. When the mixture starts to bubble, lower heat slightly and continue stirring for 1-2 minutes. Remove from heat and add vanilla.

Strain. Using a single mesh strainer, strain the cream into a bowl.

Cool. Cover the cream with plastic wrap, placing the plastic right up against the surface of the  cream to avoid the cream forming a skin. Poke a few holes in the plastic wrap to allow steam to escape. refrigerate until cold — this takes about 30 minutes.

Whip. Whip the cream. Fold it into the pastry cream.

Chocolate glaze.

- 4 oz sem-sweet (~55%) or bittersweet (~70%) chocolate

- 1 t vegetable shortening (we used Crisco)

- 1 T corn syrup

Melt. Using a serrated knife, shave the chocolate and put it into a bowl. Fill a small pot with about an inch of water and put over medium heat. Place the bowl on top of the pot, making sure that the bottom of the bowl doesn’t touch the water. Once about half of the chocolate has melted, remove the bowl from the pot.

Stir. Stir the chocolate until it has completely melted. Add the shortening and corn syrup and continue to stir. Let the chocolate cool until it reaches the desired consistency. I found it easiest to dip the puffs into the chocolate when it was lukewarm.

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grill? yes I will!

In the months before Christmas, I started a class
of chopping and stirring and cooking with gas.

I dragged myself up every Sunday at eight.
Luck’ly they set out strong coffee to wait.

Knife skills and techniques were taught on week one,
but at home were dull knives that weren’t much fun.

Week two was eggs that we poached, whipped, and scrambled.
We made a soufflé even I could have handled.

On week three, we learned that a good stock should jiggle,
but without salt and acid, soup surely will fizzle.

The fourth week was braising, keep temperatures low,
to make cabbage and short ribs and osso bucco.

When week six was sauces, I made béchamel;
I took home a pear so the recipe I could tell.

But wait! You’ve just noticed — where’s the fifth week?
Oh you smart readers, nothing past you can I sneak!

Week five as you know, was on hot hot hot heat.
For my part, I set forth with grilling some meat.

Other types of dry heat, we also did try,
from broiling to roasting to deep deep fat fry.

You may not have realized, but until that day,
I’d never tried frying or grilling, no way!

I faced deep fat frying just earlier this week,
with sufganiyot – fancy doughnuts, so to speak.

But I think grill cooking and taking out trash
are jobs for a man, and I’ll flutter my lash.

Though I’m planning to try – only grilling, of course -
with a grill pan I own, or another resource.

I’ll start this “man’s task” with a feminine flair,
with fruit and with teacake and other sweet fare.

And, in case you are wondering, although I will grill,
the trash taking out will remain my worst skill.

 

Grilled fruit

A lot of different fruits can apparently be grilled. While my cooking partner and I were waiting for our meat to marinate, we scrounged around the kitchen for other things to grill. We found pears and grapefruits and set to work. We cut the fruit into good sized chunks that wouldn’t fall down the grill grates. For the pears, we made 4 cuts around the core. For the grapefruit, we made about 4 slices perpendicular to the fruit segments. We then brushed all surfaces with a little olive oil (I’m sure melted butter would be great too), a nice sprinkle or two of sugar, and a small pinch of salt (if you want). Fire up the grill. Or, if you are like me and only have indoor cookery, put your grill pan on medium heat. When your grill (pan) is hot, place the fruit on the grill. Let it cook for about 5 minutes on each side for harder fruit (apples, pears) or 2-3 mintues per side for citrus. Just like with meat, the fruit is ready when it releases itself from the grill (pan) – if you have to tug at it, leave it be for a minute more.

Grilled cranberry-orange zinfadel bread with orange mascarpone cream

We made these “breads” as tea cakes in mini loaf pans. They would obviously work just as well in 2 large loaf pans. I think the cake is great as is, but excellent with the extra texture and flavor from the grill. When you make the dough – think of it  like pancake batter – you don’t want to over mix. Instead you want the ingredients to just barely come together.

For the cranberry-orange zinfandel bread:

- 1/4 C oil

- 2 eggs, slightly beaten

- 4 C flour

- 1 1/2 C sugar

- 1 t salt

- 1 T baking powder

- 1 t baking soda

- 1 C walnuts or pecans

- 3 C whole raw cranberries

- 2/3 C fresh orange juice

- 1/2 C white zinfancel

- 2 oz melted butter

For the orange mascarpone cream:

- 1 C (8 oz) mascarpone

- 1 t orange zest

- 3 T fresh orange juice

- 1 T orange liqueur (Cointreau, triple sec, Grand Marnier)

- 1 T confectioner’s sugar

Prep. Preheat oven to 350°F. Lightly butter/oil and flour 2 loaf pans, 6 mini loaf pans, or 2 dozen muffin tins. Toast nuts in the heated oven for 10-15 minutes – the second you start smelling the nuts, grab them from the oven. Check them at about 7 minutes. When the cool a bit, chop them up into medium sized chunks.

Mix. In a large bowl, mix oil and eggs well. Then add the dry ingredients – flour, sugar, salt, baking powder, and baking soda. Stir this all together until it just barely combines — the mix will be a bit crumbly. Fold in nuts and cranberries. Then add juice and zinfancel and stir until just blended.

Bake. Pour batter into the greased and floured pans. Bake for approximately 1 hour or until a toothpick comes out dry.

Grill. Turn on  your grill (or get your grill pan ready). When the bread is cool, slice it into 3/4-inch slices. Brush with melted butter and grill slices 3-4 minutes on each side.

Make mascarpone cream. In a bowl, whisk mascarpone until smooth. Add zest, orange juice, orange liqueur, and sugar and whisk until well blended.

Eat. Top a grilled cake slice (or two) with a big blob of mascarpone cream.

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between mouthfuls

Happy Hanukkah everyone!

This year, I started celebrating the night before the first night of the holiday. I didn’t light any candles, but I could have said a shehecheyanu — the blessing traditionally recited on the first night of Hanukkah, other holidays, and special occasions. This was a special occasion alright. Because I fried.

And fried.

And fried.

Yesterday, a friend sent me from Israel a recipe for sufganiyot. Excited to try a batch that very night, I left work a little early to pick up what I needed. A bag of flour. A bag of sugar. A dozen eggs. Yeast. And two gallons of oil.

That’s right. Two gallons.

And then I rushed home to mix and knead the dough so it would have enough time to rise in time for dessert.

An hour later, my friend Ilana came over. She claimed she could smell the sweet rising dough from her apartment a few blocks away.

We checked the dough to see if it had doubled. We looked at each other and shrugged. Neither of us had ever made sufganiyot before. We decided the dough wasn’t quite ready and covered it back up with a damp towel.

I poured wine and heated up soup as we settled in to watch a few recent Top Chef episodes. We’re a few weeks behind, so please don’t ruin the surprise and tell us what happens. If you can restrain yourselves, then I’ll be sure to share with you really really soon the recipe for the mushroom soup that we ate.

One glass of wine and half a Top Chef in, I checked the dough and we were ready to roll. Literally.

I sprinkled flour on the counter, grabbed a rolling pin and set to work. The soft elastic dough gave way, fanning out across the granite. Ilana grabbed a glass from the cabinet and cut circles out of the dough. I gathered the scraps and re-rolled them, and Ilana cut out the rest.

I floured a pair of cookie sheets and we gently lifted the rounds from the counter and slid them on to the sheets to rise again.

An hour later, the flat rounds had become nice and plump, with a slight jiggle when I reached out to touch their smooth skin.

The oil started to bubble in my new cocotte (thanks, mom and dad!) placed over the biggest burner on my stove. Ilana dropped the first dough scrap into the pool. In a flood of bubbles, it browned up fast. Too fast. We lowered the heat. The second and third scraps quickly browned too. We lowered the heat again. And then lowered in another scrap. It floated on the oil, staying pale and wan. We turned up the heat. With the fifth scrap came a flurry of teeny tiny bubbles and slow trickle of larger ones. The triangular scrap puffed up even more, turning golden and then coffee-with-a-touch-of-milk brown.

A quick taste and we knew we were ready for the real deal.

I scooched the first doughnut towards the edge of the cookie sheet, helping it along the way with a spatula, and slid it into the oil. A quick bob in the oil and then a float, it turned golden to brown and was ready to be flipped. A few more minutes and it landed on the paper towel-lined countertop. Several more batches and we had an army of plump beauties lined up at attention.

Armed with a new turkey baster, I pierced the side of one of the sufganiyot, gently nudged the tip into the center and slowly squeezed the bulb, drawing the tip backwards to the edge, leaving a trail of jam behind.

We tore open this first sufganiyah and, between mouthfuls, filled the rest.

The final touch – I showered them with powdered sugar.

As we plucked up the sufganiyot, they left their chubby little outlines behind.

Sufganiyot

These doughnuts are traditionally filled with bright reddish-pink jelly though in Israel they come in all flavors. I used raspberry jam. Next time I’ll try dulce de leche. Using a drinking glass to cut the dough, we were able to make about a dozen doughnuts (but only eight made it to the office with me this morning).

- 2 packets dry yeast (or 2 T)
- 3/4 C warm water (body temperature — I take it from the tap)
- 1 C whole milk (you can use water instead if you’d like to keep the sufganiyot non-dairy)
- 3/4 C sugar
- 6 T shortening or margarine (Crisco works great here)
- 1 t salt
- 2 eggs
- 5 C flour (or more)
- 1 gallon (or more) vegetable oil (vegetable or peanut oil is best; canola oil works ok too)
- confectioner’s sugar

Proof. Mix yeast with warm water and a pinch of sugar. After about 5 minutes, it will foam up.

Heat. Warm milk in a pan over low heat until it reaches body temperature.

Mix. In a large bowl, mix sugar, shortening, and salt until creamy (I used my barely-functional waiting-for-the-new-one-to-arrive mixer on low speed and it hobbled along, so you could probably do just as well the old-fashioned way). Add eggs and mix. Add yeast mixture and milk and continue to mix. Add 2 cups of the flour. Beat in the remaining flour a half-cup at a time until the dough is very elastic and no longer sticks to the bowl. I had to add a total of 6 cups.

Knead. Knead dough for 5-10 minutes. I started kneading in my mixer and then finished up the last few minutes by hand on a floured counter.

Rise. Put dough in a greased bowl. Cover with a damp towel and let rise in a warm place until it doubles in bulk – at least an hour. I heat my oven to the lowest temperature possible (170ºF) and then turn it off and leave the covered bowl inside to rise.

Knead. Once dough has doubled, knead it again briefly.

Roll. Roll the dough out on a floured counter until it is about 1/2 thick.

Cut. Using a drinking glass to cut the dough into rounds. Re-roll the scraps and cut the rest of the rounds. These (the rounds from the re-rolled dough) will need to rise a little bit longer than the others. Keep the remaining scraps to test the oil.

Rise again. Place the rounds on a well-floured cookie sheet (ideally the kind without edges) so the dough is easier to slide right off into the oil. Let rise again until double, at least another hour. The rounds will get nice and round.

Heat. Fill a really wide pot with high sides with oil and heat over low to medium heat. Remember those scraps left over? Gently slide one into the oil. If one side browns in 1-2 minutes, the oil is too hot. If it takes more than 5 minutes, the oil is not hot enough. You’ll probably need to test and adjust the temperature a few times. The oil is perfect when you it forms a lot of teeny tiny rolling bubbles around the dropped dough. I checked the oil temperature with a meat thermometer – it was 310ºF. I’m not sure how accurate using a meat thermometer is; most recipes call for the oil to be 350ºF.

Fry! Once you’ve got the oil at the right temperature, lower the cookie sheet close to the surface of the oil and scootch your first roly-poly round into the oil. Tiny bubbles should surround the doughnut. When the first side puffs up and reaches a nice brown (a bit darker than “golden”), flip it over. It took us about 3-4 minutes per side. And we made about 3-4 per batch.

Drain. Cover your counter or a few plates with several layers with paper towels. Using a slotted spoon, remove the sufganiyot from the oil onto the paper towels and drain off excess oil.

Fill. Load a turkey baster with whatever filling you want to use. Poke it into the side of a doughnut as far as it will go. Slowly and steadily squeeze the filling into the sufganiyah while gently pulling back to the edge of the doughnut.

Dust. Sift confectioner’s sugar over the top of the sufganiyot.

Eat. The sufganiyot are best fresh, but they will last about 24 hours if well wrapped.

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belle of the ball

Today was the sixth and final class of my cooking techniques course.

But wait, you might be asking yourself, isn’t it a six-week course? And then you’ll calculate, haven’t you only posted four classes? Finally you’ll wonder, what happened to class number five?

I can’t put anything past you guys.

Turns out that one of the recipes that we made today in sauces class was just too good to not share immediately.

I hope you don’t mind that I’ve gone out of order. I’m almost done writing up recipes from our fifth class on dry heat – grilling, broiling, roasting, frying. And eventually I’ll share more about the sauces that we made today — the five “mother” (base) sauces and several “small” (derived) sauces). But for now, let’s just get on with it.

But wait, you might be asking yourself as you scroll past all this text, where are the pictures? Why is there only one?

Turns out, I left my camera at home today. Ironically, as I struggled this morning to wake up, snoozing for 4 minutes and 59 seconds at a time, I dreamt  (nightmared?) about driving to class, left hand on the wheel, right rifling through my purse. Two phones. Two sets of keys. One pair of sunglasses. One wallet. One lip balm. One lipstick. One eyeliner. Zero camera.

Seven snoozes later, I jumped in the shower, threw on some semblance of an outfit, and swung my purse onto the passenger seat of my car. Halfway to class, I glanced over at my purse. No rifling necessary, I knew my camera was sitting alone on my desk. Both hands on the wheel, I sighed.

In class, my partner and I worked on a béchamel sauce that served as the base for potato and zucchini noodle-less “lasagna.”

As the class drew to a close, we filled the center of the table a with a parade of platters. Fashionably late to the table came the belle of the ball: red-tinged pears floating on a lake of vanilla-flecked crème anglaise and drizzled with caramel.

I had been watching this dish come together all morning. Peeking under the parchment at the pears. Sliding a spoon into the crème anglaise. Scraping up the last bits of caramel coating the nearly-empty pan. You know how much I love pears with red wine and caramel.

The table finally set, everyone turned to me. This would make a great picture. Can you photograph my dish? Oh, how about catching it at this angle.

Empty-handed, I shrugged. I forgot my camera at home, I said. I shrugged again. But maybe I can take one or two things home to photograph. If there’s anything left.

I counted as one-by-one my classmates moved towards the pears. One, two, three pears onto plates. Another split between a couple. Four into little bowls. Five more onto plates. Three more swimming on the platter.

Does anyone mind if I take the last few pears home? I just want to take a few pictures. Because I left my camera at home.

What a good excuse.

No one minded.

~~~~~

Before I keep you from the recipe any longer, I did want to thank all of you who have voted for Kosher Camembert as the 2011 Best Kosher Food Blog.I was nominated alongside some of my favorite kosher blogs and websites and you should definitely check out the competition. Of course, if you do like my blog, please do vote, share my blog, and spread the word.

~~~~~

Pears poached in red wine with crème anglaise and caramel

This recipe can be as simple or as complex as you want it.  In a healthy mood? Make only the poached pears. Red wine give you a headache? Use white wine or tea or even water instead of the red wine and adding some cinnamon (or your favorite spice) to the poaching liquid for extra flavor. Want to add a little more sweetness? Freeze the poaching liquid and make sorbet. Love vanilla? Make the crème anglaise. Love ice cream? Double the crème anglaise recipe and freeze it. Hosting a fancy dinner? Make the caramel and crème anglaise.

And then invite me to dinner.

A quick note on making all three recipes in parallel. I’d start by preparing the pears and while they’re poaching, start the crème anglaise. While the vanilla is steeping in the milk for the crème anglaise, finish up the pears. I wouldn’t do anything while making the caramel.

For poached pears: These are generally served chilled and can actually be refrigerated for up to 2 days.

- 1 2-inch vanilla bean

- 2 C light red wine

- 1 C sugar

- 1 C water

- 2 strips orange zest

- 1 strip lemon zest

- 4 small Bosc pears (~1 1/4 lbs.)

Simmer. Scrape the seeds from the vanilla beans into a saucepan (large enough to fit all the pears). Add vanilla pod, wine, sugar, water, and zests and  bring to a simmer.

Peel. Peel, halve, and core the pears (or keep them whole). We used a melon baller to core the pears.

Keep simmering. Add the pears to the simmering liquid (they should be mostly submerged in the poaching liquid), cover with parchment paper, and cook over medium-high heat until just tender - this can take anywhere from 15-45 minutes, depending on the type, ripeness, and thickness of the pears. Our Boscs were pretty firm and cut in half, and they took about 30 minutes.

Chill. Chill the pears for up to a day or two in their poaching liquid.

Optional: Freeze. Taste the poaching liquid – you want it to be really sweet, almost too sweet, for sorbet. Add some sugar if you want. Strain out the citrus and vanilla bean, and throw it in an ice cream maker. Or, freeze the liquid on a flat pan and then use an immersion blender to aerate. Or, do the same with crème anglaise and you’ve got vanilla ice cream.

Optional: Reduce. If you want, reduce the liquid down to a syrup and strain out the citrus and vanilla bean.

For caramel sauce: You do have to watch caramel very closely because it can burn. More importantly, it can burn you. When you add the butter and cream, it will bubble up violently and can splatter. So use a long whisk. Very long. Also, you can use different liquids; for example, you can replace the water with red wine or lavender water. To make lavender water, heat water with dried lavender buds and let infuse for a few hours (or longer) and strain before using.

- 1 C sugar

- 1/2 C water

- a few sprinkles of lemon juice

- 6 T butter, cut into chunks

- 1/2 C heavy cream

- salt

Heat and stir. In a large (2-3 quart, with high sides) heavy bottomed saucepan, heat sugar, water and a few drops of lemon juice over medium heat. Stir occasionally until sugar is dissolved (a “simple syrup“).

Stop stirring. Once sugar mixture comes to a boil, stop stirring.

Boil. Boil mixture, swirling pan as needed until a caramel forms – should be a dark golden brown. Remember, don’t stir.

Be careful.  Immediately add the butter to the pan and whisk until melted. The mix will foam up. Once the butter is melted, take the pan off the heat, pause for a few seconds, and then add cream, whisking until smooth. The mix will foam up now too. Once everything is whisked together, you’re done. Add a few pinches of salt. Keep warm over very low heat until you’re ready to serve.

For crème anglaise: Crème anglaise is a cold sauce that’s the base for ice cream. It’s also called English or stirred custard.

- 1 vanilla bean

- 1 C milk

- 4 egg yolks

- 1/3 C sugar

- pinch of salt

- ice

Scald. Scrape the seeds from the vanilla bean into a saucepan with milk, and add vanilla bean pod as well. Scald the milk. The milk is scalded when you put your finger in it and it’s hot (not burning).

Steep. Take the milk off the heat and let the vanilla bean steep for 30-60 hours.

Whisk.  Lightly whisk the egg yolks. Gradually add the sugar and a pinch of salt, and keep whisking until you get a pale yellow sauce that forms ribbons when dropped from a spoon.

Pour and stir. Remove vanilla pod from the cooled milk and slowly pour it in a steady stream into the egg yolks and sugar, while stirring.

Heat and stir. Place the mixture over medium  heat and keep stirring constantly until the mixture is smooth and coats the back of the wooden spoon. DO NOT BOIL – temperature should not exceed 180ºF.

Strain. Strain through a fine mesh seive into a bowl set over an ice water bath.

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but first

Today was stocks and soups day in my cooking class. There will be much more on that later, but first, a quick post and recipe.

Last night was closet cleaning out time.

Actually, it’s always closet cleaning out time at my place. This time, the cleaning extended to the fridge and pantry. I used up 4 cans of black beans, a can of crushed tomatoes, a bunch of onions and garlic, and some labne from the fridge.

Voilà – soup.

Black bean soup with cumin labne

The inspiration for this soup came from Smitten Kitchen’s own black bean soup with toasted cumin crema. I ditched the peppers, used canned beans instead of dried, added tomatoes, and substituted labne for the crème fraîche. My soup is thinner and more  brown in color (due to the tomatoes).

- olive oil

- 2 onions

- 3T chopped garlic (3-4 cloves)

- 1 T chopped chipotle pepper in adobo sauce (this was about a single chipotle pepper plus adobo sauce)

- 1 T (or more) cumin

- 1 C crushed canned tomatoes

- 4 15.5 oz cans black beans (I used Goya)

- 5-6 C water

- lime juice

- labne (thick middle eastern yogurt – similar to sour cream)

Prep. Chop onions and garlic. Finely chop chipotle. Drain beans and sprinkle with some baking soda (helps make them more digestible).

Cook. Saute onion in oil until brown, about 8-10 mins. Add garlic, chipotle (and all that adobo sauce), and spices. Cook over low-medium heat for another 5 minutes. Add tomatoes and water. Simmer about 15 minutes. Rinse the baking soda off the black beans, and dump them into the soup. After another 10 minutes, whizz with an immersion blender and add salt and lime juice to taste.

Top. Thin labne with some warm water and mix with cumin. Add a dollop of labne to the soup and sprinkle a little cumin on top.

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Welcome to week 2 of my cooking techniques course. Last week was knife skills. This week, eggs.

Of course, I walked into class this morning with all of my very very very dull knives to sharpen. Brian, one of the school’s purchasing managers and my new best friend, sharpened all my knives for me. But more on that later.

First, let’s get to the food.

A few tidbits about eggs. The fresher the egg, the thicker and more dense the white (“albumen”) and the more prominent the little umbilical cord (“chalazae”). To check for freshness before cracking, place in a glass of water – if it sinks it’s fresh; if it floats, that means that the air cell (that little bubble you sometimes see in hard-cooked eggs) is big and the egg is less fresh. Since eggs shells are gas permeable, the older the egg, the more air enters, creating a big air cell.

Always crack an egg on a flat surface (a countertop is great) to avoid getting shells in the eggs.

Separate yolks from whites using your hand rather than passing from jagged egg shell to jagged egg shell.

Eggs boil at 180ºF, water at 212ºF. So be careful when adding eggs to hot water and other liquids if you don’t want them to scramble.

Always beat egg whites at room temperature. Copper bowls are best, but if you don’t have one, add a pinch of cream of tartar or sugar to help stabilize the whites.

We cracked and cooked no less than sixty eggs, folks. That’s more than five dozen. And we definitely cracked five baker’s dozen because some of them inevitably made it into the garbage. Between the twelve of us, we pretty much ate them all. If you’re counting, that’s about 5 eggs per person.

When I was first learning to speak French, my teacher used English-French puns to help us learn pronunciation. In french, un œuf is an egg. The pronunciation is not entirely obvious, especially when  you’ve only barely mastered the alphabet. So she told us, “one egg is enough.” One egg, un œuf is pronounced like “enough.” Sort of. If you don’t think about it too hard.

Puns are never funny by the time you explain them.

Moving on and back to cooking, we started class this morning with a few egg basics.

Hard-cooked eggs.

Note, I did not say hard-boiled eggs. Because hard-cooked eggs are not boiled. Instead, you put the eggs in a single layer, add water to cover eggs by at least 1 inch, cover and bring water to a boil and then remove the pan from the heat. Let eggs stand in hot water for 10 minutes. That’s it. Run under cold water or put in an ice bath until completely cooled. A little trick – the air cell usually forms at the bottom (the fat end), and if you crack it there, it’s easier to peel because you more easily get under the shell membrane (that thin, translucent film under the shell).

Soft-cooked (“coddled”) eggs.

Same as hard-cooked, but you let the eggs stand in the water off the heat for only 4-6 minutes.

Poached eggs.

This is the basis of the eggs Benedict (no bacon for me) that my team made. In a saucepan, bring 2-3 inches of water to a boil. Here’s a trick so you don’t have to pull out your ruler: unless you have abnormally long or short fingers, your index finger is about 3 inches from tip to palm. From finger tip to second joint is about 1.5 inches. So, just stick your finger into the (not yet boiling) water to make sure you have enough (un œuf!).

Prepare a bowl of ice water next to your stove. Boil the water and then lower the heat to a simmer. Break a cold egg into a small bowl. Hold the bowl very close to the water (I actually put the bottom of the bowl into the water) and quickly tip the egg into the simmering water. Cook until the white is set and yolk begins to thicken but is not hard. This takes about 3-4 minutes. To test the egg, gently lift it out with a slotted spoon and gingerly touch the white. It should feel firm. If it’s not yet done, slip it back in to the simmering water for another 15-30 seconds. When the egg is ready, take it out of the simmering water and slide it into the ice water for about half a minute to stop the cooking. Then drain on a paper towel.

To make the eggs benedict, toast an English muffin brushed with butter, top with poached egg and then hollandaise (see below). If you’re eating bacon/ham, put it between the muffin and egg.

Next, we moved on to egg-based “mother sauces.” The main components of hollandaise and mayonnaise are egg yolk, fat, acid, and an emulsifying aid. Hollandaise is a cooked sauce, mayonnaise is uncooked. Hollandaise uses butter, lemon juice, and cayenne. Mayonnaise uses oil, lemon juice or vinegar, and mustard (dry or prepared). After mixing the yolks with the acid and emulsifier, add the fat very slowly. Really slowly. Teaspoon by teaspoon, and whisk to incorporate in between additions. You can increase the amount of fat towards the end, adding a tablespoon at a time. Season with salt and pepper and other flavorings at the end.

Hollandaise. 

Melt 8 ounces butter.  In a saucepan, mix together 1/4 C water 2 T lemon juice and a pinch of cayenne pepper and reduce over medium heat down to 2 T. Why take 2 T lemon juice, dilute it, and then reduce it back to 2 T? Here’s the deal:  heating an acid activates it, so you need to dilute it with water so it’s not too strong, but you only want about 2 T of acid for the sauce. Cool slightly, and whisk in 3 egg yolks over very low heat until the mix is thick and creamy. Remove from heat and pour warm melted butter in teaspoon by teaspoon, whisking constantly. If the sauce thickens too much, add a little warm water to thin it out; if you need to reheat the sauce, add some extra water and warm over low heat, whisking periodically.

Mayonnaise.

Whisk together 2 egg yolks, 1/4 t dry mustard (or 1 t regular mustard), 1 t lemon juice or wine vinegar. Slowly whisk in 1 C vegetable oil teaspoon by teaspoon as with the hollandaise. If the mix gets too thick, add a little water or lemon juice to dilute. Add salt to taste.

A few mayo notes. The ratio of yolk:oil ranges from 1:1/2 C to 1:1 C. Commercial mayo tends to go to heavy on the oil — that’s why it’s lighter colored than ones you make at  home. If you “break” your mayonnaise, i.e., added your fat too quickly without incorporating, you can add another egg yolk and then slowly slowly whisk in more oil.

Mix cooked egg yolks with mayonnaise, mustard, and finely chopped chives and fill hard-cooked egg whites for deviled eggs.

Cheese soufflé was a masterpiece. While I wasn’t able to make this myself, I was an interloper, trying to pick up as many tips as I could.

For a soufflé, it’s important to have your “mise en place” all prepared. Greasing a soufflé dish and sprinkle with cheese. Make a collar out of aluminum foil to help the soufflé rise: rip a piece of foil long enough to wrap around the dish, and then grease top half of the foil, followed by a sprinkle of cheese. Cut a piece of string long enough to tie around the dish.

Preheat oven to 350ºF. (For a dessert soufflé, bake at 400ºF  because you want the inside to be a bit gooey.)

Then make a béchamel. In a saucepan, scald 1 C milk (it’s scalding when you stick your finger in and you yank it out because it’s too hot; no need to boil). In another saucepan, make a roux by melting 3 T butter until foam subsides and whisk in 3 T flour. Cook roux for ~ 2 minutes while whisking. Add half the scalded milk, whisk, and then add the remaining milk and whisk again. Bring to a boil while stirring, reduce down to a simmer, and cook until thickened. Then turn off the heat. Season with salt, pepper, a few grates of nutmeg and a pinch of cayenne. (Nutmeg is a great complement to dairy, making cream creamier and cheese cheesier.)

To the béchamel, add 3 egg yolks one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Stir in 1/2 C grated cheese (we used Gruyère).

Clean a copper bowl really well – wipe down with a vinegar-salt solution, rinse with water, and wipe completely dry. Beat 4 cold egg whites until stiff and glossy. (Let’s be honest…at home, I will probably just use my mixer with a pinch of cream of tartar.) Stir 1/4 of the egg whites into the cheese mixture. Then pour the cheese mixture into the egg whites. Use a spatula to fold the remaining egg whites into the cheese.

Immediately and gently, spoon the soufflé mixture into the prepared dish – fill about 1/2 inch from top. Tie the aluminum collar around the dish (cheese obviously facing in).

Bake on the bottom rack until a skewer comes out clean, about 30 minutes. Once the soufflé goes in the oven, don’t open the door for at least 20 minutes. Don’t even touch the door.

While the soufflés were baking, I brought my knives downstairs for a little sharpening. Actually I brought two blocks full of knives (one dairy, one meat) to sharpen. Actually, I brought two blocks full of knives for Brian to sharpen. After a quick inspection, he identified the five that were worth saving. He also scolded me for throwing my knives in the dishwasher.

Brian sharpened each knife on three or four surfaces and then a final honing on a steel. I watched. Well, until I heard that the soufflés were coming out of the oven and I rushed upstairs to snap a few photos.

We also made a few quiches, a frittata di cipolle (onion omelette), and pipérade and scrambled egg (a dish from the Basque region of the Pyrenees). To seal the deal, we made strawberry basil black pepper ice cream.

Luckily, we don’t have to clean all of our own dishes. Because you know how I hate to wash dishes.

Are you ready for another FrEnglish pun?

What happened when three cats fell in the lake?

Un deux trois quatre cinq

Get it? You probably know that un, deux, trois, quatre, cinq is counting from one to five in French. But in FrEnglish, you can read the first three words in French as un de trois, meaning one of three and the last two words transliterated into English as cats sank. So, what happened when the three cats fell in the lake? One of the three cats sank.

Am I the only one giggling?

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foolproof

Contrary to what you may believe, I do, every once in a while, make simple dinners and desserts. More often than you’d think, in fact. I’ve been trying my hand at a few classics. I mean, classics are classic for a reason. They’re tried and true. Reliable. Foolproof. So it’s high time I shared with you a few classic, good old standbys that I can throw together after a long day of work and know that they’ll be good. This way, you can throw them together too.

This look into classic dishes was inspired by a slow food campaign at my company. Our café sold, for $10 (!!!), all the ingredients (except for a chicken) necessary for a hearty,  healthy dinner for a family. They even provided recipes – chicken, salad, greens and pasta, and fresh fruit for dessert. This was too good to pass up. So I lugged home my bag of groceries and laminated recipe card.

I made the chicken with just a few modifications, using chicken cutlets instead of a whole chicken and a nice addition of lemon juice. I used chard to make a minestrone. And voilà - a few dinners and lunches for the week.

These recipes aren’t rocket science, but they’re great ones to have in your repertoire. They pretty much use ingredients that are probably already in your fridge and pantry. The most difficult step is rough chopping some vegetables. And then you leave the dish to cook while you write a blog post. You just need to check on the chicken or soup every once in a while. C’est tout. That’s all there is, folks.

Chicken and root vegetables

This chicken takes about 45 minutes to an hour, from start to finish. Most of the time, the chicken is just baking in the oven and you need to check it every 10-15 minutes to mix and baste.

- 1+ pound of boneless skinless chicken breast (cutlets) – or you could use chicken parts, or boneless thighs

- 3 large carrots

- 3 large parsnips

- 4-5 celery stalks

- 1 onion

- several cloves of garlic

- 3-4 sprigs fresh rosemary

- olive oil

- 1/4 C lemon juice (to taste)

Prep. Preheat oven to 425ºF. Rinse chicken and pat dry. Rough chop all the vegetables – try to get them approximately the same size (except the garlic of course).

Fill. Scatter the vegetables in a pan large enough to fit them more or less in a single layer. Douse with olive oil (maybe 2T) and sprinkle generously with salt and freshly ground pepper. Season the chicken with salt and pepper too. Place the chicken on top of the vegetables and douse the chicken with a little more olive oil (another 1-2 T) – you can omit this if you are using chicken with skin. Pour in the lemon juice.

Bake. Bake the chicken for about 45 minutes, stirring and basting every 10-15 minutes. Add water or more lemon juice if you notice that there aren’t many juices and the corners of your pan are starting to burn. The chicken is officially ready when it reaches an internal temperature of 160ºF. I generally take mine out at 155ºF, but I’m wild and crazy. If the vegetables don’t cook as fast as the chicken, take the chicken out when it is ready and let the vegetables finish baking. Add the chicken back to the pan to warm back up for 5 minutes.

Eat. Take it out. Let the chicken rest for 5 minutes, and then serve it straight from the pan. You can even eat it out of the pan if no one is looking.

 

Chard minestrone

I found this recipe in the New York Times earlier this year. You can freeze the soup before you add the chickpeas and chard. When you want to eat, just re-heat and add in chickpeas and chard for about 10 minutes.

- olive oil

- 6 carrots

- 1 onion

- 1 T chopped garlic (yup, I use the stuff in the jar)

- several handfuls of chard – separate stems from leaves

- 1 6-ounce can tomato paste

- 7 C water

- 1 t dry thyme

- 2 bay leaves

- 1 parmesan rind

- 2 15-ounce cans garbanzo beans

- 1 C pasta

- extra parmesan

Prep. Rough chop the carrots and onions - try to get them approximately the same size chunks. Wash the chard really well. Remove the stems from the chard and rough chop as you would celery. Make a few lengthwise cuts in the chard leaves and then cut them widthwise into thin strips (“chiffonade” if you want to be all fancy about it).

Simmer. Pour enough olive oil to coat the bottom of your pot. Add all the vegetables except for the chard leaves. Saute until they start to soften, about 5 minutes. Add tomato paste, water, thyme, bay leaves, and parm. Cover and simmer for 30 minutes or until the vegetables are cooked through. Add salt and pepper to taste. Be careful not to set the heat too high because the soup will  bubble over. Believe me – I know.

Store (optional). If you’re going to eat the soup at a later time, you can freeze or refrigerate the soup at this point. When you want to serve, proceed with the rest of the steps.

Simmer again. Rinse the chickpeas and add along with the chard leaves. Simmer for another 5-10 minutes until the chickpeas heat through and the chard wilts but still keeps its color.

Boil. Don’t boil the soup! Boil the pasta as directed, to just shy of al dente. Spoon into the soup right before serving (otherwise it will absorb the hot soup liquid and get overcooked and mushy).

Eat. Carefully. Let the soup cool off a bit before eating. I managed to burn my lip – and I was in pretty bad shape. Sprinkle with extra parm if you want.

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