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Saturday, December 18, 2010

Spiced Butter-Glazed Carrots - French Fridays with Dorie

When I think of glazed carrots with ginger, I think of a recipe from The Silver Palate Cookbook that I've been making for years: it's just carrots, butter, brown sugar, and powdered ginger. It's nice, but I think I like this recipe even better--without the sugar, the natural sweetness of the carrots shines through. Good carrots are essential--it's worth paying extra for organic from the supermarket. (Better, of course, when you get them from your Farmer's Market or CSA, but in Minnesota, those options are long gone).
The fresh ginger adds a cleaner, sharper taste than powdered ginger, and smells nice too. Jim always claims not to like ginger, so I sliced it as thin as I could without cutting myself (always a plus).

Carrots, garlic, ginger, and smashed cardamom pods are sauteed in butter. Onions are supposed to be in the mix, but I had just used my last onion for something that needed it more.
How I love silicone spatulas, by the way. I always feel that I'm doing something wrong when I subject it to direct heat, remembering the times I have melted spatulas. But they've never failed me.

Then pour in some chicken broth, and simmer for about 15 minutes. If you didn't want to use chicken broth, you could use white wine, water, or vegetable broth.

The instructions tell you to remove the cover, raise the heat, and cook until the liquid has evaporated and all that's left are butter-glazed carrots. That seemed kind of like a magic trick, but it worked.

And there you have it--spiced, butter-glazed carrots. Naturally sweet, with an occasional bite of ginger, garlic, or cardamom interrupting the sweetness. A dish that a vegetable-lover will love and a vegetable-hater might just tolerate.

A simple supper paired with a gruyere tart with caramelized onions in a thyme-flecked crust.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Gruyere Tart - a Gutsy Cooks Selection

The Gutsy Cooks are an ambitious crew. They generally include two or three different recipes for their weekly choice, and I, less ambitious, generally choose only one. In part, it's because this is more food than I can eat: this week's menu included not only the gruyere tart, but also an orange and carrot soup and an arugula salad with shaved Parmesan. I might eat a three-course meal like this at a restaurant, but not in my own home. This might lead you to believe that the real reason I don't make all three choices is because I'm lazy. You're probably right.
At any rate, the pairing of the orange/carrot soup with the tart gave me a brilliant idea: I'd make Dorie Greenspan's spiced, glazed carrots as a side dish, and then I'd have two blog posts done with one meal.

This tart is not difficult to make, even though (not surprisingly), it requires the making of tart dough. As usual, the instructions in this cookbook are minimal--this wouldn't be the way you'd want to make your first pie crust--but it turned out to be a good, easy-to-make crust. I liked the addition of thyme in this savory pie crust. (I don't like the fact that the book never includes salt in recipes for pastry? What's up with that?)

Still, not only was the dough easy to roll out, it also fit neatly into the tart pan with no tears or bare spots, so perhaps there's a method in the minimal-instruction madness.

Love these pie weights! I used to weight the crust down with beans or rice, all of which had to be thrown away after one use. I can use these over and over again. They do make a terrible rattle-y noise when they fall on the floor.

There's plenty of time to whip up the filling while the crust is pre-baking. The $10-a-pound gruyere must be grated. It's less expensive than the tenderloin roast I made a few weeks ago.

Thinly slice an onion and slowly saute over low heat. After about 15 minutes, add a bit of sugar; that helps caramelize the onion. And grate nutmeg on top of the onions.

The instructions tells you to mix half of the grated cheese with the onions, and then scatter the remaining cheese on top of the onion. I did it, but I saw no point to this step, and still don't see one. I don't see why you'd end up with a noticeably better result than if you simply put the onions at the bottom of the tart and the grated cheese on top of the onions. Or vice versa. Or mix them all together. You end up eating them all in one bite anyway.

The onions and cheese are covered with a mixture of eggs, half and half, a little Dijon mustard, and salt and pepper. Then it's baked.
It's supposed to cool for 10 minutes before serving, but my carrots were already done, so I cut into it, expecting a runny, gooey mess. It held its shape, though, and ended up looking attractive, as well as tasting good.
More on the carrots on Friday.


Jim: "8 and one-half. We've had a series of winners from The Bad Cookbook. I guess I really am going to have to stop calling it that."
Marie: "8 and one-half too. This must be why we've been married so long."

Friday, December 10, 2010

Sweet and Spicy Cocktail Nuts - French Fridays with Dorie

With chili powder, pecans, and cashews, I'm pretty sure these nutty nibbles are not classically or authentically French. But the French know a good thing when they taste it, and I'm also pretty sure that any French person worth his or her salt would be more than willing to adopt these nuts as their own.

I used a mixture of whole almonds, pecans, and cashews. Although you could use almost any mixture, or even just one kind of nut, I fell entirely in love with the recipe exactly as I made it the first time. Dorie encourages you to play with the recipe--use a different nut mixture or spice mixture, but it's going to be hard for me to change anything.  To paraphrase Mr. Rogers, I like them just the way they are.

I also did the spice mixture exactly as written, except that I used one-quarter teaspoon of cayenne instead of a mere pinch. The result was definitely not too hot; if I changed anything next time, I think I'd up the amount of cayenne a little more.

Easy, easy, easy. The nuts are coated with a slightly beaten egg white, and then tossed with the sugar and spice mixture.

The most complicated step is separating the nuts as much as possible before they're baked so you don't end up with a glob. I baked them on a baking pan lined with parchment paper.
I can't think of any drink they wouldn't be good with. Because they're called "cocktail nuts," alcoholic drinks come first to mind, but I think they'd enhance the taste of most sodas as well.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Chicken a la King - a Gutsy Cooks Selection

Chicken a la King? I said to myself when I saw this week's assignment. Seriously? The bane of all banquet goers? Fodder for stand-up comedians? Well, I had been happy to sign up for a cooking group where I didn't have to do the choosing, so I figured I'd better just make whatever comes along without whining. The full menu also included spinach timbales and kasha pilaf, but all that together sounded like a massive dinner, so I skipped the sides.
And the chicken a la king? Well, it turned out to be pretty good, in its Plain-Jane way.
Although this recipe would be a fine way to use up leftover chicken, or turkey, for that matter, I didn't have any, so I poached a chicken breast. If you look carefully, you can see it at the bottom of the pan.

While the chicken is poaching, you cook some vegetables in a mixture of olive oil and butter. The idea is not to saute them, but just to let them soften a bit. I used onions, red pepper, and mushrooms. This is just a minor variation from the suggested onions, red and green pepper, and mushrooms if you're making turkey a la king. The book suggests substituting zucchini for the mushrooms if you're making chicken. The mushrooms sounded much better than the zucchini.

By the time the vegetables are softened, the chicken is done, cooled, and ready to cut up. You make a simple sauce by cooking flour for a few minutes (to get rid of the floury taste) in the vegetable/butter/oil, and then gradually adding a combination of chicken broth and milk. I added just a soupcon of heavy cream for a little extra richness.

Served over broad egg noodles, it was a nice Sunday supper on a snowy, cold December day. All my instincts told me to add some garlic or herbs or something. And you certainly could do that, but the mixture has a surprising amount of flavor just from the aromatic vegetables. We've become so used to cooking with Moroccan spices, or making authentic gnocchi, or choosing among ten different kinds of fresh chile peppers that we've forgotten about the recipes our mothers and grandmothers used. I think this recipe is a good example of how tasty plain food can be.
I would never make this for someone I was trying to impress, but I'd certainly make it if I actually had some kind of leftover poultry.
If you'd like the recipe, check out Monica's rendition, which she did fancy up a bit.

Jim: I'll give it an 8. Surprisingly good, but not great.
Marie: 8 for me too. A solid recipe. I'd like it with homemade biscuits.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Roast Beef Tenderloin with Red Current Jus - a Gutsy Cooks selection

Since I didn't host Thanksgiving dinner this year, I had no leftover turkey to use up over the weekend. A hearty roast beef dinner seemed like just the thing for a festive dinner for two. When I went to the grocery store, I saw that beef tenderloin was $25 a pound--it didn't take a math whiz to figure out that even making half of the recipe (which calls for two pounds of tenderloin) was going to cost me $25. Holy cow! (No pun intended). Still, I decided to go for broke (literally), and I made the purchase.

I was a little scared to handle this gold-plated hunk of meat, but all I had to do was brown it on all sides and then roast it until it hit 130 degrees. Being an uneven piece of meat, it bewildered my instant-read thermometer. Was it 138? Yes. Was it 115? Yes. Better too rare than overdone, I figured, so I removed it from the oven and let it rest.

When I started cutting it, I saw that it was quite rare, but I didn't need a sharp knife to carve it. A local restaurant here advertises the "Silver Butterknife Steak." This is a butterknife roast.
A delicious meal. I don't know if anything is worth $25 a pound, but this meat came close. It was tender but had a fine beefy flavor. I feared that the sauce, made with Ruby port, red currant jelly, and bacon, might be too sweet, but it was a perfect blend of tart, sweet, and salty. It didn't mask the taste of the roast, but complemented it. And the baby asparagus, along with the mashed potatoes made with leftover heavy cream, were nice accompaniments.
A real splurge for a dinner for two. But everyone has to splurge now and then, right?

Friday, November 26, 2010

Pumpkin-Gorgonzola Flans - French Fridays with Dorie

I was looking forward to making these for Thanksgiving. I like pumpkin, love Gorgonzola, and think that walnuts make almost anything better. To my taste, they weren't as wonderful as I hoped. I think they needed a little drizzle of something sweet to bring out the pumpkin flavor and to serve as a counterbalance to the cheese. But they were pretty good, and dead easy to make.
Any time that all you need to do is dump a bunch of ingredients in a food processor and whirr for a few seconds--that's easy. Here, the ingredients were a can of pumpkin, eggs, and cream.
My ramekins are bigger than standard ones. They come with lids, which is good and bad--good because they look cute and are easy to stack and carry; bad because the rim for the lid makes eating whatever's inside a little tricky. My filling only came up to about the halfway mark on these ramekins rather than almost to the brim as in the picture. Plenty of room to put the cheese and toasted walnuts on top. (I'm also cooking out of Rose Levy Beranbaum's Rose's Heavenly Cakes. Whenever she uses toasted walnuts in a recipe, she makes you rub off the skins, or as much of the skins as you can get off. I felt like a scofflaw not rubbing off the skins here.)
Boiling water goes into a pan that's been lined with paper towels (to keep the ramekins from slip-sliding around the pan). After about 35 minutes, a knife inserted into the pumpkin custard came out clean or nearly so, and the flans were ready for dinner.
They got good reviews at the dinner table, but I did notice that not everyone finished the pumpkin custard, although everyone ate the cheese and walnuts. My fear that the cheese would be too strong for some people proved to be unfounded.
In a serving note, Dorie says that "the American" in her likes to eat these with a drizzle of honey or maple syrup. I think that's just what they needed.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Lamb and Apricot Tagine--Gutsy Cooks

Last Christmas, I got a lovely Emile Henry tagine. I just had to have it. But, like so many things that at the moment appear to be necessities, this turned out not to be strictly so, and I hadn't even opened the box until this tagine assignment came around for the Gutsy Cooks, (or "the Gutsies," as Jackie calls us.)
I sort of knew vaguely what a tagine was--both a cooking utensil and a cooking dish, but I thought it might be complicated to use the utensil and to make the dish. Neither turned out to be true. The bottom part of the tagine is actually shaped quite nicely for browning meat and onions.
I cut the amount of meat in half, but kept the spices at the same amount, effectively doubling them, since I've found some of the dishes in this cookbook to be rather bland and underseasoned. For the same reason I decided to add a bit of harissa. Then I decided I might as well add another bit.
Some liquids are added--I used more chicken broth and less orange juice because I wanted the dish to have a hint of sweetness, but not to be overly sweet. Then the tagine goes into the oven for about an hour. It smelled heavenly. Jim noticed and said the same thing (although he didn't use the word "heavenly"); then he said, "Oh, wait--this is from the bad cookbook, isn't it?" He hasn't forgiven The Illustrated Kitchen Bible for the roulade and the empanadas.
But he loved the looks and the smell when I took the tagine out of the oven and added the dried apricots.
Another 20 minutes in the oven. Meanwhile, I made some couscous and scrubbed and cooked the baby carrots from the last Farmers' Market of the season. (We got about 8 inches of snow that day, so I know it's really the last market).
I sprinkled a little parsley (inauthentic, I know, but it's what I had) over the tagine for color.
And served.

Wow--is this stuff good! I probably shouldn't have put that second dab of harissa into the mix because it was hot and spicy enough that some of the other flavors got lost. Still, even with the hotness, you could taste the spices and the sweetness of the apricots and orange juice. Jim loved it. He'll never be able to call it "the bad cookkbook" again.

Taste-O-Meter Ratings:
Jim: "I'll give it a 9.5. I might give it a 10, but I don't know what else is coming, and there might be something I like even better, but this is delicious. I know you don't like to make things over and over again, but I hope you'll make this again. I don't think the two spoons of harissa were too many."

Marie: "I'm pleased with it myself, but I'll give it a 9 because I think I had too heavy a hand with the harissa."

Monday, November 15, 2010

Pommes Dauphinois - French Fridays with Dorie

I have an old, very easy, fall-back potato recipe that everyone loves. It's made with frozen shredded potatoes (AKA frozen hash browns), half and half, butter, and grated parmesan. The challenge for this week's recipe was to see if it could beat out the easy standby. It did. (And, by the way, it's so much better than your mother's or grandmother's floury, insipid scalloped potatoes that it's not even in the same universe).
Not that this is a difficult recipe. But there is all that potato slicing.

You could use a madeline if you had one, or you could use your food processor if you didn't think it was too much of a bother to find the slicing attachment and remember how to attach it. Or you could just slice them with a knife.

Once you've cut the potatoes and heated a lot of heavy cream with some minced garlic, all you have to do is layer. Potatoes; salt and pepper; garlic cream.

After the last layer, you can tuck some fresh rosemary and thyme sprigs in with the potatoes. Or not. Dorie seems to believe that there should not be very many rules about this dish.

On the other hand, not topping the dish with grated gruyere cheese should not be an option. Parmesan would be good too, as it is in my above-mentioned recipe, but the gruyere is quite a bit better--and the better the gruyere, the better the finished dish. I love shredding with my little Zyliss grater.

And there you have it, all ready to go into the oven. Of course, melted, browned, glisteny cheese is considerably more attractive than the pre-oven cheese.
I can't say that I'll never turn to my old standby recipe again, but these potatoes were several cuts above the original. The garlic is mellowed by its cream bath, and the herbs add subtle flavor, but aren't intrusive. The potatoes soak up the delicious cream, and the cheese! To put it mildly, the cheese is good.
Jim took one bite of these potatoes and moaned in pleasure. Everyone else at the table looked at him, and he said, defensively, "Well, they're good. Hasn't anyone else tried them yet?"

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Roast Chicken for Les Paresseux - French Fridays with Dorie

Why do things sound so much better in French? Roast chicken for les paresseux sounds romantic, whereas chicken for lazy bums...well, not at all romantic.
It's one of the great mysteries of life. I'm very satisified to go through life with this unsolved mystery, as long as it means I can continue eating chicken for lazy people. This recipe alone is worth the cost of the book.
I will add, however, that the French version of laziness is considerably more ambitious than the American version. When we're feeling lazy, we get takeout or Hamburger Helper--we don't peel vegetables, stuff fresh herbs in chicken, plop said chicken down on two slices of a baguette, and then make a pan sauce. In fact, doing all that might be considered a fairly ambitious dinner, but if makes the French feel better to call it "lazy," I'm all for it.

My chicken was only about half the recommended size--just a little over two pounds, and the two of us ate about half of it, so a four-pound chicken would serve four if appetites were quite hearty. I cut down on the oven time because of the size of the bird, and so my vegetables were a bit al dente. I just covered the dish with foil and put it back in the oven while I let the chicken rest and made the sauce.
Umm, that sauce. It was actually a little more than the promised "only ... a little"--plenty to bathe the chicken pieces and to drizzle over the vegetables if you were so inclined. It's very full of flavor and rich, so you don't want to ladle it on anyway.
And then there was that magnificent bread! Foolishly, I almost ignored the instruction about placing the raw chicken on two bread slices. It just seemed like a somewhat mannered extra step. But I am so happy that I did, so happy that I used two slices instead of one, and so sorry that I decided to share with Jim. Although it's a good thing I ran out; otherwise, I would have just kept eating.
Normally I'm a white meat person, but the legs looked so perky and attractive that I had to take one off and eat it as an appetizer before I sat down for dinner. Crusty, juicy, and completely delicious, it was enough to convert me.
I don't like to repeat meals--there are so many new recipes waiting to be tried--but I think I could happily eat this chicken once a week forever. Perhaps because I am one of Les Peresseux. Or, as I prefer to think, I am one with good taste.