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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.