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Thursday, January 27, 2011

Chicken B'Steeya (French Fridays with Dorie)

I'm planning (or, probably more accurately, hoping to plan) a trip to Morocco this fall, so cooking anything Moroccan is very exciting to me.  Still, as I read the recipe for Chicken B'Steeya, I had my doubts.  I wasn't sure how the egg and honey thickener would work; it seemed like there was a lot of chicken and very little else in the dish, and I was very unsure about the cinnamon-sugar treatment on top of the last layer of phyllo.  Also, I remembered how frustrating it was to work with phyllo.  Then I gave myself a little pep talk:  "Marie, if you're willing to sleep in a tent in the Sahara (not sure I am, actually), you shouldn't let a little cinnamon and sugar stop you from making a new dish).  So I forged ahead.

No matter how dubious I was about the cinnamon/sugar/honey combination, I was very happy that this b'steeya (or pastilla, or bisteeya, or bsteeya, or any of the other ways this word is transliterated), was not made with the traditional pigeon. I've never seen pigeon at any grocery store or meat market (granted, I haven't looked), and I'm not prepared to shoot my own, even though we do have nuisance pigeons in the neighborhood. So chicken was just fine with me. (If I get to Morocco, I may adopt the "don't ask, don't tell" food sampling rule).
The most exotic ingredient in this version of b'steeya is saffron.

The sauce is lemony chicken broth, reduced to just about a cup, and then thickened with egg yolks. Those eggs will scramble if I just put them in the pot, I said to myself, so cleverly, or so I thought, I gradually whisked the hot sauce into the eggs.

Well, that was a waste of time. The eggs scrambled anyway. I decided maybe that was the way it was supposed to be. Fortunately, no one was around to tell me anything different.

And, actually, when the chicken and parsley were mixed in with the eggy sauce, it no longer looked weird and curdled.

The phyllo was tricky, but it didn't matter because it was invisible on the bottom and tucked in on top. It looked good enough. I liked the addition of almonds.

With a few more tucked-in phyllo layers on top, lots of brushed-on butter, and the aforementioned sprinkling of cinnamon and sugar, the whole creation goes into the oven.

Oooh-pretty! I love how it's turned all brown and crispy. I needn't have worried about the cinnamon and sugar combination with the savory chicken. It didn't taste weird at all, and it made for caramelized bits of phyllo dough that made me want more.

A plus to this dish: it's also very good reheated the next day. I reheated it in a 300 degree oven, covered for about 15 minutes and uncovered for about 10. The top phyllo layers remained crisp, and the chicken tasted almost like a souffle. Moroccan comfort food that comforted this Minnesotan.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Spicy Shrimp Gratin - a Gutsy Cooks Selection

This was a perfectly good dinner (here is the recipe), but it wasn't as good as I had hoped. I love shrimp, hot peppers, slowly cooked onions, gruyere cheese, and creamy sauces, so I had great hopes for this dish. For me, the flavors just didn't come together, and its good parts didn't make a great whole.

As I've mentioned before, The Illustrated Kitchen Bible likes to make complicated recipes easy. I think this one took a few too many shortcuts.

The shrimp are initially marinated in lime juice and hot pepper sauce (I used Sriracha). Why? They're marinated for only about 15 minutes--not long enough to "cook" them, and the lime juice is drained before the shrimp are cooked. These flavors seem like the base for a spicy grilled shrimp dish, not a creamy gratin. And, while cookbook authors don't have to follow the rules, it would be nice to know what this author had in mind.

Onions and garlic sauteed in olive oil--the base for many a great dish. Here--another surprise--hot red peppers are added too. No objection to the peppers, but again, I'm wondering how they're going to work with the cream and gruyere.

The onions, garlic, and peppers form a bed for the marinated, drained shrimp.

A half-cup of cream (not cream sauce, not even heated cream) is poured over the shrimp. (I halved the recipe). Grated gruyere cheese is scattered atop, and the dish is placed in a preheated broiler.

The biggest cooking challenge with shrimp, as with most fish, is not overcooking them. Cooked perfectly, shrimp and tender and flavorful. Overcooked, they're a rubbery, chewy mess. I had concerns about broiling them because, with the cheese on top, the shrimp couldn't be turned midway for even cooking. Result? Top half a little overcooked, bottom half a little undercooked. If I'd cooked them for two minutes more, the whole thing would have been overdone. Maybe if a hot cream sauce had been poured over the cold shrimp, that would have helped with even cooking. The alternative method of baking probably would have also resulted in more even cooking, but 20 minutes sounds like way too long to bake shrimp.

The odd thing about this dish is that every bite was a little different. Some bites had more pepper in than others, so at times the shrimp seemed quite hot; other bites seemed creamier and milder. The cheese started to turn a little gluey before the shrimp were all eaten.


Jim: I'll give it an 8. My first thought was 7 1/2, but then I decided I liked it a little better than that. I have to say I'm a little disappointed in this dish.

Marie: I agree. 8 was the number I had in mind too. Maybe my expectations were too high, but I thought the shrimp would turn out better than they did.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Hungarian Goulash Soup - a Gutsy Cooks Selection

The whole GC menu for this week was the soup, Potato-Parmesan cakes, and Profiteroles. I'm sad that I never have a chance to make the entire menu (and perhaps, she said hintingly, our Fearless Leader will one day reconsider this idea that we make three new recipes on one day). Although I've cooked from a lot of the menus, I'm way behind.

I'm with Raymond in my evaluation of this cookbook. When I first got it, the recipes seemed overly simplified, and I didn't think anything I cooked would amount to much. This was borne out by some of my first experiences, when Jim started calling it "the bad cookbook." But there have been some real winners from this book--simple, yes; boring, no.

This soup is a good example. Here's the recipe in a nutshell. 1) Caramelize onions. 3) Brown beef. 3) Add spices and beef to onions. 4) Pour in beef broth. 5) Simmer until done.

I do think this would be a hard book to use if you had no experience in cooking. For example, the recipe says to brown the beef "in batches." But it doesn't explain this or tell you that if you try to brown all the beef at one time, you'll end up with steamed, not browned, meat. And it doesn't always tell you whether to use high, medium, or low heat when cooking, or whether to cover the pan or not. A novice cook has no basis for guessing.

In addition to the nicely browned meat and the lovely caramelized onions, the spices (paprika, cayenne, caraway seeds, and cloves) are heavenly after they've had time to meld. Authentic, too, I think.

I just used canned beef stock. (I was reluctant to use canned broth or stock for the French Onion soup from a few weeks ago, so I skipped that. For this recipe, though, with all the other flavors, I thought that packaged broth was a legitimate short-cut, so I did it. It worked out just fine).

I thought I had sour cream in the refrigerator. I didn't, but did have creme fraiche, which turned out to taste so good in the soup that I think that's what I'd use next time.


Jim: "It's really good. I'll give it an 8 1/2."
Me: "8 1/2! If it's so good, why are you giving it an 8 1/2? Do you hate it?"
Jim: "8 1/2 is a perfectly good score. I don't hate it at all. I just gave the gnocchi a 9, and I don't like this quite as well as the gnocchi."
Sarah: "Dad, why are you comparing? Gnocchi is totally different than beef soup."
Me: "Yeah, how can you compare chocolate cake to soup?"
Jim: "You didn't make chocolate cake."
Me: "Well, I'd give it a 9."
Jim: "Well, I gave it an 8 1/2."
Sarah: "I'd give it a 10."

Monday, January 17, 2011

Gnocchi a la Parisienne - French Fridays with Dorie

Wait a minute, I thought to myself! I just learned to make decent potato gnocchi, and now you're asking me to do something that looks like it's made from pate a choux, with yet another Bechamel sauce. That sounds very ... white. And very high in calories. But then I figured I might as well try it.

The dough did not look like it was going to work. As soon as I added the eggs, it morphed from a thick, unyielding dough, to a coagulated mess. But it gradually did come together, and was soft, silky, and manageable after the second egg went in.

Let me take just a minute here to make a heartfelt plea to Dorie. In your next book, please, please, please include weights as well as volume. This recipe is supposed to serve six, and there's a caveat that it doesn't hold up well. So naturally I wanted to reduce it for a two-person household. This meant changing 1 1/4 cups of flour and water to 5/8 cup of each. It's possible to measure 5/8 cup of water, but it's not easy. If I could have just halved the number of grams, it would have been a cinch. So please. You're a baker--you must weigh ingredients yourself. Just add gram weights, not only for OC bakers in the U.S. but also for normal ones in other countries.
Thanks for letting me get that off my chest.

There is an Italian pasta called malfatti, which means, more or less, "poorly made." I like the idea of being upfront about such lapses in aesthetic appearance. "We're having malfatti for dinner--it gives people fair warning that what they're about to eat isn't going to be pretty."

I would definitely call these gnocchi malfatti--shapeless and raggedy, they're not lovely to look at. And, as I've mentioned before, they're quite white. I'm hoping that the Bechamel sauce (also white, I'm sorry to say), will provide cover.

I learned how to make Bechamel sauce from my mother. Only she called it white sauce. More importantly, she didn't cook the flour and butter together for a few minutes to brown the butter and get rid of the floury taste. She also used too much flour. (I believe this recipe also uses too much flour and not enough butter, but then I'm not the one who lived in France). Also adding a bit of cream raises it a notch above the "white sauce" I used to know.

The gnocchi is resting on top of a bit of grated Parmesan and a few spoons of Bechamel. It still doesn't look pretty.

But 30 minutes in a hot oven do wonders for its pulchritude. Now brown and puffy, all the malfatti-ness is well hidden. It smell good, and it looks good.

And does it ever taste good. You shouldn't really compare it to Italian gnocchi because it's an entirely different thing. Sometime when I'm feeling very devil-may-care, I'd like to have a two-gnocchi dinner, so I could taste them side by side, and do the comparing I just said you shouldn't do. This gnocchi is feather-light and so delicious that you just don't want to stop eating it. I'm thankful that I didn't make the whole feeds-six-people recipe: we might have eaten it. It's probably not a dish you'd serve to your most important guest: it certainly has a hearty, down-home quality. But you should definitely serve it to someone you love, or someome who loves to eat (if you're lucky, that will be the same person).

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Pizza Four Seasons - a Gutsy Cooks Selection

Homemade pizza is so delicious--the trick is getting a good crust. I have several excellent pizza crust recipes, one from The Bread Bible and one from The Bread-Baker's Apprentice. I was going to use one of these recipes instead of the easier one from The Illustrated Kitchen Bible, but then I decided I might as well try this recipe out. I opened my new bag of King Arthur Italian flour, which I suspect is what made this crust so delectable. Although I don't ordinarily give recipes when I'm cooking my way through an entire book, having an aversion to being sued for copyright violations, I'll give this simple recipe at the end of the post.

You can see that the dough is still quite sticky and recalcitrant as it goes into the bowl for rising.

But a couple of hours of proofing and about 20 minutes more of resting make it docile enough to be shaped.

This "4-Seasons" pizza's ingredients are almost all from cans and tins, so you could keep the ingredients on hand and make it whenever you had a mind to: roasted red peppers, anchovies, capers, artichoke hearts, crushed tomatoes for the sauce. Not always kept on hand (at least at my house): pepperoni, mushrooms (better to omit than use canned), Kalamata olives, and mozzarella, although you probably have some kind of cheese in your refrigerator, and no law says it has to be mozzarella.

Once you get the various ingredients sliced, it's a cinch to put them together.

I just spread plain crushed tomatoes atop the dough and sprinkled with sea salt and oregano. You could add garlic, onion, or other herbs.

The recipe tells you to put the mozzarella on top of the tomatoes, but I forgot, so I put both grated mozzarella ane parmesan on top of everything. If I'd followed the recipe, you'd be able to see the various ingredients on top, which might be more photogenic. On the other hand, you wouldn't have as much browned cheese.

One quarter of the pizza is topped with sliced fresh mushrooms; one quarter with sliced roasted red peppers and anchovies; one quarter with pepperoni and capers, and one quarter with marinated artichoke hearts and Kalamata olives. You're not bound to these ingredients, but they are good. Even the anchovies tasted good.

I put the pizza together over parchment paper, which I slid onto a preheated baking stone in a 450-degree oven. Baking the pizza crust directly on the stone (or as close to directly as possible) gives you the best shot at not having a soggy crust.


Jim: "I give the red pepper and anchovy part a 10. The others get a 9.5." (He loves anchovies. He also said he'd probably never give anything a 10 because something could always be better, so this 10 is quite an honor.)
Me: "I'd say 9 to 9.5. The crust is really amazing and all the sections taste wonderful. With the olives, capers, artichoke hearts and sea salt, it might be too salty for some people, but not for me."


3 2/3 cups bread flour (I used King Arthur Italian flour)
7 grams instant yeast
1/2 tsp. salt
1 1/2 cups tepid water
2 Tblsp. olive oil, plus more for the bowl.

1. Combine flour, yeast, and salt in a large bowl. Add water and oil, and stir to make a soft dough. Knead on a lightlyl floured counter until dough is smooth and elastic, about 10 minutes. (The dough is quite sticky).

2. Shape the dougth into a ball. Place in a lightly oiled bgowl and turn so that all dough is coated with oil. Cover with plaswtic wrap and let stand until doubled in size (about 2 to 2 1/2 hours).

This dough makes enough for two 9- to 10-inch round pizzas. I cut the dough in half and froze the half I didn't use.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Paris Mushroom Soup - French Fridays with Dorie

It's a good thing I like mushroom soup.
Our neighborhood has a New Year's Eve progressive dinner; this year it was my turn to do the soup, and I made a huge pot of mushroom and chestnut soup with Parmesan cream, a recipe I got from NPR, of all odd places. It was delicious, but we'd just finished eating the leftovers when this soup came up for French Fridays.

So many mushrooms!

One stalk of rosemary packs a lot of punch when it's simmered in broth for 20 minutes. The recipe says that the rosemary sprig will lose its leaves after being simmered.

I doubted that; the leaves looked firmly attached. Amazingly, after 20 minutes, the rosemary stalk was a shadow of its former self.

The mushrooms cook down nicely. Every step of this soup took longer than I anticipated. It took at least 10 minutes (rather than the 3 suggested by the recipe) for the onions and garlic to soften, and at least another 10 minutes for the mushrooms' juices to boil away. So, although this is an easy recipe, it's not as quick as I thought it would be.

I love the idea of the "salad" at the bottom of the soup bowl: sliced mushrooms, parsley, and scallions (no chives because I'd already spent enough money on out-of-season herbs--I miss my little herb garden, now covered by two feet of snow).

I used my Christmas-present immersion blender to puree the soup. I don't know how I ever got along with it--so much easier than pureeing batch by batch in the food processor, especially if you have to wait for the motor to cool down between batches.

The salad is such a nice textural contrast to the smooth soup. And there are a lot of flavors too: the rosemary comes through in every bite. The parsley (an underused and underregarded herb, in my opinion) added brightness and the scallions a little bite.

The creme fraiche is a rather unattractive sinking dollop at first, but when it begins to melt, it makes pretty, creamy patterns.

This is just a wonderful soup. It's warm, comforting, delicious, and even interesting to eat. I'm not sure if it's better than the mushroom-chestnut-Parmesan cream soup than last week, but it's at least as good. And I love having two super mushroom soups in my repertoire. To think that I used to think that mushroom soup = Campbell's.

- - -

By the way, I never posted about Gerard's mushroom tart--but here's proof that I made it:

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Croque Monsieur - a Gutsy Cooks Recipe

The entire Gutsy Cooks menu for this week was Croques Monsieur and Apple Charlotte. I've already made my apple charlotte for the decade, thank you, and I never get around to making more than one recipe from the suggested Gutsy menu anyway. Besides, if all I have time to make is a ham sandwich with leftover ham, I'm not likely to have time for dessert. And, of course, a Croque Monsieur is just a glorified ham sandwich. Croque, as you may know, means "crunch." "Monsieur," as you certainly know, means "mister." Mister Crunch? Mister, would you like a crunchy sandwich? Who knows. There are a lot of variations, including the infamous "McDo," found at McDonald's restaurants all over France.

This is pretty easy to make, and the outcome will depend on the quality of your bread, your ham, and your cheese. I had mediocre bread which I'd used to make French toast on Christmas morning, a spiral-cut ham which Jim's sister forced us to take away after Christmas dinner, and excellent Gruyere cheese.

The bread is toasted to make it crunchy, or croque-y. But you must toast it under the broiler because you want only one side toasted.

The sandwich is filled with sliced ham and Gruyere. Some recipes add mayonnaise, and there are many different possible cheeses to use, but Gruyere is the classic.

The sandwiches are covered with Bechamel sauce to which the grated cheese has been added. If I remember my sauces, I believe the addition of cheese turns a Bechamel into a Mornay sauce. Don't quote me on that, however.

After a few minutes under the broiler, they get brown and bubbly. Or black and bubbly, if they're under the broiler a mite too long. I'm not very familiar with the broiler setting on my stove. It has convection broil and regular broil options, with high, medium, and low on both. I kept experimenting with the settings and don't remember which ones I used. My guess is that I set it on "high" at one point, which would account for the burned cheese.


Jim: "I'd give it a 6. It's fine, but kind of blah. It just doesn't have much taste. Although that could be because I still have a cold."

Marie: "I think it's considerably better than a 6, and I think the cheese gives it lots of flavor. I'm giving it a 7.5. I think you'd like it better if you didn't have a cold."

P.S. We had one sandwich left. I was going to have it for lunch the next day, figuring that since Jim was so uninterested, he'd leave it for me, but he got to it first and ate it right up.