Thursday, September 29, 2011
A BLT is my favorite sandwich, and one that I order to judge a restaurant's capabilities. There are so many ways to screw it up: mediocre bread, underdone or overdone bacon, pink tomatoes, runny mayonnaise, soggy lettuce. When done right, though, there's nothing to top it. So why deconstruct it? It's perfect the way it is.
It is a perfect sandwich, but the salad may be - and this is heresy - even better. First, I was lucky enough to make this during the height of fresh tomato season, and to buy some organic arugula at the same Farmer's Market stand I got the tomatoes. The arugula adds a welcome peppery bite to the mix.
The croutons, made with bread from Patisserie 46, was good to start with, and even better when it was crisped and flavored with great bacon.
And the eggs give the sandwich some added heft and nutrition (in case you're feeling guilty about the bacon fat croutons).
I almost skipped the blob of mayonnaise on top the salad, figuring that I didn't really need both salad dressing and mayonnaise. But it turned out to be a nice touch, especially good for dipping the bacon-flavored croutons.
I wouldn't bother with this salad during the winter (unless I lived someplace where I could get tomatoes year round). Its success depends on the quality of the ingredients, and tomatoes are not worth eating in January. But in the brief tomato season, which is coincidentally also a time for a second crop of arugula, it's worth eating at least once a week.
Marie-Helene's Apple Cake - A Recipe Catch-Up
Everyone else made this cake last October - almost a year ago. I'm a year late, but glad to make it to the party eventually. A moist (maybe almost too moist?) cake brimming with apples and dead easy to make. A handy dessert to have in your repertoire.
Posted by Marie at 6:53 PM
Thursday, September 22, 2011
Were it not for Proust, would anyone still eat Madeleines. They're pretty, yes, but even Proust couldn't eat them without dunking them into tea.
According to Patricia Wells, "The best, freshest madeleine has a dry, almost dusty taste when eaten on its own." But is that really a recommendation?
In fact, these cookie/cakes are absolutely delicious when they're fresh out of the oven. The crust is slightly crispy and buttery, and they're redolent of the best Vietnamese cinnamon.
Just enough of the honey-sugar combination to be sweet, but not too sweet. By the way, two tablespoons of honey equals 42 grams. It's so much easier to pour 42 grams into the bowl you're already using than to laboriously measure out 2 tablespoons, wondering how much of the honey is going to stick to the measuring spoon. Much as I like this cookbook, I'm constantly surprised that Dorie doesn't use weights as an alternative to volume measurements.
I'll have to admit that I didn't notice the "Be Prepared" warning (must be refrigerated for three hours for baking) until I was ready to mix up the batter. Oh well. That just moved the madeleines from Plan A (afternoon tea) to Plan B (dessert).
I've had these madeleine pans for about 20 years. All in all, I think I've made three batches of madeleines: regular, chocolate, and, now, honey-spice. While they were great when still warm, within about three hours, they were a combination of soggy and dry. They definitely needed a tea-dip. But perhaps that just shows that they're authentic Proustian madeleines. "Dry and dusty." Yum.
Posted by Marie at 5:36 PM
Sunday, September 18, 2011
The Gutsy Cooks (or The Gutsies, as we sometimes refer to ourselves) have been on summer vacation, but now that the leaves are falling, it's time to come back in the kitchen with a new theme and revitalized participants.
Instead of cooking from one book, Monica picks a theme and some recipes to fit the theme. We choose from the recipes and stay with, or stray from, the basic recipe, as we choose.
Because I happened to have a bag full of tomatillos, it was an easy choice to pick the enchiladas with tomatillo sauce. It's a Rick Bayless recipe courtesy of cookstr.com.
You would probably not be surprised to learn that authentic Mexican cooking has always been in short supply in Scandinavian-German Minnesota, or in the little German farm town of Indiana where I grew up. It's changing now, but I still don't have the kind of instinct for Mexican ingredients and techniques that I've developed for European cuisines. But things like tomatillos, chiles, and cilantro are widely available in farmers markets and groceries. I have never before just boiled tomatillos and jalapenos, as I did for the base of this sauce.
Those vegetables, plus onions, garlic, and cilantro go into the food processor. Then the resulting sauce is sizzled in oil (I don't recall ever sauteeing a sauce before either). I had some lard in the freezer, which would have been more authentic than the canola oil I used for the sizzle, but I forgot about it. Probably because I don't usually have lard on hand, but I got some to make Pan Cubano.
Add a few cups of chicken broth, and let the sauce simmer down for about 20 minutes. In the meanwhile, you can poach a few chicken breasts, and shred them after they've cooled.
Nothing in this recipe is difficult, but it does end up taking nearly every pan I owned. And I thought Rose's cake recipes were dishwashing-intense!
Bring out still another pan to mix the shredded chicken, a little chopped onion, and sour cream. That gets heated, and just stays warm until you're ready for it.
I usually soften tortillas in the microwave, but I decided to follow directions this time. I would go back to the microwave method next time, as the frying method was time-consuming, messy, and greasy. They also broke apart more easily than I was expecting. Maybe if I had a refined Mexican palate, I would be appalled by the idea of the microwave method, but I don't, and I'm not.
The sauce was ready by the time I'd finished rolling up the enchiladas (this recipe keeps you busy for about an hour in total, with no time to relax until you get the enchiladas in the oven).
I completely lost authenticity at the cheese-adding part. First, and most basic, I didn't have any queso anejo, and the suggested feta or parmesan substitutes just didn't sound right. I made do with jack cheese, although I knew it wouldn't have the proper pungency or saltiness. I intended to grate some Parmesan on top of the jack, but I just plain forgot.
The Minn-Mex enchiladas I've made before have had more sauce and more cheese, and are baked, lasagne-style, until they're brown and bubbly on top. This recipe calls for adding the cheese after the enchiladas are out of the oven. I compromised by baking the cheese just long enough for it to melt.
Then I garnished with the suggested onion rings and radish slices (nice touch!), and we ate.
Jim: "I'll give it a 7. I like it, but I'm not blown away by it. The tortillas seem kind of mushy, and the sauce could use more zing. But it's good."
Me: "Better than a 7--I'd say an 8--but not great enough to justify all the mess in the kitchen. I like the tangy tomatillo sauce, but you're right, it could use more heat. But I like it well enough to be glad for all the leftovers I'm going to have this week."
Posted by Marie at 3:29 PM
Thursday, September 15, 2011
This is one of the most peculiar recipes I've ever looked at. At first I thought the cookies would be turned into crumbs to coat the chicken, which was weird enough. Then, when I figured out that cookie pieces and crumbs were mixed into creme fraiche to become a sauce, I was mystified. I had just read somewhere that all French cooking comes from Escoffier, but did Escoffier put packaged cookies in creme fraiche? I don't think so.
But I'd already passed on a few recipes because they sounded odd, so I figured it was time for me to woman up and crumble some cookies. Of course, I couldn't find either recommended brand, so I picked up a package of Jovial brand ginger spice cookies. (The cookies' ingredient list shows more cinnamon than sugar, but I added a little more cinnamon anyway).
Granted, these cookies look nothing like Speculoos, which I affectionately refer to as Speculum Cookies, and they're not a perfect taste match either, but they are spiced with cinnamon and ginger.
Once they're mooshed into the creme fraiche, who's to know the difference? But I'm going to keep an eye out for the correct cookies for the next time I make this.
Because despite my initial resistance, I am going to make this again. Jim, who was taking pictures while listening to me grumble about how this was going to be a lousy dinner, took a bite and said, "This is really good!" in utter surprise. I took a bite and said, "Hmm, it is, isn't it?" Maybe even Escoffier would have thought it was good.
I served it with couscous steamed with chicken broth, quickly sauteed summer squash with oregano, and a few fresh figs with strips of Manchego cheese. The whole meal took about 20 minutes to put together, was as easy as crunching cookies, and tasted delightful. It's hard to complain about that.
Posted by Marie at 7:18 PM
Friday, September 9, 2011
I was looking forward to this because of the "cheesy, garlicky" nature of the recipe. In the process of making it, however, I turned on the recipe. I didn't like the looks of the soppy, porridgey rice, and I didn't think there was enough garlic to make it "garlicky." But then I did another 180 when I tasted it: it was rich and sumptuous, and the soppy-looking rice retained enough bite to make it interesting. Once again, I'm a believer. And once again, the recipe is ridiculously easy.
Quickly cook some spinach in a bit of water. I love how spinach magically disappears into almost nothingness. Then drain it and wait until it's cool enough to pick up bunches of it and squeeze out the water. It makes me feel very Jacques-Pepin-ish to have tough enough hands to squeeze hot water out of spinach. Have you ever noticed how he can practically fry his own hands without even blinking?
Then it's on to sauteeing some onion and garlic. Jim asked me if I always removed the green thing from the garlic. Always when I'm doing Dorie's recipes, I said, because she tells me I must. I guess I'm afraid that she might be looking over people's blogs someday and start taking away badges from people who leave the bitter green germ in the garlic.
Chop up the hot spinach, and add it to the onion-garlic mixture.
Here's where I started thinking the rice was going to be a bomb, and not in a good way.
This rice doesn't even look appetizing. It looks like gruel. And adding in the white cheese and white cream didn't help. Except for the spinach, everything looked white.
I decided I should run it under the broiler to get a crust on it, or add something flavorful, or do something to rescue it. But, being a fanatic about trying the recipe as-is the first time, I did none of those things.
And what do you know, it didn't need to be rescued after all. It was creamy, flavorful, rich, and delicious. We ate it with sliced tomatoes with chopped olives, and that's all we needed for a completely satisfying dinner. Although Dorie says the recipe makes two main-course servings, we ate our fill and still had half left over. It would be a good side dish too, I think, but it might steal the show from whatever it was supposed to be alongside. I personally like it as the star.
I also managed a catch-up recipe this week--the Savory Cheese and Chive Bread. This was a reversal of my reaction to the rice. I expected more flavor (with the sharp cheddar and chives) than the bread actually delivered. I knew I'd be serving it to someone who couldn't eat nuts, so I didn't use them. Next time I would.
I thought I'd been doing a pretty good job of keeping up lately, but when I counted recipes, I saw that I'd made 23 and not made 20. Lots of catching up to do. I wonder if anyone has actually made all the recipes so far.
Posted by Marie at 9:06 AM
Sunday, September 4, 2011
I don't really like corn soup that much. I never order it at a restaurant and I've made it only rarely. But this ... this is something else entirely. It's velvety smooth, but still has some crunch, and the bacon, creme fraiche, and green onions give it smoky, tangy, and luscious counterpoints. I would put this in a different category than plain old corn soup.
And it's easy, too. Less than an hour from start to finish, and if you match it with sliced fresh tomatoes and good bread, you have a lovely meal with almost no trouble.
Ignore helpful hints at your peril! Dorie says to slice the corn off the cob into a deep bowl. I wasn't going to bother getting another bowl dirty, so I started to slice the corn directly onto the cutting board. After one pass with my knife, I had about two kernels on my cutting board and several dozen strewn on the floor. The bowl worked better.
The naked corncobs are heated with some milk. I like that we use the corncobs instead of throwing them away. It seems very thrifty and French.
While the corncobs are steeping, you soften some diced onions, and then add celery, carrots, garlic, and the corn.
Were it not for the bacon that's one of the toppings, it would be healthily vegetarian. On the other hand, it wouldn't have bacon.
This is Nueske's bacon. Everyone, including the New York Times, loves Nueske's bacon, made right here in the hinterlands. If you cut the bacon in small enough pieces, you can get a bit in almost every bite.
Slice a few small scallions and add to the bacon. This, along with cayenne pepper and creme fraiche, will be added to the soup. Dorie recommends piment d'espelette, which you can order from Zingerman's, when they're not sold out, or from amazon.com, which has 4 or 5 different brands. The people who wrote comments about this ground pepper were either crazy about it or thought it was tasteless. I used cayenne, which was definitely not tasteless.
I wish I had bought an immersion blender about 30 years ago. I hated spooning hot soups into the food processor. No matter how small I made the batches, I always got sprays of soup on the counter. And I usually burned myself too. Not so with the immersion blender. It's not just another useless kitchen gadget (and I have plenty of those, too).
Maybe my general good feelings over the immersion blender colored my feelings about this soup. Maybe the fact that we ate it on the back porch on a perfect late summer night did too. But I think maybe I liked it so much just because it was very, very good.
Posted by Marie at 7:08 PM