Thursday, March 24, 2011

Bass en Papillote

Make a little envelope out of parchment paper in which to cook something...
It's a beautiful technique to use- both for outcomes of presentation and flavor.

The strongest point is that the en papillote method makes delicate fish moist- instead of dry and tough- since all the steam, liquid and flavor is trapped inside that one little compact package.
Another good thing is that fat or oil isn't really necessary to keep things moist.
Flavors are concentrated since there's nowhere for them to disappear to in such a small space.
Cleanup is easy, too...

It's nice for people to be able to open the packages at table, then slide the contents (juices and all) onto their plates.

You need to start with large pieces of parchment paper (I tear off an approximate 12-inch square from the roll, maybe even a bit larger).
Fold the paper in half and cut it into a large heart shape (the cutesy factor soon disappears... you're the only one who knows it's a heart when this is all finished unless someone happens upon you cutting huge valentines out of parchment paper in your kitchen... my recommendation is to lock the door if it really worries you, unless you want to make an excuse about getting a head-start for next year).

The paper should be large enough to leave at least a couple inches on each side when a piece of fish is laid in a halved heart.

Fish is placed in one half of the buttered heart papers, seasoned, and folded to seal.
Starting at the top (rounded) part of the heart, you make overlapping pleats, twisting tightly but gently at the tip end of the heart to seal it closed.
Voila. You have your cute little packages.

When baked the parchment will brown a bit.
The drier the heat in the oven, the browner the packages...
And if the seal is tight enough, the packages should puff a bit, too.

Bass en Papillote
serves 6

6, 6-8 oz. bass fillets
butter, softened
kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper
fresh thyme sprigs
1-2 lemons, thinly sliced
1-2 small shallots, thinly sliced
1/4 c white wine
olive oil

parchment paper

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
Fold 6 large squares of parchment paper in half and cut into heart shapes.
Rub or paint the inside of each heart with butter. Don't be too rough, you don't want to tear the paper.
Place a fish filet about two inches from the folded seam in the center of half of the heart. Season with salt and pepper. Place a couple sprigs of fresh thyme over the fish, top with two slices of lemon, and sprinkle with shallot rings. Pour a 1/2 T splash of white wine over the fish and drizzle a little olive oil over the top.
Beginning with the rounded top of the heart, fold overlapping pleats all the way around the rounded side of the heart. At the pointed end twist the paper to seal as airtight as possible. Repeat with remaining paper and fish.
Carefully place fish packages in a single layer on a large sheet pain with sides (just in case)... you may need two pans.
Place pan in the center of the oven and bake 15-20 minutes, or until the packages are browned and puffed.
Serve hot in the packages.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Puréed Mushroom Soup

This recipe can certainly be made to suit vegetarian/vegan or omnivore tastes.
Depending on how your feeling (as well as personal ethics, morals, religion, personal sacrifice, or health reasons) on a day-to-day or lifetime basis, I suppose... or whatever you happen to have handy at the time...

Using a variety of mushrooms (even just two types) will give you additional depth of flavor, but no matter what, the finished soup really has a great, earthy, mushroom-y taste.
Plus, it can be gluten-free, if you use a broth that's gluten-free (remember that the broth must be labeled as such).

One great thing is that you don't need to worry about cleaning out the food processor until you're completely done with the recipe. The mushrooms are ground up, the onion pulverized, and the potato chopped finely. In the end the whole mixture is re-blended again to make sure it's all smooth and consistent in texture.

If you want it a little more rich, use 7 cups of broth instead of 8. Prior to serving, add a cup of heavy cream and stir into the soup, cooking gently a couple minutes until heated through.

I apologize for the lack of photos- sometimes when I get busy with several things at once and I'm on a roll, it's difficult to remember to pick up the camera.
But, it is a fairly simple soup...

Puréed Mushroom Soup
Adapted from Bill's Food by Bill Granger
serves 8-10

2-2 1/4 lb. (32-36 oz.) mushrooms, well cleaned
1 large yellow onion, roughly chopped
4 garlic cloves, minced
4 T (2 oz.) butter
2 T olive oil
1 t kosher salt
1/2 t freshly ground black pepper
8 c vegetable broth or chicken stock
1 c white wine
1 lb. potatoes, peeled and roughly chopped
generous 1 1/2 T fresh oregano, chopped

sour cream or crème fraîche and parsley for garnish (optional- but they do add some nice flavor and color)

Finely chop the mushrooms in the bowl of a food processor using the pulse action until finely chopped. Set aside. Repeat with the onion and place the onion in the same bowl as the mushrooms.
In a large pot, melt the butter with the olive oil over medium heat. Add the chopped mushrooms and onion, minced garlic, salt and pepper. Cook for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.
While the mushroom mixture cooks, finely chop the potato in the food processor and set aside.
When the mushroom mixture has cooked and softened, add the potato pieces, white wine, oregano, and stock the the pot and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to low and simmer over low heat 30 minutes. Let cool slightly, and purée the soup in batches using a food processor or immersion blender.
Return the soup to the pot and heat and stir gently 5 minutes so the flavors meld. Taste for seasonings and adjust as necessary.
Stir again, ladle the soup into bowls, and garnish as desired.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Irish Coffee

I thought this was necessary... and it will certainly warm you up!

Wouldn't you know, I DO own Irish coffee glasses (they were a gift from one of my sisters), but they happen to be somewhere in storage like many other parts of my life at the moment.
While not "authentic," the important thing is that the glasses I used did the job.

Align Center

I know some people think it's too strong, but in my opinion the best way to brew coffee in a drip coffee pot is 1/2 c freshly ground coffee per 8 cups of water.

Next time I make this I think I'll use the French press... mmmmmm.

Irish Coffee
makes 4

24 oz. (3 cups) freshly brewed hot coffee
6 t brown sugar (1 1/2 t per serving)
8-12 T (1/2-3/4 cup) Irish whiskey (or 2-3 T per serving)
freshly and lightly whipped cream

Divide brown sugar among glasses. Pour hot coffee (6 oz. or 3/4 cup) into each glass atop the brown sugar. Stir in whiskey.
Holding a spoon directly over a glass of coffee, gently pour cream so that it floats on top, and serve.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Chocolate Madeleines

"Many years had elapsed during which nothing of Combray, save what was comprised in the theatre and the drama of my going to bed there, had any existence for me, when one day in winter, on my return home, my mother, seeing that I was cold, offered me some tea, a thing I did not ordinarily take. I declined at first, and then, for no particular reason, changed my mind. She sent for one of those squat, plump little cakes called 'petites madeleines,' which look as though they had been moulded in the fluted valve of a scallop shell. And soon, mechanically, dispirited after a dreary day with the prospect of a depressing morrow, I raised to my lips a spoonful of the tea in which I had soaked a morsel of the cake.

No sooner had the warm liquid mixed with the crumbs touched my palate than a shudder ran through me and I stopped, intent upon the extraordinary thing that was happening to me. An exquisite pleasure had invaded my senses, something isolated, detached, with no suggestion of its origin. And at once the vicissitudes of life had become indifferent to me, its disasters innocuous, its brevity illusory- this new sensation having had on me the effect which love has of filling me with a precious essence; of rather this essence was not in me it was me. I had ceased now to feel mediocre, contingent, mortal. Whence could it have come to me this all-powerful joy? I sensed that it was connected with the taste of the tea and the cake, but that it infinitely transcended those savours, could, no, indeed, be of the same nature. Whence did it come? What did it mean? How could I seize and apprehend it?...

...Suddenly the memory revealed itself. The taste was that of the little piece of madeleine which on Sunday mornings at Combray (because of those mornings I did not go out before mass), when I went to say good morning to her in her bedroom, my aunt Léonie used to give me, dipping it first in her own cup of tea or tisane. The sight of the little madeleine had recalled nothing to my mind before I tasted it; perhaps because I had so often seen such things in the meantime, without tasting them on the trays in pastry-cooks' windows, that their image had dissociated itself from those Combray days to take its place among others more recent; perhaps because of those memories, so long abandoned and put out of mind, nothing now survived, everything was scattered; the shapes of things, including that of the little scallop-shell of pastry, so richly sensual under its severe, religious folds, were either obliterated or had been so long dormant as to have lost the power of expansion which would have allowed them to resume their place in my consciousness.

But when from a long-distant past nothing subsists, after the people are dead, after the things are broken and scattered, taste and smell alone, more fragile but more enduring, more unsubstantial, more persistent, more faithful, remain poised a long time, like souls, remembering, writing, hoping, amid the ruins of all the rest; and bear unflinchingly, in the tiny and almost impalpable drop of their essence, the vast structure of recollection.

And as soon as I had recognized the taste of the piece of madeleine soaked in her decoction of lime-blossom which my aunt used to give me (although I did not yet know and must long postpone the discovery of why this memory made me so happy) immediately the old grey house upon the street, where her room was, rose up like a stage set to attach itself to the little pavilion opening on to the garden which had been built out behind it for my parents (the isolated segment which until that moment had been all that I could see); and with the house the town, from morning to night and in all weathers, the Square where I used to be sent before lunch, the streets along which I used to run errands, the country roads we took when it was fine.

And as in the game wherein the Japanese amuse themselves by filling a porcelain bowl with water and steeping in it little pieces of paper which until then are without character or form, but, the moment they become wet, stretch and twist and take on a colour and distinctive shape, become flowers or houses or people, solid and recognizable, so in that moment all the flowers in our garden and in M. Swann's park, and the water-lilies on the Vivionne and the good folk of the village and their little dwellings and the parish church and the whole of Combray and its surroundings, taking shape and solidarity, sprang into being, town and gardens alike, from my cup of tea."

~ Marcel Proust, Remembrance of Things Past ~

Madeleines are a treat and they really are nice little cakes, easily recognizable in their beautiful scallop shape.
Not having had the same experiences and feelings as Mr. Proust, I don't believe I could come up with a discourse quite like his... especially about madeleines.

That said, I've had them as packaged, dry, flavorless little things. In France.
So sad.
Not something I would have expected, but convenience food certainly is convenient- not necessarily tasteful.

These are based on a recipe from Joël Robuchon's The Complete Robuchon.

Perhaps chocolate isn't the most traditional flavor, but who would argue?
Moist, fudgey-cakey, chocolatey...

I'm not trying to say I have the uncanny ability to best M. Robuchon. I never tried to make the original recipe, and maybe I should have.
However, I had to change things...

For one thing, many chocolate bars are packaged in a 4 oz. size. I don't generally like to have bits and pieces of this and that left over. When you need it again, you can never find it. It's only when you're trying to clean and de-clutter that you suddenly amass many bits and pieces, which I find annoying.
Le Chef called for more than 4 oz., but less than 8 oz. in the original, and myself feeling like I might be able to do something to remedy the situation...

You will want to use a little flour or cocoa powder to coat the greased madeleine molds. Flour is fine, however with chocolate desserts and confections you do run the (horrible) risk of a somewhat spotted or streaked finished product. Not a big deal, but if it bothers you, the cocoa powder option will undeniably NOT mar your chocolate masterpieces.

Chocolate Madeleines
based on a recipe by Joël Robuchon
makes about 24, 3-inch cakes

2 sticks (1/2 lb.) butter, plus extra for greasing the mold
1 T honey
4 oz. semi sweet or bittersweet chocolate
1 3/4 c confectioners sugar
1/2 c flour
1/2 c fine almond flour
2 T cocoa powder
1/4 t salt
6 lg. egg whites
1 T honey

Using a pastry brush, coat the indentations of the madeleine mold with melted butter. Sprinkle with flour (or cocoa powder), shake the pan a little, and tap the excess out of the pan.
Melt the butter in a small saucepan and pour it into a small bowl to cool. Add the honey to the butter and set aside.
In the same small pan, gently melt the chocolate over low heat. Set aside once melted.
In a medium bowl whisk together the confectioners sugar, flour, almond flour, salt, and cocoa powder until well-combined and aerated.
Beat the egg whites in a large bowl until fluid and slightly frothy (it only takes a minute or two). Pour the flour mixture into the egg whites and stir until well combined. Add the butter/honey mixture as well as the melted chocolate, and whisk until you have a homogenous batter.
Spoon batter into the hollows of the prepared madeleine mold, filling almost to the top. Place the filled mold as well as the other half of the batter into the refrigerator to rest one hour.
About 20 minutes before the batter is set to come out of the refrigerator, preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
Bake the madeleines 12-15 minutes or until you are unable to see raw batter in the cracks that appear at the back of the tender cakes and they spring back when poked lightly. Remove the pan from the oven and rap a few times on the counter to dislodged the cakes. Tip the cakes onto a cooling rack using a knife to help remove the madeleines from the pan if necessary.
Wash and dry the pan, grease the indentations with melted butter, dust with flour, and divide the remaining batter among the madeleine indentations. Repeat the baking process, etc.
Serve warm or at room temperature. Cooled madeleines can be stored in a sealed container for several days.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Crème Fraîche

Crème fraîche is simply a cultured cream.
It's rich, creamy and delicately tangy in flavor, but not quite as strong or thick as it's close relative sour cream.

It's a great accompaniment to salmon, potatoes, scones or fresh berries, crepes or poundcake (and a nice counterpoint to lemon curd or jam)... but it also works very well as a topping for soups or a creamy thickening addition to sauces since it doesn't curdle or separate.

Crème fraîche can be beaten with a little sugar to give you something similar to whipped cream. Use with fruit desserts, or as a frosting for cakes...

While extremely fresh and without any extra additives when made at home, it's also much cheaper than what can be found at the store.
I can find 8 oz. for more than $5, but I can make the same amount for less that $2.

So, if you've got a little forethought, it's worth the very little trouble it takes to make crème fraîche.

Crème Fraîche
makes approximately 8 oz.

1 c heavy cream
2 T buttermilk

In a medium bowl stir buttermilk into cream. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and leave at room temperature 12-24 hours, or until desired consistency. Stir the thickened cream, transfer to a glass jar, cover with a lid and store in the refrigerator up to two weeks.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Asparagus and Ricotta Tartlets

I recently read a very funny essay by Brett Martin about how, as large as it seems, in our modern times the world is actually a small place and everything is easily accessible... right?

The author had returned from Malaysia and found he was missing the food he had eaten there. He had the bright idea that with overnight shipping anything was possible. And so, he set out to order some memories from around the world. He would have meals FedEx-ed to him.

It would certainly be more economical than a plane trip for the sole reason of eating food... other than that, we can safely assume it's not the cheapest way to dine.
As it turned out, it wasn't actually as easy as he'd initially dreamed. The first problem was finding people people willing to assist him in his scheme.

Bollito misto from Italy? Neither he nor an Italian émigré friend living in Brazil was able to find a willing assistant for the endeavor.

Cassoulet from France? His answer was, "Clearly you are not familiar with the French."

However, with all the other problems, the USDA and U.S. customs would be the biggest deterrent...

Suckling pig from Bali? No chance.

If you've ever tried to smuggle something into the U.S. (whether knowingly or not) you'd understand. Explanations don't matter.
I always wonder what happens to unopened foodstuffs that's confiscated at airports, no matter the country.
One can seriously and sadly imagine someone else enjoying whatever wonderful something you've just lost.
Do they have to throw it away? Do they actually do it?

Within the country, he successfully obtained muffalettas from New Orleans, BBQ from North Carolina, burnt ends from Arthur Bryant's in KC, and green chile enchiladas from New Mexico.

Our writer figured out that seafood was not on the list of items scrutinized by the USDA.
So, he obtained herring from Sweden.
He tried to get a seafood dish from Malaysia, but it was stopped in Alaska.
It finally arrived a week later, and by that time he decided it probably wouldn't be a good idea to eat it.

After all of this food frenzy, he decided that maybe things weren't really as good as he remembered them. While they seemed fine, they weren't quite as fresh. But more importantly, what makes the food really good is the special ambiance that a place exudes.

An example for me is that while in France one time, bright and beautiful red frais de bois and fresh creamy brie tasted wonderfully good sitting on a bench under a willow tree, next to a stone wall complete with a bubbling stream rushing by. While I can think about it, and those things were excellent in and of themselves, they were probably made much better by the surroundings and the ambience.

The best part is the experience! All the senses are involved to help complete the memory.

Asparagus and Ricotta Tartlets
Adapted from Donna Hay's Entertaining
makes 12 tartlets

1 pkg (2 sheets) puff pastry, thawed
1 1/2 c whole-milk ricotta cheese
1 1/2 c finely grated Parmesan cheese
zest of one lemon
1/2 t kosher salt
1/4 t freshly ground black pepper
2 bunches asparagus (you'll have some left over)
Olive oil, for brushing

Lemon wedges, for serving

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F and line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
In a medium bowl, mix together the ricotta and Parmesan cheeses, lemon zest, salt, and pepper.
Straighten/stretch a sheet of puff pastry and cut along folds so you have 3 equal rectangles. Cut each rectangle in half across the long edges so you now have 6 equal rectangles. Repeat with the second sheet of puff pastry.
Place the pastry rectangles on the baking sheets and score a 1-cm wide border along each side. Divide the cheese mixture evenly among each piece of pastry and spread evenly in the center part of each, being careful to avoid the outside border.
Trim asparagus so they fit the cheese-coated areas, and lightly press a few spears into each tart. Brush the outside edges of the pastry with a little olive oil and bake the tartlets for 20-25 minutes, until the pastry has puffed and is golden brown. Serve warm or room temperature.