Posts Tagged ‘French’
Obviously, the appeals of plain, vegetable mush soup have not been lost upon me yet. But don’t be fooled—this one is extra special, and by extra special I of course mean that it is more unremarkable than the rest. Maybe even the most unremarkable! This is not your average run-of-the-mill vegetable mush, no, no, it is mush of the most thrown-away, despised and barely tolerated vegetable. Celery.
I would pity the vegetable and its unpopularity more if I myself weren’t part of the unappreciative masses who consume celery stalks for only one of 3 purposes: 1.) as a base for stocks and soups (which uses only a couple stalks—the rest inevitably languish in the vegetable drawer), 2.) for ants on a log (don’t judge, that stuff is good), and 3.) to munch on some fake calories to keep my stomach distracted while I find something substantial to eat for dinner.
I honestly don’t know why I picked out celery-celery soup from all of Dorie Greenspan’s recipes in her Around My French Table cookbook to make. Maybe the day I decided to make it I was feeling extra sensitive and my empathetic instincts to side with the underdog has finally made its way onto my dinner plate.
All I know is the day I wanted to eat it for dinner, I couldn’t, because the celery root required for the recipe was no where to be found in the 3 nearest grocery stores near me. I will save your sanity, and mine, by not dwelling on the fact that I live in a culturally-forsaken area that doesn’t stock celery root in February. So, fast-forward two weeks from that night when I found some celery root in a health food store (that curiously and deliciously sells kombucha in bulk…awesome), and that is when the glory of this soup, or maybe more accurately lack thereof, began.
In case you haven’t figured it out yet by my ramblings, the double celery in the name signifies the presence of both celery stalks and celery root. There’s also some apples in the soup, which add some sweetness, but they don’t detract any of the main flavor. Besides that, there’s not much to it. Let’s just say that this is a soup of humble origins. (A random tangent: I actually love cooking really humble soups that require no more than water or broth, onions, and another vegetable or two. I think it goes back to when I had to read Night in middle school, and Elie Weisel wrote about how he ate some version of soup—aka water and onion—for his daily meal most days. I don’t know, there’s just something about eating a whole bunch of gooey cinnamon cake squares that immediately propels a person in the opposite direction afterwards.)
Anyway, what you end up with is a puree that’s light, and with sweetness and earthiness from the flavor of celery. I’m not going to add any whistles or bells to it, because after all we’re still talking about celery here, but it’s pretty good. Add on a drizzle of heavy cream, and some homemade curried croutons and curried apples—they take minutes to make and add a completely different, delicious dimension—and you’ve got yourself something even better. Something, dare I say, even actually special!
One Year Ago: Honey Whole-Wheat Bread
Celery-Celery Soup with Curried Croutons
From Dorie Greenspan’s Around My French Table
Serves 8, more or less
2 tablespoons butter
3 celery stalks with leaves, trimmed and sliced into rough 1/2-inch pieces
2 large onions, chopped
2 sweet apples (such as Fuji), peeled, cored, and cut into 1-inch cubes
1 pound celery root, trimmed, peeled, cut into 1-inch cubes
1 bay leaf
1 sprig of thyme
6 cups vegetable broth
heavy cream, creme fraiche, or whole-milk yogurt, for serving
2 hefty tablespoons butter, separated
1/2 teaspoon curry powder, separated
2 sweet apples, peeled, cored, and cut into a dice
bread (country, white, wheat, whatever) tore or cut into a dice (enough to make 1-2 cups)
To make the soup, melt the 2 tablespoons butter in a large Dutch oven or soup pot over medium-low heat. Once melted, add the sliced celery, onions, and apples and season liberally with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are soft and the onions are beginning to get translucent but not brown, about 7 minutes or so. Stir in the celery root and the herbs. Add the broth, turn up the heat to high, and bring the mixture to a boil. Once it reaches a boil, turn down the heat to low, partially cover the pot, and simmer for about 30 minutes, or until the celery root smashes easily when pressed against with the back of a spoon. As Dorie says, if you can, pull out the bay leaf and thyme—but good luck with that.
While the soup is simmering, make the curried apples and croutons. In a large skillet over medium heat, melt a tablespoon of butter. Add in 1/4 teaspoon curry powder and stir until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add in the diced apple and saute until tender, about 2 minutes. (These apples won’t get crispy like croutons, but I hardly think that’s the purpose of them.) Taste for seasonings, then remove from the pan and set aside. In the same pan, melt another hefty tablespoon of butter over medium heat. Add in another 1/4 teaspoon curry and once again, stir until fragrant. Add in the bread cubes and cook, stirring frequently, until the croutons are browned and crispy. Taste for seasonings.
When the soup has simmered sufficiently, transfer the mixture in small batches to a blender and puree the soup until very smooth. Reheat and season to taste for salt and pepper. Serve, garnishing each bowl with a heavy drizzle of cream (or a big dollop of creme fraiche or yogurt), a big spoonful of the curried apples, and a sprinkling of the curried croutons.
I understand that at this moment there are very few people searching for a classic, decadent crème brûlée recipe. It’s a little impractical of me to be posting about such a thing, seeing as that thing called New Years’ resolutions has taken hold of the world and the craze to eat healthier and drop some holiday pounds has most invariably come with it. I’m not saying it’s a bad thing; I guess it’s very good and helpful that the motivation for improving ourselves comes around with the New Year. And I have to admit, even though I usually don’t take to New Year resolutions, I kind of have this year. Sort of. It’s actually more the kind of thing where I was feeling sick a couple days ago and then had an irrational and nonsensical revelation that maybe just maybe I am feeling sick because I eat way too much sugar and it’s some sort of pre-diabetic thing my body is trying to warn me of. (Logic, begone!) Yeah, so now I am really trying to save any sort of added sugar to be a special occasion type of thing.
So why, may one ask, am I still deciding to post about crème brûlée (especially considering that the past seven, yes SEVEN-in-a-row things I have posted about on this blog are sweets)? Because 1.) this is truly a flawless recipe for crème brûlée that should be on all of your minds, someday, once this whole resolution thing wears off 2.) I have nothing else to post about that doesn’t use sugar and butter in some form anyway.
It may seem at first that crème brûlée is one of those things “best left to the professionals,” but I was seriously surprised at just how much better this crème brûlée tasted than any I’ve had in restaurants. There is no beating the pure flavors of the vanilla and cream, with the freshly-caramelized sugar crust on top when it is made at home. This surprise first happened almost 4 years ago, when I made this recipe for the first time with Waylon (back when we weren’t dating but were just friends! Weird) and Lindsey. It’s a shame it’s taken me so long to make it again, but it’s one of those reliable recipes I’m happy to know I have in case an opportunity calls.
Another thing I like about making crème brûlée from home is the liberty one has with making the burnt-sugar crust. Not only is it almost too much fun to use a blow torch to caramelize the sugar, but the brûlée part of this homemade dessert is incomparable And unlike seemingly everyone else in this universe, I usually don’t really love the sugar crust part at restaurants. But at home, the crust is thinner, the caramel taste is less burnt, it tastes fresher, it’s just better. The nice part about it too is that you can personalize this part—if you like yours more caramelized or thicker, you can do that.
Speaking of the caramelized crust—I’m fortunate enough to have a father who is a high school biology-environmental science teacher and routinely has access to blow torches for his labs. I got to borrow one, but I’m not sure I’d spend the money on at-home blow torches if I didn’t have that option. I’ve seen some recipes that call for the sugar to be caramelized under the broiler setting in the oven, which intrigues me, but I feel like I’m not sure how well that would work. Would it heat up too slowly to keep the custard still chilled and creamy? If you’ve tried it that way, do let me know.
Anyway, I understand that it is a new year and people have resolutions. But years are long, and before we know it, the beauty of sweets and desserts such as this will happily return to be acceptable (every so often, of course) in everyone’s lives. When that time arrives, and a hankering for a lush, perfect-in-all-ways dessert comes your way, consider making some homemade crème brûlée.
PS: I know it is common for bloggers to do a round-up sort of post that captures their favorite recipes throughout the year. I tried doing that, but all that resulted was me getting a serious craving for some Lebanese food and some sun. But, if I had to pick a single favorite post, it would be this one about pistachio baklava. Less for the baklava, but more for the story and pictures that went along with it. Obviously I’m not only restless for the sun right now, but to be in the sun somewhere else in the world. Here’s my wish for the new year: travel gods, please be good to me.
One Year Ago: Flourless Chocolate Torte (my timeliness, or lack thereof, of what I post around the New Year continues!)
From Cook’s Illustrated
If necessary (but I don’t advise it nor have I tested it myself), you can substitute 2 teaspoons of vanilla extract instead of the vanilla bean. Also, you could use regular granulated sugar instead of demarara or turbinado sugar. Also, I didn’t do this, but the original recipe highly recommends testing the doneness of the cream by using a instant-read digital thermometer. Placed in the center of the custard, the thermometer should register 170 to 175 degrees when done.
4 cups heavy cream
2/3 cup granulated sugar
pinch kosher salt
1 vanilla bean
12 large egg yolks
8 heaping teaspoons turbinado sugar or demerara sugar
Preheat oven to 300 degrees and adjust an oven rack to the lower-middle position.
Combine 2 cups cream with the sugar and salt in a medium saucepan. Using a paring knife, split the vanilla bean in half and sliding the knife along the inside, scrape all the seeds from the pod. Add both seeds and pod into the cream mixture, and turn on the heat to medium. Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally, making sure all the sugar dissolves. Once beginning to boil, remove from heat and let the flavors steep for 15 minutes. While the mixture is steeping, place a kitchen towel flat in the bottom of a large baking or roasting dish. Arrange eight 4 or 5-ounce ramekins or shallow dishes on the towel. Bring a kettle-full (or medium saucepan-full) of water to boil over high heat.
After the cream mixture has steeped for 15 minutes, stir in the remaining 2 cups cream to cool the mixture down. In a large bowl, whisk yolks until broken up and combined. Add about a cup of the cream mixture into the yolks and whisk to loosen up the yolks gently. Repeat once more with another cup of the cream mixture. Add the rest of the cream mixture and whisk until homogeneous and evenly colored and combined. Strain through a fine-mesh strainer into a at least 2-quart measuring cup or pitcher to make for easy pouring later on. Discard any solids left in the strainer.
Carefully pour and divide the cream mixture evenly among the ramekins. Carefully place the baking dish on the oven rack. Even more carefully, pour boiling water into the baking dish, taking care not to splash water into the ramekins, until the water reaches at between halfway and two-thirds up the height of the ramekins. Bake until the custards are just barely set and no longer sloshy, about 30-35 minutes. Once removed from the oven, transfer ramekins to a wire rack to cool, about 2 hours. Once cool, cover tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate until completely cold, about 4 hours (or up to 4 days).
When ready to serve, uncover ramekins, and soak up any condensation that collects on the top of the custards by gently placing a paper towel on the top surface. Sprinkle each ramekin with a heaping teaspoon of turbinado sugar and tilt and tap the ramekin until its evenly colored. Ignite torch and holding flame about two inches from the surface of the custards, caramelize sugar until a deep golden brown. I found the best technique for even, deep caramelizing is moving the flame in a circular motion without directly holding the flame over one spot for too long. If not serving immediately (which you probably should), place back in the fridge to cool.
A “far” is a French custardy cake, one that’s more of a pudding than anything else (kind of like this French apple cake, but perhaps even a bit more pudding-like). Its crepe-like batter is thin, and when baked, its sides puff and billow up while getting a deep brown color. This version, with prunes, comes from Brittany (hence the Breton part), but to be honest I’m not sure if there are any other versions of French fars.
I first heard of this holiday cake from the blog Manger (my skilled abilities from my one semester of French urges me to tell you it’s pronounced mawn-jay with a very soft “j”). It’s one of those rare websites that is very singular in its nature, unable to be replicated by anyone. Perhaps that’s because no one else is possible so fortunate as to not only be beautiful with the most angelic-looking kids, but live in the idyllic French countryside with a pack of little soft dogs. To top it all off, she has an Icelandic husband (seriously, how many languages do their kids know?) who can take the loveliest photos to capture it all.
Manger’s version of far breton features prunes that soak in rum. The way she describes its pairing with the “homely batter” to make a “never-ending taste linger on until you have the last sip of coffee” was enough to sell me on the entire thing. While I chose to follow a different recipe though, one by Dorie Greenspan, I kept that same aspect of using only prunes, and soaking them in rum. They are scattered through the entire custardy cake, making bites vary between the thick and rich custard with the tart and juicy prunes.
Can we talk about prunes, just for one second? This is kind of a tangent, but I think its important. As I’m sure the whole world is aware, there’s kind of stigma surrounding prunes. I don’t know, something involving old people and digestive tracks. Anyway, that stigma has been driven so far so that all I see when I try to find them in the grocery store is “dried plums.” Really? David Lebovitz has an awesome post about this issue. Apparently they are a big delicacy in France, so I’m not sure why we’re so adamant about judging prunes and those who eat them anyway. They are delicious, and especially in this. And that is that.
Speaking of which, I hate to give off the impression that anything French or French-minded > anything in America, especially around the time of the holidays when I should be sticking strictly to American traditions. But I have to mention, Lindsey spent some time in Paris while studying abroad in Rome, and being the thoughtful twin sister that she is, she brought me back a heavy Paris restaurant guide, written in French. So even though I can read just about 1 out of every 20 words in the guide, I’ve kind of gone on a wanderlust for French things (per usual), and this far is a byproduct of that. Nonetheless, this is a beautiful cake that I hope to make even when I’m out of this kind of mood later on in the year.
One Year Ago: Classic Stout Gingerbread
Adapted slightly from Dorie Greenspan
Serves 6 to 8
2 cups whole milk
1/2 cup sugar
5 tablespoons butter, melted and cooled
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
a good pinch of salt
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup small or medium-size pitted prunes (about 6 ounces)
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup rum
In a blender, combine the milk, eggs, sugar, butter, vanilla and salt. Blend for 1 minute, until fully blended and creamy. Add the flour and pulse, scraping down the sides a time or two, until just blended. Cover the blender container and chill for at least 3 hours or up to 1 day.
Meanwhile, combine the prunes and the 1/2 cup water in a small saucepan. Cook over medium heat until almost all the water has been soaked or evaporated and the prunes have softened, about 10 minutes. Turn off the heat, pour the run over the fruit, and set aside to let the fruit cool completely.
When ready to bake the Far, position a rack in the middle of the oven and heat to 375 degrees. Butter a 8 or 9-inch pan that has at sides at least 2-inches tall. Line bottom of the pan with parchment, butter it, then dust the pan with flour, shaking out the excess.
While the oven is heating, re-blend the batter just until smooth again, about 5 to 10 seconds. Pour about half the batter into the prepared pan. Place the prunes evenly into the batter, then continue to pour in the remaining batter. Bake in the preheated oven until sides are puffed and browned, and the center is golden, about 1 hour. The center should be just set, but it’ll still jiggle a bit; a knife inserted should come out clean though. Cool completely in the pan on a wire rack. Once cool, run a knife around the edge of the pan to loosen the cake. Invert the cake onto a plate, releasing the cake. Peel off the parchment, and invert again onto a serving plate. Dust the top of the cake with powdered sugar and serve.
I’m not really one to go to what is commonly thought of as stereotypical college parties. Especially those of a small, nothing-else-to-do town, where everyone from the small, nothing-else-to-do liberal arts college cram into one big house. People, it gets crowded in those houses, and by crowded I mean sweaty and gross and hot. I don’t mean to sound too lame, but just the thought of that gives my claustrophobic self some anxiety.
Considering this, it’s not like I was looking forward to turning 21 almost half a year ago and the freedom of buying alcohol as that big of a deal (not that it’s that big of a deal to underage students around here anyway, but I digress). I figured, eh, I’ve lived 21 years just fine without being able to buy it, not much is going to change just because all of a sudden, one day I can.
Oh, how I was wrong! Once I turned 21, I felt like a different person. A whole citizen, who could do whatever I wanted! No matter if I despised the idea of drinking by myself and the only form of alcohol that doesn’t taste like rubbing alcohol to me is wine and ciders—no, that doesn’t matter at all. The point is that I could walk into any store I’d like, and purchase whatever I wanted in it. I’d walk through the wine aisles in grocery stores and feel satisfied that nothing was out of reach for me. I don’t mean to sound over the top (even though I’ve probably already reached that threshold), but almost began to think in my head that my pre-21-self was a poor, lowly, marginalized person in America who wasn’t extended the full rights that I should be entitled to. It ended up being a very big deal to me, obviously.
Anyway, I buy alcohol sometimes now. Yeah, I’ve become not only the stereotypical college student that has some form of alcohol in the cupboards, I’ve become the greater-yet-stereotypical snobby, cultured college student that snubs my nose at almost all beer but will pretend to recognize different wines. Oh well, that’s how it goes. I like it, because instead of wishing I had some good beer for Waylon and I to drink with the homemade soft pretzels I made last spring, now I can make that happen. When I want to make risotto, I can use white wine, and not just chicken stock. When I want to make coq au vin, key word vin, I actually can. Can you see, now, why this is something of a slight revelation to me? Any recipe is accessible to me. Hopefully you guys will hold me accountable to that and make me actually try experimenting with new things.
Anyway, about this chicken that has vin. Yes, it’s a quick and dirty version of the classic coq au vin Julia Child made famous. I have yet to make or even try this classic version (though I’d really love to one day), so I can’t really accurately compare it to this dish. I’m guessing this one isn’t near as good, but that’s what one gets for having “quick” in the title. It is really easy, though, and I think it’s one of those weeknight dishes that are worth the slight effort you put in. It follows the simple steps of rendering the fat of some bacon until the pieces become crisp, then sauteing chicken breast cutlets in the drippings. Within minutes the chicken is cooked, and you remove it temporarily to brown up sliced cremini mushrooms and shallots. The shallots are sliced through the root end, so hopefully they won’t all fall apart, but we do the best we can with that. Then a fair amount of wine and chicken stock gets added, and that bubbles away until it reduces a bit. At this point, you add in flour to thicken the sauce, nestle the chicken back in amongst the vegetables to warm it back up again and soak in some juices, and before you know it, you have quick, skillet coq au vin.
For how simple and straightforward it is, I loved it. Juicy chicken, delicious sauce and drippings, and all good, classic flavors. It’s one of those things that I’d like to credit myself with knowing how to make, being able to fall back on it when I need a dinner fast (considering I have red wine on hand). This time, I served it with a simple potato gratin, which I loved if only because I find pleasure when all the food on my plate matches up cuisine-wise, but it’d be nice to serve with something to soak up all those juices better—maybe mashed potatoes, crusty bread, or even rice.
One Year Ago: Best Banana Bread
Quick Skillet Coq au Vin
Adapted slightly from Bon Appetit, October 2010
4 bacon slices, coarsely chopped
2 skinless, boneless chicken breasts, halved and trimmed to make 4 cutlets
6 ounces cremini mushrooms, halved or quartered
6 shallots, halved or quartered through the root end
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 1/2 cups dry red wine
1 1/4 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1 heaping tablespoon all-purpose flour
fresh italian parlsey, chopped, to garnish (optional)
Saute bacon in a large skillet over medium-high heat until crisp and most of the fat has been rendered. Using a slotted spoon, remove the bacon and set aside. Discard all but about 2 tablespoons of the bacon fat left in the pan, if necessary. Meanwhile, pat the chicken cutlets dry and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Add to the drippings in the skillet, and cook until cooked through, about 5 minutes on each side. Remove chicken from skillet and set aside.
Add chopped mushrooms and shallots to the skillet, and sprinkle in a pinch of salt and pepper. Saute until browned, about 4 minutes. Add garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the wine, 1 cup of the broth, and the bacon into the skillet. Bring to a boil while scraping all the browned bits off the bottom of the pan. Reduce slightly to a steady simmer, and allow to simmer for about 10 minutes, or until the liquid has been reduced by about maybe a third or so.
Meanwhile, add the remaining 1/4 cup broth in a small bowl with the heaping tablespoon of flour; stir until smooth. Add the flour mixture to the sauce and stir in. At this point you can nestle the chicken (as well as any juices they accumulated) back in the skillet between the shallots and mushrooms. Let the mixture settle and thicken for about 3 or 4 more minutes, until your liking. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve, sprinkling with parsley if you’d like.
PS: Also, I gave in—I got an iphone. No matter that I have strictly hated anything smart phone or that one of my favorite quotes is one by Max Frisch, saying “technology is the knack of so arranging the world so that we don’t have to experience it.” What can I say, it just kind of happened. I always end up giving in to everything I at first hate. (Besides Waylon. I always liked him from the beginning.) But, silver lining: I’m probably going to be more active on my twitter, now that I can post pictures of things easily. Just in case you’re interested.