2.25.2010

Verrines

A while back, Kate at Serendipity introduced me to verrines. And when I looked into it, I discovered Tartelette had posted several others (scroll down on her page to see the rest)...so unusual that I've been intrigued ever since. Needing to know more, I went online, then to the library (no luck), then to Barnes and Noble (still no luck) and finally ended up back online with Amazon. And there I discovered a little gem of a book simply entitled Verrines. However, there was a bit of a problem...it was in French. Damn. Oh well, I had to have it so I treated myself, cringing as I paid the USED price of $35!!! The only thing that makes me feel the least bit smug about this wild splurge is as of today, the cheapest one Amazon has is $88! My treasure arrived last week. I love it, love it, love it and plan to solve the language problem by using Google translate and my darling French-speaking daughter.


Verrines can be just about anything: appetizer, salad or dessert. For my  trial run I chose an appetizer verrine. Now I don't have the adorable glasses that Kate and the book have, but used a small glass coffee cup. It seemed the perfect size for an appetizer as savory as this. I loved the way it turned out and served it the same night. Everyone was so enthusiastic! Here are a few other brilliant ideas from the book. The first two are both appetizers, the first one has a ratatouille base and the second is ham and cucumber. The second two are desserts, something fabulous in chocolate and the other is made with bananas and perhaps a panna cotta:



I'm going to make some these recipes for future posts, but after looking through the book it occurred to me that many of these verrines actually looked like deconstructed salads, appetizers and desserts. Why couldn't I give that idea a try? So I made a dessert I have been meaning to post: Eton Mess. And decontructed it in the brandy glass so when it's served, everyone can stir it all together and make the "mess" they're supposed to make!

Eton Mess originated at one of England's most famous public schools, Eton. As I understand, it is served during their prize-giving ceremonies. I think this translates perfectly into a dessert verrine.


Enjoy my two successful experiments, take another look at your glassware, think about what recipes would be fun showcased in each and go for it! Let me know any super inventions you come up with!

Verrine À l'italienne

Adapted from Verrines by José Maréchal


 
Ingredients:


60 grams (2 ounces) of black olive tapenade
50 grams (1.6 ounces) pesto

4 tomatoes
60 grams (2 ounces) sun dried tomatoes
large ball of Buffalo mozzarella

Method:


Cut the tomatoes into quarters, remove seeds and dice. Mix the tomatoes with the sun dried tomatoes in a food processor and process.

Cut thin slices of mozzarella with a cookie cutter that is exactly the size of your container.
To finish your verrine, layer tapenade, a slice of mozzarella, the tomato mixture, another slice of mozzarella and top it off with pesto. Serve with breadsticks.

Eton Mess Verrine
Adapted from Jamie Oliver’s Cook with Jamie



Ingredients:

1 basic meringue recipe (or buy some ready-made)
1 pint whipping cream
1 vanilla pod, scored and seeds removed
2 tablespoons sugar
2 cups strawberries, hulled and sliced
1/2 cup raspberries
1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon rosewater


Method:

Have your meringues prepared in advance. Whip the cream with the vanilla seeds. Soft peaks are good enough, you don’t need it to get too stiff. Take half the fruit, mash it in a bowl with sugar, balsamic vinegar and rosewater. The other half I sliced and added a touch of sugar. Smash the meringues into smallish chunks. Bring out your glasses and layer as follows: some of the crushed fruit, some crushed meringue, some whipped cream and then some of the sliced berries. Continue until your verrine is filled and top with a nice strawberry.

2.22.2010

Olympics Sunday Supper

Watching the Olympics has become a sport in itself.  We all have our favorites, but I personally love short track skating, the halfpipe and ski cross- a new event... like motor cross on skis. And after watching skiers whipping over moguls in several events, I figure the orthopedists of the world will be very busy people.
No matter which sport you like to watch, you can't help but be impressed by all the world's atheletes. (Well, maybe not the South Korean short track skaters. And maybe not the Russian skater who thought he deserved gold.) I do, however, get annoyed with NBC and the events they choose to air. Why oh why was the U.S. vs Canada hockey game on MSNBC?? Was this not considered an important matching? Forget than I am an old Red Wings fan. Was I the only one who wanted to see this on NBC in prime time? At the very least, half of it. Every Olympics I gripe about this stuff. Probably we all do.

Anyway, I didn't want to be in the kitchen cooking last night so I dug around in my file to find something that sounded good, not too heavy, something I had never tried and of course something I could tell you about if it turned out to be wonderful. And I chose a dish with mushrooms. I love 'em.  My mushroom repertoire is extensive: mushroom bread pudding; mushroom pie; mushroom quiche; mushroom soup; mushroom studel. And is there anything better over a grilled steak? I even love a fresh mushroom salad.

I've had this recipe in my file for quite a while. I've seen other versions of it but still never got around to trying mine. It's a fabulous combo of polenta and mushrooms. With the Comte cheese I had left over from Thomas Keller's grilled cheese sandwich, I had everything I needed. So we had it for dinner last night while watching the Olympics. With a tossed salad, it's just right for a light supper. I made both the polenta (which has to be refrigerated anyway) and the mushrooms late morning and then all I had to do was reheat the mushrooms and briefly fry the polenta. The left-over mushrooms are going in my omelet for the next few mornings.

What Olympic events are you watching?

Mushroom Ragout on Crispy Polenta With Comté Cheese

Adapted from Bon Appetite, December 2007



Ingredients:

For the Polenta:
2 cups whole milk
2 cups low-salt chicken broth
1 bay leaf
1 cup polenta or coarse cornmeal
Note: I used cornmeal. The original recipe called for 1 cup but it didn't get nearly thick enough so I made a second batch with 1-1/2 cups of coarse cornmeal and it was fine.
1/2 cup (packed) coarsely grated Comté cheese (or any gruyere)
2 tablespoons (1/4 stick) butter

For the Mushroom Ragout:
3 tablespoons butter, divided
4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
1-1/2 pounds assorted wild mushrooms (such as oyster, crimini, and stemmed shiitake), thickly sliced
1/4 cup finely chopped shallots
2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup low-salt chicken broth
1/3 cup crème fraîche or whipping cream
1/3 cup chopped fresh parsley, divided
1/3 cup (packed) coarsely grated Comté cheese  ( or any gruyere)

Method:

Generously butter a 13x9x1 inch baking sheet. Bring milk, broth, and bay leaf to simmer in heavy medium saucepan. Remove saucepan from heat; cover and let steep 20 minutes to allow flavors to develop. Discard bay leaf. Bring liquid to boil. Gradually add polenta, whisking constantly until smooth. Reduce heat to medium-low and cook until polenta is very thick, stirring frequently, about 10 minutes. Stir in Comté cheese and butter. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Transfer polenta to prepared 13x9x1-inch baking sheet. Using wet hands, press polenta evenly over sheet to edges. Chill until firm, at least 3 hours. Cut polenta into 20 squares. DO AHEAD: Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover and refrigerate.

Melt 2 tablespoons butter with 2 tablespoons oil in large deep skillet over medium-high heat. Add all mushrooms and sauté until tender and browned, stirring often, about 10 minutes. Add shallots and balsamic vinegar; sauté until tender, about 2 minutes. Season lightly to taste with salt and pepper. DO AHEAD: Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover and refrigerate.

Rewarm mushrooms in large skillet over medium-high heat until heated through. Add broth and simmer 1 minute. Stir in crème fraîche and half of parsley. Season mushroom ragout to taste with salt and pepper. Remove from heat; cover to keep warm.

Meanwhile, preheat oven to 300°. Melt remaining 1 tablespoon butter with remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil in large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Working in batches, add polenta squares to skillet and cook until browned, about 2 1/2 minutes per side. Transfer to rimmed baking sheet and keep warm in oven while cooking remaining polenta squares.

Arrange 2 polenta squares on each plate. Top each with warm mushroom ragout; sprinkle with grated Comté cheese and remaining parsley and serve.

2.18.2010

Sweet Lavender

Did you know lavender is an herb? I thought it was a flower.  Well, it has a flower. The Greeks and the Romans bathed in lavender scented water....the name "lavender" is Latin from the word "lavare", and means to wash. They also used the dried flowers to scent and flavor jellies as well as other sweets. Queen Elizabeth I of England valued lavender as a conserve and a perfume. To this day, the French continue to send baby lambs to graze in fields of lavender, so their meat will be tender and fragrant.

This herb has also been used as a remedy for a range of ailments from insomnia and anxiety to depression and fatigue. Research has confirmed that lavender produces slight calming, soothing, and sedative effects when its scent is inhaled. Which is probably why lavender is such a popular fragrance in soaps, perfumes and potpourri mixtures.

Lately I've noticed more and more recipes are using lavender as an ingredient. I was also surprised to find it listed as an ingredient in Herbes de Provence. Everyone seems to have a different idea about lavender's flavor. It has been variously described as sweet, floral or lemony. I personally found it to be slightly floral and kind of woodsy. If you're going to give lavender a try in the kitchen, be sure (Unless you're fortunate enough to have it growing in your garden!) to buy culinary lavender.



And how would you use it, you ask? Here are some ideas:


  • Use lavender as a substitute for thyme or marjoram.
  • Lavender can also be substituted for rosemary in many bread recipes.
  • The flowers can be put in sugar and sealed tightly for a couple of weeks then the sugar can be substituted for ordinary sugar for a cake, buns or custards.
A word of caution for first time users: Lavender is strong and can "overdose" a recipe unless used sparingly. Begin to experiment with lavender as a background flavor...like vanilla. You know it's there, but it's not the main player. You can use lavender flowers, buds, and leaves, sprigs, either fresh, dried or ground.

Did I forget to mention using lavender in drinks?


How about lavender lemonade?
Or place sprigs of lavender into a gin bottle and put the bottle in the freezer for summer drinks. The combination of gin and lavender make an absolutely fabulous gin and tonic!
Or try a sprig of lavender in a martini with a twist of lemon.

Recently Susan of
Savoring Time in the Kitchen posted a recipe for Lavender-Lemon Pound Cake. Sounds delicious. I haven't made it yet, but I'm going to.

I've never experimented with lavender so I thought I'd begin with this caramel sauce. I adore anything caramel and the best caramels I have ever eaten had fleur de sel sprinkled on top. Sounded like a great way for me to start; besides, how could this sauce be anything other than fabulous?
And it is. Fabulous. Rich, delightful and I can think of lots of things to pour it over, but vanilla ice cream is my favorite. It makes a super hostess gift or keep it in your fridge, reheat and use when you need that perfect finishing touch to your dessert. Like over a piece of angel food cake or even bread pudding.....drool.

Do you have any recipes using lavender as an ingredient?


Lavender Fleur de Sel Caramel Sauce

Martha Stewart Living Magazine, February 2010




Ingredients:
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
1/4 cup light corn syrup
3/4 cup heavy cream
5 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 teaspoon dried lavender
1/2 teaspoon fleur de sel

Method:

Heat the sugar and corn syrup in a heavy saucepan over medium to high heat, stirring occasionally until the sugar dissolves, 3 to 4 minutes. Bring to a boil and cook, washing down the sides of the pan with a wet pastry brush to prevent crystals from forming, until it is mediuim amber, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and add the heavy cream. Return to heat and cook, stirring until well combined. Remove from heat and stir in the butter, lavender and salt. Stir until combined and set aside for 15 minutes. Strain. Makes about 1-1/4 cups. Will keep in the fridge for up to 2 weeks.




Here are some good links on cooking with lavender:


http://www.happyvalleylavender.com/lavender_recipes.html
http://whatscookingamerica.net/Lavender.htm
http://www.lavenderlovers.com/recipes/recipes.html
http://www.joys-of-lavender.com/lavender-recipes.html
http://lavenderfarms.net/hoodriverlavender/HoodRiverLavenderRecipes.htm

2.14.2010

Noodles À La Choy

A few weeks ago, Grace at A Southern Grace did a posting on a little treat made with chow mein noodles. It reminded me how much I used to love those things; I ate them by the handful just like peanuts. Got my hand swatted for it too. Anyway, Grace surprised me by turning them into a sweet. Who would have thought?

It also brought to mind a recipe I used to make quite a bit for my family: Hot Chicken Salad. And guess what's on top? You got it... those buttery, crunchy chow mein noodles. A neighbor gave me the recipe years ago. She said she found it in one of her many Junior League cookbooks. (Those cookbooks are gems; they're filled to the brim with tried and true family recipes.) This was a really popular dish years ago, exactly the kind I like to revisit or reinvent. So I dug it out of my file and made it for dinner a couple weeks ago. The dish was as good as I remembered...crunchy, cheesy and oh my I still love those Chinese fried noodles on top. It's been a long time since I made this so I worried the noodles would get too brown during baking, but they seem to get even more crunchy and buttery.  I'm giving you the basic recipe; you can improvise to your heart's delight!


Hot Chicken Salad


Ingredients:

3 cups chicken, cooked and diced (see note below)
2 cups celery, diced
1/2 cup slivered almonds, toasted
1/2 cup water chestnuts, sliced
1/4 cup pimento, sliced
1 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup sour cream
3 Tablespoons lemon juice
2 Tablespoons grated onion
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 cup chow mein noodles
1/2 cup cheddar cheese, grated

Method:


Mix chicken, celery, almonds, water chestnuts and pimento together in a bowl. Blend mayonnaise, sour cream, lemon juice, onion, salt and pepper. Toss together and put in casserole. Top with cheese and sprinkle with the noodles. Bake at 350° for 30 minutes.


Note
: The Barefoot Contessa knows how to make perfect chicken for a chicken salad. I copied down her directions and have been making it that way ever since. She was right. The chicken is perfectly done, nicely seasoned and delicious. If you aren't using leftover chicken or turkey for this recipe, here are the directions for some nice juicy chicken breasts:

Place chicken breasts on a baking sheet and rub olive oil all over them. Sprinkly generously with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper. Roast in a 350° oven for 35 to 40 minutes or until cooked through. Cool slightly. Remove meat from the bones and discard skin.

2.09.2010

HAPPY VALENTINE'S DAY!


My Valentine's Day gift to you is this adorable cupcake. Not a cupcake at all, but a meringue confection masquerading as a cupcake. Delishishly decadent and sweet. Totally impractical, hideously fattening and difficult to resist.

Pink Meringue Cupcakes with Raspberry Curd
Martha Stewart Living Magazine, February 2010




Ingredients:
cooking spray like Pam
6 large egg whites, room temperature
1 teaspoon white vinegar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups sugar
Gel-paste food coloring (I used food coloring I already had)
2 cups crème fraiche
1 container (6 ounces) fresh raspberries
Raspberry curd (recipe follows)



Method:

Preheat oven to 225°. Line every other cup of 2 non-stick muffin tins with baking cups. Just before filling with the meringue, spray the muffin liners with Pam.
Beat the whites, vinegar, vanilla and salt in a mixer on medium speed until frothy. Add 1-3/4 cups sugar one tablespoon at a time, beating for 1 minute after each addition, making certain the sugar dissolves. Beat until stiff, glossy peaks form. Mix in 6 drops of food coloring.
Spray your muffin cups now.
Tranfer the mixture to a pastry bag fitted with a plain coupler (no tip) and pipe into the prepared muffin liners, filling to about 2 inches above the rims, ending with a peak in the center.
Bake, rotating half way through, for 3 to 3 hours and 20 minutes. Cupcakes should be dry on the outside and when you stick a toothpick in horizontally at the base of the top, it should come out with moist but cooked crumbs on it.

Transfer to a cooling rack. Let cool completely. Beat the creme fraiche and the remaining 1/4 cup sugar on high speed until soft peaks form. Carefully slice the tops of the cupcake off using a serrated knife. Top each cupcake with 2 tablespoons of raspberry curd (recipe follows), a few raspberries and 2 tablespoons of creme fraiche. Replace tops and serve.
Makes 1 dozen.


Raspberry Curd


Ingredients:

1 container (6 ounces) fresh raspberries
1-1/4 cups sugar
4 large egg yolks
1 stick unsalted butter
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
Pinch of salt


Method:

Stir all ingredients together well in a heatproof bowl set over a pan of simmering water. Stir until slightly thick, about 8-10 minutes.
Strain, refrigerate until cold and thick.

2.05.2010

Thomas Keller's Grilled Cheese Sandwich

You've all heard of Chef Thomas Keller. He's received just about every award possible, now owns 8 restaurants and is the only American-born chef to hold multiple three star ratings in the Michelin Guide. His French Laundry Cookbook continues to inspire many a chef but personally, I always felt it was a cookbook for professionals and not home cooks. Don't get me wrong, I love it, it's gorgeous, but I've never made a single thing in it.

Ad Hoc at Home is Keller's latest cookbook offering. It was on my Christmas wish list and Santa was good to me this year.



The book's inspiration was one of Keller's newer restaurants, Ad Hoc, a restaurant serving family style meals. And that is what Keller wanted to present in this cookbook. Family style, rustic meals. Here he is speaking about the cookbook:



Paula Forbes (click HERE to see her full review) said: "These are recipes Keller actually makes for his friends, family, and the patrons of his restaurant, and thus they aren't always as simple, or accessible, as one might hope."
Nonetheless, she continues on to give the book a rave review. Deservedly. After reading it myself, I had a severe case of cookbook love. These recipes are not as intimidating as The French Laundry cookbook recipes; it's not geared as much for professional chefs as for talented home chefs. I mean, any of us can make these recipes, they just aren't a walk in the park.

After the holidays I decided to try a recipe out of each of my Christmas cookbooks and post them. This is my second. I admit I was hard-pressed to find one in Ad Hoc at Home that would translate nicely to a blog posting during Super Bowl weekend. After all, how complicated do we want a recipe to be this week? And yes, I can't wait to make the chicken soup with dumplings ( a time-consuming labor of love where, among other things, the veggies had to each be blanched separately and the dumplings shaped with two spoons into quenelles) but I gleaned onto a familiar and rather surprising recipe near the end of the book: The Grilled Cheese Sandwich. How simple is that? Foolproof. And Super Bowl material.

We've all been eating this sandwich for years. Keller presents us with the perfect grilled cheese: Gruyère  on broiche. He serves his grilled cheese with sweet potato chips (homemade of course) and instead of the old standby Campbell's tomato soup, he suggests his Tomato Gazpacho, another recipe I intend to try. You can see what I mean about this cookbook; something as simple as a grilled cheese has the Keller touch with homemade Brioche, homemade sweet potato chips and homemade gazpacho. Not an impossible feat, but how many of us will take the time? No matter. I'll eventually get around to both the gazpacho and the chips (and perhaps the Brioche). Just not today.


The Grilled Cheese Sandwich
From Ad Hoc at Home by Thomas Keller


Ingredients:

Twelve 1/2-inch thick slices Brioche
8 to 10 ounces thinly sliced Gruyère  (Keller suggests Roth Käse reserve Gruyère )
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
Sweet potato chips

Method:

Preheat your oven to 350°.
Lay 6 slices of bread on your work surface and divide the cheese among them. Top with the remaining pieces of bread.
Heat a skillet over medium heat. Add 2 tablespoons butter and cook to brown the butter. Add half the sandwiches and cook until browned on the first side, about 1-1/2 minutes.



Flip the sandwiches and cook on the other side for another 30 to 45 seconds. Place on a sheet pan and spread 1 teaspoon of butter over the top of each sandwich. Repeat with the other sandwiches. Put the baking sheet in the oven for 2-5 minutes. Serves 6.

Note: Keller suggest cutting the crusts off  just before serving. I thought that would make a cheesy mess, so I cut the crusts off  before I put them in the frying pan.

2.01.2010

An Old Fashioned Torte

As kids, Carol Rosso and I were best buddies. Oddly enough, I only have two images of us together and they were both taken with my mother's stero 3D camera, long obsolete. The slides were in poor condition but I scanned them into my computer and did the best I could to clean them up. Thought I'd post them anyway because the clothes we wore back then are always good for a laugh. I mean what's with the rolled up jeans? And I can still hear my German grandmother reminding us not to forget our babushkas....

Both photos were taken the same day-ice skating and ice boating: two popular activities on Michigan's Lake St. Clair.



That's my dad in the old ice boating slide; he's well prepared for the cold. I love his hat and goggles, which were a necessity as sharp bits of ice come flying over the boat directly into your face. No windshields. (When we went with him we tied wool scarves over our faces, could barely see anything.) But other than that, the boats back then enclosed the rest of your body. It was a thrilling sport, the boat heeled in the wind just like a sailboat, one blade coming off the ice. Iceboats now are much lighter, completely open, making them faster.


And probably more dangerous- I remember one day Dad had a really bad accident. We were there, but not in the boat with him. He refused to take us when he went out a great distance on the lake. A blade caught in a crack in the ice and the boat went over. The mast hit him across his forehead. He was a mess. Helmets, face masks and no doubt other protective gear are de rigueur now, thank heaven.

Carol and I shared much of our childhood either on the water or on the ice. That's the way life was when you lived on the St. Clair River. You may have heard of it. It's an important river because not only is it an international boundry between the U.S. and Canada, but it also connects the Great Lakes, permitting freighters to travel between the upper and lower Great Lakes.

Unfortunately, Carol and I lost each other for a while when I left town for college, married and moved all over the place in the Air Force. But we eventually found each other again and now exchange Christmas cards and email. Carol still lives in Michigan just a few miles from where we used to live.

This is her cake. Or perhaps her mother's cake. I never asked which. Somebody told me years ago that it can be found in the old Betty Crocker cookbook and I have also heard it referred to as a traditional German cake. I don't know if any of that is true, but I do love this cake. It's called a Blitz Torte. It's vanilla on vanilla, my favorite. Vanilla cake with a vanilla pudding filling. It has a cooked meringue on top of each layer. It's up to you whether you put the meringue up or down on the cake plate. I find it easier to put the filling on cake rather than meringue, so I usually put the first cake layer meringue side down. It's kind of tricky to get the layers out of the pan as the meringue breaks a little. Ignore it. And some of the nuts fall off the top layer. I just collect them and dump them back on top. You want the top to look pretty as there is no frosting on this cake. I'm making this sound hard. Trust me, it's not. But it's comfort food for sure.

Carol's Blitz Torte



Ingredients:
1-3/4 cups cake flour, sifted
2-1/4 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup plus 2 T. sugar
1/4 cup unsalted butter
1/4 cup solid crisco
1 teaspoon vanilla
4 eggs, separated
2/3 cup milk
1 cup sugar
cinnamon sugar
1/2 cup ground pecans
5 tablespoons flour
2 egg yolks
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups scalded milk

Method:Line two cake pans with wax paper, grease and flour them, and preheat oven to 350°.

Sift together first 4 ingredients. Beat the butter and Crisco together. Add the flour mixture alternately with the milk and vanilla. Beat in 4 egg yolks, one at a time. Pour batter into the two wax paper-lined cake pans.

Beat 4 egg whites until foamy and add 1 cup sugar by 2 T. amounts. Beat until there are stiff peaks. Spread evenly over the batter.  Make a mixture of cinnamon and sugar and sprinkle on top of the meringue. Sprinkle the ground pecans on top.
Bake for 35 to 40 minutes.


Make the custard filling:  scald the milk in a small saucepan. Whisk flour, sugar and salt in top of double boiler. Add scalded milk and cook while whisking 5-10 minutes. Add some of the hot mixture to the 2 beaten egg yolks then add egg yolk mixture back to double boiler. Cook 3-5 minutes more. Add vanilla. The filling should be thick enough to hold its shape. Cool and use as filling.

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