Saturday, September 26, 2009

Parisian Pied-à-Terre and Amour

It started with an invitation, scripted and embellished with a gold fleur-de-lis. "We'd love you (and the crew) to join us on the 23rd for drinks, 6ish. We're at........"

My friend and fellow "stew" Nancy, is staying at a pied-à-terre with her husband, in Paris, and invited us for an appèritif. Of course, we accepted. The weather was sunny and temperate and seemed to be special ordered for an afternoon of walking and shopping before going to our friend's apartment.

Along the way, we picked out a bouquet to bring. At first we were drawn to the huge sunflowers....then the colorful dahlias....and then calla lilies that had such rich fall colors. In the end we decided on a bouquet in bold shades of orange with seasonal berries.

Next we wanted to get a bottle of wine, and stopped at a favorite wine shop.

There are always so many hand picked choices here! With arms full of flowers and wine, we quickened our pace and arrived at Nancy and Michael's pied-à-terre just a few minutes late. Good thing we didn't get the sunflowers, since she had a big vase full of them on the kitchen counter.

The orange bouquet had a nice view by the open window,

that looked out over a courtyard.

Another rooftop view had been painted by the owner, who is an artist, and hung on the wall.

Nancy had prepared some appetizers

and we knew there were more coming, by the toasted nut aroma from the oven. An oozy, warm baked Brie cheese topped with sweetened sliced almonds appeared before us.

Nancy showed us some of her latest reads....

(we may never be French, but it will always hold a special place in our hearts!) We all chatted and caught up with their stay in Paris.
Even the cat was happy!

I was shown a new way to tie my scarf before we bid au revoir.

Leaving for dinner, our walk in this area near Notrè Dame, was guided by angels painted on the sidewalk...

and of course, amour.

After all, this is Paris....!

Nancy described her Baked Brie appetizer and I tried it at home. I liked a touch of honey drizzled over it while it was fresh from the oven. The side and bottom rind acts as a container for the soft baked cheese and almonds. This couldn't be any easier or more delicious!

Baked Brie with Sweetened Almonds and Honey

4 ounce round of Brie cheese*
1/3 cup sliced almonds
1/2 teaspoon powdered sugar
1 tablespoon honey

*You may use a larger piece of Brie, just multiply the other ingredients accordingly.

Slice the rind off of the top of the Brie. Place in a round ovenproof container that just fits the cheese, and bring to room temperature. In a small bowl, sprinkle the powdered sugar over the almonds. Add a few drops of water while stirring, until the sugar is dissolved. Place this mixture on top of the cheese and bake in a preheated 375 degree oven for about 15 minutes, or until the cheese is soft and runny, and the almonds are lightly toasted. Put on a serving dish and drizzle with honey.
Serve immediately with crackers and fresh fruit.

Baked Brie with Sweetened Almonds and Honey recipe (pdf)

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Monday, September 21, 2009

Figs and Proscuitto with Comté and Port Wine Glaze

On approach into Paris you could almost see the chill in the air. The sky was gray with a slight mist hugging the ground. When the airplane door opened, I wished I had a fashionable and warm scarf draped around me instead of my navy blue airline uniform. I know often there is a bone chill in the morning air, and as the day arrives, the warm breath of approaching autumn heaves a sigh. Fortunately, this was the case that day. In the late afternoon sun, my crew and I met to share our day before we went to dinner. We had reservations at, Le Vin dans les Voiles, a restaurant we had never been to before, but was recommended to one of us. It's on the outskirts of Paris in the 16th arrondissement, on a tiny street that isn't even on many maps.

The restaurant itself is so small that the owner, Phillipe, graciously handles all of his patrons. Each of us ordered different things from the chalkboard menu and one choice was as tasty as the next. I started with Fresh Figs wrapped in Prosciutto, topped with a Balsamic Glaze and served with salad greens. A blended wine from the South of France was carefully suggested by Phillipe. It was robust with the complexity of four blended grapes: 46% Carignan, 30% Syrah, 19% Grenache noir and 5% Mouvèdre, from Bernard Magrez Vineyards. The name translated means, "If my father knew". While I'm not sure exactly what his father didn't know, it lends to good dinner conversation!

My main course was a Filet Mignon with a Green Peppercorn Sauce and roasted potatoes. I finished with a softly baked Cream of Chestnut Cake with Creme Anglaise swirled with chocolate. Feeling very full and satisfied and needing an after dinner walk, I discouraged one of my friends from using her favorite 4 letter French word..."Taxi!!" We compromised and walked across the Pont du Garigliano before taking the metro back to the hotel.

Back at home in Boston, the same morning chill worked it's way into a warm, yet crisp day. And I wanted figs...figs with prosciutto. I had port wine that I made a reduction with, instead of the balsamic vinegar glaze that was on my figs in Paris. Comté cheese, and arugula with some of it's blossoms from the garden, sounded good too. I sprinkled a little fleur de sel on it at the finish. The slight crunch of the salt on the peppery arugula worked very well together. With food this good I'll be able to embrace tomorrow's arrival of fall. 

Figs and Prosciutto with Cheese and Port Wine Glaze

4 fresh figs, washed
4 slices prosciutto, sliced paper thin
4 slices of Comté cheese, or other cheese of your choice
a large handful of arugula, rinsed
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

Toss the arugula with the olive oil. Divide the arugula in half and place each portion on a salad plate. Wrap a slice of prosciutto around each fig and place on top of arugula. Arrange the cheese on the plate,

and drizzle each serving with 1 tablespoon of the port wine glaze.

Port wine Glaze

1 cup Port wine, ruby or tawny*

*You don't need expensive port, but as with any wine that you cook with, make sure it is a wine you would enjoy drinking.

In a small saucepan, reduce the wine over very low heat. The wine should not simmer, but just steam to evaporate. Reduce the wine to 2 tablespoons. This will take about 45 minutes. Keep a close eye on the wine as it reduces, since it can quickly burn.

Makes 2 tablespoons of Port wine glaze. Allow 1 tablespoon per serving. 

 Figs and Prosciutto with Comté and Port Wine Glaze recipe (pdf)

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Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Millefeuille d'Aubergines And Chèvre Frais

Maybe it was the glass of wine, the candlelit restaurant, jet lag, or Mercury retrograde. Perhaps the sun was in my eyes....or maybe it was just the camera that allowed me to delete all of my pics without asking me a second time if I really wanted to get rid of photos from a fabulous day with friends. C'est la vie! So I don't have a photo of my sumptuously layered fresh goat cheese and eggplant starter, from Ambassade d'Auvergne, in Paris. I did come home and create my version to enjoy as I remembered it in my mind and with my taste buds, if not from my photographs. Just as savory!

My friend and fellow "stew", Lisa Magnuson of the Providence Wine Examiner, recommended some wine selections to go along with this starter. Her top choices are, Spanish Cava (sparkling), Tavel Rosé, Alsatian Riesling (which is dry) or a White Bordeaux. Today I served a chilled Rosé from Provence that I had gotten previously in Paris, and it was perfect.

So pour a glass of wine, enjoy this with friends...and watch for tricky fingers on the camera buttons!!

Millefeuille d'Aubergines And Chèvre Frais

1/2 pound baby or small Italian eggplant
2-3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling

1 tablespoon chopped fresh herbs (thyme, basil, oregano) or 1/2 teaspoon dried herb de Provence
1 clove minced garlic
sea salt and pepper to taste
1-2 teaspoons honey
4 ounces fresh goat cheese*

*If you can't find fresh goat cheese, whisk a small amount of milk or cream with the cheese to loosen it slightly.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Slice unpeeled eggplant 1/8 inch thick. Using a mandolin makes it easier and more uniform.

Place on a baking sheet and toss with the olive oil, herbs, garlic and a light sprinkling of salt and pepper. Spread the eggplant out in a single layer on the baking sheet and bake about 10-15 minutes.

You want the eggplant to be cooked but not too brown. Since the slices are very thin, they will cook quickly, so keep a close eye on them. Once they are done, let cool.

In a 1 1/2 cup clear glass (so you can see the layers), drizzle a few drops of olive oil and place a layer of goat cheese first. You'll be making 4-5 layers, so you'll need about one ounce per layer. Drizzle a few drops of honey, then add a layer of the cooked eggplant, making sure they are laying flat. Add a light drizzle of olive oil over the eggplant. Press down to get rid of any empty spaces and to make a firm layer. Keep repeating, ending with the eggplant. Refrigerate until firm.

To unmold, set glass in a bowl of warm water for a minute, being careful not to get any water into the glass. Run a small metal spatula around the edges to loosen and invert onto serving plate. Drizzle some honey and olive oil over the top and garnish with fresh herbs.

Serve with crusty French bread.

Makes 1 cup.

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Sunday, September 13, 2009

Cookies, Fun And Games

Who says you can't have fun and play with your food? Even though I love a great chocolate chip or oatmeal cookie, it is so-o-o much more fun to make spirals, bull's eye, happy faces, Dominoes, and cookies with a message. My son left for college a few weeks ago and needed a few things sent, so I added some edible fun and games. Who doesn't need a smile in between Multivariable Calculus and Physics? Frankly, I'd need therapy, but I don't know of a cookie for that! Anyway, I had some new cookie cutters for the Dominoes and Happy Face, that came from a great source that you can find here. New cookie cutters are like new toys (well, for some of us :-) and I couldn't wait to try them out. I experimented with different cookie doughs and found just the right dough for keeping the shape of the cookies. Last spring, I used the Rolled Sugar Cookie dough with the Brigitte Cutter to make cookies, and it was perfect. Rolling the dough to 1/4 inch thickness and keeping it chilled are just as important as the proper recipe. I also roll all of my cookie dough between sheets of plastic wrap or parchment to prevent sticking. Just about all cookie recipes can be made in the food processor, which also adds to the ease of cookie making. I always use an insulated cookie sheet for shaped cookies. The insulated cookie sheets help with even browning and for keeping the shape of the cookie. It really makes a big difference.

I rolled,
baked, decorated with royal icing, and packed the cookies for mailing. Oh, and don't forget love, the most important ingredient!
So, use the right recipe, for ease, make it in the food processor, roll it to the proper thickness between sheets of plastic wrap or parchment, keep it chilled, and use an insulated cookie sheet and you'll have success every time.

Rolled Sugar Cookies

2 1/4 cups flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup sugar
12 tablespoons unsalted butter (room temperature)
1 large egg
1 tablespoon lemon zest, finely grated
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

In large bowl or food processor, cream sugar and butter together until fluffy. Add egg, lemon zest and vanilla extract until well blended. Add the flour and salt and mix until it begins to form a ball, scraping down the sides of the bowl if needed. If the dough is too dry, add a few drops of water. Scrape dough onto a sheet of plastic wrap and press together to form a thick flat disc. Wrap well and refrigerate for 2 hours.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and butter a baking sheet.

On a lightly floured surface, roll out the dough to about 1/8 inch thick (1/4 inch, if using Brigitte cutter), or
desired thickness. The dough needs to be just the right temperature to roll and cut properly. If it is too cold, it is hard to roll, and if it is too soft it becomes difficult to cut and pick up. Roll any scraps back into a ball and chill again. Use as little flour as possible to roll out, so they don't get tough. After cutting, place on a baking sheet and bake for 8-12 minutes or until just lightly browned. Remove from oven and let cool on wire rack. I use an insulated baking sheet to prevent the edges from getting too brown.

Makes 4 dozen, 3 inch (1/8 inch thick) cookies.

Chocolate Cookie Cutouts
(Adapted from Martha Stewart
's Cookie book)

1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 1/2 cups sifted confectioner's sugar
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Sift flour, cocoa powder, salt and cinnamon into a bowl.

Place butter and confectioners' sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix on medium-high speed until pale and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Mix in egg and vanilla. Reduce speed to low. Gradually mix in flour mixture. Turn dough out onto a baking sheet lined with a nonstick baking mat. Form dough into a disk on baking mat and cover with plastic wrap. Refrigerate until firm, at least 1 hour and up to overnight.

Lift baking mat from baking sheet. Roll out dough between baking mat and plastic wrap to 1/4 inch thick. Remove plastic wrap. Cut out cookies with cookie cutters. Transfer baking mat to a baking sheet. Transfer baking sheet to freezer, freeze until very firm, about 15 minutes.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Remove baking sheet from freezer and trim scraps. Reroll scraps between a nonstick baking mat and plastic wrap and repeat process.

Bake cookies on an insulated cookie sheet until crisp, about 10 to 12 minutes. Let cool completely on sheets on wire racks. Cookies can be stored between layers of parchment in an airtight container at room temperature up to 1 week.

Makes 3-4 dozen cookies.

Spiral Cookies

On Parchment paper, roll out one 1/4 inch thick, 9 x 6 inch rectangle from the chocolate dough and one from the vanilla dough. Lay the vanilla dough on top of the chocolate dough, pressing gently to seal together. Roll lengthwise into a spiral and refrigerate about 20 minutes.

Slice crosswise into 1/4 inch thick rounds. Place on an insulated cookie sheet and bake about 12-15 minutes in a preheated 350 degree oven. The cookies should be firm, but not browned.

Cool on a wire rack.

Bull's Eye Cookies

Roll out a 12 x 3/4 inch rod from the chocolate cookie dough. Roll out a 1/4 inch thick, 12 x 4 inch rectangle from the vanilla dough. Place the rod on top of the rectangle and roll lengthwise firmly. Seal the edges lengthwise by rolling with your hands on a hard surface. Refrigerate about 20 minutes until firm.

Slice crosswise into 1/4 inch circles and place on an insulated cookie sheet.
Bake in a preheated oven for about 12-15 minutes until firm, but not browned.

Cool on a wire rack.

Rolled Sugar Cookie recipe (pdf)

Chocolate Cookie Cutouts recipe (pdf)

Spiral and Bull's Eye Cookies recipe (pdf)

Brigitte Cookie Cutter source: Harsefeld Online e-bay store
Let's Smile Cutter source: Harsefeld Online e-bay store
Domino Cookie Cutter source: Harsefeld Online e-bay store

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Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Cheesecake In A Mug

I was telling a friend about my 1-2-3 Chocolate Microwave Mug Cake and kept thinking there had to be equally easy and delicious alternatives. I had some cream cheese and sour cream in the refrigerator and played around with a microwave cheesecake. The first time I overcooked it, but the second time was a charm. It was creamy and delicate from the first bite. This cake is great for people at work, in dorms or if you just want! My Cheesecake in a Mug, is so good and versatile that you can have a different topping each day...well, maybe each time you make it! One time I added chocolate chips, and then the next I swirled in some cherry jam. Instead of a crust, I added a crumb topping. I found a crust just gets soggy on the bottom, but as a topping it is perfect. The hardest part of this easy cheesecake is standing with your spoon waiting, while it cools in the refrigerator!

Microwave Mug Cheesecake

2 ounces low fat cream cheese, softened to room temperature
1/2 cup low fat sour cream
1/4 teaspoon vanilla
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons egg white,
slightly beaten (egg whites in a carton work fine)
1/2 teaspoon lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon cornstarch (prevents liquid from forming)

For "mix ins", add 1 tablespoon mini chocolate chips, or swirl in (not stir) 1 tablespoon jam of choice.

In a 1 cup or larger microwave proof mug, beat the cream cheese until light and fluffy with a small whisk. Mix in the sour cream, vanilla, sugar, egg, lemon juice and cornstarch. Whisk about 2 minutes until light. Alternatively, the mixture may be mixed in a small bowl with a hand held electric mixer and then poured into the mug. Add any "mix-ins",
or swirl in jam at this time. Microwave on medium for 2 1/2 minutes* (in a 650 watt microwave). Since microwave powers are different, you may need to experiment. You want the center to just start to bubble, and then stop cooking. If it is allowed to bubble and cook further, the mixture will "break" and you'll need to start over. Make a note of the successful cooking time for your microwave. Take out of the microwave and let cool to room temperature and then refrigerate until fully chilled, about 1 1/2-2 hours. If any liquid has formed, carefully pour out. Sprinkle with graham cracker mixture and top with any topping of your choice.

*I also had success with 1 minute 50 seconds on high.

Serves 1.

Graham Cracker Topping

1 tablespoon crushed graham crackers
1/2 teaspoon melted unsalted butter

Mix graham cracker crumbs and melted butter together in a small bowl. Sprinkle on top of mug

Microwave Mug Cheesecake recipe (pdf)

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Wednesday, September 2, 2009

A Tropical Storm And How I Saved my Gnocchi

Tropical storm Danny was howling along the east coast as my son was packing his last belongings to go back to college. I did last minute laundry and planned my son's farewell dinner. One of his favorites is homemade potato gnocchi. I make it a few times a year and combine recipes while trying to find the ultimate one. This time I was using Thomas Keller's recipe from "The French Laundry" cookbook. I put the potatoes into the oven to bake, and since he prefers his gnocchi with just butter, basil and some freshly grated Parmesan cheese, it all seemed easy. After the potatoes were done, I hastily scooped out the inside and continued with the recipe that called for the addition of 2 tablespoons salt. That seemed like a lot, so I only put in a tablespoon plus a little more. I added the flour and eggs and quickly kneaded the dough. A taste proved my salt theory right. The dough was already really salty, and I hoped the boiling water would leach out some of the salt. I put water on to boil and went out to the rainy garden to snip some basil for the gnocchi. When I walked back in the house, the lights were out. We had lost our power! We lit a few candles, but cooking by candlelight started to lose its romanticism as the darkness grew. We chatted and lit more candles until we had about 6 lined up on the counter. Draining the gnocchi in the dim light, I was hoping they would be edible. My son politely ate 2 bites and we decided they were just way too salty. Disappointed, I made some packaged gnocchi for him, trying to salvage dinner. Sometimes things just don't go as planned. We had just finished eating when the lights came back on. The kitchen was a mess, but at least I could see to clean up!!

I then had a large batch of salty gnocchi that I didn't want to just throw out. I thought maybe if I made a sauce of fresh tomatoes and didn't add any salt to it, that it may all even out. So, the following day I persevered, made the sauce and was glad I did.
Finally success! They were absolutely delicious with a freshly made sauce of tomatoes, garlic, shallots and basil. Next time I'll make the same combination with less salt in the gnocchi and some salt in the sauce. I am going to stick with my final adapted recipe and have it just right for my son's first visit back for a home cooked meal....barring anymore tropical storms!
Potato Gnocchi

2 pounds large baking potatoes (about 1 pound each)
2 eggs, or 3 egg yolks,* slightly beaten
1 1/4-1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
2 teaspoons salt

Wash potatoes and bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for about 1 hour or until done. Cool slightly, scoop out the insides and put them through a ricer. Put riced potatoes into a medium bowl and make a well in the center. Add 1/2 cup flour, the slightly beaten eggs and then another 1/2 cup flour and salt into the center. Quickly and gently mix together with your hands, adding more flour if needed, while forming into a ball. The dough should be barely sticky. The less flour used and the less handling will produce a lighter gnocchi. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and cut dough into 1/2 inch logs. Cut the logs into 1/2 inch pieces.** Using a generous amount of flour, press each piece against your thumb tip to make a dent or roll it over the back and off the tip of floured fork tines to make a ridged shape. Placed the shaped gnocchi on a lightly floured sheet pan. When finished shaping, cook them in lightly salted boiling water.

Add the gnocchi to the boiling water and until they rise to the top. Let them boil for a minute or 2 more and remove with a slotted spoon. Continue cooking all of them, and place on a parchment lined sheet until all are done. Serve right away with desired sauce or butter and cheese.

If you aren't going to be cooking all of them right away, they may be frozen. Freeze in a single layer on a sheet pan and then place in a sealed container to store in the freezer. Do not thaw them before cooking or they will stick together. To cook them, put the frozen gnocchi directly into the boiling water. The cooking time of the frozen gnocchi will be slightly longer.

Makes about 10 dozen small gnocchi.

*many recipes call for either just egg yolks or some use whole egg plus egg yolk. Just using egg yolk makes them much more delicate, but just a little harder to work with.
**I often don't roll them on the fork to make the ridges and they are just as good, if not traditionally shaped. The ridges help sauce cling to the gnocchi.

Tomato Pasta Sauce

1 large shallot, chopped into small dice
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons olive oil
6 fresh basil leaves, sliced
6 medium tomatoes, 8 if using plum tomatoes
salt and pepper to taste

In a medium skillet over medium heat, saute shallot and garlic in the olive oil until just soft. Coarsely dice the tomatoes into 1/2 inch pieces and add to the shallot garlic mixture. Toss in basil. Simmer over low heat until the sauce thickens and is no longer watery, about 40 minutes. Salt and pepper to taste.

Makes about 1 1/2-2 cups sauce.

Potato Gnocchi recipe (pdf)
Tomato Pasta Sauce recipe (pdf)

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