Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Spaghetti Carbonara

Today it rained. Not just rain, but rainy, gloomy, almost-sweater weather.That's not really a big deal in most of the Northern Hemisphere in September. But in Arizona, it tempts all of us desert-dwellers to believe that fall is really here. I'm not buying it. Nevertheless, today was fall. Soup for lunch. Comfort food for dinner. 

I was tempted to title this "simple spaghetti carbonara," but realized that is redundant. The dish is ridiculously easy and perfect for any weeknight supper. 

Serves 4

4 slices prosciutto

16 ounces pasta

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
2 shallots, minced
1 garlic clove, minced

2 eggs
2 tablespoons heavy cream

1/2 cup parmigiano reggiano, grated with a microplane grater 

1/4 cup minced flat-leaf parsley

sea salt and freshly ground pepper

To begin, crisp the prosciutto under the broiler briefly. Remove to a cutting board and coarsely chop.  

Cook the pasta in a pot of salted water until al dente. 

While the pasta cooks, melt the butter and olive oil over medium-low heat and cook the shallots and garlic until soft and golden. 

In a large glass or metal bowl, whisk the eggs and heavy cream together. Add the shallot, garlic mixture. 

When the pasta is finished, drain and add it to the egg mixture. Fold together, then top with a plate to allow the heat of the pasta to cook the eggs. Let it rest for a few minutes. Then fold in the parmigiano reggiano. Season to taste with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. 

Divide the pasta between four bowls and garnish with the prosciutto and a shower of minced parsley. 

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Summer Souffle with Fresh Corn, Scallions, and Shrimp

As a child, I called everything I made in my pretend kitchen a souffle. Cut grass souffle. Ladybug souffle. Dirt souffle. 

I know this will come as a huge shock to you, but I really had no idea what souffle was. It sounded like the noise a spatula makes when it folds several things together. Su flay. Or what you might exclaim while bringing something magnificent out of the oven. Su flay! At the very least it was just a mixture of things. 

Ultimately, I wasn't too far off. A souffle can really be whatever you want it to be. Here, I combine the classic summer flavors of fresh corn, mint, and scallions. Feel free to omit the shrimp if you'd like to keep the recipe vegetarian. It has plenty of flavor without them. But do not under any circumstances use frozen corn. The fresh kernels are like little bubbles of flavor and texture, offsetting the mousselike consistency of the souffle perfectly. Oh sweet summer!

My elementary understanding of this dish never included eggs, and a souffle is not a souffle without them. This recipe calls for five egg whites. Don't skimp on the last one. I did and as you'll see from the photo below, did not achieve the height you can usually expect from this dish. 

This blog has evolved over the years to what it is today, an attempt to demystify French food and make it accessible, something you could make every day if you desire. 

serves 2-4 

1 ear of fresh corn, kernels removed
2 scallions, thinly sliced
1/2 cup cooked shrimp, tails removed, roughly chopped
2 sprigs mint, minced
3/4 cup cheddar cheese, grated

3 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons flour
1 cup very hot milk

4 egg yolks
5 egg whites

1/2 teaspoon sea salt
freshly ground black pepper

Prepare a small baking dish, about 8x8, by buttering it and sprinkling the bottom with two tablespoons of the cheese. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Melt the butter and flour together in a large skillet. Cook for about two minutes, whisking constantly. Remove from the heat and add the hot milk. Return to the heat and stir until fully incorporated. The sauce will be exceptionally thick.

Add the egg yolks one at a time, whisking after each addition. Stir in the corn, scallions, shrimp, and mint, Set aside.

In a clean, dry bowl, beat the egg whites until stiff. Fold in the cheese. Stir a third of the egg white mixture into the egg yolk mixture to lighten it. Then fold in the remaining amount. Pour into the prepared pan, turn the oven down to 375 degrees, and bake for about 25 minutes.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Last Dinner in Europe

Tuesday night was our last meal in England and our ninth anniversary, so we celebrated at a little French bistro in Kensington, where we dined on the sidewalk and nearly froze in the cool evening drizzle; a quintessential London experience.

Unlike Suffolk, London actually feels like Europe. Ancient and modern architecture coalesce in a cacophony of foreign languages.  Fashion. Food. The fast pace of an international city. It was everything that our village was not.  

We dined at Cote Restaurant just off the High Street and enjoyed a bottle of their house red, Lagarde Rouge. I ordered the pan-roasted duck breast with  gratin potato and a griottine cherry sauce. Rich ate linguine with tiger prawns, mussels, clams, and squid sautéed in garlic, chilli, shallots, white wine, and cherry tomatoes.  

Britain has a persisting reputation for poor food. But it’s really just the pub food that gets old. Overall, England is chockablock full of ambitious chefs, fresh, real food, and inspired menus.   Our experience at Cote was no exception.

As much as I’m sad to leave England, I’m so excited to see the sun again and savor the culinary scene of the Southwest. 

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Sole Meuniere

We have ten days left in England before we return to the United States. The move is bittersweet. I'll miss living in Europe, but I'm so thrilled to see the sunshine and palm trees of Arizona. 

Anticipating our departure, we traveled to the eastern coast of this chilly island to the town of Aldeburgh a few weeks ago. The children crawled along the beach's smooth, sea-tumbled rocks. Brad tossed them into the sea. Cole tried to eat them. To each his own. 

As for me, I hungered for some Dover Sole, which we found at this amazing little fish shack right on the beach, the boats run aground only steps away.

Sole meuniere (sol-mun-yair) was the first dish Julia Child enjoyed when she arrived in France. It was the spark that set ablaze her love affair with French cooking. As I read about it in her memoir, My Life in France, I imagined a complicated, time-consuming masterpiece of cookery. But like many French classics, Sole meuniere is simple peasant food elevated to haute cuisine. Its simplicity, however, requires impeccable ingredients, including seawater-fresh fish.

Our fish came wrapped in the latest gossip about the royal family. Probably the best place for it. The gossip, that is, not the royal family. Especially now as all of Britain is abuzz with the Diamond Jubilee, the 60th year of her majesty's reign.

So let's get on the food, shall we? I almost hesitate to call this a recipe. Really it's just a method of preparation. The secret is in the quality of the ingredients and the intuition of the chef. Serve with mixed greens in a simple vinaigrette, potatoes, and blanched vegetables with beurre blanc.

serves 2

1 whole sole, about 10-16 ounces
1/4 cup all-purpose flour (gluten free is acceptable)
1 teaspoon fine sea salt
several grinds of fresh black pepper
2 tablespoons butter
juice of one lemon
1 tablespoon minced fresh parsley

Combine the flour, sea salt, and black pepper in a shallow dish. Pat the fish dry with paper towels and dredge in the flour, salt, and pepper mixture.

Heat the butter in a wide skillet over medium-high heat. Sear the fish on one side for about two minutes. Turn gingerly and cook on the other side for one to two minutes, or until just cooked through. Remove to a serving platter. Drizzle with lemon juice and sprinkle with fresh parsley. Serve immediately.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Dark Chocolate Truffles with Sea Salt

Since enjoying the most amazing dark chocolate truffles at Harrod's in London, I have been craving them, searching for decent varieties in every chocolaterie in Suffolk and Cambridgeshire. But not the cloyingly sweet variety dripping with liqueur or artificial flavoring and dipped in milk chocolate. Blech.

No, I want the real deal. Dark chocolate. Straight up. Thus, like so many things I cannot find readily available in the store, I make my own.

I loosely follow the recipe in Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking, but use vanilla instead of orange liqueur, and add sea salt, the piece de resistance of my truffles. I also, use slightly less butter.

So before you tune me out, thinking truffles are only for frivolous cooks who lounge at home all day contemplating their next meals, listen, this is probably the easiest dessert I have ever made. And so rewarding!

yields 36 truffles 

7-8 ounces good-quality dark chocolate, at least 70 percent cocoa solids
1/4 cup strong, hot coffee
1 tablespoon real vanilla extract
1/2 cup good-quality butter, cut into thin slices

1 teaspoon coarse sea salt

1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

Melt the chocolate and coffee over very low heat in a heavy-bottomed sauce pan. When melted, drizzle in the vanilla then use a whisk or electric mixer, and whisk until smooth. Remove from the heat. Add the butter one piece at a time, whisking until combined after each addition.

Cover the pan and refrigerate for one hour.

Sprinkle the sea salt on top of the chocolate.

Using a small teaspoon, scoop small balls of chocolate from the pot, trying to get a small amount of salt in each truffle. Place the truffle in a small ramekin with the cocoa powder and swirl to coat. Set the finished truffle in a paper liner.

When finished, refrigerate for up to one week or freeze for a month.

Friday, April 6, 2012


This morning I cuddled up with Brad on the couch and watched one of his favorite movies, Ratatouille. Okay, fine, truth be told, it's one of my favorite movies.

But you didn't come here to read my movie reviews. You're just here for the food. It's okay. So am I.

I made this classic Provencal dish a few years ago, after the movie came out, and was heartily disappointed. Bland. Soupy. Boring. I concluded it was fine as a topping for bruschetta, but little else.

Still the images and story behind the movie when food critic Anton Ego raises the fork to his lips and is instantly transported to his mother's kitchen and his childhood in Provence captured my imagination. What was so special about ratatouille? Perhaps the secret was in the preparation.

This morning, I paused the movie to watch as Remy ran vegetables through a mandolin and arranged them artfully atop tomato passata in a baking vessel.

Rich snickered. "Taking cooking lessons from a cartoon?"

Hmmff! Meanie.

The ratatouille came out like nothing I've ever tasted before. The kind of food that makes you want to kiss someone and call everyone and tell them how much you love them. Too bad for him. He's working tonight, so more ratatouille for me and kisses for the babies.

serves four-six

1 narrow eggplant
1 plump zucchini
4-5 vine-ripened tomatoes
2 large garlic cloves
2 tablespoons minced onion
1/2 cup tomato passata
1 sprig fresh rosemary
2-3 sprigs fresh thyme
kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper
extra virgin olive oil

Slice the eggplant and zucchini in about 1/8" slices. Sprinkle generously with kosher salt, toss gently, and set aside in a colander to drain.

Slice the tomatoes in 1/8" slices as well.

Heat a couple tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil in a small skillet. Sweat the onion and garlic with a pinch of salt for about 4 minutes. Add the tomato passata and simmer on low heat for another 4-5 minutes.

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

Ladle this sauce into a round baking dish, adding olive oil as needed to coat the bottom of the dish.

Remove the eggplant and zucchini from the colander and pat dry with paper towels.

Layer the eggplant, zucchini and tomato slices in the pan in a circular pattern. Tuck in the sprigs of herbs and season with freshly ground black pepper.

Top with a round piece of parchment paper and bake for about one hour. Remove the parchment, drizzle with 2 tablespoons additional olive oil and bake for another 30-45 minutes until the vegetables begin to brown. Transfer to a cooling rack for about 15 minutes before plating.

To serve, create a stack of vegetables and top with a piece of thyme or rosemary. Spoon bits of the sauce around each plate. Serve with crusty bread

Simple Coq au Vin Blanc

In anticipation of the French cooking class I'm hosting next month, I began testing coq au vin recipes last week. 

I far prefer coq au vin blanc versus the coq au vin made with red wine. With white, the sauce tastes similar to beurre blanc, but richer and more savory. Moreover, I'm in love with beef bourguignon, and I don't want the dishes to taste quite so much alike. 

That's something I've begun to notice with classic French food; it has a tendency to all taste similar. You can only transform butter, leeks, mushrooms and white wine in so many ways. Eventually, everything tastes like it came from the same kitchen. 

However, this weekend, I'm cooking a ratatouille with herb roasted Cornish game hens. The flavors of Provence at their best! And I have a feeling as I move into this and other regional French cuisines, I will discover plenty of exciting new flavors. 

For now, I hope you enjoy this coq au vin blanc recipe as much as I do

serves four

1/4 cup olive oil
3 pounds bone-in chicken thighs
kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup all-purpose flour (a starchy gluten-free flour is acceptable) 
2 tablespoons butter
1 cup button mushrooms, stemmed and halved
1/2 cup yellow onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, smashed
3 sprigs fresh thyme
1 1/2 cups dry white wine, I enjoyed Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc
1 cup chicken stock 
4 tablespoons cold butter, diced 
1/4 bunch fresh flat-leaf parsley, roughly chopped

Season the chicken with salt and pepper and coat lightly with flour. Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat in a wide pot. Sear the chicken, skin side down until a beautiful golden-brown crust forms. Turn and sear on the other side. You may have to do this in batches so as not to crowd the meat. When finished, remove the chicken to a separate dish. 

Add two tablespoons of butter to the pan and brown the mushrooms for 2-4 minutes. Add the onions, garlic and thyme, and cook for another 2 minutes. 

Deglaze the pan with white wine, scraping up all of the lovely browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Add the chicken stock and heat to a simmer. Add the chicken, in a single layer. Cover the pan and cook for about 30 minutes, or until the chicken is cooked to an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit. 

Remove the chicken and vegetables to a fresh serving platter. Strain the sauce into a small saucepan and simmer until reduced by about one third. Remove from the heat. Season to taste with freshly ground black pepper and sea salt. Add cold butter to the sauce one tablespoon at a time, whisking to emulsify. Pour the sauce over the chicken and vegetables and serve immediately. 

Serve with buttered potatoes. 

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Exciting Announcement!

First, congratulations to Tracy Little for winning BonVivant's very first giveaway! Jamie Oliver's cookbook Food Revolution as well as a Hello Sailor creamy chocolate bar with sea salt from the line jMe are on their way to you!

Second bit of exciting news.... I'm hosting a French cooking class in my home in about one month (no, this isn't the news.) In anticipation, I began testing recipes, beginning with a recipe for Coq au Vin Blanc developed by a graduate from Le Cordon Bleu. It followed classic French technique, browning the meat in bacon fat, deglazing the pan with white Burgundy, and so forth. Problem is, it tasted flat. The recipe had a few other problems as well, namely adding cream to a simmering acidic sauce, which as you can imagine, caused the milk solids to separate from the sauce. Oh yeah, and it produced a sink full of dishes in my classic European kitchen complete with a clothes-but-not-dish-washer.

I tried the recipe again yesterday, casually ignoring some French techniques and employing others. I can honestly say it was the best prepared chicken dish I have ever eaten! Ever. I'll share the recipe soon.

It got me thinking, what if French food were more accessible to the home cook? What if we spiced it up a little for modern palates? What if we used butter and cream to complement the flavors of a dish instead of mask them? What if we could explain a recipe in a couple paragraphs instead of a couple pages because we trusted the culinary skills of the reader? 

BonVivant Family has a new direction: French food for every day. 

I'm looking forward to hearing your feedback. What recipes do you want to see? What techniques do you want to learn? 

Monday, March 26, 2012

Don't forget the giveaway!!!

Between today and the end of this month, enter as many times as you wish to win Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution and a chocolate bar from his line. Either "follow" this blog or Pamela's Modern Family Table, post a comment, or share a link to this or my other blog on your site for a chance to win.

Come on people, you know you love free cookbooks!

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Food as the Backdrop

Last night I served a three-course plated dinner to 70 people, including dignitaries from around England. Mixed greens with julienned beets and French herb vinaigrette, followed by beef bourguignon with buttered mashed potatoes; and assorted chocolate biscuits. While plating entrees in the kitchen, I remarked to one of the many wonderful people who made the evening come together that I missed working in restaurants. 

"I doubt as much prayer goes into most restaurant meals," someone said.  

So true. 

I was not the only one praying that the meal would provide a brilliant backdrop for the young adults in attendance to interact with the guest of honor, Canon Andrew White. I would tell you how funny he is, but then you might think him shallow. I would tell you how wise he is, but then you might think him aloof. All I can tell you is, the man knows God. 

Not in that "he signs off on the correct theology" sort of way. Reverend White shared story after story of God showing up, quite literally, in his church in Baghdad.    

In the end, the meal was beautifully upstaged by the content of the evening. But I guess that's what food is all about: a context, a backdrop for meaningful interaction. Okay, you know me too well, I really do love food more than just as a backdrop. But sometimes that's the best place for it. 

I couldn't have pulled the meal off without help in the kitchen from my friends 
Annette (above) and Beth and the many volunteers who helped serve last night. 

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Trial Run

Only 48 hours and 7 minutes until I serve a sit-down, plated dinner to at least 60 people. I chose to make beef bourguignon--yeah, I know, I'm crazy--and ordered half a cow cut into two-inch cubes before I learned that the guest of honor is mostly vegetarian. This would have been a disaster, but I also learned that he prefers to eat a very light dinner and requested a cheese platter. Perfect. So tonight I picked up some local Leicester, Manchego and vintage Gouda as well as some savory biscuits--that is what they call crackers here--some marinated olives and a pear. I think it will be delicious!

Yesterday I did a trial run of Saturday's meal when I served lunch to 30 first-term airmen. Our kitchen smelled like a tannery before I was done. I had purchased it from a different vendor who did not cube it for me. What a hassle! Fifteen pounds of meat takes forever to cut, dry, season and sear in batches.

I employed a new technique to prevent the flour from clumping: coat the seared meat with it instead of mixing it with the tomato paste and then whisking into the sauce. Many versions of the recipe call for the former variation; I just hadn't tried it yet myself. What a difference! The sauce thickened properly and with no lumps.

I skipped the cognac--a classic element of beef bourguignon--and deglazed the pans with about two litres of  a medium-bodied red wine.

Once it was all simmering happily on the stove in only two pots, I began to think doubling it this weekend might actually be doable.

I stopped by the butcher this evening to confirm my order. Fifteen kilos of beef is cut and ready for pickup. Tomorrow morning, the adventure begins!

Monday, March 19, 2012

Stuffed French Toast

Some days you just want pure decadence for breakfast. This French toast provides it in spades. The key is to assemble it ahead of time, which makes it particularly lovely for a lazy morning brunch. Roll out of bed. Turn on the oven. Pop it in. Enjoy with coffee.

Serves four

8 ounces mascarpone cheese
1 loaf French bread
4 large eggs
1 cup milk
1 tablespoon vanilla
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 tablespoon sugar

Butter and maple syrup for serving.

Slice the French bread in about one inch pieces. Schmear mascarpone on half of these slices and top with another slice, as if making a cheese sandwich.

Snuggle them down into a 9x13 glass baking dish.

In a large, liquid measuring cup, whisk together the eggs, milk and vanilla. Pour over the bread slices. After they're covered, turn each one so that the bottom slice that is soaked with egg mixture is now on top.

Combine the cinnamon and sugar and sprinkle over the top. Cover with plastic wrap until ready to bake, up to overnight.

Bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit until lightly browned, about 30 minutes.

Friday, March 16, 2012

An Inciting Incident

In his book, A Million Miles in a Thousand Years, Donald Miller says an inciting incident is walking through a doorway by which you cannot return. It creates a plot. It forces you to live a good story. For Don it was flippantly suggesting to a girl he liked that they hike the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. She said yes. The story began.

A couple weeks ago I offered to cook dinner for an event our chapel is hosting. That wasn't the inciting incident.

Yesterday I learned that the guest list is at least 60 people, including some very distinguished visitors.
And today I visited Cherry Tree Butchers in Mildenhall where the butcher hoisted half a cow onto the counter. I ordered 15 kilos. I walked through the door.

A smarter woman would not serve a three-course plated dinner featuring beef bourguignon to what will likely be 75 guests. The story begins.

I hope it will not be a tragedy.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Jamie Oliver Cookbook Giveaway

I had such a lovely time at Jamie Oliver's shop, Recipease, I've decided to share some of the experience with you! No, not just the recipes. I want to send you a copy of his cookbook Jamie's Food Revolution and a delicious chocolate bar by Jamie called Hello Sailor, a fair-trade, rich, creamy chocolate sprinkled with sea salt.

So what do you have to do?

  • Every comment received on this blog between now and March 31 is one entry. 
  • Follow this blog for another entry. 
  • Link to BonVivant Family on your web site or blog for another entry (just send an email with a link to let me know at pamela.ellgen(at)gmail.com)
Winner will be chosen on April 1, 2012 by Random.org  at random, of course. Good luck! 

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Mexican Street Food Cooking Class

Yesterday I joined a lovely group of women from RAF Lakenheath for a cooking class at Jamie Oliver's restaurant, in London. We learned how to cook a few quintessential Mexican street foods: ceviche, salsa verde, shredded chicken tacos and gorditas. Sadly, the naked chef himself was not in attendance. But our instructor, Jen, was a charming and knowledgeable substitute. 

We worked in pairs, and I lucked out with Beth because she fried the gorditas--not my favorite--and let me chop and mince all of the fresh things for our salsa verde and ceviche. Bonus, she likes her Mexican food fiery too, so we adjusted the spice to our taste. 

Our ceviche was overcooked by the time we enjoyed it--think marinated rubber bands and you get the idea--but the shredded chicken tacos turned out beautifully, especially topped with the salsa verde. And what kind of a food blogger would I be if I didn't share the recipes with you? A mean one. And I'm not mean. At least not very often.

Mexican Shredded Chicken Tacos
serves 4

4 bone-in chicken thighs
2 cloves garlic
2 teaspoon cumin seeds
2 teaspoons dried oregano
1 teaspoon ground red chile
2 cups tomato passata
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
olive oil
4 flour or 8 corn tortillas
1 red onion, sliced into thin half circles
2 plum tomatoes, diced

Whisk together the tomato passata and vinegar. Set aside.

Mash the garlic, cumin seeds, oregano and red chile in a mortar and pestle until you form a smooth paste. Spread this onto the skin side of each chicken thigh.

Heat a two-count of olive oil over medium heat in a medium sauce pan. Place the thighs skin-side down in the oil and fry until well browned. Turn over, and pour in the tomato passata and vinegar. Cover and simmer for five to ten minutes, or until cooked through.

Remove the chicken to a cutting board to cool briefly and get on with the salsa.

Salsa Verde

1 spring onion, white and pale green parts only, minced
1 lime, zest and juice
1 green chile, minced
1 clove garlic, minced
4 sprigs fresh  cilantro
2 sprigs fresh  basil
4 sprigs fresh mint, leaves only
1 sprig fresh dill

Chop the fresh herbs, stems and all, and toss together with the lime, onion, garlic and chile.

To serve the tacos, shred the chicken with two forks, removing all of the meat from the bones. Remove some of the cooking sauce from the pan and schmear some of it on each tortilla. Top with shredded chicken, diced plum tomatoes and sliced red onions. Fold up the tortilla as you would a burrito then slice into two equal portions. Serve with salsa verde.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Tarragon and Parmigiano Reggiano Pizza

 A few days ago, we drove up to Bath with the kids. People kept telling us we really needed to go there. People without kids, I’m pretty sure. Don’t get me wrong; it’s lovely. It’s just that kids are more interested in the hole in the ground created by heavy machinery replanting a sign wrenched out by a drunk motorist than they are in seeing ancient Roman ruins.

All that to say, we arrived home after a long day hungry, tired and in no mood to futz with laborious dinner preparations. We wanted hot, good food without having to call for takeout. And seriously, I’m skeptical of any restaurant that sells burgers, pizza and kebabs all in the same place.

So, when you’re short on time but want something that didn’t come out of a freezer, try this amazing pizza. The combination of the parmigiano and tarragon is bliss. Enjoy with a robust Italian red, such as Sangiovese or Chianti. 

1 bunch tarragon, roughly chopped
4-6 crimini mushrooms, thinly sliced
1 cup freshly grated parmigiano reggiano
1 ball fresh mozzarella, sliced
Olive oil
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Pizza dough, whichever recipe or store-bought variety you prefer

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.

Stretch pizza dough or premade crust out onto a parchment lined baking pan. Bake for about 10 minutes.
Remove from the oven, drizzle with olive oil and top with mozzarella and mushrooms. Return to the oven and cook until browned and bubbling, about 10 more minutes. Shower with the tarragon and parmigiano and serve. 

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Fresh Gluten-Free Pasta

Today I made lunch for 30 young airmen who just arrived on base here in England. Homemade basil and cheese lasagna, mixed greens with Caesar dressing, fresh garlic bread, and double chocolate brownies. The ultimate in comfort food lunches.

Unfortunately, it wasn't the immense amount of prepping, cooking, serving and cleaning up that kept me from enjoying it with them. It was the wheat.

So what's a newly gluten-free gal to do when it's time for lasagna and she can't find gf pasta in the health food section of the local market? Make my own. Sure, you can buy gluten-free lasagna noodles online. But where's the fun in that? Plus, I'll be honest, I kinda just wanted to prove it could be done.

Yields enough pasta sheets for one 9x13 pan of lasagna 

2 cups gluten-free flour blend (I use rice, potato and tapioca), plus more for dusting
2 teaspoons fine sea salt
2 teaspoons xanthan gum
2 medium eggs
2 medium egg whites
cold water

Sift the dry ingredients together in a small mixing bowl. Make a well in the center and add the eggs, egg whites and about two tablespoons of water. With a fork, whisk together the eggs slowly incorporating more and more of the flour. Continue mixing and adding water a tablespoon at a time until you have a cohesive dough. You will have to get your hands in to fully incorporate all of the ingredients. Ultimately, you're looking for a fairly soft dough, similar to stiff play dough, but much softer than a regular fresh pasta dough.

Place the dough on a floured surface and shape into eight small balls. Roll each in flour and flatten into oblong discs. Because the dough lacks the wonderful elasticity gluten provides, it will not respond well to being stretched by a pasta maker.

Set up your pasta maker on a clean, dry and floured work surface. Make sure you've "cleaned" the machine first by running a gluten-free piece of dough through several times to remove any residue.

Run the first piece of dough through the machine on its widest setting. Fold lengthwise and repeat. You may have to flatten the dough more with your hands before running it through the machine. Adjust the pasta maker settings to produce a thinner and thinner sheet until you are satisfied with the results. Place the finished pasta on a floured surface and dust the top of it with flour.

Allow to rest until you're reading to assemble your lasagna. I do not recommend making linguine or spaghetti this way for two reasons 1) the dough is extremely temperamental and 2) most markets have a lovely selection of gluten-free versions of these pastas.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Vegetarian Tikka Masala with Greek Yogurt

Since we arrived in the United Kingdom last fall, I have fallen inexplicably in love with British food, both the classic dishes and the produce and seafood available at regular open-air markets. The culinary landscape of Britain reminds me of America in many ways; they have adopted an endless array dishes from around the globe. 

My absolute favorite is Chicken Tikka Masala. Nothing like it with a cold glass of cider while watching a football match at the pub--with my kids of course--‘cause that’s how they roll here. What a country.

Sadly I cannot share my great love for this classic curry with Rich because he doesn’t eat meat.

Until today.

Today I created such a blissful vegetarian interpretation of tikka masala using squash, cauliflower, chickpeas and Greek yogurt that I may never go back. 

When cooking with yogurt, follow a few simple ground rules. First, temper the yogurt--as you would egg yolks--before adding it to a hot dish. It must warm slowly, not straight from the refrigerator into a simmering pot. Second, make sure that the hot dish isn’t too hot when you add the yogurt. Aim for around 120 degrees Fahrenheit so as not to destroy all of yogurt's lovely active cultures.

Ok, enough science. Time for the food.

Serves four
Olive oil
½  head of cauliflower, cut or broken into 1 inch pieces
1 small butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cut into 1 inch pieces
1 tablespoon garam masala
1 teaspoon cumin
½ teaspoon coriander
1 teaspoon sea salt
Pinch smoked paprika
Pinch red chili flake
1 teaspoon freshly grated ginger
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 yellow onion, diced
2 15-ounce cans whole plum tomatoes
1 can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
2 cups Greek yogurt, full fat and at room temperature
¼ bunch fresh cilantro, roughly chopped
2 cups cooked Basmati rice for serving

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Spread the cauliflower and squash out in a roasting pan and douse generously with olive oil. Roast for about 30 minutes, until fork tender.

Grind the spices, salt, ginger and garlic in a mortar and pestle. Set aside.

In a large skillet, heat a splash of olive oil over medium heat and cook the onion until golden and soft, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic, ginger and spice paste and cook for another minute. Add the plum tomatoes and break up with a wooden spoon. Add the roasted vegetables, cover and simmer over low heat for about 10 minutes.

Remove the skillet from the heat and remove about one half cup of the mixture, mostly liquid if possible. Fold in the chickpeas.

Place the yogurt in a mixing bowl  and stir in the hot liquid to temper the yogurt. When it is warm to the touch, add the yogurt mixture to the skillet and stir. Stir in the cilantro, then season to taste with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. Ladle over hot Basmati rice and serve. 

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Gluten free le pain aux poires

I have come to the sad realization that I do not play nice with gluten. However, as this is a food blog and not a medical text, I’ll spare you the details. Fortunately I’m in good company in this decade, so let’s just get to the pastry, shall we?

One of my favorite foods to enjoy with coffee is le pain aux poires, or loosely translated: pastry with pears. As far as I’m concerned, flour is simply a carrier for the luxurious butter in this pastry. So I began the quest this morning to create a gluten-free version.

Truth be told, I began last night. The pastry requires a bit of forethought in that you whiz all of the ingredients together and allow them to rest overnight. But I rather like it that way. It’s not one herculean task that leaves your kitchen a wreck and your feet aching.

I awoke this morning at seven--as it was my morning to get up with the kids--and by the time Rich woke up, I was pulling le pain aux poires out of the oven. You’re all smarter and more patient than am I, so I trust you’ll allow them to cool before diving in with a fork.

A quick note about gluten-free flour. I use Dove’s Farm, a variety available in UK markets. It is similar to Bob’s Red Mill but has a starchier quality. So if you do use Bob’s GF flour, combine it with about 25 percent arrowroot, for a total of 1 1/4 cups.  

One last note, this recipe is inspired by Nigella’s Danish processor pastry, in How to Be a Domestic Goddess. 

Yields 6 pastries
1 ¼ cups gluten-free flour, plus ¼ cup for dusting
¼ teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon active rapid-rise yeast
¼ teaspoon xanthan gum
1 tablespoon granulated white sugar
½ cup cold butter, cut into chunks
¼ cup milk, at room temperature
2 tablespoons hot water
1 egg, at room temperature

2 tablespoons granulated white sugar
½ cup mascarpone cheese
 1 egg plus 1 egg white
3 pears, peeled, halved and cored

In a food processor, whiz together the flour, salt, yeast, and 2 tablespoons sugar. Add the butter and blend  until pebbly. In a separate bowl, combine the milk, hot water, xanthan gum and egg. Add the butter and flour mixture and stir with a wooden spoon or your hands until just combined. It will be very sticky. Cover and refrigerate overnight.

The next morning, turn the dough out onto a liberally floured surface (gluten free, of course). Allow to warm to room temperature for about 20 minutes then sprinkle with more flour and roll to about ½ inch thickness. 

Fold in thirds as you would a business letter. Roll flat again and repeat, dusting with flour as needed. As you no doubt know, this creates flakiness in the finished pastry. Repeat several more times, rolling flat to finish.

Slice in six rectangles and transfer these to a parchment-lined baking sheet. Shape these into oblong discs that resemble the profile of a pear by folding in the sides, as you would a galette. Allow to rise in a warm place until soft and puffy, about half an hour.

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Whisk together the sugar, mascarpone and egg. Place a generous dollop into the center of each pastry and top with a pear half. 

Whisk the egg white with one tablespoon cold water until almost frothy. Use a brush to cover the edges of each pastry with the egg wash. Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until the pastry is golden brown. Allow to cool for at least 10 minutes. Longer is better, but I understand if you’re too excited.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Shattering the Myth of Bland British Food

An antiquated and unfortunate stereotype persists among Americans: British food is bland, boiled and boring. It goes with the teeth, we say. Having spent now four months in the United Kingdom I can unequivocally say this is completely false. I have eaten some of the best meals of my life in England. My favorite was a several-coursed lunch at Launceston Place in Kensington in January. I enjoyed a poached duck egg on toast with truffle aioli to start, served with pickled herring, house-made butter on a stone and fresh crackly, crusty bread. Brilliant.

This past week I attended a conference in Herefordshire, a stones throw from the border of Wales. Yesterday  Rich and I enjoyed a day at the Hay on Wye market where I picked up some Manchego cheese and dates for this evening's dinner.
That evening we dined with our colleagues at The Tram Inn, a charming little restaurant in neighboring Eardisley. I began with chicken liver pate, followed by local pork with mashed potatoes in a blue cheese bechamel. The meal also included an amazing selection of local vegetables, each prepared and seasoned artfully (photo at top). I finished the meal with a cheese platter I split with my friend Aimee who shared her toffee pudding. The Brits call everything pudding. So in truth, it was more of a sticky cake, but delicious nonetheless. 

Not only is restaurant food imaginative and well-executed, the food in average grocery stores rivals that of the finest specialty markets in the United States. Fair-trade. Free-range. Grass-fed. Sustainable. It's all good, and you don't pay a premium for these features.

Even today on the way back to Suffolk we stopped off at a rest stop where I enjoyed the most amazing chicken tikka masala. Yes, at a rest stop.

Nevertheless, the stereotype about the island's cuisine came to exist for good reason; food rationing after World War I brought culinary ingenuity to a halt. NPR wrote a lovely article on the subject in their food blog, theSalt. But it's been decades since food rationing gave way to a renewed interest in international cuisine and reviving local fare, and it's high time we Americans rethought British food.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Rosemary Scented Raspberry Crème Brulee

Crème brulee has to be the easiest difficult dessert to have ever graced my table. As I whisk eggs and milk together, I recall Julie Powell’s sentiments in the movie "Julie & Julia" and take similar comfort knowing that they will become heavenly thick when cooked and come together perfectly even when nothing else in life does.  Such a comfort.

I served this for dessert on Valentines Day, and Rich said it tasted like summer. I’ll be honest, I only used raspberry and rosemary because it is what I had on hand and I love savory herbs in desserts. But wow, what an elegant and delicious combination! Anyone else enjoy herbs in dessert? If so, how do you use them? 

Serves 4
3/4 cup heavy cream
2 sprigs rosemary
3/4 cup crème fraiche
1/3 cup granulated white sugar
6 egg yolks
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 pint raspberries, rinsed and dried
Hot water
1/4 cup granulated white sugar

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit (180 C)

In a medium sauce pan, heat the heavy cream and one sprig of rosemary until almost boiling. Turn off the heat, cover and allow the herb to steep in the cream for about 10 minutes. In a separate bowl, whisk together the crème fraiche, sugar, egg yolks and vanilla.

Divide the raspberries between four ramekins and place in a deep baking dish. Pour hot water into the baking dish to cover the bottom two thirds of the ramekins. 

Remove the rosemary from the cream, then in a thin stream, pour the hot cream over the crème fraiche mixture while whisking. Divide this mixture among the ramekins and top each with a few rosemary needles. Bake for 30 minutes.

Remove each ramekin from the water bath to a cooling rack. When cooled to room temperature and ready to serve, sprinkle each custard with one tablespoon of sugar. Caramelize the sugar with either a butane torch or a salamander. I find the latter far less intimidating as flames in the kitchen still ignite fear in my heart.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Leave the Gun; Take the Cannoli

When I was pregnant with my firstborn, I had an insatiable craving for violent movies. I know, crazy, right? I chalk it up to the extra testosterone in my system at the time. Rich was more than happy to oblige as I had subjected him to four years of romantic comedies without so much as a preview for Fight Club or V for Vendetta.

So at the end of my first trimester, when I asked, "Hey, why haven't I seen The Godfather?" he ran there and back from the video store before I could say, "Netflix." 

I wanted to know what all the fuss was about. It seems guys never stop talking about the movie. The offer he couldn't refuse... the horse head in the bed... going to the mattresses... take the gun, leave the cannoli... What? Godfather or no Godfather, you don't leave the cannoli. 

It's art, poetry, romance and everything you want in a dessert. Even a last meal. The savory, crisp shell contrasts perfectly with the sweet, smooth, creamy interior. Although the cooking requires a bit of forethought, making cannoli is quite simple, assembly really. 

1 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon cocoa powder
1 1/2 tablespoons granulated sugar
2 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup white wine

1 recipe fresh ricotta cheese, about 2 1/2 cups
3.5 ounces dark chocolate, roughly chopped
1/4 cup granulated sugar
zest of one orange

1 egg, whisked

2 litres canola oil, for frying

Tools: cling film, deep-fat thermometer, pasta machine (or rolling pin), kitchen tongs, cannoli forms, pastry bag and wide decorating tip (or zip top bag with a hole in the corner) 

To make the pastry, sift together the flour, cocoa powder and sugar, then cut in the butter until the mixture looks like coarse bread crumbs. Stir in the wine until the dough comes together, then knead until mixed well. Wrap in cling film and set aside for 30 minutes to an hour.

While the dough rests, stir the sugar, orange zest and chocolate pieces into the ricotta and fill a pastry bag with the mixture. If you don't have one, you can certainly use a zip top bag with a hole cut in the corner. 

In a five-quart stock pot, heat the canola oil until it registers 350 degrees Fahrenheit (180 Centigrade). Please, please do not skip the thermometer. I can tell you the exact flash point of canola oil because... well, I set my first kitchen on fire nearly a decade ago making tempura. Nothing sounds quite like the whoosh of air and gentle pop of a fire starting, and you don't want to hear that noise in your kitchen, now do you?

While the oil heats up, which takes about five to ten minutes, form the dough into about 10 small balls and dust each with flour. Pat them flat before running them through your pasta maker, rotating as you go, until you reach the desired thinness. I suggest the #4 setting for a thin, crisp shell. Roll each disc around a cannoli form and seal with a dab of the beaten egg.

Place the cannoli into the hot oil with a pair of kitchen tongs. Depending on the width of your pot, you may wish to do only two at a time. Fry for about two minutes until golden brown. Remove gingerly, making sure to pour any excess oil out of the form before placing it on a cooling rack. Use a thin pot holder and the tongs to gently ease the shell from the form shortly after it comes out of the oil. Return the oil to 350 degrees before proceeding with the remaining shells. 

When all of the shells are cooked and cooled and you are within about 10 minutes of serving, fill each shell with the ricotta mixture.

Homemade Ricotta Cheese

Some recipes I undertake simply because I can, not because I can't find a suitable replacement at the market. French bread for example. Most commercial bakery breads will far surpass anything I could create at home. Not so with ricotta cheese. I have yet to find anything as delicious in any market in the United States or Europe.

I feel disproportionately domestic and gourmet for how simple the recipe is. This ricotta is particularly delicious in cannoli, lasagna, ravioli and cannelloni.

yields about 2 1/2-3 cups

Scant 2 quarts whole milk (2 litres)
2 1/2 cups buttermilk (600 millilitres)
Pinch fine sea salt

Supplies: thermometer, cheesecloth (or muslin)

Heat the milk and buttermilk in a heavy stock pot over medium high heat with a thermometer clipped to the side of the pan plunging about two inches below the surface of the liquid.

Meanwhile, line a colander with a few layers of moist cheesecloth.

Stir the milk and buttermilk gently and infrequently as it heats. When the curds and whey begin to separate, at about 150 degrees Fahrenheit (65 Centigrade), stop stirring and allow to cook for another three to five minutes. You'll know when it's done when you place a spoon into the mixture and pull away the top layer of curds to find a yellowish whey beneath. Remove the pan from the heat.

With a slotted spoon, lift the curds gently into the lined colander. Allow to drain into a bowl for about five minutes, then gather the cheesecloth and tie in a loose knot. Tie again onto your kitchen faucet and allow to drain for about 15 minutes, or until the curds no longer drip.

Place the cheese into a bowl and season with sea salt to taste.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Home Date

When you are a foodie like I am, living abroad has its advantages. Even in Britain--which has an unfortunate reputation in the United States for bland, boiled food--five-star restaurants abound. The problem is that in a foreign country you have limited options for sloughing your children off on someone trustworthy. So we had a home date.

It was just as well given that Rich came home with a bottle of Prosecco just as snow began to fall on the island. I ran to the market before the roads became a skating rink and returned with potatoes, salmon and green beans. Not the most inspiring menu, but comforting under the circumstances.

While I was gone, Rich snapped a few photos of Brad playing the snow. Wow! Really stunning photography. By the way, any picture that looks good on this blog comes from him. (The mediocre ones I snapped with a point and shoot camera.) 

I baked the salmon with herbed butter then blanched the green beans and whisked together a beurre blanc. For the potatoes, I followed a method Julia Child recommends in Mastering the Art of French Cooking. I have been eating potatoes for many years--have not we all--and have yet to find a more toothsome preparation. It is simple, elegant and complements innumerable fish and meats.

2 count olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
1 pound small potatoes, peeled

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

In a large skillet melt the butter and olive oil until very hot. Place the potatoes in the pan and allow to lightly brown for about one minute. Shake the pan to rotate the spuds, and allow to crust with a golden brown on another side. Continue this process until the potatoes are amber all around, then sprinkle with sea salt, cover and cook for about 10 minutes. Season with freshly ground black pepper and serve.