Saturday, January 28, 2012

Pan Seared Duck Breast with Bordeaux, Thyme & Currant Sauce over French Lentils

serves 2 

2 duck breasts
3/4 cup French lentils, rinsed and sorted 
4 sprigs fresh thyme
1 lemon
1/4 cup currants, soaked in hot water and drained 
1 Pink Lady or Jonathan apple, peeled and julienned 
1/2 cup Bordeaux 
1 shallot, minced (2 tablespoons) 
pinch brown sugar
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit (180 degrees Centigrade) and line a baking sheet with parchment. 

Place the lentils, two sprigs of thyme, a pinch of sea salt and a few grinds of black pepper in a medium sauce pan with three cups of water and bring to a gentle boil. Cover and simmer until the lentils are toothsome, about 20 minutes. 

In a small bowl, toss all but two tablespoons of the julienned apple with the juice of half of the lemon. Set aside.

Prepare the duck breasts by scoring the skin side of each breast in a diamond pattern at about one-quarter inch intervals. Season the meat side with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. 

Heat a large skillet over high heat until hot. Place the duck skin side down and sear for about five minutes. You want a constant sizzle to render the delicious fat but not so hot that it is popping out of the pan. Flip and sear on the other side for about two minutes. Transfer to the baking sheet and finish in the oven for three to five minutes. Three minutes yields medium rare; five yields medium well. 

Add the shallot, two tablespoons of apple and the two remaining sprigs of thyme to the duck fat remaining in the skillet. Cook for about 45 seconds, then deglaze the pan with Bordeaux, toss in the currants and reduce for about one minute. Remove the thyme, then use an immersion blender to puree the sauce until smooth. (If you don't have one, you can certainly use a regular high-speed blender.) Season to taste with sea salt and a pinch of brown sugar.

Remove the duck from the oven and allow to rest for a few minutes before slicing on a bias at about one quarter inch intervals.

Drain the lentils and season to taste with sea salt and the juice of the remaining half of lemon.
To serve, place the lentils on warmed plates and top with the duck. Pour the sauce over the duck and around the plate. Top with julienned apples. Serve immediately with the remaining Bordeaux. 

Friday, January 27, 2012

Cod en Papillote

A few days ago a good friend mentioned her uncertainty about cooking seafood. She was fine with meat and poultry, but fish lurked in culinary darkness. We all have those things we're afraid to cook. When I married my vegetarian husband, I was grateful I could avoid cooking meat altogether. I fretted about it being underdone and delivering a side of salmonella or e-coli with dinner. (Ask my friends who taught me how to can preserves and they'll tell you that fear of food borne illness is a theme for me.)  

Back to seafood, my friend said she had heard you can cook salmon in the dishwasher. A dozen overcooked salmon experiences almost tempt me to try it. But 1) I do not have a dishwasher and 2) I find the settings on my oven far easier to control: "bake" and "broil" versus "pots and pans" or "light rinse."

Moreover, I have recently found that cooking fish en papillote yields consistent and delicious results every time. En papillote is a French technique in which you wrap the food in parchment paper along with seasonings and then bake. The parchment helps retain moisture and infuse the food with flavor. 

My current favorite fish en papillote recipe is adapted from The French Women Don't Get Fat Cookbook. It is perfect for entertaining--which I do often these days--because the fish and vegetables cook together. Moreover, it looks pretty and yields fewer dishes. Win.  

Cod en Papillote with Sauteed Vegetables and Sweet Spices
serves 4

olive oil
2 yellow peppers, sliced lengthwise 
2 small zucchini, julienned 
1 teaspoon fennel seed, lightly ground
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon 
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
4 cod fillets
1 bunch fresh cilantro, roughly chopped 

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit Cut four squares of parchment paper and brush each with olive oil. 

Toss the vegetables in the spices and saute over medium-high heat for about three minutes. Season with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste. Divide the vegetables evenly among the parchment squares, then top each with a fillet of cod. 

Deglaze the vegetable pan with balsamic vinegar, and allow it to reduce slightly. Pour over each portion of fish then top with cilantro.  

To seal the packages, bring two parallel edges of the paper together and fold repeatedly until it touches the fish. Think of the way you would fold a brown paper lunch bag. Then fold each end underneath to seal the package. 

Place each packet on a baking sheet and bake for about 18 minutes. Allow each diner to open his or her own package.  

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The Best Meatballs You've Ever Had

The best cookbook I ever received was Tyler Florence's Real Kitchen from my best friend Marcella when I was first married. Tyler always does something unexpected in his cooking, and the results are flawless. Nowadays I cook for more than just myself and my young husband. Today, for example, I made lunch for about 25 airmen who have just arrived in England. Whatever the number of friends at the table, Tyler's recipes are still a staple in my kitchen. This is my take on his ultimate spaghetti and meatballs in Tyler's Ultimate

1 onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 cup flat leaf parsley, roughly chopped
1 cup milk
4 slices white bread, crusts removed and cut into chunks
1.5 pounds ground grass-fed beef
1.5 pounds ground pork
1 egg
4 ounces parmesan cheese, grated
8 ounces mozzarella cheese, grated
olive oil
sea salt & freshly ground black pepper

olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, chopped
2, 28-ounce cans plum tomatoes
1 bunch fresh basil

1 pound spaghetti

To make the tomato sauce, heat the olive oil in a large sauce pot and cook the onion and garlic over medium heat for about five minutes. Drain the tomatoes, reserving about 1/2 cup of the juice. Hand crush the tomatoes and add them and the juice to the pot. Season with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. Bring to a simmer and cook for about 30 minutes. Stir in the leaves from several fresh sprigs of basil.

While the sauce is cooking, get on with the meatballs. Heat the olive oil in a medium skillet and cook the onion, garlic and parsley until soft and fragrant. Set aside to cool. Meanwhile, dredge the bread in milk in a small bowl and set aside. In a large mixing bowl, mix together the pork and beef with the egg, the cooled onion mixture and the parmesan. Squeeze the excess milk from the bread and work it into the meat mixture. Season well with sea salt and freshly ground pepper.

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit (180 Centigrade) and set out a large baking dish.

Shape the meat mixture into balls about one to two inches in diameter. Heat a two-count of olive oil over medium high heat. Sear the meatballs on all sides until brown and crispy. Transfer to the baking dish. When finished, spoon over about half of the tomato sauce. Sprinkle with the mozzarella and place into the oven.

Cook for 30 minutes, or until the meatballs are cooked through. Garnish with fresh, hand torn basil. Serve over pasta or with crusty French bread as an appetizer.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

More thoughts on Beef Bourguignon

I cooked beef bourguignon again this past weekend and stumbled across a new technique I intend to employ every time I make the dish. I posted the recipe late last year on this blog Boeuf Bourguignon It's lovely as is, but to make it even more amazing, I suggest the following: 

Remove cooked pieces of meat, onions and mushrooms to a serving platter and place in a warm oven. Strain the sauce into a small saucepan over medium heat. Simmer for about 10 minutes, allowing it to reduce by about one-third. Then whisk in about one tablespoon of butter at a time, until the the sauce thickens further and becomes a gorgeous chestnut brown. I estimate about one tablespoon of butter per half cup of sauce.  As in the recipe for beurre blanc, the acid in the wine acts on the solids in the butter, suspending them into a rich, velvety sauce that defies description. Pour over the meat and vegetables and serve. 

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Luxurious Marinara Sauce

With all of the time spent reading and cooking from "Mastering the Art of French Cooking" these days, I haven't cooked many of my own recipes. But a few nights ago, in the mood for comfort food, I decided to make a simple marinara sauce with mushrooms over pasta. Julia claims that learning French techniques improves your skill in other regional cuisines as well. So I put them to work on this Italian classic. My old recipe is now a sad and distant memory. This is absolute, lip-quivering bliss. 

2 shallots, minced
4 tablespoons butter, divided
1 clove garlic, minced
1/4 cup dry red wine
1 cup mini Portabella mushrooms, stems removed
1 15-ounce can whole plum tomatoes
1 teaspoon herbs de provence 

8 ounces pasta, cooked al dente 

Freshly grated parmesan 

Melt two tablespoons of butter over medium-low heat and cook the shallots for about five minutes, then add the garlic and cook for another minute. Turn the heat up slightly and add the red wine. Cook off the alcohol briefly, then add the tomatoes and herbs. 

Meanwhile, in a separate pan, melt the remaining two tablespoons of butter over medium-high heat and brown the mushrooms. You may have to do this in two batches so as not to crowd them. When each is a beautiful golden brown on each side, add to the marinara. Break them up with a wooden spoon, then allow the sauce to simmer on low heat for about 15 more minutes. Season to taste with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. 

Serve with pasta and freshly grated parmesan cheese. 

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

My First Souffle -- Souffle aux epinards

I owe so much to Julia Child, not the least of which is a successful execution of my first souffle, souffle aux epinards. Thank you, Julia. 

Serves 2-4

4 tablespoons butter, divided
3 tablespoons flour
1 cup boiling milk
pinch sea salt
pinch ground pepper
freshly ground nutmeg

4 eggs, separated 

1 tablespoons minced shallots
3/4 cup blanched chopped spinach

1/2 cup grated Emmental Swiss cheese, divided

Butter a small casserole dish then sprinkle with about one tablespoon of the cheese. Heat the oven to 400 degrees fahrenheit.

Create the souffle base by melting three tablespoons of butter and the flour over medium heat until thick and bubbling. Cook for about two minutes then remove from heat, allow to cool momentarily, then add the boiling milk. Whisk until thick then blend in the seasonings, then the egg yolks, one at a time.

In a separate pan, saute the shallots, one tablespoon of butter and the spinach over moderate heat. Cook off most of the liquid.  

In a medium size mixing bowl, beat the egg whites and another pinch sea salt until stiff. 

Fold the spinach and shallots, and the remaining cheese into the egg yolk mixture, then add one third of the egg white mixture to lighten the whole thing. Ultimately fold in the remaining egg whites gently until just combined. 

Pour this mixture into the prepared dish and place into the oven. Turn the temperature to 375 and bake for about 30-35 minutes. Allow to rest for at least five minutes before serving.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Beurre Blanc

While living in Europe I've decided to brush up on my high school French and learn more about French cooking, which of course involves consuming inordinate amounts of butter and wine. Oh pity! Usually regional foods are distinguished by specific ingredients, kaffir lime leaves and fish sauce in Thailand, saffron and smoked paprika in Morocco, and so on. After cooking only a handful of French classics my suspicion is that French food is distinguished not by ingredients but by technique.

As I glance at recipes from a few different cookbooks, I notice a familiar grocery list: shallots, white wine, leeks, butter, cream, tarragon, sea bass, mussels, and courgettes. What was that last one? Courgettes. Sounds exotic and delicious, but as my British friends will tell you, it's nothing more than the humble zucchini. Perhaps that is part of the allure of French cooking. The French take the most simple ingredients and transform them into mystical little morsels of absolute heaven.

And while we're demystifying things, let's get to that problem of portion sizes. In America we grouse often about the minuscule portions served in French restaurants. A problem to be sure if one were to order only one course. But as I'm learning, even vegetables are their own course in French cuisine.

In my previous post I suggested a method of preparation for green beans as recommended by Julia Child. While sampling different options for serving sauteed beans, I tried Julia's beurre blanc. Forgive the forthcoming blasphemy, but I did not enjoy it. The tang of the vinegar and excessive use of butter--I never thought there could be such a thing--rendered the sauce heavy and astringent. My mouth had that film of a pan that didn't get completely washed.

Thus, after following Julia's recipe to the letter I experimented with my own and humbly offer it to you here.

Beurre Blanc

1 tablespoon minced shallots
1/3 cup dry white wine
3-4 tablespoons cold butter, cut into teaspoon-size bits
pinch salt
pinch white pepper

Simmer the shallots, white wine, 1/2 tablespoon of butter, salt and pepper over medium heat until reduced to about 2 tablespoons total volume. Remove from the heat and whisk in 2 teaspoons of butter. Return to low heat and continue whisking in teaspoon after teaspoon of butter as each one melts into the sauce. Serve immediately over vegetables or fish.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Better Beans

Julia Child’s recommendations on cooking green beans in Mastering the Art of French Cooking are a revelation. I’ve never enjoyed this vegetable as much as I do now. Formerly I sautéed them in olive oil with garlic and red chili flake and then finished with a squeeze of fresh lemon juice and a bit of butter. They weren’t bad. But they weren’t great. I also tried roasting them, which was a dismal failure. With Julia’s advice on blanching the beans first then evaporating the liquid in a dry sauté pan, the beans are rendered crisp and flavorful. 
1 pound fresh green beans (choose thin, firm beans that snap when you break off an end)
½ lemon
1 tablespoon butter
sea salt

Heat several quarts of water and a generous pinch of sea salt in a large pot over high heat. Meanwhile snap off the ends of the green beans. When the water reaches a boil, gently slide the beans into the pot. After about three minutes, remove one of them with a pair of tongs and test for doneness. You want it cooked through but with a slight crunch remaining. When the beans reach this stage, drain in a colander. If you do not plan to use them immediately, refresh under cool running water or plunge into an ice water bath.
When you are within minutes of serving, place the drained beans in a dry sauté pan and cook over relatively high heat until the moisture is cooked off--about one to two minutes--shaking the pan to move the vegetables around. Then drop a tablespoon of butter into the pan and continue to flip the beans. Slowly squeeze the juice from half of a lemon onto the beans. Serve immediately... but, of course, enjoy at your leisure.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Pear Tart

Yields eight servings 

1/2 cup cold butter
2/3 cup almond meal
2/3 cup brown rice flour
2 tablespoons brown sugar
pinch sea salt

3-4 ripe pears
1/2 cup mascarpone cheese
1/4 cup granulated white sugar, fine
2 eggs, whisked
1 tablespoon vanilla extract

Prepare the pastry in a food processor. Mix to a fine crumb then dump into a fluted tart pan and distribute it evenly around the bottom and sides with your hands.

Wash the pears, but do not peel them. Slice vertically and remove the core and stem as you go. Arrange artfully in the crust as you desire. This tart is a lovely application for red pears.

To make the filling, whisk mascarpone, eggs, sugar and vanilla until smooth. Pour over the pears.

Place the tart pan onto a baking sheet and place into a preheated 375 degree oven for 20 minutes, or until the top is browned and bubbling. Allow to cool for at least 1 hour. Serve at room temperature or chilled.

A New Kitchen

A mere 10 days following my last post I boarded an airplane bound for 6,000 miles away. With two children and a plethora of their accouterments in tow, Rich and I flew to a little town called London, England where we had a job waiting for us working with single airmen at the Lakenheath Air Force Base.

We found a lovely home in Mildenhall, England complete with what I do believe is the largest kitchen in the country. My heart sang when I saw the vast counter space and a gas stove. It even has room for a breakfast table, something I shunned in other homes thinking it far too informal for fancy dinner parties. But something about being this far away from home and friends makes me a little wistful for a more casual intimate setting. Moreover, it is quite cold here and the kitchen heats up nicely when I cook. So on chilly winter evenings, I can't imagine a better place to eat. Even when we have dinner guests.