Monday, October 25, 2010

Eggplant Sauce with Tomato and Red Chili Pepper

Cooking Italy Assignment
Eggplant Sauce with Tomato and Red Chili Pepper, p160

Ed's comment about this was "Excellent!" I think he liked it. In fact, we both very much liked it very much. The first night's dinner was good, and the leftovers might even have been better.

You start by salting a mess of eggplant slices and letting them weep. This is frequently an instruction in eggplant recipes, but so little liquid comes out of eggplant when I do this, I really wonder if this step is needed.

The slices are patted dry then fried in lots of hot oil, drained, and cut into "batons."

Meanwhile you sauté some garlic in olive oil, add some parsley, tomatoes, chili pepper, and salt and simmer this for a while. I used some of the seedless tomato sauce (unflavored) that I made up during the summer. When you're about ready to serve, you stir in the eggplant slices, cooking till everything is warmed through. (Unfortunately all my pics of the served dish turned out blurry, except for the one that was flashed out of sight. :-( )

The recipe calls for spaghettini, which I used (De Cecco), although it looks huge in the photo. I served the leftovers over fusilli, and I have to say I thought that it worked even better with the chunky eggplant bits and holding onto the delicious sauce. Making the sauce ahead might even improve the flavor, making it an ideal company dish.

Our only negative comment about this dish is that it seemed awfully oily—those eggplant slices really did soak up the grease, no matter that the oil was very hot. When I do this again, I think I'll try grilling the slices with just a bit of olive oil brushed on by hand, like I do when making pizza. But I definitely will do it again, because it was DEE-licious!

This week in the kitchen

Monday/25-Oct-10: Tonight I used the rest of the tomato sauce that I defrosted for the Chicken Fricassee to make another Cooking Italy assignment, a bit early this time, Eggplant Sauce with Tomato and Red Chili Pepper. Served with a big salad of mâche. For afters we had another Letuffe chocolate-covered cherry.

Tuesday/26-Oct-10: Mushroom Barley Soup (MC) for lunch. Hmm-mmm-good. Followed by two more chocolate-covered cherries. Took ourselves to see a movie in Limoges this afternoon and had a sandwich at the kebab place down the street.

Yogurt on overnight.

Wednesday/27-Oct-10: Tonight's dinner was Mildred Schulz's String Beans and Potatoes (GreeneGreens, p346), using up the haricots verts I bought at the Victor Hugo marché on Friday and starting in on the sack of potatoes I bought at the grocery last week. Topping and tailing green beans is pretty boring work. I made close to a double recipe and we ate it all for dinner, although I suppose it's meant at a side dish. A pair of chocolate chocolate chip cookies for after.

After lunch we finished off the Letuffe chocolate-covered cherries. These are so good. I have never liked chocolate covered cherries and didn't try these when we visited the factory until Ed insisted. They are really special. There's a real cherry inside, complete with pit. The liquid is based on cognac. And some good dark chocolate to cover these up. Seriously yum.

Thursday/28-Oct-10: Using up broccoli and potatoes. Made the cleverly named recipe Broccoli and Potatoes (WorldVeg, p147). I was a bit short on broccoli, so made a 2/3 recipe, which was our main course. I made an eighth recipe of Trinidian Mixed Spices (WorldVeg, p706) to cook with. Now I've got a good bit of that to use up. Dessert was some store-bought crême caramel; not too bad.

Friday/29-Oct-10: Made the old favorite Oatmeal Cake (MC) as a snack for us and for Adrian and Andy, who are finishing off the roof today.

For lunch, there was the leftover eggplant sauce, over fusilli this time, which I though worked better than the spaghettini. Really good sauce, that is.

Tonight's dinner was another quiz dinner.

Saturday/30-Oct-10: For our midday meal I made Bucatini with Pepper Flakes,Zucchini,Shrimp,&Red Onion (MC) along with a salad. Good stuff. Went to a movie in Poitiers, so had only popcorn for dinner.

Sunday/31-Oct-10: Dinner was Turkey Escalopes with Capers (BEFCC, p134), accompanied by Clothilde Dusolier's Perfect Roast Potatoes and some coarsely chopped carrot and zucchini done in steam-sauté fashion. A bit of Picolin cheese after, and then the last of the chocolate chocolate chip cookies. (There are only eight in a box!)

Yogurt on overnight.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

A Farm Wife’s Fresh Pear Tart

Cooking Italy Assignment
A Farm Wife’s Fresh Pear Tart, p589

Wow, this was a decided hit, definitely a do-again. Easy to make, good warm or cold. Yum. Start with some nice fall pears:

The peeled and chopped pears are stirred into a simple, hand-mixed batter. Since we frequently find dessert recipes too sweet, I cut back the sugar (sucre de canne) a bit, but only a bit, since several Cooking Italy folks found the tart not sweet enough. I used maybe 7/8 cup, rather than one whole cup.

The instructions say to make hollows in the batter at this point, optionally poke whole cloves into them, and fill with the hollows bits of butter. We're not clove fans here, so I omitted these, but I also (accidentally, I admit) neglected the butter-filled holes altogether and can't say that we felt it lacked anything and it was certainly that much healthier animal-fat-wise. Into the oven it went butter-less and came out delicious:

My cake pan was only 8 inches, rather than 9, so the tart might be a trifle deeper than it ought to be, but nobody complained.

Someone (I forget who, sorry) at Cooking Italy suggested adding some chopped walnuts. Very finely chopped and sprinkled on the bottom, this might be quite nice. Having disavowed the cloves, I thought a bit of ground cardamon in the batter might be nice; that's a spice that seems to go very well with pears. (Try it in pear butter sometime.) Next time ...

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Chicken Fricassee with Porcini Mushrooms, White Wine, and Tomatoes

Cooking Italy Assignment
Chicken Fricassee with Porcini Mushrooms, White Wine, and Tomatoes, p332

Cooking Italy has sprung back to life after quite a long vacation—hooray! This week's assignment was a chicken fricassee with nice mushrooms in a tomato-wine sauce. Nothing fancy, just nice homey food.

And it could hardly be simpler to make. Soak some dried porcini (aka cêpes). Brown your chicken parts. Deglaze the pan with some white wine. Add the soaked porcini, their soaking juice, and some chopped tomatoes. (Instead of chopped tomatoes, I used some of the simple tomato sauce I made from seeded tomatoes this summer.) Simmer away for 50 minutes or so and serve.

There's no special reason to use a whole chicken here; use the parts you prefer or have on hand. We liked the mix of light and dark meat. I thought it might have been nicer to have cut the chicken into eight parts, rather than four, though.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Fear of pie crusts

Now, I grew up listening to my mother complain about her pie crusts, they were never good enough and just too hard to make. At some point she found the pre-made crusts that looked like sticks of butter that just had to be rolled out to make the crusts and that was the end of her attempts at perfecting a pie crust. So I was imbued early-on with a fear of pie crusts. My few attempts were never particularly successful, and led me, like my mother, to use store-bought substitutes, either roll-'em-out or already formed.

My French teacher, Fatima, in Amstelveen also gave cooking-in-French classes. From her I learned to overcome my fear. It was simple. Put all the ingredients in a big bowl and use one hand (with cold fingers) to mush it all together. When it's crumbly, not smooth, but crumbly, it's ready to moosh into a disk, cover with plastic, and pop in the fridge. When it's good and cold, roll it out and line your dish. Alternatively, pop it in the freezer. The crust dough freezes really well. When you expect to make something with a crust in the evening, put your dough in the fridge to defrost. When you're home from work, it's there waiting to be rolled, filled, and cooked.

I didn't like Fatima's recipe. It used vegetable shortening, which is so full of chemical crap that I refuse to have it in the house. Lard is supposed to be the best, but is very difficult find.

The first recipe I found that I used frequently was Jeannette Seaver's in Jeannette's Secrets of Everyday Good Cooking. (BTW, I love this book. She's French, married American, and strove to keep the French attitude towards food alive in her home. And, of course the French are masters of using pie crust to dress up dinner, either the main course or dessert or bits of leftovers presented in a new way.)

My Basic Pie Crust
Jeannette's Secrets of Everyday Good Cooking, p38
My basic pie crust, which I use for countless dishes from quiche to tarte aux pommes, has the virtue of being extremely easy, quick, and realiable.

For an 8-9-inch pie mold you will need:
4-ounce package cream cheese
2 cups flour
1-1/2 sticks butter (6 ounces)
In a bowl, mix all the ingredients with our fingers to form a smooth dough. It should take you not more than 3 to 5 minutes. Refrigerate for 30 minutes (or more) before rolling out and baking. If you are not going to use it immediately, you can of course freeze it for later use. If you want to double or triple this recipe and set some aside for later use, I suggest you divide the dough into balls each enough for one pie, and store in the freezer in plastic bags. Label accordingly. It can keep two or three months in the freezer. It will take little or no more time, and will assure you of a ready supply for any emergency or unplanned meal. If you freeze the dough, move to the refrigerator what you expect to use any given day in the morning before you leave the house, or leave out at room temperature on hour before using.
Kaye's notes:
  • Have everything cold when you start to work.
  • I often made multiples of this, since it's so handy to have available.
  • Adapting for the package of cream cheese I can buy, I needed 150g package cream cheese, 250g butter (less a thin slice), 2-2/3 cup flour. This makes about 695g of dough.
  • The unchanged recipes make more than enough for an 8" pan.

The big deal in crust making, I've read, is to keep everything cold and to not melt the fat. The idea is to have little flakes of fat (whether it's cream cheese or butter) that will melt as the crust bakes, making layers within the crust.

More lately, I've been using the recipes in Judith Jones' The Tenth Muse: My Life in Food. This is bit messier to clean up since the food processor is involved, but a snap to put together.

Tart Dough
The Tenth Muse,p256
I've found the food processor such a blessing in making pie doughs, particularly those that are rich with butter, that I would never go back to using my fingers for the initial mixing although the final fraisage with the palms of the hands is still an essential step in making these doughs.
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 table spoon sugar (only for a sweet tart)
8 tablespoons cold unsalted butter (4 ounces)
3 tablespoons ice water
Enough for 8-inch tart pan
Mix the flour, salt, and sugar, if using, in the bowl of a food processor. Cut the butter into small pieces, drop them through the tube of the processor, and pulse long enough to say "alligator" fifteen times. Pour in the ice water and process long enough to say "alligator" ten times. Transfer the dough to a work surface, preferably marble, and smear it out in small increments with the heel of your hand, then gather the dough together into a round. Sprinkle with flour, wrap with waxed paper, and refrigerate at least 20 minutes or until ready to use.
Kaye's notes:
  • The alligator counting is a good way to use the pulse and not melt the butter. You'd be surprised how warm the flour gets if you just run the processor.
  • One batch of this dough covers my 10" (or more) quiche dishes.
  • Marble, schmarble. I use my tupperware sheet for rolling out crusts laid out on the counter. A cold surface is nice, but who can afford such a thing?
  • I've never made the sweet version of this. I just use the plain dough for a sweet pie.

In neither of these recipes, by hand or by processor, does the dough come together like a bread dough. When it's ready, you have a bowlful of flakes, like miniature granola. These can be smooshed together to form a solid mass. I expect what is accomplished by Jones' fraisage, a term I've not noticed elsewhere, is the smooshing together (technical term, that). I generally start out heel-pressing and then just give up and press it all together with my fingers. Form into a thick disk, cover tightly with plastic cling wrap, and refrigerate or freeze. (To freeze, I put the disks in a freezer-quality ziplock.)

This makes a wonderful, flaky pie crust. My mother would be surprised that I could do anything like this. I'm still surprised. My crusts aren't pretty, since I haven't yet mastered the art of making clever edges, but they so taste good.

This week in the kitchen

Monday/18-Oct-10: Made a Coffee Coffeecake (MC) during the day, at Ed's suggestion to give a treat to Adrian and Andy (who are putting a new roof on the "tower" part of the house).

Dinner was Tortellini with Parma Ham in Cream Sauce (MC), using frozen cêpe-ricotta ravioli. Not bad. A salad with the last of the lettuce. Really have to shop in the morning, although I don't have a list near ready.

Tuesday/19-Oct-10: Shopped this morning; we were the last people out as they closed at 12.30. Bought pears for the Cooking Italy pear tart, but they're pretty hard and will have to wait a few days. Dinner was this week's Cooking Italy assignment, Chicken Fricassee with Porcini Mushrooms, White Wine, and Tomatoes. I served this with polenta and Shredded Zucchini (MW@Home, p87). Nice dinner. No dessert since we finished off the coffeecake for lunch; Adrian and Andy helped, of course.

Yogurt on overnight.

Wednesday/20-Oct-10: In the afternoon, I made two batches of pâte brisée, so the freezer is stocked now. Managed to turn the flour canister onto the floor. Luckily it was almost empty and landed very cleanly upside down, so the mess was minimal.

Dinner was Home-Style Stir-Fried Scallops with Fragrant Shrimp Paste (HomFamily, p87), made with panga chunks instead of scallops and tasty anyway. Accompanied by (too much) Asparagus Stir-Fry with Black Bean Sauce (MC). (Not sure what will become of these leftovers? Filling an omelette perhaps?) A half dose of Asian Cucumber Condiment on the side (MWLowFat, p367), a refreshing sour-sweet taste. And lots of rice. The house smelled like a good Chinese restaurant when Pogo and I returned from an evening walk.

Thursday/21-Oct-10: Did not feel like cooking this evening (after ironing and vacuuming all day). It's pizza night in L'Arbre; called, but got a message they're off sick this week. Ed went to the Italian in Montbron to pick up pizzas; they're closed on Thursdays. The gods want us to eat at home. Warmed up the chicken fricassee and made a salad. Sigh.

Friday/22-Oct 10: Picked up Jeannie, then Jack, at the Angoulême train station today. Lunched in Angoulême. In the evening we ate carrot sticks and cheese and drank wine. For afters we shared a chocolate meringue thing I bought in Angoulême.

Saturday/21-Oct-10: In the afternoon, I made A Farm Wife’s Fresh Pear Tart for Cooking Italy today. Easy and yum.

Another very nice dinner at La Bellone tonight.

Sunday/22-Oct-10: We all finished off the pear tart for breakfast, along with croissants (a company treat) fresh from the boulanger. (On the way to the boulanger, I scared up four deer at the side of the road.) Took Jack and Jeannie off to catch a train; we ate sandwiches at the station.

For dinner, I made an omelette with the leftover asparagus for a filling. And a salad of mâche. And the unfinished bits of cheese from Friday. And one Letuffe chocolate-covered cherry.

Yogurt on overnight.

Monday, October 11, 2010

This week in the kitchen

Monday/11-Oct-10: Still suffering from yesterday's too meaty/fatty lunch. For dinner I made a variation on Chipotle Turkey and Corn Soup (MC), with canned corn instead of creamed corn and black beans. It's good this way; will keep these modifications. Accompanied by Cayenne Cornbread (BigGerman, p182), which didn't rise like it usually does. Still tasty, but a bit lumpen. Suspect it's because I used milk from the fridge and the fast cycle. The fast cycle usually makes very good bread, but there's no time for ingredients to come to room temp. I probably should have either used warm tap water or cut the milk with some hot water. Next time ...

Tuesday/12-Oct-10: Feeling a bit better today, but still not wanting to eat much. Dragonwagon's yummy pancakes from the freezer for dinner. Not much else.

Just when I was giving up on Cooking Italy, along comes the schedule through December! Hope I'll feel more like cooking in the next days.

Wednesday/12-Oct-10: We had our main meal at lunch today, Kedgeree with Peas and Smoked Salmon (MC), a recipe much adapted from a Dutch cooking mag. Served with a salad. I had a white chocolate mini-Magnum for dessert; he refuses to eat them, so I get the next one also. :-)

Thursday/14-Oct-10: My stomach is finally feeling like it may life. Just in time for another Sunday dinner. Leftover Chipotle Turkey Soup for lunch. Cauliflower Paprikash (MW@Home, p202) with späetzle for dinner. Love that späetzle. Some Reblochon for after, and some Petit Scholiertjes.

Friday/15-Oct 10: Concert at noon in Angoulême. Anniversary dinner at La Bellonne in the evening. No cookin' round this house.

Saturday/16-Oct-10: Dinner was Greek Lemon Garlic Chicken and Potatoes (MC 2BTried, now MC Keepers), along with a big salad. Sophie found the defrosting kip filets, so the dish had a bit less meat than intended, to go along with too many potatoes. Oh well, it tasted fine.

Sunday/17-Oct-10: Our commune hosted a lunch today for its "seniors." And very nice it was, with portions a bit more reasonable and not quite as much alcohol as usual.

Monday, October 4, 2010

This week in the kitchen

Monday/4-Oct-10: Dinner tonight at the quiz in Ambernac. Nothing much happening in our kitchen.

Tuesday/5-Oct-10: An easy, old stand-by dinner tonight, Lentils with Garlic and Onion (MJ1, p125) and Simple Buttery Rice with Onion (MJ1, p149). Cooked the lentils in the pressure cooker and they come out about the same time as the rice.

Wednesday/6-Oct-10: Kept trying to get some pâte brisée made today, but never got it done. Lunch was Curried Red Lentil Soup with Lemon, a recipe from a VegTimes newsletter, I think. It wasn't bad, but nothing special. I'm always puzzled by recipes that cook red lentils for 40 minutes until they're soft. After 40 minutes, the red lentils I get (really orange, turning mustard yellow) are mush, not much is left that's recognizably a lentil. The soup was good enough, but nothing special, not a bit of fat it in, except for the chicken stock I used instead of the vegetable broth.

My attention was not on food today. Dinner was an old favorite, Spaghetti with Zucchini and Lemon (MW@Home, p195). And a bit salad. We were piggies after and ate a whole box of scholiertjes, petit ecoliers. Oink, oink.

Oops, nobody went to the boulanger today. Made Authentic French Bread (Magic, p22) overnight, about the only bread I can do out of my head.

Thursday/7-Oct-10: Shopped this morning. Dinner was Southeast Asian Fish Rolls (MWLowFat, p294), with panga and the last of last week's coriander. (Panga filets seem to be bigger here that they were in NL, so I made all the filling for the two filets and it was fine.) Accompanied by a a quarter recipe of Fragrant Jasmine Rice (MWLowFat, p189), which was more than enough for two; used a whole round, red pepper I bought at a market, which made it quite spicy. Also accompanied by Chow Dau Kok aka Quick Fried Long Beans (Solomon1, p413). Used frozen haricots verts in place of kousebanden, which I've never seen here. Made a small half of a recipe to serve 4, which was still a bit too much. Did discover that it's much easier to snap frozen beans to the proper length, than to cut the defrosted ones with a knife. For dessert there was a bit of ice cream, topped with a pineapple ring (left from the rice).

Yogurt on overnight.

Friday/8-Oct 10: Ed's choir sang at the church this evening. He brought home fish and chips, a bit soggy by the time it got home, but pretty good anyhow. A pair of store-bought chocolate chip cookes each for dessert. These were surprisingly good (new brand).

Saturday/9-Oct-10: Made a double batch of Apple-Plum Butter today. Used our "found" apples, mostly quite small, so I used two of these apple required. Lots of peeling. And the plums, plucked from the same bin at the store, were two different kinds, red skins with red insides and red skins with yellow insides. Oh well. Accidentally added ground cloves instead of nutmeg; scooped it out, but a bit remained. Doesn't seem to have affect the taste too badly. I left the lid off the Dutch oven for part of the final boiling and, boy, did that make a mess!

Dinner was a half version of Spaghetti with Cauliflower and Pancetta (30MinPasta, p142). This was quite good, easy, and definitely in under 30 minutes. I like the time-saving features: the cauliflower cooked whole in the soon-to-be pasta water (which seemed to be less messy when chopped than chopping it raw), and dumping the garlic, pancetta, pepper flakes, and oil in the skillet before lighting the fire. Why not? Used all of pepper flakes, though, which was nice. Served with a big salad. Finished off the chocolate chip cookies for afters.

Sunday/10-Oct-10: We lunched at the Fête du Pain in Cruzeau today. Too much fatty food (big chunks of pâté and rillettes for a starter, grilled pork, potato chips, and cheese) and neither of us feels like eating much tonight.

The Cooking Italy group is mightily silent. The October schedule has still not been published. No one has made the duck think from September. I've got the duck legs in the freezer, but haven't felt like making it. Maybe everyone has the don't-feel-like-cooking malaise. I bumped into a similar sort of group doing French cooking, but they're cooking from a book I don't recognize, and I really don't need another cookbook, now, do I?