Sunday, September 27, 2009

September Daring Bakers Challenge

The challenge was vol-au-vent. We could create any shape of puff pastry that we fancied and fill it with either sweet or savory, but here's the catch: We had to make the puff pastry. From scratch. I was scared to death but ended up with a finished product that brought a smile to my face. That's because it looked pretty and tasted good. It's always a lovely surprise when you get both.

For the filling, I created a twist on apple pie by sautéing chopped apples (apples from a nearby tree, I'll have you know) in butter and sprinkling with a little brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, and fresh, grated ginger. After the mix had cooked down, I removed it from the heat, let it cool a bit and then stuffed some inside my vol-au-vent. I served it along side three mini scoops of vanilla bean ice cream.

September challenge verdict: success!

The September 2009 Daring Bakers' challenge was hosted by Steph of a Whisk and a Spoon. She chose the French treat, Vol-au-Vent based on the Puff Pastry recipe by Michel Richard from the cookbook Baking With Julia by Dorie Greenspan.

To see more vol-au-vents creations, please check out the Daring Kitchen website.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Savory Pies

I'm jealous of my neighbor who gets to look at this every day.

I am not a fan of corn. But still I give it a chance. That's because of it's beautiful shape and color, the fact that it's a summer staple, and--decobbed--my son will eat cups of the stuff. I'd been seeing a recipe for Tomato and Corn Pie pop up on several of my favorite food blogs, here and here. At first I was turned off by it because of the corn, but I continued to think it over and soon couldn't get it out of my mind. I had to try it. Maybe it was the biscuit crust or the fact that it's a one "pot" meal, something for which I'm a sucker. What's more, I like the notion of making this dish earlier in the day and then simply pulling it out of the fridge and baking it at dinner time. Same goes for the Spaghetti Pie. It takes the stress out of dinner time when you don't have to toil and fuss in the kitchen. I suppose you could even assemble these dishes the night before and stash them in the fridge to bake the next evening.

I conservatively adapted the recipe from Everybody Likes Sandwiches (second link above), who in turn adapted it from the Gourmet magazine version. I included fine ground cornmeal in my biscuit dough, a perfect complement to the corn kernels inside the pie.

While I can't take credit for the actual idea, the Spaghetti Pie is my own creation and can be modified in numerous ways. It's great for using up leftover spaghetti and I imagine virtually any other type of leftover pasta (though the large tubular shape of, say, penne could make it tough to get flat in your pie plate or spring form pan). After all, the goal here is to shape the pasta to the bottom and sides of your pan so you can add filling in the middle. I didn't have too many pizza or pasta-type ingredients on hand but found an unopened package of Canadian bacon slices in the back of my fridge along with a box of fresh mushrooms. I also went to the freezer and removed a bag of chopped, frozen spinach to add some greenness to the dish.

Spaghetti Pie is not the best meal you'll ever have but it's enjoyable to make, easy to prepare in advance, and fun to eat.

Spaghetti Pie

1 pie plate or 9" or 10" spring form pan
3-4 cups leftover (or cooked and cooled) spaghetti - eyeball how much will fit in your pan
1.5 T melted butter
2 eggs, beaten
1/2c grated Parmesan
1c cottage cheese (you could try substituting ricotta if you prefer)
1/4c sliced mushrooms
6-8 slices of Canadian bacon
1/2c chopped, frozen spinach (or 1c fresh baby spinach)
2T fresh basil, chopped (optional)
1-2c spaghetti sauce (depending on how dry or saucy you like your pie)
3/4c mozzarella

1. Mix spaghetti with butter, eggs, and Parmesan.

2. Form into pan pushing pasta up the sides; make a well in the center.

3. Add cottage cheese and layer on the toppings: mushrooms, Canadian bacon, spinach.

4. Pour over spaghetti sauce and top with mozzarella and basil. (Alternatively, mix the basil with the pasta before molding in the pan).

5. Bake at 350F for 25-35 minutes.

Note: I also thought this dish could benefit from some sauteed onions or garlic. Incorporate them where you see fit.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Ris a l'amande and buttermilk cake with friends

We had something to look forward to after we returned from summer vacation: our friends Kira and Kevin and their kids Anton and Freya visited us for dinner and a sleepover. Kira and I share a love of food, cooking, and cookbooks. She brought along two amazing treats.

The first was an apple tart made from apples picked in her garden. The second was uniquely Danish and wonderfully good. It's called Ris a l'amande and is a rice pudding of sorts traditionally served after Christmas dinner in Denmark. I loved the light sweetness, crunchy almonds, and texture of the creamy rice. Served with a spoon of warm cherry sauce, this is a must have dessert.

Ris a l'amande

1 liter milk
50 g sugar
125 g rice (short grain/arborio)
50g chopped unsalted almonds
1/2 liter heavy cream
1tsp vanilla or inside bits of one vanilla bean
1tsp salt

1. Mix rice, milk, and sugar and salt in a saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat. Stir continuously until the mixture becomes thick.

2. Remove from heat, stir in vanilla and set aside.

3. Once cool, fold in heavy cream and almonds.

4. Serve with warm kirsebærsauce. Or, if you live outside of Scandinavia, use cherry compote, cherry preserves, or a can of pie cherries. The dessert tastes best if the rice porridge is coolish and the cherry topping warm.

Notes: Kira used toasted almonds. Dry roasted would be really nice, too. Thanks to Google images for letting me borrow a photo. I was too busy eating to think of taking one. To my U.S. measurement friends, my apologies for using metric. But don't you like how I threw in a teaspoon of salt and vanilla at the bottom?

I prepared a burger recipe from Every Day with Rachel Ray that was good but not magical. The pasta salad I made was adapted from a recipe in the same issue of the magazine and again, I wasn't overly impressed. For breakfast I baked a buttermilk cake that was inspired by the recipe for Salt-Kissed Buttermilk Cake on 101 Cookbooks, with sliced nectarines and blueberries on top. Though tasty, I was unpleasantly surprised that the buttermilk did not deliver a more moist crumb. A tad too dry for my taste, but luckily the fruit compensated for that.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Summer in France con't.

I simply won't give up on getting through my culinary remembrances of my summer vacation. Plus, it's a nice way for me to show off my family in France.
Anatole hard at work helping with the gardening.

The staples of a good French meal: bread, cheese, wine. Alan and Harri, our friend from Finland, oversee dinner du jour, grilled Merguez sausages (traditional North African spicy lamb and beef), and crozets (tiny pasta squares made from buckwheat flour), a specialty of Savoie, the local region. Alan loves any excuse to use our dutch oven and lugged it in our trunk all the way from Denmark.

I was NOT happy about this, but Anatole was on cloud nine.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

A short rant and plum clafoutis

My father-in-law is visiting and last night for dessert he made the most delicious clafoutis with plums picked for free from a nearby tree. I simply can't get over how many apple, pear, and plum trees there are in this town, not to mention cherries and blackberries. What's more, many people here leave their trees full, unpicked and then, when the ripe fruit falls to the earth, either throw it in the composter or trash. I cannot fathom why anybody in their right mind would waste this kind of fresh, organic fruit but then I'm also the one racing all over town to snatch up as much free fruit as I can find. I hate to overly emphasize the free part, but honestly supermarket fruit is pricey and it feels like such a score to gather up a bucket full of plums, like I did the other day. Nevermind the cost, the taste beats store bought any day.

My father-in-law used a French recipe, but since I don't have time to translate at the moment, here is a link to another recipe for plum clafoutis.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Salad Lyonnaise

We used to have a tradition that on my birthday Alan would cook mussels and french fries for me (moules avec pommes frites). He stewed mussels in a delicious buttery white wine sauce and served them along side a mound of fries. To say that I was crazy about this meal is an understatement. I was one with it. Sadly, the tradition is no more. That's because the last time he prepared it I became violently ill and was glued to the toilet all night. Come to find out, I've developed an allergy to shell fish. What a pity. I miss those mussels like I miss my family in Oregon.

This year my consolation dinner was Salad Lyonnaise. I specifically requested it because Alan makes the best (and only) version I've had. If you haven't had the pleasure of eating this easy but lovely dish, it's simply chopped lettuce, tomatoes, cooked bacon, and handmade croutons topped with a poached egg and drizzled with a simple vinaigrette of olive oil, Dijon mustard, salt, and red wine vinegar.

What was really special is that Alan not only made dinner but he dressed the table with miniature Danish flags (a birthday tradition here), candles, and fancy paper napkins he bought just for that night (inserted in champagne glasses!). I was impressed.

Here, a recipe for traditional Salad Lyonnaise from Simply Recipes. If you don't like frisee (I don't), simply substitute romaine or red leaf lettuce. Also, this recipe contains no tomatoes or garlic, key ingredients in Alan's version. Stick with that if you prefer, but Alan makes his croutons in the following way. First he toasts slices of bread in the toaster. Next, he rubs the toast slices with a clove of fresh garlic. Then he chops the bread into bite sized pieces and sautees them in a pan of 1-2T of olive oil. They're spectacular, and after eating my first bite I vowed never to buy store bought croutons again. As for the tomatoes, we add them merely as a matter of preference and for the way they compliment the bacon and other ingredients.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Brioche and Apricots: Summer in France Continued

I'm looking out my window at the trees blowing and sheets of rain falling. Soon enough this will be a daily occurrence. In an effort to block it out of my mind I'm daydreaming about my summer vacation. Today's highlights include brioche from the village of Chiché, our arrival at Alan's family's weekend house in the Chartreuse Mountains, petit dejeuner--or breakfast--, and salad adorned with fresh flowers.

Brioche belongs to the Viennese family of baked goods which are richer and usually sweeter than ordinary breads (think pain au chocolat). While it is a leavened bread like a baguette or a flute it is different in that in contains eggs, butter, milk, and sugar making it more like a pastry.

Our first breakfast in Les Gandy. Outside in the fresh mountain air. Enjoying brioche with butter and jam...and did you get a load of the apricots? Incredible. They tasted just as good as they looked.

From top to bottom: the sweetest welcome sign; there are 10 houses in the village of Les Gandy, Alan's family's house is the grey one with blue shutters; next to the house is an old grenier where wheat and food was once stored; this is the view from the back side of the house where we enjoyed many meals.; a garage in the village (love the hanging plant); a salad that my mother-in-law prepared with ingredients from her garden. The flowers were edible and such a lovely addition to the green leaves and red tomatoes.