Sunday, September 30, 2012

The Bonne Femme

Over the weekend I took my kids to the library, and of course, I had to check out the cookbooks! After careful consideration, I checked out the Bonne Femme Cookbook: Simple, Splendid Food That French Women Cook Every Day, by Wini Moranville. 


This delightful cookbook was obviously appealing to me, being a "bonne femme" ("good wife") myself. Hmm...hmm. After reading it almost cover to cover (cookbooks are like novels to me), I whipped out my apron and began. The first recipe I tried was for "Hamburgers with Bordelaise Sauce with Mushrooms." I've never seen a recipe for a French hamburger before, and thought it would appeal to my American children. So, according to Wini, a French hamburger consists of a pan-fried hamburger patty covered with melted cheese (French, of course), served on a thick slice of toasted country bread, topped with a French sauce, and eaten with a knife and fork. How civilized! I found the Bordelaise Sauce with Mushrooms to be very easy and delicious; but, with the combination of the hamburger patty, it brought flash-backs of bad TV dinners, specifically, Salisbury steak. So, while I will probably keep making my hamburgers in American fashion, I will make this delicious sauce again, but serve it with a perfectly grilled steak instead! Mmmm!


Bordelaise Sauce Ce Soir

Makes about 1 cup, 4 servings

Ingredients:

1 cup low-sodium beef broth
1 cup dry red wine
1 small shallot, quartered
1 tablespoon snipped fresh parsley
1 bay leaf
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, slightly softened
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Variation for Bordelaise Sauce with Mushrooms: Add 1 cup sliced mushrooms, sauteed in a little butter, to the finished sauce and heat through.

Directions:

In a medium-size saucepan, combine the broth, wine, shallot, parsley, and bay leaf. Bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the sauce is reduced to 1 cup, 15 to 20 minutes.

Strain the sauce into a bowl, discarding the shallot, bay leaf, and herbs; return the sauce to the pan. Mash the butter together with the flour to make a paste (a beurre manie). Add the beurre manie bit by bit to the reduced sauce, stirring with a wire whisk to blend away any lumps. Boil gently, stirring, until the sauce reaches the desired thickness, 2 to 3 minutes. Season with salt and pepper and serve.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Magic Mushrooms

"If you see a fairy ring,
In a field of grass,
Very lightly step around,
Tiptoe as you pass;
Last night fairies frolicked there,
And they're sleeping somewhere near.

If you see a tiny fay
Laying fast asleep,
Shut your eyes and run away,
Do not stay or peep;
And be sure you never tell,
Or you'll break a fairy spell."

          -William Shakespeare

Fairy rings (aka., fairy circles, elf circles, elf rings, or pixie rings) are naturally occurring rings of mushrooms. Centuries-old tales depict fairy rings as meeting places of fairies to dance and sing, and were thought to be portals to a magical kingdom where fairies and other mythical creatures dwell. For thousands of years, some people have believed that walking into a fairy ring could bring misfortune from either death at a young age (that's awful!!!), or the possibility of being trapped in a fairy world, unable to escape. According to these old traditions, the only way to be safe was to run around the fairy ring exactly nine times (never ten) while under a full moon. Wearing a hat backwards is also said to offer protection, as it is supposed to confuse the fairies. Really? Today there is little superstition linked to fairy rings; although, some delight in the notion that if you step in a fairy ring, you are granted a wish. (If you want to risk the chance of dying at a young age!) 

Whatever you choose to believe, mushrooms are enchanting and delicious when stuffed! This delightful version, stuffed with fresh goat cheese, sauteed mushroom stems, thyme, and shallots, garnished with fairy-size sprouts and a swirl of balsamic glaze really allow the mushrooms to shine! How enchanting!


Stuffed Mushroom Caps

Serves 6

Ingredients:
6 hockey-puck-sized button mushrooms
Olive oil
2 tablespoons butter
1 shallot, minced
1 garlic clove, minced
1/4 teaspoon crushed red chili pepper
2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme
3-4 tablespoons fresh bread crumbs (Panko works well, too.)
Handful chopped fresh parsley
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
About 4 ounces fresh chevre (goat cheese)
Watercress or other sprouts, for serving
Balsamic glaze, for serving (can be purchased at most grocers)

Directions:
Heat the oven to 375 degrees. Carefully remove and finely chop the mushroom stems, set aside. Set the caps, holes downwards, on a baking sheet, rub with a little olive oil, and bake 10 minutes to shrink slightly.

Meanwhile, melt the butter in a saute pan over medium heat, and gently fry the shallot until slightly soft, about 3 minutes. Add the mushroom stems, and cook until soft, about 5 more minutes. Add the garlic, chili pepper, and thyme, saute 1 more minute. Stir through all but a spoonful of the breadcrumbs. Remove from the heat, taste, and season with salt and pepper. In a small bowl, stir together the parsley and remaining bread crumbs.

Pull the mushrooms from the oven, and turn them holes skywards. Season with salt and pepper. Divide the cheese evenly among them, pile on the filling, then scatter the parsley mixture evenly over the top. Drizzle with olive oil, and bake until the tops are golden and the filling very hot, about 20 minutes. Serve with watercress or sprouts, lightly dressed with olive oil and salt, on the side and a generous swirl of balsamic glaze. How pretty!

Recipe adapted from French Taste: Elegant Everyday Eating, by Laura Calder.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Fungi-Fanatic!

If you are not aware, I am crazy about mushrooms! I love their earthy flavor, tender flesh, and down right adorable appearance! I eagerly make any recipe with mushrooms as the star ingredient! I am such a fungi-fanatic that my kitchen is nicknamed "Mushroom's Cafe!" I am aware that there are a lot of people who claim they don't like mushrooms; however, I have changed a lot of minds by serving them Beef Bourguignon

Another absolutely stellar recipe featuring mushrooms, comes from The Inn at Little Washington Cookbook, by Patrick O'Connell. (If you missed my previous post regarding this magical place, please refer to Dreaming in Dalmation.) This recipe for "Fettuccine with Morel Mushrooms and Country Ham" exemplifies the rich indulgences offered at The Inn at Little Washington. Unfortunately, morel mushrooms are not available now, so I used Shiitake (stems discarded), but any fresh wild mushrooms will produce excellent results! One more thing, NEVER wash your mushrooms! Clean them with a soft brush or gently wipe them off with paper towels.


Fettuccine with Morel Mushrooms and Country Ham

Serves 4

Ingredients:

1 teaspoon salt
9 ounces fresh fettuccine (or 5 ounces dried)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
1 cup fresh morel mushrooms (or another wild variety)
1/2 teaspoon minced shallot
1/4 teaspoon minced garlic
3 cups heavy cream
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Pinch of freshly ground nutmeg
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste (I used white pepper)
1 cup very thin slices well-trimmed country ham, cut into ribbons the same width as the fettuccine
1 tablespoon chopped fresh chives (Don't skip the chives, they are essential!)

Directions:

Bring 4 quarts of water to a rolling boil and add the 1 teaspoon of salt. Cook the fettuccine until just barely al dente. Drain in a colander and toss with 1 tablespoon of the oil. Keep warm.

In a 10" saute pan, melt the butter and the remaining 1 tablespoon oil over high heat. Add the morels just as the butter begins to color. Saute rapidly until the mushrooms begin to crisp around the edges. Add the shallot and garlic and saute for 1 minute more. Remove from the heat.

In a 4-quart saucepan, bring the cream to a boil. Reduce the heat and add half of the sauteed mushrooms/shallot/garlic mixture. Reserve the other half for garnish. Cook until the cream thickens enough to coat the back of a spoon, about 5 minutes. Stir in the cheese. Add the nutmeg and season with salt and pepper. Add the fettuccine to the sauce and toss well to combine.

To serve: Using tongs, place a mound of fettuccine in each of four warm serving bowls and pour a bit of the remaining sauce over the noodles. Place the reserved mushrooms on top of the fettuccine and divide the ham evenly among the bowls. Garnish with the chives. You'll love it!

Recipe adapted from The Inn at Little Washington Cookbook, by Patrick O'Connell.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Cherokee Legend, and How Strawberries Can Save Your Marriage!

As today is the last day of summer, I want to share the Cherokee Legend of the Strawberry:

The story goes that First Man and First Woman had an argument, in which the First Woman ran away, never to return. After First Man's temper calmed, he began to worry and miss First Woman. First Man prayed to Creator to give her something to eat and to slow her down, so he could tell her how sorry he was. Creator placed a patch of blackberries along her path, but the briars tore at her soft skin, and she continued to run away.

First Man prayed to Creator again to give her something to eat and to slow her down, so he could tell her how much he loved her. Creator reached down and picked the most delicate white flowers and some berries, in which he pricked his finger on the thorns. Drops of blood turned the berries large, bright red, and heart-shaped. He then placed the white flowers and berries along First Woman's path. 

When First Woman saw the delicate flowers and bright red berries, she stopped to enjoy their beauty. As she saw no thorns, she tasted one of the berries. They were so sweet that she stopped to eat more. She saw that the berries were heart-shaped and began to think of the sweet things First Man had done for her in the past. She began looking at the pure white flowers and began to remember how pure her love for First Man had been, and began to cry. She began to pray to Creator to bring her husband to her, so she could tell him how sorry she was and how much she loved him. Her husband appeared and they hugged, exchanged loving words, and forgave each other. 

This is why the Cherokee always have fresh whole strawberries, jam, and pictures in their home to remind them not to argue with one another. Their heart-shape reminds them that if they do slip and say something hurtful, to pray, ask for forgiveness, and say loving words, just like First Man and First Woman.

So, there you have it, strawberries make a happy marriage! Why not run out and pick up a bunch today, eat them whole, like First Man and First Woman, or do what I do, make Thomas Keller's "Strawberry Sorbet," from his cookbook, Bouchon. This luscious strawberry sorbet is so easy and just as satisfying as ice cream, but without any guilt! Keller suggests serving this sorbet simply, in a bowl with no garnish. It's pure perfection, and the perfect way to end your summer!


Bouchon Strawberry Sorbet

Makes about 1 quart.

Ingredients:

2 pounds fresh strawberries
1 1/4 cups sugar
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice

Directions:

Combine the strawberries, sugar, and lime juice in a blender and blend to a puree. Strain to remove the seeds. Refrigerate until cold.

Transfer to an ice cream machine and freeze according to the manufacturer's instructions.

Special thanks to Bonita Beautiful Meadowlark Sanders for sharing the "Cherokee Legend of the Strawberry!"

Monday, September 17, 2012

Goodbye Summer - Hello Flatiron Steak!

Well, here we are, the last week of summer! I have to admit, after scorching heat and drought, I'm ready to see it go. No more futile watering, pesky mosquito bites, or walking around a little more "dewy" than I prefer! However, one thing I will miss is my recipe for "Ginger-Soy Flatiron Steak with Grilled Green Onions!" This more recent cut of beef, introduced in 2002, discovered by research teams from the University of Nebraska and the University of Florida, and funded by the National Cattlemen's Beef Association, is a relatively tender, economical, and flavorful cut of meat. The flatiron steak is one of the most tender cuts from the beef chuck, is similar to a blade steak, but it's been cut flat instead of across the shoulder blade, eliminating the tough seam of connective tissue found in the blade steak. Other names for this cut of beef are top blade steak, top chuck steak, book steak, butlers' steak (UK), lifter steak, and oyster blade steak (Australia and New Zealand). It's even been touted as being as tender as the tenderloin with the taste of sirloin, and has become one of the best selling steaks in the world! 

The flatiron steak likes to be marinated, and is simple to prepare using dry heat cooking methods, like grilling. In this recipe, it is marinated in soy sauce, ginger, and garlic, and cooks in less than 10 minutes! The grilled whole green onions make a nice aromatic accompaniment. Trust me, it is delicious! I like to serve it simply with a green salad or grilled corn on the cob.


Ginger-Soy Flatiron Steak with Grilled Green Onions

Serves 4

Ingredients:
For the Marinade
1/2 cup (4 oz) low-sodium soy sauce
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 teaspoon Asian sesame oil
2 tablespoons brown sugar
2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
1 teaspoon peeled and grated fresh ginger (I grate it on a microplane.)

For the Steak
1, 1 lb flatiron steak
12 green onions, roots removed, ends trimmed
1 teaspoon vegetable oil

Directions:
For the Marinade
Combine the soy sauce, vegetable oil, sesame oil, brown sugar, garlic, and ginger in a shallow, nonreactive dish just large enough to hold the steak. Stir until the sugar dissolves. Place the steak in the dish, turning to coat both sides. Marinate the steak at room temperature, turning occasionally, for at least 30 minutes, or refrigerate and marinate until ready to use, removing from the refrigerator at least 30 minutes before grilling.

For the Steak
Prepare a charcoal or gas grill for direct grilling (over the coals) over high heat (400-450 degrees). Oil the grill rack. Remove the meat from the marinade, discard the marinade.

Grill the steak over the hottest part of the grill, turning once, until nicely charred and cooked to your liking, 4-5 minutes per side. (Do Not Overcook!) Remove the steak to rest. Coat the onions lightly with the vegetable oil and grill, turning once or twice, until softened and lightly browned, 3-4 minutes.

To Serve
Thinly slice the steak across the grain at an angle. Line a serving platter with the green onions, top with the sliced steak, spooning any accumulated juices over the meat.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Ciao, Insalata Caprese!

I think everyone has heard of and/or eaten Insalata Caprese, which is a salad "in the style of Capri," from the Italian region of Campania, made with fresh buffalo mozzarella, juicy red tomatoes, young fresh basil, the best olive oil, and salt and pepper. Typically, made only in the summer with the freshest most flavorful tomatoes, it is a real treat and is served as a first course with crusty bread. However, I do know some people who think it's bland and boring! Gasp! So, for those of you who think Insalata Caprese is "just okay," try this variation for "Fresh Tomato and Goat Cheese Strata with Herb Oil," by Giada de Laurentiis. 

I absolutely LOVE this salad! I highly recommend using heirloom, or at least home-grown tomatoes, if you can find them. This beautiful salad consists of thick juicy tomato slices, layered with light and fluffy goat cheese, drizzled with a fragrant herb oil of mint and basil, and sprinkled with toasted walnuts! Yum! It makes a stunning first course, and tastes fresh and downright exciting! If you have any leftover herb oil, you can store it in the refrigerator for up to 2 days. Use it to drizzle over grilled fish, vegetables, pasta, and in salad dressings.


Fresh Tomato and Goat Cheese Strata with Herb Oil

Serves 4-6

Ingredients:
For the Goat Cheese Filling
8 ounces goat cheese, at room temperature
1/4 cup heavy cream
Pinch of salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 cup walnuts
3 ripe tomatoes, cored and sliced 1/2-3/4" thick

For the Herb Oil
3/4 cup fresh mint leaves
3/4 cup fresh basil leaves
1 cup olive oil
Pinch of salt and freshly ground black pepper

Directions:
For the Goat Cheese Filling
Combine the goat cheese and cream in a medium bowl and beat together using an electric mixer (or stand mixer) until light and fluffy. Season with salt and pepper.

For the Herb Oil
Combine the herbs in a food processor and pulse a few times to chop them. With the machine running, add the oil in a slow stream and process until very smooth with visible flecks of the herbs remaining. Season with salt and pepper. Transfer the oil to a small bowl (or jar), cover, and set aside.

Toast the Walnuts
Toast the walnuts in a small, dry skillet over medium heat until they begin to darken slightly and are fragrant. Transfer the nuts to a cutting board to cool slightly, then chop them coarsely.

Plating the Dish
Place one tomato slice on each plate. Top each slice with a spoonful of the goat cheese mixture. Top each plate with another tomato slice and another spoonful of the goat cheese filling. Drizzle each strata with some of the herb oil, and sprinkle with the walnuts.

Recipe adapted from Giada's Kitchen: New Italian Favorites, by Giada de Laurentiis.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Filo, Fillo, Phyllo!

Phyllo (aka., fillo, filo) dough is flaky, tissue-thin layers of pastry used in Greek and Middle Eastern cuisine. The name phyllo originates from the Greek word "filo" meaning leaf. If you've never worked with phyllo before, it is easier than you might think! The most important thing when working with phyllo is to always keep the sheets covered with a damp kitchen towel. If you don't, they will dry up in a matter of minutes, break into a thousand shards, similar to a pile of autumn leaves. The second thing to remember is to use a very soft pastry brush to help prevent the sheets from tearing when you brush them with butter. 

A great recipe, that is very forgiving, is for "Tomato Phyllo Pizza!" This is a unique twist on any other pizza you've ever had! The phyllo layers are brushed with melted butter and a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese creating a very tasty, crisp, and flaky crust. Mozzarella cheese, thinly sliced onion, the most flavorful tomatoes you can find, like homegrown, and dashes of oregano and thyme make this pizza taste fresh and fabulous! A simple green salad with your favorite vinaigrette makes it a meal, but it also makes a great appetizer for parties! The pizza can be made up to 6 hours ahead, left at room temperature, and reheated for 10 minutes in a 325 degree oven.


Tomato Phyllo Pizza

Makes 1 pizza

Ingredients:

5 tablespoon butter, melted, plus extra for the cookie sheet
1, 17-ounce package phyllo pastry sheets, thawed to room temperature
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1 cup grated mozzarella cheese
1 cup thinly sliced onion
2 lbs ripe, medium-size tomatoes, cut into 1/4" thick slices
1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Brush a large cookie sheet with butter. Take one or two sheets of the phyllo and place it on the cookie sheet, covering the entire pan. Brush the sheets, using a soft brush, with some of the melted butter. Add the next sheet, sprinkle with some of the Parmesan cheese, and continue buttering and sprinkling with the Parmesan until you have seven layers in total. (This doesn't have to be exact. You can have more than seven, if you wish!) It is okay, and maybe necessary, to overlap each layer to fit the cookie sheet. Crimp the edges around so you form an edge. Sprinkle the top layer with the grated mozzarella, thinly sliced onion, and sliced tomatoes, creating a grid of tomatoes. Season with the oregano, thyme, salt, and pepper.

Bake until golden brown, 45-50 minutes. Serve on a large tray or bread board, cutting squares with one tomato for each serving.

Recipe adapted from Bridgehampton Weekends, by Ellen Wright.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

"Milk?"

Wisconsin, the land of cheese, milk, and butter! People from this state are lovingly known as "Cheeseheads," and are serious about their dairy products! In fact, I attended a wedding there a few years ago, and it was the only wedding I've ever seen where waiters and waitresses proudly carried huge trays bursting with glasses of milk; after all, it is the state beverage! My husband just got back from a trip to Wisconsin, and milk is not the only product in great abundance there, they also have tomatoes, lots and lots of tomatoes! So, lucky for me, he brought back a box piled high with beautiful home-grown tomatoes! With my bounty at hand, I knew exactly what I wanted to make, "Soft Mozzarella Poached with Tomatoes and Basil!" This recipe is fantastic! Soft creamy mozzarella surrounded by a pool of sweet tomato sauce and basil! All that is required is a glass of wine and plenty of crusty bread! Although, if you're a cheesehead, you'll probably want milk!


Soft Mozzarella Poached with Tomatoes and Basil

Serves 4

Ingredients:

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
4 garlic cloves, crushed
3 lbs fresh tomatoes, peeled, seeded, chopped, and drained (for help peeling tomatoes, check Techniques), or canned
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2, 8 oz balls of fresh buffalo mozzarella cheese, drained, at room temperature, and cut in half
1/2 cup fresh basil leaves
Basil sprigs, for garnish
Crusty bread

Directions:

Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the garlic and cook, stirring, until the garlic is golden, about 2 minutes. (Don't burn the garlic!) Remove the garlic and discard. Reduce the heat to medium low, add the tomatoes, and simmer until the tomatoes soften and begin to liquify. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Let cool for 10 minutes. Puree in a blender until smooth.

Twenty minutes before serving, bring the sauce to a simmer in a large saucepan over medium heat. Place the mozzarella, cut-side down, in the sauce so that it is half submerged. Remove the pan from the heat and let sit 6-8 minutes.

In the meantime, cut the basil into thin strips. To serve, place a piece of mozzarella on each plate. Stir the basil into the sauce. Spoon the sauce around the mozzarella. Garnish with basil sprigs and serve immediately, with bread.

Recipe adapted from Weir Cooking: Recipes From The Wine Country, by Joanne Weir.