Sunday, May 16, 2010

Poulet Sauté Basquaise / Sauté of Chicken with Bell Peppers

A month or so ago, Scott was heading up to one of his accounts on the Boise Bench and was rear-ended. We were lucky that there was minimal damage to the car and no damage to Scott, but it still made for a stressful day. Scott had some evening obligations, but asked for a dinner from the book. I opted for this chicken and the macaroons from the previous post. I'd planned for a few more things but ran out of time. It's easy to get over ambitious.

I still haven't found the Espelette pepper listed. I need to make it over to the Basque Market in downtown. I figure if anyone's going to have it, they will. The chicken is browned after being coated in a mixture of Espelette (or cayenne and paprika in my case) and flour. It's pan-roasted with garlic, Bayonne ham or proscuitto, chicken broth and red & green bell peppers.

It smelled amazing. The proscuitto added a meaty, salty character to the chicken and peppers. By the time the dish was cooked, the peppers were soft and almost falling apart. I served everything over basmati rice cooked in the leftover chicken broth. Overall, a comforting dish to make up for a stressful day.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Les Macarons de Nancy / Almond Macaroons

I may have a new favorite cookie. These are so ridiculously easy and delightful. If you have a food processor, you can make them. Combine 150 g blanched almonds (The recipe calls for whole, but I couldn't find them. We've used slivered ands sliced.) with one cup of sugar, two lightly beaten egg whites and 1/2 tsp vanilla extract. Pulse in the food processor until a sticky paste is formed. Apologies on the weight for the almonds to those of you who don't have a scale. The recipe calls for 1 cup whole blanched almonds, but I haven't been able to find whole ones and have used the weight instead. The genius? You can choose how rustic you want the macaroons to be. I liked how the slivered ground a little better than the sliced, but I liked that the recipe is flexible.

It's also flexible if you make a mistake. The first time I made them, I looked at the 150 g of almonds and 200 g granulated sugar and combined the numbers to 250 g almonds. I was really confused when it took a few extra egg whites to make the paste come together, but it had said you might need more. The cookies turned out delicious, and I didn't think much of it until I was making them again for a beer tasting party. The pile of almonds was significantly smaller, and two egg whites was more than sufficient. Oops. The second batch was a little less dense than the first, which is to be expected.

Each time I make these little cookies, I'm amazed that they don't have any flour in them. They are pillowy and soft, with a terrific texture. Even looking at them, it's hard to tell they're nothing more than almonds, sugar and egg whites.

The first night, we had them with coffee and vanilla ice creams with caramel sauce drizzled over the top. Mmmm... The second time, they went to a beer tasting party where someone told me more than once that they were the best cookies he's ever eaten. The third time, friends joined us for How I Met Your Mother, potato-leek soup and macaroons with a chocolate sauce. Each batch turned out slightly different. I still have some almond meal left over from the chocolate cake and am looking forward to using it too. I think it would leave me with a cookie more similar to the classic French macaroon. Regardless, I have a new go to dessert when I need one in a pinch. The next step is to see what I can do to make different flavored ones. An attempt at strawberry was a disaster--too much water in the berries--but I think I could manage to make chocolate work out well.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Cotes d'Agneau Champvallon / Lamb Chops with Potato and Onion

We're caught up on our posts, so I guess that means it's time to start cooking again. Scott was in the mood for lamb, and this recipe didn't seem like it would take too long after a visit to the gym. There are only three main ingredients: lamb, potatoes and onions.

Procedure is pretty easy. Sprinkle the chops with salt & pepper and sear on each side. Remove them and set them aside. Add the sliced onions to pan an sauté them until they're tender and starting to brown. Mix the onions with thinly sliced baking potatoes, fresh thyme & parsley, chopped garlic, salt and pepper. Place the lamb chops between two layers of potato mixture, pour enough chicken broth to almost cover and bake until the potatoes and chops are tender.

The bake time is between 45 and 75 minutes. Not all of the broth absorbed, but I think the remaining potato, onion and broth mixture would make a great soup with a little smoked sausage. I'm looking forward to it for lunch this week.

The end meal was amazing. I think this was one of the best recipes we've had from the book lately. The lamb was tender and didn't taste too much like we chewed on a wet sheep's wool. The potatoes were tender with the subtle flavor of the thyme and garlic. The onions had almost melted into the broth. Mmm...

The wine pairing proved to be a bit challenging. The lamb was rich enough that it needed red wine, but the potatoes and onions called out for white wine. Instead of splitting the difference and pleasing neither side of the dish, we opted to pair dinner with Maui Brewing's Big Swell IPA. The potatoes enhanced the fruitiness of the beer. It wasn't a perfect match, but it was pretty good.

Definitely a successful evening. Dinner went mostly according to plan, and we didn't have any of the mishaps that have plagued us recently. Another bonus? I have somehow managed to post dinner the night after eating rather than three weeks later. Yay for actually staying on track!

Spring break is officially over tonight. We go back to work and school tomorrow. I'm sure we'll fall behind on cooking soon, but it was nice to take a bit of a break.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Brioche de Gannat / Auvergnat Cheese Brioche

And we're caught up! Scott and I went down to visit friends in Oakland and visit wine country in Napa and Sonoma for our spring break. I finally got us caught up on the drive from Oakland to Boise. I know it's out of the usual scope of the blog, but look for a recap of our Sonoma and Napa adventures soon. We were able to visit Ridge Lytton Springs, Shafer Vineyards, Joseph Phelps, Dominus Estate, and a few others. I love Scott's job... One of the coolest parts about being able to visit Dominus is that they are not open to the public. Look for pictures soon!


I was lucky enough to receive a Professional Series Kitchen Aid Stand Mixer for my birthday last year. I had salivated over them for ages, and I can’t thank my husband & both sets of parents enough for letting me finally have one in the kitchen. It looks so pretty sitting on the counter, and I’ve loved how much easier recipes that require mixing are. The mixer also brought me an unexpected benefit: my husband realized he loves to make bread. The smell of bread rising in the house is so comforting and warm. I’m not sure there’s a better smell to come home to. The bread-making has slowed since his semester of school has started, but he’s still occasionally busting out the dough hook to make us some treats. Scott tends to like the richer breads. One of his favorites is a Portuguese rich bread from Mark Bittman’s Best Recipes in the World. If it has eggs or dairy, chances are he’s earmarked it for a weekend day.

We’ve tried the regular brioche recipe in the book before, and this was a savory version with gruyere. The procedure is the same as with a brioche, and the mixer does most of the work. One of these days, we’ll have to attempt to hand knead, but it’s kind of fun to be able to have “easy” homemade bread. We did have a little miscommunication regarding the gruyere: I told Scott that I had grated all of the cheese and that he’d have to measure out what he needed. He heard it as his grated cheese was in the fridge. Oops. The final product definitely had the tang of gruyere. It was recommended to bake the bread in a loaf pan, but Scott tends to like the more rustic look of a hand-shaped round. The bread was still done in the middle before the outside got too crispy or burned. I bought him a Sil-Pat back in November, and it has made baking bread just a little easier. We don’t have to worry about making sure the house is stocked with parchment paper, and I’ve appreciated that we’ve cut down a bit on waste. I’d like to find him a Sil-Pain one of these days. They’re designed to make sure the crust is crunchy and doesn’t burn, but I haven’t seen any in any of the kitchen shops I’ve visited.

So how was the cheesy bread? It was fantastic. The texture was light and airy. It smelled so good when it was baking that I had a hard time waiting to cut it open. He sprinkled a little Ballard Truffle & Salt Cheddar on the top, which gave an extra layer to the crunchiness on the crust. The middle was fragrant, and there were small pockets where the cheese didn’t melt completely into the dough. We both agreed that we should have had some high quality ham to go with the bread. It would have been amazing with a smear of Dijon mustard and some Black Forest or Serrano ham. We’ll be sure to put in the proper amount of cheese next time, but it’s nice to have measuring mistakes turn out okay in the end.

Sauté de Poulet Aux Quarante Gousses d'Ail / Sauté of Chicken with Forty Garlic Cloves

The main star of the night was the Chicken with Forty Cloves of Garlic. Really, how can you go wrong? We did have to buy garlic for the first time in ages for the recipe. My mom grows garlic in her garden to sell at Market, so we typically have garlic coming out of our ears, but this time of year can be a little lean. We used up the last of Lazy Dog Gardens’ Italian Purple a few weeks before we cooked the recipe. Even though I didn’t have the homegrown stuff, the chicken was delicious. Forty cloves sounds like a large amount for something that serves 4-6, but the cooking time mellows out the flavor. The end product is quite similar to roasted garlic.

We had to change up the procedure a little bit because we had a burner out of commission. The original recipe calls for searing the chicken pieces and then cooking everything on the stovetop. We still seared on the stovetop, but we finished the dish in the oven. We put a lid on the pan, so the juices were kept in. Once the chicken pieces were done, I pulled the chicken and half of the garlic out and set them aside covered in foil. I squeezed the remaining garlic out of its skins (the cloves are separated but not peeled) and mashed them with the pan juices. I thickened the resulting sauce and poured it over the chicken and the rice.

We served dinner with a 2007 Domaine Drouhin Arthur Chardonnay from the Willamette Valley, one of my favorite Oregon Chardonnays. The garlic pieces that were set aside can be squeezed out of their skins and smeared on the chicken or mixed with the rice. The mellow, rich flavor of garlic and herbs in the sauce complemented the wine nicely. The Arthur is aged in a combination of mostly neutral and one- and two-year old oak barrels, and it doesn’t go completely through malolactic fermentation. The resulting wine is not the typical buttery oak bomb that can be associated with Chardonnay. Rather, the fruit (apples, pears and tropical fruits like pineapple) has a chance to shine through. The barrels give the wine a richer texture than stainless steel would, and the result is a wine that is very food friendly. Both the wine and the pan sauce had similar textures in the mouth, further enhancing the meal.

Garlic harvest is typically at the end of June or beginning of July. I can’t wait to give Chicken with Forty Garlic Cloves another try with Idaho-grown fresh garlic.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Pilaz de Riz Traditionel au Fenouil / Traditional Rice Pilaf with Fennel

I’ve avoided fennel in the past. The mention of a licorice-flavor was enough to turn me off without even giving it a chance. Black licorice ranks right up there with artificial banana as one of my least favorite flavors. I’m happy to report that this project opened me up to the idea of using fennel in the future. We even added it to our favorite olive oil, red pepper flake and garlic pasta. It’s always nice to have new vegetables to use in the kitchen.

The pilaf starts with sautéing fennel with onions until they caramelize. The rice is toasted, and fennel seeds and saffron are added. Cook the mixture in chicken broth until the rice is cooked through and fluffy.

We sometimes struggle with getting rice to cook all the way through at our house. I suspect it has something to do with atmospheric pressure, though it might also be attributed to our stove’s difficulty in functioning at low level temperatures. Rice will go ages without cooking through, sometimes to the tune of an hour and a half. The rice and liquid mixture will be hot, and there will be steam, but the rice doesn’t absorb the liquid. It’s probably the stove itself, as I can transfer to our rice cooker and be okay. I need to get better at remembering to transfer the contents to the cooker instead of cursing the rice when it’s not ready, but I never seem to remember until I’m muttering obscenities. Oh well. The end product was a little crunchy, but I’d be happy to try it again. It tasted great for lunch the next day with some of the chicken’s sauce spooned over the top. The only minor quibble is with the fennel seeds. The crunch is a little too much like the sound of squishing a bug, with a little pop in your mouth. I might eliminate them if we were to try it again.

The subtle flavor of the saffron and fennel complimented the Domaine Drouhin Arthur Chardonnay we paired with dinner, and the pilaf was a great match with the Chicken with Forty Garlic Cloves. I really enjoyed the combination of the three. Overall, the flavor of the pilaf was delicious, and I’ll be sure to use the rice cooker next time so that it gets done in the suggested time frame. And we’ll excitedly use the fennel Mom’s planting in the garden this year.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Gâteau au Chocolat Lyonnaise / Light Chocolate Cake

We had a busy cooking night last Sunday--four recipes in one evening! Scott made a cheese brioche. We had chicken with forty garlic cloves and fennel rice pilaf for dinner, followed by a light chocolate cake for dessert. Why is dessert first in the posting? Well, because Scott made the bread and has to give his observations himself, and because of this:

Yep, I managed to turn on the wrong burner on the stove and melted part of the cutting board the bread was sitting on when I melted the chocolate for the cake. The resulting mess meant that we had to adjust the cooking method for the chicken. I don't often make mistakes that stupid, but Scott was kind about it. After a lot elbow grease and a few minutes on high a few days later to burn off the bits I couldn't get off, th burner is back to normal. The best part was that I told myself to move the cutting board maybe 3 minutes before I turned on the burner.

Back to the cake: This definitely is not your typical chocolate cake. It does not have any flour to it. Rather, the whipped egg whites and chocolate are held together by potato starch--something I've never cooked with--and given heft with ground almonds. I believe there is at least one other recipe in the book that requires potato starch. As for the almonds, I opted for the easy way out and purchased Bob's Red Mill's almond meal. I've heard that you have to be careful when blending nuts to avoid making butter and thought I'd make life easier for myself. Both the potato starch and almond meal are sitting in the freezer awaiting their next recipe.

Much like the soufflé, egg whites are folded with a chocolate mixture and baked, this time in a spring form pan. This is definitely not a soufflé though. Willan suggests that the cake is best when slightly underdone and gives a caveat that it is easy to go too far. I confess that I did not watch closely enough and over-baked. The resulting cake is cooled and served with a crème Chantilly.

The resulting cake was very crumbly. The almond meal gave it an interesting texture and flavor. Perhaps it would have been better if it had still been creamy in the center, but it seemed like it went from goopy in the middle to dry. I may attempt it again on a night with fewer distractions. The cake is supposed to firm up if it is left for a day or so, and it can keep in an airtight container for 3 days. We had leftovers the next night when our friend, Leil, came over for a little wine and The Hangover. The almond flavor was a bit more pronounced, and the crème Chantilly helped with the dryness. The description of the cake in the introductory paragraph says it can be thought of as resembling a chocolate mousse with a crisp crust. If that is the case, I think I may attempt it again.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Far Breton / Batter Pudding with Prunes

I'm only a few weeks behind in finishing up the Valentine's post. Much like the dinner of Cornish hens, dessert was okay, but not spectacular. Far Breton is similar to a clafoutis, but more substantial. It is designed to be cut up into wedges like a cake. I'm not wild about eggy desserts in general. Creme Brulée can be easily ruined if it tastes more like scrambled eggs, and I've never been a big fan of flan.

The general gist: pour a batter over prunes that have been soaked in boiling water and bake until it's set (about an hour and a half).

It's definitely something that can be done easily, as long as one has the necessary baking time. The far had to share the oven with the Cornish hens, so it was baked on the bottom of the oven. I'm sure that contributed partially to the final texture. I feel like I'm saying that a lot lately. Couldn't have anything to do with the new schedule, I'm sure... It felt like the edges got overdone before the middle was set. Even if the batter left something to be desired, the prunes were delicious. I feel a little sad that prunes have such a negative reputation. I shouldn't be so surprised that I liked them so much. I love plums and eat my fair share in season. There's not reason I wouldn't like the dried version, but they have, for as long as I can remember, been associated with old people. Silly, I know. I wanted to pick the prunes out of the bottom of the rest of the dish and just eat them. They were that good. I made plum jam last summer and think that I might see about drying some this year too.

Even if our Valentine's dinner left a little something to be desired, it still gave us a little extra time together. And in the end, that is the whole purpose of this project. We wanted to do something that made us set aside time for each other when life got a little hectic, and I feel like we've succeeded. It's not always easy, especially with homework deadlines on two sides pressing down, housework piling up, workouts calling and jobs to take care of, but it's worthwhile. If nothing else, a mediocre meal also gives us something to laugh a little about.

And as an update to the previous post about the Cornish hens, I tried the mustard/creme fraiche again on a roasting chicken. It's definitely going to rotate in with the usual thyme and lemon. I was quite happy with the results.

Four posts coming up soon if I can get around to them. We went a little crazy last Sunday.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Petits Coquelets Dijonnaise / Cornish Hens in a Mustard Cream Sauce

It's been a while. School and workouts have officially taken over our household. Somehow, it's nearly March, and I'm not sure what happened to the end of January. There hasn't been a ton of exciting cooking going on in our house lately. Scott has classes three nights a week and music one night. I'm working on my correspondence courses in the evening and attempting to keep us caught up on housework. In our "spare time" outside of homework, housework and work, we've been going to the gym. Damned blood pressure anyway. We did get around to making two recipes out of the big book for Valentine's Day, but that ended up being scaled down from the three we had initially planned. What else has been going on? We threw a big birthday party for Scott up at his parents' house in McCall. It was a hit. We opened a 9 liter bottle of wine. Yep, 9 liters. I can't remember the end of the night bottle count, but it was huge. We appreciated all of our friends and family coming out to join us. I made two cakes out of The Gourmet Cookbook. They were delicious. And that's about the only other thing we've done outside of the normal lately.

Back to Valentine's Day. We'd already decided we didn't want to go out for dinner that night. It tends to get expensive, and it's incredibly crowded. We hit up one of our favorite restaurants for lunch earlier in the day. Not only does Bittercreek have fantastic food, but they also support local farmers (including my mom's business, Lazy Dog Gardens). We weren't smart enough to plan ahead on dinner, and finally got around to making a shopping list around 5:30 that evening. Go us. Scott has his heart set on the Cornish game hens, which turned into a bit of a run around to find. He'd thought that he'd seen them at the Co-Op, but they apparently don't have a source. We ended up with the frozen Tyson ones. Next time, we'll try to plan ahead a little better.

The recipe was pretty simple. Brush the birds with mustard. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and spoon creme fraiche or heavy cream over them. Roast until they're brown and delicious and turn the pan juices into a sauce with a little red wine and broth. There was an accompanying recipe for greens sautéed in a little bacon fat with garlic and splashed with red wine vinegar. We followed dinner up with a Breton pudding that I'll put in another post.

Needless to say, we ended up eating a little bit late that evening, and we didn't get our usual in progress pictures. We were just happy to be getting back to cooking a little. The end results were a little average. I know part of it had to do with the meat we ended up using. The texture was a little mushy. I do want to try the treatment again with one of the local chickens from Market this spring. I think it'll be amazing. Surprisingly, the greens ended up being our favorite part of the meal. Scott's always been a little wary of cooked greens, but these were delicious. He's actually looking forward to the Swiss chard my mom always plants. The red wine vinegar brightened the whole dish and played incredibly well with the garlic and bacon. We wished we'd made more greens.

We served dinner with a 2006 Gary Farrell Russian River Valley Pinot Noir. Not my favorite in style. While she wasn't a slutty wine, she was definitely a bit promiscuous. The wine was a bit over the top and ripe, but that's almost to be expected from Cali Pinots. I know not everyone would agree with me, but we cut our Pinot Teeth in the Willamette Valley.

We'll try to get back to cooking and blogging soon. We're just working on figuring out our new routine.


Sunday, January 24, 2010

Poischichade / Chickpea Dip

Monday through Thursday evenings at our house are now a little hectic. Scott has class Monday through Wednesday evenings from 6PM-9PM, and music with the boys on Thursday nights. It's often too much to get dinner ready before 5 o'clock, so that means that I have to make things that are easy to heat up or eat separately. This is definitely going to make it into our rotation, especially as the ground warms up and more local produce is available. I almost want to have a small bowl of it in the fridge just to have handy for snacking. It was that good.

This is the Provençale take on hummus. No tahini, but keep the lemon juice and cumin. You roast one large bell pepper and blend it up with two cans of chickpeas, lemon juice, a full tablespoon of cumin, cayenne and a little olive oil. I'm pretty good about keeping with seasonal vegetables, but bell peppers are my weakness. In the middle of winter when the only things available that might be local are winter squash and onions, I have an easy time avoiding tomatoes, cucumbers and most of the fruit that's being trucked up from far, far away. Peppers are the one thing that my body tells me to keep buying. This dip doesn't make it any easier to avoid them.

The book recommends serving with pita or grilled Merguez sausages. We had whole wheat pita, radishes, carrots and snap peas (the veggies organic & from California). I'm in love. I love the homey flavor of cumin, and it played well with the heat from the cayenne and the tang from the lemon juice. Filling, but light enough for the late hour of the meal. I happily took it to work for lunch a few days later in the week. I just signed up for my own classes to get ready for school in the fall at NNU, and I'm most definitely going to be keeping some chickpeas in the pantry for busy nights. Next time, I'm attempting my own pita with Canyon Bounty Farm's whole wheat flour to go along. I'm sure it'll be delightful.

Supreme de Poulet a l'Estragon / Chicken Breasts in Tarragon Cream Sauce

This was another that fell under the tried before and not quite as good the second time around. The difference: creme fraiche. The extra tang offered by creme fraiche over heavy cream helped to elevate it before. This particular recipe is one of the variations listed. We made the decision to cook the variations as well as the regular recipes because they generally have enough changes to make it worthwhile. The original in this case is Chicken Breasts with Crayfish.

I cooked this as part of the celebrating the start of Scott's semester back at Boise State. Scott's usually done the recipes involving flambé in the past. More because he likes it. A lot. I got to try my hand this time around. I'm lucky I didn't catch the house on fire. Maybe I'll leave lighting dinner on fire to my husband.

I did make a modification. I wasn't quite feeling like making a rich side dish to accompany something with a full cup of heavy cream, so I chopped up a Japanese sweet potato and a few fingerlings to make life a little easier. I know there may be some who think I'm not being true to cooking through the book, but I was thinking the other day about why we haven't added a grading system to our blog like some of the others I've seen. Aside from my general distaste for rating things that are subjective (I'm notorious for doing everything I can to avoid giving a score to wine we drink, even in a blind tasting setting), I think it also has to do with my treatment of recipes as a good base off which one can make modifications. There is quite a bit of improvisation in our kitchen, and I like to keep it that way. Instead of deciding that a recipe deserves a C, D, or A, I'd rather consider what might be done to improve it. Sometimes, that's as simple as a little sherry vinegar, as with the pork with apples. Other times, it involves addition or substitution of ingredients. I'd much rather be able to think about what kind of adjustment will improve the flavor than write a dish of completely. Obviously, some recipes simply don't match with a person's tastebuds, and I recognize that, but I'm still happier in the kitchen if I give myself some leeway to cook something my way.

How did the modification work? Fingerlings were excellent. I added them right after the wine and the broth, so they were able to cook in the sauce. I'd probably go ahead and roast the Japanese sweet potatoes on their own next time to get a crunchy outside and cook them with thyme or rosemary or another more roundly flavored herb. Tarragon is so fresh and bright. It doesn't give the same savory edge to the sweetness of the potatoes.

The sauce and chicken went very well together, but I've long been a fan of the combination of chicken, white wine & tarragon. I think we might try it out again when the weather warms up again.

Both of us were generally happy with the outcome, but I'll take the extra time to find creme fraiche (a relative rarity here in Idaho) for the next time we make it.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Soufflé Moelleux Au Chocolat / Soft-Centered Chocolate Soufflé

Tuesday marked a shift in the Sprague household schedule. Scott started classes again at Boise State, so our lives have become a bit more hectic. Monday through Wednesday nights will be taken up with his class time, and that means it's time for me to work on getting signed up for my correspondence classes. Accordingly, our time for cooking together will be greatly reduced. This is actually why we decided to start cooking through the book. It's an opportunity to make time for each other. Monday night was the last night before the big upheaval, so we had to have one last dinner. We used two recipes. The second (and savory) recipe will follow with a post later. Scott's more diligent about posting than I am. I still have two more to get caught up for the week.

I did two new things in the kitchen this week. I cooked chicken skins to render the fat for a Hungarian dish that wasn’t from the book but reminded me about how much I like paprika. I also made my first soufflé. For as much as I’d been afraid of making one, it turned out to be much easier than I expected. And absolutely delicious. I’m tempted to make another one this weekend, but I’ll do my best to resist. There are two soufflé recipes in the book. We started with the chocolate one, and I’m looking forward to the savory cheese one.

Chocolate is melted with cream and then egg yolks, rum and vanilla extract are stirred in. Egg whites are whipped into a meringue and folded in. I absolutely love having my Kitchen-Aid mixer. It makes whipping whites so much easier than it was using the hand mixer. The decadent looking concoction is then baked at 425 for about 15 minutes. All in all, not long at all to make a dessert for a Monday night.

Not having made a soufflé before, I’m not sure how it compares to others. The directions say to only cook it until the top is set but shakes when the dish is moved. The middle wasn’t entirely set up, but the differences in texture made the whole thing even more delicious. I’m still a little in awe of how easy and delightful it was. Perhaps it was beginner’s luck, but I’m excited to have a new trick under my belt. I cooked the soufflé for the middle of the time range because our oven tends to run a little hot. I might give it a minute or two more next time, but there were some dark patches on the top that were bordering on burnt. It might be just as well to leave it as we did it before. I’d rather have a rich molten center than a burnt top.

My only problem with this recipe, or perhaps the book in general: the two soufflés call for two different sizes of dishes. We had neither soufflé dish nor something straight-sided that could be used as a substitute. I had to purchase a dish for the chocolate soufflé and will have to buy another one for the cheese soufflé. If only we weren’t already overflowing in the kitchen already… I think it might be time to clear out a shelf in the garage for our extra goodies. I think have to put a Madeleine mold, Kugelhopf mold or tube pan, and a terrine mold on the wishlist. Fortunately, we have an ice cream maker, and I have a sneaking suspicion my little sister might let us borrow her deep fryer. One of these days, we’ll have enough kitchen space to contain all of our gadgets and equipment. A girl can dream, right?

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Gambas Grillés au Sel de Mer/Seared Prawns With Sea Salt

Happy Saturday!

Simple Saturdays call for simple dishes. We had a bit of a late lunch at one of our favorite haunts--The Front Door--and neither of us were feeling like much for dinner. We narrowed our choices down to two, and the selection at the Co-Op helped make our final decision for us. Aside from the time involved in peeling and deveining shrimp, this was one of the easier recipes from the book.

The gist: peel & devein shrimp, toss with a mixture of cornstarch and sea salt, sauté for 1-2 minutes on each side, and top with freshly ground pepper. Not much to it.

The results were a bit mixed. Some of the shrimp were entirely too salty, drink a half a glass of water to get rid of the saline taste in your mouth too salty. The book recommends using nice sea salt or fleur de sel in this recipe, and we used some Hawaiian salt we had. Scott swears that the solution would be to give the salt a little time with the mortar and pestle. It's also possible that we had shrimp that were too small, but pickings are slim in a landlocked state such as ours. We'll have to give it a try again to see if it works. The shrimp that weren't too salty were delicious. The touch of salt was a perfect complement to the sweet meat of the shrimp. The cornstarch turned into a chewy crust, and the pepper added a nice bit of spice. The only thing we weren't sure about was what kind of sauce would be good to go with them. Buerre blanc? That might add a little delightful decadence.

For tonight's pairing, we actually had two wines. We had a little leftover Mas Carlot Grenache-Syrah that went surprisingly well with the stolen bites as we finished the batches. The main wine of the evening was Joseph Drouhin's 2008 Macon-Villages. Joseph Drouhin wines admittedly hold a bit of a soft spot in our hearts. When we lived in Oregon, Scott worked just down the street from their sister winery Domaine Drouhin (my benchmark for Oregon Pinot Noir). When we went on our honeymoon to Paris and Beaune, Maison Joseph Drouhin was one of the wineries we visited. All bias aside, this bottle is definitely one seeking out. Running around $12 retail, the Macon is light and bright, with pretty apple and lemon flavors and a touch of minerality. It went very well with the sweet/salty shrimp.

We're looking forward to giving the recipe a second shot with some tweaks to work on the saltiness issue. We also tucked the shells from the peeled shrimp in the freezer to go towards fish stock when we need it.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Filets de Porc Normande / Pork Tenderloins with Apple

(Scott Here)

Coming home from a long day, we both wanted something we knew would be good. We've made this dish before and really enjoyed it, so time to knock it out, right?

First, we'll play a game called "Why Scott Shouldn't Be Allowed to go to the Store By Himself". I got the list for the grocery store and headed out, but something caught my eye. A beautiful sign on the right hand side of the road with plain red script and white background.

"Liquor Store"

Michelle and I don't drink liquor (though, I will enjoy a fine whiskey every now and then), but as I drove up to the sign I remembered something from the recipe - Calvados - something we didn't have.

Never mind we've made this before with the Apple Jack that's in the sideboard with great success. No, I just KNEW that authentic Calvados would make all the difference. So, in I went through the doors to pick up the only bottle of this stuff they had - at $42.50. You add in the cost of the Champagne we got for this meal and all of a sudden, we're talking some serious dough! Looking through the index of CCF, I have found two more recipes that call for this liquor, so I think I can justify the expense...sort of...


There is not a whole lot that's technical about this dish, aside from tying the two pork tenderloins together with twine. I've seen Alton Brown give a demonstration on this subject from the TV and there are handy frame by frame pictures to follow along with Thomas Keller in Ad Hoc, but actually doing this right without the bacon falling off or using way too much string is a challenge. Lucky for us, Michelle's know-how was tapped and dinner was back on track.

I LOVE to flambé and it was no less fun with $42.50 Calvados. Just thought you would like to know that burning expensive liquor is a gas.

After shoving the bacon-wrapped-pork (doesn't that just sound good?), I went about carmelizing the rest of the apples. Since we possess no apple coring device, I went ahead sliced the apples and carmelized them in wedges instead of the rounds suggested.

This made for a beautiful presentation on the plate when placed atop the pork.

The flavor was very different than the last time we made it - sweeter somehow. We poured over how this could be for about an hour. Then we realized the last time we didn't add the optional cream! I think I prefer this dish minus the cream, but Michelle added some Sherry Vinegar to the final sauce and that helped to give it a little more of a sharper edge, allowing the distinct flavors already in the sauce to be experienced a little more clearly. This is absolutely a comforting meal with a thick, creamy sauce poured over apples and bacon wrapped pork. All in all, great dish for a cold winter evening.

The Champagne picked for this was the Louis Roederer Brut Premier Non Vintage. Since this a creamy, yeasty style of bubbles (but not as much as Pol Roger), it went well with the creamy style of the dish. There is still enough great acidity that comes through, working well with the apples, that this combination was very well matched.

Next up, it could be a number of things, but I think we might start to get into the more "interesting" sides of Country French Cooking soon.

Until then, we'll be doing shots of Calvados.


Friday, January 8, 2010

Carbonnade de Boeuf / Beef with Beer and Onions

Michelle here this time. I cooked the recipe this time, so I was told I got to be the one to write about it. This Flemish dish seemed appropriate for the cold Idaho weather we've been having lately. We followed directions until the treatment of the croutons, when we got a little lazy. Scott had initially planned to make this hearty stew on Tuesday night, but we've had a bit of a bug going 'round the Sprague household & we opted for laziness in the form of the pizza delivery guy instead. In retrospect, it was good that it worked out the way it did.

Cubes of chuck roast cooked for 2+ hours with caramelized onions and dark beer sounded delicious, and the flavor delivered. The only caveat I'd give is to make sure you have plenty of time. While most of the time spent is unattended, it definitely added up to a late meal. Of course, our stove is quite finicky about working properly at anything below medium, and caramelized onions need to be cooked below medium. A cooking time that was supposed to be 15-20 was more along the lines of 30-40.

This definitely wasn't an error in the book. It was all our stove top. The burner serves as more of a warmer than anything else at low temperatures, and I'm always foolish enough to assume this time will be different. I let the carbonnade stew for an extra 45 minutes or so while waiting for Scott to return from band practice. It was worth the long cooking time.

Scott was in love with the flavor. It was perfect, hearty winter comfort food. The onions and beer (Full Sail's Session Black this go-around) came together in a ridiculously rich sauce. The mustard we smeared on the croutons was a bit disjointed with the other flavors, but we didn't follow directions perfectly. I wasn't feeling like eating by the time Scott got home, but the bites I did have were delicious. I'd definitely make it again. Sadly, as a lunch dish the next day, it was a bit too heavy. I think that could have been cut a bit with a thick slice of sourdough.

For the next attempt, I'll make a few adjustments. I love Session Black by itself, but it lacks a little body to be used for a cooking beer. Perhaps a Deschutes Black Butte or a similar sweeter-flavored porter or stout would work better.

There was a touch of a bitter edge that I'm pretty sure could be attributed to the beer. I'd also love to get it done early enough in the evening to follow the directions for the croutons. Broiling them with a coating of hot Dijon mustard and pan sauce sounds divine.

Tonight, we're revisting a pork loin cooked in apples that we did this past fall. It was amazing then, and I'm looking forward to the treat. I suppose we need to get into some of the more daring dishes soon instead of relying on ones we know we'll enjoy, but I'm feeling a bit apprehensive. I'm hoping we're able to count on adventurous friends to share.