31 December 2006

Tourte Provençale

To see the old year out, I wanted to make something truly French.

That’s not entirely true: I wanted to use up stuff in my freezer, like zucchini, eggplant and tomato paste. I save everything, every little scrap, of summer’s bounty. Little bits of tomato, pepper, or eggplant usually make their way into soup, ratatouille or pizza — eventually.

I took stock of my refrigerator and cupboards and decided upon my own version of a rustic tourte that would use up a rather oldish hunk of Gruyere and some heavy cream left over from holiday truffle making.

This dish was inspired by a recipe from a remainder-table cookbook, “Le Cordon Bleu Home Collection: Regional French.”

Tourte Provençale

  • 1 tube refrigerator puff-pastry or croissant dough
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1-2 small yellow onions
  • Two medium or four small zucchini, cubed
  • 1 medium eggplant, cubed
  • 2-3 large shallots
  • ¼ cup tomato paste
  • 2-3 ripe tomatoes, seeded and cubed
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1 teaspoon dried rosemary
  • 2 teaspoons herbs de Provence
  • 2 eggs
  • ½ cup heavy cream
  • ½ cup Gruyere cheese
  • 1/8-teaspoon nutmeg
  • Dash fleur de sel (from the Camargue, if you have some)
  • Dash pepper

Preparing the vegetables: Wash, chop and peel the zucchini and eggplant and sprinkle with salt to remove the water. Set them on a paper towel or in a colander. I usually use a mix of sell de fleur and herbs de Provençe for this. If you do, reduce the amount of herbes and salt you add later, or rinse and allow the vegetables to dry again. I prefer the latter method.

Making the crust: Roll out the dough on a floured surface. Try to get it thin enough for a top and bottom and side crust. I used a medium-sized spring form pan for this. I cut a circle for the bottom, and strips for the sides, patting them both into the greased and floured pan. I had enough crust to fit around the sides of the “top” — with a hole in the center of the circle to let the steam out. This is the way it should be, as when the tourte is done, you will flip it over as you remove it from the pan so what is the top becomes the bottom.

Once the “bottom” and side crusts were patted into the pan, I wrapped the pan in wax paper and popped it in the refrigerator.

Preparing the filling: Next, brown the chopped onion in one teaspoon olive oil for 2-3 minutes, adding the other vegetables, the shallot and the rest of the olive oil. Next add the tomato paste and garlic and finally the herbs. Season, set aside and allow to cool.

Whip cream and two eggs in a small bowl. Add cheese and the nutmeg. Blend this with the cooled vegetable mixture.

Putting it all together: Remove pan with crust from the refrigerator and pour in the vegetable, cream, egg and cheese mix. Pat into the pan with a spatula until it is tightly packed. There should be enough filling to meet the strips along the sides of the pan Return the spring form pan and its contents (it’s best to cover it) into the refrigerator for about 30 minutes while you pre-heat the oven to 375 degrees.

Remove the pan from the refrigerator. Now it’s time to add what will become the bottom crust to the tourte. If you have enough dough left, roll a thin circle that will fit over the top of the tourte. The circle should be slightly larger than the tourte so you can tuck the sides under slightly.

Or you can simply fit the dough along the sides of the top of the pan, leaving an area in the center for the steam to escape.

Bake the tourte for 15 minutes at 375, then lower the heat to 350 degrees and bake it for about another 30 minutes, until the crust has turned golden brown.

Allow the tourte to cool for 15-20 minutes, then remove the pan, flipping the tourte over so that the bottom is now the top crust. Spray it with egg wash, if you like. I use the spray can stuff you find in the baking section of the supermarket.

I liked it. My husband did not. We’ll see what everyone else thinks.

Note: I used vegetables that had been in the freezer. Next time I will use fresh. They were a bit rubbery.

I’m going to try an easier version that is more of a savory cheesecake one of these days.

30 December 2006

Substituting Ingredients

How often do you run across a recipe to find you have all but one ingredient on hand?

Fairly often, judging all the blog posts I've read. Many times, we can leave the ingredient out or find an easy substitute that won't harm the finished product.

But when I'm stumped — which is more often than I usually admit — I turn to "Substituting Ingredients: An A to Z Kitchen Reference."

This book tells you, in alphabetical order, what do do when a recipe calls for such exotics as amaranth, fuzzy melon, mizuna, tamarind and rapini — none of which are basic, everyday Wisconsin ingredients.

The book also offers recipes for Angostura bitters, creme fraiche, herbes de Provençe and pickling spice.

At the end, there is a section on household formulas, like chrome and copper cleanser, drain opener and carpet deoderizer.

Looking for mascarpone cheese in your cheese compartment? Whip cream cheese with butter.

Does a recipe call for star anise or anise seed? Fennel is the perfect stand in.

Fresh out of winter savory? Use pepper.

Out of paprika? Blend tumeric with cayenne pepper.

A lot of the substitutions are common sense. But I found this book to be quite informative. There are many sites online where you can also find basic ingredient substitutes, but this little guide is very thorough.

27 December 2006

Shrimp de Jonghe for Two

We’re tired of turkey. We’re tired of dressing. Seafood is on sale at local supermarkets. What to make? Shrimp de Jonghe!

Normally, this is something we only eat when we eat out. On our anniversary, maybe.

Our anniversary is tomorrow and we are eating out. But why wait?

Shrimp de Jonghe for Two

  • One pound raw shrimp, shelled and deveined
  • 2-3 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 ½ teaspoons tarragon
  • 1 ½ teaspoons parsley
  • ¼ teaspoon dried thyme
  • 2 shallots, minced
  • 1 ½ teaspoons minced onion
  • ¾ stick butter, softened
  • ½ cup dried Italian-style bread crumbs
  • pinch of nutmeg
  • ½ teaspoon black pepper
  • pinch sel de fleur

Preheat oven to 350.

Cook shrimp in boiling salted water for about 1-2 minutes. Drain and plunge into ice water to halt further cooking.

Make a paste using about 1/2 stick butter and herbs, onions, garlic, shallots and 1/4 cup bread crumbs.

Arrange shrimp in shallow pans. Do not overlap. Coat tops of shrimp with mixture.

Melt remaining butter and breadcrumbs, adding salt and pepper. Drizzle over the shrimp.

Bake for 15 minutes on a rack placed in the upper third of the oven. After 15 minutes, turn off oven and turn on the broiler so the shrimp turns golden brown.

I served with noodles for my husband and rice pilaf for me.

Note: I scrimped on the butter and salt in what is probably a fruitless attempt to make this a healthier dish. Ah, well it's the holiday season.

The recipe is adapted from one found on Epicurious.

26 December 2006

A Cranberry-Orange Drink for the Holidays

Some drinks just taste like Christmas - or Valentine's Day. A Brandy Old Fashioned Sweet — popular here in Wisconsin — is one of them.

"The Faraway" from Christine Cooks is another.

Made with orange juice, cranberry juice, vodka and lime, it sounded so good, I had a difficult time waiting until Christmas Eve to make it. I made a pitcher that night and another on Christmas Day. I added a pinch of sugar and it was sublime. We finished off a nearly empty bottle of Absolut in the process.

You can read about the drink's provenance and the measures of ingredients at Christine's blog.

I highly recommend it.

Eggnog Tea Bread with Cranberries and Raisins

At 9:30 p.m. on Christmas Eve I realized we had nothing for breakfast. I had been too busy preparing low-carb finger foods and getting ready for Christmas dinner to even think about some sort of festive breakfast idea.

My father always had stollen or some sort of coffee cake on hand for Christmas breakfast. He understood the connection between food and celebration, and tried to make sure we had celebratory foods on hand for holidays.

We had plenty of eggnog, purchased with plans to make eggnog biscotti. Biscotti for breakfast? I think not. Too decadent. I took stock of what I else I had on hand and came up with this recipe from my "recipes to try some day" folder.

Eggnog Tea Bread with Cranberries and Golden Raisins

  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup sugar or fructose
  • 1 cup eggnog
  • 1/2 cup melted butter
  • 2 teaspoons French vanilla or rum extract
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/2 cup dried cranberries and golden raisins

Preheat oven to 350° F. Grease and flour three small bread pans.

Beat eggs in a large bowl, adding sugar, eggnog, butter, and extracts. In a separate bowl, blend flour, baking powder, salt and nutmeg. Blend into eggnog mixture. Add dried fruit and stir enough to blend the batter.

Bake 40 minutes. Once the bread has cooled, wrap it and store it in the refrigerator. It will taste even better the day after it is baked.

The bread was a big hit, even with my husband who is not a fan of tea breads. I am going to try it again, this time with some leftover cranberry-orange relish, which will make for a very moist loaf.

You can spiff up this bread a bit and serve it for an evening buffet by using rum in place of the French vanilla extract, and loading it with candied fruit and walnuts. Serve with a mascarpone cheese spread.

21 December 2006

Kitchen Tools: Annie's Pie Crimper

December darkness came quickly and stealthily to Old Frenchtown, sneaking around the corners of the ancient weather-beaten barns and sheds.

Only the shops on Dunlap Avenue were bright with red and green lights — the shops and the little IGA store located just north of Grandma Annie’s back yard.

Often we went home with Annie in the evenings for a comforting supper in her bright kitchen. The house was cold and dark when we entered, but soon the furnace would roar on and Annie would walk toward the back of the house, shedding her dark coat and hat as she went and neatly stashing them in her closet before turning on the kitchen light.

She’d ignite the gas oven with a tiny poof! and light the burner under the kettle. Always, there was tea to be made and bread to be sliced and pickles to be placed on a cut-glass, leaf-shaped plate.

There would be ham or chicken or turkey and vegetable soup, for Annie’s suppers were simple but homey affairs. Always there was dessert, served with a twinkle in her eye, because of course, it was her favorite.

Annie’s sweet tooth was legendary in family lore.

In the years before she married my handsome Irish grandfather, Annie worked as a seamstress for one of the many French Canadian dressmakers who had shops downtown. On her first payday, she walked past a candy shop on the way home — and promptly spent all her earnings on sweets.

As an adult, Annie loved to bake cakes and cupcakes and pies. The latter is something she shared with my father, her son-in-law. Pies were his specialty, when he wasn’t cooking dinner.

Especially at Christmas, my father made pies for people: Librarians, elderly ladies living alone, old family friends. He rose early on Christmas Eve and made a variety, from fruit pies to cream pies. By 9 a.m., he’d have the car loaded with pies for delivery.

This year, there will be no exchanges of lavish gifts. Instead, I asked my mother for Annie’s pie crimper.

Really, that is all I need.

17 December 2006

How to Roast Chestnuts

We've had a warm spell in Wisconsin, with temperatures hovering around 40 by day and 25 by night. Days are overcast and dull. Evenings are dark and inky but for the scads of colored lights around the neighborhood. The air smells of cold and wood smoke.

You can feel winter solstice is just around the corner.

Tonight seemed like a night for roasting chestnuts. I had plenty of inspiration from fellow bloggers. Christine at Christine Cooks, who always does such romantic things with food and wine, roasted them a few weeks ago. That inspired me to buy some chestnuts, step one.

At Cucina Testa Rossa on Dec. 15, Laura posted an evocative photo of a chestnut vendor in Luxembourg Gardens. I could feel the Paris breeze on my face and smell the Paris smell (imagining, because I have not been there in fall). That galvanized me to roast them, step two.

I don't have a fireplace, so my chestnuts weren't roasted on an open fire. (I've eaten them that way on a blizzard-y evening in December, and they are wonderful. It's the idea of the open fire that adds to the charm and the flavor.)

I do have an oven and plenty of old baking sheets.

Here's how I did it:

• I washed them, allowed them to dry and then using a little Victorinox paring knife, cut crosses in flat, dull topside of the shiny chestnut.

• I pre-heated my oven to 425 and found an old cookie sheet. I placed the chestnuts on the sheet, cross side up (as best I could). I left them in the oven for about 25 minutes, until they looked easy to peel.

• I let the chestnuts cool for just a bit, then wrapped them in a clean kitchen towel and squeezed them. They crackled and were ready to peel. I removed the inner skins, as well as the hard outer shells.

My next chestnut challenge is this: I've bought some chestnut pasta at the supermarket. What to do with it? Ideas are welcome.

16 December 2006

Mediterranean Brown Ale Beef Stew in the Slow Cooker

Saturday — the day we do laundry, run errands and nap — is a good day to cook something slow.

Every day I get recipes in my mail at work and often try them out before including them in my food column. This recipe, which includes beer and beef, sounded tasty and perfect for a cold-weather supper.

The recipe is from the National Beer Wholesalers Association.

Slow-Cooked Mediterranean Brown -Ale Beef Stew
  • 1 12-ounce bottle brown ale beer
  • 1 envelope dry onion-mushroom soup mix
  • 1/2 cup sun-dried tomatoes (the dry ones)
  • 1 tablespoons flour
  • 4 garlic cloves, sliced
  • 2 tablespoons dried rosemary
  • 3 pounds beef chuck stew meet, cut into 2-inch chunks
  • 1 onion, halved and sliced
  • 2 red or orange bell peppers, cut into small strips
  • 1/2 cut pitted Kalamata olives
  • 1/2 cut chopped green olives
  • 1/4 cup chopped parsley

Combine beer, soup mix, tomatoes, flour, garlic and rosemary in a slow cooker.

Warm olive oil in large skillet. Brown meat, 1/3 of it at a time. Transfer beef to slow cooker. Brown onion in oil left over from meat. Add onion to the slow cooker. Cover and cook on low for about 6 hours.

Add bell peppers and olives. Cook another 45 minutes on low. Serve stew over rice or pasta. Sprinkle with parsley.

I tasted liberally all afternoon, using and washing tons of spoons. The stew was even good early on before the flavors had a chance to marry. The beef melts in your mouth.

I served with a green salad, hard rolls and a Cotes du Rhone.

12 December 2006

Wild Rice Salad with Walnuts and Corn

There is an old building in my town I've been eyeing rather lustfully. Made of creamy brick, is located along the river, in the very place where wild rice once grew. If my resources were unlimited, I would buy it and turn it into a double-decker restaurant.

Upstairs, at Queen Marinette, the food would be formal but inventive: Steak, of course, because this is Wisconsin. Fresh-caught fish would have a prime place on the menu, as would food that reflects the region's French, German, and Scandinavian heritage: Provincial dishes in an atmosphere of elegance.

I would concentrate on regional foods, building my menu around wild rice, of course, as well as cheese, cranberries, apples, cherries and game: Rather hearty, especially in the winter, but always healthy.

Downstairs, the fare would be more casual: Soups, salads, sandwiches and soufflés. I would call my bistro the Wild Rice Café.

It is, unfortunately, only a dream at this point in my life. But it's always been fun to dream.

One of my menu staples would be this wild rice, walnut and corn salad, adapted from the American Institute for Cancer Research. AICR's recipes are delicous and usually very easy to make.

Wild and Brown Rice, Walnut and Corn Salad
  • 2 cups cooked wild rice and brown rice mix
  • 3/4 cup corn kernels
  • 2 whole scallions, sliced
  • 3 tablespoon chopped walnuts
  • 2 tablespoon chopped red onion
  • 2 tablespoon chopped red and green pepper
  • 1 tablespoon rice vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 teaspoons parsley flakes
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
In a large bowl, combine everything but oil vinegar and seasonings in a large bowl. Blend vinegar, olive oil and seasonings in a smaller bowl. Toss and allow to stand for 30 minutes in the refrigerator so the flavors can marry.

10 December 2006

A Sun-Dappled Door

It's mild but dark in Wisconsin today.

We are making chili, because for me that is part and parcel of mid-December. That is the time my grandmother always made her chili, and I would be the one called upon to make the chili run, trotting (or trudging) seven blocks away to her house. I liked these trips because they gave me time to imagine and dream. When I got to her house there was always a sweet treat offered and she usually included more than chili in the package she sent home with me.

The dark day may conjure up pleasant memories, but I prefer my days bright. Doesn't the sun-dappled door here look inviting? It's in Paris, near a park and a church or two (isn't everything?).

The first person to correctly name the park, will get a package of wild rice in time for Christmas (or New Year's at the very latest). The contest ends Friday, Dec. 15.

Wild rice was an important part of the diet of the early tribes who settled in my hometown. It's not really a rice, but a coarse annual grass, Zizania Acquatica. It grew in shallow marshes and along the shores and streams. I will be providing recipes made with wild rice later this week.

09 December 2006

Italian Stuffed Pepper Soup

In winter, there is nothing quite like being home for the weekend, with no need to leave the house.

This bliss is best experienced when a pot of soup is part of the scenario, simmering away atop the stove, filling the house with tangy and savory aromas. Bread dough rising on the back of the stove and wind whipping around the corners of the old house enhance the environment, but the soup stands on its own, too.

This one is easy to make and easy to adapt to your tastes.

Italian Stuffed Pepper Soup 
  • 2 pounds lean ground beef
  • 1 small can tomato sauce
  • 2 14.5-ounce cans Italian-style diced tomatoes, undrained
  • 2 cups greeen, red or yellow peppers, cut up into small squares
  • 1 cup chopped onion
  • 2 teaspoons beef flavored soup base or two beef bouillion cubes
  • 1/2 cup cooked rice (brown or long-grain converted)
  • Freshly ground pepper

Brown ground beef in stock pot and drain: I usually add a clove of minced garlic and some Tuscan seasonings or herbes de Provence. Add remaining ingredients, except rice. Bring to boil, reduce heat and simmer about 40 minutes, or until peppers and onions are tender. Add rice. Heat thoroughly and serve.

Top with grated Parmesan cheese, if you like. Garnish with herbs. This makes a wonderful weekend lunch when paired with egg-salad sandwiches. Add a dash of aoili and about a tablesoon of chopped black olives to the egg salad.

06 December 2006

Cranberry-Orange Scones

When December sunsets produced a gloriously striated sky of pink and lavender and salmon, Grandma Annie always said that Santa Claus was making christmas cookies.

We believed that charming myth: It made the already dazzling winter sunsets all the more spectacular and fired our imaginations. What wonders — edible and otherwise — would we encounter come Christmas?

It doesn't matter that Grandma's story was just that, a story to amuse children. It was enchanting!

It was cold and gray today and there was no sun to set. I made scones to ward off the cold draft that rolls under the kitchen door. The rear wing of our old Victorian house on a hill has three doors, and ample opportunities for the cold to slip through, no matter how hard I try to keep it out.

A baking project helps greatly, and scones can be made with ingredients that won't necessarily send fat to the hips, cholesterol to the arteries and blood sugar soaring to new heights.

Low-Fat Cranberry-Orange Scones

  • 1 3/4 cups unbleached flour
  • 4 tablespoons fructose
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon allspice
  • 5 tablespoons chilled Smart Balance, cut into small cubes
  • 1/2 cup dried cranberries
  • 6 tablespoons light half and half
  • 1 large egg (or two egg whites), beaten
  • 2 tablespoons grated orange zest or 1/2 teaspoon orange oil

Preheat oven to 400. Sift dry ingredients in large bowl; cut in Smart Balance (or other low-fat butter substitute). Rub together until dough is grainy. Add cranberries (today, when I saw I did not have enough dry cranberries, I chopped some fresh and added another teaspoon of fructose).

In a separate bowl, blend the half and half, the egg or egg whites and the orange zest. Add this to the dry mix and stir until the dough is blended. Knead lightly while in the bowl.

I use an eight-section scone pan. But you can also make small rounds or wedges and bake them on a parchment-lined cookie sheet. Bake for 10-15 minutes, until tops of scones are golden.

The scones are best eaten hot with orange marmalade. They are not as dense and dry as other scones.

Scones, of course, are not French. But the French take great pride in the success of their baked goods (and why not?) and scones are easy to make and make well.

It really doesn't matter what you bake or make on a dreary December day. But puttering around the kitchen helps drive the cold away, if only in your mind.

Postscript: Oh zut! WhenI was formulating this post in my mind, I was going to provide a link to My Kitchen in Half Cups, because Tanna was the one who inspired me to bake with cranberries, instead of freeze them. These scones would be great with Tanna's cranberry curd, too.

03 December 2006

Boeuf en Daube a la Camargue

We awoke to snow flurries and gray skies on Sunday. It was the kind of day that called for stew, but not my standard dish, something a bit more festive.

We wanted something with a taste of sunshine in it, maybe a dish from the south of France. Boeuf en Daube with capers seemed just the thing to remind us of sunny Provence and our dream of spending the holidays there. The dish was reportedly popular with the gardiens, the famous cowboys of the Camargue.

There are many recipes in cookbooks and online. I’m guessing many cooks borrow from one recipe and then another and come up with their own version. Here is mine, inspired by a recipe in “The French Culinary Institute’s Salute to Healthy Cooking.”

Boeuf en Daube

  • 6-8 small red potatoes, peeled
  • dash fleur de sel from the Camargue
  • 12-16 small carrots
  • 8-10 pearl onions, peeled
  • 1 ½ teaspoons white truffle olive oil
  • 1 pound tenderloin, cubed
  • 1 sweet onion, chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 1 ½ teaspoons herbes de Provence
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground orange or lemon peel
  • 1 14.5-ounce can diced tomatoes
  • dash Kitchen Bouquet
  • 1/3 cup Niçoise olives
  • 2 tablespoons capers, drained

Before you do anything else, peel the potatoes, clean the carrots, peel the pearl onions, and chop the beef and the sweet onion.

Fill a medium saucepan with cold water and place to potatoes in it. Add salt. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and cover. After about 8 minutes, add the carrots and pearl onions. Cover and cook for about 5 minutes. Carefully remove the vegetables from the pan, reserving the liquid.

While the vegetables are cooking, brown the beef in olive oil in a large sauté pan. Once the meat is brown on all sides, removed from the pan with a slotted spoon and set aside. Sauté onion and garlic in the oil and juices left from the meat. Once the onion softens a bit, add the wine. Continue cooking for about five minutes.

Pour reserved liquid from the vegetables into a stockpot. Add the herbes de Provence and bring to a boil. Allow to simmer before adding the meat. Bring to a second boil, reduce heat and simmer for about 90 minutes.

Taste periodically, adjusting the seasoning as needed. Toward the end of the 90-minute period, add the Kitchen Bouquet, tomatoes and the vegetables. Bring the stew to a boil, and allow to simmer for about five minutes. Add the capers and olives.

Note: If you are using a different cut of meat, you may want to marinate it first in wine, onions and garlic.