January 31, 2006
Veal and Grilled Leek Bundles with Stilton Sauce

veal and leek.jpgI've decided that when the BBC series MasterChef comes knocking on my door, this is the dish I'm going to cook to impress the judges. (Never mind the fact that I need to be resident in the UK and actually apply to go on the show. I'm just saying.) I've been watching a fair amount of MasterChef Goes Large 2006 lately. It's kind of like a cross between a cooking show (which I love) and Big Brother (which I loathe, but can't resist if it involves cooking). The traditional MasterChef series was much more subdued. Serious soft voiced professional chefs toured England, filming heats of earnest pleasant amateur cooks sweating in their red, blue or yellow kitchen stations. The MC Goes Large series is a different story. The panel of two judges are ruthless in their criticisms. The participants sound a bit whiny and sycophantic as they all recite the same mantra "cooking is my passion, always wanted to be a chef, my big chance, motivated to succeed, blah, blah". But it's like waiting for a train wreck, watching them founder on the shoals of cuisine. Ooh! Too many flavors! Ooh! Ruined that sauce! Ooh! Too simple! It's fascinating.

I reckon I'd do pretty good on the show. I can handle pressure, so I think I'd learn quickly in a professional kitchen, as they have to do in one of the tests. I am reasonably creative with a set group of ingredients. And, getting back to my opening statement, I have a Dish.

Veal, grilled leek and Stilton sauce. The Critic loved it. And I'm pretty sure those two tossers on the BBC would love it too. "You can tell she really RESPECTS her vegetables," I can hear the bald one saying. (No, actually, I insult them in private: YOU! Leek! Stop slouching and make something of yourself you limp piece of vegetable!)

Actually, I think I probably could learn something from the other participants of MasterChef when it comes to the plating and presentation. But the flavors and texture worked beautifully together and I'm truly happy with this little creation. I was afraid that baking the veal would dry out the meat too much, but in fact it came out just fine and more tender than I expected. The sauce nevertheless added a nice moist covering and brought the leek and veal flavors together with its salt and sharp cheese tang.

Veal and Leek Bundles with Stilton Sauce Serves two

2 veal scallopines, pounded thin
2 small leeks, topped and tailed and washed
3-4 Tbs olive oil
1 tsp dried tarragon
1/2 glass cream sherry wine
75 grams Stilton or other mild blue cheese, crumbled

Brush the leeks with olive oil and place them on a heated grill pan. Quickly grill them on all sides until they are a little tender on the outside; they do not need to be cooked through as they will be cooked with the veal. Wrap the veal pieces around each of the leeks and secure them with string or with a skewer. Put the olive oil in the bottom of an oven-safe frying pan and place on a high flame. Brown the veal quickly on all sides. In the meantime, heat the oven to 200c. Place the pan in the oven for about 15 minutes, or until the meat is cooked through. (Alternatively, you could continue cooking on the stove top, but because I was working on the home-made pasta next to it for IMBB as a side dish I needed to get the meat out of my way.) Once it is done, remove the veal and leek bundles to a warm plate and put the frying pan back on the stove. Turn up the flame under it and add the wine. Deglaze with the wine, scraping up the bits of meat that may have stuck to the bottom of the pan. Add the tarragon and crumbled cheese and stir until you have a smooth, dark sauce.

Pour the sauce over each of the bundles before serving with a pile of soft fresh pasta or some dark leafy green vegetables. As you cut through the layers of leek and veal, be sure to dip each bite into the extra sauce before eating the bite. Your tastebuds will thank you.

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 3:18 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack
January 30, 2006
Welcome to Woodstock!

By the time we got to Woodstock, We were half a million strong

Well, we must be in Woodstock, because last night, we had our 500,000th visitor! In the last two years, half a million of you have visited Too Many Chefs (actually a few more than that - it took me a week or two to find SiteMeter).

We're having our actual second anniversary in about two weeks, but this is a wonderful present for all of you to have pitched in to get us.

The photo above, by the way, was taken by my good friend and critic Bryan. He lives out that way - not in New York, but in Illinois - and it was a great favor to me to take the original photo which shows Woodstock as having somewhat fewer people than the half-million indicated. Thanks, Bry.

Onwards to the second half-million and a million thanks to those of you who've supported us from day 1. Or from day 50. Or from day 392. Or from Day 615...

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 10:34 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack
January 29, 2006
Is My Blog Burning #22: Using my noodle

SPP done.jpgI was pretty sure when I heard about the topic for this edition of IMBB (is it already 22?) that I would want to make my own noodles. I love my pasta machine. It's shiny. It's fun to play with it. It's easy to clean, as I brush away the odd bitd of dried pasta and the film of flour. It's one of those satisfying appliances that makes you feel like you are a real cook: no bangles, no electricity, just a hand crank and you.

So I had visions of making several different kinds of pasta; Barrett and I discussed all the colors of the rainbow. But I forgot the one tiny drawback to the lovely pasta machine: making pasta takes a mammoth amount of counter space (ideally the kitchen should be spotless when you start) and for me, anyway, it leaves the kitchen looking like a flour dust storm has just breezed through Paris.

In the end, I limited myself to one experiment with colored pasta: a kind of orangey-yellow. Sweet potato colored, to be exact.

This was my first foray into the world of colored/flavored pasta. Marcella Hazan is clear in her book on classic Italian cuisine:

"Outside of spinach, no other coloring can be recommended as an alternative to basic yellow pasta. Other substances have no flavor, and therefore have no gastronimc interst. Or, if they do contribute flavor, such as that of the deplorable black pasta whose dough is tinted with squid innk, its taste is not fresh. Pasta does not need to be dressed up, except in the colors and aromas of its sauce."

Well. Rules are made to be broken, right?

I was pretty sure, despite Marcella's dire warnings (God forbid I ever try the "deplorable" black ink variety) that sweet potatoes would add a subtle flavor to the pasta. And I wanted to play off that sweet note; I decided to dress the pasta in a simple coating of butter and fried sage, with salt, pepper and a grating of parmesan to liven things up. It turned out very well. The pasta had a kind of toothiness to the texture that is not usually there in the home made version. The sweet potato added sweet and nutty touches to the dish which brought out the strong sage flavor. All in all, I would judge this one a success!

Sweet Potato Pasta with Fried Sage (serves six as a side dish, four as a main)

2 cooked sweet potatoes (mine were baked for an hour in the oven at 190c)
~2 1/2 cups flour (it will depend on the flour you use and how big the potatoes are - allow for more in case you need it)
1 egg

For the sauce:
6 Tbs butter, divided
a handful of fresh sage leaves, roughly chopped

3 cups grated Parmesan, salt, pepper

This was my first attempt to use the new mixer for mixing pasta. I think it will work in the long run, but I'm going to need to practise, as I'm not as confident as I am with a yeast dough about getting the right consistency. I stopped the machine several times while added flour to test the consistency and in the end took it out before enough flour had been incorporated and had to knead the dough on the counter-top.

Put half the flour in the bottom of a mixer (I think this would be difficult to mix by hand) and create a well in the middle. Put the egg and the sweet potato in the well and start the mixer slowly. Keep mixing until the dough starts to be homogeneous and then slowly add the rest of the flour. You can speed up the machine if you feel confident. Keep adding flour until the dough makes a stiff ball. According to Marcella, you should be able to push your thumb into the dough a couple of inches and pull it away clean.

Separate the dough into pieces the size of golf balls and feed each one through the machine at its widest setting three times - folding the dough in thirds after each pass and rotating the dough 90 degrees before reinserting. Once you have done this with all the pieces (you may need to dust them with flour if they start getting sticky) move the rollers one step closer together and put each of the pieces through once, feeding the short side into the machine to have a long strip. Repeat with each of the settings, moving the rollers closer and closer, until you get a thickness you like. Remember that the pasta will swell slightly in the boiling water.

Before cutting the pasta, lay out the strips on the counter to dry a bit. When you feel you can fold over the strands without them sticking together, put some water on to boil as you are nearly there. Melt half the butter in a frying pan until it froths and before it browns toss in the sage. Toss the pan a bit. Feed each of the pasta strips through the cutting section. I went with medium ribbons, as you can see in the photo.

Toss the pasta in the now boiling water. Quickly grate the Parmesan if you haven't already. When the pasta is done (it will only take a minute or two) drain it and toss it with the remaining butter. Toss it again with the fried sage and butter. Toss it again with the Parmesan, salt and pepper or serve it at the table and let each decide how much cheese to add.

And the Critic approved, thanks to my not telling him about the sweet potato part until AFTER he said he liked it.

Thanks to Cooking with Amy for hosting!

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Posted by Meg in Sussex at 1:34 PM | Comments (6) | TrackBack
Pasta Eggs

Not egg pasta, but pasta eggs! I love the excuse that Cooking With Amy's IMBB #22 Use Your Noodle gives me to experiment.

Some recipes you do to tune certain skills or to satisfy a particular audience. This is a recipe that I did for myself for the sheer joy of doing the recipe. It's relatively easy, but the egg draining is a little labor-intensive and fiddly for the klutzes in the audience (raises hand, knocks over goldfish bowl, slips on water running to get rag, clonks head on priceless Ming vase, etc...)

I've always liked the plastic nature of pasta. I mean plastic in the sense that it will conform to almost any shape given a bit of coaxing and some egg and cheese to bind it. I take advantage of that quality here as I have in the past to make spinach and mushroom spaghetti cups.

As I make it, the pasta eggs themselves are rather blandly colored. Use beet or spinach pasta (or squid ink!), and use easter egg coloring kits on the shells themselves if you wish to introduce a bit of design to the proceedings.

Pasta Eggs

This is a very "as you see fit" recipe so I will give only a general ingredients list:
thin pasta: angel hair, udon, etc...
baby spinach, washed
Parmesan cheese, grated
red pasta sauce of your choice

Poke a hole in the skinny top of the egg with a small sharp knife. Carefully use the small knife to crunch up bits of the top shell, being careful not to start any long cracks down the egg's body.

When the hole is large enough, work on it very carefully with your fingers, which are much more precise instruments than just about any other device.

When you have a suitable hole (about 1/5 of the egg top taken off, pour out the egg contents. The white will come first.

You may have to work the hole open a bit more to remove the yolk.
Rinse out the egg very well, with very hot water. You may notice there is a thin membrane left inside the egg. If you're ambitious, you may use a finger to rub the membrane out of the egg, bit by bit, but it won't hurt anything if you leave it in if you're using the shells immediately.

Dry the eggs for an hour hole down, then for another hour with the hole up until the inside is nice and dry.

Boil some pasta. You won't need much, less than 1/2 oz of dried pasta/per egg. While it cooks, wilt about 1/4 cup of spinach per eggshell with a minced clove of garlic, to taste. Use pasta water if necessary to wilt the spinach.

Drain the pasta, add it to the skillet with the spinach, and add a beaten egg for every two shells to the pasta mix. Grate in some parmesan cheese to taste, and to act as a binder. I'd use about 1/2 teaspoon of cheese per eggshell.

Preheat the oven to 350 F. Get a small loaf pan and fill it halfway up with water. Take each eggshell, and VERY carefully fill it with pasta/spinach mix, using a fractional teaspoon to push the mix into the egg. Once you've throughly filled the egg, place it hole up in the loaf pan. Repeat until you've filled all your eggshells.

Bake in the oven at 350 F for 6-8 minutes.

Heat some red pasta sauce of your choice, and put about three tablespoons into the bottom of a small ramekin. Place a large spoon on top of that, balancing across the top.

VERY carefully, tap the shell of a cooked pasta egg and peel the eggshell away, leaving an egg-shaped pasta nugget.

Serve as a tapas dish, or as a portion of a more elaborate dinner.

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Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 7:51 AM | Comments (10) | TrackBack
January 28, 2006
Posts of the Week
Too Many Chefs post of the week

Match Game:2006 - Fill in the blanks. "Posts of the Week was thinking of joining a yoga class for the new year, but opted out we sprained our BLANK putting it behind our BLANK." Ow. Instead we pick three posts from the vast, untamed blogosphere for you to peruse and enoy.

A. New blogs, fresh from the oven! 2006 continues to produce great new food blogs. The enigmatically named Cave Butter (which seems to have changed its name to Butter Churn while I wrote this post caught my eye this week. Parmesan crisps are fun to make. They're more fun to fill and top. I like the toppings Butter Churn put on these crisps - Sardines, tomatoes, parsley, and onion.

I. You might think I link to In Mol Aran because it is, to my knowledge, the only English/Yiddish food oriented blog on the web. Well, maybe. You might think I link to this post with a beautiful picture of an "inside-out" radish for the beauty of the colors. There you'd only be partially right. I link to the radish post because the bonus link in the post points to a list of food references in They Might Be Giants songs. "The supertasters live among us!" *

1. I haven't responded yet to Indira at Mahanandi's tag to share a home cold/flu remedy. I will next week (really, I promise), but In Praise of Sardines has a home remedy in "...my wife's Tortilla Soup". The soup is spicy to clear the sinuses, has some salt to replace lost electrolytes, has lots of vitamins, a little protein - just the thing to get you back on your feet again.

We hope you'll stay on your feet (and out of the yoga injury ward) until next week when we'll march you up and down the square in search of three more posts worthy of being Posts of the Week.

* OK, look, it's only fair in a week that Ira Glass announces that he's moving to New York with "This American Life" that Chicago get They Might Be Giants in trade. Brooklyn's had them long enough and frankly, any talent scout in the league will tell you Ira for TMBG is pretty much a straight-up deal. If you wish, we'll throw in the entire "Hello, Beautiful" show for free. In fact, we insist. How 'bout it Brooklyn? Huh? Deal?

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 7:23 AM | TrackBack
January 26, 2006
Cracking Toast, Gromit!!

Gromit.jpgThe commercials started a month or so before Christmas. Clever little Wallace and Gromit short films, playing with Wallace's many tea-time inventions. And at the end..."BUY NOW! With your box of PG Tips tea, a Gromit mug that signals to you when your tea is ready!"

It's torture, sometimes, to live in France with UK programs on the TV. Will we get back to the UK before they stop the promotion? Can I sneak away from the Critic long enough to buy a couple and will I be able to hide them in the luggage?

Thank God for ebay. I did NOT make it to the UK before the promotion ran out. But I found a seller on ebay who, although his advertisement said he would only ship in the UK, was willing to ship four of these babies to me in Paris. They arrived after Christmas, which seems to be a chronic problem for me. But they arrived, unbroken.

And the most amazing thing? They actually work. Do any of you remember the Calvin and Hobbes cartoons where Calvin consumed pounds of cereal to get a beanie he thought would make him fly? Most promotions promise more than they deliver. But it works! You pour your tea into the mug and suddenly a flicker of red appears on the edge of the nose. And it spreads quickly, almost more quickly than your camera can save a shot and prepare for the next. (Actually, I ran out of space on the disk, but this is a good transition photo.) Too cool. And as your tea cools, it signals to you when it's too cold by gradually going black again.

Go get yours now on ebay - I promise it will give you much fun. Though honesty prompts me to admit that they are a b**** to clean, not being dishwasher safe and having lots of little crevices inside where tea can linger. But it's worth at it. Just look at those big expressive eyes...

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 2:46 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBack
January 25, 2006
Rejoice, you Vienna-Beef-less

I learn from Gaper's Block that Chicago hot dog legend Vienna Beef has now opened an online store so those of you outside Chicago can finally experience a truly good weiner.

If you're eating a hot dog and it's not from Vienna Beef (or possibly from Hot Doug's), you're not eating a good hot dog. Nathan's, Pink's, Grey's Papaya, whatever - pale imitations. You gotta try these, or the Chicago kosher-style (but not kosher sealed) brand, David Berg.

If you're in Chicago, of course, there's a very good chance that dog you're eating already is a good Vienna Beef dog on a steamed poppyseed bun with yellow mustard, raw onions, pickle, bright green relish, lettuce, tomato, celery salt, and hot peppers. NO ketchup! NO NO NO NO NO!

When I ate hot dogs regularly, I'd omit the relish, but the ketchup rule is vital - mustard is for hotdogs, ketchup is for burgers. Oh, and softball is a game played with a bad beer in one hand (Old Style, preferably), no mitt, and a 16" Clincher ball. That's the Chicago way.

Note that they offer gift packs, including a Valentine's Kit that includes a pair of Vienna Beef boxers, hot dogs, condiments and buns. They have no slogan for the gift pack, but I'll offer this one free of charge - "Why not stop the heart of the one who stopped yours?"

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 12:20 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBack
January 24, 2006
Spicy Green Beans and Tofu "Stir Fry"

I mentioned early this month that I was resolved to learn Chinese cooking this year. At our local fruteria, very fresh looking green beans were cheap (I'm telling you, live in an ethnic neighborhood if you cook), and I figured a Szechwan (or Sichuan, if you prefer) green bean-type dish would be a fine place to start. Maybe I'd add a little tofu for extra protein.

I'd recently used the aluminum top to a wok an ex-girlfriend had abandoned at my apartment years ago in her haste to get free of me. I wouldn't have minded her ditching the wok so much, but I'd given it to her as a present. Oh well, at least I had a wok (I thought).

I cut up my tofu, prepared a quick improvised marinade, went to get the wok and... And there was no wok. Only the top remained to be used to cover large skillets that had no top of their own. I'd forgotten that I'd thrown the rest of the wok and its gadgetry away months ago when I got a good look at it in my new cooking phase. It was made of cheap aluminum, and was not the sort of thing you'd want to use to make food for yourself or someone you liked.

But I did have a big old non-nonstick pot I'd bought from Amazon a month or two ago on special for next to nothing. It was huge, would stand up to high heat, and was made from an anodized aluminum so it should be safer to cook in than untreated aluminum. (Next time, it'll be a steel wok!)

I think the final dish turned out pretty well, especially for a first cut. I've cut the soy sauce back in the recipe here because the Redhead found it too salty and a little too spicy. I think she's right on the salt, but I like spicy so I'll tell you the straight story on what I used there.

Changes for the future: I will use Barbara's suggestion (from Tigers and Strawberries) to add some cornstarch or maybe some honey or molasses to the marinade next time and marinade the green beans too so the sauce sticks to the veggies. The tofu absorbed the marinade beautifully as is, but the beans felt under-sauced sometimes.

The big Calphalon pot worked great for this task. I will be doing some wok shopping soon, but until I do I think I have a decent enough substitute.

Spicy Green Beans and Tofu "Stir Fry"
1 1/2 pounds washed string green beans, tops and tails removed.
1 pound extra firm tofu
2 tablespoons soy sauce plus 2 tablespoons
2 tablespoons plus 1 tablespoon sesame oil
2 tablespoons mirin
2 teaspoons chopped ginger
3 minced garlic cloves
2 tablespoon sriracha "Rooster" hot garlic sauce
2 onions, sliced into long thin half moons
2 tablespoons lemon juice

Press the tofu on top of paper towels under a modest weight to press the water out of it, about 15 minutes. Put paper towels between the weight and the top of the tofu so water can be absorbed through top as well as out the bottom of the block.

Cut the pressed tofu into 1/2" cubes and place them in a tupperware-type container. Add 2 tablespoons of soy, the mirin, 2 tablespoons sesame oil, the garlic cloves, ginger, and hot sauce to the container. Close it up and shake gently until the tofu is completely covered with a well mixed marinade. Set aside and let soak for 20 minutes.

Put a tablespoon of oil in the bottom of a large non-non-stick pot or wok. Let it heat until touching the edge of an onion to the oil makes it sizzle violently.

Add the tofu and onions and stir well. Fry over high heat for about five minutes, stirring frequently. Add the green beans, lemon juice and soy and stir and toss well. Cover.

Let cook on high for 10 minutes, checking in every few minutes and stirring the pot. If it seems dry, add a tablespoon or two of water and keep cooking it covered to steam the beans.

After ten minutes take the beans and tofu mix off the heat and serve immediately.

Good as a main dish for 2-3 or as a side dish for 4-6.

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 10:28 PM | Comments (16) | TrackBack
The Rolls of the Kitchen

redrolls.jpgI am an unconfirmed Catholic. My mother stopped taking us to mass when I was about ten. My sister and I continued going sporadically for some years when we visited my grandmother, but it's been a good 20 years since I took Communion and 30 since I confessed. (Never having gone as far as Confirmation, it was many years before I found out you were supposed to go to confession regularly if you wanted to take Communion.) So religiously, a pretty lapsed Catholic. But culturally...that's another story. I'm as good at guilt as any regular attender of mass. Better, in fact.

My latest guilt trip? It's this beautiful shiny red baby. To me, the Kitchenaid mixer is the Rolls Royce of kitchen equipment. Given my meagre salary it's something I've never aspired to owning before becoming a grandmother. (And even then I figured my grandchildren would have to club together to get me one, if I were so lucky as to have grandchildren.) But the Critic earns a good salary. And he's generous. And he loves shiny exciting flashy equipment. So it was like shooting fish in a barrel to hint to him that a Kitchenaid mixer (red please) would be a most welcome Christmas gift. Not only was he generous enough to buy me the mixer, but he was a sucker for the set of attachments that go with it. AND he was extraordinarily imaginative in giving it to me. Rightly assuming that if I saw a huge box under the tree I would guess I had the mixer, he primed me by a) telling me that he had decided not to go all out on presents this year as he may be leaving his high-paying job soon and b) leaving the box in the car. And once I we had opened "all" our presents (and he bought me a lot of others to cover the story) he offered to take the garbage out.

Okay, admittedly at this point alarm bells should have been ringing in my head. But I was a bit dopey and put it down to some weird Christmas spirit. And when he came back up with two big boxes, even THEN I didn't catch on and assumed it was something new for the Boy. I am really dense.

So then I was feeling guilty about asking for an expensive gift (and getting it). AND there was the fact that one of his gifts from me was an electric knife so that I could trick him into carving the turkey.

Very guilty.

I'm going to have to make it up to him on Valentine's day or I'll burst.

The first two times we used my darling were actually on Christmas day - to mix the Critic's stuffing and to whip the cream for our Christmas pudding. It was beautiful. It hums. It dances. It shimmers before me, a delight in red.

And this weekend, I tried out the amazing bread kneading hook. When I first heard about the Kitchenaid mixer's bread kneading hook I was probably about ten or twelve years old and my aunt Betsy was talking about her new machine. New to the yeast-setting-set I looked down my nose at a machine that would take away half the fun of bread-making: the kneading. With the wisdom of years, I have come to realize that the dough needing attachment actually allows you to have your cake and eat it too. The first kneading of a yeast dough is a messy business. Yes, there is satisfaction in bringing a mass of gooey yeast and bread to an elastic lump. But there is also satisfaction in judging it properly through the funnel of your red Kitchenaid mixer for the first time. And the dough is just as elastic and warm when you are done. And when you turn it out on the counter for a second kneading after rising the dough does not stick to the counter and you do not have to spend half an hour cleaning afterwards. And come on, it's another toy - it's FUN!

So here is the recipe for my first loaf of bread in about 20 years too as it happens. I'm going to be experimenting a lot with my new toy, especially in the bread line. Paris has such wonderful bread that it's easy to forget how much joy can be found in an afternoon of making your own bread. So bring on the joy...

Half Whole-Wheat Bread (an amalgam of two recipes from the Fannie Farmer Cookbook)

3 cups whole-wheat flour
3 cups white flour, plus about a cup extra for kneading
1 cup hot water plus 1/4 cup lukewarm
1 cup milk, scalded
2 Tbs unsalted butter
1/2 tsp salt
1 Tbs sugar
2 1/2 tsp dry yeast (one package)

Put the butter and salt in the scalded milk (while it is still hot) and stir. Add the hot water, stir and let cool to lukewarm. (The butter should melt completely into the milk and water.) In the meantime, stir the sugar into the 1/4 cup lukewarm water in the bowl of your Kitchenaid mixer and sprinkle the yeast over the top evenly. After five minutes, it should be puffed and double in size. If it's not, your yeast is not active and you should start that part over with fresh yeast, water and sugar.

Once the milk mixture has cooled to lukewarm, add it to the yeast. Add a cup of flour and start the mixer going on a low speed. Gradually add the rest of the whole-wheat flour and begin adding the white flour. As it gets thicker, turn up the speed a bit to setting three or four. You don't need it to be whipped but there is no reason to take several years getting your dough mixed. Keep adding flour until the dough forms a big lump on the hook. Give it a few more minutes for good measure. Turn onto a floured surface and knead for a few minutes, adding a little flour if the dough is sticking to the work surface.

Put the dough in a greased bowl and cover it with a damp towel. Set it to rise for one hour in a warm place. Near a radiator is good. Inside an oven that has a pilot light is ideal but not common here in France. I turn on the oven to 40 degress Celsius, crack the oven door open once it reaches that temperature and turn off the oven. After ten minutes or so, I shut the door to preserve the remaining heat.

After an hour (or less if the dough has already doubled in bulk - it depends on the yeast), punch down the dough and give it another little kneading on a floured surface, say five minutes or so. Shape your dough into whatever form suits your fancy: you can have a rustic round or go for a conventional loaf, as I did. If you are using a bread pan, grease it before putting the dough in it.

Put the dough back in a warm place to rise again. Do not - as I did - put the bread pan on the lower rack with only a couple of centimeters of space to the next rack. Your dough will rise up and stick to the rack above and you will be very sad as I was. My bread did not turn out as light as I would have liked and I put it down to this little indiscretion, which led me to taking the dough out, kneading it again and starting the rising process all over. I didn't have the time to let it rise a full hour from that point, so the bread was a bit dense. Though that could be the whole-wheat too.

Ten minutes before the bread finishes rising, preheat the oven to 220C/450F. Bake the bread for fifteen minutes at this high temperature and then lower to 190C/375F. Bake another 30 minutes (so 45 minutes total) and take out when it is nicely browned on top and sounds a bit hollow when tapped with a wooden spoon. The bread will have pulled away from the edges of the pan slightly too.

Turn out onto a wire rack to cool. Slice only once it has cooled a bit (though it's lovely to have your first slice when it's still warm enough to melt the butter you slather over it). If you want a crusty bread, allow it to cool completely before putting in a bag to store. If you want a soft crust, cover it with a towel while it is cooling. And enjoy!

Although the total amount of time expended on bread-making seems enormous, the actual time you spend working on it is pretty short: 10 minutes getting the dough together and five minutes kneading it. Then you wait an hour, in which you can go shopping, watch TV, clean or play with the boy. Then another ten to fifteen minutes kneading and shaping. Another hour of leisure while it rises again. And then you bake it. Easy-peasy as my stepdaughter would say. And so very delicious! It prompted me to make a lovely Broccoli and Stilton soup for dinner on Sunday, just so we would have an excuse for bread and butter. And the house smelled wonderful for hours afterwards.

This is a habit I need to keep up.

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 2:57 PM | Comments (18) | TrackBack
January 23, 2006
2005 Food Blog Awards

Whoa! Thanks to everyone who voted for us in the Food Blog Awards. For the second year in a row, the loyal legions of readers of this site have voted us the Best Group Food Blog!

We're very grateful. Thanks to the fellow nominees in our category (I've already told you what I like about these excellent sites), and to all who voted.

But we're not the only ones to win an award. The rest of the results are "below the fold" as they say. If you want to see them as the Well Fed Network announced them (with maximal suspense), check here.

Congratulations to all who were nominated, and a big thanks to Kate at Accidental Hedonist and the jurors for putting this event together for the second straight year.

Best Chef's Blog - EggBeater
Best City Blog - David Lebovitz
Best Blog Covering the Food Industry - The Food Whore
Best Blog Covering Wine, Beer or Spirits - Vinography
Best Food Blog - Humor - The Food Whore
Best Food Blog - Photography - Nordljus
Best Food Blog - Recipes - Chocolate & Zucchini
Best Food Blog - Restaurant Reviews - Becks & Posh
Best Food Blog - Theme - Gluten-free Girl
Best Food Blog - Writing - Chocolate & Zucchini
Best Group Food Blog - Too Many Chefs (yay)
Best Non Blogging Food Site - Epicurious
Best New Blog - Delicious Days
Best Post - Meat Comes From Animals..., by Barbara at Tigers & Strawberries
Best Overall Food Blog - Orangette

A note to Delicious Days and to Gluten-Free Girl: Expect us to be in touch shortly to arrange for delivery of your prize. You do both have a secure livestock pen and a zoning variance allowing for the keeping of exotic predators at your home, right?

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 5:18 PM | Comments (6) | TrackBack
European Blogging By Post III

post.jpgFor the last three or four days a bright yellow box has sat on our dining table, taunting me. Open me, open me, it called to me. But I couldn't. You see, when I had lunch with Pascale of C'est moi qui l'ai fait and Johanna from The Passionate Cook before Christmas I agreed enthusiastically to participate in the next European Blogging by Post, which Johanna was due to host. I'm a procrastinator by nature. So when Johanna's message asking if I wanted to participate came, I forgot to answer for well over a week. By the time I came back to it, the deadline was past. I wrote her a message to apologize and to say that I was still interested if, by chance, there was still the possibility. And like the very sweet person she is she went to the trouble of finding a few other participants so that I could still play. I don't deserve such patient friends. Especially when I repay them by - again - procrastinating on the follow-up. My package arrived three or four days ago. And I swore I wouldn't open it until my contribution to the project was sent.

To be fair, we have been living through a particularly nasty Age of Gastroenteritis. I won't go into details (don't want to ruin your appetites after all) but let's just say the washing machine and dryer have been going pretty much non-stop for the last four or five days.

But as I left the post office today with my package posted (as well as the one to the winner of our prize in the Menu for Hope, by the way) I glowed with satisfaction and looked forward to the joy of opening up my box of comfort once home.

Did I mention the theme of the project was Comfort Food? It was and is. My box was full of comfort. (And somewhat similar to the box I sent out, as my recipient will see, proving that some things are universal in the world of comfort.) The boy tried to help me explore these goodies. Given the fact that he is the one suffering from upset tummy, he didn't keep hold of the chocolate bar for good. (Full points for good instincts on what was the most interesting item in the box however!)

My package from Angelika from The Flying Apple had a very sweet note, explaining her choices:

First of all, the "comfort food" - I have chosen Risotto Alla Milanese, thus I am sending you a packet of risotto rice (from Piemonte) and some saffron. If you want, you can also add some finely diced sausage...

And what can I recommend to eat when cuddling up in front of the fireplace? CHOCOLATE of course...what can be more heart-warming???? So I am enclosing artisane ("hand-torn") chocolate bars made in Austria (by Zotter). He is famous for using very unusual marriages of flavours as you can see and taste ;)

And last, but not least, there are still some of my "Panforte Senese" which obviously have been spared for sending them to Paris...

She included dried sausage, in case I want to include it in the risotto, which I probably will. And the chocolate bar is marked with "ZimtApfel + Honig" which I am proud to say my very basic German was up to translating as "Apple Cinnamon with Honey" (I confirmed it in the English translation of ingredients on the back of the bar). Interesting indeed! I'm glad I salvaged it from the grasp of the Boy.

As if the universe was in some way conspiring to make me a happy cook, I had already planned to make a roast chicken with garlic and lemon for dinner tonight (another great dish for comfort food, by the way) and so I will have the wherewithal to make a delicious chicken stock for my risotto. Can I confess I have never actually done a proper risotto with saffron? I am so looking forward to this. Check in later in the week for the result!

As for the "Panforte Senese", they are delicious - a chewy mixture of fruit and nuts with a nougat flavour. I'm going to have to do some research on these and will probably start with Angelika's blog. They are extremely comforting and delicious. And the best part is that the Critic has shown no interest in them at all, so they are mine, all mine.

Many, many thanks to Johanna (for hosting and organising and allowing me to participate in spite of being a terrible procrastinator) and Angelika (for the wonderful goodies). Austria is certainly being good to me this week, which is quite fitting as this girl had two Austrian-born grandparents.

(For those who are curious, my maiden name is Liebezeit. Love time. Or, if you are Germanic, you will undoubtedly recognize the phrase "Ach, du liebezeit!" which apparently what you say as you hit yourself in the forehead after doing something stuipd. Quite appropriate, really.)

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 3:09 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack
January 21, 2006
Posts of the Week
Too Many Chefs post of the week

Now that football season is over - shh, I'm a Bears fan, football season is over - we can concentrate on some good eats.

1. Let's start with some Cuccía, a ricotta and wheat berry dish from newcomer Pease Porridge. If this is any indicator of the new food blogs we're going to see in 2006, it's going to be a great year for foodies.

A. What chu talkin' about? Get out! Dy-no-mite! We are Two Wild and Crazy Guys! Yes, those annoying TV catchphrases are joined by a new one That's my Lebovitz! Details can be had at the Amateur Gourmet's site.

I. Melissa of the Traveler's Lunchbox describes the downfall of her vegetarian habits. Was it chicken? Nope, it was the pork sausage. And to commemorate the return to not being a weirdo freak like me, she presents us with a beautiful photograph and recipe for Pork Paté with Port and Hazelnuts. Mmmm... Porkalicious.

Next week, three more picks of three more posts worth picking and posting.

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 10:45 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack
January 20, 2006
Thai Peanut Butter Sandwich

Earl of Sandwich, meet the King of Siam. Yes, I'll answer your first question - I have gone mad! Mad for the taste of peanut butter!

In this post-Holiday world, many of us are being frugal, taking lunch to work, brown-bagging it as it were. But the old staples get... old. If you can't stand another plain peanut butter sandwich, give this Thai-inspired sandwich a try. You can certainly adjust the ingredients to reflect your tastes.

And what ingredients! Peanut butter (of course), coconut flakes for sweetness and flavor, lime juice for tartness and to brighten the mix, "rooster sauce" for heat, cilantro for freshness, and just a little milk or soy milk to loosen the mix up and make the protein in the peanut butter more available to your body, ginger! garlic! - what doesn't this sandwich have?

Actually, I might try adding thinly sliced scallions to the next batch, but we had none at home at the time.

I served this with a dollop of orange marmalade for "dipping". You could make it into a PB&J instead by putting the marmalade in the sandwich, but go easy on the sweet spread.

January's also the time for dieting, after all.

Thai Peanut Butter Sandwich makes 2 sandwiches
4 slices wheat bread
1/2 cup - 3/4 cup peanut butter (depending on how "Thai" you want it)
2-3 tablespoons lime juice
3 tablespoons sweetened dried coconut flakes (or a little coconut milk, about 2-3 tablespoons)
if using coconut flakes and not milk, 2 tablespoons soy or regular cow's milk
2 tablespoons sriracha hot chile sauce, aka "Rooster sauce"
2 tablespoons finely chopped cilantro
1 teaspoon chopped ginger
1 minced garlic clove
optional dollop of orange marmalade
chives for garnish

Heat the peanut butter in a microwave in a bowl until it softens up a bit, but isn't blistering hot. You should be able to stir it with a little effort.

Mix in the rest of the ingredients into the peanut butter, and mix well. If you are using coconut milk instead of flakes, you may not need to add the soy or cow's milk. The purpose of the milk is to loosen up the mix a little so all the ingredients mix well. I just didn't want to open a new can for such a small amount of liquid.

Taste and adjust flavors. It should "feel" Thai. Of course I doubt anyone Thai has ever made a sandwich of a mix like this, but we're going for something like what a 1970's American school lunch Thai dish would be if such a thing had ever existed.

Toast the bread and spread the peanut butter mix on the toast. Slap two slices together, cut in half and serve.

For optimal results, let the peanut butter mix sit overnight to let the flavors mix. You're going to need to pack a breath mint in your lunch box, too.

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 6:34 AM | Comments (8) | TrackBack
January 19, 2006
Children Change Your Life

trout almonds.jpgFrom the time you let slip to your nearest and dearest that you are expecting a little bundle of joy until the nipper is at least six months old, you can expect to hear it from every well-meaning soul on the planet: children will change your life, you have no idea. Well, actually, I did. I think all intelligent parents do: they know to expect sleepless nights, no social life, terminal chaos in their living quarters. Those well-meaning souls make sure they do. But there was one change I didn't expect, though I suppose I should have. As a result of the Boy, we actually eat a bit more healthily than we used to do.

It started even before he was conceived: less alcohol (just in case) and lots of green leafy vegetables for the folic acid. Then through pregnancy, NO alcohol and a nice varied diet. Since he started eating proper food, I make much more of an effort to buy organic vegetables and as large a variety as possible. This is for his sake, but we all profit from it.

And the latest? Well the (French) doctor has told me that it's time to take the boy off formula and put him on the fortified milk known here as lait de croissance. I have a real problem with this. The milk is enhanced with iron and "essential oils" but it's also endowed with a load of vanilla and sugar to cover up the taste of these goodies. Ick. I want to switch him straight to whole pasteurized milk. But that means I have to make sure he has lots of iron (luckily he loves spinach) and fish high in omega-3 oil. Well, heck, we can all use a little more of each. And so we started this week with a few filets of trout. I bought it for the boy, but we all had some. And in the spirit of the post-holiday period, I made it with NO cream. It was hard, may hand hovering over the crème fraiche tub, but I managed it. And the result was actually pretty tasty, with silky mushrooms and leeks smothering the pink delicate flesh of the fish. I added a handful of toasted almonds and pine nuts to add a bit of crunch and a sweet nuttiness. And that was our dose of Omega-3 taken care of for the day. A winner all around.

Actually, it's a well-known fact that almonds go well with the tender flesh of trout. Butter, nuts and delicate oily fish combine beautifully. Most of the trout amandine recipes I've seen over the years call for drowning your almond slices in butter, though, and here I tried toasting them to keep the feel of grease at a minimum.

Trout with leeks, mushrooms and nuts

2 Tbs unsalted butter
1 small leek
5 large mushrooms
2-3 trout filets
1/4 cup (abougt 80 grams) mixed pine nuts and chopped almonds
1/2 glass of white wine

In a heavy-bottomed frying pan toss the nuts on a medium heat until they just begin to brown. Be careful as they can go from "slightly brown" to "nastily burnt" in about half a second. Remove the nuts to a bowl and reserve them for later. In the same frying pan melt the butter. When it froths and bubbles, add the mushrooms (sliced) and leeks (also sliced in thin rings). Cook them until all is soft and slithery and the leek rings have separated. Remove them to another bowl with a slotted spoon, reserving the butter as much as possible. If the pan looks a bit dry, add another pat of butter and then slap the fish in the pan, skin side up. (In my experience, the skin ALWAYS sticks to the bottom of the pan and it doesn't add a nice flavor to the sauce you make afterwards. So keep it up.) Cook for five minutes or so, then pour in the wine and strew the leeks and mushrooms over the whole. Cover and cook until the fish is opaque through and through but not dried out. (It should only take a few minutes.)

Serve over a bed of rice in the following order: fish, then leeks and mushrooms and then a handful of crispy nuts. It shouldn't need much salt, especially if you've been generous in buttering and salting the rice.

Okay, it's still not weight-watchers but it's reasonably healthy and digestible. Oh yes, and extremely tasty!

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 2:28 PM | Comments (12) | TrackBack
January 18, 2006
Call for Book Suggestions

I'm trying to read a book a week this year. So far, I'm a little ahead, having read since January 1st: Empire Falls by Richard Russo, Night Flight by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Man With the Golden Arm by Nelson Algren, and How We Die by Sherwin B. Nuland.

Notice a problem? None of those books are very food-related.

I've got Cod: A Biography of the Fish That Changed the World by Mark Kurlansky in the offing, and last year I read Salt: A World History also by Mark Kurlansky, and The Secret Life of Lobsters by Trevor Corson, but I need more food-related material for the upcoming year.

What are your favorite food books that aren't cookbooks? What should I be reading this year? What would you like to see reviewed here on Too Many Chefs?

Allright, allright, I know this is something of a throwaway post, though I really do want suggestions on foodie books.

Here's a bonus - have you seen the new stuff at Tasting Menu's store?

Pretty slick stuff, I must say. I may need a tomato shirt.

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 10:53 PM | Comments (29) | TrackBack
January 17, 2006
Fox River Bean Soup with Winter Squash and Greens

The name of this soup is after a river just west of Chicago. I named it after that river because the original recipe I modified from the February/March 2006 issue of Eating Well was called "Amazon Bean Soup with Winter Squash and Greens".

I live in Chicago and modified this recipe enough to have a claim to it. However, a "Chicago River" soup would have to be primarily green, and "Cal/Sag Channel" soup is not an appetizing thought. It probably would need some fish floating belly up with chunks of mobster. Ugh. So the Fox River it is.

I can't tell you how the original tastes, but I can encourage you to go buy the latest issue of Eating Well, an excellent publication. Their soup is based on a Brazillian squash soup. They suggested buttercup squash, we use butternut squash, an ENTIRELY different beast. They want pinto beans, we had garbanzos available. They add fewer spices and no wine, and I add both in good quantity.

I do intend to try the original recipe as published in Eating Well, but first, I'll polish off the pot of Fox River Bean Soup we enjoyed with chunks of beer bread this evening.

P.S. - this is the first photo we've put up taken with a new camera. What do you think?

Fox River Bean Soup with Winter Squash and Greens
based on Amazon Bean Soup with Winter Squash and Greens, Eating Well magazine, Feb/March 2006 p.48-49, I believe by Victoria Abbot Ricardi
1 tablespoon butter
4 cloves minced garlic
2 chopped carrots
1 diced medium onion
6 cups vegetable broth
3 pounds butternut squash, peeled and diced
1 chopped plum tomato
1/4 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
1/4 teaspoon salt
a couple of good grinds of fresh black pepper
2 15 ounce cans garbanzo beans, rinsed
10 oz. fresh spinach, washed, stemmed, and chopped large
1 lime or lemon, cut into wedges.
1/4 cup red wine
1/2 teaspoon mustard powder
1 teaspoon herbs de Provence
1 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg

Melt butter in a Dutch oven. Sautee the garlic, carrots, and onion until tender and just taking on color. Add the wine and scrape any fond, or browned bits into the wine. Add the broth, and stir well.

Add the squash, tomato, and spices and bring to a boil then reduce to a simmer. Simmer until squash is falling apart.

Using a blender, food processor, or immersion blender, blend half the soup smooth. Return to pot and stir well to mix in with unblended soup.

Stir in the beans and spinach until the beans are warmed through and the spinach is wilted.

Serve with citrus wedge for each bowl and a hunk of good bread.

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 8:31 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBack
January 16, 2006
Gratin aux blettes

gratin.jpgIn the section of Foodie Confessions, there are a few vegetables that I'm ashamed to have never really tried my hand at cooking. Turnips, in all their many guises. (In French, they can be navarins, navets, panais...I've never really sorted them out in English or French.) And the Jerusalem artichoke. Another one that has escaped me for many years is the Swiss Chard. You can tell when a vegetable is considered "exotic" by the editors of the Fanny Farmer cookbook: it essentially has one recipe with a single variation. So when I was at the market last week, looking for something interesting to add to my basket I hit on one that appeared frequently in the stalls: Swiss Chard, or blettes.

I consulted my beloved Fannie Farmer and found the single recipe (with a variation). And I decided to follow the general indications but add a little flavor. (This is pretty common when I consult Fannie Farmer recipes...)

And, to my great surprise, I created a dish that was not just edible but actually extremely tasty. I thought about sharing it with the Critic but decided very quickly that he wouldn't like it. Like many dark green leafy vegetables, the Swiss Chard was set off perfectly by cream, egg and nutmeg. I don't know why nutmeg and cream taste so good together, or why nutmeg cream and dark green leafy vegetables are delicious together. All I can be is glad. In addition, the texture of the gratin is smooth and almost jellied, a very satisfying bite. On the health scale, it does relatively well: while you have cream and egg on the debit side, there is no other fat and the Swiss Chard is full of vegetables and iron. And a subtle taste that is perfectly set off by the nutmeg. (Did I mention that?)

Oh, and it's pretty cheap too. A perfect dish.

Gratin aux blettes (serves four as a side dish, two as a main)

2 heads of Swiss Chard
1/2 cup cream, milk or combination of the two
1 egg
100 grams (about 2/3 cup) grated comté or gruyère
water for cooking, 1/4 cup reserved
salt, pepper and a good grinding of nutmeg
1 Tbs butter

Cut the leaves of the Swiss Chard along the thick rib. Cut the white thick rib in pieces about an inch or 2.5 cm long. Toss them in boiling water and cook them for about ten minutes. In the meantime, cut the dark green leafy bits in pieces roughly the same size or a bit larger. Toss the green bits in with the pieces of white rib and cover. Butter a small roasting pan with the butter. Mix the cooked chard with the cheese, cream and/or milk, reserved cooking water and nutmeg. Pour in the roasting pan and bake in a preheated oven (180c/350f) for 40 minutes or until the egg is set and the top is browned.

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 2:53 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack
January 14, 2006
Posts of the Week
Too Many Chefs post of the week

All NEW! Improved! Now with great flavor of FISH! It's the Posts of the Week. We took a few weeks off there, but we're back in 2006 with a vengence and the fury of a thousand white hot suns. Who is the object of our attention this week? Well, glad you asked that...

A. We start with Dr. Biggles and MeatHenge We're bending the rules here and going back further than a week (just by a day or three) to read his entry on rehabilitating a mangled knife, but we skipped a couple weeks in there so I think it's fair.

1. Or are you one of those people who are now Bitchin' in the Kitchen? You can join Rosie, a self-proclaimed "40 year old fat chick who loves to cook and bitch." Her latest evil plot is to aid global warming with the help of Rosie's Bean Soup, a mix of Great Northern beans, ham hocks, and onion. Simple and delicious.

I. We like simple and delicious, and with the new year, we're all looking for light healthful low calorie dishes after the gluttony of the holiday season. This Chocolate Truffle Cupcake recipe at 80 Breakfasts most certainly does NOT qualify. Look at that chocolate ooze out! Good lord. Contrarians rejoice. I think I'll file this recipe away for a little later in the year when there's less of me to feed. Wow.

And so we start off 2006 with three fine posts for your perusal and enjoyment. For the new year, I resolve not to pick a post that I don't enjoy greatly. You should resolve to come back next weekend for three more posts from some of the best sites in the food blogosphere.

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 7:39 AM | Comments (5) | TrackBack
January 13, 2006
Salmon Tartare

The best dishes are either fantastically complicated or deceptively simple. Salmon tartare is a simple one.

Salmon tartare can be a sophisticated appetizer for dinner parties or a relatively simple romantic dinner for two. The key is to start with a nice piece of cold raw or smoked salmon, and add a number of savory mix-in's.

I put a little lemon juice on the fish to keep the flavor bright. Other people mix the other ingredients into the fish directly, but I prefer to let people create their own mixes.

Salmon Tartate, the essentials
Salmon, either filet or cold smoked lox as shown above - about 2 oz per person for a meal portion
About 1 hard boiled egg per person, white and yolk separated and chopped
2 scallions per person, dark green and white/light green separated and chopped
Lemon zest
Lemon juice on the chopped fish, about the juice of 1/2 a lemon/person
A flaky sea salt

Some people add olive oil directly to the salmon. I think this is gilding the lilly since the fish is already filled with wonderful, flavorful, healthy fats.

As for the rest of the mix-ins, Add anything you think might go with the salmon. Here's our plate from last night.

1. Lightly toasted crusty bread
2. Capers
3. Maldon salt or other flaky finishing salt
4. Chopped roasted red pepper
5. Lemon zest
6. Olive tapenade
7. Sun dried tomatoes in oil
8. Hard boiled egg yolk
9. Hard boiled egg white
10. Chopped dark green part of the scallion
11. Chopped light green and white part of the scallion
Not shown, but an excellent choice - creme fraiche or sour cream. Works as a binder to keep everything together on the toasts

Halved grapes, pomegranate seeds, grainy mustard, a sugar/salt mix (like gravadlax), black pepper, minced sweet pickle, any of these things can be a mix-in. Be creative.

Toast a number of slices of a crusty bread or get some wafer crackers. Give each guest a small bowl to mix their tartare in, and a spoon to scoop the ingredients they want into their personal bowl. Chop everything up very very finely. Cut the salmon into 1/8" pieces or smaller, then chop some more. Do the same with every ingredient. Add lemon juice to the salmon and mix, then pile the salmon in the middle of a large plate and surround it with small piles of mix-ins.

Alternately, you can prepare individual plates for your guests, or to be really fancy, put the salmon on a single piece of toast ahead of time and serve to each guest on an individual plate in the center of mix-ins.

Either way, it's a healthy dish that can serve as an appetizer or meal.

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 7:22 AM | Comments (6) | TrackBack
January 12, 2006
Roast Pork with Prunes and Stilton

P1090458.jpgNigel and me, we go way back. Some nine years ago, when I first knew the Critic, he introduced me to The Observer. It's not a bad paper (though irritatingly anti-American on occasion) and my first take on it was that its politics are in the right place. I am not a big newspaper reader and so on Sundays while the Critic devoured the sports and news sections I would idly leaf through the Travel and Money sections and the Life magazine. And over the months I came to turn more enthusiastically to that Life section because it had a food writer who spoke to me as if I were a friend who just happened into his kitchen. And he had the most interesting ideas. I bought a book of his. And then I bought one for my aunt Betsy. And another for me. And one for my brother, who seemed interested. I was hooked.

Where is all this leading? Well, one of the fantastic food combinations I found through his insight is the pairing of pork and Stilton. Salty, creamy, slightly sweet Stilton sauce with a slab of juicy pork. It's a match made in heaven. Although the Critic is not actually a fan of "the other white meat" (no, not the Cubs) he loves it when I make it with a Stilton sauce. This time, I decided to make it even more delicious with the addition of some juicy prunes and onions. In the same way that port compliments a good Stilton with its fruity sweet taste, a prune is perfect with the sauce and with the pork. Salty, sweet, savoury, the sauce corrects any dryness in the meat with a wonderful intense flavour.

Roast Pork with Prunes and Stilton

1.2 kilos of pork
12 prunes
6 small onions or large shallots
1 glass of sweet sherry
100 grams of Stilton, crumbled
1/2 cup (about 75 ml) of cream
a little olive oil, a little tarragon
a handful of fresh flat-leaf parsley, chopped roughly

Preheat the oven to 200F/450F. Drizzle a little olive oil in the bottom of a roasting pan. Put the meat in the pan and sprinkle it with tarragon. Put it in the oven and while it's baking, peel the onions. If they are large, cut them in half. After about half an hour, add the onions to the pan. About ten minutes before the roast is done (it took an hour and 20 minutes for mine to reach a sufficient internal temperature) add the prunes and turn over the onions. When the roast is done, remove it to a plate and cover it with aliminum foil to rest. Put the prunes and onions in a bowl and slide them back in the now-turned-off oven to keep warm. Skim the fat off the juices in the pan or, as I do, pour them into one of those nifty gravy boats that separate the juice from the fat. Pour the juice back into the roasting pan and put it on a medium flame. Pour in the glass of sherry and while it bubbles away crumble the Stilton. Add the Stilton, the cream and the parsley. Take a nifty picture or just admire the pretty dark green against a backdrop of cream and deep brown sauce. Stir and taste for seasoning. It might be better for another pinch of tarragon or a grinding of pepper. It probably won't need salt.

Serve a couple of thick slabs of pork with a few prunes and an onion and cover the meat with the
Stilton sauce. The thick, rich sauce does wonders for a simple slice of pork and if you take a tiny piece of juicy prune with each bite of pork it will only add to the heaven. Oh, and some roast potatoes on the side also go extremely well with the sauce, in case you are interested. If not, you can always resort to bread. But whatever you do, don't waste it!

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 2:42 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack
January 11, 2006
Food Blog Awards 2005 - What I Like About the Competition

Hey, here's a reminder - if you haven't voted yet, go check out the 2005 Food Blog Award nominees. We won the Best Group Blog last year and we're up for it again against some amazing blogs.

In the spirit of good sportsmanship, I thought I'd share my positive thoughts on the competition.

Gastronome - Honestly, these are the people I thought we would lose to last year. Their small army (21 on the mast at last count) of witty, intelligent writers understand food and put together some beautiful photographs to go with their recipes. This is one of the sites I looked to in the early days for inspiration.

A Good Beer Blog - In my opinion, A Good Beer Blog is the best beer-focused blog on the Internet. The only site I compare it to is Michael Jackson's Beer Hunter site. If you know Michael Jackson's site, you know what high praise that is. I especially like the coverage on Belgian beers I find here, a particular favorite of mine.

Ideas in Food - The blogs I was most happy to discover in 2005 were Mahanandi, Tigers & Strawberries, and Ideas in Food. The haute presentation of the recipes on Ideas in Food is more polished than any other site on the net, in my humble opinion. They also are just a little bit nuts like me. I had just independently started putting a little Maldon salt on pieces of chocolate, and thinking I should probably keep this practice to myself for fear of being carted off by the men in white coats when I came across this post of them doing the same damn thing as a real honest-to-god ingredient. How cool is that? No wonder I love their site.

LA Foodblogging - I'll admit that I was not familiar with LA Foodblogging until this nomination. I don't travel to Los Angeles very often, and am not familiar with the food scene there. After looking over the site, I can say I'm very impressed with the quality of the reportage and especially the organization of the posts by cuisine and location. If you're in Los Angeles and feely nibbly this site is a great resource.

Of course, I obviously have a special fondness for the work my blogging partner Meg does here at Too Many Chefs, and for the work of all our other contributors. I hope that we can continue to produce work worthy of being in the company of the blogs mentioned above. They don't make it easy to keep up, I'll tell you that.

If you haven't done so already, go on over to Kate's site, The Accidental Hedonist, and vote for your favorite in this and all the other excellent categories. Sure, we'd love to win, but as you can see, whomever you vote for, you're voting for a winner.

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 3:40 PM | Comments (7) | TrackBack
Stinky Pete's Straight-up Chunky Guacamole

It's a trend. First, Kate over at Accidental Hedonist posted her recipe for guacamole. Then, The Food Whore posted her recipe for guacamole.

Well none of these are the one true recipe for guacamole which was fortuitously given to me many years ago in a bar in Pilsen by a 174 year old one eyed four-foot tall Mexican native by the name of "Stinky Pete". I think he was married to Charo.

OK, maybe Pete wasn't married to Charo, but he did tell me he was 174. And Mexican. Even with the shock blonde hair and the tongue piercing. He might have been lying.

Or maybe I'm lying about his existence, but this truly is the recipe that converted many a supermarket guacamole hater, including my mother-in-law Rosalind.

In any case, I couldn't agree more with Kate's assertion that eating commercial guacamole is just the worst thing you can do. I also would encourage the Food Whore to fight back against the tomato and tomatilla haters who beat her with a bag of chips when she introduced the round red vegetable (OK, I know it's really a fruit) into her guacamole.

Good guacamole, in my opinion, should be a mix of fresh tastes and a variety of textures. Overmashing must be discouraged. An avocado is a vegetable, not a butter. OK, an avocado is also really a fruit, not a vegetable, but roll with me here.

Way back when, I posted a chipotle guacamole recipe. That's a specialty guacamole that may not appeal to everyone. For example, I loved it and wife, the Redhead, did not. Try this one and see if everyone who likes guacamole doesn't just love the stuff.

And for Pete's sake (remember Pete?), don't buy those guacamole flavored chips. I don't know what that flavor is supposed to be, but it sure isn't guacamole.

Stinky Pete's Straight-Up Chunky Guacamole

About 4 avocados, plus one for adjustments
About 1/2 white onion, diced 1/4", plus one for adjustments
About 2 small tomatoes, diced 1/4", plus one for adjustments (you could substitute tomatillos for a more tart flavor)
The juice of about 2 small limes (not key lime small, just small), plus some for adjustments
1/4 cup or so of cilantro, plus some for adjustments
1/2 jalapeno, deveined, deseeded, minced finely, plus some for adjustments
2 cloves garlic or so, plus some for adjustments
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt plus some for adjustments

OK, so the first thing you'll notice is that this recipe isn't very precise. That's because we're working with all natural ingredients here. Flavor, intensity, size all differ from specimen to specimen. This is what being a cook or a chef is all about - working with the reality of your ingredients, not the arbitrary confines of a recipe.

What I have above is what I used for the latest batch of guacamole I made which was and is scrummy, let me tell you.

Cut your avocado in half, use a spoon and scoop out the pit, taking as little flesh with it as possible. Discard the pit. That stuff about the pit keeping the guacamole from turning brown? It's hooey, according to Harold McGee and Cecil Adams. Your lime juice is the anti-oxidation agent here.

Using a sharp knife, cut the flesh of one avocado half lengthwise into five or six separate sections. Don't penetrate the skin of the avocado (or the chef), but use enough pressure to make it through the flesh. Make about five or six cuts across the previous cuts so you have a number of small squares scored. Take a spoon and carefully scoop out the flesh from the peel, depositing it into a non-metallic mixing bowl. Repeat with the other half and the other avocados.

Chop the cilantro roughly. Add your diced tomatoes, the cilantro, onion, garlic, and jalapeno. Toss roughly to mix. Taste.

Sprinkle the salt and squeeze the lime juice into the bowl to taste and mix well. Now, if you insist on mashing your avocados, do so, with a fork, but only very, very lightly. Chunky is king. Taste again and adjust by adding more of anything that demands to be added.

Guacamole is easy, and even bad guacamole is pretty good if it's not too bad. Serve with chips and maybe a dusting of red chili powder for color.

If, by some miracle, there is guacamole left to store, put it into a container taller than wide and cover the top with lime slices. That should help delay oxidation.

If you enjoy this recipe, Stinky Pete salutes you.

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 7:15 AM | Comments (18) | TrackBack
January 10, 2006
Three Bean Tamale Casserole

Do you love tamales? That's a rhetorical question, of course. Everyone loves tamales, right? Here's a way to enjoy that tamale flavor in a casserole that'll feed the whole family and then some.

There are no two ways to say this, so I'll come right out with it. This recipe produces one metric boatload of food. Well, maybe not that much, but it makes a 9 x 13 casserole that could easily feed 12 people, or maybe 6 teenagers.

I start with a tamale dough crust, pile peppers and onions and vegetables on top, add beans and tomatoes and top it all with more masa tamale dough. There's not much fat to speak of for the size of the casserole, and plenty of flavors and textures to play across your tongue.

The Redhead was quite generous with praise for this dish. She liked the sweetness of the onions and red peppers, the spice of the poblanos and jalapenos, and the savory and tart melding of the beans and tomatoes. She suggested it as a possible main course for a casual dinner party. Hmm. Might have to take her up on that.

There's a lot of room for individual creativity here. Try this recipe as I've written it, then experiment with other fillings. There's no reason a pork, spiced beef, or even a chicken filling couldn't substitute or augment the recipe below. Heck, try a more unusual but traditional Mexican filling like spiced beef tongue. Then it'll be tasting you as you taste it.

One word of caution - I like my food with a little zing. This recipe has a little zing. It even has zip and zsa zsa zou. In fact my fingers are still burning a little as I write this the next morning after a shower. Best of all, however, it has a lot of healthy vegetables and beans (and vitamins!) in a corn crust you'll love to serve and eat.

Three Bean Tamale Casserole

Crust - 2 recipes of:
2 cups masa seca (also known as masa harina, a corn meal/flour, but you can't substitute cornmeal. Look for the real stuff.)
2/3 cup oil
1 tablespoons baking soda, divided
1 tablespoons garlic powder
1 teaspoon chili powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups warm water

Bean mix:
1 15.5 oz can black beans, drained but not rinsed
1 15.5 oz can pinto beans, drained but not rinsed
1 15.5 oz can dark red kidney beans, drained but not rinsed
1 28 oz can stewed tomatoes in juice
1 tablespoon garlic powder
1 tablespoon onion powder
1 teaspoon chili powder
1/2 teaspoon salt

2 jalapenos, minced
5 poblanos
3 red peppers
1 large white onion, diced
2 small "linda" zucchini
2 oz. shredded cheddar cheese

Avocado slices
Chili powder

What we're making is a masa sandwich in a casserole dish - masa on the bottom, goodies in the middle, masa on top. The masa on the bottom will be moist, the masa on the top will be crunchy.

But before we do the crust, let's get the filling ready. In a large saucepan, empty out the can of stewed tomatoes, juice and all. Mash the tomatoes up a little with a potato masher. You don't want uniformity or a paste, just smaller chunks and a little thickness. Turn the heat on medium. Drain each of the three cans of beans well, but don't rinse them. Add the beans to the tomatoes and mix well.

Add a tablespoon each of garlic and onion powder and a teaspoon (or more) of chili powder, along with the salt and optional black pepper. Mix well and heat through for fifteen minutes to reduce the amount of liquid in the pot.

While the beans simmer, turn the kitchen vent or fan filter on. Cut the sides off the poblanos and sweet red peppers, removing the seeds, caps, and internal white membranes. Place the peppers face down over a gas flame or face up under a broiler on high. When the skins have turned thoroughly black, remove the peppers to a paper bag, and close the bag to let the steam loosen the skins. After about five to ten minutes, scrape the skins off with the back of a chef's knife. Rinse the prepared peppers to help remove any loose skin. You don't need to get all the black off, but get as much as is easy to remove.

Cut the peppers into long strips, running from the top to the bottom of the pepper, about 1/4" wide and set aside.

Dice the onion into 1/4" dice and set aside.

Linda zucchini are about half the length of a "normal" zucchini and a little bit pear shaped. Cut the ends off the zucchini, then cut it into wedges of approximately 1"-1 1/2" in length. You can substitute a more common regular zucchini. Just be sure to wash the vegetable thoroughly since many zucchini are waxed for supermarket display.

If you haven't already done so, mince the jalapeno. If you leave the veins and seeds in, it will be hotter. If you prefer a more mild meal, cut the white veins and seeds out of the pepper before dicing.

Now preheat the oven to 375 F.

Prepare one recipe of the masa by adding the masa, baking soda, garlic powder, chili powder and salt to a medium bowl and mixing well. Add the oil and warm water and mix until you have a dough the consistency of spackle or peanut butter.

Spread the dough in the bottom of a 9 x 13 casserole dish. Pat the dough down with your hands to even it out and get it to cover the entire bottom of the dish. You can try patting it down with a spoon, but your hands are your best tool here and will make short work of the task.

Once that's finished, spread the roasted red and poblano pepper strips, raw onion, fresh jalapeno, and uncooked zucchini chunks evenly across the masa base. Spread the bean and tomato mix on top of that as evenly as possible.

Now make a second masa dough recipe the same as the first one. When it is the proper consistency, you'll see we have a problem in that you can't just dump the dough on top and then smooth it out without making one heck of a mess.

Instead, take a small fistful of dough and pat it out into a flat patty in your hands. Don't worry, it won't be a perfect shape of any sort, and bits will fly off as you pat. Get a thin disk of the dough going and lay it on top of the casserole. Repeat until you've both used all the masa and covered the top completely. If there are small holes, try to patch them, but don't worry too much about it being fully sealed or perfect.

Sprinkle the cheese on top of that and pop the whole casserole into the oven. Cook for 30 minutes until top is browned and cheese is taking on color. Let stand for five minutes before cutting.

Garnish with cilantro, avocado slices, and a sprinkle of chili powder over the entire plate.

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 6:35 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack
January 9, 2006
English Onion Soup

onion soup.jpg"You are going to blog this, aren't you?" asked the Critic after the third spoonful of soup. "Mm-hm." One minute later, "You really should blog this soup, you know." Okay, okay, I get the message.

We have been suffering, collectively, from a series of colds this winter. We had a slight respite around Christmas, but it came back again with the start of the new year. And so, walking to work on a cold wet morning, I mused about my favourite soups. Chicken and dumpling (more of a stew really). Leek and Stilton. French onion soup.

And then I had an epiphany. (Which was actually quite appropriate, being as it was the 6th of December and the Christian holiday of Epiphany.) What if I combined the Stilton AND the onion soup. Had anyone else come up with this clever idea? When I got home, I quickly googled "stilton soup onion". And I found that Anthony Worrell Thompson had made a creamy onion and Stilton soup. But according to the wonderful reference tool that is Google, I was the first to come up with a French Onion style soup with English Stilton Cheese. English Onion Soup.

Having started with the reaction of the Critic, you already know it worked. Of course the Critic's two favourite cheeses being a nice sharp cheddar and a ripe Stilton I had a pretty good chance of getting it past him. (The wonderful range of French cheeses available all around us are wasted on the poor man.) But I agreed: it was a great combination. As we have already demonstrated quite a few times, cheese and onions are fantastic together, the sweetness of the onions being balanced by the sharp cut of the cheese. And Stilton responds beautifully to being melted in a soup: it mellows and takes on a more earthy flavour at the same time.

Stilton also has a completely different effect on the structure of the soup. While gruyère gets satisfyingly stringy when it melts, it can often be difficult to cut through as it cools on the toast floating in the soup. Gruyère also remains largely separate from the liquid of the soup. Stilton, on the other hand, remains gentle and soft on the toast, easily cut through with a spoon. And it melts down into the soup, giving every bite - even after the toasted bread and cheese are gone - a lovely Stilton flavour. It really was an epiphany.

English Onion Soup (makes three medium bowls, or two large, takes about 40 minutes to make)

4 medium onions (I used Roscoff pink onions, which are fairly sweet even before cooking)
4-6 large shallots
2 small cloves of garlic
1 tsp dried tarragon
1 glass sweet sherry (Marsala wine would probably make a decent substitute)
600 ml / 2.5 cups turkey stock (or any meat stock, really, preferably home-made or at least low-salt)
6 small slices of whole-wheat bread
100-150 grams (about 3/4 cup) crumbled Stilton cheese (you could try substituting a mild blue cheese)
butter, salt

Special equipment: deep, oven-safe bowls

In a saucepan, melt a few tablespoons of butter. Slice the onions in thin half-rounds and the shallots in long strips. When the butter is frothing, add the onions and shallots and pressed garlic. Cook at a fairly high street until they are soft and browned and smell deliciously sweet. Add the tarragon and cook another minute or so. Add the sweet sherry or Marsala and let it bubble away merrily until the sweet smell is overpowering and the liquid is reduced by at least half. Add the stock and bring to a boil. Taste for salt and pepper. If you are a tarragon fan, you might want to add a little more: its sweet flavour goes very well with blue cheese and with caramelized onions.

Toast the bread lightly. (It works on the same principle as making stuffing: you want to remove the moisture from the bread so that it will absorb the flavourful liquid you are adding instead.) Carefully ladle soup into the bowls. Float a couple of pieces of toast in each bowl and top with a generous helping of crumbled Stilton. Slide under the grill on you oven at a high setting and leave it until the cheese is bubbling and the toast is starting to brown a bit.

Serve immediately. You'll probably burn your tongue on the soup as the smell wafts up to your nose. But it's worth it. Almost worth having a cold...

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 2:19 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack
We're Eating More Beets! (Thanks, USA Weekend)

USA Weekend, with a circulation of more than 23 million readers picked our humble site as one of their seven favorite food blogs. The other six are: The Food Section, Accidental Hedonist, Chocolate and Zucchini, Obsession with Food, Slice, and Orangette, all of which you can find in our "Other Chefs" list over there on the right side -->

Pretty heady company, if you ask me. So welcome, USA Weekend readers and please have a look around, especially at the archives. I think December was one of our best months, and well worth a perusal if you want to get the flavor of our site.

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 9:06 AM | Comments (4) | TrackBack
January 6, 2006
2005 Food Blog Awards - Vote Now!

The polls are open now over at the Accidental Hedonist for the 2005 Food Blog Awards. Kate has come up with a nifty little voting page, making it even easier for you to select your favourites in the food blogging world. We nominated Barbara of Tigers & Strawberries for her thought-provoking piece on eating meat and accepting the moral consequences, and we strongly encourage you to go vote for her. We are also nominated for the second time for the Best Group Blog. (Alas, that Best Photography award remains elusively beyond our grasp...) So if you'd like to show us you STILL really like us, please do hop over and give us a vote!

Our deepest thanks, as always, to Kate for organising this event so selflessly and competently. She deserves an award herself though she is modestly not included in the nominees!

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 6:24 AM | Comments (4) | TrackBack
January 5, 2006
Meatloaf is Not Pretty

Meatloaf is one of the ultimate comfort foods. And as such, it's not pretty. I took a dozen photos, but really I don't want to kill your appetite. It wouldn't convert vegetarians to meat-eating. And it wouldn't give the rest of you a reason to continue eating meat. Meatloaf is not pretty.

But it is pretty comforting. And it does taste lovely on a cold winter night. And after all the wine, rich Christmas pudding, shellfish, cream, turkey, stuffing and assorted chocolates it has a definite appeal. Meat, a few condiments, a little oatmeal and some nice fluffy mashed potatoes on the side. What's not to like?

Most families have their own recipe. But of course MY mom's is the best. After going through meatloaf-deprivation for some 20 years, I finally asked her for the recipe when she visited in December. I figured (rightly) that it would appeal to the boy and would make a nice transition step between baby food and steack frites. He had is first taste of Grandma's meatloaf tonight and gobbled it right up.

Grandma Liebezeit's Meatloaf

1 lb/450 grams ground beef
1 egg
1 heaping Tbs horseradish
1 cup/90 grams grated cheddar cheese
3 Tbs ketchup
3 Tbs yellow mustard
1 cup/85 grams oatmeal
salt, pepper
1 onion, grated
3-4 Tbs milk

Mix all the ingredients except the milk in a deep bowl. You can start out with a wooden spoon, but if you want to do it properly you'll want to wash your hands thoroughly and dig in and mix it with you hands. Mix in enough milk to make it ever so slightly moist, like thick cement. (Sorry, but it's the best metaphor I can come up with!) Form it in a thick loaf in the bottom of a roasting pan. Unless your meat is extremely lean, you shouldn't need any fat in the pan to keep it from sticking.

Bake at 180C/350F for 45 minutes or until cooked through. The meat will feel springy to the touch and the kitchen will smell meaty and comforting. Serve with heaps of fluffy buttery mashed potatoes and lashings of ketchup or A1 sauce as your fancy dictates.

And sit in front of the television with a tray on your knees while you eat it, feeling like you are 10 again and being spoiled by your mom.

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 1:54 PM | Comments (6) | TrackBack
January 4, 2006
Seafood Bisque

bisque.jpgAccording to my beloved Concise Larousse Gastronomique, a bisque is technically a soup which is made from the shell of a shellfish and garnished with some of its meat. While technically true (the Larousse is the bible of gastronomy after all) I prefer the Food Lover's Companion definition, which is much looser: a thick, rich soup usually consisting of pureed seafood (sometimes fowl or vegetables) and cream. Without the Food Lover's Companion I would have to admit I have always been too faint-hearted to make a true bisque with all the grinding and straining required. Some day I'll try it, but in the meantime we have work-day dinners to make and do not have a commercial quality kitchen. (Not to mention the kitchen minions I'd love to have at my beck and call, wiping spills, washing inconvenient kitchen equipment and chopping onions...sigh...)

So this is a modern-day version of a bisque. I usually have little patience with recipes that call for exotic fresh ingredients but I throw myself on the mercy of the court in this instance: as a starter for our New Year's Eve dinner I bought far too much shellfish for a seafood platter and so had it on hand on Monday the 2nd. I am not usually so extravagant, and I certainly wasn't going to let the uneaten shellfish go to waste.

Seafood Bisque (serves two as a main course, or four as a starter)

8-10 cooked crab legs (about 120 grams of crab meat extracted from them)
3 praires (after 13 years living in France and quite a bit of web research I still do not have a definitive translation for these clams - I think they may be carpet shell clams)
6 oysters, fines de claire in this instance
6-8 cooked shrimp
1/2 glass cream sherry, plus a bit more
2 glasses sparkling wine
100 ml/ 1/2 cup crème fraîche
1 Tbs flour
1 tsp sweet paprika
1 Tbs olive oil
squeeze of lemon juice (optional)

Shell the shrimp and throw the heads, tails and shells in a medium saucepan. Extract the meat from the crab legs and set the meat aside with the shrimp. Add the shells to the same pan as the shrimp shells. Drizzle the olive oil over them and turn on the heat medium-high under the pan. As it starts sizzling, toss the crab and shrimp shells and cook for several minutes until the kitchen starts to smell deliciously of shellfish. Add the glass of sherry and toss until it is reduced by half. Add the sparkling wine and turn down the heat. Add water to cover, until you have about a liter and a half of liquid. Leave to cook at a point just above a simmer but just below a boil.

Turn to the shellfish. This is where you must be hard-hearted. I don't like killing spiders or insects. And I don't like killing shellfish but I steel myself for it when good food is involved. (This is especially true with the sudden attack of conscience hits me well after the live shellfish has been bought and in the full knowledge that we are a few hundred miles from the nearest source of natural saltwater and so they are destined to die soon regardless of what I do.) Still, doesn't this little praire look disturbingly cute as he sticks out his tongue to taste the countertop?

If you are going to cook your shellfish, and especially if it has been sitting on the terrace in suddenly warm-for-January-weather for a few days, the best thing you can do with it is steam it. Steaming shellfish means they are easy to open, and in fact open when you cook them. It also means you have a quality control: if they open when you leave them alone, close when you tap them and then re-open after steaming you know they were alive when they went into the pot. And so they should be safe to eat. Oysters don't tend to open as easily, but the praires only took a few moment to gingerly poke their tongues out of the shell. I put them in the steamer, got the water boiling and then popped them in and covered them. After four mintues most were open, but I left it a further four minutes just in case. In the end only one oyster did not open and so was tossed.

Remove the meat from the open shellfish (and of course discard those that do not open) and chop roughly. By now you will have a decent stock in the pan with the shells. Strain the liquid into a new sauce pan. Mix the crème fraîche with the flour and stir into the stock. Add the chopped shrimp, crab and shellfish and heat until almost but not quite boiling. When the soup has thickened slightly and is heated through, add the paprika and taste for seasonings. You probably won't need salt but might want more paprika or even a pinch of the hot paprika. Give it a squeeze of lemon juice if you think the flavors need lifting a bit. Just before serving, stir a dollop of sherry into each bowl to add to the richness.

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 2:19 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack
January 2, 2006
Chicken in Champagne and Tarragon Cream

On Friday the Critic, his daughter and I started discussing what to have for New Year's Eve dinner. My stepdaughter Marianne wanted to do a raclette but the Critic vetoed it on the grounds that we had made one a few weeks ago when my mother was visiting. I was secretly relieved because although we usually joke that it's a meal where the guests have to do the cooking themselves, there is actually a fair amount of work in the preparation and the clean-up. The Critic wanted a goulash, because that's his favorite dish that I make. Marianne and I vetoed that on the grounds that it wasn't festive enough (me) and sounded weird (her). I suggested a nice big traditional - for Paris - seafood platter. But we couldn't think of a single item on it Marianne would be willing to eat. We had fun teasing her about the sea snails, though. (Ewwwww...)

And so that evening I pulled out the Silver Palate Good Times Cookbook, looking for inspiration. And I found it, fittingly enough, in the chapter on New Year's Eve: Chicken Breasts in Champagne.

This recipe was perfect on several levels. Chicken breasts are something that both the Critic and his daughter will eat every day of the week. Cream and champagne would make it rich and also make it a special dish, on the day before we all make resolutions to stop drinking too much and eating too much rich food. And, lastly, the recipe was actually very similar to a dish the Critic made me on one of our first dates, some nine years ago. Saturday was our sixth wedding anniversary, so it seemed delightfully appropriate to make something that would remind us of that evening so many years ago when it was all just beginning.

Although I found the inspiration in the Good Times Cookbook, as usual I ended up making a few essential changes in it. I'm not sure at what point you can say that a recipe has changed from being "theirs" to being "mine". We'll have to call it "ours" and let the lawyers sort it out when I sell my recipes for a few thousand dollars and a house in the south of France...

Chicken Breasts in Champagne and Tarragon Cream

4 whole, boned and skinless chicken breasts
5 Tbs unsalted butter
2 small onions, sliced in thin half-rounds
1 clove of garlic, finely chopped
1 Tbs flour
2 tsp dried tarragon
15-20 white grapes, seeded
1/3 bottle (roughly) champagne or sparkling wine (I used sparkling Vouvray)
1/2 cup (roughly 50 ml) heavy cream
salt and pepper to taste

Melt the butter in the bottom of a large thick-bottomed frying pan. When it begins to froth, toss in the onion and garlic and cook until they are soft and maybe even a little browned on the edges. Remove them from the pan, leaving as much as possible of the butter in the pan. If necessary, add a little more butter to coat the bottom of the pan.

Add the chicken breasts and turn up the heat a bit so that they will brown quickly. Brown well on both sides, even if it means the butter starts to turn a bit brown. Don't let it burn, but a bit of browning on the bottom of the pan will make the sauce even more flavorful. Once the breasts are browned on both sides, toss the onion and garlic mixture with the flour and then add them to the pan. Pour in the wine and sprinkle the tarragon over the whole. Stir for a few minutes, scraping up the browned bits on the bottom of the pan. Halve the grapes (and seed them if necessary) and add them to the pan. Cover and let simmer for 45 minutes.

Just before serving, stir the sauce again and add the cream. Here in France, I find the cream does not separate easily, but if you are concerned you can add a little of the hot chicken sauce to the cream and then pour that mixture into the hot pan. Taste for seasoning: be generous with both the salt and the pepper.

This was delicious served over a bed of wild rice mixed with long grain rice. The sweet grapes and cream are silky in your mouth and the chicken nearly melts into them with tenderness. Although I could see that my stepdaughter was very dubious when she heard it was made with wine, she devoured her portion, wild rice and all. If there had been seconds I know she would have been an enthusiastic taker. It was a lovely rich and comforting dish to end the year. And mercifully for the cook and chief scullery maid, it was simple to make and to clean up afterwards.

So for those of you who have a half bottle of bubbly lingering after your New Year's celebrations (surely someone buys those special champagne corks they sell in airline magazines?) this is a great way to use it up without breaking your resolution to go easy on the alcohol. Or what the heck, why not just open up a brand new bottle and serve the remainder with dinner?

To quote one of my favorite films of all time, "Life is a banquet and most poor suckers are starving to death!"

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 3:01 PM | Comments (7) | TrackBack
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