November 29, 2007
Oulipo Cooking

(Go ahead, look up the word in the title. Or just click here.)

There's a great article in the Indian Economic Times this week by Vikram Doctor about how dietary restrictions lead to innovative cooking and great food. The author invokes Kosher, Jain, and other religious based restrictions on food preparation and consumption that lead to innovative and creative dishes.

I've often remarked that I didn't really learn how to cook until I went vegetarian. Set up some restrictive parameters for your own cooking for a month and see what it forces you to try.

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 7:23 AM | Comments (5)
November 22, 2007
Thank your lucky stars...

Well, it's probably too late to point you all in the direction of our many delicious recipes that could grace your Thanksgiving tables. By now, you have no doubt made your choices, peeled your spuds and basted your birds and are enjoying a well deserved feast. As usual, we will be celebrating Thanksgiving on Saturday here in Paris. Although the Critic and I have the leisure to celebrate on a week day, our guests are not so fortunate and so we are waiting for the weekend. In the meantime, here is a list of things that make me thankful in no particular order, some food related and some not:

1) Kids. They drive us crazy, they make us work all God's hours, they will never appreciate the sacrifices we make (I didn't ASK to be born, I can hear them saying in a decade) but they have made our lives full, more exciting and happier. We are so happy that Barrett and the Redhead are starting down this path too and know that they will make great parents. Not that their children will be thankful. Ungrateful brats...

2) Health. We take it for granted, but it's a wonderful gift to have and one that you appreciate most when it's missing.

3) Prosperity. We may not have jobs at the moment, but we have money in the bank, a lovely home, food on the table and the technology allowing us to be a part of the Internet community. This puts us easily in the top 5% of the population of the world.

4) Food, glorious food...

5) You. Although I'd like to be noble and say that I'd be writing about all of this regardless of whether anyone out there was reading it...it would be a lie. We love the interaction, the comments, the attention. One of the best aspects of blogging is the communcation it involves: so come and comment some more. We love to hear from you!

Our dinner guests can be thankful that on Saturday they will not be eating this. The Critic picked it up for me from an American shop when I asked him to get supplies for the big day. Do you think it was a hint?

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 3:07 PM | Comments (3)
November 20, 2007
Cranberry Pancakes

I meant to take pictures this weekend, but no, there's no picture here. Why? Well, let's just say that I'm not exactly fully functional in the morning when I first wake up. It's kind of frightening that I allow myself to play with fire and cook breakfast. If local safety laws were to be strictly followed, I'd probably be banned from cooking before taking a hot shower and having a couple cups of coffee. Operate a camera in that pre-shower, pre-caffeine state? No way.

Maybe I'll add a picture later this week if I make these pancakes again when I'm more awake.

But nonetheless, I've been making cranberry pancakes the last few weekends for my lovely (and now picky) pregnant wife who loves them. I'm pretty fond of them, too. The berries cut the sweetness of the batter nicely in a way that blueberries don't It's a shame we don't use cranberries more frequently, but this week - Thanksgiving week - seems like a good one to share the recipe.

There are two keys to this recipe - first, make sure you have good fresh cranberries, light and hollow, well rinsed. Second, make sure you sugar them up before putting them into the pancakes. The sugar cushions the tartness of the berries and I think helps break them down a little as they cook.

If you don't like the basic pancake recipe here, you can use any pancake recipe you like as the base. Buttermilk or buckwheat would be especially good.

Cranberry Pancakes
Pancake batter:
Dry:
2 cups All-Purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1 big pinch kosher salt (1/2 teaspoon, maybe)
Wet:
2 eggs
1 3/4 cups skim milk
2 tablespoons butter, melted.

2 cups cranberries, stems picked off
1 tablespoon sugar

Additional butter for the pan

Put an oven-safe plate into a 200 F oven.

Wash your cranberries, but do not dry them too much. Mix with 1 tablespoon sugar to get the sugar to stick to the moist berries.

Mix the dry ingredients together in a bowl. In a smaller bowl, mix the wet ingredients together. (Here's a tip - To prevent the eggs from cooking from the hot butter, add the melted butter to the milk, then add the eggs.) Mix the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients, taking care not to stir too much.

Melt a little butter into the skillet over a medium-high flame. Once the butter is melted, take a 1/3 cup measure of batter and pour it into the skillet, pouring always into the center of the blob on the skillet. Repeat 2 or three times, leaving space between blobs.

After about twenty seconds, put about 5-10 cranberries into each pool. Let the pancakes cook until you see bubbles come up in the middle of the cake. Check the edges of each cake carefully by lifting them with a spatula. When the underside looks golden brown, flip the pancakes over and cook until the other side is also golden brown.

Remove the pancakes to the plate in the oven to keep warm until you are done. Repeat until you work through all the batter and cranberries.

Serve with warmed maple syrup. Butter is optional and probably not necessary with this recipe, but hey, they're your arteries!

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 7:45 AM | Comments (3)
November 15, 2007
While the Critic's Away: Cauliflower Gratin

cauligratin.jpg

Okay, I haven't been experimenting in the kitchen so much as, well, surviving. That's what you do when you suddenly have two kids under three, no family nearby and a missing dad. The Toddler has had his usual diet of cucumber slices, cheese, pasta, carrots, apples and bananas supplemented by beans on toast and Domino's pizza. And I've gone nearly vegetarian. My usual comfort food when I'm only cooking for myself is a plate of spaghetti which has been drenched in egg and topped with sauteed garlic and mushrooms and grated parmesan. I cook it in the frying pan I used to sautee the garlic and mushrooms and then flash it under the grill for a few mintutes to cook the top. It's very satisfying. I have also made a large vegetable Thai yellow curry, using a commercial (Blue Elephant) curry paste. It was tasty but didn't involve much creative thought on my part; I just threw all the vegetables in my bin into the pan. And then there is the cauliflower, pictured above. I know Barrett and I have posted about cauliflower gratin elsewhere. But this time, I really do feel I got it exactly right. I ate three quarters of a head for dinner at the first sitting and finished the rest the next day at lunch. I'm even thinking of adding it to the Thanksgiving menu and trying to convince the Critic to try it. It was that good.

Not that you can tell from the photo, sigh.

I think the reason many people dislike brassicas like cauliflower is the smell. There's something old-lady-ish and, well, stinky, about it. But the strong flavour goes sublimely with cream and cheese. Add the smokiness of a little country ham and you are set for a delicious, satisfying feast.

Cauliflower Gratin (serves one hungry abandoned mother over two meals - or four as a side dish)

1 large head of cauliflower
1 1/2 cups milk (350 ml)
200 grams of a flavourful cheese, divided (I used Beaufort, but you could substitute a strong flavoured gruyère)
1 heaping teaspoon of mustard
2 heaping tablespoons of flour
60 grams butter, plus a little for buttering the gratin dish
salt and pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 190C/375F. Cut the cauliflower in large florets and boil them for six minutes in salted water. While it is cooking, butter a gratin dish that is large enough to lay out the florets in a single, snug layer. Melt the remaining butter in a small sauce pan. When it starts to froth (but before it browns) add the flour and stir briskly. Slowly add the milk, a few teaspoons at a time initially, and gradually increasing in amount, stirring briskly all the while to avoid lumps. Once you have incorporated all the milk, grate the cheese. Gradually add the cheese until you have mixed in all but a handful. Taste for salt and pepper.

Lay out the cauliflower florets in the gratin dish. Spoon the cheese sauce over the florets. Sprinkle the remaining cheese over the florets and place it in the oven for 15-20 minutes. If you are in a hurry, you can switch to "grill" on the oven to brown the top. (Just don't forget about it while you are writing emails, because it won't be as pretty in a photo as you had hoped...)

This method of cooking the caulflower - boiling it and then baking it - ensures that it remains nice and moist and just tenderly done. The sauce is so delicious, you'll be scooting the bits of cauliflower around the bottom of your plate, trying to pick up more. In fact, you might want a nice crusty baguette to wipe your plate if you can find one!

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 10:26 AM | Comments (10)
November 8, 2007
Women Can't Cook?

Hey, hey, hey! - it's not ME saying it, it's agent provocateur Sam Holden at the Daily Mail.

Personally, I think he's a plant, sent by women like my wife who can cook perfectly delicious meals, but who prefer to con their husbands into cooking with protestations of "Oh, but you cook so much better than I do." That's right, I'm on to you, Red.

I guess I get my revenge by pretending I can't use a vacuum cleaner...

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 1:50 PM | Comments (6)
November 4, 2007
Fried green tomatoes anyone?

greentoms.jpg

The Critic is off to Fontainebleau for two weeks, abandoning me with the monsters. So I have a free hand to experiment in the kitchen with abandon. Anyone have any good green tomato recipes??

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 8:40 AM | Comments (4)
November 2, 2007
Sage Advice

sage.jpgOver the years, my garden has had its ups and downs. It has never come close to the glorious fruit and vegetable producing garden of Eden that I plan each spring. Either I start well and then procrastinate planting out, or I start too late. In the past seven years that I have been attempting to create an inner-city vegetable patch, this year was the first year that we didn't leave on holiday in the month of August, leaving the garden to the mercy of inattentive cat-sitters who never remember to water. On the rare years that I have managed to plant seeds on time and plant out early, the August drought has managed to kill all but the most hardy plants.

This year, I thought it was going to be different. (Of course!) I planted seeds in March and got the seedlings out on the terrace by the end of May. For once, we were taking our summer holidays in June - a month that usually has plenty of rain and isn't too hot in Paris. My plants would survive perfectly well without care for a few weeks and I would be home in the hot month of August to do the watering myself. The first part of the plan went well: June was wet and cool. Unfortunately, so was July. Oh yeah, and August too. By the time it started to dry out in September, my tomato plants were just starting to flower. The eggplant and zucchini had already given up by then. So it was another disappointing year at the Paris vegetable patch.

But there were a few plants that valiantly thrived despite the cold, wet summer: my herbs. Rosemary, sage and basil all flourised. Even the coriander, which I traditioinal am truly awful at keeping alive more than a week, survived for several weeks, died and then had a phoenix-like resurrection.

But sage was the star of the show. If you are interested in balcony gardening, I have to say that it's my biggest and best recommendation. It's very easy to raise from seed, has beautiful dusty green leaves, is delicious in so many wonderful dishes and - if you have mild winters as we tend to do - will even survive the winter. I even managed to keep one alive in a pot in the kitchen once for two years.

As a result, I use a lot of fresh sage in my cooking.

And here is another: sage, ham, turkey and wine in a somewhat authentic saltimbocca.

The "real" saltimbocca, is of course, made with veal. But as I have mentioned before, turkey works pretty well as a substitute for veal. The critic loves turkey and it certainly is cheaper than veal, not to mention more acceptable to those who are fussed about eating "baby cows". And it is absolutely delicious and so easy to prepare it's almost embarrassing. Serve it with a big helping of pasta tossed with butter, salt and Parmesan. The pasta will pick up the juices from the meat and not a delicious drop will go to waste.

Turkey Saltimbocca (serves 2-3)

2-3 turkey breast cutlets
4-6 slices of prociutto or Parma ham
4-6 fresh sage leaves (you can substitute dried, sprinkling a half a teaspoon per cutlet)
2 Tbs olive oil
2 Tbs butter
1 clove of garlic, crushed with a knife or a mallet
1 glass dry white wine

Place two sage leaves on each cutlet and wrap the cutlets with two slices of ham. Melt the butter in a large frying pan and add the butter and oil. Add the garlic and cook for a moment or two, until the clove just starts to color. Turn it over and add the cutlets. Turn up the heat slightly and cook quickly: four minutes on the first side and then two minutes after you turn them over. Remove the cutlets to a warm oven and cover them. Add the wine to the pan and cook over a high heat, scraping up any bits of meat that may have stuck to the bottom of the pan. Taste for salt and pepper; it probably won't need salt but might be improved by a pinch of pepper. If any juices have collected in the plate, add it to the sauce. Serve with a generous plate of pasta and drizzle the sauce, carefully dividing it among the cutlets.

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 5:48 AM | Comments (0)
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