Happiness is a Stuffed Squash

28 11 2010

I think it’s contagious.  Pumpkin mania, that is.  To be more specific, stuffed pumpkin mania.  Doubtless fueled by a recent spot on NPR’s All Things Considered, Dorie Greenspan’s stuffed pumpkin recipe has been making the blog rounds, and everyone’s raving about it.  Now I know why.

stuffed squashes and salad

I got a few cute little winter squashes called courge pomme d’or, or golden apple squash, in my CSA share a couple of weeks ago, and I decided it was finally time to see what all the fuss was about.  These particular squashes being pretty much impossible to cut or peel when they’re raw, I baked them in a covered dish with a little water for about 45 minutes before I even tried to cut off their hats.

mise-en-place for stuffed squashes

When that succeeded, I scooped out the rather stringy flesh, separated it from the seeds, which I should have saved for roasting but didn’t, and mixed it with all manner of good things.  Cubes of day-old baguette, a few spoonfuls of crème fraîche, some chopped garlic, diced Beaufort cheese, salt, pepper, and nutmeg combined to create a smell so good I wanted to just eat it by the spoonful.  I had thought about putting some sausage in there, but I forgot, and as it turns out, I think it may have tasted better without the meat getting in the way of the flavor of the squash and cheese.

before the second bake

I piled the filling into the hollowed-out squashes, and put them back in the oven to warm through and hopefully get a little toasty on top.  Almost like a twice-baked potato, only with squash, so there’s less guilt (somehow healthy, colorful vegetables make me forget how much cream and cheese I’ve put in something).  Just looking at them now makes me want to eat them again, right this minute.

after the bake

Really, what’s not to love about this technique?  (I say technique because it’s less of a recipe than an idea, which is just fine with me.)  Take a squash, hollow it out, fill it with things you like, bake, and eat.  Nothing could be simpler, and there are few things more fun to eat than something stuffed inside something else.  I hope to get many, many more winter squashes in my CSA in the coming months, because I would be happy to eat this once a week, all winter long.

On this day in 2009: Talking (Leftover) Turkey

Originally published on Croque-Camille.





Hot and Cold… and Caramel

22 11 2010

A few weeks ago, Jenni of Pastry Methods and Techniques posed an interesting challenge.  She wanted to play with hot and cold, temperatures and flavors.  I love this sort of game.  Let’s see, cold custard… crème caramel is one of the easiest and tastiest ones I know.  Now how can we warm it up?  This being Fall, warm spices like cinnamon and ginger immediately spring to mind.  (I considered star anise, but upon sticking my nose in the jar, I decided that anise/licorice is a distinctly cool flavor.)  So we have a warm-tasting cold thing, how about a cool-tasting warm thing to go with it?  I think pears are on the cool end of the flavor spectrum, so to speak, but if we cooked them with butter and sugar until they were caramelized and a little sticky?  Then they would be hot, and awesome on top of a creamy dessert.

An autumnal caramel palette

And are they ever!  The spiced crème caramel has an almost pumpkin pie-like flavor, the caramel makes it decadent, and the pears keep it from going overboard.  Personally, I think these would make a great Thanksgiving dessert, as long as you don’t have any die-hard traditionalists at your table.  And maybe even if you do – it’s good enough to change some minds.

I’m very interested to see what other people have come up with in response to Jenni’s challenge, so it’s fortunate that she’ll be posting a roundup of hot-and-cold inspired desserts on December 1st.  Which means you still have time to play along, if you’re so inclined.

Spiced Crème Caramel with Hot Caramel Pears

Warm spices, cold, creamy custard, hot pears and a double dose of caramel make this darn near my ideal Fall dessert. It would be right at home at the end of an elegant holiday meal. As a bonus, it’s completely do-ahead: the custard needs time to chill, and the pears can be reheated in a snap.

For the Crème Caramel:

9 oz. / 265 ml milk (whole is best, 2% is ok, but please not skim)
3 oz. / 89 ml cream
3 Tbsp. Brown sugar
2 Tbsp. Sugar
1 stick cinnamon
2 whole cloves
A few flakes of whole mace, if you can get it, or a few grates of fresh nutmeg
1 piece of crystallized ginger, sliced
A pinch of salt (I used vanilla salt, which is salt with a vanilla bean scraped into it)
3 eggs
½ cup sugar, or thereabouts, plus some water.

  1. Preheat the oven to 330 F / 165 C.
  2. Combine the milk, cream, sugar, spices, and salt in a medium saucepan. Bring up to a boil, remove from heat, cover, and let steep 15-30 minutes.
  3. Meanwhile, put the sugar in a small pan and add just enough water to moisten it. Place over medium-high heat and cook without stirring until it begins to brown. Swirl it gently until it is a deep amber color (or even darker – I like mine when it just starts to smoke). Quickly pour a thin layer of caramel into the bottom of five ramekins. Set aside.
  4. Strain the spiced milk into a blending-appropriate container, add the eggs, and blend until smooth. Pour this custard into the prepared ramekins.
  5. Place the ramekins into a large oven-proof dish. Put the dish in the oven, then fill it with hot tap water until the water level is about halfway up the sides of the ramekins. Bake until the custard is just set (it should wobble a bit in the middle when jostled), about 30-35 minutes. Cool completely. These can be made up to four days in advance, but keep them covered and chilled.

For the pears:

3 ripe Bosc pears, peeled, halved, and cored
2 Tbsp. / 30 g unsalted butter
½ cup / 100 g sugar

  1. Melt the butter in a medium nonstick skillet. Add the sugar and cook until the sugar starts to melt.  Place the pear halves in the sauce and cook over medium-low heat, turning occasionally, until evenly caramelized. Serve immediately or chill and reheat.

For the dessert:

To unmold the chilled custards, run a thin-bladed knife around the edge. Invert the ramekin onto a plate and shake a bit to loosen. It should come out in a splash of caramel sauce. Top the custards with a warm pear half and a little extra caramel sauce from the pears.

Makes 5 desserts, plus one extra pear half.





Around Paris: 9th: Rose Bakery

18 11 2010

They’re lucky the food’s good.

Rose Bakery, Paris 9th

I’m not sure what I was expecting, exactly, when I went to Rose Bakery for brunch a few Sundays ago.  Other than visions of sticky toffee puddings and Neal’s Yard cheeses, neither of which featured on the brunch menu, I guess I thought it would be an English tea room of the cozy, quaint sort.  I was wrong.

The front of the shop features a bakery case, a small refrigerated case with cheeses (no Stichelton, though, sniff) and English beers, a few English pantry items, and crates of organic vegetables piled up around the perimeter.  There’s a rather disorganized line of people, some waiting to make purchases, some paying for their meals, and some (like us) waiting for a table.  Fortunately, as a party of two, Nick and I didn’t have to wait long.

We were seated in the back dining room, a room whose decor left me puzzled.  Concrete floors, a bright orange Smeg refrigerator, flourescent lights hanging vertically on the walls… it was certainly more post-modern/poor man’s Dan Flavin than I had imagined.  The menu was equally minimal.  Bacon and eggs, salmon and eggs, savory tart of the day, coffee, tea.  And on the expensive side.  I have a hard time justifying paying 15 euros for simple, easy-for-me-to-make-at-home breakfast dishes like these, or 4.50 for a cup of tea, even if it is really good tea.  Nick and I both ended up ordering the cheese scone with scrambled eggs and braised endives, because they were out of the savory tart, and I wanted something I couldn’t whip up myself in five minutes.  Nick also ordered a coffee, and I splurged on a tea.

Coffee at Rose Bakery

The coffee was served in a homey-yet-modern ceramic mug, and came with a cute little shortbread cookie.  I eyed it hungrily and a bit jealously, as my tea had yet to arrive.  Nick said that the coffee was good.

Read the rest of this entry »





Worthwhile French Beers: La Caussenarde

14 11 2010

La Caussenarde Blonde, Brune, and Ambrée

Several weeks ago, I joined my friends Ann and Chris at the Aveyron fair in Paris. Right off the bat we stuffed ourselves with local specialties like aligot and farçou, and then decided to walk it off by exploring the rest of the fair.  We sound some excellent cheeses and sweet breads (not sweetbreads), and suddenly, as we were strolling along, I stopped and cried out, “beer!”  You see, among the other gustatory delights, there was a stand selling craft beers made in Aveyron, by a brewery called La Caussenarde.  So I bought one of each of their offerings: the blonde, the ambrée, and the brune.

Finally, Nick and I got around to tasting them last weekend.  Beer drinking becomes less of a leisure activity when there’s documentation involved.  But last Sunday we decided to sit down and taste these three, and it was much less of a chore than it initially seemed.

The Blonde poured out hazy, as much due to its nature as an unfiltered beer as to carelessness in pouring.  The beer was very fizzy, with a thin, quickly dissipating head.  Color-wise, it was darker than most blondes, edging into honey tones.  I was immediately taken by the fruity, floral hop aromas, reminiscent of honeysuckle and clover.  These flavors came through on the palate as well, with a sweetish, almost honey-like body, followed by a nice dry finish.  Sounding surprised, Nick declared, “Actually, I really like it.”

Moving on to the Ambrée, it too was really fizzy – almost the way a soda pop is.  This beer was unfiltered as well, but since it was poured more carefully, our glasses remained clear enough to show the lovely true amber color of the liquid.  It had a warm spicy smell, almost like French pain d’épices, with ginger, nutmeg, and anise notes prevailing.  Again, it tasted like it smelled, with a clean finish.

Finally, the Brune.  It poured out a pretty, clear brown color and with the effervescence now characteristic of La Caussenarde.  The nose had surprising sour notes mingling with the otherwise sweet and roasty aromas.  Like the Ambrée, this one had warm spices too, but different ones: cinnamon and clove were in the forefront here.  On the palate, there were few surprises, an unusual sourness balanced with plenty of sweet roasted malt flavors and gentle spices.

All of these beers tasted well-balanced and carefully crafted.  I would absolutely buy all three of them again, but if I had to pick a favorite, it’s probably the Blonde.  They do have more fun after all, right?

Originally published on Croque-Camille.





Céleri Rémoulade

11 11 2010

I really don’t know why I haven’t made this before.

close up

Céleri rémoulade, a classic of French cuisine, is absolutely delicious.  And it even improves in flavor, if not looks, over time.  (You see, celeriac, also known as celery root, has a tendency to brown when it is exposed to air.  You can minimize the effect by having the rémoulade dressing ready to go when you grate the celeriac, but after a few days in the fridge, chemistry wins.)

capers, mayonnaise, mustard, shallot, parsley

It’s also one of the easiest things I’ve ever made.  I’ve never made it before, yet I dove right in, without even consulting a recipe. Remoulade is a mayonnaise-based sauce not unlike tartar sauce, which I do off-the-cuff anyway.  So I winged it.  Two or three heaping soup spoons of mayonnaise (I used store-bought, but I’m sure it would be even better with homemade), two coffee spoons of capers, chopped, a minced shallot, two heaping coffee spoons of grainy mustard, the leaves of about six stems of parsley, chopped, and several twists of black pepper from the mill.  (You’ll notice I used curly parsley, but that’s only because I couldn’t find any flat-leaf at the store.)  And that’s it for the dressing.  Mix it all together, taste it, and then get going on the celery root.

Scrub and peel the celeriac, cut it into pieces that are manageable for your grater, and grate away.  If I had my Cuisinart, you can be sure I’d use it to make fast work of the grating.  Then simply mix the shredded celery root into the remoulade.  It should be mostly vegetable – the dressing is just that: dressing.  It shouldn’t be gloppy at all.  In fact, when I was mixing it I wondered if maybe I should add more mayonnaise, but in the end I’m glad I didn’t.

And there you have it!  A classic French appetizer salad.  It’s certainly going to be a staple in my winter cooking repertoire, giving me just one more reason to look forward to this tasty root vegetable showing up in my CSA share.

On this day in 2008: Worthwhile French Beers: Les 3 Brasseurs

Originally published on Croque-Camille.





Around Paris: 20th: Le Bistrot des Soupirs

6 11 2010

Sigh.

I want to make it perfectly clear that this is not a sigh of resignation.  Nor is it a sigh of fatigue, or one of exasperation.  No, this is a blissed-out sigh.  A sigh of contentment.  A slightly sleepy sigh, of the sort that only comes after one has dined very well.

Le Bistrot des Soupirs has been on my to-try list for at least six months, but tucked away on a quiet street near Place Gambetta, it hasn’t exactly been at the forefront of my mental restaurant guide.

Le BIstrot des Soupirs

But from now on, it will be.

Read the rest of this entry »





Big Beans and Bitter Greens

4 11 2010

It was a while ago, at some salon or other, that Nick and I first made the acquaintance of the haricot de Soissons.  They immediately earned themselves a nickname: the Big Beans.

haricots de Soissons

I think you can see why.  The beans are grown in the Aisne valley (a name you may recognize from this beer post), located northwest of Reims and Northeast of Paris.  It’s in the Picardie region, which isn’t necessarily known for its food, but these beans are notable for more than just their size – they’re also creamy-textured and incredibly flavorful.

So why am I writing about them now?  Well, a few weeks ago I got some escarole in my CSA bag.  The same week, Andrea from Cooking Books featured a recipe for a delightful fall stew with beans, greens, and sausage.  She didn’t use it, but the original recipe called for escarole, and I had some!  I figured it would be a good time to use the Big Beans, so I soaked them for a day and a half in salted water.  All of you who are gasping in horror at the thought of adding salt to beans before they’re cooked should really go read this post at Nose to Tail at Home.  (Thanks for the tip, Ryan!)  Then I simmered them in more salted water until they were tender, about 45 minutes or so.

And then, I was ready to make stew.  I didn’t have Italian sausage, and wouldn’t even know where to look for it in Paris, but I did have some ground pork.  Which I cooked, seasoning it as though it were going to be sausage with red pepper flakes, fresh thyme and rosemary, and of course, plenty of salt.  (If I’d had fennel seeds I totally would have used them, but it happens to be a gap in my otherwise fairly comprehensive spice collection.)  From there, I just made stew: I added some onions, some broth, tomatoes, and the Big Beans.  I let it all simmer for a bit while I cleaned and tore up some escarole, and then I stirred that in until it wilted.

beans & greens

We ate it for lunch on a cold, rainy Sunday afternoon, and it was just the ticket.  Filling and warming and nap-inspiring.  We had quite a bit left over, which Nick took to work and ate for lunch a few more times during the week.  If that’s not a compliment to the chef, I don’t know what is.

Yesterday, in 2009: How to Make a Cream Soup (It may be cheating a little from the “This day in history” standpoint, but I think it’s an important post, so I’m putting it up anyway.)

Originally published on Croque-Camille.








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