C’est Moi Le Chef!

5 08 2009

Or is it la Cheffe?  No, chef is one of those sexist French words that has no feminine form.  At any rate, the chef is on vacation this month and he left me in charge.  In addition to my usual pastry and chocolate production duties, I am now responsible for planning and overseeing what gets done each day, defrosting the freezers at the appropriate time, and all of the ordering… which has yet to go entirely smoothly. 

Following a very difficult conversation yesterday with the secretary of the produce company, I consider it a triumph that the only thing wrong with this morning’s order was that the grapes were green instead of purple.  (I was informed by a colleague after getting off the phone that their secretary is notoriously terrible – I’m glad it’s not just me and my French skills, or lack thereof.)  Today I was anxiously awaiting the call from another purveyor.  I had the order prepared as soon as I finished the morning pastries, but by the time I had finished for the day and was ready to go home, they still hadn’t called.  I eventually had to track down their number and wait on hold for what felt like hours, although it was probably more like ten minutes.  At least once I got through the lady on the other end of the line seemed to understand what I was saying.  I feel pretty confident that tomorrow morning the right quantities of the correct items will be waiting for me.

Being in charge, so far, is great.  I get to choose the music; my lunch “hour” has been reduced to 30 minutes, because I like going home early; and I don’t have to wonder what’s on today’s prep list.  It’s also much more tiring than I expected.  Upon arriving home yesterday I fell straight asleep – something I very rarely do.  Today, though, I got home and wanted to cook.  I finally made the tzatziki I’ve been promising myself for weeks, using the now-sad-looking cucumber that I got a couple of CSA paniers ago.  It is waiting patiently in the fridge, the flavors slowly melding, for the apérothat usually accompanies Nick’s return home.  But I’m not done.  Hopie has gone and written about butterscotch pudding, so now I have to make it.  Unless I decide to make chocolate pudding.  Or both.  In a pie crust.  That’s probably not going to happen.  Today.  If there are any leftovers this weekend, though…

Originally published on Croque-Camille.





Magical Transformations

16 01 2009

One of the things I love most about cooking is the seemingly magical way food can be transformed.  Take an onion, for example.  Cut open a raw one and your eyes begin to water.  Taking a bite will confirm its pungency and leave you with the breath to prove it.  But take that same onion, slice it, and cook it slowly in a fair amount of fat with a pinch of salt, and you end up with something entirely different.

Yep, another photo of caramelized onions

(Do you sense my never ending fascination with caramelized onions?)

A whole potimarron

Likewise, something as sturdy as a winter squash can be diced and roasted to produce sweet, yielding bites; puréed and made into soup, main dish, side, or even dessert – the only limit is your imagination.

Diced potimarron, ready for the oven

And don’t even get me started on cheese…

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Spaghetti and Fried Eggs

10 11 2008

Sounds weird, I know.  I’ve had this recipe filed away in my mental recipe box for months now.  Every time I brought it up in the past, Nick would give me this look and say “So it’s just pasta?  With a fried egg?” in such a way that eventually discouraged me from pursuing it.

Frying eggs

So I was very surprised one day last week, when, while assessing the contents of our still-not-fully-operational fridge, Nick asked me, “didn’t you have some pasta-fried egg thing you wanted to try?”  Seizing on what was surely a rare opportunity, I agreed to make it the next night for dinner with the caveat that I add something to liven it up a bit.

A trip through the produce section of the supermarket the next day proved somewhat fruitless.  I had hoped to find some mustard greens, dandelions (I have yet to try them but am quite curious), or even arugula or spinach, but they were sorely lacking in the fresh greens department.  (Spaghetti with fried eggs and lettuce doesn’t sound the slightest bit appealing, does it?)  As I meandered through the aisles, searching for inspiration, I came to the realization that I had everything I needed for a great pasta dish at home.  Contemplating the pasta and fried egg concept, I recalled that I had seen it referred to as “poor man’s carbonara.”  Further reflection dragged up some memory of peas in carbonara dishes.  Well, I have a bag of frozen peas that need to be used… but what else can I put in there to make it more seasonally appropriate?  A quick mental scan of my pantry revealed some fresh rosemary and a jar of dried porcini mushrooms.  Now we’re talking!

A jumble of ingredients

This is a perfect dish for busy weeknights.  Fast, filling, infinitely variable – I will certainly be turning to pasta and eggs for future emergency dinners.  I started rehydrating the mushrooms and boiling water for pasta, and 20 minutes later I had dinner!

Stirring the pasta

The eggs were fried in a rather large amount of garlic-infused oil, just like the original recipe.  I threw the peas in with the pasta, timing it so they would be done at the same time, and meanwhile chopped up the rosemary and mushrooms.  I saved the mushroom soaking liquid to adjust the consistency of the final dish, which turned out to be necessary as the runny egg yolks combined with the oil to create a thick, rich sauce.

Quick, tasty, filling, and cheap - what more can you ask for?

For future reference, four eggs, when combined with the pasta and other ingredients, is a lot more than two people can eat for dinner.  Not that we didn’t enjoy trying.

Originally published on Croque-Camille.





Tonight’s Dinner in Real Time

16 10 2008

6:00 pm – Writing emails.  Maybe I should start the beans if I want chili for dinner tonight.

6:10 pm – Beans are on.  Back to obsessing over blog stats.

7:15 pm – Where the hell is Nick?  He left to take pictures of foliage well over an hour ago.  I should probably get the rest of the chili going, at any rate.  S*#%!  The burner was on too low and my beans have just been sitting in hot water for the last hour!

7:22 pm – Nick calls from somewhere in the 19th.  He’s on his way home now that it’s dark.  Really need to start cooking chili.

7:24 pm – Chopping onions, tears in my eyes.  The chili powder in my nose isn’t helping, but is going to be delicious.  Add beef and break it up as it browns, à la Bolognaise.

Browning the beef and onions

7:30 pm – Love the smell of minced garlic hitting a hot pan.

7:31 pm – Rummaging around in the pantry (the fridge isn’t working and the pantry is open to the outside so things stay cool) for the chicken stock.  Damn.  It doesn’t smell good.  Need liquid, quickly.  Beer!

7:32 pm  – Pour some semi-cool Kronenbourg into the pan.  Scrape up fond.  Notice that the beans need liquid and pour some beer in there, too.  Start drinking the remaining beer.

7:35 pm – Don’t tell me we’re out of tomatoes!  Oh, there they are, hiding behind the lemons.  Dump can of tomatoes into chili.

7:37 pm – Was it pasilla chili powder or California that I used before?  Does it matter?  Probably not.  I’ll just put some of each.

7:47 pm – Everything is simmering.  Come up with brilliant idea for blog post.

8:00 pm – Throw beans in pan with meat to cook together.

Come on, we're missing the chili!

8:07 pm – Nick finally makes it home.  He’s jealous of my (now empty) beer.

8:14 pm – Taste.  Definitely salty enough, but is it chili-y enough?  Needs cumin and guajillo powder.  (Nick is my hero for bringing back four kinds of ground dried chilis from the States.)

8:24 pm – Nick suggests I add cayenne.  I start grating the world’s best Cheddar cheese to top the chili.

Another of the spoils from Nick's New World Adventure

8:28 pm – Time to eat.  Hunks of Pain des Amis from Du Pain et Des Idées complete the meal.

Warm, hearty, and satisfying

Originally published on Croque-Camille.





Eggplant and Eggs

15 10 2008

You could say that I eat a lot of eggplant, and you would not be wrong.  I am going to miss it in the coming months, so I thought I’d give it one last hurrah before being replaced in my pantry by winter squashes and mushrooms.  I bought one while Nick was gone and ate half of it roasted, on a pizza with an improvised roasted garlic tomato sauce. 

Browning diced eggplant

Cooking for one almost always means leftovers, so the other half of the eggplant and the remaining tomato sauce languished in the fridge for several days, since I had used the last of the pizza dough and wasn’t really inspired to do anything else with them.  In an attempt to clean out the fridge, I noticed that I had some eggs that needed to be eaten.  Below them, lying forgotten in the vegetable drawer, was the leftover half-eggplant.  Eggs, eggplant… they must go together!  But what will bring them into perfect harmony?  Aha!  Roasted garlic tomato sauce!

Ragout/Ragù

I fashioned a ragoût using the eggplant and a shallot (I was actually running low on onions, plus I just wanted a subtle hint of onion flavor, so a shallot fit the bill nicely).  I seasoned it with red pepper flakes and oregano, and thought that an anchovy would be a nice touch if I had one.  Not wanting to dirty an extra dish, I scooped the eggplant directly into my serving bowl, dug a little well, and cracked an egg into it.  Covered with foil, it went straight into the oven to bake.

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Fennel Focaccia

29 09 2008

It kind of looks like an onion, with celery growing out the top, and dill instead of leaves.

I must admit, I was pretty excited when I saw the ingredients for this month’s Foodie Joust: Fennel, Dairy, and Parsley.  I’ve never been a fan of licorice or anise-flavored anything, but sometime over the last couple of years I fell in love with fresh fennel.  The anise-y-ness is mild enough to be tolerable, and it evolves into a subtle sweetness when the fennel is cooked.  So I immediately jotted down four or five recipe ideas – some old favorites, some new inventions – and ran them by Nick.  He wanted to try the focaccia with caramelized fennel, parsley, and goat cheese, so I started working on a focaccia recipe.

Dimpled focaccia dough

I have a little bit of starter going in my fridge for bread-baking purposes, and I thought it would give my focaccia the character that so many recipes seem to lack.  I have also determined that the potato in focaccia dough is by no means optional.  It gives the finished bread an unmistakable texture and helps to keep it moist, too.  And it turns out that focaccia is pretty fun to make.  Sure, it takes a while, but you can use all that rising time to prep your toppings, cook dinner, answer emails, do a little online shopping… or whatever it is you like to do in idle moments at home.

Before...

For this recipe, I essentially braised the fennel:  I sliced it thin, browned it in olive oil, then threw in some white wine and tarragon vinegar and let it cook down until the liquid was gone and the fennel was tender.  I figured the caramelization process could finish in the oven.  As for the parsley, I chopped it up with the fronds from the fennel andmade a sort of paste with a little olive oil.  And the cheese?  Well, I picked up an awesome little fresh raw-milk chèvre at the market.  It had a much fuller and more distinctly goat-y flavor than your average fresh goat cheese, and it stood up well to the bold flavors imparted by the fennel and the parsley.

So head on over to the Leftover Queen’s forum and vote for me!  (The voting should start on Thursday, October 2nd, and ends on the 5th.)  Keep reading for the recipe…

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Happiness is a Warm Doughnut

18 09 2008

So I was browsing Photograzing a little while ago and was attracted like a moth to a flame when I saw the photo of Buttermilk Doughnuts, courtesy of Stephan at This Engineer Can Bake.  You should know by now how much I love buttermilk, be it in fried chicken, chocolate cake, coleslaw, or pancakes.  I haven’t had a doughnut since I arrived in Paris in January, and I suddenly had to have one.  I present the rest of the story as a photo essay.

Very sticky doughnut dough.

Very sticky doughnut dough.

The lineup of potential doughnut cutters.

The lineup of potential doughnut cutters.

The winners and resulting doughnuts.

The winners and resulting doughnuts.

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