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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Torta Salads

12 09 2008

In a previous life, Nick and I used to frequent a place called Tio’s Tortas.  I affectionately refer to it as “Uncle Sandwich,” which is a blatant and deliberate mistranslation (although I’m not sure “Uncle’s Sandwiches” is any less silly).  At any rate, this place made about 14 different kinds of tortas, or Mexican sandwiches, which were piled high with delicacies such as smoked sausage, refried black beans, and chiles rellenos.  Plus they had a great condiment bar filled with house made condiments.  These included chipotle ketchup, jalapeno mustard, roasted garlic, red onion confit, zucchini pickles, and a variety of mayonnaise-based sauces.  For 4 to 6 dollars you could get a substantial and satisfying meal, and beers were less than 2 bucks!

Anyway, one day we noticed that they had added an option to their torta menu: you could choose to have the ingredients of any torta served over rice or as a salad.  The salad idea took off in our house, where we would grill Hatch chili sausages and serve them over lettuce with leftover black beans, caramelized onions, and whatever else we had lying around (or had managed to sneak home from Tio’s).  Mmmm… sausage salad.

Well, we recently decided to revisit the Tio’s salad, when we were fortunate enough to be in possession of some delicious leftover beef chili verde and refried black beans.  We almost always have a head of lettuce in the crisper and a couple of tomatoes in the fruit basket, but I thought the salads needed something more.  Corn popped into my head and I headed to the store.  Malheureusement, the fresh corn here totally sucks.  It’s starchy and waxy and sticks to your teeth like paste.  So I bought a can.  Sue me.  I also picked up some gorgeous piquillo-looking peppers and some long green ones that I hoped would pack a punch.

I got home and set about putting together a corn salsa for the salads.  I drained the corn and dumped it into a bowl, followed by some diced onion.  I thought one of each pepper would look pretty as well as giving just the right amount of heat.  When I cut into the red pepper, I got a big surprise – no ribs or seeds!

Are they breeding seedless peppers now?

Nonetheless, the corn salsa looked great and tasted just as good.  It would actually stand on its own as a salad, but I had bigger ideas.

Corn Salsa/Salad

Indeed, it was even better sprinkled over a salad loaded with slow-cooked beef, black beans, tomatoes, crème fraîche, and chipotle vinaigrette.

What happens when you turn a torta into a salad?  Good things.

Apologies for doing two salad posts in one week, but I think this is miles away from Tuesday’s refined Mediterranean salad.  Don’t you?

Originally published on Croque-Camille.





Easy Tapenade Salad Dressing

9 09 2008

Who was it that said, “Sloth is the mother of all invention”?  I came up with this dressing sometime last week when I didn’t feel like chopping up a shallot for a vinaigrette.  Searching the kitchen for alternatives, my eyes landed on a recently acquired jar of black olive tapenade from Provence.  What if I just thinned it out a bit with some oil and vinegar?  I bet that would be good!

You know what?  It was.  So good, and so irresistibly easy, that I made it again a couple of nights ago for a salad that accompanied a gooey chorizo and mozzarella pizza.

Feuille de Chêne lettuce, tapenade dressing, and toasted pine nuts

Tapenade Dressing

This super-easy dressing will make even the most boring of lettuces feel decked out, but it would also be great on arugula, spinach, frisée, or just about any salad green.  Garnish with toasted pine nuts, tomatoes, and feta cheese for a more substantial salad.  Grilled or marinated vegetables would most certainly be welcome, as would any number of cured pork products.

2 Tbsp. + 2 tsp. tapenade (You can make your own if you’re feeling adventurous, but a good jarred tapenade is perfectly acceptable.)
1 Tbsp. red wine, balsamic, or sherry vinegar (Rosemary-infused vinegar is a nice touch)
4 Tbsp. good olive oil

  1. Combine all ingredients in a small bowl with a whisk.
  2. Drizzle over salad greens of choice and toss before serving.
  3. Garnish as you see fit.

Makes enough to dress 4-6 salads.  Leftovers will keep several days in an airtight container in the fridge.

Originally published on Croque-Camille.





Tomatoes!

1 09 2008

How fun are these little guys?

It seems that everywhere I look these days there are piles of awesome tomatoes.  From minuscule pear tomatoes to giant beefsteaks, from bright red to forest green, you can find a tomato to match any décor.  Aesthetics aside for a moment, we’re also in that glorious window where the grand majority of the tomatoes taste great, too.  And having all those shapes and colors to play around with is a lot of fun.  As a result, I’ve been on a bit of a tomato binge lately.  Naturally, pasta has figured prominently, as it is an excellent way to showcase sweet tomato perfection.  Habitual readers of this blog may remember that I have a penchant for throwing raw tomatoes into just-cooked pasta, letting the residual heat warm the tomatoes just enough to really bring out their flavor.  (Like I did last spring, and earlier this summer.)

The rainbow of little tomatoes pictured at the top of this post called out for just such a treatment.  In order to add even more late-summer vegetable goodness, I sliced and sautéed some cute little light green zucchinis.  When they had some tasty sear marks, I threw in some garlic and fresh chives, cut the fire, and tossed in the tomatoes.

Tomatoes and zucchini - a match made in heaven

Cooked farfalle, or papillons, as they’re called in France (both of which mean “butterflies” – why do we insist on calling them “bow-ties?”), and a generous drizzle of olive oil joined the party and it was ready to dish up.  Liberal use of Parmigiano-Reggiano is encouraged chez moi, so the bowls each received a handsome grating of cheese before serving.

Simple, fresh and tasty summer pasta.

It made a splendid summer meal: fresh and light, but no slouch in the flavor department.  When nature hands you such wonderful produce, just do as little as possible.  That’s the beauty of cooking with the seasons.

Originally published on Croque-Camille.





Meatballs! (and spaghetti)

20 08 2008

Upon our return from Bulgaria, we had meatballs on the brain.  (I wonder why…)  Luckily, Paris has everything I need to make some killer meatballs: fresh ground meat, breadcrumbs, etc.  A trip to the butcher was in order.  Once there, I immediately ordered a half-kilo of the fresh ground beef.  While I was waiting, I noticed a bowl full of ground pork (or was it veal?  or a mixture?) for stuffing tomatoes and the like.  Clearly, my meatballs were going to need some of that, too.  And all of a sudden I had a whole kilo of ground meat that needed to be turned into meatballs.  Oops.

But when has an overabundance of savory meatballs ever been a problem?

I set to work on a modified version of my world-famous meatloaf.  I’m not going to give away all my secrets, but here’s the gist of it.  Start your flavor base by sautéeing onions, garlic, salt, pepper, and herbs (oregano and thyme) in olive oil.  Throw in some tomato paste and cook until it gets nice and roasty.  Splash in a little red wine, rosemary vinegar, and/or balsamic vinegar.  Scrape up any browned bits on the bottom of the pan, and let it cool a bit.  Dump the ground meat or meats into a large bowl.  Season pretty liberally with salt and pepper.  A couple dashes each of worcestershire and tabasco are almost always welcome.  Then scrape in the flavor base and crack an egg on top of it all.  Get in there with your hands and start mixing.

Who doesn't love the feel of ground beef between their fingers?

At this point, it’s really nice if you have someone in the house with you who has clean hands, so they can sprinkle in the bread crumbs while you keep mixing.  Be careful not to overmix the meat, just make sure everything is evenly incorporated.  And then start forming the meatballs.  Mine were probably an ounce or so – I didn’t measure them, it was just what fit easily in my palm so I could make two at once.  (A kilo makes a lot of meatballs.)  As they are formed, you can drop them right into a hot pan to begin browning.

Just getting started...

This was at the beginning of the process.  The last batch looked like this:

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Chicken Pot Pie – Another Classic French Dish

6 08 2008

I know – not very summery.  But tasty and comforting just the same.  And, while it may not seem particularly French, the humble pot pie is based on some very classic French techniques.  First, the sauce.  It’s a traditional velouté, made by thinning blond roux with stock.  Stir, simmer, season, strain if you’re fussy.

Sauce velouté - known in many parts of the world as "gravy."

Next, you’ve got your mirepoix:  Sauté in a little butter, season with salt and pepper, toss with fresh parsley (or thyme or sage).

Classic mirepoix - onions, carrots, and celery

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Courgettes aux Herbes de Provence

5 08 2008

Last week I made good on a dinner invite I had extended to Hails of Coffee Helps.  I decided to revisit the pork roast that had been such a hit a few months back, but couldn’t decide on an appropriate vegetable side dish.  I’ll admit I sometimes feel befuddled in the Summer regarding what to do with the bounty of gorgeous vegetables available at the market.  It’s hard to strike a balance when you want to do something new and interesting but don’t want to mess up the perfection that is a ripe tomato, zucchini, or what-have-you. 

So I thought I’d do a simple summer squash sauté with a little garlic and lemon – nothing to overpower the freshness of the squash or compete with the apricot glaze on the pork.  And then, on my way out of the market, I saw these:

Cute little bundles of fresh Herbes de Provence

Fresh herbes de Provence!  Obviously, I had to buy them.  I just knew they would be fantastic with the zucchini I had picked up earlier, not to mention a lovely counterpoint to the fruity pork glaze.  And naturally, I neglected to take any photos.  (Sorry.)  But rest assured the end result was delicious.

So delicious, in fact, that I made a quiche using the same ingredients later in the week.  Using my usual recipe, with garlicky sautéed zucchini in place of the onions, I seasoned the custard with lemon zest and chopped fresh sage, thyme, lavender, and parsley.

You'll notice I finally got a round baking dish

After the quiche came out of the oven, I realized I had forgotten to put the fresh Parmigiano-Reggiano into the custard as intended.  D’oh!  Nevertheless, grating it directly over the top of the baked quiche isn’t a bad way to go.

Provençal Zucchini Quiche

The quiche was fantastic – the herbs and lemon gave the whole thing a feeling of lightness not usually associated with the buttery, eggy, cheesy goodness that is a typical quiche.  Served with a glass of chilled rosé, it made a refreshing summer supper.  It’s amazing how one simple ingredient (in this case, the fresh herbes de Provence) can inspire you to look at your cooking in a new way.  And who knows what it will be next?  I’ll just have to wait and see what the market has in store for me.

Originally published on Croque-Camille.








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