Super Natural Every Day

15 11 2011

…Or most of them, anyway.

I was delighted to receive the news, several weeks ago, that I had won a copy of Super Natural Every Day from The Kitchen Illiterate.  Since receiving the book, I’ve been cooking from it quite a bit, as well as finding myself inspired by it while doing my food shopping.  (“Yellow split peas?  I think there are a couple of recipes for those in that new book!” “I should probably be keeping quinoa and bulghur on hand…” “How could we possibly be out of miso?  To the Japanese store, posthaste!” Sometimes I talk to myself in an old-timey fashion.)

I’ve made mention of the book a few times on Seasonal Market Menus, my other blog devoted to CSA eating and menu planning, because the recipes are great for using whatever vegetables you happen to have around, given a few pantry staples.  I certainly haven’t followed any of the recipes to the letter, but that doesn’t stop them from being a fantastic source of inspiration.  Like this soda bread:

soda bread from Super Natural Every Day

I’d never really considered soda bread as a legitimate thing before, but Heidi’s photos convinced me to give it a try.  I substituted leftover pickle brine for half of the buttermilk in the recipe, to no ill effect.  The dough was delightfully springy, and any rye bread that doesn’t insist on caraway is a good thing in my book.  It baked up nice and crusty, with a slightly biscuity or scone-like texture in the crumb.  The bread resisted staling longer than a yeast bread would, which is good because the loaf was huge.  We ate it for almost a week, and then I took the remaining half and turned it into some of the crunchiest croutons I’ve ever made.

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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.





A Savory Pumpkin Pie

16 12 2009

Patidou quiche, uncut

December.  Dreaded by pâtissiers around the world.  I wish I had something witty to say about this quiche I fashioned from last week’s CSA panier score, but I made over 100 kilos of ganache today at work. 

Before...

I used up all the chocolate (60 kilos) and all the cream (40 liters) and that’s why I stopped.  I have one more kind to make tomorrow morning before I spend another long day wrestling the hardened (well, not really hardened, more like firm-ened) ganaches into frames so that they can be cut, enrobed, boxed and sold for Christmas.  The skin on my hands feels like the sticky side of velcro, and all I really want is to dig into the leftovers of this roast patidou squash and shallot quiche, which is as luxuriously creamy as you could ever possibly want a quiche to be.

...and After

I’m counting on it to smooth out today’s rough edges.  As for my hands, well, that’s why God created shea butter.

A little slice of heaven

Read on for the recipe.

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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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Hot, Sticky, Sweet

10 12 2008

Dates have always been a special occasion treat for me.  (I’m talking about food, not my social life, just to clarify.)  When I was a kid, I used to go crazy for the Betty Crocker Date Bar mix, which we could only seem to find around Christmastime.  They were kind of a pain to make, with the crumbly bottom crust always getting stuck in the sticky date puree as you tried to spread it out, but the payoff was well worth it.  Crispy, chewy, and redolent with brown sugar, I could easily have polished off an entire pan of these at one sitting, though I don’t think I ever actually did.  I first tasted a fresh date when I was 25, working in the kitchen of a soon-to-be 5 star restaurant.  (We were using it on a cheese plate with shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano.)  I was blown away.  It was everything I loved about the date bar – sweet, caramelly, and luscious – without the hassle (or the shame) of the boxed mix.  Fresh dates, however, are difficult to find and can be expensive.  Luckily, I soon realized that dried dates were nearly as good.

Stirring cream into hot caramel for toffee sauce

Given my love of dates, and caramel, it is shocking that I took so long to attempt a sticky toffee pudding.  Traditionally it is a dense pudding-cake loaded with dates and drenched in toffee sauce.  What’s not to love?  But I couldn’t leave well enough alone.  I wanted a seasonal variation, something that would sate my annual hunger for pumpkin pie, and that was maybe a tad less sweet (all those dates can make for a toothache-inducing dessert, if you’re not careful).  Since I was pretty sure I’d have more than enough Butternut squash to accompany the scallops, I set aside a little to use in my pudding.

Pour some toffee on me!

When the time came, I whisked the Butternut purée with some brown sugar, egg, vanilla, and melted butter.  I combined flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg in another bowl, then mixed the two together.  Chopped dates and a bit of minced crystallized ginger were folded in, and I scooped the batter into my spiffy new silicone dome molds.  In a makeshift water bath consisting of a round ceramic tart dish and a piece of tinfoil, I baked the puddings until they puffed up a bit.  Meanwhile, I made the toffee sauce (see photo above), finishing it off with a wallop of scotch.  “This is a pajama dessert,” I told Nick, so we got ourselves ready for bed while waiting for the puddings to cool.  I served them as soon as they were cool enough to handle, with a full coat of toffee sauce poured over the top.

Pumpkin Sticky Toffee Pudding

Delectably sweet, and oh-so-comforting with the homey flavors of the squash and spices mimicking pumpkin pie even better than I expected.  This is definitely dessert you eat in your pajamas.

Originally published on Croque-Camille.





Must Be Scallop Season

5 12 2008

I love seeing the piles of whole in-shell scallops in the market.  Partly because scallops in this form are very difficult to find in the States, so my experience with them is extremely limited, and I do appreciate a challenge.  And partly because I love scallops so much.

Three whole scallops

Also, I know that when I buy them alive (as these were right up to the point where I cut their writhing adductors from their shells), they haven’t been frozen or treated with that stuff to make them retain water and weigh more.  These are scallops as nature intended. 

Now, I don’t need much prompting to order scallops in a restaurant, but cooking them at home is another matter.  I want that golden-seared crunch on the ends while the center is rare as rare can be, without being cold.  I’m happy to say that I’ve never had a total scallop disaster in my kitchen (In fact, my first-ever attempt at scallop cookery in culinary school was praised by a very-tough-to-please chef instructor), but I’m always slightly trepidatious that I’m going to ruin such a delectable, expensive ingredient.  But when I saw this post with glazed diver scallops and fried prosciutto, I had to run out and get some scallops of my own.  By the way, I couldn’t agree more with Peter’s statement that “nothing goes better with scallops than some fried pork.”

Look at all those juicy goods!

Except possibly vanilla.  In my first (maybe only) true VIP dining experience, one of the off-the-menu courses served was seared scallops on wilted spinach with vanilla butter sauce.  It still sticks in my mind, five years later, as a standout dish in an all-around incredible meal (in which we also ate a bowl of steamed cockles, a whole roasted branzini, and a rack of lamb). 

As luck would have it, the first vendor I saw at the market the day I went to buy scallops was a guy selling Bourbon vanilla beans.  I got five for two euros – not bad at all!  So vanilla beurre blanc was definitely going on the plate.  Since October through January is pretty much a never-ending winter squash-fest in our house, I ended up with a beautiful organic Butternut squash in my shopping bag, figuring I’d make a purée using crème fraîche and molasses to enrich and intensify its nutty sweetness.  Picturing the plate in my head, I knew I needed something green.  Sadly, the Parisian markets seem to be lacking in the leafy greens category.  There are tons of lettuces, but I have yet to see mustard greens or kale.  If you want to get your dark green leafy vegetable fix, you have the choice between spinach and Swiss chard.  That’s about it.  Bored of spinach and thinking that Swiss chard wasn’t quite right, I wandered through the stalls in hope of finding something different.  A large stack of bundled watercress jumped out at me, and it joined the scallops, vanilla beans, and squash in my bag.  I was about to head home when I realized I hadn’t picked up any pork products!  Enter the Spanish-Italian-Portuguese specialty stand.  I splurged on four slices of Serrano ham, and made my way home with an empty wallet and an exciting dinner just waiting to be realized.

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Potimarron-Fingerling Gratin

2 12 2008

Celebrating holidays in a foreign country means making certain sacrifices.  As a case in point, I have yet to see anything resembling a fresh cranberry in Paris.  The various American épiceries are fully stocked with jars and cans of cranberry sauce, but if you want to make your own (like I always do) you’re out of luck.  However, as you can probably imagine, the markets of Paris offer up an incredible bounty from which to devise seasonal dishes from locally-grown ingredients.

Naked Chestnut Squash

Like this potimarron.  I forgot to get a picture of it before I stripped it bare, but there’s a good before photo herePotimarron is one of the more commonly seen winter squashes in the Parisian markets, yet somehow I had yet to cook one.  A little research turned up some interesting facts about the potimarron: the thin skin is edible, the name is derived from the French words for “pumpkin” and “chestnut,” and it apparently increases in sweetness and vitamin content the longer you store it (to a point, I’m sure).

Potimarron insides, with paring knife for scale

I purchased the cute little squash about a week before Thanksgiving without any real plan regarding what to do with it.  The same market trip yielded a bag of fingerling potatoes, another impulse buy.  A few days later, when I realized it was high time I start getting my Thanksgiving menu in order, the two supremely seasonal vegetables jumped out at me.

*Peeling not required

Recalling a butternut squash gratin I have made in years past to generally good reviews, I thought I’d riff on the idea, working potatoes into the mix.  The potimarron, taking after its namesake nut, is one of the starchier winter squashes out there.  While this makes it able to hold its own when combined with potatoes, I didn’t want the dish to be too heavy (this was for Thanksgiving, after all).  I figured the tangy sweetness of leeks simmered in hard cider would offset the richness of the squash and potatoes.  Top it all off with my favorite fresh chèvre, and I had just the gratin I was looking for.  I may not have had sweet potatoes as usual, (ed. note: except that I did, on this salad) but it didn’t feel like I was sacrificing a thing. 

Click through for the recipe and Nick’s gorgeous photo.

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Thanksgiving in Pictures

1 12 2008

My Thanksgiving week in 12 pictures

1. Supermarket Spoils, 2. Steaming Chestnuts, 3. Mushrooms at the Market, 4. Fresh Porcini!, 5. Potimarron Peels, 6. Washed Fingerlings, 7. Exploded Garlic, 8. Wild Mushroom Bread Pudding, 9. Buttered Turkey, 10. Nick’s Mad Carving Skills, 11. Potimarron-Fingerling Gratin, (recipe here) 12. Candlelight Crisp

Originally published on Croque-Camille.





The Winter Squash Saga, Part II: Dessert

28 10 2008

As I promised yesterday, I’m back today with the winter squash, orange, and sage dessert.  I initially liked the idea of using these ingredients in a dessert because it seemed like more of a challenge.  Sage, in particular, is not usually used in sweets and I thought I could do something interesting with it.

Warm, fragrant, and fuzzy, sage is the freshly laundered blanket of the herb family.

The squash part was easy.  Winter squash-based sweets abound: pumpkin pies, cheesecakes, muffins, and even pancakes feature on menus everywhere this time of year (well, not in the southern Hemisphere, I guess).  In my first restaurant job I was given a recipe for butternut squash flan.  I thought it was a great idea, but the stupid thing never worked right.  My theory was that if we had just put a thin layer of caramel in the bottom of the molds, like you’re suppposed to when you’re making flan aka crème caramel, they would have come out beautifully every time.

The correct way to make crème caramel

So I did just that.  I also reduced the amount of cream in favor of milk (not something you’ll hear me say very often), because traditionally, crème caramel is the lightest of the baked custards and made using only milk and whole eggs.  Plus, I wanted that lighter texture.  I think it balances the richness of the caramel and helps to make more of that delicious sauce you get when you finally unmold the dessert.  I snuck some of the orange butter into the caramel to play up the orange flavor in the squash (I reserved some from the lasagna and puréed it using my beloved immersion blender).

Water baths are not a big deal.

After a short spell in the oven, their custards were ready.  I prefer mine just-set, by which I mean barely holding together.  Feeling pleased with my success so far, I left the custards in the fridge to chill overnight.

“But what about the sage?”  You must be wondering.  In one of those flashes of inspiration, it came to me.

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The Winter Squash Saga, Part I: Lasagna

27 10 2008

Acorn squash, orange, and sage.  These are the ingredients for the November Royal Foodie Joust chez The Leftover Queen.  Luckily for all of us residing outside the United States, it was deemed appropriate to substitute any orange-fleshed winter squash.  I thought I’d use a patidou, but they seem to have disappeared from the markets.  Ah, well.  Potiron is plentiful and cheap, not to mention tasty.

A hunk of potiron

But what to do with it?  The combination of winter squash with orange sounds good, ditto with sage.  All three together, however, pose a bit more of a challenge.  It’s not exactly an intuitive pairing.  After a good amount of brainstorming, I had come up with two good ideas, or so I thought.  I ultimately rejected the homemade pork-sausage-stuffed acorn squash, not only because of my change in squash, but because it seemed a little too obvious.  Sure, it would be delicious, but I wanted something unique.  The other idea, for a dessert, did come to fruition, but that’s tomorrow’s post.

Somehow, while wandering through the market, basking in the glory of the new fall produce, a new dish began to take shape in my head.  We had picked up some Swiss chard, and after getting some preparation tips from Chez Loulou, I was excited to try my hand at some fresh chestnuts.  (A brief aside: I learned this weekend that while chestnuts are most commonly referred to here as “marrons,” the correct word for edible chestnuts is “châtaignes.”) 

Fresh chestnuts, pre-roasting

Nick mentioned lasagna somewhere along the way, in reference to something else entirely, and all of a sudden it fell into place: Orange-roasted squash lasagna with chestnuts and Swiss chard!  A little Béchamel sauce and Gruyère to pull it all together… this is going to be fantastic!

Lasagna is hardly a quick-and-easy dish, and this was a project, for sure.  Roasting and peeling the chestnuts, trying to find the right balance between orange and squash flavor, making the sauce, grating the cheese… you get the idea.  The approach I took was a relaxed one, doing one component at a time, stretching the prep out over the course of the day.  You could go the other way, roasting the squash and chestnuts simultaneously while cooking the chard and Béchamel, but since I cook on schedule all week at work, I prefer a leisurely pace when I’m cooking at home.

the Microplane.

Besides, cooking the slow way leaves plenty of time to take copious notes, not to mention innovate along the way.  While the pumpkin was in the oven, I decided to use the orange zest to make an orange butter with which to baste the squash.  I liked it so much that I ended up using it in the dessert, too.

Mini onion piqué

Béchamel sauce makes not-uncommon appearances in my kitchen, so that was no problem.  Combined with sautéed Swiss chard, fresh sage, and Parmigiano-Reggiano, it made a scrumptious, creamy dish that could easily stand alone.

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