Pepper Jack in Paris?

30 01 2011

The search ended this morning.

Raclette au piment

Aw, yeah.

Originally published on Croque-Camille.





More Football Baking

26 10 2010

It’s getting to be a bit of a thing, this football-watching.  I’ve really taken to baking or cooking up something delicious to share with my friends on Sunday, and it’s really nice to have something fun to look forward to on Sunday night – a nice cap to the weekend that lets you forget about Monday morning for a few more hours.

Gotta love the muffin method!

Two Sundays ago, Melissa was hosting, and she wanted to make a big pot of chili.  She requested that I whip up some cornbread to go along with it, and of course I was game.  But I didn’t want to stop at just plain old cornbread.

Jalapeño and cheddar make everything better!

No, only the best in home-pickled and hand-imported ingredients will do.  That is to say, I found a half-full jar of pickled peppers lurking in the fridge, and the Baby Loaf of Tillamook cheddar needed to be put to good use, because moldy Tillamook is not an option in my house.

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Raja Green Beans

6 08 2010

Rajas are a Mexican dish, generally consisting of grilled, roasted, or otherwise charred peppers and onions in a creamy sauce made from, well, cream.  Or crema, which is more like crème fraîche.  I saw a lot of them on menus while living in Los Angeles and Dallas, but seem to have forgotten about them entirely until this week.

That charring is intentional.

Which is a shame, because all the ingredients are readily available in Paris, it’s a snap to prepare, and it scratches that Mexican food itch in a major way.  Rajas are a versatile beast, used as both a sauce for meats and as a stand-alone side dish.  Faced with a green bell pepper challenge from the CSA panier, I thought that rajas might be a hitherto unexplored green bell pepper-hiding device.

Green beans & rajas

I mean, it fits my criteria: a) charred beyond recognition, and b) combined with lots of other tasty things (in this case, poblano-like red corne peppers, red onions, and crème fraîche).  Using the raja mixture as a sauce for the green beans languishing in the crisper seemed like the right thing to do – I thought about adding some corn as well, but decided it would be overkill.  Plus, corn just isn’t the right shape.

Green beans in a spicy, creamy sauce with charred peppers and onions

I had planned to serve these over rice, with slices of seared flank steak on the side.  As it happened, a last-minute movie date with Meg and Barbra caused the dinner to morph into a picnic-able rice bowl (Mexican bento?), which I topped with sliced tomatoes.  The green beans didn’t seem at all out of place dressed in the smoky, creamy sauce, and were delicious with the spicy meat and juicy tomatoes.  Having given it a little more thought, I think these would be excellent topped with crumbled goat cheese, at which point they could nearly qualify as a main dish.

Read on for the (simple, and easily adaptable) recipe.

Read the rest of this entry »





Chilly Lime

26 07 2010

My recent forays into Indian cooking have left me with a large collection of hitherto unknown (to me) spices.  One such spice now lurking on my shelf is amchoor.

Amchoor - dried mango powder

The dried mango powder has a fruity, yet slightly savory tang that I wanted to try adding to all sorts of foods.  Starting with frozen yogurt.  Some extremely juicy limes I had in the fridge were begging to play along, so I let them.  Turning to David for an idea of proportions, I found a recipe for extra-tangy lemon frozen yogurt in his new book, Ready for Dessert.  Using that as a jumping-off point, I started mixing and tasting until I had the flavor I was looking for.  And then.

Then I saw the green finger chilis.  They made the limes’ begging look like a polite, reserved request.  So I took one out and began mincing.  I put half the pepper in the yogurt and tasted.  It didn’t seem that hot – I figured the cooling effect of the yogurt was negating some of the heat.  I tasted a piece of the pepper by itself, to gauge the level of spice.  I figured adding the other half-chili couldn’t hurt, the only problem being that the straight-pepper experience had temporarily numbed my tastebuds to any other flavors.  But no matter, my yogurt was ready to be frozen.

We’ve had a series of heatwaves in Paris this summer, broken up by periods of thunderstorms.  During the hot weeks, though, there is nothing like coming home from work on a steamy afternoon, putting something delightful into the ice cream maker to churn, cooling off with a shower, and being rewarded with a refreshing frozen treat.  This is why I have had four different kinds of homemade ice cream in the freezer at all times for the last month or so. 

Unfortunately, the chili-lime yogurt, upon churning, was not quite ready for primetime.  It was intensely lime-y and spicier than I intended (that’ll teach me to go eating raw chili peppers when I’m cooking).  The amchoor’s (you remember that – it was, at one time, the point of the yogurt) presence was subliminal.  But I wasn’t about to give up.  All it needed was the right garnish.  Something crunchy, sweet, and ever-so-slightly exotic.  That’s when the bag of macadamia nuts - which I bought for no reason other than I wanted to have them around – piped up.  “Make us into brittle.  We’ll be delicious, and buttery, and caramelized, and oh-so-good.”  I needed no further convincing.

Macadamia nut brittle

There was a near-tragedy when I realized that I had not sufficiently oiled the foil with which I had lined my sheet pan and counter, and the brittle was sticking like crazy.  (Another lesson learned: don’t be lazy and think that lining your sheet pan with foil is an appropriate substitute for washing it.)  I summoned all my patience and managed to let the candy cool completely before painstakingly picking off the shards of foil that didn’t want to let go of my sweet delight.

At the end of the day, though, the brittle was exactly what the yogurt needed.  The perfect rich, honeyed, tropical foil to the puckery, spicy frozen yogurt.

Lime & Chili Frozen Yogurt with Macadamia Brittle

Lime & Chili Frozen Yogurt

This recipe began life as a way to use up an exotic spice I had recently acquired: amchoor.  I thought the dried mango powder, with its fruity tang, would lend an exotic touch to lime frozen yogurt.  Then I saw a leftover green finger chili in the vegetable drawer and had a brainstorm.  If you don’t like spicy food, I’d recommend using only a half or even a quarter of a chili pepper.

1 lb.10 oz./750g plain yogurt
Zest of 2 limes
2½ oz./75ml lime juice (from about 4 limes)
4½ oz./125g raw sugar, such as cassonade or turbinado
1 Tbsp. honey
½ tsp. amchoor (dried mango powder) (optional)
1 green finger chili, deseeded and finely chopped
Pinch of salt

  1. Blend or whisk all the ingredients together.  Taste and adjust sweetness as desired.  Chill thoroughly.
  2. Freeze in an ice cream maker per the machine’s instructions.
  3. Serve with Macadamia Nut Brittle (see below).

Makes about 1 quart/1 liter.

Macadamia Nut Brittle

Crunchy, buttery little bites of luxury. 

7oz./200g sugar
3oz./85 ml water
5oz./140g honey
8oz./230g macadamia nuts, roughly chopped
Big pinch of salt
½oz./15g/1 Tbsp. unsalted butter (or use salted, but leave out the other salt)
½ tsp. baking soda
¾ tsp. vanilla extract

  1. In a medium saucepan, combine sugar, water, and honey.  Cook over medium-high heat until it reaches 129 C/264 F.
  2. Add the macadamia nuts and salt and cook, stirring frequently, to 159 C/318 F.
  3. Remove from heat and stir in the butter, then the vanilla, and finally the baking soda.  The candy will foam up, so be careful.
  4. Pour onto a well-oiled sheet pan (or a Silpat, if you’re lucky enough to have one, but not foil unless you want to cry), and spread into an even layer, as thin as possible.  Leave it to cool and harden completely.
  5. Break into pieces.  A heavy instrument such as a rolling pin comes in handy for this step.  Serve as a garnish for frozen desserts, crush even more finely and stir it into just-churned ice cream (vanilla, banana, and coconut are a few suggestions), or just nibble on it straight.

Makes probably more than you need, but who’s going to complain?

Originally published on Croque-Camille.





A Peck of Pickled Peppers… Bread

3 12 2009

I’ve been on a bit of a pickling kick lately.  Ever since Jessica showed me how easy it could be, I’ve pickled cucumbers, garlic, cocktail onions, and long green hot peppers, which will henceforward be referred to as “jalapeños,” even though they obviously are not. 

The jalapeños were purchased by Nick, to make salsa to go with the nachos we served to some French friends who came over for dinner one night last month.  (We wanted to do something really American – and really good – for them.)  I warned Nick against making the salsa too hot, and he acquiesced, on condition that he be allowed to add more peppers to the leftovers.  Of course there weren’t any leftovers.  So that’s how I decided to pickle a handful of peppers, with no real plan as to what to do with them afterward.  It occurred to me, perhaps even as soon as I had them in the jar, that one really good thing to do with pickled jalapeños is to make jalapeño-cheese bread.

Jalapeño-Cheese Sandwich Loaf

Armed with the Ratio, a new batch of starter (my old one died over the summer), and some Tillamook Pepper Jack cheese (thanks, Kiran!), I rolled up my sleeves and got to work.  The only tricky part is getting all the tasty bits to stay in the bread.  Kneading them in is not the best way.  Folding them is.  Like this:

jalapeño-cheese letter fold
1. How do you get the jalapeños and cheese in the bread, anyway?, 2. Step 2, 3. Letter fold complete

Then it’s really just a matter of time while the bread proofs and bakes.

No, it didn't really change color...
1. Before proof, 2. After proof

As you can see, my bread didn’t rise all that much, which I’ll admit gave me my doubts, but I carried on anyway, and am so glad I did!

jalapeños, cheese, bread

We ate it that night with big bowls of chili, and later Nick made ham sandwiches for his brown-bag lunch.  I can’t tell you how long it lasts, because this was gone in two days.

If you’re the recipe-abiding type, here’s what worked beautifully for me:

Read the rest of this entry »





Manger Comme Un(e) Français(e)

10 07 2009

After all that vacation-time excess, I returned home to Paris only to discover that most of my jeans had mysteriously shrunk.  It was time to start eating vegetables again.  (Not that I didn’t have any in the States, but the portions were always small in comparison to the hunks of juicy meat they were served with.)  So Nick and I headed down to the market to find fodder for some vegetable-laden meals.  Among other things, we came back with some gorgeous spinach and some bright red “Corne” peppers.  (Not sure if they’re the same as “Corne de Boeuf.”  Anyone?)  We decided to combine them in a quiche, which may not sound like the Lightest of All Possible Dinners, but hey, you have to ease into these things.

Ah, fire-roasted peppers.
1. Corne Peppers, Post-Char, 2. Pepper Braid

Plus, I used a new favorite whole wheat crust recipe.  Clotilde posted it on Chocolate & Zucchini several weeks ago, and I am as enthusiastic about it as she is.  Who ever thought a healthy tart crust could taste so good?  I love that it is full of whole grain goodness (while she suggests using light whole wheat flour or half white, half whole wheat, I have made it twice with all whole wheat flour, and have no complaints) and the olive oil is not only a healthier fat than butter, it’s also easier to work with, especially on warm summer afternoons.  Plus, the amount fits perfectly into my big ceramic tart dish.

Spinach, roasted peppers, and whole wheat crust

But back to the quiche.  After studding the spinach and pepper-filled crust with little cubes of feta, I filled in the gaps with a lighter version of my usual quiche custard (replacing one of the yolks with a whole egg and using more milk, less cream).  We played a round of cribbage while it baked, and when it was done we were treated to a tasty vegetarian supper.

This is as health food as I get.

As expected, the lighter custard, once baked, was firmer and less luxurious than the standard, but in this case, given that we’d kind of had our fill of rich, fatty food for the time being, that was just fine.  What we didn’t expect was the pepper to be as spicy as it was.  We were expecting piquillo-like smokiness, which was there, but the first bite with some real heat was a surprise, albeit a pleasant one. 

Later in the week we got a double panier from the CSA, the first of four additional paniers we will be getting to make up for the ones we missed while on vacation.  They were full of zucchini, garlic, and tomatoes, which fortunately are great together and serve as a basis for all kinds of light meals.  My jeans should fit again in no time.

Originally published on Croque-Camille.





Regional French Cuisine: Pays Basque: Piperade

29 05 2009

Basque cooking is pretty much synonymous with peppers.  If you’re in a restaurant in France, and a dish is described on the menu as “à la basquaise,” it will probably be covered in bell peppers.  (Seeing as I am not exactly a bell pepper lover, this can be disappointing.)  Piperade is the name for a mixture of sautéed peppers and onions, usually seasoned with piment d’espelette and often involving eggs and/or ham.  Sounds like a pretty great breakfast to me, especially if I can swap out the bell peppers for my much-loved piquillos.

The beginning stages of piperade

Faced with yet another bunch of white asparagus from the CSA panier, I remembered a post by Mark Bittman in which he finally finds a way to enjoy the overpriced, underwhelming vegetable.  It involved peeling and cooking the hell out of them and then smothering them in a “broken hollandaise” of sorts.  I thought that some creamy, slow-cooked scrambled eggs would fit the bill, and the piperade would be the icing on the cake, so to speak.

S-L-O-W-L-Y scrambling eggs

I mean, we all know how great asparagus and eggs are together, right?  Now, if you’ll allow me, I have a short diatribe about scrambled eggs.  Don’t even think about cooking them all the way through.  Scrambled eggs should be smooth and creamy as well as fluffy.  They should never be dry.  Those cottony diner scrambled eggs with the browned bits and phony lard flavoring (or maybe it’s just rancid) turn my stomach.  The absolute best only way to cook scrambled eggs is VERY SLOWLY.  Over low heat.  In butter or olive oil.  Stirring constantly.  I mean it.  These are not a weekday morning project, that’s what fried eggs are for.  Oh, it’s going to take patience.  And time.  A whole lot of precious time.

Perfect!

Well, 25 minutes or so, anyway.  But it is time very well spent.  (And, as luck would have it, about the same amount of time it takes to steam white asparagus into submission.)

Brunch is served

Topped with a mound of soft-set piperade scrambled eggs, the white asparagus were indeed tolerable.  Good, even.  Although I can’t help but to think how much better it would be with green asparagus.  Or a few slices of cured ham, like a regionally appropriate jambon de Bayonne.  But then, what isn’t?

Originally published on Croque-Camille.





Potiron-Piquillo Soup

20 10 2008

Well, Fall is officially upon us.  The guys with the makeshift grills who sell corn on the cob all summer have switched over to chestnuts.  Winter squash are starting to show up in the market, and despite the gorgeous sunshine, there is a distinct nip in the air.  Soup is definitely in order these days.

A light Fall supper

Hope over at Hopie’s Kitchen has been regaling her readers with tales of her awesome organic farm share basket.  If there’s a best time of year to belong to one of these, I think Fall is it.  Anyway, she posted a delicious-looking Butternut Squash and Roasted Red Pepper Soup a little while ago, and I wanted to make it, despite the fact that I am not, in general, a fan of bell peppers.  Upon reflection, I thought, wouldn’t it be good with the sweet smokiness of charred piquillo peppers?

Charring piquillo peppers - it's the fire that makes it good.

Never being one to leave recipes alone, I also decided to use a hunk of potiron (a type of pumpkin with very thick flesh and much more flavor than the kind used to make Jack O’ Lanterns) instead of the butternut squash.  I roasted it in the oven until it was soft, then scooped out the flesh and added it to my already-simmering pot of onions, piquillos, and chicken stock.  I seasoned the soup with salt, pepper, cayenne, nutmeg, and the tiniest hint of cinnamon – just enough to bring out the warm sweetness of the potiron.  After simmering it all for about 10 minutes, I busted out the hand blender.

Ah, the hand blender.  Is there anything it can't do?

Wearing my new favorite T-shirt, I fearlessly buzzed the soup, knowing that the pot was deep enough to contain any splatters that might occur.

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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.





A Picnic by the Canal

8 05 2008

Given the incredible weather we’ve been having this week, I decided it was too nice last night to have dinner inside.  I won’t go into the various unfruitful market trips I embarked on before realizing that most of what I needed was in my fridge, instead I present to you:

Spanish-inspired picnic salads

Arugula and Piquillo pepper salad with Chorizo and goat cheese in Sherry vinaigrette.  I packed the salads into individual serving-sized Tupperware (What do you call non-Tupperware brand Tupperware?  Airtight plastic container just doesn’t have the same ring to it.) and placed them in a bag with a bunch of grapes, a baguette tradition, a bottle of rosé, and a couple of cookies.  Now that picnic season seems to be in full swing, we have a cupboard dedicated to picnic supplies: paper napkins, plastic utensils and cups are all at the ready for a last-minute weeknight picnic.  We took our dinner to the Canal St. Martin, a few blocks away and sat by the water alongside hundreds of Parisians who had had the same idea.

Bridge over the Canal St. Martin at dusk

We got there just as the sun was setting, so the temperature was just perfect.  We enjoyed our picnic and watched the sky slowly grow darker.

Crescent Moon over the Canal St. Martin

Nick got this photo of the crescent moon just above the buildings.  I love pictures taken at this hour of the evening, where the sky is still a brilliant blue but here on Earth it is already dark.  It reminds me of a Magritte painting.

So this is what people are talking about when they wax nostalgic about Paris in the Spring!








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