Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Sundays With Jacques, Sept. 22

Chanterelles were on sale, so I had to get some. I sauteed them in butter and oil, finished with shallots, parsley, and chives. I thought it was strange to put them on toast, but if JP says it's good, I'll try it. Sure enough, duh, it was delicious.
 And I did continue the lamb theme this week with a lamb steak from the leg. It was a quick sear followed by a quicker pan sauce of soy sauce, sambal oelek, ketchup, balsamic vinegar, and garlic. I am just realizing now that I forgot the mint! Ug. I did remember to add it the first night - it rounded out the flavors nicely - but leftovers night, no mint. Oh-oh, that means there is a little container in the fridge somewhere.

 Leek gratin and sauteed potatoes were the sides. It seems like a lot, but it was all pretty simple and came together quickly. The potatoes were from our garden. I think there is some sort of potato worm out there. I need to look this up because many of my potatoes had little guys hanging out inside, which means you have to really peel all of them. I tried my hand at "turning" a few - that's a French technique where you make little football shapes with your veggies. They not only look adorable, but they also cook at the same rate.
I was over at the neighbor's house and we were discussing dinner. I was talking about this and she about her tacos. I realized that I make a lot of dishes to complete one meal because she thought I was done when I mentioned the lamb and potatoes and I had to say, "Wait, I also made ..." lest she think potatoes were the only vegetable. Hardly!

Monday, September 23, 2013

Stupid Gnocchi

Gnocchi is something to be ordered, not made. I have made it a couple of times - potato, potato with spinach, and now sweet potato. The little writeup even talked about how adding sweet potato is a good trick for novices because taking away some regular potato would remove some of the gluey potential. Ha.

I have heard good gnocchi described as airy and light, as little clouds. Mine were like lead. Mine were the opposite of airy and light. Mine were a travesty. Oh, but we still ate them with sage and butter and Pecorino.

Sam was even excited at the prospect of dinner because he has had the gnocchi that I buy frozen from Trader Joe's. I sautĂ© them in butter and melt a little cheese on them. He loves those gnocchi. Of these, however, he said, emphatically, "I don't like them." But I had worked so hard and was so angry that they didn't turn out well that I snarled at him to eat them or eat nothing and if he chose nothing he would most likely throw up in the morning from low blood sugar. So there.

I know that I went wrong in a couple of places. The sweet potatoes were perfectly roasted, but the yukons were not. Little, hard bits of potato in your gnocchi? No, thanks. I guess I also worked too much flour in, which would create toughness, but I just don't get how to not add so much. I have worked with many doughs in my day. With bread, I know the difference between "tacky" and too darned sticky. But these gnocchi were a mess and I kept adding and adding flour.

And don't even get me started with how difficult it is to roll the little guys off the back of a fork for the cute little tine impression. Mine were far from cute. And tough. Did I mention tough?

The one saving grace was that I further developed my browned butter sauce. If you have never done it, I highly recommend melting a few tablespoons of unsalted butter, letting it brown, throwing in sage, and then tossing your pasta in the pan too - gnocchi, cheese ravioli, even a plain pasta would be good.

But, do yourself a favor, and order gnocchi at a restaurant or purchase frozen for home.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Sunday, Sept. 15, With Jacques

I thought you would want to know what I made. Lamb shanks with white beans. I might just devote the following weeks to all the lamb recipes in Essential Pepin. I just adore lamb. And beans. Which reminds me that Sam has all but declared himself a vegetarian. He says that animals are our friends and we have to protect them and not eat them. Where does he get such ideas? Are the Wild Kratts vegetarians?

I also made a salad - that I forgot to photograph. It was so simple and so good: arugula with oil-cured olives and croutons, dressed with lemon juice and olive oil. I just adore oil-cured olives. And arugula, or rocket, as they say in Jolly Old England.                        

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Sundays With Jacques

There is a Tuesdays With Dorie blog where the host chooses recipes to make once a week. Anyone can participate. The only stipulation, of course, is that you have Greenspan's Around My French Table cookbook. Every participant makes the chosen dishes and sends in photos. I have always wanted to participate, but I don't want to buy the book because I have lots of cookbooks that I really should work through. Plus, I worship at the altar of Jacques Pepin.

For a while I did Sunday night Jacques Pepin dinners - my own thing - working out of his most recent tome, Essential Pepin. I have made several soups and soufflĂ©s and other dishes, and they have all been fantastic, of course. I fell out of the habit for some reason, and I would like to fall back in. I took up the cause again this past Sunday and, since today is the following Sunday, I have got one of JP's recipes  on the stovetop.

Let me just say a couple of words about Jacques. He is so fantastic and incredible. His resume in the world of cuisine is astonishing and one that is now unapproachable. Chefs in the US certainly don't train the way he did; I don't know if they still do so in France, but I doubt it. He was of a generation that was apprenticed at the age of 14 and grew into being a cook as musicians grow into their trade - that is, by learning the art in the bones. Musicians know that you don't think about the individual notes in the scales you practice, you just play because your body knows them. I think the same can be said for JP's mise en place. He cooked for French presidents; he cooked in famous restaurants; he turned down cooking for the Kennedys in the White House. He teaches, he writes, he has TV shows and throws some killer fetes. I have a fantasy that I will write his biography. I mean, Julia Child has how many biographies? Lots. JP needs a few too. And, since he's on the East Coast, while I'm over there, I will try out for America's Test Kitchen, get in, move there, and then write Christopher Kimball's biography too. (Yeah, yeah, the family comes with me, duh.)

So Sunday. I try to pick a balance of dishes. Last week I made mushroom ravioli, fish soup with rouille, and a carrot salad.

I have wanted a pasta maker for-ev-er. I know that I can hand roll dough and make a ton of shapes that way, but I haven't tried. My kitchen workspace is so small that a huge task like Pasta is pretty daunting. I really have to get up the gumption. For this recipe, even JP uses wonton wrappers, so I did too. The first night, I made his suggested wine sauce to go with the ravs (and forgot to photograph it) - delicious and goes so well with mushrooms. The second night, I made a browned butter and sage sauce, which is pretty darned awesome and seems like it can go on anything.
For the fish soup, I bought fish heads and made a fume for the first time. I picked out my own heads at Uwajimaya, which didn't seem right. I must have gotten a neophyte at the fish counter, because who in the world hands a lady two plastic bags and tells her to go to town on the stack of fish heads? It was fun, though, so I didn't mind. Except when I got poked by one of the razor-sharp little cheek spikes.

I must say, I have made lots of chicken and vegetable stock in my day, but fish stock is super easy and cheap! I paid $3 for all those heads, boiled them for 15 minutes, and voila! fish stock. It was good too. Then I boiled aromatics and herbs in it and served it with rouille (a sort of mayonnaise) and toasted bread. I saw Jacques and Julia make it on their show and have wanted to make it for a while. Now I have.

The carrot salad looks simple enough, but the flavor combination was unique and delicious. It's just carrots and sunflower seeds on watercress (a must!), but the vinaigrette makes it: sherry vinegar with walnut oil! How big of a difference can that make? A huge one. I got a sort of expensive California walnut oil and it was totally worth it.
So that's it for Sunday #1 with JP. Back on track.

Walnut Oil Vinaigrette. 
1 teeny weeny shallot, finely minced
1 small clove garlic, smashed and minced
2T sherry vinegar
4T walnut oil
Whisk together. You could add a 1/2 tsp. Dijon mustard if you want it more piquant. Definitely serve with watercress or arugula.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Once upon a time

There were three squash plants.
I pulled them all out the other day. They were nasty. All covered in powdery mildew which, if you haven't experienced it, is quite powdery indeed. As I cut off squash tentacles in order to make yanking the whole plant less unwieldy, a white miasma engulfed me. Knowing that it is some fungus that kills plants,  I felt I should not inhale. So I would take a big breath on the lawn, and then run over to the raised bed and pull on the plants. 

I decided that three plants is just about right for getting to do a variety of dishes; I had two zucchini and one yellow squash. I know my father just kicked himself back from the computer desk screaming, "What?! You hate zucchini!" (I may have exaggerated the scene for dramatic effect.) And this is partly true. Really, though, I hate steamed zucchini, as I believe all steamed vegetables are punishment for some dastardly deed committed in another life. 

I used to watch Molto Mario on the Food Network, back when the cooking shows were much better and every other one was not about cupcakes. Mario was great because he would pull down a map of Italy and talk about the region that his dishes came from, and then he would cook right there for his guests, usually three somewhat famous people. He once did a shallow-fried zucchini on pasta. It was quite fun to toss little squash rounds into hot olive oil, but it was also messy and a pain, so I take mine to the oven and blast them at 425 or 450 for 15 minutes or so. It can be had simply in a bowl or on top of pasta with some Pecorino and herbs of choice.
Speaking of herbs, I discovered that savory goes very well with zukes. I made a couple different patties and put savory in both to rave reviews. Well, Teddy refused the try them and Sam only grudgingly did so because I wouldn't make him a grilled cheese and he knows that low blood sugar makes him vomit. I got both patty recipes from magazines and they both go smashingly well with green goddess dressing - man, is that stuff good when homemade. Which reminds me of the time I poisoned Josh with some very old store-bought dressing. Good story: I plated our salads and put the old dressing on his and opened a new bottle for me. I do recall feeling like the smell was off, but I also recall thinking, eh! what could happen? Vomit and diarrhea, that's what.

Why is is called green goddess? I figured it was a 1960s thing created on some commune, but it actually originated in the 1920s when a chef at San Francisco's Palace Hotel made it for an actor and named it in honor of the play he was in. I don't make mine with mayonnaise because I don't like it (!). I prefer using buttermilk, yogurt, or a combination thereof.

I also pickled some zukes. I made a bread and butter zucchini pickle, which came out tasty, but mushy. There is no way around the mush if you are going to make your cans shelf-stable. The pickle on the right is a fridge pickle, i.e. crispy, and has sugar, cloves, and allspice. It's "supposed" to be a marinade for beets, but the mix reminded me a lot of the zuke pickles that Vios puts on their lamb burger. I'm irritated with Vios, though, so we shouldn't talk about them. I won't even link to their homepage. 

And I finally stuffed blossoms. You might notice that your plant has several blossoms that never fruit. These are male and usually the first flowers. We all know that males can't make babies, i.e. fruit, by themselves, so pluck those males and stuff them! I made blossom pasta sauce last year, but found they have little flavor on their own. Stuffed blossoms, naturally, are quite different and delightful. I did two versions: stuffed with Spanish cheese and pan-fried; and stuffed with ricotta, poached, and served in a chicken broth.

There were but two zuke dishes on the docket that I didn't get to: zucchini soup and zucchini puree (as pasta sauce). They both sound too bitter for my palate. I find unadulterated zucchini taste bland and, somehow, squeaky.

I am excited to move on to the winter squash. Now those are my favorite. I really want to stuff a pumpkin with soup, bread, and cheese this year! What do you do with squash?

Green Goddess Dressing
1 cup plain yogurt or creme fraiche (maybe 3/4 yogurt and 1/4 buttermilk)
1/4 cup chopped fresh dill
1/4 cup chopped fresh chives or green onions
2T chopped fresh tarragon
2T chopped fresh parsley
1T white wine vinegar
1T anchovy paste

Blend and season with salt and pepper, to taste. Goes great on lots of things.

Zucchini Fritters
1 1/2 lb. summer squash of choice
1 1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 cup + 3T AP flour
1/2 tsp. baking powder
2T grated Parmesan
2T minced shallot or green onion
1T minced summer savory
a couple grinds black pepper
1/4 beer - pretty much any kind, but probably not a stout or porter

Grate the squash and place in a large colander. Massage 1tsp. of salt into the shreds and let sit to exude liquid for 30 minutes. Place the mass in a clean dish towel and squeeze like crazy to get as much liquid out as possible. Whisk the flour, baking powder, 1/2 tsp. salt, and pepper together in a large mixing bowl. Mix in the beer. Then fold in the shallot, herb, cheese and zucchini.

Coat the bottom of a nonstick pan in olive oil and heat over medium. Drop 1/4-cupful sized patties in and flatten. Brown for 4-5 minutes per side.

These are nice served on a salad with a generous spoonful of green goddess dressing. Smoked trout and rice are lovely alongside. And don't forget to polish off that beer you opened to make the fritters.