Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Season's Greetings...and a Cuban hot chocolate recipe

The Calm One and I wish you all a very merry holiday. Be with loved ones, take care, and have fun!

I hope I will finally get around to making Vanessa's fantastic caramelo hot chocolate during the holidays. Her recipe is here.

Regular posting will resume in the new year. Bonnes fêtes!

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Mini Canadian Maple Tarts, Elmo the Cat & a Special Gift from Santa

When living in the States, I frequently indulged in a stack of slathered-with-butter, American-style pancakes which were smothered in pure maple syrup. The only reason why maple syrup can be found here, though with difficulty, is the French Canadian connection.

As it is still pretty precious, I resisted buying enough for a full Canadian maple tart. As this traditional favourite is essentially a pudding in an already baked pie shell, the problems plaguing baking mini pies are avoided such as the filling getting done before the crust, but the advantages remain: greater proportion of pastry to filling and facility of scoffing them down.

makes 6 three-inch mini tarts

Pastry, short crust, enough for one crust 9-inch pie (recipe)
Maple syrup, pure, 6 fluid ounces
Cream, heavy, 4 fluid ounces
Cornstarch, 2 T
Water, cold, 2 T
Unsweetened whipped cream and freshly grated nutmeg for topping

When making the pastry, I used half butter and half lard.  This mixture gives both buttery flavour and pronounced flakiness.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Roll out dough into a roughly shaped rectangle about an one-eighth-inch thick. Using an appropriately sized cutter (bowls, glasses, lids, etc.), make six five-inch circles. If needed, gather scraps into a ball and roll out to make the required number of rounds.

Unused pastry can be pressed into a ball and then frozen.  Future bits and pieces can be added, and eventually there will be enough for a round of mini tarts or a pie!

Turn over a muffin pan and drape the circles over the inverted cups. Loosely pleat uniformly all around, gently remove, and reserve. Repeat with the remaining dough.

Turn the muffin tin right side up and carefully ease the formed dough into the individual pans. Try not to stretch the pastry or press too tightly as that will make them shrink and puff up too much while baking. However, they should be fitted snugly.

With a small fork, press the tines around the crust, neatening up the edge. Make sure the pastry is contained within each individual pan (for easier removal after baking). Also lightly perforate the bottoms.

Put them in the oven and after a few minutes check to see if they are puffing up. If so, press the bottoms down with a finger moistened in cold water. Check again in a few minutes and repeat if necessary.

Bake around fifteen minutes or until the top edges are tinged golden brown. Carefully remove the shells--loosen the top edges with a thin spatula and slide/ease them out. Let them cool on a rack.

While the pie shells are cooling, make the filling.  Gather your ingredients.

Stir the cornstarch into the cold water until dissolved. It will look like thin milk.

In a medium-sized saucepan, mix the cream and maple syrup until blended. Stir in the dissolved cornstarch.

Bring the syrup mixture to a low simmer. Decrease the heat to low and while stirring, cook the pudding for a couple of minutes.  It will become very thick. Be careful not to scorch it.

Let cool for a minute or so and then pour into the shells.

Refrigerate the pies for at least a couple of hours. Top with a dollop of whipped cream and a sprinkling of freshly grated nutmeg.

I was bowled over with these. The smooth, thick maple pudding encased in its flaky tart shell was sublime.

Several cats belonging to the quartier like to check out our garden. One in particular is a real sweetheart. Thinking that it was a female, I named it Esme. When I found out that it is a male, The Calm One suggested Elmo. He is a fabulous, long-haired, black-and-white cat.

He likes to hang around the part of our garden reserved for small wild life to keep an eye out, well, for small wild life like mice and birds. We are becoming great friends and usually enjoy late-morning visits together.

+Lena Levin is one of my favourite artists at G+. She graciously partook in the Secret Santa event.  I got lucky and managed to reserve one of the five paintings she contributed.

Lena is a brilliant colourist and her style straddles the realistic and abstract. She regards herself as a painter of poems. If you enjoy her art, make sure you check out her website.

À la prochaine!

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Gougères...and gnocchi à la parisienne

When researching google images for the Burgundian amuse-bouche and apéritif nibble, gougèresthat is, delectable cheese puffs, one photo in particular caught my eye. Following the link, I discovered the chef (Mon Dieu, he's French!) recommends baking powder to get the puffs, well, puffy. Modern convenience, hang your head in shame! Pâte à choux is a lovely thing, forming a basis for both sweet and savoury delights.  No chemical leavening needs to apply.

Though I have made my fair share of this pastry, including profiteroles, I took very seriously this first attempt at making gougères.  Why? If there is too little or too much liquid in relation to flour, the puffs will either not rise or will deflate.  Steam formed inside the puffs is what makes them airy. Michael Ruhlman gets this point so his proportions of ingredients worked a treat.

Though other aged cheeses like Comté, Gruyère, and even Cheddar can be chosen, Parmesan works very well and along with chopped black olives is used often in the south of France.

about 35 medium-sized gougeres, a good size for stuffing, dinner roll substitutes, and to accompany drinks plus two small servings of gnocchi à la parisienne

Water, 8 fluid ounces
Butter, 8 T
Flour, 8 fluid ounces
Eggs, 8 fluid ounces (about 4 large eggs)
Parmesan, 2 T and extra for topping
Fleur de sel and freshly ground black pepper for topping

Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. Gather your ingredients.

On high heat, bring water and butter to a simmer. Add the flour all at once and over medium heat, beat until it pulls away from the sides and forms a ball. Cook gently for a minute or two so the moisture content is reduced.

Either wait for a couple of minutes or run cold water over the bottom of the pan. Add the eggs, one by one. After each addition, incorporate it fully into the dough. The texture is very stretchy and sticky--you will need to show it who's the boss. Alternatively, the dough can be processed with an electric hand mixer or transferred to a standing mixer (use the paddle attachment).

Incorporate the cheese. The dough conveniently can be refrigerated for up to twenty-four hours before baking.

On parchment-lined baking pans, place a rounded teaspoon and then another on top, to increase the height of the puff. Dipping the spoon in cold water can help in shaping the puffs. With a finger moistened in cold water, smooth out any pointy peaks which could burn. Sprinkle with Parmesan, fleur de sel, and a turn of the pepper mill.

Bake at 450 degrees F for ten minutes and then lower to 350 for about thirty minutes. Towards the end of baking, test by eating one--yeah, I know, such an arduous task! The puffs will be hard on the outside, golden brown, feel hollow, and when bit into, will be mostly dry inside but still soft. Turning the oven off and leaving the gougères inside for a few minutes may be needed to complete their perfection. Fresh out of the oven, these cheese puffs were deliciously fragrant, crisp, and light. They are best when served piping hot.

Upon breaking open a puff, The Calm One exclaimed, It's empty! I replied, Well, they are a circular version of cheese crisps. He quipped, like Cheetos?

Then he promptly filled his puff's inner void with cream cheese.

Split gougères can be filled in numerous ways. One that is very appealing and will boost the cheese quotient (as these are not that cheesy) is to chop up some Brie and Parma Ham or any other high quality ham, spoon into the cavity, replace the tops, and put in a warm oven until the Brie is melted and all is heated through. Another possibility is this scrumptious ham mousse stuffing by Emeril Lagasse. 

For the gnocchi, boil some water in a medium-sized pot.

Using a small spoon (which can be dipped in cold water to ease the formation of the gnocchi), scrape off segments of dough into the boiling water. They will float to the top in a few minutes.

Scoop them out. Brown some butter (no smoking butter though!) in a skillet and saute the gnocchi until they are golden which takes about five minutes.

Serve with Parmesan, fleur de sel, and freshly ground black pepper. These were wonderful--the crisp outside enclosed a tender, smooth, and dense inside.

À la prochaine!

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Butternut Squash Bisque & Parmesan Paprika Croutons

I chose our larger garden squash for this bisque because how clever, efficient, and pretty is it to use the rounded bottoms as bowls? There is no need for washing as we just toss them into our composting pail. Recipes for butternut squash soup abound. Though mine is simple with just a few ingredients, roasting the squash and the garlic deepens this soup's inherent, sweet nuttiness.

makes 5 hearty servings/8 more dainty ones

Squash, roasted using about 5 1/2 lbs of fresh, whole butternut
Garlic, roasted, 4 large cloves to one large head if you are a roasted garlic lover like me plus any unused roasted garlic can be frozen
Cream, heavy, 8 fluid ounces
Thyme, fresh, about ten sprigs
Chicken broth, homemade (or the best brand you can get), 32 fluid ounces
Bread, four large slices or an 8 inch length of French bread
Paprika, 1 tsp
Parmesan, 4 T
Butter, olive oil, salt & freshly ground black pepper as needed

Full instructions for roasting squash is here and for the garlic here. Roasting done in advance is a good idea; the actual soup takes only ten minutes or so to do. Extra baked squash comes in handy for making Butternut Squash Spice Cookies & Orange Icing. Squash seeds can be reserved for roasting. Put the scooped out seeds in a bowl of water. They will mostly rise to the top after sitting for a while.  Skim them off with a slotted spoon. If they are still gooey, place them in a colander and put under running water. Dry with a dish towel/tea cloth, picking off any seeds that stick to the towel. Toss with a small amount of oil and salt until coated.

Spread them in a single layer on a baking sheet. Since a lower temperature is required, I wait until the garlic and squash is done and let the oven cool down to 300 degrees F.  The seeds will take about twenty minutes to get light brown and crunchy.

For bowls, make sure you slice very thin slices off the bottom ends of the squash. Then halve the squash. Remember not to pierce right through the skin with a knife when testing for tenderness during baking as your bowl could spring a leak when filled with soup! Instead test by inserting a knife into the fleshy rims.

So many herbs and spices go well with squash soup--nutmeg, ginger, rosemary, sage--that it was hard to choose but what made up my mind is the plentiful thyme in our potager.

Coat the squash flesh with some melted butter and lay each piece cut side down on a thyme sprig.

Garlic is in the ceramic bowl

Bread crumbs also can be prepared ahead. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Cube the bread and mix together the bread, paprika, and olive oil in a bowl.

Spread them in a single layer on a parchment-lined oven tray. Bake for about 8 minutes and then toss with grated Parmesan and return to the oven for another 2 minutes.

The thyme infuses the golden flesh of the squash with its fragrance.

Molten garlic gloves resemble champagne diamonds & topaz

The croutons came out great with a little zing and a touch of cheese

Scoop out carefully with a spoon the squash bottoms that will serve as bowls, leaving about a 1/4 inch thickness. They are pretty forgiving so weak spots could be repaired with a well placed smear of squash.

With a knife, remove the skins on the rest of the squash.

Squeeze out the garlic pulp and add to the squash.

Puree with a stick mixer. A potato masher or a fork can be used alternatively, but the texture will be way less smooth.

Put the pureed squash in a soup pot and slowly add the chicken stock while stirring till well mixed. Puree a second time with the stick blender. Add the cream and heat gently. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve with croutons and a sprig of thyme.

The croutons provided a tasty crunch that set off the bisque's velvety consistency, and it was fun to eat out of the special bowls!

Green is reigning supreme in the garden at present. Since our moving here about four years ago, the ivy has glumly sat on the soil, not doing much until this very rainy year.  It is now covering pillars and walls and looking very lovely.

This perennial geranium is adding a spot of colour.

À la prochaine!