Friday, December 14, 2012

Complimentary Holiday Treats

I recently needed some meringues in order to make Nigella Lawson's Eton Mess recipe, so I called my mother in France and got her to dictate her recipe to me over the phone. Meringues use egg whites, so I wanted a second recipe that would allow me to use up the leftover yolks. She gave me her recipe for chocolate truffles. I had to experiment a little to get the oven temperature for the meringues right and of course I had to convert the measurements from grams to cups, etc., but these recipes are pretty close to my mother's originals. I also tweaked the truffles just a little by adding orange zest (you can remove it if you are not a fan), which I think my mother would approve of. So here are two recipes just in time for your holiday parties. Note that the meringues in my photo are slightly golden; if you set the oven to 175 (or at least no higher than 200) I think you'll avoid the browning. They also are just amorphous blobs because I was planning to crush them for Nigella's recipe--you can use a bag and frosting nib to make then into pretty shapes if you're serving them up as cookies.

For the Meringues, you will need:

4 egg whites (carefully separated so NO YOLK is present)
1 pinch salt
1 1/3 cups of powdered (AKA confectioner's) sugar
optional: 1 tsp grated lemon zest, or 1 tsp vanilla, or 1 tsp coconut extract, whichever you prefer (I would not combine these, however)

a metal or glass mixing bowl (NOT PLASTIC)
hand mixer
bag and nib with wide opening for shaping
parchment paper
nonstick cooking spray
cookie sheets

No cream of tartar necessary.

Preheat oven to 175 degrees.

Beat the egg whites with the salt until they make stiff peaks. Near the end, add the sugar a little at a time. The consistency should be thick. Add any flavoring at the end as well. Lay a piece of parchment paper over a cookie sheet, using nonstick cooking spray to seal it to the cookie sheet. Using the bag and nib, shape your meringues as you desire. Smaller is better for nice, dry meringues.

Put sheets of meringues into the oven and leave them in as long as possible (at least two hours). To give you an idea, French bakers turn off their ovens after they make their bread and let the meringues sit in them overnight to cook them. Check their color every 30 minutes or so--if they start to brown, turn the oven down.

Makes approximately 18 small meringues.


For the Truffles, you will need:

3 1/2 cups of semi-sweet chocolate chips
4 egg yolks
about 11oz of butter (2/3 of a lb), softened
4 tbsps sour cream
1/2 cup of powdered (AKA confectioner's) sugar
1 tsp freshly grated orange zest
1/2 cup to 1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

measuring cups and spoons
a large saucepot and a large pan OR a double boiler
a shallow bowl or soup dish
a normal dessert spoon
a plate

Melt the chocolate chips in the pot sitting in the pan with at least an inch and a half of water (or use the double boiler--I don't have one, and have always gone the MacGuyver route of pot-in-pan, but I imagine like most proper tools a double boiler makes this easier). Keep the heat on medium to medium low, as long as the chocolate is melting, as you don't want to overcook it. As soon as the chips are all melted, add the eggs, butter, sour cream, sugar, and zest. Mix thoroughly. A few little lumps are preferable to overcooking the chocolate, however, so remove from heat ASAP. Let cool and then refrigerate minimum 3 hours, up to overnight.

Put the cocoa in the shallow bowl, and using the dessert spoon, scoop out some chocolate. These will be extremely rich, so smaller amounts are better. Roll the chocolate between your palms. Warning: your hands will quickly get covered in gooey chocolate loveliness and you will be sorely tempted to lick your fingers--refrain, for hygenic reasons of course. (However, every so often I like to wash my hands again, and right before I do, I have a taste or two.) Once the chocolate is in the shape of a ball, drop into the cocoa powder and roll around until it is completely covered, and transfer to the plate.

Refrigerate again so the truffles will firm up. Makes about 60 truffles. Enjoy!

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Fried Pork Chops with Baby Potatoes

This is a decadent one! Pork chops can be dry, but not if you bread them and fry them, let me tell you. This recipe makes juicy, delectable pork chops, and it's so easy.

You will need:

2 pork chops (the ones I used were boneless, but that was because they were on sale--choose the cut you prefer)
1/2 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1 tsp garlic powder (if you use garlic salt, omit the tsp of salt that follows)
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1 tsp thyme leaves
These are small potatoes!
1 egg
1 cup Panko bread crumbs
Enough oil (I use olive, canola or safflower) to have a 1/2 inch deep in your choice of frying pan
3/4 lb of baby potatoes, such as French fingerling
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp salt

3 shallow bowls, such as soup/salad bowls(you'll need to dip the pork chops in them so deep bowls will not do unless they are quite large)
frying pan big enough for 2 pork chops
ungreased cookie sheet or oven dish for the potatoes

Preheat oven to 400.

Drizzle the 2 tbsps of olive oil over the potatoes on the cookie sheet. Dust the 1 tsp of salt over them. Bake for 45 minutes, checking 2-3 times to flip the potatoes and make sure they aren't cooking too fast. They are ready when they are browning on at least one side and their skins are wrinkled.

Wait until about 20 minutes into the potato baking time, and then set the frying oil to heat on medium to medium high.

Put the flour and spices in one of the shallow bowls and whisk together. In another shallow bowl, beat the egg. In the final bowl, put the bread crumbs.

Coat the first pork chop in the flour mixture, then dip both sides in the egg, then cover with bread crumbs. I often put the pork chop in the bread crumbs and then bury it in more crumbs, to make sure it's well coated.

Place in the pork chop carefully in the oil--if you've never fried anything in oil before, note that burning oil is very painful! Just set it gently in and avoid splashing. Repeat the process with the second pork chop.

Fry on each side for eight minutes.

Serve with the potatoes and enjoy!

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Stuffed Poblano Peppers with Cajun Seasoning

I recently got an email from Lindsey, who handles social media at Kernel Seasons.* You've probably seen these little shakers at the movie theater--they have all sorts of flavors for seasoning your popcorn. Lindsey said she had read my blog and bookmarked some recipes, and she asked whether I might be interested in developing some recipes using some of the available seasonings. It sounded like a lot of fun to me, so I asked to have a couple of kinds sent. This is the first recipe I developed, loosely inspired by my stuffed tomato recipe, which you can find here. The biggest different with this recipe is I wanted to go for some heat, and use the Kernel Seasons Cajun powder to do it.

You will need:

8 poblano peppers (choose some that are more puffed out, for easier stuffing)**
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 small onion, diced
1 green jalapeno or 2 red jalapeno peppers, chopped into small pieces
1 cup long grain white rice
1 cup water
2 cans tomato sauce, 15oz each
1/4 tsp Kernel Seasons Cajun powder
1 tsp garlic powder (not garlic salt)
1 tsp whole thyme leaves
1 lb ground turkey, crumbled
1 package queso fresco (about 4oz), crumbled

chef's knife
cutting board
measuring cups and spoons
a large pan or wok
wooden spoon
small mixing bowl
nonstick cooking spray
large baking dish (you might lay out your raw poblanos to make sure they all fit)

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees.

Put the onions, green or red jalapenos, and rice in a pan with the oil and heat on high. As an aside, I've made this recipe twice now, once with red jalapenos, and once with a green. I used to be such a fan of heat in food that I would put a chopped up a habanero in my grilled cheese sandwiches. I have since lost all tolerance for spicy food and am a complete wuss--hence, I preferred the recipe with the red chilis (AKA red jalapeno peppers) which are milder. I also removed the seeds in both recipes. This part of the recipe really is a matter of taste. Leave the seeds, use five jalapenos, do whatever you prefer and your taste buds can handle. The next time I make the recipe, I'll use red chilis if I can find them, and I'll leave the seeds out.

Anyway, heat the onions, chilis, and rice, stirring frequently, until the rice starts to brown. When it does, add the water and allow to cook without stirring until most of the water is absorbed. If you're not sure, run a wooden spoon through the mixture--do you see water? Leave it alone a while longer. Also listen to it--if the sizzling starts to sound serious, the water is gone and you need to act quickly. Before that point, mix the Cajun seasoning, garlic powder, and thyme into the tomato sauce. I do this regardless of whether the sauce is already seasoned. Don't add salt--the tomato sauce and the Cajun seasoning both already have it.

When the rice had absorbed the water, add half the tomato sauce and stir, turning the heat down to medium low. Allow to simmer for five more minutes, and add the ground turkey. Cook for fifteen minutes.

Add the queso fresco. The cool thing about queso fresco is that it doesn't melt. You can stir it into your stuffing mixture and it will not gunk up your pan.

Spray your baking dish with nonstick cooking spray--you'll thank me later. For some reason this recipe is especially splattery.

Pour the remaining tomato sauce into your baking dish.

Cut the tops off of the poblanos. Poblanos often have indented tops--you don't want to waste any peppery goodness, so cut just enough to be able to pull the insides out. Clean out the seeds.

Using the end of your wooden spoon to push the stuffing into the tips of the poblanos, stuff your peppers. Put them in your baking dish. (See the note below about leftover stuffing.) Bake for 25 minutes, but check your peppers to be sure they are done, since your oven may differ from mine. You want the skin of the poblano to be visibly darkening in spots.

Enjoy! Serves 8.
* Note: Kernel Seasons sent me free powders, but is not paying me to endorse their product.
** I actually did the recipe with four and saved the leftover stuffing for burritos. It was yummy. If you decide to reserve some stuffing for later or you find that you have some leftover for whatever reason, continue cooking it in its pan for another 25 minutes. Add a little water if necessary to keep it moist. You can refrigerate it once cool for no more than two days, or freeze it for two months. To reheat in burritos, just put some stuffing on a tortilla and reheat in the microwave--2 minutes on 80% power, then 20 seconds on high. And if you put a little piece of wet paper towel in the microwave with the plate it keeps things moist.
If you try one of my recipes, please comment and let me know how it turned out!

Friday, June 29, 2012

Savory Tomato Tarte de Dijon

My French family comes from Burgundy, and specifically from Dijon--yes, where the mustard comes from! It's also a great place to taste fine wine, and there are lots of other wonderful reasons to visit. Anyway, this recipe comes from Dijon, and to make it all the more authentic, it calls for Dijon mustard. I know it sounds surprising to put mustard on a savory tomato tart (a lot like a pizza) but trust me, it is delicious. This recipe is so quick and easy--the longest part is slicing the tomatoes!

Unless you find a brand of puff pastry dough that is much larger than the Pillsbury brand I use, the resulting tart is pretty small. I'm including a picture with a magic marker for reference below. This is definitely not a big main course in a meal. Think of it as an appetizer, side, or light lunch for two. If you do find a larger piece of dough to work with, adjust the rest of the ingredients accordingly.

You will need:

1 sheet of mostly defrosted puff pastry dough
a squirt bottle of Dijon mustard*
1 clove of garlic, sliced thinly
1 large tomato, sliced thinly (or 2 small ones)
thyme and pepper
3oz of grated Italian cheese mix, or grated parmesan, or grated swiss

cookie sheet
parchment paper (which is not the same as wax paper--you can bake parchment paper)
nonstick cooking spray
chef's knife
cutting board

A note about defrosting the dough: I defrost mine for 30 minutes. Beware. Overly defrosted dough will become a gooey, unmanageable mess. If you start defrosting it and your husband informs you he just had a protein shake and won't be hungry for at least another hour (as mine did last night), place pieces of parchment paper between the folds of the dough, as well as underneath it, so it can't get stuck to itself or the plate it's on. If you have room in your fridge and it is already defrosted enough, you could also unfold the dough. Just treat it like it's going to stick to itself and anything it touches, because it will.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Spray the cookie sheet with nonstick spray and lay down a sheet of parchment paper. If you already have the dough on a sheet of parchment, just transfer that onto the cookie sheet. The spray keeps the parchment paper in place.

Squirt a spiral of mustard onto the dough. If you're spooning it out, about 3 tablespoons ought to do it. Use the back of a spoon to spread the mustard around. You want the mustard to cover most of the dough in a thin layer. You shouldn't see dough through the mustard, but you also don't want big gobs of it. Evenly space the slices of garlic over the mustard.

Slice the tomatoes as thinly as possible. This is a great recipe for tomatoes that are hard or somewhat unripe inside (you know those lovely red tomatoes that you cut into only to find they are whitish inside). Lay them out in overlapping rows on the tart.

Sprinkle thyme and pepper over everything. I don't add salt--the cheese is salty enough.

Note the marker. Not a big tart.
Cover everything with the grated cheese. Fold the edges of dough over and pinch the corners where the dough overlaps. As I said above, this dough gets very sticky, so it will stick to itself well enough once it's totally defrosted.

Bake for 20 minutes (check on it, though, your oven may be different from mine!). Enjoy!

* You can, of course, use jarred mustard. The squirt bottle is just more fun.

If you try this recipe, please post a comment and let me know how it turned out!

Friday, May 4, 2012

Couscous with Chicken, Red Bell Peppers & Yellow Squash

France has a history of imperialism, which, on the whole, I'm not so proud of since I like the idea of self-determination. However, one good thing to come of it is that some North African dishes, like couscous, have become standards in French cuisine. All this to say that the following recipe is far more French than Algerian or Tunisian.

You will need:

1 medium onion, diced
2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
4-6 chicken legs
2 tbsp olive oil
1 large red bell pepper, diced
2 carrots, diced
4 medium yellow or summer squash, sliced
1 tomato, diced
1 15oz can of  chick peas (AKA garbanzo beans), rinsed
1 large can of crushed tomatoes
1 heaping tbsp cumin powder
3 tsp cayenne pepper
1 tsp black pepper
chicken broth (optional, 1-2 cups)

3 cups of couscous
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil (EVOO)
1 tsp salt
chicken broth (optional, 6 cups)

3-Quart Saucepan
Measuring Spoons
Chef's Knife
Cutting Board
Can Opener
Strainer for rinsing the chickpeas
Wooden Stirring Spoon
Serving Spoon
Mixing Bowl with Lid

Put the onion, garlic, and chicken in the stockpot with the olive oil to brown for three or four minutes on high heat. I don't add salt because the crushed tomatoes and the chickpeas are both already salty, but it's a matter of taste. You may want to add a bit of salt--if so, do it now. Add the red bell pepper, carrots, and squash, stirring. Heat for another five minutes, continuing to stir to keep the ingredients from sticking to the bottom. Add the diced tomato, chick peas, and crushed tomatoes, stir and lower the heat to medium-low. Add the cumin, cayenne, and black pepper.

Once the mixture is bubbling, turn down low and allow to cook for at least 40 minutes, although this is the sort of recipe that can cook for as long as you like, and it just gets better. If you do decide to cook it for longer, make sure the liquid doesn't reduce too much. Add chicken broth if you think it's boiling down.

When you're about ten to fifteen minutes from finishing cooking the mixture, boil 6 cups of water (or chicken broth, but omit the salt) with the tablespoon of EVOO and the salt. Put the couscous in the mixing bowl. As soon as the water or broth is boiling pour it over the cous cous, give it a quick stir, and cover for five minutes. Remove the lid and fluff with a fork.

Plate the couscous with the chicken and squash mixture on top. Enjoy!

Serves four.

If you try one of my recipes, please comment and let me know how it came out!