Thursday, January 26, 2012

French Fridays: Gorgonzola-Apple Quiche

Gorgonzola-Apple Quiche
After a brief hiatus, I am back for this week's delectable addition to the quiche pantheon...Gorgonzola-Apple.  As mentioned in previous posts...eggs, cheese, etc, what's not to love?  And real men do eat quiche in this day and age, thank you very much.  We make it, too.  I was excited to make this recipe because this was the first time I have made home made tart least I think it was.  I say if you can't remember if you have or have not, it's new to you anyway so what's the difference?  Hard to believe that as much as I bake I have not really ventured into pies and tarts.  Of course, Edmund makes a killer crust for apple and cherry pies in the summer and fall months, so why mess with perfection?  
Gorgonzola dolce, a mild version of this blue cheese, is the
perfect companion to apples and onions.

I was a bit surprised that this recipe called for a sweet-ish crust, and personally I think if I do make this again I will reduce the sugar or leave it out of the crust altogether.  The onions, apples and gorgonzola blended so beautifully together to create a sweet, tangy and savory filling that, in my opinion, would be better matched to a more benign crust.  Oh, that crust, though.  Crisp, flaky and delicious on its own, it will be the base of many a tart to come, I am sure!
The actual making of the tart crust dough was very simple, but if you make this or any quiche or tart that requires a crust, build time in for chilling both right after mixed and once in the pan ready to go in to the oven.  

The filling required little more than a trip to the cheese counter and some light sauteeing of apples and onions.  I thought the gorgonzola dolce called for might be difficult to find, but there it was in the cooler at Whole Foods.  Yes, I bought too large a block, but trust me, cheese does not go bad in this house.  In fact, I think I have a loaf of sourdough with that leftover cheese's name on it.    Until next week, mes amis, bon apetit!
The quiche ready for the oven


Sunday, January 22, 2012

Phew! Weekend Cooking-Palooza

Chocolate eclairs...delicious, but almost too rich.  Powdered
sugar on top because my ganach glazing technique needs some work!

So, a weekend or two ago, Edmund, my husband, was leafing through Around My French Table and saw the recipe for Vanilla Eclairs.  Skinny as a rail and with a huge sweet tooth, this was his kind of dessert.  To him sugar is a food group all its own.  So, since the group had already tackled them I decided to give them a try.  OMG.  Unbelievably delicious, challenging and fun to make.  I had never made puff pastry before!  I enjoyed it so much that I thought I would try the chocolate variation yesterday.  They were rich to the point of decadence...almost too rich, really with the ganache AND the chocolate pastry cream filling.  I, personally have never understood when people say that a dessert is too rich...really?  I can usually eat my dessert and theirs when this is the case, but the bittersweet chocolate explosion that was the chocolate eclair made me understand their point.  I think next time I may try filling with either whipped cream, like a cream puff, or vanilla pastry cream and top with the chocolate ganache.  Our friend, Molly, suggested either a raspberry mousse filling with the ganache top or a raspberry glaze with chocolate filling.  Decisions, decisions. 

   On Sundays I make our weekly recipe for the group, so today's recipe, Broth Braised Potatos, was accompanied by Short Ribs in Wine and Port, another recipe the group has already accomplished.  So much fun to make the short ribs.  The potatos, a snap.  More on those Friday.  I also made two loaves of bread...just regular old white sandwich bread, but since I started this blog one of my friends at work has asked me to make some for her.  As I said, a busy weekend.  Looking forward to some down time with Downton Abbey tonight.  Bon Apetit, mes amis.

Friday, January 20, 2012

French Fridays with Dorie-Quatre Quarts

Quatre quarts with homemade raspberry sauce and whipped cream

Light and surprisingly flavorful given its simplicity, quatre quart was this week's recipe for French Fridays with Dorie.  I chose to use Amaretto rather than cognac or rum for flavoring, and I am happy that I did.  The cake had that delicious almond flavor that was offset nicely by the raspberry sauce I made from some remnants of this past summer's berry crop.  Described as sort of a French version of pound cake, I was expecting a dense, rich cake, though the whipped egg whites seemed counter-intuitive to this way of thinking.   Drier and certainly lighter than pound cake, it's perfectly nice  but certainly lacks the wow-factor of the last several recipes in the series.  Definitely needs a saucy accompaniment.   My husband said it makes a great tea cake.   I did like the brown sugar baked in to the top of the cake,  It was a nice, textural addition. 

The top of the cake with the brown sugar baked in.  Yes, I used extra!

Friday, January 13, 2012

French Fridays With Dorie: M. Jacques' Armagnac Chicken

M. Jacques Armagnac Chicken-heaven in a Dutch oven

Incredibly easy and equally delicious...I think we have a new staple in our house.  The most difficult thing about this dish is finding the bottle of Armagnac.  I went to a local liquor store, which is generally pretty well stocked.  After meandering the aisles for the better part of 20 minutes, I finally decided to ask...."Do you have Armagnac?"  Yes they did...on the highest shelf in the furthest reaches of the store I found three options-atop the zillions of Cognacs.  Interestingly, Armagnac is similar to Cognac in that it is a brandy distilled from grapes, but the makers of Armagnac tend to be small producers whereas Cognacs are made by the big name liquor producers.  Armagnac has a sweet, flavor that is complex, and in this dish, lends a unique flavor that infuses the dish.  It is somewhat indescribable, though AMFT describes it as prune-like.  This may not sound appealing to some, but I assure you the end result is delicious.

I really enjoy complex recipes from time to time, but there is something great about a recipe that pretty much tells you to throw everything in to a pot and bake it for an hour.  This is the best kind of lazy Sunday recipe, that has a surprisingly elegant taste.  Onions, carrots and potatoes go in the bottom of the pot and the Armagnac is poured around them.  The vegetables become infused with the flavors from the brandy, the onions and the seasonings from the chicken.  The carrots, in particular, took on this amazing sweetness.  I will be adding more carrots next time I make this, because I soon found myself picking them out of the dish!  Delicious!  As for the chicken, it was incredibly moist and perfectly seasoned.  All in all, this recipe is a snap, and versatile enough to be a simple dinner for two or for a small elegant gathering of friends. 

Bon Apetit!
Armagnac Chicken, just after the lid came off of the pot

Friday, January 6, 2012

French Fridays with Dorie: Bubble Top Brioche

Bubble Top Brioche. 
(Custom tablecloth and bread cloth
by Jeanette Zebrowski)

French breads and pastries are a particular weakness of mine, so I was very happy to discover that Bubble Top Brioche was this week's recipe from French Fridays.  This was so fun and ultimately satisfying to make!  I love to bake, anyway, and this was one of the more challenging yeast bread recipes than I have tried.  I loved seeing the metamorphosis of the dough from raggedy looking, dry-as-a-desert ugliness to smooth-as-silk buttery richness.  Shaping the dough and watching the little loves rise was so gratifying.   Having the kitchen smell like a Parisian bakery was heaven, too.  These were delicious and beautiful.  I will definitely be making these again.  

  Brioche is an egg  and butter based bread that is generally eaten at breakfast.  As you can see from the photo below, the dough is divided in to small rounds, 3 of which go in to a muffin cup and become the delightful little bubble tops you see in the photo at left. 

Like Parker House Rolls, Bubble Top Brioche are made
up of 3 maller pieces of dough rolled in to balls and placed
in a muffin cup.
 To achieve the best texture the dough should be chilled overnight after a series of risings and deflations.  I think I may try freezing the dough in the little balls next time I make them so that I have a fancy breakfast treat that can be made ahead and still impress!  Absolutely perfect with a little butter and jam, I also tried some with a little bit of nutella and it was amazing.  Another fantastic and fun recipe. I am already looking forward to next week! 
Fresh from the oven...can't you just smell them?

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Cauliflower-Bacon Gratin and a New Year's Eve Dinner Menu

Cauliflower-Bacon Gratin, from Dorie Greenspan's Around My French Table, p. 362
I decided "why wait?" and dove in to this week's recipe from Around My French Table, Cauliflower-Bacon Gratin.  As DG mentions in the recipe, it is almost like a quiche with the number of eggs involved, and it was the star of our quiet New Year's Eve dinner for two.  The recipe calls for boiling the cauliflower florets for 10 minutes, draining them and then patting them dry.  Dorie also suggests steaming as an alternative, and I think next time I make this I will do that because after 10 minutes of boiling time my cauliflower was a bit too tender for my and my husband's tastes.  In addition, I will be more dilligent about removing as much moisture as possible from the cauliflower before baking because the finished gratin was a bit soupy out of the oven.  Perhaps I could have baked it a bit longer, as well.  That said, we loved this dish.  Bacon and cheese and cream and eggs, what is not to love here?  I did add sauteed onions as suggested in the bonne idee, because to me the recipe just seemed to call out for them.  The general recipe could easily be used with broccoli, brussels sprouts, spinach or a combo of these and other veggies. 

New Year's Eve Dinner for 2: Scallops with Caramel-Orange
Sauce, Cauliflower-Bacon Gratin and roasted asparagus.
The rest of the NYE dinner menu included Scallops with Caramel-Orange Sauce, also from AMFT, p. 317, roasted asparagus and, for dessert, Marie-Helene's Apple Cake, p. 432.  I am not a seafood eater and this was honestly the first time I have ever cooked it.  My husband loved the scallops and said that they were perfectly cooked  (thanks to Dorie's directions on this)  He thought that the citrus-infused sweetness from the sauce provided a nice foil to the salt and white pepper crust. 

Marie-Helene's Apple Cake, from P. 432 of AMFT
I had made Marie-Helene's Apple Cake several times before and it has become a favorite in our house.  It is incredibly easy to make, and delicious.  The key to this recipe really is choosing 4 different apples to get the most interesting texture and flavor.  This time I decided to play around with the recipe a bit and add some cinnamon, cardamom, nutmeg and lemon zest.  While these additions were excellent, the recipe is so simple and delicious as written, I think I will go back to making it without these extras next time.  The key to a good looking cake here is to use a springform pan, which I could not find yesterday when I made it, so my cake wasn't especially beautiful out of the pan, but it was still delicious with a little whipped cream and a glass of Veuve Cliquot. 

Extra cardio in the gym this week, for sure, but a special, delicious dinner for the start of the New Year.   Happy New Year to you and your families, and all the best in 2012! 

An Exercise In Patience...Or The Art Of The Loaf

In addition to French Fridays, I intend to use this blog to document more kitchen adventures, like this one! 

I don't know about you, but if I don't recognize an ingredient in supposed food I am buying at the grocery, I do my best to steer clear.  A few years ago this led me to begin baking bread for sandwiches and accompaniments to dinners rather than buy what is on the shelf.  Honestly there are many more, and better, choices in most stores now, but it is immensely satisfying to watch your own handcrafted loaf rise and bake to perfection.  The smell of bread baking takes me back to when my mother would bake a loaf for Sunday dinner.  She would place the dough in a pan near the heat register in the kitchen so that when we got back from church it had risen so high it had huge holes from gas bubbles in the finished bread, but it was delicious.  After the purchase of several well respected bread baking books with incredibly time consuming directions, temperature taking more complicated than caring for a newborn, and ingredients only available in the most out of the way specialty stores, I have managed to produce some amazing every day breads using a few simple recipes.

One of the first recipes I tried is one I found for Pane Integrale, a simple dough that requires nothing more complicated than flour, a bowl and a wooden spoon.  This bread works well with an overnight rising and so far for me has been foolproof.  There is a bit of a time commitment here, so plan on serving this bread, delicious with a cheese plate or with pasta dishes, about a day after you start it.   It is baked in a Dutch oven or similar vessel, but I imagine you could achieve pretty good results in a hot oven on a baking sheet or pizza stone. 
Pane Integrale, a bit time consuming, but delicious and simple
Pane Integrale

2-1/4 c. unbleached bread flour
3/4 c. whole wheat flour
1-1/4 teaspoons salt
1/2 tsp active dry yeast
1-1/3 c cool water
Flour, for dusting

In a medium bowl, stir together flours, salt and yeast.  Add water and mix well with a wooden spoon.  Cover with plastic wrap and let stand at room temperature (70-72 F) until dough doubles in volume and is dotted with bubbles, 12-18 hours.  For me, I have found the longer this initial "proof" time, the more flavorful the bread becomes. 

Transfer dough to a floured surface using a spatula to scrape out from the bowl.  Form the dough in to a loose round using floured hands to lift the edges of the dough towards the center.  Place dough on a well-floured towel, seam side down.  Dust the top of the dough lightly with flour, and cover loosely with the towel.  Set in a warm place to rise until doubled, between 1 and 2 hours depending on the warmth of the room.  30 minutes prior to baking, heat the oven and covered Dutch oven to 475 F.  When dough is ready, remove Dutch oven from oven, uncover and carefully place dough in to the pan.  Cover and return to the oven.  Bake for 30 minutes.  Uncover the Dutch oven and bake for 15 minutes more.  Remove bread from pan and cool on a wire rack. 


"Our Favorite Sandwch Bread" from the King Arthur Flour website
  A great resource for the home baker is, the website for King Arthur Flour, considered to be one of the best reaily available flours out there.  In addition to selling the full line of King Arthur Flours and specialty items, there is a fantastic set of recipes available, as well.  So far the easiest and most reliable sandwich loaf I have found is here:  I won't reprint the recipe , but it is a good starter recipe if you are new to baking bread.  A stand mixer with a dough hook is extremely helpful with this and many other bread recipes, so time to break out that accessory if you have not used it before.  I made this loaf yeterday.  Sweet, buttery and delicious, it makes a mean PBJ or morning toast. 

For many, baking bread seems daunting, but more than anything it is time and timing.  Having the right tools helps, too, but I think you will prefer your own bread to what you buy once you get started.  Happy baking!