Friday, March 30, 2012

French Fridays with Dorie: Crab & Grapefruit Salad

Refreshing Crab & Grapefruit Salad

We have had a beautiful, early warm spring here in the normally frozen tundra known as Chicagoland, so this week's recipe was a pleasant and refreshing accompaniment to a breezy Sunday afternoon lunch on the sun porch.  I love being a member of French Fridays because things I would not normally seek out, like crab (as I have said before, not much of a seafood fan), end up being such pleasant surprises.  This recipe was no exception.  Incredibly simple, and undeniably elegant, this little salad will be on my summer menus for sure.  I was able to find super chunky and delicious lump crab at a nearby specialty market.  The dressing of olive oil, grapefruit and lemon juices was perfect, but the mint is the real standout here,  I was surprised a bit by this ingredient, because I normally associate mint with desserts, but it adds so much to the delicate flavor of the salad. 

I also used this opportunity to catch up on the Cheese Souffle, with what I thought was a great result.  To me, though, cheese souffle sounds a lot better, or at least more exotic, than it really is.  It is essentially really cheesy eggs.  Delicious, yes, but rather simple nonetheless. 

Apologies, dear readers, for the late and rather short post, but it has been an extremely busy week, and this little blogger is tuckered out.  Until next week (asparagus and bacon, oh my!), bon apétit!

Friday, March 23, 2012

French Fridays with Dorie: Cocoa Sables

Cocoa Sables as an Ice Cream Sandwich-even more delicious

It has been too long, mes amis,  and I have missed writing these past two weeks.  Unfortunately I unable to make one of my favorite recipes last week, cheese soufflé, because on my normal recipe day I was attending the Chicago Housewares Show.  The show was great, but as a result I will have to make the soufflé another time.  This week’s recipe is for a little shortbread called a sablé, and specifically cocoa sablés.   Flaky, tender and surprisingly chocolatey this is a recipe that I did not expect to enjoy that much, but I think it may become a staple.
I have always enjoyed shortread cookies.  When I was a kid I used to love even the ones from those tins of really bad butter cookies you see with Holiday themes on them around Christmas.  As I got older I started experimenting with different recipes for shortbread, and even found a great little terra cotta shortbread mold that I use from time to time to make my favorite, lemon shortbread.  Somehow the lemon provides just the right amount of lightness to offset the rich butteriness of the cookie.  I have made chocolate shortbread before, but I never cared for it…some how it was not rich enough.  I like my chocolate a little gooey, I guess.  Chocolate shortbread, and many chocolate cookies for that matter, always taste like something is missing to me.  Dorie’s cocoa sables provided the missing link!  I think the chopped semi-sweet chocolate is the trick.  I was impatient and did not wait until the butter was room temp, so my dough did not come together very well, and as you can see from the photo above my cookies were not that round, but they were delicious-and made a great ice cream sandwich.  Until next week, bon apétit!

Monday, March 5, 2012

French Fridays with Dorie-Saint-Germain-des-Prés Onion Biscuits

Saint-Germain-des-Prés Onion Biscuits
OK, I admit it.  I am a biscuit snob.  But, I have good reasons for it.  I come from a long line of biscuit lovers, and biscuit bakers.  Both of my parents grew up in east Tennessee, my mom on a farm where she and her sister and brother churned their own butter, raised hogs and where my grandfather made home made pork sausage, the perfect biscuit accompaniment.  (Country ham is another good choice, but that is a point for later.)  One of my fondest childhood memories is of sitting in my granny's kitchen watching her make biscuits every morning.  She used no measurements.  She had a pull-out container mounted in her kitchen cabinet that held flour (surely White Lily self-rising) that had a sifting crank on the side.  She would pull out the container, place her bowl under the sifter and  She knew just how many cranks it took to get the perfect amount of flour.  She cut in the shortening, mixed in the buttermilk, rolled and cut the dough and baked the biscuits for 15 agonizing minutes.  I have strived for years to make biscuits close to as delicious as hers, or even to find a close approximation.  The perfect biscuit, to me, has that wonderful combination of crunchy base, fluffy soft layered, salty interior that balances out the tangy sweetness of home made blackberry jam....yum. 

Biscuits come in all shapes and sizes, from super tall, doughy fluffy ones I found at a hole-in-the-wall BBQ joint in Montgomery, AL, to those hideous canned, so-called Grand kind you find in the grocery store.  I think if people knew how easy it was to make home made biscuits, and how superior they are to those canned monstrosities the world would be a better place.  Or at least the North would be a better place.  On my quest to find what I consider the perfect biscuit recipe, I tried many combinations...there are so many variations on this quick bread, it really can be mind boggling.  Butter or shortening?  Or both?  Milk or buttermilk?  AP flour or self-rising flour?   My personal favorite is the recipe below, taste tested many times by Edmund and me. This one also gets the family seal of approval after serving at many a breakfast, and even at Thanksgiving dinner:

Buttermilk Biscuits
½ cup (1 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut in to 16 pieces
2-1/4 c. self-rising flour, White Lily if you can find it…it’s the best
1-1/4 c. buttermilk
2 tbsp melted butter
Preheat oven to 450.   Grease a cookie sheet with shortening or butter. 
Place flour in a medium bowl.  Toss in the pieces of butter, and either using a pastry blender or two table knives cut the butter in to the flour until the combination resembles a coarse meal.  Work as quickly as you can so that the butter does not begin to melt.  You will have some larger and some smaller chunks of butter and that is great.  Chill this mixture in the refrigerator for 10 minutes.  Once chilled, make a small well in the center of the flour mixture and pour in the buttermilk.  Stir with a fork until all the flour is just moistened and a soft dough begins to form.  Turn dough out on to a floured work surface and pat  dough out to a ¾” thick rectangle.  Fold dough like a letter, then flatten to a 3/4” thick rectangle again and rotate one clockwise turn, fold into a letter again.  Turn and fold two more times.  This creates those coveted layers.  Pat or roll dough out to a ½” rectangle and, using a sharp 2” biscuit cutter dipped in flour, push straight down-do not twist-and cut as many biscuits as possible.  Gather scraps and press out, cut the remaining biscuits.  Again, the quicker you work and the less you work the dough the fluffier the biscuits will be.  Place cut biscuits on prepared cookie sheet and bake for 13 to 15 minutes.  Brush baked biscuits with the melted butter and serve immediately.
I think these are the best, most delicious biscuits, and they work well with both sweet and savory fillings. 
Ready for the oven.....
So, with all of this said, on to the Saint-Germain-des-Prés biscuits.  Being the biscuit afficianado that I am, I somewhat objected to the idea of sugar in my biscuit dough...after all sugar is for shortcakes, not for biscuits, but I decided to follow the recipe faithfully rather than add or omit ingredients.  I did take some liberties with method in that I chilled my cut biscuits in the freezer for about 10 minutes prior to baking to prevent the still slightly warm onions from melting the butter.  I cut larger biscuits than called for, as well,  so I ended up with about 13 rather than the suggested 32 biscuits.  I decided to serve the breads with some prosciutto and melon, thinking the saltiness of the Italian ham would approximate the salty deliciousness of country ham, and that the classic pairing of proscuitto and melon would work nicely with the savory biscuit.  It was delicious, but truth be told, I think my biscuit recipe wins for flavor and texture.  I found this dough too sweet and under-salted.  I do like the idea of the savory addition of onion, so I will try adding some to my recipe for the next gathering.  Until next time, mes amis, bon apétit! (yes, I figured out how to use accents over my e's).