Category Archives: FRENCH CUISINE

SALADE DE CAROTTES RÂPÉES (FRENCH GRATED CARROT SALAD)

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This grated carrot salad recipe that I found on Jennifer Segal’s Once Upon a Chef web site is just amazingly delicious. I was looking for a fresh carrot recipe, and I just didn’t want the old carrot with raisins combination. (In truth, I have always found a carrot and raisin salad moistened with a slightly sweet dressing underwhelming, to say the least.) But when I studied the ingredients in Jennifer’s recipe for this French favorite, I was hooked. I mean really, who doesn’t like a fabulous Dijon mustard and fresh lemon juice vinaigrette to begin with? And fresh Italian parsley? (I use fresh parsley as often as possible. And to think people used to use parsley only as a garnish!)

So for yesterday’s JazzVox pre-concert meal, I decided to take a chance and serve this salad. Well, I am here to tell you, it was a success. So much so that several people asked for the recipe. And why wouldn’t they? It’s a very economical salad to prepare and contains a vegetable that is crunchy, tasty, a wonderful color, and highly nutritious. Carrots, as everyone knows, are a very good source of beta-carotene, fiber, vitamin K, potassium, and antioxidants. Carrots are also associated with lowered cholesterol levels, improved eye health, and a reduced risk of cancer. I say everyone knows about carrots, because didn’t all of us have parents that told us that carrots were good for our eye sight? Along with the fact that spinach would help us grow up big and strong! And by the time my children had young children of their own, good old broccoli was also added to the “vegetable manipulation” list. (Broccoli is supposed to make us smarter! Never did me any good in that regard, and George H. W. Bush knows I ate and still eat a lot of this cruciferous vegetable!) But I digress….

So if you want a taste treat that uses some very humble ingredients and is very easy to prepare, this is the recipe for you. And it’s French! What more is there to say?

  • 2 tsp. Dijon mustard
  • 1 T. freshly squeezed lemon juice, or more to taste
  • 3 T. extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tsp. honey
  • ¼ tsp. kosher salt, or more to taste
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 lb. carrots, both ends removed, washed and dried (peeling not necessary)
  • ¼ c. roughly chopped fresh parsley
  • 2-3 finely chopped green onions

Combine the mustard, lemon juice, olive oil, honey, salt, and pepper in a small jar. (Dressing can be made several days in advance.) Grate the carrots in a food processor or on a hand grater. Dry on a paper towel lined baking sheet for about 20 minutes. Transfer to a large mixing bowl. Add enough dressing to moisten the carrots. Don’t overdress the salad; the carrots should not be swimming in dressing. Stir in the parsley and green onions. Cover the bowl and refrigerate for an hour or two before serving. Add salt and/or lemon juice, if needed, just before serving. 

CHICKEN MARENGO (CHICKEN IN A SAVORY WINE AND TOMATO SAUCE)

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Every once in awhile Mr. C. will be completing the New York Times cross word puzzle, and will run across (or down) an answer that by its clue he knows is a cooking term or dish. And if he doesn’t recognize the term or dish, he asks me to enlighten him since I am the self proclaimed resident expert on all things cuisine. Now sometimes I can answer with assurance, sometimes with a faint idea of what I’m talking about, but more often than not, I haven’t got a clue. So when Mr. C. recently asked me about marengo, I just stared at him and shrugged my shoulders. But of course, later that morning I had to look it up.

I discovered that Marengo is a town in Italy, and that maybe possibly Chicken Marengo was prepared for Napoleon by his personal chef after the French won the battle of Marengo on June 14, 1800. (Myth or legend, who knows?!) What I do know for sure however, is that Melissa d’Arabians recipe for Chicken Marengo, with a couple of minor adaptations on my part, is an absolutely delicious, easy to prepare, and healthy chicken dish. So who cares about the origin of the recipe even though both the French and the Italian claim it as their own creation. (Well of course they do!) And incidentally, there are about as many wildly different ingredients and ways to prepare this dish as there are Carter’s Little Liver Pills! (Actually since 1959 they have simply been called Carter’s Little Pills.) And yes, they are still being made and apparently sold. Or they wouldn’t keep making them, right??? But back to the variety of ingredients possible in a Chicken Marengo.

Some include poached or fried eggs (yikes), crayfish, Cognac, garlic, black olives, thyme, etc. The list is endless. But for my taste, this simple preparation is absolutely perfect. (And no I don’t care if Napoleon would have liked it or not!)

So do yourself a favor. First of all, don’t buy any Carter’s Little Liver Pills (talk about an expired pull date), but do prepare this amazing dish next time you want to feature chicken in a new and exciting way.

  • 2 large boneless, skinless chicken breasts, sliced lengthwise, and then pounded thin
  • kosher salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • ¼ c. all-purpose flour
  • 3-4 T. extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 medium sized sweet onion, sliced
  • ½ lb. button mushrooms, sliced
  • 1 yellow bell pepper, seeded and thinly sliced
  • 2 T. tomato paste
  • ½ c. dry white wine
  • ½ c. beef broth (yes, beef broth)
  • 1 (14-oz.) can chopped tomatoes
  • 2 tsp. butter

Season the chicken with salt and pepper and lightly dredge in flour. In a large sauté pan, heat 3 tablespoons of the olive oil over medium-high heat and add the chicken. Brown on both sides, until lightly golden, about 3 minutes per side. Remove from the pan and set aside.

In the same pan, add another tablespoon of the olive oil, if needed, along with the onion, mushrooms, and pepper. Sauté until the veggies are almost soft, about 5 minutes. Stir in the tomato paste and cook for 2 minutes. Turn up the heat, and add the wine and let it reduce by about half. Add the beef broth and chopped tomatoes. Once the mixture begins to burble, reduce the heat, and cook for about 7-8 minutes. Add the reserved chicken and any accumulated juices and cook until the chicken is warmed through, about 2 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in the butter. Serve immediately. Great served over brown rice.

 

 

BRUTTI MA BUONI (UGLY BUT GOOD) ITALIAN HAZELNUT COOKIES

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These cookies are outrageously delicious and BTW – GF! With no added oil, fat, butter, etc. to make us feel guilty. (Of course the nuts themselves contain fat, but it’s mostly good fat, so it doesn’t count. Well at least in my mind it doesn’t count.) Plus ladies and gentlemen, these easy to prepare cookies contain only 5 ingredients! Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin is widely quoted as saying “The discovery of a new dish does more for human happiness than the discovery of a new star.” I am absolutely convinced he must have had this cookie in mind when he coined this very well known phrase. Because these cookies are unlike any other cookie I have ever had the pleasure of tasting. They possess a wonderfully crisp exterior with an internal texture that is both soft and chewy. They are slightly reminiscent of macaroons, but that’s as close to a comparison of them to any other cookie as I can come.

While I was researching these cookies I visited several sites. Each recipe was quite different from the others. Some had you using granulated sugar, some had you warm egg whites and granulated sugar before beating the heck out of the mixture, most contained flour, and some even contained chocolate. But what captured my fancy was this recipe from Oreste Molinari. His family bakery in Frascati, Lazio, Italy has been selling these cookies using this recipe since the 1800s. So I figured; if the recipe is good enough for the Molinaris, and they are still in business after all this time, it surely must be good enough for me!

So please do not hesitate to build yourself a batch of these little packages of heaven at your earliest convenience. And to those of you who are gluten intolerant, you owe me. (Your debt will be forgiven if you send me your favorite GF recipe(s) so that I can share it/them with others.)

And to Monsieur Brillat-Savarin (wherever you may presently reside), please accept my thanks for some wonderful quotes related to all things culinary. And because it’s my blog and I have nothing more to say about these cookies, I am going to share a couple of my favorite Brillat-Savarin quotes with you.

“A man who was fond of wine was offered some grapes at dessert after dinner. ‘Much obliged’, said he, pushing the plate aside, ‘I am not accustomed to taking my wine in pills’.”

“Whoever receives friends and does not participate in the preparation of their meal does not deserve to have friends.”

“Cooking is one of the oldest arts and one that has rendered us the most important service in civic life.”

And my favorite quote attributed to Brillat-Savarin, which I feel is as true today as it was in his day (1755-1826). “The pleasure of the table belongs to all ages, to all conditions, to all countries, and to all areas; it mingles with all other pleasures, and remains at last to console us for their departure.”

Bon Appétit

  • 8 oz. roasted unsalted hazelnuts* – roughly 1¾ cups (best way to know for sure is to weigh the nuts)
  • 1½ c. powdered sugar
  • pinch of salt
  • 1 lg. room temperature egg white, lightly beaten
  • 2 tsp. pure vanilla extract

*I often use part dry roasted unsalted shelled almonds in these cookies because they are cheaper, more readily available, and considered by some to be slightly more nutritious than hazelnuts (aka filberts). And bottom line, using almonds does not affect the wonderful hazel nutty flavor of the cookies.

Preheat your oven to 400°. Spread the hazelnuts on a large rimmed baking sheet and toast for about 10 minutes or until the nuts are fragrant and the skins blister. (When I use almonds I toast them right along with the hazelnuts.) Transfer the nuts to a kitchen towel, swaddle them tightly, and let cool to room temperature. Then rub them together while still in the towel to remove the skins. (Don’t worry if all the skin doesn’t peel off. Just get as much off as possible. The rest – well its good roughage! And don’t worry about the light brown skin on the almonds either. Just provides a bit more texture to the cookies.)

In a food processor, pulse the hazelnuts with the confectioners’ sugar and salt until finely chopped. Add the egg white and the vanilla and pulse just until the dough is thoroughly combined.

Line the baking sheet with parchment paper. Using a very small ice cream scoop, (one that will contain about a tablespoon of water) drop the blops (a Chez Carr technical kitchen term) of dough onto the parchment paper lined cookie sheet about 1-inch apart. If you don’t have a small ice cream scoop, (and shame on you if you don’t have a couple of these in your kitchen) spoon tablespoon-size mounds of the dough onto the prepared baking sheet, again about 1 inch apart.

Bake the cookies in the center of your oven for about 11-13 minutes or until lightly browned all over. Watch carefully, because the bottom of the cookies can get too brown if baked too long. But the longer you bake them, the crispier on the outside they become. Which BTW, is what you want. So at least for the first batch you prepare, pay extra special attention to your oven temperature and the length of time it takes to bake these little darlings to perfection. Then of course – WRITE DOWN YOUR FINDINGS so that next time (and believe me, there will be a next time), you won’t have to tax your brain as much!

Brutti ma Buoni are best the first day, but will last for about 4 days if kept in an airtight container.

 

 

GRUYÈRE CHEESE SOUFFLÉ

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OK, I don’t care what anyone says, soufflés are really cool. But for some unknown reason, they have kind of gone out of fashion. And I don’t have the foggiest idea why that is. They are fairly inexpensive to make and could not be easier to prepare. The kind of cheese you use can be whatever you happen to have on hand, so there’s no reason anyone need even make a special trip to their local cheesery. And eggs, who doesn’t have eggs on hand? So what is preventing cooks from making this light and fluffy delicacy? Well I don’t know about anyone else, but I sure as heck know why I stopped making soufflés for about 10 years! I truly doubt anyone else out there has a similar excuse, but please allow me to tell you my true story about soufflés, a couple of cans of shrimp, my 4 kids, and why I disdained soufflés for such a long time.

When my kids were young, and their father and I were both working at good jobs, but paying a mortgage ($210 a month) that at the time seemed outrageous (remember I’m almost 71, so this was a long time ago), I made dishes like soufflés on a regular basis. Of course I didn’t use imported Gruyère cheese, but even with sharp cheddar cheese or inexpensive Swiss cheese, soufflés were delicious and actually quite inexpensive to prepare. Plus, everyone in my family loved them. So to kind of fancy up my soufflés, I would often make a shrimp sauce to go on top. Well, like I said, we weren’t rich, not technically poor by any means, but with 4 kids, baby sitter expenses, car payments, etc. we kept close tabs on our grocery dollars. And in those days, (the early to mid 70’s) canned shrimp was readily available and cheap, plus you couldn’t just go to your local grocery store and buy fresh shrimp and cook it yourself. Canned shrimp was just about the only way to go. And usually there was no problem with the quality.

But this one time, I made my usual basic sauce, opened a couple cans of shrimp, drained them off, and added them to the pot. We sat down to dinner, and the soufflé was perfect. But the sauce, OMG, there must have been more shell in the cans than there was shrimp. It was absolutely crunchy and absolutely inedible. I was so mad. Here I had made this perfect soufflé, and because of the sauce, the entire meal had to be thrown away. I don’t remember where we went to eat that evening, but it sure wasn’t our dining room! And I truly don’t think I made another soufflé for at least 10 years!

But as I got older and wiser, a) I stopped buying canned shrimp, b) I refrained from covering a perfect soufflé with a sauce, (what was I thinking?) and c) I forgave the soufflé, even though it wasn’t its fault in the first place!

So unless you have a reason as irrefutable as mine for not fixing a soufflé, give this recipe a try at your earliest convenience. You just won’t believe how lovely and creamy this soufflé feels in your mouth. It’s like eating a puffy bite of warm cheese. Just don’t try and dress it up with a fancy sauce. But if you must, just don’t use canned shrimp. Sometimes lessons can be learned at someone else’s expense. And I paid the piper already, so you have a free pass!

  • 5 T. unsalted butter, room temperature, divided
  • 3 T. finely grated Parmesan cheese
  • 4½ T. flour
  • 1½ c. milk (whole milk is best)
  • ¼ tsp. kosher salt
  • freshly ground black pepper (not too much)
  • ¼ tsp. paprika
  • pinch of freshly grated or bottled nutmeg
  • 7 large eggs, room temperature, separated
  • 2 c. grated imported Gruyère cheese (5-6 oz.) or cheese of choice

Grease the inside of a 2 quart casserole dish with 1 tablespoon of the butter. Sprinkle the finely grated Parmesan cheese along the bottom and sides of the dish. Set aside.

Melt the remaining 4 tablespoons of butter in a heavy saucepan. Whisk in the flour. Cook for a couple of minutes. Remove from heat and slowly whisk in the milk. Return pan to heat and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and allow to burble until very thick, stirring constantly. Remove from heat and add the salt, pepper, paprika, and nutmeg. Whisk in the egg yolks one at a time.

Place the egg whites in a mixing bowl and beat to stiff peaks. (Be sure not to get any of the yolk in with the whites when you are separating the eggs or the whites won’t whip up as light and fluffy.)

Fold a third of the yolk sauce and a third of the Gruyère into the egg whites. Do not over-blend. Add the next third of the sauce and cheese into the whites and again fold gently. Add the final third of sauce and cheese into the whites. Scoop the mixture into the prepared casserole. Bake the soufflé in a pre-heated 350 degree oven for 45 minutes or until it has puffed and the top is nicely browned and firm to the touch. (A long skewer inserted into the soufflé should come out fairly clean.) Serve immediately.

 

 

FRENCH CHOCOLATE SHORTBREAD COOKIES WITH FLEUR DE SEL

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Pierre Hermé’s sablés au chocolat et à la fleur de sel, also referred to by some as World Peace Cookies, are undoubtedly one of the best chocolate chip cookies ever created.

I stumbled on this recipe when I was looking for a new chocolate cookie recipe. When I found this recipe and realized the author was Dorie Greenspan, I knew the cookie would have to be a winner. (BTW, if you have never tried any of her recipes, you are missing out on the real thing. This woman is a genius, and everything I have tried of hers has been over the top delicious.) Another reason this cookie (sablé) recipe caught my eye was the list of simple ingredients and the ease of preparation. (BTW, sablé is simply the French name for round shortbread cookies.) But back to why I knew I had to try this recipe.

This is how Dorie referred to these cookies in her write-up: “I once said I thought these cookies, the brainchild of the Parisian pastry chef Pierre Hermé, were as important a culinary breakthrough as Toll House cookies, and I’ve never thought better of the statement. These butter-rich, sandy-textured slice-and-bake cookies* are members of the sablé family. But, unlike classic sablés, they are midnight dark — there’s cocoa in the dough — and packed with chunks of hand-chopped bittersweet chocolate**. Perhaps most memorably, they’re salty. Not just a little salty, but remarkably and sensationally salty. It’s the salt — Pierre uses fleur de sel, a moist, off-white sea salt — that surprises, delights and makes the chocolate flavors in the cookies seem preternaturally profound.” She continues, “When I included these in Paris Sweets, they were called Korova Cookies and they instantly won fans, among them my neighbor Richard Gold, who gave them their new name. Richard is convinced that a daily dose of Pierre’s cookies is all that is needed to ensure planetary peace and happiness.”

So to borrow the immortal words of Jimmy Durante when he signed off after each of his television shows with “good night Mrs. Calabash wherever you are” – good night Mr. Gold wherever you are! I truly believe you had it right when you said these cookies could ensure happiness. I know they have brought a lot of happiness to the people who have tried them at my home. As far as planetary peace, well they have never made it out of this house, so I can’t attest to how the rest of the planet would react. But if I were a betting woman, I would bet my 1962 edition of Betty Crocker’s Cook Book, that even aliens would change course for one of these heavenly delights.

*I changed the recipe to make them “scoop” cookies

**I changed the recipe to use semi-sweet mini chocolate chips for ease, convenience, and expense

  • ½ c. (1 stick) plus 3 T. unsalted butter, room temperature (11 T. in all)
  • 2/3 c. packed light brown sugar
  • ¼ c. granulated sugar
  • ½ tsp. fleur de sel or ¼ tsp. fine sea salt
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1¼ c. unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1/3 c. unsweetened cocoa powder
  • ½ tsp. baking soda
  • generous ¾ c. mini chocolate chips

With an electric mixer, beat the butter until soft and creamy. Add the brown sugar, granulated sugar, salt, and vanilla extract; beat for 2 minutes more. Whisk the flour, cocoa, and baking soda together in a separate bowl. Add to the butter mixture and slowly mix for about 30 seconds or just until the flour disappears into the dough. (The dough will look a bit crumbly.) Add the chocolate chips and mix only to incorporate. Don’t over mix.

Drop by your smallest ice cream scoop onto parchment paper lined baking sheets at least 1-inch apart. (If you don’t own a small ice cream scoop***, use a scant tablespoon of dough.) Lightly press the top of each cookie with the bottom of a glass to make sure the top of the cookie is flat rather than round. Bake the cookies in a pre-heated 325 degree oven from 12-14 minutes or until they start to crack on the surface. They probably won’t look totally done, or feel done, but for this recipe – they are done! Transfer the baking sheet to a wire rack and cool to room temperature. Store in an airtight container.

***If you don’t own any ice cream scoops for use in baking cookies, making muffins, you name it (even scooping ice cream), now is the time to get thee to a kitchen shop. Buy several sizes. They will just save you so much time.

Please note: This dough can be refrigerated for up to 3 days or frozen for up to 2 months.

COQ AU VIN

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Coq au Vin (literally rooster with wine) is traditionally made with a capon (a castrated domestic cock fattened for eating). Now, I don’t know about your local grocery store, but I can tell you for certain that the meat department manager at our local store would laugh hysterically if I asked him to please cut up a capon for me. After he got his laughter under control, he’d probably ask me if I’d also like a slice of Pâté de Foie Gras. And then he’d undoubtedly have another good laugh at my expense!

And truly, who’s to blame him. Grocery stores only carry what they know their customers want. (I learned that in Economics 101!) So if there is no demand for a product like capons, the store isn’t going to carry them. Simple as that!

Allow me to tell you a true story involving our local market and kale.

We were unable to locate kale on one of our first trips to the local IGA after we moved into our new home on Camano Island. Finally I asked a young man who worked in produce if they were out of kale or were we just blind? He looked at us as if we had just inquired about the locally grown pineapples we had heard about. He then politely asked us “what is this thing called kale”? (Obviously the kid was a jazz lover!) We told him and he assured us that the store did not carry any such product. We went on our merry way, a little flabbergasted, but aware that we weren’t in Bellevue any more. (I knew then how Dorothy felt when she realized she was no longer in Kansas.) A few minutes later, still in the store but several isles away from produce, the young man came running up to us carrying a nice looking head of kale. I said to him, oh, you do carry kale after all. He said, well no not really. It’s only used to go under platters in the deli case! I looked at Mr. C, he looked at me, and we both said at the same time, but can’t you sell us a bunch? He said he’d be right back, and headed back to the produce manager. We followed him and we got our kale. And ever since, kale has been available to one and all.

So the moral of this story is – if there is a product you need that your market doesn’t carry, talk to them about it. Several items over the years that I have inquired about have mysteriously appeared on the shelves next thing I knew. The other moral of this story – unless you live near an upscale market that carries capons, make this dish with plain old chicken. You’re the only one that need know that the dish rightly should then be called “Poulet au Vin”.

(And no, I’m not going to mention capons to our meat department manager. He’s already frustrated with me because I couldn’t understand why the store didn’t carry French garlic sausages or salt pork needed for a cassoulet I was about to prepare.) Oh well, I need to pick my battles carefully. And capons are not worth fighting over. Duck breasts, on the other hand, are worth going to the mat over. Wish me duck, I mean wish me luck on that one!

Stay tuned for my cassoulet recipe.

  • ¼ c. extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 (3-4) lb. whole chicken*
  • kosher salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/3 c. flour
  • 4 oz. thick meaty bacon, cut into 1/3rd-inch pieces
  • 2 stalks celery, diced
  • 1 medium sized onion, diced
  • 2 carrots, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 lb. cremini or button mushrooms, quartered (actually half and half is great)
  • ¼ c. Cognac or brandy
  • 2 T. tomato paste
  • 1½ c. Gamay Beaujolais or Pinot Noir (from the Bourgogne (Burgundy) wine region in France)
  • 2 c. chicken stock or more as needed
  • 2 small bay leaves
  • 2 tsp. chopped fresh thyme
  • 4 oz. pearl onions (I use frozen)
  • 1 T. butter, room temperature, if needed
  • 1 T. flour, if needed
  • 2 T. chopped fresh parsley

*or 8 chicken pieces of your choice

Cut up the chicken. For this recipe use the legs, thighs, and breasts, each cut in half. Remove the skin and any excess fat. Reserve the back and wings for soup stock.

Pour the olive oil into a large, covered Dutch oven and bring to a medium-high heat. Pat the chicken pieces dry and sprinkle generously with salt and pepper. Place the flour in a zip lock bag, add the chicken, and shake until every piece is nicely floured. Carefully place the chicken in the hot oil. When the first side is a light golden brown, carefully flip and fry until it too is golden brown. Transfer the chicken pieces to a bowl and set aside.

Reduce the heat to medium and add the bacon. Fry the bacon until it is brown and crispy. Add the celery, onions, and carrots; cook until the veggies are starting to caramelize, about 10 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute. Add the mushrooms and cook for 4 to 5 minutes. Remove the pot from the stove, add the Cognac, return pot to heat and stir until the Cognac has all but disappeared. Add the tomato paste, wine, chicken stock, bay leaves, and thyme; stir to combine. Adjust seasonings. Bring the mixture to a high simmer; reduce heat slightly and let burble uncovered for 10 minutes.

Add the legs and thighs; partially cover the pan; simmer for 20 minutes. After the legs and thighs have simmered for about 20 minutes, turn the pieces over and add the 4 breast pieces, plus any juices that have accumulated in the bowl. Check the level of liquid and add more chicken stock if the sauce appears dry. Partially cover the pan and simmer for another 15 minutes or until all the chicken pieces are thoroughly cooked.

Remove the chicken from the pan and discard the bay leaves. If the sauce is on the thin side, mash 1 tablespoon room temperature butter and 1 tablespoon flour together and gently stir into the sauce. Let burble at least 5 minutes. When the sauce is the perfect consistency, add the chicken pieces and pearl onions to the pot. Let simmer for 3-4 minutes. Adjust seasoning again and add parsley just before serving. Serve with egg noodles or mashed potatoes.

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FRENCH CHICKEN LIVER PÂTÉ

There is just something sophisticated and decadent about a pâté. Even the word “pâté” sounds like something only the rich and famous would be able to afford. But alas, that is absolutely not the case with this recipe. This pâté is made with chicken livers. And yes, there is some shiitake mushroom action going on, and a bit of cognac for that extra special richness only a fine brandy can impart, but other than those two fairly pricey ingredients, the rest are pretty standard fare.

I particularly love this recipe, not only for the flavor, but because of the soft, smooth and creamy texture. And I know in some circles I would be considered a plebian. But I simply don’t like pâtés that have chunks of meat in them, even if the meat is smoked ham or duck confit. These are what I consider to be rough country pâtés. And when I look at them, even the ones that are wrapped in bacon or pancetta, all I can see is dog food. (Like I said – plebian!) But if truth be told, it’s not just the appearance factor that I resist, it’s the texture. I want a smooth texture reminiscent of Bavarian Meats braunschweiger. (And if you live in the Seattle area and don’t know about Bavarian Meats, shame on you! Get acquainted at your earliest convenience. They have a retail shop at the Pike Street Market.)

Anyway, back to pâté. I want a spread that can easily be smeared on bread and not fall off! And it must have a flavor that makes you want to eat the entire bowl. And this recipe has both of my mandatory requirements. It is beyond belief delicious and it stays firmly on bread even if it is slathered to an alarming thickness. (Guilty as charged.)

So do yourself and your friends a favor and give this tasty treat a try. And I realize that some people may never have been exposed to pâté. Or they may even be completely intimidated by chicken livers. Just don’t tell them what’s in the spread. Or if they persist, tell them it’s pureed chipmunk. And then when they look at you aghast, tell them you were just kidding. Of course you would not feed them darling little rodents! By then they will be so relieved that they will forget their earlier reservations and just eat the pâté. (We cooks sometimes have to go to great lengths to get our family and friends to try new foods.) But please, try new recipes at every opportunity. Remember, even guacamole was new to all of us at one time. And now, I personally can’t imagine life without this perfect dip. Can you?

FYI: picture to follow

  • 8 T. (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature, divided
  • ½ lb. shiitake mushrooms, stemmed and thinly sliced
  • 4 green onions, chopped
  • ¾ to 1 lb. chicken livers, trimmed of connective tissue and fat
  • ¼ c. Chardonnay
  • 1¼ tsp. kosher salt
  • freshly ground black pepper (about 4 grinds)
  • ½ tsp. dry mustard
  • ¼ tsp. freshly ground nutmeg
  • 1/8 tsp. ground cloves
  • 4-oz. cream cheese, room temperature
  • 2 T. Cognac
  • baguette slices and crackers

Melt 2 tablespoons of the butter in a large, heavy skillet. Add mushrooms. Sauté until tender and beginning to brown (about 15 minutes). Remove mushrooms to bowl of food processor, reserving about 9 slivers for garnish. Melt 2 more tablespoons butter in the pan and add the green onions. Sauté for two minutes. Add the chicken livers and sauté until the livers are barely done. (There should be just a tinge of pink remaining.) Add the wine, salt, pepper, dry mustard, nutmeg, and cloves. Simmer for one minute. Using a slotted spoon, remove livers to food processor (save liquid) and whirl until smooth. Carefully pour remaining liquid from the pan into the food processor and blend on high until mixture is very, very smooth. Add the cream cheese, cognac, and remaining 4 tablespoons of butter and whirl again. Taste and adjust seasonings. Transfer to a serving container, garnish with the reserved mushroom slices, place plastic wrap directly on top of pâté, refrigerate, and forget about the pâté for at least 3 days. (That’s the hard part of this recipe!) When ready to serve, bring to room temperature and serve with baguette slices and crackers. A nice bowl of cornichons on the side is a perfect accompaniment.

 

 

 

TAPENADE

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Tapenade is a spread consisting of very finely chopped olives, anchovies, and capers in olive oil. The name “tapenade” comes from the Provençal word for capers, tapenas. It is a very popular dish in the south of France and is most often eaten as an hors d’œuvre, spread on toasted crusty bread or baguette slices.

I first started making tapenade when I was in my early forties because it was easy to prepare and totally different from anything else I served. (And no, I have no idea where I learned about tapenade. The recipe wasn’t in my Betty Crocker cookbook, that’s for darn sure!) I just knew that it was delicious and everyone who tried it loved it! I also had no idea until I began researching for this post that some form of this amazing spread had been around since before the time of Christ.

According to Clifford A. Wright, award winning writer on all foods Italian and Mediterranean, “although capers are native to the Mediterranean, it is likely they were brought to Provence from Crete by the Phocaeans, Greeks from Asia Minor, who settled near Marseilles in the sixth century B.C. The caper plant was known as tapeneï in Provençal, and the flower bud, the part of the caper used for culinary purposes, was the tapeno, which were preserved in amphora (ancient vessels used for storage) filled with olive oil since vinegar was not used at that time. The capers became mushed together in the amphoras to form a kind of pâté of crushed tapeno, the ancestor of the modern tapenade. This is why it is today known by the word for caper rather than olives, which is actually, in volume, the greater constituent ingredient.”

So next time you want an absolutely delicious and different topping to serve with toast as an appetizer, get out your food processor and whip, or should I say pulse up a batch. And you are right! There are lovely little jars of this concoction in the fancy food deli section of almost every grocery store. But just for grins, look at the price before you just plop a jar in your cart. (You might want to have someone with you to help break the fall if you begin to faint.) Then consider how much it would cost to make your own. (And again, I know. Not everyone has capers, kalamata olives, and anchovies just lying around.) But they should! All three of these ingredients are wonderful in all kinds of dishes. Just do a Google search on any of these items and see what amazing new culinary delights are out there for you to try.

Now, for your final French history lesson today: According to Smithsonian Magazine, historians are now convinced that Marie Antoinette never said “let them eat cake”. That darling little statement was attributed to Maria Theresa, the Spanish princess who married Louis XIV more than a century before Marie Antoinette ever set foot in France. (And you thought you were only going to learn about food on my blog. Surprise!)

  • ¼ c. extra virgin olive oil
  • 6-8 anchovy fillets
  • 2 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
  • ½ tsp. dried rosemary
  • ½ tsp. dried oregano
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 1½ c. pitted kalamata olives
  • 3 T. capers, washed and drained

Combine olive oil, anchovy fillets, garlic, rosemary, oregano, and pepper in a blender or food processor. Process until thoroughly pulverized. Add olives and capers and pulse until they are coarsely ground. (Do not over process. You do not want a paste.) Serve with toasted baguette slices.

CARAMELIZED ONION, GORGONZOLA CHEESE, AND WALNUT TART

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I have no idea why the combination of Gorgonzola cheese and walnuts is so delicious, but it is. And in this recipe, the thyme infused caramelized onions act as the perfect base for this dynamic duo. The creaminess of the cheese, the crunch of the walnuts, and of course the savory flavor of the onions absolutely sends your taste buds to their own special little happy place. (At least that’s what happens to my taste buds when I eat this tart.)

Now I realize that many tarts that call for Gorgonzola cheese and caramelized onions also include pears. But frankly, when you bake fairly mild flavored fruits like pears with strong flavored ingredients like Gorgonzola cheese and caramelized onions, the poor babies simply get lost and all but forgotten. The only thing that tends to remain is a very thin, kind of grainy and not too flavorful layer in an otherwise perfect tart. (And no, I do not hate pears. In fact, I like them very much. But you must admit they can become kind of grainy when they are cooked.) If I am going to eat pears, Gorgonzola cheese, and walnuts together, I am going to put them in a salad. In my opinion, pears have a much better chance of being appreciated when they are eaten raw. In fact, I feel so strongly about this, that I have included a bonus recipe at the bottom of this post that includes pears, Gorgonzola cheese, and walnuts. It is my friend Linda’s recipe for Pear and Blue Cheese (or Gorgonzola) Salad.

I hope you enjoy both of these wonderful recipes.

Disclaimer: the opinions expressed in this blog are those of mine alone. No one else, not even Mr. C, has even a remote chance of having his or her viewpoint taken into consideration, much less expressed!

  • 1½ c. unbleached all-purpose flour
  • ½ tsp. plus ¼ tsp. kosher salt
  • 1 tsp. sugar
  • ¼ tsp. baking powder
  • 1/3 c. plus 2 T. extra virgin olive oil, divided
  • ¼ c. milk
  • 2 onions, diced
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tsp. minced fresh thyme or ½ tsp. dried thyme
  • 2-3 oz. soft and creamy Gorgonzola cheese, crumbled (we love Black River Gorgonzola Cheese made in Wisconsin)
  • ¼ c. chopped walnuts or hazelnuts, lightly toasted

Whisk together the flour, the ½ teaspoon salt, sugar, and baking powder in a medium bowl. Whisk together the 1/3 cup olive oil and milk in another bowl, then pour over the dry ingredients. Stir with a fork until the dough is evenly moistened and no loose flour remains. Using your fingers, press the crust into a 7×11-inch glass baking dish, beginning with the bottom, then press a tiny bit up the sides of the pan. (Make sure there are no holes or cracks in the crust.) Bake for 12 minutes in a pre-heated 375 degree oven. Remove crust from oven and increase oven temperature to 425 degrees.

Please note: If you are making a tart recipe that does not call for baking the filling, bake for 20 minutes or until the crust is lightly golden and firm to the touch.

Meanwhile, heat the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large skillet and cook onions until caramelized, stirring frequently. (This step will take at least 30 minutes.) Season the onions with the remaining ¼ teaspoon salt, a small amount of pepper, and stir in the fresh thyme. Remove from heat and set aside to cool.

When ready to bake, spread the caramelized onions evenly over the crust. Add the crumbled gorgonzola, but not the walnuts. (You are going to add the walnuts after the tart has finished baking.)

Finish baking the tart in the pre-heated 425 degree oven for about 13-15 minutes or until the crust is a lovely light golden brown. Remove from the oven and scatter the walnut pieces over the top. Taking a table fork, gently press the walnut pieces into the cheese. (That way they won’t tend to fall off as quickly when people are devouring them!) Place pan on a rack to cool. When ready to serve, cut into desired sized pieces. Serve warm or at room temperature.

PEAR AND GORGONZOLA SALAD

  • 3 T. raspberry vinegar
  • 3 T. honey
  • 1/3 c. extra virgin olive oil
  • 8 very thin slices red onion
  • 12 c. coarsely chopped red leaf lettuce
  • 1 or 2 bosc pears, sliced
  • ¼ to 1/3 c. chopped toasted walnuts
  • ¼ to 1/3 c. crumbled Gorgonzola, blue or Roquefort cheese

Whisk vinegar, honey, and olive oil together in a large salad bowl until well emulsified. Add red onion slices, separated into rings. Just before serving, gently toss the lettuce, pears, walnuts, and crumbled cheese together with the dressing and onions.

RAGOUT PEBRONATA (BRAISED PORK WITH RED PEPPERS) PROVENÇAL WITH SAVORY POLENTA

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Since fall is definitely on its way (I know this because the yellow jackets have surfaced and the annuals in my pots on the deck are looking very tired), I thought it might be time to post this recipe for a delicious Provençal ragout. Pebronata, which means “peppered up” by the way, is a glorious mélange of braised meat, white or red wine, red peppers, and tomatoes (with a few others ingredients thrown in for good measure). And of course, as with ragouts found anywhere around the world, there are as many recipes for pebronata as there are cooks. This is a pretty standard recipe and very easy to prepare.

Now granted, this is not a dish that is going to send your taste buds into fits of ecstasy. This is a hearty every day dish that has enough good flavors going for it as to be interesting, but benign enough that even your picky eaters may not turn up their noses! (In other words, your kids are probably going to like it too.) It’s basically just as much a comfort food as spaghetti and meatballs or macaroni and cheese, but just enough different as to make the job of cooking it a wonderful change from your usual entrée rotation. We love it. Serve with a side veggie or salad, and dinner is ready.

  • 3-4 T. olive oil
  • 2 lb. boneless lean pork shoulder, trimmed of all sinew and fat, cubed and dried with paper towels
  • kosher salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 4 juniper berries, finely crushed
  • 2 T. flour
  • 1 c. dry white wine
  • 1 c. chicken stock
  • 28-oz. Italian chopped or crushed tomatoes
  • 1 tsp. chopped fresh thyme
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 large red peppers, deseeded and cut into strips
  • 2 T. chopped Italian parsley

Heat half the oil in a heavy covered oven proof pan. Sprinkle the pork cubes lightly with salt and pepper. Brown the pork in batches over medium high heat, removing to a plate when browned. Reduce the heat, add the remaining oil and the onion and cook for about 10 minutes, until transparent. Stir in the garlic and juniper berries and cook for a few seconds. Sprinkle in the flour, stir well and cook for 1-2 minutes. Add the wine, chicken stock, and tomatoes and stir over a medium heat until thickened. Return the meat and accumulated juices to the pot. Add the thyme, bay leaf, and adjust seasoning. Cover and bake in a pre-heated 325 degree oven for 45 minutes. Remove from oven and add a little water if the ragout seems too dry. Add the red pepper strips and parsley and bake for about 45 minutes more or until the pork is tender. Remove the bay leaf before serving over Savory Polenta. (see recipe below)

Note: Just like any other braised meat dish, always better the next day. So make ahead if you have the time.

SAVORY POLENTA

  • 2 T. olive oil
  • 3/4 c. finely chopped red onion
  • 1 tsp. kosher salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely minced
  • 1 qt. chicken stock
  • 1 c. coarse ground cornmeal
  • 3 T. butter
  • 2-oz. finely grated Parmesan

In a large, oven-proof covered saucepan heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion, salt, and pepper; sauté until the onion begins to turn translucent, approximately 4 to 5 minutes. Reduce the heat and add the garlic. Sauté until the garlic releases its aroma, about 1 minute. Add the chicken stock and bring to a boil. Reduce heat a bit and gradually whisk in the cornmeal. Cover the pan and bake in a pre-heated 350 degree oven for 30 to 35 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes to prevent lumps. Once the polenta is creamy, remove from the oven and add the butter and Parmesan. Adjust seasoning.