Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Crème brûlée for breakfast

I know that I can't really say that by eating crème brûlée before 9:00 am that I am practicing for my trip to France next week.  Frenchies eat croissants and baguettes for breakfast, n'est-ce pas?  One of my 6th grade girlies treated her classmates to this delightful, delicious dish first period today.  We enjoyed it tremendously.  And if you look at the list of ingredients, you'll see eggs and cream.  Breakfast foods.
Merci, mademoiselle!

According to the girlie and Wikipedia, no one is really sure if crème brûlée originally came from France or Britain.  The earliest reference appears in François Massialot's 1691 cookbook.

Crème Brûlée à la Caroline

6 servings

4 egg yolks
1 egg
1/2 c. sugar + 1 tablespoon for each serving
3 c. heavy cream
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 Tbsp. Grand Marnier
Boiling water

Preheat oven to 300˚F.
In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, mix the egg, egg yolks, and 1/2 cup of sugar together on low speed until just combined.  Add the vanilla and Grand Marnier.
While doing this, scald the heavy cream in a pan until it's hot to the touch but not boiled.
Slowly add the heavy cream to the egg-sugar combination.
Pour into ramekins.
Place ramekins in baking pan and pour boiling water into the pan, halfway up the sides of the ramekins.
Bake for 35 to 40 minutes until custard is set when ramekins are gently shaken.
Remove from water bath, cool to room temperature and refrigerate until firm.
To serve, put 1 tablespoon of sugar evenly on top of each ramekin and caramelize with kitchen blowtorch until evenly browned.
Allow to cool for a minute until caramelized sugar hardens.

Bon appétit et bon petit déjeuner!

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Budino by any other name...

While the Ex-Ex was away this week watching basketball games and hanging out with Son #1, the BFF and her hubby, Daddy-O, invited me to dinner at Pizzeria Toro in lovely downtown Durham.  This is one of my favorite spots.  We shared a kale-pine nut salad, parma ham, mushroom and eggplant pizzas.  They have a big oven and I like to sit as close to it as possible so I can watch the action (without getting whacked in the eye with the paddle, of course).  By the time dessert was mentioned, I was quite sure that I had no room whatsoever left.  Well, the BFF can be very persuasive, especially when it comes to chocolate.  (She has been known to have a fit of eatin' when chocolate is even mentioned.)  So, she ordered something called Gianduja Budino.  Since I only speak about five words of Italian, I had no idea what we were getting into, though, nor did I really care since I planned to pass.  Best laid plans.  This beautiful dish of chocolate was set in front of us with three spoons (two of which were used; Daddy-O abstained).  I think that we probably moaned as we tasted the first bite of smooth chocolate, hazelnuts, and sea salt.  Is there a more heavenly combination?  If so, I haven't found it.
I came home curious what budino actually is.  Maybe if I had actually said the word out loud after moaning, I would have figured it out.  Pudding.  That's right.  Budino is Italian for pudding.  Gianduja is a type of hazlenut flavored Italian chocolate.  This is what Wikipedia has to say about it--

Gianduja (or gianduia[1]) is a sweet chocolate containing about 30% hazelnut paste, invented in Turin during Napoléon's regency (1796-1814). Based on Gianduia, Turin based chocolate manufacturer Caffarel invented Gianduiotto in 1852.[2] It takes its name from Gianduja, a Carnival and marionette character who represents the archetypal Piedmontese, a native of the Italian region where hazelnut confectionery is common.

I googled the recipe.  It was compared to French pots de crème.  I found a simple recipe in my Williams Sonoma Essentials of French Cooking book that Son #2 gave me for Christmas a couple of years ago.  I didn't have any Gianduja so I opted for 60% Ghirardelli Intense Dark.

There are chocolate and hazelnut bars out there, but I wanted my budino to be smooth.  I will keep looking for Gianduja for next time.

Aren't egg yolks a beautiful color?  Reminds me of daffodils and spring.

My finished product--

Chocolate Pots de Crème

6 servings

4 oz. (125 g) semisweet (plain) chocolate, coarsely chopped
1 c. (8 fl. oz. / 250 ml) heavy (double) cream
1/2 c. (4 fl. oz. / 125 ml) whole milk
4 large egg yolks
1/4 c. (2 oz. / 60 g) granulated sugar
Boiling water
Garnishes (optional):  whipped cream, toasted chopped hazelnuts, coarse sea salt, confectioners' sugar

Preheat oven to 350˚F (180˚C).  Have ready six 1/3 c. (3 fl. oz / 80 ml) pot de crème molds or heatproof ramekins and a shallow baking dish just large enough to hold the molds.

Place the chocolate in a heatproof bowl.  In a saucepan over medium heat, combine the cream and the milk and heat until just boiling.  Pour the mixture over the chocolate and stir until the chocolate is melted.

In another large bowl, whisk together the egg yolks and the granulated sugar until just blended.  Gradually whisk in the chocolate mixture until the mixture is well blended and smooth.

Divide the chocolate mixture among the molds.  Place the molds in the baking dish.  Pour boiling water into the dish until it reaches halfway up the sides of the molds.  Bake until the custards are set, 35-40 minutes.

Transfer the baking dish to a wire rack and let the custards cool slightly.  Remove the molds from the baking dish and refrigerate until the custards are set, 15-30 minutes.  If you wish, top with whipped cream, sugar, nuts, or salt.  Serve at room temperature or cold.

Bon appétit, pudding/budino fans!

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Potato and Mushroom Deliciousness

It's a rainy, cold Saturday.  The Ex-Ex has the sniffles and is stretched out on the sofa alternately napping and watching ACC basketball.  The cats are sleeping somewhere.  I've been knitting endless scarves/neckwarmers.  Knitting is great because you don't have to really think about what you are doing when you are just knitting and not using fancy stitches that require counting.  Therefore, I can knit and think about what I am going to make for dinner.  I contemplated what is in the refrigerator and cupboards and realized that I could attempt to reproduce Mme Boop's dish from my January trip to see my friends in France.  Mme P and I were invited for a girls' night chez Mme Boop.  The evening started with champagne in her lovely living room in Tavel.

The first course, entrée, consisted of foie gras with a homemade chutney on baguette slices served with a mache salad on the side. And our favorite Tavel.

Earlier in the day at school, Mme Boop had fretted about what type of meat to serve us.  We assured that the foie gras would do just fine.  She brought a dish of potatoes and mushrooms out of the oven and set it on the polka-dotted table cloth in front of moi.

Just something she had thrown together, she said.  I have been dreaming of it ever since.
Dessert was fondant au chocolat with a little caramel baked in the center.

I left that night with a wonderfully happy tummy and three bottles of Tavel in my purse.  That is why I carry my trusty Longchamp purse while in France.  I can cram a lot of stuff in there.  It is getting old and a bit worn out, but I still love it.  (They are less expensive in France... I splurge and buy a new one every five years or so.)

I put down my knitting, made myself a cup of tea and set about attempting to recreate Mme Boop's potato dish.  I do not have any of the cèpe mushrooms from the Ardèche (Mme P's freezer is full of them, found near her parents' summer home), so I used baby bellas.  I have no idea if that's a good substitute or not.  Guess I will find out soon.  Maybe it will make the Ex-Ex feel better.

**I googled cèpe mushrooms after the fact and found out that porcini are a good substitute if your freezer isn't full of the former!

I used a smaller dish, 8-in x 8-in. and will give the amounts based on that.
**Note:  I had to send Mme P an emergency email... my first attempt didn't turn out the way it should have and I had to get her advice.  I love the internet!  How did I live without it?

Betty's Baked Potato and Mushroom Deliciousness

1 clove garlic
1 medium onion, sliced
2 russet baking potatoes, peeled and sliced
Mushrooms, sliced
Heavy cream (about 2 cups-enough to cover the potatoes and mushrooms)

Peel garlic and slice it in half.  Rub the bottom and sides of the baking dish with it.  Then mince the garlic and set aside.
Layer sliced onions in bottom of dish.  Then layer potatoes and mushrooms- as many layers as your dish permits.  (Betty did not use the minced garlic, but I couldn't bear to waste it, so I added it to the layers.)  End with a layer of potatoes.  Sprinkle with sea salt.  Pour cream over the layers.  Cover with aluminum foil.  Bake at 400˚ for 1-1 1/2 hours..

Bon appétit to all!  Stay warm! Bisous to my girls.  See you very soon!!

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Valentine's Day with Julia Child

My Valentine's Day was spent in Washington, DC chaperoning 88 seventh graders on their annual class trip. We had a great trip, well, at least until one of the buses broke down on very busy I-95 near Richmond, Virginia. We arrived home weary and three hours late.

The best thing I ate? The ice cream I treated myself to at the café at the Museum of American History. (I was playing with my food in order to create today's photo.) I was served up two big scoops, one of raspberry sorbet and one of vanilla.

Pink for Valentine's Day, of course!

I spent part of the day seeing French art with nine kiddies.  We saw quite a few painting from the 19th century and a few sculptures, including The Kiss, Le Baiser, by Rodin, at the National Gallery of Art.

There are several of these in various museums. This is a small one, not life-sized like the one in Paris near the Orangerie and Tuileries.

I also spent time with Julia.

At the Museum of American History, Julia's kitchen is on display, donated to the museum in 2001. I sat and watched several episodes of The French Chef, including one in which Julia prepares garlic mashed potatoes, one of my favorite dishes. I must admit that I had no idea who Julia Child was until I saw Dan Aykroyd's spoof of her on Saturday Night Live back in the 70's. Watching cooking shows wasn't on my list of things to do back then. I did help my mom with the cooking, but we were not experimenting with French recipes. We were just trying to feed the troops, using whatever we had on hand. Thankfully, we always had a garden and lots of vegetables, even before that was the cool thing to do, as it is today. For us, it was a necessity. I didn't realize how lucky I was, of course.  Do we ever?

Julia's cookbooks are all lined up.

Her Legion of Honor medal, awarded in 2002, is on display,

as is her Emmy. (I think she won three of them.  For a list of her awards and honors, click here.)

Her KitchenAid mixer is blue. Mildred, mine, is white.

Julia truly changed the way Americans looked at food. And it all began with her first meal in France, sole meunière.

Purée de Pommes de Terre à l'Ail
(Garlic Mashed Potatoes)
From Mastering the Art of French Cooking

I will include Julia's comments, as they are very helpful and entertaining.

Two whole heads of garlic will seems like a horrifying amount if you have not made this type of recipe before.  But if less is used, you will regret it, for the long cooking of the garlic removes all of its harsh strength, leaving just a pleasant flavor.  Garlic mashed potatoes go with roast lamb, pork, goose, or sausages.  Although both garlic sauce and potatoes may be cooked in advance, they should be combined only at the last minute; the completed purée loses its nice consistency if it sits too long over heat, or if it is cooked and then reheated.

For 6-8 people

2 heads garlic, about 30 cloves
Separate the garlic cloves.  Drop into boiling water. and boil 2 minutes.  Drain.  Peel.

A 3- to 4- cup, heavy-bottomed saucepan with cover
4 Tbsp. butter
Cook the garlic slowly with the butter in the covered saucepan for about 20 minutes or until very tender  but not browned.

2 Tbsp. flour
1 cup boiling milk
1/4 tsp. salt
Pinch of pepper
A sieve and wooden spoon, or an electric blender
Blend in the flour and stir over low heat until it froths with the butter for 2 minutes without browning.  Off heat, beat in the boiling milk and seasonings.  Boil, stirring, for 1 minute.  Rub the sauce through a sieve or purée it in the electric blender.  Simmer for 2 minutes more.
*May be done ahead of time.  Dot top of sauce with bits of butter to keep a skin from forming.  Reheat when needed.

2 1/2 lbs. baking potatoes
A potato ricer
A 2 1/2 quart enameled saucepan
A wooden spatula or spoon
4 Tbsp. softened butter
Salt and white pepper
Peel and quarter the potatoes.  Drop in boiling salted water to cover, and boil until tender.  Drain immediately and put through a potato ricer.  Place the hot purée in the saucepan and beat with the spatula or spoon for several minutes over moderate heat to evaporate moisture.  As soon as the purée begins to form a film in the bottom of the pan, remove from heat and beat in the butter a tablespoon at a time.  Beat in salt and pepper to taste.
*If not used immediately, set aside uncovered.  To reheat, cover and set over boiling water, beating frequently.

3 to 4 Tbsp. whipping cream
4 Tbsp. minced parsley
A hot, lightly buttered vegetable dish
Shortly before serving, beat in the hot garlic sauce vigorously into the hot potatoes.  Beat in the cream by spoonfuls but do not thin out the purée too much.  Beat in the parsley.  Correct seasoning.  Turn into hot vegetable dish.

Enjoy the video!  (I laugh until I cry every time I watch it...)

Bon appétit, Julia!

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

January Statues

Our Statue of Liberty in New York City was a gift from France.  In Paris, there are three of them, four if you count this one on the balcony of my hotel.  The hotel is directly across from this one, on a little island in the Seine.  We cruised past it while eating foie gras.

There is another one at the Musée d'Orsay.  I think it used to be in the Luxembourg Gardens.

At Sacré Coeur, with a dusting of snow.  Not enough to keep him from heading off to war.  Or from protecting damsels in distress.  Or whatever he is up to.

How cold was it, you ask?  Cold enough to freeze water and make gargoyles look really creepy.  Creepier than they already do.

Also spotted at the Musée d'Orsay-- Goethe's hair.  Quite a do.

The Musée d'Orsay hippo covered in snow.  Glad he has thick skin.  And he didn't have to worry about which shoes he should wear.  Or fret over the fact that he did not bring snow/rain boots, only cute suede ones that he didn't want to ruin in the slush.

Outside the Church of St. Germain des Prés.  Cold?  I'm not cold, silly woman.

Ste Thérèse inside the church.  The candle is there to send up a prayer for the BFF's brother and my sister.  There is also a statue of her in Sacré Coeur, but I've already been fussed at in French for taking photos in there, so I do not do it any more.  Almost anything sounds good when said in French, but I do not like to be fussed at in any language.

The Alma bridge across from La Tour Eiffel.  I could be wrong, but I am not sure he is wearing any clothes.  Brrr.  Cold parts.  However, he is standing strong, braving the storm.

Now, down to the south of France...
On the drive from Nîmes to Villeneuve-lez-Avignon, I saw crosses up on a hill.  We drove up to explore.  A monastery with a calvaire.  Note the beautiful blue skies.  No snow.  I often ask my Frenchie friends if they appreciate their country.  I mean, history is every where you look.  Churches, statues, castles, Roman ruins...  They live with it.  But do they really see it?  I hope so.

In France, there are these beautiful little buildings, crosses, or statues called oratoires.  They are for divine protection.  In Arles, there are still a few left on the corners of some streets.  I have seen them in other towns, too.

I know that I love gazing up at them.  If the protection is an added bonus, well, I will take that, too.
Mme P and I also saw the Venus of Arles.  She is quite beautiful.  Mme P had never seen her before.  She lives in the Hôtel de Ville where she can stay nice and warm.  And protected.  Not Mme P.  Venus.  Mme P has her lovely restored home in Pujaut where she and her family stay nice and warm.  And me, too, when I visit.

While in Arles, Mme P and I went to the Musée de l'Arles Antique.  She had never been there.  It is a musée built in 1995 to house all this cool stuff they keep digging up in the area.  Heads everywhere...  Hadrian, looking quite pleased with himself, I think.

Little Lucius César, wondering what happened to his nose...

A random Roman foot.  Can't remember who it belongs to.  I just liked it.  All nice and smooth and posed just so.

What happened to the noses?  I know that statues where beheaded during the Revolution, but benosed?  What's up with that?  Poor lady.  She can't wake up and smell the lavender.  But she was having a good hair day.

Not so with this one.  Sad look... maybe looking in the mirror after having been coiffed for the day by a servant.  Or maybe humid weather messed up the do.  Do you know the feeling?

This poor guy looks miserable, too.  Like he is being crushed.  Ouf!

And look at this big strong boy... carrying a sheep.  Not just a little lamb.  But a full grown sheep.  (I always feel like this word is plural.  Seems weird in the singular.  Or is that just me?)  Asking his neighbor when he can put this bad boy down.  And where.  Maybe they are going to eat it for dinner.  Arles is historically well-known for its sheep population.  I want to be invited to that cook-out.

The lion is the symbol of Arles.   This one, with the lights shining on it, makes quite an impression as it guards the entrance to the exhibits in the museum.  I wonder how old he is.

At the end of the week, I made my way back up to Roissy-Charles de Gaulle airport.  It is a direct shot on the TGV.  While waiting for my Air France flight in the new terminal (a whole blog on that alone is planned for the near future), I found an exhibit devoted to Rodin's sculptures.  Copies of the originals.
M. Le Penseur.  Je pense donc je suis.  Or maybe wondering what to have for dinner.  Or contemplating his luck at not being stuck in the garden in the snow at the Rodin museum like his big brother.

M. Balzac, standing proud and strong.  Wearing a bathrobe.  At least he is keeping warm.

And finally, my favorite.  Le Baiser.  The Kiss.  Admiring this one always embarrasses my students.  So, I stood and admired it for as long as I wanted to this time since no 14 year olds were with me.  Très romantique, n'est-ce pas?

My airport doesn't have works of art in it.  How about yours?

I had a lovely 10 day adventure, even in the snow without proper shoes.

Bon appétit, les statues!