Sunday, January 30, 2011

Saturday Creamed Spinach

I love creamed spinach.  When I had my wisdom teeth out several years ago, I pretty much survived on it for a while.  I didn't make it myself, though.  I bought it from Boston Market.  Theirs is really good.  Later, I embarked upon a quest to find the perfect recipe.  I bombed a lot.  And I am the only one in my house that likes it.  No taste-testers.  Julia Child's recipe from Mastering the Art of French Cooking is a keeper.
Last week, I wrote about Vin Rouge French Bistro for the Durham Herald-Sun.  My article had nothing to do with creamed spinach, but I did happen to have Chef Matt Kelly's recipe for it and I included it with the article.  The recipe is from Ann Prospero's book, Chefs Of The Triangle.
While at high school-age son's basketball game on Friday night, a mom-friend asked me about the recipe.  It didn't seem to me that she was going to make it herself, though, even though she said she really likes creamed spinach.  So, I decided to make it my own self and take some to her.  Of course, that means that I had some for me, too!  Quelle bonne idée!
I assembled the ingredients...
Lots of spinach (I know it's not in season here in NC, but Harris Teeter brings it in)
added to hot half-and-half

and wilted.

Salt, pepper and freshly grated nutmeg had been added to the cream.
Then it was time to make a roux of butter and flour.
The roux was added to the spinach and cream mixture.
Back to the heat to thicken.
My immersion blender came out of the cabinet where it lives next to Mildred the Mixer.

And finally the creamed spinach was placed in my beloved tian and in a little blue dish for my friend's portion.  Gruyère cheese was sprinkled on the top and heavy cream was drizzled on before popping it into the oven.

Chef Matthew Kelly's Creamed Spinach
Serves 6

1 quart half-and-half
1 clove garlic
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
Salt and pepper to taste
2 1/2 pounds baby flat-leaf spinach
2 sticks unsalted butter
3/4 cup flour
1 to 2 ounces Gruyère cheese, grated
Heavy cream to drizzle

Preheat oven to 400˚F.  In a large pot, bring half-and-half just to a boil.  Add garlic, nutmeg, salt, and pepper.  Working in batches, stir in spinach just until wilted.  Continue stirring in more spinach until all 2 1/2 pounds have been incorporated into cream mixture.  Remove from heat.  Make a roux by melting butter in a sauté pan over medium heat and stirring in flour.  Continue stirring until mixture thickens and forms gravy.  Remove from heat.  Add roux to spinach, return to heat, and bring to a boil.  Stir until roux thickens the cream and spinach mixture.  Using an immersion blender, lightly pulse until ingredients are just mixed but not puréed.  Adjust seasonings.  Place spinach in an ovenproof serving container.  Sprinkle with Gruyère and drizzle heavy cream on top.  Bake for 6 to 8 minutes until cheese is golden brown. 

Bon appétit, les épinards et Chef Matt!

Saturday, January 29, 2011

My half-birthday

I do love birthdays.  And sometimes, since my birthday is in the summer, I celebrate my half-birthday.  Not because I think of it, though, but because others do.  Mrs. T, our administrative assistant and a long time friend, went to Foster's Market and bought me coffee (with lots and lots of half and half, please) and a cherry scone.  A very nice way to start the day.
And one of my advisory group moms brought me lunch from Saladelia.
It was a delicious day!

Bon appétit, 52 1/2!

Monday, January 24, 2011

Eat it, North Carolina!

I love my state.  I wouldn't live anywhere else -- well, I'd live for part of the year in Provence, if I could.  But North Carolina is the best state and my home.  We have mountains, the beach, parks, trees, waterfalls, flowers, a zoo, farms, great universities, lots of sports... I could go on and on.
On facebook recently I stumbled upon a site called Eat it, North Carolina.  There was a post about Seth Gross' restaurant-in-the-making Bull City Burger and Brewery.  And if they had posted about Seth, I needed to read it.  (I've even been inside BCB&B for a sneak preview!!)  Reading that post led to reading that they are looking for bloggers and that led me to write an email which led to an offer to post for them from here in Durham.  Yipee!  Another venue for me to go on and on about what and where I eat.  Another excuse to try new places and go back to ones I really like.  I can even post recipes if I want.
Not a bad deal, huh?  First post, prix fixe week in Durham.  Three course meals offered in some of my favorite Durham restaurants.  It doesn't get much better than that, mes amis.  Eat up!

Bon appétit, Eat it, North Carolina!

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Salt and pepper, anyone?

This is all a part of the adventure I had last weekend in Paris.  I really should write it all down in sequence, but that would make too much sense, n'est-ce pas?  Since Sunday is coming to a close here in NC, I will tell about last Sunday afternoon.
The day started with an ACIS training session after breakfast at our hotel, the Novotel on Quai de Grenelle. 

We played a really cool chocolate tasting game.  My kind of training! 

Then we hopped on a bus for a guided tour of the Opéra Garnier.  It is such a cool building.  I love the ceiling painted by Marc Chagall.  The chandelier still scares me a bit, though.
They sell tutus in the gift shop now.  I never took ballet classes when I was a little girl.  I've never owned a tutu.  But looking at these, I caught myself wondering... would I look better in pink and white...
or black?

Before I could do something as silly as even check the price of one of them,  a small group of us decided to head to the nearby Ladurée shop to buy macarons

Believe it or not, I only ate one and brought back a little box of them for Arles Lucy who will be my co-chaperone for the March student trip.  I am all for bribes, mes amis.  Giving and receiving them, as long as they have to do with food or drink. 

After that stop, I split off from the rest.  They were heading to the Marais to the Musée Carnavalet and I have been there several times.  The weather was absolutely gorgeous-- 50˚F and sunny.  Blue skies.  Perfect strolling weather.  So, stroll I did.  I passed through the Place Vendôme,

to the Tuileries gardens,

and across the Pont des Arts with all of the Padlocks of Love.

There were lots and lots of Frenchies out and about.  They were strolling, too.  I realized that someone was watching me and keeping pace with me as I crossed the bridge.  A nicely dressed fellow.  I continued to snap photos and ignore him.  At the end of the bridge, he stopped next to me and struck up a conversation.  He asked if he could walk with me along the quai.  Sure.  I told him I was meeting friends in front of Notre Dame.  Maybe Quasimodo would still be there?  He was there for me last March...
It is always good to speak French, even to a random man looking to pick up a dinner date.  I said no to dinner.  I said no to coffee.  He asked if he could buy me a souvenir from one of the bouquinistes along the quai.   One more nonJ'en ai assez, I told him-- I have enough (that is, of course, a lie- I could never have enough Paris souvenirs).  But before I knew it, he had bought a set of salt and pepper shakers and presented them to me.  Oh well.  I said Merci and stashed them in the Ladurée bag with the macarons.  Random French Guy told me had noticed me on the bridge, with the sun shining on my face and in my hair.  I did not laugh.  Really I didn't.  I said Merci once again and kept strolling.  I lost him in front of Notre Dame.  I hope that he did actually find someone to have dinner with him.  Or coffee.  And yes, I kept the salt and pepper shakers!

I think they kind of look like they're dancing.  Shake, shake, shake... shake, shake, shake... shake your booty, shake your booty.  (That's a KC and the Sunshine Band song for those too young to have experienced the '70's music scene.)

Bon appétit, Paris and Random French Guys everywhere.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Paris in January

This wonderful chef is so happy because he is getting ready to prepare fois gras for moi!!  And all chefs love gourmandes like me who love to eat.
Oui, foie gras and lovely little potatoes cooked in the same pan.
Add some champagne, in the setting of a hôtel particulier tucked in behind the Musée d'Orsay and it was pure heaven.
I just returned from a long weekend in Paris, courtesy of ACIS, the travel company making the arrangements for my spring break trip to Paris and Provence with my 14 eighth graders.  Yes, there was a bit of work involved... an orientation meeting for those of us new to the company.
At the moment, I am paying the price... grades and comments are due for the second quarter.  So... until my work is done, no more posts.  No more drooling over my days spent roaming through three markets, eating steak-frites, touring the Opéra Garnier or sipping kir royale on a dinner cruise...   Never fear, dear readers, you will get all the details and lots of photos as soon as my work is caught up.
Back to real life!

Bon appétit, Paris!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Pioneer Woman

Well, I've done it again.  I've gone and fallen in love with a book (and with Pioneer Woman, too, if I have to be totally truthful...).  This is the first time I've publicly confessed this about myself.  Does anyone else out there do this, too?  Something just clicks with a particular character and there you go, falling head over heels.  I also felt this way after seeing a play.  Aida, to be exact, when it was in Raleigh a few years back.  I cried just thinking about Radames all the way home.  (Luckily, I was alone.)  It happened when I read Blame It On Paris by Laura Florand.  The book is the story of how she met her Frenchie while studying in Paris and later married him.  I wrote my usual fan e-mail and lo and behold, heard back from her.  She lives right here in Durham for part of the year and teaches at Duke.  We made plans to meet for coffee, but it never happened.  That's too bad.  (Good grief, mon dieu, do I give off stalking vibes via email??) At the time, college-age son was taking a French course and I met his French professor.  Seems she had a bit part in the book.  She and the author are friends and were studying there together.  I will stop at these examples. 
Back to Pioneer Woman.  Her cookbook reads like a novel.  She tells the story of how she met her husband, aka Marlboro Man, and traded in her black pumps for whatever cattle ranchers' wives wear on their feet.  (The few that I've met in Nebraska wear boots, too.  The Ex-Ex is descended from cattle-ranching stock.)  The photos are stunning.  She took them herself-- no food photographer or stylist.  And I have a huge soft spot for cows.  Back in the olden days before digital photography and you actually had to pay good money to develop your photos, I would come back from our trips to Nebraska will rolls of cow pictures.  The Ex-Ex's grandfather would take us on rides through the pastures when he had to go out and check the salt licks and I would just snap photos of beautiful cow faces at every single windmill.
I love Pioneer Woman's recipes, too.  I am thinking about making her chicken pot pie recipe tonight.  I think the eaters will love that one.  She actually has the recipe for the cinnamon-sugar muffins I posted earlier this week.  Only she calls them French Breakfast Puffs.  Seems she took French as a 9th grader and learned to make them in that class.  I take this as a sign from the Gods of Cooking that Pioneer Woman and I were fated to meet.  It's just logical.  So, yes, I have left a comment on her blog (which is also full of stunning photos and funny, funny stories) and, in my head, we are already cyberspace BFFs.
Speaking of BFFs, The Pioneer Woman Cooks: Recipes from an Accidental Country Girl was a Christmas gift from my BFF.  We just exchanged gifts a couple of days ago... we are always a little late, but the timing has to be just right.  We need peace and quiet (translation:  no kids or husbands around) and a nice chilled glass of something dry and white in front of us.  Cheese and bread are optional but appreciated.  (All I had was Chex Mix, but the BFF didn't complain.  She wouldn't be my BFF if she did, now would she?) Anyway, the story goes that right at the beginning of Christmas break, the Ex-Ex and I were at the grocery store doing the weekly shopping (yes, we do indeed do this together in round two of the marriage!) and as I was contemplating what to make during the two glorious weeks off from school, he said something along the lines of "Don't make anything weird."  Now to his credit, he meant that I didn't need to go to a lot of trouble.  Chili, soup, panini, mac and cheese, lasagna-- all the old favorites would do just fine.  Bless his heart.  I relayed the story to the BFF and while shopping she ran across this book.  Just a glance at the cover and at a few of the pages would tell you that this cookbook is made for the eater in the Ex-Ex.  So, now it is all mine.  I promise to share a recipe or two from time to time.  And to make some of the recipes for the eaters in my house.  Perfect Pot Roast sounds right up their alley.
I can make no such promises about sending more fan emails or falling in love with the next book waiting on my nightstand.

Chicken Pot Pie
Makes one 9-inch pie

3 celery stalks
3 medium carrots
1 large yellow onion
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) butter
1/2 cup frozen peas
2 cups cooked chicken
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1 chicken bouillon cube
1/4 cup white wine (optional)
1 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon ground thyme
1 teaspoon kosher salt, or more to taste
Black pepper to taste
1/2 recipe perfect pie crust (follows)

1.  Preheat oven to 400˚F.
2.  Begin by finely dicing the onion, carrots and celery.
3.  Melt the butter in a large pot or Dutch oven over medium heat.  Add the onion, carrots, celery and peas.  Sauté until the vegetables start to turn translucent, a couple of minutes.
4.  Add the chicken and stir to combine.  Sprinkle the flour evenly over the vegetables and chicken and stir to combine.  Cook for a couple of minutes, stirring gently.
5.  Pour in the chicken broth, stirring constantly.  Stir in the bouillon cube and wine, if using.  The flour will combine with the chicken to create a delicious gravy.
6.  Pour in the cream and stir.  Allow the mixture to cook over low heat, thickening gradually, about 4 minutes.  Season with the thyme, salt and pepper.  Remove from the heat.  Taste and adjust the seasonings as needed.  Be sure it is adequately salted!
7.  Pour the chicken mixture into a deep pie pan or small casserole dish.
8.  Roll out the crust so that it's 1 inch larger than the pan.  Place the crust on top of the chicken mixture and cut small slits in the top.  Press the crust gently into the side of the dish to seal.
9.  Bake for 30 minutes, or until the crust is golden brown and the filling is bubbly.  Cool for 10 minutes before serving.
10.  Use a large spoon to serve.
11.  "Mmmmm.  This is what I'm talkin' about."  -- Pioneer Woman

Perfect Pie Crust
Makes two to three 9-inch pie crusts

3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups vegetable shortening
1 egg
5 tablespoons cold water
1 tablespoon distilled white vinegar

Combine flour and salt in a large bowl.
Add in the shortening.  Using a pastry cutter, gradually work the shortening into the flour until the mixture resembles tiny pebbles.  This step should take 3-4 minutes.
Lightly beat the egg with a fork, then add it to the mixture.  Next, add in the cold water and vinegar.
Stir the mixture together until it's just combined, then remove half of the dough from the bowl.
Place in a large plastic bag (do not seal) and slightly flatten with a rolling pin.  This makes it much easier to roll out the crust later.  After flattening, seal the bag tightly.
Repeat with the other half of the dough and place the plastic bags in the freezer, if not using immediately.
When you are ready to use a crust, remove one from the freezer and allow it to sit on the counter to thaw slightly, about 20 minutes.  Remove from the bag and place on a lightly floured surface.
With a rolling pin, begin rolling the dough from the center outward.  Be gentle and patient; it'll take a little time to get the dough completely rolled out.

** If using the crust for a pie and not the Chicken Pot Pie recipe, continue on--

Lift the crust carefully and lay it over a pie pan.  Using  your hand, lightly form the crust so that it fits inside the pan and overlaps the edges.  Tuck the excess dough under itself above the rim of the pan.  Then apply whatever decorative effects that you like to the edge.  Or you can leave it plain if you'd like.  Fill the pie crust with filling and bake according to the recipe's directions.  Or, for a pre-baked crust, fill with pie weights (or pinto beans placed on aluminum foil) and bake at 400˚F for 10 minutes, or until golden brown.

Bon appétit, Pioneer Woman!

Monday, January 10, 2011

The Lion King

The Lion King has come to town.  The Durham Performing Arts Center, known as the DPAC, has been transformed into Africa and it is a sight to behold.  I am quite familiar with the story having watched the Disney movie countless times when the boys were younger.  My mother-in-law asked me a couple of months ago if I would like to go with her.  I jumped on that chance.  I had only been to DPAC once before, last season, to see Phantom of the Opera.  I love plays.  Make-believe worlds are wonderful for those of us with over active imaginations.
The costumes, the puppetry, the songs, the colors... wow!  I loved every second of it and so did my date.  Scar, played by J. Anthony Crane in this production, was perfectly horrible and very well-acted.  Rafiki was wonderful.  I found myself remembering Timon and Pumbaa's lines and wanting to sing along with Simba when he belted out "I Just Can't Wait To Be King."  (I didn't.  I behaved.)  High school-age son really wants to surprise his girlfriend and take her, but it is sold out.  I wish he'd told me that a couple of months ago.
Having guests gave me an excuse to bake (as if I really need one, it's just nice to have a larger audience).  On the weekend, I like to get up early, before anyone else, and fill the kitchen with good smells.  I made scones, using the lavender scone recipe on the blog, but without the lavender (I am totally out of culinary lavender-- I need to get in touch with my "dealer").  I substitued dried blueberries and lemon zest. 
I also made cinnamon-sugar muffins.
I like to make mini-muffins.  Just the right size to pop in my mouth.
Vraiment délicieux with my café au lait on a chilly winter morning while reading the Sunday paper.

Cinnamon-Sugar Muffins
makes 12 regular size or 24 mini-muffins

1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup milk
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 large egg
1-1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/2 cup sugar (I use turbinado)
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter

Heat oven to 350˚F. 
Grease bottoms only of muffins cups with butter.
With a fork, in a medium bowl, beat sugar, milk, vegetable oil, and egg.
Combine flour, baking powder, salt and nutmeg in a small bowl.
Add flour mixture to milk mixture and mix just until all the flour is wet (do not stir too much, batter will be lumpy). 
Spoon batter into muffin cups until 2/3 full.  Bake 20-25 minutes for regular size muffins or 12 minutes for mini-muffins.
While muffins are baking, mix sugar and cinnamon in a small bowl.  Melt the butter.
When muffins are golden brown, remove from the oven and immediately remove them from the pan.  Roll hot muffins in the melted butter, then in the cinnamon-sugar mixture.
Serve hot.

Bon appétit, le petit déjeuner!

A late happy new year

Boy, have I been a lazy blogger.  I may even have given the impression that I've stopped eating.  Or cooking.  Or reading.  Or watching movies.  Nope to all of the above.  I am just behind.  I wish I could say it's due to jetting off the south of France.  But I have no excuses.  Just enjoying a relatively computer-free break.
I had a delicious New Year's Day.  New Year's Eve was quiet.  I think I even graded exams.  I saved my celebrating for January 1.  The BFF has joined Slow Food Triangle and she and Daddy-O invited the Ex-Ex and me to a traditional New Year's Day dinner at Fullsteam Brewery in downtown Durham.
We did indeed *find our cool* and lots of good food and drink.  Wine Authorities and 3Cups wines were available as well as Fullsteam's beer.  Daddy-O enjoyed Moon Pie.
Chef Marco Shaw of Piedmont cooked up 300 pounds of collard greens for the assembled hungry mass.
Hoppin' John, a mixture of black-eyed peas and rice, was also served.  But the cornbread was my favorite.  I do not know who made it.  It was perfect.  Moist.  Just a little bit sweet.  With a creamy layer in the middle-- sour cream, maybe?  I was running around taking photos of plates and talking to some friends I hadn't seen in a long time and eyeing the slices of cornbread on other people's tables.  A very nice lady then offered me a slice from her table to whet my appetite. (I really hope I wasn't drooling...)
We were asked to bring our own plates and silverware. It was interesting to look at all the different ones... just basic white ones for us.
And then mine was all empty.  I was a good girl and cleaned my plate.
That meant I could have dessert!  Sweet potato pie from Scratch
After such a satisfying meal, I look forward to a very fulfilling year.
Thank you, BFF!

Bon appétit, 2011!