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Sunday, August 31, 2014

Feeling blue

     Feeling blue is not always a bad thing, especially when it comes to cheese. I love cheese in all its forms, but blues, I have to say, are my favorites. I mostly eat French cheese, but when it comes to “blues” I do like the whole spectrum. Italian Gorgonzola and very British Stilton have a special place in my heart. Recently, I came upon what may be considered the world’s most complex blue. Fellow foodie Sudi Pigott recommended a mysterious fromager in Oregon, with a particularly coveted cheese called Rogue River Blue, which is produced in the old-fashioned way and with lait cru. This unique delicacy of a cheese matures wrapped in Syrah leaves that have been previously soaked in pear brandy. The result is an intensely flavoured cheese, quite similar in intensity to Stilton; however the pear brandy provides the difference in flavours. This cheese also has an accentuated taste of hazelnut and oak. If well-paired, it will burst your palate into delectable heaven.

The leaf-wrapped, brandy soaked, Rogue River Blue
     What do I mean by well-paired?  We all know that proper cheese must be consumed with proper wine.  Generally, blue cheeses pair marvelously with sweet wines, especially Rieslings or Voigners.  Even maybe a Sauternes, for which I would recommend starting your meal with a supreme foie gras.  That being said, my best recommendation for the Rogue River Blue is the great Marcel Deiss and his Altenberg Grand Cru.


          I’d recommend a vintage for this wine no more than six years old.  So if you can get your hands on a 2008 or 2009 bottle, never mind the expense and splurge for your own good.  Alternatively, if your pocket allows for less splurging, you can also try a more mineral Riesling, but nonetheless great with cheese, like “Recas”, from scary Transylvania.  This wine has a soft flavor of peaches and is also floral, with just enough body to pair with blue and slightly strong cheeses, like a Comté or an Emmentaler.


     For an exemplary plate of blues, include also another version like a Bleu de Gex, a creamy, semi-soft cheese from the Jura mountains, also made with unpasteurized milk.  Both of these cheeses will benefit tremendously with a small topping of fruit compote or confit, made from Alsatian white wines and fruits.  Try those from L’Epicurien to impress your guests with the talk of the evening.


     Because it is also made with pears, this confit brings out the flavor of the Rogue Blue unlike anything else.

     And so I made my plate, the two blues, a slice of a very nice Comté reserve and yet another special confit for it, and delectable, melt-in-your-mouth Stilton and pecan crackers.


     They are quite addictive, and taste like heaven in your mouth.  You can double or triple the recipe and keep several logs in your freezer.  Then defrost in the fridge overnight when you’re ready to bake them.

Blue-cheese-pecan Icebox crackers:

Ingredients:

  • ½ cup pecan halves
  • ¾ all-purpose flour
  • 4 Tbsp. very cold, very good, unsalted butter (I use Echiré)
  • 3 oz. blue cheese, such as Stilton, crumbled
Preparation:

     Place the pecans on a rimmed baking sheet and bake until fragrant, 3 to 5 minutes.  Let cool.  Transfer the pecans to the bowl of a food processor and pulse until finely ground.
     Add the flour to the ground pecans and pulse briefly to combine.  Then add the butter and pulse until the mixture resembles coarse meal.  Add the cheese and process until the dough comes together and is well combined.  Transfer the dough to a clean work surface and shape into a 2” wide log.  Wrap the log in wax paper and refrigerate for at least 24 hours or freeze for later use.
     When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 325F.  Slice the well-chilled log into ¼” thick slices.  Transfer them to a baking sheet and bake immediately, rotating the sheet half way through cooking, until the crackers are golden brown and firm in the center, about 20 to 25 minutes (the crackers should not get brown around the edges).  Transfer to a wire rack to cool.

Homemade blue cheese cracker
topped with Rogue River Blue.
Pure heaven.

Monday, May 12, 2014

A Canadian steakhouse that is worth visiting

     I’ve been visiting Epcot at the Walt Disney World Resort for several years now, and as such, I have eaten at almost all the restaurants in the park.  Almost.  There was one that I’d been wanting to try for the longest time: Le Cellier, at the Canada pavilion.

     Le Cellier is a steakhouse, a tribute to French Canada and a pricey one at that.  But the food is great and the service super.  It is the ideal restaurant for a cozy dinner in late fall, although I happened to go in the Spring.  The entryway to the restaurant takes one through a path among a replica of the great Victoria Gardens in British Vancouver.  It looked particularly beautiful at this time of year, no doubt on occasion of the Flower and Garden Festival, which had the whole park blooming.



     Inside, the restaurant follows the theme of its name (“Cellier” means cave or wine cellar in French) with décor as that of the inside of a medieval abbey where the monks used to age the wine in, all with archways in stone.


     A very friendly waitress came and offered me a drink.  I decided to choose something that would go along with my meal, so I had a glass of 2010 Château des Charmes, a Canadian Merlot bottled at an estate in the Niagara Falls region.  It had abundant blackberry notes, with a slightly oaky nose and a hint of vanilla.  It paired beautifully with the meal I had.


     My starter was a plentiful bread-basket, with 3 different types of bread (white, pretzel and whole nut), and a disc of butter that was half spread with fleur de sel, half with sugar maple syrup.  The sugar maple complemented the nutty bread beautifully.  It was such a tasty idea that I will definitely implement it at home.


     For my first course I went with a Spring classic - Navarin d’agneau.  The lamb was cooked to perfection, brown on the outside and very pink (almost raw, but I have no problem eating raw meat) on the inside.  It was surrounded by a velouté of avocado, sautéed and fresh vegetables and…delicious morels.  It was served at an ideal temperature and was filling without being heavy.


     For dessert, the friendly waitress suggested the maple crème brulée.  Once again, it did not disappoint.  The slight touch of maple flavor seemed to be ideally suited for the creamy nature of the dessert (a recipe to look into).


     As I said before, Le Cellier is an expensive restaurant, but one where one can find prime meat that is also cooked as it should be.  This is no easy accomplishment, since most of the restaurants I’ve eaten at locally offer dismal options.  In the fall, the menu offers delicacies like venison rack and a scrumptious charcuterie starter.  Reservations are highly recommended.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Aperitifs à la rosé

     Spring is the time of the year when we can finally venture outside and experience some warmth and sunny days.  I love this time of year here in Florida, when the days are bright and sunny, not too hot and inviting for barbecues and just lounging around with a great cocktail.

     I have become a great mixologist and love to craft cocktails at home.  So I have gotten my hands on a few bar supplies and a few great drink recipes and have followed through in typical French fashion.

     The French are very keen in starting a great meal with what they call an “àpero” (aperitif).  So much so, that there is even an actual drink by this name, which is generally served over ice.  “Apero” is bright orange in colour and has a sharp taste with an aniseed finish.  It is very refreshing and can sideline easily into a meal.


Apero on the rocks
      My favorite cocktail starter however is “Lillet Rosé”, which is a fortified wine blend of Sauvignon and Muscatel grapes.  It smells like flowers and ripe berries, hence making it perfect for a refreshing cocktail, full of flavor.  There are also Lillet Rouge and Blanche, but Rosé is my favorite.  I have created the most delicious cocktails with this àpero, all wonderful for this time of the year.

     The first suggestion is one I have seen in one of Martha Stewart’s magazines.  This is an ideal cocktail to serve at a semi-formal party, where your guests can wander in and out of your home and into a backyard or garden.  It packs a punch, so be sure you serve it with some nice appetizers.


Lillet Rosé Spring cocktail

Ingredients:
·         2 ounces Lillet Rosé
·         2 ounces ruby red grapefruit juice
·         1 ounce gin
·         1 edible flower for garnish

Preparation:

      Combine the Lillet, grapefruit juice and gin in a cocktail shaker with ice.  Shake until well chilled.  Strain and pour into a champagne coupe and garnish with the flower.  Serve immediately.



    Now for those afternoons when you arrive from work exhausted and need a cool, refreshing drink to unwind, may I suggest my friend’s Daryl Robinson’s Sunset Rosé.  You can make it with any rosé wine made out of garnache grapes, but Lillet suits it particularly well.


Sunset Rosé

Ingredients:

·         1 ounce Grand Marnier
·         4 ounces Lillet Rosé
·         Club soda, as needed
·         Dash of orange bitters
·         Orange twist, for garnish

Preparation:

                   In a fully iced wine glass pour the Grand Marnier and Lillet and stir with a cocktail spoon.  Top the glass with club soda and add a dash of orange bitters.  Garnish with an orange twist and serve.



    A drink I really do enjoy at the end of a long day is the ubiquitous Martini.  I was thrilled to try Lillet’s own suggestion to make it with the wonderful rosé.  Here is yet another refreshing recipe.


Rosé Reverse Martini

Ingredients:

·         4 ounces Lillet Rosé
·         1 ounce gin
·         2 dashes orange bitters

Preparation:

      Pour ingredients into a cocktail shaker with ice.  Strain into a chilled martini glass.  Garnish with a freshly cut orange peel, rubbed over the top of the glass in order to express the oils.


     
So try your hand at mixing the French way this month and let me know how your party went.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

How to clean copper

     At the end of 2013 my husband and I moved into a new house.  It was a daunting, albeit highly positive, stepping stone.  Used to living in a small apartment for a number of years, the vastness of our new abode presents new decorating and maintenance challenges every day.  It was also the reason for my two month hiatus from blogging.  I should have plenty of material under my present circumstances.

     I have always been a lover of copper for kitchen utensils.  The material is undoubtedly the best for cooking and baking, copper being the best conductor of heat.  And who can deny the glistening of egg whites beaten in a bowl of solid copper.

     I own several pieces of copper, from saucepans to cookie cutters, so in order to keep them shining I decided to try an idea I once heard from Laura Calder in one of her cooking shows.  It is a paste of all-purpose flour, coarse salt and white vinegar.  The salt works as a scrubber and does not dissolve, while the vinegar works its brightening magic.  The flour is mostly a binding agent.  The results were excellent... at the beginning.

Before...


...and after

     This what they looked like after a few hours:


     So obviously not a good choice.  I came back to my old time favorite Copperbrill, a product created by French copper manufacturers par excellence, Mauviel.  Undoubtedly, this the product to go for.  

One of my mixing bowls.  Results that last.

My coveted KitchenAid got new highlights
     It's worth noting that copper will acquire a slight patina with time.  This is not only encouraged but beautiful.  Nevertheless, a product like Copperbrill will ensure that your copper utensils always look their best.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

A unique mold... and Seed cake

     In continuing with my exploration of kitchen tools the French kitchen, I have come across a unique cake mold, recently offered by Williams-Sonoma.

     This rectangular cake pan offers the peculiarity of a lemon-shaped top, ideal for any citrus-flavoured recipe.  It is made of solid cast aluminum and its non-stick coating ensures easy unmolding.  I like to keep my eyes open for interesting molds to add to my collection, and I just couldn’t resist this one.  Always be on the lookout for accessories to add to your kitchen tools, and in time you will develop a set tailored to your own style of cooking and baking.



     But beyond the ubiquitous citrus loaf, I went a – curious – step further and decided on a classic Victorian recipe – Seed cake.  I became aware of its existence watching an episode of the Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple series, “At Bertram’s Hotel”.  During one of the sumptuous teatimes, Ms. Marple is offered this cake by one of the waiters.  But Jane Marple is hesitant in accepting the offer, until the waiter tells her it is indeed the “true” seed cake, a specialty of the house, for which the pastry chef has had the recipe for years.




     Seed cake was the typical Victorian teacake.  Sometimes it was also eaten as a snack before turning in to help aid digestion, as caraway seeds are known for their soothing qualities.  After some research, I came up with Mrs. Beeton’s recipe, a true testament to the history of British teatime.

Victorian Seed Cake

Ingredients:

  • 225 gr butter
  • 225 gr cake flour
  • 175 gr caster sugar
  • 2 Tbsp caraway seeds
  • 3 eggs, whisked
  • 1/4 cup brandy
  • Tad ground mace
  • Grated nutmeg to taste
  • 50 gr chopped candied citrus peel

Preparation:

     Cream the butter along with the sugar.  Add the sifted flour.

     Add the mace, nutmeg, caraway seeds and chopped candied peel and mix well.

     Pre-heat the oven to 325F and grease the pan.

     Stir in the whisked eggs and then the brandy.  Beat for about 3 minutes, until very smooth and with no lumps.

     Pour the mixture into the tin and bake for about 1 ½ hours, until a skewer comes out clean when tested and the cake is well risen, firm and golden brown.  Once cold, it can be sprinkled with powdered sugar. 


     This is a very moist cake.  It also freezes well, and I can’t think of a better way to satiate bedtime munchies, along with a hot cup of herbal, lemony tea.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

A tool to have in your kitchen: Moulinette

     The right tools are essential to successful performance in your kitchen.  The French excel at this of course, and have invented dishes to satisfy every possible accoutrement.

     This weekend I tried two recipes that require the use of a moulinette or food mill.  I was able to get my hands on, after much searching and comparing, one of the best moulinettes on the market, made by European manufacturer Paderno.  Made entirely of stainless steel, it is used in major restaurants.  It is the secret to wonderfully creamy soups, sauces and preserves.  



     I admit it is pricey, but it is a tool that will last forever and you will find yourself using it more and more.

     The first recipe I tried was from fellow Francophile Laura Calder, who found it in an old recipe notebook: Confiture de carottes – or carrot jam.  Yes, you heard right.  Carrot jam.  It is as delicious as it is unusual and so simple to make.  Keep it in mind for the next time you need to make a nice house-warming gift.  It should be eaten with slices of baguette or bâtard bread smothered with slabs of cold, salted butter.


Confiture de carottes

Ingredients:

  • 1 pd. peeled carrots
  • Water, as needed
  • 2 cups sugar
  • Zest of 1 lemon and juice of 2
  • 10 whole chopped or slivered almonds
  • 2 Tbsp. Cognac
Preparation:

     Slice the carrots and put them in a saucepan along with the water until they are just covered.  Boil until very soft, then run through the moulinette to puree.  Put the puree back into the saucepan and add the sugar, the lemon zest and lemon juice and bring to a boil.  Cook until “glassy” and “jammy”.  



     Remove the pan from the heat and add the almonds and Cognac.  Cool and spoon into a sterilized jar.  Keep in the fridge.

     The other recipe I tried was a soup.  What with the cold winter we are having here in Florida, a nice creamy pea soup is a welcome meal any time.  This recipe is classic of a typical French brasserie.  It even carries the name of the trendy 6th arrondisement – Saint-Germain-des-Prés.  It freezes wonderfully, so make double the recipe and stock up!


Pureé Saint-Germain

Ingredients:

  • 15 oz. split peas
  • 2 oz. lardons
  • 1 cup veal stock
  • 1 bouquet garni: thyme, leek, bayleaf, celery
  • Freshly ground pepper
  • ½ cup butter
  • Croûtons and crème fraîche to serve 
Preparation:

     Soak the peas for 2 hours in cold water, then drain and boil in 4 cups of lightly salted water, skimming off the foam.  When the peas are ready, drain (keeping half the water) and sieve through the moulinette.

     Sauté the lardons in a pan, removing the grease.  Add the sieved peas, pour on the veal stock and the liquid and add the bouquet garni.  Simmer for 15 minutes at a very low temperature.

     Remove the bouquet garni, season with pepper and pour the pea soup into a preheated tureen or serving bowl, stir in the butter and add the crème fraîche and croutons separately upon serving.



Sunday, October 20, 2013

Local French dairy products

     One of the major challenges to French cooking I have found here in America is the fact that dairy products that are unpasteurized are not allowed.  I grew up on unpasteurized milk, cream and all sorts of “not allowed by the FDA” products, like so many other millions of people around the world and have never had a problem.  Raw dairy builds the immune system up like crazy, making for strong bones and a general healthy outlook.

     So here are the best dairy products I could come up with so far, if you want to cook like a true French person (as much as we can on this side of the world):



          From left to right:
  • “Natural by Nature” pasteurized heavy cream.  Unlike most cream, this one IS NOT ultra-pasteurized, which means it is boiled only once, and not at very high temperature, which makes for a much more stable and thicker product.
  • True whole milk en bouteille de verre, also by “Natural by Nature”, which is sold at Whole Foods Market.  It is so thick that you can collect up to 2 tablespoons of cream at the top of the bottle when you open it.
  • An excellent option for butters are the French ones from Poitou, a region suited to the rearing of goats.  All the dairy from this part of France is extra rich and creamy.  This “Sèvre Belle” is slightly salted.  Ideal for the baguette and petit noir of the morning.
  • Whenever I can, I buy a 1-pound roll of salted and unsalted butter at my local Farmers Market.  The one underneath the French butter comes from an Amish farm in Wisconsin from grass-fed cows.  You can actually taste the difference. 
  • For a bit more flavor, especially for ice-cream or a creamy dessert, nothing beats goat’s milk (see the cream leftover inside the bottle).  Also available at Whole Foods.
  • The Vermont Creamery makes an excellent crème fraîche, one of the staples of French cooking.  Their cheeses are also quite imaginative and creamy.

     A very good recipe to use two of the products above is a panna-cotta.  I suggest using the goat’s milk for the vanilla portion and the whole cow’s milk for the chocolate one.  It can be done with one or both flavours, and although it may seem lengthy to prepare, the majority of time required is for refrigeration.  The dessert can be made up to two days ahead and will keep for another two in the fridge.  It is an ideal end for a rather light dinner, of fish for example, as it tends to be filling.  The measurements are good for 4 servings.

 

La panna-cotta au chocolat, vainille e crème de violette:

 

Ingredients for the vainille et crème de violette panna-cotta:

  • 3 Tbsp. cold water
  • 2 ¼ tsp. unflavoured gelatin
  • 1 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 1 cup half and half (combine half cup of cream and half of milk from “Natural by Nature” brand)
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 3 Tbsp. crème de violette liqueur
  • ¼  Tahitian vanilla bean, scraped
  • Pinch of salt
Ingredients for the chocolate panna-cotta:

  • 1 ¾ cups heavy whipping cream
  • 1 ¼ tsp. unflavoured gelatin
  • 2 Tbsp. sugar
  • Pinch of salt
  • 2 ounces finely chopped quality dark chocolate, 70% cacao
For the whipped cream topping:

  • ¾ heavy whipping cream
  • 2 Tbsp crème de violette liqueur
  • A drop or two of violet food colouring
  • Small pieces of chocolate for decorating

Preparation for the vainille et crème de violette panna-cotta:

     Pour the cold water into a small bowl and sprinkle with the gelatin.

 

     In a medium saucepan, heat the cream, half and half, sugar, lavender and salt over medium heat until the sugar has completely dissolved and the mixture comes to a boil, about 5 minutes.

 

     Remove the saucepan from the heat and pour the mixture through a fine strainer and into a measuring cup with a spout.  Stir in the crème de violette and the vanilla seeds, followed by the gelatin mixture, stirring until the gelatin has completely dissolved.

 

     Divide among 4 individual serving glasses and bring to room temperature, then place on a flat surface in the fridge and refrigerate overnight.

Preparation for the chocolate panna-cotta:



     Once the vanilla layer has been set, it’s time to make the chocolate one. 

 

     Pour ¼ cup of the whipping cream into a small heatproof bowl and sprinkle the gelatin over it.  Let sit for 10 minutes.  Place the bowl into a larger one with hot water and stir mixture until the gelatin has completely dissolved.

 

     In a medium saucepan over medium heat, bring the remaining cream, sugar and salt just to a boil and remove promptly from the heat.  Whisk the chocolate until completely incorporated and smooth.

 

     Add the gelatin mixture until well combined, pour it through a fine strainer and into a measuring cup with a spout.  Let sit until it reaches room temperature, stirring occasionally.

 

     Divide among the chilled vanilla-crème de violette panna-cotta layered glasses, cover with plastic wrap and let chill in the refrigerator overnight.

To prepare the whipped cream topping:



     Make this 2 hours before serving.  Add the crème de violette liqueur to the cream, stir and let sit in the refrigerator, covered, for at least 1 hour – the longer it sits, the better the flavor. 

 

     Chill a mixing bowl and the metal whisk/s to be used to beat the cream for 15 minutes prior to mixing.  Add the cream with a drop or two of colouring and beat until it forms a soft peak. 

 

     Top each dessert with a dollop of cream and a piece or two of dark chocolate.