Posted tagged ‘French Cooking’

Slow Walnut Wine

June 27, 2014

DSC_8552There’s a verb in French, patienter, that we don’t really have in English. It means to wait patiently, and you’re asked to do it often, like when you’re on hold on the phone with the notorious French bureaucracy, for example. The ATM will even tell you veuillez patienter, please wait patiently, as you’re waiting for your Euros to be dispensed. The French know how to wait.

And if you want to make this beautiful French walnut wine, called vin de noix, you’ll need to be patient too – actually, in this case what you need to do it hurry up and wait. Because you have to go pick the walnuts right now, meaning, in the next few days. The walnuts must be soft, easily pierced through with a needle, and in France the optimum day to do this is the day of St. Jean, which is June 24th. So I was already a couple of days late when I picked these this morning, but hey, the climate’s cooler here, and the walnuts are probably a little behind their French cousins. So, if you have access to a walnut tree, rush out now and gather 15 of  the small green nuts.

Making the wine is child’s play, and takes a matter of minutes. It’s waiting for the wine to be ready to drink that takes patience. First you let all the ingredients rest quietly together for about 40 days. Not so hard, right? But then you filter the wine and let it rest for another….year. And if you can wait two years, it will be that much better. So run right out and get the nuts, and then, veuillez patienter. It’s a lesson in French culture, both the waiting for and the drinking of, vin de noix, that’s completely typical and utterly charming. And yes, this recipe makes quite a lot, but you won’t be sorry you have it, and neither will all the friends you’ll delight with your bottled patience.

Abra’s Vin de Noix

15 green walnuts
3 large walnut leaves
5 bottles red wine (nothing expensive, but something good to drink)
1 bottle inexpensive brandy
3 star anise
3 cloves
1 cinnamon stick
1 pound of sugar

Cut the walnuts in half, or in quarters if they’re large. If they’re hard to cut, they’re already too old and the wine will be very bitter. Place the walnuts in a very large jar, or divide them among 3 half-gallon canning jars. Add the rest of the ingredients to the jar(s), cover, and place in a cool corner of your kitchen. Now wait for 40 days and 40 nights. The wine will darken in color, and if you want it even darker you can put it outside for a few hours on a sunny day or two and let it get a little sun. When the 40 days have passed, filter out all the solids and place the wine back into the jars, or into wine bottles if you like.

I know that you are going to want to taste it at this point, and if you do, it will be horrible. Horrible, I say. Undrinkable. Don’t despair, don’t throw it out, veuillez patienter. Set it aside in a cool, dark place and forget all about it for a year or two. When you taste it after that long wait, you’ll be overcome by deliciousness. This is a wine to drink with a simple, unfrosted cake, or to drink all by itself instead of dessert. I promise you that your patience will be richly rewarded.

 

 

Fini, Le Foie Gras

January 6, 2014

DSC_8014Sadly, amazingly, we’ve just about come to the finale of our year-end foie gras and duck orgy. After making my terrine de foie gras, I found myself with a small bowl of vividly yellow foie gras fat that had spilled over the terrine pan, which I stuck in the fridge for “later.” Well, later finally came, and boy did I ever put it to good use.

Above you see a little poêlée de légumes, a simple pan sauté of vegetables that was made transcendent by the addition of foie gras fat. I sliced a couple of small turnips and browned them in the fat, sprinkled with some porcini salt. Blanched and shocked some green beans, tossed in some slivered red cabbage, and let it all dance together in the skillet for a few minutes. It was a fridge-cleaning dish, to be sure, but the foie gras fat made it unearthly delicious.

And then I made a foie gras sauce for the roasted chicken I served with it. Using a variation on the recipe I posted here. I sauteed a finely diced shallot in foie gras fat until it was translucent. I added a big glug, let’s say about 1/3 to 1/2 cup of dry sherry, and simmered it until it was reduced to a few tablespoons. Then I added an equal-sized glug of heavy cream and simmered that until it was reduced and thickened. And finally, I crumbled the last few ounces of my foie gras terrine into the sauce and let it melt. The roast chicken, on a bed of the vegetables, blanketed in the silky foie gras sauce, rendered us speechless. The moral to this tale: the next time you have some fresh foie gras, be sure to save any rendered fat – it proves the maxim that having a high class of leftovers makes for the best thrown-together meals you could ever hope to taste.

I’m still dreaming of that duck paté, though, and looking for the slightest excuse to make it again. Perhaps you’re coming to dinner sometime soon?

Le Déjeuner Dominical

November 3, 2013

IMG_8325Sunday lunch, le déjeuner domenical, is a wonderful thing in France. I’ve written about it before here, but it bears repeating: Sunday lunch, if you’re lucky, lasts until supper time, and your guests will sit around the table happily eating and drinking until it gets dark, at which time, if you want them to leave, you can invite them to stay for supper. It’s a great custom and a deeply ingrained part of French culture that we love to share.

Today’s déjeuner dominical was beautifully adorned by Dorindo’s gorgeous flower arrangement. Even if I didn’t adore Dorindo himself I’d wish I could import him to the U.S., because no one does flowers like he does. And I wanted beauty, because this was my foray into serving tripes à la Lyonnaise, and even though I happen to find cow stomachs beautiful, it’s possible that not everyone does..

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But first Alain, Marie-France, Shel and I sat around drinking what will probably be the last rosé of the year, nibbling on pretty little trifles

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and chatting about everything that’s happened in the last 20 months. Meanwhile I was fervently hoping for success on the tripe front, since Alain has a Lyon connection  and I was hoping to make a convincing version of the classic dish for someone who really knows how it should taste. Later we would eat an anchovy and garlic-rubbed lamb shoulder with a cauliflower purée and green beans, a perfect Saint-Félicien cheese, a sweet piece of pascade Cévenole for the three of them, and I knew that all of that would be delicious, but meanwhile, I was fretting over the tripe.

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I’d slivered it up, after simmering it yesterday. I’d sliced onions, chopped garlic and parsley, cooked it in lard and butter, added wine and vinegar, and it was about 92% as delicious as the version I had in Lyon a few days ago. I think that simmering it a bit longer, slivering it a bit finer, and perhaps adding a little more vinegar, and I’d have nailed it 100%. Nonetheless, it was really and truly delicious, and even Shel ate it, which is saying a lot.

IMG_8340There’s no reason that this can’t be successfully made in the U.S., the only hard part is finding the cow stomach. But if you have an Asian market in the neighborhood, it’s totally worth getting one and making this. I promise. Remember, Shel ate it, and liked it!

Tripes à la Lyonnaise

Get a cow stomach (the reticulum, if it’s labeled like that. It should look like a bowl, or a deflated ball, and will probably weigh about 1 1/2 pounds.)

Place the stomach in a large pan, fill with cold water to cover, and add a peeled and halved onion and a couple of cloves of garlic. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook very gently for an hour and a half to two hours. Drain and let cool.

Cut the tripe into long slivers, fairly fine, and set aside.

Peel and slice two medium-small onions, peel and chop a large clove of garlic. Sauté these in butter, about 4-5 Tablespoons, plus a good pinch of salt, until golden.

In another larger skillet, melt 3-4 Tablespoons of lard and add the tripe. Cook over medium-high heat until it’s sizzling and some of the tripe has turned golden. Add some white wine, about 3/4 of a cup, and let it simmer until all of the liquid has been absorbed and the tripe is again sizzling. Add the onions and all of the butter from their pan to the tripe. Add plenty of salt and pepper, a big handful of chopped parsley, and stir until it’s all sizzling and beautiful. Now start adding some wine vinegar, it smells strong at first, but it is quickly soaked up. You want a definite vinegar taste, but don’t drown it. I’d estimate that you’ll need about 3-4 Tablespoons, but add it bit by bit and go by taste. Add more butter and salt if necessary.

The result should be tender and golden, slightly crusty, quite buttery, with an appetizing tang of vinegar. One recipe serves four as a starter, but you’ll need to double this for a main course. It’s a super comfort food, and as soon as we get home I’m planning to go on a cow stomach quest, as I’m looking forward to eating it on a grey and drizzly northwest winter’s day. They have those days in Lyon too, after all, so the dish should feel right at home.

Inner Beauty: Cow

November 2, 2013

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I promised you cow stomach, more correctly, cow reticulum, or as it’s called here bonnet de boeuf, and there you have it. Isn’t it beautiful? I’m not sure why the inside of a cow needs to be beautiful, but it is.

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It’s an amazing collection of textures, considering that it’s just one part of just one animal. I don’t know why a cow needs so many textures in just one of its stomachs, but I’m sure there’s a reason.

IMG_8314Probably I could shellac this, or paint it brightly, pass it off as sculpture, and make enough to earn my next few plates of tripes à la Lyonnaise. It’s that gorgeous. I imagine that you’re wondering whether it smells weird, coming from the inside of a cow. Actually, it smells a tiny bit of bleach when you buy it, the bleach that was used to clean it perfectly.

So now, following an amalgam of recipes, I have my bonnet de boeuf simmering for “une bonne heure,” a little over an hour, in water with onion, garlic, salt and pepper. I think the guy said to add white wine to the water too, but since you add wine to the dish itself, I’m probably remembering wrong. Anyway, it’s wine-less at this stage, and when it’s done simmering and has cooled, I’ll be slicing it up into fine strips and chilling it overnight until I’m ready to cook it for our Sunday lunch guests tomorrow. If you can get a cow stomach you can cook along – I’m thinking that an Asian market will have one.

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I got mine here, where they also sell lamb from the Alps of Provence, beef from Aubrac, milk-fed lamb, farm pork from the Auvergne, lamb from the salt marshes around the Mont Saint Michel, poultry from Bresse, milk-fed veal from the Limousin, and wild game, when it’s in season. See why we love Lyon?

Olive Time

October 23, 2013

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This used to be Zazou’s favorite tree, the olive tree out by the pool. She’d climb in, choose a special olive, and carry it home in her mouth where she’d bat is around before hiding it under a chair with her pet scorpion and her pet lizards.

This is the time of year when all the olive mills advertise in the paper, “come one, come all, bring your olives to be pressed and depart with your own olive oil!” The catch is that you have to have a minimum of a hundred kilos before they’ll press them, and I doubt that we have more than two kilos on our little tree. If we were going to be here longer I might try brining them myself, although since this part of France is awash in excellent olives it seems silly, just as baking your own bread here is pretty much a fool’s errand.

But we’re not going to be here much longer, only another 2 1/2 weeks, even though we’ve just barely arrived. If Shel didn’t have another scan awaiting him in mid-November we might stay a bit longer, arriving home, say, with Santa on Christmas Eve. But the last scan wasn’t great, and so the next one is important. That’s the thing about living with cancer, there’s always a scorpion under the chair, and while you can do a lot, you don’t always get to do as much as you’d like to.

We wish Zazou were here to pick olives. We wish we had enough olives to press. We wish we had the time to brine our own. We wish we could stay longer. But we’re not spending all of our time wishing and whining, because then, the scorpion under the chair would be winning. So now it’s out into the afternoon for my daily French lesson, while Shel goes down to to get coffee from the guy who roasts his beans over a wood fire. And he’s taking him a bar of chocolate because….well..that’s another story for another day. Eat an olive and think of us.

Au Four Froid

October 14, 2013

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The French have a cooking technique that I have never encountered in the U.S., which is to place a meat to be roasted into a cold oven. This little coquelet, (with an egg next to it for size comparison), for example, goes into a cold oven which is then turned to 400° and left alone for 50 minutes, when it’s done to perfection. You can’t get a coquelet, which is a baby rooster, in the U.S. as far as I know, but there’s no reason this wouldn’t work with a chicken or even a guinea hen.

The French believe, and I’m starting to be convinced myself, that all poultry and white meats,

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like this melon de veau, veal stuffed with a delicious sausage mixture, should be started in a cold oven. They say that this helps keep the meat juicy and tender, because it doesn’t suffer a thermal shock on entering the oven. They also say that this technique permits the fat in the meat to melt gently as the temperature rises, and that the meat generally benefits from a slow-cooked start, with a hot blast at the end. The coquelet and the melon de veau definitely prove this point, and I’m curious to know what you think if you try this technique with a chicken or a guinea hen. I’ll tell you how I do the coquelet, and you can adapt it to the size of the bird you’re using. For reference, a coquelet feeds two people, so it’s about half the size of a chicken, and about twice the size of a guinea hen. Please do try this and report back – I’m very curious to know whether this French magic trick works in other countries!

Coquelet au Four Froid

1 coquelet (for 2 people)
olive oil
salt and pepper
thyme

Rub a baking dish with olive oil. Place a large pinch of thyme inside the bird. Rub the coquelet with olive oil, then salt and pepper it generously. Place it in the oiled dish, place the dish in a cold oven, then turn the oven to 400°F/200°C. Roast for 50 minutes. When done, cut the coquelet in half with shears and serve.

I’ve been serving them with a sauté of trompettes de la mort (black trumpet mushrooms) and a purée of celery root, which, altogether, makes a luscious combination. A light red like a Gamay suits this dish well.

Edible Beauty

October 8, 2013

IMG_8055Sometimes food is almost too beautiful to eat. Almost, although honestly I don’t remember ever letting any food go to waste because I was intimidated by its beauty.

These eggs, for example, almost chocolate in color, are from a Poule de Marans, raised by our friends Alice and Christian, who love to raise and show exotic birds of all sorts. The eggs, however lovely, taste exactly like good eggs should, without a hint of the exotic.

The eggplant, l’aubergine rayée, or striped eggplant, idem, which is how the French often say “it’s the same thing.” Unbearably lovely in the bowl, just ordinarily delicious on the plate.

Beautiful food does, however, inspire me to cook beautifully. Before we left to return to France a couple of people asked me what I was looking forward to eating once we got here. My first thought was veal, the second was tripe. But what have we really been eating? Duck, three times duck in one week, which is some kind of record for us. The best of them all was a riff on Paula Wolfert’s duck breast with a sauce of cèpes (which are called porcini in English, even though that’s Italian) and a cèpe and white mushroom flan. It wasn’t in the least beautiful, unless a sort of symphony of browns appeals to you, but the combination of duck and cèpes results in a hauntingly wild and foresty thing that’s pretty irresistible.

And then tonight we had an abbreviated choucroute, which might be the homeliest dish in France. But the flavors of saucisse de Morteau and saucisse de Montbéliard, two requisite ingredients around here, are so compelling that you easily forgive them their unprepossessing appearance.

But tomorrow is Wednesday, which means that there will be impeccably fresh fish in the market, and I’m thinking of something prettier and lighter. Unless, of course, I get seduced by some tripe, which I find to be inexplicably beautiful, in its own way.

Tarte Bourdaloue Aux Poires

September 15, 2013

DSC_7605There’s a famous French tart called Tarte Bourdaloue aux Poires, created by a renowned patissier, Paul Coquelin, around the turn of the last century. It’s a luscious concoction of almond pastry cream and poached pears, and a perfect autumn baking project, if you have 2 1/2 hours to spend in the kitchen.

One of the first comments I got last night, when I served this to a congenial group of neighbors, was “how long did this take you to make?” And indeed, this tart is fussy, although not finicky, lengthy in its preparation, and makes a lot of dirty dishes. You’ll never get away with saying “oh, it’s just a little thing I tossed together,” because it’s obviously a labor of love. But if people you love deserve the best of peardom, by all means allez-y, get some pears and get going. Don’t plan to be able to do anything else during the time you’re making this, although you will have half an hour to attack the heap of dishes while the tart’s baking.

DSC_7566-001Down the road from us is the most beautiful pear tree I’ve ever seen, its rosy, golden pendants just inviting theft. Ergo the sign, which we obeyed, after just admiring the fruit of someone else’s labors. Instead we had to content ourselves with some nice organic store-bought pears. I used Bartlett pears, although I think Bosc are more traditional. I also added a star of anise and a stick of cinnamon, also non-traditional, but which I think lend a subtle, haunting flavor to pears. And by the way, if you find the name too much of a tongue-twister, you can just call it French Pear Tart.

Tarte Bourdaloue au Poires*

For the pastry:

1 2/3 cup flour
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 tsp salt
10 T chilled butter, cut in pieces
1 egg yolk
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
3 T ice water

For the pears:

4 cups water
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 stick of cinnamon
1 star anise
4 ripe but firm pears

For the almond cream:

2 1/3 cups whole milk
1 vanilla bean
3 eggs, lightly beaten
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup flour
1/3 cup blanched, slivered almonds
1/3 cup powdered sugar
2 T butter
1/2 cup crushed amaretti (optional)

Begin with the crust. In a food processor, combine the flour and salt and add the cut up butter. Whiz until the butter is well integrated, as you would for a pie crust. Add the egg yolk and vanilla and whiz to combine. Add the ice water and whiz just until the dough begins to come together. Dump out the dough, press it into a flattened oval, and put in the fridge to chill a bit.

While the dough is chilling, poach the pears. Peel them, cut them in half, leaving the stem and core intact to help keep the pears’ shape. Place them in a large pan with the water, sugar, cinnamon stick, and star anise, bring to a near-boil, then simmer them for about 15 minutes, turning them over once, until the fruit is just tender. Don’t over cook them here or you’ll have trouble with them later. When the pears are tender remove the pan from the heat and allow the fruit to cool in the syrup.

While the pears are poaching, preheat the oven to 400°. Remove the dough from the fridge and roll it out on a lightly floured board to fit into an 11 or 12″ tart pan. Prick the dough all over with a fork, then gently fit a sheet of foil into the pan and fill it with beans or rice, or pie weights if you have them. Bake the dough for 20 minutes, then remove it from the oven, carefully remove the weighted foil, and allow the tart shell to cool. You can leave the oven on here, or heat it up again a little later.

While the tart shell is baking, begin making the almond cream. Place the milk in a large measuring cup, scrape the seeds of the vanilla bean into the milk, and toss in the rest of the vanilla bean. Zap the milk in the microwave until it is near boiling, about 3-4 minutes.

While the milk is heating, whisk the eggs and sugar together in a sauce pan, then whisk in the flour. Slowly whisk in the hot milk (after removing the split vanilla beans), being careful to whisk out any lumps. Cook this mixture over medium heat until very thick, whisking constantly, about 8-10 minutes. Pour this custard into a mixing bowl and whisk in the butter until it melts. Grind the slivered almonds in the food processor with the powdered sugar until you have a very fine powder. Whisk this almond powder into the custard and set it aside to cool. Whisking it frequently will help it cool faster.

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While the custard is cooling, remove the pears from the syrup and place them on a cutting board. With a small, sharp knife, delicately remove the stems and cores, doing your best to keep the pear intact. Turn the pear halves over and slice them thinly, but leave the pointed end intact, only slice them up to about 1/4 inch from the top. This is easier to do than to describe, just take your time here, because the beauty of the tart depends on this step.

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Once the custard has cooled to room temperature place it gently in the tart shell and smooth the surface. Using a small offset spatula, carefully scoop up the pear halves and nestle them into the custard. Bake the tart at 400° for 30 minutes. Remove the tart from the oven, and if you’re using the amaretti (which give a nice little crunch and additional hit of almond flavor), tun the oven to broil. Decoratively scatter the cookie crumbs over the custard (I chose not to sprinkle them on the fruit itself, because I wanted to show it off), dust the pears lightly with powdered sugar, and place the tart under the broiler for a minute or two while the crumbs brown.

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Arguably I let my crumbs brown a little too much, as it happened really fast, but I have to say that no one complained, and I think that the tart would be lovely sans crumbs too. Now sit back and wait for the applause. I guarantee that you won’t have to wait long.

* adapted from this version of the recipe.

Up In Flames

February 24, 2013

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It all started innocently, with a can of beautiful foie gras that a friend brought us from France. That, and an invitation to a French-style potluck-type dinner with a group of old friends that we hadn’t seen in a while. For a true first-world problem, I’m trying to clean out the pantry before we move, and I wanted to use up the foie gras. But because it’s not every day that I have foie gras that needs using, I wanted to make something truly special with it. And because I hadn’t seen these friends in a while I wanted to dress up a bit. As any moron knows, dressing up and cooking are non-compatible activities, but still, I forged ahead.

I conjured up a dreamy dish, chicken roulades with a mushroom and Madeira duxelles stuffing and a foie gras and Madeira sauce. And yes, it was as delicious as it sounds, and yes, of course, I’m going to give you the recipe. But this is a cautionary tale, and so I must tell it from its optimistic beginning to its ignominious end.

I decided to use chicken thighs, since I don’t really enjoy the breasts, but I wanted them with the bone out and the skin still intact. Sure, I have a boning knife and I know how to use it, but it occurred to me that boning 14 thighs would be a chore and that the butcher might be persuaded to remove the bones for me, and happily this was the case, since I thereby avoided the opportunity to stab myself in the hand and miss the evening altogether.

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I found a nifty trick for the duxelles in my online research, one I’ve now added to my permanent repertoire. After chopping the mushrooms up fine in the food processor, you drop them into a tea towel and squeeze with all your might and main, thus expelling an astonishing amount of liquid, and ending up with dry mushroom crumbles that look a lot like kasha or kibble.

I then proceeded to make the stuffing, stopping only for tastes and a little ecstatic yumming, trimmed off extra chicken fat for rendering, and stuffed the now-boneless thighs before tying them up with twine. It occurred to me that removing the twine after cooking the chicken at the party might be a splattery sort of affair, and that perhaps my dress-up scheme was ill-adapted, but no worries: I assigned the de-twining operation to Shel. Next I made the sauce, which was about the most enticing thing I’ve ever tasted, got dressed up, packed the food into the car, and hopped on the ferry. There were actual whitecaps on the normally placid crossing to Seattle, and perhaps I should have taken that as an omen of rough times to come, but no.

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Once happily installed at the party with a heady cocktail in hand and a happily chattering group around me, I noticed that the before-dinner gougères, prepared by a very accomplished cook, had fallen flat as pancakes, perhaps under the prodigious weight of the three cheeses they contained. Nonetheless, they were pronounced delicious and vanished with a rapidity that belied any fault.

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And then, as the before-dinner oysters were being shucked, this one appeared: no oyster inside at all, but instead, a tiny mussel nestled into the oyster shell. This too, might have been a portent, but the rest of the oysters and their absinthe dipping sauce and the freely-flowing cocktails perhaps clouded the face of my worry meter, and I popped my chicken in the oven, twine and all. Later, after the leek soup and its paired wine, and the pear and gorgonzola salad and its wine, and the mussels with Pineau des Charentes and their wine, I blithely, perhaps a bit too blithely, went into the tiny kitchen to finish and serve my chicken dish.

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The host had made spaetzle to accompany my chicken, and so he and I jockeyed for space around the stove, he frying spaetzle, I stirring my foie gras sauce, over the electric burners. He took the pan off the stove, I removed the chicken from the oven, and Shel started snipping the twine, to save my lovely flowing top from getting grease on it.

I turned back to the stove, reached across the burner-formerly-used-for-spaetzle, to get my foie gras sauce, and my clothes went up in flames. Did I mention a flowing top? Did I even think about the fact that it was rayon? Did I even know the flash point of rayon or that a burner that’s not even red could set rayon on fire?

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Fortunately, I somehow put out the fire before any more damage occurred other that filling the kitchen with the acrid smell of burned cloth instead of the lovely smell of the chicken. Oh, and the fact that I can never wear that now-holey top again. But the chicken was fabulous, and I’ll certainly make it again the next time I get my hands on some foie gras. I hope you’ll make it too, but always remember and never forget, this recipe comes with a dress code.

Chicken Roulades with Duxelles Stuffing and Foie Gras Sauce

 8 servings

8 chicken thighs, bone removed, skin left on
1/2 lb crimini mushrooms
2 T duck fat, or use butter
2 large shallots, finely diced, divided use
1 tsp thyme, divided use
3/4 cup Madeira, divided use
1 cup dry white wine
2 T butter
3/4 cup heavy cream
4 oz foie gras, mi-cuit
salt and pepper

First make the stuffing. Remove the stems from the mushrooms and whiz the mushroom caps in the food processor until you have fine crumbs. Place an old tea towel over a small bowl, dump the mushrooms into the towel, and twist tightly, squeezing, until no more juice drips out.

Melt the duck fat in a nonstick pan and sauté 1 shallot until translucent. Add the mushrooms and 1/2 tsp thyme, salt and pepper, and sauté, stirring constantly, until they begin to brown. Add 1/4 cup of Madeira and sauté for a couple of minutes until it is all absorbed by the mushrooms. Taste for salt and pepper. Set stuffing aside to cool.

Preheat oven to 450°. When stuffing is cool, open each thigh and put a spoonful of stuffing inside each piece and roll it closed, tying with twine into neat roulades. Place the chicken in an oiled roasting pan. Sprinkle the chicken liberally with salt and pepper, and the remaining thyme. Pour the white wine into the pan and bake for 45-50 minutes.

While the chicken is baking prepare the foie gras sauce. Melt the butter in a small saucepan and add the remaining shallot. Sweat the shallot gently over low heat until translucent. Add the remaining Madeira and simmer to reduce by 1/3. Add the cream and continue to simmer, reducing again by about 1/2, until you have a lightly thickened sauce. Remove the pan from the heat and crumble the foie gras into the sauce. Let it sit for a few minutes to melt the foie gras, then whizz it all with an immersion blender until you have a silky smooth sauce. Add salt and pepper to taste and serve over the chicken (after removing the twine).

You may want bread to mop up the sauce, or then again, you can just lick the plate. And be sure to save the juices in the roasting pan, which will make the base for a killer soup the next day.

The Cookie Contract

February 21, 2013

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We’re going to be moving soon, and we have a horde of contractors working to get the new house ready for us. Since hordes are invariably described as hungry, I had the happy idea right from the start of keeping the guys supplied with cookies.

I took a pretty plate over the construction zone that will be my new little kitchen, as well as a glass pastry bell to keep out the various particles of dust, debris, and paint that are always flying around there, and I keep it filled with fresh cookies. I started with brownies, then chocolate chip with pecans, and then peanut butter. Our main contractor Paul especially liked the peanut butter (Alice Medrich’s recipe) and that gave me the idea of asking the guys for requests.

At first they were shy and just happily ate whatever I produced, and so I made crispy oatmeal, ginger molasses, and blondies. Then a new guy, Andrew the tile setter, appeared, and asked me to make chocolate peanut butter chip, something I’d never made before, but surprise, the recipe is right on the peanut butter chip package. Both he and Mike the sheet rock guy loved those.

And then today the painters, having eaten their way through a couple dozen ginger molasses cookies in a day and a half, had a request. Bruce wanted oatmeal raisin, and he was very precise about them. “A little under-baked,” he said “still soft in the middle, and made with Snoqualmie Falls oats.” Whoa! A cookie gourmet painter, alright!

So I searched the web for a cookie that sounded like what he wanted, and I found these, which 953 reviewers swear are the best oatmeal raisin cookies in the whole wide world, especially if you add a little cinnamon. Bruce didn’t mention cinnamon, but I dared to add a little anyway. After all, the bedroom’s getting painted a sort of cinnamony color and the cookies ought to fit right in.