Monday

Should You Cook Ratatouille in the Slow Cooker?

Visitors to my main ratatouille posting often land there because they're looking for a recipe for cooking ratatouille in the slow cooker.

To quote myself:
I've seen instructions for cooking ratatouille in a crockpot, but what's the point? By the time you've finished sautéeing all the separate ingredients, your ratatouille is about 15 minutes short of being ready to eat!

Reserve your slow cooker for dishes that benefit from a long, slow sojourn at a low heat.
Believe me, mushy ratatouille is not a nice thing, and that's what you'd get if you cooked it in your slow cooker. To retain the freshness of the ingredients, stick to a miminum of cooking.

Friday

What Meat Goes With Ratatouille?

The question, "What meat goes with ratatouille?", is the one that readers ask most often.

Well, just look at the ingredients that go into it: olive oil, garlic, peppers, eggplant, tomatoes... don't they remind you of Greece, of North Africa? And what's the meat of choice there?

Lamb, of course!

 Personally,  when I have some ratatouille in the fridge I usually make it my no-meat meal of the day.

I try to have only one meal with meat each day, the other main meal being either a vegeterian soup like soupe au pistou with parmesan cheese on top, or an omelet or frittata with a salad, or an egg salad sandwich on my fabulous homemade multigrain bread with a carrot salad -- that sort of thing. Breakfast is always oatmeal.

I like it plain and cold, or au gratin like in this picture, or in a quiche or over some pasta.

But if I'm going to have my ratatouille with some meat, then for Epicure's sake let it be a couple of lamb chops. Or a slow-simmered lamb stew, yum!

And if it's summer and I'm invited to a steak barbecue (I don't own a barbecue myself, too many mosquitoes around here!), then I'll bring some ratatouille to eat cold, as a chutney... the combination of tastes is simply awesome.

By the same token, it will also go well with just about anything cooked on the grill. The thing to remember is that ratatouille is a strong-flavored dish and it will overwhelm anything bland, so try to pair it with something that will work with it.

If in doubt, try it and let your taste buds decide!

HOW TO MAKE RATATOUILLE

The above taste experiences will only happen if your ratatouille itself is up to it.

If you need some ratatouille recipes, look no further than my previous post, where you will also find several recipes, including a link to the Julia Child ratatouille recipe from Mastering the Art of French Cooking -- as well as the history of ratatouille.

Bon appétit!

Monday

The Horse Mushroom Race: There's A New Competitor!



Horse Mushrooms. Yes, the big one is over 6 inches wide!
The friend with the property for sale called to say more horse mushrooms (agaricus arvensis) had sprung up in the lawn and I should go and get them.

But when I got there, oh horrors, some thief had come and cut off all their heads, leaving all the stems.

My first reaction was, how stupid, there's so much meat in those stalks. My second reaction was, OMG, I've got competition!

I drove around to all my secret horse mushroom places, and the thief had done the same to most of them.

I managed to rescue the ones in the picture above, including that huge specimen.

I hope the thief doesn't like shaggy manes. They should be up soon.

P. S. Mushroom recipes are in this post.

Tuesday

More Wild Mushrooms

My best crop of wild mushrooms usually comes from the lawn of some friends who live about a 45-minute walk away, the perfect distance for a bit of exercise. I have their permission to pick any and all fungi from their property.

Usually, it's horse mushrooms. My favorites. Tasty, easy to identify, and given the right weather conditions, apt to grow to a phenomenal size. 

Like this.


I had just heard that they were selling their property, so this morning I headed over there to see if the latest rain had produced a crop. And indeed it had.

Fearful that some hired person might come and mow down my dinner, I picked all there was. Normally, I would have allowed them to grow a bit bigger. I'm greedy when it comes to horse mushrooms.


This is what I got.

Enough for a large, lovely frittata.

I gave the recipe for preparing and cooking wild mushrooms in this earlier post.

Monday

Wild Mushrooms

Shaggy Manes, also known as Inky Caps
I love this time of year. You're out for a walk, and suddenly you spot some white dots on the lawns and you know the wild mushrooms have arrived.

"Do you have a death wish?", asked a friend the other day when I wrote in Facebook that I had eaten some wild mushrooms that I had picked that day. She needn't worry: when I first moved here I asked around but nobody seemed to be eating the wild fungus so I did some research, bought a mushroom guide, and now I only pick varieties that I know are edible.

The mushrooms I pick are not the kind that grow in woods. Heaven knows we have plenty of forests around here, but they're rather impenetrable. I saw some chanterelles in a park in Fredericton once.

This is that day's crop, an assortment of white lawn mushrooms at various stages of maturity. As you can see, they are very close in appearance to the store-bought kind. My favourites are the bumpy ones; they are known as horse mushrooms. They are firmer and they can get as big as a dinner plate!

I ate them all, sprinkled over some fresh yellow beans.


HOW TO PREPARE AND COOK WILD MUSHROOMS

The main difference between these mushrooms and the cultivated kind is their water content. These edible delicacies appear after a good rain, and they're all pumped up with water. That makes it difficult to fry them, but to me that's the best way to bring out their flavor and I don't mind stirring while the extra liquid evaporates -- the aroma is worth the trouble!

I like to cook all my wild mushrooms the day I pick them, and keep them in the fridge, to be added to stews, sauces, soups, vegetables, and so on.

Preparation: Unless you cut them instead of pulling them, there's going to be a lot of dirt so the first thing I do is spread them out and cut off all the dirty ends.

Then I wash them in a large quantity of water. Of course they absorb more water that way but it's essential to give them a good washing -- the condition of the water afterwards confirms this. Besides, who knows if some mouse or other wild creature hasn't peed on them!

An old toothbrush is a good tool for scrubbing away the bits of dirt and grass.

The nice thing about this village is that nobody sprays their lawns, so I don't have to worry about getting rid of pesticides or herbicides. 

I drain them on several layers of paper towels over a wire rack, then wipe them dry before cooking them.

I separate them by color, i.e., the whiter ones (the ones whose gills haven't turned dark brown yet) in one pile and the the darker ones in another. I usually slice them all. Then I dab them with more paper towels, to get rid of more water.

Cooking: I warm some virgin olive oil and fry some sliced garlic until golden brown. I remove the garlic with a slotted spoon, then fry the mushrooms in batches until all the water evaporates and they begin to brown, adding salt, pepper and maybe some thyme. When they're done, I put the garlic back.

If I have enough horse mushrooms, I fry them separately because unlike most of the others, they are firm and dry -- very much like cultivated mushrooms -- and they brown more quickly.

Otherwise, I fry the white mushrooms first, then I start over with the oil and garlic for the dark ones.

The above is only for this type of mushrooms.

Inky caps or shaggy manes (coprinus comatus) (the kind in the first photo) are an October variety, so they weren't the ones mentioned in Facebook. They come back in the same spot every year -- a small park that is part of the Irving compound. (Irving is the company that owns all the oil and cuts all the trees around here.)

Here's a recipe for those, taken from Wild About Mushrooms: the Cookbook of the Mycological Society of San Francisco.  Check out their website

Shaggy Mane Quiche

Serves 6 as a first course
The shaggy mane is a favorite mushroom among mushroom-lovers. The caps liquefy rapidly, so speed is essential in getting them into the pot. One ardent admirer of this mushroom takes a skillet and butter on collecting trips so that the shaggy manes can be eaten where they are found.
  • 1/2 recipe pie crust
  • 5 to 6 bacon slices, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 1/2 to 1 pound shaggy manes, sliced
  • 4 shallots or green onions, minced
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated provolone cheese
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • Pinch of cayenne
  • 4 eggs, well beaten
  • 2 cups half and half
Prepare the pie crust. Roll the dough out to a 10-inch crust. Line a 9-inch pie pan with the crust. Crimp the edges.
In a sauté pan or skillet, fry the bacon until crisp, then remove it from the pan with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels. Discard all but 2 tablespoons of the bacon fat and sauté the mushrooms and shallots until the shallots are translucent and most of the mushroom liquid has evaporated.
Spread the bacon over the pie crust. Add the grated cheese, then the mushroom and shallots. Mix the nutmeg, salt, and cayenne into the beaten eggs. Add the cream. Slowly pour the custard mixture over the bacon, cheese, and mushrooms.
Bake the quiche in a preheated 350º oven for about 35 minutes or until the custard is set and the top is brown.

NOTE: Shaggy manes and alcohol make a toxic combination.
 UPDATE: Since I wrote this post, I have obtained some further information about shaggy manes. Read it here.


WARNING! 

This article is not intended for use in identifying wild mushrooms. DO NOT EAT any wild mushrooms without consulting an expert.

MORE INFORMATION

There is a tremendous amount of information about wild mushrooms on the web, including recipes. There might even be a mycological society or association in your area.

Better yet, get a guide! Amazon.com is a good place to start.

Saturday

Who's In The Kitchen?

When I visit a cooking site or blog, I always want to know who's in the kitchen. Don't you?

For those who may have been wondering who's the cook in this Cook's Corner, I have begun to put together a bio, a detailed "About Me" page, as it were.

But I ran into a snag, right at the beginning of Chapter One.

Click here to see what I mean.

Monday

Readers' Questions 5

Q. Can I put allspice in my boeuf bourguignon? (From Peoria, Arizona, USA)

A. I think allspice is an excellent spice for beef -- in fact I use it my brown beef stock; it's a trick I learned in Mexico, where I had a superb beef stew in a canteen at a campground in Michoacan. Which goes to show that some of the best food may not be found where we think!



Q. Can you bake with homemade butter? (From Beltsville, Maryland, USA)

A. Absolutely! However, I would be wary of cooking (frying) with it unless I had washed all the milk out of it because it would burn very easily. Better yet, I would clarify it first. (But don't use clarified butter for baking.)



Q. What are the best accompaniments for beef bourguignon? (From Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada)

A.  The classic accompaniments are mushrooms and small onions sautéed in butter, and small parsleyed boiled potatoes. Mashed potatoes are just fine and buttered noodles are Julia Child's favorite – and mine. Try them all!



Q. I would like Julia Child's recipe for crab cakes. (From Mableton, Georgia, USA)

A. I looked in all my Julia Child cookbooks and didn't find a recipe for crab cakes in any of them. That's not because the French don't eat them -- in fact it was at the Grand Véfour in Paris that I had the best crab cakes of my life.

If you'll settle for an American recipe, I have an excellent one from Cooks Illustrated. Click here for the PDF file.

Wednesday

Plain Natural Yogurt: Should You Make Your Own?

I'VE COMPLAINED here more than once about the lack of certain ingredients in the village where I live.

Plain, unadulterated, natural yogurt is one of those things. The kind shown here (organic or not).

I don't consider fat-free or 0% yogurt as "natural" -- just read the list of ingredients!

So I decided to make my own. I needed a recipe, and I found an excellent one here; there's even a series of videos on how to make it.

Then off I went to the big city, where I found the above yogurt: as a bonus, it was organic and it was on sale. The label read:
INGREDIENTS: ORGANIC SKIM MILK, ORGANIC CREAM, ORGANIC SKIM MILK POWDER, ACTIVE BACTERIAL CULTURES. NO PRESERVATIVES.
I don't mind the extra skim milk powder; it's used to make the yogurt thicker and I've been known to use that trick, because yogurt made without it is rather runny. (One tablespoon of skim milk powder per cup of milk is quite enough.)

Why did I buy yogurt in order to make yogurt? Because in order to transform plain milk into yogurt, you need to inoculate your milk with live bacterial cultures. For me, using a good live yogurt is cheaper than buying freeze-dried bacterial culture, because I would have to have the culture shipped from far away, and that makes it prohibitively expensive. And anyway, I wanted it right away.

What To Make With Natural Yogurt?

Hundreds of delicious dishes like those you'll find on yogurt manufacturers' websites, such as this one. Try other manufacturers' sites such as Danone's.

But my favorite recipe is Tzatziki, a traditional greek yogurt, cucumber and garlic dip. I found this recipe on About.com:

Ingredients:

  • 16 ounces (2 cups) of thick Greek yogurt
  • 4 to 10 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
  • 1/2 cup of diced or grated cucumber (Kirby or "English")
  • 1 tablespoon of olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons of lemon juice

Preparation:

Prepare all ingredients in advance. Combine oil and lemon juice in a medium mixing bowl. Fold the yogurt in slowly, making sure it mixes completely with the oil. Add the garlic, according to taste, and the cucumber. Stir until evenly distributed. Garnish with a bit of green and serve well chilled.
This recipe yields about 2 -1/2 cups. I like to squeeze the cucumber in a towel to get rid of some of the water. You can add 1-2 TB finely chopped fresh dill or mint. Tasty!

If you've been thinking of making your own yogurt, do watch the videos on http://www.makeyourownyogurt.com. You'll be convinced!

Why Making Your Own French Baguette Is Empowering

No, this baguette is not from the bakery!
COOKING IS EMPOWERING because not knowing how to cook makes us dependent on Kraft and Lever Brothers and the other multinationals we allow to feed ourselves and our families.

I remember how I felt the first time I made my own baguette. Is there anything that seems more impossible to achieve than a real French baguette? Yet all you have to do is follow the recipe, learn from the first few failures, and soon you're making all your own bread, including French baguette.

I also remember the first time I tied my own roast. I was a successful restaurateur yet I depended on the butcher to tie my roasts for me. I would watch as he made a special knot that didn't require a helper to lend a finger to keep it from slipping.

One day I said, "Show me how to do this," and he did, and from then on I was able to make all sorts of elegant packages for my customers. Empowering.

(Curious about this butchers knot? Find out how to tie it here.)

Anyway, you ought to try your hand at making your own baguette. The folks at King Arthur Flour have a real easy and fully illustrated recipe on their blog, Baking Banter.

It's the recipe I used to make the loaf in these pictures, and if I may say so, mine turned out prettier than King Arthur's. (Talk about power!)

An Economical Chocolate Mousse Recipe


A READER from South Africa asks for an economical chocolate mousse recipe.

It's hard to know which of the usual chocolate mousse ingredients are expensive in other countries: Is it butter? Cream? Chocolate? Sugar? Eggs? Vanilla?

Is it the equipment?

It just so happens that my favorite chocolate mousse recipe (which is different from the one in my chocolate mousse cake – though you could certainly use it there) calls for no cream and no butter, and that's just about as economical as you can get, at least on this continent.

As far as equipment is concerned, if you don't have an electric mixer, a whisk will certainly do.

And not only that, but it's absolutely delicious, and it's the one I served in all my restaurants, in little pots. In my San Miguel de Allende (Mexico) restaurant, we used to put a surprise in the bottom – a chocolate-covered coffee bean, maybe, or a mint chocolate candy, or just a small chunk of chocolate. We also played with different liqueurs. Both the liqueur and the surprise changed every week.

Here is that chocolate mousse recipe:

For 5 or 6 small pots

4 or 5 very fresh eggs, at room temperature
1/2 cup plus 1 TB sugar (40 g)
6 squares (6 oz) semi-sweet or bittersweet chocolate (180 g)
3 TB strong coffee OR liqueur* OR brandy (45 ml)
1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract

MELT chocolate in top of double boiler; add coffee or booze, stir, add vanilla. Don't stir too much. Set aside to cool to room temperature.

SEPARATE the eggs, putting the yolks in the top of a double boiler or a bowl that fits over a pot with hot water in it. The whites go in a squeaky clean bowl, or in the mixer bowl, for whipping.

ADD the 1/2 cup of sugar to the yolks and beat until light and fluffy. Put over water (the bottom must not touch the water and if the water is boiling, take the pot off the heat). Leave for 3 or 4 minutes, or until lukewarm right through and the sides of the bowl are sticky. (I remember that the latter detail was added by my cook, after she'd made the mousse for several years, as a clue for apprentices.)

MOVE yolk-sugar mixture to an ice bath (a larger bowl with ice cubes and water in it), and stir until cool and thick.

ADD chocolate mixture to yolk mixture, stir well. Make sure it's cool before proceeding with the next step.

BEAT the egg whites until stiff, adding the 1 TB of sugar about halfway through.

STIR 1/4 of the egg whites into the chocolate mixture to loosen it, then gradually fold in the rest of the egg whites with a spatula, in 5 or 6 batches.

SPOON or pipe into individual pots or into one beautiful serving bowl.

SERVE decorated with a dot of whipped cream, an edible flower, a sprig of mint, a dusting of icing sugar – or nothing at all.

REFRIGERATE for at least 3 hours, and preferably overnight. 

ENJOY the compliments!

* Some of the liqueurs we have used include: coffee, orange, mint or chocolate; but a shot of very strong coffee works just as well.

CLICK HERE FOR THE PRINTABLE VERSION (PDF)

Monday

Readers' Questions 4

Q. My beef stock isn't brown. Why? (From South Yarra, Australia)

A. Did you brown the meat and vegetables enough, as specified in the recipe? Afterwards, did you scrape the brown bits at the bottom of the pan when you added the water? It's that caramelization that provides the brown color and the deep flavor to the stock.



Q. Do I stir the boeuf bourguignon in the stock pot?  (From San Francisco, California, USA)

A. In a word, No.



Q. Why don't you add salt to beef stock? (From Davenport, Iowa, USA)

A.  Because the stock reduces so much during cooking that it would end up too salty, or ruin the dish that you're adding it to.

This is a good place to apply the saying, "When in doubt, don't!"


Tuesday

Paupiettes de veau

THERE IS NO RECIPE for paupiettes de veau in Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking, but if there were, it would probably be this recipe, by her partner-in-crime Simone Beck, which the latter published in her own 1972 cookbook, Simca's Cuisine.

Right from the start, Simca's book became one of my favorites and I featured some of her recipes on my restaurants' menus. Her cooking is as delicate as the book's design and I'm sure that she's responsible for the light quality of many of the recipes in Mastering.

I don't make paupiettes de veau very often: veal prices are out of sight and if I go to the trouble of flattening a slice of pork, I'd rather make my famous crunchy wiener schnitzel with it (my two secrets: 1) dip scallops in seasoned flour, then egg, then breadcrumbs; and 2) deep-fry in fresh vegetable oil).

But here's Simone Beck's recipe for

Paupiettes de veau ou de porc à la tourangelle*
Recipe for Veal Paupiettes
(Small rolls of veal or pork stuffed with onions and cheese, in cream sauce)

For 6 (double the quantities for hearty appetites):

About 1/3 cup vegetable or peanut oil (80 ml)
About 5 medium-sized yellow onions (to make 2 cups, chopped)
6 veal or pork scallops, about 3 x 5 inches (7.5 x 12.5 cm), to be rolled
Salt
Black pepper
6 TB Dijon mustard
1 TB fresh oregano, minced (or 1 tsp, dried)
6 very thin slices imported Swiss cheese
4 TB butter
Bouquet garni of thyme, 1/2 bay leaf, oregano

1. WARM 2 or 3 tablespoons of the oil in a heavy-bottomed ovenproof skillet with a lid (large enough so paupiettes can cook in a single layer).

2. ADD the chopped onions, and cook them very gently, stirring occasionally, until they are tender and lightly colored (about 15 minutes). Remove them with a slotted spoon, set them aside, and season with salt and pepper. Do not clean the pan.

3. FLATTEN the veal or pork scallops between pieces of waxed paper [or plastic] with a mallet, a heavy bottle, the side of a cleaver, or a rolling pin, to make them as thin as possible. Sprinkle them with salt and pepper.

4. BRUSH each scallop with mustard and sprinkle lightly with oregano. Reserving 1 cup of onions for later, spread each scallop with a thin layer of onions and cover with a slice of cheese. Roll up the scallops into paupiettes and secure them with toothpicks or tie with string**. (It's easier to brown them if you use string.)

5. PREHEAT the oven to 350 F (180).

6. PUT THE paupiettes into the pan in which the onions were cooked, adding more oil if necessary, and brown them on all sides over moderate heat (about 15 minutes). Remove the meat to a plate and clean the skillet.

7. MELT the butter in the skillet, and add the meat, the remaining onions, and the bouquet garni. Cover with a piece of waxed paper***, put the lid on the skillet, and set it in the preheated oven. Cook 35 to 40 minutes for veal; about 45 minutes to 1 hour for pork, according to the tenderness of the meat. The meat will be done when it is easily pierced with a sharp knife.

Put the paupiettes on a warmed serving dish, discarding the strings or toothpicks. Spread the onions around the meat and keep the platter warm while making the sauce.

Sauce

2 TB flour
1/4 to 1/3 cup heavy cream (60 to 120 ml)
Juice of 1 medium-sized lemon, strained
1 cup beef bouillon, fresh or canned (250 ml)
Salt, freshly ground black pepper
Chopped parsley

1. PUT the flour in a small saucepan and gradually stir in the cream to make a smooth paste. Stir in the strained juice of the lemon and set aside.

2. POUR the bouillon into the skillet in which the meat was cooked, and set over heat. Let boil half a minute, scraping the bottom to deglaze. Pour 4 or 5 TB of the bouillon into the flour mixture and mix well; then pour back into the skillet and simmer, stirring constantly, while the sauce thickens. Taste, and correct the seasoning.

Serving

Cover the paupiettes with the sauce and serve them sprinkled with chopped parsley.

Variation

Omit the mustard and replace the Swiss cheese with goat cheese.

Paupiettes de veau in the slow cooker?

Why bother? What takes a long time with paupiettes is the preparation and you can't skip that part, plus the sauce has to be made separately.

Those lucky French women!

If you were living in France, or even in Montreal or Québec City, you could stop by the butcher shop on your way home from work and pick up some nice pre-flattened and pre-trimmed scallops, along with some sausage meat ready to turn into stuffing, or you could buy pre-stuffed and tied paupiettes, ready to cook, or even some fully cooked and sauced paupiettes de veau, ready to reheat.

Then you could go next door and pick up some fresh noodles and a nice salad, and by the time you'd had your apéritif and appetizer, dinner would be ready!



* A la tourangelle means "from the Touraine", that beautiful region of France that is celebrated for its many châteaux.

** This is what they should look like after tying:










*** Nowadays we'd use foil or parchment paper

CLICK HERE FOR PRINTABLE VERSION (PDF)

Wednesday

A Perfect Mexican Tortilla... in New Brunswick

REMEMBER my Christmas wish? Thanks to my brother's generosity, I have been able to satisfy my craving for the occasional Mexican tortilla or two, or three, to go with some of my Mexican specialties.

Listen, I won't pretend that tortillas made with this dried flour are comparable in quality with the home-made tortillas that every Mexican prefers to eat at home, even though nowadays they're more likely to buy inferior tortillas from the neighborhood tortillería (tortilla factory) because, like us, they just don't have the time. In Mexico, if you can afford it, you can always buy still-warm home-made tortillas at the local market, where many women go to earn a few extra pesos by selling the tortillas that they make at home from scratch.

So, I've been practicing my tortilla-making art, aiming for the perfect tortilla (perfect within these limitations, I mean), which is the result of the ideal combination of just the right amount of moisture in the dough, the right kind of comal or frying pan at just the right temperature, the right thickness, the right timing, and so on. If all those conditions are met, you get a tortilla that puffs up like this:

 

The other day, spurred by my success at the tortilla press, I made another of my favorite Mexican things: pickled jalapeño peppers. I always use Diana Kennedy's recipe straight out of The Essential Cuisines of Mexico, it's so perfect.

Need I warn you, dear reader, that those peppers are hot? (And so are the carrots, by the way.)

It goes like this:

Chiles Serranos o Jalapeños en Escabeche
(Pickled Serrano or Jalapeño Chiles)

Makes 6 half pints (1.5 litres) -- (I made half the recipe)

1 1/2 lbs (675 g) serrano or jalapeño chiles, left whole or cut into quarters lengthwise
3/4 cup (185 ml) vegetable oil (I used virgin olive oil)
2 medium white or yellow onions, thickly sliced
3 medium carrots, scraped and thinly sliced
1 head garlic, cloves separated but not peeled
3 cups (750 ml) mild vinegar (plain old white vinegar)
2 TB salt
2 bay leaves (Mexican if possible)
1/2 tsp dried oregano (Mexican if possible)
6 sprigs fresh marjoram or 1/2 tsp dried
6 sprigs fresh thyme or 1/2 tsp dried
1 TB sugar

1. WASH the chiles, leaving the stems intact. Cut a cross in the tip end of each chile so the vinegar can penetrate.

2. HEAT the oil in a large, deep skillet, then add the chiles, onions, carrots and garlic, and fry over medium heat for about 10 minutes, turning from time to time.

3. ADD the vinegar, salt, herbs and sugar, and bring to a boil. Lower heat and simmer for 5 minutes for serranos and 10 minutes for jalapeños.

6. PACK 6 sterilized half-pint jars with the chiles, vegetables, and herbs; top with the vinegar and seal.

These should keep for about one month in the refrigerator.

Important Note: Partially cooked chiles allow the growth of bacteria, so it's important to make sure that the chiles have been cooked thoroughly if they are to be kept for any length of time. (I prefer to make them more often.)

Tuesday

Some of my Favorite Cocoa Recipes

 
BACK IN THE 70's when I had my first restaurant, one of the desserts we served at lunch was a hot fudge sundae. We never wrote down the recipe because the delicious hot fudge sauce recipe was printed on the Fry's cocoa box. 

Eventually, Fry's changed the cocoa recipes on the box, and so the other day when I looked it wasn't there. I'm testing some ice cream recipes these days, and I wanted that hot fudge sauce recipe, so I went online, and I checked all my cookbooks, but none of the recipes resembled that one, whose ingredients were simply cocoa, sugar, water, butter and vanilla – that much I did remember.

I occurred to me to write the manufacturer and request that recipe, along with the one for chocolate syrup that also appeared on the box, back then, and Cadbury's answer came today. And there they were!

Here are those two Fry's cocoa recipes, just for you. (I have added the proportions for making hot and cold chocolate milk at the end; they are straight off the Fry's Cocoa box -- the 2010 version.)

HOT FUDGE SAUCE

Serve over ice cream, preferably combined with marshmallow sauce for a divine hot fudge and marshmallow sundae, one of the world's great culinary inventions!

1 1/3 cups sugar    
1 cup  cocoa powder
1 cup  water   
1 cup  butter     
2 tsp vanilla    

Combine sugar and cocoa in medium saucepan. Stir in water. Cook and stir over medium heat until mixture comes to a boil. Reduce heat and boil gently 5 minutes. Remove from heat. Stir in butter and vanilla. Cool. Makes about 2 2/3 cups.

Variation: To each  cup of cooked sauce stir in 2 TB of your favourite liqueur.

Microwave Method: Combine sugar and cocoa in 4-quart  microwave-safe bowl. Stir in water. Microwave, uncovered, at HIGH (100%) 4 ½ to 5 minutes or until mixture comes to a boil. Stir 3 times while cooking. Microwave, uncovered, at MEDIUM (50%) 3 to 4 minutes longer. Stir twice while cooking. Stir in butter and vanilla. Cool.

Gina's Comment: If the butter was unsalted, I would add a good pinch of salt, maybe as much as 1/4 teaspoon.




CHOCOLATE SYRUP

Keep lots of this versatile syrup on hand to use in hot and cold drinks and other desserts. It’s the homemade alternative to the bottled stuff from the supermarket - but oh so much more natural.

2 ½ cups sugar
1 ½ cups cocoa powder
2 cups water
2 tsp vanilla

Combine sugar and cocoa in large saucepan. Gradually stir in water. Cook and stir over medium heat until mixture comes to a boil. Reduce heat and boil gently 5 minutes; stir occasionally. Cool. Add vanilla. Cover and store in refrigerator. Makes about 3 ½ cups.

Microwave Method: Combine sugar and cocoa in 4-qt microwave-safe bowl. Gradually stir in water. Microwave, uncovered, at HIGH (100%) 8 to 9 minutes or until mixture comes to a boil. Stir 3 times while cooking. Microwave, uncovered, at MEDIUM (50%) 4 to 5 minutes. Stir twice while cooking. Proceed as above.

Storing: Transfer it to one of those plastic ketchup or mustard squeeze bottles.

Serving:  For cold or hot chocolate, just stir some into cold or hot milk until it's just the way you like it. Or use as a chocolate sauce over ice cream, pancakes, etc. Shake before using.

Gina's Comment: Here too I would add about 1/4 teaspoon of salt.



HOT COCOA (Hot Chocolate)

Blend 1 tablespoon cocoa powder with 2 tablespoons of sugar.

Mix in 1 tablespoon of cold milk until you get a smooth paste.

Stir in 1 cup (250 ml) of hot milk.

Top with whipped cream or mini marshmallows (optional); and/or

Sprinkle with cinnamon or cocoa powder if desired.

TIP: To get a nice foam on top, whisk in the hot milk or use an immersion blender instead of just stirring.



CHOCOLATE MILK (cold)

Make it in exactly the same way as the hot chocolate.

I like to add some ice cubes.


Sunday

Homemade Butter In 15 Minutes


IF YOU'RE WONDERING why anyone would make homemade butter when the stuff is so easily available, it's because you don't live in my small village. There are only two brands here, and every once in a while they develop an off-taste. I hope it's something picked up in storage, and not due to some new chemical in the milk.

I use very little butter nowadays: a smidgin on my gorgeous homemade bread, of course; a generous dollop in mashed potatoes, naturally; a wee dot on vegetables... and that's about it. I don't make a lot of cakes and pies, but I would use it there too. For cooking, I've been using mostly virgin olive oil since way before it became fashionable, when it was still an expensive luxury.

Back to our homemade butter. I hadn't made any since the seventies. I thought I had learned to make it from Julia Child, but I checked and I can't find a recipe for it in any of her books. It doesn't matter, since I remembered as if it was yesterday.

How To Make Butter In 7 Easy Steps

If you know how to make whipped cream, you know how to make butter – butter is simply heavy cream that's been overwhipped!

1. Start with at least two cups of heavy cream (whipping cream or 35% cream) at room temperature. You can use a food processor or a stand mixer. I used my KitchenAid and started with the whisk, then switched to the paddle.

2. You need high speed to coax the cream into separating so don't try this with a hand whisk.

Persevere and in a few minutes of beating, you will see yellow globules start to form, and some liquid will appear.

3. At this point I switched to the paddle and placed the whole thing in the fridge, including the paddle, just long enough to harden those little globules.

4. Continue beating until the butter comes together enough that you can see you will be able to pour off the buttermilk without pouring off some of the butter. (That's the best way I can describe that.) REDUCE THE SPEED or the buttermilk will start flying out of the bowl.

Pour the milk through a moistened cheesecloth or a fine strainer while holding back the main part of the butter with something like a skimmer. Pour the milk into a clean container -- that's good stuff!

5. Once you get a nice mass of butter, pour off all the buttermilk and, keeping the butter in the bowl, go over to the sink and start washing your butter under cold running water in order to get rid of as much of the milk as you can. (If you don't, your butter will go moldy and rancid very quickly and it will burn too easily.) To do this, you massage it with your hands, separating it into small pieces, and you keep changing the water until it runs clear.

6. Now you have to get rid of the excess water. You do this by pushing the butter against the walls of the bowl with a spatula or wooden spoon. Do this several times until you don't see any more droplets.

7. If you want salted butter, now is the time to add some salt. Do it a little bit at a time and keep tasting till it's the way you like it.

Salt does help preserve the butter, plus it tastes better on bread. You could salt part of it, and leave the other part unsalted.

Variation: Cultured Butter

To make cultured butter, add 1/3 cup plain yogurt to every quart of cream, stir it in well with a wisk, cover with plastic and leave overnight in a warm room. (Use a squeaky clean glass or stainless steel bowl for this.) The cream will thicken slightly or develop a thick skin on top. The next morning, proceed as above or refrigerate until you're ready, but be sure to let it return to room temperature before making the butter.

Storage

I turned my production into four small logs which I wrapped tightly in plastic wrap, and then I froze three of them. That way, I'll be sure that my butter is always fresh. The logs are nice because each slice is a perfect little pat.

How Much Does Homemade Butter Cost?

Making butter at home is probably not going to save you money. It all depends on the price of 35% cream where you live. But here, I found that it cost about 50% more than store-bought butter, and we pay more here for everything than in the big city.

However, that cost is comparable to premium or cultured butter.


What About The Yield?

Out of one litre of cream (one US quart), I got 350 grams (about 12 ounces or 3/4 pound) of butter.

I also got 2 cups (500 ml) of very nice milk as a by-product. This buttermilk is the not the same kind as commercial buttermilk, which has been cultured to make it sour. But it's not skim milk either, it's rather rich and yummy and tastes better than the store-bought stuff. (The buttermilk from cultured butter is closer to cultured buttermilk and can be used in recipes calling for buttermilk.)

How Does The Butter Taste?

The plain version was good because it didn't have that off-taste, but it wasn't as tasty as a good dairy-made butter; salt would have improved it I'm sure.

Cultured butter is another matter. It was as good as the store-bought cultured butter.

Would I Make Butter Again?

Of course, if I had my own cows, I would definitely make my own butter.

But if I lived in the city I would just buy premium or cultured butter there. After all, the cream from the big dairies is hardly pure stuff any more. I don't know when this happened, but it went from plain, 100% cream to: "Cream, milk, carrageenan, mono and diglicerides, cellulose gum and polysorbate 80."

Organic cream anyone?

A Gift Of Butter?

Homemade butter makes a great gift! Turn it into herb butter – my favorite is with garlic, parsley, lemon juice and grated lemon rind, and salt. Great on steaks, fish, just about everything! Pack it in a pretty crock and the recipient will remember you long after the butter has run out.

A good place to look for seasoned butter recipes is your favorite butter company's website, like this one. Just type "seasoned butter" in the search box.

A Final Tip

Taste your cream before you turn it into butter! See why in this previous post.




Monday

Readers' Questions 3

Q. Why is my beef bourguignon too dry? (From Baton Rouge, Louisiana, USA)

A. That's a very complicated question. You don't say what cut you used, how you cooked it and for how long. All those have a direct effect on the result. Please write again, and be more specific.



Q. My homemade noodles are very heavy.  (From White Plains, NY, USA)

A. If you're using an all-semolina recipe, try my recipe, it's 50% semolina and 50% flour, which makes it lighter. Pasta made with semolina has more body, and you may not be used to that. In that case, switch to an all-flour recipe.

First, check the thickness of your pasta. If you're using a pasta maker, switching to a higher number may solve your problem. I use No. 5 for fettucine and lasagna and No. 6 for ravioli and won ton.



Q. My beef bourguignon didn't thicken. Why? (From Williams Lake, British Columbia, Canada)

A. You don't say what you used as a thickener. If you rolled the beef in flour before browning it, chances are you'll have to use a thickener at the end. Beurre manié is the traditional one (I use it in my own recipe).

Have you ever tried thickening a sauce with corn starch? You dilute a few spoonfuls of corn starch in some water and add it bit by bit to the sauce, stirring all the time, until you get the thickness you want. Simmer for one minute to cook the starch and that's it.

This new slow cooker recipe recommends minute tapioca, but you have to add it at the beginning. It worked beautifully when I cooked that boeuf bourguignon in the crock pot, and I'm sure it would work equally well in the classic oven-baked version.


Tuesday

Boeuf Bourguignon Slow Cooker Recipe: This Is It!

In this earlier post, I promised you that I would keep looking for a good recipe for preparing beef bourguignon in the slow cooker.

Well, hang on to your hats, because I have found it! And I have tested it, and it's fabulous! It's as good as the Julia Child recipe, and that's saying a lot.

So I gave it its own section on my Beef Bourguignon blog.

CLICK HERE FOR THE RECIPE. 


Sunday

More Readers' Questions

Q. Where to buy semolina flour in Montreal? (From Sainte-Agathe-des-Monts, Quebec, Canada)

A. The Dante Hardware store, at 6851 rue Saint-Dominique, is owned by the Faita family, who are known for their great Italian cooking. The store carries special Italian ingredients as well as cookware. I bought my pasta machine there and they gave me a free bag of semolina flour as a bonus!



Q. Why can't you buy beef stock? (From Holyoke Massachusetts, USA)

A. Yes, you can buy beef stock. There are several brands available in TetraPak containers (which are not recyclable!), and also in cans. You can doctor them up to make them more palatable, but in that case you might as well make your own. Try my super-simple beef stock recipe.



Q. On what page of Mastering the Art of French Cooking is the chocolate cream pie recipe? (From Melbourne, Australia)

A. There is no recipe for chocolate cream pie in Mastering the Art of French Cooking. This is not surprising, since chocolate cream pie is not a French dish.


Saturday

Questions From Our Readers

Q. How much water must you add on a cube of beef stock? (From Bahrain)

A. Have you tried reading the label? I checked at the store and every single brand of beef, chicken and vegetable bouillon had very precise directions. I happen to have a package of Knorr chicken cubes at home. Each cube weighs 12 grams and the directions read: “HOW TO PREPARE: Dissolve 1 cube in 2 cups (550 mL) boiling water.” There’s also a phone number and a website URL. So, if your cubes weigh 12 grams, you should dissolve them in 2 cups or 550 mL of boiling water.



Q. What is the best cut of beef for beef bourguignon? (From New York, NY, USA)

A. The chuck, from the shoulder, has the ideal texture and marbling. I sometimes use cross-rib because my butcher often has it at a discount; it has a texture that I like but you have to watch it because it can dry out. Avoid any cut that is too lean. You need some fat and gristle for the long, slow cooking.


Ever Tried Making Your Own Cheese?

SERIOUSLY: you can, you know.

Making mozzarella takes only half an hour. Really.

How about Coeur à la crème, for Valentine's Day?

Want to try it? Head on over to New England Cheesemaking Supply's blog

Bon appétit!

Chocolate Mousse Cake Recipe


OF ALL THE LUSCIOUS DESSERTS that we served in my various restaurants, none was ever as beloved as this chocolate mousse cake. It got to the point where I had to have the recipe pre-printed to fill all the requests.

It may look complicated, but all it is is an assemblage of chocolate meringue and chocolate mousse layers, decorated with broken up pieces of meringue and icing sugar.

But oh! the taste and texture are so special: imagine the crunchiness and melt-in-the-mouthingness of meringue and the creamy richness of chocolate mousse, combined – a marriage arranged by the fairies, surely.

EQUIPMENT: you'll need 2 large baking sheets, a large pastry bag (preferably two) and two decorating tips – a 1/2 inch and a 1/4 inch, some parchment paper and a piece of cardboard cut into a 10 by 5-1/2-inch oval (26 x 14 cm).

MAKING THE CHOCOLATE MOUSSE CAKE
10 portions

Chocolate Meringue Layers

5 egg whites
5-1/2 oz (150 g) icing sugar (one cup, loosely packed)
1-1/4 oz (35 g) plain cocoa powder (1/2 cup)
5-1/2 oz (150 g) white sugar (1/2 cup + 1 TB)
  • PREHEAT the oven to 150 C (300 F)
  • SIFT the icing sugar and cocoa together.
  • WHIP the egg whites at high speed till firm, adding 2 TB of sugar halfway, to give them body.
  • ADD the rest of the sugar at low speed.
  • FOLD IN the icing sugar/cocoa mixture with a spatula, being careful not to deflate the meringue.
  • LINE two baking sheets with parchment paper; attach the paper to the baking sheets with a dot of meringue at each corner.
  • USING the cardboard template, draw 3 ovals on the paper.
  • FILL a large pastry bag fitted with the larger tip with meringue and pipe 3 ovals in a spiral pattern (as in the photo, above).
  • SWITCH to the smaller tip, and pipe all the remaining meringue into straight strips, making sure they don't touch each other.
  • BAKE the meringues for approximately 1 hour and 5 minutes. Start watching after 15 minutes of baking: the meringue must not brown. Switch the sheets around if necessary to even out the baking.
  • REMOVE the narrow strips as soon as they're done; the ovals will need about 10 minutes more. You can tell they're ready when they no longer stick to the paper. Check the bottom: it must not be sticky.
  • YOU CAN prepare the above several days in advance, but they must be stored in an air-tight container so they'll remain crisp.

Chocolate Mousse Recipe

6 oz (170 g) semi-sweet baking chocolate
1/4 cup orange, coffee or mint liqueur (optional)
3 oz (85 g) butter
  • MELT the chocolate in a double boiler with the optional liqueur; remove from heat and beat in the butter until the mixture is creamy.
  • SET aside to cool until it has reached room temperature. The mixture must not be tepid. (But do not refrigerate!)

4 egg yolks
  • MIX IN the egg yolks.

4 egg whites
2 TB white sugar
  • BEAT the egg whites until firm, adding the sugar halfway.
  • STIR 1/3 of the egg whites into the cooled chocolate mixture to loosen it, then fold in the remaining whites delicately with a spatula. Avoid deflating the egg whites.
OR you can use our recipe for ECONOMICAL CHOCOLATE MOUSSE. 

    Assembling the Cake
    • WORK quickly so the chocolate mousse doesn't start to liquefy;
    • DEPOSIT one of the chocolate meringue ovals on a clean cardboard oval;
    • SPREAD an even coat of chocolate mousse all over the meringue oval (use about 1/4 of the mousse);
    • PLACE a second chocolate meringue oval on top;
    • ADD another coat of chocolate mousse;
    • PLACE the last oval on top; adjust all the layers so they stack as evenly as possible;
    • SPREAD chocolate mousse all over the top and sides;
    • BREAK UP the meringue strips into finger-size pieces and press them into the chocolate mousse, top and sides (see picture, above);
    • SIFT icing sugar on the top;
    • REFRIGERATE for at least one hour. The cake is better the next day and it keeps very well for at least 48 hours, in the refrigerator.
    An amazing thing about this recipe is that it contains no flour,  no cream, very little butter, yet it feels extremely rich. And it's very economical.

    Don't wait for a special occasion to try it!

    CLICK HERE TO PRINT THE RECIPE  (PDF DOCUMENT)

    Ratatouille Recipes And All About Ratatouille


    DID I TELL YOU that I live in a village that has only 1500 inhabitants? If this were France, or Spain, or Italy, that wouldn't be a problem. But this is Eastern Canada and the eating habits of the locals are very conservative.

    Even the nearest city – Fredericton – is a big disappointment in the gourmet ingredient category.

    Therefore, when I see something fresh at one of the local supermarkets, I grab it.

    This week, it was zucchini AND sweet peppers. I got two nice green, fat, fresh courgettes and a package of six mixed sweet peppers. My mouth watered and my tastebuds yelled, "ratatouille"! (I know, it's supposed to have eggplant as well, but why be greedy?)

    Which brings us back to Julia Child. I had had ratatouille in France – and frankly the quality was uneven – but it was in Mastering the Art of French Cooking that I learned the true secret of good ratatouille: all the ingredients must be cooked separately, so that they will remain recognizable. Mushy is not an option!

    Ah, but, what IS ratatouille? Where does it come from?

    RATATOUILLE HISTORY

    What could be more evocative of the splendors of mediterranean cuisine than ratatouille? Ratatouille is a vegetable stew (tomatoes, eggplant, zucchini, peppers), sautéed separately or together in olive oil. One adds garlic, olives (ratatouille niçoise), sometimes onions as in Languedoc. The dish has spread all around the Mediterranean. And so the sicilian caponata [...] includes mushrooms, olives and a stalk of celery, the whole deglazed with a splash of vinegar.

    At its origin, in 1778, the word first designated a coarse stew, a coarse mixture. At the end of the 19th century, in military slang, the abbreviation "rata" designated a mixture of beans and potatoes, and, later, a mixture of vegetables and meat. It was only during the 20th century that the word
    ratatouille acquired the meaning that we give it today.

    The name is recent, the dish ancient, but what is it all about? It is amusing to look at its elements one by one and to determine their origin [...] which leads us to conclude that the dish could not have been invented before the 16th century, and probably during the 18th century.


    (Translated and abridged from La ratatouille ou les avatars de la mondialisation des légumes [www.canalacademie.com].)

    TRADITIONAL RATATOUILLE INGREDIENTS
    • Olive oil
    • Onions
    • Garlic
    • Green and red sweet peppers
    • Zucchini squash (courgettes)
    • Eggplant (aubergines)
    • Tomatoes
    • Black olives
    • Basil, thyme, rosemary or herbes de Provence
    • Salt
    • Pepper
    Non-traditional but favourite additions of mine:
    • Green beans
    • Mushrooms
    THE JULIA CHILD RATATOUILLE RECIPE

    Click on the first link for a PDF document of Julia Child's ratatouille recipe from Mastering the Art of French Cooking.


    GINA'S WINTER RATATOUILLE

    Ratatouille is really a summer recipe – for us here it would be at the end of the summer, when the eggplant and the tomatoes are at their best. This is a winter recipe, hence the canned tomatoes.

    • 1 lb. (500 g) zucchini (courgettes)
    • 2 green peppers
    • 2 red peppers
    • 1/2 lb (250 g) green beans (optional)
    • 12 medium mushrooms
    • 1 large white onion
    • 2 cloves of garlic
    • 1 28-oz (796 ml) can of whole Italian-style tomatoes
    • 1/4 cup of chopped parsley
    • A sprinkling of thyme
    • Salt and pepper
    • Olive oil
    COOKING RATATOUILLE
    • Cut the zucchini into 1/2-inch slices (and the eggplant, if you're using them), in nice 1-inch by 1/2-inch chunks.
    • Place them in a bowl and sprinkle with 1 or 2 tsp of salt, mix with the hands.
    • Set aside and allow to sweat for about half an hour.
    • Drain and dry well.
    • Heat some oil in a large frying pan and brown the zucchini (and eggplant) pieces lightly on both sides; transfer to a bowl.
    • Cut the peppers into 1/2-inch strips and sauté in the same oil; transfer to the same bowl as the zucchini/eggplant.
    • Slice the onions and cook in the oil until just beginning to brown; add the mushrooms and sauté them a bit, then add the garlic, the thyme, the parsley and sprinkle with salt and pepper.
    • Cook the (optional) green beans in plenty of salted boiling water until they're still slightly al dente. Transfer to a large bowl of ice water to stop the cooking.
    • Transfer all the vegetables, in layers, to a covered casserole.
    • Drain the tomatoes to remove the liquid; chop them coarsely and pour them over the vegetables in the casserole.
    • Cover and cook for 15 minutes, checking from time to time to keep the vegetables from scorching on the the bottom; adjust the heat if necessary.
    • Continue cooking, or not, depending on how you wish to serve your ratatouille.
    SERVING RATATOUILLE

    AS SAUCE FOR PASTA: Ratatouille makes a very good vegetarian sauce for pasta; in fact, that's what I made this batch for. It's great with parmesan cheese! I like it fairly runny for this purpose.

    BAKED RATATOUILLE CASSEROLE: Top with mozzarella, parmesan, breadcrumbs, whatever you like; bake in the oven till the cheese begins to bubble and brown.

    RATATOUILLE TART: Continue cooking on fairly high heat to evaporate most of the liquid, or strain the liquid out. Let cool and spoon into a tart shell. Top with mozzarella, parmesan, anchovies, olives, whatever strikes your fancy. Bake.

    AS A QUICHE: Use a runny ratatouille and cool it first. Fill a partially cooked tart shell with the vegetables, pour over them a mixture of 3 eggs and 1-1/2 to 2 cups of cream (just to cover the vegetables; don't overfill); top with parmesan cheese. Bake at 375 degrees F (190 degrees C) for 25 to 30 minutes.

    AS A PIZZA TOPPING: Continue cooking on fairly high heat to evaporate ALL the liquid, or strain the liquid out. Spread on top of pizza dough, add mozzarella cheese, and bake according to your usual pizza recipe.

    AS A TOPPING FOR BRUSCHETTA: Raise heat until all liquid has evaporated (stir often to prevent burning) -- or strain the liquid out; grill a thick slice of French bread, or ciabatta, brush with olive oil and add ratatouille.

    AS A VEGETABLE: Goes great with lamb, chicken, beef – almost any meat that is simply grilled or or barbecued.

    AS A COLD SIDE DISH/FIRST COURSE: Don't forget that ratatouille is just as good cold as hot, and, like most stews, it's better the next day.

    COOKING RATATOUILLE IN THE SLOW COOKER

    I've seen instructions for cooking ratatouille in a crockpot, but what's the point? By the time you've finished sautéeing all the separate ingredients, your ratatouille is about 15 minutes short of being ready to eat!

    Reserve your slow cooker for dishes that benefit from a long, slow sojourn at a low heat.

    EASY RATATOUILLE

    Of all the ratatouille recipes in my files, the simplest one I've seen is the one in my vintage Larousse Gastronomique:

    Peel and slice 6 aubergines and 6 Italian marrows (courgettes), sprinkle with salt and leave covered with a weighted plate for 1 hour. Slice 2 large onions, skin, remove pips and cut up 8 tomatoes. Slice 2 peppers very thinly, removing core and seeds. Chop 3 garlic cloves.

    Heat 1 cup olive oil in a heavy pan, fry onion until slightly coloured, add the garlic. Cook for 5 minutes, then add aubergines, courgettes, peppers and tomatoes. Season with salt and pepper, add a bouquet garni and cook, covered, for an hour. This dish may be served hot or cold.

    So much for cooking everything separately!

    So, which is the best ratatouille recipe? Yours, of course!

    NOTE: This French website has very good step-by-step directions for the preparation of ratatouille and you don't need to know French to appreciate the photos.