Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Shortcut - and oh so good in its own rite - Lime Pie

This was originally introduced to me by Jacqueline as a 'shortcut' lime pie.  But it is so much more. I am finally posting this after having been hounded for three weeks by the handful of people to whom I served it who insisted they would die without the recipe. And so:

To make one small pie (4-6 thick servings in a 9x5 pan - can be 9x9 if you want a thinner tart or more servings!):

Graham Cracker-ish crust
(but better!!)

8 small, square, crunchy cracker/cookies of your choice
(I used gerblé here, petit beurres are perfect, sesame cookies are wonderful...)
125-150 g melted butter, give or take
2-3 tbsp coconut flakes
a few tbsp sugar, to taste

Preheat oven to 185ºC/350ºF.
Crush up the crackers, stir together with the coconut flakes and sugar, and pour in the melted butter.
This should give you a sandy consistency, and you may need more or less butter depending on how absorbant your cookies are and how finely they are mashed.

In the end, when you squeeze a fist of the crust in your hand, it should hold together.

Line a small baking dish or pie dish of your choice with tin foil, or if its shallow enough for easy removal, or just spring pan, butter it.

Press the crust firmly into the bottom and bake until lightly browned. Should be about 15-20 minutes.

Let cool completely.

Pie filling
Blend well with beater, immersion blender, or rather violently with a whisk the following:

1 can sweetened condensed milk
an equal amount heavy cream
the zest and juice of 2-3 limes
(the amount of this is flexible, depending on how thick you want the ratio of crust to filling, so just get a can about the size of your fist, a bit bigger, and go from there)

When it is well fluffed, pour it into the cooled crust and sprinkle with toasted coconut and zest for presentation (optional).

 Refrigerate for at least 3 hours before serving. The blending of the filling makes it oddly firm (think, whipped cream, but more firm) and after being chilled, it holds its form surprisingly well!

Even better the next day.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Lime Pie

Jacqueline inspired this pie. 
and then I realized I had a similar recipe from my grandmother
whose cooking I never really knew,
but whose recipe box I photographed extensively.
So I melded their recipes,
Then I added some of my own inspiration
and I must say
the product was QUITE delicious!
I divided it into two small pies
to serve to two different groups of friends
and everyone raved
even the 'I dont like lime tarts' naysayers
But I'd guess it could make 1 good 9x9in dish
18 petit beurre cookies, crushed
or 5-6 graham crackers
stirred in with 4tbsp coconut flakes
and 2-3 tsp sugar
and finally, 125g/8-9tbsp melted butter
the crumbs should stick in a ball when squeezed in your fist
if not, add more butter!
Press firmly into the bottom of a spring release pan
or a tin lined baking sheet like I did
bake for 15-20 minutes at 185ºC/350ºF
or until lightly browned
let cool 

Lime layer:
2 eggs + 2 yolks (save the whites for next step)
plus 1/2c sugar
grate the zest of two limes
or three if you really like the tartness!
then squeeze in their juice
1/2 c crème légère
Whip all this together and place in your double boiler
Meaning, mix it in a metal bowl,
put a pot of water on to boil
and fit the metal bowl over top
but make sure no water gets in your batter
it should leave a film on a wooden spoon dipped in
cool, pour in crust

Preheat the oven to 180ºC/350ºC
 put 2-3 egg whites in a very large bowl
add pinch of salt
and beat the heck out of it with a whisk.
Until you get stiff peaks, in fact
there are a million videos of this online, 
and it can be done easily with a mixer!
add 2-3 T sugar and beat just a minute more
 pour over top of the lime layer
sprinkle coconut and lime gratings over top
bake at 180 till just browned
Refrigerate for at least 5 hours!!!!
remove from pan, remove

Jacqueline's shortcut, but oh so good as an idea all on its own, version coming soon!

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Tube of Frozen Celery: what to do with celery leaves

When I buy a bunch of fresh celery - which I do quite often because I am convinced that celery makes everything better - I feel guilty throwing away the leaves. They LOOK like all the herbs I buy that are so freaking expensive, but they're trash? So I started researching. They ARE indeed an herb, and they add the celery freshness without needing to always have branches on hand!

So now I wash, chop, and freeze them. If they are completely (or almost) dry when I stick them in the freezer, they don't stick together at all, and I can just scoop out a fourth of a cup when I cook soups, lentils, sauces, etc.. Wrap the dried, chopped leaves in plastic wrap, and then in tin foil as seen above, in a sort of light saber shape or in a freezer box, and then you can just open one end and scoop/pour out the desired amount each time.

Friday, May 11, 2012

How to toast almonds

From scratch cooking has led me to realize the hundreds of industrial products that we accept each day without consideration. And yet I continue to be surprised when the homemade version is immensely superior! These toasted almonds, another lesson from Sabrina this weekend, are another universe of crunch and flavor than the stale almonds that come in a package.
Start with raw almonds.

If they have skins (the brown film) boil them gently for 10 minutes and drain.

Pinch each one and the skin should slip right off. Discard the skins.

Place the dry almonds in a small frying pan with just one tablespoon of oil on medium high heat.

Stay with them throughout cooking because they burn oh so easily.

Stir continuously so that none of them burn. 

When they're all lightly browned, you're done! 

If the little ones get burnt, just pick them out.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Makrout - Algerien Date Cookies

I am going to jump right into this recipe, because otherwise I will spend a number of paragraphs explaining my new found, deep love for all things Algerian cooking. With five amazing meals in my stomach, my first algerian wedding under my belt, and a conviction that moving to Algeria next year is a very good idea, I have returned from my weekend with Sabrina and her family in Orléans (an hour or so south of Paris). I will be back soon. To follow are a tajine, a traditional semoule bread recipe, a roasted chicken, and of course, these cookies for you :)

My apologies if the recipes aren't exact or easily replicable. I did what I could to get good measurements, but have you ever asked your grandmother how she makes that amazing old family recipe that generations have adored? Yeah, try. She will tell you 'oh its just a pinch of this, and that and voilà.' 

These cookies are known all over the place, but according to Sabrina the Tunisians and Moroccans usually fry them, while Algerians bake them and then dip them in honey. We skipped the honey.

Cookie dough:
400g melted butter
~they actually said margarine is better, melted, and only using what rises to the top, and not the sediments
750g fine semoule 
1 large tablespoon salt
1 cup heated orange blossom water
~should be easy to find in an international market
more water as needed

Throw together the salt and the flour. Make a well in the flour and pour in the melted butter. Rub in the butter until it resembles a pile of moist sand. Pour in the heated orange blossom water and continue rubbing together. 
This will be almost more of a crust dough than a smooth bread/pasta dough. Meaning, you don't want to overwork it (making it too smooth by forming gluten bonds) or the cookies wont be flaky. 

You know its done when a handful of dough, squeezed tightly in your fist, forms a kind of ball. 

Pat the dough into a ball and set it aside for about 30 minutes.

Date filling:
1/2 kg date paste
a generous pour of olive oil
a generous 1/4c (or more?) orange blossom water
~ in the US, you'll probably have to visit an international grocery for this
1generous teaspoon of cinnamon

Work all this together like a dough until it is uniform and set aside.

To form the cookies: make hotdogs

Taking a fist sized chunk of the cookie dough at a time, roll it into a log then press into it with your fingers to form a hot dog bun shape. Roll the appropriate size of date paste into a hotdog and place it in the bun. With great finess, close up the bun and roll out the log.

There seem to be a variety of stamps available, and all kinds of dos and don'ts with shaping, but I won't pretend to know anything. These seemed really nice to me. We stamped them, cut them, and placed them on a cookie sheet. It made easily a hundred cookies...

After stamping and placing them, a small sliver of almond went perfectly in the middle, and had a surprisingly delightful taste in the finished product!

Bake at really high heat, maybe 400ºF/205ºC, but maybe much hotter. Their oven said it was 260ºC, but it didn't feel that hot to me. 15-20 minutes, juuuust until they start to brown.

Traditionally, they're dipped in and dripping with honey, but we all preferred them without.

Algerian Mint Tea

I am in love. with Algerian tea.

1 heaping tablespoon green tea
1 botte of mint leaves (six branches or so)
~ did you know it's just a weed?
6 tablespoons sugar
boiling water

1. Rinse the mint and stuff it in your kettle with the sugar. Boil your water.

2. Put the tea in a glass and pour in just enough hot water  to cover it, but not more. Pour that water out. This gets rid of some of the bitterness, but if you add too much water it will also take away from the flavor.

3. Add the tea and hot water to your kettle.

4. The really fun part of Algerian tea is aerating it before serving it. This mixes it, and more importantly oxygenates it. Pour a glass of tea, then pour it back in the pot. Pour from high above, and do it five or six more times. It

Algerian Roasted Chicken with Mushroom and Olive Sauce

This might be more of a Sabrina creation than a traditional Algerian dish, but when it is this good, no one cares, right? But do note that you will need a pressure cooker.

Take each of these steps slowly. The generous time, slow heat and attention is what makes traditional cooking like this so rich and layered. The load of spices helps, too.

2 onions
1 generous tablespoon of each:
- salt
- pepper
- cumin
- ras el hanout
~ a spice mix that is all over the place in Moroccan and Algerian cooking. Should be findable
a fistful of parsley
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 chicken + another couple legs if you like
2 cloves garlic
lots of water
3-4 cups mushrooms
3 large tablespoons crème fraiche, or sour cream
1 can green olives

4 potatoes to fry as as garnish, if you'd like

Hash one onion and grate the other. Add all your spices, the parsley and the oil and put it on medium-high heat for five minutes or so, until they start to clarify. Add a cup of water and grate in the garlic.

Add in the chicken and let cook for just a couple minutes and then add enough water to cover the chicken. Close the lid on the pressure cooker and cook for about 20 minutes after it starts to sing.

Open the pressure cooker, take out the chicken and put it in a pan to roast. At about 250ºC/230ºF until it browns.

Put the pressure cooker, with all the juices (sauce) back on the stove and bring to a low simmer. Add the chopped mushrooms to the sauce and simmer for about 10 minutes, until the mushrooms are cooked. Taste the sauce and simmer more as needed, reducing as you go.

Add in the can of green olives and the crème fraiche/sour cream on a low heat and let simmer so the flavors mix until all the pieces are ready to be assembled.

If you want the potato garnish (I loved it, but I'll be honest... I'm not very good at frying things...) peel, slice them and fry them.

When the chicken is browned and the sauce tastes delicious, you can assemble. Place the chicken on a large platter, pour the sauce over top. Throw the potatoes over top.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Tajine: Prune and Almond

French cooking might be world famous, but Tajine is all the rage in Paris. The method comes from the Maghreb, and uses a 'tajine,' which is an earthenware base and conical lid. The lid is put on to cook, and removed to serve the dish in the plate underneath. The dish itself can be composed of meats, fish, vegetables, and even fruits that are all cooked together at a low heat for an extended period, usually smothered in spices. It seems like this system creates a special circulation of the liquids, but I won't pretend to know anything about it.

This particular dish is Sweet&Salty, but if you want to avoid most of the sweet, just be sparse when you add the liquid from the prunes.

If prunes aren't your thing - though I would definitely suggest trying it at least once before deciding so - you can use apricots, dried figs, and even raisins their place. Ditto for the meat, just make sure to adjust the cooking period depending on the meat you choose.

One last note: we cooked this dish in a pressure cooker to save time, but you could easily do it in a good deep dish that closes well. Just add lots more time, and possibly a lower heat.

1 onion, hashed
1 onion, minced
4 T oil
1 heaping tablespoon each of:
ras el hanout (check an international grocery, its an arab/oriental spice)
1 tsp cinnamon
and a touch of saffron powder for color and flavor, if you have it
4 T chopped parsley, the punched up kind
at least 1-2 lbs meat - beef or veal, cut into large, rough cubes
~any rough cut will do, even if some of the bones are still stuck on
1/4 c raw almonds
15 or 20 dried prunes
~ or dried figs, apricots, and/or raisins to your taste
2 tablespoons sugar
1 (more) large tsp cinnamon
4 hard boiled eggs for decoration

1.Combine the onions, spices, parsley and oil and meat all together in your pressure cooker and bring to medium high heat.
~yes, French cooking would demand that you sear the meat first, but we didn't... so I won't pretend to know better!

2. After just a few short minutes, add enough water to cover the meat, close the pressure cooker and cook for 45 minutes if you're using large chunks of beef.
In the meantime, prepare your sweets and your decorations:

3. Prunes and prune sauce:
- Bring about 3 cups water to a low boil and add your prunes, 2tbsp sugar, and 1 heaping tsp cinnamon.
-Let simmer until the sauce is a deep, rich maroon. Probably 10 minutes.
- Not too much water here, because you'll have a sauce in the end, and want it good and concentrated.

4. Hard boil your eggs: Yes, this eludes me too... here is a good step by step tutorial. And here is Sabrina's method:
- Put the eggs in a small pot with cold water and a pinch of salt and bring to a low boil.
- Cover the pot, turn off the heat and leave it alone for 10 minutes
- Remove from the water and let cool before peeling, or if you're impatient like my mother, you can peel them under a running faucet.

5. The toasted almonds

- If you're starting with raw almonds you'll need to remove the skin. To do so, boil your almonds in generous water for about 10 minutes, strain, and just by pinching they should come out of their skins.
- Dry them
- In a skillet with just 1 tablespoon of oil, bring to a medium high heat to start to toast them
- Stay with them the whole time!!! Stir as you go, and stop as soon as they have a healthy brown on each side, but don't burn them! If the smaller almonds on the side are burning, just remove them.

6. When the 45 minutes in your pressure cooker is up, open the lid (using all safety precautions it demands!) and let it continue to simmer for 5-10 minutes to reduce the sauce, making it more concentrated in deliciousness.

7. Assembly: as we did not actually make this Tajine IN a tajine... we have to assemble it on a plate to serve it. Shame.
- Pour the meat and sauce onto the plate
- Garnish with the prunes, keeping the prune sauce aside
- Garnish almonds and the hard boiled eggs, cut into fourths
- The final step, drizzle the sweet sauce over top, according to your taste. We drizzled just a few generous spoonfuls, and even the two that had sworn they didn't like sweet and sour ended up in love.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Galette - a Smitten Kitchen jewel with a simple filling

I continue to be absolutely smitten by Smitten Kitchen, which I have recently learned to be the most amazing cooking blog on earth.

And I have been drooling over her galettes for a while. One of my least favorite things, though, is trying to match a recipe exactly because it usually includes multiple trips to the store to get specific ingredients and the fear that the one substitution you were forced to make will make it all turn out wrong. The blending of all things left in my fridge turned out BEAUtifully.

Smitten Kitchen's flaky galette is a yes.

But as per most blogging (we can chant this together, if you want) I changed just a couple things... I then also found that a year later she also blogged the galette with zucchini in it. Not surprising. She is brilliant like that. Of course she would be years ahead of me! And just to give sufficient shout outs, here are her zucchini and ricotta galette, her roasted butternut squash and caramelized onion galette, and

anyway. onward.

Galette, as per the Smitten Kitchen:
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour, chilled in the freezer for 30 minutes
1/4 teaspoon salt
8 tablespoons (1 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces and chill again
1/4 cup sour cream (yogurt worked fine! buttermilk probably, too)
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup ice water
2 zucchinis
1 shallot
chunk of blue cheese
handful of swiss cheese, grated
splash of crème fraiche
salt and pepper
1 egg

I'll refer you to her directions for the dough, but the filling:
-Dice the shallot and put it over medium heat with a bit of oil and the zucchinis, chopped.
-Once they start to turn clear, turn off the heat, stir in all the rest, and your filling is ready!
note: it should be thick enough to hold its form as in the photo. If its too liquid it will be hard to close the crust around it.

Assemble the galette directly on parchment by laying out the dough and pouring the filling in the middle and folding in the sides, one small section at a time.

Preheat oven to 205ºC/410ºF and slide the assembled galette in the oven, turning the oven immediately down to 195ºC/380ºF and bake for 33 minutes, or until nicely browned. 

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Zucchini Coconut Cream Soup

Yep, still going strong on my coconut milk kick.

I realize Zucchini is not considered gourmet in the US, but here in France it is simply luxurious. "I looove zucchini" is one of the phrases I hear the most often here. After "shit... I'm sick of that!" and other lude expletives, of course.

Anyway. DEEEElicious soup. Its really more of a velouté... a creamy, smooth vegetable soup. Perfect for Versailles, I'd say.

This was a 30 minute job and made enough for 4 large bowls of soup.

2 small onions
2 stalks of celery
1 carrot
1 garlic clove
3 zucchinis
1 bay leaf
1 tbsp marjoram
enough stock to cover all of it
(uh... 5 or 6 cups? I used 2 bouillon cubes and water as needed)
1/2 can of coconut milk
2-3 tbsp olive oil

In a pot (something about the size you would boil noodles in - you don't want it too wide or it will be too low to blend with the immersion blender)

Chop all the vegetables into rough chunks.

Sautee the onions, celery and carrot on medium-high heat.

When the onion and celery turn clear (about 7 minutes) throw in the garlic and the chopped zucchini.

Stir every couple minutes until the zucchini turns clear. If it starts to brown or stick/burn to the bottom of the pot, go ahead and go on to the next step.

Stir in your spices and the bay leave and then add the stock. Enough to cover the vegetables, and then some, depending on how thick or thin you like your soup.

Simmer for about 15 minutes, remove the bay leaf, blend that sucker with your immersion blender and stir in the coconut milk. I would say a whole can wouldn't be bad...