Sunday, February 17, 2013

Clafoutis: when in Texas, do like the French

This is not a cake, but something divinely just above a cake. And as classically French as it might be, I discovered it on a business trip to Houston, affirming my belief that one should never, ever decline an invitation to a meal.

A friend of a colleague invited us to a BBQ on the sunday afternoon that our team arrived in Houston, which sounds normal, except that the invitation was in french. A BBQ in French? To my eternal delight, this Houston BBQ was classically français by way of fresh, quality ingredients and complete with the classic entree-main course-cheese plate procession with this beauty of a desert to finish things off.

Coming back to the clafouti, if you use a deep pan, the batter separates a bit as it cooks, so you almost get two layers, as if it was a custard or a flan cooked in a crust. I like using a small, deep pan so that it stays thick and you get a full delicious of flan nestled into a light crust. In my second clafouti this week, I discovered that overcooking makes the flan almost grainy. I prefer it undercooked...

Sour Cherry Clafoutis:
For six (generous) portions
5 eggs
a pinch of salt
130g sugar
60g melted butter, plus a bit to butter the pan
80g flour
30cl milk
a dash of vanilla or a pack of vanilla sugar
300-500g cherries
note: I used frozen cherries, following the example of my generous host, which worked great. I just let them thaw in the fridge and then left out most of the juice. Hey, if they're not in season frozen is an acceptable alternative for staying 'from scratch!'

Preheat the oven to 180ºC/350ºF.

Hint: to make life easy on yourself, use a blender! You wont even need to dirty a single bowl. Just start with the eggs in the blender and add the other ingredients one at a time, pulsing between additions until it is finished and pour it straight into the mold that already has the cherries scattered.

Otherwise: With a pinch of salt, beat the eggs 'into an omelet,' which means really getting some air into them, making the eggs puff up, literally growing in volume. Add the sugar and keep beating.

Melt the butter and add, making sure to continue beating if the butter is not (to not cook the eggs). Add flour. mix. add milk. mix. add vanilla... you get the point.

If you're using fresh cherries, wash and dry them and then heat a spoon of butter and a spoon of sugar in a small pan, adding the cherries and enjoying the smell and sound for five minutes as they sauté and caramelize a bit in the butter and sugar.

Butter your pan and spread the cherries in the pan. Keep the juice - which is not only pretty but delicious, too - unless its just a ton. Pour the batter over top.

Bake for about 25 minutes. Serve warm.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Taglatelle aux cepes: Porcini mushroom pasta

Dinner in a Parisian apartment with two twenty something foodies is always fun, and I always mean to share more of it with you all. Here is a jewel from the Jacqueline file.

The French have a love affair with fresh mushrooms. There is a season vaguely in early fall when the world goes crazy for cepes, which are hunted and found and sold and eaten all over the land.

Jacqueline missed that season this year and I benefited from it because she was forced to buy insanely expensive dried mushrooms to satisfy her cravings, which then sat in the cabinet until this blessed monday night when she graced me with a recreation of her italian-chef-exboyfriend's Tagliatelle aux cepes.

Hunting mushrooms would be a whole new level of from scratch cooking, and oh i do plan to get there, but this recipe will hold you over until I break out of this city livin to frolick in the forest.

Also, I highly recommend the chapter in Omnivore's Delima on foraging!

Serves two
- a handful or two of dried porcini mushrooms. More is better, aaand more expensive
- enough pasta for the two
note: Tagliatelle is like a flattened linguini, but better because it is better at grasping onto the sauce that it is served with so both arrive on your palate at the same time
- a small onion, or even better, a couple shallots
- 2 tbsp butter
- 1 small clove garlic
- a few spoons of cream or yogurt
- the water the mushrooms were soaked in

Soak dried cepes for 30 minutes ahead of time. Keep this liquid.

This is a story of pasta and sauce. So boil the pasta of your choice, in the amount of your choice, with a splash of olive oil and drain just as it reaches al dente. The pasta will be cooked a bit longer with the finished sauce, and you want it to stay al dente, meaning a bit firmer and not overdone so that it keep some substance.

Squeeze out all the water out of the mushrooms, conserving the soaking liquid.

In a large flat pan, sauté the chopped onion/shallots in a generous amount of butter with a dash of olive oil. Just do it. when butter and olive oil are together, dont question it too much.

Add the chopped garlic when the onions are almost done.

Add mushrooms and let sauté a couple minutes.

Pour in one ladle of the mushroom's soaking liquid and let this simmer. When the liquid is reduced and thickened, add another ladle. Do this for about 10 minutes then stir in the cream or yogurt.

It should be a fairly generous sauce at this point, creamy enough to coat the pasta.

Salt and pepper the sauce, some parsley is pretty and a shake of muscade takes it over the top.

... as would toasted pine nuts...

Toss the cooked pasta with the sauce, let warm on the stove to meld the flavors and coat the pasta. and serve.