Sunday, March 28, 2010

a guilty pleasure

In as much as I consider myself a pretty serious foodie, I have to admit that when my hubby offers to take me out for dinner what inevitably sounds the best is a killer blue cheese burger with some seriously skinny fries (not skinny in the low-fat sense just to clarify). And while that combo is hard to beat, for me it’s all about the fries. Yes the fries. I have made it a personal mission to locate the best places for these slim, salty jumbles of crunchy finger lickin’ good potatoes in Orange County.

On a recent outing to a favorite local dining spot, the hubby and I were working our way through a plate of these little lovelies. He looks over at me and says “I bet you could make these.”


So after a little experimenting, I think I came up with a pretty darn good recipe. So good in fact, that after making up a batch, we ate almost the whole pile before the rest of dinner was plated. The trick for these is in the double frying. Fry the potatoes once to sort of get them going, take them out to drain. Raise the temperature and fry again. This insures that they come out perfectly crisp and cooked all the way through. Although a sprinkling of salt and pepper is perfectly fine for serving, I decided to make a Meyer Lemon Gremolata to serve on top. The fresh parsley, garlic and lemon zest mixed with the warm fries looks, smells and tastes great.

They were wicked good!


Wicked Good Fries with Meyer Lemon Gremolata
should serve 4 if your lucky

4 Russet Idaho Potatoes
Peanut oil for frying
salt & pepper

Meyer Lemon Gremolata

3 Tbsp. chopped parsley
3 Meyer lemons, zested
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped

To make the Gremolata, mix together the chopped parsley, grated Meyer Lemon zest and the finely chopped garlic cloves. Set aside until ready to serve.

Attach a candy thermometer to the side of large heavy deep pot (do not let tip touch bottom). Add enough peanut oil to pot to reach depth of 3 inches. Heat oil over medium heat to 300°F.

While the oil is coming up to temperature, peel the potatoes and cut lengthwise into 1/4-inch-thick slices, then cut lengthwise into 1/4-inch-wide strips. Toss into a large bowl with very cold water until ready to fry. When oil is up to temperature, take the potato strips out of the water and place on 2 large baking sheets lined with paper towels, pat dry with additional paper towels.

Working in batches, add potatoes to oil and cook until potatoes are just tender, stirring occasionally and maintaining heat at 300°F, about 3 minutes per batch. Transfer potatoes to 1 prepared baking sheet to drain. Heat same oil until temperature reaches 360°F to 365°F. Working in batches, add same fries to oil and cook until golden brown, maintaining temperature between 360°F and 365°F, about 2 minutes per batch. Transfer to second prepared baking sheet to drain. Transfer french fries to serving dish; sprinkle with salt and pepper and then top off with the Gremolata.

Friday, March 26, 2010

strawberry anticipation and a galette

The strawberries in my garden are just beginning to show signs of life, but the ones at my farmers market are as good as they come; small, sweet, deeply flavored and red right through, none of that ice-white core that so many of them have in the market.

These berries are so tender and juicy that they are hard to beat just piled in a dish, so full that they tumble off the edge and eaten without any embellishment.  This, I have to admit is how I usually enjoy them at this time of year.

I was craving something dessertish, and had some leftover pastry dough so I thought I'd make a simple, yet rustic galette using some of those little beauties. The sweetness of the berries paired with the rich, buttery pastry was a tasty combination and didn’t need much else. But…I thought better of it and made a sweetened mascarpone cream with some vanilla bean to give an additional layer of flavor.

I have to say, it was a good call.


Mascarpone Vanilla Cream
Makes 1 ½ cups

3/4 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons sugar
3/4 cup mascarpone cheese
1 vanilla bean split lengthways, seeds removed

Using a whisk, blend together all of the ingredients until well combined. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to use.

Strawberry Galette
serves 6 to 8

1 recipe Pastry Dough from the toolbox

1 pound strawberries, hulled
1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar
2 teaspoons cornstarch
1 large egg yolk
1 tablespoon water
1 tablespoon cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. On a floured surface, roll dough to 1/4 inch thickness. Cut out a 10-inch round, and transfer to a parchment-lined rimmed baking sheet. Refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Make the galette: Cut strawberries lengthwise into 1/4-inch-thick slices. Toss slices with 1/4 cup sugar and the cornstarch, and immediately arrange them in concentric circles on dough. Start 1 inch from edge, overlapping slices slightly. Fold edge of dough over berries. Refrigerate for 15 minutes.

Whisk together yolk and water. Brush dough with the egg wash, and sprinkle with remaining 1 tablespoon sugar. Dot berries with butter. Bake until crust is golden brown, 40 to 45 minutes.

Transfer to a serving plate. Serve warm with mascarpone vanilla cream

Tuesday, March 23, 2010


“What do you do with this?” Is the typical question that I have been getting recently when purchasing these slender wildly crimson stalks.

The answer: pies, tarts or crumbles, but rhubarb is a great candidate for jam as well. It can be cooked as a compote and served over custard or ice cream, even layered in a trifle would be delicious. Quite often it is paired with other fruits such as strawberries, raspberries or apples to tame down the lively tartness.

I recently stumbled upon a recipe for rhubarb ice cream and just had to make it! I Began by making a simple vanilla custard or crème anglaise and then added the cooked rhubarb the last few minutes of churning. The result was beautiful, a soft pale pink with a subtle tartness that was hard to resist. The black flecks from the vanilla seeds dotted throughout added a lovely underpinning of flavor.  Spooned into chilled bowls and served straight from the churning vessel was the best way to appreciate its wonderful distinctive quality.

A very simple method for cooking rhubarb is to cut it up into even pieces with a sharp knife. Lay in a heavy-based pot and sprinkle with sugar (one-quarter of the weight of rhubarb in sugar). Allow to sit for 5-10 minutes to draw out the moisture, then cook gently and stir until just soft. Depending on your rhubarb you may need a little water or you could substitute orange juice, Verjuice or a sweet wine. A little vanilla bean is a lovely addition, but I think you will really be amazed that the rhubarb flavor alone is all you need.


Rhubarb Ice Cream
inspired by Skye Gyngell

Ice cream base
crème anglaise  (vanilla custard)

2 cups heavy cream
1 cup whole milk
1 vanilla bean, split lengthways
6 egg yolks, preferably organic free-range
½ cup sugar


4 lbs. rhubarb
1 vanilla bean, split lengthways
½ cup sugar
½ cup to 1 cup Verjuice or water

Start by making the custard base for the ice cream following the method in the toolbox for crème anglaise. Set aside to cool.

Wash and trim the rhubarb, then cut into 1 inch chunks. Lay in a heavy-based pot and sprinkle with sugar. Scrape out the fine black seeds of the vanilla bean and put into the rhubarb mixture along with the bean itself. Allow to sit for 5-10 minutes to draw out the moisture, then add the ½ cup of the Verjuice or water and cook gently and stir until just soft, about 10 minutes or so. Add more Verjuice or water if necessary. The rhubarb should be soft, but not completely falling apart.

Remove rhubarb from heat and allow to cool. The rhubarb can be added to the ice cream base as is, or can be puréed slightly for a more smooth texture.

When ready to churn, pour the custard base into your ice cream maker and churn until thickened (about 20-25 minutes). Just before the ice cream sets, pour in the cool rhubarb and churn for another 10 minutes before serving.

Serves 10

Saturday, March 20, 2010

welcome spring!

The days are getting longer, the clocks are going forward and I can’t wait to get stuck into spring!

I am beginning to see the signs that spring’s wheels are in motion. The new lettuces, fresh tender peas, fava beans, rhubarb, and asparagus are appearing at my local farm stand. As well as those beautiful red strawberries, that are so juicy and sweet, they are just begging to be eaten.

I am a recent convert to the joys of fresh pasta and have been making up quite a few batches lately, experimenting with different ingredients and think with all of the wonderful spring bounty approaching a lovely pasta primavera will be on the menu.

Over the next few weeks I thought we would take the plunge into all that spring has to offer and put together some fantastic menu ideas for Easter: roasted leg of lamb…hot cross buns...lemon syllabub…rhubarb ice cream and more.

I am also curious to do some cooking with Verjuice. It is a sour juice extracted from unripe grapes. It lends a special flavor that seems to fall between light vinegar and a dry white wine.

I hope you will tag along and get inspired!


Sunday, March 14, 2010

toolbox: stock

The foundation for many soups is a broth or stock and is one of the first things you learn as a young chef. Stock is not only easy to make, it’s one of the few things I freeze so as to have the makings of a soup or risotto always at hand. A sufficiently rich and fragrant stock makes a wonderful soup all by itself or can be the base for a wide range of dishes. I use chicken stock in a lot of my cooking and find that the full flavor of a homemade stock cannot compare to a store bought product, especially when you might want to reduce the stock down to intensify the flavor. Some store bought versions when reduced can taste artificial and unpalatable.

At times, I have used a whole chicken to make stock, which may seem extravagant, but it produces a very sweet, fragrant full-bodied stock. After an hour of cooking you can lift the chicken out of the pot and remove the breasts and return the carcass to the pot. The poached breasts are delicately tender and delicious; they make a great meal, especially with a little salsa verde.

But more often than not, I use two free-range organic chickens, in which I take the breast meat as well as the leg and thigh portions off and freeze for later use. I take the remaining carcass with the wings, neck and back and roast for a time until they turn a lovely golden color. I find this brings a wonderful depth of flavor to the stock. I have come across many variations of making stock, some more complex than others. This is one method that I have come to rely upon that results in a beautifully rich, clear and fragrant stock.


Chicken Stock
makes 4 quarts

4-5 lbs. chicken bones, wings, neck and back
3 yellow onions (I leave the skins on)
6 carrots
3 ribs celery
a little olive oil
20 black peppercorns
4 bay leaves
small bunch of thyme
bunch of flat leaf parsley
4 quarts cold water

Preheat the oven to 350°. Lay the chicken pieces on a large baking tray and roast on the top rack of the oven for about 30 minutes until golden brown. Meanwhile, roughly chop the onions, carrots and celery and place in a large stockpot or saucepan. Add the tiniest amount of olive oil and sweat over a low heat until the vegetables soften slightly and start to release their flavors.

When the bones are nicely colored, add them to the vegetables along with the black peppercorns, bay leaves, thyme and parsley. Pour in the water and bring just to the boil. Immediately, turn the heat down to low and cook gently for 1 ½ hours, skimming the foam from the surface every now and then. It is very important that a stock does not boil, as this causes the impurities to be dragged back down into the stock rather than collect on the surface where they can be removed.

At the end of the cooking time, you should have a pure, clean tasting stock. Remove from the heat, and strain through a fine sieve. Use as required. If preparing ahead, cool and refrigerate for up to 3 days, or freeze until needed.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

toolbox: crème anglaise

Vanilla custard or Crème Anglaise is a staple for many desserts as well as breakfast specialties. It is a light pouring custard that can be used a dessert sauce, poured over cakes or fruits. The custard can be used for French toast or pain perdu and is the base for creamy ice cream or crème brûlée. It has a mild taste but a rich and thick vanilla flavor.

The custard in itself is not difficult to make, but it does require a fair amount of vigilance and care. The cream is made by whipping egg yolks and sugar together until the yolk is almost white and the batter forms pretty ribbons or until your arm gets tired (about 2 minutes), and then slowly adding hot milk, while whisking. The sauce is then cooked over low heat (otherwise the yolks will cook, resulting in scrambled eggs) and stirred constantly with a spoon until it is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon, and then removed from heat. If the sauce reaches to high a temperature, it will curdle. Then you are back to square one.

This sauce is easy to do and should definitely be in anyone's 'toolbox'.


Crème Anglaise (vanilla custard)
makes 3 cups

2 cups heavy cream
1 cup whole milk
1 vanilla bean, split lengthways
6 egg yolks, preferably organic free-range
½ cup sugar

Pour the cream and milk into a heavy bottomed pan and place over low heat. Scrape the vanilla seeds from the pod and add them to the creamy milk with the empty pod. Slowly bring to just below the boil, remove from heat and set aside to infuse for about 15 minutes.

In the meantime, beat the egg yolks and sugar together in a mixing bowl with a whisk until the mixture becomes thicker and paler. Gently reheat the creamy milk and pour on to the egg yolk mixture, stirring with the whisk as you do so.

Return the custard to the saucepan and place over the lowest possible heat. Stir gently and patiently until the custard thickens-this may take 10-15 minutes (don’t be tempted to increase the heat, or you’ll have scrambled eggs). It should be thick enough to lightly coat the back of a wooden spoon. Draw finger along the back of the spoon-it should leave a clear trace.

As soon as the custard thickens, remove from the heat, pour into a bowl and allow to cool. Don’t leave it in the saucepan, as the heat of the pan will continue to cook the custard. Once cooled, the custard is ready to use or can be stored in the refrigerator. Sauce will keep for 4 days.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

toolbox: béchamel

“Sauces” according to the maven of cookery Julia Child, “are the splendor and glory of French cooking”.

One of the sauces that I have in my toolbox and turn to most often is the traditional White Sauce or Béchamel. This basic sauce is referred to as the “Mother of Sauces” for it is the base for a roster of other sauces. It takes about 5 minutes to make, and can be used as is, or can be built upon with the addition other enrichments.

Béchamel is traditionally made by whisking scalded milk gradually into a white flour butter roux (equal parts butter and flour). I use this basic sauce as a layer within my Lasagna Bolognaise, or as the base for cream soups, and soufflés. With the simple addition of some nutmeg and white cheddar it becomes the vehicle that turns ordinary elbow macaroni into Mac n’ Cheese bliss.

So if this sauce isn’t in your ‘toolbox’ yet you might consider adding it, for as Julia says “It would be hard for the everyday cook to get along without these good simple sauces”.


Sauce Béchamel (White Sauce)
Adapted from Julia Childs'  Mastering the Art of French Cooking

2 Tbsp. butter
3 Tbsp. flour
2 cups milk, heated to the boil in a small saucepan

In a saucepan melt the butter over low heat. Blend in the flour, and cook slowly, stirring, until the butter and flour froth together for 2 minutes without coloring. This is now a white roux.

Remove roux from heat, and pour in the hot milk all the while beating vigorously with a wire whisk to blend the milk and roux together. Set the saucepan over moderately high heat and stir with a wire whisk until the sauce comes to the boil. Boil for 1 minute, stirring.

Remove from heat, and beat in salt and pepper to taste. Sauce is now ready to be used as is or can have other final flavorings or ingredients added to it.

If not used immediately, float a thin film of milk or melted butter on top to prevent a skin from forming on its surface. Set aside uncovered, keep it hot over simmering water, refrigerate, or freeze it.

makes 2 cups

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

toolbox: pastry

For years I’ve heard the phrase “it’s as easy as pie” and thought “okay, clearly you have never made one”.

Why is the idea of making basic pastry dough daunt even the most cool, calm and collected types? Making them so nervous at even the thought of tackling a pie crust?

Well, if this is you then you never need fear pastry again. I have found a wonderful recipe for pastry dough, which is flaky, flavorful, and tender. It is also strong enough to be rolled out and molded into a free-form shape or a galette. You can use this dough to make any kind of pie or tart, sweet or savory, plain or fancy. By adding a little sugar and vanilla you have a beautiful pâte sucrée or sweet pastry. Throw in some thyme, lemon zest and grated parmesan and you have the base for a savory tart. Once you have mastered this recipe you can let your creative juice flow and create wonderful crusts for so many recipes.

I have made this recipe by hand with a pastry cutter, but have also found the food processor works great as well. This recipe is large and can be cut in half or even quartered, but since the dough can be frozen for up to a month, it’s practical to make the full batch. You can freeze the dough disks, rolled out in circles, or already fitted into pie pans or tart molds, ready to go into the oven-without thawing-when you’re in a crunch for a crust.


recipe adapted from Leslie Mackie

5 ¼ cups all purpose flour
1 Tbsp. kosher salt
1 ½ sticks (6 ounces) cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1 ¾ cups (11 ounces) solid vegetable shortening, chilled
1 cup ice water

To make the dough by hand, mix the flour and salt together in a large bowl. Add the butter and using a pastry blender (or your fingers); cut it into the flour until the mixture looks like coarse crumbs. Be patient-this take a while. Break up the shortening and add it in bits to the bowl. Still working with the pastry blender, cut in the shortening until the mixture has small clumps and curds. Switch to a wooden spoon and add the ice water, stirring to incorporate it. Turn the dough out onto a work surface and fold it over on itself a few times-don’t get carried away. The dough will be soft, but it will firm up in the refrigerator.

To make the dough in a food processor, start with very cold ingredients and take care not to overwork them. Place dry ingredients in the food processor fitted with a metal blade and pulse just to mix. Take the top off, scatter the chilled cubed butter and shortening over the flour, cover, and pulse again, working only until the fats are cut in and the mixture resembles slightly moist cornmeal. Add a little of the liquid and pulse a few times, then add more liquid and pulse again. Continue until the mixture has curds and clumps and sticks together when pressed between your fingers. Don’t process until the dough forms a ball that rides the blade-that’s overdoing it.

Chilling the dough; divided dough into quarters, wrap in plastic and refrigerate for at least 20 minutes, any longer and it’s too difficult to roll out.

Storing; the dough can be kept in the refrigerator for up to 5 days or frozen for 1 month. Defrost, still wrapped in the refrigerator.

Makes enough dough for four 9- to 10-inch tarts or open-faced pies or 2 double-crusted pies.

my toolbox

A toolbox in the kitchen is basically the ‘nuts and bolts’ of cooking. These are the building blocks of the cooks’ repertoire, the recipes upon which hundreds of dishes are based. As the seasons’ change and new ingredients present themselves, it is the toolbox I turn to for inspiration. The idea is too take one recipe or technique and master it, so then you have the freedom to take it with you through the seasons.

I thought I would take the next couple of weeks and share with you some of my favorite toolbox recipes that are tried and true. From infused oils, vinaigrettes, spice mixes, and stock.

We’ll cover the sweet side of the toolbox as well with my favorite pastry base on which I bake tarts, pies, galettes, and cobblers. We will touch on vanilla custard or crème anglaise which pairs beautifully with numerous desserts and is also used as the base for creamy ice cream, whether fruit, chocolate or caramel flavored.

Lastly, we will end with cake or génoise; a vital basic cake and a building block for many confections. It is sturdy, firm, adaptable, and amenable to almost any flavoring. The génoise is to the French baker what the sponge cake is to the American baker.

This toolbox really works for me and I hope it will for you too!