Thursday, February 27, 2014

Salad Provencale

Popping with vibrant jewel-like colors, this salad is worthy of being "center table" even if
you aren't inclined to eat it!  The breezes of Provence in the south of France,  must be
perfumed with the herbs of this salad, marjoram, rosemary, thyme and tarragon, growing next to fields of sunflowers and lavender in the warm Mediterranean sun.  Or at least I can imagine it so, from pictures and movies I've seen of the region.  So inspired I've been that my kitchen décor is an homage to the colors of Provence, including buttery yellow and pottery blue painted walls, accented with curtains made from napkins purchased in close as I've made it so far. 

 I can more easily imagine orchards of olive trees rooted on rocky, craggy terraces....  I come by that musing from first hand experience, having lived in Tunisia.   This North African, Mediterranean country is not touted as a great producer of olive oil and yet 30% of its cultivated land is dedicated to olive husbandry- which I would attest to having been lost, on
one occasion, among olive trees standing at attention, like wooden soldiers as far as the
eye could see in every direction.  Judging from the position of the sun, my husband was certain he must be driving in the right direction as we bumped about the rows and furrows of the olive orchards for what seemed hours.  The monotony was only broken by an impromptu visit to an ancient olive oil factory we happened upon.  The best field trip ever for our children who were allowed to walk right up next to the workers without a hairnet on and watch as the workers filled round woven baskets with olives, piled the baskets one upon another on the stone press, and then lowered a heavy stone on top of the stack to press the oil from the olives, leaving the pits and pith behind in the woven mesh of the baskets.  The Tunisian workers were delighted to display their skill in their un-mechanized, yet ingenious industry and were delighted to find that anyone, let alone American tourists might be interested.  Alas the Tunisian industry saved the first press, the light pale oil, for export and sold the green, bitter, 3rd or 4th press for the locals and expats who temporarily ate as the locals did.  In this salad recipe, treat these beautiful veggies to an oil fit for their vibrance!

                  Provencal Pepper Salad
            2 large green peppers
            2 large sweet red peppers
            6 ripe tomatoes
            6 hard-boiled eggs
            (24 anchovy fillets - optional)
            3 cloves garlic, chopped
            1-2 tab. each finely chopped parsley, chives, tarragon
            8 tab. olive oil
            3 tab. wine vinegar
            salt and pepper 

            -Herb Dressing: Combine garlic and fresh herbs with oil,
                 vinegar, salt and pepper to taste.

            - Prepare peppers as follows: wash and dry whole peppers.
                 Place under broiler, as close as possible to heating element.
                 Cook, turning peppers frequently until skin on all sides has
                 charred. Place peppers in a plastic bag for 10 minutes.
                 Remove peppers and rub off charred skin under cold running
                 water. Cut peppers into strips, 4-6 to each pepper. Wash off
                 seeds and excess fiber; drain.

     -Slice tomatoes thickly and cover bottom of a large flat serving
        dish with slices. Sprinkle with a quarter of the salad dressing;
        add a layer of  prepared green peppers and sprinkle with
        dressing; add a layer of red peppers and sprinkle with 
        dressing. Shell eggs and slice into rings. Cover red pepper
        layer with a layer of sliced eggs and pour the remaining
        dressing over the top. Arrange anchovy fillets in a lattice on
        top. Chill for at least 30 minutes.

Persnickety PS:  Techniques used for Peeling Pesky Peppers!
     For all techniques:  If you worry you've burned your peppers, don't throw them out...they're just
                 ready to peel!

     Technique #1: I first learned how to peel peppers from our Tunisian maid - placing them directly on the flame of a gas burner, turning as each surface was charred.  (It worked beautifully but was a messy affair.)

     Technique #2: Garnered from a Mexican cookbook, this became my go-to peeling method for years.  Place the whole peppers on a rack underneath the hot broiler.  Char and blacken peppers on all sides by turning to another side, once the top surface is charred. Takes about 5 minutes per side.  Remove peppers from oven and place them in a plastic bag and set aside for 10 minutes.  Then peel off the charred skin under running cold water.  (It is sometimes difficult to char the peppers evenly which makes it hard to easily remove the peel.)  

      Enter Technique #3:  Currently my method of choice as the flatter surfaces of the pepper, char more evenly and therefore peel uniformly. Cut the pepper into quarters and place on a lightly oiled cookie sheet, skin side up about 6 inches under the broiler.  Broil until pepper quarters are charred and blackened.  Remove and place in a plastic bag or in a bowl, covered with plastic wrap and let sit 10 minutes.  Remove charred skin under running cold water.  If the recipe suggests saving the juices from the peppers, peel over a bowl to catch the juices (however, the skin is more difficult to remove without the running water.)

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Double Creme Brownies

A French cooking class......experience in rolling cakes.....and a palette for rich, chocolate sweets led me in my culinary pursuits to Bouche de Noel (Christmas log).  A combination of chocolate butter cream, chocolate cake and vanilla crème, layer up to create this French Noel dessert that serves as my inspiration for this brownie recipe.  Charming and appealing variations of "Bouche" were set center stage in the beautiful  windows of the village patisseries of the Alsace region of France.  We sampled an assortment on Christmas day during a holiday visit, one filled with hazelnut buttercream and sprouting meringue mushrooms, but the textures were airy and not sweet enough.  Dare I suggest that my version, though French, is more in line with the American sweet tooth and toleration for rich desserts.  (I have always been puzzled by the "too rich" excuse proclaimed in an air of disgust by finicky consumers.  Is there any such thing as too rich?)  I make one Bouche de Noel each year - a tradition on Christmas Day and though it requires several steps, pots and mixing bowls, it is a labor of love for family and for self.  Could it be my favorite dessert...the pressure is too great to identify just one.  But there are 363 other days in the year....what a shame to relegate this sublime sweet to just one.  And then inspiration, "Why not make "Bouche" more accessible as a brownie!"  It worked beautifully - a layer of ooey-gooey brownie, covered with vanilla creme which temporizes the chocolate then frosted with the chocolate buttercream - the real kind made from eggs, butter and candy syrup.  Powers of description fail me as to how delicious they are - a roll of the eyes must suffice.  Once you've prepared them you'll understand .

Double Crème Brownies

Brownie Layer:
1 cup melted butter
2 cups sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
4 eggs
1 cup flour
2/3 cups unsweetened cocoa
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt

-In a large mixing bowl, blend melted butter with the sugar and vanilla until smooth.  Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each.  Mix in the flour, cocoa, baking powder and salt and stir just until blended.  Spread the batter in a 13 x 9 inch, greased glass baking dish.  Bake at 350 degrees for 20 - 25 minutes, or until a knife inserted into the center of the brownies, just comes out clean.  Remove from oven and let cool to room temperature.

Vanilla Creme:
3 egg yolks                                 1/3 cup sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract              ¼ cup flour
1 cup boiling whole milk      ½ cup heavy cream 

-Place the 3 egg yolks, 1/3 cup sugar and vanilla in
             bowl.  Beat until light and mixture ribbons
             when the beater is lifted.  Add the ¼ cup flour
             and blend together.  Add the milk in a stream
             stirring with a wire whisk. 

-Transfer the mixture to a saucepan set over moderate heat; stir constantly until the sauce reaches a boil.  Reduce heat and cook, stirring for 2 to 3 minutes longer.  Remove from the heat.  Cover and cool to room temperature. 

-Whip the cream until it holds stiff peaks.  Fold the whipped cream into the custard.  Chill until ready to use. 

Chocolate Butter Cream:
3 oz. semi-sweet chocolate            3 egg yolks
2 oz.bittersweet chocolate            ½ pound soft butter
1/3 cup sugar                                    
¼ cup water 

-Place the chocolate in a small bowl and melt it in microwave for 1 minute at 50% power.  Stir and return to microwave for another 30 seconds and stir again.
If still not melted, repeat for another 30 seconds.  Let cool 5-10 minutes.

-Combine the 1/3 cup sugar and water in a small saucepan.  Boil until the syrup reaches the softball stage (236 to 238 degrees) on candy thermometer.

-Place the 3 egg yolks in a mixing bowl and begin beating with an electric mixer. Pour the hot sugar syrup over the yolks a few drops at a time while
beating at medium speed.  Increase speed to high and beat for 5 minutes, until mixture is thick and pale yellow.  Reduce speed to low and add the ½
pound butter, a little at a time.  Beat until the mixture is smooth.  Add the melted chocolate to the buttercream and beat until smooth.  Set aside.
To Assemble:
     Spread the vanilla crème over the brownies and chill for about 30 minutes.  Spread the chocolate buttercream over the vanilla crème layer and swirl and peak with a spatula or the back of a spoon.  Cover loosely with foil and chill for at least 30 minutes.  Cut into 2 inch squares and serve. (Make be stored loosely covered in refrigerator for several days.  Let sit out for
30 minutes before serving if well chilled to allow the chocolate buttercream to soften.)

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Hungarian Gulasche

I was first exposed to the cuisines of the world within the pages of a home economics teachers' cookbook - the type created from untested submissions and then bound with a ring binder and sold to raise funds for the Future Homemakers of America.  It's hard to imagine now, when even the term "home economics" is outdated that I was surprised to discover that the British wrap a hard boiled egg in pork sausage and fry it (Scotch Eggs), or that Chow Mein could be made in the home kitchen and didn't just come from a can, or that Hungarians relished something called "goulash". Neither syllable "goo" or "lash" recommend it but my mother was able to see past the unappealing syllables and after travelling the world with my stewardess sister's Pan Am discount, found it's mildly exotic old world flavors reminiscent of European adventures.  It was a revelation to my naïve culinary sensibilities that every culture has discovered, either in isolation or through the migration and assimilation of wander-lusted types, a soul soothing, stewed combination of seasoned meat and vegetables.  The French have their Beef Bourguignon, the North Africans, cous-cous, the Russian, borscht and the Hungarians, their "gulyas".  Beef (veal and pork are also used) braised with onions, green peppers, tomatoes and the requisite paprika require the standard treatment of cooking "low and slow" for tender, flavor-melded results. With origins in the repertoire of the Hungarian "herdsmen", this recipe was on the short list of dishes I prepared on every visit to Mom's as I stocked her freezer with foods she could fatten up on until I saw her again a few months later version of "Goodies for Grandma's house."

Hungarian Goulash
3 tablespoons canola or vegetable oil
2 medium onions, diced
2 pounds chuck steak or roast, trimmed of fat and cut
        into 1 1/2 inch cubes
1 cup flour for dusting
salt and pepper to taste
5 cloves garlic, minced
1 large green bell pepper, cored, seeded and diced
1 large red bell pepper, cored, seeded and diced
10 baby carrots, diced
1 can beef consomme
1 tab. "Better Than Bouillon" beef stock paste
5 cups water
1/2 cup red wine
3 tab. tomato paste
1 tsp. sugar
3 tab. sweet paprika
-Place flour, salt and pepper in large bowl and toss beef cubes in mixture to coat each piece of meat.  In a large oven proof dutch oven or casserole, heat oil over medium-high heat until shimmering.  Add the beef cubes a few at a time in a single layer so that there is space between the cubes and brown over high heat, turning with tongs to sear cubes on all sides.  Remove beef from casserole and set aside.
-Add another tablespoon of oil, if necessary and cook onions, carrots and peppers over medium-high heat, until softened, about 8 minutes.  Add garlic and continue to cook for 1 minute more.
-Stir liquid, consomme, water and wine into the softened vegetables, scraping the bits of beef and vegetables of the bottom of the pot (deglaze).  Bring to a boil, then return beef to pan and stir in tomato paste, beef stock paste, sugar and paprika.  Return to a boil.
-Place in oven preheated to 300 degrees and cook covered for 2 1/2 to 3 hours, or until meat is very tender.  Remove the lid during the last 30 minutes of cooking to allow the mixture to thicken and the sauce to glaze the meat.  Remove from oven and allow to cool for 15 to 20 minutes.  Taste for seasonings and adjust if necessary.
-Serve over wide egg noodles if desired.  Garnish with minced fresh parsley.  Serves 8.
**Be sure you use sweet paprika as opposed to hot - unless you like it very spicy!  If you buy an imported brand, you may want to taste it before using.
**Our Hungarian hosts served guylas as a stew in a soup bowl, rather than over noodles.  Either way is delicious.