Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Not Quite Beetroot Soup

Not-quite-beetroot soup, the finished soup has the tartness of tomato, fragrance of the roasted pepper, and sweetness of the beetroot combined. It doesn't taste predominantly of beet, yet it does have its lush red color. I like to use a dash of smoked paprika powder (or even ground chipotle). This soup is ideally made with equal parts each of beetroot, red capsicum, and tomatoes. Even more ideally, the beetroot and capsicum are roasted first, to release their natural sugars and add a deeper flavor to the finished soup. As an appetizer (hot or cold) this soup is both a palate cleanser and teaser for more to come. It is a pretty soup, flavorsome, and intriguing. Your dinner guests will love it.

In this recipe: suggestions for a three-course dinner party.

Not Quite Beetroot Soup
recipe for 3-4 appetizer cup

1 medium beetroot 
1 red capsicum
3 ripe (roma) tomatoes
1 medium/small red onion
2 cloves of garlic
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper (or to taste)
1/2 tsp paprika powder (smoked paprika if you like)
juice of half a lemon (or to taste!)
2-3 cups water
tbsp olive oil
  • Roast the beetroot and red capsicum in a hot oven for 30 minutes. Turn regularly. Put the charred capsicum in a plastic bag to loosen the skin.
  • Peel beetroot and dice. Peel, clean, and dice the capsicum. Peel the tomato and dice small. Chop the onions fine.
  • Heat the olive oil over medium heat in a casserole and add the onions. Lower the temperature if the onions sizzle too much (you want to gently sweat the onions until they softened, about 5 minutes). 
  • Add the beetroot and capsicum, cook with the onions for about 5 minutes (low heat)
  • Add the tomatoes, the garlic, and the spices. Bring the heat up to high and stir everything around for 1-2 minutes. 
  • Add enough water to cover (but not so it swims too much).
  • Simmer for about 20 minutes
  • With a hand-held blender, puree the soup until smooth. Add lemon juice to taste.
  • Serve hot with a dollop of thick cream. Or chilled with a garnish of fresh herbs (basil, koriander, and mint work wonderful) or even edible flowers.
Make a light supper of this flavorful soup with crisp, hot crusty bread and a selection of goat cheese

Suggestions for a Dinner Party
For a vegetarian dinner party, start with the enticing flavors of the Not Quite Beetroot Soup, and follow with a beautifully plated Pea & Okra Barley, topped with hearty pan-fried mushrooms (porcini, sliced king oyster mushroom, or even just button mushrooms), and finish with roasted peaches and a lush custard.

Of course, the colorful flavorsome soup does equally well as appetizer for  a meat main like Braised Lamb Shanks or Orange, Sage & Fennel Roasted Pork Shoulder

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Chocolate Mousse Cake and Kumquat Confit

There are various ways to make a chocolate mousse, and two versions I usually stick to. Both come from my LCB Desserts book (Le Cordon Bleu Dessert Techniques by Laurent Duchene and Bridget Jones, 2002 edition). In one version is an airy mousse that instead of egg whites and butter uses a sugar syrup and whipped cream. For this chocolate mousse the creamy-beaten egg yolks are tempered with hot sugar syrup, before adding melted chocolate, and finally fluffing it with whipped cream. I used this chocolate mousse to make a Chocolate Dirt Dessert (recipe).

The version I use here, is the one where you whisk egg yolks and sugar to a pale cream, to which you add a mixture of butter and chocolate melted au bain marie, and - once smooth and silky - you gently fold in stiff-peaked egg whites. 

In all cases, you can chose your own level of sweet to bitter by using a lower or higher percentage of pure cacao chocolate. I prefer bitter dark, and use 70% - 86%.

You can make the cake as sweet or dark as you like, add flavor like orange peel, cointreau, grated ginger, or even cayenne pepper as you go.

This basic recipe is for a dark, bitter chocolate mousse cake.

Chocolate Mousse Cake

250 gr 85% chocolate*
100 gr 70% chocolate*
150 gr unsalted butter
6 large eggs, separated
125 gr raw cane sugar (I prefer to use this over granulated sugar in this cake)
1 tbsp vanilla extract
pinch of salt
  • preheat the oven to 350F (180C)
  • Melt butter and chocolate together au bain marie (hot water bath - you can melt it in the microwave if you prefer). 
  • In a deep bowl, beat the egg yolks with the sugar until creamy. 
  • In another bowl, beat the egg whites until stiff peaks form. 
  • Add the vanilla extract and salt to the egg yolks and sugar, and mix well
  • Fold the butter-chocolate mixture (once cooled but still liquid) into the egg yolks and sugar mixture. Mix in well into a uniform, silky "paste". 
  • now fold in the stiff egg whites, starting with a spoonful, adding the next spoonful when the first is incorporated. Continue to fold in all egg white, working swift but careful not to "whisk" or "beat" (that would take the air out of the egg whites). Make sure you have no white streaks, and all is mixed in well
  • pour into your prepared cake pan, and put in the preheated oven
  • bake for 30 minutes, then test by inserting a metal skewer down the center. If the needle comes out only slightly moist, it is done. You can add another 5 minutes if you like the cake drier. If the skewer comes out too wet, give it 5 minutes more. Basically, bake between 30-45 minutes, checking every 5 minutes after 30 minutes until the needle comes out only slightly moist to dry.
  • Let cool completely before taking out of the cake pan. Garnish with edible flower petals and serve with kumquat confit (recipe below).
*I've made this cake using 85% only, and it is for the diehard bitter-dark chocolate lovers. Adding 70% tones it down a bit. You could use 70% only, and still have that delicious dark-bitter chocolate taste.

Kumquat Confit

1 cup cleaned kumquat
1 cup sugar
tbsp water

To clean the kumquat: quarter and scrape off the pits. Blanch three times as follows: place the kumquat quarters in a pan, cover with cold water and bring to a boil. Immediately take off the heat, drain, and start over: cold water, boil, drain. This is to remove all impurities from the skin, and reduce the bitterness. It also softens the skins. After your 3-time blanching, add a cup of sugar and 1-2 tbsp water and bring to a boil. Now, let simmer for up to 30 minutes. Cool down in the syrup and keep until ready to use. If you don't use all: it keeps for weeks in an airtight container (under syrup).

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Saturday, August 9, 2014

Golden Chanterelle Fricassee with Fleur d'Ail

Rain may not be super on your summer beach, but it is divine for the forest floor, opening up a lush mush bed for wild mushrooms. After a rainy week earlier this summer, the mushroom man at the local farmers market in the Quebec Laurentians had a happy heap of wild mushrooms. I came back with a paper bag full of golden chanterelles and lobster mushrooms. The natural yellow-gold and apricot of those mushrooms account for the vibrant hue of yellow in this mushroom fricassee.

Fleur d'ail
At the vegetable stall, same farmers market, I routinely bagged a bunch of fleur d'ail. I get it every summer. Crunchy to bite, delicately green, and mildly garlic-fragrant, fleur d'ail (as they are sold in Quebec) or garlic scapes are the budded stems from which the garlic bulb grows. Chopped fine I use it in just about anything: a remoulade dip, with steamed mussels, in a mustard-cream sauce for steak, in a fresh tomato salsa, tossed in with caramelized onions for an onion tart, as the "aglio" in the aglio-olio caprese pasta popular in our house, in a compound butter, to use for instance on escargots gratin, or even as a simple crisp and colorful garnish.

To humor a friend, who is trying to avoid using cream and butter, I am currently also exploring a no-butter-no-cream version of this wild mushroom fricassee. Stay tuned!

Golden Chanterelle Fricassee with Fleur d'Ail
recipe for 2 (main course) or 4 (appetizer)

250gr mixed lobster mushrooms and golden chanterelles (or other wild mushrooms)
2-3 garlic scapes, chopped in thin rounds
1 small to medium onion, sliced thin
1 small leek, sliced thin
1 clove of garlic, crushed
1 tsp Dijon mustard
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp butter

Clean the mushrooms with paper towel gently. If they are all different size, break the bigger ones to equal the size of smaller mushrooms. I had a big lobster mushroom, which I divided into many smaller pieces.

Heat olive oil and butter, until butter is melted. Add the sliced onions and leek, and over low heat, saute them gently until soft (do not brown). Still over low heat, add the lobster mushrooms and garlic, cook for 2 minutes. Stir in mustard and add the heavy cream and fleur d'ail. Simmer gently for 1 minute, and finally add the chanterelles: gently "wiggle" the pan to let the tender mushrooms "sink" into the cream sauce rather than stir them in. Simmer gently for about 10 minutes. Serve immediately.

We had it as a main course, following a mixed green salad. We dipped crusty bread in the sauce, and ate the mushrooms with no interference of any other flavors.

fleur d'ail among good and golden greens
I love to cook with wild mushrooms, here sauteed with veal sweetbreads (recipe here)

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Beach-Dug Clam Chowder

We went clam digging in Maine. What an experience! It had been years and years since I stood hunched over a muddy beach with a shovel and a bucket. At the time, I was a young child on a Zeeland beach on the North Sea coast, digging for razor clams. The idea is the same: you look for a little "air hole" in the sand, and you dig. Not ON the hole, just near enough. And then you claw with your hands in the sand, removing it carefully until you feel the shape of the shell. This time, in Maine, big clams prove worth the finger-scraping effort and the mud-grey nails by the time the tide starts to roll back in.

Beach-Dug Clam Chowder
10 or so big clams (or less if you didn't dig long and hard enough)
1 cup heavy cream
1-2 cups clam juice (what you steamed the clams in)
1 cup diced kohlrabi
1 cup diced potatoes
1/2 cup diced fennel
1/2 cup chopped onions
1 garlic clove, crushed
1 small twig of fresh lovage
1 small bay leaf
1 twig of fresh thyme

Steam the clams open 2-3 minutes in water to which you've added a splash of white wine, a pinch of salt, and some coarse chopped aromatic vegetables like onion, leek, celery and garlic. Let cool enough to handle, then pick out the clam, drain every last drop of clam juice from the shell into a collecting bowl. Strain the steaming liquid from the pan also into this bowl, but use a cheesecloth if the water seems gritty.

Put the kohlrabi, potato, fennel, lovage, thyme, onion, bay leaf and garlic in a pot with the clam juice: use enough clam juice to just cover the vegetables. Simmer for up to 15 minutes, or until soft. Remove the lovage, thyme and bay leaf, and add the cream. Add more clam juice if the soup is too thick (or not if you like it that way). Bring to a slow boil and add the chopped, cooked clams. Turn off the heat, and leave to infuse for 2-3 minutes. Add some chopped chives, and serve with a good chunk of hearty bread and good quality butter.

ps. I made exactly the same chowder minus the clam juice and clams, using fresh haddock.

I cooked this staying at the New Moorings Farm in Sedgwick, Maine. See the story With A Pitchfork In My Kitchen here

Friday, August 1, 2014

Orange, Sage & Fennel Roasted Pork

3-4 lbs piece pork shoulder

1 orange
1 fennel bulb
1 medium onion
3-4 garlic cloves
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp cayenne pepper
1 tbsp coarse sea salt
4-5 whole leaves sage
2-3 sprigs fresh thyme
1-2 small sprigs rosemary

Preheat the oven to 300F

Clean the garlic clove, and cut into "sticks" (cut in half lengthwise, and then again). Peel the orange, making sure the peel doesn't have any white. Cut into strips. Make 10-12 small incisions or slits in the pork shoulder. Don't go too deep. Work a little piece of garlic and 1-2 strips of orange in each slit.

Slice the fennel and onion, and place both in the bottom of a roasting pan. Rub the paprika and cayenne pepper on the meat, sprinkle on the coarse salt. Place the meat on top of the fennel-onions, and cover with the thyme, the rosemary, and finally the sage.

Roast the pork for 2 hours in the moderate oven. Take out, lower the temperature to 280F. Add a cup of water to the roasting pan, cover the pork with foil, and place the pan back into the oven to roast covered for another 2 hours.

Take out, strain the juices. Reduce the pan jus a little, and taste (careful not to add salt. And if already too salty, add some water). You can do all this ahead of time. When ready to eat, bring the oven temperature to 390F, and roast the uncovered pork for 30 minutes until crisp. Serve sliced with the reduced pan jus.

We had it with white beans braised with black kale, and added the slow-cooked fennel from the roasting pan last minute as well.

I cooked this staying at the New Moorings Farm in Sedgwick, Maine. See the story With A Pitchfork In My Kitchen here

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Beetroot & Horseradish Tzatziki

It took a bit of an effort to wiggle the horseradish free from its rich dark earthen bed. And even more effort to scrape it clean and grate it. But there I had it: grated horseradish, fresh from the small Maine farm where I was staying. The beetroot was so fresh, its juice ran free the moment I cut it. And then there was the garlic: fresh and juicy, it broke rather than crushed when I hit it with the flat part of my kitchen knife. The smell of freshly picked produce, I tell you: it is intoxicating!

Beetroot & Horseradish Tzatziki

2 small beetroot (or 1 medium), grated
1 or 2 cucumber (to make a cup full of grated cucumber)
1 tbsp freshly grated horseradish
1 tbsp chopped chives
1 cup thick (Greek) yogurt
1 tsp Dijon mustard
1 small tsp sea salt (or to taste)
1 large clove of garlic

Grate the cucumber fine and drain in a sieve until most excess liquid is drained off. Add to the grated beetroot and horseradish in a bowl. In another bowl, mix together yogurt, chives, mustard, garlic, and salt. Taste if it is to your liking, and then carefully spoon in the cucumber, beetroot and horseradish.

I served it with toasted pita bread and a side salad of cherry tomatoes, diced kohlrabi, small lettuce leaves, and edible flowers.

I cooked this staying at the New Moorings Farm in Sedgwick, Maine. See the story With A Pitchfork In My Kitchen here

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Chard Stalk Crab Cakes

chard stalk crab cakes ready to go into the pan
In the Gulf region of the US, picked fresh crab meat is oh so readily available, and I love it. It beats picking fresh cooked crabs yourself. But if you have to: cook your crabs, let them cool, crush the shells and start picking out all the meat without damaging your fingers on the sharp shells, and definitely don't add any shell particles to the meat.

Don't get me wrong, I love to pick and eat crab. But at the table, in company. There is nothing even remotely fun about picking crabs all by your lonesome at the kitchen counter.

So, ready-picked fresh crab meat for me, if I can find it. When I make crab cakes, I always vary with what goes in, spice-wise. I think most people who make crab cakes do. When I had a beautiful bunch of Swiss chard in my hands, I decided to use some of the stalks - finely diced - as flavor and texture ingredient in the crab cakes. Chard stalks have a natural savory crunch. I loved the result: the chard stalks gave a crispy freshness, as well as a touch of vibrant red.

Chard Stalk Crab Cakes
makes 4 burger-size crab cakes

1 cup picked fresh crab meat
1 medium egg, whisked
1 tbsp mayonnaise
1 tsp Dijon mustard
3-4 drops tabasco sauce (or to taste)
1/2 tsp worcestershire sauce
1 tsp fresh lemon juice
1 cup breadcrumbs (I use my own, from leftover baguette or ciabatta)
1 tbsp finely chopped fresh parsley
1/2 tsp salt (or to taste - the mustard and mayonnaise already contain salt)

This is the basic mix. From here on, I vary with what I add in flavors, herbs, and spices. Sometimes cornichons and capers, other times I add grated parmesan and use fresh chives instead of parsley. For instance. For these Chard Stalk Crab Cakes, I added:

1 tbsp finely chopped spiced beans (I used my homemade spiced beans)
1/2 cup finely diced chard stalks

for pan-frying
1 tbs olive oil
2 tbs unsalted butter

  • Mix mayonnaise, mustard, lemon juice, tabasco, and worcestershire sauce together. 
  • add the chard stalks, spiced beans, and parsley
  • Taste the mixture, and add salt accordingly. 
  • Mix in the whisked egg. 
  • Spoon in the crab meat carefully, and add the breadcrumbs, half of the amount first. Check for thickness of the mixture, and add more if needed. What you are looking for, is the a texture similar to a coarse mince meat, and easy to shape into patties without falling apart. 
  • Leave to infuse all the flavors for an hour or so, then shape into patties.
Heat olive oil and butter gently until the butter is slightly foaming. Pan-fry the crab cakes carefully on one side for 3-4 minutes (over medium heat), turn over, and pan-fry for another 3-4 minutes (still over medium heat).

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