Thursday, September 29, 2011

Les Frites

            We recently discovered how to make a pretty good French fry.  It wasn’t an explicit goal.  I usually don’t go looking for ways to deep fry any foods, less because of the health detractions and more because they make a mess out of my pans and stove top.  But one Saturday, my husband wanted to try the beef from a different butcher at the market and I thought I would give our favorite steak au poivre a try.  Dorie Greenspan has a nice recipe in Around My French Table with the accompanying recipe for the requisite accompanying frites.  When I read it through, it sounded doable and the result was very satisfying.  Here’s how it goes:
1.     Wash potatoes and pat dry.  We leave the skins on, but if you peel them, wash and dry them at that point.
2.     Slice into French fry slices.  The thinner the slices, the crispier the French-fry.  If you like a more tender potato inside, make them thicker.
3.     Fry potatoes in peanut or canola oil at fairly high heat just until they are blanched, meaning softened on the inside, but not yet browned.  Keep batches small so as not to crowd the pan.  Drain on paper towels.  Save your oil.  Cool the blanched potatoes or even put them in the refrigerator to finish at a later time.
4.     Finally, fry the cooled potatoes again at high heat until browned to your liking. 
5.     Season with an excellent quality salt, like fleur de sel.  Since the salt will sit on top of the food, this is a time to use the best salt you can find.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Awakening the Appetite

            Nothing tastes particularly good.  Unmemorable food experiences from the past week blur in my mind with me numbly putting hand to mouth, chewing, swallowing, and walking away.  My two breakfast eggs were eaten, more like inserted into my mouth, while dressing for work.  They were followed by multi-vitamins, which tasted no different from the eggs. My blasé lunch salad was eaten on my feet while supervising children.  Salad eaten- back to work.  Dinner with Allan has consisted of a couple of elemental ingredients:  bread/ham or bread/eggs and when the bread ran out, and our shop was closed for the day, we were saved by some take away foods from our charcuterie
I can’t decide what to eat.  I think I’m partially suffering from decision fatigue, written about by my wise counsel Kaye Syrah.  With the start of school, my creative juices are just about tapped out by the time I get home.  Mostly though, I know that I’m lovesick.  Love is so surprisingly visceral and when our boys left for the US on Tuesday, back to university, the oxygen left our house and an actual physical ache overcame my body, like the way you feel for several days after you’ve had the flu:  tender, tired, no appetite. 
We went to the market this morning because we need food.  We got basics:  carrots, zucchini, onions.  The produce looked fine, but didn’t really give me any thoughts.  Then I tracked back to the fresh herb sellers I had passed at the entrance.  I stood for a moment and let the mint and dill and cilantro smells actually enter my senses and my memory.  

Then I knew what I wanted:  Ranch Dressing.  Yep.  But Ranch Dressing is a gateway food and it can lead to salad, and baked potatoes, and steak, and some Latin inspired foods, too.  Then I’m on an appetite path again and Allan and I will have a nice dinner tonight while we remember how we live when it’s just the two of us.

Fresh Herb Ranch Dressing
2 cup mayonnaise
1 cup crème fraiche
1tsp. minced fresh chives
1tsp. minced fresh parsley
1tsp. minced fresh dill
½ tsp. minced garlic
½ tsp. minced onion
¼ tsp. sea salt
¼ tsp. freshly ground black pepper
Lemon juice to taste

Blend all ingredients in a sealable bowl.  Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.  Adjust ingredients as desired.  Halve all ingredients for a smaller batch.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

More Fun with Canning Jars

            This was fun to do for a dinner party this weekend.  These are a couple of a dozen individual cheesecakes baked in various canning jars.   

They are real cheese cakes, containing not just cream cheese, but ½ pound of Neufchatel along with crème fraiche.  The topping is roasted nectarines with some lemon basil and thyme for an herby infusion. 
For those of us no longer living in graham cracker land, this brand of cookies made an acceptable substitute.

           You should take into account, if you make these, that you and your guests will be eating a storage container full of rich dessert, but most of the guests were able to make peace with it. 
I won’t even pretend to rewrite this recipe.  It is from the blog Chez Pim and she has nicely broken down the steps in the recipe to walk you through it.

Simply Onions

            This seasonal food lifestyle continues to point out the naïve spots in my thinking about food production.  I am fully prepared for greens, and citrus, and artichokes to come and go, but I guess I did always think that onions were perennial.  Well guess what?  There is also an onion season, when they are fantastic, and then there is an off-season when they are dodgy or completely unavailable.  Now is the season and they are firm and potent. 
            I am a little nutty about collecting canning jars right now.  I used precious suitcase space to bring some back from the US this summer and when I was in Florence last weekend and saw an amazing selection at a grocery store, I filled our insulated wine bags with empty jars instead of the wine I had been instructed to purchase.  Look how cute they are?  Just dream of what could be put away in the baby food and milk bottle sizes.  I do.

            Canning and preserving food is a hip topic in the food world these days.  Here’s an inspiring blog: Saving the Season, with a soon to be published book.  I read this and then think, yes, I’m going to the market right this minute and I’m going to spend the rest of the day processing whatever looks great.  But then we don’t actually need to stock up our pantry like we’re “preppers” and I might like to do one or two other things in a day besides canning food.    I think I’m more in line with the Italian style of when you are already cooking and you’ve got some extra, pop it into a jar or two to have again in the not too far off future. 
            Giorgio Locatelli recommends putting some of these onions in jars as a future flavor cache.  The directions are my paraphrase.

Balsamic Onions
1.     Peel a batch of tiny onions, leaving the stem intact.
2.     Combine equal parts sherry vinegar and white wine (begin with 250 ml of each and adjust if you need more to cover your onions). 
3.     Add onions and parboil until just tender.
4.     Strain onions from liquid, allow to cool at room temperature and remove the outer layer.
5.     In a heavy bottomed pan, large enough to hold the onions.  Add onions, sprinkle with enough brown sugar to get some on all of the onions and then gently toss over medium heat until the sugar melts, caramelizes slightly, and covers the onions.
6.     Add balsamic vinegar to cover the onions and simmer briefly.
7.     The onions are ready to eat at this point or you can put them in sterilized jars, making sure to cover all onions with vinegar.  Cap the jars with sealable lids and process in a water bath.  When jars have cooled, make sure the lid is fully sealed before putting them in on a dark shelf for storage.  If a jar isn’t sealed, either reprocess with a new lid or put in the refrigerator to eat within two weeks.    The flavor will improve with time, but eat within 6 months.