Archive for October, 2009

Pâte à Crêpes

18 October 09

Your basic French pancakes are called crêpes. You have heard of them even if you haven’t had them. Like a good many of the world’s greatest tastes, they are a whole lot easier to make than you may think. The main problem is that people who are good cooks are not necessarily food teachers and/or writers. Just follow these simple directions and you will get perfect results every time.

First – start off with Julia Child’s basic crêpe recipe.

——–Base – night before——–

1 cup cold water
1 cup cold milk
4 eggs
1/2 tsp salt
1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
4 Tbs melted unsalted butter

——–Cooking——–

3 Tbs skillet lube
3 Tbs unsalted butter (or more)

Put all the night before ingredients into a blender the night before. Mix it up on high speed for about a minute. If some of the flour got stuck to the side(s) of the blender then just scrape it down and blend for a couple more seconds. Stick the whole vessel in the refrigerator and let it chill overnight. Julia gives a 2 hour minimum but I find that it works better overnight.

If you followed the above measures you shouldn’t have any problem with the thickness. When you take the blender vessel out of the ridge you may have a little bit of separation at the top. No biggie – just put back onto the blender and hit it for a couple of seconds.

Now melt a small amount of butter in a small skillet or other small pan. You do NOT need to spend multi-bucks on dedicated and specialized crêpe pans, just use a medium non-stick slope sided pan. You do want to get a silicon basting brush since the old-fashioned bristles melt when used for hot pan lubing. I’ve had very good result with a silicon brush. It doesn’t do basting very well but does do hot pan lubing quite nicely. Lube up the crêpe skillet with a very thin layer of lube of choice. I like butter, but olive oil or any other kitchen oil of choice can be used. Pour a thin layer about half the diameter of your skillet and swirl it around until there is a very thin lay coating the bottom. Relax for a while – a short while. Now we could talk about cooking time and all sorts of other things, but that is not necessary. When you get the temperature right – which is highly dependent on your stove, burner size, pan size, etc – you will know it. Anyway – just watch the crêpe, when the liquid look has disappeared from the top of the crêpe and the shiny has been replaced by a smooth mat look, then flip it. When you have the temperature and the time right it only takes another thirty seconds or so to do the second side. Flipping. Not rocket science. I use a silicon spatula to lift one edge, then grab with fingers and flop it over. You can do the fancy in the air flip if you are so inclined. Do shake the pan just a bit to make sure that the crêpe settles down with full contact.

You generally only have to re-lube about every second or third crêpe or so.

Now, stuffings. Basically whatever you like. Grated hardboiled egg, grated cheese, ham, prosciutto, sour cream, whipped cream, cottage cheese, caviar, jam of one kind or another. Whatever you like. A rather traditional is two spears of asparagus, some shredded cheese, a couple of strips of ham. Make them sweet, make them tart, make them whatever you like. Sour cream, a light sprinkle of caviar and minced onion or shallot is nice. Sprinkle inside or outside with powdered sugar if you like. Oh yeah, I guess that you do know to roll them up with the goodies in the middle. You may want to brush the inside with melted butter before adding the stuffing.

You can make a breakfast, lunch, dinner, or desert with these little goodies. After you do your first batch you will realize that thinking of these as hard or complicated is nonsense. They are pretty easy, after all.

It works better if you make them up ahead and keep on a warming plate and serve with all the goodies in little dishes so that each can make his own. Alternatively have a second person stuffing and wrapping as fast as they come off the pan. It is just about impossible for one person to get them cooked and stuff before they all get cold.

You may notice that these are very similar to blini, you can stuff them samey-samey if you like. You can use yeast in a blin (plural blini) if you like – but never in a crêpe.

{{Herself Sez: I find myself treating these like blini, but there are many other ways to go! Crepes St. Jacques, using Coquille St. Jacques as stuffing and as a “pour-over” is fabulous! So is a stuffing of a cheese blend (cottage cheese, ricotta, and marscapone or cream cheese plus a Tbs or so of sherry) with either a fruit jam or warm fruit compote on top. YUM!}}

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Delicate Fish and Beurre Blanc

13 October 09

This is a take-off on the traditional French beurre blanc. Now beurre blanc means white butter. Remember classic French cooking:

  1. Do Something
  2. Add butter

And then:

  1. Add butter
  2. Do Something

So – what the traditional beurre blanc does is make a rich reduction sauce out of something acidic and shallots. If we add heavy cream then it becomes a beurre nantais – named for the city of Nantes, located in the Loire-Atlantique area. As in where the Loire river dumps into the Atlantic Ocean. This is really not a big surprise since this whole beurre blanc business is characteristic of (and originates in) the Loire Valley area of France.

Normal method: dump some wine and some shallots in a heavy skillet and reduce over fairly high heat until about half volume and it becomes a bit syrupy. Add some acid – lemon juice or wine vinegar and reduce some more – until syrupy again. If heavy cream is used here is where it is added, heated, whisked and thickened. Off heat add chunks of butter whisking all the while.

You can vary this basic sauce with all kinds of interesting things. Here is a nice one for perking up the taste buds.

—–Marinade and fish:—–

2 fresh limes or about 2 Tbs lime juice
8 (6-ounce) mahi-mahi fillets
1/2 tsp salt
1/8 tsp black pepper
1/2 cup Tequila or booze of choice
2 Tbs olive oil
2 Tbs butter

—–Orange Beurre Blanc Sauce:—–

1 cup orange juice
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 cup heavy cream
1 Tbs very finely chopped fresh
parsley leaves or 1/2 Tbs dried
4 Tbs (1/2 stick) butter, cut into 4 pieces

—–Marinade and fish:—–

You can use lemon juice in the place of the lime if you prefer. Either juice a couple of limes or just use lime juice from a bottle. Mix with the booze of your choice. Lime and tequila is sort of traditional for an Island sort of flavor. You want to use a fairly delicate fish like mahi-mahi, which used to be called dolphon before all the political correctness got out of hand. Tilapia or any other mild flavored fish will do well. Anyway, soak the fish in the marinade in the refrigerator for a couple of hours.

—–Orange Beurre Blanc Sauce:—–

About 1/2 hour before you are ready to eat start the beurre blanc. Combine the orange juice and the wine (or white vermouth) in a heavy pan and reduce over high heat, whisking often, until the volume is reduced by half. If you use dried parsley add it in here. Add in the heavy cream and bring up to a low simmer. Whisk often as it reduces and thickens. Whisk in the parsley and set aside while you do the fish. Keep it warm but not hot.

Heat oil and butter until the butter sizzles and begins to color. Sear the fish on one side for about 3 minutes (skin side first if not skinless), turn and sear the other side for about 2 minutes. If the fish is not done turn down the heat and cook gently until done. Set aside while you finish the sauce.

If necessary heat the sauce until it will melt butter. Off heat whisk in the butter one tablespoon at a time. Return to heat briefly as necessary to incorporate all the butter. Too cool and you can’t get the butter to melt and incorporate. Too hot and it will separate. Keep in between the two extremes and your sauce will be wonderful.

Spoon the sauce all fish and serve while it is hot.

The Best Hamburger You Will Ever Eat

6 October 09

Or – as the French call it – Biftek Haché à la Lyonnaise. This is from Julia Child’s seminal book The Art of French Cooking. As I may (or may not) have said at some point or other – if you can only have one cookbook, this should be it. Even if you don’t think that you want to learn French cooking Julia will teach you more about food and cooking in general than any other cookbook in the world. It is not that the French don’t eat burger biggies, they do. And they do a much nicer job than the charred lumps that you are used to having.

For beginners – get cheap ground meat. I know that sounds contrary to what you may have thought that you knew – but trust me. Get ground chuck or neck (or grind you own) with no added fat! The leanest that you can find. We will carefully introduce exactly the quantity fat that we want in the flavor.

You will notice that I differentiate the butter into A, B, C, D. That is so you know which butter (and quantity) I am talking about. Somewhere or other I read a description of French cooking that went thusly:

  1. Do Something. Add Butter.
  2. Add Butter. Do something.

Seems reasonable to me.

—–Burger—–

3/4 cup finely minced yellow onions
2 Tbs Butter – A
1-1/2 lbs lean, ground beef
2 Tbs softened butter – B
1 tsp kosher salt
1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
1/8 tsp Thyme
1 Egg

—–Cooking—–

1/2 cup flour on a plate
1 Tbs Butter – C
1 Tbs olive oil

—–Sauce—–

1/2 cup dry white vermouth
2 Tbs softened butter – D

—– Burger —–

Mince the onion pretty fine. If you use a processor be careful not to go to a mush. As far as the onions go – a strong flavor is not a negative here. Cook the onions on low heat in butter – A for about 10 minutes until translucent but not brown. Mix together the onions, beef, butter – B, salt, pepper, thyme, and egg with a wooden spoon until blended thoroughly. Use some elbow grease. You may have heard that business about not mixing hamburger much, but that does not hold here – get it well mixed. Correct the seasoning to your taste. You want to wind up with patties about 3/4” thick. The easiest way to get there is to measure out 1/4 lb. patties on a good scale and then take a cutting ring about 3” or so and just pat down meat to a thickness of 3/4”. Adjust the size of the ring up or down so that you get nice round 3/4” thick burgers;. Cover with waxed paper and refrigerate until you are ready for action. You do want to do this ahead of time so that you can get the burgers rather cool. It makes them easier to handle.

—– Cooking —–

When you are ready then take a plate and put the flour in it and dredge both sides of the burger biggie carefully. Heat up butter – C and olive oil in a good cast iron or other heavy skillet, and set on medium high heat. When the butter just starts to turn golden put in the burgers. Now then, what you are looking for is a good sear to seal in the juices, but low enough so that you don’t wind up with burned shoe leather. Go for about 3 minutes a side on the highest heat you can get without burning and you should wind up about medium rare. Adjust the time up or down to suit your taste. If you are afraid of the meat then cook to shoe leather with some other method. Don’t waste this effort on something that is disgusting. Besides – if you are afraid of the meat, why eat it anyway? Set the burgers aside on a warming plate while you play with this wonderful sauce.

—– Sauce —–

Pour the fat out of the skillet, being careful to keep the brown goodies. Add the liquid and boil it down rapidly while stirring with a whisk. Reduce down to a pretty thick almost syrup consistency. Remove the skillet from the heat and blend in the butter – D a bit at a time, whisking constantly. If necessary return the skillet to the heat for a short while. If you do it right the butter will blend in completely forming a wonderfully smooth and flavorful sauce. Pour it over the burgers. Garnish with whatever suites.

Alternates: (But I gave the best in the base!)

For the butter – B in the burger you can substitute beef suet, beef marrow, or pork fat. Mostly you can’t get this stuff in the grocery, but if you have a source – try them.

For the cayenne in the burger you can use any other pepper that you like.

For the vermouth in the sauce you can use beef stock, beef bouillon, or red wine.

Garnish at the end. Try a few more leaves of thyme or some parsley.

The first time through with this don’t do the American thing with the bun. Just enjoy as-is with a simple salad and/or some fresh veggies and maybe some good French bread and butter. After you know what this delicacy is like do as you please. I will bet that you will want it without all the disguising that American burgers need to be palatable.


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