Saturday, September 25, 2010

French Classics Day 4: Coq au Vin

Everyone loves the comforting, fattening taste of Beef Bourguignon. I personally prefer it's nearly identical twin, which is Coq au Vin. The food Gods have hardly been more kind to us. Coq au Vin is an experience to behold, with its rich, smooth sauce of wine and stock, and the beautifully moist braised chicken pieces. When making Coq au Vin, there are two choices: rustic or elegant. I prefer the "elegant" because it seems to promote the French use of herbs and vegetables, which is different than anywhere else in the world. The French use herbs only to capture their flavor and essence. Once the herb has done its deed, it is removed so as not to disrupt the smooth texture of the sauce. This is done through an "herb bouquet," which is a series of herbs tied together and wrapped in cheese cloth. Don't feel bad about throwing the herbs out, they're not being wasted. Everything they had to offer in terms of flavor has been withdrawn from them.

Something I do - that is not traditional  - is use only dark meat chicken. When you have a mix of white and dark meat, you have to do some preliminary mathematics to find out when you should place the white meat into the sauce so that everything will finish together, and since the dark meat takes longer to cook - meaning more soaking up of the sauce - it's preferable.



If you prefer beef to chicken, you can most certainly follow these directions exactly as they are and have an excellent beef bourguignon. Pretty much the same.

Ingredients:

3 Slices bacon, cut into lardons
4 Tablespoons butter plus 1 1/2 Tablespoon butter
Canola oil
15-20 button mushrooms, quartered
1 Bag frozen pearl onions, thawed
8 Chicken legs or thighs
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 carrots, roughly chopped
1 yellow onion, roughly chopped
1 Clove garlic, roughly sliced
1 Sprig fresh rosemary
4 Sprigs fresh thyme
2 bay leaves
8 Sprigs fresh parsley
2 or more Cups red wine - such as Zinfandel or Pinot Noir
1 Cup or more chicken stock - I only use Kitchen Basics
1 Large tomato, seeded, juiced, and diced
1 Tbsp. flour 

Directions:

Choose a 12 inch stainless steel fry pan with a fitting lid. Heat the pan a little over medium.

Add the mushrooms WITHOUT ANY OIL OR BUTTER. Why? The mushrooms are like a sponge and they've already got a lot of moisture in them. The goal is to draw out all the moisture they've got and evaporate it. Once that happens, you can continue to saute the mushrooms in oil. But, if you start the mushrooms with oil, they'll just soak up that oil and have a rubbery texture. You'll want to cook the mushrooms until they've shrunk tremendously in size. Once they seem to start sticking ferociously to the pan, they've released their moisture and are ready for the oil. Saute them for 5-10 minutes. Remove from the pan and set aside.

Now to the bacon. Cook in the remaining oil in the pan until the lardons are crispy and well rendered, about 10 minutes. Remove from the pan and set aside.

Add 4 Tablespoons butter to the pan and about a Tablespoon of oil and add the pearl onions. Allow them to brown over medium-high heat. Remove from the pan and set aside.

With paper towels, wipe the pan clean of butter. Add about two tablespoons of oil. Salt and pepper the chicken liberally and put in the pan - skin side down. Sear about 3 minutes on each side, or until deeply golden in color. Remove from the pan and set aside.

Add some butter and the carrots, garlic, and onions to the pan and saute until slightly soft and sweating. Turn the pan to highest heat and add all the wine. With a wooden spoon, scrape up all the brown bits from the bottom of the pan and incorporate them into the wine. Tie all the herbs together and wrap in cheese cloth. Add the chicken stock, the tomatoes, the herb bouquet, and the chicken - making sure they're covered 3/4 of the way in sauce - to the pan. Cover and allow to gently simmer for approx. 20-25 minutes.

Meanwhile, mash the remaining 1 1/2 Tbsp. butter and the flour together to create a beurre manie.

When the chicken has finished cooking, remove from the sauce and plate. Strain the sauce and discard all of the herbs and vegetables. Degrease the sauce by placing in a fat separator. Return to the pan and place over medium heat. Add the beurre manie and ferociously whisk into the sauce. Once incorporated, add the mushrooms, bacon, and pearl onions to the sauce. Cook until the sauce becomes smooth, velvety, and slightly thickened. Spoon out the bacon, mushrooms, and pearl onions, and garnish the plates with them. Spoon a generous portion of the sauce over the chicken and the garnish and serve.


  

 

Thursday, September 23, 2010

French Classics Day 3: Duck a l'Orange

Duck a l'Orange has been an immensely popular dish for many years. Cooking it, however, is anything but fun. The sauce is among the most complex and intricate of any sauce. It involves hours of work and dedication to balancing the flavors perfectly. Fun for a trained saucier, not for me. Also, the duck is traditionally roasted whole, which is always a gamble. Roasting a duck is not like roasting a chicken. Duck has an appalling amount of fat underneath the skin that makes cooking a game of science and mathematics. How do I cook the duck long enough to render the fat, yet keep from overcooking the breast? The answer is that it's nearly impossible, especially when you consider that the French prefer the duck breast to be medium-rare.

So, what we're faced against is the task to attempt cooking the legs all the way through, cooking the breasts medium-rare, and rendering all of the fat from under the skin. There have been a hundred methods formed to get this result, none of which are satisfactory. My answer? Separate the duck and cook very much like my Duck Two-Ways recipe, with a few exceptions. The most notable exception is that I'd like to leave the skin on the duck breast. Duck a l'Orange seems like a dish that needs a wonderfully crispy skin, and I thought that with the leg and thigh out of the equation, rendering the skin of the breast might not be as complicated as roasting the whole bird. So, I set out researching thousands of methods of cooking duck breasts on their own. They all either took the skin off, as I had been doing, or left the skin on, but as a result cooked the breast all the way through. I needed a method that rendered the skin and kept the breast at a beautiful medium-rare. Well, I found that in a recipe from Cook's Illustrated. Their Pan-Seared Duck Breasts with Green Peppercorn Sauce had an almost perfect technique that was exactly what I needed for my Duck a l'Orange.

Now, the only other thing to tackle was the sauce. I needed something that tasted of orange without the long method of extracting the flavor from the orange peel. Since my recipe for Duck Two-Ways featured a gastrique, I figured I'd manipulate it to taste more like the traditional sauce. I don't have time to make a duck stock, and chicken stock doesn't seem strong enough when compared to the meaty taste of the traditional sauce, so I used beef stock instead. Gastrique is usually made with equal parts water, vinegar, and fruit, but to make the sauce more fitting, I used more beef stock than vinegar, and with the addition of orange marmalade, I had a great balance of flavors that didn't require the addition of arrowroot to thicken it.



Ingredients:

1 (5 lb) Duck, separated. See instructions here.
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 Oranges, zested and juiced
Extra virgin olive oil
3 Cloves garlic
Canola oil
1 tsp. pure orange oil
1 Shallot, minced 
1 Cup beef stock
1/4 Cup white wine vinegar
1/2 Cup orange marmalade
1 Tbsp. orange liquor
4 Sprigs thyme

Directions:

Marinate the duck pieces with salt and pepper, half the zest and all the juice, and extra virgin olive oil for one hour at room temperature. Once finished marinating, place the breasts on a rack over a plate and set aside.

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees with the rack in the middle position.

Salt and pepper the duck leg quarters and rub in half of the pure orange oil. Prick the skin with a fork and wrap the quarters in foil with the garlic and other half of the orange zest. Place in a baking dish and cook for 1 1/2 hours or until tender.

When there's about 30 minutes left of cooking time, heat a heavy bottomed skillet over medium heat for about 3 minutes. Add a little bit of canola oil. Pat the duck breasts completely dry and rub with the other half of the pure orange oil. Score the breasts by gently running a serrated knife through the skin in several cross hatches about half an inch apart. Salt and pepper them and lay in the hot oil, skin side down. Immediately turn the heat down to medium-low and cook for about 25 minutes. You'll have to babysit a little bit. Moderate your heat so that the fat that exudes into the pan maintains a constant but gentle simmer. Turn the duck breasts over and cook an additional 2-4 minutes, or until the breast is medium-rare.



Once the breasts are done, remove from the heat and allow to rest on a hot plate.

Remove the leg quarters from the oven and take out of the foil. Place in the baking dish. Raise the heat to 425 and return to the oven, cooking an additional 15 minutes.

As the legs continue to cook, place the shallot and a minced clove of garlic in the hot skillet and cook for about 45 seconds. Deglaze with the beef stock and run your spoon across the bottom of the pan to pick up any browned bits and incorporate them into the sauce. Add the vinegar, marmalade, salt and pepper, orange liquor, and the thyme. Cook, uncovered over medium heat. Thin out with more beef stock if needed.

When the legs quarters are done, remove from heat and separate the legs from the thighs. Cut the breasts in half. Strain the gastrique in a fine mesh sieve, forcing as much through as you can. On a platter, pour half of the sauce and top with the duck pieces. Cover the duck pieces with more sauce and decorate with orange slices.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

French Classics: Floating Islands

Floating Islands is really a combination of two great dessert recipes that everybody should learn. The first is creme anglaise - beautiful, rich, smooth custard sauce made up of milk, eggs, and sugar. The second is meringue, which is - as everyone should know - egg whites beaten with sugar to form stiff, shining peaks. I believe that both of these are very important for the home cook to learn how to do and, although they have rules, they are not difficult. I've got a list of rules for working with the egg on my flan recipe that you can read by clicking here. It's important to note that the yolks are going to be worked with quite a lot in this particular recipe, so ignore rule number 2.

So, how are we combining these recipes you ask? Well, it's simple. We make little islands of meringue and float them on top of the creme anglaise and drizzle with beautiful dulce de leche. I like to serve it warm, but you can serve it cold if you'd like.

Something really amazing about this dessert is how terribly inexpensive it is! It's awesome! You should have every single ingredient on hand. Really, I bet you do. But, when displayed so dramatically, people will be intrigued and mystified by the dish, even though it really took only fifteen minutes to make from a bunch of stuff you had in your cupboard. Welcome to the joys of French cooking.



Ingredients:

6 eggs - separated
1 1/2 Cups hot milk
1/2 Cup plus 1/3 Cup sugar
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1 Tbsp. dark rum - optional
1 tsp. cream of tartar
1 Can sweetened condensed milk

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Place the sweetened condensed milk in a medium, heavy-bottomed saucepan. Place over low heat. It'll cook as we make the creme anglaise and the meringue, but be sure to check on it and stir it once in a while. If you look in the picture, I had forgotten to check on my dulce de leche and it burned. I still used it, cause it was only myself and my roommates eating, and it doesn't taste terrible. But, it does look pretty hideous, so if you happen to burn it when you're doing a big event, you may want to start over.

Place the egg yolks in a medium saucepan and whisk together until combined. Add the 1/2 Cup of sugar in a slow stream, whisking constantly - like so:



Whisk until the yolks are thick enough that when you hold the whisk above the mixture, the yolks that drop off from your whisk will form a "ribbon" that holds its shape before absorbing into the rest of the yolks. Like so:



Now to our meringue: Place the egg whites in a mixing bowl - it's important that there's no bits of shell or yolk in there - and start mixing at low speed, adding the cream of tartar as you're mixing. Once it becomes very frothy, raise the speed to high and start incorporating the sugar in the same way as for the creme anglaise. Once the meringue holds stiff, shining peaks, it's ready.



Now, spray a sheet pan with cooking spray - you'll regret it if you don't - and spoon the meringue onto the sheet like you would cookies. You can make them pretty big, and don't be afraid to make them close together. They'll expand in the oven, making you think, "Oh no! They're too big now!" but they'll shrink back to their original size once removed from heat. Cook for about 8-10 minutes, or until golden brown all over. In the meantime, return to the creme anglaise.



Slowly whisk in the hot milk to the egg yolks and sugar. What we're doing is getting the eggs up to temperature. If you add the milk too fast, your eggs are going to scramble and you'll have to start over. So, remember - SLOWLY.

Now, up to now, we've been off the heat with our yolks. Place the saucepan over medium-low heat and stir continuously with a spoon, making sure to scrape the bottom and sides of the pan the entire time. When you start your mixture, it'll be very foamy, like this:



When the mixture is ready - about 8-10 minutes - the surface bubbles will have almost completely disappeared and it'll be a lemon color. At that point, remove from heat. Your meringues should be done, so remove them and allow them to cool slightly. Add the vanilla and rum to the custard and continue to stir for a couple minutes to avoid any scrambling or curdling of the yolks. Your dulce de leche should also be finished, so remove that from heat as well.

To assemble the dish, ladle the creme anglaise into a bowl and float 3 meringues on top, drizzle with the dulce de leche, and serve.






Monday, September 20, 2010

French Classics: French Onion Soup Gratinee

French Onion Soup is one of the great comfort dishes of all time. But, add in the Gratinee and it is the ULTIMATE comfort dish of all time. Seriously, what's better than soup covered in toasted bread and tons of cheese? The only thing that may make this dish unapproachable is the large amount of onion slicing you'll have to do. Go buy goggles or something and suck it up. I have the worst problem with onions. My eyes turn red and puffy and I cry like my best friend just died. If I can get through it, you can get through it, I promise. Some people may look at the amount of onions I'm putting in and think, "Woa! That's a lot of onions!" Well, the thing is that onions have so much liquid in them that as you continue to cook them, the liquid exudes and evaporates, and you'll end up with maybe 1/4 of the onions you started with.   



Ingredients:

10 Cups sliced yellow onions - yes, 10 Cups
         *10 Cups is a little more than 2 Quarts. An easy way to measure is to grab a 2 Quart mixing bowl and just keep adding the sliced onions until it's a heaping mass, rather than measuring cup by cup.
3 Tbsp. unsalted butter
2 Tbsp. canola oil
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. sugar
2 Tbsp. all-purpose flour
10 Cups beef broth (2 Quarts and 2 Cups)
1 Cup extra dry French vermouth
Freshly ground black pepper
Pinch nutmeg
1 16-inch Baguette loaf, sliced 1/4 inch thin
8-16 Ounces of grated cheese, depending on how much you like - I use Gruyere, but Swiss is a good choice

Directions:

Heat a large stockpot over medium-low heat. Add the butter and oil, onions, and salt. Cover and cook for about 20 minutes, or until softened. Stir in the sugar and saute an additional 15 minutes over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until golden brown.

Meanwhile, in a separate pan, heat the stock until just simmering.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  

Sprinkle the flour over the onions and stir. Cook for about 1-2 minutes, just to get rid of the raw flour taste. Whisk in about 3-4 ladle-fulls of the hot stock in order to incorporate the flour into the liquid. When the flour is well blended, add the rest of the stock and the extra dry French vermouth. Simmer, covered slightly, for about 25-30 minutes. Season with any additional salt, the nutmeg, and the pepper.

While the soup is simmering, lay the bread slices onto a sheet pan and toast for 25 minutes, or until lightly browned and crisp.

Re-preheat the oven to 450 degrees.

Line the bread slices into the bottom of a large casserole dish OR in individual crocks, I like to add some grated cheese to the bottom of the dish as well. Ladle in the soup. Float the remaining toast slices on the top, covering the entire dish. Generously cover the top with the grated cheese. Very carefully transfer the casserole to the oven and bake for about 20 minutes, or until the cheese is melted and browned.






Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Beer Battered Fried Green Tomatoes with Honeydew Melon and Cherry Tomato Salad

Anybody who has not eaten a green tomato needs to turn their computer off and go try one. Seriously, they're magnificent. Firm, with a nice tart taste. I've slowly worked out the kinks of my recipe for fried green tomatoes, and I've discovered the perfect batter for them! Beer batter, baby. The batter becomes so crisp and brown and crunchy and sweet and developed and amazing. I'm totally in love with this recipe. Now, you could most certainly eat these just on their own as a snack, but I prefer to make a show out of them by serving them with a cherry tomato and honeydew melon salad. Done. Super easy and yet, everybody you invite to dinner will think it is the most elegant thing in the world.



Ingredients:

Peanut oil 
3 Medium green tomatoes - make sure they're firm to the touch
1/2 Cup plus 1/2 Cup all-purpose flour
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Pinch sugar and cayenne pepper
1/2 tsp sweet paprika
About 1/2 bottle of beer
10-15 cherry tomatoes, halved
1 Thin Slice honeydew melon, finely diced
Extra virgin olive oil
Mixed greens

Directions:

Heat at least 3 inches of the peanut oil in a heavy dutch oven to 375 degrees and retain that temperature.

Slice the green tomatoes into 1/4 inch thick slices. Season with salt and pepper.

In one dish, place the 1/2 Cup flour. In another dish, mix the other 1/2 Cup flour and enough beer to make the consistency a bit heavier than heavy cream. Season the batter with salt, pepper, paprika, sugar, and cayenne. Dredge the tomato halves, one by one, in the plain flour, making sure they're completely covered and shake off any excess - this is an important step because if you don't shake off the excess, the batter is liable to falling right off the tomato - before proceeding to dredging in the batter. Again, allow any excessive batter to drip off. Re-dredge in the regular flour - why? because double dredging is awesome! - and slide the green tomatoes into the oil. Cook for 2-3 minutes, or until deeply golden brown in color. When the green tomatoes have finished cooking, lay them on a paper towel lined plate and allow to rest for a minute or two.

In the meantime, mix the cherry tomatoes and the honeydew melon and drizzle with the olive oil. Throw the mixed greens onto a plate and drizzle with the olive oil. Plate the tomatoes however you please and garnish with the cherry tomatoes and honeydew melon.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Nectarine and Blueberry Crumble with Homemade Rum-Vanilla Ice Cream

The line between crisps, crumbles, and cobblers is a thin one. But, the way I define it is this: Crumble is when a fruit mixture is topped with butter, brown sugar, and flour all crumbled together. Crisp adds oats to that mix. Cobbler has a dough, either pastry or dumplings. It may not be technically correct, who knows, but that's the way I've always come to recognize the difference between the three.

My favorite is the crumble, and you can make it with anything you want. You can make it with Apples and Cranberries during the fall, with Strawberries and Apricots in the spring, and with beautifully tart Nectarines and vibrantly colored sweet blueberries in the summer. I planned on using apples, but on entering the grocery store, I saw the most beautiful blueberries and nectarines and decided to take advantage of the last couple of weeks of summer. And, of course, you must serve this dish hot alongside your own delicious homemade ice cream. And what could make anybody happier than to add a lot of rum and vanilla to the sinful mixture of whole milk, heavy cream, and sugar. This is a great party dish that will have your guests dishing up seconds and even thirds.  



Usually in baking, I'd stress the fact that measuring each ingredient with precision is important, but this time, the fun is in throwing the ingredients together and getting your hands dirty. Remember also to add a small pinch of salt in every step. People underestimate the importance of salt in baking, but it really does bring out the natural flavors of the food.

Ingredients:

5 nectarines
8 ounces/1 Cup blueberries
1/2 Cup plus 1/4 Cup sugar
1/2 Cup light brown sugar
2 Tbsp. plus 1/3 Cup all-purpose flour
1 Stick(1/4 Pound) cold, unsalted butter, cubed
1 Orange, zested and juiced
Salt

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 365 degrees.

Boil a pot of water over high heat and add the nectarines. Blanch for one minute and refresh in a large bowl of ice water for five minutes. Remove and peel - it should come off easily after the boiling. Slice the nectarines into wedges, this may prove difficult as the pit is incredibly imperious, but the key is that the wedges don't have to look perfect. Just get it off the pit anyway you can, and throw the wedges into a large bowl. Add the zest and juice of the orange and toss together. Allow to macerate for five minutes to bring the flavors together. Add the 1/2 Cup of sugar, 2 Tbsp. flour, and a small pinch salt and toss together. Finally add the blueberries and carefully fold into the nectarines.



In a separate bowl, add the rest of the sugar, flour, the brown sugar, the butter, and a small pinch salt. With your hands - my favorite method - or with a hand mixer, crumble the butter into the sugar and flour until the size of small peas. Place in the freezer for five minutes.



In a baking dish, add the fruit mixture and top with the crumbled sugar. Place in the oven on the middle rack - be sure to place the dish onto a sheet pan as the mixture WILL ooze out - and cook for 20 minutes. Raise the heat to 425 degrees and cook an additional 15-20 minutes, or until golden brown and bubbling and oozy and delicious looking.




Homemade Rum-Vanilla Ice Cream

Ingredients:

1 Cup heavy cream
1 Cup milk
1/2 Cup sugar
1/4 tsp. pumpkin pie spice
2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
3/4 tsp. pure vanilla paste
1-2 Tbsp. rum
Pinch salt

Directions:

Mix all the ingredients, except for the vanilla paste, together in a medium bowl. Add to your ice cream maker and follow the instructions of your particular machine. As it's mixing, add the vanilla paste. Once finished, freeze the ice cream until firm, yet soft enough to handle. Serve over the hot crumble. 











Monday, September 13, 2010

Simple and Easy Cheesy Rice and Shrimp

I hadn't been grocery shopping in a while and when it came to making dinner, I looked among my freezer and storage to see if I could throw anything together. Let's see .... rice, cheese, shrimp, left over garlic aioli. Alright, I can work with this. Here's the thing. You can do anything with this recipe. You can use any rice you want, any cheese you want, any protein you want, etc. It's so easy to make this your own. If all you had on hand was arborio rice, you could make risotto and it would rock. This is the epitome of the idea of Kesler's Kitchen. You don't need a ton of ingredients or hours of slaving away in the kitchen. Limited ingredients, if they're just right together, can make a dish just as developed and incredible as a recipe that takes two days to make. Now, I'm not saying that you'll find Jesus after eating this, but its a nice, simple, comforting dish that you can easily serve to guests.



Ingredients:

1 1/2 Cups rice - I like long grain rice
1/2 Cup chicken stock - I only use Kitchen Basics
3/4 Cup water
Salt
3/4 Cup cheese - Parmesan is a great choice 
20 medium shrimp, peeled and de-veined
2 Tbsp. unsalted butter
1 Recipe garlic aioli

Directions:

Cook the rice in the chicken stock, salt, and water (change yields if necessary) according to package directions. Once finished, add the cheese and stir into the rice, off the heat.

Heat a 10 inch fry pan over medium-high heat. Add the butter to the pan and allow to foam. Once the foam begins to subside, add the shrimp and season with salt and pepper. Cook for about two minutes, or until the shrimp is incredibly pink in color.

Plate the rice and top with the shrimp AND the butter - don't forget the butter! Drizzle with the garlic aioli and serve.   


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