Sunday, April 29, 2012

FoodBuzz 24 x 24 "Paris in April"

There is one place that makes me sigh every time I think about it...


I've been twice.  It was love at first sight.  The photo above was a cafe down the street from the apartment we rented on our second trip with my oldest son who is now twelve.
Though it's now been over a decade since my last trip, I can still remember every sight, sound and smell like it was yesterday.

I've thought about doing a fabulous bistro meal the way I remembered it for years, and when my blog publisher sponsor, Foodbuzz, offered a generous stipend to produce this over the top idea and cover it for my blog, I jumped at the chance.

"April in Paris" is the quintessential song on the soundtrack of any movie set in Paris, but obviously with Northern California being a little short geographically of being in Paris, "Paris in April" became my theme..

Though all of the husbands were jealous, we decided this was a girlfriends only event.

In spite of this, my sweet husband agreed to help me.  We both loved celebrating Paris, and honoring my friends, by serving them and letting them experience all we have on our trips.

I have to admit, I haven't seen the Louvre (except for some pieces in a pass-through tunnel underneath) nor any other museums in the City of Lights, but I have had many food experiences. Talk to any food person and you will hear the same thing..."Paris all about the food".  But among them all, the standout experiences were the ones where it was a neighborhood spot and we were the only English speakers.  (Our very limited French allowed us to get tables in off-the-beaten path places.)

More a neighborhood spot, than a gastronomic paradise, a bistro is about as simple, yet as wonderful as you can get. To recreate this experience, I chose to concentrate on that simplicity and use that to develop our menu and setting.

We chose our backyard daytime event, over a candlelit indoor evening, to mimic the outdoor cafe that is common, even in the winter, in Paris. 
By the way, we chose restaurants on both of our trips by looking for dogs in the restaurants. Locals take their very well behaved dogs everywhere including restaurants, so if we saw dogs laying quietly by the tables we knew it was legit, not touristy. Our dog, Jake, complied by playing his part at our bistro recreation.

Bistro cuisine is the not the food that you would order on a breakneck speed hit-as-many-three star restaurants-as-you-can kind of trip.  This is the food you would order as someone who is meeting friends for a simple supper or Saturday lunch.  No fancy sauces or presentations that are so commonly associated with French cuisine. Starters are many times served family style or set out on a sideboard for diners to partake of at their leisure.  We followed suit.

Le Menu

Food Notes:  I kept my Cook What You've Got approach by using seasonal produce and what I had on hand to amp it up.  Even with the cheeses, I honored the idea of French cheeses - see the cheese plate below - while supporting local farms and producers who make very smiliar cheeses. The only real exception is the paté since ground pork and ham aren't normally on The List but everything else in the recipe I typically keep around.(Although I will probably try it with ground turkey sometime, which is on The List). 

 Kir Royale - Champagne with a splash of Creme de Cassis

Vichysoisse - Potato Leek Soups served cold and
blended until silky smooth with a little cream to enrich
Radishes with Basil Lemon Handshaken Butter and Grey Salt - See Recipe below.
Pâté de Campagne - Not typically a big charcuterie person, I enjoyed this as it was a pleasant balance of flavors with none of the more typical strong liver flavor.  It's like training wheels for the real thing.
Mushroom Omelets with Beet & Goat Cheese Salad  - See Below
L'Assiette de Fromage - Cheese Plate (French Equivalents)
Point Reyes Blue Cheese (Roquefort), Rouge et Noir Brie (Ummmm, Brie!)
and Vella Dry Jack (Comté) drizzled with honey and freshly ground black pepper.
Finished off with Quince paste and locally grown and very fresh walnuts.
Meyer Lemon Scented Creme Brulee with Farmstand Strawberry Sauce - See recipe below.
Espresso with chocolates - This is how it's done in Paris.  Never coffee with dessert.  It's intended to be a digestif and preferably with no milk. And there's always a tiny little treat along side.



Radishes with Basil Lemon Handshaken Butter
I had just purchased a basil plant that needed to be replanted and trimmed to get the growth going.  I had a handful of leaves so I chopped them up with meyer lemon zest from my tree and added both along with kosher salt to heavy cream.  Twenty to thirty minutes of shaking later, we had very thick and creamy butter the consistency of whipped softened butter.

After draining briefly, I packed it into a silicone ice cube mold to make the little buttons of butter.
Serve with coarse grey sea salt for a very fresh, very Spring seasonal amuse bouche or snack.

Mushroom Omelets with Beet & Goat Cheese Salad
Again, no real recipe here.  We just whisked up eggs and cooked them like crepes - 1/4 cup of batter or so at a time rolling the pan to make a thin sheet.  Cook for a few seconds and flip, then they're done.  Mushrooms were sauteed with onions, garlic and fresh thyme then finished with 1/4 cup of cream.  Folded into omelets.

The salad is simply roasted beets, mixed greens and crumbles of goat cheese tossed with a simple vinaigrette of shallots, lemon juice, dijon mustard and olive oil.  (3:1 ratio of oil to lemon juice.)

Meyer Lemon Creme Brulee with Farmstand Strawberry Sauce 
Every year I wait and wait for the strawberry stand to open in April.  Finally two weeks ago I saw the familiar hand-painted strawberry sign signaling they were open.  They are super red all the way through and fragrant just like they should be!

2 cups heavy cream
5 egg yolks
1/2 cup sugar plus 3 tbsp for sprinkling
Zest of 1 lemon

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Place 6 1/2-cup ramekins into a 9 x 13 pan.  Have a pot of boiling water standing by.

Whisk all ingredients together well until sugar is dissolved.  Keeping the ramekins in the 9 x 13 pan, divide the custard among the ramekins. Place the pan into the oven then pour the boiling water into the pan until it's halfway up the sides of the ramekins.

Bake for 35-45 minutes or until the middles are just set.  Remove from the oven and cool in the water bath.  Drain the water and dry off the water from the bottoms of the ramekins.  Return the ramekins to the pan and cover with foil or plastic wrap. Chill for at least 8 hours and up to 2 days.

When ready to serve, sprinkle each with 1 tablespoon of sugar and then using a blowtorch (or place under a broiler), caramelize the sugar on top.  Let cool to harden the sugar then serve with the sauce. 

Strawberry Sauce:
1 pint very ripe strawberries (preferably from a nearby farm)
1/4 cup powdered sugar
juice from 1/2 lemon

Blend all the ingredients together and then strain through a fine mesh strainer into a bowl to store. 

Print Page Copyright 2012 Christi Flaherty, Cook What You've Got

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Asparagus Two Ways

This is a two-fer in the recipe department, so hang on.

Roasted Proscuitto Wrapped Asparagus AND Roasted Mushroom & Asparagus Risotto

Here's how it goes, no real recipe here: I am a little strange in that I like prosciutto cooked so I wrap the prosciutto around the asparagus prior to roasting it at 375 degrees for 8-10 minutes. Let it cool for a minute and generously grind pepper on it.

Since we all are tightening our financial belts, I would say for a bunch of asparagus, you can ask the deli to give you 4-5 extra thin slices and then cut them into quarters. You can also use German Black Forest prosciutto which is more smoky and salty than Prosciutto di Parma which is what most delis will have. The German is a little less pricey, but still around $15 a pound. I only generally use about 2-3 ounces at a time and it certainly isn't an everyday thing.

You will find the salty prosciutto perfectly seasons the asparagus making it a fantastic opener with a glass of white wine or champagne. It's a great seasonal addition to a cocktail party since the roasting makes the prosciutto lean and less messy. It's also a great way to get kids to eat asparagus if they are into pork fat like mine are. (I fought the pork for awhile, but finally decided to go with nitrate/nitrite -free, naturally raised pork and use it judiciously so I could feel good about it.)

So back to the topic at hand...Risotto. After a hike with the boys after school yesterday, we were talking through dinner options. Pizza pasta came up in the conversation, then BBQ'd chicken, but the winning submission was Risotto.

You might be thinking - What? Isn't that a weekend thing when you've got more time? Actually, it's all about prepping and stirring then you have a pantry-friendly canvas for a multitude of seasonal meals. The technique is the same. Garlic and onion, boxes of chicken broth and rice and a little white wine are the basics, then add the veggies that you have or are available at the time. Fall - mushrooms and greens. Winter - roasted butternut squash and sage. Summer - grilled zucchini and basil. Spring - Prosciutto and fresh peas or Asparagus and mushroom as I did. I apologize for the repeat in ingredients. I don't know why I'm on this kick with this particular combo, but it's here again, sorry. Leave out the mushrooms and add lemon zest at the end if you like to create an even lighter, Springier version. I would have done it this way if I hadn't had mushrooms that were on their last leg.

Asparagus (and Mushroom) Risotto
Tip: Read through the entire recipe to find out how to shift from weekend to weeknight risotto.

5 sprigs fresh thyme
6-8 cups chicken stock
3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
8 oz cremini mushrooms (or wild mushrooms if you have them locally), sliced, optional
1 yellow onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon butter
1 cup dry white wine (pinot grigio or sauvignon blanc)
2 cups arborio or canaroli (traditional rice used) rice
1 bunch asparagus, woody ends snapped off, cut into 1/2" pieces, tips cut off and reserved
1 cup parmigiana reggiano or grano padano cheese, shredded
zest of 2 lemons (if not using mushrooms)
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Combine thyme and chicken stock in a medium saucepan and bring to a simmer. Turn to low.

Skip this step if not using mushrooms. In a 10" or bigger skillet with high sides, saute mushrooms in 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Generously salt the mushrooms and toss around to make into as close to a single layer as possible. Do not touch them for 5 minutes or until you start smelling roasted mushrooms. Lightly toss them again to turn as many as possible and return to a single layer. Cook for another 5 minutes or until the mushrooms are evenly browned and have lost most of their moisture. Remove from pan and set aside.

Add remaining olive oil and butter to same pan. Saute onion and garlic until tender. Add rice and toss to coat with oil and butter. Stir and toss rice until it is lightly browned then add wine. Stir until all wine is absorbed. Add about 2 cups (4 ladles full) of chicken broth to pan and stir until it is almost completely absorbed. Add another cup (2 ladles full) of broth and stir until it's absorbed. Keep adding broth, a cup at a time, and stirring for another 15-20 minutes. (I usually have a book and/or a glass of wine handy for this process. That is of course if I don't have someone standing in the kitchen that is in need of a good chat. If that's the case, we both have a glass of wine, chat away and take turns stirring.) When you try a bit of the rice and it feels the least bit crunchy in the middle you're about 5 minutes away. Add the asparagus (or other raw veg) at this point to make sure it cooks but remains crunchy. After the final addition of broth, add the mushrooms back in along with the shredded cheese and a good grinding of black pepper. Stir well and serve.

Weeknight option: Admittedly this is a bit much for a Wednesday so here's a shortcut (unless you have a friend around and you need a good chat then stick to the original.) The majority of the cooking is done in the oven so you have time to take a hot bath and read a book, or for those that are living in reality, time to put in a load of laundry, bathe the kids, do the dishes, pay the bills and read your kids a book. Disclaimer: I haven't actually tried it but Martha Stewart says it works so it must, right??**

Here goes...Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Use an oven proof dutch oven or very large saucepan. After the wine is absorbed, add 6 cups of the stock. Bring to a boil, cover and place in the oven. Let cook for 20 minutes. Bring remaining broth to a simmer in a small saucepan and keep over low heat while the risotto is cooking in the oven. Add asparagus and cover again for 5 more minutes. Remove from oven and add 3/4 cup broth (or more so it has a creamy texture), cheese and mushrooms. Season with black pepper and serve.

**Just so you know, my tongue is and will always be firmly planted in my cheek on any Martha reference.

Print Page Copyright 2011 Christi Flaherty, Cook What You've Got

Monday, April 23, 2012

Ten Things to Do with Kale (Kale Pesto included)

I had to capture at least a bit of the color that occurred within all the green!
Earth Day. April. The one day in the one month that suddenly everyone is thinking "Green".  My veggie box was a celebration of Earth Day and Green.  The entire box was green. 
  • Beets (with Greens)
  • Red Russian Kale
  • Spinach
  • Collards
  • Braising Mix (Bag of baby greens, not the lettuce-y kind, the braising kind)
  • Asparagus
  • Spring Onions (AKA Green Onions)
  • Cilantro
  • Oh, and not picture, carrots (with their Greens attached)

Bleary-eyed and in my Sunday veg-out-getting-ready-to-start-a-new-week mode, I flipped on a DVRed "Iron Chef". The profile on the challenging chef, Madison Cowan-from homeless in Manhattan to a successful chef with a food production company-is what makes good TV so I tuned in and I'm glad I did.

Secret Ingredient:   KALE!  Every form and colors.

Having been absent from the kitchen for 4 days due to a very busy food-and-wine event filled weekend, I remembered my Very Green Earth Day Friendly veggie drawer.  44 minutes later (thanks to DVR and FF button), I was filled with ideas (and my memory was "jogged"for things I've done in the past) for how to dispatch these greens!

For those new to using seasonal veggies, greens in general are interchangeable for the most part.  Some preparations won't work on all, such as the Kale chips.  Spinach or beet greens just wouldn't work the same, but other than that, you can switch them all out. Beet greens are sometimes called the "Farmer's Green" since most people discard them (except Farmers and others like you, now, who are in the know).  Beet greens, turnip greens, chard, radish greens, spinach.  They all cook the same...FAST and they can be served raw.  Kale is a bit firmer (but can be massaged with salt and lemon juice into submission for a salad or slaw) and Collards are the most firm requiring a bit more cooking time, but can also serve as wraps (LIKE THESE! from Peas and Thank You).

10 Things to do with Kale
(At least pretend you are as excited as I was...)

Print Page Copyright 2012 Christi Flaherty, Cook What You've Got

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Weekly Menus Plus Quinoa Tabbouleh & Grass-Fed Kofta Kebabs

Okay, this was supposed to be out on Thursday. My life has been topsy turvy first with sick kids for a week then with a short recovery week (only a 4 day school week) before Spring Break.  But I still want you to see how my menu process goes each week anyway. This week's Last week's veggie box:
  • Murcott Tangerines
  • Spring Onions (More ideas for these, click here...)
  • Leeks
  • Asparagus
  • Carrots
  • Parsley
  • Mei Qing Choi (Baby Bok Choy)
Other Seasonal produce in my fridge:
  • Spinach
  • Strawberries
  • Mixed Greens
  • Fennel
  • Campari tomatoes (found a great deal I couldn't pass up.  They are never refrigerated, pesticide free and are still on the vine, so even though they aren't really in season, I cheated a little and bought them.)
  • Baby Persian Cucumbers (farmers market find and so cute!)
  • Radishes
With grass-fed beef in my freezer, I was headed in the burger route, but then I saw that parsley and spring onions were in the box and decided to go a Middle Eastern route instead.  So that was the start of my menu planning, but here's the rest with the Kofta recipe following:
  1. Kofta Kebabs with Quinoa Tabbouleh, recipe follows
  2. Asparagus and Leek Frittata with Strawberry and Spinach Salad Use this recipe for the salad subbing strawberries and feta for the citrus and salmon.
  3. Grilled Baby Bok Choy and Chicken Satays
  4. Shrimp and Lemon Pesto Pasta -used spring onions as part of the pesto
  5. Grilled Salade Nicoise - Typically made from canned tuna, I found Ahi tuna on a great deal so will use that, but canned tuna is perfectly fine.  The dressing is made out of 2 tbsp lemon juice, 4 tbsp olive oil, zest from lemon, salt and pepper to taste. (Lower fat version, you can sub 3 tbsp greek yogurt for 3 tbsp olive oil.) Then I'm arranging fennel, radishes, olives, cucumbers and hard-boiled Easter eggs---since we have a million!--- alongside the tuna over mixed greens.
  6. Wild Card Night - This is usually Wednesday night before my veggie box comes on Thursday morning so I make a soup, pasta, salad, rice or egg dish using whatever I find left in my fridge from the week.
Kofta Kebabs with Quinoa Tabbouleh
8 wooden skewers soaked for at least 30 minutes in warm water
2 cups cooked quinoa (This recipe makes perfect, fluffy quinoa!)
5 cloves garlic, minced, divided
1 bunch parsley, finely chopped, divided (can use a mixture of parsley, cilantro, mint or any one of the three)
1/2 chopped scallion (spring onions)
1 cup chopped fresh tomatoes or jarred roasted red peppers (If you don't have awesome tomatoes around, definitely use roasted red pepper for color or just leave it out. This salad is really all about the green herbs.)
2 tsp sea salt
2 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup crumbled feta
3 cups shredded lettuce, mixed greens or spinach for serving
1 lb grass-fed ground beef, bison or lamb
1/2 very finely chopped onion
1/2 tsp cayenne
1 tsp each, cinnamon, ground coriander, ground cardamom, oregano
1 1/2 tsp salt
lots of cracked black pepper

Mix the quinoa, 1 tsp of the minced garlic, 2/3 of the parsley, scallion and tomatoes or peppers in a medium bowl.  Mix in the salt, lemon juice and oil. Fold in the cheese and set aside to marinate.

Preheat grill.

In a large bowl, mix the ground beef, remaining garlic, parsley, onion, spices, salt and pepper.  Divide into 8 equal pieces and form around the skewers as shown in the picture to make football-shaped kebabs.  Grill, turning every 2-3 minutes to evenly brown and cook through.

Place a large handful of lettuce on each plate and top with one quarter of the quinoa.  Arrange two kebabs over the top and serve.

Print Page Copyright 2012 Christi Flaherty, Cook What You've Got

Copyright 2012 TablaVie Personal Chef Service

All photos and recipes may not be used without express permission from Christi Flaherty, owner and creator of Cook What You've Got Concept and blog.
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