Starting a Souffle Revolution at Home
The last time I ordered a souffle in a restaurant, or even saw one on a menu, was at Tour D’Argent in Paris, New Year’s Eve, 1992. It was a simple and elegant vanilla souffle, dotted with crunchy, fragrant vanilla pod seeds, arriving at the table all beautiful and steaming hot; a perfectly crafted crown of Gaul glory. The server gently crushed its top to ladle in a silky, warm creme anglaise. It was heaven. A moment I will never forget. Kind of like 1992, which was a magical year for me, all tucked away at Le Cordon Bleu, cooking and learning French cooking by day, absorbing every inch of Paris and France when I wasn’t cooking.
Since then, I haven’t seen them much in restaurants and have often wondered why. They are not expensive to make, are easily prepped and compiled at the last minute, and when well done (they are easier to make than you may think), are utterly impressive and utterly delicious. Any chefs dream dish. Perhaps it’s time to start a new French Revolution in our own home kitchens? That’s what I’ve been doing and the purpose of this post is to remind you how easy and rewarding it is to do the same in your own.
As a prologue to that, I thought I’d share some thoughts from the heroine in the culinary romance novel (hopefully series) I’m working on. She’s a chef and sees several parallels between souffles and her own life:
A Page from Today’s Journal – Prudence Sass
….”The way a souffle turns out, all depends on how it’s handled. The first step is to separate the yolk from the white, or put another way, separate the baby from its embryo. There are lots of important, pesky little things to do along the way (temperature, clean hands, clean bowls, etc.), but the most important of all is the act of denaturing the egg whites to make them stable, airy, and strong. Indeed, to create a beautiful souffle, the natural qualities of the egg white proteins must be altered or destroyed altogether. And, to do that, you beat the hell out of them and fold them ever so gently back into their other half, the yolks, which have been similarly beaten into a ribbon. Then, you pop it into the oven, cross your fingers, and hope it turns out all right. It is comforting to know that older eggs make the most stable souffles and that souffle, a very pretty French word (pronounced soof-lay) literally means ‘to blow’.”
Prudence is basically right about all that. But, to refresh my own souffle thoughts and skills, I spent some time with Greg Patent’s marvelous The French Cook Souffle’s Cookbook (Gibbs Smith, 2014), which is part of The French Cook series I also contributed to (Sauces, Soups & Stews, and Cream Puffs & Eclairs). Greg is a souffle master and his book is written with tender loving care and magnificently described technique, especially in the front of the book where he discusses all matters souffle (sweet and savory) in detail. Because a friend requested a savory cheese souffle for a cooking class I was planning for her husband, herself and some of their friends, I sharpened up my skills using his cheese souffle recipe. Like Prudence, I was crossing my fingers until the very end, but in following Patent’s directions to the letter (except for making the bechamel base ahead and bringing to room temperature before folding in the egg whites) it turned out perfectly.
Classic Cheese Souffle
(from The French Cook Souffles by Greg Patent, Gibbs Smith Publisher)
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus more for mold
2 tablespoons finely grated Parmesan cheese, for mold
1 cup whole milk, plus 1 tablespoon divided
4 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Pinch of freshly ground nutmeg
6 large eggs, separated, room temperature
Pinch of salt
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 cup (4 ounces) shredded Gruyere, Comte or P’tit Basque cheese
Adjust an oven rack to lower third position and set a baking sheet on the rack. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Butter bottom and sides of a 1- 1/2 quart, 4-inch tall charlotte mold and coat with the Parmesan.
Heat 1 cup milk in a small heavy saucepan until bubbling but not boiling; keep warm. Melt 4 tablespoons butter in a medium heavy saucepan over medium heat. Stir in the flour with a wooden spoon and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes. Remove pan from the heat and whisk in the hot milk; sauce should be smooth. Return pan to medium-high heat and bring to a boil, whisking constantly. Cook and whisk until very thick, about 2 minutes. Remove pan from heat and whisk in the salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Whisk in the egg yolks one at a time. Film the surface of the bechamel with 1 tablespoon milk.
In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the egg whites with a pinch of salt on medium speed until frothy, about 1 minute. Add cream of tartar and beat until soft peaks form. Increase speed to medium-high and continue beating until moist stiff peaks form, 1 to 2 minutes.
Stir about one-fourth of the whites into the bechamel to lighten. Gently fold in remaining whites, sprinkling in the shredded cheese as you fold. Fold until no white streaks remain. Transfer the batter into prepared mold, filling it about 3/4 inch from the top. (May be made to this point about 1 hour ahead. Cover mold with a large, upturned bowl.) Set the souffle onto the baking sheet in the oven and bake until well browned on top, puffed about 2 inches above the rim, and a wooden skewer inserted into the center comes out clean but moist, about 25 minutes. Serve immediately.
We served this with a simple salad of tender greens tossed with a simple orange and mustard vinaigrette. It was the bona fide hit of the evening. The revolutionary and unexpected winner on all counts. If you ever want to come cook with me and learn all about cooking delicious food and having a great time while you’re at it, click on this link for more details:
In the meantime, I hope you’ll check out Greg’s book and start making your own souffles. Wishing all a safe and happy Labor Day weekend.
Pork Chops, Applesauce, and my Mother and Mother-in-Law with Recipes and Such
In addition to being very near and dear to my heart, my mother (Margaret) and mother-in-law (Dori), share three things in common:
1) They were both raised in the Midwest (Kansas and Iowa, respectively).
2) They both have German ancestry.
3) The former is a good cook and the latter was (Dori passed many years ago) a great cook, but they both cooked the hell out of pork chops.
I never understood it, but I think it was born of a fear of trichinosis, as if the wheat and corn fields that surrounded their homes were threaded with diseased pork phobia genetic code. Mom, a Depression-era baby trying to feed four kids on a budget she never could forget even in good times, weekly bought those razor thin “chops” in value packs, layered them into a baking pan, seasoned with salt and pepper, and added a generous drizzle of barbecue sauce. She would then tightly wrap it with foil and bake at 350F for as long as she was sure it was done. My childhood memory wants to say at least two hours, and I’m not kidding. The result, God bless her, was flavorless shoe leather. A complete disservice to pork and not a favorite childhood food memory, though I sincerely appreciate the effort, and do to this day. Dori, meanwhile, was surrounded with gorgeous corn-fed beef and pig buying options and always brought the most gorgeous cuts. A lover of her pies and all the goodies that came from her very talented cooking skill set and kitchen, I remained ever hopeful every time she put them on the grill or in the oven. But, sadly, the trichinosis thing took over and even the most beautiful Iowa pork chop imaginable was cooked to death.
So, as I grew older and started learning more about cooking on a personal and professional level, pork chops (and all other chops) was the first thing I tackled after trying to master Dori’s pie crust. Making beautiful pork chops is not hard and there really are only a few rules to keep in mind. Begin with buying the best quality chop possible. All chops are cut from the loin that runs perpendicular to the pig’s spine. My favorite of these are the rip chops (cut from the rib portion of the loin) and the center cut pork loin with contains a T-shaped bone (as pictured here). Thick cut pork chops are about 1 1/2 – 2″ deep and usually weigh about 12 ounces, or 3/4 of a pound. Bring them to room temperature before cooking, removing from the fridge about 30 minutes before you begin. Season both sides generously with salt and pepper.
Preheat oven to 350. Using a seasoned cast iron skillet or an enamel-lined cast iron skillet or the heaviest, best quality, oven-proof saute pan you have, heat about 2 tablespoons each butter and olive oil over medium high to high heat. When sizzling, add the pork chops (leaving space, I do two at a time). Cook until golden brown and easily pulled from the pan, about 3 minutes. Repeat on the second side. Turn over again. Place in the oven, uncovered, for about 20 minutes or until a knife inserted into the center of the chop draws clear juices. The chops should be firm, but slightly pliable to the touch. (Note: If you prefer to use a meat thermometer, insert into the thickest part of the chop. You’ll want a reading no lower than 145F and no higher than 160F). I like to brush mine down lightly with barbecue sauce on both sides (I know, old habits die hard), rest on a clean plate drizzled with all the pan juices and loosely covered with foil, for about 20 minutes. The resting is one of the most important steps and not to be taken lightly. It allows the fat and juices and flavor to re-absorb into the meat where it will be waiting for your knife and fork and grumbling belly.
Pork Chops with applesauce are a common pairing for a reason – they’re smashing together. The sweetness of apples with the milky sweetness of chops are a match made in heaven especially when paired with the earthiness of sage (add that to your chop seasoning mix) and cinnamon in the applesauce. It may seem a little early to speak of apples and fall, but hints of its imminent (and always welcome to this New England girl’s soul) arrival are everywhere. Kids are going back to school, Halloween candy is in the stores, and that subtle shift of fall light has barely begun. This is a lovely recipe from one of my cookbooks, Mashed – Beyond the Potato (Gibbs Smith). Its simplicity makes it divine and it is both beautiful and healthy. Make it a day ahead and serve room temperature alongside your pork chops.
(Yields 2 1/2 cups)
Roasting apples with a bit of lemon juice and sugar ensures that all of the juices, flavor, and nutrients stay in one delicious place, and it also yields apples so tender they are nary in need of mashing. The McIntosh virtually melt on their own, while the slightly sturdier, sweet-tart Jonathan variety require a quick final mash. Perfect on its own, warm from the oven, this applesauce is lovely with a swirl of unsweetened cream over yogurt or ice cream, or as a side to pork roast and chops.
3 Jonathan apples, peeled, quartered, and cored
3 McIntosh apples, peeled, quartered, and cored
Juice of 1/2 lemon (about 2 tablespoons)
2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon kosher or sea salt
1 teaspoon real vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 400F. Toss all of the ingredients together on a rimmed baking sheet, coating evenly. Arrange in a single layer. Bake for 25 minutes, or until the apples are very soft and easily break to the touch. Remove from the oven and let rest for 10 minutes.
While still warm, place the apples and all of their juices into a manual bowl. With a hand-held masher, gently mash until the applesauce is chunky smooth. Serve warm or cold. Will store, refrigerated and covered, for several days.
Happy and delicious cooking out there, my friends. Cooler days are ahead and pork chops and applesauce season is almost here. If you’re ever in greater Charleston, SC, remember to look me up for a private personalized cooking class in my kitchen. I’ve just updated the link on this site with new details and pictures. Here’s the link:
If you’re looking for a wonderful gift for the Charleston lover in your life (and really, who isn’t one?), consider purchasing my latest cookbook, The New Charleston Chef’s Table (Globe Pequot Press, May 25, 2018) to learn more about the history and food traditions of this town, visit with 80 of her best chefs, and cook from their magnificent recipes. Available online at Amazon and major and boutique bookstores now. I can always sign one for you in person at any of my cooking classes.
Recipe and Cookbook Giveaway
Here it is already. Time to tuck away the white shorts and Keds, pull out the grill, and celebrate the symbolic final hoopla of summer – Labor Day. When I was a girl living on our bucolic Massachusetts farm, it was a weekend to look forward to. Jammed with horse riding, touch football, and lots of burgers and dogs cooked (usually over-cooked) but always cooked with love by my darling Dad. For me, too, it was infused with the anticipation of returning to school. I loved going back to that elementary school, the smell of the paper and books, the sound of a pencil writing cursive on a piece of lined paper on a hard desk, even the slightly sweet, soggy spaghetti and meat sauce in the cafeteria. I remember laying out my first day of school outfit on my bed, right down to the knee socks and polished Mary Jane’s. Those were heady days!
This Labor Day weekend has a slightly heightened sense of joy, like back in those school days. My latest cookbook, Mashed – Beyond the Potato (Gibbs Smith) will be released Tuesday. Available in bookstores near you and online, practically by the time you read this. The recipe that follows is one of my favorites, because it is packed with one of my favorite summer foods – summer squash and zucchini. Still beautiful in South Carolina this time of year, they’re reaching the end of their season elsewhere and soon will here, too. Though this dish requires just a bit more work than placing the squash on a grill, it’s a lovely do-ahead that will impress and pair with anything from a steak to barbecue.
Cheddar Two-Summer-Squash Mash
Yields 6 servings
Summer squash, slightly sweet and squeaks-in-your-teeth fresh at peak summer season, is one of my favorite summer treats. Often, I’ll saute either yellow summer squash or zucchini in a little olive oil wiht some red onion, finish it with a sprinkle of fresh basil and grated Parmesan, and call it a summer’s night. However, the two squashes marry beautifully together in this beautiful mash casserole, which resonates with the lemony freshness of thyme and squash flavor. The texture is airy and light, almost mousse-like, topped with a buttery panko bread crumb crunch. While you can substitute unseasoned traditional bread crumbs, panko celivers a crunch edge and it’s really worth having in your pantry at all times. The casserole is delicious hot, warm, or even room temperature.
2 medium zucchini, ends trimmed and cut into 1-inch (2.5-cm) dice, about 3 cups (370 g)
3 medium yellow summer squash, ends trimmed and cut into 1-inch (2.5-cm) dice, about 4 cups (495 g)
3 1/2 teaspoons kosher or sea salt, divided
1 1/2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh thyme leaves
1 cup (240 ml) whole milk sour cream
2 cups (240 g) grated mild cheddar cheese
1 small shallot, finely chopped, about 2 tablespoons
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 egg, beaten
Pinch of ground nutmeg
3 tablespoon unsalted butter, divided
1 cup panko bread crumbs or unseasoned traditional bread crumbs
Pinch of ground black pepper and kosher or sea salt
Preheat oven to 350° F (175° C).
Place the zucchini and summer squash in a medium saucepan. Pour in enough water to barely cover and add 2 teaspoons salt. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and cook, uncovered, until the squash is very tender, about 20 minutes. Drain very well in a colander, gently pressing out any excess water, and return to the pan.
Mash with a manual masher until the squash is chunky smooth. With a wooden spoon, blend in the thyme, sour cream, cheese, shallot, pepper, remaining salt, egg, and nutmeg. Pour into a medium (2-quart / 2-l) casserole that has been greased with 1 tablespoon of the butter, spreading with spoon to even the top.
Melt the remaining butter in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the panko and seasoning and toss to coat. Brown the crumbs to a golden brown, being careful to toss and avoid burning. Spread the bread crumbs evenly over the top.
Bake for 45 minutes, uncovered, or until bubbly and golden brown. Rest 10 minutes before serving and garnish with some fresh thyme sprigs. This makes a lovely meal with a green salad and fresh bread and butter. The casserole can be assembled ahead, refrigerated, and baked just before serving.
I told you what I love about Labor Day. Now’s your turn to tell me what you love about this holiday and transition from summer into fall. Favorite memories, foods, thoughts – they’re all welcome. Please leave your comment here and I’ll pick a winner on Tuesday, book release day.
I look forward to hearing from you and please have a safe, happy and delicious holiday!
The Birth of Cookbook #8
My publisher Gibbs Smith surprised me with a phone call late last September and described their vision for a cookbook featuring entirely mashed foods, a sophisticated and internationally inspired ode to perhaps the ultimate comfort food – all things mashed. Immediately, my brain flooded with the possibilities of texture and flavor plays runnning the gamut from potatoes (of course), every vegetable under the sun, legumes, fruits, even meats and eggs. I jotted them down as fast as my fingertips allowed, and before I knew it, I had an outline, a contract and a deadline – 75 tested recipes and corresponding pages within 3 months.
The holidays were just around the corner, my Dad was about to have a stroke (this unforeseen and sad part of the story ended well, thank God), and life seems to move faster with each passing year, but I didn’t hesitate to say yes, yes and yes! Saying no to virtually every social and professional invitation that came my way, I huddled closely to my stove and my assorted mashing tools until my work was done, which I wholly enjoyed. I’m happy to report that the first leg of the “Mashed” journey is joyfully complete. The pages were submitted a few short weeks ago. I’m breathing deep sighs of relief because I believe the recipes will be enjoyed around many happy tables for many years to come. My wonderful and patient editor Michelle Branson tells me the photos by photographer Alexandra DeFurio and stylist Anni Daulter are “exquisitely beautiful” (note photo below is by me) and cover design are underway now. I can’t wait to see all of the above and start the editing process. The book, simply and aptly titled “Mashed” (Gibbs Smith) will be released in early September.
The recipe that follows is one of my favorites featuring fabulous root vegetables. It’s already become a staple on my table. I have a bowl waiting for me to go with a seared peppered steak for lunch. The pretty, pale green colors recall early spring days and holidays such as Easter and St. Patrick’s day. By adding a bit more cream and stock, this turns into a beautiful, and delicious soup.
Triple Threat Celery Mash
(Yields 8 servings)
For the longest time, I thought of celery as a rather boring culinary building block. Something you put in stock or aromatic mixes to provide base flavor or fill with peanut butter for a snack, end of story. But, when living in France decades ago, I discovered celery root (or celeriac) which is the bulb that yields that stalks that yield the leaves, all of which have wonderfully distinct and varied levels of celery flavor. The crunch and the freshness of the stalks, the fluttery light aroma of the leaves, and the mysteriously, layered buttery celery essence of the root all come together in one place in this magnificent dish. Its gamey, vegetable flavor would work magic with roasted rabbit, duck, goose, or venison – making it an almost automatic annual holiday table show-stopper!
1 large celery root, rough outer skin and inner skin removed and discarded , and cut into 1-inch cubes (about 4 cups)
2 medium Russet potatoes, peeled, and cut into 1-inch cubes (about 2 cups)
2 stalks fresh celery, trimmed, cleaned and cut into 1”-lengths (Note: Reserve any fresh celery leaves for garnish)
Water to cover
1 tablespoon kosher or sea salt
1 cup heavy cream
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 teaspoon celery seed
1 teaspoon kosher or sea salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
Finely chopped fresh celery leaves for garnish
Place the prepped celery root, potatoes, and fresh celery in a medium pot. Cover generously with fresh, cold water. Add salt. Bring up to a boil over high and reduce to a simmer over medium/medium low heat. Cook, uncovered, for 30 minutes or until all ingredients are very tender when pierced with a knife or fork. Pour the potatoes, celery root, celery and water into a colander and drain well. Return to the warm cooking pot. Heat the celery/potato mixture over medium heat for 1 to 2 minutes, shaking to move around the pan and dry out the ingredients. Separately, heat the cream, butter and celery seed in the microwave or in a saucepan until warm and melted. Pour, in thirds, into the celery and potato mixture, mashing coarsely with a manual masher to combine and puree. Season with salt and pepper, tasting to adjust as needed. Serve hot, and garnish if desired with a few chopped celery leaves. (Note: The mash will store beautifully in a sealed container for up to 3 days. Reheat over water bath or microwave before serving.)
Now, I believe it’s time for lunch. As always, bon appetit!
The holidays are moving at warp speed. I hope we all will take time to sit back and enjoy the ride and the reason. Cooking is a big part of my Christmas joy, and this recipe from my new cookbook (working title Mashed, fall 2016 release), is pure pleasure to make and eat. I call it “Christmas” Guacamole because two of its main ingredients (pomegranate and citrus) are in season this time of year, and the colors are red, green and simply luscious. Even better, this recipe is made in minutes, gone in less, and ridiculously healthy at a time when most of us need more of that. Whatever holiday you celebrate this time of year, I’m wishing you all that it be beautiful and bright and full of love and delicious food.
Christmas Guacamole with Pomegranate and Orange
(Yields about 2 cups or 16 appetizer servings)
The shimmering, ruby red and jewel-like arils of winter’s pomegranate shine against the backdrop of mellow green of creamy avocado in this so-good-you-cannot-stop-eating it holiday treat. Packed with three “super” foods and magnificent, fruity flavors, it’s also nothing to feel guilty about going back for more. Make up to an hour before serving (to prevent discoloration) and serve room temperature with best quality pita chips or toast points.
2 ripe avocadoes, halved and seeded
1/2 cup fresh orange juice
2 cloves garlic, smashed and very finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon kosher or sea salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 tablespoon, best quality, fruity extra virgin olive oil
1/4 teaspoon dried (Valencia) orange peel
1/2 cup pomegranate seeds
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh parsley leaves
Scoop out the flesh from the avocado with a soup spoon and mash, with a fork or manual masher in a medium bowl with the orange juice, garlic and salt and pepper. Fold in the orange peel, pomegranate seeds and fresh parsley. Serve immediately or tightly wrap (to the surface of the guacamole) with plastic wrap and serve within the hour. Garnish with a few more pomegranate seeds and fresh parsley.
Considered a super food for its high nutrient content, pomegranate can be purchased in its whole form during the cooler months, and increasingly, already seeded or juiced. The seeds are called arils and they look like little rubies. Getting them out of their tightly-knitted pockets can be a challenge, but it’s worth the effort. An easy way to get to the fruit is to quarter the pomegranate each of the four “cores” will be revealed to peel back the bitter pith pockets and release the seeds. One pomegranate will yield one to two cups of seeds.
Bon appetit! Let me know what you think. I believe you’ll love this one. Merry, Merry, Holly.