Sassy Southern Cooking with a French Kiss

mousse

Somewhere Between Sauces and Choux

I just bought Dansko shoes for the first time in my life. Sexy they are not, but they are highly practical in the kitchen and go reasonably well with the pair of jeans I usually wear when I’m cooking, especially the sassy, oiled red shoe variety pictured below.

The perfect working kitchen shoe – Dansko.

I’ve been cooking for years. So, why now, why today? A giant of a French chef told me years ago in Fauchon’s kitchen that if I didn’t wear the right shoes and stand up straight while I prepped, I’d be crooked by the time I was forty. Maybe that was the impetus, but I think it has more to do with transition.

Some people can leap from one project to another with reckless abandon. I’m not one of them. I need time, if only a few days, to clear the decks, clear the desk, clear my brain, empty the nest, and get pumped up before starting all over again.

So, on this, the literal eve of the official beginning of my next cookbook (cookbook #6!), I’m transisting and taking the brave leap from the nuances of delicate, layered French sauces and into the puffy, stalwart realm of choux pastry. And, I’m kicking it all off with a brand new pair of red shoes.

Unlike tart pastry I manipulated in Tart Love or sauces I created for The French Book: Sauces (Gibbs Smith, March 2013), choux pastry is one tough little nut. It likes to get beat up pretty good to activate the gluten and choux pastry’s unique rising effect – aided only by this, butter and egg yolks. Nutty and savory in flavor, once cooked it can be filled with anything from whipped cream to bacon and eggs. It’s a huge sweet and savory universe all of its own and can also be formed into little balls (cream puffs) or longer tubes (eclairs).

Beautiful eclairs.

Not only delicious, these little treats are amazingly versatile. In the sauces cookbook, my primary task was to reveal the technique and versatility of sauces while adhering to the classic “recettes” for the five French mother sauces. Here, my task load is a little more free-form – to find an excellent, practical technique for making choux pastry itself, and coming up with all kinds of beautiful and delicious flavor pairings.

My head has been adrift for days and weeks with such thoughts: lemon and mascarpone and pumpkin and cream cheese on the sweet side; BLT cream puff sandwiches and French onion choux on the savory. The list goes on and on and I’m ready to have some fun and get some flour dust on my pretty new shoes. Please jump on the band wagon with me and let me know if you have any ideas you would like for me to try out. I’d love to give it a go! And, for restaurant news/review fans, I want you to know that I’m back on track with those too (after a mandatory medical delay) as we wrap up 2012 and prepare for 2013. Charleston has so much exciting and delicious restaurant news happening right now, and I can’t wait to share it with you.

In the meantime, I’m going to leave you with a recipe for fail-proof roasted chicken. It’s the perfect feast for this time year. The techniques work just as well for chicken as they do for turkey. It’s from The French Book: Sauces, with which it’s paired with a lovely mushroom sauce. Here, simply strain any pan juices, skim off any fat, and whisk together with a little Dijon mustard for a quick, delicious pan sauce.

Perfect Roasted Chicken

Roasting chicken is simple and so rewarding when done with love for the people seated at your table. Basting is really the key. Keep giving back to the chicken what it gives to you in juices. Use a sturdy roasting pan and a roasting rack to keep the chicken off the bottom of the pan. In addition to creating a safe spot for the chicken to nestle while it’s cooking, the rack enables better browning.

1 (3 to 4-pound chicken)

Sea salt or kosher salt

Freshly ground black pepper

8 sprigs fresh thyme

1 shallot halved

1 small carrot, peeled and cut into 3-inch lengths

1 small celery rib, trimmed and cut into 3-inch lengths

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, thinly sliced

For basting:

3/4 cup good-quality white wine (e.g. Sauvignon Blanc or Chardonnay)

3/4 cup chicken stock

Preheat oven to 375F. Rinse the chicken and pat dry. Trim off and discard wing tips and any excess fat from near the cavity. Season the cavity generously with salt and pepper. Fill the cavity with the thyme, shallot, carrot, and celery. Loosen the skin on the chicken breast from the flesh by slipping your index finger under the skin and gently prying it loose. Place the sliced butter under the skin of the breasts, spacing evenly.

To truss the chicken, arrange it on your work surface, back side down. Run kitchen string underneath the bottom of the spine and around the bottom of the legs. Cross the string over itself and now guide it up on both sides of the breasts, along the crease where the thighs and the breasts meet. Flip the chicken over, wrap the string around the wings, and pull tightly to form a knot. Trim off the excess string. Season the chicken generously all over with salt and pepper. Bake until the skin is a pale golden color and a skin/salt crust begins to form, about 20 minutes. Reduce heat to 350F. Combine the wine and stock and baste the chicken, starting now, every 20 to 25 minutes, or until it’s done, about 1 1/2 hours (count on about 20 minutes for every pound). Test for doneness by piercing the chicken between the leg and the breast; it is cooked when the juices run clear. Remove the chicken from the pan, cover with aluminum foil, and rest for 20 minutes.

To carve the chicken, cut the legs away from the body, and cut each into two pieces at the joint. Carve the breasts away from the carcass and cut each horizontally into two pieces.

Serve immediately. Delicious with rice, mashed potatoes, and a simple side of sauteed mushrooms or spinach. Bon appetit!

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The Perfect Holiday Tart – Beautiful, Delicious and Easy!

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to you! I’m posting this recipe from Tart Love – Sassy Savory and Sweet (Gibbs Smith, October, 2011) today because there is still plenty of time to make it and it is utterly delicious and beautiful and just dripping with the colors and flavors of the season. It’s one of my favorites from the book and I hope you’ll consider it a gift from my kitchen for your holiday table.

Super-Sexy Scuppernong and Pomegranate Tartlets

(Makes 12 individual servings)

Petite, ruby-red pomegranate seeds and clunky-looking scuppernongs may seem like strange tart-fellows. Though the former is a berry and the latter is a variety of the muscadine grape, they have much in common. Both are harvested during cool weather, both are tart-sweet, and both have a very long history. The scuppernong is the state fruit of North Carolina, where it has been harvested (as well as throughout the Southeast) for centuries. It is named after a river that runs through that lush state. The pomegranate dates back to ancient times in the Middle East, where it was grown in Asia and India, though now it is grown throughout the world.

The crunchy, pop-in-your mouth pomegranate seeds form the first layer of the filling, which is topped with a lemony, cotton-white mousse. Prepared puff pastry shells form the tart casings, while the coulis swirls around the plate in unrestrained regal splendor. All can be prepped ahead and plated at the last second, making these perfect for any occasion where elegance is on the menu. If scuppernongs are not available where you are, substitute Concord grapes or another full-flavored grape.

Super Sexy Scuppernong and Pomegranate Tartlets. Beautiful photo by Helene Dujardin.

 

Equipment Needed: Parchment paper, baking sheet

2 packages Pepperidge Farm Puff Pastry Shells (or 2 Pepperidge Farm Puff Pastry Sheets cut into rounds with 2-inch round pastry cutters)

1 egg-wash (yolk, splash water, pinch salt blended together)

Coulis

3 cups whole fresh scuppernongs, rinsed

1 cup pomegranate juice

1/2 cup water

1 cinnamon stick

2 tablespoons sugar

Mousse

1 packet Knox unflavored gelatin

1 tablespoon warm water

1 cup 2% plain Greek yogurt

Zest from one lemon

1/2 cup local honey

1 cup cold whipping cream

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Seeds from one pomegranate, for garnish

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Line the baking sheet with parchment paper and arrange the pastry shells on it, about 1 inch apart. Brush the tops (not sides!) of each lightly with egg wash. Bake about 25 minutes, until fluffy and golden. Set aside to cool when done.

To prepare the coulis, combine the scuppernongs,  pomegranate juice, water, cinnamon stick and sugar in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer. Cook, stirring occasionally, about 20 minutes, until the scuppernongs have popped and the liquid has reduced by half. Set aside to cool.

To prepare the mousse, combine the gelatin and water in a small glass or cup. Stir to dissolve. Once fully dissolved, whisk the gelatin in a medium bowl with the yogurt, zest and honey. In a separate cold bowl,  using a hand mixer or a whisk, mount the whipping cream with the vanilla. Whip until fluffy and firm. To finish the mousse, whisk one-third of the cream into the yogurt mixture. Fold the remaining cream, in two batches, into the yogurt mixture. Chill, covered, in the refrigerator. (Note: This can be made several hours in advance).

To finish the coulis, remove and discard the cinnamon stick and smash the cooled mixture with a masher or a fork to release as much flesh as possible from the scuppernongs.  Drain the mixture through a fine sieve into a small bowl, pressing with the back of a ladle to release the juices. Driscard the grape skin/seed solids. The remaining liquid is your wonderful coulis! Chill.

Now, separate the seeds from the pomegranate. To do this, cut the pomegranate into quarters. Peel the seeds away from their pulp (also called aril). Do this with patience, it takes a little time. Your goal is to separate the bitter pulp from the seeds and discard the pulp.

To assemble the tartlets, gently peel the “tops” off the baked pastry shells, along with some of the inside pastry to form a “home” for the tart filling. Place one tablespoon of pomegranate seeds in the bottom of each. Top with 2 heaping tablespoons of mousse. Serve on individual plates with a generous swirl of the coulis and a sprinkling of the pomegranate seeds. Keep cold for up to 1 hour until serving. Better yet, serve immediately.

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