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!
Reflections and a Recipe: Feisty Chicken Drumstick Piperade
Some years ago, I was blessed enough not only to own a small home in a tiny village in southwestern France, I was doubly blessed to have the opportunity to visit for several months of those seven lucky years. Tucked away in the foothills of The Pyrenees and steeped in the tragic history of Le Pays Cathare, it was a tiny, pie-shaped home at the base of a crumbling old chateau in a pocket of a village called Chalabre. My French friends called it le maison du poupee, or a doll’s house. Sometimes I felt like a little doll working in it, especially working in my sliver of a kitchen with a view of rolling green hills, grazing cattle, and a tiny 16th-century church, tolling its soothing, soulful bells every hour into every day I spent there.
As much as I loved it, I would occasionally stray south of the border to neighboring Spain to buy red clay pottery, which brought me through and around Basque country. The language and dialect are unique and were foreign to my French-trained ears. Even though I couldn’t understand the language, I recognized and understood the faces of the villagers in the villages I passed through. Rows of stooped, elderly men lining short benches at the edges of cafes, sun-leathered faces and age-withered lips barely clinging to their omnipresent Gauloises cigarettes, and little old ladies clinging to well-used thatched baskets, hobbling through winding, ancient streets in floral, wrapped aprons on the way to the daily marche, all spoke to the time-worn traditions of the place.
Among other things, Basque country is home to the French Basque “piperade” (pronounced pip-errr-ahd), which derives its name from the French Gascon word for pepper, or “piper.” Traditionally, it is comprised primarily of peppers, onions and tomatoes, to mimic the red, green and white colors of the Basque flag. Because peppers have been haunting me for the past two months, both at supermarkets and farmer stands, I’ve been cooking quite a bit with them. Their diversity is growing, both in color and heat, and I enjoyed combining a bit of sweet and heat in this recipe, which is just hot enough to make you pucker, and sweet enough (with a dash of honey) to make you smile. I skipped tomatoes in this version, since I didn’t have any at home. Feel free to add one or two, coarsely chopped, after adding the chicken stock. It’s finished with a spray of fresh basil and parsley, and is as lovely served hot, as it is room temp or even cool for a picnic. Serve as is, or over rice, polenta, grits or creamy mashed potatoes.
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
6 large chicken drumsticks (about 1 1/2 pounds)
kosher or sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium onion, peeled, halved and thinly sliced
1 3/4 cups mixed color sweet, baby bell peppers (about 8 total), halved, seeded, and thinly sliced
1 large banana pepper, halved, seeded, and thinly sliced
1 large jalapeno pepper, halved, seeded, and thinly sliced
kosher or sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 large cloves garlic, peeled, smashed and very finely chopped
Juice of 1 lime, about 2 tablespoons
2/3 cup fresh squeezed orange juice
Pinch crushed red pepper flakes
1 tablespoon local or wild honey
1 1/2 cups low-sodium chicken stock
kosher or sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon each, finely chopped fresh basil and parsley
Preheat oven to 350F. Pat dry the chicken drumsticks (or substitute same size pieces of other cuts of the chicken). Heat the 2 tablespoons butter and 1 tablespoon olive oil in a 5 1/2 quart Dutch Oven (or another sturdy, oven-proof pot) over medium high. Season the chicken generously on one side with the salt and pepper and 1/2 of the oregano. When sizzling, add the chicken, seasoned side down in a single layer, in the butter and oil. Brown until golden, about four minutes. Turn the chicken, and season the uncooked side with salt and pepper and remaining oregano. Cook another 2 to 3 minutes until golden. Remove the chicken from the pan and set aside. Drain off the cooking fat. Add a fresh tablespoon of olive oil, heat over medium low. Add the onion, season lightly with salt and pepper, stir and cook until just softened, about two minutes. Add the sweet peppers, banana pepper and jalapeno, season lightly with salt and pepper, stir, and continue cooking over medium low until softened, about three minutes. Add the garlic, lime juice, orange juice and crushed red pepper flakes. Increase the heat to medium high and reduce liquids by half. Add the honey, chicken stock and return the browned chicken to the pan, in a single layer. Bring up to a boil, cover, and place the pot in the preheated oven on the middle rack. Bake for 20 minutes. Turn the chicken once. Remove the lid and return to the oven, baking another 10 minutes or until the chicken is cooked through and beginning to pull from the bone. Remove the pot from the oven and remove the chicken from the pot, reserving warm. Return the pot to the stove, and reduce the liquid by half, simmering over medium high for 6 to 8 minutes. Taste and adjust seasoning as needed. At the last minute, add the fresh basil and parsley. Return the chicken to the pot and heat through. Serve immediately or cool, refrigerate overnight, and serve the next day hot, room temperature or chilled.
Culinary Tours of Charleston hosts a wonderful Farmers Market Tour that concludes with a fabulous five course feast prepared by a local chef.
Here’s the dessert from a tour I took earlier this week – blueberry ice cream over Texas Toast French Toast with Special K crunch coating. Amazing!
For me, blueberries are a fruit laden with delicious memories of summers’ past. Hot July days of my youth were often spent picking plump, purple berries off the prolific bush on our farm and popping them directly into my greedy little mouth. Or, perhaps better yet, were our blueberry-rich annual summer trips up to Bar Harbor, Maine and Acadia National Park. Mom would arm us with little tin pails as we hiked the hills, cool, salty sea breezes on our faces, in search of plump blueberries and good, lazy summer fun that filled our days and spilled over into happy, deep dreams each evening.
All these years later, blueberries from Maine (and now peaches from South Carolina), are still the fruits of summer in my mind. These delicious eclairs, adapted from my upcoming book, The French Cook: Cream Puffs and Eclairs (Gibbes Smith, October 2013) are a beautiful way to put them to use.
Lemon Blueberry Cream Eclairs with a Chocolate Glaze
(Yields 12 to 16 standard-size éclairs)
(Photo by Alexandra Defurio)
A purée of fresh blueberries blended into a rich pastry cream give the filling for these beauties a regal purple color. The mild flavor of the berries is lightly enhanced with fresh lemon juice. Fresh, sugar-coated berries sit atop a ganache glaze to provide an enticing clue as to what’s inside. You could easily substitute the same quantity of fresh raspberries or blackberries using the same method for a color and flavor variation. Just switch out the garnish to match the corresponding berry-enriched filling. Make the pastry cream and the ganache ahead, so they can chill and set up, or borrow from a previously prepared batch.
These will chill nicely for several hours before serving. They are superb with a cold glass of Champagne or sparkling wine garnished with 3 or 4 fresh, frozen blueberries to serve as edible ice cubes.
This is basically a three-part process, that’s easy when approached as follows. First, prepare the choux and bake the eclairs. These will store wonderfully in the freezer in a plastic freezer bag for several days. The day before serving, prepare the pastry cream and ganache. Finally, the pastry cream is finished with a cooked, fresh blueberry puree, piped into the fresh eclairs, a topped with ganache and sugar coated fresh blueberries.
Master Recipe Sweet Choux Pastry
Egg wash: 1 egg yolk, splash of water, pinch of salt, blended together
Equipment needed: 2 silicon mats or parchment paper, 2 half sheet baking pans, one 12″ piping bag, #804 round pastry tip, pastry brush.
1 cup water
3/4 stick (3 ounces) unsalted butter, cold, cut into 1/2″ cubes
1/2 cup bread flour
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt or sea salt
4 large eggs (about 1 cup), room temperature, beaten together
Egg wash: 1 egg, splash of water, pinch of salt, beaten together
Preheat oven to 425°F. Line two half sheet baking pans with silicon mats or parchment paper. Prepare the pastry.
In a medium, sturdy saucepan, heat the water and butter together over medium-high heat, stirring once or twice to help the butter melt. Once melted, reduce heat to medium.
Sift together the two flours and salt together over a medium bowl. Add the sifted dry ingredients all at once to the melted water and butter mixture, and set the bowl nearby. Stir the dough vigorously with a wooden spoon to bring it together. Continue stirring, less vigorously, until the pastry pulls away from the sides of the pan and forms a uniform ball. Turn the pastry out into the reserved bowl and let sit for about 1 minute, or until the pastry is cool enough to touch comfortably with your finger for at least 10 seconds. Add half of the beaten eggs (about 1/2 cup) to the pastry. Stir vigorously with a wooden spoon until the pastry looks uniform and glossy, about 1 minute. Add half of the remaining egg mixture (about 1/4 cup) and continue to stir with a wooden spoon until the pastry is uniform and glossy, about 1 minute. Repeat with the remaining egg mixture.
Pipe the warm choux into 3″-long, 1 1/2″ wide eclair “logs.” Brush lightly with the egg wash. Bake 25 minutes. Reduce heat to 375F, rotating the sheets if necessary for even browning, and bake another 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and cool on a pastry rack. Pierce the bottom of each gently with the tip of a sharp knife three times, once near each end of the length of the éclairs and once in the center.
Master Recipe Pastry Cream
(Yields 2 1/2 cups)
This cornerstone custard filling for both cream puffs and éclairs is mildly sweet, unctuous and pale gold in color. Egg yolks and cornstarch work together to thicken the custard, while whole milk lends creamy flavor. 2 cups warm milk
6 egg yolks
1/2 cup sugar
Generous pinch of sea salt or kosher salt
3 tablespoons cornstarch
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
Heat the milk in a medium saucepan over medium heat until it reaches a very low simmer, about 3 minutes.
In a medium bowl, whisk the eggs together vigorously until they are lemony in color and thickened, about 2 minutes. Sift together the sugar, salt and cornstarch and add all at once to the eggs. Whisk vigorously for another minute. The mixture will have a glossy sheen. Very gradually at first, drizzle the warm milk into the egg mixture, whisking all the while. Add the remaining milk in thirds, whisking constantly. Strain the mixture through a China cap and return the pastry cream to the same pan used to heat the milk. Whisk vigorously over medium-low heat. The cream will start to thicken almost instantly. Continue cooking for 1 to 2 minutes, or until the cream is thick enough to hold in a spoon, like a custard or pudding. Using a spatula, guide the custard into a clean, glass bowl. Whisk in the butter and vanilla extract until combined. Cover with plastic wrap, pressing it down over the top of the cream to prevent a skin from forming. Refrigerate until chilled and set.
For the garnish:
1⁄ 2 cup Ganache/Hot Chocolate Sauce, recipe follows:
(Yield: 1 1/2 cups)
Cold or room temperature, ganache works beautifully as a glaze for sweet cream puffs and eclairs. I add a bit of salt, and vanilla and coffee extracts and salt to pump up the chocolate flavor. This stores beautifully in the refrigerator for a couple of days, covered. For a glaze, remove from the refrigerator for 15 – 20 minutes to soften it up for spreading. You will have extra left-over for another use.
1 cup heavy cream
1 cup coarsely chopped, best-quality dark bittersweet chocolate
Generous pinch sea or kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon coffee extract
In a medium sauce pan, bring the cream up to a simmer over medium high heat. Reduce the heat to low, and stir in the chopped dark chocolate. Stir until the chocolate is completely melted and the sauce is a dark, chocolate color. Off the heat, stir in the remaining ingredients. To reserve warm, store in a Thermos, serve in the next several minutes, or reheat gently over low heat. To store cold, refrigerate in a covered container for later use as a glaze or re-constituted sauce.
To finish the eclair garnish:
1⁄4 cup dampened fresh blueberries
2 tablespoons sugar
Putting it all together!
Blueberry Sauce to Finish the Pastry Cream filling :
2 cups fresh blueberries
1⁄4 cup sugar
Zest of 1 lemon
Juice of 1 lemon
3 tablespoons water
Pinch of sea salt or kosher salt
2 cups prepared, cold Pastry Cream (recipe above)
Bring the blueberries, sugar, lemon zest, lemon juice, water and salt up to a simmer over high heat in a medium sauce pan. Reduce to medium. Cook until the blueberries begin to pop and soften, stirring occasionally, a total of about 6 to 7 minutes. Using a blender or a hand-held emulsion blender, purée the mixture until very smooth. Return the mixture to the same pan, bring to a boil, and reduce to a simmer until thickened and reduced to a total of 1 cup.
Refrigerate until the mixture is thoroughly chilled.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the pastry cream with the cooled blueberry sauce (“coulis”) until smooth and blended. Using a pastry bag fitted with a #802 round pastry tip, gently pipe the filling into each of the three knife piercings on the bottom of each éclair. Using a clean fingertip, garnish the top of each with a heaping tablespoon of ganache spread out into a smooth layer over the top of the éclair. Just before garnishing, run the reserved 1 ⁄ 4 cup blueberries under water and strain well. Toss with the sugar. Garnish the top of each éclair with a horizontal string of 5 blueberries along the top, pressed gently into the ganache.
In the South, summer is as much about squeaky screen doors, slowly swaying hammocks, sweet tea and fireflies as it is about watermelon, peaches, and that perennial summer staple, ice cream.
So, with the official launch of summer yesterday, it’s time to talk ice cream. Of course, there are oodles of commercial varieties available, but it’s so easy and fun to make your own. The recipe for Salted Caramel Macadamia Ice Cream that follows (adapted from my next book, The French Cook: Eclairs and Cream Puffs – Gibbs Smith, October 2013) kicks Ben & Jerry’s straight off its Rocky Road in the pure deliciousness department.
In the book, I present it served within a cream puff and topped with hot caramel sauce (a variation on a profiterole) which is absolutely incredible. However, it’s summertime and the living is easy. Take a little baking break and serve it plain, with hot caramel sauce, or sandwich it between a best-quality commercial chocolate chip cookie, ginger snap, or dark chocolate cookie. And, when you’re eating it, be sure to give yourself license to get messy and let at least some of it drip down your chin. That’s part of summer, too. Bon appetit!
Hot Tips for Cool Ice Cream
Today’s world is filled with many first-class commercially prepared ice cream brands, but making your own is truly rewarding and simple. If you don’t own an ice cream maker, it’s worth making the purchase. My Krups basic ice cream machine cost less than $50, lasted 20 years, and made countless batches of ice cream. It is possible to make ice cream without an ice cream maker by stirring the blend with a fork every 15 minutes as it is setting up, but the results will be less creamy and less aerated. Most commercial ice cream makers designed for home kitchens use a frozen 1.5-quart container that turns while a paddle moves through the ice cream base to aid in even freezing.
Ice cream in French cooking is a frozen Crème Anglaise (see recipe to follow) for vanilla; additional flavorings can be added as outlined are in the recipes that follow. A couple of tips to keep in mind:
1. Make the Crème Anglaise the day before and refrigerate overnight before freezing. It needs to be cold when it goes into the machine to prevent crystals from forming.
2. Freeze the ice cream maker’s canister overnight, as well, for the same reasons. Shake it to test that the internal freezing agent is solid and not sloshing around. If you take these two steps, you will be rewarded with creamy, smooth ice cream in just 20 to 25 minutes.
3. Turn the prepared ice cream out into a well-chilled glass bowl or container, cover tightly, and store in the freezer until ready to use. It should store well for a week.
Recipe: Salted Caramel Macadamia Nut Ice Cream with Hot Caramel Sauce
Caramel lovers will think they’ve died and gone to France with this heady combination of caramel and crunchy macadamia nut ice cream with hot caramel sauce.
A day before freezing, prepare the Caramel Sauce (see below) and Crème Anglaise (see below). Cover and refrigerate each separately overnight.
The next day, whisk 1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon of the cooled caramel sauce and 1/4 teaspoon sea salt or kosher salt into the chilled crème anglaise base. Freeze according to package directions, adding 1/2 cup coarsely chopped, salted macadamia nuts 10 minutes into the freezing process, before the ice cream is fully set. Continue freezing until set, about 15 more minutes. Warm the prepared caramel sauce over medium-low heat. Drizzle over bowls filled with scoops of the ice cream.
Recipe: Crème Anglaise
Basic Vanilla Custard Sauce
Special equipment needed: chinois or fine strainer.
(Yield: 2 1/2 cups)
This creamy, vanilla-scented custard sauce is widely served as a dessert sauce with many classic French desserts. It also serves as a base for any and all flavored ice creams. It’s a snap to make, but needs your full attention, mild heat and constant stirring to avoid a pan full of scrambled, sweet eggs. This actually happened to me once when I was making a huge batch at Fauchon with another male apprentice. Trembling under the ever-present watch of celebrated pastry chef Pierre Herme, we were able to rescue it by getting it off the heat and through a chinois. You can do the same. If it looks like it’s starting to curdle or over-thicken, get it off the heat and through a strainer. Cool crème anglaise over a water bath of ice and water in a large bowl to get it to safe temperature and stop the cooking. It will store for several days covered and refrigerated.
1 cup whole milk
1 cup Half & Half
1 fresh vanilla bean cut in half vertically to expose seeds
4 egg yolks
1/2 cup sugar
Pinch sea or kosher salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Have a prepared ice/water bath prepared in a large bowl by adding a few cups of ice and 1 cup of water. Also, have the chinois or fine strainer nearby. In a large saucepan, heat together the milk, Half & Half, and halved vanilla bean over medium heat. Bring to a low simmer. Separately, combine the egg yolks, sugar and salt in a medium bowl and whisk vigorously until lemony and frothy, about one minute. Once the milk mixture is simmering, gradually stream it into the egg mixture, whisking the entire time, until it has all been added. Return the sauce to the same pan the milk was heated in, cooking over medium low heat. With a wooden spoon, stir constantly, reaching all edges and bottom of the pan. At first there will be froth on the top of the sauce. This will disappear after 3 minutes. Watch closely now. Keep stirring another minute or two, or until the sauce has thickened slightly and naps the back of the spoon. You will know it is done when you run your finger down the back of the spoon and get a clear strip that holds without the sauce running back over it or when it reaches 170F. Pour the sauce through the chinois into a clean bowl. Set over water bath and stir until the sauce is cooled. Stir in the remaining teaspoon of vanilla extract. Refrigerate, covered, until ready to use.
Recipe: Sauce Caramel
(Yield: 1 1/4 cup)
Making caramel sauce, basically cooked and caramelized sugar finished with cream and butter, is not difficult but it deserves attention and respect. Hot caramel is dangerously hot stuff. Keep your eyes on it at all times and prepare it when young children and pets are not around. It’s best to have everything measured and ready to go before you get started. It takes a few minutes to get there, but once the sugar starts caramelizing, it goes really fast. Your nose will know. Your kitchen will smell faintly of caramel after about 5 or 6 minutes. Once it’s a golden, nutty, toasted color, it’s time to finish it off. Like all of the sauces in this chapter, it stores beautifully in the refrigerator, covered, for several days. Heat gently over low heat to return to its warm, sauce form.
1 cup sugar
3 tablespoons water
4 tablespoons room temperature unsalted butter
1/2 cup whole cream
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
Generous pinch sea or kosher salt
In a medium, sturdy-bottomed sauce pan, stir together the sugar and water with a wooden spoon. Cook over low heat, uncovered, until the sugar granules are melted, about 2 minutes. Increase heat to medium high and allow to simmer vigorously, stirring here and there (not constantly or it might crystallize) with a wooden spoon. After 5 to 6 minutes, large bubbles will start forming at the top. This, along with a tepid caramel aroma, is your sign that the sugar is about to caramelize. Keep cooking, swishing the pan carefully, but not stirring, until the sugar turns fragrant and a nutty, caramel brown. Remove from the heat. Incorporate the butter in 4 parts, gently dropping into the pan and whisking gently to incorporate. The caramel will react when the butter hits it by bubbling up aggressively. Proceed with caution to prevent at burn. Return the pan to low heat, drizzling in the cream and whisking to incorporate. Simmer for 2 or 3 minutes, whisking to help re-incorporate any caramel that has hardened and until it becomes a thick, beautiful creamy golden sauce. Off the heat, stir in the vanilla extract and salt. Serve hot or warm.