May 29, 2006

Caramelized Onion Chicken

I've been no fun at all lately. Primarily because my normally all-out food-lovin' honey is forcing this twosome on a healthy eating kick that shows no signs of slowing. I don't mean to be a bad sport; I just go into crisis mode when thinking about having to only cook healthy food. Since it shouldn't be as anxiety inducing as it is, I know it's good for us to look into it. After all, it shouldn't be THAT hard for me to think of a dinner that doesn't have cheese in it somewhere. And if it doesn't have cheese, then it probably has cream. And if it doesn't have cream, it has pasta or potatoes. Damn it! I'm screwed.

Cooking Light has gotten a lot of my web-browsing time lately, since our goal is to rely more on moderation and portion control and downsize the number of dinners one can only describe as high fat alcoholic binges. Easy, no? Well, I don't consider myself an unhealthy eater, but I think we all come to a point where we feel like we've been overdoing it. Food is pleasure. If you aren't loving every bite, why are you eating it?

This turned out to be a simple and tasty way to make chicken. I served this with an arugula salad with green beans and toasted almonds. This sauce was nice with the salad, almost like a warm raspberry vinaigrette. A better title for this dish might be Chicken with Jam Sauce, but that's not very elegant.

Caramelized Onion Chicken
from Cooking Light

1 pound chicken breast tenders (I cut up whole breasts)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon olive oil
1/2 cup sliced onion
1/2 cup seedless raspberry jam (mine had seeds)
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon low-sodium soy sauce
1 teaspoon minced ginger
1/2 teaspoon dried rosemary

Sprinkle chicken with salt and pepper. Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add onion, and sauté 5 minutes until wilted. Add chicken to pan; sauté 6-8 minutes or until chicken is done. Remove onion and chicken from pan.

Add jam and remaining ingredients to pan; cook 2 minutes, stirring constantly with a whisk. Return chicken mixture to pan; cook 2-4 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Though this is a flavorful way to make chicken, I didn't notice the rosemary or the ginger at all. Next time I would sprinkle the rosemary and maybe other herbs on the chicken as it's cooking instead of at the end. Taste the sauce before serving and adjust if too sweet.

May 28, 2006

Lemon Chicken

This recipe was a New York Times recipe that I found through another blog, The Wednesday Chef. It looked so easy, and given my love of crème fraîche, I thought I would give it a go. It's one of those recipes that looks too easy to be good.

I'm a skeptic when it comes to recipes; I'll admit it. I learned it the hard way with those damn scotch eggs, not to mention many, many other recipes written with incorrect proportions or just complete lack of seasonings. Aren't we all a little skeptical, though? If you've been cooking for any reasonable amount of time, you've come across your share of bad recipes. The ones that every single reviewer says is "amazing and the BEST ever" only to look at the ingredients and feel strangely doubtful that the key is the "name brand" condensed soup. (I mean, don't even try it with the generic crap.) I suppose my skillz in the kitchen have more and more to do with how efficiently I can tackle or adjust a recipe to suit my tastes.

Then there are times when it's good to just try the recipe as written. Most often, the simpler the recipe, the harder this is for me. I don't often tamper with recipes with 20 ingredients, and if I do, I stick to logical substitutions or variations. It's when a recipe has 3 ingredients, like this Lemon Chicken, that I have qualms. doubts. uncertainties. little stomach churps that make me feel like I should know better than to fall for this. But, you know what? This time I could have relaxed because it was just delicious. Serve this chicken with some killer side dishes and you've got an impressive meal. I used chicken breasts only but next time I would use bone-in parts as the recipe suggests.
I know, I know...

Lemon Chicken
recipe from Amanda Hesser, posted in NY Times

4 bone-in chicken legs with thighs attached
1 Tbsp butter

1 Tbsp olive oil

coarse sea salt


1 lemon, zested and juiced

1/2 cup crème fraîche

Heat the butter and olive oil in an oven-proof skillet over medium high heat. Season the chicken generously with salt and pepper. Sear the chicken pieces until nicely browned on both sides. Place in a preheated 375 degree F/190 degree C oven and bake for 15 minutes or until chicken is done. (If using chicken breasts as I did, skip the oven and saut
é them in the skillet until cooked through, about 5-7 minutes per side.)

Remove the cooked chicken from the skillet and set aside. Pour off all but 1 Tbsp fat. Place the skillet back over medium heat. Deglaze the pan with the juice from the lemon, stirring to scrape up the browned bits. Let this simmer 1 minute. Stir in the crème fraîche until the sauce is smooth and warmed through. Add the chicken pieces back to the pan to coat with the sauce. Sprinkle lemon zest over each piece of chicken and serve. Yum!

Sorry, but I can't leave you without a note about the look of this dish. It's off-white with a dose of lemon. You might be like me and fighting the urge to add some herbs or something with color in there. It's sort of begging for it, no? So, not that I think it would be ruined with the addition of herbs, but there is something nice about being pale. After all, think of France's Blanquette de Veau with its white sauce, traditionally served with white rice. There is a little bit of rebellion in there and I like it.

May 24, 2006

Tuscan Bean Salad

I finally got around to trying a few of my "must-try" recipes last night. If you dared to take a look at my bookmarks, you would find a sloppy array of random recipes meant to be placed into coherent catagories at some future date. I usually remember to at least bookmark the site where I found the recipe, but it's soon forgotten in the shuffle of life. Sometimes I wonder how I stay so motivated to search for and find new recipes, when in all likelihood, I won't get around to cooking half the recipes that I find interesting. I guess that was the motivation behind this blog, though. It feels good to actually try new things.

Well, I'm very glad I got around to trying Alanna's Tuscan Bean Salad. Alanna has a great blog called A Veggie Venture. Check it out when you have some time to browse her plethora of recipes. When my vegetable consumption needs a kick in the ass, that's where I go. I also appreciate that she gives the nutritional info for her recipes and details any modifications she makes.

If you are new to Chez Megane, you could be surprised to learn that I'm a recovering salad hater. There are still more than a few nights where I find it impossible to make a salad. But, I'm making an effort. Looking back, I actually have quite a few salads here. And here, here and here. Wait...just taking one moment to pat myself on the back... I've come to terms with the fact that I need a salad with a lot of stuff in it. It has to taste like something besides greens, which is why this bean salad recipe is so perfect. It has so much flavor, color and vibrance. It's my new favorite so I hope you try it.

I used Alanna's recipe almost exactly, but substituted balsamic vinegar for the red wine vinegar, and red onion for the white. The recipe calls for oil-free dried tomatoes, but I could only find the ones jarred in oil here, so my salad wasn't quite as healthy. I did follow Alanna's suggestion of leaving out the cheese. I didn't really miss it since I was serving this as a side dish, but next time I'll add it. I enjoyed that this dressing is almost exactly the same as my standard vinaigrette. The only thing I would add next time would be some chopped fresh basil.

Tuscan Bean Salad

1/2 cup red wine vinegar (or balsamic)
1 Tbsp minced garlic
1-2 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp dijon mustard
2 Tbsp olive oil
salt and pepper

1 large (28 oz) can white beans, drained and rinsed
1/2 cup chopped sun-dried tomatoes (if dried, reconstitute in hot water)
1/2 cup chopped black olives (kalamata)
1/2 medium red onion, chopped
2/3 cup fresh mozzarella, diced
3 Tbsp chopped fresh basil, optional
maybe 2-3 cups fresh spinach, sliced into strips

Combine dressing ingredients in a salad bowl and whisk until well incorporated.

Gently mix in the beans, tomatoes, olives, onion and mozzarella. If not serving immediately, refrigerate at this point. Add the spinach and basil just before serving so they don't wilt too much.

May 22, 2006

Endives au Jambon

Endives are beautiful little entities; so delicate, so pure. They're fabulous looking and they sound quite swanky as vegetables go, especially in French. If you can find petite ones, they are especially pretty. However, other than seeing Ina Garten dollop lobster salad on individual leaves, I didn't know of too many uses for endive.

Last year, I was happy to discover a few more ways to use these beauties. Normally referred to as Belgian endive, they are subtle yet slightly bitter in flavor but are equally good raw or cooked. The separate leaves make great chip substitutes for dips. Sliced in salads, they pair well with strong flavors like blue cheese and are often combined with spicy lettuces like radicchio. Braised endives (seen above) make a great side dish and that method of cooking helps dissipate any bitterness in the endives. Braising is also the first step in this rustic dish found on many café menus, Endives au Jambon. Braised whole endives are wrapped with a slice of ham, covered with béchamel sauce and placed under the broiler. These made a delicious dinner last night!

Endives au Jambon

2 Tbsp butter
salt and pepper
1 tsp sugar
6 whole endives
6 slices good quality ham

2 Tbsp butter
2 Tbsp flour
1 1/2 cups milk
ground nutmeg
1/2 cup grated gruyere, divided

Braise the endives:
Wash off endives and dry well. Trim 1/4 inch off the bottom stem. (*Note you would normally braise them whole, but I was in a hurry and cut them in half. They cooked much faster, but fell apart a bit. It's up to you.) Melt butter in a wide skillet over medium low heat. Lay endives in one layer in the skillet. Sprinkle salt, pepper and sugar over the endive. Cover and let cook 30-40 minutes for whole endives (maybe up to an hour depending on the size!) and about 15-20 minutes for halved endives. A knife stuck easily into the core should tell you they're done. Remove from skillet.

Make the béchamel:
Melt the butter in a saucepan. Whisk in flour until a paste forms. Cook for 2 minutes. Slowly pour in the milk and turn up the heat while whisking vigorously. Bring to a boil and let thicken. Season with salt, pepper, and ground nutmeg. Whisk in 1/4 cup of grated gruyere until melted and smooth. Set aside.

awaiting the béchamel...

Assemble the gratin:
Take one whole endive, or 2 halves, and roll up in one slice of ham. Place in a buttered 8x8 baking dish. Repeat with each endive. Pour the béchamel evenly over each and sprinkle with remaining 1/4 cup of cheese. Bake in a preheated 425-450 degree F/220 degree C oven for 10-15 minutes, until heated through and slightly browned on top.

May 20, 2006

Crème Fraîche

There are many, many things that are better in France. If I start listing them, we'll be here 'til Bastille Day, so I'll just pluck one thing off the list for today. It's the oh-so-magical substance that God herself gave the French, so that, if nothing else, they can hold it over our heads. It's crème fraîche and I can't get enough of it!
Before moving to Paris, I always thought it was just fancy sour cream. I didn't especially need sour cream in my life, so I hardly bothered with it. Now I find myself lost in the kitchen without it. (Yes, I make too many dishes that require high fat dairy, sue me...) Nothing can go badly if you have it around. For those that have never been lucky enough to encounter it, it's not as tangy as sour cream; the taste and texture are smoother. I don't call it magical for nothin' -- It is naturally (yes, with germy bacteria!) thickened cream! Add it to sauces and it won't curdle when boiled. Add it to quiche/custard filling and it tastes extra rich and creamy. It can top a plate of nachos or be equally delicious in dollop-form on a slice of tarte aux fraises. Swirl it brazenly into hot soup without worrying about it breaking! Crème fraîche makes exquisite mashed potatoes, too, or it can be used in place of some of the cream for vegetables or potatoes au gratin.

For what it's worth, here are some more ideas for this versatile stuff:

Make the Alsatian specialty: Tarte Flamb
ée! When I visited Alsace last fall, I fell in love with this "almost" pizza. You can make a pretty great replica at home with a very thin pizza crust. Place on a baking sheet, spread crème fraîche thickly over the top, sprinkle with nutmeg and pepper. Top with sauteed onions and crispy cooked bacon. If you like, you can add grated gruyere cheese. Bake at 500 degrees F/250 degrees C for about 10-15 minutes. You'll be shouting "Vive l'Alsace!" I'm sure of it.

For a lovely sauce to dress some salmon fillets, stir together 1 cup crème fraîche, 1 Tbsp lemon juice, 3 Tbsp chopped fresh dill, and 4-6 diced small pickles (cornichons).

Make a quick pan sauce after you sauté chicken or pork! Deglaze the pan with white wine. Add a bit of broth. Add a spoonful of dijon mustard and some crème fraîche. Simmer and stir until smooth. Sprinkle in fresh chopped herbs.

Place small spoonfuls on top of your next frittata or stir some into your next omelet or scrambled eggs!

I adore crab cakes, although I rarely get to eat them. Skip the tartar sauce and mix together 1/2 cup crème fraîche and a few tablespoons of spicy chipotle salsa for an easy sauce to top your crab cakes. Sliced avocado should be served on the side. This is a simpler version of how my favorite restaurant crab cakes are served.

Not to be forgotten are potato pancakes, of course, with some crème fraîche and applesauce!

It's also used in this recipe for Tartiflette.

And now we've come to the part where I tell you the secret to your success! This one's going out to all the people who can't find crème fraîche at the market; you can now make it yourselves!
Crème Fraîche

1 cup whipping cream (heavy cream)

2 Tbsp buttermilk (the real stuff: not low-fat!)

Place both in a clean mason jar or glass bowl, tighten the lid and shake well. Leave it on your kitchen counter for 24 hours. It will become quite thick. After the 24 hours, keep it refrigerated. It lasts for 10 days or so.

Voila! Now go about dollop-ing
crème fraîche on everything like a true goddess.

May 17, 2006

Meatloaf! Hell Yeah!

I was pondering what to do with the ground beef sitting in the fridge and it occurred to me that I basically do about 4 things with ground beef. I make meatloaf, meatballs (for these sandwiches), chili, and taco or burrito filling. And I hardly ever vary my recipes for those things. Sure, some pizzazz is missing. The wonder and excitement? Both gone. But, c'mon! What dish is equally at home on your best china or a wilted paper plate?!? Meatloaf! Yes, the ugly cousin, the one beaten with the ugly stick, isn't so glamorous, but when all the trendy towering dishes with their zucchini ribbons and 6-inch sprigs of rosemary reaching for the sky come tumbling down, meatloaf, yes, loyal meatloaf will still be there.

With so many meatloaf recipes out there, I guess it is a shame to always make it the same old way, but there is something gratifying about perfecting a classic. I ate the standard meatloaf growing up, all ground beef with a ketchup and brown sugar glaze. My mom always used oatmeal as the filler in her meatloaf and that's the way I like mine, too. I would probably enjoy a bunch of extra veggies or chopped spinach thrown into it sometime, but I can already hear the protests from a certain someone, so I won't even go there.

Tonight, I made a barbeque meatloaf, which is just a slight variation of my usual method. It was good, but I don't think I'd do it that way all the time. Here is the recipe and also my method in general for an easy meatloaf with lots of flavor. Props to Rachael Ray for this one. The girl knows her meat and potatoes. After trying her Mini-Meatloaves with Smashed Potatoes, I haven't made one large meatloaf since. Her recipe for the gravy is also yummy! I enjoy mini meatloaves because they not only cook quickly, but I like the extra amount of crusty exterior you get with each bite! The secret is to cook them just until they are no longer pink inside and no more, just like you do for a good hamburger. Which I never make. Because every time I eat a hamburger I wish it was meatloaf.

Don't look too hard...

Meatloaf is pretty forgiving as long as you don't skimp on the seasonings. Remember to salt the meat generously. I also combine all the wet ingredients first (the egg, milk, seasonings) then add the filler (oatmeal, bread crumbs, etc) and mix well. Then I add the meat at the end and smash it all together just until combined.

Basic Meatloaf Mix

1 pound (.5 kg) ground beef (try substituting out some of the beef for ground veal or pork! It's much more flavorful!)
1 egg, beaten
3-4 Tbsp milk
1/2 cup or more, uncooked oatmeal
1 Tbsp tomato paste, or 2-3 Tbsp ketchup (I used BBQ sauce last time)
1 tsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp dried thyme
1/2 tsp paprika (nice with the BBQ version)
1 small onion, or 1/2 medium onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 tsp salt, or more
pepper to taste
chopped fresh parsley, optional

Amounts are approximate. Crack the egg in a large mixing bowl. Beat lightly with a fork. Add in the oatmeal, milk, tomato paste or ketchup, and rest of ingredients except beef. Combine well. Mix in the meat gently, until just combined with the wet ingredients. Lightly salt the meat itself as you mix it in. If you like, you can pinch off a tiny tsp of meatloaf, fry it in a pan until cooked through, to taste for seasoning. Makes 4-5 mini-meatloaves.

Stove-Top Method:

Pre-heat a wide non-stick skillet over medium high heat for a few minutes. Divide meatloaf mix into 4 sections. Form each 1/4 into an oval shape, about 1 inch thick. Add to the skillet (you should hear a sizzle) and sear them and let cook for 6 minutes on each side, turning down the heat if they start to brown too much. When you flip them to the other side, loosely tent the pan with some aluminum foil, so they cook evenly and stay moist. I find 6 minutes per side is just about perfectly done but still tender on the inside (but not pink). Remove meatloaves to a plate and cover with the foil until ready to eat.

Oven Method:

I just tried this last night and it worked very well, with a lot less work for the cook, too! Shape meatloaves as you did above and place on a baking sheet or large casserole. Bake in a preheated 350 degree F/180 degree C oven for 22-25 minutes. You can smear on a ketchup glaze over the meatloaves the last 10 minutes of cooking.

May 15, 2006

Chocolate Ganache and a Sensational Sundae

Ganache. I love that word. Chocolate ganache. It doesn't get any better. A beautiful word for the thick fudgy chocolate sauce that's so simple, yet has so many uses.

You know the perfect ice cream sundae? It's pretty awesome. All of us probably have our favorite combo of ice cream and toppings. I was personally never a fan of the sprinkles. I always wanted chocolate or vanilla ice cream with chocolate sauce. Don't even try to put any of that nasty strawberry syrup on there! Yuck. A light sprinkling of nuts or crushed cookies for a pleasant texture contrast was preferred, as was lots of whipped cream.

Well, welcome to the adult sundae with this version from Cat Cora's cookbook. I was a newcomer to the coffee-after-dinner-thing when I moved to Paris, but I must say I'm converted. Now, it's not a daily practice, but when eating out it's very nice after a heavy meal to have a little pick me up for the train home. I'm even more of a fan of coffee flavored desserts. If you aren't a fan of coffee ice cream, I would ask you to give it another try. One of the most luscious things I've ever eaten was homemade coffee ice cream covered in a mexican chocolate sauce. So, with coffee ice cream is where this sundae starts. Add heaping spoonfuls of chocolate ganache made with superior chocolate, a shot of espresso, a shot of amaretto, whipped cream and crushed amaretti voila. Does it get better than that?
Coffee Ice Cream Sundae with Rich Chocolate Ganache
recipe and picture from Cat Cora's Kitchen, she calls it "Affogato"

For ganache:
1 cup chopped premium bittersweet chocolate (I used 70%)
1/2 cup heavy cream (of a bit more if you want a thinner sauce)

Place the chopped chocolate in a large bowl. Heat heavy cream in saucepan over medium heat until it just starts to bubble, do not boil. Pour hot cream over the chocolate and whisk until all the chocolate is melted. That's it! Keep warm over a hot water bath over low heat. Reheat the next day that way, too. I used the leftover ganache to make a few chocolate dipped strawberries!

For whipped cream:
heavy cream
sugar, to taste, about 1-2 tsp for 1 cup cream

Using an electric mixer, whip cream until very thick, adding sugar gradually to taste. Set aside.

For sundae:
Coffee ice cream, purchased or homemade
1/2 cup Amaretto liquor
1/2 cup espresso or strong coffee, cooled
1/2 cup crushed amaretti cookies or gingersnaps OR roasted hazelnuts

Pour 1 Tbsp of ganache in the bottom of a tall clear glass. Add one scoop of ice cream, a few crushed cookies, and another scoop of ice cream on top. Pour 1-2 Tbsp each of espresso and amaretto over the ice cream. Top with more chocolate ganache and whipped cream. Sprinkle the crushed cookies or nuts on top. Makes 4 servings.

May 13, 2006

The Devil Strikes Again...

It looks like Walmart is now selling organic foods. My first reaction when reading about it, in this NY Times article, was this: Walmart is a dirty, dirty company and I wish they would just leave us alone already. Hey, Walmart, you're a huge company, you take advantage of your low-income customers and employees and can't you just please stop it now? I guess not.

I don't really ever buy organic foods. I should and I would like to for certain things, for sure. Perhaps when I'm back in the states I will search those products out more often, but here in France I'm just not as concerned about it. There is something kind of offputting to me when I see "ORGANIC" in huge letters splashed across a package of Macaroni and Cheese or condensed soup. I'm not going to buy those things anyway, but some people are. Many people will think that it's a lot healthier, and in America, we all know that our consumer brains will make choices on how we feel, not necessarily the truth since we don't have hours to spend at the store reading every label and sorting through all the bullshit. We don't have time to pay attention to what we eat and with advertizing being thrown in our faces everywhere we look, we're dull to it. (You might disagree, but after living abroad for a year and returning to the US, the thing that surprised me most was the amount of advertizing in my face all the time.)

From the article:
Mr. Hartman, the Seattle consultant, said organic now means different things to different people. "It's a multifaceted symbol representing everything from quality to health to ideology, and everything in between," he said. "It's something that lets people feel even better about their choices."

It strikes me as a huge contradiction that Walmart would be selling organic foods, but I suppose that now organic means "whatever we want it to mean." After a few years, the word organic will probably be as meaningless as "low carb" on a package of eggs or ground beef. But, I'm glad that people can feel better about shopping at Walmart. I used to feel so guilty when I'd go in to load up on cases of Pabst, Jack Daniels, 48 packs of Kraft dinner, 25 frozen pizzas, 10 gallons of Tide and a few apples. I'm so glad that now with those organic apples and organic Mac 'n cheese, I can walk out with pride. It won't even bother me so much when I have to look at the decrepid teenage mother of 3 working as the cashier because I know she is proud to work for a company like Walmart that makes me feel so good and responsible about my food choices. I'm sure since she can now afford to start buying organic foods from Walmart, she won't even be all that down about not having health insurance.

Anyway, it was an interesting article. Walmart will always be looking for ways to stay on top. Another article/blog I read recently about elistism in food is very interesting, too. Of course, people shop at Walmart very much by necessity and so long as healthy food (like vegetables and fresh food) are more expensive than processed packaged foods, obesity and poor health will always be a heavily low-income problem. Author Michael Pollan has really interesting things to say about the big picture; I urge you to read this!

May 6, 2006

Tarte aux Légumes

It's hard to spend a day in Paris and not have some little tarte staring at you through a shop window; tempting you with luscious shiny fruit or a savory vegetable filling layered on a nicely tanned crust. A tarte is slightly different than a quiche, if you were wondering. Usually a tarte lacks the eggy custard filling of a quiche; however I have seen the terms interchanged a lot, so perhaps it's not a hard and fast rule.

A tarte like this one is a perfect use for all those vegetables that have been hanging out in the fridge. Also, as spring produce is looking better every day now, feel free to use whatever veggies you have. Asparagus or fresh spinach would be delicious.
Think of it a bit like you would a pizza. Don't use watery toppings and pre-cook the harder vegetables before placing on the tarte. Check out this article written by author, blogger, and chocolate expert David Lebovitz on rustic tarts. He has some great recipes and thoughts.

This made a delicious light dinner accompanied with an arugula salad. It would also make a nice first course, thinly sliced and served atop a small plate of greens. If you have puff pastry that comes in a rectangular shape, you could make a few long skinny tarts and cut them in thin strips for hors d'oeuvres, or cut the puff pastry with a small circular cookie cutter for individual mini-tarts. If this was truly a Proven
çal tarte, you would likely use goat cheese, not comté, as most cheeses from Provence are made with goat's milk. This version with comte tasted wonderful, though!
Tarte aux Légumes :
çal Vegetable Tart with Comté Cheese

1 puff pastry crust (or see this cornmeal crust)
1 onion, sliced
1 red bell pepper, sliced
1/2 medium zucchini, sliced thinly
1 or 2 ripe tomatoes (on the vine), thinly sliced
1 Tbsp olive oil
1/2 tsp dried Herbs de Provence
1/3 cup grated comté or gruyère cheese, or goat cheese
fresh basil and/or fresh thyme

Sauté the onion in olive oil until soft and tender; do not let it brown too much. Season the onions with salt and the herbs de Provence. Remove to a plate and let cool a few minutes. Turn up the heat to high and add the red pepper to the pan and cook until just tender but not limp. Add the zucchini and sauté over high heat for just 1-2 minutes. Remove these vegetables to a separate plate.

Roll out the pastry crust (or place the puff pastry) on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Prick a few holes in the crust with a fork. (which I forgot to do, so my tarte had a huge bulbous edge of puffed crust...c'est rien de grave)

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees/200 degrees C. Layer the vegetables onto the crust, leaving a 2 inch space around the edge, as you would with a pizza. I layered the onions first, then red pepper, zucchini, cheese and topped it with the tomato slices. Sprinkle the chopped fresh basil and/or thyme over the tarte. Fold in the sides of the tarte, pleating them as you go around. Bake for 25-30 minutes for puff pastry and 35-45 minutes for cornmeal crust.

May 4, 2006

Lasagna...Part 2, avec Deux Parts

I have another 2 recipes for you here, bundled together with love. This past month I've made 2 different lasagnas. As you know from a previous post, it's what I make when I'm feeling only slightly creative or when I want to make something I can do without thinking too hard about it. But, it turns out that I will definitely make both of these again!

The first is a Black Bean Lasagna, a dish I had years ago in Canada at Paul's grandparent's vacation home. I remember this as being very tasty, and I think this recipe is pretty close. You know, everything tastes better when you're on vacation, especially sitting on the deck of a house built on its own island that one can only approach by boat...Heaven! Anyway, I thought I would see if I could recall it enough to make my own version.

The next lasagna is a Chicken, Spinach and Artichoke version
sans tomato sauce. Spinach and artichoke hearts being 2 of my favorite things, this lasagna lets me replicate my beloved Spinach Artichoke dip without admitting that that's what I'm really trying to do. (I'm not allowed to make this dip for us again until 2007, but I can bring it to parties where I'm not as likely to be found standing over the bowl devouring it with a spoon.)

First, the Black Bean Lasagna. (Susan, you'll have to let me know if I'm anywhere close.) This was really delicious and even better the next day. I'd suggest making the whole thing the day before, or maybe just the sauce. Don't let this not-completely mexican, not truly italian combo scare you. I promise you it's super bon.

9 no-boil lasagna noodles

1 1/2 cups ricotta cheese
1/3 cup parmasan, grated
1 egg

1/2 cup chopped cilantro/fresh coriander, divided
1 (15 oz) can crushed tomatoes (not sauce)
1 cup salsa
1 onion, chopped finely
1 red bell pepper, diced
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 tsp cumin
2 tsp chili powder
dash of Tabasco

1 can black beans, rinsed and drained
1 cup Monterey Jack cheese, mozzerella or smoked cheddar would be great
optional: 1 cup cooked spinach, thawed if using frozen

Saute the onion and red pepper over medium heat until softened. Add garlic, cumin and chili powder to the pan. Stir another 3 minutes. Add the crushed tomatoes and salsa. Let this mixture simmer 15 minutes or so. Taste the sauce and adjust the seasoning, adding hot sauce, salt or pepper as needed. Mix in the cilantro, as well.

In a medium bowl, combine the ricotta, parmesan and egg. I usually add some fresh ground pepper to this mixture, too. Set aside.

Place a thin layer of the sauce over the bottom of a small rectangular baking dish (I use something about 7x11, so adjust quantities to fit your pan). Place 3 lasagna sheets in a single layer. Cover the pasta with the ricotta mixture, sprinkle 1/2 the black beans (and/or spinach) over this, then top with a small amount of the sauce. Place 3 more lasagna sheets on top of this and repeat layers. Save enough tomato sauce to cover the top. Sprinkle Mozzerella or Monterey Jack over the top. Bake at 200 degrees C/400 degrees F for 25-30 minutes.
Next is my "not-spinach-artichoke-dip," Spinach and Artichoke Lasagna with Chicken! It's a great use for leftover chicken and fresh basil, and uses a nice amount of garlic.

Filling 1:
1 cup cooked chicken, diced
1 cup frozen chopped spinach, thawed and drained well
1 (15 oz) can artichoke hearts, chopped
2 shallots (or 1 small onion is fine), chopped
4-5 large cloves garlic, minced
1 Tbsp olive oil
1/4 cup fresh basil, chopped

Filling 2:
1 1/2 cups ricotta cheese
1 egg (sometimes I skip this; you can add a little cottage cheese, fromage blanc if you have some around to thin it out a bit)
1/2 cup parmesan, grated
1/4 cup fresh basil, chopped

Bechamel Sauce:
3 Tbsp butter
3 Tbsp flour
2 1/2 cups milk, heated on stovetop or microwave
salt and pepper
grated nutmeg
paprika, optional
1/3 cup grated parmesan, optional

Saute the shallots in the olive oil over medium heat. Add the garlic and saute 2 minutes until just starting to turn golden. Stir in the spinach, artichokes and chicken and heat through. Remove from heat.

In a small mixing bowl, combing the ricotta, egg, parmesan and chopped basil leaves. Set aside.

Melt the butter in a saucepan. Whisk in the flour until a paste forms. Cook this mixture for 3-4 minutes. Slowly pour in the warm milk while you whisk aggresively to avoid lumps. Turn the heat up to medium high and continue stirring until the mixture comes to a boil. If the mixture is too thick, add in more milk. If it is too thin, make a slurry with another tbsp of flour combined with a few tbsp of cold milk. Drizzle this into the bechamel sauce and bring to a boil while stirring. Season with salt, pepper, nutmeg and paprika. Taste and add more salt if needed. I also add about 1/3 cup grated parmesan most of the time for a bit more flavor.

Layer the lasagna as usual, topping with the bechamel sauce and grated gruyère or comté cheese (or mozzerella).

May 2, 2006

Fondue Addendum

Last week Paul and I visited Le Refuge des Fondus again, and had the equally delicious and chaotic experience that's standard for that crazy place. Anyway, this time, in addition to just rubbing elbows with our neighbors, we got to know them a little bit. I was sitting next to this guy from Savoy and he was pretty enthusiastic about his Fondue, obviously. As we were getting to the end of our pot of cheesy goodness, he asked if we had ever properly finished a fondue. I knew what he meant...I'd heard there's something about cracking an egg into the pot to sort of stretch the fondue a bit farther. We were so full, but I said we'd love to try it. So, he got the waiter to bring us an egg and a shot of liquor, which I'm sure was Amaretto.

Before going on, I just want to urge you to make cheese fondue just so you can experience this. I can still taste it. It was unbelieveable.

So, this guy starts by stirring in about 8 of the bread cubes into our remaining cheese fondue, cracks the egg into it while stirring, and finally adds the Amaretto. He keeps stirring until it has come together a bit and coated the bread. Take a bite of one of these luscious pieces of soaked bread and oh my, does this wake up your mouth! Like a sweet, eggy Amaretto fireball crossed with french toast. Just wanted to pass on the love, my friends. Do try it with this!

Also, at another amazing Italian restaurant this week, where I had the best pizza in Paris, we were given a free shot of Amaretto as we paid the bill. (One of my top 10 reasons that Europe kicks ass: free alcohol gifts.) I LOVE this place and now thoughts of Amaretto are running through my mind. I'm off to look for more things to do with this divine nectar.

Le Refuge des Fondus
17, rue des Trois Frères
75018 Paris (M: Abbesses/Anvers)

La Paninoteca
61, rue des Martyrs
75009 Paris (M: Pigalle)