November 26, 2006

Brie en Croûte

This is a wonderful appetizer that I served for Thanksgiving this year. It's extremely easy yet really impressive. So, in other words, it's exactly what you want when you're preparing so much other food for a huge meal!

There are many variations of baked brie. I decided to top mine with fig preserves and sliced almonds before wrapping it in the puff pastry, which was a huge hit. I've also had it with raspberry preserves, which is also amazingly good! There is a traditional French recipe where the wheel of brie is cut in half and cooked mushrooms and shallots are sandwiched in the middle, then wrapped in pastry. I've never had any purely savory variation, but have seen recipes using sundried tomatoes, as well as the mushrooms. As I'm not a huge fan of the baked bries that are topped with lots of nuts and brown sugar, I find this recipe a perfect middle ground; slightly sweet but without overwhelming that expensive round of brie you just bought! Experiment away!

Baked Brie with Sliced Almonds and Fig Preserves

1 sheet frozen puff pastry
about 3 Tbsp fig preserves (or any seedless jam you like)
2-3 Tbsp sliced almonds, toasted
1 (13.2 oz) wheel brie (maybe 5-6 in. diameter)
1 egg + 1 tsp water

Thaw the puff pastry sheet by removing from the freezer 30 minutes before you start to assemble the appetizer. Lightly beat the egg with 1 tsp of water to make an egg wash. Set aside. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F (200 degrees C).

Once flexible, unfold the pastry into a square on a lightly floured surface. Roll out the pastry slightly, to about 1/8 in. thick. Spread the preserves in the middle of the pastry in a circle the same size as the wheel of brie. Sprinkle the almonds over the jam and place the cheese on top.

Bring 2 opposite sides of pastry up and over the cheese. Fold in the other sides, trimming any extra, and "glueing" it together with a small amount of egg wash. Place seam side down on an ungreased baking sheet. Decorate the top with the scraps of pastry if you like. Using a pastry brush, brush the entire thing with egg wash. Bake for 20-25 minutes, until golden brown. Let stand at least 30 minutes or up to an hour before serving. Serve with water crackers or toasted baguette slices.

This is equally delicious 2 ways: after just 30 minutes, so that the brie is still hot and oozes out of the pastry, or bake it way ahead of time and let it cool at least an hour so that it can firm up and be easily sliced.

November 21, 2006

The NY Times' Autumn Crêpes

I was so excited to see this recipe and article by Celia Barbour in The New York Times. I'd never seen a crêpe recipe like this printed anywhere (except for this glorious recipe given to me by my brother-in-law's Swiss girlfriend). Don’t Buckwheat Crêpes with a Roasted Cauliflower, Parsnip and Leek filling just sound amazing? I know most Americans aren't avid crêpe makers, but it's about time we joined the club. I knew I had to make this recipe so I could once again push my crêpe agenda on all of you!

You know how sometimes cooking is a hassle? And how sometimes you're just too tired and grumpy to get any enjoyment out of it? Well, try making these. Crêpe making can be a form of meditation if you think about it. You whip up the simple batter, heat a pan, pour in a ladle-full, smear it around until you've constructed a nice circle, wait, and flip. Repeat. And repeat and repeat. And each one gets better and prettier and you feel more and more proud of yourself. Oh, and you're sipping wine. And with each minute that passes by, you become more comfortable with your now near perfect crêpes and a lot less preoccupied with whatever you were worrying about before you started this whole process. And you swear it's the happiest you've been all week.

This recipe gave me the opportunity to make buckwheat crêpes, or galettes au sarrasin, for the first time. In France, savory buckwheat crêpes like these are always called galettes and the word crêpe is reserved only for sweet crêpes. This recipe was incredibly tasty, but I would have preferred an even stronger buckwheat flavor. You'll probably agree if you've had crêpes in Brittany, but if you are doubtful about buckwheat, this recipe will be a perfect place to begin. It's like a whole wheat crêpe; slightly nutty but with a delicate texture.

The word delicate sums up this roasted cauliflower, leek and parsnip filling as well. I'd never tasted a parsnip, let alone cooked one, so the flavor was such a pleasant surprise. For all the other root-vegetable-dummies out there, parsnips are shaped like carrots, white in color, and have a more delicate flavor, yet a slightly more fibrous texture. They are wonderful! Who knew? Why aren't we eating more parsnips? I'll spare you my embarrassing episode at The Co-op where I almost bought a huge sack full of Daikon radish. Evidently, I needed some help deciphering my root vegetables.

The title of the filling indicates roasted vegetables, which is true, but the really amazing part of the recipe is the custardy sauce in which those veggies take a bath. Honestly, I know you aren't supposed to rave about your own food, but I couldn't wipe the goofy smile from my face when I was eating this. I could go on and on about how the texture of the buckwheat crêpe works so well with the silky and subtle vegetables, but I'll just say this: Hurry up and make these!Treat someone you love to this luxurious French meal. You can fill and roll the crêpes if you like, or just serve the warm crêpes and filling separately on platters and let guests make their own. A green salad makes a lovely side. I don't know how anyone could resist the love in this dish. It's an elegant meal that is sure to make anyone feel special.

*Note* I doubled this recipe since the leftovers are wonderful. If serving 4 or more, I recommend this. However, I had quite a bit of leftover sauce, so no need to double it, more like 1 1/2 times the recipe would work.

Buckwheat Crêpes

½ cup buckwheat flour
½ cup whole wheat flour
½ cup all-purpose white flour
4 eggs
1 tsp salt
1 cup whole milk
2/3 cup water
4 Tbsp melted butter

Melt the butter in a small dish in the microwave or in a saucepan. Set aside to cool slightly.

Stir together the flours and salt. Beat in the eggs and gradually add the milk and water. Whisk the mixture well until completely smooth. Add the butter and whisk until smooth once more. This can also be made in the blender, pulsing for one minute. Refrigerate the batter for one hour. Stir well before using.

Lightly oil or butter a wide skillet or crepe pan and place over high heat. The pan should be almost scorching hot. Lift the skillet from the heat with one hand and pour about 1/3 cup of batter into the pan with the other, all while tilting the pan so that the batter spreads out into a circle. You will need to spread the batter out with a spatula, which feels awkward at first, but after a few times, you'll be quick about it. Put the pan back on the heat and cook 1-2 minutes until the crêpe dries a bit and easily lifts off the bottom of the pan. Flip it over and cook 30 seconds to 1 minute on the other side. Repeat with remaining batter. Makes 12 small crêpes, but I made about 8 large.

Roasted Cauliflower, Parsnip and Leek Filling

2 lbs cauliflower (about 1 medium), cut into small florets
2 large leeks
¾ lb parsnips (about 3 medium), peeled
5 Tbsp melted butter, divided
1/3 cup olive oil
½ tsp freshly ground pepper
2 tsp dry mustard
2 tsp salt
3 egg yolks
2 Tbsp heavy or light cream, or whole milk
3 cups vegetable or chicken broth
3 Tbsp flour

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. In a small bowl, mix together 2 Tbsp melted butter, olive oil, pepper and mustard. (I think 2 Tbsp butter and ¼ cup olive oil is probably plenty, if you’re concerned.) Drizzle about 2/3 of this mixture over the cauliflower florets. Sprinkle with 1 tsp salt. Spread out on a baking sheet and roast for 10 minutes.

Half the leeks lengthwise, almost to root end, leaving in one piece. Cut the parsnips into quarters lengthwise and remove any tough core, although if you have small parsnips, this is unnecessary. Combine the leeks, parsnips and remaining butter/olive oil mixture and remaining 1 tsp salt. Spread out on a separate baking sheet, or add to the cauliflower pan if there is room. Return vegetables to the oven and roast for 20 minutes. Reduce the heat to 325 degrees F and roast until golden and tender, another 20-30 minutes.

Transfer leeks and parsnips to a cutting board and chop into ½ inch pieces. You can chop the cauliflower, too, but mine seemed like a fine size already. Set aside.

In a mixing bowl, combine the egg yolks and cream. In a small saucepan, bring the broth to a simmer. In different saucepan, whisk together the remaining 3 Tbsp melted butter and the flour. Stir and cook for 2-3 minutes but do not brown. Gradually whisk in the broth until incorporated and the sauce is smooth. Bring to a simmer over medium heat and let the sauce thicken.

Take off the heat for a few minutes, then whisk very gradually into the bowl with the egg yolks and cream. Do this slowly so that the egg yolks don’t scramble! Once all the broth mixture is added to the egg yolks, return all of it to the saucepan and keep over medium heat; do not boil. Add the vegetables to this sauce and keep warm.

Assemble the crêpes yourself, or pour the vegetables and sauce onto a deep platter so that guests can make their own. Sprinkle with chopped fresh parsley to garnish. (If assembling ahead of time, reserve some of the sauce sans vegetables to top the finished crêpes.) Place about 1/3 cup filling into each crêpe and roll up burrito-style. Place the filled crêpes in a baking dish. Cover with a bit of the reserved sauce and bake for 15-20 minutes at 350 degrees F, or until warmed through.

November 18, 2006

Tuna's back!

Even if you never grew up eating Tuna Casserole, you've probably heard the lore. One of the classic cream-of-mushroom-soup casseroles, traditional tuna casserole is even topped with crushed potato chips. Obviously, we can do better.

Many people seem content to use canned soup in cooking. I'm over the fact that it's unhealthy; what really bugs me is that it tastes bad! It really does. If you don't mind the flat taste of such "foods" like Taco Bell, Domino's Pizza or anything from McDonalds, you probably don't mind canned soup, which makes sense. Our palates have become increasingly narrowed and numbed with sodium, hydrogenated oils and high fructose corn syrup. I truly believe that the canned soup casseroles were born out of an effort to make comforting food quickly and mindlessly, but the cost (and I'm not talking $$$) is that we've lost interest and knowledge about what the real food is that we're after.

This version of Tuna Casserole is fast, easy, and one thing that the canned soup version is not: delicious. You are worth more than Campbell's has to offer. You deserve whole mushrooms and real cream in your sauce. We deserve to enjoy these favorites without chemicals, trans fats and cheap ingredients that serve the lowest common denominator while corporations get rich. The food industry has done us a huge disservice, but we can take back our food. We can still make our favorites while proving that American food doesn't have to mean processed food in huge quantity. We deserve real food that does more than just make us feel full.

I can't help but get a little preachy when it comes to casseroles. They've gotten a lot of blame for the state of our country's health, as well as the boring American palate. But, with this version, I see light beaming out of this tunnel. Fresh tasting and comforting, it contains real vegetables and a fresh bread crumb topping. White wine perks up the cream sauce so it's not overly rich. I hope you'll enjoy it and feel good about it, too! Not always the biggest fan of tarragon, I really enjoyed it in this recipe and could have used even more. This is also the first Rachael Ray recipe I've tried in quite a while and was very pleasantly surprised!Tuna Casserole with White Wine Tarragon Cream Sauce
(recipe from Rachael Ray)

1 pound medium shell pasta
1 Tbsp olive oil
3 Tbsp butter
2 celery stalks, finely chopped
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1/2 red bell pepper, finely chopped
1 tsp dried thyme
1 1/2 Tbsp all purpose flour
1/2 cup dry white wine
2/3 cup chicken broth
generous 1 cup heavy cream or half & half
salt & pepper
dash cayenne pepper or hot sauce
2 (6-oz) cans (or 1 12-oz pkg) tuna packed in water, drained
1 cup frozen peas
6 sprigs fresh tarragon, leaves removed and chopped
4 slices sandwich bread (wheat or white)

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Salt the water well and add the pasta. Cook according to package directions, 8 minutes, I believe.

Tear apart the bread slices into small pieces and add to the bowl of a food processor. Pulse lightly until the bread crumb texture is reached. Place in a small bowl and mix with a small amount of olive oil or melted butter. Set aside.

In a wide sauté pan or high-sided skillet, sauté the onions, celery and bell pepper in the olive oil and butter until onion is translucent. Sprinkle with dried thyme, salt and pepper. Once the vegetables are fully cooked, sprinkle in the flour. Stir until a paste forms on the veggies and cook 2 minutes. Deglaze the pan with the white wine, scraping the bottom of the pan as you go. Let the wine cook down for 2 minutes.

Add the chicken broth and cream and bring the mixture to a simmer. Add a dash of cayenne pepper or hot sauce. Check seasonings. Stir in the flaked tuna, peas and tarragon and heat through. Taste again, adding more tarragon if you like.

Drain the pasta when finished cooking and toss with the tuna mixture. Pour into a greased 9x13 casserole and top evenly with the bread crumbs. Bake at 400 degrees F (200 degrees F) for 20-25 minutes, until lightly browned on top and heated through.

November 15, 2006

Last Weekend in D.C.

As I mentioned quite a while ago, Paul and I are moving to Washington, D.C. soon. I’m very excited for this. Moving is generally a stressful thing, but it is doubled in intensity when it’s to a new city! I flew out there this past weekend to look for a place to live, and let me tell you that life magically worked out once again, despite my fear that it couldn’t possibly. I found a wonderful place in only 2 days. Well, 3 weeks of worrying about it, 2 more weeks of hard online searching and 2 days of physical shopping. Not bad, eh? Technically we’re going to live in Alexandria, Virginia, but still in what they call the metro area, since it is indeed served by the metro, making it very easy to get to The District.

The move will take place in mid-December so until then, I can simply organize and pack with the calm assurance that I do have a place to call home. Honestly, DC seems like a pretty great place. Everyone was incredibly friendly and the city doesn't seem very intimidating, at least to this former-Parisienne. Although, I wonder if it's just because everyone speaks English...hmm. I was actually a little nervous to visit since, you know, I better like it since that's where we're living! One often hears about the hectic D.C. traffic and busy pace, but I found it to be actually a lot less crazy than Paris. Oh, no one parks on the sidewalks? Why isn't everyone lining up as close as they can possibly get to the subway doors before they open in order to more easily shove your way onto the train and claim your space? Where's the aggressive city attitude? Why doesn't the metro smell like urine? And more importantly, when shoved by some lady with a large purse, why didn't it feel okay to shove back even harder while maintaining the ambivalent funeral gaze that excuses Parisian women of so much of their naughty behavior? It might be wrong that I miss that side of Paris...

In D.C. we used the metro on a Friday night around 6:30 pm and I could stand comfortably with my own personal space bubble around me. Plenty of room! My French friends would never believe it. "I'm telling you - I could expand my rib cage when I took a breath! It was amazing..." Why wasn't my face in some guy's armpit and somebody's little dog pressed up against my shins, with a purse shoved between my thighs and the only thing to hold on to was the flat glass panel on the door? I didn't know how to handle all that comfort! I'm glad I don't have to put on that face every day anymore, but it certainly made me tough, and I really miss it. Paris was never boring, that is certain!

But back to D.C. The low buildings and colonial architecture make the city incredibly beautiful yet cozy, too. It almost felt like a midwestern city to me - people seemed casually dressed and extremely friendly. I guess in Paris it really is all about fashion! I know that with the political arena out there everyone is working incredibly hard so there is a certain yuppie-vibe to certain areas, but overall, I’m really looking forward to getting to know the city. History was such a rich and intriguing part of living in Paris, so I’m excited to live somewhere with so many monuments and so many stories.

Plus, there are the crab cakes! Oh! (And I can’t believe it’s taken me 4 paragraphs to get to this…) I was there for 3 days and I had crab cakes twice, so I’m feeling as if I can stand to wait another month or so before I get to eat them again. I don’t even think we went to any restaurant that was particularly known for their crab cakes, but it didn’t matter. Compared to what you find in the Midwest, well, there’s no comparison. I’ve gathered that the most common presentation of crab cakes is the crab cake platter. Two lovely cakes were served with coleslaw, fries or onion rings and a delicious remoulade sauce with capers. It struck me as funny that at the much nicer restaurant we dined at the next evening, the platter idea was repeated. I ordered the crab cakes again, which came with a lime aioli, jicama and apple slaw, and yucca fries, of all things. Both were excellent. Do check back here in a few months and I’m sure I’ll be able to tell you where I go for the best crab cakes!

Also, I just want to take this opportunity to thank everyone who reads Chez Mégane now and again. I'm not posting as much as I'd like to right now, but by the time we're settled out there, Chez Mégane hopes to be back to her old pace with much to say about her new home city!

November 13, 2006

White Bean, Kale and Sausage Soup

I’ve made this soup many times, but I hadn’t made it in 2 years until last week. I’m sure most of you have made this, or at least, heard of this soup, in one of its many variations. I first made it after it graced the cover of an issue of Bon Appetit in either 2001 or 2002. I love this soup’s simple yet hearty flavors. It’s incredibly easy and really good for you! Plus, I’m always partial to rustic dishes like this – there is something so comforting about it. I’ve also come to learn that I love dark greens. I may not love salads, but I could eat braised kale every night of the week. I’m even going to start adding kale to my vegetable soups. Although, it doesn’t impart much flavor, I love the texture it adds.

Since I could never seem to find kale in Paris, (or the sausage, for that matter!) this recipe was forgotten about. But, it’s wonderfully adaptable and a good reminder of how easy it is to make a comforting soup! I’ve made this before with potatoes or small shell pasta instead of the white beans, and I’m going to try different sausage next time. The smoked variety has a nice flavor, but it’s mild, so a spicy Italian sausage might be more up my alley next time. Chorizo would be excellent, as well, for a Portuguese version. Plus, I’m not really crazy about using the grocery store smoked kielbasa in the first place – meat products like that have all sorts of additives in them that make me nervous.

Check out more information about why kale is so good for us!

White Bean, Kale and Sausage Soup

1 Tbsp olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
5 gloves garlic, minced
1 bay leaf
freshly ground black pepper
Generous 2/3 of one large bunch kale, washed
2 (15 oz) cans white beans, rinsed and drained
¾ (16 oz) package smoked sausage, kielbasa, or Italian sausage links, sliced
6-8 cups chicken or vegetable broth

Optional - drop a chunk of the rind of your block of parmesan cheese into the soup as it simmers. Remove before serving.

Heat the olive oil in a large pot over medium high heat. Add the sausage slices and sauté until nicely browned. If using uncooked sausage in casings, sauté until fully cooked. Add the chopped onion and garlic to the pan. Cook until translucent, about 3-5 minutes.

Tear the kale into bite size pieces and set aside. Deglaze the pan by pouring in a small amount of broth and scraping the bottom of the pot. Pour in the rest of the broth and bring to a boil. Add the bay leaf and pepper. Once the broth is simmering, stir in the kale, cover, and simmer 10 minutes until the kale is wilted completely. Stir in the white beans and cook 5 more minutes until heated through. Serve with some crusty bread and grated parmesan. Serves 8.

November 7, 2006

Pumpkin Bars...Again!

(No, that empty space wasn't the size of my serving...)

Yes, I've already posted this recipe, but it was almost a year ago, before anyone was actually reading my blog, so I feel okay about re-posting. Plus, these are worth it, and after having made these recently, I feel a renewed excitement about their success.

It's already November! It is time to make these pumpkin bars! What could you possibly be waiting for? Sure, unless you're a family of at least 4, with half of you being sugar-hungry children, you won't possibly finish all of these and have to throw the rest out, but at least you will know a really good recipe. My solution would be to take these to the office party or neighbor's potluck and watch them disappear! These are my favorite way to warm up to the Thanksgiving season. Plus, I don't know about you, but I love that the recipe only uses the 1 cup, 2/3 cup, and 1 teaspoon measuring devices: less to clean, less to fidget with. The 1/4 teaspoon is just a few shakes, anyway, right?

Paul's Pumpkin Bars
(adapted from

4 eggs
1 cup vegetable oil
1 2/3 cups white sugar
1 can (15 oz.) pumpkin puree
2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
2 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp. salt
2 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. each nutmeg, clove, (and ginger, optional)

Beat together the eggs, oil, sugar and pumpkin until smooth. Sift together the dry ingredients, including spices, and then slowly mix them into the egg mixture. Once incorporated, pour into a 10x15 jelly roll pan. (As I do not own one of these, I pour 2/3 of the mixture into a 9x13 and the rest into an 8x8.) Bake at 350 degrees F (180 degrees C) for 25-30 minutes. Frost bars once cooled.

Cream Cheese Frosting

3 oz cream cheese, softened

1/2 cup butter, softened

1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups sifted confectioners' sugar

Beat together cream cheese and butter. Add sugar in small doses, mixing to incorporate. Mix in vanilla once frosting is smooth. Using an electric hand mixer makes this easy.