In the wake of my Alsacian themed recipes, let's stay up there in Northern France, with one foot across the border, in Belgium.
Now you may not be a big offal buff (un mordu d'abats), but oxtail is really not that bad. A few words of caution: when buying the pieces of meat, make sure you only take the part closest to the back of the animal (ie the meatier ones), and not the long skinny pieces that only have bone in them. You cannot get ANYTHING out of those bits, believe me I've tried. You can probably make broth with it, but frankly, at 10 euros a kilo we can't really afford that now can we (c'est un peu chérot non).
Note that this recipe would work perfectly fine with stew meat. I'm thinking chuck. Or brisket.
For four people:
7 or 8 large slices of oxtail,
6 large carrots, cut in slices
4 big fat onions, cut in wedges
6 juniper berries,
a couple of thyme twigs and a few laurel leaves
65cl of dark Belgian beer
4 slices of pain d'épice (gingerbread loaf), roughly diced
two tsp of "vergeoise" - dark brown sugar
some beef stock (about a quart)
a knob of butter and a little oil
Season the meat generously with salt and pepper. In a large cast iron pot, brown the meat on high heat with the butter and the oil. Make sure all sides get browned. Do it in batches if you can't fit everybody in one layer, and don't worry too much if it catches a little at the bottom. You're going to scrape up those good bits afterwards.
Transfer the browned meat to a bowl. Brown the carrots and onions in the meat's juices. Easy peasy (les doigts dans le nez).
Then return the meat and the accumulated juces to the pan and deglaze with the beer (yes, and that's also where you scrape to bottom of your pan with that wooden spoon of yours).
Sprinkle with the dark brown sugar. Add the juniper, thyme and laurel, and the gingerbread dices. Mix well to combine, and simmer until the sauce has reduced by one third. The gingerbead will mush and disintegrate in two seconds in the beer and turn it into a thick sauce.
Epiphany in a Staub pan. Classic.
Add the stock - you need to pour enough so that you cover the vegetables and the meat entirely. Bring back to a simmer, and forget about it for the next 3 hours. Go scrape the ice on your car windows or try to unlock your letterbox with a hairdryer. You could probably also stick it in the oven on low. If you wish you can just stop there, stick it on the window sill (unless you live in and reheat it on the day after. It's even better.
Blimey it's cold enough to freeze the balls off a brass monkey (punaise, qu'est-ce qu'on se caille les miches).
Whenever you're ready, take the oxtail pieces out, and leave them until cool enough to handle. Pull the meat off the bones, and discard all the connective tissues (or put them in the dog's dish). Then it's up to you how you serve it. You could plate the meat in a bowl of paparedelle or spätzle (haha, Alsace strikes back!), and ladle the sauce and vegetables on top, or serve it along with big chunks of sourdough bread.
Agreed, it looks pretty gross (ça a l'air dégueu). But gosh, man, you really *have* to stop being so superficial.
On my short vacation to Paris (visiting family, eating myself to death, etc. - routine), I took advantage of a sunny morning to do a bit of shopping in the legendary culinary cavern, Dehillerin. It's right in the city centre, in the first Arrondissement, next to the Halles, the Rue Montorgueuil, and the Louvre.
Agrandir le plan
Do pay them a visit if you go to Paris, they have EVERYTHING in terms of cooking utensils. No foodstuff, but pretty much anything you can think of that has a use in the kitchen. That's were I got my financier pans, remember?
Be prepared though, it's a huge mess, you'll need to ask the sulky shop assistants (yes, sulky, but they can't help it they are Parisians) inside to point things, and occasionnally to climb up ladders for you. They speak English, Japanese, and probably Martian. I just doubt you'll find a parking spot for your flying saucer in the area.
Take a tour! Keep together though, people have been known to disappear in the dark nooks of the shop.
Fed up with the traditional French cuisine I've been inflicting on you lately? We'll come back to it, don't worry *smirk*. Instead here comes a slice of Sicily. Four slices of génoise biscuit, actually, with ricotta cream, grated chocolate and loads of candied goodness.
In the buff (à poil). Sexy thing.
I have been blessed with the Infallible Génoise Touch©, a quality envied by princes and laughed at by cretins. My mom goes on and on about how she once baked a rock-hard brick out of a génoise because she folded the flour in too energetically. So far I have been preserved from such a curse, let's keep it this way, shall we.
Traditional Cassata is usually covered in marzipan, but I thought that trading it for chocolate, in this festive period, would be a lesser evil. Some bloggers went for a Chantilly approach and weren't flogged on Times Square for that (I can't think of a worse torture. Except maybe being pilloried on Times Square on New Year's Eve). You can also spike the cream with orange-flavoured alcohols such as Triple Sec, Grand Marnier or Curacao, and even soak the sponge cake with a syrup made with one of the aforementioned. You booze-head (espèce de poivrot).
Génoise was made by whipping 4 eggs, 125g of sugar, and a fat pinch of salt in a warm bowl until it tripled in size, and then by folding in (gently, in case you don't have the IGT©) 100g of sifted flour and 25g of corn starch. It was baked in a lined deep rectangular pan known to the French as "moule à cake", for 30 minutes at 190°C. No conversions in cups and Farenheits for you today. After it had cooled, it was sliced in flour longitudinally. With a serrated bread knive. Not as inconsequential a detail as you may think.
I prepared the cassata cream by whipping a pound of ricotta cheese with 2tbsp of sugar and 2tbsp of mascarpone, and mixed in diced citron and orange peel and about 70g of grated chocolate. Do yourself a favour darling, freeze the chocolate beforehand and you won't get sticky fingers from grating it.
When the cake is cool enough, layer it with the cream straight on the serving plate, ice it with marzipan/chocolate/Chantilly cream, and refrigerate for 24 hours.
I said cassata, not cassanta. Besides Christmas is, like, way over (ça fait un bail que c'est fini, Noël).
Get your fluffy mittens off my cake, you old fogey (vire tes mouffles velues de mon gâteau, vieux croûlant).
Stuck in your kitchen due to excessive snowing? Get your circus cookie cutters out and hark the call of the (Alsacian) wild.
boost up the bass baby
National Geographics (cf Les Photographies de la vie sauvage ) is also interested in the tragic fate of small buttery elephants.
Williams Sonoma makes those wicked cookie cutters, but they have been discontinued recently - alas. I must have grabbed one of the last boxes, and golly (sapristi) I'm damn glad I did. Hours of endless fun if you ask me. They are beyond funky. Once you get the trick with the embossing spring thing, it's a piece o' cake (quand t'as pigé comment le bidule à ressort marche, c'est les mains dans les poches). They now do cutters with the same mechanism, but for Christmas ornaments. Boooo. Hm, there's a huge discount. I guess it's OK then.
and that of tigers preying on cranes
As for the recipe, I got mine from Suzanne Roth's anthology of Alsacian bredele, those Christmas cookies every Alsacian woman feels compelled to bake around the Advent season, in quantities which could probably give diabetes to most of the third world.The witty subtitle to "Les petits gâteaux d'Alsace" is--as you my polyglot readers may have guessed-- "S'Bredlebuech".Shall I add that Suzanne is a little bit of a star in Alsace. Think of her as the Alsacian Nigella. At the very least, cup-size wise.
Now, in an attempt to disorientate you a tad further, here is a recipe for "Schwobebredele", also called "Himmelgestirn" in some parts of Alsace. Such a pleasant and melodic dialect don't you think. I guess I could call them "Christmas almond cookies" but really where's the fun.
Pygme giraffes have been proven not to be a myth.
A day ahead, prepare the dough by combining 1/2lb of soft butter (add salt if using unsalted butter), with 1/2lb of sugar and 1/2lb of almond meal. Then add two eggs, one heaped tsp of cinnamon (adjust to taste), a little bit of lemon zest, and a shot of kirsch (yes, this is Alsacian, and yes, have a shot of it yourself while you watch your processor doing all the work - cheers! [G'sundheit!]). Then add a pound of flour and mix until just incorporated. Refrigerate 'til the morrow.
Roll it out, flouring abundantly your countertop and your rolling pin, until you reach a thickness of about 1/4 inch. Cut out your funky animals. Make a pig's ear of the first two (foirez les deux premiers) but keep going until you get the knack of it. It's rewarding. If you have a yolk standing in your fridge, use it to glaze your cookies.
Pop them on a Silpat or some baking parchment, and cook for about 10 minutes at 325°F. Keep an eye on them.You want them to be slightly darker than in the picture. Toasted, if you like, not burnt though.
You big softy you. I bet you "ooooh"-ed.
All in one shitty photomontage.
I see some of you have been in a naughty mood recently, landing here with Google requests such as "How to seduce my flatmate" and "Brussel sprout dessert". Now I'd like to point to you that although I don't have definitive answers for either of those problems, I am about to find out whether the pear tart previously featured on this blog did the trick. I will let you know.
For Brussel sprouts, I would recommend a Tatin approach. Caramelise the bottom of a manqué or Tatin pan (what the heck [y a pas à tortiller], pomegranate molasses will doodledo), arrange the sprouts, season well, precook the little dudes for 20', cover with puff pastry and tuck in the edges (hospital corners please), bake 20 more minutes, et voilà, Brussel sprout dessert. Have I tried it, no. I bet it's fab.
On with the naughty mood - I have been secretly baking at my workplace in the past. Secret-wise, it wasn't a success. I had this fun recipe where you mix flour, baking soda and a can of beer (I'm only human, how could I not try it) and you get a loaf. It's fun, it's fast, and the recipe is on the back of my wholemeal flour packet. Or here. The embassy smelled of warm beer throughout the morning. Then of warm bread. Pretty cool, I'd say. People were walking around with fluttering nostrils and puzzled looks. A little like rabbits.
Today, secret poulet à la crème. Again, hard to shush. For about 7 French gourmets:
One chicken and a couple of extra thighs; 7tbsp butter; one fat onion; a dozen button/white/Paris mushrooms; 2 garlic cloves; a glass of white Bourgogne (a Mâcon-Fuissé here), a dash of lemon juice, a tied bunch of herbs (thyme, bay leaf, rosemary), about a quart of heavy cream (I know, I know).
Cut up the chicken in bits if your butcher hasn't. Slice off the thighs and snap the joints,then cut horizontally through the ribcage to get the breasts and cross-cut to free the wing/breast combo from the bottom (which you will not discard but save for broth. Winter is coming guys).
This time, it wasn't Colonel Mustard who'd dunnit.
Cut the guy some slack, will you (lâchez lui la grappe deux secondes).
Flip over, split the sternum lengthwise to have two separate breasts, then cut off the wings at the "elbow" joint. The ribcage is still attached to the breasts, it doesn't matter. More flavours, more bits to nibble from. Less work (ahh - I got your attention there). Season the pieces with salt and pepper.
Cooking poulet à la crème in an Upper East Side office. Improbable yet tasty.
Then melt the butter in a large pan (I used two medium-sized ones), and colour the chicken on all sides (leave the skin on, you're have stopped counting calories a long time ago). Halfway though the colouring process, add the cloves of garlic, which you will have smashed (écrabouillé) with the flat side of a large knife, the onion cut in large wedges, the mushrooms cut in four, and add the herb bunch. Don't let the butter burn.
Deglaze with a generous splash of wine, scraping the bottom to get all the good bits (although your arteries will say otherwise), let it reduce for a bit. I then transfered all the chicken pieces and veggies to my larger pan and doused the whole thing with the cream. Stir to combine the juices, and leave to simmer on medium heat for 25 to 30 minutes. Prepare rice, or fresh pasta, in the meantime.
At the end of the 30 minutes, spoon out the 'shrooms and the chicken, and add the juice of about half a lemon to the sauce. It won't curdle on you, pinky-swear (juré craché). Taste, adjust seasoning. Leave it to reduce a little longer if you want a thicker consistency. If you're Mrs/Mr Fancy Pants, dish the rice in a large hollow platter warmed in the oven, then arrange the chicken pieces on top and spoon the cream sauce over them. Rejoice and give thanks for George Blanc's granny.
If you're not Mr/Mrs Fancy Pants, scramble around for some plastic cutlery, paper plates and plastic glasses, and have a picnic in the meeting room of the fourth floor. Down the rest of the bottle.
Lazy-Sundayite is a condition that affects me every week, mostly on Sundays but I will have the occasional Demotivated-Mondayite once in a while, which equally sucks. Today energy levels are kind of ground-hugging (au ras des pâquerettes), in imitation of the skyline in NY, so I will swiftly move on to the recipe, a Martha Stewart classic also to be found on this great blog.
A sample of what my voice sounds like today. But not my guitar-playing, unfortunately. Anyone in Astoria offering lessons against cookies?
I have observed that those cookies make the most obnoxious people go all slushy and positive-thinking, Mary Poppins style. Give them a go and chances are you are going to cook a second batch right away.
My fancy schmancy cooling technique, balancing expertly the cooling rack onto the window ledge (no accidents so far).
8 ounces bittersweet chocolate, melted (half unsweetened - half bittersweet for me)
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup Dutch cocoa powder
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 ounces (1 stick) butter, room temperature
1 1/3 cups dark brown sugar, firmly packed (granulated was all I had, it worked out fine)
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract (I omitted it)
1/3 cup milk
1 cup powdered sugar for rolling
1 cup granulated sugar for rolling
Melt the chocolate, and let it cool slightly.
Sift together flour, cocoa, baking powder, and salt. Using a mixer, beat the butter and sugar together until they are well combined. Add eggs and vanilla and beat until fluffy. Add the melted chocolate and mix to combine well. With mixer on low speed, or with a spoon, alternate adding dry ingredients and milk until just combined.
The dough should be pretty thick and heavy now. Leave it in the bowl, cover it with plastic wrap and pop it into the refrigerator for an overnight stay. This will turn the dough into playdough. We like that.
Will you choose the pear over the cookie? Don't mess it up sonny (déconne pas, petit).
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Remove the dough when it is properly chilled and using either a tablespoon cookie scoop or just a normal tablespoon shovel up heaping tablespoons of dough and then roll them in your hands to create a ball (about ¾ the size of a ping pong ball). The cooler the better, it will not stick to your handypandies (ça collera pas à tes menottes). Drop it into a bowl of granulated sugar and swirl it around to cover it then transfer it to a bowl of powdered sugar and roll it around again. Place it on a parchment or a silpat lined baking sheet, spacing each cookie about 1.5 inches apart. Bake for about 11-15 minutes. Remove from the oven and let them rest for about 5 minutes, then transfer them to a wire rack to cool.
If you bake it in several batches, refrigerate the dough in between batches to make it easier to shape it into balls.
The little suckers, ready to go spread world peace.
Have you ever shame-posted? No idea what the concept stands for? Ok, some excellent bloggers have admitted to bad picture days, in the same way most of us will have a bad hair day once in a while. Which reminds me that I need to book a hairdresser's appointment - in the Marais, that is, in order to preserve French glamour (overrated? You decide, in the comment section!). Shame-posting. It's when the post you wrote sucks so much you keep it deep down in the archives of the unpublished, and post it later on, knowing that there will be a couple of more recent posts which will screen off the rout. Several factors may combine: the unsexiness of the veggie used, and the terrible lighting in the room. In a word, do not attempt to blog about brussel sprouts after 11pm, however good it was. Not if you don't want people massively cancelling their RSS subscription and turning their eyes away, squirming in dismay and pity.
Why am I telling all this crap about shame posting? No idea.What? Shame-posting? Haha!
I'm showing me a little shame. Honest, I am.
"So much depends upon a blue crock pot", as WCW said once.
So, this tart. It's great. It's what I'm trying to seduce my future roommates with. Delphine, mon chou, let me know if I had any luck. Delphine - let's call her D to preserve her anonymity - works with me and misses French pastries, bless her. She is also always keen to give something new a shot. In other words she is my new guinea pig, and bless (bis repetita placent) her cotton socks, not a tremendously critical one at that. We like an easily won audience. We are lazy.
I had this recipe for a pear tart with a kind of frangipane cream at the bottom lying around in my notebook, and the reason why it stood out was the suggestion to add crushed pecans in the crust. That talks to me big time (ça me dit grave). The original recipe is French, therefore I had to convert everything into cups and tbsp, and nothing worked out so as usual, please ignore my proportions and use your imagination.
Make a "brisée" crust by sanding with the tip of your fingers 5/3 c of AP flour, a fattish 1/3 of a cup confectioner's sugar, a couple of pinches of salt, and a stick and 2 tbsp of butter. It's easier if the butter is at room temp. To that mix, add the precise following quantity of crushed pecans. You have bought a 5 oz sachet of "Candied Pecans (Lightly Sweetened)" from Trader Joe's. You have eaten about two handfuls of pecans with D at work. About half a handful on your way back home. Now, from what is left in the bag, save 16 whole halves, and roughly chop the rest. The chopped bits go in the crust mix, the whole ones will decorate the surface of your pie. Add a little cold water (huh, a tbsp perhaps? I eyeball it - je fais ça au pif), and gather the dough into a ball. Pop it in the fridge while you make your almond cream, turn your oven on at 320°F.
The proportions for the cream are mostly random again (doing penance right now - putting on my camel hair shirt as we speak). Combine a heaped 1/3 of a cup of confectioner's sugar with a smallish cup of almond flour and a teaspoon of corn starch. Add a whole egg, whisk it in, add 1/2 a stick of butter, melted, a pinch of salt, a dash of vanilla extract, and whatever you managed to salvage from the fabulous and glossy greek yogurt you bought earlier on that day, I'd say three heaped tbsp. Cream/buttermilk/half and half would do too. I think.
This is more of a "in your face" kind of shot.
Press the crust dough straight inside the tart pan with your tiny fists, stab it a couple of times with a fork (chourinez-la deux trois fois à la fourchette), and blind bake for 20 minutes.
Pour the almond cream on the bottom, add two pears cut in eighth in a pretty pattern and arrange the pecan halves as stylishly as you can manage. FYI, I should have used canned pears instead of rock-hard ones from the crap greengrocer (le marchand de fruits et légumes nul à chier). They felt like quinces and they weren't by any means tender after 35' in the oven.
Pop the whole thing back in the oven for 35 more minutes or until you are happy with the look of it. Let it cool, subway it to Brooklyn, try to seduce your new flatmates.
Pick me! I'm a great roommate!
You can find a hundred excuses to bake those cookies. In my case, I saw its name and realised I had indeed run out of flour. That sucks doesn't it (c'est râlant, hein). Next time I have flour, I'll go for gluten intolerance.
This one is for Peter from Kalofagas. You need to come back to NY soon, man.
It's a François Payard recipe that has featured multiple times on the blogs as well as in the NY magazine. I was intrigued by the unequal results people got from this recipe. I think what's key here is to keep a critical eye on the texture of the batter as you add in the egg whites. It should be thick and glossy, like a brownie batter. I obtained such a texture with only three egg whites, not four, but then again, different kitchens, different results.
Also, if you plan on feeding your cookies to sweet-toothed colleagues, make smaller mounds than what Payard suggests and you get more than double the amount of cookies (and they are still a reasonable size, I promise). Besides, they are really sweet and I am not sure you could make it through an entire Payard-size cookie without having to prebook a dentist appointement.
So - the recipe, with my tiny modifications.
2 heaped cups of roughly chopped walnuts
3 cups of confectioners' sugar
1/2 cup + 3tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 tsp salt
3 large egg whites
1 tbsp vanilla extract.
Toast the walnuts in your oven for 9 minutes at 350°F. You may sit in the oven with your walnuts if feeling chilly. If nibbling to kill time, make sure you still have enough to complete the recipe, since waluts really make those cookies outstanding.
Get out of the oven, put on your puffer jacket and mittens. Turn oven temp down to 320°F.
In a mixing bowl, whisk the cocoa powder, sugar, salt and toasted and cooled walnuts to combine. Whisk in the whites (go with three first, then see if you need to add a fourth), and the vanilla-r-extract (<= intrusive "r" sound, as my charming phonology teacher used to call it), until batter comes together as a moist (but not damp if you've followed) goo. No need to overbeat, matey (mélange pas trop fort, mon pote).
One of the objects on the plate isn't a cookie. It's a saltcellar I nicked from my flatmate.
Yet another meagre attempt at food styling.
Spoon over silpats or baking paper - 12 heaped mounds if you aim at Frankie Payard's jolly rotundity and a cavity-ridden dentition, 26 if you are planning to feed more revellers.
Bake for 14 minutes if going for the more-the-merrier option, 16 if making cookie monsters. The surface crackles and becomes glossy. I made three batches, and experimented on the peeling off of the cookies from the silpats - be warned, they are sticky, even on a silpat, which is a first for me.
*if greasing up the baking sheets, the cookies spread more, they lose that nice thickness and subsequent chewyness. But they come off easily. Shame, though (dommage, non).
*if not greasing up the baking surface, you can go with two options. After waiting for the cookies to have cooled down you can do it samurai-style with your offset spatula, scraping them off with vigour and precision. Or you can set your baking tray over a tray of smaller or equal size filled with steaming water, and leave it there for a couple of minutes. That worked well.
See the macaron-like feet of those cookies? Unexpected but always exhilarating.I get amused by inconsequential details, it's my inner child speaking.
Note that kept in a metal box, they keep for three days if adequately hidden from workmates, and I even find that their texture improves over time. They remain nice and chewy. Thanks for sharing Frankie.
Finishing on thanks and autocongratulation, I am so delighted I got to meet a bunch of bloggers in NY last Thursday and over the week in general (Rachel, Stacey, Giff, Peter and Stéphane)! Good food makes good friends. That's my word of wisdom for tonight. Sleep tight, kiddos (au dodo les petits).
It so happens that my restaurant buddy Edgar and I went to this funky Lebanese place somewhere in the middle of Manhattan (I was starving so much after a long concert that the precise location remains a little fuzzy – besides it was night time and all avenues look the same to me).
With the panache imparted to him by his Tripolitan origins, Edgar ordered a number of dishes, all equally delicious (O the octopus, and O the falafels!) which were hastily gobbled down. As I laid back after an amazing dessert, feeling a little full perhaps, one dish really stood out, which I wouldn’t necessarily have expected in a Lebanese restaurant.
Sprouts are not bitter, they’re lovely. Besides, they’re in season and they are my new best friends.
It was a platter of roasted, almost caramelised Brussel sprouts, with halved fresh grapes, toasted walnuts, drizzled with a fig purée dressing, and a white sauce which must have been part yoghurt, part tahini. The combination was divine. In case your only memory of Brussel sprouts is that of your school dinners, please reconsider this noble vegetable through this (feeble) attempt to recreate this magical dish.
Henri Jean Antoine RODET (Botanique agricole et médicale, ou, Etude des plantes qui intéressent principalement les médecins, les vétérinaires et les agriculteurs, Paris  (1872), 53) goes even as far as declaring : “These buds, or small apples, constituted of young leaves of a very tender and delicate nature, make for a highly regarded delicacy.”
Would you believe me if I told you the picture doesn't do justice to the dish? Shitty lighting is what is it.
Trim and halve longitudinally 20 Brussel sprouts, put them in a bowl and toss them with some olive oil and a good pinch of salt. Place them cut-side down on a baking tray (I used a silpat), and roast them in a preheated oven (400°F) for about 25 minutes, or until the top leaves have become nicely browned and crisped up into a nice crust.
Toast in a frying pan two handfuls of walnuts until fragrant, set aside.
In a bowl, prepare the dressing by combining two teaspoons of pomegranate molasses (that’s where having a Lebanese buddy comes in handy – you get the stuff straight from Beirut, woohoo) with two teaspoons of olive oil and a little salt. I guess a splash of lemon juice would have been nice, but I didn’t have any, so I added a few drops of water to loosen the dressing a bit.
In a large bowl, combine the crispy sprouts, the toasted walnuts and the dressing, and breath in, you’re about to have a Brussel sprout sensation. It’s that good.
Of course, if you have grapes, yogurt and tahini at hand, feel free to customise the recipe, I have the feeling it can’t go wrong anyway.
You will also love to know this bit of gossip from Alfred SMEE (Mon jardin, Paris (1876), 103-104) : “The Brussel sprout is doubtless the most useful [cabbage] in a private garden. […] In Scotland, Brussel sprouts are usually sown in August, in order to be harvested the next year.”
Even Scots plan their Brussel sprouts harvest far ahead. Surely that’s an indication of how good they are.