Creamy Mushrooms and Eggs {FFwD}

AMFT Cover

Although I haven’t been participating in French Fridays with Dorie (or any other bake- or cook-along group) recently, I happened by the website the other day, and this recipe was enough to pull me back in. Mushrooms, cream, and poached eggs (singing: these are a few of my favorite things) on top of toasted brioche — I mean, what’s not to love?

This recipe was as simple as it was delicious. Cleaning the mushroom caps and chopping the mushrooms, shallot, rosemary, and mint were the most time-consuming parts of the whole process. After that, it was just a matter of adding everything to the pan in the right order while Mom poached some eggs.

Once I had my mise en place, I began by heating olive oil and melting butter in a sauté pan. I dropped in the shallot and sautéed it for a few minutes, then added the mushrooms, salt, and pepper. Once the mushrooms had given up their liquid and begun to soften, I added cream and let it simmer away for a few minutes while I sliced up the brioche and started toasting it. Finally, I removed the pan from the heat and stirred in rosemary and mint.

By that time, Mom was finished poaching the eggs (perfectly, I might add), and we plated everything. We put a slice of brioche on the plate, topped it with a nice spoonful of mushrooms and the poached egg, and then finished it off by spooning the mushroom cream over the top.

Everyone agreed that this was a perfect Sunday supper — simple, homey, filling, and insanely delicious.

I’m glad to be back cooking with my friends for French Fridays. I can’t say for sure how many recipes I will make, or if I’ll post many or any of them. But I have already made next week’s Coupetade. And I love both asparagus and avocado. So there’s a good chance I’ll be around at least for the month of May.

Bon appetite!

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Spiced Squash, Fennel, and Pear Soup {FFwD}

When I posted the Twenty-minute Honey-glazed Duck Breasts this morning, I wasn’t planning on writing this week’s French Fridays post until next week. In fact, I hadn’t even made the soup yet, so posting it today seemed out of the question. But with the girls at school, J resting on the couch, Bailey napping wherever he could find a comfortable spot, and me off work for the day, it just seemed like a great time for some cooking. Add to that the fact that we got our first snow overnight, and soup was the perfect choice for the afternoon.

I started out by roasting a pumpkin.

It was only a 3-pounder, so I was surprised by how much meat I got from it.

Next, I did my mise en place. I’m a big proponent of using mise en place for cooking and baking, and I always employ it for soups, which tend to require a lot of measuring, peeling, and chopping but come together quickly once you start cooking. With all your ingredients in front of you, most of the work is behind you.

I sautéed onions in olive oil over low heat, then added fennel, celery, and garlic and cooked until the vegetables softened.

I added spices, the roasted pumpkin, homemade chicken stock, pear, and orange peel to the pot, brought it to a boil, then simmered for about 20 minutes, until the pear was mashably soft.

I pureed the soup with my immersion blender, then adjusted the salt and pepper. Most soups are oversalted for my tastes, so I had used very little salt while preparing the soup. I stirred in a little at a time until the balance was perfect. As I tasted the soup, I thought it might benefit from a little honey to help bolster the sweetness of the pears, so I stirred in about 2 tablespoons of clover honey.

I served the soup with a squeeze of lemon juice and crème fraîche.

The soup was creamy, savory, a little sweet, and spiced just right. The acid from the lemon juice gave it great balance, and the crème fraîche added a nice tang. I could just barely taste the orange peel, and it seemed like the soup would be really good with just a bit more orange flavor, maybe from some zest or a bit of juice.

But it was pretty close to perfect just the way it was.

Truffle Butter {Recipe}

We’re having Thanksgiving dinner at my house this year, so I’m responsible for the turkey. And I’m hosting a virtual Thanksgiving Dinner Roundup for some of my friends this weekend, so I needed to try out a turkey recipe that would fit into the Roundup and, hopefully, be worth repeating on Thanksgiving Day.

I found a recipe by Ina Garten that looked really delicious. In fact, I probably would have tried this recipe even if I didn’t need it for the Roundup and Thanksgiving. You’ll have to wait until Sunday to see my turkey post, but I can tell you that one of the key ingredients is truffle butter.

I’m sure truffle butter is easy to find in the Hamptons, where Ina lives. In Stow, Ohio — not so much. I checked several stores before I decided to try making my own. After surfing the ‘Net and finding a number of different methods for making it, I came up with this recipe. It’s simple, and the results are wonderful.

Truffle Butter (makes 4 ounces)

Ingredients

  • One stick unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 2 teaspoons white truffle oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon truffle salt, or Kosher salt

Directions

  1. Mix butter, oil, and salt in a small bowl.
  2. Taste for salt, adding up to another 1/2 teaspoon, if needed.
  3. Cover and leave at room temperature if you are going to use within a day or two. Refrigerate or freeze for longer storage.

A word of warning: when you taste the butter, you may find yourself wanting to eat it by the spoonful. It’s that good.

Once you discover how easy and delicious this butter is, you’re sure to find many uses for it. And if you do, I’d love to read about them in the Comments section below.

Savory Elephant Ears {ModBak}

Having made Nick Malgieri’s Perfect Elephant Ears several times, always to rave reviews, I recently thought I would mix things up a bit. Rather than the sweet elephant ears, made simply with puff pastry and sugar, I decided to make the savory version in The Modern Baker.

The savory elephant ears were made with cheese and paprika. I decided to use two kinds of cheese — Pecorino Romano and Gruyère.

Cheese en Place

 I began by rolling the puff pastry (using flour instead of sugar) into a rectangle.

I brushed the surface with egg wash,…

…then spread the dough with cheese…

…and sprinkled on some paprika.

I shaped the dough as with the sweet elephant ears by rolling the sides in about halfway, then folding a second time, and finally folding one side over the other.

First roll

Second roll

Final roll

I flattened the roll slightly, then refrigerated the dough for an hour or so before slicing and baking.

These elephant ears were puffy, buttery, and cheesy. They reminded me in a way of mustard batons. And even though they were really tasty, calling them “elephant ears” distracted from the experience, as I couldn’t help but compare them to their sweet, sticky, caramelized namesakes. Maybe next time, I’ll just call them cheese puffs.

Instant Puff Pastry {ModBak}

The first recipe in the Puff Pastry section of The Modern Baker is the basis of all the recipes that follow. Sure, you could make these recipes with store bought puff pastry, but why would you? Especially since, like so many of Nick Malgieri’s recipes, the recipe for Instant Puff Pastry is so easy to put together.

The puff pastry has only four ingredients — flour, butter, salt, and water — and comes together quickly in the food processor. And unlike the typical puff pastry recipe, which requires multiple “turns” to fold and roll chilled butter into the dough, Nick’s recipe incorporates the butter into the dough from the beginning.

After combining the flour and salt in the bowl of the food processor, I added the butter (chilled and cut into pieces). I pulsed mixture, then added the water and finished mixing the dough. Then I turned the dough out onto a floured board, where I pressed and rolled it into a rectangle. 

I rolled and turned the dough, making sure it was well-floured on the top and underneath, until I had an 18-inch square. I cut the square in half, then rolled one half out to a 12 x 18-inch rectangle. I folded the rectangle in thirds, then rolled it into a cylinder and flattened it under my palm. I did the same thing with the other half of the dough. When I cut the dough in half, it exhibited the layers you expect to see in puff pastry.

 

 It took less than half an hour to put the dough together, and Nick says that it can be frozen for several months, so I decided that while I had the ingredients out and the food pro already messed up, I might as well make all the dough I would need for this section of the Modern Baker Challenge. I figured that I would need five recipes of instant puff pastry. Each batch came together faster than the one before, and I had all five of them finished, divided, bagged, and the kitchen cleaned in just over two hours.

I put them in the fridge while I cleaned, then moved all but the ones I was planning to use right away to the freezer.

If you’ve ever made puff pastry using a traditional recipe, you’ll understand how simple this recipe really is. And once you try it, you’ll wonder why you ever went to all that work before.

And whether you’ve made puff pastry before or not, I guarantee that once you try this recipe, you’ll never go back to store bought again.

Raspberry Almond Tartlets {ModBak}

Talk about saving the best for last. This is the final recipe I made from the Sweet Tarts & Pies section of The Modern Baker, and what a way to finish! I would have to put this recipe in the top 3 for this section, right up there with the Pumpkin Pecan and Bourbon-scented Pecan Tarts.

I put this one off until the end, not just because it’s near the end of the section (I tend to make the recipes roughly in order), but also because tartlets always seem a bit fussy to me. I tend to favor full-size tarts and pies, as their miniature counterparts tend to be tedious to assemble. I needn’t have worried with this recipe, however, as it came together really quickly.

Having made the crust the day before to use for lemon lime tartlets, all I had to do was roll it out, cut it, and fit it into the mini muffin pans.

I had planned to make a half recipe of the lemon lime and raspberry almond tartlets, so I divided a single batch of sweet tart dough and set aside half for each recipe. There was a small chunk of dough leftover when I made the lemon lime tartlets, and I had stuck that in the fridge after I made the crusts for those the day before. As I rolled out the dough for the raspberry tartlets, I realized there was enough dough to make more than just 12 tartlets. To my surprise, between the leftovers from the day before and the raspberry tartlet dough, I was able to make 24 tartlet shells.

While the dough chilled in the fridge, I put together the filling, which consisted of almond paste, sugar, eggs, vanilla, butter, and flour, all whirred together in the food processor. Then I gathered my ingredients to assemble the tartlets.

I began by putting a dab of seedless raspberry preserves in each shell, then topping that with either one large raspberry or two small blackberries.

Then I spooned in the filling to cover the berries. Nick says to spread the filling evenly with an offset spatula, but mine seemed to even itself out nicely. I sprinkled the top of each tartlet with sliced almonds, and they were ready to bake.

I baked the tartlets at 350°F for 20 minutes, until the crust was baked through and the filling was puffy and set.

Allowing the tartlets to cool was no easy task, but I left them alone for about 25 minutes, until the pan was cool enough to handle, then I removed each tartlet to a rack to finish cooling. Well, all except for those destined for the dessert plate.

In case you’re wondering, that wasn’t all for me. My wife and I split the tartlets on the plate. But I did sneak another one every time I walked past the table. And I found lots of excuses to pass through the dining room.

I really enjoyed these tartlets. The almond paste gave the filling a wonderfully rich and warm flavor, while the berries provided a juicy, tart contrast. I liked the blackberry ones the best, although I wouldn’t say no to either of them. Which is why I eventually had to wrap them and put them away.

So that’s it for the sweet tarts and pies. On to Puff Pastries. I hope you’ll come along for the ride.

Sour Cream Apple Pie {ModBak}

This recipe, the last of three apple pie recipes in the Sweet Tarts & Pies section of The Modern Baker, is the only one that really seems like pie. The other two — Breton apple pie and Maida’s Big Apple Pie — are more of a cake and tart, respectively. Each one is delicious in its own right, but none, including this one, reminds me of a classic apple pie. When I think of apple pie, I picture a double-crusted pie (although I don’t have anything against crumb topping, either) with a filling made of apples, sugar, cinnamon, butter, maybe a splash of lemon juice, and not much else.

The twist in this recipe is the addition of sour cream, which makes a custard-style pie. To make the pie, I began by cooking down some apples in butter and sugar. While the apples were cooking, I whisked together flour, sugar, eggs, vanilla, and sour cream. Then I made the crumb topping, which consisted of flour, sugar, baking powder, cinnamon, and butter. Finally, I rolled out and panned a single crust sweet pie dough.

Once the apples had cooled, I combined them with the sour cream custard mixture.

As soon as I put the filling into the pie, I knew I had a bit too much. Fortunately, I had placed the pie pan on a parchment-lined jelly roll pan, so it caught the overflow.

After topping the pie with the crumbs, I baked it at 350°F for about 55 minutes, until the filling was set and the topping nicely browned.

I cooled the pie (more or less), then sliced and served it for a late-evening snack.

The recipe says that the pie needs no accompaniment, and it was certainly good on its own.

Don’t tell Nick, but it was also awesome with ice cream and whipped cream!

Coconut Lemongrass Braised Chicken {FFwD}

I hadn’t originally planned to make this week’s French Fridays with Dorie recipe, coconut lemongrass braised pork, for the simple reason that I don’t eat pork. The rest of my family eats it, so I thought about making it for them. But the thought of cooking two meals in the summer heat  made me change my mind about that. Nonetheless, I decided to take a quick look at the recipe to see if it seemed like something I might make for the girls another time. That’s when I read in the headnote that Dorie sometimes makes this recipe with chicken instead of pork.

So, I was back in business.

The only ingredients I didn’t already have in the pantry for this recipe were lemongrass and coconut milk, so after a quick trip to the store, I was set to begin.

I began by browning the chicken in a large skillet. I had a whole fryer in the fridge, so I cut it up and used it in this recipe. The next time I make it, I’d like to try it with cubed pieces of boneless breast or thighs, or a combination of the two.

As the pieces browned, I transferred them to an enameled cast iron Dutch oven. Once all the chicken was in the Dutch oven, I added the spices — turmeric, curry powder, cardamom seeds, white peppercorns, coriander seeds, lemon zest, lemongrass, salt, and pepper — and cooked until the spices became very fragrant.

I added the coconut milk, water, and, in a departure from the recipe, potatoes, carrots, and onions.

After bringing the pot to a boil, I covered it, then slid it in the oven. I braised the chicken at 300°F for about 50 minutes, until the chicken was done and the vegetables were tender.

I started cooking late the evening I made this, and we ended up eating something else for dinner while the chicken was in the oven. My younger daughter and I decided to split a small serving of the chicken just to try it out.

Note to self: don't photograph yellow food on a green dish

 We both liked the dish a lot. The lemongrass and coconut flavors lent a mild sweetness to the dish, and the curry and other spices were fragrant but not overpowering.

I froze the rest of the chicken and vegetables and served them the following week over egg noodles. As the chicken reheated, it started falling off the bone, so I picked it all off and shredded the chicken, which is what made me think it would be good to make with boneless chicken the next time.

This is a dish I will make again, using my alterations — boneless chicken pieces instead of pork, adding the vegetables before putting the pot in the oven, and braising for a bit longer than the recipe for the pork. And knowing that it reheats well, I’ll probably make a larger recipe next time so we can get several meals from it.

Introducing “The Pig”

I’m not sure where I first saw a salt pig. It was probably on a website that sells cooking, baking, and general kitchen supplies and equipment. It seemed familiar, like I had probably seen someone using one on TV, and I immediately wanted one. But in an uncharacteristic show of restraint, I didn’t buy it.

I figured I’d see one in a store somewhere, so I could get a better look at it and decide if I really thought it would be a nice addition to my kitchen. So I looked around, and to my surprise, not only did I not find any salt pigs, I couldn’t even find anyone who knew what I was talking about. Even in kitchen and specialty stores, the clerks just stared at me like I had asked if they had any polite Frenchmen in stock.

The closest thing I found to my elusive salt pig was a two-tiered bamboo salt cellar, which has taken up residence on my counter, but still didn’t fulfill my now single-minded quest to find le porc de sel. The problem was that by the time I realized I wasn’t going to find it in a store near me, I couldn’t remember where I first saw it. I surfed around the ‘net and found a lot of salt cellars, and even a few pigs, but not like the one that had first captured my imagination.

Or was it my imagination? Had I dreamed the whole thing? Was there a salt pig like the one I was looking for, or had my quest been in vain?

Then it happened. I got a free shipping e-mail offer from one of the kitchen sites I visit and from whom I occasionally make a purchase. I wasn’t really in the market for ingredients or supplies, so I almost deleted the message. Then I remembered the pig, and figured it was worth a shot. And, lo and behold!, I found it! Not just one like it, but the very salt pig for which I had searched in vain these many months.

I supposed it goes without saying that I ordered it immediately.

Then something strange happened. In the week between when I purchased it and when the package was delivered, I started to wonder why I thought I needed a salt pig in the first place. Sure, it’s nice to have an open and readily accessible salt container at hand while cooking, but I had cooked for decades without one, so did I really need it? And would I actually use it? Maybe I wouldn’t even like it.

When it arrived, I unboxed it, being careful to save the packaging it came in, lest I decided to return it. I liked the look of it. In fact, it was nicer than it had looked online. I filled it with salt, put it on top of the stove, and soon found myself reaching for it whenever I cooked. Before long, I could hardly remember cooking or baking without it.

So now, without further adieu, patient readers, I give you “The Pig”:

Before you read this, you may not have known what a salt pig was, and you probably never thought you needed one. But I’m telling you, you want this. It’s the best invention since, well, salt.

Bourbon-scented Pecan Tart {ModBak}

Having just made sweet tart dough, the first recipe in the Sweet Tarts and Pies section of The Modern Baker, I obviously had to make something to go in it. Looking through the book, this recipe immediately caught my eye. First of all because I love pecan pie and this recipe, with its hint of bourbon, sounded really good. Also, I knew I had almost all the ingredients I needed to make it. And the one I didn’t have? Well, it’s always nice to have an excuse to buy a bottle of Maker’s Mark, isn’t it?

If you’ve never made a pecan pie or tart before, you’ll be surprised at how easy it is. I began by heating dark corn syrup and sugar over medium heat.

After the sugar mixture came to a boil, I took it off the heat and added butter and let it melt without stirring.

While the butter was melting, I whisked eggs, salt, and bourbon in a bowl, then I slowly whisked in the syrup.

Nick cautions against overmixing at this point, which would cause the filling to be cloudy instead of clear. He also says to allow the mixture to sit for a few minutes, then skim off the foam. I did this, then stirred in the pecans and dumped the whole thing into the tart pan.

 

If the filling resembles the proverbial 10 pounds of taters in a five-pound sack, it’s because I made a nine-inch tart crust (the recipe calls for an 11-inch pan) but didn’t scale back the filling. I thought I would have some filling left over, but I was able to squeeze it all in the pan without any overflow.

I baked the tart in a 350°F oven for 35 minutes, until the filling was set and little bubbles were breaking on the surface. I took the tart out of the oven and allowed it to cool — more or less — in the pan.

Oh, who am I kidding? As soon as that bad boy was cool enough to handle without burning myself, I got it out of the pan and onto a plate.

And it wasn’t long after that until I was slicing into it for a taste.

Boys and girls, this is what happens if you cut a pie while it is still too warm

 I wrecked that beautiful tart, and I didn’t care. I had to try it. And let me tell you, it was worth it. This was easily the best pecan tart/pie I have ever tasted. The filling was sweet, rich, and buttery. But what really set it apart was the bourbon.

There is only a tablespoon-and-a-half of bourbon in the whole tart, and you might be tempted to skip it if you don’t drink bourbon or have any on hand. That would be a huge mistake. Without the bourbon, this would be just another delicious pecan tart. The bourbon — which is very subtle, more of a sense than a taste (I can see why Nick calls it “bourbon-scented”) — elevates this tart to a class of its own.  It adds richness, depth, and an aroma that will keep you shoveling this rich tart in your mouth long after you’re full.

Unless you have a strong aversion to bourbon and rich desserts, I guarantee you will love this recipe. But a word of caution: if you bring this tart to your next holiday meal, you’d better bring two. And you should probably plan on bringing it every year.

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