cooking


Mark’s mom just lent me her copy of “Beard on Bread” and I’m very happy about it. I worked my way through this sweet little book in college and still remember how each recipe turned out–always earthy, flavorful and broadly appealing. Nothing too adventurous or painstaking.  I love you, James Beard.

I’m going to make one of my favorites right now.

Anadama Bread

(From Beard on Bread by James Beard)

  1. 1 package active dry yeast
  2. 1 teaspoon granulated sugar
  3. 1 1/4 cups warm water (100-115 degrees, approximately)
  4. 2 tablespoons butter
  5. 1/4 cup molasses
  6. 1 tablespoon salt
  7. 1/2 cup yellow cornmeal
  8. 4 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, approximately

Dissolve the yeast and sugar in 1/4 cup warm water in a large bowl and let proof for five minutes. Combine the remaining water, butter, molasses, and salt in a saucepan and heat to lukewarm. Stir into the yeast mixture. Add the cornmeal and mix well. Add the flour, 1 cup at a time, and beat vigorously; the dough will be sticky and hard to work. Turn out on a lightly floured board. Using a baker’s scraper or a large spatula, scrape under the flour on the board and fold the dough over to incorporate the flour. Repeat this process until you can knead with your hands, using only enough additional flour to make a smooth dough that is springy to touch; the stickiness will not be completely eliminated. Shape into a ball, put in a buttered bowl, and turn to coat the surface with the fat. Cover and let rise in a warm, draft-free place until doubled in bulk.

Punch the dough down, Shape into one loaf, to fit a 10-inch loaf pan, or divide into two pieces and shape to fit two 8 x 4 x 2-inch loaf tins. Cover and let rise until doubled in bulk. Bake in a preheated 425 degree oven for 10 minutes, then lower he temperature to 350 degrees and bake for about 35 minutes more, or until the loaves sound hollow when tapped with the knuckles on top and bottom. Cool on racks.

…is delicious. I planted 13 cloves last fall, just pulled them up and they are full-on gorgeous. Lesson learned: Plant a few cloves every three weeks or so, then you’ll have them around. I am loaded with garlic now, not that there will be a problem eating them. Also, I found out that they are not like onions, i.e. don’t wait until all the tops die down before you harvest. The greens on these guys were just starting to turn brown when they were ready to pull.

On the other hand, try not to be impatient like me and pull them up before the bulbs have divided into cloves. You can tell by gently pushing the soil from the top to see how they’re coming along.

Last night I threw some of the fresh cloves into beets and artichokes I was roasting and they really delivered —  super tender, hotter than store-bought and keep the vampires at bay, which is nice.

Garlic curing in the pantry

Garlic curing in the pantry

Bettunya\'s quick pickles

Quick pickles are really delicious and easy. I had 5 medium cucumbers from the garden. Peeled them, then using a mandoline, sliced them thin. Same with 1/2 white onion, 3 cloves of garlic. Here is the rest of my new quick pickle recipe, adapted from a recipe for sunomono on epicurious.com:

Set aside in a bowl and toss with 2 teaspoons salt. Let sit for twenty minutes. Drain off excess water.

Over vegetables, sprinkle 1 1/2 tablespoons fresh cut dill, four coriander seeds (crushed), 1 tsp. fresh ground pepper, leaves from three-ish sprigs of thyme. I also added a few tarragon leaves but only do that if you like that licorice-like taste.

In another bowl, 1 1/2 cup rice vinegar or white wine vinegar + 3/4 cup sugar. Mix until sugar is dissolved. Pour over vegetable mixture. Lightly stir, cover and put in the fridge for a couple of hours. So good.

I just made another batch yesterday with yellow squash and carrots added. It works. We have so much squash now, it’s nice to have something easy to do with them that doesn’t involve turning the oven on.

Squash blossoms with batter

I’ve always wanted to make fried squash blossoms and the moment was about an hour ago. I cut about seven from the garden and followed the recipe in Marcella Hazan’s “The Classic Italian Cookbook”, which is astoundingly easy to get my head around. The way she writes and her recipes, that is. There aren’t many illustrations, but the few there are, are strategically placed. And I love how she numbers the steps in her recipes.

So the process is super simple — the batter is a pastella, the same as you’d use for fried squash, eggplant, etc. Just whisk flour into a bowl containing a cup of water until it is the consistency of sour cream. Add the flour in very small amounts to keep it smooth. I added a little salt and freshly ground pepper.

Pour enough oil in a frying pan that it comes up 3/4 of an inch on the side. Heat the oil — get it very, very hot.

squash blossoms

Lightly, barely rinse off the blossoms in cold water and pat dry. Really, the less you touch them, the better.

Make a slit in the base of the flower on one side and gently flatten it, like you were butterflying a chicken breast.

NB: Check inside the flowers before using the knife. A honeybee buzzed from one of them just as I was getting ready to cut. Disaster averted. But the bee population being what it is, accidentally frying one would have been a serious downer.

Then drag the blossoms by the stem through the batter and drop into the very hot oil. Flip over when they start looking crispy — mine took about a minute or so. The batter will lightly brown.

Drain on a towel for a couple of minutes and serve immediately. They should be crisp on the outside, with a soft, fragile texture inside. The taste is really subtle and they’re pretty to look at.

fried squash blossoms

I love artichokes–baked, steamed, pickled, whatever. It’s difficult not to wonder how anyone figured out that you could pull off all that prickly armor and find something so delicious inside. Hats off to the first artichoke eater! I applaud your work!

Anyway, I’ve become very interested in growing our own. I’ve read that all of the chokes sold in the U.S. are grown in Cali and they are perennials so they supposedly will keep producing for years. They grow to 4-5 feet wide, too, so if it works out, they’ll fill out that empty spot out front where the agaves used to be. I bought five at the nursery and have grown 8 from seed — these will go into the ground in a few weeks. If anyone out there has experience growing artichokes, I welcome your tips.

That’s how it stands.

Keeping fingers crossed.

Here is the sole artichoke we’ve had so far. The biggest plant from the nursery already had a bud, which quickly grew fat enough to eat. Just added a couple garlic cloves and a bay leaf to the water, and steamed until the bottom leaves pulled off easily. Sauteed chopped garlic in butter for dipping and voila. Mmmmm.

 Pear clafoutis

By popular demand, my friends — the recipe for the delicious pear dessert I made Monday night. This recipe is adapted from Julia Child’s in “Mastering the Art of French Cooking.”

Pear Clafoutis:

Peel, core and slice three bosc pears (or another firm variety). In a pyrex baking dish, pour 1/4 cup cognac and 1/3 cup granulated sugar over the pear slices and let sit for a couple of hours.

Preheat over to 350

Into a blender, put the following:

1 1/4 cup milk

1/3 cup granulated sugar

3 eggs

1 tb vanilla extract

1/8 tsp salt

2/3 cup sifted flour

Blend until the consistency of thin pancake batter

Pour a 1/4 inch layer of batter into a lightly buttered, fireproof baking dish or tart mold, that is about 1 1/4 inch deep. Set over moderate heat for a minute until a film of batter has set in the bottom of the dish. Remove from heat.

Lay the pear slices in a pattern like the spokes of a wheel on top of the layer of batter.

Pour some of the batter on top of this layer and then add a few more pear slices.

Pour in the rest of the batter until it is just below the rim of the baking dish.

Set carefully into the pre-heated oven and bake for about an hour.

The clafoutis is done when it is puffed and browned and when a needle plunged into the center comes out clean.

Sprinkle with a little powdered sugar and serve warm with a dollop of creme fraiche.

jerusalem artichokeI’m really excited about tonight’s dinner, pulled from famed French cookbook authoress Madame E. Saint-Ange’s suggested winter dinner menus. On the agenda: Jerusalem artichoke potage, pork filet with pepper sauce, braised endives and pear clafoutis.

It’s coming out really, really well. So well, my heart murmur is acting up! One thing, in making the potage, which is a puree of stewed jerusalem artichokes (pictured), onion and hazelnuts, thickened with boiled milk and corn starch, it would have been really handy to have one of those stick mixers that you just put into the soup pot and blend away. It’s scary to batch stuff into the blender — especially when it’s hot.

But this soup is really interesting. Delicate flavor of the jerusalem artichoke and onion with the super complimentary hazelnuts. Who knew? It tastes very old-fashioned–will be interesting to hear what the guests think…

(Two days, and a head cold later)

Bettie at stoveThe soup was amazing and honestly, didn’t taste like anything I’d had before. I served with croutes sauteed in butter to which I added a crushed shallot. A little chervil on top. The guests really seemed to enjoy it. I would definitely make it again and want to explore more of Mme’s soups.

The pork was a really good recipe — but next time I’ll cook it in a tighter casserole. The sauce didn’t completely cover the pork loin during cooking (in a 10 inch round casserole) and the part of it that stuck from beneath the sauce ended up a bit dry (even having basted from time to time with bacon fat).

But the sauce (served in my grandma’s gravy boat) was very delicious. Strenuous to make, yes, per all of Mme Saint-Ange’s instructions (which sometimes are a bit contradictory, at one point she says the sauce takes 25 minutes to make, and later, to simmer the sauce for 45 minutes.) but roundly flavored with tart vinegar, herbs, vegetables and vermouth.

Pear clafoutisBut my favorite thing was the pear clafoutis. Actually, Mme Saint-Ange suggested apple tarte tatin for dessert but we’d just served that recently so I used Julia Child’s recipe for my favorite dessert from France. And not only is it delicous, but the easiest dish ever. I used bosc pears, cored and sliced and soaked them in sugar and cognac for a couple of hours. Basically, clafoutis is just seasonal fruit held together with sweet batter and baked in a tart pan. Served warm with creme fraiche. It is my new beloved dish — easy, delicious, fun to pronounce and good cold from the fridge for breakfast.

Dinner

Rabbit with provencal herbsNight before last Mark and I cooked up a storm of french food and had some lovely friends over to sample the menu. I made Julia Child’s coq au vin again — taking the advice of Bettunya’s Brioche reader “Johnny” (who is a huge fan of this recipe) and cooked the mushrooms with the chicken instead of adding them at the very end when the dish is being plated.

It was delicious as usual, and definitely added another nice note to the resulting sauce — an earthy one — though I missed the pretty sautéed mushrooms on the side at the end. I’m thinking next time it might work to include some of them during the cooking of the bird, and to save some for the end to brighten up the dish as a side.

Mark took over a lapin aux herbes de provence avec tomates au four (rabbit with provencal herbs and baked tomatoes), which turned out very well (from Anne Willan’s “French Country Cooking”). The rabbit came from Bristol Farms, which does stock the more unusual meats of the french kitchen, though if anyone knows of a less expensive alternative in the L.A. area, please comment. Bristol Farms also has stock bones on hand if you get there early enough. Just talk to the butcher a day ahead.

The rabbit was marinated in white wine, shallots and herbs de provence (usually some combo of thyme, fennel and sometimes rosemary, I think), then braised in a casserole with a stock reduction thickened with a tiny bit of flour.

Lesson learned: when the recipe says to skim the fat off your sauce during the reduction, do it. It is so much easier to skim early in the process then later, after you’ve done some stirring and more of the fat emulsifies.

But the baked tomatoes. These are easy to make, taste incredible and would be an awesome side dish for really any meat or fish. You don’t need many per person — the flavor is very concentrated and lush.

Tomates au Four:

Heat the oven to 250

Brush a grill rack with oil. Core 6 plum tomatoes (roma) and cut each one lengthwise into three thick slices. In a bowl combine tomatoes with 1 tbsp olive oil and a little salt and pepper.

Toss until tomatoes are coated.

Arrange tomatoes on the grill rack and bake them until most of their moisture has evaporated. About 2-2 1/2 hours. Transfer to a plate and cover with foil until serving.

I also made a quick salad and roasted a bunch of potatoes in their jackets with butter and salt.

For dessert, Mark made apple tarte tatin (from Julia Child’s recipe in “Mastering the Art of French Cooking”) in a cast iron pan and a box of Mademoiselle de Margaux chocolate covered cherries circulated the table to oohs and ahs. By the end of the meal, everyone’s teeth were quite purple from the cotes du rhone.

Regarding the tarte tatin (sort of a french apple upside-down pie), I want to point out an interesting note made by Judy Rodgers on the virtues of certain apple varieties over others in pie-making. She says (from “Zuni Cafe Cookbook“) “Use ripe sweet eating apples with tender flesh, such as Sierra Beauty, Gala, Braeburn, or Arkansas Black for the apple tart. Golden Delicious are good as long as they are really yellow-gold ripe. Rough-skinned Golden Russets have great flavor — watch for them. Really hard, dense apples, like Pippins, will turn leathery cooked this way.”

I wish I’d gotten photos of the tomatoes, tarte and more of the dinner table, but it was one of those dinner parties where I was having such a great time, I just forgot.

This is major, people. If you have read any of my older posts, you know how much I admire the cooking and recipes of chef Anne Willan. Well, Tex called this morning and mentioned this L.A. Times (full disclosure: I work there) piece by Russ Parsons about Anne’s move from her chateau in Burgundy, France to Santa Monica. The article hints that she may start teaching here — almost too exciting for the body to support — and that she and her husband are writing a book about their collection of 5,000 antiquarian cookbooks (some going back to the 13th century). Can Anne be any more awesome?

Note: I’ve updated the post below with the recipe for this soufflé au fromage. If you try it, send a photo to bettunya@mac.com. I’d love to post.

I’ve just made my first…

Souffle au fromage

soufflé.

And it is so pretty. And delicious. Light, airy with a lovely scent. Thing is, this wasn’t difficult at all. You are basically making a sauce béchamel, adding your flavoring (in my case grated gruyere and parmesan, with a teaspoon of dijon mustard. Some salt and pepper). Then you beat egg whites until stiff, lightly fold them in to the sauce, pour into a buttered soufflé mold. And voila.

Looks so fancy-pants. But so easy.

By popular demand, I’m including the recipe:

Soufflé au Fromage
Adapted from Anne Willan’s “Basic French Cookery” 1980

2 tbsp dry breadcrumbs
3 tbsp butter
2 tbsp all purpose flour
1 cup whole milk
salt and pepper to taste
4 egg yolks
¾ cup grated gruyere and parmesan, mixed. heavier on the gruyere (the good kind)
2 tsp Dijon mustard
6 egg whites

Preheat oven to 425. The oven needs to be really hot when you put the soufflé in.

Generously butter a 5 cup soufflé mold. Sprinkle inside with breadcrumbs to coat. Shake out extra.
Melt butter in medium saucepan. On low heat, whisk in flour.

Cook until mixture foams: do not brown. Whisk in milk. Don’t stop whisking.

Bring to a boil, stirring constantly.
Add salt and pepper. Reduce heat and simmer 2 minutes. Keep an eye out and whisk during the simmer.

Remove from heat. Beat egg yolks into hot sauce until thickened. Cool just a little.
Beat in ½ cup of grated cheese and mustard.
Taste for seasoning. Mixture should be highly seasoned as egg whites will be added later.

Whip egg whites until stiff peaks form.

Spoon ¼ of the whipped egg whites into the cheese mixture and thoroughly mix. Lightly fold this cheese mixture into the remaining egg whites, making sure to be gentle, but not leave areas of pure egg white unflavored.

Pour into prepared mold and sprinkle with 1-2 tbsp of grated cheese.

Bake 12-15 minutes until puffed and brown. Serve immediately.

Bon appetit!

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