Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Never One To Follow The Flow.....

It's 5 de Mayo and I've been getting emails, texts and calls from friends all over seeking advice and recipes for a memorable celebration keeping the "Mexican Theme".... yet, for us I've decided to go against the trend and revisit some old favorites from other places. We (my family and I) never have "traditional" anything, for instance at Christmas time we never have Roast Turkey or Ham or anything like that, choosing instead to serve a Chinese Appetizer Buffet or a Morrocan Feast, so today were going to rekindle some lovely memories of time spent in France instead (guess this isn't so strange if you take into account the French invasion and subsequent battle victory being celebrated today), so if you want to join in, feel free.

For us, France is THE place for food, our favorite and #1 when it comes to places we'd like to settle in (but with the Euro the way it is, not very affordable, but I'm always looking for ways to live there, maybe someday...) so I will present a complete meal and try and hit all the pertinent flavor notes to make it memorable plus affordable as well... in these times of recession, devalued currencies and state of the world, everyone can consider cost as another facet in any menu or adapt your favorite dishes to make them economical so you can still have them and not "break the bank".....

1- Appetizer or First Course: Although Coquilles St Jacques are traditionally done with scallops, in keeping with the budget you can use a bag or two of frozen seafood mix you find in the market which will lower the cost substantially while still giving the taste you want. You can also substitute other low cost seafood or fish (just add more spices for more flavor!) They are also served in scallop shells but you can also use small ramekins instead or any oven proof individual serving dish.

Coquilles Saint-Jacques

  • 1/4 cup all purpose flour
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp curry powder
  • 1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1 1/2 lbs frozen seafood mix, frozen - thawed
  • 4 tbl butter
  • 8 oz fresh mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
  • 1 cup chopped onion
  • 2/3 cup dry white wine (use leftover wine or use cooking wine)
  • 2 tbl Cognac (or Sherry which is cheaper, or your choice)
  • 3 tbl bread crumbs (use old, dry bread and grind in blender)
  • 2 tbl butter, melted
  • 1/3 cup grated Gruyere cheese (Swiss or any strong tasting cheese)
  • 1 tbl fresh lemon juice
Mix the flour, salt, curry powder, and cayenne pepper together in a large bowl. Toss scallops (or seafood, etc) together until they are well coated in the spiced mixture. Melt butter in a large skillet over med-high heat. Add the seafood sauté, about 4-5 min; put on a plate and keep warm.

Add the mushrooms and onions to the pan and sauté, stirring frequently, 3-4 minutes, until light brown. Then add wine to the pan and scrape the bottom of the pan with a metal spatula to lift the brown bits from the pan. Lower heat and simmer to reduce sauce half. Watch it then remove the pan from the heat and stir in the Cognac (or substitute )and seafood.

Preheat the broiler. Split the seafood and sauce between 6 shells or small serving dishes. Mix the bread crumbs, melted butter, and cheese then divide the mixture evenly on top of each dish of seafood. Now put the dishes about 6 inches from the broiler and cook until they're browned on top. They should be boiling, so watch them carefully so they don't burn. Some lemon juice on top and serve immediately.

2- Side Dish #1: Petits Pâtés a la Sage which are little tasty cakes that are perfect to serve with poultry dishes. Full of flavor and just the right touch.... plus they will help fill you up so the chicken can go further while still satisfying everyone.

Petits Pâtés a la Sage

  • 4 tbl flour
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • 1 tbl sugar
  • 6 tbl water
  • 1 egg, separated
  • 1 tbl fresh sage, chopped
  • Butter or oil for frying

Mix the flour, salt, sugar, water, egg yolk, and sage until smooth. In another bowl beat the egg white until stiff peaks form. Fold the egg white gently into the batter. Heat the butter or oil in a pan and fry the batter, by heaping tablespoons until golden brown, about 1 min per side, keep watch. Drain the patties on absorbent paper towels before serving.

2- Side Dish #2, Spinach Souffle: - A classic dish full of flavor that can be made into a lunch entree too when served with a great green salad, but makes a fantastic side dish here. Don't be put off about it being a souffle, try it and you'll see it's easier than you think and it can be adapted to many flavors (savory or sweet too!) plus it's quite impressive and satisfying:

Spinach Souffle
  • 1 1/2 tbl + 4 tbl softened butter, divided
  • 3 tbl grated Parmesan cheese or other strong flavor grating cheese
  • 1 lb. fresh spinach, leaves only and chopped
  • 2 tbl flour
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 1/8 tsp ground black pepper
  • 1/8 tsp grated nutmeg
  • 3 eggs, separated

Brush the inside of a large soufflé or deep casserole dish with 1 1/2 tbl of softened butter. Sprinkle the buttered surface evenly with grated cheese and set aside the dish.

In a large saucepan, sauté the spinach until it wilts and the juices have evaporated. Preheat the oven to 375F. In a separate medium saucepan, melt the remaining butter over medium heat and stir in the flour and salt. Add the flour and stir it (called "cooking the flour so you can't taste it) whisking constantly, for 30 seconds. Add the milk to the flour and cook, still whisking constantly, for about 4 minutes, until the mixture thickens (it will be fast so keep an eye on it). Add the spinach and continue cooking over medium heat for 1 minute. Season the mixture with black pepper and nutmeg.

Whisk ½ cup of the hot spinach into the egg yolks (to temper it and not get scrambed eggs, pay attention), and then add the egg yolk mixture back into the hot spinach, stirring to completely incorporate. Beat the egg whites on high speed until stiff peaks form. Stir one-third of the egg whites into the spinach (a classic technique when adding hot to cold ingredients), and then fold the remaining egg whites into the mixture. Spoon it into the prepared dish and bake for 30 minutes, until the soufflé is puffed up and cooked through.Resist the urge to open the oven door to check, every time you open the door you loose temperature which is vital for the souffle to rise look through the oven glass instead or just leave the oven light on.

This dish should be done right before service so you can present the souffle all puffed up and golden.... and hot.

3- Main Dish: French Roast Chicken: While this preparation might seem to take more time than the usual, the results are more than worth it and it will show you a classic French technique for chicken. No one makes baked chicken like the French and this is why..... plus there are many variations to this preparation to give poultry all kinds of different flavor notes depending on your menu, it's very flexible. Also, compare prices of whole chicken to chicken parts and you will realize a savings right there too. I always buy whole chicken and cut up the parts myself, plus I save the innards for stock to use with soups, rice, casseroles, sauces, etc. (you should see my freezer..)

Classic French Roast Chicken:

  • 1/2 cup plus 4 tbl extra virgin olive oil, divided
  • 16 pearl onions, peeled (or sliced onion)
  • 5 carrots, peeled and cut in 2-inch pieces
  • 4 celery stalks, cut in 2-inch pieces
  • 6 cloves of garlic, separated and peeled
  • 1 3/4 tsp salt, divided
  • 3/4 tsp ground black pepper, divided
  • 1 (4-5 lb) chicken, rinsed and patted dry
  • 1 tbl fresh parsley, chopped
  • 2 tsp dried rosemary, crushed
  • 1 tsp dried thyme
  • 1 tbl lemon zest
  • 1 1/3 pitted prunes
  • 1 very small green cabbage, cored and quartered
  • 1/2 cup Riesling d'Alsace or white wine
  • 1 cup chicken stock (you can use the innards that came with the chicken for this)

Preheat oven to 450F. Heat 2 tbl of the olive oil in a large, heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onions, carrots, celery, garlic cloves, ¾ tsp salt, and ¼ tsp pepper, and cook, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes. When the vegetables are caramelized (golden brown), spoon them along the sides of a large roasting pan and set it aside leaving room for the chicken in the center.

Reduce the burner heat slightly and allow the pan to cool a bit. Add 2 tbl oil to pan and return the pan to medium-high heat. Season the chicken with the remaining salt and pepper, and brown in the hot oil. Transfer the chicken to the center of the roasting pan, pour the pan juices on top of it and rub it with the parsley, rosemary, thyme, and lemon zest.

Add the wine to the skillet and scrape up any browned bits from the pan. After the wine has simmered for 30 seconds, add the chicken stock and heat through. Pour the wine/chicken stock sauce over the chicken and place the prunes and cabbage on the caramelized vegetables. Cover the roasting pan with a lid or tightly sealed foil and roast in the oven for 60-70 minutes, until the chicken tests 170 when a thermometer is inserted in the thigh or you prick the thigh and clear juices run out. Allow the chicken to stand at room temperature in the pan for 10 minutes before carving. (Never cut any meat without letting it rest for at least 10 min before or you'll loose all the juices and the meat will seem dry).

#4- Dessert: What would this be without chocolate? These little chocolate souffle's are easy, impressive and have maximum chocolate flavor so you only need a little cake to satisfy you and finish the meal. Great with an expresso or capuccino after a meal, but quick and easy so they can be made anytime too... you can also add Grand Marnier or any liquor to the last remaining chocolate sauce for added drama....

So-Easy Chocolate Soufflé
  • Nonstick cooking spray
  • Sugar
  • 4 oz semisweet chocolate, chopped (can be chocolate chips too)
  • 1/2 cup whipping cream
  • 4 egg whites
  • 2 tbl sugar
Preheat oven to 400 degree F. Coat insides and rims of four 6 oz (small) ramekins with nonstick cooking spray. Sprinkle with sugar and put on a baking sheet; set aside.

In a small microwave-safe bowl, combine chocolate and cream. Cook on 100 percent power (high) for 1-2 min or until smooth, stirring twice. Divide in half. Cover and cool to room temperature.

In a medium mixing bowl, beat egg whites with an electric mixer on medium speed until foamy. Gradually add sugar and continue beating until soft peaks form and the tips curl.

Gently fold half the cooled chocolate mixture into the beaten egg whites until combined. Spoon mixture into prepared ramekins. Bake for 12-15 min or until a knife inserted near the center of soufflés comes out clean. Serve immediately. To serve, open the centers of the soufflés with two spoons and pour in remaining chocolate mixture into each. Makes 4 servings.

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There you have it a complete French meal which might seem complicated but is really easy and well worth the effort to produce and serve.

It will also make you acquainted (or let you practice) with several classic French techniques that are used all the time and will add to your repertoire, giving you more ideas for future menus. Don't forget "practice makes perfect, and will make you a "wiz" in no time, your family will be glad too!

Next up we will continue our travels with more European menu ideas and give us a break from our traditional Mexican food, so tune in for more inspiring food from the world's most beautiful destinations to feed the soul while filling your tummy..... mmmmm, now it's time for ME to organize today's menu and get busy re-living some of our fondest memories too!....

Happy 5 de Mayo everyone!...............

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