Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Finding Great Recipes

I use to get all the traditional food magazines but I quit buying them and tried to go 100% online. That was an interesting failure that was only about 3 months in the making. 

I really missed leafing through them, using the photos to lead me to unrivaled, quality recipes and spending the time to really scrutinize the ingredients.
The art of cooking requires a lot of study, investigation and most of all experimentation. I have done my fair share of all these things this past two year and the real result for me has been recipe selection.

Fact: I am better at selecting recipes today than I was two years ago when I started this blog.
My eye-opener this week? Real Simple is among the magazines where I found the incomparable Croissants Bread Pudding Recipe.

Conclusion: Never dismiss a recipe that you think looks good until you’ve tried it at least twice!
Bon Appetit!

Fresh off the great bread pudding I had in San Francisco, I was on a mission to find a recipe made with croissants. I was surprised that I found it in Real Simple.

I consider myself somewhat of an expert haven eaten literally hundreds of bread pudding recipes over the years. This one is probably the best I’ve ever made.

I served it in a tiny dish and smothered it with Butterscotch Caramel Sauce. It made for a perfect treat that canceled out all my cheats for the entire week but to tell you the truth, I honestly never cared. This was the one dessert that I have absolutely no guilt about eating.
In fact, I call uncle on this for the sake of the blog.

Croissant Bread Pudding

Unsalted butter for the baking dish
6 large egg yolks
2 cups whole milk
1 cup heavy cream
1 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
6 croissants, cut into 1-inch pieces (about 1 pound)
Butterscotch Caramel Sauce

In a large bowl, whisk together the egg yolks, milk, cream, sugar, vanilla, salt and nutmeg. Add the croissants and mix to combine.

Transfer the mixture to a buttered, 8-inch square baking dish and bake in a 375 degree oven until a knife inserted in the middle comes out clean, 30-40 minutes (mine took 50).

Serve warm or room temperature. Top with Butterscotch Caramel sauce.
One of my favorite pancakes, this Bon Appetit recipe is the closest I’ve had to Prairie Fire’s delicious Lemon-Ricotta Pancakes. I like the addition of maple syrup on these breakfast cakes but that’s just my taste. I can’t do pancakes without maple syrup.
If you would rather skip the syrup, the addition of fruit makes for a sweet AM treat.
You can also eat them rolled up like a tortilla with jelly on them…a new trick that my friend TJ taught me this week. I can’t say that I particularly love them this way but he’s been eating them like this since he was a kid.
I used fresh blackberries and blueberries that I bought at the market yesterday.
Lemon-Ricotta Pancakes
Serves 4

2 cups ricotta
2 cups mixed fresh berries
1/3 cup plus 4 tablespoons sugar, divided
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons baking powder
1/2teaspoon kosher salt
4large eggs, separated
2 tablespoons finely grated lemon zest
1 1/2cups whole milk
Melted unsalted butter for brushing

Line a fine-mesh strainer with cheesecloth; set over a small bowl. Add ricotta to strainer and let drain for 15 minutes; set aside.
Gently combine berries, 1/3 cup sugar, and lemon juice in a medium bowl. Let macerate, tossing occasionally, until sugar dissolves and juices are released, about 15 minutes.

Whisk flour, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl. Using an electric mixer, beat egg whites in a medium bowl until frothy. Gradually beat in 2 tablespoons sugar, beating until peaks form. Whisk the egg yolks, remaining 2 tablespoons sugar, and zest in another medium bowl to blend. Whisk in milk. Add the yolk mixture to dry ingredients; whisk just to blend. Add half of the egg white mixture; fold just to blend. Fold in ricotta, then remaining egg white mixture.
Heat a griddle or large heavy nonstick skillet over medium-low heat; brush with melted butter. Using scant 1/2 cup batter for each pancake and working in batches, ladle batter onto griddle and cook until bottom is golden brown, edges are dry, and bubbles form on top of pancake, about 1 1/2 minutes. Flip pancakes and cook until browned and just cooked through, about 1 minute. Transfer pancakes to plates. Serve with berries and their juices.

These tiny haricot verts are stir fried in Szechuan sauce and are the best side dish to any Chinese that you happen to feel like cooking.
I like this recipe so much, I integrated them into this stir fried pork.

I buy the fresh haricot verts at Green City Market.

You just can’t get anything this fresh in a grocery store because the farmer told me that he just picked them yesterday.
Yesterday? No wonder we all love our Farmers Market’s.

Szechuan Green Beans
2 cups canola oil, plus 1 tablespoon
1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1/4 cup soy sauce 
1 ounce hot chili garlic sauce
1/4 cup rice wine vinegar 
2 tablespoons hoisin sauce
1 tablespoon mirin or white wine
1/2 teaspoon sesame oil
1 teaspoon chopped fresh cilantro leaves
1 pound green beans, cleaned

To medium Dutch oven, add 2 cups canola oil and heat to 350 degrees F.

In a medium saute pan over medium heat, add 1 tablespoon oil. Add ginger and saute for 2 to 3 minutes. Add garlic and cook for 1 minute or until it turns light brown; quickly add soy sauce, chii sauce, rice wine vinegar, hoisin, mirin,  sesame oil and cilantro.

Fry the green beans in the canola oil for about 45 seconds, or until beans turn dark green. Remove, strain, and add to sauce.

French Fries – Now You Have My Attention

I’m addicted to French Fries and they are one of my favorite top 5 cheats.

I took a lesson from Fine Cooking on how to make the perfect French Fry. I love testing out these “How To’s” and proving that my version is better but in this case, Fine Cooking taught me a thing or two.

What I learned?

ü  Russets are the best for frying

ü  Soaking removes excess starch

ü  Peanut and Canola Oil work the best

ü  The best texture comes from double frying

I tried to make these last Christmas and they were terrible. No, they were awful.This time around they were absolutely textbook. Imagine, the difference between me and perfect French Fries was just one quick and dirty lesson on the basics.

This is the one thing I love about the food magazines – just when you think you know everything, they teach you a thing or two.

I know there is a lot of dialogue on double fry.  All I remember is that my mother double fried so I am sold on that theory.

Perfect French Fries
2 lb. Burbank russet potatoes (about 3 large), peeled if you like
2 to 3 quarts canola oil or peanut oil
Kosher salt or coarse sea salt

Cut each potato lengthwise into 1/4-inch-thick disks, then cut these disks lengthwise into 1/4-inch-thick sticks. Try to keep your cuts uniform so the potatoes cook evenly.
Soak the potato sticks in cold water for 20 minutes. Drain and rinse the potatoes in 3 changes of fresh cold water, draining after each rinse. Let the potatoes dry in a single layer on a towel-lined baking sheet.

Meanwhile, heat the oil in a pot that holds at least 6 quarts over medium heat until it reaches 330°F on a deep-fry thermometer.
Blot the potatoes completely dry with more towels. Gently drop one-third of the potatoes into the oil and increase the heat to medium high (the oil temperature will drop to about 300°F and then gradually rise—it’s fine if it doesn’t return to 330°F). Cook, stirring occasionally with a skimmer or a large slotted spoon, until the potatoes soften (you should be able to cut them with the side of the spoon) and are slightly blistered and creamier in color (remove them if they start to brown), 2 to 3 minutes.
Scoop out the potatoes, shaking them to drain off excess oil, and transfer to a baking sheet lined with paper towels, arranging them in a single layer. Fry the remaining 2 batches of potatoes in the same manner, letting the oil return to 330°F before each batch.
Heat the oil until it reaches 360°F. Add one-third of the potatoes and cook, stirring, until they turn golden-brown and become crisp (to test, carefully drain one on paper towels and try it), 1 to 2 minutes. Transfer the fries to a baking sheet lined with fresh paper towels and sprinkle generously with salt. Fold the edges of the paper towels up and over the fries (to make a little pouch) and shake well so the salt is evenly distributed. Serve the fries immediately. Fry the remaining 2 batches of fries in the same manner, letting the oil return to 360°F before each batch.
Here is a quick Aioli sauce that is a great dip for homemade French fries: and an alternative to ketchup.
1 cup mayonnaise
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons chopped fresh oregano
1 garlic clove, pressed
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
½ teaspoon finely grated lemon peel
¼ teaspoon hot Dijon mustard

Whisk mayonnaise, oil, oregano, garlic, lemon juice, and lemon peel in small bowl to blend. Add hot Dijon mustard. Season aioli to taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper.

When I was in my early twenties, I had a next door neighbor from France. Jacques knew how to cook and I knew how to dance. He was rather serious about cooking and I was not serious about anything so we were the perfect match.

The very first thing he taught me was how to cook Steak Au Poivre. Years later, this would be the one rescue recipe that makes everyone think that I am the best cook in the world. 
Have to tell you that the flavor of this sauce is so enormous I can eat it anytime…even on eggs for breakfast! I know…a little drastic but that is the true test of a great recipe. BREAKFAST!
Steak Au Poivre
Adapted from Fine Cooking,July/August 2011

2 boneless beef strip steaks (about 1 lb. total)
Kosher salt
1-1/2 Tbs. black peppercorns, very coarsely crushed
1 Tbs. olive oil
1 oz. (2 Tbs.) unsalted butter
1 small shallot, minced
1/4 cup Cognac
1/3 cup heavy cream
1 Tbs. chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
Pat the steaks dry with a paper towel and season both sides lightly with salt. Coat both sides with the peppercorns, pressing so they adhere. Heat the oil in a 12-inch heavy-duty skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering hot. Add the steaks and cook to your desired doneness (2 to 3 minutes per side for medium rare). Transfer the steaks to a cutting board and tent them with foil. Pour off and discard any fat left in the pan, but not the brown bits.
Reduce the heat to medium and add the butter to the skillet. When melted, add the shallot and cook until softened, about 1 minute. Remove the skillet from the heat and carefully add the Cognac. Return the skillet to medium heat and cook, whisking, until the Cognac reduces to a glaze, 1 to 2 minutes. Whisk in the cream and simmer until slightly thickened, 1 to 2 minutes. Stir in the parsley and season to taste with salt.

Transfer the steaks to dinner plates and top with the sauce. Serves 2.
Can I get half way into this sandwich without blurting out that this is perhaps the best grilled cheese I’ve ever had?
Using three kinds of cheese, great bread, fresh tomatoes along with the amazing taste  and texture of Proscuitto, you’ve just made up a sandwich that is restaurant quality and the perfect lunch. Impressing all your friends is the bonus!

Grilled Cheese With Prosciutto and Tomatoes
3 oz. grated aged Gruyère (1-1/4 cups)
3 oz. grated fontina (about 1 cup)
2 Tbs. finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
1/4 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes (or to taste)
8 1/2-inch-thick slices rustic Italian bread
4 very thin slices prosciutto, halved crosswise
2 medium ripe tomatoes, cut into 1/4-inch-thick slices
Kosher salt
2 Tbs. salted butter, at room temperature
1 to 2 large cloves garlic, halved and peeled for rubbing

Lightly toss the cheeses and red pepper flakes in a small bowl. Put 4 slices of the bread on a work surface and evenly distribute half of the cheese mixture on top. Put 2 pieces of prosciutto (1 full slice) on each sandwich and top with 2 to 3 slices of tomato—enough to cover the cheese and prosciutto in a single layer. Season the tomatoes with salt and sprinkle the remaining cheese on top. Lightly butter one side of the remaining bread slices and place them butter side up on the sandwiches.
Heat a griddle or a large skillet over medium-low heat. Arrange the sandwiches butter side down on the griddle and cook until the bread is toasted and golden-brown, about 2 minutes. Meanwhile, spread an even layer of butter on the top slice of bread.
Using a spatula, flip the sandwiches and cook until golden-brown on the other side, gently pressing the sandwiches with the back of the spatula to compress, about 2 minutes. Remove the sandwiches from the griddle and lightly rub both sides of each with the cut side of the garlic. Using a serrated knife, slice the sandwiches in half and serve immediately.
This recipe from Fine Cooking is a reworking of the Vietnamese Rice Noodle Salad that I have already posted. It is vegetarian, easy and delicious, with the great combination of spicy, salty and crunchy.
I consider this a good base recipe to which you can add any variety of vegetables that happen to be aging in your refrigerator.

Vietnamese Rice Noodle Salad
Serves 6-8
1/2 cup fresh lime juice (from about 2 large limes)
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh cilantro
2 Tbs. fish sauce
2 Tbs. granulated sugar
1 Tbs. minced ginger
3 large cloves garlic, minced
1 Thai bird chile, seeded and minced
8 oz. dried rice noodles (about 1/4 inch thick)
8 cups thinly sliced iceberg lettuce (from 1 large head)
1 large carrot, shaved into ribbons (use a vegetable peeler)
1 large cucumber, peeled if you like, cut into 1/2 inch dice
5 medium radishes, thinly sliced
1 cup fresh mint leaves
1/2 cup salted peanuts, coarsely chopped

In a small bowl, combine the lime juice, cilantro, fish sauce, sugar, ginger, garlic, and chile and let sit for at least 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, bring a large pot of well-salted water to a boil. Add the rice noodles and stir immediately. Cook the noodles, stirring frequently, until just tender, about 4 minutes. Drain and rinse the noodles with cold water until cool to the touch.
In a large salad bowl, combine the noodles with the lettuce, carrot, cucumber, radishes, and mint leaves. Toss the salad with the dressing and garnish with the peanuts.