Tuesday, July 27, 2010

cold cucumber-avocado soup with beet mousseline

i wonder if the comments you leave for me count as social interaction. perhaps if i responded promptly, like i used to, it would. the thing is, i'm ready to move someplace secluded, deep forest, forgotten island, if it will get me some quiet. if it's not some horrible thunderstorm - seriously, did anybody sleep saturday night? - it's neighbours having parties - and when did i turn into the jerk who blows the whistle on party folk? geez, i don't even recognize myself anymore. and it's all from lack of sleep. hence the moving-away-contemplation-thingy. i'm wondering if what we do here counts for human contact. the days i'm not wandering around forgetting what i set out to do, like an old geyser, it does. i can't wait to see what you think. if you replied to my messages. while i take every comment seriously, there's a few people out there whose opinion really matters to me, people i'm not likely to ever meet, but people i've connected to, despite that. so if i take my sweet time responding to comments and emails, it's not because i don't appreciate you. it's because of my drunken-pothead-neighbouritis, okay? it's a serious condition, there's no cure, and the only way to manage it is, well, if you can't beat them...ahem
luckily, there's this soup. if you've been trying to induce sleep, by methods unnamed, you'll be patting your own backs the next day when this just needs to be poured. you don't even need a spoon, (god knows how people put up with that racket anyway.) it's great if you can chill it overnight, but two to three hours will do. room temp will do. it's delicious, a lot more delicious than i ever imagined cooked cucumbers could be. you can even dispense with the whole mousseline affair, which is just a puree with some whipped cream folded in. if you have the time, though, it's worth it, i've been eating the leftovers on tortilla chips - it put a lot of dips to shame.

cold cucumber-avocado soup, with beet mousseline
adapted from epicurious

for the beets:
4 small to medium red beets
1 tb balsamic vinegar
1/3 cup creme fraiche or sour cream

preheat oven to 400F. wrap each beet in aluminum foil and roast about 1 hour. let cool and rub off skins. pulse in food processor or blender until very smooth, then mix in vinegar, cream and season to taste with salt and pepper. refrigerate.

for the soup:
4 seedless cucumbers, or 8 short stubby ones, peeled, seeded and chopped
1 large onion, chopped
1 avocado
1 tb lemon juice
2 tb oregano, finely chopped
1 tb olive oil
2 cups stock or water
1/3 cup sour cream
pinch of white pepper

heat the oil and sweat the onion until translucent. add the oregano and the cucumbers and saute 2 minutes more. add the stock or water and bring to boil. season, then simmer 20 minutes. let cool a few minutes, then blend it up or puree it with an immersion blender. cut the avocado and remove the pit. add the flesh to the soup and douse immediately with lemon juice. blend again til smooth. mix in the sour cream, correct seasoning - salt, white pepper - and you're done.
when you're ready to serve, ladle the soup in bowls and top each serving with a dollop of beet mousseline. garnish with herbs and perhaps a few crushed pistachios. i was out, and just so you know: the original recipe which doesn't contain avocado asks for dill, not oregano, which i think would still work very well here, try it if you have it on hand.
when you mix the two the entire bowl takes on a crazy, completely crazy fuchsia shade, and you think you're still having side effects from the unnamed methods, but then you take a slurp and somehow it makes sense.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

roasted grouper with mushrooms and asparagus

yesterday i had to drive all the way to springfield, so i got up extra early, dropped off my daughter to daycare and by the time i returned my back was hurting, my legs were cramping and i was starving. the traffic was horrible getting back, but i didn't want to stop to eat fearing i wouldn't make it by the time the daycare closed. i realized the fridge was mostly empty and there it is, an unpleasant day all-around. we're all busy. we have long, exhausting days, kids who never tire and zero time for slaving in a hot kitchen. even if we enjoy cooking, there are days when everything seems dead set against a hot meal. i have a few go-to menus set aside for that kind of days. they're not take-out menus. they're dishes you can cook blindfolded and faster than delivery. a lot of them involve pasta, which is fine on a rainy day, but with these insane melting temps i wanted something lighter. in the morning you move some fish from the freezer to the fridge. that's your prep work. when you get home you season it and you put it in the oven. by the time you've washed up, dinner's ready. afterward, you can have one of the lovely peaches you can find now. the day has just gotten better.

this is all you do: preheat the oven to 400F. line a  big tray with aluminum foil. trim the asparagus to get rid of the woody part. use a moist paper towel to gently wipe the mushrooms, and halve them if necessary. toss them with a bit of oil and vinegar. i use more than one combo, sometime hazelnut oil/sherry vinegar, sometime olive oil/balsamic, depending on mood and availability. use whatever you have on hand. you need just enough so that everything is coated, but there's no liquid pooling around. season with salt and pepper and lay in a single layer on the baking sheet, leaving room for the fish. put it in the oven. get the fish out and rinse it in cold water if needed. i found a very fresh grouper that still had bone fragments from hasty filleting. dry it on paper towels, then sprinkle evenly with salt, pepper, sweet paprika, garlic powder and dried basil. pour about 1 ts olive oil and work it with your fingers all over. squeeze a few drops of lemon juice and again spread it with your fingers. if your fish still has skin on one side, that's the side you lay it on the sheet, don't bother removing it. the mushrooms and asparagus should have a five-minute head start when you put the fish next to them. cook an additional 15 minutes.

my daughter loves this dish. she gets very excited every time because she gets to do all the sprinkling of condiments on the fish. she's very proud when she eats something she helped cook. the mushrooms absorb a lot of flavor, and they're plump and very juicy, and she likes to mop up the juices with bread. the asparagus is crisp and nutty and it all works together. delicious, efortless and healthy. and because you lined the sheet with foil, you have no pans to wash. it all sounds good to me.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

lemon rabbit ragout

my aunt and uncle have been keeping rabbits ever since i can remember. my aunt cooks it like no one else. she makes unbelivable stews and roasts after marinating the meat for days. her recipes always yield a moist, lean meat, juicy and so flavorful. and i haven't had any since i switched continents. deciding enough is enough, i got one, proceeded to hack it in pieces, and called my aunt to ask what next. of course that's the moment my service provider must act up and refuse to connect anywhere in europe. delightful. no biggie, says i, i'll just marinate it according to julia, and in those 3 days i'll reach my aunt. after 3 days of futile dialing (and  the destructive behaviour my phone has had to endure as a result) i switched providers. went over to an uk based company. it works just fine now, but of course by the time the change took effect the rabbit had to be cooked. did not really have a choice but to continue with julia child's recipe.

i adore julia, but this dish cannot hold a candle to my aunt's stew. the meat was juicy and tender, no doubt, but see those lemon slices in the pot? they lend a bitter theme to the dish. if you enjoy a salad of endive and radicchio this will be right up your alley, but for me it lessened the experience. i'd have enjoyed a clean citrus tone a lot more. easily fixed if next time i leave out the lemon slices.

ragout de lapin au citron
adapted from julia child

for the marinade:
one rabbit, cut up
8 garlic cloves, peeled and quartered
3 medium onions, finely sliced
2 medium carrots, sliced
1/3 cup olive oil
1 ts whole-grain mustard
1 lemon, zest minced and juice strained
2 bay leaves
1 rosemary sprig
2 thyme sprigs
1/2 ts salt

mix everything up in a bowl or ziploc bag, then add the rabbit pieces and turn them around so they're covered in the marinade. refrigerate for up to three days, turning them over several times each day. when you're ready to cook it, scrape the marinade off, give it a quick rinse in cold water if it's stubborn and then dry it with paper towels.

for browning and roasting:
2 slices pancetta, cubed (julia says salt pork, but who has that on hand?)
about 1/2 cup flour
2 cups veal or chicken stock

preheat oven to 375F. in a wide, tall skillet heat up a bit of oilve oil. fry the pancetta until crisp, then remove to paper towel to blot excess fat. dredge the rabbit through the flour and sear it on both sides in the rendered fat. be sure it's very hot before you put it in, and don't crowd the pan. remove to side dish. strain the marinade - reserve liquid, and add the vegetables to the hot fat. brown veggies lightly. turn them in a sieve to discard excess fat. now put veggies, rabbit and pancetta in an oven-proof skillet. add the marinade liquid. (at this point you're instructed to lace the dish with one thinly sliced lemon, to each his own!) pour enough stock to barely cover the meat. bring to simmer, taste for salt and put it in the oven. when it's happily bubbling away reduce heat to 325F and let cook about 1 hour, maybe up to 1 1/2 hours. turn and baste every now and then, and do check the meat 50 minutes in. you want tender, but not so much that it falls apart. you can also simmer this on the stove the same amount of time. skim any accumulated fat off the surface.
according to julia, you're supposed to have sauce in the pan by this time. my veggies remained surprisingly intact, so i removed the herbs and the lemon slices and i gave it a go with my immersion blender, then cooked it a little longer with a knob of butter before returning the meat to it. not a bad dish, but my rabbit craving is still unscathed.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

blueberry hazelnut muffins & fromage blanc

i started this post a bunch of times, but didn't have the stamina to finish it. things have conspired to keep me away, but not all of them work-related. we had a nice weekend in the wisconsin dells and we went to michigan to get a bunch of sour cherries. i made jam and liquer and ice cream and i can't wait to tell you all about it. but in my last post i said i would talk about the fromage blanc i used to make the chocolate mousse for the pavlovas. most of the leftover cheese was just slapped on these muffins and eaten together. it was a great flavor combo, if somewhat heavy. the muffins, tolerant enough to accept company, are no push-overs. they know they're not cupcakes. they don't need the frills. they have enough bang on their own, and in this case my beautiful fromage blanc was as superfluous as a frothy ballerina dancing to firecrakers. take off your slippers and enjoy the pretty colors, lady. tomorrow you go back to work, but you're not needed right now. that, and the fact i've lost all but one of the photos, makes me redirect your attention to this artful presentation of fromage blanc. it's a slight adaptation of the recipe i used, from emeril.

it really is a delightful fresh cheese. a lot of people liken it to cream cheese, but i don't think that's quite right. and i certainly don't think them interchangeable in recipes. i find it closer to a very fine-grained ricotta. an improved ricotta al latte, if you will. i like it more than mascarpone. it's not as smooth, and that makes it more versatile. it's spreadable, and you can use it as you would mascarpone, but you can also pile it on toast with a drizzle of warm honey for a great breakfast. it's my favorite for desserts. ever try to make gateau au fromage blanc using cream cheese? don't bother. it's just not the same.

the muffins are a simple affair. what set these blueberry apart for me was the toasted hazelnuts. especially the topping, without it they would be plain, but with that crunch they don't need anything else.

blueberry hazelnut muffins

10 oz or 275 gr fresh blueberries
4 oz or 100 gr chopped toasted hazelnuts
10 oz or 275 gr all-purpose flour
1 tb baking powder
1/2 ts salt
2 large eggs
3 oz or 75 gr caster sugar
6 oz or 170 ml milk
2 oz or 50 gr butter, melted and cooled
2 oz or 50 ml roasted hazelnut oil
1 ts vanilla extract

for topping
4 oz or 100 gr hazelnuts
4 tb turbinado sugar

preheat oven to 400F or 200C. toast all the hazelnuts about 5 minutes and let cool. maintain oven temp. remove skins form hazelnuts and chop finely. sift the flour with the salt and baking powder. in a large bowl mix eggs with sugar, milk, butter and oil. add the vanilla extract. mix to combine well. sift once more the flour mixture into the wet ingredients and fold quickly. fold in blueberries and 4 oz nuts. try to keep stirring to a minimum. spoon in muffin tins just enough to fill. pulse the rest of the nust with the turbinado sugar until finely chopped. divide evenly between muffins - you may not use all of it. bake on high shelf 20 minutes for minis and up to 30 for big ones. remove to rack to cool. yields 24 minis and 6 jumbos.