Cranberry Aigre Doux

57 Comments

Mr. Paul Virant, author of The Preservation Kitchen, claims that aigre-doux means sweet and sour. He also uses the term mostarda, and there are mostarda recipes in his book as well.

He states that both terms describe “preserves for cheese snobs and wine geeks.” Well that got my attention! They are supposedly not interchangeable terms, but both “frequently mix fruit with wine, vinegar, and spices.” Confusing? Yes, a little.

61hhn4ttxnl-_sx447_bo1204203200_

His book was published in April of 2012. The first recipe that I made from the book that summer was Blueberry Aigre-Doux. It was simply a matter of putting fresh blueberries in canning jars, covering them with a spiced wine “syrup,” then canning the jars. When I was ready to sample the blueberry aigre-doux, I served it with a log of goat cheese and it was fabulous.

He also has recipes for vegetables aigre-doux. I have made and posted on butternut squash aigre-doux; here I used the squash on a salad. The squash was outstanding.

ad11

Being that I made the blueberry aigre-doux a few months before I started my blog, there is no photographic evidence of it. But I knew I would be making the cranberry version.

Now I’m making it again. It’s that good.

When my daughter first tasted this cranberry aigre-doux a few years ago when she was visiting, she claimed that “it tastes like Christmas!” That is a perfect description.

_mg_2652

Cranberry Aigre-Doux

2 cups plus 3 tablespoons red table wine
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons honey
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
2 teaspoons salt
2 vanilla beans, split in half with seeds scraped out
2 teaspoons black peppercorns
4 star anise
7 cups or so fresh cranberries

Rinse the cranberries, remove any bad ones, then let them dry on a clean dish towel.

In a large pot over medium-high heat, bring the wine, honey, vinegar, salt, and vanilla bean pod and seeds to a boil.



_mg_2607
_mg_2613

I decided to add a cinnamon stick to the wine mixture, even though it’s not in the recipe.
_mg_2616

Scald 4 pint jars in a large pot of simmering water fitted with a rack – you will use this pot to process the jars. Right before filling, put the jars on the counter.

Add 1/2 teaspoon peppercorns and 1 star anise to each jar. Extract the vanilla bean haves from the wine-honey liquid and place one in each jar.

Pack in the cranberries, using about 6 ounces per jar. Meanwhile, soak the lids in a pan of hot water to soften the rubber seal.

Transfer the wine-honey liquid to a heat-proof pitcher and pour over the cranberries, leaving a 1/2″ space from the rim of the jar. Check the jars for air pockets, adding more liquid if necessary to fill in gaps. Wipe the rims with a clean towel, seal with the lids, then screw on the bands until snug but not tight.
_mg_2622
_mg_2621
Place the jars in the pot with the rack and add enough water to cover by about 1 inch. Bring the water to a boil and process the jars for 15 minutes (start the timer when the water reaches a boil). Turn off the heat and leave the jars in the water for a few minutes. Remove the jars from the water and let cool completely.

The aigre-doux is quite liquid. Mr. Virant suggests that one “strain the liquid and set aside the cranberries. In a small pot over medium heat, reduce the liquid by half. Stir in the cranberries and serve warm.”

_mg_2644

He calls it an “ideal holiday condiment.”
_mg_2658
I served the cranberry aigre-doux over softened cream cheese.
_mg_2649
It is very good with goat cheese as well.
_mg_2655

Serve with croissant toasts, as I did, or water crackers.

The Other Polenta

28 Comments

The most well known version of Italian polenta, in my experience, is the soft and creamy porridge style – what we call grits in the United States. Savory and hearty for breakfast or as a dish served similar to risotto – topped with braised mushrooms, grilled shrimp, or simply with cheese. If you want a grits recipe, check out grits with eggs and red sauce.

But there’s another way to prepare and serve polenta, which I’m calling “the other polenta.” It also deserves a little attention and respect.

This kind of polenta is more like a soft yet dense cornbread. As with American cornbread, this bread-like polenta is wonderful served with stews, pasta, soups, or even salads. It also makes a fabulous appetizer, topped with cheese and served with white wine.

Lorenza de-Medici refers to this polenta appetizer as crostini di polenta. In her cookbook The Villa Table, she states, “I always make more polenta than a recipe requires in order to have some for making crostini for the next day!” It’s a great idea!

I’ve seen polenta used in so many ways in Italian cookbooks, like molded into a timbale served with a meaty ragu, or as dumplings, or layered into a casserole or pie. But however polenta is used, it comes down to preparing the softer creamy version, or the drier, sliceable variety that I’m making today.

So here’s how make the other polenta:

Have 2 cups of cornmeal on hand in a bowl.
IMG_7276
Heat 6 cups of slightly salted water in a heavy pot on the stove over high heat. When it comes to a boil, slowly pour in the cornmeal.
IMG_7283
Whisk well, then turn the heat down to the lowest position, cover the pot and let the polenta cook for 30 minutes.
IMG_7286
Remove the lid and give the polenta a stir. Depending on the grind of the cornmeal, it might be cooked already. Give it a taste and test if it’s gritty, which would indicate more cooking time required.

My polenta looks a bit grainy because it’s a coarser grind, but it’s fully cooked.
IMG_7289
Add a little more water if you feel it could stick to the pot, but keep the additional water to a minimum. Then cover and cook for 10-15 minutes more, still over the lowest possible heat.

Butter a 9″ x 13″ cake pan. You can also use a cookie sheet or jelly roll pan.


While still hot, pour the polenta into the pan. (If you want to make this kind of polenta the traditional way, you can also pour the polenta onto a large, clean work surface or board.)
IMG_7292
Let the polenta cool completely, even overnight, covered tightly with foil.

When you are ready to finish the polenta, preheat your oven to 350 degrees.

Sprinkle the cooled polenta with grated cheese; I used Gruyère.
IMG_7295
Then bake the polenta until the cheese barely browns a bit, about 30 minutes. The baking of the polenta dries it out, or solidifies it more, if you will, plus it melts the cheese. This step could probably be done under the broiler if you feel your polenta is stiff enough to already slice.

Remove the pan from the oven and set aside to cool slightly.
IMG_7296
To slice, flip the pan of polenta over onto a large platter, then flip it onto a cutting board, cheesy side up. Alternatively, slice inside your pan if it’s not non-stick like mine.


Cut squares or strips of polenta and serve warm. With wine, of course.
IMG_7341

Today I served the baked polenta with a fresh asparagus soup!
IMG_7307

Alternatively, you can cut squares or shapes of the polenta, place them on an oiled baking sheet and then bake them. I’ve seen so many different variations that I don’t think it matters as long as you eventually get to the lovely cheesy polenta. In fact, I’ve seen polenta squares fried on both sides before serving, and also grilled. But I like the easier way of keeping everything in the cake pan, then slicing.

polen
If you love polenta or grits, you will surely loved baked polenta!
IMG_7337
note: You can use chicken broth in this recipe if you feel the polenta might be too bland for your taste.

Holiday Ebleskiver

30 Comments

Years ago my daughters bought me an ebleskiver pan for my birthday and I was thrilled. They know I love gadgets and different shapes and sizes of baking dishes. Trust me, I had big plans to use this fancy pan on every holiday.

By the way, I’ve also seen the spelling as ebelskiver and aebleskiver. But however the spelling, ebleskiver are round, filled pancakes that are Danish in origin. And they’re fabulous. Although I’ve only made them once.

The following Christmas I decided to make ebleskiver for the family on Christmas morning. The recipe I used came from a Williams-Sonoma catalog. This photo is from the W-S website.
img35o

The pancakes I made were filled with a dried cherry filling. The recipes for the batter and the filling are easy. But I had no idea what I was in for…

Two hours after starting these pancakes, I was finally done. They were stunning and delicious. And I think I’m the only one who ate any of them. One hates carbs, one just wanted a protein shake, one decided they didn’t pair well with bloody marys, and one is a vegetarian. (There is no meat in ebleskiver.)

So I think I learned my lesson. Making these is truly a lot of work, only because they are time consuming, and you really have to park yourself at the stove for a long time. Plus, the pan only makes 7 pancakes at a time.

eb99
So take my advice and don’t make these on a busy holiday, when you’d rather be hanging out with your family.
eb
But this year, I wisely decided to make these ebleskiver the Sunday before Christmas, and freeze them. That way, I can thaw and heat a few at a time, and any non carb-haters who want a delicious pancake bite can enjoy them, which might just be me. I know for a fact that they will pair perfectly with a mimosa.
eb890
So here’s the somewhat adapted recipe from Williams-Sonoma. The filling I used was leftover cranberry jam mixed with dried cranberries. Any kind of jam, jelly, cranberry sauce, or cooked fresh or dried fruit can be used as the filling.

Ebleskiver
Makes 3 dozen

1 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
Pinch of salt
3 egg yolks, lightly whisked
1 1/3 cup buttermilk
3/4 cup ricotta cheese or yogurt cheese
1/2 teaspoon orange oil, or orange zest
5 egg whites in a large bowl
Unsalted butter
Cranberry filling, make sure it’s quite thick

Begin by sieving the flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt into a medium bowl; set aside.
eb66
In another bowl, combine the egg yolks, buttermilk, ricotta cheese, and orange oil. Whisk well and set aside.
eb44
Using an electric mixer, whisk the egg whites until stiff.


Using the same beaters, whisk the buttermilk mixture until smooth, if it’s lumpy.

Have the ebleskiver pan on the stove heating over low to medium heat. Have butter on hand, and the filling with a teaspoon. Also have a platter for the finished ebleskiver.

Begin making the batter by incorporating the flour into the buttermilk mixture. It will almost look like biscuit dough.


Then gently but forcibly fold the egg whites into the batter. Place a spoon in the batter and set the bowl near the stove.

Add about 1/2 teaspoon of butter to the indentations in the pan. Notice I just did a few to start. I really couldn’t remember how challenging the whole process was, and I didn’t want to ruin any.
eb55
Add approximately no more than 1 tablespoon of batter into each indentation. Add a very small amount of filling – about 1/2 teaspoon – on to the top of the batter. Then top with a scant tablespoon of batter.

Let them cook for about 3 minutes. They should not brown more than a golden color, but they might burn slightly if the sweet filling sneaks out.

Now here’s the fun part. The recipe says to use two forks to turn these guys over. Good luck with that. I ended up mostly using my fingers, because I must not have good fork coordination. I even tried with two wooden tools that you can see being used in the top photo, but still no luck. But somehow get them turned over and continue cooking them for another 3 minutes.


I did figure out that instead of worrying about turning them completely over at one time, it can be done gently in baby steps.

So now you can see I’ve become a little braver, and making all seven at one time!

Turn them out to the platter, and continue with the rest of the batter, unless you decided enough is enough and toss the batter and eat your 7 ebleskiver.

Open one up to make sure it’s properly cooked. They should be fluffy – not doughy or dry and tough.
eb789
I purposely omitted putting sugar in the batter, which was in the original recipe, and instead sprinkled a little powdered sugar over the ebleskiver. It just makes them prettier!
eb2
I decided to try them with real maple syrup as well. Really yummy!
eb4
Ebleskiver really are amazing, and the cranberry filling makes them holiday perfect!!!
eb7
And if you decide to buy one of these pans, don’t forget to try them with cheese for a fabulous savory treat! That’s next on my list!!!
eb6
Happy Holidays!

Christmas Rocky Road

22 Comments

I happen to really admire and idolize Nigella Lawson. And if you do, too, you know she loves Christmas.

This rocky road recipe is a Nigella recipe that she adapted for her Christmas cookbook, in order to make it more Christmassy! I’ve made it a few times now, and it’s become a holiday favorite for my family.

My favorite Nigella cookbooks are Nigella Kitchen, Feast, and Nigella Christmas. I can’t narrow those down any further. They’re all so unique and wonderfully entertaining, and packed full of hearty and satisfying recipes. Nothing too fancy and fussy. Or fiddly, in British speak.

Nigella had a tv show in the U.S. at one time that I loved to watch. She’s extremely funny, irreverent, and quite a hoot. Nigella embraces just about all food and drink, loves her children, and loves parties. We should really be friends.

So I’m not sure why I made this rocky road recipe the first time, actually. I don’t love candied fruit, marshmallows are strange, I don’t like rocky road ice cream, and we’re not really a sweets family. But am I glad I took a chance on this recipe.

In the past I’ve followed it almost exactly, except for the fact that I’ve always substituted other cookies for the Amaretti, because I could never find them. I used shortbread once, and gingersnaps another time; both turned out fabulous.

But this year I ordered Amaretti in the fall, so I was prepared! Plus I made a few changes to enhance the Christmas theme of these fudgey bars. I used pistachios for their green color, and I added some dried cranberries for their scarlet color. So here’s this year’s version of Nigella’s Christmas Rocky Road:

Christmas Rocky Road

1 bag Amaretti cookies, 7 ounces
1 cup whole pistachios
1 cup whole candied cherries, plus a few extra
1/2 cup dried cranberries
2 1/2 cups mini marshmallows
15 ounces semi-sweet chocolate
1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter
1/4 cup Lyle’s golden syrup
Powdered sugar

In a food processor, pulse the amaretti cookies until they are a coarse crumble. Place them in a large bowl.

rock4

Add the pistachios, candied cherries, dried cranberries, and mini marshmallows, and set aside.

rock3

To the top pan of a double boiler, place the chocolate, butter, and golden syrup. Heat about 2” of water in the pot below until it is gently simmering; the water should not boil, and should not touch the pan on top. We are melting the chocolate, not cooking it. Then, place the pan with the chocolate mixture on top. Using a spatula, occasionally stir the mixture as it melts. This should take about 10 minutes.

rock2

Have a 9 x 13” pan ready.

When the chocolate and butter have melted, pour this into the cookie mixture in the large bowl. Using the spatula, fold everything together until completely incorporated. Then pour this mixture into the pan, using the spatula. Push it all around so it fills the corners, and is relative smooth on top. Using any extra cherries, if you wish, push them into the bars in random locations.

rock

Cover tightly with foil and refrigerate for at least 4 hours, or overnight.

When you are ready to serve the bars, slice them into big squares and remove them from the pan. If you wish to cut them smaller, it’s easier to do on a cutting board. If desired, sprinkle the Christmas Rocky Road with sifted powdered sugar.

Pasta with Brussels Sprouts

54 Comments

Inspired by a photo I spotted on Nigella Lawson’s blog, I decided a pasta with Brussels sprouts would be fabulous. Doesn’t that sound like a perfectly comforting combination?!!

I happen to love Brussels sprouts. My husband thinks he hates them. Until he eats them. Then he makes a comment like, “These are pretty good!” But he refuses to remember that he makes this comment after eating them. But if he refuses this pasta, there will be more for me.

bs6
So here’s what I did.

Pasta with Brussels Sprouts and Comté

12 ounce package pasta
1 pound Brussels sprouts
4 ounces butter
8-10 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon white pepper (optional)
Approximately 14 ounces Comté or Gruyère, diced

Cook the pasta according to package directions. Drain and set aside. If your pasta is very glutinous, you might want to toss it in a little oil in a large bowl to prevent sticking while you’re working on the rest of the recipe.
bs44
This is the pasta I used. Funny packaging, huh?!! We’re not gluten free in this house, but I like to try pastas made from different grains, and this brand never fails to please. It’s actually a 16 ounce bag, but I only used 12 ounces of the pasta.
bs66
Trim the Brussels sprouts. I normally cut large ones in half, but these were all about the same size.

Typically I steam Brussels sprouts, but I decided to use the pasta water. They were cooked just until tender, then drained. Let cool.


Meanwhile, using a large shallow pot, melt the butter over medium heat. A little browning is fine.

Add the garlic and have the cream nearby. For me, garlic is perfectly sautéed just when you begin to smell the garlic. That’s within about ten seconds. But I don’t like the taste of burnt garlic; some people do.


At this point, pour in the cream and stir in the salt and white pepper.

Simmer gently for about 30 minutes or so. The sauce should reduce by about half.
bs11
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Dice up your cheese. I chose Conté, but Gruyère or Fontina would work well.
bs77
Set up your food processor to slice the Brussels sprouts. I just bought a new food processor, and I had to get the manual out to put the slicing mechanism together properly. My old one was a Viking brand and it was terrible, so hopefully this new one will do the trick for many many years.
bs12
Slice the Brussels sprouts and add them to the pasta.

When the cream sauce is ready, remove the pot from the heat source and gently stir in the pasta and sliced Brussels sprouts.
bs234
Lightly grease a deep serving dish that is oven proof. Place about half of the pasta in the dish, then cover with half of the cheese.


Add the remaining pasta and repeat with the cheese.

Place the serving dish in the oven and let the cheese melt and the pasta heat through. The pasta is done when the top is golden brown.
bs

The pasta isn’t as photogenic as I thought it would be. I thought you’d be able to see more of the Brussels sprouts’ leaves. But it is good.

It’s not overly rich, either. I considered making a bechamel to toss the pasta in, but I’m glad I made it simply with cream.

bs1

Of course ham would be delicious in this pasta, or just little bits of Prosciutto. But I like it just with the Brussels sprouts, because it can be eaten as is, or as a side dish to just about any kind of protein.

And by the way, my husband finished off this pasta.

Bread for Cheese

37 Comments

I’m addicted to cheese. It’s one of the joys in my life, besides the obvious stuff like family and friends. If only I was addicted to celery, I wouldn’t have to bake bread to go with cheese.

Bread is not something I make a lot anymore. I used to make it almost daily, mostly for my husband, who is bread-addicted. These days he’s down on carbs, so that’s why I don’t bake much anymore. But fortunately I don’t have to twist his arm to get him to eat cheese – especially good cheese.

I’ve mentioned before that the holidays make me think of all kinds of festive foods. In my house, from October 1st Thanksgiving through New Year’s it’s a food frenzy.

I not only start planning dishes with figs and cranberries and sweet potatoes, I plan the cheese itinerary. On top of that list is Époisses, which we discovered when in Beaune, which is in the Burgundy region of France, in 2002. To this day, I think it’s still banned on French transportation. And it’s a French cheese!

Although it would be classified as a stinky cheese because of the smell (think standing amongst cows in a cow paddy), it is wonderfully smooth and flavorful.

I always serve Epoisses with sliced of bread made with dried fruits and nuts. They just go together.

The other day I happened upon some dried currants, so I picked those up. And because of my love of hazelnuts this time of year, they’re going into the bread as well. For today I’ll just stick to currants and hazelnuts, but there will be a generous amount of both.

Sometimes I make the bread so dense with fruits and nuts that it’s almost like a yeasted fruitcake, but this one is on the breadier side.

cur3

Époisses comes in a little carton. So you really don’t have to do anything presentation wise if you don’t want to. But do make sure you take it out of the refrigerator about 3-4 hours before you serve it. That’s the only way you will get the lovely runniness that typifies this unique cheese.

ep

Fruit and Nut Bread for Cheese Pairing

3 ounces currants
Cherry brandy or port
3 ounces toasted hazelnuts
1/4 cup water
2 teaspoons yeast
1/2 teaspoon sugar
8 ounces goat’s milk or evaporated milk
1 egg, whisked
Scant 5 cups of flour in total, 1/2 cup of it whole wheat flour

Place the currants in a small bowl, and cover with a liquid like port. Or, if you prefer, use orange juice. Let them soften for at least 30 minutes before draining them thoroughly right before using. You can always save the liquid for another purpose. Don’t include the liquid or the yeast may not function properly.

Have all your ingredients ready. Chop the hazelnuts and set aside.

Place 1/4 of warm water in a large, warmed bowl. Sprinkle on the yeast and sugar, and let it sit for about 3-4 minutes, or until the yeast softens.

Give the mixture a whisk, then put the bowl in a warm place for about 5 minutes. The mixture will have doubled in volume.

Add warmed milk and the whisked egg to the yeast mixture. I thought I had a can of evaporated milk, but it turned out to be goat’s milk. It still works, which is what I love about brea. It’s not like making pastry!

cur11

Then whisk 1/2 cup of flour into the mixture. Place the bowl in a warm place and let the mixture double in volume, about 45 minutes.

Switching to a spoon or spatula, vigorously stir in 1 cup of flour. Cover the bowl with a damp dishcloth, and return it to the warm place for about 1 hour.

Next, add 1/2 cup of whole wheat flour and the hazelnuts and stir together. The bread dough is ready to be turned out onto a floured surface.

Using about 1/3 more of flour, knead the dough until smooth, then fold the currants into the dough.

Knead a few more minutes until the currants are fully incorporated, then place the dough into a greased loaf pan, or any pan or pans of choice. Place it in the warm place for at least 30 minutes, or until the dough has at least doubled in size.

ep3

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 375 degrees Farenheit.

Place the pan in the oven and bake the bread approximately 40 minutes. If you’re not sure if it’s done, you can use a thermometer to see if it has reached 195 degrees internally. It shouldn’t become hotter than that or it will be overbaked.

Let the bread cool. When you’re ready to serve it slice it with a serrated knife.

I love the pairing of a fruit and nut bread with this particular cheese, or any cheese, actually.

cur99

Look how gooey Époisses is:

The bread is so easy to make, and it’s fun to change up the different fruits and nuts. It could have just been easily figs, cranberries, and walnuts.

cur1

Holiday Potpourri

27 Comments

I started making this stove-top citrus and spice potpourri when my daughters were young. And a Christmas doesn’t go by to this day that I don’t make it.

My older daughter and I are severely addicted to Christmas. We are both very enamored with the smell of this potpourri, and every year she makes sure I make it!

When she had her first apartment, I gave this potpourri to her as an early Christmas gift, so she could make it, put on Christmas carols, and study. Or party. I simply bought a cheap pot, filled it with the ingredients, and included the recipe. That’s pretty creative for me, actually.

There is no hard and fast recipe, but here are the general ingredients. You can adjust according to your taste smell!

Christmas Potpourri

1 large can pineapple juice
1 large can orange juice
1 cup sugar
3 oranges, sliced
2 lemons, sliced
Handful of cinnamon sticks
Handful of whole cloves
Handful of allspice berries, slightly crushed

So, when I was at the grocery store, I couldn’t find large cans of orange juice, probably because it’s pretty terrible. So I decided to use cans of frozen, concentrated juices instead. But that didn’t really affect the recipe. I just added some water, and still included all of the ingredients. But following is what you’d do if you actually found both canned o.j. and pineapple juice.

Place the pineapple and orange juices in a large, not fancy pot. If you forget about this stuff on the stove, it will burn your pot, so use something inexpensive. In fact, go buy a cheap pot just for this potpourri. Then you can just throw the pot away after Christmas if you can’t clean it.
pot
Add the sugar and begin heating the juices over medium heat.

Squeeze the oranges and lemons into the juice, then throw in the rinds as well.
pot1
Add the spices.
pot2
Let the potpourri lightly simmer to fill the house with the smell of the holidays. Turn off when you don’t want it on, because the mixture will thicken and burn.
pot3
Occasionally refresh the potpourri with more juice and spices, if necessary.

Beet Ravioli

54 Comments

I’ll probably never dine in London again. Not that I wouldn’t want to, but because our younger daughter lived there for the last four years, we have been lucky enough to visit multiples times, taking advantage of London’s fabulous gastropubs and restaurants.

We visited her this past July, to get our last opportunity to see her in situ before she moved back to the states. So then there was the matter of picking the final restaurant destination for our last meal in London.

The restaurant-choosing burden is always on me, which is probably because I’m controlling when it comes to planning the restaurant itinerary when we travel. Also, no one else in my family understands the concept of making reservations. But in any case, this was a difficult decision.

My daughters had given me a little book called “Where Chefs Eat” for Christmas a while back, and I turned to this book for inspiration.
download

And that’s how I came about to choose Bistrot Bruno Loubet for our final London meal.

I had never heard of Bruno Loubet, but his bio is impressive. He opened the restaurant, in the Clerkenwell district, in 2010. After only four years, the restaurant needs some spiffing up and somewhat of an upgrade, but the space itself is really nice, with a beautiful bar and various seating areas, including one outside.

This is a shot from the website of the bar area in its heyday. Now the chairs are pretty scuffed up and fabric is worn.
88

Knowing me, it’s probably the shot of those purple bar stools that made me want to go to this restaurant, other than it was recommended by other chefs and the menu looked fabulous.

So Bistrot Bruno Loubet is where I enjoyed Mr. Loubet’s beet ravioli, which turns out is one of his most popular dishes. I discovered this tidbit because after getting home to the states, I ordered his cookbook “Mange Tout,” which translates to eat everything! And there was the beet ravioli recipe in the cookbook. Yay!
downloafffd (1)

This is the photo of my ravioli at the restaurant that evening. Gorgeous, isn’t it? I started with grilled octopus, and ended with these. Seriously a fabulous menu.

IMG_5501
Now, I know that food bloggers aren’t sitting around wondering why I haven’t had a fresh pasta post on my blog, but I haven’t. And it’s not because I don’t know how to make fresh pasta. Honestly, It’s because I got tired of making it.

When I was a personal cook for a family for 8 years, I made tons of pasta. And I think I burned myself out. Plus, I also lent my pasta maker to a neighbor and never got it back. That didn’t help. Or perhaps I said, “Keep it. I never want to see it again!”

But to prove to you that I actually used to make pasta, I want to show you this photo that my daughter will hopefully not see because she will be mad at me. But she’s 8 years old and making her own pasta. She looks like a cross-eyed nut, but she was a great pasta maker. She loved to choose flavors, like thyme and cayenne.

IMG_6061

I’m so happy that Mr. Loubet’s beet ravioli inspired me to buy another pasta maker, because these ravioli are exquisite. This could be my last meal, if I had a choice in the matter, and hopefully not because I’m on death row.
rav67
The recipe is quite involved. Not difficult, just involved. But because I remember how good these ravioli were, I wanted to follow the recipe as closely as possible, and this is what I did.

Beet-Filled Ravioli
based strongly on Bruno Loubet’s recipe in Mange Tout
makes about 40 ravioli

3 beets, washed, dried, trimmed
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
3 ounces cream cheese (the original recipe called for ricotta)
4 tablespoons finely grated Parmesan (the original recipe called for 2)
Salt
Pepper

rav
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Wrap the beets in foil and bake them in the foil package for 2 hours. Let them cool.


Peel the beets, then chop them up.

Place the chopped beets in a food processor and pulse 4-5 times. You want finely diced beet, not mush.
rav6543
Place the beets in cheesecloth in a colander over a bowl. Tie up the beets, then weigh down and place in the refrigerator overnight.


The next day you will have about 1/4 cup of beet juice.

Pour the beet juice into a small pot, and add the balsamic vinegar. I also squeezed out the cheesecloth to get a bit more juice into the pot.
rav933

Over very low heat, reduce the beet-balsamic mixture until it’s almost like a syrup; set aside. It will eventually look like this:
rav8999

Empty the cheesecloth and place the beets in a medium bowl.

rav744

Meanwhile, add the cream cheese and grated cheese to the beets and stir well. When the beet-balsamic syrup has cooled, add about 1/3 of the amount, or about 1 tablespoon, to the filling and stir well; set aside.
rav588
The next thing to do is make the pasta dough. I don’t want to have a pasta-making tutorial because it would make this post too long, plus there are plenty out there. Go to Stefan’s blog Stefan Gourmet for his tutorials. He’s got a really light hand when it comes to making pasta – especially filled pasta. Plus it’s really challenging to take photos with dough and flour on your hands.

The pasta dough recipe I made was about 2 cups flour, 2 eggs plus 2 yolks, and 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Use a little water, if necessary, to make the dough the proper consistency. You can always add flour to dough, but you can’t add water to it.


Stir the egg and olive oil mixture gradually into the flour until the liquid is completely incorporated. Turn out onto a slightly floured board, knead a minute, then wrap up in plastic wrap and let sit at least 30 minutes to rest.

Hook up your pasta maker and make sure it’s stabilized. You don’t want it moving around while you’re rolling out sheets of pasta.

If you’re new to using a pasta maker, it’s important to start with the widest opening, which is typically the #1 position. As you knead the dough and work on it to make it thinner, move the position narrower and narrower by adjusting the number. You don’t have to make the pasta sheets the thinnest possible, but I did because I’m making ravioli.

Have a small bowl of water handy, and a cookie sheet or platter sprinkled with a little bit of flour for your ravioli. Then cut your pasta dough into 4 even pieces; you’ll be using one at a time.

Begin putting your dough through the pasta maker, folding it over, which essentially kneads it and smooths it out. Work the sheet thinner until you’re happy with it. Use a sprinkling of flour if you feel it’s necessary.


Once you’ve made a couple of sheets, and they’re not sticking to your workspace, place evenly-sized blobs of beet filling, evenly spaced, on one length of the pasta sheet.

Dip your 5 fingers into the water bowl, and then tap the water around each beet filling. You can also give the lengths of the pasta edges a little water. This just helps make the pasta stick together. Fold over the sheets lengthwise, and press the dough together, trying to avoid air pockets. You can make square ravioli, but I chose to make round.

I placed the just-cut ravioli on the platter, then continued with the remaining pasta sheet. Half of the dough made about 20 ravioli.

Have a large pot of water on the stove already warming, and now is the time to turn the heat to high. Have a cloth-lined platter nearby for the cooked ravioli, and a spider sieve for catching them.

When the water is at full boil, slip about half of the ravioli into the boiling water. Within 3 minutes they will rise to the surface, at which point you can remove them with the sieve and place them to drain on the platter. Repeat with the remaining ravioli.

I only prepared 20 ravioli, because I’m the only one who eats beets. In fact I shared them with my neighbor. With the other half of the dough I made fettucine for my husband. Isn’t it pretty? I think I have a renewed outlook on making pasta!
pasta9

To finish the recipe, here’s what I did (double the amount for all 40 ravioli):

2 ounces butter
2 tablespoons panko bread crumbs
Finely grated Parmesan
Coarsely grated black pepper
Finely grated Parmesan
Leafy greens
Red wine vinegar
Truffle oil, or olive oil

Melt the butter and brown it in a large skillet. Add the bread crumbs and stir well.

Quickly but gently add some ravioli to the butter mixture and toss them. Place them on a serving plate, and continue with the remaining ravioli.
rav3992
Sprinkle them with coarsely grated pepper and some Parmesan.

Because Mr. Loubet’s presentation was so beautiful, I did something similar. I used spinach leaves and chiffonaded them, to produce little ribbons, and put them in a small bowl. I added a few drops of red wine vinegar, and a few drops of truffle oil. Using my fingers, I tossed the ribbons in the vinaigrette, then placed some of them in the middle of the circle of ravioli. And I added salt.

rav88
There was something about the beet flavors, the browned butter, and the truffle oil that just went fabulously together.
rav56

The filling is very beety and creamy. And it’s pretty.
rav43

Oh – and something else. After you’ve made up your plates with the ravioli, salad, and toppings, drizzle on the remaining beet-balsamic syrup over the ravioli. That’s the piece de resistance!

rav22
note: The recipe calls for wild rocket instead of spinach, but I would have no idea how to get my hands on some. Plus, He also sautés sage leaves to top these ravioli. Since I use sage in a lot of pasta recipes, I decided to see what all this would taste like without the sage. And to me, it’s not necessary.

Pear Liqueur Verdict

35 Comments

I’m a terrible bartender. I have no idea why, but I am. So I was stumped when my pear liqueur I began last month was “done.” because I wasn’t sure what the heck to do with it. Although I love a cocktail, I don’t like strong drinks, so a pear martini was out of the question.

I checked out cocktails made with Poire William, and only found really complicated recipes that didn’t sound any good at all.

Then champagne came to mind. It’s a fabulous mixer, and bubbles are always festive and fun.

So I decided to try out the pear liqueur three ways. One with champagne, one with Amaretto (almond liqueur) and champagne, and one with Pama (pomegranate liqueur) and champagne.

The pear liqueur took on a beautiful amber color, by the way, perhaps from the cinnamon and cloves.
pearr4
No recipe is really needed for these cocktails, because to me it’s all about how sweet you want the drink. My pear liqueur recipe was made with vodka. But it’s definitely more a liqueur than an infused vodka, because vodka is strong and I wanted something more flavorful and sweeter.

So for the pear and champagne fizz, I used about 1 part pear liqueur to 3 parts champagne. Prosecco would work just as well.


The champagne I used was Sofia. I happened to have a carton of the mini champagne cans that come with a straw. I love to put these out for parties year round, and I much preferred opening up a couple of these than a whole bottle of champagne in the middle of the day for testing purposes.
SOFIA_Champagne_Francis_Ford_Coppola

For the pear and Amaretto fizz, I used about equal parts of each, then topped it off with champagne. It’s just a little more amber in color.
pearr1
Same for the Pama version, which not surprisingly came out a little more red.
pearr
so, the verdict? terrible. I might have waited too long on the liqueur, because there is a strong bitterness that is probably from the cinnamon and cloves. I can’t even taste the pear. So I’m going to let my husband drink this, and go back to gin and tonics for now.

Pesto’d Lamb Chops

20 Comments

The thing that I learned about meat a long time ago, is that you have to cook it properly. Everything else is just icing on the cake. Whether it’s grilling a steak, roasting a pork loin, or braising a rabbit, it’s all about cooking the meat properly. It doesn’t matter if you’re adding a sauce to the steak, roasting the pork with sweet potatoes, or braising the rabbit in tomatoes. It’s all about cooking the meat properly.

Now to most of you this might seem like a simpleton statement, but many years ago, it was an epiphany to me.

When I first started cooking a lot, which was when I got married, we couldn’t afford most “fancy” meats, unless it was a special occasion, so I was very used to braises and stews, even if these were globally inspired, such as Ethiopian Doro Wat with chicken, and French Boeuf Bourguignon with beef.

As our financial situation improved, I was able to buy steaks more often, which is my husband’s favorite cut of beef. Such a man thing. But I got to play around with other cuts as well.

Because I hadn’t had much experience with just cooking meat, I bought a few meat cookbooks. And the books really taught me nothing. Why? Because the recipes were all about the icing – a red wine sauce for a veal chop, or a salsa to top a chicken breast, or an orange glaze for duck breasts. No matter what the accessory ingredients were in the recipes, the meat was always cooked the same. For example:

4 chicken breasts
Salt and pepper

4 duck breasts
Salt and pepper

4 – 1″ thick filet mignons
Salt and pepper

Pork chops
Salt and pepper

See what I mean? I really hadn’t thought much about this fact until after I read the meat cookbooks, and I really haven’t referred to them since. As long as you know how to properly cook cuts of meat, the rest is easy.

To me, it’s mostly about the rareness of the meat. I prefer my beef at 125 degrees, or medium-rare. The same with lamb. Both chicken and pork I stop cooking at 155 degrees. A thermometer is a good way to cook meat properly, or to your liking, until you get to the point where you can tell the doneness with your tongs.

So the doneness is quite important when cooking meat, and also the seasoning. There’s always salt and pepper, but of course, other spices and herbs can be used as well. But there’s always salt and pepper. Look at any meat chapter if you don’t believe me. No, don’t. I could be wrong…

Regarding salt and pepper, some chefs believe in adding them after the meat is cooked, mostly, if I understand correctly, so that the pepper doesn’t burn. I do a little of both, but I definitely don’t meat in dried herbs before searing them. They would burn.

So I’ve been craving lamb, and lo and behold my local grocery store had loin chops on the shelf today. Not my favorite cut, but I knew I could manage. And here’s my recipe:

5 loin lamb chops, approximately 3/4″ thick
Salt and pepper

Olive oil
Prepared pesto

Bring the lamb chops close to room temperature before cooking. If you prefer well done meat, then this step isn’t as critical.

Add a little oil to a large skillet over high heat. For a good sear on meat, the oil must be sizzling hot. Also have your ventilation system on.

Pat the chops dry, and season with the salt and pepper, if you believe in doing that.
lamb99
Add the chops to the skillet, only about 2-3 at a time.
lamb88

After a couple of minutes, turn them over and brown the other side.
lamb77

As with steaks, there are two ways to go about finishing the chops. Because these lamb chops are fairly thin, they could easily have been cooked only in the skillet, lowering the heat after turning the chops over, and cooking until medium-rare, or your preferred doneness.

However, chops and steaks can also be placed in an oven and finished off at 350 or 400 degrees. This works especially well with thicker steaks and chops.

There’s nothing quite as delicious as a lamb chop simply seasoned with salt and pepper, but I wanted to serve myself these lamb chops topped with pesto* (no one else around here eats lamb). So I chose to sear the chops, then put them all back in the skillet, off of the stove. Then I topped the chops with pesto.
lamb66
I turned on my broiler, but my rack was at the middle level, not at the very top. When the broiler was ready, I placed the skillet in the oven. Within about 4 minutes, the pesto was melted, and the chops had cooked a little more through.

IMG_5989
lamb1
I served the chops with a sweet potato mash and Brussels sprouts.


It’s not pictured, but I later took some of the oil and jus from the skillet and poured it all over the Brussels sprouts.
lamb

Fabulous!!!

* My pesto does not contain cheese, because I make so many jars of pesto during the summer months and freeze them. So it’s quite condensed. But pesto that contains Parmesan would work just the same. You could always grate Parmesan over the top when you serve the chops.

note: Pesto is also good on chicken breasts and pork. Of course, we’re kind of addicted to pesto in this household.