Jambon Persillé

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For this recipe, I referred to Glorious French Food, written by James Peterson, published in 2002. All of the following information is from his recipe. He is very serious about French food, as you can tell from the book’s title!

“While no two versions are exactly the same, jambon persillé is cooked ham that’s been layered in a terrine with chopped parsley and the gelatinous poaching liquid used for cooking the ham. Depending on whose recipe you follow, the terrine may consist of pieces of ham suspended in gelée or contain very little gelée at all, just enough to hold the terrine together.

An exact recipe for jambon persillé is hard to give because ham is one of the few things that aren’t made the same way in different parts of the country. How you make jambon persillé depends on the ham or ham shoulder you start out with and how ambitious you’re feeling. The traditional method consists of soaking a fully cured raw ham for several days to rid it of excess salt and then braising it for several hours in a wine-and-carrot-flavored court bouillon (vegetable stock) to soften it. The ham would probably be a jambon de Moruan in Burgundy, where jambon persillé originates, but prosciutto di Parma, or a less expensive domestic prosciutto, or Smithfield ham would make a good substitute. Split calves’ or pigs’ feet are simmered in the court bouillon with the ham to provide gelatin, which holds the finished jambon persillé together. The ham is cut into cubes or shredded and combined with freshly chopped parsley and the braising liquid in a terrine and allowed to set.

My own approach is somewhat different and takes a few days of forethought. I salt a fresh, raw ham and convert it into demi-sel, a trick that enhances its flavor, and then make stock with pigs’ or calves’ feet, reduce it, and add use it along with vegetables, herbs, and white wine to poach the ham instead of simmering the feet along with the ham in the way most recipes suggest. There are two reasons for making a separate jelly stock. First, this allows you to cook the stock for 10 hours instead of only 6 or so, to extract the maximum of natural gelatin. Second, jambon persillé needs a very gelatinous stock to hold it together, and making the stock in advance allows you to reduce it before you poach the ham.

While my own preference is for homemade demi-sel, you can make a jambon persillé out of just about any form of ham. If you have some decent cooked ham, you don’t need to cook it more. Just slice it, cut it into cubes, and layer it in the terrine with melted fonds gelée, clear stock with some extra gelatin added to hold it together. If you have a fully cured ham, soak a piece of it for 3 days in cold water, changing the water a couple of times a day, and then cook the piece as I describe in the recipe.”

Jambon Persillé
Ham in Aspic

6 quarts when melted fonds gelée
4 pounds [1.8 kg] boneless raw uncured fresh ham or shoulder (5 pounds [2.3 kg] if the bone is in), partially salted or left raw and uncured
4 medium-size carrots, peeled, cut into 1-inch [2.5 cm] sections
2 large red onions, peeled, cut in half through the root end
3 cups [750 ml] dry white wine
1 medium-size bouquet garni
1 large bunch flat-leaf parsley, large stems cut off and used in the bouquet garni

Bring the gelée to a gentle simmer on the stove and simmer about 2 hours to reduce it to 10 cups [2.5 l]. Skim.

To make the gelée, I simmered 5 cut up pigs feet in water and wine, with onions, leeks, parsley, thyme, chives, and bay leaves, plus a dried mixture of soup mix. I cooked, and skimmed, for about 6 hours.

Put the ham in a pot just large enough to hold it. Pour enough of the fonds gelée over the ham to cover it. Add the carrots, onions, wine, and bouquet garni, and bring to a simmer over high heat. Turn down to between low and medium heat to maintain a gentle simmer for 5 to 6 hours, until a knife slides easily in and out of the meat. Add water or more broth from time to time to make up for evaporation.

Transfer the ham to a cutting board and strain the poaching liquid into a clean container. Chop the parsley very fine.

Ladle ½ cup [125 ml] of poaching liquid into the bottom of a 1½-liter (6-cup) terrine and sprinkle over it about 1 tablespoon of the chopped parsley. Pull the ham into shreds and put a layer on top of the parsley and poaching liquid. Pour just enough poaching liquid over the meat to barely cover it, sprinkle more parsley, and add another layer of meat.

Keep layering the terrine in this way, finishing it with a layer of broth and parsley. Refrigerate overnight.

I didn’t shred the ham; I preferred the look of the terrine with large pieces.

When you’re ready to serve, just cut slices right out of the terrine. Or, for a more dramatic effect, you can unmold the whole thing: put a platter upside down over the terrine, invert both together, and lift off the terrine.

If you like, serve with bread, mustard, and cornichons.

Instead of just slices, I roughly chopped the ham in aspic to make more of a salad – something I like to do when I make pigs’ feet.

I also made a caper and parsley vinaigrette for the salad.

Straight red wine vinegar is also good, plus a few capers.

Any size terrine can be used for jambon persillé. In fact, if you want the slices to fit on bread, a long, narrow terrine is best.

Tongue, as a Cold Cut

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Let’s face it, they’re not pretty. They look like huge, well, tongues. So just don’t think about it being a tongue. Think of it as a culinary delicacy. Tongue is soft, tender, and lean, with a unique texture.

With very little work, you can turn this piece of cow into a fabulous “cold cut” for hors d’oeuvres. All you need to do is poach the tongue, just like you were poaching a chicken.

Not intended to offend anyone, but this is a tongue!

Beef Tongue

1 beef tongue, about 3 1/2 pounds, at room temperature
1 onion, quartered
3-4 stalks celery, quartered
10 baby carrots
1 leek, cleaned, quartered
1 bunch parsley
5 bay leaves
1 head of cloves, sliced horizontally
Handful of whole black pepper corns
2 teaspoons salt

Place all of the ingredients in a large pot. Add enough water to cover everything. Bring it all to a boil on the stove, then simmer, covered, for about 2 – 2 1/2 hours.

You could heat the broth ingredients first, and then add the tongue, but this way works well, and you do end up with a great meat plus a good broth. After cooking, remove the lid and let the mixture cool a bit, then remove the tongue and set on a plate to cool completely.

Remove the fatty chunk at the base of the tongue, but don’t discard it. Peel the tongue – especially the top part of it where you can see the taste buds. It doesn’t all work with the pinch and pull method; a paring knife comes in handy.

Slice the peeled tongue crosswise into 1/4 to 3/8″ slices. Tongue is good at room temperature, or cold. I love it with Dijon mustard and good bread.

The slices are wonderful as part of an charcuterie platter, along with cheeses, olives, and cornichons.

If you don’t want the tongue as a cold cut, sear the slices instead in hot skillet with a teaspoon of olive oil. Add salt and pepper after turning. I sliced up that piece I cut off the tongue to make these non-uniform strips to sear.

I like to put these in flour tortillas and eat with onions and cilantro, and you can make a more involved filling like Rick Bayless’s creamy zucchini and corn. Or, serve the hot seared tongue with crispy potatoes and a couple over easy eggs.

Tongue is also good with pigs’ feet, but that’s another post!

Make sure to use this wonderful broth in another recipe! I added potatoes and leeks for a quicky soup!

Chicken Biryani

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When I first made biryani a million years ago, or so it seems, it was a fun dish for me because it was a perfect vehicle for leftovers – leftover rice, leftover chicken, even a leftover curry. But one can also make it purposefully from scratch, creating a custom version of what you like.

Biryani is an Indian dish, with many variations, which is perfect for the way I like to cook. It’s basically rice and meat, and you can sprinkle the dish with cilantro or green onions, serve with sour cream. It’s fun and flavorful and filling.

I’m not using an actual recipe, simply so I can show you how to make it from scratch and how easy and straight forward biryani is. I’m using the basic Indian-inspired seasonings, basmati rice, and prepared chicken.

After I’d created the seasonings for this biryani, I discovered an actual biryani seasoning mixture that I bought a few years ago. I need to go through my spice drawers!

Chicken Biryani
Printable recipe below

3 tablespoons ghee or butter
1 onion, finely chopped
1 – 1” piece of ginger, minced
4-5 cloves garlic, minced
1 3/4 cups basmati rice, I’m using brown
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/4 teaspoon white pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon of cayenne pepper, or to taste
Approximately 3 1/2 cups of good chicken broth
4 grilled chicken breasts
2 tablespoons ghee
1 red bell pepper, cut into slices
1 green bell pepper, cut into slices
4 hard-boiled eggs
1 bunch cilantro, chopped

Melt the ghee in a pot over medium heat. Add the onion and sauté for about 5 minutes.

Add the ginger and cook for a couple of minutes. Add the garlic, give it a stir, then pour in the rice followed by the spices.

Add the broth and give everything a stir. Bring to a simmer, cover the pot, and cook for about 30 minutes. Brown rice takes a bit longer so test it. If your rice is done and there’s still some broth, give it a stir, keep the lid on, and give it about 10 minutes; the rice will absorb the liquid. Set aside and keep warm.

Cut up the cooked chicken breasts into bite-sized pieces. I put sweet paprika on mine before cooking, which is why they’re red; paprika is not an Indian spice. Set the chicken aside.

In a skillet, heat the ghee over medium-high heat, and sauté the pepper slices for about 5 minutes, getting some good caramelization on them, turning once. You might have to do this in two batches. Set the slices on a plate.

Add the chicken pieces, turn off the heat, put on a lid, and let the chicken heat through.

Peel the hard-boiled eggs and slice in half; make sure they’re at room temperature.

To serve, place the aromatic rice on a serving platter, then cover with the peppers and chicken. If you prefer, you can mix the chicken with the rice instead.

Decorate the biryani with the egg halves, and sprinkle the dish with cilantro.

If you don’t want to grill chicken breasts, pick apart a rotisserie chicken and coarsely chop the meat.

If you want to use less chicken, include a can of drained chick peas to the rice.

Now you can see how you can come up with your own recipe for biryani. It’s fun and easy!

 

 

Chinese Hot Pot

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My French mother went through a long Chinese cooking phase, starting when we moved to Seattle, Washington. An avid scuba diver, Mom made a deal with Mrs. Chin, who owned a Chinese cooking store and school at Pike Place market in Seattle. In exchange for sea cucumbers picked off of the Puget Sound’s sandy floor, Mom received cooking classes. This is a photo of a sea cucumber – a Chinese delicacy.

I can’t stress enough that this was not stir frying. This was serious Chinese cookery. Mom had pots and woks and steamers and cleavers and a lot of required utensils and dinnerware. Our kitchen smelled like an Asian food store. (Think fishy.)

We were not the perfect diners during those years. My step-father was distant. My sister and I wished we were anywhere else than at the dinner table. And my mother, having the disposition she had, resented doing all of the work she did, with us not appreciating it.

But, let’s just say she was never one to understand our side of things. We were kids. We didn’t ask her to slave away in the kitchen prepping winter melons and steaming buns. And when you’re 14, you definitely don’t appreciate the work your mother does, right?! Especially when my friends got to eat Cocoa Puffs and Mac ‘n cheese, while I was staring at a deep-fried Tiger lily.

However, there were a few times when I appreciated and enjoyed a meal at our house, and that was when my mother prepared Chinese hot pot. This is a photo of my mother’s old hot pot. One actually put coals in the bottom compartment, and in the round basin went the broth in which everything was cooked. I think at least one table got ruined from the extreme heat.

On the table would be plates of beef, shrimp, and chicken, all thinly sliced by mom and her giant cleaver. I remember she’d hold up a slice of shrimp and it I could see light through it. There were bowls of eggs and tofu and green onions and cellophane noodles. In front of each of us was our own bowl, and our own sieve, for cooking, and porcelain spoon, for eating. And then we’d start.

Just for the heck of it, I recently searched Amazon for an electric hot pot, and lo and behold, it exists! No need to burn my table.

To remind myself how to have a hot pot night I turned to my trusty Time-Life Chinese Cookbook and checked a recipe called Chrysanthemum Fire Pot. It’s pretty much what I remember.

From the recipe, one starts by cooking the meat, fish, and seafood in the stock, dipping that into the sauce, and eating.

From the recipe, “When all of the meat, fish, and seafood have been consumed, a little of the stock (now a rich, highly-flavored broth) is ladled into each guest’s bowl and drunk as a soup. The noodles and vegetables are then dropped in the stock remaining in the fire pot, cooked for a minute or so, and ladled with the broth into the bowls to be eaten as a last course.”

The following is not exactly a recipe for hot pot, but somewhat of a guide for having your own.

Chinese Hot Pot
Adapt according to your tastes

Shrimp, cleaned, sliced through the middle from tail to head
Chicken breast, thinly sliced uniformly
Beef tenderloin, thinly sliced uniformly
Halibut or other white fish, thinly sliced uniformly
Tofu, excess water removed, cubed
Cellophane noodles, prepared
Eggs, whisked in small bowl
Green onions, sliced
A chiffonade of spinach leaves
Approximately 3 quarts good chicken stock*

Sauce:
1/2 cup soy sauce
4 tablespoons sesame seed oil
4 tablespoons Chinese rice wine or pale dry sherry

Place the shrimp, chicken, fish and beef on one large platter or individual plates with tongs.

Place the tofu, noodles, eggs, spinach, and green onions, in individual bowls with serving utensils.

Prepare the sauce by mixing the 3 ingredients together. Place a small amount in each bowl, and serve the rest in a cruet.

Pour the broth in your electric hot pot, straining if necessary, and turn it to high.

Place what you want to cook into the strainer, place the strainer in the broth for as long as it takes to cook to your liking. Remove to a plate. Using chopsticks, dip in sauce. Eat. Repeat.

When it’s time for the soup, first add the noodles and spinach to the broth and let simmer for a few minutes. Then ladle some into your main bowl, add egg, some dipping sauce, green onions, tofu, plus some chile pepper oil, if desired.

All of the ingredients are optional, just make the soup to your tastes.

Here is a photo of hot pot for four, which works well if you put out the beef, chicken, fish and shrimp out first, with the dipping sauce.

After you’re done with part 1, remove those ingredients, add the spinach and noodles, plus more broth if necessary, to the simmering broth, and bring the soup ingredients to the table. You can also save some of the cooked protein for the soup.

I used Shichimi Togarashi on the protein, even the tofu. It’s a wonderful seasoning mixture. It’s Japanese, but we also enjoy sake with hot pot, and the chile pepper oil is Korean, so consider this a fusion meal!

* The day before I served the hot pot, I simmered some high-quality chicken broth on the stove with a thawed chicken carcass, some dried Chinese chile peppers, Szechuan peppercorns, a few sprigs of cilantro, ginger, garlic, about 1/2 teaspoon of Chinese 5-spice, and a couple of bay leaves. I also soaked dried Shitake mushrooms in hot water for about 10 minutes, and added the mushroom liquor to the broth. It was perfect!

Risotto with Pork Shanks

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On the last season of Masterchef US, season 10, the 4th runner up went home. His name is Noah Sims and he was a favorite. What sent him home was a risotto topped with venison loin. The venison was overcooked, unfortunately for him, but what sent him home was a profound learning experience to me.

Risotto is a dish. It is a meal. It can be enhanced with an endless number of ingredients, from mushrooms to tomatoes and squash, and seasoned accordingly. It also can be served with protein of just about any kind, for a more involved meal. However, the protein is a separate dish from the risotto.

So, you have risotto, and the added protein, and according to Joe Bastianich, the son of Italian cuisine expert Lidia Bastianich, something has to tie them together. Otherwise it’s like serving a chili dog on a plate of cacio de pepe. (not his quote.) Two completely different dishes.

What Mr. Bastianich suggested was that if Noah had been able to prepare a venison stock to use in the risotto, the overall meal would have worked.

I found this to be quite revelatory. Because although my husband doesn’t mind, I’ve put just about any kind of meat or seafood over his risotto. Now, they have to “go” together. Now I know.

So I created this risotto dish topped with braised pork chops in order to use pork broth in the risotto. Start in the morning, and don’t plan on serving the dish until the next day.

Braised Pork Shanks
4 servings

4 – 1 1/2 pound Berkshire pork shanks
Salt
Pepper
Grapeseed oil, about 1/4 cup total
Olive oil, about 2 tablespoons
1 large onion, finely chopped
4 celery stalks, finely chopped
4 carrots, peeled, finely chopped
4 garlic cloves, peeled, smashed
3 cups white wine
3 cups chicken broth
Parsley
Bay leaves
Rosemary branch
Thyme branch
Sprig of sage

Begin by coating the pork with a generous amount of salt and pepper.

Heat the grapeseed oil in a heavy cast-iron pot over high heat. Brown the tops and bottoms of all four shanks, one at a time.

After browning, place the shanks in a large, deep and heavy pot, like a Le Creuset; set aside.

Turn down the heat under the pot to medium. Add a couple tablespoons of olive oil. Sauté the onion, celery, and carrots for about 5 minutes, stirring up all of that meaty goodness.

Stir in the garlic for a minute, then add the wine and broth.

Add all of the herbs to the pot with the broth. Heat up the liquid in the pot, uncovered, and cook for 30 minutes. Then cover the pot well and cook for 30 more minutes.

Let the liquid cool enough to handle the pot, then strain the liquid through a fine colander into the pot with the shanks. Add more wine or broth if necessary. The meat should just be covered.

At this point you can check the seasoning. The broth should be rich with flavor.

Place the pot over a medium-high heat and simmer the shanks for 2 1/2 hours. Turn the shanks over halfway through cooking.

When you’re ready to collect the pork broth and proceed with the risotto, remove the shanks and place in a baking dish. Cover with foil to keep warm.

Taste the broth. If it’s watery, spend at least 30-45 minutes reducing it. Store it in a pourable pot, then make the risotto (recipe below).

 

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Sautéed Mushrooms

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I happen to adore mushrooms. But I remember the days when they appalled me, mostly because they tasted like dirt. Unfortunately, my mother picked a lot of mushrooms in her foraging days, and I missed out on all of that!

Fast forward a couple of decades and I’m now a proud mushroom lover. For the blog I’ve topped a warmed brie with sautéed mushrooms, prepared crepes filled with mushroom duxelles, added mushrooms to a savory bread pudding, and topped toasts with creamy mushrooms. They obviously can be used in so many ways.

Although I’m not much of a steak eater myself, I will enjoy one with my husband when I plan on topping the filet mignons with sautéed mushrooms. There is just something magical in that combination.

So much can be done with sautéed mushrooms, by using wine or cognac, bacon grease or duck fat, herbs, spices, demi-glace… and when you enjoy a perfectly cooked steak topped with perfectly cooked mushrooms you feel like you’re dining in a 5-star restaurant.


I buy whole mushrooms and peel them with a small knife before slicing. I don’t trust the pre-sliced variety.

Here’s what I do.

Sautéed Mushrooms
Enough for four steaks

4 tablespoons butter, divided
1 pound sliced mushrooms
1/2 teaspoon garlic pepper
2 – 3 shallots, finely chopped
1-2 tablespoons cognac
1/2 cup flavorful broth mixed with
1 teaspoon beef demi-glace and warmed
1 – 2 tablespoons chopped parsley
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/4 teaspoon white pepper (optional)
Salt to taste

Place 3 tablespoons of butter in a hot skillet or wok over high heat. Add the mushroom slices and season with the garlic pepper. Stirring or flipping frequently, sauté them until browned. Using this high heat technique, much less fat is required and more browning occurs.

Remove the mushrooms to a bowl and set aside. This step can be done way ahead of cooking the steaks.

Meanwhile, prepare the steaks and place them on a rack to rest. Cover lightly with foil.

Add the remaining butter to the cast-iron skillet that the steaks were cooked in, and sauté the shallots gently, adjusting the heat accordingly. You don’t want too much caramelization.

Return the mushrooms to the skillet, along with any juices that might be in the bowl. Then over fairly high heat add the cognac and flambé the mushrooms. Shake the skillet gently until the flames subside.

At this point add the broth and demi-glace mixture. Stir well and let reduce a bit.

The mushrooms should be nice and glazed. Add the parsley, thyme, and season with white pepper, if using, and salt.

Serve immediately over filet mignons or your choice of steak.

You can use part wine and part stock if you prefer, and if you prefer garlic over shallots, use them, just don’t sauté them for more than 30 seconds.

If you don’t like the liquid, you can always quickly remove the mushrooms, add a little Wondra flour, and make a quick “gravy” with a whisk. I prefer the broth.

Furthermore, a little heavy cream or creme fraiche can be added for extra decadence!

Enjoy.

Poached Chicken

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There are times when it’s easy to purchase a rotisserie chicken, cut up the meat, and use it in soup, a salad, or in enchiladas. Sure, it saves time, but I’ve never purchased one that wasn’t overcooked. Delis have different temperature guidelines than I do.

Roasting your own chicken is simple, and I don’t think there’s anything much more wonderful than serving a just-roasted chicken.

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However, there are two benefits to poaching a chicken. One is the lovely tender meat, and the second is the wonderful poaching liquid. And there are so many different ways to create a flavorful broth besides the basic onion, carrot, and celery. So I take my chicken poaching quite seriously!

Poaching a chicken takes a few hours from start to finish, but it’s not all active work. I recommend that you have a plan for the poached chicken. You can use the meat in a bastilla, pictured at the top, in soups, stews, crêpes and enchiladas, a byriana, a curry – the possibilities are endless.

Then I would also recommend that you have a plan for the remaining chicken broth. It can be used for cooking legumes and grains, as a base for soups and stews, or reduced and even frozen for future use.

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Poached Chicken

1 whole chicken
3-4 carrots, cleaned, halved
3-4 stalks celery, cleaned, chopped coarsely
A few ripe tomatoes, halved (optional)
Bunch of parsley*
1 large onion, quartered
Garlic cloves, halved
Whole peppercorns
Bay leaves

Remove the plastic bag of innards from the chicken. Then rinse the chicken and place the chicken in a large and deep pot. I prefer a pasta cooker because you can remove the chicken and vegetables without further straining the broth.

If your husband isn’t watching, add the innards to the pot. If he’s eyeing you, save the innards for the dogs.

Add the remaining ingredients, adjusting for your tastes.

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If you are not using a pasta cooker, you can use a muslin bag for your seasonings.

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Add water to cover the chicken. Place the pot on the stove, bring the water to a boil, cover the pot and reduce the heat to simmer. I like to poach a chicken for about 1 1/2 hours; you can’t overcook the chicken but you want to maintain the volume of water.

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For additional ingredients, consider fresh herbs like sprigs of rosemary, sage, and thyme. Or use whole cumin and coriander seeds. It all depends what you want the remaining broth to taste like. These additions have little effect on the chicken’s flavor, but significantly flavor the broth.

Once the chicken is poached, remove the lid and let the pot rest until the chicken can be handled safely. If you’re using a pasta cooker, gently remove the insert and let the broth drain. Save the broth! Never discard it.

Carefully place the chicken on a cutting board to further cool.

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If everything was cooked in one pot, remove the muslin bag and let the broth cool. Taste the broth and reduce it if the flavor needs to concentrate. It can also be salted at this point if desired.

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Remove the meat from the bones. It will be delicate light and dark meat.

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From this small-sized chicken, I ended up with 1 pound 4 ounces of meat.

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If you want to enhance your broth, place the chicken bones in the broth and simmer for a while. Another thing that I’ve done is to blend the cooled broth along with the carrots, celery, tomatoes, onion, and garlic. The parsley is optional. That way, the broth is already more soupy, and the vegetables don’t go to waste.

Enjoy your poached chicken and home-made chicken broth!

* If you will be using the chicken broth for a Southwestern or Mexican dish, I suggest substituting cilantro for parsley.

Risotto with Bacon and Peas

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When I prepare meat, it’s usually for my husband.  I don’t dislike meat, I just prefer avocados, and fish.  I even eat tofu.  On a special occasion I will certainly enjoy a good filet with my guy, but it’s just too heavy for me.

So this lovely spring risotto with peas and a little bacon is a perfect meal for me.  For my husband it’s a side dish!

But however you eat it, it’s  a great risotto.  Make sure you use a really good bacon.

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Risotto with Bacon and Peas

8 ounces bacon, diced
3 shallots, diced
1 1/2 cups risotto rice, like arborio or carnaroli
White wine
2 cups chicken or vegetable stock
Heavy cream
8 ounces frozen petite peas, thawed
5-6 ounces grated Parmesan

Cook the bacon over medium-high heat in a heavy skillet.

When it’s cooked, spoon it out of the bacon grease using a slotted spoon and place on paper towels to drain.

Pour about 2 tablespoons of the hot grease into a pot to make the risotto. Add the shallots and sauté them in the bacon grease until soft, about 5 minutes.

Stir in the rice until every grain is coated with the grease. Stir for about a minute.

Then add a big splash of wine and stir the rice until the wine is absorbed. Then proceed with adding a little of the broth at a time, always stirring until it gets absorbed by the rice.

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After adding all of the stock, add a little cream a few times and stir well.

After about 30 minutes, the risotto should be cooked and stop absorbing liquid. At this point stir in the peas, bacon and Parmesan. Stir gently to combine and let heat through.

 

Serve immediately. You can always serve extra Parmesan as well.

I used no seasoning in this risotto to let the flavors shine. But you should taste it for salt and pepper definitely.

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I added a tarragon sprig from my plant that has fortunately returned to my garden this spring.

If you want seasoning, I would recommend nutmeg or white pepper. Or both!

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Now doesn’t this look like a perfect spring meal?! With a little white wine of course!

Tortilla Soup

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A few decades ago, when I first heard about tortilla soup, it was associated with Chef Dean Fearing. It was a signature dish served at The Mansion in Dallas, Texas, where he was head chef. In fact, in his cookbook, “The Texas Food Bible,” published in 2014, he claims that although the recipe was not originally his, it has always been so popular that it remains his “million-dollar baby!”

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Indeed it is. Chef Fearing has his own restaurant now in Dallas called Fearing’s, located in the Ritz-Carlton, where tortilla soup remains on the menu. We’ve been lucky enough to dine there for both dinner and brunch, and the experiences were perfection.

Southwestern-inspired tortilla soup is a slightly spicy, tomato enriched soup. Tortillas are fried for garnish, as well as used in the soup for texture and flavor. But it’s the goodies that make this soup fabulous to me: smoked chicken, avocado, cheddar cheese, and some fun garnishes.

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I’ve made many versions of this soup in my life, because many different versions are possible. It’s easy to add beans, roasted chile peppers and corn or hominy, for example, plus chipotle peppers or ancho chile paste for some depth. The possibilities are really endless.

Even though the purpose of this post was to present the actual Dean Fearing tortilla soup recipe, this soup will be another version yet again. I didn’t realize that the chicken is supposed to be smoked! I’d poached a whole chicken the day before in anticipation of making this soup!

I think my mistakes stemmed from a lengthy vacation away from my kitchen. Do you ever feel like you’ve forgotten how to cook after a couple weeks on holiday?!! I wasn’t in my cooking rhythm when I took on this soup!

Here is the original recipe, which Chef Fearing claims more represents the recipe’s Mexican roots, rather than his previous Southwestern version, with my five-cents worth in parentheses.

Tortilla Soup
adapted from The Texas Food Bible
serves 4

8 tablespoons olive oil
8 corn tortillas, cut into long strips and divided in half
8 garlic cloves, peeled
2 cups onion purée
6 cups chicken stock
4 cups fresh tomato purée
5 roasted ancho chiles, stemmed and seeded
2 jalapeño chiles, stemmed, seeded, and chopped
1 tablespoon chopped fresh epazote or 2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 large bay leaf
Salt
Fresh lemon juice
Cayenne pepper
1 cup small-dice smoked chicken breast
1 cup cubed avocado
1/2 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese
1/4 cup finely diced cabbage
1/4 cup finely julienned red radish
1 tablespoon seeded and minced jalapeño chile

Heat about 5 tablespoons of the olive oil in a large frying pan over medium-high heat. Add one-half of the tortilla strips and fry, turning occasionally, for about 5 minutes, or until very crisp. Carefully transfer to a double layer of paper towels to drain. Reserve.

(If you’re wondering why my tortillas aren’t yellow, it’s because they’re made from a whole-grain wheat and corn mixture, and worked just as well.)

Heat the remaining olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat.

(I used the same pot to fry the tortilla strips and to make the soup.)

Add the garlic along with the remaining half of the tortilla strips and fry, stirring frequently, for about 5 minutes, or until the tortillas are crisp.

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Add the onion purée and bring to a simmer. Simmer, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes.

(I used chopped onions because the soup gets blended!)

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Stir in the chicken stock and tomato purée along with the roasted anchos, jalapeños, epazote (or cilantro), cumin, coriander and bay leaf. Season with salt to taste, raise the heat, and bring to a boil.

(As you can see, the recipe lists “roasted ancho chiles.” I’m assuming Chef Fearing meant fresh chile peppers if they’re roasted, because you don’t roast dried chile peppers. But the fresh version of ancho chiles, shown below right in this Bon Appetit photo, are actually poblanos, a fresh chile pepper, shown below left. So I’m not sure what he meant. Without any poblanos, I went ahead and used 4 ancho chile peppers, which are dried poblanos. I know it’s confusing, but I would think the father of Southwestern cuisine would know his chile peppers.)

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Lower the heat and cook at a gentle simmer for 40 minutes, skimming off any fat that rises to the surface.

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Remove from the heat, transfer to a blender, and process to a smooth purée. If too thick, add chicken stock, a bit at a time, to reach a smooth soup consistency.

When ready to serve, place the soup in a large saucepan over low heat. Remove and discard the bay leaf (??? I thought it was puréed?) Season with lemon juice and cayenne and, if necessary, additional salt.

Place an equal portion of smoked chicken, avocado, cheese, cabbage, radish, minced jalapeño and reserved tortilla crisps in the center of each of four warm shallow soup bowls. Ladle 8 ounces of soup over the garnish and serve immediately.

(I actually only placed the chicken, avocado and cheese in the bowls before adding the hot soup base, then garnished with the remaining ingredients.)

(I don’t think Chef Fearing means equal portions, I think he meant 4 equal portions of each of the ingredients, since the soup serves four people.)

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As I mentioned above, I’ll have to make the recipe again to see what it’s really supposed to taste like!

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But I’m a little disappointed in the recipe. It’s not really written for home cooks, and a few things are unclear. There isn’t even a photo of the prepared soup!

Verdict: My husband said that he likes my tortilla soup better, and I’d have to agree, even though I’ve never made it the same way twice. I felt this soup was somewhat bland, in spite of the ancho chile peppers, fresh jalapenos, and the cayenne pepper. I guess I also enjoy black beans and corn, plus a little chipotle for texture and flavor. But to be fair, I didn’t exactly follow the recipe!

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Maybe I need another vacation.

Pot au Feu

33 Comments

Pot au Feu is a hearty vegetable dish that I grew up eating. In spite of its simplicity and peasant origins, I loved the smell of the bacon-rich broth, and the flavor of the tender-cooked vegetables.

Pot au feu, simply translated to “caldron of fire,” was a way to use what you raised, and what grew locally. For my mother, with her French upbringing, it meant a little meat and seasonal vegetables.

My mother recently sent me some Black Forest bacon amongst cheese and other gourmet goodies for my birthday. She knows what I love! And I just knew that I was going to use the bacon in a Pot au Feu. It’s the best way to honor it.

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So here’s what I did, but you can switch up the vegetables however you like, depending on what you like, and the season. Enjoy!

Pot au Feu

Olive oil
Bacon
Onion, coarsely chopped
Potatoes, cleaned
Carrots, cleaned
Cabbage, in chunks
Frozen peas, thawed
Parsley or fresh thyme

Begin by dicing the strips of bacon.
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Place it in a braising pan with raised sides, large enough to accommodate the vegetables. I added a little olive oil in the braising pan because this bacon wasn’t fatty.
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Cook the bacon over medium-high heat. Then stir in the onions, and lower the heat a little.


Cook the bacon and onions for about 5 minutes, then add the potatoes.
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Add enough chicken broth just to partially cover the potatoes. Bring to a simmer, cover the pan slightly, and cook them for about ten minutes.

Add the carrots, and cook for about five minutes, depending on their size.
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Tuck the cabbage into the broth, and add a little more broth as necessary.
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Braise the vegetables, with the lid partially covered, turning them occasionally. Add the peas towards the end of the cooking time.
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The pot au feu is done when all the vegetables are cooked though.
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You can remove the bulk of the vegetables and bacon to a serving bowl, and then reduce the broth in the braising pan.
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Then pour the remaining broth over the vegetables and serve. I forgot to do this, even though I did reduce the broth, so the vegetables aren’t “glistening” as they should be! Ah, food blogging!
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As you can imagine, these simply braised vegetables are delicious as a side to just about every protein. Even though this vegetable dish is hearty, I think it works in the spring as well as in the fall or winter.

Sprinkle them with chopped parsley, if desired, or with fresh thyme leaves.
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note: Like I mentioned, the vegetables can definitely be varied depending on the season, or what’s available. Butternut squash, leeks, sweet potatoes, turnips, green beans, even spinach or spring onions can be used. Just cook the densest vegetables first, so that in the end every element is perfectly cooked!