Stéphane’s Calamari in Red Sauce

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When I first met Stéphane, it was April of 2014. My daughter and I visited him for an action-packed four days in southwestern France.

If you’re not familiar with Stéphane Gabart, he is the author of My French Heaven, the beautiful blog that emanates his love for all things food, wine, and France. You immediately grasp his passion and joie de vivre through his stunning photography.

His business, which he has secretly told me is more fun than work, is called Your French Heaven, because one can basically customize a visit. In our case, my daughter and I went mostly, not surprisingly, for the food experience.

We visited a different farmers’ market every day, so that he could cook fabulous meals for us. Can you imagine! Four farmers’ markets in close proximity to your home?!! Not to mention bakeries and patisseries!

Because my daughter is a pescatarian, we ate a lot of seafood, which was wonderful!

Of course Stéphane also had the perfect wines, champagnes, Lillet, and Sauternes.

And bread and cheese, of course.

I’d include photos of the countryside we visited, along with castles, villages, fortresses, vineyards, and even a brocante, because we did do much more than eat, but I need to keep this post about Stéphane and the calamari he prepared one evening for my daughter and I. These are photos from that visit. I’ve never had calamari quite like it.

It’s calamari rings, sautéed, flambéed, then cooked in a red sauce until the sauce is deep and rich. The sunshine beaming down on the calamari just make them glow!

Here’s the recipe, as generously emailed to me by Stéphane.

Calamari Rings in Red Sauce

Sear bacon, shallots and onions in a cast iron pot.

In another skillet, sauté the calamari in olive oil. Flambé with cognac.

You then dump your seafood in the pot and add your bouquet garni. Add 125g of tomato paste for each pound of fish.

Darken the sauce on medium heat and wet it as you go along with a big glass of white wine.

When your sauce is dark enough, you add fish stock to level. Let the whole thing boil on low heat for a good 2 hours, adding liquid as needed.

When the sauce has reduced enough, add some garlic, a pinch of paprika and some cayenne pepper.

Let it all simmer very slowly for about 15 minutes and adjust your seasoning.

Then thicken your sauce with a bit of white roux.

And voila!

I made this calamari dish for Christmas eve, served with white rice.

It was exquisite.

Merci, mon ami!

 

 

Mushroom Toast

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My readers know that, maybe because of my advanced age, or perhaps because I’ve always been on the stubborn side, food trends turn me off. But I do know that stubbornness can get in the way of experiencing good food.

Case in point – avocado toast. Perhaps avocado toast didn’t excite me much because avocados are my biggest source of protein, not being a huge meat eater. I didn’t need to serve them on grilled bread to appreciate the wonderful food that they are.

Until I did have avocado toast, that is, and I have to say that they were thoroughly enjoyable!

Recently online I saw a headline for the “new” avocado toast – mushrooms on toast. I immediately envisioned sautéed mushrooms that I top my husband’s steaks with occasionally.

So that’s what I did to make my version of jump-on-the-bandwagon mushroom toast.

Mushroom Toast

Bread slices, like sourdough or French
Olive oil
Mushrooms, sliced, about 1 pound
Butter, about 1/4 cup
Olive oil, about 2 tablespoons
2 cloves garlic, minced
Cognac or brandy, optional
Garlic pepper
Dried thyme
Salt
Pepper
8 ounces Crème fraiche

Brush some olive oil on the bread slices and toast them, either over fire, in a skillet, or in the oven. They should be crispy. Set them aside.


In a large skillet, heat the olive oil and butter over fairly high heat until bubbling, then add the mushrooms.

Keep the heat high, and stir only occasionally while getting some color on the mushrooms. If they stick at all, add a bit more butter, but keep the heat high. This keeps the mushrooms from requiring an inordinate amount of fat.


Once there is good caramelization on the mushrooms, turn the heat to medium, and add the garlic. Stir well for a few seconds.

Immediately add a splash or two of cognac and let it ignite. Shake the pan until the flames extinguish.

Turn the heat to the lowest setting and cook until most of the liquid has cooked off, if there is any.

At that point, season the mushrooms to taste.

Remove the skillet from the heat, let it cool a bit, then stir in the crème fraiche. Heat through.

Place some mushrooms on the toasts using a small, slotted spoon, then pour a spoonful of cream over the top. Serve immediately.


If you want decadence, sprinkle a little finely grated Gruyere, Fontina, or Parmesan on top of the toasts.

Top the toasts with some fresh thyme, parsley, or chives, if available.

If you’re serving these for company, don’t put too many out; they must be warm. There’s nothing much worse than cold mushrooms.

Not only would these be good for hors d’oeuvres, they would be wonderful served with soup. So much better than plain bread!

Verdict: These toasts are fabulous, and any mushroom lover will love these. The toasts would work with finer chopped mushrooms, or even a duxelles.

The Dirty Snowman

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It’s rare that I peruse a men’s clothing catalog, because my husband isn’t a stylin’ kind of guy. Which is fine with me, since I’m not either. We probably often look like a couple of vagrants.

But during the catalog-intense period of time prior to Christmas, I happened to check out a men’s catalog that intrigued me. It’s called Huckberry, and the catalog pages were cute, with photos like this one.

But what got me excited was a cocktail recipe that was in the catalog, called The Dirty Snowman.


It contains cognac and dark beer, neither of which I like. I think it was the chocolate and hazelnut rim on the glass that got my attention!

Here’s the recipe:

The Dirty Snowman
Makes 1 drink

Cocoa nibs and chopped hazelnuts, for garnish (I used chopped bittersweet chocolate)
1/2 ounce simple syrup, plus a little extra for the rim
1 teaspoon cocoa nibs (again, chopped bittersweet chocolate)
1 1/4 ounce cognac
3 ounces dark beer (I used Guinness)
Splash coconut milk (I used freshly whipped cream)

Use simple syrup to rim a glass with the hazelnuts and chocolate.



In a shaker, muddle the 1/2 ounce of simple syrup, and 1 teaspoon of chocolate.

Add the cognac and shake well with ice.

Strain into the rimmed glass, add ice, and top with beer.

They suggest floating a splash of coconut milk on top, which could be tasty, but I preferred to add unsweetened whipped cream.

My husband loved it, and suggested I make some on Christmas eve.

Oh, and it turns out that Huckberry sells much more than men’s apparel. Cute stuff.

Chocolate Pecan Mousse

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I’ve fallen in love with a product. Here it is. I buy it at Whole Foods in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and just now when I looked up their website, I realized that the company is in Oklahoma! We have a lot of pecans here.

It’s toasted pecan butter.

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Yes, I know. I finally have a Vitamix and I could so easily make this myself. It’s pecan butter, just like a peanut butter, but made from toasted pecans, and sweetened a little.

But instead of just spreading it on apples and overindulging, because it’s that good, (there’s a chunky version that is heavenly) I decided to use this stuff in a dessert, so I could really enjoy it.

I was having friends over for a pre-Thanksgiving dinner, and I had a disaster of sorts with the pumpkin roulade I’d planned on serving. Let’s face it – things don’t always work out in the kitchen.

So that morning I ran to the grocery store to get some last-minute produce, and bought chocolate to make a, wait for it… chocolate pecan mousse!

I had a good 7 hours of chill time in the refrigerator before I served dessert, so I was pretty sure this would fit the bill. A bit of chocolate and pecan indulgence, but not too much. Topped with whipped cream and candied pecans. Oh, and layered with a creamy pecan butter!

So I set to work but then got a phone call from my daughter. I hadn’t even gotten the chocolate melted yet, but I don’t get to talk to my busy daughter that often. Oh, and I should point out that phones don’t work in my kitchen, which is why I just had to run in, turn off the heat, and run out. But after about 30 minutes I told her that I really needed to go.

Then, I got a call from a friend, and we gossiped chatted for quite a while. I have to say that I was getting a little nervous, because I usually make chocolate mousse the day before I plan on serving it!

Let me just say that I made it, chilled it, served it, and it was fabulous. Here’s my recipe if you want to try it, too! (And it worked with only 5 hours of chill time!)

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Chocolate Pecan Mousse

8 eggs
12 ounces good, semi-sweet chocolate
1/2 cup white sugar
8 tablespoons butter
1/2 teaspoon espresso powder
2 tablespoons cognac
1 – 10 ounce jar pecan butter, divided
Cream, about 1/2 cup
Whole pecans
Sugar, about 1/4 cup
Whipping cream, slightly sweetened

Firstly, separate the eggs. Place the yolks in a small bowl, and the whites in a larger bowl.

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Place the chocolate, butter, sugar, espresso powder and cognac in a pot that is over a pan filled halfway with water over medium heat. This is also called a “double boiler” system.

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This is tempering, or melting the chocolate. Often chocolate is tempered by itself, and one drop of water or anything can seize up the chocolate and you have to start over. However, if there’s a significant amount of other ingredients, like the butter, in the pot, it will work perfectly.

Pour the oil from the pecan oil into a small bowl and save it. I actually used it on the roasted Brussels sprouts I made that evening, plus a little bit of pomegranate molasses. They didn’t taste pecan-y, but they were mighty good. Save the oil. Oh, and I tasted it because I didn’t want a sweet oil on the Brussels sprouts, but the oil itself that had separated from the pecan butter wasn’t sweet at all.

Now, back to the recipe. Add about half of the jar – a little over 1/2 cup – of the pecan butter to the chocolate-butter mixture. Gradually, using a spatula, stir the ingredients together until the chocolate and butter are completely melted. Remove the pot from over the hot water and let it cool for about 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, place the remaining amount of pecan butter into a mini blender.
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Add cream and blend until it’s almost pourable, and set aside.
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Using an electric mixer on medium speed, begin adding one egg yolk at a time to the chocolate mixture, and beat it in well.
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The chocolate mixture starts out like this.
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And after all of the eggs are beaten in, it becomes thicker, very shiny and smooth.

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Because of the inclusion of the pecan butter, the chocolate-pecan mixture felt very differently than the traditional chocolate mixture does without pecan butter in it. I could tell it was much stiffer and would be more challenging to work with. But I kept going. Chin up.

Using clean beaters, beat the egg whites until they are stiff. Then, begin folding in the chocolate into the egg whites.
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Be patient, because it will, eventually work.
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I decided to quit folding and folding and just deal with some chocolate streaks within the egg white mixture – I didn’t want to deflate the mousse. My friends don’t care.

First place some of the creamy pecan butter in the bottom of parfait glasses.
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Then top that with the mousse.
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Refrigerate the parfait glasses immediately. If they would have been refrigerated overnight, I would have covered them with plastic wrap; I’ve always read that chocolate can pick up flavors from the refrigerator.

To make the candied pecans, place some pecans in a skillet over medium heat. Sprinkle with white sugar.
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Eventually the sugar will melt. Don’t do what I did and completely forget that I’d just done this. I was playing on my ipad in another room when I started smelling burning pecans. The whole kitchen was full of smoke. Fortunately the smoke alarm didn’t go off, but it took about a half an hour to get the smoke out, clean the skillet, and start over.

So this is the sugar melting slightly.
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Use a spatula to move the pecans around and try to get them coated with what is essentially caramel – melted and caramelized sugar. When you’re happy with the color of the melted sugar, place the candied pecans on a plate to cool.
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Before serving, remove the parfait glasses from the refrigerator. You can do this up to an hour before if you like, but I like my chocolate mousse chilled. It’s your choice. Whip the cream and place a dollop on top each parfait glass.

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Chop the candied pecans coarsely and sprinkle them over the whipped cream. I’m sure there’s a more sophisticated way of “plating” this dessert, but plating is not my specialty. Again, my friends don’t care about such things!

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I was actually too full to have dessert that night, after all of the cheeses and other goodies I’d set out for hors d’oeuvres, so I enjoyed my mousse the next morning with an espresso. Don’t judge me. Desserts are fabulous for breakfast. As long as you can get past the heart beating extra fast for an hour or so.

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verdict: This mousse is even better than chocolate mousse. And chocolate mousse is heavenly. You can taste the toasted pecan flavor in the mousse itself, but having that layer of the bottom of creamy pecan butter really added to this dessert. A pretty tasty invention if I might say so!
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Époisses on Fire

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Époisses is my favorite cheese ever – one I discovered when we visited Beaune in Burgundy, France. It’s the local specialty cows’ milk, washed-rind cheese.

And, it’s stinky. So stinky, in fact, that it is supposedly banned from public transportation. Now I’m not sure if this still holds true, because I was told this factoid ages ago. But think about it. The French love their 500 or so cheeses. And they’re very proud of them, for good reason. So to ban a specific cheese from trains, planes, and automobiles, it must be pretty stinky.

I order Époisses at least once for the holidays, usually twice. It’s just that fabulous. If you can get past the stinky part, which is significant to those faint of nose, it’s the most fabulous soft cheese ever.

I’ve been ordering Époisses for years from Fromages.com, which is a wonderful website. I’ve never had any issues with them. You can’t even purchase a cheese if it’s not “in season.”

But I knew something was up when I got my box of French cheeses right before Thanksgiving. Usually I can smell the Époisses before I even open the box and get near the styrofoam insert. But I didn’t. It looked right; it always comes in a round carton like this one.

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But even when I removed the lid, and then poked a hole in the plastic covering the cheese, I was really disappointed. No stink. Well, let’s call it mildly stinky.

Now, this is a cows’ milk cheese, and when they’re ripe, the smell will make you feel you’re standing in a meadow of cows that have all just pooped. Sorry to be graphic, but it’s true.

Typically I serve it with a chutney of sorts, depending on what variety I’ve just made for the upcoming holidays. So I had another idea with this cheese. I remember reading, somewhere, that you can douse your Époisses with cognac and light it on fire!

So that’s just what we did on Thanksgiving day when we I put out hors d’oeuvres before the big meal. Fortunately I had help for this task. My son-in-law is always willing to help me out, but with the benefit of playing with fire? He was definitely game.

The Époisses was at room temperature, of course, and I put it on a fire-proof plate. My SIL creatively poured the cognac over the Époisses, and then with his other hand, had the flame starter ready.

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For all of you fellow bloggers/photographers who have tried to photograph flames, we all know it’s challenging. The room was too light, even though I attempted to adjust my camera. We could have moved into a darker room, I could have gotten out my tripod, etc., but being that it was Thanksgiving, and we I had already been working so hard, I just thought I’d try a few shots with my little point and shoot.

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If you look closely you can see flames. I was actually worried that the cheese would get soggy in the cognac. But we persevered! We messed with flaming the cognac for a good 5 minutes.

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By the end, the cheese looked like this. The flames had melted off the cheese rind, but not done much else. I also decided to pour off the extra cognac sitting on the plate, because I didn’t want to taste it that strongly.

And then we tried it. And, were not that impressed. The heat from the flames, whatever little flames they were, also hadn’t done much to soften the inside of the Époisses as well, so I had to deem it unripened. Époisses is usually molten when you break into it, much like a baked brie. A little disappointed in Fromages.com for the first time.

The Époisses still had fabulous flavor, although we don’t think the cognac had much of an effect flavor-wise. Let’s just say we still ate it. But I won’t do the cognac thing again.

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