Bastila

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A Bastila is a savory Moroccan pie with a chicken filling that is cooked within crêpes. The preparation is a little involved in that both the filling and the crêpes need to be made first. But it’s not a difficult pie to make, and so worth it!

What makes this pie’s flavor unique is that traditional Moroccan mixture of almonds, cinnamon and sugar. If you’ve ever been to a Moroccan restaurant you are familiar with this seasoning mixture, as it seems to be in every dish!

I wish I could tell you a lovely story about how I came about this recipe, but I can’t. I know I tore the recipe out of a soft-backed cookbook of international recipes. At one point in my cooking life I felt it beneath me to keep anything but beautiful, hard-back cookbooks. I’ll never toss a cookbook again. But at least I was smart enough to save the recipes I loved!

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Bastila

1 – 3 pound chicken
4 ounces butter
2 onions, finely chopped
3 tablespoons chopped parsley
2 teaspoons grated ginger
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/8 teaspoon turmeric
1/8 teaspoon saffron threads
6 eggs
2 egg yolks
3/4 cup whole almonds
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Butter, approximately 4 ounces, at room temperature
18 crêpes, at room temperature
Powdered sugar
Ground cinnamon

Begin by poaching the chicken with onions, carrots, celery, bay leaves, parsley, peppercorns, and a little salt. You can do this the day before.

About 2 1/2 to 3 hours is sufficient to get moist, succulent chicken. Let the chicken cool, then remove the bones and skin and place the chicken in a bowl and set aside. I shredded the chicken more than cut it up into pieces.

Add the butter to a large Dutch oven and heat it over medium heat. Add the onions and sauté them for about 5-6 minutes. Then add the parsley, ginger, and all of the spices.

Break the eggs and place them in a medium-sized bowl, along with the egg yolks. Whisk them well.

After the onion and spice mixture has cooked a minute longer, pour the eggs into the onions. Make sure the heat is low. Gently stir the eggs into the onion mixture until they are completely cooked.

Add the chicken to the onion-egg mixture and stir well. Add a little broth if the chicken mixture seems dry. Also taste for salt.

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Using a dry blender, blend the almonds, sugar, and cinnamon together. If you have a few pieces of almond, that’s okay. Set aside.

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To prepare the Bastila, use a large skillet, preferably with rounded sides. Generously butter the skillet.

Begin by layering approximately 8 crêpes around the side of the skillet, followed by 4 more covering the center bottom.

Add the ground almond mixture to the bottom of the skillet and spread it around. Then add the chicken filling. It shouldn’t be over the top of the skillet, preferably.

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Then fold the side crêpes over the filling. Use the remaining 6 crêpes to cover the top of the pie, buttering them first on the bottom side. Spread a little soft butter on the top of the pie as well.

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To cook, begin at medium-high heat. You will see the butter bubbling.

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After about 8 minutes, I lowered the heat to ensure that the crêpes sealed themselves, and to heat the inside of the pie.

Have a cookie sheet and large spatula on hand for the next step.

When you feel that the pie bottom has browned sufficiently, place the cookie sheet over the skillet, and using oven mitts flip the skillet over so that the pie is on the cookie sheet.

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Then gently coax the pie back in to the skillet, and cook the bottom side in a similar fashion.

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The cooked Bastila makes a beautiful presentation.

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When I made this pie before, I prepared and served it in an iron skillet. But you have to be able to cut into your skillet. If you cannot, simply slide the pie out gently onto a serving platter.

The final step is to mix powdered sugar and cinnamon together and sprinkle it on the top of the warm Bastila.

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In this photo you can see the crêpes wrapping around the spiced chicken filling that is topped with the ground almond mixture. Heavenly!

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Crêpes

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I’ve had a love affair with crêpes since I was a little girl, which is when I learned how to make them. I would make a “stack,” sprinkle a little white sugar on them, and eat them just like that for breakfast.

My first introduction to crêpes was when my mother made Crêpes Suzette. My French friend Stéphane from My French Heaven gave me some interesting factoids about this fabulous, flaming dessert and crêpes in general!

♥ Crèpes Suzette is a recent thing: In the early 1900’s, Edward VI was having crêpes in a restaurant on the riviera. The chef had flambéed Grand Marnier with them. Edward asked the waitress what it was but she didn’t have a name for the dish. So the king asked what her name was, which was Suzette. They have been called crêpes Suzette ever since.

♥ As for savory crêpes, they are an ancient specialty from Bretagne. They are made with black wheat and are called galettes. Only the sweet ones can be called crêpes.

A galette with ham and egg

A galette with ham and egg

♥ You eat crêpes with apple cider always as they produce a lot of apples there (Bretagne is close to Normandy).

♥ The restaurants where they serve crêpes only are called crêperies. The best ones have a chef who is a Maître Crêpier.

Photo from retagne by Stephane Gabart

Photo from Bretagne by Stephane Gabart

After seeing the above photo, I put Bretagne on my travel bucket list. Besides, I want to one day try the real deal in a crêperie.

There are many different recipes for crêpe batter, and I’m sure they’re all good. The only rule in making the batter for crêpes, to me, is the consistency. Once you have that, you get proper crêpes. If the batter is too thick, you get pancakes, if it’s too thin, you get mush.

Here is a basic recipe for crêpes, whether you’re going to use them in a sweet or savory manner:

Crêpes
Makes about 20

3 large eggs
1 1/2 cup milk
6 tablespoons oil*
Couple pinches of salt
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons flour

Whisk together the egg, milk, and salt together well in a medium bowl. Gradually add the flour, whisking gently but not over-whisking, until it is all incorporated and there are no flour lumps.

Set the bowl aside for at least 5 minutes to make sure it doesn’t thicken. If it does, add a tiny bit of milk or even water to get the consistency back to where it should be.

To prepare to make the crêpes, have a well-seasoned crêpe pan on hand. Mine has angled sides and an 8″ flat bottom, made from steel. I’ve had it for 42 years. I know this, because my mother sent me off to college with the same pan!

Also have on hand some butter, the batter and large spoon (about 1/4 cup capacity is perfect), a spatula, and a plate on which to place the cooked crêpes. I always use a very sturdy but thin, flat spatula to help lift the thin pancakes.

Heat a little dab of butter over medium-high heat in the crêpe pan. I personally prefer butter because of the flavor. You might have to start with about a teaspoon of butter, and subsequently use about 1/2 teaspoon per crêpe.

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Before starting, give the crêpe batter a whisk. Now is the time to test its thickness. Add a little liquid if necessary.

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When the butter is hot, add a full spoonful, or approximately 1/4 cup of batter, to the pan. With the other hand, turn and tilt the pan until the crêpe batter has covered the whole bottom of the pan. Cook for no more than 30 seconds, then turn over gently with the spatula and cook for no more than 10 seconds. Place immediately on the plate by sliding or flipping over.

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The cooked crêpe should be lightly golden, especially on the first side, but not browned. Adjust your burner setting accordingly, keeping in mind that if the heat is too low, the batter will just sit there and nothing will happen.

The pan has to be hot enough to “grab” the batter. If the pan is too hot, it will cause the batter to become bubbly and you probably won’t be able to spread it around. Sometimes the first crêpe is a dud because you must test the heat of the pan, and the batter.

Continue with the remaining batter.

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These crêpes will hold well for a day or two, covered with plastic wrap, in the refrigerator. Then you can use them as you want. They must be brought to room temperature first, or they will not roll or fold without breaking. Even a little
heating in the microwave will help make them more malleable.

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Besides some sugar, crêpes are also good with a little jam and some berries!

* When I make savory or sweet crêpes I use olive oil, but if you prefer, you can use a flavorless oil. Also, if you want a sweeter dessert crêpe, you can add a little sugar to the batter.

Gougère Tart

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You’ve all probably heard of gougères – those fabulous bite-sized, savory choux puffs that are a Burgundian French classic.

The problem is, I’ve never been able to make these for a get-together of any kind at my house, or when I catered either, because they’re really only good just out of the oven. Similar to a soufflé, they will deflate, so they’re not as pretty, and even if they’re kept warm, the texture will change.

I present to you another gougères option, more easily served as a first course or even as part of a lunch; thin slices can be served as hors d’oeuvres as well.

This version utilizes the same dough and cheese, but it’s a whole tart, and not individual puffs. There’s no outside crust that dries out, and the inside stays nice and moist. The dough will deflate a little after the tart is out of the oven, but the tart itself maintains its integrity, so you can let it cool a little, slice and serve.

If you’ve never made a choux dough before, don’t worry. It’s not as involved as making something like a dough for croissants. All you need is a strong arm, in fact, because there is a lot of stirring involved. I’m pretty sure you can make the dough in a stand mixer, but I make it the old-fashioned way.

My husband actually remembers the last time I made this tart, which proves how memorable it is. And I hadn’t come across the recipe till recently. You can see by the stains how many times I used it. I’d love to credit the source, but I looked online and found nothing. I think it’s funny on the recipe card that I actually changed the ingredient amounts not just once, but twice. But there’s no mention of the pan I used. Since I wasn’t sure which column was the one to follow, I went with the numbers on the very left.

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As with classically-shaped gougères, the secret to this gougère tart is the cheese. Really good Gruyère – diced as well as grated for this tart.

Gougère Tart

3/4 cup whole milk
1/3 cup, or approximately 5 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 teaspoon butter
1 cup white flour
4 eggs, at room temperature, broken into a small bowl
7 ounces diced Gruyère
2 1/2 ounces grated Gruyère
1 egg mixed with 1/8 teaspoon of salt

Turn the oven to 375 degrees.

Generously butter a 10″ tart pan; a pan with a removable bottom is not necessary.

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Have all of your ingredients on hand, and read the recipe through before you begin. Begin by melting the butter into the milk in a medium saucepan.

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Add the flour, and vigorously stir the mixture for about one minute over the lowest possible heat.

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It will look similar to a roux – kind of crumbly.

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Let the pan cool slightly, then beat in one egg at a time, beating vigorously. There should be no heat involved any more.

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By the time the second egg is added and incorporated, you can see the dough getting smoother.

When you add the fourth egg, don’t beat it in completely. Then add 2/3 of the diced Gruyère and stir to just combine.

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Plop the mixture into the prepared pan and smooth. Then coat the top with the egg wash.

Add the remaining diced cheese as well as the grated, and place the tart in the oven; I put my pan on a baking sheet for easier handling.

Bake for 35 minutes. You will see it rise in the oven as it puffs up.

Remove from the oven and let cool slightly. It should be set enough to slice easily after just about 5 minutes. The tart is cheesy, but it’s also bready.

I enjoyed my slice without even a green salad on the side. Mostly because I couldn’t wait. But it would be fabulous with a salad of tomatoes or spring greens, and it would certainly be delicious served as a first course, just a matter of minutes out of the oven.

This gougère tart would pair perfectly with a light fruity red, or a pinot grigio. No white that is too tart or too oaky.

Frittata

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Not too many people hear these words from one their little kids…

“Mom, can you please not make any more frittatas?”

Seriously. I guess I got a little carried away for a while making them. I was very creative with frittatas, but still, I guess at least one of my daughters wasn’t fooled. I also remember thinking how funny her request was at the same time. I mean, it’s like a kid asking the mom to quit serving foie gras or oysters on the half shell. Which is exactly why I remember her question to me so vividly.

And yet, I must have overdone it. And I think I know why.

I’d always made omelets and the like for my kiddos because I was passionate about preparing breakfast for them, even though it involved getting up earlier than most other moms. It was worth it to me.

But then I was introduced to this cookbook – The Villa Table, by Lorenza de Medici – and I was smitten.

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If you aren’t already loving the foods of Tuscany, this book will win you over. In the book Ms. Medici has a recipe for a frittata, to which she adds leftover spaghetti. Seriously! And I mean, why not?

You can really put just about anything in an omelet or a frittata, so why not leftovers like a pasta dish! I had so much respect for her for including such a mundane, yet perfectly practical recipe, or idea, if you will, that I think I got a little crazy then, throwing just about everything left over from the previous night’s dinner into the next morning frittatas for my girls. That is, until I was asked to stop.

So I hadn’t made a frittata in years, thanks to that daughter. And I was really kicking myself. When I have some folks visiting, it’s the perfect thing to make in the morning, but I had completely blocked it out! It’s especially handy if you have company because, unlike an omelet, you can slice it up and serve 6-8 people.

There’s nothing mysterious to a frittata. It contains the same ingredients as an omelet, primarily beaten eggs, of course, cheese, and often accessory ingredients as well. These can include something as simple as asparagus, or as involved as leftover pasta bolognese, like I mentioned above.

A frittata is essentially an open-faced omelet – made in the same way as an omelet, except the last step is to place the cheese-topped omelet in the oven for some browning. You do have to take some care with the frittata, however, just like an omelet, to not overcook it. Otherwise, it would be a big rubbery awful mess.

So I’m going to offer up my version of a basic cheese frittata. What else you do to yours is completely up to you. Trust me, once you start adding your leftover pastas or stews or vegetables to yours, you’re going to be making them quite often, just like I used to!

Basic Frittata

6 eggs
1 tablespoon heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons butter
1 red bell pepper, diced
6 green onions, thinly sliced
1/2 purple onion, diced
1 1/2 cups grated Parmesan, or to taste

Place the eggs in a medium bowl and whisk them well with the cream and salt. My eggs were close to room temperature, but this isn’t necessary. Set aside.

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In the skillet in which you will be making your frittata, which much be able to withstand broiler temperatures, heat up the butter over medium heat. Add the red bell pepper, green onion, and purple onion.

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Sauté the vegetables for about 5 minutes, or until soft.

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At this point, turn on your broiler, and have your shelf on the top of your oven, directly underneath the broiler.

Pour the whisked eggs into the skillet over the vegetables.

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Make sure the hear is at its lowest point. Just like with making an omelet, this process will take some time. Place a lid on the skillet.

After about 4-5 minutes, you’ll see that the eggs are starting to cook.

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I added some leftover goat cheese that I happened to discover. Now, this isn’t in the recipe, but I wanted to show how many different things you can do with a frittata. Before you add the cheese, make sure that the frittata is about 75% cooked; there will still be liquid in the skillet at this point.

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Then I covered the goat cheese with the generous amount of Parmesan. I was in a cheesy mood that day.

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Place the skillet under the broiler. After a minute or two it will look like this, and there will be no liquid left in the skillet.

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I cut this frittata into four wedges, which seems like quite generous servings, but there are only 6 eggs in the whole frittata. You can remove the frittata easily from the skillet if you wish, but I just served them from the skillet.

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Frittatas are fabulous for both breakfast and brunch.

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I’ve also seen in another Lorenza de Medici cookbook that sometimes a wedge of frittata is served between two slices of bread for lunch!

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Personally I will take my frittata without bread.

But now you get an idea of how many different things can be used in a frittata. I could have sautéed any vegetables and aromatics. Spinach and mushrooms can be used as well, but I would prepare both of them much earlier, and drain them of excess liquid. No one wants a watery frittata.

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And I could have used 8-10 eggs in the same skillet for a much thicker frittata, which of course would take a little more cooking time. It’s just what you want in the end. But the key is to cook the eggs slowly, then let them finish off in the oven while the broiler is taking care of melting and browning the cheese. It’s a lovely egg dish!

Hair of the Dog Breakfast

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Not that I would ever need a hair-of-the-dog kind of breakfast (!) but this is it for me if I was ever in need of one. What’s better than eggs, liver, onions, and all of that topped off with a bloody mary?!!!

Now I promised there would be at least one liver post in 2013, and this is it. I happen to be a fan. Maybe some of you should give it a try, after all, it’s really inexpensive!

I think liver and eggs are the only reasons I made it out of college alive, because they were all I could afford. Eggs were cheap, and a carton of beef liver cost under a dollar and could stretch me three meals. (This was back in the 70’s.)

These days, eggs are a little more expensive, but liver is still cheap.

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I prefer beef liver with my eggs, as opposed to chicken liver, which I use only to make pâté. I prefer the texture of beef liver, and the servings are good-sized. So here’s what I did the morning after my last holiday hurrah:

Liver and Eggs
Serves 2

3 tablespoons butter
1 onion, halved, then sliced
2 tablespoons butter
2 “slabs” beef liver, blotted dry on paper towels
2 eggs, or 4, if you prefer

Heat the butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Cook the onions until they are nice and brown, about five minutes; place them in a bowl and keep warm.

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Heat 2 more tablespoons of butter in the same skillet and cook 2 slices of liver. Give them at least a minute on one side, then turn them over. I usually turn down the heat slightly and cook a little more on the second side. I like mine rare, but I don’t want the liver too seared on the outsides, with raw insides.

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Remove the liver to a plate, and then cook the eggs; there should be enough butter in the skillet to cook them. If not, add a little more butter.

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To serve, place a liver slice on a plate, put your cooked egg next to it, and top everything with the onions. Don’t forget the bloody mary!