Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Lucques Short Ribs

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Short ribs are one of my favorite things to eat, and one 0f my favorite go-to dishes to serve at dinner parties when the weather is chilly. They're easy to cook for a crowd they're not something you have everyday, and everyone seems to love them. I figured this recipe had to be a winner, since it is one of the signature dishes at Lucques, Suzanne Goin's restaurant in Los Angeles. With port, red wine, and that horseradish cream - how can you go wrong?

I did make a few modifications to the recipe, based on my previous experience with short ribs. Above all, I highly recommend chilling the cooking liquid overnight to allow the fat to solidify so it can easily be removed - a tip I learned from Cooking Light. I also pared down the potato recipe, using some yogurt and milk in place of some of the butter - though if I were serving this to company, I might consider going whole hog. I also lightened the greens by using chicken broth to saute them along with the oil.

My husband doesn't like pearl onions (something about the texture) so I used chopped onions to saute the greens, which worked just fine. I also finished the greens with some vinegar, to give them a little zing.

I actually prepared these over three days, removing the fat and straining and reducing the sauce on the second day. I added the ribs back to the sauce and simmered them for about 45 minutes on the day they were served. The longer this simmers, and sits in the fridge, the better it tastes - or so it seems. The sauce definitely tasted better on the third day.

The recipe is supposed to feed six people, but I don't think one rib is an adequate serving per person. The recipe recommends flanken cut ribs, rather than the "English cut" ribs you often see in grocery stores here. If you are using English ribs, I would count on two to three bones per person. If you are feeding more than four people, I would also double the rest of the ingredients.

If you would like to try a similar dish, but don't have the time or wherewithal to make it, try the short ribs at Market. They're not as good as homemade (and there is no horseradish cream) but they are pretty close. If you really like short ribs though, I recommend you try this for yourself. It is a bit time consuming, but it's also quite simple, and very much worth the trouble.

Braised Short Ribs with Sauteed Greens, Horseradish Cream and Potato Puree
Adapted from Sunday Suppers at Lucques by Suzanne Goin

6 -8 meaty beef short ribs (count on at least two bones per person)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 teaspoon thyme leaves
1 cup diced onion
1/3 cup diced carrot
1/3 cup diced celery
4 whole sprigs thyme
2 bay leaves
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1½ cups port
2½ cups hearty red wine
6 cups beef stock (I used canned, but would seek out fresh-made if possible)
4 sprigs flat-leaf parsley

For the greens:
1 Tbsp of olive oil (or olive oil sprayer) ½ cup chicken broth
1/4 cup chopped onion
1 clove garlic
2 bunches Swiss chard, collard or mustard greens, cleaned, centre ribs removed (I used 4 handfuls of pre-washed bagged greens from Trader Joes) a splash of cider vinegar (about 2 tsp)

Potato Puree
3-4 medium potatoes, well scrubbed, peeled and cut into 1 inch chunks salt
2 Tbsp butter
½ cup light sour cream
2-3 Tbsp whole milk

Horseradish Cream
½ cup creme fraiche
2 Tbsp jarred prepared horseradish

Remove ribs from refrigerator an hour before cooking and allow to come to room temperature, about 30 minutes. Season generously with salt on all sides.

Preheat oven to 325 F.

Heat a large sauté pan over high heat for 3 minutes. Add 3 tablespoons olive oil, and wait a minute or two, until the pan is very hot, almost smoking. Add short ribs (in batches if necessary) and sear until nicely browned on all three meaty sides. Do not crowd the meat or get lazy or rushed at this step; it will take at least 15 minutes.

Transfer ribs to a large bowl.

Turn heat down to medium, and add onion, carrot, celery, thyme sprigs and bay leaves. Stir with a wooden spoon, scraping up all the crusty bits in the pan. Cook 6 to 8 minutes or until vegetables just begin to caramelize. Add balsamic vinegar, port and red wine. Turn heat up to high and reduce liquid by half.
Add stock and bring to a boil.

Place short ribs back in the pot. The stock mixture should almost cover the ribs. Tuck the parsley sprigs in and around the meat. Cover tightly with aluminum foil and a tight-fitting lid if you have one. Braise in the oven for about 3 hours or until the meat is fork-tender.

Remove the ribs from the sauce, and discard the bones if they have separated from the meat. Allow the sauce and meat to cool slightly, and refrigerate them separately overnight (I leave the sauce in the pot).

Using a large spoon or your fingers, break up and remove the layer of congealed fat on top of the sauce.

Bring to a simmer. Reduce by half, adding seasonings or more wine if necessary.

(If you are serving them immediately, this is a good time to start boiling the water for the potatoes. Also, remove the ribs from the fridge so they can come to room temperature)

Preheat the oven to 400 F.

Add the shortribs back to the sauce, and simmer for fifteen minutes or so, until heated through.

Place short ribs on a shallow pan in the oven for 10 to 15 minutes, to brown.

Strain broth into a saucepan, pressing down on the vegetables with a ladle to extract all the juices. If the broth seems thin, reduce it further over medium-high heat. Taste for seasoning.

Meanwhile, prepare the greens:
Spray a medium saute pan generously with olive oil (or swirl with one tsp of olive oil). Heat on medium/high heat until hot but not smoking. Add a little of the chicken broth, the chopped onions and clove of garlic, and saute until translucent. Add a little more of the chicken broth and loosely pack the pan with the greens. Stir the greens and spray with a little olive oil to help them wilt, then cover and allow them to steam a bit. Remove the lid when they are wilted, and stir. If it looks like you don't have enough, add a little more liquid and some more greens. As a finishing touch, add the cider vinegar and stir to allow it to burn off. Reduce or turn off the heat and replace the lid until ready to serve.

Boil the potatoes in salted water until they are fork tender. Mash with the butter, milk, sour cream and salt and pepper to taste. Press through a sieve for a smooth puree. Add more milk if they seem thick, and keep warm over low heat - stirring occasionally, until ready to serve.

To serve, spoon a serving of potatoes into a large shallow serving bowl and top with greens. Rest two short ribs on top of the greens, and add a generous pour of the braising liquid.

Bon Appetit!

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Almond Brioche and Stephanie's Beer Bread

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This past weekend, I made my first attempt at brioche. Almond brioche, to be precise - after seeing a mention of this creation on Rorie's blog, Milk and Honey. I love brioche because it has the buttery sweet flavor of a pastry, without being quite as sugary or indulgent as a croissant or cinnamon roll. Almond brioche just takes it to the next level without quite going over the top. It seems like the perfect holiday indulgence to me.

I started with the recipe in Joy of Cooking, and my own very rudimentary knowledge of yeast breads, gained in my baking classes. All was going well until I put the dough in the microwave (not turned on, of course) for its first rise. I chose this spot because the microwave is in a cabinet above the oven, and I figured it would be a nice warm spot.

Unfortunately, I then went to take a nice hot bath, and promptly forgot about the dough. By the time I retrieved it it had "overrisen." Apparently this can cause the dough to collapse, which it had not done yet, but it deflated in a hurry when I went to punch it down. I wasn't sure what this would do to the finished product, so I read up on the internet and in the primer section on bread in the Joy of Cooking. I learned that overrising causes the gluten in the dough to overstretch and results in a less elastic dough with a dry crumb and "an unpleasant beery taste." Hmmmm. I decided to go ahead and see what would happen. I slapped the dough down and put it through its second rise in the refrigerator. Since it was a little overactivated, it didn't take long to double. I went ahead and shaped the dough and put it back in the fridge overnight to proof.

I was a little concerned that it hadn't risen much by the next morning, but I took the individual brioches out of the fridge and put them back in the microwave, over the preheating oven, to finish rising. They rose nicely, and I went ahead and baked them.

The finished product looked beautiful, smelled good and tasted ok, but the texture was definitely affected by the overrising. It was a bit dry - more like cake - and did have a bit of the yeasty taste, though it wasn't quite "beery." I think the copious amounts of butter and sugar in the dough probably helped with that. The almond paste/frangipane I concocted for the filling was delicious, and I am quite confident (particularly given the source of the recipe) that if you do it right the finished product would be great. Accordingly, I will go ahead and post the recipe, even though it didn't quite turn out perfect for me.

The next recipe is definitely "beery" - but in a good way. My friend Stephanie brought this to a recent supper club gathering and it was a big hit paired with some Curried Butternut Squash Soup.

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Almond Brioche
(adapted from "The Joy of Cooking")

brioche
1 package dry yeast (2.25 teaspoons)
1/3 cup whole milk, heated to between 105 and 115 degrees F.
1 cup all purpose flour
3 large eggs, lightly beaten
3 Tbsp sugar
2 Tbsp whole milk
1 tsp salt
1 3/4 cups bread flour
1 1/2 sticks of butter, softened

almond filling
1/2 cup almond meal (ground whole almonds)
1 Tbsp corn syrup
1 Tbsp powdered sugar
1 Tbsp flour
1 Tbsp egg white (about half of an egg white)
1/8 tsp almond extract
a little water
slivered or sliced toasted almonds

egg wash
1 egg, lightly beaten

Place the yeast and warmed milk in the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, and allow to stand until the yeast is dissolved. Add the flour, eggs, sugar, the 2 Tbsp of milk and salt, and mix until well blended. Gradually add the bread flour and incorporate on low speed.

Switch to the dough hook, and knead the dough in the mixer for about 7 to 10 minutes, until the dough cleans the sides of the bowl. Add the butter, and continue to knead the dough until the butter is fully incorporated, scraping down the bowl as needed.

Place the dough in a large buttered bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let rise in a warm place (75 to 85 degrees) until it has doubled in volume - about 1 and 1/2 hours.

Punch the dough down, knead it briefly, and refrigerate, covered, for 4 to 12 hours, until it doubles in volume, then punch it down and shape it using the instructions below. If it has not doubled in volume, let it finish rising in a warm place - then refrigerate for thirty minutes before shaping.

While the dough is rising, make the almond filling by simply stirring the ingredients together. If it is too thick, add a little water.

To shape the doug, use a dough cutter or bench scraper to divide the dough into twelve evenly sized balls. Lightly oil your brioche tins (I used cooking spray) and place them on a half sheet pan.

Take each ball and pinch off 1/3 of the dough. Roll the smaller pieces into balls, and set aside. Roll the larger pieces into balls and press them into the brioche tins, making a depression in the center for the almond filling. Add the filling, pressing it down and spreading it with your fingers or a spoon. Place one of the smaller dough balls on top, nestling it into the depression. Brush each formed brioche with the egg wash. Cover the tray of brioche with a piece of oiled plastic wrap and either let rise at room temperature until doubled in volume, or refrigerate overnight and allow to come to room temp and finish rising in the morning. Before baking, brush each brioche carefully with egg wash again, and sprinkle with slivered or sliced almonds.

Bake at 375 degrees, or until deep brown and a knife or tester inserted in one in the center comes out clean. Unmold the brioches onto a rack, and allow to cool. Serve slightly warm.

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Stephanie's Beer Bread
(from Cooking Light)

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 cup diced onion
3 cups all-purpose flour (about 13 1/2 ounces)
3 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup (4 ounces) grated fontina cheese
1 (12-ounce) bottle beer (such as amber ale) Cooking spray
1/4 cup butter, melted and divided

Preheat oven to 375°.
Heat olive oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add onion, and sauté 6 minutes or until tender.
Cool to room temperature.

Lightly spoon flour into dry measuring cups, and level with a knife. Combine flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt in a bowl; make a well in center of mixture. Add onion, cheese, and beer; stir just until moist.

Spoon batter into a 9 x 5-inch loaf pan coated with cooking spray; drizzle evenly with 2 tablespoons butter. Bake at 375° for 35 minutes; brush with remaining 2 tablespoons butter. Bake an additional 23 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool 5 minutes in pan on a wire rack; remove from pan. Cool completely on wire rack.

Yield: 16 servings (serving size: 1 slice)

CALORIES 149 (30% from fat); FAT 5g (sat 2.3g,mono 2.1g,poly 0.3g); PROTEIN 3.5g; CHOLESTEROL 12mg; CALCIUM 61mg; SODIUM 259mg; FIBER 0.8g; IRON 1.2mg; CARBOHYDRATE 22.2g

Bon Appetit!


Sunday, November 12, 2006

How I Ate My Way Around San Francisco Bay

I just got back from a phenomenal food-centric weekend in San Francisco. We had the best time - eating on the high and low end, seeing friends and soaking up that peculiar brand of San Francisco smugness that is only tolerable because it is - as much as we So-Cal folks hate to admit it - well earned.

The orgy of eating started with Oola, on Folsom South of Mission (near Lulu) on Thursday night. They are famous for their spare ribs, which I literally could not get enough of. I'm a sucker for ribs to start with, so when I heard that they were the speciality of the house here - along with good cocktails - I was sold. We ordered an appetizer portion, which was one apiece, and then had to order more. Turns out the ribs are braised and deep fried, which is what makes them taste so good. The recipe was actually published in Food and Wine back in January. I would say it's probably something best enjoyed occasionally, and the arduous process is best left to the professionals, but if you're really feeling ambitious, here is the link.

The following day, we pointed North to meet some friends for brunch in Mill Valley at the Dipsea Cafe. The food wasn't very memorable, but it was great to see our friends. After a nice long visit, we headed up toward Napa. Our first stop was Domaine Carneros by Taittinger, a beautiful chateau-style winery just past Gloria Ferrer on the way to Napa. We did a three sample flight of their sparkling wines and pinots, and were so taken with their 2002 Brut Vintage and Pinot Noirs that we joined their Chateau Society club. They will send us a bottle of champagne and a bottle of red wine (generally a pinot) every other month. Seemed more than doable to us. We also get good discounts on re-orders and on wines purchased at the winery - which we took advantage of on our first order of six bottles - one of which we brought with us and the rest of which we shipped home.

After that, we were ready for some lunch. After our late breakfast and long visit, we had canceled our 1 PM reservation at Redd in Yountville. Instead, we headed to the Taylor's Automatic Refresher near St. Helena. I must have driven by this place a dozen times when I lived in Northern Cal (from 1995 to 1998,) but it never seemed to be much more than a little roadside burger stand. Somewhere along the line, it morphed into a hip little gourmet spot - something like the West Coast version of the Shake Shack (or so I imagine since I haven't been there.) Here in San Diego, we have Johnny Rockets and Ruby's, but somehow this is better. You order at the counter in front, and then seat yourself at one of the picnic style tables, either in the front or in the pleasant, grassy, tree-shaded area out back. I chose a chicken club sandwich - with swiss, bacon, lettuce and tomato on grilled sourdough, and James had a bleu cheese burger. We ordered sweet potato fries and onion rings, and each had a good glass of wine - since we were, after all, in the Wine Country. I ordered a glass of Duckhorn Sauvignon Blanc, always a winner. The food was very good, though next time I would order the sweet potato fries without the funky chili seasoning, it tasted like Old Bay, and I have a thing about that. I'd also be curious to try one of their milkshakes - they looked really good.

By the time we made our way through the traffic and stopped for coffee at Dean and Deluca in St. Helena after our late lunch, we were staring 4:00 PM in the face. We drove down the lane to visit the Niebaum-Coppola winery - but were appalled to find that they were actually charging visitors a tasting fee simply to park and walk in. We turned right around and left. The only reason to go there anyway is their gift shop which carries Francis Ford Coppola's personal favorite items - like Rhodia notebooks and Amedei chocolates. We were kicking ourselves that we hadn't made plans to stay overnight in the valley, but it was too late for that now - so we headed back down to the City where we were staying with our good friend Tom.

We had reservations for dinner at Michael Mina, and we had told ourselves that we would go, having missed our lunch reservation, but after our day of fun we just didn't have the energy. Instead, we chilled down our bottle of Taittinger Brut, and enjoyed it in front of a roaring fireplace with a delivery pizza.

One of the things I knew I definitely wanted to do on this trip to San Francisco was go to the Ferry Building Farmer's Market on Saturday morning. I got up bright and early (by my standards anyway) on Saturday, and headed down there to meet the lovely Sam, of Becks and Posh - who had graciously agreed to give me a tour. Sam shops the market every single week, essentially doing her marketing there rather than in the stores. How I wish we had that luxury in San Diego! By the time I got to the market at 9:05 it was as bustling as Los Angeles International Airport - to my horror and delight. How great that people are patronizing the market, but my goodness - the lines were twenty people deep for the restrooms!

We met near the Sur La Table store, and headed out on a tour of Sam's favorite stalls, including the Fatted Calf (where I bought a 12 dollar salami!) and the Dirty Girl produce farm, where Sam picked up a box of tomatoes. We also looked over the food stands, and some of the shops inside. I bought some delicious cannelle (my first!) and cookies at the delightful Boulette's Larder (which came packed in a cute little bentwood basket), some Humboldt Fog, aged gouda and a Beaufort style cheese at Cowgirl Creamery and a still-warm baguette and almond croissant at Acme Bread. We also visited Recchiuti Confections (where Sam insisted on buying me two to sample - no need to twist my arm!) and the Slanted Door's elegant takeout stand, called "Out the Door" where we purchased our breakfast. Half of a Saigon Roast Pork sandwich (a lovely incarnation of a Bahn Mi) and a "Blue Bottle" coffee for me, and summer rolls for Sam. Coffee probably wasn't the best choice of beverage, given the chile sauce I slathered on the sandwich - but I needed it and it was delicious nonetheless. I highly recommend this as an eating option within the building. It's right across from the Ferry Building branch of Taylor's Refresher. After bidding Sam adieu, I toured back through the mall portion of the Ferry Building and went back to Michael Recchiuti to buy some gifts and a few more of those fabulous chocolates for myself. They are almost as good as my favorite L.A. Burdick chocolates - but being from California, they are more local which gives them an edge.

Next on the agenda was a visit with my "oldest friend," Moira. Moira and I are the same age, but we've known each other since we were four. We don't do a very good job of keeping in touch - I think it had been about two and a half years since we'd seen each other, and almost as long since we talked last - but really, what's two and a half years when you've known someone for more than thirty? I picked her up at her place and we popped down to the Fillmore to do another one of my foodie errands - picking up Parisian Macarons at the Bay Bread Boulangerie on Pine. By that time we were ready for a light late lunch, so we stopped by Chez Nous, a cafe on Fillmore which serves mainly small plates. I opted for mussels with curry and coconut milk and frites, while Moira had a souffle-like omelette. It was lovely, and gave us a chance to catch up.

On Saturday night, James and our friend Tom and I put on our Sunday best, and went down to my favorite restaurant in the whole wide world, Boulevard. I have never had a bad thing to eat or drink in this restaurant, and it did not disappoint this time. I started with my favorite cocktail - a "Boulevard Pink Limonade" - made with Bacardi Limon rum and pink lemonade. It sounds a little silly, but it's just so delicious. I started with an appetizer of dungeness crab salad with avocado and tobiko caviar, my husband ordered the scallops with pork belly and Tommy had the foie gras. They were all good, but the scallops were exceptional. Tommy had ordered them for his main course, and I changed my order from the squab and short rib entree after tasting them. James ordered a halibut dish that came with a "carbonara" made from shaved hearts of palm and oyster mushrooms. It was interesting and delicious. We then ordered three desserts, since they are always so good. The "Naughty Mascarpone Creme Brulee" with gingerbread and huckleberry sauce, an apple cake with apple fritter ice cream, and an ice cream sandwich assortment. When they arrived, I realized that the sandwiches were made with the same vanilla ice cream I made from their cookbook, and served with the same hot fudge sauce - which did not diminish my enjoyment of them in the slightest. I almost licked the hot fudge ramekin clean.

On Sunday morning, we wound up our trip with a visit to Le Petit Robert, a bistro in Russian Hill that I read about on Rorie's blog, Milk and Honey. Like Chez Nous, it is owned by the Bay Bread people. James and I had "Croque Madame" sandwiches and Tommy went with the Petit Robert burger - both of which are served open faced. It was very good, but we were puzzled by the lack of croissants or pastries. None were offered which seemed a bit strange for a French bistro serving breakfast.

I didn't make it to the East Bay on this trip, but I would love to go over there and visit Shuna at Poulet, and check out my old haunts in Rockridge. I'd also like to do another Wine Country tour, with a bit more time to spend, and hit some "Old San Francisco" spots for the sake of nostalgia. I am planning another visit this winter, so we'll see what develops!

Here are a few of my favorites from this visit:
Oola's ribs
The Saigon Roast Pork Sandwich at Out the Door
Cannelle and salty chocolate cookies from Boulette's Larder
Fresh french baguette and almond croissant from Acme Bakery
Fleur de sel caramel and peanut butter pucks from Recchiuti Confections
Scallops with pork belly at Boulevard
Mussels with coconut milk, curry and lime at Chez Nous

Special thanks to Sam, for not only hosting me on a delightful tour of the market, but for telling me how to make these cool collages, and to Tommy, for letting us stay with him at his fabulous house!

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Curried Butternut Squash Soup

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My friend Sara made this soup when she hosted our Cooking Light Supperclub meeting a few weeks ago, and it was incredibly delicious. It's so perfect for this time of year and relatively easy and quick. My contribution was a Roasted Beet and Goat Cheese Salad with Pepitas, and we also enjoyed Stephanie's Beer Bread and Wendi's Upside-Down Apple Cake - which was made with healthy ingredients like whole grain flour (and which I will post if they send me the recipes!)

I have also made a couple of other good and easy autumn meals lately. One was based on an idea from The Grub Report - which was recently featured on Sam's blog, Becks and Posh. The idea - almost not even a recipe - is to roast the pre-cut squares of butternut squash from Trader Joes with some olive oil, curry powder, salt and pepper in the oven until they are falling apart, and serve with Trader Joe's Gorgonzola and Walnut Ravioli. I used a little warm water to make it more of a sauce (stock would also be good) and sprinkled gorgonzola, walnuts, and some reggiano parmesan on the top. With a cold glass of Sauvignon Blanc, it was very nearly heaven.

The other meal was a simple pizza, made with Trader Joe's Whole Wheat Pizza Dough. I rolled it out thin and brushed it all over with olive oil and a heaping tablespoon of creme fraiche that I happened to have on hand. I then sprinkled it with an Italian cheese blend, some gorgonzola and mozzarella, sliced mushrooms, some bacon (Niman Ranch) and thinly sliced red onion. I've discovered after making a few pizzas that I have a tendency to put too few ingredients on, and not bring them out to the edge. I'm getting the hang of it though - this one was really good. Since tomatoes have gone out of season I've been putting apples and pears in salads - they're so good with these rich, fall flavors.

Here is the soup recipe:

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Curried Butternut Squash Soup
4 Tbsp butter
1 cup onions, chopped
1 leek, cut in small pieces
2 lb butternut squash, peeled and cut into 1" cubes
1 cup carrots, peeled and sliced
2 cups potato, peeled and diced
3 cups vegetable stock
2 cups milk
dash of cayenne pepper
salt and pepper
2 Tbsp curry powder
1 cup half and half

Melt the butter in a large pot. Add the onion and leek and cook about five minutes. Add the squash, carrots, potatoes and vegetable stock and cook, partially covered, for thirty minutes. Puree in batches in a food processor, add the spices and milk. Heat to boiling and simmer for twenty minutes. Just before serving, add the half and half and salt and pepper to taste.

Enjoy!

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Jour Français!

french day puffs
A few weeks ago, we had a very big day in my baking and pastry class - we did three fundamental French techniques all on the same day, Puff Pastry, Pâte à Choux, and Crêpes. It was a lot to absorb in one class, and a lot of fun.

One thing I hadn't thought much about before - the French don't use chemical leaveners, such as baking powder, like we do (ever heard of a French biscuit?) The lift in these recipes comes from mechanical leaveners, primarily steam. We used a LOT of butter in these recipes - as evidenced by the huge hunk Greg is unwrapping in this photo:
french day greg butter
We started with the puff pastry, using the "blitz" method, where you freeze small chunks of butter, then blend it into the dough. The dough is then rolled, turned and folded just like the "butter block" method, but fewer times. This photo shows Chef Foran demonstrating the proper way to fold and roll out the dough:
french day puff demo
The steam trapped in the dough makes it rise, created by the little bits of butter melting in the flour. It's essential that the dough remain cold and relatively stiff the entire time you are working with it, or else the butter will be incorporated into the dough.

It is a bit of work, but this recipe makes quite a lot and freezes well. It also bakes very quickly once it's thawed and shaped. It would be nice to have some on hand for making appetizers and desserts, like cheese straws, tarts or pot pies - especially during the holidays and winter months. Unfortunately, you will need a scale to make this recipe, because I don't have the volume conversions available. I did find this alternate though, on the Taunton's Fine Cooking website, which I would trust as a reliable source.

"Blitz Method" Puff Pastry
3.5 oz butter, melted
8 oz water, room temperature
1/2 oz salt
17.5 oz All purpose flour

10 3/4 oz butter, chopped into 1/2 inch cubes and frozen

Place salt and flour together in the bowl of a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix briefly just to blend. With the mixer running on low speed, gradually add the frozen butter chunks and blend just until incorporated. The dough will look very shaggy and rough at this point. Add the melted butter and water and mix just enough to bring the dough together.

Turn the dough out onto parchment paper, and shape into an 8" by 10" rectangle.
Chill the rectangle in the freezer for one hour.

Remove and allow to thaw just until the dough can be rolled, about 15-20 minutes.
On a smooth floured surface, roll out to 10"x20" and fold three times - bringing each short side toward the center (one and two), and folding the whole thing down the middle (three). Turn the dough sideways, and roll out again to 10x20, then fold again going the other direction. Mark the dough with two lines, wrap well with plastic, and chill for one hour in the refrigerator.

Roll the dough out, and do two more folds, each time folding the short sides in, and rolling the dough in the long direction. (For these last two folds, you can also fold the dough like a business letter in an envelope - bringing one short side up and the other one down and over.) If you plan to freeze the dough before using it, freeze it just after the last fold, without rolling it out. Always tightly wrap the dough in plastic before chilling or freezing.

When you are ready to use it, let the dough thaw at room temperature just until it can be rolled, and roll into an even rectangle about 1/4 inch thick. Allow the dough to rest for about five minutes, to prevent shrinkage after cutting.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. To shape, cut the puff pastry with a very sharp knife. Flipping the cut pieces over will help it rise a little higher, because the knife going through the top layers of pastry compresses them slightly. We cut the sheets into long rectangles and did pear tarts, with thinly sliced pears and almond frangipane. We used egg wash to glue thin strips of pastry to the sides as a crust, and trimmed off the rough ends after it was baked. (those were the best part!) If you have leftover scraps of dough, you can roll them in sugar and cinnamon, twist them in opposite directions (like making a snake with dough) and bake them like cookies.

Bake the pastry on a baking sheet for about 15-20 minutes, until it is uniformly brown and crisp.

While our puff dough was chilling, we set to work on our Pâte à Choux - which translates to "cabbage paste." This recipe isn't terribly complicated, but has to be done right (like most techniques in baking) or you can end up with a gluey mess. It's unusual in that it is first cooked on the stove and then transferred to a standing mixer for the addition of the eggs.

We piped our Pâte à Choux into little mounds (which can be tricky, because the dough is sticky) and baked them off - then filled them with mocha whipped cream and glazed them with chocolate. Pâte à Choux can also be deep-fried to make Beignets. I can see these for an indulgent breakfast during the holidays - with some good strong coffee or hot chocolate.

Pâte à Choux
16 oz water
8 oz butter
1 tsp salt
12 oz bread flour
1 pound 2 oz of eggs (roughly 1 dozen eggs - but weigh them. If you find that you are over, remove some of the egg white - not yolk)

Place the water and butter in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Add the salt and bread flour all at once, and stir vigorously with a wooden spoon until it forms a ball.

Scrape the dough into a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Beat for about 1 minute to allow to cool slightly (so it won't cook the eggs!)

Start adding the eggs, two at a time, allowing them to incorporate each time. It will separate and look like a slippery mess each time the eggs are added, and then come back together. At the end it should be very smooth and shiny.

Load the batter into a pastry bag fitted with a large round tip, about 1/3 inch across.
french day piping
To make cream puffs, pipe into small mounds, using a sideways flick on the tops so they don't look peaked (like these!) The dough is sticky though, and this can be hard to do. You can just smooth them out with your finger or a spoon. This is a good chance to practice your piping skills.

Bake at 400 degrees in a conventional oven (350 in a convection oven) for about twelve minutes, until they puff and start to brown. When they look done, open the oven a crack and put a wooden spoon in to vent. Turn the oven down 25 degrees, and bake about 5 minutes more. Take one out and break it open to test - it should be fairly dry and hollow - a bit of moisture is ok, but if there are strands of wet dough, bake an additional few minutes. They may look done on the outside, but if they are taken out too soon they will collapse as they cool and turn soggy.

Cool these in the pans on a rack. Once cool, they can be split and filled with chicken salad or similar for an appetizer, or filled with a pastry bag with whipped cream or pastry cream and coated with chocolate glaze. They should be used soon after baking or frozen.

Last but not least, we made crêpes. Chef Foran told us that he usually just whips up this batter in a blender at home. We did it in a standing mixer with the whip attachment. Either way, they were surprisingly easy and it was fun to spread the batter and flip them. We couldn't stop eating them right out of the pan. For a savory crêpe, I assume you can just omit the sugar and vanilla, or there are multiple crêpe recipes out there on the internet.
french day crepes
Sweet Crêpes
12 oz milk
4 oz cream
2 oz sugar
4.5 oz All Purpose flour
3 eggs
pinch salt
1 tsp vanilla

Whisk eggs with sugar, flour and salt. Whisk in milk and cream.

Heat a 8 inch skillet or crêpe pan over medium heat. Spray with vegetable oil. Using a small ladle, scoop about 1/4 cup of batter and ladle into the pan, swirling the pan to spread the batter to the edges. When the edges start to come away, and the batter starts to dry slightly - pick up the edge of the crêpe nearest to you with your fingertips and peel it backwards up off the pan, turn it over and and flip it to the other side. (Think about how you would flip over a small rug.) It's a little tricky the first couple of times, but the edges really aren't that hot, so you can play around with it a bit. You can also use a small spatula to straighten it out if you drop it in the wrong place. The trickiest part is getting the heat right, so they brown properly but don't burn. Fold the crêpes and stack them until ready to serve. This a sweet recipe, so these would be best with fruit, a flavored butter or chocolate.

P.S. - I have also sent away for some canele molds - and a set of brioche molds (from France, naturellement!) so with any luck, there will be lots of French days in our future! (and lots of trips to the gym - but I won't be writing about those!)

À bientôt!!