Archive for the ‘La Cuisine’ Category

Got Too Much Mint?

August 10th, 2011 | Rachel

I am straying a little bit from the theme of this blog (whatever it is), but I am so pleased with a batch of homemade mint chocolate chip ice cream I just made that I wanted to share the idea and recipe with you.

My hanging window herb garden is doing great.  The sun is a little too intense for my dill plant, but everything else is growing quickly… especially the mint.  I noticed that the leaves that weren’t getting direct sunlight were turning yellow and falling off, and the plant was getting so big, it was blocking its own sunlight access.  I can only drink so many mojitos, so I needed a project that would use a substantial amount of mint.

I was on the city bus coming home from work when the inspiration hit: mint chocolate chip ice cream!  Fortunately, Steve already had an ice cream maker, so all I really needed was the cream and chocolate.  I read through a lot of recipes, and this is the one I liked the most.  Since mint ice cream is supposed to be refreshing, I stayed away from the recipes with egg (which would make it a custard) and cream cheese.  Having tested the recipe, I can personally attest to its accuracy.  I will note that the amounts of mint and sugar are flexible.  I used about a cup and a half of mint, and my ice cream was plenty minty.  I also cut the sugar a little bit — as I do to most recipes — and I didn’t miss it in the finished product.

Fresh mint from my hanging window herb garden

Nice and clean

Recipes varied on whether you have to remove the stems.  I tasted a stem and did not find the flavor to be pleasant, so I picked the leaves off of the stems.

Infusing the cream with mint… after heating the cream and mint, I left it in the fridge for 24 hours, which was probably too long.  I think a more appropriate length of time would be six to twelve hours.

Mixture is ready for churning.  I love Steve’s ice cream maker… you don’t need salt or ice.

Essential ingredient

Homemade Mint Chocolate Chip Ice Cream!

This recipe was so simple and delicious that I am already thinking about what kind of ice cream I want to make next.  We’ve been selling a lot of pie at the bakery, and I think I want to try cutting up a slice of pie and mixing it into a batch of vanilla or sweet cream ice cream.

How about you?  Got any good ice cream recipes I should know about?


Do You Know The Mushroom Man?

July 28th, 2011 | Rachel

I have a lot of free time on my hands these days, and now that New York City isn’t sizzling from the recent heatwave, I’ve stepped back into the kitchen.  The other day I recreated a fantastic cold corn chowder with dill that I had at Butter last week… but its not very French, so it doesn’t belong on this blog.

During the trip to the Columbia University Greenmarket this past Sunday to pick up corn and dill for the soup, I found myself chatting with the Mushroom Man.  There are a number of items that are considerably cheaper to purchase at farmers’ markets rather than the grocery store, and mushrooms are one of them.  You also oftentimes get the added bonus of speaking to someone who is directly involved in the creation of your produce.

Feeling adventurous, I told the Mushroom Man that I usually purchase crimini mushrooms (also known as button mushrooms), but I was in the mood for something new.  He asked what I was planning on making with the mushrooms, and I said either a sauce or a soup (actually I had no idea what I was going to make but those were the first things to pop into my head when he asked).  Then the Mushroom Man, with a twinkle in his eye, handed me one of the long, narrow mushrooms pictured above and told me to give it a sniff.  This was a piopinni mushroom, he said, and had a strong flavor perfect for soups and sauces.  It smelled wonderful.  He then lovingly selected a small pile of piopinni mushrooms for me, put them in a paper back, and told me to report back.  The grand total was $3.50.

I thought about these mushrooms for several days, trying to choose a worthy dish to make.  I entered the grocery store this evening with a plan to poach a fish in white wine and serve it with a mushroom sauce.  Then I passed the rice aisle and had a flash of genius.  Of course!  Risotto!

Risotto is one of my favorite non-Southern comfort foods, and yet I had never made it before.  I whipped out the All-Recipes app on my iPhone and was soon schlepping two bags of groceries, in addition to the two bags of organic potting mix and window-hanging-herb-garden supplies from Home Depot, up the hill to my apartment.

Julia Child actually has a recipe for mushroom risotto, but she bakes hers and I wanted to stick to the traditional stove top method for my first attempt.  Sorry, Julia.  You can find the recipe I used here.

Apparently you are supposed to use Arborio rice for maximum risotto plumpness, but I only had the options of long grain, super long grain, or sushi rice.  I went with the sushi rice, and the result was fantastic.

Chopped Piopinni Mushrooms

Onions, Garlic, Celery, Mushrooms, Milk, Cream

Homemade vegetable stock simmering in the back

Last step: mix in Parmesan cheese

Mushroom Risotto

Making risotto is actually very simple.  It takes a little patience to slowly mix in the liquid to achieve the right consistency, but the dish is otherwise very forgiving.  I’m already excited about the butternut squash risotto I am going to make this fall.

These Are Not Macarons

July 3rd, 2011 | Rachel

Its been too long since my last post.  I apologize.

Perhaps you thought I intentionally missed my fight back from Paris and have been living the simple country life I’ve been dreaming of – sans internet.  Or perhaps you thought my love for la belle France had been satiated by my two-week trip in June and thus I had no need to cook French food and post pictures for you.

In truth, it is a long story.  I still have a thousand photos of France to sort through and write about.  But I also have to find a new job.  The latter is the biggest reason I have been neglecting you.  Fortunately, things are looking up in my job search, and so my brain can finally return to thinking about things that pre-date the job crisis…

…things like French macarons!

This dainty pastry made from meringue and almond powder is commonly served as a sandwich cookie with a cream or jam filling.  It is also often brightly colored.  It is NOT the lumps of shredded coconut commonly known as the macaroOn.

One of my souvenirs from the recent jaunt around France was a macaron recipe book.  The text is in French, so making this slightly complex and finicky cookie was further complicated by the fact that I couldn’t really understand the instructions.

However, I am never one to back down from a challenge, and I attempted the project anyway.

It was a disaster.

I will share my thoughts on what went wrong at the end of this post, but first, here’s what I did.  In case you are looking for a macaron recipe, here’s a link to a pretty good collection of French macaron recipes and instructions.

The ingredients (including almond powder personally imported from a French grocery store by yours truly)

As a quick side note, another reason my life has been somewhat tumultuous this summer is I moved in with my boyfriend just a few days before we jetted off to France.  In an effort to conserve funds this summer — and perhaps also to try something new — I sublet my apartment to two business students with summer internships in the city.

I am now summering in a much bigger apartment (with a much bigger oven) in Morningside Heights, which is the quiet neighborhood surrounding Columbia University.  Although I didn’t have to pack up my whole apartment, I did have to make some tough choices about what I couldn’t live without for several months.  Somehow, in the hubbub of moving and preparing for my big trip I FORGOT my single most prized possession: my KitchenAid Pro 600 stand mixer!

Me with said mixer, circa 2007

I’m still not sure how it happened.  I managed to pack up and bring my pasta-making attachments but no stand mixer.  The thought of not having it with me this summer sickens me.

Anyway, you need a mixer to make macarons.  A stand mixer will make your life easier, but a hand mixer will do if that is all you have.  I had been meaning to add a hand mixer to my kitchen collection, so I picked up one made by KitchenAid from Bed Bath & Beyond.

Making macarons is basically divided into three steps: 1. make the almond paste, 2. make the meringue, 3. mix the two together.  Then you simply pipe it onto your baking sheet, let sit for the suggested period of time, and bake.  And then you assemble using the filling of your choice.  What are we up to, seven steps?  Whatever.  Its actually not that complicated.

The almond paste is made by blending almond powder and sugar and then mixing in egg whites.

The meringue (depending on what kind of recipe you are using) entails beating egg whites until foamy, heating powdered sugar and water until it reaches the desired temperature, and then beating the sugar syrup into the egg whites until they are cool, stiff, and shiny.

This is not what meringue is supposed to look like.

I have a bad habit of assuming I have all of the necessary ingredients for a project and jumping in without actually checking.  I have another bad habit of substituting other ingredients against my better judgment. With cooking, this is ok.  With baking that is more likened to a chemistry experiment, this is asking for trouble.

In this case, I ran out of powdered sugar.  Instead of running out and buying more or making my own in a blender, I took the liberty of substituting regular granulated sugar.  The larger crystals didn’t dissolve into the water and instead stuck to the bottom of the pot while the water above reached the desired temperature.  You probably don’t need me to tell you this, but you can’t make meringue out of egg whites and slightly sugary water.

To make a long story short, I screwed up the meringue.  Then, knowing full well the end result was going to be disastrous, I proceeded to mix the egg white soup into my pink(ish) almond paste.  I then piped the very liquidy batter onto cookie sheets and baked them as instructed.

Surprise, surprise, they didn’t turn out at all.  They tasted right, but they were flat, bumpy, and soft.  A proper macaron is slightly puffed up on its “foot”, smooth, and crisp on the outside.

These are not macarons.

Ah well.  Better luck next time.

As a final note, I will add that I think my macarons were further hindered by the extreme humidity on that particular day.  Right now, only two rooms in this apartment have air-conditioning, and neither is the kitchen or the dining room where I allowed my macarons to cool.  When I left to have coffee with a friend, my macarons were slightly crispy around the edge.  When I came home (and after it rained), they were so soft I couldn’t pull them off of the baking mat.

That’s enough excuses.  Macaron attempt #1 is in the garbage and #2 is certainly in the near future.  If anyone out there in Internetland has comments or suggestions, do share!

The Miraculous Versatility (And Simplicity) Of Pate a Choux

May 18th, 2011 | Rachel

You’ve probably experienced the beloved pastry puff in the form of a profiterole filled with cream and covered with chocolate.  Or maybe it was filled with ice cream.  Mmmm…..

The possibilities are endless, as demonstrated by this drool-worthy photo gallery.

Fortunately for all of us, they are so easy to make!  Check out the recipe here and scroll down for photographic proof of how easy it actually is.

All you need are five simple ingredients… if you count water as an ingredient and lump sugar, salt and nutmeg together.

Melt butter, add spices, add water, add flour, add eggs, and you’re done!

Pate a Choux

A little word of warning… don’t put hot fillings in ziplock bags.  It’ll burn your hands and then explode.

Being the perfectionist that I am (news to all of you, I’m sure), I prefer neat coils of pate a choux piped with a pastry bag.  However, after my ziplock bag of pastry dough exploded, I learned these puffs will also come out just fine if you spoon out the dough.

And just like that you have hollow pastry puffs eagerly awaiting your choice of filling.  You’ll want to cut a steam vent and stick them back in the oven so the inside cooks completely.  If you make larger puffs, you’ll have to scoop out whatever is left inside before you return them to the oven.  Otherwise, they will collapse.

I made a cheese filling because these puffs accompanied my onion quiche as appetizers at the potluck dinner.

Oh, and that caveat I wrote about hot fillings and ziplock bags?  It applies to cheese sauce as well.

Take my word: be patient and let it cool first.

I only filled a third of my pastry puffs before my very last ziplock bag exploded.  The rest I reheated in the oven and drizzled with honey-butter and ate for breakfast a week later.  These things freeze exceptionally well, btw, so if you every have some free time, stock up on some pastry puffs so you can pull them out on short notice and impress your friends.


Potluck Dinner With The Ladies

May 17th, 2011 | Rachel

The next time you are invited to a weeknight potluck dinner with your friends and have appetizer duty, consider making an onion quiche.  In fact, because you love your friends so much, why not make it shaped like a heart?

Dicing piles of onions is a little easier with a Coronita on hand.

The beauty of quiche is it requires a limited number of ingredients and doesn’t need the incessant hovering that so many other French dishes mandate.  Here, I simply sauteed the onions.

I prepared the quiche dough in a food processor (as with my last attempt at Julia Child’s quiche crust I wasn’t totally pleased with the result — it is officially time to find a better recipe).  For a mold, I used a heart-shaped springform pan.

Then I mixed in a simple mixture of egg, milk, and spices.

Once the crust was pre-baked, I removed the outside of the pan and poured in the filling and covered with a light layer of cheese.

Then it was just a matter of patiently waiting until the cheese and crust were lightly toasted.

Julia Child’s Onion Quiche

The harder part was figuring out how to get my fresh-baked creation to the Upper East Side in one piece.

Gotta love New York City public transit!

Nothing brings people together like food.

I love these ladies!