Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Cauliflower with mustard-lemon butter

Many years ago, when I was just starting out cooking in Chicago, my friend & co-worker Jerome and I found ourselves alone one Thanksgiving. We had to work part of the day doing prep in the kitchen, and everyone else was with family, so we planned our own feast. I rode my bike over to his apartment, where we usually met up to ride down the lakefront together to work, and he surprised me with breakfast- a version of Eggs Benedict with cauliflower instead of ham. It was the beginning of a love affair- I'll never forget the smell of braising cauliflower when I walked in, the richness of the sauce converging with a poached egg yolk, and the way it filled my belly and kept me warm the entire 7 mile ride along the lake that chilly morning. Before we left, we ate a candied chestnut as dessert- perfect.

Later that day we cooked fondue and I was instructed in the social etiquette of making sure the pot was always being stirred. We took turns dipping potatoes and bread into the thick gruyere and emmenthaler cheese concoction spiked with kirsch, listened to Chopin, and watched the grey lakefront from his Aunt's picture window. The whole day seemed otherworldly.

But, back to cauliflower: the below recipe is very tasty. I cooked it at home last night, using Pommery mustard. The mustard and lemon gave a pleasant bite to the comforting flavor of cauliflower. I do not have (and for sentimental reasons, don't often attempt) the recipe for Jerome's Eggs Benedict, but this one is similarly delicious, as evidenced by the fact that my friend and I ate the entire head of cauliflower in one sitting.

Cauliflower with mustard-lemon butter

1 head of cauliflower
1 t coarse salt
6 T butter
2 T fresh lemon juice
2 T whole grain Dijon mustard
1 ½ t zested lemon

1 T chopped parsley

Preheat oven to 400F.
Butter a rimmed baking sheet.
Cut the cauliflower in half, then cut crosswise into ¼” thick slices.
Arrange them in a single layer on the prepared baking sheet and sprinkle them with salt.
Roast until cauliflower is slightly softened, about 15 minutes

Meanwhile, melt the butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. Whisk in the lemon juice, mustard and zest.

Spoon the mustard-lemon butter evenly over the cauliflower and roast until crisp-tender, about 10 minutes longer. Before serving, sprinkle the parsley over top. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Tarragon Chicken

I've been carrying this recipe around in my bag for a couple of months. Originally photocopied from an old issue of Saveur magazine, I finally decided that the sudden cold snap outside warranted steaming up the windows in the house and warming the air with the smell of browning chicken. It's been an entire season of fresh fruit and minimal cooking between now the last time I deglazed anything and made a reduced sauce with rich stock, so I was filled with glee when I heard the sizzle of the wine hitting the hot skillet.

It doesn't get more french than tarragon and a sauce with butter. Be sure to let your chicken skin brown- I left it entirely alone for the first 5 minutes- and don't skimp on the tarragon, which can be too subtle in small doses.

Tarragon Chicken
(from the Ritz-Escoffier cooking school in Paris, via Saveur magazine)

1 T olive oil
3 T butter
1 3 ½ lb chicken, cut into 8 pieces
salt and freshly ground black pepper
8 stems fresh tarragon
¼ cup white wine
1 cup rich veal, beef or chicken stock

Heat the oil and 2 T of the butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Season the chicken with salt and pepper and cook, skin side down, until well browned, about 5 minutes. Turn the chicken and add 4 stems of the tarragon. Cover, reduce heat to medium, and cook until juices run clear when pierced with a knife, 10-15 minutes.

Meanwhile, blanch 2 stems of the tarragon in a pot of boiling water over high heat for 5 seconds; drain and set aside. Chop the leaves (discarding the stalks) from the remaining 2 stems of the tarragon and set aside.

Transfer the chicken to a platter, discarding tarragon, and keep warm in an oven set on lowest temperature. Pour off the fat, then return skillet to medium-high heat. Add the wine and cook, scraping browned bits stuck to the bottom of the skillet, for 1 minute. Add the stock and reduce by half, about 5 minutes. Strain the sauce into a small bowl, then return the sauce to the skillet over medium heat. Stir in the remaining 1 T butter and reserved chopped tarragon.

Add the chicken and any accumulated juices to the skillet and baste with sauce. Serve garnished with blanched tarragon.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Plums and cardamom, anyone?

This morning I came across a blog that had the most inspiring photo of an upside down plum cardamom cake that I had to try it.

I broke open green cardamom pods for the seeds and it was one of the highlights of my day- freshly ground cardamom is in an altogether different category than the pale grayish lavender powder that's god knows how old you'll find in the grocery store. The armoa is striking- it always makes my mouth water. I also used a Ceylonese cinnamon, which is a little more nuanced than Vietnamese or Chinese cinnamon. It has a delicate aroma and long flavor that will compliment but not overpower the cardamom.

In case 'Alice's' link doesn't work, I'm rewriting the recipe below. I highly recommend visiting her site, though- the step-by-step photos are great and make the plausibility of attempting the recipe seem that much more reasonable. My photo isn't quite as sexy as her food styling, but you should have been there to taste it :)

Plum Cardamom Cake
Yield: one 9 or 10" cake

3 T melted butter
15-20 small-medium plums, quartered
1/4 c brown sugar
1 t cinnamon (Ceylon recommended, though any varietal will do)
2 t ground cardamom

1/2 c butter, softened
1 c sugar
2 eggs
2 t vanilla extract
1 1/2 c flour
1 t ground cardamom
2 t baking powder
1/4 t salt
1/2 c orange juice

  • Preheat your oven to 350 F.
  • Grease & line with parchment a 9" or 10" round tall cake pan.
  • In a small bowl, stir together the sauce ingredients. Using a pastry brush, cover the base of the cake pan with the sauce.
  • Starting from the outside perimeter and working your way towards the center, line the cake pan with the quartered plums in concentric circles.
  • To make the cake batter, cream the butter and sugar in a mixing bowl until light and fluffy- a stand mixer is helpful here, or beaters, or a whisk (and Popeye arms).
  • Add the eggs on at a time, mixing until incorporated and scraping the sides of the bowl down after each one. Stir in the vanilla extract.
  • In a separate bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, cardamom and salt. Add about a third of this mixture to the butter/sugar/egg mixture and mix just enough to combine them.
  • Pour in half of the orange juice, stir just to combine.
  • Follow with another third of the dry mixture, stir, then the rest of the orange juice, stir, and finish with the last of the dry mixture. Ideally you want to minimize the amount of stirring you do once you start adding the flour- doing it in sections will allow the liquids, dry ingredients and fat to come together quickly. I suppose if you're looking for quick & dirty, add the dry ingredients first, followed by the orange juice to finish it off.
  • Spoon the cake mixture on top of the arranged plums and spread the batter evenly. Bake it for about 50 minutes, or until the top is a deep golden brown and just starting to pull away from the sides of the pan.
  • Once removed from the oven, allow it to cool in the pan for about 10 minutes. Loosen the sides of the pan with a knife and flip it onto a plate. Remove the parchment paper, and serve it warm or at room temperature.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Buckwheat Pancakes, Blueberry Compote

Buckwheat can go both ways: from adding a sublime depth of flavor to being overly heavy hippie food that's more focused on whole grains than good taste. I've had buckwheat pancakes that fall into both categories, but I think I've found a recipe that's worth sharing.

From the Anson Mills website, their buckwheat buttermilk pancakes with lemon butter and blueberry compote is worth the effort. The three parts of the recipe- lemon compound butter, blueberry compote and pancakes- too me a total of 45 minutes to prepare, and I'll be (happily) eating leftovers of the first two parts for the next couple of days.

Compound butters are a simple way of adding a little extra flavor in an unexpected way. Here, you add lemon zest, juice and a small amount of powdered sugar to soft butter and refrigerate it. The variations can be endless. At Eve restaurant, for example, they serve three compound butters with their bread at each table- an herb, a salmon, and a sweet one that I think is honey and cinnamon, though my memory could be mistaken.

I particularly liked this recipe for blueberry compote because the end result has blueberries of different textures- some cooked into a sauce and some that are added right before the end and allowed only to warm up, thus remaining their plump integrity. It calls for cinnamon, but star anise or cardamom would also be welcome substitutions.

The buckwheat buttermilk pancakes call for a slightly different preparation than what I'm used to seeing. The butter is melted, and some of the ghee is reserved for the cast iron skillet- nothing new there- but adding the buttermilk to the warm butter and warming them together slightly was a different approach. It could have the potential to separate if it got too hot, but a little whisking brought it back together, and it never got so hot that it would have scrambled the egg you whisk it into. With both baking soda and baking powder in the mix, the cakes puffed up beautifully.

Overall it was a fantastic Sunday morning breakfast, with a pot of nilgiri tea with cream and sugar nearby, some orange juice and Dr. Arwulf Arwulf providing the soundtrack on 89.1.