Friday, January 28, 2011

French Fridays with Dorie In Which I Ponder Phyllo: Bane of My Existence or Harbinger of Zen Meditation?

Well, and here we are again!  I tell you, I am loving this French Fridays with Dorie thing.  Everyone has been so wonderful and I am really enjoying being involved in something like this.  I joined this group because I was haphazardly going through the cookbook and I desired something a bit more ordered.  This?  Perfect!

This week: A Moroccan chicken potpie-ish dish called Chicken B'stilla.  I'll start off by saying that this is not out of my comfort zone.  It's more that I just don't make Moroccan food very often.

I read the P&Q post and saw that some people were asking about wine pairing.  Well, I contributed, though a bit late, and mentioned that I do like Rhône Varietals with Moroccan food--but not just any old Rhône varietal.  I prefer Mourvèdre first, then (maybe) Grenache.

I was thinking all about the wines and what would pair best, etc., and then I came up with MY BEST PLAN EVER!  Instead of going out to dinner like we were supposed to, I'd make the B'stilla one day earlier than planned AND I'd open up 3 or 4 different bottles of wine so we could compare!  Tell me: what is the downside here?

So, I made some phone calls and that became the plan.

(I'll leave the wine section for another post that is directly below this one.  Those who could care less about wine can just skip it.)

Thank goodness it was my at home day.  I started marinating the chicken, first mixing the onions and spices all together to really coat the onions, and then adding the chicken.  Also, any excuse to use my Staub casserole is fine by me:

Let me tell you, it smelled really good in my kitchen.

With the next step, when I braised the chicken, the aromas became more pronounced and I could even smell them outside (it was a lovely 75 degrees here, by the way).  Mmmmm.

I made the mixture of chicken and onions, and then made the sauce.  I followed Katrina's suggestion on the P&Q.  It's something I know to do, but would've just blindly followed the recipe anyway (yes, even after what happened with the cake last week).  She mentions that you need to temper the eggs, so as I madly whisked the eggs and honey I added in 1/3 of the broth reduction in a thin stream until it was all incorporated.  Then I added all of that in a thin stream to the rest of the reduction still in the hot pan on the stove.  That way, I didn't have any scrambling of the eggs when they were added to something that was super hot.  One more thing: I made sure my eggs were room temperature so that it would minimize the temp difference as much as possible.

Here is the sauce all mixed together, right before I started whisking it until the whisk "left tracks":
Yes, my stovetop is dirty.  I hang my head in shame.
Then, my chicken and sauce mixture.  At this point, I would've stopped and finished the rest the next day.  Instead, I carried on.  It was for science, right?  Well...the science of wine...?

Now, though.  Now is when we come to the philosophical questions inherent in any dish that uses phyllo/fillo/filo dough.  I think many of them are unanswerable.  For example: is there any package of phyllo dough that doesn't have at least one sheet that will rip no matter how careful you are?  If we find said perfect package, have we reached nirvana?  I, personally, have a love-hate relationship with the stuff.  I love it and its buttery, flaky goodness.  I hate it because there's always at least one sheet that rips no matter how carefully I do all of the damp towel, open like a book, whatever else that they tell us to do.  I love it because even with all of that it's fairly forgiving.  I hate it when I'm worried about it not being forgiving while I'm in the thick of preparing it.  Ultimately I have decided that I should approach it in a more zen-like manner.  Phyllo will do these things--it will rip and look ridiculously rumpled and unprofessional--and that is okay.  I shall take it in stride, but still remain focused.  In the end, I'd much rather contemplate phyllo and its issues than all of my regular stressors.  So, there it is.

With all of that said, I still got irritated.  HA!  Here's my finished B'stilla base, wherein 2--yes, 2 of the 4--of those be-damned sheets ripped!
I used the almonds.

And here's the pie-ish thingy before I did the top crust:

The next part was kind of fun!  I used a pan lid as a guide to cut a large circle for the top crust and tucked it in like making a bed.  Or something.
Here that is: 
With a light sprinkling of cinnamon-sugar just before going into the oven.
I then had to wait 40 minutes.  By this point, I think my husband had fallen asleep in front of the TV and I was starving.  Those of you in this group know--this is not really difficult to make, it just takes a lot of time!

But, then!  Oh, then!  The timer went off and it smelled sooo good.  And it was pretty.

While that cooled off for 5 minutes, and while my husband wandered in looking groggy (and then began salivating all over the pie) I made the lemon-steamed spinach recipe as a side.

Here's the plate as I was staving off the hungry beast behind me:

The result?  YUMMY!  The B'stilla is really a wonderful dish and it's so rich that you don't have to eat too much of it.  Also, that lemon-steamed spinach is really great.  I'm not a huge fan of steamed spinach, but this was the best I've ever had.

Now that's done, WHAT ABOUT THE WINE?  

You'll have to see the WINE POST!

French Fridays with Dorie: Wherein I Raid the Wine Cellar . . . er, Closet . . . well, Part of the Closet

If you don't mind, I shall now take a brief foray away from the food to talk about the wine.  For the Rhône area, there are a ton of varietals.  This isn't like Burgundy where you basically have the two famous ones, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, with a little Gamay and Pinot Gris thrown in for good measure.  No, there's something like 22!  The three most common, however, are usually found in Rhône blends: Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvèdre.  If you ever see a wine that's called GSM, then it is signifying those three grapes.  Syrah is a lovely, lovely grape, but I feel it's too heavy for this chicken dish.  Grenache is also quite wonderful--it's fruity and not overly tannic.  Used to soften the blends, Grenache could work well, but might be a tad too fruity for the sweet spices.  Mourvèdre--with its spicy, floral, and fruity bouquet as well as its tannins--is just really nice with Moroccan chicken dishes because it has both the fruit and the structure to complement and stand up to the spiciness without overwhelming the chicken.  (That last is my own opinion based upon past experiences, but I'm always open to changing my mind--hence this experiment!)

Also, in the US, the area that has become best known for its Rhone Varietals is California's Central Coast, extending from Paso Robles (and even Monterey, depending on who you're talking to) in the north and Santa Barbara in the south.  There are a profound number of microclimates in the region, with a huge array of wines being made from French and Italian grapes, but suffice it to say that they distinguish themselves from Napa/Sonoma's primary emphasis on Bordeaux varietals.

I opened three wines: a Malvasia Bianca from Palmina Cellars; a 2007 Alto Moncayo Garnacha; and a 2006 Mourvèdre from Carina Cellars.

The White Wine
I chose the Malvasia Bianca because it has the florals and fruity aromas that are also characteristic of a dry Riesling.  The wine went okay with the food, but I'd have preferred something drier.  I could tell there was a fair amount of residual sugar in this, at least to my taste, and together with the sweet spices in the B'stilla, it made everything seem really sweet.  

At one point, my husband was saying how we wasn't sure about this dish because it was "so sweet."  I pointed out that the only sugar in it was on top, and that was very little!  I surmised that it was all the "sweet" spices--cinnamon and ginger--that our brains associate with sugar that was causing him to say it was sweet.  It's the same thing when people sip wine and they say, "I don't like sweet wine" when the wine is actually quite dry.  They're tasting the fruit and mistaking it for sugar.

The Garnacha
This Alto Moncayo Garnacha runs about $45.  They have a lower version for about $20 (Veraton) and the ultimate version costs about $125 (Aquilon).  We've found that the middle one has the best Quality-Price Ratio.  It's really one of our favorite wines.  Alto Moncayo has some excellent fruit aromas that are also available on the palate--blackberry, and other candied dark fruits--and the acidity seems to be teetering right where it's a great sippy wine as well as a fine food wine.  There's some oak, though not overpowering, and there's also a bit of minerality that at times lessens the power of the fruit (this is not a bad thing).

We love this wine.  I'll wait to say what we thought after I discuss...

The Mourvèdre
We've had this in our "cellar," the part of a spare room closet that can hold our cases of wine, for at least 3 years.  I decanted it for 2 hours before dinner.  This wine had some nice fruits and florals, blackberries and violets, and some smoky/tar-y stuff going on, but also had some nice spice with the pepper, cloves, and vanilla.  A nice long finish due to the tannins.  I really like Mourvèdre in general and I think it's pretty darned unappreciated.

The Winner?
The Garnacha was nice, but frankly all of the fruit together with the sweet spices of the B'stilla made it all a bit one-note for me.  I wanted some more complementary flavors.

The Mourvèdre had the fruit there, but with the added smoke and spice (as well as that looooong finish), really kicked it over the top.  We both agreed that Mourvèdre is just right for Moroccan chicken dishes.    YAY!

If you can find a Mourvèdre, you might want to give it a try.  With food, though, so that you can better appreciate it.  Some people are turned off by some gaminess on the nose, so be aware of that, too.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Stylish Blogger Award

Some days nice things happen, and they give you that little pick-me-up that you didn't know you needed.

Yesterday was that day for me.  Teresa over at One Wet Foot chose my blog as one of fifteen she enjoys.  She also wrote some wonderful things about making a community online, and how there can be some trials and tribulations attached to it.  I think that is why, for me, blogging has been something that only appealed to me as a passing fancy.  That is, until I found about FFwD.  In the meantime, I'm touched that Teresa mentioned my little blog (that only has 3 posts) and it was just the right way to end my day.  

So, here's how the Stylish Blogger Award works:

1. Thank and link back to the person who awarded you this award:
I've already done so, but I'd love to do so again.  Thanks, Teresa at One Wet Foot, it was a lovely thing, and anyone who pairs chocolate with caramel mousse and salted almonds is a person after my own heart.

2. Share 7 things about yourself:
Erm, what?  Nothing more specific?  Well, okay . . . .

  1. My main weakness in life is that I love Diet Pepsi.  I drink one every day.
  2. The only thing that really motivates me to go to the gym is that it's the only time I get to read my trashy novels.
  3. Sometimes, I pour wine at a tasting room.  For fun.
  4. I met my husband in a metro station in Washington DC.
  5. I very much believe in karma and do my best to live accordingly.
  6. My second weakness in life is that I love Eclipse gum.  I used to smoke.  Now, I don't.  I chew gum.
  7. I am also a musician and my primary instrument is/was the trumpet.  I haven't played consistently for years.

3. Award 15 recently discovered great bloggers:
This one's actually kind of tough for me since most of the blogs I've been looking at lately are for FFwD.  I used to read various blogs all the time, but I guess I got super busy or something because I stopped reading them.  I don't know that I'll do 15, but I'll at least mention a few.
The Lady of Shallots
The Good Life
Things From Scratch
The not so exciting adventures of a dabbler

4. Contact these bloggers and tell them about the award!

Friday, January 21, 2011

French Fridays with Dorie: A Tale of Two (Michel Rostang's Double Chocolate Mousse) Cakes

Yay!  It is my first official French Friday with Dorie.  I was also super happy to have my first Friday be not only a dessert Friday, but also a chocolate dessert Friday.

I read the Problems and Questions and was interested to see the issues with leaking, and reading all of that also motivated me to finally measure all of my springform pans.  Whaddya know?  I only have 9-, 9.5-, and 10-inch pans.  (No wonder my Marie-Hélène's Apple Cake was so flat.)  Off to Amazon I went, and with the magic of Prime shipping, I am a proud owner of an 8-inch springform.

Enough of that boring equipment stuff, why is this post called a Tale of Two (Michel Rostang's Double Chocolate Mousse) Cakes?  Because I'm a dork.  A doofus.  A someone who uses cooking and baking as stress relief, but this time couldn't bring herself to focus and therefore had some problems.  In essence, I screwed up on the first one.  It was a texture mistake, and I knew it would be edible, yet I wanted to try the cake as it was meant to be baked.  In the process I ended up having the first served the warm method described in the book and the second one will be served in Dorie's preferred way--double-baked and cooled overnight.

For the nitpickies, I used Valhrona 71% Cacao for the chocolate.  I recently got a new over-the-oven microwave (we recently bought a house!) and it has both a melt and a soften feature.  I cannot tell you how AWESOME the soften feature is when I forget to bring my butter to room temperature.  Well, the chocolate subset of the melt button is also AWESOME.  2.5 minutes and my chocolate required about 6 stirs with a wooden spoon to be all melted up and good to go.  Here's what it looked like:
Melted Chocolate, Mmmmmmm.
Then, I got to the "lovely, velvety mix" part, after I added all the sweet and fatty stuff:
Extra sweet and fatty chocolate!
All was well, and I went to whip my egg whites.  I've done this before, about 5,000 times.  My husband's favorite cake is Angel Food.  I've made soufflés and never knew they could fall, but for some apparently apocryphal tales, until probably the 20th time I made one.  As an aside, my brother has this concept that everyone has a "superpower"; that is, an ability at which they never have a problem.  Ever.  His ability?  He can take pictures of himself (you know, that whole holding the camera out as far as you can thing?) and friends and always get everyone in the photo.  For a while, I thought mine was the soufflé thing (see that nice transition?  HA!).  Well, that came crashing down, literally and figuratively.  So, I've realized it's that I don't burn things in the oven.  Ever.  I have literally never burned anything that I've baked, whatever it is.  I've overcooked things, but never ever burned them.

Anyway, back to the task at hand (I think this is why my students try and distract me during class).  I was all freaking out because of reading the P&Q post an the issues people were having with the eggs.  I was already baking it with the springform bottom on, yet for some reason I was sooooo worried about the texture of the egg whites.

All was least at this point:
Frothy, firm beauty
At this point, I should also apologize that all the pics are taken with my phone's camera.

Then, I misread the directions.  Even though it went against everything I know about mixing frothy, firm egg whites into a heavier batter, I still did what I thought the directions said: I mixed some of the chocolatey goodness directly into the egg whites.  And watched them plunge, nay freefall, into only a shadow of their former, cloudy beauty.  J'étais une bécasse.

I was completely and utterly a silly goose because of course the directions did not say to mix the chocolate into the egg whites.  Sheesh!  You mix the egg whites into the chocolate.  So, I went along my merry way and continued to bake the ridiculously flat batter.  I ended up with a perfectly edible, though very thin cake.  And it was really good precisely because it encompasses everything I love about this cookbook: it tastes lovely and it was actually super easy to make.  Basically, the flavor belies the amount of time it takes to make the thing!

So, I went to my local wine bar, had some wine and pizza, and came home to make it the right way.  Here's the comparison pics:
So, I actually almost dropped the one on the left (the "bad" one), on the floor.
That's why it's cracked.

Height difference is immense when you mix it correctly!

There it is!  My Tale of Two Cakes.

Clearly, I just had to compare them.  At breakfast.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Poulet Rôti

I never roasted a whole chicken until I was 31 years old.  When I admit that, I feel like I should be in some sort of Poultry Lovers Anonymous group or something.  I'm not overly certain why it took me so long--especially since I decided to start learning to cook when I was 20.  One would think a basic skill like roasting a bird would've been high on my list.  One reason may be that I really like breast meat, frankly, and I know it's better for you due to less fat, etc. (yes, I KNOW the thighs and other parts have better flavor), so I just wasn't all that interested in this concept of roasting a bird.  My mom kept trying to convince me to do so, all through college, talking about how it's much cheaper than buying boneless/skinless boobs.  I was not to be swayed.

I don't really know why I wanted to start doing a roast chicken.  I think part of it had to do with being the host of Thanksgiving.  I was a total turkey noob and, together with my lack of experience roasting chicken, I had NO IDEA what I was doing.  Yet again, my mom had mentioned I could try out different spice rubs, etc., on a chicken before I committed to doing it on the big bird.  And yet again, I was not to be swayed.

Anyway, I make a roast chicken at least once a month now.  (How quickly things change, no?  Then again, my husband has professed that he really, really loves it when I make this dish, so that could have something to do with it.)  I freeze the carcass, the neck, and any other giblets that happen to be in the chicken and I make stock every couple months from 3 carcasses.

The recipe I love the most, though, is Thomas Keller's, available many places on the net, but also here:

It is divine in its simplicity.  There's not really much else to say...except for that it really messes up your oven with spatters, so it's not the cleanest of roast chickens to make.

Roast chicken (poulet rôti, if you're being fancy shmancy)
Sauteed chard with chanterelles and toasted hazelnuts
and perhaps a rice or something, but we're trying to eat super healthy, so we'll likely just load up on more chard or make a salad.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Inaugural Post!

I'm never sure about these blog type things.  I've had one in the past, but I always felt like it was this super-hubristic thing.  I mean, really: why would people want to read about me and my life?

I'm mostly starting this blog because I want to be involved in the French Fridays with Dorie group.  You don't need a blog to be a member, but why not just go whole hog?  Eh, I'll add to the blogosphere noise, and who knows?  Maybe some little tip that I've learned along the way will help someone.  Not to say they couldn't find that tip on someone else's blog, but there it is.

I should add that I also like French food, and while I don't categorize myself as a francophile, per se, my scholarly research is heavily based in French stuff.  And I've spent a good deal of time in France.  I've had crappy food there and I've had really good food there.  I cooked both crappy and really good food there.  What can I say?  Living in a tiny apartment in the 6ème (close to the Pont Neuf!) doesn't afford a lot of opportunities for massive cooking.  Crap, I had to buy a collander when I moved in so I could make pasta!  Anyway, enough of that.  Suffice it to say that DG's cookbook was attractive to me on many levels.

I purchased the Around My French Table cookbook just after Christmas.  I've also got DG's book with Julia Child, and as you can see in my profile, I align myself more with being a really good baker over being a good cook.  I started cooking dishes from the book because they all sound so good.  Lo and behold, they vary, taste-wise, from pretty darned good to "wow!"  Example: the orange-almond tart I made last week.  It was the closest thing I've ever made to the pastries I'd buy while I lived in Paris.  It was lovely.  This, people, is a cookbook worth purchasing, at least if you like this kind of food.

Today, I have a lot of work to do.  No.  Not just today.  The entire weekend I have a lot of work to do.  So, clearly I need to cook.  And it was lunchtime!  I checked the fridge for ingredients and flipped through The Book and found...Gérard's Mustard Tart!

I had everything but the 3 hours needed to chill the tart dough!  It was already 12:33 pm, and I was only going to be able to wait about 2 hours.  Max.  (It's that pesky low blood sugar problem.)

Thankfully, pastry is not something I'm overly scared of.  I quickly made the pie pastry from Thomas Keller's Ad Hoc at Home because it was the ONLY recipe I have that doesn't require that godawful shortening stuff.  Chilled the dough for an hour while getting the other ingredients ready for the tart.  I only had the moutarde à l'anciènne (basically, whole grain mustard) so I put the massive 4 tbl of that into the egg/crème fraîche mixture.

Slipped it all in a 9.5-inch pie pan and voilà!  Lunch!

I served it warm, letting it rest for about 15 minutes out of the oven, and had a nice glass of white wine--a Cal-Ital blend of Tocai Friulano, Arneis, and Traminer--that had the acidity, minerality, and fruit to stand up to the mustard while still being ever-so-light.  I should note, too, that the mustard flavor was just the right amount of kick, and nowhere near as overwhelming as one may fear upon looking at the recipe.

Seriously, the best lunch I've had in a long time!  Add a little salad, like DG recommends, and it won't feel quite so decadent.

The "pie" photo above was taken with my phone only seconds after removing it from the oven.