conquering the cardoon

September 28, 2012 § 6 Comments

Cardoon ~ you can see that this edible plant is also an exotic ornamental!

Believe it or not, this is Friday’s FFwD posting for a vegetable side dish of Endive, Apples and Grapes with locally grown cardoon (still growing above) standing in for not locally grown endive. For those of you unfamiliar with cardoon (and until a few days ago I was a member of that group) they are related to artichoke, both in flavor and appearance. The main difference is that you eat the stem of the cardoon instead of the thistle flower bud of the artichoke. They are handled similarly in preparation and cooking, although there’s considerably more effort in cardoon preparation but justifiably more reward in the yield. Here’s a slideshow preview from Saveur on the process.

Start with one cardoon plant straight from the field. Remove the stalks as you would celery, but watch out for the prickles or wear gloves. Gloves will also prevent your fingers from being stained, but I found them too clumsy to wear, so I still have very brown fingertips three days later. You need to work with the stalks one at a time all the way through the following preparation to prevent them from turning brown before cooking. Of course this makes a lengthy preparation take even longer, but I remind you here, the rewards are great (if you are an artichoke lover)!

Use a knife to remove any remaining leaves and the prickles on either side of the stalk. Here is the cardoon stem “de-fanged”.

Use a paring knife or peeler (or both) to remove the strings and skin from the outside of the stem (the peeler is safer, but the strings tend to clog it up). Flip the cardoon over and carefully pull the thin white film off the inside of the stem. Rinse the stem under water often to keep it from browning (oxidizing) while you are preparing it.

Here’s what the outer skin and strings look like (I pulled most of the strings out with the paring knife and then cleaned it up with the peeler), and here’s what the white film from the inside of the stalk looks like.

The cleaned stalks go immediately into some acidulated water (water with vinegar or lemon juice added). Once you have a potful, place them into a pot of clean water with lemon juice and salt and parboil them for several minutes, depending on the desired doneness and whether they’ll undergo further cooking.

Finishing the dish is quick and easy. Slice the cardoons crosswise no larger than 1/2″ (makes them easier to chew as they can still be fibrous) and sauté in a little butter or olive oil (or both) with a sprig or two of rosemary. While that’s cooking, slice apples (I like skin on) 1/4″ thick and add to the pan. Occasionally stir or toss for even cooking, but it’s nice to get some caramelization on the edges of the vegetable and fruit. Finally toss in some whole grapes and cook until they start to release their juice. I really reduced the cooking time for this dish to get a much fresher result; I was also running out of time because cardoon preparation took so long. But I and the guests were very pleased with the result! All of the ingredients came from my friends’ Max and Wink’s orchard, vineyard and garden, and the dish was part of a celebratory wine grape harvest dinner at their winery.

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where France meets Spain

September 21, 2012 § 11 Comments

I’ve always been a little confused whether the Basque region is part of Spain or France. Turns out it’s part of both. Called the Basque country, it straddles the northern Pyrenees mountain range and borders the Atlantic ocean. Here’s a map courtesy of Wikipedia.

File:Euskal Herria Europa.png

The FFwD group made chicken basquaise this week. When you see ‘aise’ appended to a country’s name, that simply means “in the style of” in French. Basquaise implies peppers and tomatoes and lots of them, so it’s a perfect late summer dish to use our locally grown vegetables which are in abundance and great variety right now.

Here are the ingredients to make the pipérade which is the aromatic base for this stew – three kinds of peppers (green, I used my favorite Jimmy Nardello’s for the sweet red, and chiles for some spice), onion, garlic, thyme, oregano, bay leaf, dried Espelette pepper from the region and tomatoes. I used the juice from a zested orange since I had it.

Dorie Greenspan, the author of Around my French Table, gives very precise instructions to thinly slice the onion crosswise. When onion doesn’t need to be chopped or diced in small pieces, I tend to use a cut the French call émincée. Peel the onion, cut it in half lengthwise and then remove the core by cutting out a small wedge from the bottom of each half. Then slice thinly also lengthwise following the hemisphere shape of the onion so that each slice is a thin wedge. I like this shape, and the thin pieces cook quickly and evenly. Start sweating the onions in a little olive oil while you prep the rest of the vegetables.

The different peppers are sliced, along with the chile. I tasted the chile and it was hot enough that I decided to only add one, not the three the recipe called for. The peppers go in with the onion to also sweat, then the tomatoes, herbs and spices are added and the mixture simmered for about a half hour to meld their flavors. The chicken is separately browned and then combined with some of the pipérade and braised long enough to become tender 45 minutes or longer, depending on your chicken.

To me chicken basquaise served over rice is a colorful version of the more familiar Latin or Cuban arroz con pollo.

I made a second FFwD recipe with the breast meat and carcass from the whole chicken I got from Cure Farm for the basquaise recipe. Spicy Vietnamese Chicken Noodle Soup (Oct. 2010) was a fantastic flavorful and exotic version of a chicken soup.

I modified the recipe to use the aromatics to make a quick Asian influenced chicken broth with just 20 minutes of pressure cooking. Do you end up with what my friend Marcia calls “ginger turds” in your vegetable drawer (the leftover pieces you don’t use and they dry out or spoil)? I finally learned to peel all the ginger and then freeze whatever was left in small pieces. These thaw out quickly and are firm enough to slice, chop or mince for future dishes, instead of going to waste.

I made the curry variation of this soup. A key technique to enhancing the flavor of many spices is to cook them first (dry toast or in oil) before adding the rest of the ingredients. It’s absolutely critical to not burn them of course, you are just heating them enough to bring out their flavors. Instead of using bean sprouts for garnish, I used some fresh raw corn and tiny currant tomatoes, along with mint, cilantro and lime wedges. Oh, and since I had rice leftover from basquaise night, I used it instead of rice noodles. Now that it’s starting to cool down it will be fun and tasty to make this soup again and vary the seasonal garnishes.

back to bread

September 18, 2012 § 16 Comments

Porcelain berry vines display their namesakes in late summer

We had so many hot dry days (a record number) this summer, but the autumnal equinox is right around the corner. Cooler night time temperatures are reminding the tomatoes they need to hurry up and ripen, and the day time temps are bouncing from the 80’s to 60’s. I took advantage of a 60 degree day to bake the Whole Wheat loaves from Baking with Julia with the TWD group today.

Farmer John (yes, that is really his name) has been experimenting with growing grains in Boulder County the last few years, with rye joining his hard red winter wheat this year. I like the flavor of rye so I added a little to this recipe. And while Craig Kominiak’s recipe called for malt extract (available at beer brewing supply stores) I used the barley malt syrup I had on hand. It contributed a rounded toasted sweetness to the bread, along with the small amount of honey called for. I skipped adding the even smaller amount of oil in the recipe.

For baking I almost always use a scale to measure ingredients by weight, and I find it especially important when baking bread to help get predictable and consistent results. I use 5 oz. per cup of flour (any type, it’s close enough), 7 oz. per cup of granulated or brown sugar, 8 oz. works for a cup of most liquids, water, milk, oils, butter, but not all (honey is much denser than water for instance). I found this recipe on the dry side for me and at our altitude of 5000′. For the total two pounds of flour, I up’d the water to 2 3/4 cups. In baker’s math, this means 22 oz. water/32 oz. flour = 68%, which is the target hydration that tends to give results I like. I also had to lengthen the baking time by about 10 minutes for this wetter dough.

I lightly mixed all the ingredients together except for the salt, covered the dough and let it rest for a half hour. I like to do this for a couple of reasons. Salt strengthens gluten and inhibits yeast activity, so I lighten the load on my mixer a bit and let the yeast get going. The rest period allows the flour grains to thoroughly hydrate and gluten actually starts to develop on its own. You can even see a few strands in the second picture after the dough has rested and even risen a bit.

I sprinkle the salt over the rested dough and then mix with the dough hook on a low speed (2 on the KitchenAid). It only takes 4-5 minutes instead of the 10 minutes at medium to achieve a well-kneaded dough with adequate gluten development.

I had an appointment in town and some errands to run so I covered the dough and popped it into the refrigerator for a slow leisurely rise (this is called retarding since you’re slowing the dough’s activity).

The dough was fully risen without being over-fermented by the time I got back home 3-4 hours later. I decided to roll in some plumped raisins, chopped toasted walnuts and some chopped candied orange peel leftover from poaching apples for FFwD last week.

The recipe makes two loaves, so I made one plain and the other with the raisin nut add-ins. Don’t forget to butter the baking dish!

Since the dough is chilled from the refrigerator it takes over an hour to rise enough to fill the pans. And being half whole grain and half white flour, the loaves are pretty heavy and don’t rise much more in the oven.

This bread had a very moist crumb that benefits from toasting. Some butter and cinnamon sugar doesn’t hurt either!

apples, apples and more apples

September 14, 2012 § 14 Comments

Dorie’s Spice-Poached Apples or Pears from her book Around my French Table is a simple dessert, perfect anytime you need a little sweet after dinner (which is every night for me). You can use almost any seasonal fruit in this recipe and it’s something you can make in a half hour or so, unless you grew your own apples too, in which case it will take you most of a year.

Here’s our Honey Crisp apple tree last month. It’s been an extraordinary year for fruit on the Front Range of Colorado. Unfortunately, most of our apples feed the critters, from insects to the birds and squirrels that snack just before the fruit ripens. So I have to pick them a little greener than I like if we want to get our share. See the big bite out of the one in the middle of the photo?

Here’s what we got from the little Honey Crisp tree and the much bigger Cox Orange Pippin tree, really not a huge difference and so much easier to pick from the smaller tree (note to self for future fruit tree management). Onto the recipe…

The apples I used were from our third tree, the youngest so it contributed a smaller harvest this year. I had lost its tag but from my web investigations I think it’s a Greening apple of some type, a very old American apple variety and supposedly the best for apple pie of course! Here are the apples bathing in their spice-infused poaching liquid (I added a cup of white wine for some acidity to balance the sweetness of the honey and sugar). I like to use a parchment cartouche to keep the heat and moisture against the apples. This allows the steam to escape to avoid overcooking under a lid and you can keep an eye on the cooking process. Different types of apples at different ripenesses are completely unpredictable in how long it takes them to get to tender-but-not-falling-apart doneness.

Poached fruit is the perfect easy seasonal dessert simply served with some of its syrup and a little vanilla ice cream.

Here are the French Fridays with Dorie catchup recipes we enjoyed this week as well…

I reconstructed Dorie’s Deconstructed BLT with Eggs (September 2011) subbing kale braised with bacon and poaching the eggs instead of hard boiling, achieving a more tartine look. Savory Cheese and Chive Bread (March 2011) was everything its name promised and quick too.

The highlight of the week was Salmon and Tomatoes en Papillote (July 2011) but I couldn’t resist buying some beautiful pink-fleshed trout instead. We ate Pancetta Green Beans (February 2011) alongside. All the vegetables and herbs for these dishes came from local farms or the garden, and the pancetta came from Cure Farm as well.

Finally apples and ice cream made another appearance in the guise of Marie-Helene’s Apple Cake (October 2010) for dessert one night, and an encore as breakfast. This was a very bon appetit week!

un deux trois ~ FFwD! and eggplant tartine?

September 7, 2012 § 21 Comments

Okay, now you’ve done it! All of you French Fridays with Dorie (FFwD) cooks made me do it. (The end of a Colorado summer produce bounty was an added incentive.) I bought the book and now I’m boogie-ing trying to catch up since I’m 100 recipes behind the rest of you. Actually, I’ve known about this challenge group since the beginning of the year, as I bake with many of you (all of you?) in the Tuesdays with Dorie (TwD) group. There were a few reasons I had NOT to do this –

  1. I already own several French cookbooks that I haven’t cooked from
  2. I already participate in Dorie Greenspan’s baking challenge
  3. Could I really commit to a recipe per week, when sometimes it’s hard for me to bake every other week with TwD?
  4. Am I developing a Dorie cookbook compulsion?

Then I rationalized, we have to eat everyday, so it should be easy to do one recipe from Around my French Table per week. And I have other five nights to cook Italian, Mexican, Spanish, regional American, Indian, other Asian, Greek, etc. and still have a night to go out or get takeout. We would eat the leftovers all this cooking generated for lunch (we’re both at home, Phil’s retired and I haven’t returned to work yet), and hopefully not put on any extra weight.

So my personal FFwD goal is to cook the weekly recipe and two past recipes – un, deux, trois! Hopefully in a year, I’ll catch up with the rest of you.

This week is Dorie’s riff on a tartine, an open-faced sandwich, with eggplant slices standing in for the bread. My riff was a salad with lots of contrasts – still warm creamy-flesh-chewy-skin roasted Japanese eggplant topped with our favorite farmstead chèvre , juicy heirloom tomato “salsa” spiked with bites of celery and salty capers and olives, and crunchy cucumber slices drenched with olive oil and finished with large grained salt. A perfect end-of-summer salad as all of the produce came from a local farm or our garden.

This is a light and easy supper. While the eggplant roasts in the oven (mine was already hot from baking dessert, but you could also grill the eggplant if it’s too hot to cook in the house), cut and toss most of the other ingredients into a bowl for the tomato salsa which is brightened with some red wine vinegar.  Thinly slice the cucumbers and drizzle and toss with olive oil. When you’re ready to eat, assemble eggplant, chèvre, tomato and cucumber. Voilà, dinner is served.

This was such a light dish, we had to have dessert too! I took the very ripe peaches from the fruit bowl to top a thin cake batter, and used the forgotten streusel from my last peach cake to provide a crunchy edging. This cake was the complete opposite from the upside down chiffon cake – straight forward, easy, foolproof and all about the peaches! The perfect ending for a weeknight meal.

Here’s the roll call of the other FFwD dishes I made this week from local farm and garden produce and herbs. It sure is easy to eat well in the summertime!

Un – a simple last-of-the-season creamy corn soup (September 2011)

Deux – slow-roasted cherry tomatoes from the garden (August 2011)

Trois – classic leek and potato soup with cheese crouton (December 2010)

I have to say that both of the soups were striking in their bright clean flavors. The simple preparations, a light hand with fat and seasonings, and relatively short cooking times really allowed the freshness and taste of the vegetables to shine. Kudos to Dorie!

an upside-down cake

September 4, 2012 § 19 Comments

As you can see, I had a hard time wrapping my head around this cake. It looks nothing like the caramelized and streusel-filled Nectarine Upside-Down Chiffon cake by pastry chef Mary Bergin in Baking with Julia. And while my version has a pretty face, I do wish I had remembered to include the streusel; I made it but forgot to add it when filling the cake pan. My cake could have used that extra punch.

Replicating Mary’s nectarine cake was just not to be. First of all, this has been a great year for fruit in Colorado, and our most important fruit crop is probably peaches (move over Georgia). I had bought a case, “inherited” a case and then was given cases of peaches. I needed to preserve the onslaught of peaches without having an extra freezer or the time it takes to make several batches of jam or butter; these babies were RIPE and needed to be processed right away. So I now have several pint jars of canned peaches in light syrup in the basement. I used three of them to make this cake! I opted for granulated instead of the brown sugar under the peaches thinking I’d get some caramelization during baking.

Chiffon cakes, like genoise (remember June’s French Strawberry cake) rely heavily on the nature of eggs, in this case separated yolks and whites. Since I used these lovely farm-sourced eggs which vary in size as well as color, I selected the ones closest to large size. You can also measure them if needed allowing 1/2 oz per yolk, and 1 oz per white. (Check out this new and amusing way to separate eggs.) At this point, the rest of the dry and wet ingredients have been combined and are just waiting for perfectly whipped eggs whites at medium stiffness. If the whites are under whipped they won’t contain enough air to lift the batter, but if they’re over whipped they contain too much air and end up popping as the heated air expands in the oven and your cake collapses. At sea level, you can whip the whites a little stiffer than mine at 5000 feet, but definitely don’t let them start looking like popcorn or weep, both signs of severe over beating and impending cake disaster. Start over, it’s worth it.

“Sacrifice” 1/4 to 1/3 of the whipped eggs whites to lighten the batter. I just quickly whisk in with the mixer attachment and avoid one more things to wash. Don’t worry if the whites are streaky in the batter at this point.

Now add the rest of the egg whites and quickly fold in with the spatula. Stop once the batter looks uniformly mixed. If you continue to fold pass this point, you start to deflate the batter and are also on the road to a tough cake.

Working quickly to avoid losing the precious breath of your cake, pour it into the prepared cake pan (don’t forget to have buttered the sides) and level by just tilting the pan around instead of using the spatula to smooth the surface (the less touching, the better now). Here’s the cake just before going into the oven, and here’s my streusel I discover in the refrigerator just after that. Oh yeah, forgot to bake and cool the streusel, so it’s not going to happen this time.

Another altitude adjustment I made was to increase the oven temperature by 25°F for the first 10-15 minutes of baking, but again I forgot to turn the oven back down to the correct temperature. So it’s a little dark on top, but you see how level it is as the top sets before it can dome too much and then collapse. The final verdict after altitude adjustments and boo-boos? Pretty peaches, but the cake’s a little too wet (almost like pudding, if you like that) just underneath them. Beautiful yellow color, but actually a little too eggy in taste for chiffon to me. A little bit of a plain-jane, should’ve remembered the streusel layer and used the brown sugar with the peaches.

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