Sunday, April 26, 2015

Jacques Pépin's Crème Brûlée

Crème brûlée is the ultimate in classic French desserts.  Smooth creamy custard topped off with that crackly caramelized sugar...C'est Magnifique!  Light and luscious, it's the perfect way to end just about any meal.

Jacques' recipe is simple and straightforward. The custard, which we all know can be difficult, came together perfectly and was hands down the easiest and best custard I've ever made.  I poured the beautiful custard into my ramekins with great satisfaction and baked the custards in a water bath as directed. Jacques said to check the water bath to ensure the water didn't come to a boil. I checked ten minutes into baking and the water was still warm and not boiling. I felt 100% sure my crème brûlée was going to be perfect! However, I checked back a few minutes later and the water was boiling! "No, no, no"  I scream to myself as I throw ice cubes into the pan frantically. The water stopped boiling immediately but by that time I was feeling rather deflated. I carefully watched the water from that point on and allowed the crème brûlée to finish it's cooking time.

The crème brûlée was still delicious but since the water bath came to a boil for a few minutes they didn't have that smooth silky texture I was after.  I'm actually quite happy the crème brûlée turned out at all considering my faux pas.  Moral of the story: When making crème brûlée start with cool water and occasionally throw in ice cubes to lower the temp of the water bath. No matter how much time you spend in the kitchen you always learn new tricks and that is part of the fun. Looking forward to trying this one again so I can master it!
Crème Brûlée
Adapted from Essential Pepin
by Jacques Pepin
Serves 6

1 cup milk
1/2 vanilla bean, cut in half
1 large egg
4 large egg yolks
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 cup heavy cream

6 tablespoons light brown sugar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Combine the milk and vanilla in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Cover, remove from the heat, and let steep for 5 minutes.

Beat the egg and egg yolks with the sugar in a bowl and add the cream. Add the steeped milk mixture, stirring well to mix thoroughly.  Strain through a fine strainer. 

Arrange six 1/2-cup souffle dishes or ramekins in a roasting pan and fill them with the crème brûlée mixture. Add enough lukewarm water to the pan to come halfway up the sides of the dishes. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until the crème is set. (The water around the dishes should not boil; if it begins to boil, add some ice to lower the temperature and stop the boiling.)  Remove the custards from the water bath and let cool.  When the custards are cool, cover and refrigerate until cold.  You can make the custards up to 3 days ahead.
 At serving time, or no more than 1 hour beforehand, preheat the broiler.  This can also be done with a propane torch. Spread 2 teaspoons of the brown sugar evenly over the top of each custard. Place the custards under the broiler and broil, moving them around and watching them closely, until the sugar bubbles and turns uniformly brown, approximately 3 minutes.  Let cool for at least 10 minutes, until the sugar surface hardens, before serving.
Theme: C'est Magnifique!

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Jacques Pepin's Coquilles St. Jacques

I'm fairly certain there are no words, or pictures, that are good enough to describe how magnificent Pepin's Coquilles St. Jacques were. This classical French recipe exceeded our expectations. It's fair to say it blew our minds!

Don't make the same mistake as me and wait too long to make this one.  Add it to the top of your list, move it to the top of your list, or do whatever you gotta do...but make this and make this soon!

Coquilles St. Jacques, or gratin of scallops, is fit for royalty! It's very impressive on the plate and oh so heavenly. It all begins with a mushroom puree that cooks down for 25 minutes resulting in a very earthy and concentrated mushroom flavor. This mushroom base is the first layer of flavor and this layer is so flavorful you need little seasoning elsewhere. Next up is a beautifully seasoned poaching liquid whereby the scallops are poached until perfectly tender. This poaching liquid is then reduced and added to a velvety cream and Gruyere cheese sauce that is the stuff of dreams. Seriously.  Layer this heavenly sauce over the scallops and broil until browned and bubbly for a sensational first course, or even main course, fit for entertaining royalty.

This is my selection for this months Mystery Box Madness over at IHCC. We were given a list of ten ingredients (Scallops, Tarragon, Sour Cream, Walnuts, Capers, Asparagus, White Beans, Gruyere, Yeast, and Rice) to cook with and had to chose at least three. I chose scallops, tarragon, and Gruyere simply because I have little experience cooking with scallops and I'm so happy I chose to make Pepin's Coquilles St. Jacques. It's one of our new favorite dishes!

Coquilles St. Jacques
Recipe found on Saveur
by Jacques Pepin
Serves 6

 8 oz. button mushrooms, minced
6 tbsp. unsalted butter
3 small shallots, minced
2 tbsp. minced parsley
1 tbsp. minced tarragon, plus 6 whole leaves, to garnish
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
¾ cup dry vermouth
1 bay leaf
6 large sea scallops
2 tbsp. flour
½ cup heavy cream
⅔ cup grated Gruyère
½ tsp. fresh lemon juice

Heat mushrooms, 4 tbsp. butter, and ⅔ of the shallots in a 4-qt. saucepan over medium heat; cook until the mixture forms a loose paste, about 25 minutes. Stir parsley and minced tarragon into mushroom mixture; season with salt and pepper. Divide mixture among 6 cleaned scallop shells or shallow gratin dishes. Bring remaining shallots, vermouth, bay leaf, salt, and ¾ cup water to a boil in a 4-qt. saucepan over medium heat. Add scallops; cook until barely tender, about 2 minutes. Remove scallops; place each over mushrooms in shells. Continue boiling cooking liquid until reduced to ½ cup, about 10 minutes; strain. Heat broiler to high. Heat remaining butter in a 2-qt. saucepan over medium heat. Add flour; cook until smooth, about 2 minutes. Add reduced cooking liquid and cream; cook until thickened, about 8 minutes. Add cheese, juice, salt, and pepper; divide the sauce over scallops. Broil until browned on top, about 3 minutes; garnish each with a tarragon leaf.
Theme: April Mystery Box Madness

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Jacques Pepin's Pasta & Ham Gratin

This glorious gratin is a fantastic way to use up that leftover ham from Easter.  A comforting combination of pasta, ham, peas, and Gruyere cheese tossed in a creamy and smooth bechamel sauce then topped with a lots of Parmesan that gets all browned and crispy.  It's heavenly!

This is the first Jacques Pepin recipe that I've made and it was a smashing success! I'm really looking forward to cooking and exploring Pepin's recipes. He has a large variety of recipes from various cuisines around the world, but it's his traditional French recipes that really draw me in. Over the next six months I hope to get familiar with lots of classical French dishes, from Coquilles St. Jacques to Chocolate Mousse. Who knows, I may even try my hand at some homemade croissants!

Time to break out the butter and Champagne.

Pasta, Ham, and Veggie Gratin
Adapted from Fast Food My Way
by Jacques Pepin
Serves 4

Jacques says, "My mother loved gratins, and leftover meat and cold cuts always found their way into our pasta, usually along with zucchini or peas. I have made gratins for my family through the years."

About 1-3/4 cups pasta shells or penne
1-1/2 cups diced cooked ham
3/4 cup cooked corn kernels (1 ear of corn)*
1/2 cup peas, fresh or frozen
1-1/2 cups cubed  (1/2-inch) zucchini*
3/4 cup grated Swiss/Gruyere/Emmenthaler cheese
salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

White Sauce:
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 cups milk
1/2 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Note: I didn't have corn or zucchini so I opted to use only peas. Broccoli and/or Cauliflower would also be nice.

 Bring about 2 quarts salted water to a boil in a large saucepan. Add the pasta, stir well, and return to a boil.  Boil, uncovered, until cooked but still slightly firm, or al dente, about 12 minutes. Drain, cool under cold running water, then drain again. (You will have 3 cups.)

Put the cooked pasta in a large bowl and stir in the ham, corn, peas, zucchini, salt, pepper, and cheese.

For the white sauce:  Melt the butter in a saucepan, add the flour, and mix it in with a whisk. Add the milk and bring to a boil, stirring occasionally with the whisk, especially at the edges of the saucepan. The sauce should thicken. Remove the pan from the heat, and mix in the cream. Let cool to lukewarm.

Heat the broiler.  Combine the sauce with the pasta mixture in the bowl and transfer to a gratin dish or shallow baking dish with about 6 cup capacity.  Sprinkle the Parmesan cheese on top.

Broil about 4 inches from the heat source for 6-8 minutes, or until bubbly hot and the surface is lightly browned.  Serve immediately.

Make Ahead Instructions: The gratin can be made ahead, sprinkled with Parmesan, and kept, covered at room temperature for a few hours or refrigerated for up to a day before it is finished in the oven. If refrigerated, bring back to room temperature and bake on a cookie sheet for about 30 minutes in a 425F oven until heated through and lightly browned on top. Do not try to keep the cooked gratin in a warm oven for more than 10 to 15 minutes, or the pasta will swell up in the liquid and become gooey.
I Heart Cooking Clubs
Theme: Bonjour Jacque Pepin

Sunday, April 5, 2015

My Top Five Diana Henry Recipes

Over at I Heart Cooking Clubs we've been cooking the recipes of Diana Henry for the past six months. Usually I have a tendency to chose main dish recipes, but this time around I mixed it up and cooked quite a selection. I made breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I made vegetarian dishes as well as meat-based dishes. I cooked some of her healthy recipes but also managed a few indulgent dishes. I even made a dessert! Everything I made was tasty, but these were my top five!

Click on recipe name to be redirected to original post

Of all the Diana Henry recipes I tried, this Kale Pesto with Pasta was my personal favorite. I'm rather biased since I happen to love kale, but I will say that everyone in my house thought this was delicious! Hearty, flavorful, robust and satisfying...I've made it a few times already.

If I were to pick an overall family favorite, it would be these Asian Pork Balls with Chili Dipping Sauce. They were pretty much exploding with flavor and incredibly fun to eat. They disappeared in record time.

Of course, it's hard to beat a good ol' indulgent bowl of creamy pasta and this Spaghetti with Bacon, Egg, and Cheese is just that. This dish is a mix between Fettuccine Alfredo and Spaghetti Carbonara and is perfect comfort food. My teenage daughter loved it!

Broccoli is pretty much our favorite veggie, hands down.  My entire family enjoyed this refreshing Broccoli with Ricotta, Lemon, and Parmesan. If you're looking for a fun new way to serve your broccoli give this a try!

Lastly, I love all things maple. This maple baked granola is perfect as a snack, served with milk, or sprinkled over yogurt. Doesn't really matter what type of fruit or nuts you mix into it. Just pour the maple syrup on your choice of ingredients and bake.
Theme: Farewell Diana Henry!
For the next six months we will be cooking the recipes of the one and only Jacques Pepin! It's going to be a wonderful adventure cooking up his recipes. If you would like to cook along, visit our site at I Heart Cooking Clubs, or click here to be directed to our Welcome page.