Archive for the ‘Year-round’ Category

‘Pain perdu’ is ‘lost bread’ is French toast

16 January 2019

A sign of the times, my grand old age, or a big sister’s indefatigable propaganda, I’ve become much better at not throwing food away. No doubt the most common victim of under-consumption (or, rather, over-acquisition) in our house is bread. Pain perdu is my favorite recycling method.

‘Pain perdu‘ is French toast, though it isn’t specifically French. Its French name means ‘lost bread,’ though it may not always have been about saving stale bread.

Historical references date back to a Roman cookbook, Apicius de re Coquinariawhose exact date and origins are imprecise though probably from the third century: white bread soaked in milk and beaten egg, fried, and drizzled with honey. One of many aliter dulcia (‘other sweet dish’).

Later references to bread soaked, spiced, and cooked span countries and centuries, and has assumed many names. ‘Eggy toast’ and ‘German bread,’ ‘poor knights of Windsor’ in English, Arme Ritter in German. English references from the 17th century describe a bread soaked in wine rather than milk — the origin of its now most common epithet?

Pointing to the use of brioche and spices, both the Oxford Food Dictionary and Larousse Gastronomique suggest a dish too precious, historically, to be a recipe about stale bread. But is there necessarily a contradiction — even a royal kitchen will have had ways to reuse old bread.

My method is to cut the pieces of bread into small chunks, creating a Kaiserschmarrnstyle French toast.

‘Pain perdu’ recipe
Quantities for about 3 cups of cubed bread

About 3 cups of cubed stale bread
Whole milk (at least 2 cups)
3 eggs
2 Tbsps sugar
1/4 tsp cinnamon
Pinch of nutmeg
Small handful of raisins
Apple or pear
Unsalted butter or clarified butter, which is less prone to burning
Maple syrup to serve. Also, optionally berries or a fruit compote.

Place the cubed bread in a large bowl and pour just enough milk over the bread for it to be absorbed. Let this sit, tossing occasionally, until the bread is moistened. This can take anywhere from about 5 to 20 minutes, depending on the type of bread and how hard it is (beware not to let the bread soak for too long, the pieces of bread should be wet through but not become crumbly and disintegrate).

In a smaller bowl, beat the eggs with a fork and add another 250 ml (1 cup) of milk, the sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, and raisins. Beat well to combine and pour the egg/milk mixture over the bread. The bread should absorb the liquid with a bit left over. If it is too dry, add some milk. If it’s too ‘liquidy,’ don’t pour all of the liquid into the cooking pan (otherwise it won’t brown, it will become a soggy omelet).

Peel, core, and cut the fruit into quarters and then eights.

Heat a heavy cast-iron or non-stick skillet over medium to high heat. Melt a generous pat of butter in the skillet, and when hot, pour in the wet bread/egg mixture. Let it brown for a good few minutes before stirring. If using apple, add it now. Cook and stir until all the pieces of bread are golden (occasionally, if necessary, I add more butter).

Serve with maple syrup or accompanied with berries or a fruit compote.

Tahini chocolate chip cookies

30 June 2017

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I had never made chocolate chip cookies. I am not sure I had ever even eaten a chocolate chip cookie. I exaggerate, of course, but only slightly. I have never found chocolate chip cookies very exciting. But hint at the addition of tahini, and I suddenly find myself ensnared in a cookie baking extravaganza.

You are enraged by my disparagement. But listen. Tahini transports that rather pedestrian cookie to a different place, another time, other scents, new flavors. Suddenly, I am traveling, just with the whiffs from my oven, all in that first bite.

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I understand your skepticism, why take advice from a self-declared chocolate chip cookie non-believer? Because, whether you love chocolate chip cookies or not, these are special.

Even David Lebovitz says so: ‘[They] were some of the best chocolate chip cookies that have ever come out of my oven…’ — See?

Salted tahini chocolate chip from Danielle Oron via David Lebovitz
Note: Plan ahead, the dough should rest overnight before baking

230 g dark chocolate (1 3/4 cups once cut into chunks)
115 g (8 Tbsps) butter, softened at room temperature
120 g (1/2 cup) tahini
100 g (1/2 cup) granulated sugar
90 g (1/2 cup) packed light brown sugar
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
150 g (1 cup plus 2 Tbsps) flour
3/4 tsp baking soda
1 tsp sea salt
Fleur de sel or Maldon sea salt to sprinkle on the cookies at the end (optional)

Chop the chocolate into rough chunks (about 1/2 or 1/4 inch).

Make sure the butter is very soft. In a bowl or stand mixer, beat together the butter, tahini, and sugars until light and fluffy (a good 3 to 5 minutes).

Add the egg, yolk, and vanilla extract and continue to stir until the egg is well incorporated (another few minutes).

In a separate bowl, whisk the flour, baking soda and sea salt.

Add the flour mixture to the butter/egg/sugar, mixing lightly until just combined. Add the chocolate, mindful not to overmix. Cover the dough and let it rest in the refrigerator overnight (or up to one week if it’s more convenient!).

When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 160°C (325°F) and line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

With a spoon or with your hands, form a small ball for each cookie. Place the balls on the baking sheet, at least 8 cm (3 cm) apart (the cookies will spread!).

Bake the cookies for 12 to 15 minutes, depending on their size. Best to watch them like a hawk and remove the cookies from the oven as soon as they turn golden on the outside but are still pale and soft in the middle (I overcooked my batch!). Immediately sprinkle with few flakes of salt, if using.

Let cool before eating. The cookies will keep for a few days at room temperature in a cookie jar.

 

Quail eggs with cumin salt

22 June 2017

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Since we’re talking about apéros, here is one of my favorite things to accompany those pre-dinner drinks.

The idea is from Moro The Cookbook, which I talked about in detail some time ago. Re-reading now what I wrote then has inspired me to delve back in, because in the intervening years the only things I’ve made from the book were the Pimentón roasted almonds and these quail eggs; there is so much more!

It’s hard to overstate the simplicity: Boil the eggs — four minutes. Run them under cold water. Toast the cumin seeds lightly, grind them with some sea salt.

It can be made ahead. It’s so simple, so pretty, and so good! And now that we’ve all stopped smoking, we need something to occupy idle hands while drinking our negronis.

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Quail eggs with cumin salt recipe from Moro The Cookbook

Quail eggs (a dozen serves about 4)
2 tsps cumin seeds
1 tsp sea salt

Boil the quail eggs in a gentle simmer for 4 minutes. Remove from heat, run under cold water, let cool.

In a small saucepan, roast the cumin seeds on low until just beginning to change color, about 2 to 3 minutes.

In a mortar, grind the cumin seeds with the sea salt. Transfer to a small serving bowl.

To eat, peel each egg and dip it in the cumin salt for every mouthful.

Surprisingly manageable duck confit

28 April 2017

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‘Why on earth make duck confit in the first place?’ Fair question. ‘Why on earth make duck confit again?’ Even more to the point. And again?! Because there is a happy ending.

Many moons and about a decade ago I made duck confit. Why? Well, I was in New York, where confit duck is not, as in France, available on every supermarket shelf. I must have been in an experimental mood. And I certainly had no idea what I was getting myself into. As I remember the experience — faintly (the worst ones fade) — I see endless vats of rendering, handling, splashing, filtering duck fat (it was actually probably goose fat). It took hours, days, perhaps weeks? In the end the thighs were much too salty.

And yet, I did it again. — Why?

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Perhaps because so much time had gone by that I had glossed over the experience? Because I was again/still in a country where duck confit is somewhat elusive? Because I don’t like to leave things on a frustrating experience?

Because in April Bloomfield’s book A Girl and Her Pig there is a duck confit recipe that fits on one page.

It works. It’s not that hard. It’s worth the adventure.

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Duck confit recipe from A Girl and Her Pig by April Bloomfield adapted for 6 duck legs. The process takes 2 days and is best made some time in advance.

36 peppercorns
36 juniper berries
8 dried pequin chilies or pinches of red pepper flakes
1/2 small cinnamon stick
Small handfull fresh thyme
10 medium garlic cloves
1/3 cup coarse sea salt
6 duck legs
About 1.4 kg duck (or goose) fat

In a mortar, crush together the peppercorns, juniper, chilies, and cinnamon. There should be fine and coarse bits. Add the thyme leaves picked from the stems and the garlic and crush some more to obtain a coarse paste. In a small bowl, mix the spice mixture with the salt.

Place the duck legs in a shallow dish and rub the salt/spice mixture all over the legs. Cover with plastic wrap and leave in the refrigerator overnight.

The next day, very slowly heat the fat in a small pot that will perfectly fit the duck legs (I used a 10″/25cm pot). Rinse the duck legs and pat them dry with a paper towel, then carefully put the legs in the fat. The legs must be completely submerged — if they are not, use  a smaller pot or add a bit more fat. Cook on extremely low heat for about 2 1/2 hours. There should be barely a simmer. Adjust the heat as necessary.

Remove the pot from the heat and leave the duck legs in the fat to cool completely before placing in the refrigerator, covered with a lid. The legs submerged in fat will keep for a few weeks.

When ready to eat, remove the legs from the congealed fat, and carefully scrape off as much of the fat as possible. Thoroughly heat a heavy skillet/frying pan, add a few generous spoonfuls of the duck fat, and fry the legs over high heat, skin side down, until deliciously crispy. Turn around and fry the other side of the legs too. Serve immediately.

Crispy duck confit is best served with roasted potatoes and a salad of bitter greens (traditionally frisée, but also escarole, radicchio, arugula, etc…).

Baked apples

26 January 2017

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January is the time to huddle close, meet friends, have a pint, a meal, a whiskey nightcap. But after months of cooking and feasting, dim winter days call for easy comforts. Delicious meals that require barely any effort. Hardly a thought. Simple dishes that can be effortlessly adapted with whatever languishes in a pantry in the aftermath of holiday baking marathons.

Baked apples for instance. The basics are simple, the variations many: wash an apple, core it, stuff it, bake it, eat it warm with a dollop of cream.

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Any apple will do. Some hold their figure while others erupt into shapeless volcanoes; anything is fine by me. For the stuffing the elements might be dried fruits — for example raisins, chopped dates, cranberries; chopped nuts — pecans, walnuts, hazelnuts, almonds; some sweetness and spice — brown sugar, dark sugar, honey, maple syrup, cinnamon, lemon zest, ginger, allspice, cardamom. A splash of fortified wine. For serving, a generous spoonful of cream.

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Baked apples recipe

One whole apple per person
Currants (or raisins, cranberries, chopped dates or apricots)
Pecans (or walnuts, hazelnuts, almonds)
Dark muscovado sugar (or brown sugar, honey, maple syrup)
Ginger and cardamom (or cinnamon, allspice, lemon zest)
Sherry (or Marsala, Madeira)
Clotted cream (or crème fraîche, ice cream, yogurt) for serving

Preheat the oven to 375°F (180°C)

Wash and core the apples (leaving them whole)

Toss the nuts, dried fruits, sugar, and spices together. Stuff each apple with the mixture. Sprinkle with a dash of wine if using. Send into the oven for 25 to 40 minutes, until the apples are soft through.

Let cool just a little and serve warm with a spoonful of cream.

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