Posts Tagged ‘food’

‘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Historical references date back to a Roman cookbook, Apicius de re Coquinariawhose exact date and origins are imprecise though probably from the third century: white bread soaked in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.

Notes from the kitchen | Monday chicken legs with spring onions and ginger

15 November 2018

Monday night. Eternal, tedious, domestic conundrum — what to make for dinner? Feeding six requires labour, always. The simplest thing — grating cheese for all the pasta — takes a while.

Forever torn between fantasies of heady stews and lack of time, I go into the butcher’s dreaming of oxtail and grab chicken legs instead. It’s the quickest path to a braised (style) dish. It requires little foresight or planning, barely a thought. There will at the very least be garlic and lemon in the house.

As it happens, today we also have spring onions and celery, ginger and tamari. What began as a resignation, an easy way to finish odds and ends at the bottom of the fridge, has become a legitimate meal, an instant favourite. And with Balthasar’s retro / disco playlist in the background, there may even have been some dancing around the kitchen table.

Chicken legs with spring onions and ginger
Serves 6

6 chicken legs (whole or separated into thighs and drumsticks)
A large chunk of ginger
One bunch — 6 or 7 — spring onions (scallions)
4 or 5 celery stalks
1 small lemon or lime
1 whole head of garlic
Neutral flavored oil
Toasted sesame seed oil
Light soy sauce (or salt)
Tamari soy sauce
Rice vinegar

Preheat the oven to 175°C (350°F).

Remove the chicken from the refrigerator so it has time to come to room temperature.

Prepare the ‘vegetables’:
Peel the ginger and slice it into matchsticks.

For the spring onions, cut off the ends, remove one outer layer, wash, and cut into three.

Top and tail the celery stalks, wash, and cut into pieces of similar length to the spring onions.

Wash, halve lengthwise, and thinly slice the lemon (or lime) into half moons.

Smash the head of garlic with your palm to open it up. Crush each clove with the side of a large knife and remove the skin, which will come off easily.

Roasting:
Pour some oil at the bottom of an oven dish large enough to fit all the pieces of chicken with space to spare. *The pieces should not be too crowded or the skin wil not become crispy.* Scatter all the vegetables at the bottom of the pan, toss with a little oil, and roast in the oven for about 15 minutes.

Coat the chicken legs with sesame sauce.

Once the vegetables have been roasting for about 15 minutes, add the chicken legs to the pan and season everything with a few hits each of light soy sauce, tamari, and rice vinegar.

Roast the chicken for 40 to 45 minutes, basting occasionally with the juice, until brown and crispy on the outside and fully cooked (i.e. juices run clear) inside.

If possible, let the chicken sit for a few minutes. Serve with rice.

Asparagus soup

11 May 2017

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It all starts with the memory of a chilled asparagus soup served with black salt. It was at a friend’s house and I was smitten with the combination. I immediately proceeded to buy black salt — i.e.  Hawaiian lava salt — which added nicely to my slightly frivolous collection (never fewer than five or six salts in the house at any time). And the black salt became the wallflower of my pantry cupboard. Always there, rarely noticed. But every time I did, I thought of asparagus soup.

Quite a few years later, here, then, is the ideal — though entirely optional — use for black salt.

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Asparagus soup recipe inspired from Simon Hopkinson’s Roast Chicken and Other Stories

The soup requires only four ingredients and is very simple if the use of a food processor and then a food mill doesn’t seem like too much trouble.

4 small leeks
1 medium potato
600 g (1 1/2 lbs) green asparagus
120 g (1/2 cup) butter
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Black Hawaiian lava salt to serve (optional)

Prepare the leeks by removing all the green leaves, slicing thinly, and washing thoroughly to remove any grit. Peel the potato and cut into small chunks.

Wash and trim the asparagus stalks to remove the tough ends. Reserve some asparagus tips to garnish the soup: about 8 to 10 tips if the asparagus is quite thin, or 4 to 5 tips to be each cut in half (lengthwise) if the asparagus is thicker. Roughly chop the rest of the stalks.

In a medium saucepan, melt the butter and stew the leeks over low heat until soft (about 5 to 10 minutes), taking care that the leeks don’t color.

Once the leeks have softened, add 750 ml (3 cups) water and the potato. Season with salt and pepper. Cook over medium heat for about 15 minutes until the potato pieces have cooked through.

Add the chopped asparagus stalks (not the reserved tips) to the soup at a lively simmer for another 5 minutes until the asparagus is cooked. *Take care not to overcook at this point, it will damage the delicate taste of the asparagus.*

Transfer the soup to a food processor and blend thoroughly until the soup is as smooth as possible. There will always remain strands from the asparagus, however, which is why the soup then needs to be passed through a food mill (or a fine mesh sieve, but I’ve always found that to be much too fussy).

The soup can be served hot or chilled. Before serving, quickly sautée the asparagus tips in a little olive oil in a small frying pan. *If reheating, use very low heat and take care not to let the soup boil as it will distort the flavor.*

The soup should be garnished with black salt or regular flakey sea salt and pepper, and/or a spoonful of crème fraîche.

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Related recipes

Asparagus salad ** Cauliflower soup ** Roasted leeks

Rhubarb almond cake

5 May 2017

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This is simply the best rhubarb cake, and possibly the best use of rhubarb in any form, in my opinion. (Hmm — on second thought, rhubarb ice cream is high in contention.)

The strands of rhubarb on top are striking, but this cake is much more than a pretty picture. It has excellent crunchiness on the outside; soft, near-cheesecake quality in the center; while the rhubarb’s tartness plays off a subtle sweetness. It is not exactly easy, but it’s certainly worth the — slight — effort.

Rhubarb almond cake recipe from Bon Appétit with just a few tweaks

225 g (1 cup) butter (plus a bit more for the pan)
175 g + 3 Tbsps (3/4 cup and a bit) sugar
450 g (1 lb) rhubarb stalks
150 g (1 1/4 cup) flour
100 g (3/4 cup) blanched almonds (or almond flour)
1 tsp baking powder
3/4 tsp coarse sea salt
1/2 vanilla bean (or 1 tsp pure vanilla extract)
Zest from 1/2 lemon
2 large eggs
60 ml (1/4 cup) plain thick Greek-style yogurt

Bring the butter to room temperature *Note: The batter needs to be beaten for a good length of time, so it is best to use a food processor. However if, like me, you do it all by hand, make sure the butter is very soft before you start, it will make things much easier.*

Preheat oven to 150°C (350°F).

Butter a cake tin (9″ in diameter), sprinkle some sugar and tap out the excess.

Wash the stalks of rhubarb, slice them in half lengthwise (in four parts if the stalks are very thick). Reserve about 8 of the prettiest strands to decorate the cake. Chop the rest of the rhubarb into 1 cm (1/2 inch) pieces.

In a food processor, pulse the flour, almonds, baking powder, and salt until the almonds are finely ground. *Alternatively, if using almond flour, mix all those ingredients thoroughly in a large bowl.*

In another bowl or electric mixer, beat together 225 g butter and 175 g sugar. And beat. And beat. If possible, beat for at least 4 minutes to get the lightest dough. Add the eggs, one at a time, fully incorporating the first before adding the second. Scrape the seeds from the vanilla bean into the batter (or add the vanilla extract), as well as the lemon zest. Beat again vigorously for a good 3 to 4 minutes.

Slowly (without any more beating from this point) incorporate the dry ingredients into the batter, and finally the yogurt. Once everything is combined, add the chopped rhubarb. The batter will be quite thick. Scrape it into the buttered cake pan, smooth the batter as best possible, arrange the reserved strands of rhubarb on top, and sprinkle with 3 tablespoons of sugar.

Place the cake in the oven and bake for 70-80 minutes until the cake is set and a knife comes out clean. It will have browned nicely on top.

Let the cake cool completely before removing from the tin.

This cake gets better overnight and it keeps for a few days well wrapped at room temperature or in the refrigerator.

Related recipes

Rhubarb ice cream  **  Rhubarb compote

Rhubarb raspberry crostata  **  Rhubarb rosemary jam

Rhubarb rosemary syrup

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…).


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