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Thursday, April 30, 2009

Cooking from Scratch--When Is It Worth It?

I wasn't really surprised yesterday when every single person who commented on my post said that they thought that cooking from scratch is almost always worth it because everyone who commented is a food blogger. I know I have some non-blogging lurkers out there. (I see you, Mom and Shannon!) So, I want to take this idea a step further. The article from Slate.com focused on some strange choice, I think, for from-scratch cooking. Bagels, okay, but cream cheese??? I have a two year old and am not taking the time to make that when it comes in a nice little tub already whipped at the grocery store. But there have to be some really great things that we all think are totally worth it to make from scratch...


So, when is it worth it to cook from scratch? Penelope inspired this question when she mentioned in the comments that biscotti is one of those foods that is surprisingly easy (and better) to make from scratch. I've found recently that tarts and quiches are pretty easy to make, but I'm really wondering what you have found is surprisingly easy to make.

In that same vein, what has been surprisingly difficult to make from scratch? One of my first posts was about how difficult I found it to make truffles--now that I've tried to make them, I'd much rather just buy them! I'd love to hear your stories as well.

Please leave links if you've posted about any of these easy/not-so-easy-to-make-from-scratch foods!

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Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Cooking from Scratch--Is It Worth It?

The rain here the last couple of days in Strasbourg has made me a little "blah" about food, so I've fallen back on some tried, true and blogged about comfort recipes. Last night I made potage crécy (or carrot soup, but I like the fancy, frenchified name better, don't you?!) and grilled cheese (made with Mimolette cheese, the closest I can find to a cheddar taste without breaking the bank here). I've made a few soups from scratch before, but none had ever made it into our normal rotation of meals. I'm not really sure why that is, but after my experience of cooking almost all of our food from scratch while living in France, I'm not sure how I'll adapt to all of those pre-packaged foods we can get in our mega-grocery stores in the U.S. I've already been thinking of ways to cook larger batches and freeze them so that my family will have made-from-scratch meals without the hassle of having to cook them all at the end of a long-day's work.

All of that to say that you should check out this article on Slate.com about whether or not it's worth it to cook from scratch. What do you think?

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Monday, April 27, 2009

Monday Mouthful--Flammekueche Roundup and Next Week's Challenge


This week's Monday Mouthful challenge was Flammekueche, and I was pleasantly surprised at how it turned out. I was a little fearful because although the recipe came from a trustworthy source, I had never made it before. I decided to go the traditional route because 1) I like traditional Flammekueche and 2) I forgot to get the fruit to make the dessert one! Good thing, though that I forgot the fruit because the entire two "pies" were eaten up at dinner. I did make one minor change and used red onions instead of the typical yellow onions--because I used up all the yellow ones the night before! I think I prefer yellow onions, but this was still tasty and very close to what I've had in restaurants here in Strasbourg. The only changes I'd make would be to roll out the crust a little more and season the crème fraiche a little more heavily for added flavor. If you weren't able to participate, I encourage you to try this...it's a great and easy alternative to pizza and would make some fabulous hors d'oeuvres.


Thanks to the other bloggers who participated this week! Please take a look at their takes on the traditional Alsatian dish--their submissions all had me drooling!

The Daily Spud--True to form, The Daily Spud made a lovely potato Flammekueche, which elicited an excited, "Wow! That looks good!" from my husband.

ChefE at CookAppeal--ChefE, as always, took the recipe a couple of steps further and added some beer to the crust and asparagus to both her "pie" and to her Flammekueche calzones...yummm!

And ChefE has announced next week's French challenge...Champignons de Paris! This challenge will be left open to your imagination, so we're looking for dishes (hopefully French ones!) that use mushrooms or are served with a mushroom sauce. If you haven't had a chance to join us yet, please feel free to jump in whenever! As always, if you participate, please email your link to me at mindysmouthful(at)gmail(dot)com or ChefE at elizabeth(at)cookappeal(dot)com! We'll post our results, your links, and the next challenge on Monday.

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Daring Bakers: Bailey's Cheesecake with Dulce de Leche and Chocolate


Cheesecake has always seemed like one of those desserts that is too time consuming, too sensitive, and just too much work for me. Luckily, I joined the Daring Bakers about three months ago to stretch my baking skills. The April 2009 challenge is hosted by Jenny from Jenny Bakes. She has chosen Abbey's Infamous Cheesecake as the challenge. Which is really a challenge for me. Don't scoff, but it just seems like there's a lot to mess up with a cheesecake. Especially when the recipe calls for graham crackers, and I live in France. And even more especially when the recipe calls for cream cheese, and I live in France. After a lot of research, I settled on using fromage a tartiner instead of cream cheese and bastogne cookies for the crust. And voilà, my first cheesecake turned out well! (Although not without its minor problems...)


We had free reign to be creative, so I decided to make a Bailey's Cheesecake with Dulce de Leche and Chocolate. The cheesecake was moist and fluffy and the toppings were a great addition to the flavors. Unfortunately, the Bailey's didn't shine through as much as I would have liked, but the cheesecake was still very rich in flavor. I made a chocolate topping that I ended up having to pipe on because it was so thick...next time I'd like to thin it out a little to make it look a little less uniform in appearance. And finally, I bought a cheesecake springform pan for this, and although it said that it was one piece, I didn't find out that it was actually two pieces until after I baked the cake! This resulted in a soggy crust, but it was still tasty!

Here is the recipe with my modifications, although since I just subbed a few things, you can always do the traditional cheesecake with cream cheese and graham crackers by using the same amounts as the fromage a tartiner and bastogne cookies.

Bailey's Cheesecake with Dulce de Leche and Chocolate
adapted from Abbey's Infamous Cheesecake


Crust:
2 cups bastogne cookie (or other spice cookie) crumbs
1 stick / 4 oz / 115 g butter, melted
2 Tbl / 24 g sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract

Cheesecake:
24 oz / 680 g fromage a tartiner, room temperature
1 cup / 210 g sugar
3 large eggs or 4 medium eggs
1 cup / 8 oz / 225 g heavy cream
1 Tbl lemon juice
1 Tbl vanilla extract (or the innards of a vanilla bean)
1 1/2 Tbl Bailey's Irish Cream

Dulce de Leche:
1 can sweetened condensed milk

Hard Chocolate Topping:
5 ounces semi-sweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
1/4 cup unsalted butter

DIRECTIONS:
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (Gas Mark 4 = 180C = Moderate heat). Begin to boil a large pot of water for the water bath.

2. Mix together the crust ingredients and press into your preferred pan. You can press the crust just into the bottom, or up the sides of the pan too. (You will need more cookie crumbs if you want a crust up the side.) Set crust aside.

3. Combine cream cheese and sugar in the bowl of a stand-mixer (or in a large bowl if using a hand-mixer) and cream together until smooth. Add eggs, one at a time, fully incorporating each before adding the next. Make sure to scrape down the bowl in between each egg. Add heavy cream, vanilla, lemon juice, and alcohol and blend until smooth and creamy.

4. Pour batter into prepared crust and tap the pan on the counter a few times to bring all air bubbles to the surface. Place pan into a larger pan and pour boiling water into the larger pan until halfway up the side of the cheesecake pan. If cheesecake pan is not airtight, cover bottom securely with foil before adding water. (I did not do this as mentioned above, but apparently, you can also just put the pan of water on the bottom of your oven and bake the cheesecake on a rack above to prevent cracking.)

5. Bake 45 to 55 minutes, until it is almost done - this can be hard to judge, but you're looking for the cake to hold together, but still have a lot of jiggle to it in the center. You don't want it to be completely firm at this stage. Close the oven door, turn the heat off, and let rest in the cooling oven for one hour. This lets the cake finish cooking and cool down gently enough so that it won't crack on the top. After one hour, remove cheesecake from oven and lift carefully out of water bath. Let it finish cooling on the counter, and then cover and put in the fridge to chill or put in the freezer for a few hours for easier removal from pan. Just cut around the edge of the pan and run the pan over a hot burner for a few seconds to release it. Turn it over onto a plate (if frozen, this will not affect the top of your cheesecake) and then back over onto your serving dish.

6. While baking the cake, you will need to prepare the dulce de leche. Place an unopened can of sweetened condensed milk (remove the label first) in a large stock pot (tall enough to be able to cover the can by at least four inches of water. Fill the stockpot with water so that it covers the can by at least four inches and cover. Bring to a boil and let it boil for 3 1/2 hours at a consistent, steady boil. Keep checking the water level in your pot--if it goes below four inches, add boiling water as needed. After 3 1/2 hours, turn the heat off and let it cool. Once cooled, open your can and enjoy! (**WARNING!!! During the boiling, it is extremely important to keep the can well covered by water at all times or the cans may explode, risking severe burns and a huge mess in your kitchen!!!) --borrowed from The Homesteading Housewife

7. Spread the cooled dulce de leche over the cheesecake. Put in refrigerator to chill.

8. For the hardened chocolate topping, melt the chocolate and the butter in the top of a double boiler over simmering water. Stir frequently until melted. Let cool and then decorate the top of the dulce de leche layer in whichever manner you choose.

9. Store the cheesecake in the refrigerator until you're ready to serve.


If you'd like to check out what other Daring Bakers made, check out the blogroll!

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Sunday, April 26, 2009

Kugelhopf Ice Cream from Corde à Linge




One of our favorite restaurants in Strasbourg is Corde à Linge, a restaurant specializing in Spätzle, a German noodle. The restaurant itself is great for many reasons, including its unique and tasty fare, but also its prime location in Petite France (one of the most picturesque areas of Strasbourg) and the fact that the restaurant is open and serves food all day long (either in the laundry-themed interior or outside next to the river). Another draw is the moderate pricing--Strasbourg can rival Paris with its restaurant prices, and any sit-down restaurant that doesn't leave you penniless at the end of the meal is a winner in my book!

But really, something that may easily be overlooked at this restaurant are their desserts. They are all homemade, beautiful and tasty. I've had several, but the one that I go back to again and again is their Kugelhopf ice cream. (Kugelhopf is a dry bread that can either be sweet or savory and is shaped almost like a bundt cake.) The ice cream is shaped to look like the traditional Kugelhopf and is a little taste of ice cream heaven. I don't know exactly what is in this little gem, but I believe there is a little bit of Riesling and raisins. But what I do know is that I'll be filing this away in my "Must-Try-To-Recreate" file when I return home (and to all of my kitchen gadgets)!

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Saturday, April 25, 2009

Food Challenges and Adopt-a-Blogger #3

I meant to mention this a while back, but Lori over at Fake Food Free is hosting a "Mango Recipe Challenge," so head on over and check it out! (But don't enter because I want that basket of Brazilian goodies all to myself! ;-) Just kidding...) Lori has a great blog that focuses on healthy eating and her experience with food while living abroad. Go check it out!


The second food challenge is mine (but I don't have a snazzy button like Lori does...maybe I'll have to make one!) As mentioned previously, ChefE at CookAppeal and I are hosting a French/German recipe challenge. While we don't have any special goodies to give away, we'd love for you to join in the fun and try some (hopefully) new recipes from French and German cultures. We'll be doing this for the next few weeks, so feel free to join in one or all Monday Mouthfuls! We'll be posting our results of our Flammekueche attempts this Monday, so email me at mindysmouthful(at)gmail(dot)com or ChefE at elizabeth(at)cookappeal(dot)com with a link to your blog post (or pictures and story if you don't have a blog).

And finally, I've been adopted! That is, through Dine and Dish's Adopt-a-Blogger program. As a newbie food blogger, I've been matched with Kathy over at Panini Happy and Cooking on the Side. I'm so excited because I've already been following both of Kathy's blogs and love them! Go check them out...


Thanks to Kristen over at Dine and Dish for organizing this--she has an incredible 114 bloggers participating in this event!

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Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Roasted Tomato and Brown Rice Stuffed Peppers

Last week, I roasted a huge batch of tomatoes--normal ones for Pasta alla Puttanesca and cherry tomatoes to try out The Second Lunch's Roasted Tomato and Brown Rice Stuffed Peppers. I often find time-consuming recipes that I'd love to try, but having a two year old under my feet prevents me from spending hours in the kitchen, so I've come up with some time-saving techniques to have my cake and eat it too. (This begs the question...do mothers get to eat their cake too??? I'm not so sure about that one yet!) One of those techniques is setting aside some time (perhaps naptime?) to prep ingredients for meals later in the week.


This week, my meal list had two recipes that called for roasted tomatoes. (What can I say? I'm wishing summer into existence!) So, I roasted them all at once, let them cool, and then put them in tupperware in the fridge until I was ready to use them. Looking back, I should have used that time to pre-cook the rice as well...


All of this was in preparation to make these beautiful stuffed peppers:


I grew up eating stuffed bell peppers, which was one of my favorite dishes my mom made, but I was looking for something a little lighter than what my mom made--basically meatloaf with rice in the pepper--and came across this little gem. It uses brown rice, which I've decided to try to put in my diet whenever possible, and packs quite a flavorful punch! I didn't serve this with the yogurt as suggested, but my husband and I both agreed that it would add a nice richness to the dish. The original recipe called for ground turkey, but our family just isn't into ground poultry, so I went the ground beef route. It could also be made into a vegetarian dish very easily. Either way, it's worth a try!


Roasted Tomato and Brown Rice Stuffed Peppers
adapted ever-so-slightly from The Second Lunch

2 cups cooked brown rice
1 lb. cooked ground beef (seasoned well with cumin, salt, pepper, chile powder)
1 onion
olive oil
2 cups cherry tomatoes
2 cloves of garlic
a few tablespoons of freshly torn basil
salt and pepper
4 red bell peppers
A good glug of balsamic vinegar
1 tsp each of dried thyme and oregano
Small handful of fresh parsley
olive oil
plain yogurt (optional)

1. While brown rice is cooking, pop a few handfuls of cherry tomatoes in a pan with some olive oil, garlic cloves, salt, pepper, and freshly torn basil. Cook at about 300 degrees F, until the rice is done, about 40 minutes. (This can be done ahead of time and stored in the refrigerator.)

2. If cooking all at once, right after popping the tomatoes in the oven, start the ground turkey, first sauteeing an onion in a little bit of olive oil for about 10 minutes until soft, and then adding the ground beef, and cooking until well browned. Season with salt, pepper, cumin, and chili powder to taste.

3. When the rice, tomatoes, and ground beef are done, stir together in a bowl, and add a good glug of balsamic vinegar, and the thyme and oregano.

Assembling the peppers:

4. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Line a deep baking tray or roasting tray with foil, and grease lightly.

5. Cut the peppers lengthwise, leaving the stem in place, but scooping out any seeds and excess white bits. For smaller peppers, feel free to lop off the top instead of cutting lengthwise. Place the peppers in the baking tray, season with a little salt, and pour on a little bit of olive oil.

6. Stuff the peppers with the mixture, place in the pan, and cover with foil, cook for 45 minutes at 400 F, uncover and cook for about 10 more minutes, or until top has lightly browned.

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Monday, April 20, 2009

Monday Mouthful Roundup and Next Week's Challenge: Flammekueche

Thanks to all who participated in Monday Mouthful this week! Please check out the following bloggers who whipped up the Rustic French Meatloaf at a moment's notice:**

Mindy at, well, um, this blog made a Rustic Alsatian Meatloaf.

ChefE at CookAppeal made lovely little Rustic Mini French Pâté Loaves. They're so cute and look delicious with the addition of a vintage tomato jelly.

Greg at Sippity Sup made the most beautiful Terrine de Campagne. His French terrine mold is going onto my Amazon wishlist ASAP!

**Please check back in case there were any late entries! :-) And please feel free to join in any of the Monday Mouthful adventures! Just email me at mindysmouthful(at)gmail(dot)com or ChefE at elizabeth(at)cookappeal(dot)com with a link to your entry (or for non-bloggers, let me know, and we'll work something out!)

And for the big reveal (drum roll, please): Next week we'll be making Flammekueche! This is a typical Alsatian dish which is served literally everywhere in Alsace. I'm cheating a little because it's a little German and a little French...just like Alsace. (If you'd like to know a little more about the region, check out my previous post.) This tasty pizza-like dish, made with a very, very thin crust and topped with all sorts of things, both savory and sweet. I've chosen the most typical recipe, the traditional flammekueche (or tarte flambée in French), which is topped with crème fraîche, bacon and onions. You can make the recipe below or be as creative as you'd like. It can be served as an appetizer, main dish, or if sweet, even as dessert. (One of my favorites around here is a pear and dark chocolate flammekueche.) It's traditionally baked in a wood-fired oven, so if you have one of those laying around, feel free to bake it in there! (Otherwise, you can just use the oven like most of the rest of us...)

Feel free to google either "flammekueche" or "tarte flambée" to get a sense for what this actually looks like--there weren't any images that I felt comfortable putting on here as an example, but there are plenty out there.

Flammekueche or Tarte Flambée
from Petit Recueil de la Gastronomie Alsacienne: 75 Recettes Simples by Marguerite Doerflinger

1 recipe Flammekueche dough (See below)
2 large onions, diced or sliced thinly
1 2/3 cups crème fraîche (if you can’t find this in the grocery store, you can make your own or use good quality heavy cream)--This seems like a lot to me, so you might start at a little less than this and go from there...
At least 3 slices thick-cut bacon, cut into matchsticks (or 60g lardons fumés)
1 Tbl rapeseed or canola oil
Salt, pepper, nutmeg

Preheat the oven to 450F/230C/Th. 8.

Roll out the dough until it is very thin in a rectangular shape and place it on a pizza stone or cookie sheet sprinkled with a little flour or cornmeal to prevent sticking. Season the cream with salt, pepper, and a pinch of nutmeg. Cover the dough with the onions, bacon, and cream. Drizzle the mixture with the oil. When the oven is completely hot, place the flammekueche in the oven for about 10 minutes or until the crust is very crispy and lightly browned.

Flammekueche dough
from Marmiton
Should make enough for two flammekuechen

2 cups flour
3 Tbl olive oil
Pinch of salt
½ cup warm water

Mix all of the ingredients together until it creates a dough. That’s it!

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Monday Mouthful--Rustic "Alsatian" Meatloaf

What, I'm not making the Rustic "French" Loaf that all of the rest of you made?! Well, yes, technically I am, but I added a little Alsatian twist to it, as you'll see later.

As you all may know, I am living in Strasbourg, France for one year (which will be up in 2 1/2 months!). ChefE over at CookAppeal asked us to introduce an appropriate cultural word when blogging about our French/German cooking, so I'm going one step further and introducing you to a whole region: Alsace. It's not a region that many people have heard of, and a region that not many Americans visit, which is such a shame. Alsace has a rocky history, and has changed hands many times over the last few centuries between France and Germany. In fact, the Alsatian language--Elsässerditsch--more closely resembles German than French.

Alsace was briefly under Nazi control from 1940-44, but has been under French control since the Treaty of Versailles in 1918. The Arc de Triomphe in Paris even has a plaque to commemorate Alsace's return to France:


Strasbourg, in particular, is a beautiful and important city, culturally, politically, and economically. You can read all about the city on Wikipedia, but if you ever get to this part of the country, stop by! Here are a few pictures of the city I have come to love:

And finally, on to the food! I adapted the meatloaf recipe ever so slightly to make it more "Alsatian." Instead of chicken livers, I used local foie gras de canard. Alsace is known for its foie gras, so I thought that if I was going to use liver, I might as well use the good stuff! This meatloaf is definitely decadent--all of us really liked it, even my daughter who notoriously has to be bribed to eat her meat! You could definitely taste the foie, and although I thought it was a little weird to add prunes and pistachios, they both added a nice, fresh flavor to the otherwise rich loaf. This was an ugly loaf, though...I think that the addition of parsley is to cover the unappetizing top rather than to add flavor. I served it with mashed potatoes and red wine, garlic and pistachio broccoli.

I'm sure I'll be making this again, but I may have to substitute some of the ingredients to make it more wallet-friendly...

Rustic "Alsatian" Meatloaf
adapted from Epicurious

1 cup fine fresh bread crumbs (preferably from a rustic loaf)
1/2 cup skim milk
1 medium onion, finely chopped
3 large garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/4 pound foie gras de canard
3/4 pound ground pork
3/4 pound ground veal
1/4 cup chopped prunes
1/4 cup shelled pistachios, toasted
1 teaspoons dried thyme
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1/3 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley

Accompaniment: Dijon mustard

Preheat oven to 475°F with rack in middle.

Soak bread crumbs in milk in a small bowl.

Cook onion, garlic, and 1/4 teaspoon each of salt and pepper in oil in a small skillet over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until onion is softened, about 5 minutes. Cool slightly.

Add foie, pork, veal, prunes, pistachios, thyme, eggs, bread-crumb mixture, onion mixture, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper and gently mix with your hands until just combined.

Transfer meatloaf mixture to an 81/2- by 41/2-inch glass loaf pan and bake, covered with foil, until an instant-read thermometer inserted into center registers 165°F, 50 to 55 minutes. (If using a metal pan, it may need to cook 15 minutes longer.) Let rest 5 minutes. Cover top of meatloaf with parsley before slicing.

We had some of the leftovers in a meatloaf sandwich with Dijon mustard for lunch today, and it sure was yummy!

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Saturday, April 18, 2009

Steak and Potato Salad: A Celebration of a Warm Day

One of my favorite foods out there is steak. I always say that I could easily become a vegetarian if it weren't for those lovely cuts of beef. (I guess that doesn't make me much of a vegetarian, then, does it?) We don't eat it very often because I won't eat just any steak--it has to be a good cut, which then leads to the issue of price. We just can't afford to eat it that often. But I do splurge every once in a while, and this week we did just that. I bought a couple of steaks (although I still don't know what the cuts are in French!) to celebrate the last warm and sunny day we were to have for a while. I usually marinate the steaks in some olive oil, salt and pepper for a couple of hours before cooking them, but this time I added some of the leftover spring onions and parsley from our potato salad to the mix. I then seared them in a very hot pan (just a couple of minutes on each side). The result was buttery with a slight bitterness of the onion--yum!

And thanks to Joie de Vivre, I have found a new go-to potato salad. I have a couple of other favorites, but they are time consuming, and depending on the season, a little on the pricey side. This little gem, however, is easy, bright, and light.


Summery Potato Salad with Cherry Tomatoes
adapted from Joie de Vivre's adaption of the Kids' Fun and Healthy Cookbook recipe (That's a lot of adaptations!)
Serves 2 people (with larger appetites) or 4 (with bird-sized appetites), and besides, don't you always want some potato salad leftovers???

1 lb. small white or red skinned potatoes, scrubbed and cut into large bite-sized pieces
2 green onions, finely chopped
8 cherry tomatoes, halved
3 Tbls. chopped parsley (or mint, or I would imagine any other herb you have on hand)
2 Tbls. extra virgin olive oil
1 Tbls. lemon juice
Salt and pepper

1. Boil the potatoes until just tender.

2. Let the potatoes cool and place them into a bowl. Add the chopped green onion, the chopped parsley, and the halved tomatoes.

3. Mix the extra-virgin olive oil and lemon juice together with a fork, drizzle mixture over the potato mixture, add salt and pepper to taste, and stir to coat everything. Let sit for a while, then serve.

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Friday, April 17, 2009

An Invitation to Join in the French/German Fun

Earlier in the week, ChefE over at CookAppeal used "Monday Mouthful" as a title to a post, and jokingly, I asked her if I could steal the phrase sometime (when I could muster up the creativity for a themed weekly post). She so graciously agreed, and then suggested something better...a weekly recipe that we could work on together. It got even better when she suggested that we open it up to other readers!

So, we'll be cooking some French and German dishes over the next few weeks, alternating between the two. ChefE has chosen the first recipe, and we will all post on Monday (and reveal the next recipe then too). This is not a contest, nor is participation mandatory. If you feel like joining in for one recipe or all, please do!

For details and this week's recipe (French meatloaf like you've never seen it before), go to CookAppeal. And make sure to email ChefE at elizabeth@cookappeal.com with your post information so we can link it to Monday Mouthful!

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Pasta alla Puttanesca

I have been meaning to make Pasta alla Puttanesca for years--yes, literally, years. I remember writing down a recipe I saw on TV once back when I lived in San Diego (maybe in 2000?), meaning to make it. I still have that recipe in a binder at home, but somehow never got around to trying it out. Then I saw Bell'Alimento's version and decided that the time had finally come. Am I glad I waited! This is flavorful and rich, but healthy at the same time, and had the added perk of pleasing every palate at the dinner table!


It can be a little time-consuming, but with a little planning, it can be quick the night you make it. It calls for some roasted tomatoes and garlic, which I do in advance, either when I have a little extra time around the house or if I'm using the oven for something else. I'd imagine that you could do a huge batch and just freeze portions of it for future use (but since I have a European-sized freezer, this won't be happening until I get back to the U.S.) I just love looking at tomatoes--here are the before and after pictures. :-) (I roasted some cherry tomatoes along with these for another recipe I'm making this week...)


I also left the anchovies out because I'm not a fan of them, but if you like them, go ahead and put them in.

Thanks, Bell'Alimento for an awesome recipe!

Pasta alla Puttanesca
from Bell'Alimento

1/3 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 tbsp unsalted butter
1 small tin of Anchovies - chopped
6 Whole Roasted Garlic Cloves (see below) (I roughly chopped these.)
4 Cloves of fresh minced garlic
About a dime size of Red Pepper flakes
8-10 Herb Roasted Tomatoes (see below)
12 Calamata Olives - pitted & halved
2.5 Tbsp Capers - drained
About 1/3 cup Fresh Italian Parsley - chopped
About 1 Tbsp Fresh Basil - chopped
Fresh Parmegiano Reggiano Cheese to garnish - grated
Pasta of choice

Prepare your roasted tomatoes (you’ll need to remove the skins once the tomatoes have finished cooking) & roasted garlic according to recipes. When done, heat the oil in a large saute pan over medium heat. Add the anchovies & garlic cloves. Cook for a few minutes until anchovies are warmed through. Add the red pepper flakes (if you like it spicy, feel free to add more). Cook for about a minute & then add the roasted tomatoes, olives, & capers. Turn heat to low & simmer for 20-25 minutes. Add the minced garlic, parsley (saving a bit to garnish with) basil & butter. Simmer for just a few minutes. About 10 minutes before your sauce is finished, cook your pasta according to package directions. Drain pasta & add to the sauce pan, mix together. Transfer to serving bowl & garnish with remaining parsley & parmigiano reggiano.

Roasted Garlic
from Bell'Alimento

Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Garlic Bulbs (as many as you would like to roast)

Preheat oven to 400. Remove first few layers of garlic skin (careful not to remove the ones covering the actual cloves). Cut about 1/4″ off of top of each garlic bulb. In a shallow baking pan pour enough extra virgin olive oil to cover bottom. Lay garlic bulbs on top of oil cut side down. Let these sit for a few minutes to absorb the oil. Turn garlic bulbs over, rubbing the sides with the oil & then set so cut side is facing up. Cover your baking dish with tinfoil. Bake for 30-40 minutes until garlic is brownish & soft to the touch.

Herb Roasted Tomatoes
from Bell'Alimento

8-12 Roma tomatoes - quartered (I used normal, round tomatoes, and they turned out fine.)
3 cloves garlic - sliced
s/p
extra virgin olive oil
1/2-1 tbsp dried basil (1/2 for less tomatoes, whole for more tomatoes)

Preheat oven to 375. Spray a rimmed baking sheet with cooking spray. Place your quartered tomatoes into a bowl. Drizzle enough olive oil to coat well. Add your sliced garlic. Season with salt & pepper & basil. Toss together until seasoning and oil covers tomatoes. Place tomatoes onto a baking sheet. Bake for 20 minutes.

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Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Easter Dinner--Lamb Chops and an Assortment of Veggies

I always say that one of my favorite things about being an adult is that I can eat dessert before dinner (or just have dessert for dinner, for that matter!) I have apparently extended that rule to blogging as well. Although dessert was my favorite part of Easter dinner, the rest of dinner wasn't so shabby either. :-)

We started by deciding to cook some lamb chops. My husband loves lamb, but I've learned from my travels around the world that lamb does not taste the same everywhere. I don't think that I've ever had lamb in the U.S. that I've really, really liked. I don't know what it is about the taste, but there's a strange aftertaste for me with American lamb. I didn't even know I liked lamb until I ate some in Australia, and realized that lamb raised in different places can have different tastes (duh!). So, we decided to try some French lamb--which again is much tastier than American lamb. Maybe I'll have to figure out a way to import lamb once we get back to the States in July. ;-)


I didn't really use a recipe per se, just let the lamb marinate for a couple of hours in a mixture of chopped garlic, rosemary, salt, pepper and just enough olive oil to make the herb mix wet. I pressed that mixture into the chops and let them sit in the fridge. About a half hour before I was going to cook them, I took them out to bring them to room temperature. Then I seared them for a couple of minutes on each side.


I also made a balsamic reduction with some rosemary and peppercorns in a separate saucepan, and then when the lamb chops were done, I poured the reduction into the chop pan, swished it around a couple of times and then removed it from the pan. It was nice and thick, and went well with the lamb. My husband gave the lamb chops two thumbs up...I don't think I heard him say a word, except for "Are you done with that?", until he finished them off!

We also had some garlicky green beans and white asparagus with a Dijon mustard vinaigrette. I make the green beans often as a side dish--just boil some fresh green beans for a minute in a pan, remove them, and drain the water. Add a little olive oil and butter to the pan, add some chopped garlic, and once it starts to soften, toss with the green beans and season with salt and pepper.


And finally, I like white asparagus, but I'm not sure I would use the Dijon vinaigrette again. I wanted a more hearty flavor with it--maybe something more buttery than biting? But they are beautiful right now, aren't they?


We missed being with family for the holiday, but all in all it was a nice little dinner for just the three of us.

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Monday, April 13, 2009

Easter Dessert--Strawberry Shortcake

Since we're in France, we celebrated Easter on our own--just the three of us (me, hubby and our daughter). We wanted to make something special, but the typical big-crowd meals just wouldn't work. We decided to make some lamb chops (which I had never made before...I'm not a big fan of American lamb), roasted potatoes, green beans, and white asparagus. All of this was tasty, but the dessert was the coup d'etat for me! I'll post the recipes for the other dishes worth making again soon, but you should go out and make this strawberry shortcake...now! :-)


I'm not usually a fan of shortcake because it's usually that store-bought squishy stuff or a really dry and tasteless biscuit that can't hold up to the strawberry juices. This shortcake, though, was tender, buttery, and moist, but able to stay firm--the perfect vehicle for the yummy strawberries and vanilla whipped cream. (I also usually make my strawberries differently--a little sugar and a dash of balsamic vinegar--but I decided to follow the recipe I found at Ezra Pound Cake, and I'm sure glad I did. The balsamic vinegar recipe is great for using strawberries as a topping for ice cream, but this one was great for a refreshing shortcake.) I'm posting the recipe below for ease's sake, but if it's representative of Alice Waters' other recipes, this is the first cookbook I'm buying when I get home!

Strawberry Shortcake
Adapted from Alice Waters’ The Art of Simple Food by Ezra Pound Cake

Cream Biscuits

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 teaspoons sugar (optional, although not in my household!)
2 teaspoons baking powder
6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) cold butter, cut into small pieces
3/4 cup heavy cream

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

In a large bowl, combine the flour, salt, sugar (if using) and baking powder.

Cut the butter into the flour with a pastry blender or your fingertips. The pieces should be the size of small peas.

Measure cream; set aside 1 tablespoon. Add the remaining cream to the flour, and stir with a fork until the mixture just comes together. Lightly knead the dough a few times in the bowl, turn it out onto a lightly floured board, and roll out about 3/4 inch thick.

Cut six 2-inch circles or squares out of the dough. Reroll the scraps, if necessary.

Place the biscuits on a baking sheet lined with parchment, and brush the tops with the tablespoon of cream and a sprinkling of sugar.

Bake for 17 minutes or until golden and done.

Strawberries and Vanilla Whipped Cream

4 cups strawberries, hulled and sliced
1/4 cup sugar

1 cup heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon sugar, or to taste

In a medium bowl, combine the strawberries and sugar.

Remove 1 cup of the strawberry mixture, and purée it in a blender or food processor. Return the purée to the rest of the strawberries; stir. Set aside at least 15 minutes.

In a standing mixer with the whisk attachment, whip together the cream, vanilla and sugar until it starts to form soft peaks.

To assemble the strawberry shortcake, slice the Cream Biscuits in half. For each biscuit, spoon the strawberry mixture onto the bottom half, and add a dollop of whipped cream. Top with the other biscuit half, and dust it with powdered sugar (optional).

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Saturday, April 11, 2009

French Cooking 101: Quiche Lorraine

When I first moved to France last July, one of my goals was to learn to cook some typical French dishes. I could already make a pretty good beef bourguignon, but I hadn't tried too many other typically French recipes. After I found out how easy a basic tarte could be, I decided to try a Quiche Lorraine. Turns out that it's not so difficult either. This has now become a regular in our meal rotation...

I like to serve it with a salad...it's a perfect refreshing and acidic accompaniment to the velvety quiche.


Quiche Lorraine

1 pâte brisée (I use premade, but I'm sure there's a good recipe to make it from scratch out there somewhere! Or you could probably use a premade pie crust.)
200 g / about 5 thick slices bacon, chopped
150 g / 1 cup ham, chopped
200 g / 1 1/2 cups grated Gruyere
4 eggs
40 cl / 1 2/3 cups heavy cream (A lighter cream would probably work here too...)
2 pinches of paprika
Salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 350 F.

Put the rolled out tart dough in an 11" tart pan. Keep in the refrigerator until ready to use.

In a sauce pan, boil the bacon pieces for one minute and then remove. In an non-stick frying pan, cook the bacon on medium heat for 5 minutes on medium heat. Remove them to a paper towel and set aside.

In a bowl, beat the eggs with the cream, the paprika, salt and pepper. Mix in the ham and bacon.

Put the egg mixture in the tart shell. Sprinkle with the cheese. Let it bake for 40 minutes or until golden brown on top.

This quiche is eaten warm or cold.

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Friday, April 10, 2009

Key Ingredient Featured Blogger--Cranberry Sauce Bread

I don't often toot my own horn, but then again, I don't often have a chance to toot it when it comes to baking! I've said this before, but I'm just not a very astute baker. I don't understand how the chemistry works, and it's not that I can't--I'm just too lazy to study it. My "experiments" in baking are always just me following a recipe and messing it up. But there's one recipe I played with and which actually worked--my Cranberry Sauce Bread. And I have been chosen to be a Key Ingredient Featured Blogger for it, which can be found here at Key Ingredient! Woohoo!




This reminds me that I bought three bags of cranberries and froze them when I found them at a Strasbourg grocery store in December...I really should make this again! ;-)

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Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Baked Apple Cookies

As I've mentioned before, I like to experiment with desserts on our students. A couple of weeks ago, a student's parents were visiting him in Strasbourg, so I went out on a limb and tried these Baked Apple Cookies that I found on Low Budget Cooking. (This site is mostly in German, but some of the recipes are translated into English, as these cookies are. I speak enough German to get myself into trouble, but usually have to rely on the English recipe for actual baking.) I knew when looking at the recipe that the cookies were going to be less sweet than American cookies, but how can you go wrong with caramelized apples?!


The final result was a little strange. My cookies didn't look anything like Low Budget Cooking's pictures and were really a little like a shortcake in texture. They definitely weren't as sweet as I expected, either, even knowing that they'd be European-style cookies. Luckily, I made them the night before we were to have company, so we set them aside to make the decision the next morning. Lo and behold, the next morning, the cookies were sweeter and moister! (This seems to be a trend with European desserts made with caramelized fruit...) We decided to serve them, and at the end of the day, we only had two left, both of which I had to snatch out of my husband's hands in order to take a picture!

These are good tea cookies, but perhaps not a true dessert if you have a sweet tooth. I think next time around, I might add a little brown sugar to the caramelizing process--it might add a depth of flavor and a little more moistness to the cookie. (I've converted the original recipe into American terms, but left the original as well since perhaps it was my conversion that caused the cookies to be a little different than the original...)

Baked Apple Cookies
from Low Budget Cooking

approx. 1/2 pound (250 g) apples, unpeeled, finely diced; sprinkled with:
1-2 ts lemon juice
1/4 cup (45 g) vanilla sugar

1 pinch cinnamon, finely ground
7 Tbl (100 g) butter
1 egg
2/3 cup (150 g) flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 pinch of salt

Heat half of the butter in a pan until foamy. Stir in the sugar and melt. Add apples. Fry until the liquid is slightly syrupy and caramelized. Season with cinnamon and let cool.

Whisk remaining butter until creamy. Add the egg and stir well. Add flour, baking powder, salt and apples. Mix to incorporate. Place teaspoons of batter onto a baking sheet (lined with parchment paper). Leave room around each cookie, they spread out while baking. Bake in preheated oven at 350F/180 deg C for about 15-20 minutes or until golden brown.

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Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Balsamic Rosemary Chicken

I have a confession to make: I own two or three Rachel Ray cookbooks. I don't use them much any more, but back when I was newly married, working full time, and in charge of almost everything in our household because my husband was working on his dissertation and toward a tenure-track job, I just didn't have the time or energy to cook. I also didn't cook that well at that point. I liked to cook, and many of my college friends thought that I was a good cook, but we all know how high college-aged food standards are!

I started my self-taught cooking classes with Rachel Ray. Whatever your opinion of her, her recipes are easy to make and quick, and the ingredients are usually what you already have on hand. (I did find even back then, though, that her recipes tend to be a little bland...) Like I said, I don't use her cookbooks much any more, but I do owe a debt of gratitude for teaching me some kitchen basics.

One of her recipes that have remained a staple in our household, though, is her Balsamic Rosemary Chicken. The marinade helps keep the chicken moist, while also creating a nice caramelized crust once cooked. This is not a dish to serve when having a fancy dinner party, but makes an easy, tasty, and cheap (!) weeknight dinner with or without guests. Leftovers are great in salads or pasta...


Balsamic Rosemary Chicken
from Rachel Ray

4 pieces boneless, skinless chicken breast
2 Tbl balsamic vinegar, just enough to coat chicken lightly
2 Tbl extra-virgin olive oil
3 stems rosemary, leaves stripped and chopped, about 2 Tbl, or about 1 Tbl dried rosemary
Salt and coarse black pepper
4 cloves garlic, cracked away from skin with a whack against the flat of your knife (at least...I usually add more.)

Coat chicken in balsamic vinegar, then olive oil. Season chicken with rosemary, salt and pepper and let stand at least 10 minutes along with the garlic.

Heat a medium nonstick skillet over medium high heat. Add chicken breasts and cracked garlic to the pan. Cook chicken 12 minutes, or until juices run clear, turning occasionally. The balsamic vinegar will produce a deep brown, sweet finish on the chicken as it cooks.


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Monday, April 6, 2009

A Last Salute to Winter: Moroccan Minestrone

A couple of weeks ago, I saw this recipe for Moroccan Minestrone on Joie de Vivre's blog, and thought that since winter hadn't quite left yet (last week), that it would be the perfect send off for the winter blues...


I finally got my husband to agree to some brown rice to go along with this (per Joie de Vivre's suggestion), and it was the perfect accompaniment. (It's strange that my husband has held out on brown rice this long since he's the one who convinced me to switch to whole wheat bread a few years ago. It turns out that he's never had properly cooked brown rice...) I made a couple of very minor changes, but I basically used Joie de Vivre's recipe. I love cilantro, so I garnished it with some fresh chopped leaves, which really brightened the flavors.

The overall family consensus? They loved it! It's easy to make, and since my daughter loves chickpeas, rice and beans, this disappeared faster than winter these days...

Moroccan Minestrone
adapted from Whole Foods by Jude Blereau by Joie de Vivre
and then further adapted by me!

Ingredients

1 c. dried chickpeas, soaked overnight (There seems to be no reason you couldn't used canned chickpeas here and cut out a step...)
olive oil
1 onion, diced
3 celery stalks, finely sliced
2 inch piece of ginger, finely chopped
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 tsp. turmeric
1 Tbls. chopped fresh cilantro leaves + more for garnish
1 c. dried Puy lentils
14 oz. can of chopped tomatoes
3 Tbls. tomato paste
2 quarts chicken stock
Juice from 1/2 lemon
Cooked brown rice, to serve

Directions:

1. If using uncooked chickpeas, place the chickpeas in a pot with enough water to cover and soak overnight. Rinse, add more water to cover and bring the water to a boil and then lower heat to a simmer and partially cover. Check the beans periodically to make sure they are still covered with water and cook until soft 1-2 hours. You will end up with about 3 c. of cooked chickpeas, so if using canned, use the equivelant.
2. Heat a large soup pot over medium-high heat and add the olive oil. Saute the onions and the celery in the olive oil until they are softened and starting to brown. Add the ginger, cinnamon, turmeric and the cilantro and cook, while stirring, for another minute.
3. Add the lentils, chickpeas, tomatoes, tomato paste and stock. Cook over medium heat for 45-60 minutes until the lentils are soft. Adjust the seasonings. Add the lemon juice.
4. If desired, serve over cooked brown rice.

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Sunday, April 5, 2009

A Town Hall with President Obama

I promise that I'll get back to food blogging soon, but a few people requested pictures from the Town Hall meeting in Strasbourg, so I'm sharing a few here. Yes, we did get to go to the Town Hall meeting, but we didn't get to meet or even get near the president. He's a busy man, and had to leave directly for Baden-Baden after the meeting.


Strasbourg didn't have an easy time of it with the NATO Summit being held here, and it showed with its police presence. I was told that 10,000 police officers were brought to town to help with security, and with the amount of police in cars, vans, motorcycles, bikes, on foot, and even on horses (!) here, I believe it. This barricade was set up just a block from our apartment:


Some citizens felt a little uneasy with the security measures, and we found this spray-painted on the ground near our apartment. (I have to say, though, that even if the police presence made me feel uneasy, I'm sure glad that they were here once the protesters started fires on the outskirts of town.)


Back to the Town Hall...here's a picture of our ticket!


And a picture from our seats. We were in a small basketball arena, and we were about a basketball court away from President Obama. We had the chance to sit behind him, but although those seats were closer, our seats were better to watch the speech from...


I caught a short video of President and Mrs. Obama entering the arena:

video
And pictures of the man himself:




From what two of our French friends told us afterward, they liked his speech. It was geared toward Europeans, so was a little different from what I had heard on the campaign trail. I found the links to the speech, both written and in video form, if you'd like to read/see what he had to say...

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Thursday, April 2, 2009

NATO, President Obama, and My Blog

So I have a few posts waiting to be written, but I just haven't had the time to get to them. As you may know, the NATO summit is being held in Strasbourg, Kehl (Germany) and Baden-Baden (Germany) this year. It's a landmark event for many reasons: 1) It's usually held in capitals where this sort of thing is usual, 2) It's being hosted by two countries for the first time to celebrate the 60th anniversary of NATO (France and Germany), 3) this will be President Obama's first NATO summit, and 4) President Obama will be holding his first ever international town hall meeting!

And all of this combines into one crazy week for us! We found out on Saturday that we are invited to the town hall meeting, but getting the tickets and then a babysitter has proven daunting. I finally picked mine up today! Woohoo! And we found a babysitter yesterday...

Besides trying to coordinate our attendance at the town hall meeting, I've also been navigating the fortress that Strasbourg has become. I did my grocery shopping earlier this week to get us through Sunday since many routes to very useful places (like the grocery store) will be closed unless you live there, have registered with the police, and have the official badge. Tonight I roasted two chickens, one for our dinner, and the other to make different chicken salads out of for the next couple of days. With the exception of the town hall meeting, our family will be hunkering down in our apartment with a bowl of chicken salad to the sounds of police sirens and helicopters for the weekend.

So, I've written this long post just to tell you that, yes, I've been cooking, and, yes, I'm going to post something about cooking soon...just not until I have the chance to wink at President Obama!

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