Ann Mah - food and travel writer | Ann Mah

Smoky Spanish chickpeas with spinach

By Ann | January 28, 2015

Smoky Spanish chickpeas

Back in my twenties, my drink of choice was a vodka soda, clean and crisp with a slice of lemon. My thirties witnessed a turn toward wine, as befits a stint in Paris. And now that I’m entering my forties—which, for the record, hasn’t happened yet, but is coming soon enough, EGADS—I have a new drink: dry sherry. Yes, it’s the favorite of vicars, old biddies, and the Crane brothers, scoff all you like. The true secret is that sherry is full of golden, nutty, caramel notes and it’s delicious. It’s also an ideal drink to accompany tapas, such as smoky Spanish chickpeas with spinach. AND it’s one of the few aperitifs that can be described as a tipple, which is really quite titillating.

Amontillado sherry

Sherry is produced in the Jerez-Xérès-Sherry DO (Denominación de Origen) of Andalusia, Spain, which is reflected in its Spanish name, vino de Jerez. Unlike regular wine, it’s fortified: a strong distilled spirit is added to the cask after fermentation, and the alcohol content increases with aging. As I learned in Talia Baiocchi’s new book, Sherry: A Modern Guide to the Wine World’s Best-Kept Secret, sherries span a wide spectrum, from delicate—fino, dry and pale—to heavy—Oloroso, dark and rich (and my favorite). And, yes, sometimes they’re sweet—as in the case of Harvey’s Bristol Cream—though Baiocchi—who is a wine writer and editor-in-chief of the terrific online drinks magazine PUNCH—gives these blended sherries wide berth, generally filing them under the “Mistakes in Alcohol Consumption folder.”

Sherry by Talia Baiocchi

Sherry by Talia Baiocchi

Sherry by Talia Baiocchi

With chapters on everything from production to consumption (e.g. cocktail recipes), Sherry offers an extremely detailed look at a very complex wine. It also includes a wealth of addresses for sherry towns and producers, and I suspect it would make an excellent travel guide to the region. I appreciated the practical advice on storing open sherry (best in the fridge), glassware (she recommends stemmed white wineglasses, though I love my vintage ware), and food pairings. Baoicchi offers an old Andalusian saying: “Fino and manzanilla if it swims, amontillado if it flies, and oloroso if it walks.”

Smoky Spanish chickpeas with spinach

Of course, no discussion of sherry would be complete without tapas, which allegedly originated in Andalusia’s taverns. The book offers a few recipes, but I was captured by the “garbanzos con espinacas”—a stew of chickpeas and spinach enrichened with breadcrumbs, smoked paprika, and the bitter bite of fine olive oil.

Spanish smoked paprika

The recipe comes from New York City chef Alexandra Raij, who was inspired by a dish at El Rincóncillo, Sevilla’s oldest bar, founded in 1670. “This simple chickpea, spinach, and bread stew has long been one of the bar’s specialities,” writes Baiocchi, “and no matter whether it is hot outside, the long bartop is always littered with steaming plates of it.” The dish starts with dried chickpeas (making it a perfect candidate for a pantry cleanout); breadcrumbs are toasted in garlic-flavored olive oil, and then pounded into the chickpea broth, creating a thick, creamy sauce that’s heightened by a generous scoop of smoked paprika. The tender beans and chopped spinach are suspended in this luscious sauce.

It’s a simple meal and crusty bread is a great accompaniment—though one day I’d love to spoon it over garlic-rubbed toast. And to drink? Sherry, of course.

Spanish chickpeas with spinach

Smoky Spanish chickpeas with spinach
Adapted from Sherry by Talia Baiocchi

Serves eight

8 oz dried chickpeas, washed, sorted, and soaked overnight
1 onion, halved
1 carrot, peeled
1 head garlic, plus 3-4 smashed cloves
5 tablespoons olive oil
1 10-oz package frozen spinach, defrosted and squeezed dry
1/2 cup panko bread crumbs
1 tablespoon smoked Spanish paprika
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

In a large pot, combine the chickpeas, onion, carrot, and head of garlic, then add enough cold water to cover everything by at least 4 inches. Bring to a boil and skim off any foam that arises. Reduce to a simmer and cook until the chickpeas are tender and creamy, about 2 hours. (I usually cover the pot and simmer in the oven at 325ºF.) Drain the chickpeas and reserve the liquid. Discard the vegetables.

In a large, clean pot, heat five tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat. Add the smashed garlic cloves and stir until the garlic turns golden and fragrant. Remove the garlic. Add the panko breadcrumbs to the hot oil, stirring until golden, about 4 minutes.

Add the paprika, cumin, and cayenne, then 2 cups of the chickpea cooking broth. Over a high flame, boil the mixture, stirring vigorously to break up the breadcrumbs. Cook until the liquid evaporates, the mixture is dry, and the breadcrumbs start to stick to the pan—about 10 minutes. Add another 2 cups of chickpea broth. Stir briskly, scraping up any browned bits at the bottom of the pot. Cook, stirring often, until the sauce is smooth and creamy, like a roux—about 10 minutes—adding dashes of fresh water if the sauce becomes too thick. Taste and adjust seasonings.

Add the chickpeas and spinach to the sauce and heat the mixture through. Taste again, and season if needed. Serve drizzled with high quality olive oil.

Topics: Recettes, Wine | 11 Comments »

Mixed pasta shapes with chickpeas

By Ann | January 13, 2015

Mixed pasta shapes with crushed chickpeas

The other day I opened the kitchen cupboard and a bag of cashews fell on my head. I wish I could tell you it was the first time, but the truth is, I dodge falling legumes in my kitchen like hailstones in June. The pantry shelves are groaning with bags of this and that—various flours, dried fruits, nuts, grains, beans—all of them partially full, with not enough of any one thing to create a meal. They drive me crazy.

In the spirit of January parsimony, I have cut myself off from the grocery store and vowed to only buy fresh veg and meat until we’ve emptied (most of) the cupboard. This week, I started with the leftover pasta, gathering all the different kinds into one big rollicking, rustic dish.

Mixed pasta shapes with crushed chickpeas

At first I had doubts: Is it possible to cook different shapes in one pot? Yes, says Bon Appétit, and the varied sizes and cooking times create a lovely, complex texture, with some bits mushy and others al dente. Paired with a chunky chickpea puree, this is a hearty, wholesome, frugal winter dish.

Mixed pasta shapes with crushed chickpeas

Here’s what you do: Simmer some chickpeas (you could use canned) in salted water, along with bits of celery, carrot, onion, garlic, and/or whatever else strikes your fancy. In a sauté pan, sizzle up some minced garlic and chili flakes. Add the seasoned chickpeas and their veg, throw in a handful of cherry tomatoes. A few satisfying pounds of the potato masher will turn the beans into a soupy, crushed puree. When the pasta’s cooked—I boiled three shapes for an arbitrary time of nine minutes—mix the two together.

I ate this meal on a cold night as the wind howled outside and my heart unclenched from last week’s events in France, a hot plate of comfort to try to soothe my sorrow.

Mixed pasta shapes with crushed chickpeas

Rustic pasta with crushed chickpeas
Adapted from BonAppétit.com
Serves four

This is a flexible recipe, both adaptable and expandable. Along with using up dried pasta, it’s also a great way to clean out any vegetables you’ve got hanging around the fridge. I used elbow macaroni, farfalle, and spaghetti, but any mix of shapes will work. I would, however, avoid thicker varieties that take ages to cook. Break up long strands of spaghetti or linguine when you add them to the pot.

1 1/2 cups chickpeas
1 stalk celery, finely chopped
1 carrot, peeled and finely chopped
3/4 lb mixed pasta shapes
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1 teaspoon chile flakes
1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
Salt
Delicious strong olive oil and Parmagiano Reggiano for serving

In a saucepan, add the chickpeas, carrot, and celery, and cover with an inch of cold water. Season and simmer for about 10 minutes.

In a sauté pan, heat the olive oil over medium heat and sizzle the garlic until fragrant. Add the chili flakes and then the chickpeas and their vegetables, moistening with dashes of the chickpea broth. Stir in the tomatoes (and any other vegetables you might be using). Lower the heat and cook until the tomatoes soften and start to fall apart. Using a potato masher, crush the chickpeas in an rough, textured purée. Add splashes of chickpea broth as necessary.

Meanwhile, in a large pot of boiling water, cook the pasta. (I boiled mine for 9 minutes.) Drain and stir the crushed chickpeas into the pasta, adding more chickpea broth to moisten the mixture. Taste and correct seasoning. Serve drizzled with lots of delicious, sharp extra virgin olive oil (I prefer the kind from Sicily), and drifts of Parmagiano Reggiano.

*

Update: A few people have asked me about the events of last week. To be honest, I initially started this post in a completely different direction. But as I struggled to process my feelings, I realized that it just didn’t feel right or true for me to comment on the situation in France. Last week I was New York, watching the events unfold via “live blogs” and Twitter, just like everyone else who wasn’t in France—and it felt disingenuous of me to blog about my jumble of emotions as if they’re meaningful. (If, however, you’re looking for insights, this opinion piece by Pamela Druckerman is pretty terrific.) I’m still reeling by what happened last week, still processing my thoughts, still grieving and terribly sad—and I’m guessing most French people feel the same way.

Topics: Recettes | 15 Comments »

Cheesy puffs

By Ann | December 31, 2014

Cheesy puffs filled with herbed chèvre

Happy holidays! I’m a little late to offer my Season’s Greetings, so please allow me to be among the first to wish you a bonne fin d’année. I’ve been enjoying sunny days in Southern California, where babies roam free without hats, coats, and mittens, the kitchens are large and bright, and Dad pours Champagne like it’s water. To accompany the sparkling wine, he and I invented these lovely cheesy puffs filled with creamy lemon-thyme-scented chèvre. We think they’re perfect savory tidbit to help ring in the new year.

Cheesy puffs filled with herbed chèvre

You start with a batch of choux pastry, which you can whip up in the amount of time it takes Grandma to wrangle a toddler to and from the playground. One batch of choux makes about 40 small puffs, but I suggest dividing the dough in two: bake one half plain (to be filled), and add grated cheese to the other for gougères. The result is two types of hors d’oeuvres from one session of baking: Win, win!

Cheesy puffs filled with herbed chèvre

While the puffs are in the oven, it’s time to play with your savory filling. I whipped goat and cream cheeses together and lightened the mixture with a couple of spoonfuls of Greek yogurt (crème fraîche would also work). Zest over a bit of lemon, add a sprinkle of fresh, crushed thyme, a scraping of black pepper, et voilà, a bright and elegant mixture that matches beautifully with Champagne. My dad took his filling in another direction: curry powder, cayenne, Sriracha—watch out for the kick! Next time, he’s contemplating blue cheese, while I might try smoked salmon.

Cheesy puffs filled with herbed chèvre

We could have filled the puffs with a piping tip, but Lordy, there’s nothing more I hate washing than a pastry bag. We snipped the corner off a ziplock bag and were none the messier.

Cheesy puffs filled with herbed chèvre

Here’s the secret part of this recipe: Fill the puffs in advance. When you’re ready to serve, heat them for five minutes in the oven. The tops of the choux puffs become crunchy, while the interior turns warm and gooey. It’s a beautiful contrast.

Cheesy puffs filled with herbed chèvre

Before I leave you with the recipe, may I take a minute to wish you bonne année? I’ll always remember 2014 as the year I became a working parent: there have been many defrosted dinners, too little sleep, some great travel, several wonderful Sunday afternoons at the playground, and a few satisfying projects. I feel like I’m finally finding my balance. Thanks, as always, for reading! You make blogging a joy. xo

Cheesy puffs filled with lemon-thyme chèvre

*Note: One batch of choux pastry makes about 40 small puffs. I suggest dividing the dough in two, and using one half for gougères (as indicated in the recipe). If you’d like to use all the dough for filled puffs, you’ll need to double the recipe for the filling.

For the choux pastry:
1 cup water
6 tablespoons butter
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1 cup flour
4 large eggs (or 3 jumbo eggs)
1/2 cup grated Gruyère cheese (optional) (if making gougères)

Preheat the oven to 425ºF. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

In a saucepan over medium flame, heat the water, butter, salt, and nutmeg, until the mixture boils. Add the flour all at once and beat with an electric mixer (or wooden spoon) until it forms a dough. Lower the heat and continue stirring until the mixture comes away from the sides of the pan, and begins to film the bottom. Remove from the heat and beat in the eggs, one by one, until they are well incorporated into the dough.

Divide the mixture in half. Use two spoons to form small, 1 1/2-inch mounds, evenly spaced. Moisten your index finger with water and smooth the tops.

For the gougères: add the grated cheese to the second half of the dough, and form into mounds, as above.

Both the puffs and gougères bake for 20 minutes, until golden brown and doubled in size. Turn off the heat and leave the baking sheets in the warm oven for ten minutes with the door ajar. Allow to cool before filling.

For the filling:
4 oz cream cheese
2 oz goat cheese
2 tablespoons Greek yogurt, or crème fraîche
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves, lightly chopped
Black pepper

Beat the cream cheese, goat cheese, and yogurt with an electric mixer. Stir in the lemon zest, thyme, and black pepper. Taste and adjust seasonings. The mixture should be the texture of mousse. If it’s too thick, add another tablespoon of yogurt.

To fill the puffs:
Cut the corner off a ziplock bag and spoon the filling into the bag. Find a natural crack in the puff, and squeeze in a teaspoon of filling. Continue with the remaining puffs—they may be filled in advance. Before serving, warm the puffs (and gougères) at 350ºF, until the tops are crusty, about five minutes.

Topics: Recettes | 11 Comments »

How to REALLY taste umami

By Ann | December 16, 2014

How to REALLY taste umami

As research for my new novel, I started taking a wine class this month. I love it! It’s so much fun to learn why wines taste the way they do, and how they complement or conflict with different foods.

One of the things we’ve talked about is umami. You’ve probably heard it described as the “fifth flavor” (along with sweet, salty, sour, and bitter)—the word translates from Japanese as “pleasant savory taste.” Umami is that rich, deep, almost meaty quality found in foods like mushrooms, Parmesan cheese, cured meat, or MSG. It occurs when glutamate breaks down into L-glutamate via fermentation, braising, or ripening. (This NPR article offers a detailed explanation.)

If it sounds elusive, that’s because it is. The taste of umami “can be difficult to isolate,” says my wine textbook. Honestly, I’ve been mystified by it for years, but last week I learned a surefire trick to REALLY taste it:

How to REALLY taste umami

Take an ordinary button mushroom. Slice it in two. Microwave one half for 30 seconds. Then, take a bite of the raw half, versus a bite of the cooked. When I tried it, the raw half tasted flabby and faint. But the cooked half exploded with deep, earthy, meaty flavors—it was like the essence of the mushroom distilled into a bite. I was amazed at the difference!

(If you don’t have a microwave, try baking, steaming, or plain sautéeing the mushroom for  the same effect.)

Umami makes many foods delicious, but it’s also considered “high risk,” which means it’s difficult to pair with wine. In class, they suggested drinking a wine that is more fruity than tannic— “the umami in the food will emphasize the bitterness of the tannins” —so I might consider sipping a white with your next umami burger :)

What’s your favorite umami food? (Or do you think it’s a myth?)

UPDATE: Preston from Paris by the Glass left this fantastic tip on my Facebook page: “Foods with lots of umami almost always go with fino or manzanilla dry sherry,” he says. “Try it… it’s delicious! There’s a savouriness to the wine itself that goes marvellously with these foods.” I’ve recently been enjoying an evening tipple of Oloroso sherry, which seems to have an umami quality of its very own. Can’t wait to try it with Parmesan cheese.

Topics: Wine | 9 Comments »

Holiday gift ideas 2014

By Ann | December 9, 2014

Last weekend, in a moment of sheer madness, we decided to walk the baby over to Rockefeller Center and pick up a few gifts. Oh, lawsy, the CROWDS, the tourists, the shoppers, all elbowing each other and trying to snap selfies with the Tree, the Tree, the Tree!!! My holiday panic officially set in. In case you’re feeling similarly, here are some thoughts on gifts, all of them my favorite discoveries of 2014, and all of them available online :) Happy holidays!

cheese

Brie fermier

I miss my local Paris fromager on pretty much a daily basis, so I was thrilled when I discovered the brie fermier (pictured above, center) from Murray’s Cheese. Gooey, salty, creamy, with an earthy, mushroomy savor, it’ll trick you into thinking you’re on a picnic in the Champ de Mars. Murray’s ships nationwide so you can send a wedge to your favorite fromage-o-phile.

mimolette

Aged Mimolette

Murray’s also ships vieille Mimolette, a salty, dense, shocking orange cheese with lovely sweet, caramel notes that’s produced in northern France near the Belgian border. As I wrote in this post, Mimolette is one of the only cheeses that uses mites as part of its aging process. Because the mites are considered an allergen, the FDA banned the cheese last year. Happily, rules have softened and discreet imports are being allowed once again. Send a chunk along with a magnifying glass for peering at the moving “crumbs” (which are actually cheese mites). Hours of fascinating (if slightly disgusting) fun!

Read the rest of this entry »

Topics: Uncategorized | 12 Comments »

Brussels sprouts and kale salad

By Ann | December 2, 2014

Shaved brussels sprouts and kale salad

Last Wednesday, Thanksgiving Eve, I bent over my kitchen counter cutting Brussels sprouts and curly kale into slender ribbons. I’m mandolin-phobic, so I used my chef’s knife, brandishing my sharpener at regular intervals. A glass of red wine stood next to the cutting board and regular swigs from it helped dull the growing pain in my wrist. The baby was asleep, my husband was out to dinner—it was just me and four pounds of cruciferous veg.

Do you ever get into those cooking moods where the tasks seem like the labors of Hercules but you can’t stop? (Or is it just me?) When you’re so focused on making one recipe, you completely forsake a meal? That night, I ate dinner on my feet, snatching bites of black bean taquitos from a hot cookie sheet. (I know, I know, but, hey, they were from Trader Joe’s!)

To be honest, I knew what I was getting into when I offered to bring this salad to the pot luck. A week earlier, I had made a trial version, spending a frazzled Sunday evening trying to to feed a, er, discerning toddler, boil spaghetti, and shred roly Brussels sprouts without cutting off my fingertips. The salad was pretty good that night, though I did wonder if it was worth all the work. But when I ate the leftovers the next day, I discovered the salad’s raison d’être, glimpsed its very soul. After marinating overnight, the sharp vinaigrette had tamed the rough leaves into silky crispness, still satisfyingly crunchy and tangy, but softer, more mellow, a sophisticated slaw heightened with toasted almonds and generous handfuls of Pecorino cheese.

At some point during the pre-Thanksgiving chopping marathon, I wondered if the salad could kill me. My wrist ached. My feet throbbed. Maybe the wine had slowed me down, but when I looked at the clock, I was shocked to find that two hours had gone by. My husband came home and confiscated the bag of washed kale. We went to bed and I vowed never to slice anything ever again.

But here’s the thing: The next day found me starving (apparently black bean taquitos do not a satisfying meal make :) And yet, anticipating the turkey and trimmings ahead, all I really wanted was a… light, crunchy pile of shaved Brussels sprouts and kale. When the baby, her father, and granny went out, I whipped out the leftover veg and started slicing. This time, the work went faster, jollied along by Alec Baldwin on NPR. In deference to the day’s celebratory meal, I added a mere dusting of cheese. You could try other variations, too—swap the almonds for pecans, add a handful of dried cranberries, go in a Caesar-ish direction and mash an anchovy into the vinaigrette.

We ate the salad with great relish for lunch, and ate more of it at dinner, and more of it last night (it was a perfect bright counterpoint to the rest of the holiday plate). If I had my druthers, I’d be eating more right now.

Shaved brussels sprouts and kale salad

Shaved Brussels sprouts and kale salad with almonds and Pecorino cheese
Adapted from Bon Appétit

Serves 6-8

Note: I like to marinate the minced shallot and garlic in the lemon juice to tame their sharp bite, before whisking in the olive oil to create the vinaigrette. Also, I used pre-grated Pecorino cheese. I was very glad I did!

Juice of one lemon
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1 small shallot, minced
1 small garlic clove, minced
1/2 cup + 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil (divided)
1 1/2 lbs curly kale leaves, center stem discarded
1 lb trimmed Brussels sprouts
1/3 cup whole, unblanched almonds, roughly chopped
1 pinch fleur de sel (or salt)
1 cup finely grated Pecorino cheese
Salt and pepper

At the bottom of a large salad bowl, combine the lemon juice, mustard, shallot, garlic. Season lightly with salt and pepper.

With a sharp knife or mandolin, shred the Brussels sprouts. Slice the kale into slender ribbons.

In a small skillet, heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Toast the almonds, stirring frequently until golden. Season with a generous pinch of fleur de sel (or salt).

Whisk 1/2 cup of olive oil into the lemon juice and mustard mixture to create the vinaigrette. Add the shredded kale and brussels sprouts and cheese and toss to coat. Taste and adjust seasonings. The salad tastes best when allowed to rest overnight. Serve garnished with almonds.

Topics: A year in a French market: Winter, Free of gluten, Recettes | 15 Comments »

Sweet potato ice cream

By Ann | November 24, 2014

sweet potato ice cream

If there is an unloved member of the Thanksgiving table, I believe it to be the sweet potato. “Oh,” you’re thinking, “they’re so delicious and healthy! Full of fiber! Lots of vitamins!” You guys, I have tried, believe me, I have tried. But every time I eat a sweet potato—in any form—I find myself wishing it was a potato. The normal (not sweet) kind.

But you can’t celebrate Thanksgiving without sweet potatoes—they’re an integral part of the meal, just like Dad’s turkey smoked in the patio hibachi, sticky rice stuffing, and turkey congee the next day (at least that’s what we eat in MY family :) Last year, I signed up to bring sweet potatoes to my in-laws’ pot luck feast. I prepared a purée with lots of butter, cream, nutmeg, grated ginger, a generous dash of salt to balance the sweet. And I watched as it got dolloped on plates and pushed around, uneaten. I have to admit, it stung a little bit. Even if I was doing exactly the same thing.

This year, I signed up for sweet potatoes again, determined to find a dish that everyone would love—even me! I considered and discarded several recipes, things like sweet potatoes Anna (too much last-minute preparation, plus I’m scared of the mandolin), whipped chipotle sweet potatoes (too southwestern, too similar to last year), and sweet potato gratin (which would be delicious… with regular potatoes). And then I decided to take the sweet potatoes in an entirely new direction: Dessert!

Sweet potato ice cream comes from David Lebovitz’s terrific frozen dessert cookbook, The Perfect Scoop. It starts with a pound of boiled sweet potatoes, which you mix with milk, sugar, and a tiny sprinkle of cinnamon. Unlike most ice creams, the recipe is not a custard-base—there are no egg yolks, no cream. Instead, the puréed sweet potatoes create a luscious, velvety texture that’s offset by the maple-glazed pecans you stir in at the end. The result is like frozen pumpkin pie: creamy, cold, sweet, and faintly perfumed with cinnamon. I can’t wait to scoop it all over my plate of pie.

The other day, my in-laws sent out an email confirming everyone’s Thanksgiving contribution. “Ann mentioned roasted sweet potato,” wrote my husband’s stepmother. “Yes!” I responded, “I’m bringing sweet potatoes à la surprise!”

Happy Thanksgiving!

patate douce

Sweet potato ice cream with maple-glazed pecans
Makes 1 quart

If you have an ice cream maker, David Lebovitz’s book The Perfect Scoop is worth having on your shelf. But if you want to test this recipe before you buy the book, you can find it here.

If you don’t have an ice cream maker, you should get one! I hesitated for a long time, but it’s SO much fun.

sweet potato ice cream

Topics: A year in a French market: Autumn, Free of gluten, Recettes | 10 Comments »

My favorite French food gifts

By Ann | November 12, 2014

French Basket, photo from Penguin books

9780143125921_large_Mastering_the_Art_of_French_Eating

Whenever I’m in Paris, I visit my local grocery store to stock up on French food products—all the stuff I love that’s hard to find in the States. I check an extra big bag on the plane, bursting with spices, dried legumes, and other treats—and I ration out the stash until my next trip to France.

To celebrate the paperback edition of Mastering the Art of French Eating, Penguin Books is giving away some of my favorite French foods and books! TWO winners will receive a Francophile basket filled with:

To enter, visit this link and leave your email address. Two winners will be chosen at random. The contest ends Tuesday, November 18. Thank you so much for your support of my book, which makes this blog possible!

Topics: Mastering the Art of French Eating | Comments Off

Sauce caramel au beurre salé

By Ann | November 11, 2014

Salted butter caramel sauce

I met my friend Jérôme on Twitter (the same place where he met his boyfriend) and we instantly bonded over bugnes, a sweet beignet eaten before Lent in the area around Lyon and St-Etienne. When I visited Lyon to research my book, he took me on a tour, pointing out pâtisseries flaunting hot pink tarts made from the city’s famous pralines, leading me through hidden “traboule” alleys, and past storied bouchons. In Paris, we often meet for lunch or tea, cake or cheese, coffee or wine, museum expositions or dinner with our partners, or all of the above, to talk about the things we love most: books, cooking, travel, family, and all the other bits in between. “Friendship is one of the most beautiful gifts life has to offer,” Jérôme has said. And I agree.

Now that I live in New York, I don’t see Jérôme as often as I’d like. Happily, we’ve found a way to continue our conversation via our very own cooking club. There are no rules, just the urge to try a slightly-more-complicated-than-usual recipe, and share the experience. We swap opinions and tips. We snap photos. Most recently we ventured into the tricky world of sugar, attempting a sauce caramel au beurre salé.

Salted butter caramel sauce

I first discovered salted butter caramel sauce at Breizh Café in Paris, a crêperie in the Marais, where it was drizzled over a dessert crêpe, a sticky, sweet, deep, and nutty trickle. I licked up every golden drop. Because I first ate it in a crêperie, and because it’s made of salted butter—a Breton staple—I assumed the ambrosial stuff hailed from Brittany. And because it was dribbled so sparingly over my plate, I also assumed it was difficult and expensive to make. Wrong, wrong! To learn the true history of sauce caramel au beurre salé, you’ll have to read chapter three of my book :) But today I’m happy to share the recipe.

I started with two cups of sugar, a dash of water, and a fair amount of trepidation. (I’d heard many horror stories about working with melted sugar and I have an active imagination.) I very assiduously did NOT stir the mixture, for fear of crystallization—despite my best efforts, however, crystals soon formed. The surface became covered in a white, sandy layer, while the sugar underneath rapidly melted and browned—it was like watching molten lava boil beneath the earth’s crust (and, seriously, it seemed just as hot). I was afraid of burning the whole thing, so I removed the pot from the heat and swirled the contents (without a spoon). The liquid was SO HOT, it melted the crystals, while the color continued to deepen. I then beat in a measure of hot, heavy cream, and several lumps of butter.

The color of the sauce was glorious, nut brown and glossy as a polished chestnut. Alas, I could see rocky grains of crystallized sugar dotted throughout. I feared that reheating the sauce would cause the sugar to recrystalize, but when brought to the boil, the butter and cream seemed to stabilize the mixture. The clumps melted and I was left with my own pot of dark gold.

“I’m always nervous when making caramel,” wrote Jérôme, when we exchanged emails about our caramel capers. “But it’s also marvelous to see the magic of chemistry at work!” (This is why we’re friends.) As a certified pâtisser, he gave me a little tip: “To avoid crystallizing the sugar, many pâtissiers add a tablespoon of glucose [corn syrup]. This helps prevent the sugar crystals from gathering. It’s very useful, and you can also use it for candied fruit, bonbons, pulled sugar… I think it makes the caramel sauce even more smooth and rich, and the sugar is more stable.”

I’ll have to try his trick before we move onto our new cooking project. What’s next, Jé? Une bûche de Noël? :)

Salted butter caramel sauce

Sauce Caramel au beurre salé/
Salted butter caramel sauce

Adapted from Papilles et Pupilles, Marmiton, and David Lebovitz

Makes 2 cups

1 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup water
1 tablespoon corn syrup (optional)
3/4 cup heavy cream
3 tablespoons salted butter
Pinch of fleur de sel (optional)

Heat the cream in the microwave, or on the stove in a small saucepan. Cut the butter into cubes.

In a large, deep pot (larger than you think you will need), pour in the sugar and add the water, and corn syrup (if using). Heat the sugar over medium heat. If the sugar melts unevenly, swirl the pot gently, but do NOT stir with a spoon. Continue cooking until the sugar achieves a deep, dark brown color. If you’re getting nervous about burning the mixture, remove it from the heat and continue swirling the pot. The sugar will retain enough heat to continue browning, even off flame.

Remove from the flame. Beat in the hot cream with a whisk, followed by the cubes of butter, and the pinch of fleur de sel (if using). Return the pot to medium heat and bring to a boil for 2-3 minutes, until the sauce is smooth and glossy. Allow to cool, then transfer to a storage container.

A few tips:

–DO NOT lick the spoon or otherwise touch the hot caramel—you will be sorry! Wait at least 15 minutes before tasting it.

–The sauce gets thicker as it cools and is almost solid in the fridge. Before serving, microwave it for about 15 seconds to warm it up, check the consistency and stir in a drizzle of cream or milk if needed, and microwave for another 10 seconds.

–I forgot to add the fleur de sel, but stirred in a pinch after I transferred the sauce to its plastic container.

–The sauce lasts for about two weeks (or, honestly, three to four weeks).

–It’s delicious on crêpes, pound cake, waffles, pancakes, a spoon…

–For caramel troubleshooting from a pro, check out these three posts from David Lebovitz.

Salted butter caramel sauce

Topics: Free of gluten, Recettes | 21 Comments »

Tuesday dinner with Simple Provisions

By Ann | November 4, 2014

Crispy kale and chickpea salad with quinoa

I love eating kale, but I hate cleaning it. By the time I’ve washed the leaves, stripped away the tough stems, and unfurled half a roll of paper towels to dry everything, the last thing I want to do is spend more time in the kitchen cooking the stuff. Happily, Amelia Crook of the gorgeous blog Simple Provisions has saved my Tuesday evening with a fast, hands-off recipe for crispy kale and chickpea salad. I spent more time washing the kale than I did roasting it!

Amelia Crook courtesy of Amelia Crook

After a stint in New York (where she worked at Martha Stewart), Amelia returned to her native Australia in 2012. She lives with her husband and baby in Kyneton, Victoria, in an old house with a big garden. “This is an experiment in slower living,” she says. Her blog offers fresh, inventive, seasonal recipes, and fun features like “Look in the fridge”—a series of icebox tell-all tales; she featured mine here—eek! She illustrates posts with her beautiful photos, which make me want to immediately cook everything she’s cooking (or move into her serene and cozy home—Amelia? Do you need a resident pot washer?). Today I’m delighted to share a glimpse of her house, along with tips for fast meals, and a bright, satisfyingly crunchy recipe.

Courtesy of Amelia Crook

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Courtesy of Amelia Crook

On adjusting to her newly “hectic” evening routine:
“We’ve recently gone from two adults needing to be fed to two adults and a baby, which means meal times last from 5pm to 8pm, with bathing and cooking thrown in. If I’m organized, I’ll have something semi-prepared for dinner which helps things flow more smoothly. If I haven’t done any prep, it feels like I’ve never cooked dinner before and I can’t think of a single thing to cook. So far, we’ve still eaten every night though!”

On her favorite pantry staples:
“Pasta (linguine and orecchiette are my favorites), tinned beans and chickpeas, eggs, anchovies, feta, as well as fresh herbs and greens growing in the garden (kale and chard in the winter, lettuce in summer). I can usually cobble something together from this.”

On reaping the rewards of weekend cooking:
“Cooking a batch of vegetables on the weekend and storing them gives you an excellent starting point for dinners during the week. Here’s how I do it.”

Photo from Amelia Crook

On her go-to “can’t be bothered” meal:
“I can scramble eggs in a few minutes, while the toast cooks, and I’ll call that dinner. If I really don’t feel like cooking, then I’ll get take out. We live in a small town that has surprisingly good, but limited, options for take out. Thai, pizza and Indian are on rotation.”

Her secret magic ingredient:
“I try to think about what will give me the biggest hit of flavor for the least amount of work. My current favourite trick is to make a herb and garlic oil that I store in the fridge and use to drizzle over eggs, salads, potatoes and meat. It brightens up an otherwise simple and quick dish.”

Crispy kale and roasted chickpea salad from Amelia Crook of Simple Provisions

On the “holy trinity”:
“When I first discovered the combination of kale, eggs, feta and chickpeas under the broiler, I ate it four times in one week. It’s delicious, easy and good for you—that’s the holy trinity as far as I’m concerned.”

Grilled kale and chickpea salad
Adapted from a recipe by Amelia Crook

Serves 2

Note from Ann: I loved this salad’s juxtaposition of flavors and textures—it’s tangy, salty, and crunchy with jammy bursts from the roasted tomatoes. Amelia tops her salad with a fried egg: “Lemon and feta combine with the egg yolk to form a creamy, tangy dressing that oozes over the blackened, crunchy kale, warm tomatoes and slightly crispy chickpeas,” she says. But since I’d already eaten a few eggs this week, I decided to mix mine with quinoa, which added a delicate crunch and wholesome heartiness.

2 cups curly kale leaves, torn into bite-size pieces (washed and well-dried)
1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
1 can chickpeas, drained
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup feta cheese
Lemon
2 eggs (optional—see below for variation)
3/4 cup quinoa (optional—see below for variation)
Salt and pepper

Preheat the broiler on high.

In a large bowl, toss the kale, cherry tomatoes, and chickpeas with the olive oil, salt, and pepper. Spread evenly over a large baking sheet and place under the broiler. Cook for about 4 minutes, checking after a minute or two, to make sure the kale isn’t aflame. Rotate the tray and broil for another 4 minutes. Amelia says, “You want the kale to have crispy edges, with green in the middle. Some of the edges will go black but this just adds a good charcoal flavor.”

If you’re using the eggs: Fry two eggs sunny side up, until the whites are set and the yolks still runny. Divide the salad between two plates, sprinkle over the feta and a spritz of lemon juice. Place an egg on top of each portion. Enjoy!

If you’re using the quinoa: Prepare it according to the package instructions. (I made it in my rice cooker by rinsing, draining thoroughly, and adding a 2-1 ratio of water to grain.) When the quinoa is cooked, drizzle in a glug of olive oil. Toss the quinoa with the kale salad, juice of half a lemon, feta cheese. Season generously. Enjoy!

crispy kale and chickpea salad

(Photos from Amelia Crook, except for top and bottom.)

Topics: Tuesday dinner | 10 Comments »

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