Sunday, January 27, 2013

Cafe Constant

One of my favorite restaurants in Paris is Cafe Constant, a tiny place mere steps from the Eiffel Tower (take a moment to get over just how snooty I sound name dropping my favorite Parisian restaurant).  We've been there twice now and it was wonderful both times.  Our first trip there, I noticed that not only did the chef have a cookbook, but it was in English called Everyday French Cooking.  I mean this is nothing short of miraculous in Paris.  But in a moment of frugality, I decided I didn't need it.  Which of course meant that I promptly spent several years wishing that I had bought it.  Finally Santa took mercy on me and delivered it.

It is (unsurprisingly) full of French recipes, many quite traditional, and many involving fois gras or duck liver.  This weekend I whipped up a Cauliflower and Broccoli Gratin.  Not quite as intended in the book, I made quite a few adjustments due to my usual issue: sheer laziness.  But the result was delicious nonetheless.  (You should probably also know that the original recipe called for a pound (a POUND!) each of broccoli and cauliflower, as well as slices of baked ham, so it would be a whole dinner, for certain, or one of the most elaborate, substantial sides known to man).

Verdict:  I need to use this cookbook more.  Why don't I use this cookbook more?


2 C broccoli
2 C cauliflower
2 T butter
2 T plus 2 t flour
1 1/3 C milk
2 egg yolks
2/3 C cheese (the recipe called for gruyere, I used 1/3 C cheddar, 1/3 C parm) PLUS extra for sprinkling
about 1/4 C bread crumbs
salt and pepper
sprinkle of nutmeg

Set a large pot of water to boil (add a sprinkle of salt).  Cut your broccoli and cauliflower into florets. When the water boils, drop the broccoli and cauliflower in and blanche for 1 minute (blanche just means let it cook in the boiling water).  Then quickly remove it.  You might even want to shock it by quickly putting it in ice water.  Set it aside.  It might be easiest to just put them in the baking dish you've already prepared by greasing with butter.

Preheat your oven to 400 F.  In another pot (or you know, the same one if you washed it first), melt the butter.  Add the flour and stir (or whisk) until the flour is all sludgy and golden (you know, make a roux).  Very slowly add the milk, whisking constantly.  If you add the milk quickly, you will have lots of lumps, so go very slowly.

Remove the pan from the heat and add your egg yolks one at a time, again, whisking constantly (this time to avoid making scrambled eggs.)  Add the cheese and keep stirring!  Add salt and pepper to taste. You really do have to taste because how much salt you need really depends on how salty your cheese was.  Add the sprinkle of nutmeg and you're set!

Pour your sauce evenly all over the broccoli and cauliflower.  Then top that with your breadcrumbs mixed with the extra sprinkling cheese.  Bake for 25-30 minutes or until thoroughly warm, golden and bubbly.  I made mine in the toaster oven.

Monday, January 21, 2013


I started off my cookbook challenge with a book that is not actually a cookbook.  Instead it's a food memoir with recipes. But it just might be my favorite food memoir with recipes. The Language of Baklava by Diana Abu-Jaber tells of the author's experience growing up with a Jordanian father who is absolutely food obsessed.  She's an amazing writer and her descriptions just leave you dying for the meals she describes.  StellaCarolyn and I have long dreamed of getting together and trying some of the more tempting elaborate recipes.

But Ryan has always had a different objective.  Ever since he heard the word kibbeh, he's declared that he loves it and wants to eat it.  I cannot even begin to tell you how much pressure that put on this recipe (and on me!)  I even tried to tempt him with a roast chicken recipe, but there was no negotiation.  Kibbeh.  That was it.

I modified her recipe somewhat because, of course, she calls for ground lamb and we needed to use ground turkey.  Because of that, I researched some other kibbeh recipes to hunt for spice options because there's no way turkey can stand on its own.  So the cinnamon and cumin are not in the original recipe and I've changed amounts (because stores sell meat by the pound, not the pound and a half) to make life easier.

The Language of Baklava - Verdict:  This is one to own.  Even though I altered the recipe quite a bit, it was delicious.  But you should own it for the stories and writing alone.  The recipes are just a bonus.

adapted from The Language of Baklava


For Stuffing:
2/3 C minced onion
1-2 t olive oil
3 1/2 T pine nuts (Italian are supposedly better than Chinese if you can find them)
1/3 lb ground turkey (look for something with some fat, 99% fat free is like cardboard)
salt and pepper
1/4 t cinnamon (needless to say I didn't measure, I just gave a quick shake of the cinnamon jar)

For Bulgar Mixture:
2/3 C "medium" bulgar (I've no idea what medium bulgar is.  I had exactly one option at Whole Foods and bought it - Bob's Red Mill) - ALSO - bulgar is a wheat, so definitely not gluten-free
2/3 lb ground turkey
2/3 C water
2/3 C chopped onion (but really, processed in your food processor - see below)
salt and pepper
1/2 t cinnamon
1 t cumin

Sliced tomato


Two hours before cooking: Soak the bulgar.  Put it in a bowl and cover it with water.  Let sit for 2 hours.  Drain.  (If you know a better way, feel free to say so in the comments). Set aside until you're ready to use.

Preheat the oven: 350 F.

Make the stuffing: In a small pan, add the onion, the olive oil and a sprinkle of salt.  Cook for 5-8 minutes or until the onions are a dark golden color.  Remove the onions from the pan and set aside.  Add the pine nuts (don't even wipe out the pan, just toss 'em in) and saute for a few minutes.  Remove and add to the bowl with the onions.  Mix the turkey with the cinnamon and some salt and pepper.  Brown the meat (same pan!) and break apart, then add to the onion and pine nut mixtures and stir gently until incorporated.

Make the bulgar layers:  In a large bowl, combine the bulgar and the remaining raw ground turkey and the spices. (Don't even mix, just chuck it in there).  Then take your onion, chopped as it is, and give it a good spin in the food processor so it's nice and minced.  I did this instead of doing it by hand because I didn't want any chunks of onion.  Add the onion to the bulgar mixture.  Then add the water.  Using your hands, mix it all together.  It should be smooth sort of like a paste.

Assemble:  I used an 8 x 8 baking dish.  Use half of the bulgar mixture and gently press it down to cover the bottom of the baking dish.  It will be a fairly thin layer.  Also, you know, it will be raw and mushy.  Then add all the cooked fluffy stuffing, distributing it evenly over the bottom layer.  Then, top with the rest of the bulgar mixture, patting very gently so you don't end up mixing it with the stuffing.  Finally top with slices of tomato (Abu-Jabar calls this optional, and from the other recipes I saw it's not traditional, but it is REALLY tasty, so do it).

Bake: for 35-45 minutes, until cooked through.

Serve: We served this with a made up sour cream sauce that was vaguely tzatziki-esque.  Traditionally it is served with a yogurt sauce but I didn't have yogurt. It really does benefit from the cool creamy addition, so look one up or wing it, depending on your comfort level.

Sunday, January 13, 2013


At some point in the winter everything starts to taste muddy to me. The easy nature of stews and casseroles means a whole lot of rich blended flavors.  But at some point I tire of all that melding and depth of flavor and just want something that taste fresh.  Something where the individual ingredients have some integrity and even some crunch in contrast to those tender roasts and velvety sauces.  Since January is rarely an inspiring time of year for me (I tend towards tired rather than refreshed once the excitement of a New Year passes), I had to borrow a recipe.  Stealing from StellaCarolyn (and therefore whoever gave her the recipe) I made this delicious soup.  My tweaks?  Instead of chicken I used a can of rinsed drained roman beans.  I almost never have cooked chicken in the house and I like having some meatless options in my repertoire.  I'm sure it's delicious either way and just the thing to get you out of that winter rut.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

How Do You Like Them Fries?

Sorry.  I apologize for the vague Good Will Hunting reference, but I just read this amazing oral history of how the movie got made.  It's a must read for fans Ben Affleck and Matt Damon.  Try not to choke on your drink when you realize this has been written because it has been 15 years since the movie came out.  If I lived anywhere near anyone I would organize a viewing party.  Someone else would have to bring the movie (Interesting that I don't own the movie.  I own a lot of movies.  Why not this? Also, why not The Cutting Edge?

But I'd be happy to provide dinner.  Burgers of course (blue collar food only for this movie) with fries.  The ones pictured above are Melissa d'Arabian's oven fries and they are both dead easy to make and delicious.

I'm transcribing the recipe as I make it, just in case my tips and tricks help you at all.

PS: How do you like the super big picture?  Too much?  Please advise.

2 baking potatoes
2 T olive oil (she uses regular vegetable oil.  I am lazy and my olive oil is on the counter and my regular oil isn't.  Just use some oil, okay?  Probably not peanut because that might be gross).
1 t paprika
1 t sugar


Preheat your oven to 400 F (or you know, 425 or 450 - we're sloppy about that).  Get a bowl and mix together the paprika, oil and sugar.  I can promise you that I measured the oil+paprika+sugar step exactly ONCE, the first time I made it.  Now I just kind of chuck it in and mix it up.  This leads me to believe that it is not exact.  But don't skip because you need the oil to keep them from sticking and the paprika and sugar help with the beautiful fry coloring.

Cutting the potatoes is the second hardest part.  I peel them, then cut each in half.  Then I make even vertical cuts through one half, then turn my stack and make vertical cuts the other way to make sticks.  I throw out little bits that make the fries not look pretty and do a bit of trimming.  It's wasteful, but you look more accomplished that way.  And you can pretend it's because it will help the fries cook evenly (maybe it does?)

When your potatoes are cut, toss them thoroughly in the oil mixture and then lay out on a baking sheet. You can see from the picture that mine is DARK with age.  I honestly believe a dark pan is key to this working, so if you have a dark one, go with that.  I put NO oil on the pan.  Lay out the potatoes so they don't touch.  My pan is exactly large enough for two potatoes.  It's a pretty standard cookie sheet size I think.  Bake for 15-20 minutes.  Then pull them out and try to flip.  If they don't come up easily, pop them back in.  Most of the time, MOST of the fries will release nicely with only some giving you trouble.  I use my hands (impervious to heat), a spatula, whatever works.  Melissa advises tongs.  Tongs in my hands crush the fries, so I avoid them.  Pop them back in for 10-15 minutes (check them at 10 and let them go until fully baked.  They will never be as crispy as fried but they are the most respectable oven fry I've ever had.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013


Today at work there was a discussion about how resolutions should be carefully chosen.  About how they should be achievable, manageable, not overwhelming.  So basically I shouldn't resolve to post here 5 days a week or anything, because I won't be able to do it, and then I will feel like a failure, but also resentful of this blog and my obligation to it.  Besides, what would I really achieve by posting more?  Would I build a bigger audience?  Maybe, but that's probably not the best way to build a bigger audience.  Would I have a better record of things I make that are delicious? Possibly, but to be honest, even the ones that aren't posted here that I love I can locate or recreate.

So I thought about cooking and me and what I really want.  And then I thought about what I could actually, honestly manage.  And this is what I decided.  I have a gorgeous, well-stocked cookbook collection.  I have must-have classics like Marcella Hazan's Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking and Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking, 50th Anniversary Edition.  I have books whose pages stick together from such frequent use, my Barefoot Contessa Family Style is well-loved. I have recipe books from my mother and my dearest friend, StellaCarolyn who have recorded recipes they've used and loved. But I also have a fleet of cookbooks, carefully marked with post-its, full of recipes I want to try, but never actually get around to.

My excuses are many (and probably familiar)...

I don't have time.
If I cook something from a book I can't blog it here, it's stolen!
What if it doesn't taste good?
I don't have any (insert name of ingredient)in the house.

But my resolution is to get past all of that, and actually use my beautiful cookbook collection. Hopefully I'll uncover some winning recipes. Maybe I'll be able to guiltlessly remove a few after proving them to be failures.

Here's how I'm going to do it.

1.  I don't have time during the week for new recipes, but the weekend is different. I have more time, and a husband who is home.  Saturday or Sunday will have to be it.

2. I'm going to review how the recipe turned out.  You'll get my honest opinion, a link to the cookbook on Amazon should you feel tempted to keep it and love it yourself (and yes, if you click through and buy it from here I will receive PENNIES, yes PENNIES from your purchase).

3. Eh, if it doesn't taste good and it's a weekend?  Well, that's what take out is for.

4. We almost always go grocery shopping at least once on the weekend.  Perfect time to buy anything I might need for my experiment.

Are you making any kitchen/cooking resolutions?  Do tell!


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