Foodbuzz 24x24: Say it Right, Frenchie!

To my great surprise and elation, I was selected as one of the participants in the June 24x24 by the folks at Foodbuzz. I submitted a proposal called "Say it Right, Frenchie!"

In my proposal, I wrote the the following: "I am currently doing a personal challenge on my blog called "50 Countries, 1 Year." In the challenge, I create 50 recipes (or meals), one from each country of my choosing. Of course, I feel that some countries deserve extra attention when it comes to their cuisine. I did this with Italy, and quickly found out that I *could* spend much more creating a special meal than I *should*. Because of this, I would really like 24x24's help with one of my other "special" country experiences: France. While I don't think that French food is anything earth-shatteringly original (and certainly not after the release of Julie & Julia), I think that creating a solely French multicourse meal for my 50 Countries challenge is somewhat unique."

The menu went like this:
-Baguettes with Camembert
-Soupe a'Lail
-Salade Lyonnaise
-Tarte au Pistou
-Roast Chicken with Gratin Dauphinois
-Profiteroles with Coffee Cream
-Lots of French wine

With the Foodbuzz Stamp of Approval, I spent a few weeks fine tuning the menu and flow of the meal, and all of yesterday shopping (three different places!) and creating it. From start to finish, I spent 10 hours yesterday working on this meal. All I can say is: My feet hurt. Oh! And that it went AWESOMELY and everyone loved it and we had a super amazing wonderful time that may or may not have ended in a toast to Foodbuzz for making it happen. :)

Fat and happy at the end of the evening.

The best thing that I did the night before was write up an extensive game plan for the next day's preparations. I had morning stuff (i.e. set out slices of baguettes so they will be stale by the time you make the soup, fry bacon and set aside the fat, make pate brisee, make profiteroles, etc), and afternoon stuff (i.e. prep chicken, assemble tart, etc). I found the actual timing really difficult. Fortunately, I had my lovely fiance to help talk me through it and settle on when to put things in the oven. It all worked out really well timing-wise, and I was able to both put things out on the table at a reasonable pace AND eat with my guests. Whew!

Our guests began with a (store bought) baguette, camembert, and locally made, spreadable goat cheese.

Though it was my original intent to serve the Tarte au Pistou after the soup and salad, it made more sense to cook it just before everyone arrived and to serve it on the heels of bread and cheese.

Originally, I started with a recipe for this tart that included eggs and cream. But it was a French recipe with unclear directions, and it made me nervous. I then found that many "Tartes au Pistou" did not actually include eggs or cream, but rather just pistou, tomatoes, and goat cheese. Well! That's a lot less nerve wracking. So, I cobbled together a recipe from a few different sources, crossed my fingers, and hoped for the best. The result? Many "yummy noises" from around the table.

Tarte au Pistou (modified from Food & Wine and Marmiton)
-1 prepared (uncooked) Pate Brisee (recipe follows)
-2 cups fresh basil leaves, packed
-1/8 cup olive oil
-1 clove garlic, chopped
-1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
-1/2 of a fresh tomato, grated
-a few pinches shredded mozzarella and parmesan
-3-4 large tomatoes, sliced into rounds with the seeds removed
-4 oz log goat cheese, cut into 7 rounds
-Herbes de Provence for sprinkling
-Olive oil for drizzling

1. In a food processor, put basil, olive oil, garlic, salt, tomato, and cheese. Puree until mostly smooth. This is the "Pistou."

2. Preheat oven to 400.

3. Spread pistou evenly over the bottom of the tart.

4. Put down 2-3 layers of tomatoes over the pistou.

5. Put goat cheese over the tomatoes.

6. Sprinkle with herbes de provence, drizzle olive oil over everything.

7. Bake for 35 minutes in a 400 degree oven. Serve hot.

Pate Brisee (from Joy of Baking)
-2 1/2 cups (350 grams) all-purpose flour
-1 teaspoon (4 grams) salt
-1 tablespoon (14 grams) granulated white sugar
-1 cup (2 sticks) (226 grams) unsalted butter, chilled, and cut into 1 inch (2.54 cm) pieces
-1/4 to 1/2 cup (60 - 120 ml) ice water

1. In a food processor, place the flour, salt, and sugar and process until combined. Add the butter and process until the mixture resembles coarse meal (about 15 seconds). Pour 1/4 cup (60 ml) water in a slow, steady stream, through the feed tube until the dough just holds together when pinched. Add remaining water, if necessary. Do not process more than 30 seconds.

2. Turn the dough out onto your work surface and gather it into a ball. Divide the dough into two equal pieces, flatten each portion into a disk, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 30 minutes to one hour before using. This will chill the butter and allow the gluten in the flour to relax. At this point you can also freeze the dough for later use.

3. For each disk of pastry, on a lightly floured surface, roll out the pastry to fit into a 8 or 9 inch (20 to 23 cm) tart pan. To prevent the pastry from sticking to the counter and to ensure uniform thickness, keep lifting up and turning the pastry a quarter turn as you roll (always roll from the center of the pastry outwards to get uniform thickness). To make sure it is the right size, take your tart pan, flip it over, and place it on the rolled out pastry. The pastry should be about an inch larger than your pan.

4. When the pastry is rolled to the desired size, lightly roll pastry around your rolling pin, dusting off any excess flour as you roll. Unroll onto the top of your tart pan. Never pull the pastry or you will get shrinkage (shrinkage is caused by too much pulling of the pastry when placing it in the pan). Gently lay in pan and with a small floured piece of pastry, lightly press pastry into bottom and up sides of pan. Roll your rolling pin over top of pan to get rid of excess pastry. With a thumb up movement, again press dough into pan. Roll rolling pin over top again to get rid of any extra pastry. Prick bottom of dough (this will prevent the dough from puffing up as it bakes). Cover and refrigerate for 20 minutes to chill the butter and to rest the gluten.

5. To prebake the tart shell: Preheat oven to 400 degrees F (205 degrees C) and place rack in center of oven. Line the unbaked pastry shell with parchment paper or aluminum foil. Fill tart pan with pie weights or beans, making sure the weights are to the top of the pan and evenly distributed over the entire surface. Bake crust for 20 to 25 minutes or until the crust is dry and lightly browned. Remove weights and cool crust on wire rack. Proceed with desired recipe that calls for a pre-baked shell.

-Makes two - 9 inch (23 cm) tart shells.

I made the Soupe a'Lail in advance and reheated it. This was a very good idea, as reheating took all of 5 minutes. While it was reheating, I was able to place bread in the bowls and get the Gruyere shredded. Brilliant! Oddly, the seasoning of Soupe a'Lail reminded me somewhat of Top Ramen's seasoning. Apparently Top Ramen is seasoned with tons of garlic, thyme, bay leaf, and parsley. Who knew? Anyway, this was a very tasty soup that everyone loved (though, hilariously, no one suspected that the floaty bits were egg!). I felt that it was transformed from good to great by the addition of bread and cheese.

Soupe a'Lail (from Traditional French Food)
-1 litre (4 cups) of chicken stock
-8 cloves of garlic, minced
-75g or 3oz of duck fat (**I, of course, do not have duck fat lying around. So, I used some of the bacon fat I reserved during my preparations.**)
-2 eggs, separated
-1 bouquet garni (**Fresh thyme, bay leaf, and parsley, with a sprinkle of dried herbes de provence. See my hilarious 'bouquet' method below.**)
-salt & pepper
-4-6 slices of stale bread toasted
-75g or 3oz of grated cheese (**I used Gruyere. It was amazing.**)

1. Bring the stock to the boil.

2. Fry the garlic in the bacon fat, then add to the stock.

3. Add the bouquet garni and simmer for 20 minutes.

Yes, that's right. I used two tea steepers tied to the pot with twine. Sometimes, you have to be innovative.

4. Remove the bouquet garni.

5. Beat the egg whites lightly and add to the soup.

6. As soon as they have set remove from the heat.

7. Whisk some of the soup with the egg yolks a bit at a time, then pour into the rest of the soup.

8. Add salt and pepper to taste.

9. Put a slice of the stale, toasted bread in the bottom of each bowl, and cover with grated cheese. Then pour the soup over it, and serve.

-Technically serves 4, but I got 6 decent-sized servings out of it.

Salade Lyonnaise is commonly considered to be one of the most delicious salads ever invented. And it's not difficult to see why. What's not to love about what is, essentially, a Bacon & Egg Salad? From the sharp taste of hot red wine vinegar, to the bitterness of the endives, the crunchy bacon and croutons, the silky poached egg, and the downright decadence of using bacon fat as part of the dressing, this is one amazing salad.

Salade Lyonnaise (from My-French-House)
For the salad:
-1 small head curly endive, washed and torn into bite-size pieces
-8 oz. bacon, cut into lardons (1/4" strips)
-2 Tablespoons olive oil
-6 Tablespoons red wine vinegar
-Fine sea salt & freshly ground black pepper

For the croutons:
-3 1/2-inch slices of a French boule, crusts removed, cut into cubes
-2 teaspoons olive oil

For the poached eggs:
-4 eggs
-1 Tablespoon white vinegar

1. Preheat oven to 350.

2. To make the croutons: Toss the bread cubes with the olive oil and sprinkle with salt and peppr. Spread in a single layer on a baking sheet and bake, turning once, about 10 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from oven and reserve. (**NOTE: Obviously, I did this in advance.**)

3. To poach the eggs: Bring about 2 quarts of water to a boil and add the white vinegar. Break each egg into a small cup. Gently slide the eggs, one at a time into the boiling water. Cook until the whites are just set, about 4 minutes. Lift the eggs out of the water with a slotted spoon. Place in a bowl of warm water to keep warm while finishing the salad.

4. To finish the salad: Place the endive into a bowl. Fry the bacon until lightly browned. Discard all but 4 tablespoons of the bacon fat. Add the oil and heat. Pour over the endive and toss well. The heat should wilt the leaves slightly. (**NOTE: Since I made the bacon in advance, I simply put the reserved fat in a skillet with the oil and reheated. No biggie.**)

5. Add the vinegar into the hot pan and cook until it has been reduced by half. Pour over the salad and toss again. Taste for seasoning, add additional salt and pepper if necessary.

6. Divide the endive among 4 plates. Sprinkle with the bacon and croutons. Place a poached egg on top and serve immediately.

At this point in the evening, I said, "Let's take pictures of you all at the "Halfway Point." There was a slight pause of horror. "We're only...halfway?" Evidently, a suggestion to pace themselves would've been helpful.

Kris and Greg, still looking like they want more. Thank goodness.

TJ doing his best "Saucy Frenchman" impression.

Every single picture I have of Chelsea is one where she's moving. Here, I thought she kind of looked like Dino from the Flinstones, begging for food. Also pictured much less blurrily, is Jill.

It was nice to have this bit of time where the chicken and gratin were in the oven and I didn't have to do a thing except socialize and catch up on wine drinking. Fortunately, the Roast Chicken and Gratin Dauphinoise came out beautifully. This is my standby recipe for Roast Chicken. It is the most wonderful recipe--so simple, healthy, and utterly delicious. The Gratin Dauphinoise recipe was suggested by my friend Lauren, whose parents make it often. I was told by Jill that she'd recently been to Idaho, tried a lot of potatoes (and as such considered herself something of a "Potato Connoisseur"), and these were "Damn Good Potatoes."

Lemon-Garlic Roast Chicken (from Cooking Light)
-4 lb. whole chicken
-1 tsp. kosher salt (or sea salt)
-1/2 tsp. pepper
-1/2 teaspoon Herbes de Provence (**NOTE: This is my addition, so it's optional, but HIGHLY recommended.**)
-8 garlic cloves, peeled and left whole
-1 small lemon, quartered

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

2. Remove giblets and neck. (**NOTE: So, I bought this chicken at the Farmer's Market in Urbana. I was all happy to buy a grass-fed, cruelty-free chicken. WELL. It was a surprise to me to learn that happy chickens still have all their entrails. Fortunately, my dearest Greg is a biologist, and had no qualms about taking out all the innards. I have enough trouble with the next steps, as well as the handling of an entire carcass, as it is. No handling of organs for me, thanks.**)

3. Trim excess fat. Starting at the neck cavity, loosen skin from breast and drumsticks by inserting fingers, gently pushing between skin and meat.

4. Combine salt, pepper and herbes de provence in a small bowl. Put salt mixture under loosened skin. Lift wing tips up and over back and tuck under chicken. Place lemon and garlic in body cavity. Place chicken breast-side down on a broiler pan. (**NOTE: At this point, I always have a little remaining spice mixture. I rub that onto the back, and squeeze lemon juice over the whole shebang.**)

5. Bake at 400, or until meat thermometer reaches 165 when stuck in thigh (+/- 1 hour).

6. Let stand for 10 minutes, remove skin if you so desire.

Gratin Dauphinoise
(from Lauren's Parents/Epicurious/Julia Child)
-2 cups heavy cream
-2 cups half and half
-1 clove garlic pureed
-1 each bay leaf
-2 1/2 pounds boiling potatoes thinly sliced
-4 tablespoons swiss cheese grated (**Lauren suggested, and I agree, that you use Gruyere)

1. Pour 1.5 cups of each of the cream and half & half into a 3-quart saucepan. Stir in the garlic, salt & pepper, and the bay leaf. Drop the potatoes into the cream; when they are all in, add more cream if necessary to cover by one inch.

2. Preliminary cooking - 1 - 1 1/2 hours. Bring to below the simmer and maintain at just below the simmer for an hour or more until tender. Check frequently to be sure they are not bubbling (will curdle the cream) or sticking.

3. Into the baking dish. When tender, correct the seasoning and turn into a lightly butter baking dish. Spread on the grated cheese.

4. Final baking - 20 min. at 425. Set in the upper middle level of the preheated oven (425 deg.) and bake until bubbling hot and lightly browned. Do not overcook or the potatoes will be dry.

The final stretch was the hardest, I must say. After eating 5 courses, I really just wanted to lie down (preferably with the wine glass still in hand). But, I knew that I had to rally and finish making the Pièce de Résistance: Profiteroles with Coffee Cream.

Earlier in the day, I made the Profiteroles. It was my first time making choux pastry. The making of choux pastry is extremely easy: You put a couple ingredients in a sauce pan, stir until it forms a ball, remove from heat, add eggs, mix, and BAM! Choux pastry.

It was the next step that got...sticky. For profiteroles (for some reason I can't fathom), you have to stuff the choux pastry into a pastry bag and pipe it out into mounds. This was also my first time using a pastry bag. I definitely should've had Greg help me. I started by getting the tar-like pastry on my hands from trying to fill it in the bag one-handed with a rubber spatula. You then twist the bag shut and start piping. But the squeezing action made it come out the top of the bag and onto my hands. By the time I was done, my hands AND the entire outside of the pastry bag were covered in choux pastry. I was worried that more pastry had gotten on me than the baking sheet. It was a chouxsaster.


But, to my delight, 20 minutes later the pitiful mounds of goo had transformed into beautiful round puffs. "Who can explain the magic of science?!" I asked Greg, "Certainly not me or you!" See, it's funny because he's a Scientist.

I used a recipe for the Profiteroles and the chocolate sauce from Epicurious. Their recipe uses coffee ice cream as the filling. But I got the idea in my head to make coffee-laced chantilly cream as the filling, by way of coffee-flavored liqueur. And why stop there? I also boozed up the chocolate sauce. It was intensely delicious.

Profiteroles with Coffee Liqueur Chocolate Sauce and Chantilly Cream (modified from Epicurious)
For profiteroles:
-6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into pieces
-3/4 cup water
-1/4 teaspoon salt
-3/4 cup all-purpose flour
-3 large eggs

For chocolate sauce:
-1/2 cup sugar
-1 cup heavy cream
-7 ounce fine-quality bittersweet chocolate (no more than 60% cacao if marked), finely chopped
-1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
-1 tablespoon coffee liqueur (optional)

For chantilly cream:
-2 cups cold heavy whipping cream
-1/2 cup granulated sugar
-1 teaspoon coffee liqueur

1. Preheat oven to 425°F with rack in middle. Butter a large baking sheet.

2. Bring butter, water, and salt to a boil in a small heavy saucepan, stirring until butter is melted. Reduce heat to medium, then add flour all at once and cook, beating with a wooden spoon, until mixture pulls away from side of pan and forms a ball, about 30 seconds. Transfer mixture to a bowl and cool slightly, 2 to 3 minutes.

3. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating well with an electric mixer after each addition.

4. Transfer warm mixture to pastry bag and pipe 18 mounds (about 1 1/4 inches wide and 1 inch high) 1 inch apart on baking sheet.

5. Bake until puffed and golden brown, 20 to 25 minutes total. Prick each profiterole once with a skewer, then return to oven to dry, propping oven door slightly ajar, 3 minutes. Cool on sheet on a rack.

6. Heat sugar in a 2-quart heavy saucepan over medium heat, stirring with a fork to heat sugar evenly, until it starts to melt, then stop stirring and cook, swirling pan occasionally so sugar melts evenly, until it is dark amber.

7. Remove from heat, then add cream and a pinch of salt (mixture will bubble and steam). Return to heat and cook, stirring, until caramel has dissolved.

8. Remove from heat and add chocolate, whisking until melted, then whisk in vanilla and coffee liqueur (if using). Keep warm, covered.

9. Using a cold metal bowl, pour in heavy cream, sugar, and coffee liqueur. With an electric mixer, beat until soft peaks form.

10. Halve profiteroles horizontally using a sharp knife (**NOTE: It helps to poke directly through the profiterole, then use a light downward sawing motion--you must be gentle!**). Fill bottoms with a large dollop of cream, and replace tops. Using a tablespoon, pour warm chocolate sauce generously over the top.

-Makes 18 profiteroles, or about 6 servings.

And for fun, here are some reactions to the profiteroles. I would definitely say they stole the show.

It was a wonderful evening.

New Ingredients

When my friend Scholke gave me the idea for the 50 Countries Challenge, he first proposed trying out 50 ingredients I've never used before in cooking. I was fairly sure that I'd gotten around enough in cooking that I would have to start buying REALLY exotic things. What worried me more was that I would have to do things I won't do on principle, like make lobster or octopus.

However, recently I've realized how much doing this 50 Countries Challenge, as well as being part of The Daring Cooks, has forced me to step outside of the box. I've been keeping track of ingredients new to my World of Cooking, partly for me, but mostly for Scholke. I've found 24 "new ingredients" as of January 2nd--almost as many as there are countries I've visited on my challenge. Awesome.

For interested parties, those ingredients are:
Mo Qua (Fuzzy Squash)
Curry Leaves
Apricot Nectar
Hearts of Palm
Confectioners Sugar
Adobo Seasoning
Anaheim Chiles
Masa Harina
Chayote Squash
Sambal Oelek
Dried Currants
Porcini Mushrooms
Arborio Rice
Dangmyeon Noodles (Sweet Potato Noodles)
Bulgur Wheat
Parsley Root
Date Syrup
Fish Sauce

Sri Lanka: Vegetable Curry

Guess what? I am officially halfway through my 50 Countries Challenge! I'm putting on a party hat, blowing noisemakers, and waving pompoms as I write this post.

What better way to commemorate my 25th country than with curry? If it hasn't become evident by now, I love curries. If an opportunity to make or eat curry presents itself, I'll get it done. Apparently, the Sri Lankan people feel the same way I do, as "Curry and Rice" is their national dish. I'm sure that there is no particular "Sri Lankan Curry" recipe, but rather that every Sri Lankan household has their own variation on the same theme.

Upon reading this recipe, I realized there was no curry powder involved whatsoever. I researched some other options and found that the recipes typically use curry leaves, so I added them in. I was surprised to find a cinnamon stick included in the ingredients, but I shouldn't have been--cinnamon is native to Sri Lanka, and is one of their most famous exports.

As you'll see, there are no particular vegetables specified. I added a sweet potato (which was the best idea I've had in a long time--it added real depth of flavor), carrots, and a "Mo Qua," or "fuzzy squash," which is very much like a zucchini. I wanted to add green beans, but Meijer didn't have any. As I understand it, green beans are a popular addition to Sri Lankan curries.

Sri Lankan Vegetable Curry
(from Fire & Spice, by Heather Jansz Balasuriya)
-3 Medium Green Chiles -- finely chopped (**I used Jalapenos)
-8+ Curry Leaves (**Technically optional...I added these to the recipe)
-1 Medium Onion -- finely chopped
-1/2 Teaspoon Turmeric
-1 Stick Cinnamon
-3 Cloves Garlic -- finely chopped
-1 Teaspoon Ginger -- finely chopped
-1 Teaspoon Lemongrass (**I minced mine)
Salt -- to taste
-3 Cups Coconut Milk
-2 Cups Water
-4 Cups Vegetables -- sliced (**I used diced sweet potato, Mo Qua, and carrots)
Optional: I found the flavor of the finished product a bit lacking. I added a healthy dash of curry powder and extra salt to my bowl and was totally satisfied.

1. In soup pot, combine chiles, onion, turmeric, cinnamon, garlic, ginger, lemongrass, 1 cup coconkut milk, water, and salt. Simmer 10 minutes.

2. Add vegetables and cook until tender (**For me, this was about 30 minutes)

3. Add remaining coconut milk. Simmer 5 mintues. Serve over rice.

Nutty Chocolate Chip & Pretzel Cookies

Everyone, let me get serious for a moment. The day the Take 5 candy bar was brought to local grocery stores, I nearly wet myself with joy. Why? Because there is no better addition to chocolate than pretzels. And not only did the Take 5 bar have these two things, but they upped the ante with peanuts and peanut butter and caramel. It is the holy grail of candy bars, and it's mostly due to the pretzels.

One day, Greg delivered a cookie to work. He bought it somewhere on campus, and it had chocolate chips and pretzels. I went and changed my pants. We both agreed that it was good, but there was too much sweet milk chocolate and not enough pretzel. I'm sure we looked adorable when the little light bulb switched on simultaneously over our heads: Why don't we just make our own?! And so one day, Greg did. And they were totally awesome.

We've been using the regular Tollhouse Chocolate Chip Cookie recipe and adding pretzels to our hearts desire. However, pretzels would make any chunky chocolate chip recipe better. Try it. You'll see.

Nutty Chocolate Chip & Pretzel Cookies (shamelessly ripped off and only the tiniest bit modified from the Nestle Tollhouse recipe)
-2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
-1 teaspoon baking soda
-1 teaspoon salt
-1 cup butter or margarine, softened
-3/4 cup granulated sugar
-3/4 cup packed brown sugar
-1 teaspoon vanilla extract
-2 large egg
-1 (12 ounce) package NESTLE® TOLL HOUSE® Semi-Sweet Chocolate Morsels
-1 cup chopped nuts
-Up to 1 cup crumbled/chooped thin pretzels (you can just do the crumbling by crushing a few in your hands)

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

2. Combine flour, baking soda and salt in small bowl. Beat butter, granulated sugar, brown sugar and vanilla extract in large mixer bowl until creamy. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Gradually beat in flour mixture. Stir in morsels, nuts, and pretzels. Drop by rounded tablespoon onto ungreased baking sheets.

3. Bake for 9 to 11 minutes or until golden brown. Cool on baking sheets for 2 minutes; remove to wire racks to cool completely.

P.S. If you don't think that I won't try making "Take 5 Cookies" some day, you're very sadly mistaken.

How to Poach an Egg

I'm throwing a fancy French dinner-soiree next weekend. My choice of cuisine requires me to poach an egg (not once, but 6 or 7 times). I've never poached an egg before, but after watching "Julie & Julia," I got the impression that it was quite the tricky endeavor. So, in the spirit of saving myself from humiliation, I set out to practice making poached eggs. And guess what? It is so easy. I shouldn't have been worried. (I say that now, but are you willing to bet that next weekend the eggs will go awry? I will take that bet.)

My brother gave me his old awesome camera! It may be my smitten-ness with the camera, but I don't think I've taken a lovelier photo of food so far.

Poached Eggs
(technique from "Everyday Food")

1. Break eggs into separate bowls. Do not break the yolks.

2. Fill a straight edged 12" deep skillet or pan with 2" of water. Set heat to medium. When bubbles form on the bottom of the pan and a couple tiny bubbles break on the surface of the water, gently pour one egg at a time into the water. Do not overcrowd the eggs--I wouldn't put more than 4 in at a time. Leave space between the eggs.

3. Let cook undisturbed for 3-4 minutes until whites are just set and yolks are still runny.

4. If necessary (and it will probably be necessary), use a rubber spatula to gently loosen the egg from the bottom of the pan. Start at the outer edge and slowly move toward the center of the egg, pushing lightly.

5. With a slotted spoon, pick up one egg at a time. Use a paper towel to blot the bottom of the spoon before serving the egg.

Poached eggs is one of the healthiest ways to eat an egg, considering the lack of butter used to cook it. They are divine with toast for breakfast, but at my dinner party, they will be part of Salade Lyonnaise. Yum.

Nigeria: Jollof Rice with Nigerian Chicken

Is it terrible that I am scared to make rice without the aide of my rice cooker? I've read all sorts of tips and tricks on how to make perfect rice on the stove top, but something always goes wrong. Inevitably, some rice will burn on the bottom and/or some of the rice won't be cooked all the way through. I don't understand how it can be so difficult.

So, you can understand my hesitation in trying Nigeria's national dish, "Jollof Rice." There is certainly no rice cooker involved. Scary. But, I found a beautiful and delicious-looking blog post from Ozoz at The Kitchen Butterfly. Better yet, she had included a recipe for chicken to accompany the rice. Huzzah!

I had to contact Ozoz for more explicit directions for the chicken, so I am going to incorporate those directions into the recipe. Ozoz told me that non-Nigerians tend to find the chicken very dry compared to what we're used to. I must've done something wrong, as my chicken turned out very juicy. But, perhaps that's not a bad thing for us non-Nigerians. :) Ozoz also notes in her recipe that the rice will probably stick to the bottom of the pan and burn (some rice-things never change), but Nigerians often eat that too, because it's flavorful. So, beware! The rice will stick and burn. Mine did.

Jollof Rice and Chicken (from The Kitchen Butterfly)

Jollof Rice:
-2 tablespoons of coconut/vegetable oil/butter
-6 medium-sized fresh tomatoes/ a 400g tin of tomatoes
-3 medium sized onions (1 sliced thinly, 2 blended)
-½ or less of fresh chili pepper, to taste (**NOTE: I forgot to get two chiles, so I used 1/2 teaspoon of worked well)
-1 tablespoon tomato puree
-2 tablespoons curry powder
-2 teaspoons dried thyme
-1 stock cube (I used beef, as it was all I had on hand)
-2 3/4 cups (500g) uncooked long grain rice or basmati rice
-3 1/3 cups (800ml) water or stock (vegetable, chicken or meat)
-2 tablespoons butter
Optional – mixed herbs, shrimps (fresh or dried), meat chunks etc….

1. In a blender, blend tomatoes, 2 onions and chili pepper, till smooth. This will take about 2 minutes of pulsing in a blender.

2. In a large pan, heat oil and add the sliced onion; stir-fry for 1-2 minutes; add blended tomato mixture, tomato puree, curry, thyme and season with salt. Stir on medium heat for 10-12 minutes so the mix cooks and the raw taste of the tomatoes is gone.

3. If using, add water/stock. Stir well, season to taste and add rice. Stir again. Cover pan and bring to the boil.

4. When it comes up to the boil, add butter, stir again and turn down the heat – letting the rice steam for another 15-20 minutes, or till cooked (depending on how you like your rice). If rice is getting too dry, add some more stock or water, stir gently and leave to cook.

5. When it’s cooked, take off heat and remove the cover of the pot. Put a tea cloth over the top and leave till ready to serve.

-Serves: At *least* 8, if not 10-12. My god, there is so much rice.

Nigerian Chicken:
-2 large onions (red or white), chopped
-2-3 cloves Garlic , without the skin
-Fresh yellow (or red) chili (1/2 a chili will be a little hot, so don’t use more than that if you’re not a chili fan, or omit it completely)
-Fresh/Dried Ginger (1 tsp, or to taste)
-Salt, to taste
-2-3 teaspoons dried Thyme
-2-3 tablespoons dried Curry powder
-Chicken seasoning – Aromat, or any other seasoning you like (Paprika, Turmeric etc) (**NOTE: I used 1 teaspoon paprika and about 1/4-1/2 teaspoon of turmeric)
-Uncooked Chicken drumsticks/legs (1kg) (Chicken on the bone is far tastier!) (**NOTE: I used thighs, because in my head I mixed up 'thighs' and 'drumsticks.' Ah well.)

1. Blend Onions, garlic (and fresh ginger, chilies, if using) without water in a blender.

2. Do it in pulses and if it is difficult, open the blender and mix the contents with a spoon. When ready put onion mixture into a large bowl.

3. Add spices to onion mixture and mix well.

4. Add chicken to spice mixture, making sure chicken pieces are well coated. Then cover the bowl with the cover or Clingfilm and leave in the fridge to marinade for 24 hours.

5. When ready to cook, place chicken and all of marinade in a pan on medium to low-medium heat. Cover. Let chicken cook/steam for 15-20 minutes (The point is not to cook it through). Stir often when steaming to ensure it doesn’t burn. Meanwhile, preheat your oven to 450.

6. After 20 minutes is up, place chicken on a broiler pan and cook for 20-30 minutes, or until cooked to desired doneness.

-Serves 4+, depending on how much chicken you used.

Verdict: I loved the Jollof Rice. It was thick and flavorful, and everything I hoped it would be. I was fine with the chicken, but wasn't overly impressed with it. I felt like not enough of the excellent marinade flavors carried over through the cooking process. However, I think that this would've been different with drumsticks, since it's easier to eat the skin and meat all at once.

Ghana: Bananas Ghana

Doing some research on Ghana just now, I discovered that I had a major misconception that is probably hinged largely on the letter "G." For some reason, I thought that Ghana had wild giraffes. Apparently, that is not the case. Giraffes generally live in central Africa, while Ghana is located on the western coast. Ghana does have many other sub-saharan wildlife that I typically associate with blazing red suns setting over the savannah--elephants, lions, hyenas, leopards, baboons, a whole slew of monkey species, and even aardvarks. I'm glad I was not wildly off the mark, anyway.

I chose a recipe called "Bananas Ghana" from Ghana Nation. You all know how I can't resist a dessert recipe for the 50 Countries Challenge, and this seemed less heavy than most. So full of fruity goodness. Also, you may not know, but I pretty much live for bananas. If I could die and come back as an animal, I'm pretty sure it would be a banana-eating species of monkey or ape. However, I don't think my monkey-self would live in Ghana, because apparently Bananas are not a major crop or export. Another misconception proven! Their major export is cocoa, which is something I think human-me would like a whole let better than monkey-me. I apologize for being so weird.

Sadly, Greg and I were only so-so about this recipe. It wasn't bad, but it wasn't what I'd hoped. It is extremely sweet. I mean....really, really sweet. An optional garnish is sour cream (we thought plain yogurt would also work nicely), which we didn't use, but probably would've gone a long way in cutting the intense sugary flavor. We also thought that this would make a nice topping/glaze for a not-so-sweet-on-its-own type of cake.

Bananas Ghana (from Ghana Nation)
-8 medium bananas, cut in half lengthwise and then crosswise
-1/4 cup Sugar
-1 teaspoon cinnamon
-1 cup orange juice
-3 tablespoons apricot brandy (or apricot juice/nectar, or even apricot preserves)
-3 tablespoons shredded coconut or chopped peanuts

Optional garnish:
-1/2 cup sour cream (optional) or low-fat sour cream (optional)
-1 tablespoon Sugar (optional)

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

2. Combine 1/4 cup of Sugar with cinnamon in a shallow bowl. Roll banana pieces in cinnamon-sugar and place in a 9 inch ovenproof dish.

3. Mix orange juice and brandy together and pour into dish with the bananas.

4. **NOTE: The original recipe does not give any indication of how long you are supposed to bake this. It literally goes from step 3 to step 5. So, I put it in for 30 minutes, which was long enough to get a slight amount of browning, warm it through, and to kind of thicken the liquid.**

5. Remove bananas from oven and sprinkle either coconut or peanuts on top.

6. If you like, mix together the sour cream and tablespoon of Sugar. Serve on side as an optional garnish.

-Serves 4 (generous portions). Please note that I halved this recipe, but did not write it that way.

Daring Cooks Challenge: Pates and Bread


Our hostesses this month, Evelyne of Cheap Ethnic Eatz, and Valerie of a The Chocolate Bunny, chose delicious pate with freshly baked bread as their June Daring Cook’s challenge! They’ve provided us with 4 different pate recipes to choose from and are allowing us to go wild with our homemade bread choice.

I almost categorically refuse to try offal. The exception is Braunschweiger (liverwurst), which I will occasionally eat a small amount of on a cracker. But I can't stomach the thought of eating offal pate (no pun intended there). So, fortunately, this month's hosts allowed for a vegetarian pate, and I gratefully made that instead.

This recipe for Tricolor Vegetable Pate is awesome. This would be a great appetizer to bring to a party. I think it would be a crowd pleaser. I could've eaten the white bean portion straight on its own, and think I may make it as a vegetable dip sometime (it's not unlike hummus). Greg loved the roasted red pepper-feta layer. The only problem with this recipe is that there is not enough pesto to make a full layer for a regular sized loaf pan. I would suggest doubling the recipe for pesto--if you end up with extra, it's definitely not the end of the world. Freeze the excess and use it later for pasta or bruschetta.

I was also seriously excited to have a reason to make french bread. I had no idea it would take so long. I give serious kudos to bakeries for having the patience to make them every single day. They require 5 hours of rising time alone! That said, they are not *difficult* to make. In fact, this was one of the easiest breads I've ever made. The dough came together beautifully, it kept rising awesomely, and it formed a log like nothin'. It just took forever. My only problem was that for once, I curbed my urge to check it's progress every 5-10 minutes, and let it go for the entire 25 minutes. It was slightly singed. Sad! So, I would recommend checking up on the bread before 25 minutes is up, just in case.

Thanks to Evelyne and Valerie for a delicious challenge!

Tricolor Vegetable Pate
Yields one 25 by 12,5 cm (10 by 5 inch) terrine or loaf pan

Line your pan with plastic wrap, overlapping sides.

White Bean Layer
-2 x 15-ounce / 900 ml cans cannellini (white kidney beans), rinsed, drained thoroughly
-1 tbsp / 15 ml fresh lemon juice
-1 tbsp / 15 ml olive oil
-1 tbsp / 15 ml minced fresh oregano or 1 teaspoon dried
-2 garlic cloves, pressed

1. Mash beans in large bowl. Add lemon juice, olive oil, oregano and garlic and blend until smooth. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Spread bean mixture evenly on bottom of prepared pan.

Red Pepper Layer
-7-ounce / 210 ml jar roasted red bell peppers, drained, chopped
-3/4 cup / 180 ml crumbled feta cheese (about 4 ounces)

1. Combine peppers and feta in processor and blend until smooth. Spread pepper mixture evenly over bean layer in prepared dish.

Pesto Layer
-2 garlic cloves
-1 cup / 240 ml fresh basil leaves
-1 cup / 240 ml fresh Italian parsley leaves
-1/4 cup / 60 ml toasted pine nuts
-3 tbsp / 45 ml olive oil
-1/2 cup / 120 ml low-fat ricotta cheese

1. Mince garlic in processor. Add basil, parsley and pine nuts and mince. With machine running, gradually add oil through feed tube and process until smooth. Mix in ricotta. Spread pesto evenly over red pepper layer.

2. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight. 30 minutes before serving, put in the freezer.

3. To unmold, invert pâté onto serving platter. Peel off plastic wrap from pâté. Garnish with herb sprigs and serve with sourdough bread slices.

French Baguette
yield: Three 16" baguettes

-1/2 cup / 120 ml cool water
-1/16 teaspoon active dry yeast
-1 cup / 240 ml flour

-1 tsp / 5 ml active dry yeast
-1 cup to 1 1/4 cups / 240 ml to 300 ml lukewarm water*
-all of the starter
-3 1/2 cups / 840 ml flour
-1 1/2 tsp / 7 ml salt

*Use the lesser amount in summer (or in a humid environment), the greater amount in winter (or in a dry climate), and somewhere in between the rest of the year, or if your house is climate controlled.

1. Make the starter by mixing the yeast with the water, then mixing in the flour to make a soft dough. Cover and let rest at room temperature for about 14 hours; overnight works well. The starter should have risen and become bubbly.

2. Mix active dry yeast with the water and then combine with the starter, flour, and salt. Mix and knead everything together—by hand, mixer or bread machine set on the dough cycle—till you've made a soft, somewhat smooth dough; it should be cohesive, but the surface may still be a bit rough. Knead for about 5 minutes on speed 2 of a stand mixer.

3. Place the dough in a lightly greased medium-size bowl, cover the bowl, and let the dough rise for 3 hours, gently deflating it and turning it over after 1 hour, and then again after 2 hours.

4. Turn the dough out onto a lightly greased work surface. Divide it into three equal pieces. Shape each piece into a rough, slightly flattened oval, cover with greased plastic wrap, and let them rest for 15 minutes.

5. Working with one piece of dough at a time, fold the dough in half lengthwise, and seal the edges with the heel of your hand. Flatten it slightly, and fold and seal again. With the seam-side down, cup your fingers and gently roll the dough into a 15" log. Place the logs seam-side down onto a lightly greased or parchment-lined sheet pan or pans.

6. Cover them with a cover or lightly greased plastic wrap, and allow the loaves to rise till they've become very puffy, about 1 1/2 hours. Towards the end of the rising time, preheat your oven to 450ºF (240ºC).

7. Using a very sharp knife held at about a 45° angle, make three 8" vertical slashes in each baguette. Spritz the baguettes heavily with warm water; this will help them develop a crackly-crisp crust.

8. Bake the baguettes until they're a very deep golden brown, 25 to 30 minutes. Remove them from the oven and cool on a rack. Or, for the very crispiest baguettes, turn off the oven, crack it open about 2", and allow the baguettes to cool in the oven.

Mediterranean Pasta

This is a "hot summer day"-meal if there ever was one. And it is HOT here. I look forward to not even reheating this in my sweaty, disgusting apartment tonight. It's crisp and fresh on the tastebuds. While it's not the pinnacle of exciting eating, if you need something fast at the end of a long summer day, this dish is your man (or food, or whatever).

Mediterranean Pasta (modified from a Cooking Light recipe)
-8 oz whole wheat penne (or 1 cup uncooked orzo), cooked according to pasta directions
-2 oz sun-dried tomatoes, chopped (mine were packed in oil--but you can soften up the non-oil-packed variety by boiling in a cup of water for a couple minutes, then chopping)
-1 green pepper, chopped
-1 red pepper, chopped
-1/2 small-ish red onion, diced
-4 oz mushrooms, quartered
-2 tablespoons olive slices
-4 oz feta, crumbled
-2 tablespoons Italian flat leaf parsley, chopped
-1/4 teaspoon black pepper
-1/4 teaspoon salt
-2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
-1 1/2 teaspoons olive oil

1. Cook your pasta.
2. If necessary, boil your whole sundried tomatoes in 1 cup water for 2-3 minutes. Drain and chop.
3. Mix everything together in a bowl (keep the pasta hot--don't rinse with cold water), and serve warm.

Serves: 4-6
Calories: 197

Italian Vegetable Pie

This is a recipe that I tried long ago, loved, and then completely forgot to ever make again until now. Ridiculous, I know. The genius of this recipe is that it's like lasagna, but way quicker, healthier, and more versatile. It also reminds me of the way I first tried tofu--in my friend Emily's mom's thick, delicious marinara sauce. It was love at first bite. And so is this.

Italian Vegetable Pie (from Cooking Light)
-2 teaspoons olive oil
-1 cup chopped green bell pepper
-1 cup chopped onion
-1 cup chopped mushrooms
-1 (12.3-ounce) package firm tofu, drained and crumbled
-3 garlic cloves, minced
-3 tablespoons tomato paste
-1 teaspoon dried Italian seasoning
-1 teaspoon fennel seeds
-1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
-1 (25.5-ounce) jar fat-free marinara sauce
-6 cooked lasagna noodles, cut in half crosswise
-Cooking spray
-1 1/2 cups (6 ounces) shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese
-1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

1. Preheat oven to 375°.

2. Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add the bell pepper, chopped onion, mushrooms, tofu, and garlic; sauté 3 minutes or until vegetables are tender. Stir in tomato paste, Italian seasoning, fennel seeds, crushed red pepper, and marinara sauce; bring to a boil. Reduce heat; simmer 10 minutes.

3. Arrange the noodles spokelike in the bottom of an 8-inch round baking dish coated with cooking spray. Spread 3 cups tomato mixture over noodles. Fold ends of noodles over tomato mixture, and top with the remaining tomato mixture and cheeses. Bake at 375° for 20 minutes.

-Serves: 8
-Calories: 307, Fat: 10.4g, Protein: 19.7g, Carbs: 33.8g

Orecchiette with Sausage, Peppers, and Feta

Until this weekend (the weekend AFTER I made this recipe, of course), I had never seen orecchiette pasta in a grocery store. It was always a great source of personal irritation, as I'm the girl who thinks a margarita doesn't taste as good unless it's served in a margarita glass, wine in a wine glass, and so forth. And while I deal with the pasta I'm given (with this recipe, it was usually "Trumpets"), I always yearned for this mythical orecchiette. I will have to make this again soon just so I can take advantage of using this elusive pasta.

This is a recipe I've made many, many times. There is nothing I don't love about it. It's incredibly easy, spicy (dependent upon your use of sausage), and salty. It makes me drool to think about it, and I'm getting ready to go to sleep. In sum: This recipe is really, really ridiculously good tasting.

Orecchiette with Sausage, Peppers, and Feta
(from Cooking Light)
-8 ounces uncooked orecchiette ("little ear" pasta; about 2 cups--or whatever thick-ish and short pasta you can get your hands on)
-1 teaspoon olive oil
-3 cups (1/4-inch-thick) slices red bell pepper, each cut in half crosswise
-1/2 teaspoon salt, divided
-8 ounces turkey Italian sausage (I like using the Hot Italian turkey sausage)
-1 teaspoon dried oregano
-1 garlic clove, minced
-3/4 cup (3 ounces) crumbled feta cheese
-1/4 cup sliced pitted kalamata olives
-1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1. Cook the orecchiette according to package directions, omitting salt and fat. Drain the pasta in a colander over a bowl, reserving 1/2 cup cooking liquid.

2. Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add the bell pepper and 1/4 teaspoon salt; sauté 2 minutes. Remove casings from the sausage. Add sausage, oregano, and garlic to pan; cook 4 minutes or until sausage is done, stirring to crumble sausage. Add pasta, reserved cooking liquid, 1/4 teaspoon salt, cheese, olives, and black pepper; cook for 2 minutes or until thoroughly heated, stirring frequently.

-Serves 4
-Calories: 393, Fat: 12.8g, Carbs: 48.6g, Protein: 21.6g

Tofu Makhani

As I've mentioned before, I have a terrible habit (read: wonderful addiction) of reading cooking blogs when I'm bored, and making note of recipes I want to try later. One day, I came across Cooking Weekends' blog and found her recipe for Murgh Makhani. Murgh Makhani is "Butter Chicken," and is a Punjabi recipe made of chicken marinated in a heavily spiced yogurt, added to a rich tomato-cream gravy. Out of the words 'butter,' 'spiced,' 'rich,' 'cream,' and 'gravy," what doesn't sound completely amazing?! And so, I made plans to make this tantalizing recipe, except with tofu instead of chicken.

And then, on Wednesday, I sat down at the computer to write out the recipe and discovered that it's supposed to take 3 hours to make. Crap! ....But, oh wait! Most of that cooking time is if you're making chicken! Tofu is the greatest thing in the whole world.

This still took about 1 1/2 hours to make, but it was 150% WORTH IT. SO FREAKING GOOD. I'M STILL DREAMING ABOUT IT. Greg asked that I make a double batch in the future so that we can have it four days in a row. I'm not arguing.

Please note that this recipe has a slow-building heat that lightly burns after you're done eating. To me and Greg, this is the perfect amount of spiciness. For you, maybe you'll want more or less. Just be aware that as is, this is a kind of spicy recipe. Yum!

Tofu Makhani (from Cooking Weekends)

Chicken Marinade
-3/4 cup plain yogurt
-2 tbsp fresh ginger, finely minced
-2 tbsp paprika
-1 1/2 tsp ground cardamom
-12-16oz block extra-firm tofu, cubed (OR: 8 chicken thighs, skinless and boneless (about 1 1/2 lbs) cut into bite-size pieces)

-2 tbsp ghee or clarified butter
-1 large onion, chopped
-2 large cloves garlic, finely minced
-2 jalapeno peppers, seeded and finely chopped
-3 roma tomatoes, chopped
-2 tbsp tomato paste
-1/4 cup water
-1 tbsp honey
-1 tbsp garam masala
-1 tsp ground turmeric
-1 tsp ground fenugreek (**Also called "Methi Powder." It smells like an Indian restaurant!)
-1 tsp chili powder
-small handful of fresh cilantro, chopped
-1/4 cup heavy cream
-a pinch or two of cayenne if you prefer more heat (**I used 1/8 tsp extra)
-salt to taste

1. Combine all of the marinade ingredients in a bowl and let sit for an hour or two. If you're making the Tofu version, you only need to let this sit for 30 minutes, but longer doesn't hurt.

2. Heat the ghee or butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the chopped onion, garlic and jalapeno pepper and fry until the onion becomes transparent; about 5-7 minutes.

3. Add the tomatoes, tomato paste, water, honey, garam masala, turmeric, fenugreek and chili powder. Stir to combine well. Lower the heat, cover and simmer for about 35-45 minutes, or until the mixture is very soft.

4. Remove the cover and raise the heat a touch, and add the tofu and all it's marinade. **Steps if you're making with chicken: When everything starts to simmer, lower the heat again, cover and cook for about an hour.**

5. With cover off, cook until the sauce thickens slightly, stirring a bit from time to time; about 5-10 minutes.

6. Stir in the cilantro and heavy cream. Check for seasoning. Cook for another minute or two, remove from heat. Nice with rice or naan.

-Serves 4