Monday, May 28, 2012

What's in the Oven? There's Two Sides to Every Crepe



What do you think of whenever crepes are mentioned? I think of France. And fancy desserts. I also think of how hard I've heard crepes are to make. I don't feel my food journey through France would be complete without crepes, so I decided to make crepes and see for myself if they're really that hard to make at home and if using real crepes instead of the common substitute - flour tortillas - makes that much of a difference.

The answers are no and yes.

I've gone years not using crepes in recipes calling for them because they aren't an item that's readily available and I always thought they were too hard (and time consuming) to make. I thought crepes were something only professionally trained chefs could make and the average home cook would just have to substitute flour tortillas for real crepes in their recipes. I watched Chef John's video (below) and resigned myself to the fact that I would probably throw out a few crepes as I got the hang of making them. I contemplated buying a non-stick pan, (I cook with professional cookware - the BEST purchase I've ever made - and it's not coated with a non-stick surface) but decided to use my small saute pan instead. I could always purchase a non-stick pan, if need be, right? Against the advice of Chef John, I mixed my crepe batter in a blender because I don't mind cleaning the blender. I followed his instructions and started making crepes.

I'm very proud to report, I didn't ruin a single crepe! Not one. And not a single one got stuck to my non-non-stick pan. My trick? I lightly sprayed my small saute pan with non-stick spray before heating the pan over medium-high heat and then, following Chef John's instructions, coated it with butter before adding the batter. I did not coat the pan with butter with each crepe, but only a couple of times after the first crepe. You'll also want to make sure you watch the temperature. It's a lot like making pancakes - too hot and you'll burn them, too cold and they won't cook properly. The crepes should be very thin. My pan was smaller than Chef John's, so I used about 2-3 tablespoons of batter per crepe which made 14 - 6" crepes. I was nervous in the beginning, but gained confidence after making the first two when I realized crepes are delicate, but easily handled. And NOT hard to make!

I made my crepes a day ahead and wrapped them in plastic wrap before storing them in the refrigerator. I did not put anything in-between the crepes (like waxed or parchment paper). The crepes did not stick together. Another wonderful thing about crepes is they can be frozen:  place waxed or parchment paper between the crepes, cover and wrap the crepes with plastic wrap to prevent freezer burn and store in your freezer for up to two months.

All in all, I spent less than 30 minutes mixing and making the crepes (not counting the one hour rest time). Well worth it.

Below, in addition to a great video from Chef John of Food Wishes, you'll find recipes for basic crepes, a savory crepe dish and a sweet dessert.

Enjoy!!


Crepes Cordon Bleu 




1 cup milk

1 garlic clove, peeled & slightly smashed

4 tbsp. butter, softened

4 tbsp. all-purpose flour

1 cup low-sodium chicken stock

1 tsp. dried thyme

salt & pepper

1/2 cup Swiss cheese, shredded & divided

2 cups cooked chicken, shredded

1 cup cooked ham, diced

8 basic crepes (see recipe below)

2 tbsp. fresh parsley, chopped (may substitute 2 tsp. dried parsley)


Preheat oven to 350 F. Grease an 8" x 8" baking dish and set aside.

In a small saucepan, simmer the milk and garlic clove for 20 minutes. In a larger saucepan, melt the butter over medium-high heat; add the flour and stir well to combine. Cook for about 30 seconds and add the chicken stock. Whisk continually until the stock thickens. Remove the garlic clove from the milk and add the milk to the thickened chicken stock along with the thyme. Lower the heat slightly and continue cooking for 1-2 minutes until the cream sauce is thickened and bubbly. Taste the cream sauce and adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper. Add 1/4 cup of the Swiss cheese to the cream sauce and stir until the cheese is melted.  Remove from heat. Reserve 3/4 cup of the sauce and set aside. Add the chicken and ham to the cream sauce and mix well.

To assemble the crepes, I about 2 tablespoons of the filling in down the center of each crepe, leaving a little room at the sides for folding. You can adjust the amount of filling for each crepe, depending on the size of your crepes. Fold the crepe envelope or burrito-style:  fold in the sides of each crepe and then fold up the bottom and roll. Arrange the filled crepes in your baking dish. Spoon the reserved sauce over the crepes and sprinkle with the remaining 1/4 cup of Swiss cheese. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until the cheese is melted and bubbly. Garnish with fresh chopped parsley.


Basic Crepes





1 tbsp. butter

1 cup milk (approximately)

2/3 cup all-purpose flour

3 eggs


You can mix the crepe batter by hand, if you prefer. I used a blender.

Melt the butter (I melted the butter in a glass measuring cup in the microwave). Add enough milk to the butter to measure 1 cup. Pour into the blender or bowl (if mixing by hand). Add the flour and eggs to the milk mixture. Pulse for 10 seconds, if using a blender or whisk until smooth, if mixing by hand. Place the blender container or bowl (covered) in the refrigerator for one hour.

I can't think of anyone better than Chef John of Food Wishes to explain how to make crepes. Just turn up the volume on your computer and enjoy his instructions in the video below. I used a slightly different recipe than he did. You can use his recipe, if you like.





Many of us associate crepes with dessert and there are countless recipes for dessert crepes. Here's a quick, easy recipe that's sure to please. These Apple Dessert Crepes can be served with fresh whipped cream and are especially delicious with ice cream!


Easy Apple Dessert Crepes





6 basic crepes

2 medium-sized apples, diced (I used Granny Smith)

2 tbsp. sugar

1 tbsp. plus 2 tsp. water

1 tsp. lemon juice

1 tsp. cornstarch

1/4 cup brown sugar

4 tbsp. butter, melted

cinnamon-sugar:  2 tbsp. sugar mixed with 2 tsp. cinnamon


Preheat the oven to 375 F. Grease a casserole or baking dish and set aside.

Combine the apples, sugar, 1 tbsp. water and lemon juice in a sauce pan. Bring the mixture to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat, cover and simmer for 5 minutes or until the apple is tender. Combine the cornstarch with 2 tsp. cold water and mix well. Add to the apple mixture. Cook and stir until the mixture is thickened and bubbly. Remove from heat.

Sprinkle the brown sugar over the bottom of the baking dish. Fill the crepes with approximately 2 tbsp. of the apple filling per crepe. I used the envelope or burrito method for folding the crepes (see Crepes Cordon Bleu above). Arrange the crepes in the baking dish (on top of the brown sugar). Brush the top of each crepe with the melted butter and pour any remaining butter into the baking dish, around the crepes. Sprinkle the tops of the crepes generously with cinnamon-sugar. Bake for 25-30 minutes. Let cool slightly before serving. You can spoon the caramel from the baking dish over the crepes or sprinkle with more cinnamon-sugar before serving.



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Friday, May 25, 2012

The Magic of Herbs



As my food journey through France begins to wind down, one thing I've definitely noticed about French cooking and what sets it apart from other types of cuisine, is their use of herbs and herb blends. It's wonderful! I'm using herbs and herb blends that - until I took this little food journey - I might not ever have used. In this dish I used, for the first time, herbes de Provence.  For those of you not familiar with herbes de Provence (like me before this recipe), it's a blend of dried herbs typically found in the Provence region of France. The name "herbes de Provence" is generic, however and not a protected geographical status as many of the herbs used in the blend may now come from Africa, China, parts of Europe, as well as Provence. The standard mixture of the herb blend is actually thought to have come from spice wholesalers in the 1970s.

The pork loin recipe featured below is inspired by The French Slow Cooker by Michele Scicolone. I think you'll find it's very similar to how pork loin is prepared in the U.S. with a couple of notable differences. First, the use of herbes de Provence. The herb blend gave this dish so much flavor! And I cannot describe to you how wonderful my entire house smelled while this was roasting. The other difference was the cream sauce served with the pork. It  was thinner than a gravy (although I imagine you could have thickened it to a gravy) and much more flavorful. The meat was already full of flavor, moist and tender so the cream sauce and mushrooms became another flavor and texture dimension.

The prep time and finishing time of this recipe were next to nothing making this dish not only delicious, but very convenient for busy homemakers. My photos don't do nearly a good enough job of showing how beautiful the pork loin is when it comes to the table. This pork loin looks like you slaved for hours when nothing could be farther from the truth!


Slow Cooked Pork and Mushrooms in Cream Sauce

Inspired by Michele Scicolone's "The French Slow Cooker"






Serves:  4 - 6

1 boneless pork loin, 2 - 3 lbs

salt & pepper

olive oil

1 cup white wine (may substitute low-sodium chicken stock)

1/2 tsp. herbes de Provence (see recipe below)

3 cups white button mushrooms, gently cleaned and thickly sliced

1/2 cup diced onion

1/2 cup heavy cream (may also use sour cream)

1-2 tbsp. butter

2 tbsp. fresh parsley, chopped (you can use 2 tsp. dried parsley, if you don't have fresh)


Place the mushrooms and onion in the crock of your slow cooker. Heat the olive oil (about 2 turns of the pan) in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Generously salt and pepper the pork loin on all sides and place in the skillet. Brown the pork loin on all sides. Place the pork loin in the slow cooker, on top of the onions and mushrooms. Pour off the excess olive oil from the skillet, but leave any browned bits of pork in the skillet. This is where all the flavor is! Place the skillet back over the heat and add the wine or stock to the pan, along with the herbes de Provence. Bring to a boil, scraping up the browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Taste and adjust the seasoning (if necessary) with a little salt and pepper. Pour the wine mixture over the pork loin and mushrooms, cover and slow cook on low for 6-8 hours.

To finish this dish, remove the pork loin from the slow cooker when it has finished roasting and place it on a serving platter. Cover loosely with foil to keep warm while you prepare the cream sauce. Pour the mushrooms, onions and liquid from the slow cooker into a saucepan. You may strain the mixture, if you prefer not to have the mushrooms and onions in the cream sauce. Bring the liquid to a boil over medium-high heat and let it continue boiling until it reduces by half. This will concentrate the flavor. Add the cream to the liquid and bring to boil. Reduce the heat and stir in 1-2 tablespoons of butter to thicken the sauce. The sauce will only thicken slightly and will be much thinner than a gravy.

To serve:  slice the pork loin and spoon (or pour) the cream sauce over the slices of pork. Rough chop the parsley and sprinkle it over the slices of pork loin. Voilà!




I served this roasted pork loin with garlic smashed potatoes and green beans. It was an extraordinary meal and one that I'll be making again!






If you're like me and have never used herbes de Provence in cooking before, I think you'll love it! I know it'll be a blend I come back to many, many times!

Herbes de Provence Seasoning Mix


1 tbsp. dried marjoram (may substitute oregano, but cut the amount in half as oregano is stronger)

1 tbsp. dried thyme

1 tbsp. dried savory (may substitute sage, but cut the amount in half as sage is stronger)

1 bay leaf, ground

1/4 tsp. dried rosemary

1/4 tsp. dried basil

1/8 tsp. tarragon


Combine all the ingredients and mix well. Store in an airtight container.


Be sure to check out "What's in the Oven?" for delicious dinner and dessert crepe recipes!





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Monday, May 21, 2012

What's in the Oven? The Scent of a Warm Brioche






I am a complete bread fanatic. It's true. I love bread. I love bread so much, if I was told I would either have to give up bread or die, I would seriously consider death. I don't claim to have a favorite (because they're all so good), but I am partial to a delicate, sweet, buttery brioche, especially for breakfast dishes and desserts. The place of origin for brioche is somewhat unclear, but the first written mention of this wonderful bread was in France in the early 1400s. Did you know that brioche is made in the same basic style as bread, but it is actually considered a highly enriched French pastry because of its egg and butter content? Most of us think of Brioche à tête (a large ball or bun with the smaller ball or bun on top) whenever brioche is mentioned, but it can also be made in many other forms like the brioche loaf.

Jeff Hertzberg and Zoe Francois, the authors of my new favorite bread recipe book, Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day created a brilliant recipe for Brioche Loaf that I'll be sharing with you today. You can easily halve or double this recipe. If you love baking bread or have always wanted to make bread at home but thought it too difficult, please take a moment and visit their website. Their technique is revolutionary and their recipes are deliciously brilliant.

Brioche Loaf

from Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day



1 1/2 cups lukewarm water

1 1/2 tbsp. yeast (2 pkgs)

1 1/2 tbsp. kosher salt

8 large eggs, lightly beaten

1/2 cup honey (may also use agave syrup or sugar)

1 1/2 cups unsalted butter, melted

7 1/2 cups all-purpose flour


Mix the water, yeast, salt, eggs, honey and melted butter in a 5 quart bowl or lidded (not airtight) food container. Using a spoon, mix in the flour until it is completely incorporated.

Cover (but not airtight) the bowl or container with the lid and all to sit at room temperature for about two hours.

After two hours, place the covered bowl or container in the refrigerator and chill thoroughly, at least two hours. The dough will be much too sticky to use before it's chilled, but is very easy to handle once it's been chilled. The dough can be stored in the refrigerator for up to five days. After that, you can freeze the dough.

This dough can be used to create sticky rolls, fresh fruit muffins, pastries - even doughnuts! You'll find a variety of recipes at Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day's website. I made the brioche loaf picture above by lightly sprinkling flour over my work surface. I sprinkled a little more flour over the top of the dough and cut off a piece of dough about the size of a grapefruit. With floured hands, I shaped the dough into a ball and then flattened it. I placed the dough on the floured work surface and rolled it out to about 8 x 11 inches. I then rolled it up from the short end into a loaf shape, sealed it and placed the dough (seam side down) in a greased loaf pan. I then covered the loaf with a clean towel and let it rest in a draft-free place for 1 1/2 hours. Just before baking, I brushed the dough with an egg white mixture (1 egg white mixed with 1 tbsp. water) and sprinkled the top with sugar. Bake in a 350 F oven for 40-45 minutes or until the top is golden brown and the sugar has caramelized. Remove the loaf from the pan when it's done baking and cool on a wire rack.


Now that I had a beautiful brioche loaf, I found myself wondering what to do with it? Don't get me wrong. I wasn't lacking for ideas! There are so many wonderful uses for brioche - everything from a simple (as if brioche could ever be "simple"!) piece of toast to french toast (or even stuffed french toast!) to a classic bread pudding. Since I'm still journeying through France via food, I went with a classic French country-style bread pudding and served it at breakfast this morning with a silky lemon creme anglaise. Heaven!


Classic French Country-Style Bread Pudding




2 cups scalded milk

1/4 cup butter, cubed

2 eggs, lightly beaten

1/2 cup sugar

1 tsp. vanilla

1 tsp. lemon zest

3/4 tsp. cinnamon

1/4 tsp. nutmeg

1/4 tsp. salt

5 cups day old brioche, cubed or torn


Preheat oven to 300 F. Butter an 11 x 7 inch pan and set aside.

Add the butter to the hot milk and stir until the butter melts. In a bowl, combine the eggs, sugar, vanilla, lemon zest, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt. Temper the egg mixture by adding 1/4 cup of the milk to the eggs and whisking until well blended. Add the egg mixture back to the hot milk and continue whisking until the mixture is smooth. Toss the custard with the bread and allow the bread to sit until it has soaked up all the custard.

Spread the bread in the prepared pan. Place the baking dish inside a roasting pan or other pan large enough to hold the baking dish. I like to place a kitchen towel on the bottom of the roasting pan so the baking dish with the bread pudding in it doesn't move. Carefully, pour hot water in the roasting pan until it comes halfway up the side of the baking dish. Take care not to get any water in the bread pudding. Bake the pudding in the water bath for 1 hour or until a knife inserted in the center of the pudding comes out clean. Carefully remove the baking dish from the water bath (I used 2 spatulas for this) and cool on a rack. This pudding may be eaten warm, at room temperature or cold, with or without a topping (creme anglaise or whipped cream). Refrigerate any leftovers.


My son and I enjoyed our brioche bread pudding with a lemon creme anglaise (French for "English Cream") or more commonly known in the U.S. as custard sauce. It complimented the pudding wonderfully!

Lemon Creme Anglaise


Makes:  2 cups

2 cups light cream or half-and-half

1 tsp. vanilla

1 lemon, zested and juiced

1/3 cup sugar

5 egg yolks


In a saucepan, combine the egg yolks and sugar. Whisk until the mixture becomes pale yellow. Add the cream, vanilla, lemon zest and juice. Stir to combine. Place the saucepan over medium heat and continue whisking. Heat to just below the boiling point (170 - 175 F). At this point, you will notice steam beginning to appear and the custard will be slightly thicker than heavy cream. Do not allow the custard to boil or the eggs may curdle. To check if the custard has reached the proper consistency, dip a wooden spoon into the custard and, holding the spoon sideways, run your fingertip over the back of the spoon, through the custard. If the streak your fingertip made remains without the custard running down through the streak, it is ready. Remove from heat. The custard should be smooth, but if it is not, pour it through a fine strainer to remove any thickened cream. 

You may use the sauce immediately, if you like. If you prefer the sauce chilled or to store, place a piece of plastic wrap over the storage bowl and refrigerate for up to a couple of days.

Bon Appétit!




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Sunday, May 20, 2012

The Sunshine Award






Thank you so very much to my wonderfully talented friend, Jacqui, from The French Village Diaries. She nominated It's not just about the recipe . . . . for the Sunshine Award! To have someone as accomplished as Jacqui nominate you is truly an honor. For those of you not yet acquainted with Jacqui, she is a brilliant, savvy writer/blogger living in France. In addition to blogging about her life as an ex-Pat (she is originally from the UK), she also writes a monthly column in a local English magazine, The Deux-Sevres Monthly. I think the powers-that-be in France are missing a fantastic opportunity in not hiring her for tourism. I want to travel to France thanks in large part to The French Village Diaries and one day (not so long ago) found myself browsing real estate websites - in France! - after reading her posts and updates during her recent holiday traveling through France. Thank you, Jacqui, for thinking of me and It's not just about the recipe . . . .!

The Sunshine Award is given by bloggers to bloggers. The recipients of the Sunshine Award are "bloggers who positively and creatively inspire others in the blogosphere". The way the award works is this:
  1. Thank the person who gave you the award and link back to them
  2. Answer 10 questions about yourself
  3. Select 10 of your favorite bloggers, link their blogs to your post and let them know they've been awarded the Sunshine Award
Here we go! 10 questions first:

Favorite Color - green. I love (almost) every shade of green.
Favorite Animal - the dog. We are a family of animal lovers, but have a special fondness for dogs. They really are man's best friend! All breeds are wonderful, but we are partial to Australian Shepherds and have three of them:  Roger (the dad), Shadow and Johnny Cash (sons and brothers from the same litter). I'd be lost without them.
Favorite Number - three. I don't know why. I just always pick three.
Favorite Drink - Coca-Cola. It's a weakness. I've been trying to give it up, but have only managed to cut back and only a little.
Facebook or Twitter - Facebook. I feel like I get to know the people I follow and the people who follow me on Facebook. Twitter moves just a little to fast and doesn't it seem like there are a lot of "rules" on Twitter?
My Passion - baking. I like to cook and try new recipes, but I really get excited about baking! My favorite recipes are for breads and pastries.
Giving or Getting Presents - giving, definitely giving. I like getting presents (who doesn't?), but I love seeing someone else's face when they open a present I picked out for them. 
Favorite Day - the first crisp, cool day in Fall. The kind of day that has a clear, blue sky and a enough of a nip in the air that it has you putting on a sweater or sweatshirt.
Favorite Flowers - carnations. I love the spicy floral scent of a carnation. I'm not partial to any particular color (well, maybe green).

And now for my 10 favorite bloggers I'm nominating for the Sunshine Award:

Brighton Park:  I enjoy the shared interests I have with Katie, be it homeschooling or Jane Austen. Katie shares excellent recipes and brilliant tutorials at Brighton Park. I used one of her tutorials just last night and created (for the very first time) a button for my blog! Katie provided great instructions and I created a personalized button and added it to my site in no time.

The DIY Dreamer:  A Pinterest party brought me to Christine at The DIY Dreamer. It's no secret I love to read. One would think I would have an enormously large collection of bookmarks, but I don't. Mine seem to "disappear" whenever I loan books to friends. When I saw the link to her wonderful felt ribbon bookmark project, I wasted no time clicking on it. Once at The DIY Dreamer, I browsed a little and discovered a treasure trove of wonderful crafts. 

Flourtrader:  Brilliant. Talented. Creative. These are just a few of the words I would use to describe Tina. I fully expect to be reading her recipe book someday. I'm hoping for an autographed copy (it never hurts to start planting seeds early). In addition to being a gifted baker and cook, Tina is also a tremendous supporter of other bloggers and always has a kind word or two of encouragement and praise. I look forward to each and every one of her posts and I'm thrilled whenever she stops by to say hello.

The Painted Hive:  This is the first site I visit whenever I'm looking for ideas for my home. Kristine has ideas and how-to's for projects big and small. In fact, I believe it was a project for canister labels that first brought me to The Painted Hive. Wonderful, wonderful ideas for the home abound at The Painted Hive!

The Big Green Bowl:  Like me, Michael Ann loves to bake and I'm always excited to see her latest creation! She delivers on her guarantee that each of her recipes is a winner and she offers helpful tips and hints with almost every recipe. The hardest decision I make at her website is what to try next!

Robyn's View:  I don't remember exactly how I came to know Robyn. It was at a linky party, but I'm not sure which one. But I definitely remember what she linked that caught my attention - Coconut Sugar Scrub (it's in the DIY Recipes tab when you stop by). Since my first visit, I've discovered that Robyn is an inventive cook and baker. Her recipes are all keepers!

Love the Grows:  What's not to love at Love the Grows? Mrs. Grow (I know her first name, but I like calling her "Mrs. Grow" even though I'm pretty certain I'm old enough to be her mother) shares delicious recipes and beautifully designed recipe cards on her site. I admire her drive and enthusiasm and look forward to each new post.

Repeat Crafter Me:  I don't know how she does it. And Sarah does do it all - beautifully! If you like to craft, crochet and cook, Repeat Crafter Me needs to be on your reading list. You'll find terrific instructions for making everything from my personal favorite (so far), Vegetable Rock Signs to crocheted football helmets to crock pot recipes.

Moore or Less Cooking:  I am continually inspired reading the delicious recipes at Moore or Less Cooking. What I like most is the contemporary spin on traditional recipes - like her grilled cheese sandwich and mint julep. I'm not going to tell you what's new with those classic recipes. You'll have to check it out for yourself! You won't be sorry.

A Virtual Essence:  Fun! That's always my first thought when I visit A Virtual Essence. I have to confess that I don't know the name of the talented blogger at A Virtual Essence, but it doesn't stop me! I find great recipes, fun thoughts and a wonderfully sunny sense of humor whenever I visit and they keep me coming back.

















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Friday, May 18, 2012

Le Cordon Bleu Inspired (with a little detour)



No (food) trip through France would be complete without stopping by the ultimate symbol of culinary excellence - Le Cordon Bleu. Once just a Parisian cooking school, Le Cordon Blue has evolved into an international network of culinary institutes, boasting more than 40 schools in 20 countries. Famous graduates of Le Cordon Bleu include Jeff Probst (of Survivor fame - can you believe it?), Aida Mollenkamp, Giada De Laurentiis, Kathleen Flinn and, of course, Julia Child. Incidentally, Le Cordon Bleu's famous name is derived from a 16th century award for culinary excellence presented by King Henry III. He created one of the most important orders in France -  “L’Ordre du Saint-Esprit.” The symbol of this order is the cross of the Holy Spirit which hangs on a blue ribbon or un cordon bleu.

I was rolling along on my trip through France - via food - when I hit a bit of a snag at Le Cordon Bleu and was forced to detour. My original plan was to create my version of a Le Cordon Bleu recipe for Crab Ravioli, but I was forced to take a "detour" when I realized my beautiful ravioli were not sealed well enough to withstand being boiled (the horror!). Thankfully, I only tried boiling three ravioli - which promptly came apart once they were in the water. I stared at the remaining ravioli for about ten seconds and realized I needed a Plan B to avoid scrapping all of them. So, I decided to fry the ravioli in order to salvage the meal. Even though I had something a little different in mind at the beginning, the ravioli turned out beautifully and tasted even better. I'm so glad I didn't throw everything out!

This meal was a fantastic learning lesson for me. What I learned is 1) there's almost always another preparation method if the original one should fail, 2) be open-minded because it really helps when things start to go wrong and 3) some of the best things come from failed attempts.


Chicken Ravioli in Tarragon-Garlic Cream Sauce




Inspired by Le Cordon Bleu's Crab Ravioli


1 pkg. wonton wrappers (you can also use ravioli dough, if you prefer)

1/4 lb. bacon, cut into lardons (approximately 1/3 cup)

1/2 cup diced onion

1/2 cup diced carrots

3/4 cup shredded cooked chicken breast

1 small bunch fresh chives, finely chopped

2 cups low-sodium chicken stock

12 garlic cloves, peeled

1/2 cup cream

1 tsp. tarragon

salt & pepper

fresh parsley


To begin, make the filling for the ravioli:  place a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the bacon, onion and carrots. Cook until the vegetables have softened and the bacon is crisp. Add the chicken, stir to combine and continue cooking over medium-high heat for another 2 minutes. Remove from heat and add the chives. Taste and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper, but take care not to add to much salt. Set aside to cool. Refrigerate if not using immediately.

Next, make the tarragon-garlic cream sauce:  In a medium to large saucepan, add the chicken stock and all the garlic. Cook over medium-high heat until the garlic is soft - about 15 minutes. Add the cream and tarragon. Lower the heat and continue cooking for another 15 minutes, reducing the mixture by about half. Using an immersion (hand or stick) blender or a regular blender or food process, blend the cream sauce until smooth. If necessary, return the sauce to the heat to continue reducing until the sauce is about the consistency of a creme anglais or maybe a little thicker.

Place a large pot of salted water over medium-high heat and bring to a boil.

On to the ravioli:  working with a few wonton wrappers at a time, lay them out on a work surface. Place 1 rounded teaspoon of filling down the center of each wrapper. Using your fingertip or a brush, wet the edges of each wrapper with a little egg wash (1 egg beaten with a little bit of water). Place a second wrapper over the filling (see photo below). Press down on the edges of the ravioli with your fingertips or use a ravioli stamp to seal, making sure to avoid trapping any "air" in the ravioli. Be absolutely sure the ravioli are sealed so they don't break open when they are cooked. Place the finished ravioli on a parchment or waxed paper lined-baking sheet. I covered them with a slightly damp kitchen towel to keep them from drying out. Finish making the rest of the ravioli.

This is the place my recipe "detoured". Once I realized my ravioli were not properly sealed for boiling, I placed a skillet over medium-high heat and added olive oil (about three turns of the pan) and butter (about 3 tbsp.). Once the oil/butter was hot, I fried the ravioli until golden brown - about 3 minutes on each side. Drain on a paper towel-lined plate and serve with the tarragon-garlic cream sauce.

The fried ravioli was very tasty, but I prefer my ravioli boiled. To do this (and if your ravioli is properly sealed), add the ravioli, a few at a time, to the boiling water taking care not to crowd the pot. Cook until al dente (until they float - about 3 to 4 minutes). Check out the "Tip of the Week" for making homemade ravioli. The technique also works well when using wonton wrappers and I know just where I went wrong!




To serve, spoon a little of the cream sauce onto the center of a plate and add 3-4 ravioli. You can add more ravioli, if you'd like a larger portion. Ladle more sauce over the ravioli and sprinkle with fresh chopped parsley.

Bon appétit!





Be sure to check "What's in the Oven?" for a classic French country-style brioche bread pudding with lemon creme anglaise!




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Monday, May 14, 2012

What's in the Oven? The Ultimate French Pastry





The eclair has to be the ultimate French pastry. Well, maybe just for me! I can't think of any other pastry that says "France" more than an eclair.

The word eclair is French (of course) and means "flash of lightning". Maybe the name signifies exactly how long they last when served? Hhmmmm . . . . .

An eclair is made from choux pastry which is also used to make cream puffs and profiteroles. Choux pastry is a relatively simple dough that has a high moisture content which creates steam to puff the pastry during baking. The eclair is filled with a wonderful pastry cream - often coffee or chocolate-flavored - and iced with a chocolate glaze. Often, an eclair may have more "embellishment" in the form of whipped cream and a candied or maraschino cherry.

As with almost any recipe, there is more than one way to make it. I used the recipe from Le Cordon Bleu, but chose to use a vanilla-flavored pastry cream to fill the eclairs rather than a chocolate or coffee-flavored filling. I also cut the recipe in half and have included those measurements in the recipe below.





Servings:  12 (depending on size of eclairs - mine were approximately 4" in length)

Choux Pastry


1/4 cup milk

1/4 cup water

3 1/2 tbsp. butter

1/2 tsp. sugar

1/4 tsp. salt

1/2 cup plus 2 tbsp. flour

3 eggs, separated (1 egg is for the eggwash)


Preheat oven to 425° F. Lightly grease (or line with parchment) a baking sheet and set aside.

Sift together the flour, sugar and salt in a bowl and set aside. Combine the milk, water and butter in a large saucepan and place over medium heat and bring to a boil. Once the butter has completely melted, remove the pan from heat and add the flour mixture. Using a wooden spoon, stir until completely combined and place the pan back on the heat. Stir until the mixture doesn't stick to the spoon or the sides of the pan and forms a thin skin on the bottom of the pan. Remove from heat and set aside. Cool until the mixture is warm to the touch.

One at a time, beat 2 eggs into the dough and mix well with each addition. The dough should be stretchy and slightly sticky.

Transfer the dough to a pastry bag fitted with a 12-mm plain tip. On the baking sheet, pipe out 4 3/4" long lines of dough. Beat the remaining egg and brush the lengths of dough with the eggwash. Run the tines of a fork that have been dipped in the eggwash down the length of each eclair to even out their shape.

Place the baking sheet in the oven and immediately lower the temperature to 400° F. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until the eclairs become golden brown. Rotate the baking sheet halfway through the baking time. Transfer the eclairs to a wire rack to cool when they have finished baking.







Crème Pâtissière (French Pastry Cream)


1 1/2 cups milk

3 egg yolks

1/2 cup plus 2 tbsp. sugar

3 tbsp. flour

3 tbsp. cornstarch

1 tsp. vanilla


Using a whisk, combine all the ingredients in a large saucepan and place over medium heat. Continue stirring the custard until the mixture becomes thick and starts to bubble. Remove from heat and transfer to a bowl. Cover with a layer of plastic wrap (to prevent a skin from forming) and let cool on the counter until warm. Refrigerate. Stir well to loosen the pastry cream before filling the eclairs.




To fill the eclairs:  after beating the pastry cream, transfer it to a pastry bag fitted with a 6-mm plain or star tip. Pipe the filling in through the bottom (I used this method and filled through 3 holes in the bottom to ensure even coverage) or the sides of the eclair.

Chocolate Glaze


1/2 cup heavy cream

1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips (or chocolate pieces)


Place the chocolate chips in a shallow bowl and set aside. In a small saucepan, heat the cream until it boils. Pour the cream over the chocolate and stir until they are well-combined and the chocolate has completely melted.

I used the cookie icing method to glaze the eclairs:  place a chopstick or popsicle sick (or whatever you have) over the bowl of glaze. Dip the top of the eclair in the glaze and hold the eclair over the bowl of glaze to allow the excess to drip off. Run the eclair 1/4" over the chopstick to finish removing the excess glaze and place the eclair (upright) on a wire rack or plate. Repeat with the other eclairs.

Whipped Cream


1 cup heavy cream

14 cup powdered (confectioners) sugar

1 tsp. vanilla


Combine all the ingredients and beat on high speed until stiff peaks forms. Transfer to a pastry bag fitted with a star tip and pipe the whipped cream in whatever pattern you like on top of the eclairs. Top with a maraschino or candied cherry, if you like. Refrigerate eclairs if not serving immediately.





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One Lovely Blog Award






The lovely and talented Mrs. Grow at Love the Grows nominated me (and my blog) for the One Lovely Blog Award (thank you so much!). I am so surprised and truly humbled to be nominated for this award by one of my favorite bloggers. If you haven't already visited Mrs. Grow's website, please take a moment and stop by. Her blog features mouth-watering recipes and beautiful (and FREE) recipe cards, along with her wonderful insights.

On to the One Lovely Blog Award. The rules of the award are quite simple:  1) display the blog award! 2) create a link to the site that nominated you 3) write 7 random facts about yourself. and 4) create some links to blogs you love!


7 Random Facts About Myself:

1. I don't like chocolate. Not even a little bit. It wasn't always this way, though. The story involves 15 lbs. of fudge and two weeks. It isn't pretty . . . .

2.  I don't eat most of the desserts I make. We're not big "sweet-eaters" in our house, but I love making desserts - especially pastries. I share most of my desserts with my friends and neighbors. I think fences and good (shared) desserts make for great neighbors.

3. My favorite movie is Sleepless in Seattle. I think the movie is inspired by An Affair to Remember - a movie I don't really care for despite having Cary Grant in a starring role. Yes, I realize that confession is grounds for revoking my "girl card".

4. I have a tremendous (and warped) sense of humor. I may be one of the only women on the planet who will admit the Three Stooges are hysterical and The Hangover is one of the funniest (recent) movies I've seen.

5. I could eat pasta for every meal. It is my ultimate comfort food and I never get tired of it.

6. My favorite professional chef is Chef Anne Burrell. She just seems like someone I could hang out with. I love her playful personality and deeply admire her skills and talent as a chef. If I could spend one day with anyone besides my Grandma Anderson, it would be her.

7. I still won't wear white after Labor Day. I know it's 2012 and things have changed in the fashion world, but I still can't bring myself to do it.

And now for some blogs to share with you! Here's 7 blogs I absolutely love!

1. Scattered Thought of a Crafty Mom - Jamie has a little bit of everything to love at her website - crafts, recipes, sewing projects . . . .  I especially love her quilts - so beautiful!

2. The Spiced Life - Laura's recipes make me feel like I'm a world traveler - in the comfort of my own home. She has fantastic recipes and perspective!

3. Sweet Heat Chefs - So much fun! Monica and Jasmine are two of the most positive people I can think of and they always look like they're having a ton of fun in (and out) of the kitchen!

4. Cupcakes & Kale Chips - A chemical engineer (wow!) turned excellent cook and baker, Brianne features the most beautiful desserts and dishes on her website. Amazing!

5. Spontaneous Tomato - You will find wonderfully exotic and tasty recipes at Allison's site. Don't let the word "exotic" fool you into thinking her recipes are difficult. She brings together flavors in wonderful (and not difficult) dishes you'll make over and over.

6. Once a Mom Always a Cook - how true is this? Audra features excellent iced drink recipes in flavorful combinations - like her blueberry banana coconut smoothie! Now who wouldn't like that?! In addition to wonderful beverages, she also shares many, many other great recipes.

7. The She Loves the Simple Blog  - Cath (and Babs - you have to read About me (you'll love it!)) are a relatively new introduction and I'm enjoying getting to know them. She (they?) share great recipes and vivid photographs with a generous helping of humor. I always leave smiling!




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Friday, May 11, 2012

A Quiche by Any Other Name is a Tart




Continuing my food tour of France, I decided to make a quiche for supper. After all, quiches are considered to be typically French, right? Like a quiche Lorraine. And then I realized I didn't have the cheese called for in the recipe nor did I have a proper substitute. I didn't want to run to the store and wasn't feeling overly adventurous at that point, so I made a judgment call to just leave it out. Then I realized the quiche wouldn't be a quiche without cheese. Well, not really, if we're being technical although savory tarts do include quiches (or so I'm told).

Here is what I came up with for my French-inspired dinner tart. It turned out beautifully and the taste was incredible. We enjoyed the tart with a very simple fruit blend of strawberries and cantaloupe. I even enjoyed a piece of the leftover tart for breakfast the next morning.

I don't own a tart pan (I'm reconsidering my decision not to buy one as I type this), so I used a 9" pie plate instead and it turned out very well. If you have a tart pan and make this tart, please send me a photograph. I think this tart makes for a lovely presentation and I'd love to see it in its proper form.


Mushroom-Spinach-Bacon Tart 




Inspired by:  Dorie Greenspan's Around My French Table

Serves:  6

1/2 lb. mushrooms (your choice), sliced

1/2 lb. fresh spinach leaves, washed with stems trimmed

4 strips bacon, cut into thin lardons

1 small onion, chopped

1 garlic clove

2/3 cup cream

2 tbsp. mustard (your choice - I used a Dijon mustard)

2 eggs, lightly beaten

1 - 9" pie crust (you can use a homemade or pre-made (refrigerated or frozen) crust)


Preheat oven to 400° F.

Pour the cream into a small saucepan and add the garlic clove. Heat over low heat for 20 minutes to allow the cream to be infused with the flavor of garlic. Remove the cream from the heat and cool.

Fill a large pot fitted with a vegetable steamer with enough water to come up almost to the steamer. Bring the water to a boil. Add the spinach, cover and steam until the spinach is wilted and completely soft, about 4-5 minutes. Drain the spinach into a colander and run under cold water to cool the spinach. Allow to continue draining.

While the spinach drains, prepare the rest of the tart filling. Heat a skillet over medium-high heat and add the bacon and onion. Stir occasionally and cook until the bacon becomes crisp and the onion is translucent and soft. Add the mushrooms and continue cooking for about 6-8 minutes or until the mushrooms release their liquid and become soft and fragrant. As the bacon, onion and mushrooms cook, squeeze as much of the remaining water out of the spinach as you can (you can use your hands, a paper or kitchen towel or a salad spinner). Rough chop the spinach and add it to the bacon and onion when they are done cooking.

Remove the garlic clove from the cream and add the eggs and mustard to the cream. Mix well to thoroughly combine.

Place the pie crust on a baking sheet. Turn the mushroom/spinach/bacon/onion mixture into the bottom of the pie crust; spread evenly. Pour the egg mixture over the vegetable filling. Carefully slide the baking sheet into the preheated oven. Bake for 35-45 minutes or until the filling is uniformly puffed, browned and set. Transfer to a cooling rack and allow to cool for at least 10 minutes before serving.




Pate Brisee is French for shortcut pastry. It is often used as the base for quiches, tarts and pies. You can use your favorite recipe for pie or tart dough for the tart recipe above. I love the rich, crumbly, buttery crust of a pate brisee, so I used the recipe below as the base for my tart. Please see this tip for a super-easy way to roll out pie crust.

Pate Brisee


1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 tsp. salt

1 1/2 tsp. sugar

1/2 cup unsalted butter, chilled and cut into 1" pieces

3 - 6 tbsp. cold water


I used a stand mixer fitted with a paddle to mix my crust, but you can also use a food processor or mix the crust by hand.

Combine the flour, salt and sugar. Add the butter and process until the mixture resembles course meal. You'll want to combine the butter and flour mixture as quickly as possible to prevent the butter from becoming warm and oily. Add the cold water one tablespoon at a time until a dough forms and holds together when pinched.

Gather the dough into a ball and flatten into a disk. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes before using.





Be sure to stop by "What's in the Oven?". Eclairs are this week's recipe!





Apprécier votre repas! Au revoir!






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