Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Mushroom Vol au Vents



























There’s something about French cuisine that sends my heart (and my stomach) on flights of culinary fantasy.  The very names of the dishes seem steeped in legend and lore, calling forth images of the finest of tables laden with dishes of renown.  These names in the French tongue, perhaps the most beautiful of any language I’ve ever heard, lend themselves to this fancy.  Cordon Bleu, Coq au Vin, Pot au Feu…and of course, Vol au Vents.  It’s both beautiful and fun to say as well.

Vol au Vent means 'blowing wind' (more or less) in French, and perhaps this pastry got that name because they are light and airy, as if filled with the air from the very wind that blows across the land.  These pastries are often filled with sweet, fruity or creamy concoctions at French patisseries, but they are also served savory style, and that is where we are going today, courtesy of the champignon, or as we say here in ‘merica, the mushroom.

Mushroom Vol au Vents

2 Sheets Puff Pastry, Rolled Out 10”x10” Square
1 Egg, Beaten
1 Lb Cremini Mushrooms, Chopped
1 Large Onion, Diced
1 Clove Garlic, Minced
1 Tablespoon Herbs de Province
1/2 Cup Dry White Wine
1/4 Cup Flour
1/3 Cup Milk
1/3 Cup Heavy Cream
6 Tablespoons Butter

For this recipe I use frozen puff pastry sheets.  



They are quite good, and making homemade puff pastry at this point in life is beyond my skill set.  If you want to make things even easier, you can by puff pastry shells for your Vol au Vents, but I think this takes some of the fun out of the process, and they don’t seem to taste as good as making them out of the sheets.

Preheat Oven to 400F.  Thaw the puff pastry sheets according to directions on the box and, when they are fully thawed, lightly flour a work surface and roll out the sheets with a rolling pin until each is about ten inches by ten inches.  (you can do them one at a time, if space is a premium)  



With the first sheet, use a four inch biscuit or cookie cutter and cut out four disks of puff pastry.  If you’re like me and don’t have a four inch biscuit cutter, use a small bowl, and press it down firmly onto the dough. 



Lay these disks on a baking sheet that is greased or lined with parchment paper.  



Brush the egg wash over the disks. 



Now, with the other sheet of puff pastry, cut four more disks, then, using a smaller two and a half inch cutter, cut another circle centered in each of the disks.  



Now take each of these doughnut-like rings you’ve created and place them on the solid disks.  



Brush again with the egg wash.  



If you want, you can also place the smaller, two and a half inch disks on the baking tray.  They’ll puff up as well and make little lids for your Vol au Vents. 

Place the baking sheet in the 400F degree oven and bake for 20 minutes, until they are puffed up and golden brown. 

While these are baking, you can make your filling.

Melt three tablespoons of the butter in a large skillet.  Add the diced onion and sauté until translucent.  Clean and chop your mushrooms, 



then add them to the skillet.  



Cook until the mushrooms have softened and reduced in size.  At this point, add the minced garlic and herbs de province and let cook for about a minute.  Add the white wine and stir to deglaze the pan.  Let the wine reduce by half and then sift in the flour and stir.  



Cook for 30-40 seconds and then add the milk.  



Stir and lit this reduce a bit.  Add the heavy cream 



and allow this to reduce by about a third.  Finally, add the last three tablespoons butter and allow this to melt, stirring frequently.  



When butter is melted, turn off heat.

When the puff pastries are baked, remove from oven and let stand a minute or two.  



Sometimes the middle of the pastries will have risen as much as the outer ring—if this is the case, remove the middle cap and any thin pastry crumb that may be inside.  



Use a knife to gently cut the disk out if you have too. 

When this is done, spoon the hot mushroom filling into the pastries, 



partially cover with a pastry cap, and serve immediately, either as an appetizer course or as a side.



Here we’ve served one with some Chicken Normandy

Until Next Time,

Bon Appétit!

Chris








Thursday, September 18, 2014

Coquilles Saint Jacques





























There is something so utterly visceral about eating a mollusk.  They are nature’s original hand-held eats.  Dining on some clams or oysters, I feel a kinship with the primitive peoples that probably polished off a plethora of them as they sat along the seashore.  (although how they ever figured out that an oyster was anything other than a rock I’ll never know). 

Of all the mollusks of the sea, the Scallop has to be the beautiful white swan to the oyster’s ugly duckling.   Its shell is graceful and symmetric; its flesh white and uniform—a marshmallow of the sea.  It can be served simply on its own or gussied us fancy.



In this dish, we’re gonna go with gussied up fancy.  (It is a French dish, after all).  Dining on Coquilles Saint Jacques is the opposite end of the spectrum from primitive, however.  This dish takes an already elegant foodstuff and raises it to even greater heights of elegance and allure.  This dish ranks right up there with Lobster Thermidor and Pheasant Under Glass for high end haute cuisine.  I can’t help envisioning the staid, wood paneled walls, white tablecloths and fine china of a three Michelin star restaurant when I make this dish, one that the great Julia Child herself might be seen sipping a nice white Graves or white Burgundy. 

Yes, this dish sends my mind on flights of fancy.  But it also does a number on one’s taste buds.  Here’s how:

Coquilles Saint Jacques

1 lb Bay Scallops, Washed
6 Tablespoons Butter, Divided
8 Oz Fresh Mushrooms, Cleaned and Chopped
1 Cup Chopped Onion
1 Cup Dry White Wine
2 Tablespoons Flour
1/3 Cup Milk
1/2 Cup Heavy Cream
2 Egg Yolks
Fresh Tarragon, Minced
Salt and Pepper
1/2 Cup Grated Gruyere
1/4 Cup Breadcrumbs
Squeeze of Lemon Juice
6 Scallop Shells or Small Ramekins

If you’re going to go to the trouble to make this dish, go the extra mile and get the scallop shells.  They are cheap, just a few bucks at a kitchen supply store, and you will truly wow your guests with the presentation. 



To start, melt three tablespoons of the butter in a skillet.  



When this is good and hot, add the (well-drained and dried) scallops and allow to sauté for 60-90 seconds undisturbed.  



Then use a spatula to roll them over and sauté on the other side for another 60 seconds.  Use a slotted spoon or similar to remove the scallops and reserve.  



Now, I know you’re thinking, they can’t be finished cooking yet.  Well, you’re right.  They are not.  But we’re going to be broiling them later, so if we fully cooked them now, they would get overcooked in the broiler.  And we don’t want that.  Overcooked scallops are tough and rubbery. 

After you’ve reserved the scallops, reserve the white scallop broth that has rendered out into the skillet as well.  Lot of flavor in that liquid that we will use later. 

Add the rest of the butter to the skillet, and when it is melted add the onions and mushrooms.  



Cook these for 8-10 minutes until the onions clear and the mushrooms are cooked.  Remove both with a slotted spoon and reserve. 

Add the white wine to the pan 



and scrape the bottom with a spatula to break up the browned bits.  Add the reserved scallop broth to the pan.  



Let this cook a minute, then sift in the flour.  After this has cooked a bit, add the milk and stir frequently for a few minutes.  



Then turn off heat to the pan. 

Meanwhile, mix the heavy cream and the two egg yolks in a bowl.  



Mince your tarragon 



-


and add it to the cream egg mixture and blend thoroughly.  



To this, add the mixture from the wine/broth/milk mixture from the skillet and blend again.  



Return this concoction to the skillet and heat through, but do not boil. 



Return the mushroom onion mixture to the skillet, 



then add the scallops.  



Turn off the heat. 



Butter your scallop shells on the inside, then spoon a portion of the scallop concoction into each of the six shells. 



Grate your gruyere 



and mix it with the bread crumbs.  Sprinkle this mixture on the top of each scallop shell.  



Dot with a very small pat of butter if you like. 

Turn on your broiler and get it hot.  Broil the shells about 6 inches from the broiler for about 4-5 minutes, a little longer if necessary to melt the cheese and get the top golden brown.  



Basically watch the process closely and just make sure the cheese doesn’t burn. 

Remove from the oven and admire.  Squirt with a bit of lemon juice if you like, and serve immediately as a nice first course of an elegant dinner. 



Until next time,

Come out of your shell, have some scallops!

Chris





Sunday, August 31, 2014

Corn, Zucchini and Cilantro Soup






















Late summer and early autumn brings about one of my favorite times, corn harvest.  Though often considered quite common, corn, or more appropriately, maize, is one of the great culinary contributions of this continent.  I like noting better than to roast it in the husk and eat it slathered with plenty of real butter.  But corn can contribute to quite a few other culinary capers, including this a-maize-ingly simple yet a-maize-ingly tasty soup.



Corn, Zucchini and Cilantro Soup

3 Ears Sweet Corn, Husked and Silked
1 Yellow Onion, Diced
2 Large Zucchini, Diced into Half-Inch Cubes
48 Oz Chicken Broth
1 Clump Fresh Cilantro, Minced
1 Teaspoon Garlic Salt
1 Teaspoon Herbs de Province
1 Teaspoon Dried Thyme
Dash White Pepper
1 Tablespoon Light Olive Oil



Heat the olive oil in a large soup pot and add the onion. Saute for 5-10 minutes until it begins to clear.



Meanwhile, tend to your corn.  Try to get the freshest corn you can find, preferably from a Farmer's Market or similar.  Corn is at its best right off the stalk, and it will lose its sweetness the longer it has been since it was picked.   The best corn I ever had was from a farmer selling it from the back of his pickup truck on a little road in Tennessee.  You could eat that corn raw it was so sweet.  Probably less than an hour or two since it was on the stalk.

Anyhoo, cut the corn kernels from the cob with a good sharp knife.  I usually do this by placing one end of the cob in a bowl and holding the other, then I run a knife down the side of the cob, taking off a couple rows of kernels, which fall into the bowl.



Make sure to cut in deep with the knife so you get as much of the corn kernels off as possible.

After the onion has finished sauteing, add the corn to the pot and allow to cook for a minute or two.



During this time you can add your garlic salt, herbs de province and thyme.



Next, add your chicken broth and bring to a soft boil, then reduce to a simmer.



Cook for 10-12 minutes, enough time to soften and cook the corn.

While this is going on, dice up your zucchini into half inch cubes.



After corn has simmered in the chicken broth for 10-12 minutes, add your zucchini to the pot.  Cook for an additional five minutes, but no more.  Any more time and the zucchini will become mushy.

After the five minutes, turn off the heat and add the minced cilantro.



Allow it to steep for a few minutes, then your soup is ready to serve.



Until next time,

Soup's On!

Chris