Tag Archives: French

Autumn Apple Tarte Tatin

I can’t believe it’s nearly October, and I haven’t posted a tarte tatin recipe. If you follow this blog, you well know that I love tarte tatins, the upside down-versions of fruit tarts – oodles of caramel required. In the late summer I make tarte tatins with stone fruit, practicing, anticipating the impending fall season with apples and pears. Apple Tarte Tatin is the quintessential version of this inverted squidgy pastry, named, as legend has it, for the French Tatin sisters who forgot to begin with the pastry when assembling their tart. No worries: they slapped it on top and improvised, as all good home cooks do. The result was an upside-down tart with caramelized fruit, poached in a puddle of butter and sugar. Now do you see why I love it?

Apple Tarte Tatin

Serve this rustic dessert garnished with a spoonful of very lightly sweetened whipped cream spiked with a splash of Calvados or Pear Brandy. Serves 8 to 10.

For the Sour Cream Pastry:
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup chilled unsalted butter, cut in pieces
1/3 cup full-fat sour cream

Apple Filling:
1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature, cut in 4 pieces
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar, divided
6 large Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored and halved
1 egg, beaten to blend, for glaze

Prepare Pastry:
Combine flour, sugar and salt in bowl of food processor. Pulse once or twice to blend. Add butter and pulse until butter is the size of peas. Add sour cream and pulse until moist clumps form. Gather dough into ball, flatten and wrap in plastic. Refrigerate at least 2 hours. (Pastry may be made one day ahead; refrigerate until use. Pastry dough may also be frozen up to one month in freezer before rolling. Allow to defrost in refrigerator overnight.) Remove pastry from refrigerator and let sit at room temperature for 15 minutes before rolling out.

Prepare Tart:
Arrange butter in the bottom of large oven-proof skillet with sloping sides (preferably cast iron). Sprinkle 3/4 cup sugar evenly over butter and pan. Cook over medium heat until butter melts, the sugar is partially dissolved, and the mixture is bubbling, about 2 minutes.  Arrange apples closely together, core-side up, in a circular pattern in the skillet. If necessary, cut remaining apples in quarters to fill in the spaces. Sprinkle apples with 2 tablespoons sugar. Set skillet over medium-high heat. Boil until a thick amber coloured syrup forms, turning the skillet to ensure even cooking, about 25 to 30 minutes.
While the apples are cooking on the stove, heat oven to 425 F. Roll out pastry on parchment paper to a round shape to fit size of skillet. Return the dough and parchment to refrigerator until apples are caramelized. When ready, remove skillet from heat. Working quickly, lay pastry over apple mixture and peel away the parchment (the heat from the apples will begin to melt the pastry). Cut 3-4 slits in pastry. Brush pastry with some of the egg glaze.

Bake tart until pastry is deep golden brown and firm when tapped, about 30 minutes. Remove tart from oven and cool on rack one minute. Gently loosen the edge of the pastry around the skillet with a thin spatula. Place a serving platter over the skillet. Quickly invert the tart onto the platter, using oven mitts. If any of the apples or caramel remain in the pan, scrape it out and arrange over the tart. Cool tart slightly before serving. Serve warm or at room temperature with whipped cream.

If you like this, you might enjoy these recipes:
Apple Cranberry Crisp from TasteFood
Apple Honey Challah from Smitten Kitchen
Pear Clafoutis from TasteFood
Spiced Pear Muffins from the Kitchn

The Grand Finale: Charcutepalooza Cassoulet

~ Duck, Sausage and White Bean Stew ~

Finally the finale. The year of meat has come to an end. This month is the last Charcutepalooza challenge, which requires a menu, platter or composed dish incorporating 3-4 of the charcuterie items prepared over the year. My first inclination was to prepare a platter, because, frankly, this is how I best prefer to enjoy charcuterie – on a large wooden board with an array of little bowls filled with pickles, mustard, black peppercorns and sea salt, accompanied by slabs of country style bread (and just a little cheese.)

~ Caramelized Home-cured Bacon, Boar & Pork Pate, Pork Rillettes ~

But this is the finale, so something more substantial and celebratory than a charcuterie board is in order. December is holiday season, and nothing speaks more to our Danish family than duck at Christmas. And what better way to celebrate duck than with a cassoulet – a French white bean stew brimming with duck leg confit, sausage and bacon. This version is not an authentic cassoulet, as I had to use whatever homemade charcuterie I had in the freezer or could make on short notice. So, I am calling it a Charcutepalooza Cassoulet – or a Duck, Sausage and White Bean Stew.

Duck, Sausage and White Bean Stew

Start with uncooked white beans for best results – canned beans will turn mushy. If you don’t have access to duck confit, then substitute with an additional pound of duck breast. Serves 4-6.

1 cup dried cannelini beans or northern beans, rinsed
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 pound duck breast (1 large), skin removed and reserved for another use
1/2 pound mild pork sausage
1/4 pound bacon, cut in 1/2 inch chunks
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 large yellow onion, chopped
1 large carrot, chopped
1 celery stalk, chopped
1 cup dry white wine
1 can (15 ounces) plum tomatoes with juice
3 cups chicken stock
1 bay leaf
2 teaspoons dried thyme
2 confit duck legs, boned, meat shredded

Bring beans and 4 cups (1 liter) of water to a boil. Remove from heat and cover. Let stand 1 hour. Drain.
Preheat oven to 325 F. (170 C.) Heat olive oil in a large oven-proof pot with lid or Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add sausage and duck breasts in batches without overcrowding. Brown on all sides. Transfer to a cutting board. When cool enough to handle, halve each sausage and cut duck breasts in 2 inch chunks.
Add bacon to the pot. Saute until lightly brown and fat renders. Pour off all but 1 tablespoon fat. Add garlic, onion, carrot and celery.  Saute until lightly browned, 6-8 minutes. Add wine, scraping up any brown bits; reduce by half. Add tomatoes, chicken stock, bay leaf and thyme. Stir in beans and return sausage and  duck breast to the pot, submerging in the stock. (If necessary, add more stock to cover.) Cover and transfer to oven. Cook until beans are tender, about 2 hours. Remove from oven and stir in the duck confit. Return to oven and cook, partially covered, for an additional 1 hour.

What is Charcutepalooza?
An inspirational idea hatched by Cathy Barrow and Kim Foster and partnering with Food52 and Punk Domestics. It celebrates a Year in Meat, where participating foodies and bloggers will cure, smoke and salt their way through Michael Ruhlman’s bestselling cookbook Charcuterie.

Pear and Cardamom Tarte Tatin

~ Perfectly imperfect: Pear and Cardamom Tarte Tatin ~

By now you may have noticed that I am a huge fan of tarte tatins.  Tarte tatin is an upside down fruit tart, traditionally made with apples. It’s named for the Tatin sisters who “invented” the upside down caramelized tart purportedly by accident in Lamotte-Beuvron, France in 1898. Legend has it that one of the sisters, due to fatigue or distraction (and we have all been there), somehow omitted the pastry in an apple tart, thereby adding it on top of the fruit in an attempt to salvage the dessert. Wouldn’t it be nice if all of our kitchen disasters yielded such successful results?

Tarte tatins are a lovely way to showcase seasonal fruit. Homey and rustic, they ooze caramel and fruit. Best of all they are beautifully imperfect. Once you get the hang of making the caramel and the final turnout of the tart onto a plate, tarte tatins are an unfussy and pleasing dessert – and in my case, they are irregular, uneven and all the more charming for that.  I use a sour cream pastry which creates a crumbly, cookie-like crust. As the tart bakes in the oven, the caramel from the fruit filling will bubble up in spots through the crust. Fear not: The crust will continue to bake, and when the tart is finished and cooling, the wayward caramel will harden and coat the crust like a candied apple. How can anyone resist this?

Pear and Cardamom Tarte Tatin

I like to serve this with lightly sweetened whipped cream spiked with a spoonful of pear brandy. Serves 8-10.

For the Sour Cream Pastry:
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup chilled unsalted butter, cut in pieces
1/3 cup full fat sour cream

Pear Filling:
1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature, cut in 4 pieces
1 cup plus 1 tablespoon granulated sugar, divided
6 large pears, peeled, cored and halved
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 egg, beaten to blend, for glaze

Prepare Pastry:
Combine flour, sugar and salt in bowl of food processor. Pulse to blend. Add butter and pulse until butter is size of peas. Add sour cream and pulse until moist clumps form. Gather dough into ball, flatten and wrap in plastic. Refrigerate at least 2 hours. (Can be made one day ahead; refrigerate until use. Pastry dough may also be frozen up to one month in freezer before rolling. Allow to defrost in refrigerator overnight.) Remove pastry from refrigerator and let sit at room temperature for 15 minutes before rolling out.

Prepare Tart:
Arrange butter in bottom of large oven-proof skillet with sloping sides (preferably cast iron.) Sprinkle 1 cup sugar evenly over butter and pan. Cook over medium heat until butter melts, the sugar is partially dissolved and the mixture is bubbling, about 2 minutes.  Arrange pears closely together, core-side up, in a circular pattern in the skillet. Cut remaining pears in quarters to fill in the spaces. Mix 1 tablespoon sugar, cardamom and nutmeg together in a small bowl. Sprinkle evenly over the fruit. Set skillet over medium-high heat. Boil until a thick amber coloured syrup forms, turning skillet to ensure even cooking, about 25 minutes.
While the fruit is cooking on stove, preheat oven to 425 F. Roll out pastry on floured surface or parchment paper to a round shape to fit size of skillet. Place in refrigerator while you wait for the filling to caramelize. Remove skillet from heat. Lay pastry over fruit (work quickly because it will begin to melt from the heat of the pan.) Cut 3-4 slits in pastry. Brush pastry with some of the egg glaze.
Bake tart until pastry is deep golden brown and firm when tapped, about 30 minutes. Remove tart from oven and cool on rack one minute. Cut around edge of skillet to loosen pastry. Invert the tart onto a platter, using oven mitts. If any of the pears or caramel are stuck in the pan, remove with a knife and arrange on top of tart. Cool tart slightly before serving. Serve warm or at room temperature with whipped cream.

Aprés-Ski Menu: Beef Bourguignon

 

During the winter season I like to prepare rustic recipes from the French countryside. These hearty dishes are made with staples from the land, such as potatoes and root vegetables, bitter winter greens, cured meats and cheese.  My favorite is beef bourguignon, a stew consisting of a tough cut of beef slow-cooked in Burgundy wine until falling-apart tender, mingling with carrots, onions and mushrooms in a rich, savory stock.  It’s a delicious one-pot meal perfect for a cold night or an apres-ski meal. It may easily be made in advance, and like most stews, tastes even better the next day for easy planning. Enjoy with a glass of red wine, a roaring fire, friends and family.

Beef Bourguignon

Serves 6-8

5 tablespoons olive oil
3 pounds beef chuck, cut in 1 1/2″ chunks
Salt and pepper
1/2 cup cognac

4 large carrots
1 large yellow onion, cut in large chunks
4 large garlic cloves, smashed
1 – 750 ml. bottle full-bodied red wine
1 cup beef stock
1 – 6 ounce can tomato paste
2 teaspoons dried thyme

10 ounces (300 g.) pearl onions, peeled
1/2 pound white mushrooms, halved
1 tablespoon brown sugar

Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil over medium-high heat in a large oven-proof pan with lid or Dutch-oven. Season beef all over with salt and pepper. Working in batches, add beef to pan in one layer and brown on all sides. Transfer to a bowl. Add cognac to pan and deglaze pan over medium-high heat, scraping up bits. Allow to reduce by half. Pour cognac over beef and set aside.

Preheat oven to 325 F. (170 C.)  Coarsely chop 2 carrots.  Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in same pan. Add chopped carrots, onion and garlic. Sauté 3 minutes over medium heat. Add beef, wine, stock, tomato paste, and thyme. (Beef should be covered by the wine and stock. If not, add more wine or stock to cover.)  Bring to boil, reduce heat to low and cook 2 minutes.  Cover and place in oven. Bake until meat is very tender 2 1/2 – 3 hours.

About 30 minutes before beef is done, cut remaining carrots in 1/2″ slices.  Steam or blanch carrots until crisp tender; drain. Sauté mushrooms and onions in a skillet with one tablespoon olive oil until light golden brown.

Remove beef from oven.  Strain liquid from stew into a saucepan. Separate meat from vegetables and discard vegetables. Boil liquid until sauce is reduced by 1/2 and has a sauce consistency, skimming fat from surface. Add sugar. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Pour sauce back over beef.   Add carrots, mushrooms and onions to stock. Simmer 15 minutes. Serve.

Beef bourguignon can be prepared up to 2 days in advance. Cover and refrigerate. Remove solidified fat from surface before reheating. Reheat over medium-low heat on stovetop, or in a 325 F. oven.

Coq au Vin

Coq au Vin is cozy winter food. It’s meant to slow cook and, like many stews, tastes even better the day after it’s prepared. I’ve come across recipes for quick Coq au Vin. This option sounds ideal for a busy weekday night, but, if you ask me, I would rather save my Coq au Vin for the weekend when it can simmer away, filling the kitchen with warmth and the aromas of wine and herbs, while building anticipation for dinner to come.

Traditional Coq au Vin required slow cooking, since it called for using a tough rooster as its main ingredient, which benefited from a long cooking process to tenderize the bird. Nowadays, chicken is commonly used, and the length of cooking time is shortened. Nonetheless, the dish is best when left to simmer over low heat, and the sauce is allowed to reduce and thicken into a luxuriously rich stew.

In this version, I omit the bacon and use a generous amount of brandy to deglaze the pan. Tomato paste is added to the sauce, lending depth and a touch of sweetness. I like to slow-cook the stew in the oven at a lower temperature, freeing up the stove top for other needs. In the meantime, I am free to get on with other tasks, or relax with a book and a cup of tea or gløgg.  This is the epitome of winter weekend food, preferably when the weather is cold and dismal outside.

Coq au Vin – Chicken Braised in Red Wine

 

As an option to butchering a whole chicken, purchase 2 whole legs and 2-3 breasts with skin and bone intact. Serves 4-6.

1 tablespoon olive oil
One chicken, cut in 8 pieces
salt
freshly ground black pepper
1/3 cup brandy
4 garlic cloves, smashed
3 large carrots, sliced 1/2 inch thick
1 large onion, chopped
8 ounces white mushrooms, halved (quartered if large)
1 – 750 ml. bottle red wine
1/4 cup tomato paste
2 teaspoons dried thyme
2 bay leaves
1 tablespoon brown sugar

Preheat oven to 325 F. (170 C.) Heat oil in an oven-proof pot with lid or Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add chicken pieces, skin side down, in batches. Brown on all sides, turning once, about 4 minutes. Transfer to a platter.
Carefully add brandy to the pot (it will steam) and deglaze pot. Add garlic, carrots, onion and mushrooms. Cook, stirring, 3 minutes. Add wine, tomato paste, thyme and bay leaves. Return chicken to the pot and nestle the pieces in the wine. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to a simmer. Cover pot and transfer to oven and bake, occasionally stirring, 1 1/2 hours.

Transfer pot to stove top. Remove chicken and vegetables with a slotted spoon and place in a large bowl. Boil sauce over medium heat until reduced by about half and thickened to a sauce consistency, skimming fat, about 20 minutes. Add sugar and salt and pepper to taste. Return chicken and vegetables to the pot, and gently simmer to thoroughly heat through. Serve in low bowls with mashed or roasted potatoes.

Bistro-Style Skirt Steak with Sautéed Shallots – Bavette aux Echalotes

Bavette aux Echalotes

At the risk of repeating myself, I will tell you that I love French bistro cooking.  Simply put, it makes me very happy.  In fact, bistro food should make all of us happy.  It’s comforting, generous, convivial and unpretentiously rooted in French tradition.  How can anyone not like it?

I became familiar with bistros when I lived in Paris and Geneva.  Found in every neighborhood, the bistro was the go-to restaurant for consistent, delicious, and fun food.  Welcoming, bustling, and casually elegant, it was home away from home – satisfying and soothing in its predictability, its well worn ambience, and its dedicated timelessness.  Now, years later, there isn’t a bistro in my neighborhood, but I do seek it out in restaurants and cook bistro fare at home.  It’s perfect for entertaining and families, and since my family was raised eating bistro food in Europe, it’s one of our preferred cuisines  for home cooking.
So, needless to say, I was very excited when Johanna at the Passionate Cook announced Bistro Food as this month’s theme for the foodblogging event Waiter There is Something in My… (or WTSIM) – I knew I couldn’t miss it.  Skirt Steak with Sautéed Shallots or Bavette aux Echalotes is a classic item on bistro menus.  The less expensive cut of meat is pan-fried on the stove and then served heaped with sautééd, caramelized shallots.  It’s quick to prepare, delicious to eat and economical on the wallet.

Bistro-Style Skirt Steak with Sautéed Shallots – Bavette aux Echalotes
Serves 4

4 skirt steaks, approx. 8 oz./250 g. each
2 tablespoons high heat oil (canola or grapeseed)
3 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
8 large shallots, peeled, thinly sliced
1/3 cup/80 ml. red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon fresh thyme, minced
Sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper

Prepare Steak:
Use 2 skillets or cook in 2 batches:  Heat one tablespoon canola oil in skillet over medium-high heat.  Add 1 tablespoon butter to skillet and swirl around to brown.  Add steaks, 2 at a time to skillet.  Cook turning once until seared and cooked through to desired doneness, about 3 minutes per side for medium-rare.  Transfer steaks to platter and tent with foil to rest.

Prepare shallots:
Add one tablespoon olive oil to skillet.  Add shallots and sauté over medium heat until golden brown, about 6 minutes.  Add red wine vinegar and cook until liquid is absorbed.  Add 1 tablespoon butter, thyme and any juices from meat to the shallots. Cook, stirring, to incorporate, about 30 seconds.  Remove from heat and season with salt and pepper.  Arrange steaks on individual plates or serving platter.  Top with shallots and serve.

Feeding the Soul: French Onion Soup au Gratin

Patience pays.  The essence of an onion soup is, well, the onions.  When onions are slow-cooked, they break down, releasing their sugars and juices and then they caramelize.  What begins as a crisp white onion evolves into a slippery, squishy, mahogany-colored mound of onion – and this is a very good thing.  Combined with stock, herbs, wine and a splash of cognac, the amorphous mound of slow-cooked onions becomes the base and richness for a sweet, deep, flavorful soup.  Topped with a thick slice of grilled pain paysan which in turn is topped with melted, bubbling alpine cheese, you have a sublime, satisfying and substantial winter soup.

So, here is where patience pays: It is essential that the onions cook for a long time.  There are recipes for onion soup where the onions are fried on the cooktop and browned in less than one hour.  While they may look like they are close to the desired outcome in flavor, they are not.  The onions must sweat, break down, release their juices.  The juices, in turn, must slowly evaporate, allowing the onions to caramelize.  If you skip this process, you will miss in the soup an extra depth of flavor and body that will leave you struggling to improvise as you desperately rummage through your spice cabinet for that extra something that is missing.

Do not be deterred by the time required; all you need is some advance planning and an oven.  While the stovetop works, it does require constant checking and care which is labor intensive for the busy cook.  With the oven, the onions can cook through the afternoon, and an hour before dinner the soup is ready to finish.  Simplicity, economy of ingredients, time and care – this is the essence of slow cooking, resulting in a rustic, comforting meal that feeds the soul and palate.

French Onion Soup au Gratin

Serves 4-5

4 tablespoons unsalted butter
5 large yellow onions, about 3 pounds, halved and thinly sliced
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup dry white wine, divided
1/2 cup sherry or Calvados brandy
5 cups beef stock or a combination of beef and chicken stock
4 thyme sprigs, tied with kitchen string
1 bay leaf
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

12-15 baguette slices, cut 3/4 inch thick
1 cup grated alpine cheese such as Grùyere, Comté or Emmenthaler

Preheat oven to 400 F. (200 C.) Melt butter over medium heat in a large Dutch oven or heavy oven-proof pot with lid.  Add onions and salt.  Cook, stirring, 5 minutes.  Cover pot and place in oven for one hour.

Remove pot, stir onions and any collected brown bits on sides and bottom of pot.  Cover, leaving slightly ajar and return pot to oven. Cook until onions are soft and golden brown, two hours, checking and stirring up browned bits after one hour.  (There will be a lot of liquid in the pot at this point.)

Remove pot from oven and remove lid.  Transfer to stovetop. Simmer over medium heat until liquid evaporates and onions turn brown, stirring and  scraping up any browned bits on bottom and sides of pot, about 20 minutes.  Continue cooking to allow a crust to form on the bottom of the pan without burning, about 5 minutes.  Add 1/4 cup white wine to deglaze pan and loosen crust.  Continue cooking until wine evaporates and another crust begins to form.  Deglaze a second time with remaining 1/4 cup wine.  The onions should be dark brown at this point. Add sherry, and cook stirring until sherry evaporates. Add stock, thyme and bay leaf.  Stir and scrape up any brown bits on bottom and sides of pot. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer, covered, 30 minutes.  Discard thyme and bay leaf.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Make the croutons:
While the soup simmers, lightly brush bread slices with olive oil.  Place on a baking sheet and bake in 400 F. (200 C.) oven until light golden and crisp, 5-8 minutes. Remove and set aside.

Finish the soup:
Divide soup evenly among 4 oven-proof bowls or crocks arranged on a baking sheet.  Gently lay croutons in one layer to cover most of the surface.  Sprinkle cheese evenly over crouton and soup.  Place baking sheet in oven under grill element.  Broil until cheese is bubbling and golden brown, 2-3 minutes.  Remove from oven and serve immediately.