Just a self-trained home cook in an 8' x 12' kitchen honing his craft…

Archive for June, 2011

Summer Vacation

Unfortunately, due to several household projects around my condo scheduled for this year, we are foregoing a trip other than a possible quick visit to Tybee Island this fall. As much as we would love to go to France, it was just not the fiscally responsible thing to do until a few of the household renovations are completed- and paid for.

Fortunately though, our friends who are traveling have been generous enough to share some photos.

Ah, the Côte d'Azur!

This incredible view looks out to the Mediterranean along the Côte d’Azur. Please click on the image and open them to their full-size to enjoy the color and details.
It’s almost as good as being there in person. I keep telling myself this, hoping if I say it enough, I’ll eventually believe it!

The quintessential French farmhouse.

This is the classic French country farmhouse, even though very little farming goes on anymore. Don’t miss the fabulous wisteria clambering around the windows on the second floor. Just close your eyes and imagine the warm sun on your skin and the scent of the flowers.

One of the most famous(and fiercely debated- the French love to debate most anything and there are as many opinions as there are Frenchmen) dishes of this part of the French coast is the classic salade Niçoise. It may well be the most famous composed salad in the world. This means simply, the ingredients dressed separately, arranged artfully on the platter(or individual plates) and served. As Julia said, ‘some people toss everything together and it looks like dog food.’ Certainly a less-than-appetizing description in my opinion.

The debate originates as so many food debates in France do about what is the most classic approach, which ingredients are essential and which are optional according to season and region. I have ordered this salad many times in France and each time it varies ever so slightly. Sometimes anchovies included, sometimes not. Sometimes the potatoes are steamed, other times boiled. Most often though, the green beans are ever-present, as is the tuna(always canned or bottled, never fresh) and the dressing is always vinaigrette. If you’ve never had bottled tuna packed in oil, look for it in a speciality market. In my neighborhood, you can find it at Toscano and Sons Italian Market and it is just delicious.

Here’s the bountiful table during preparation.

The 'bare-bone' ingredients during preparation.

Looks like the only thing missing is the al fresco dining area. Oh, here it is…

Lunch, anyone?

And here is the presentation. Doesn’t this look just delicious? Here’s the line-up from the top going clockwise-

stuffed eggs- 2 kinds, quail and chicken(notice how yellow the yolks of French eggs are due to their diet), tiny black niçoise olives, cherry tomato halves, haricot vert(tiny green beans), new red potatoes, anchovies and tuna, all atop buttery green leaf lettuce.

A perfect salade niçoise- lyrically composed!

If you serve in this way(from a platter), each plate gets a bit of each ingredient. Usually extra vinaigrette is alongside.

Next time you make a salad for your mealtime, whether it be a salade niçoise or a green salad with tomato wedges and carrots, try this method of composing it artfully for presentation, and you may just may hear in the background the crashing of the barricades and those famous words ‘Allons enfants de la Patrie, le jour de gloire est arrivé……

Toujours, bon appétit!
© Kyle A Nelson

Muffin, muffin, who’s got the muffin?

This will most likely be a short posting. For the past 2 weeks, I have nursed a badly bruised/sprained wrist, so typing is not only not fun, but a bit painful, even wearing a wrist support. It was a stupid accident(aren’t they always?). No matter, mouths must be fed and whilst we have eaten out more than usual in the past 2 weeks, I have managed to cook some, mostly with the help of anti-inflammatories and my trusty Kitchen-aid mixer.

One of my first days of injury, the only comfortable place was reclining on the bed, so what else is there to watch on tele at 4:00 in the afternoon, but Nigella Lawson on Cooking Channel. This particular day’s show was Comfort Foods.

Muffins are something I make a lot. After coffee, six days a week, I begin with a muffin before my 4-5 mile walk. I make blueberry, cherry, banana, oat bran or whatever I happen to have on hand, so when I saw this version, I printed it and made some the next day. They are Chocolate Chocolate-Chip Muffins and the recipe is here. Due to copyrights of most of the cookbooks I work from, I normally can’t put recipes here, but this one is on the Cooking Channel web site, so you can try your hand at them.

Cooling off.

The ingredients are basic supermarket fair- nothing exotic. If you bake at all, they are likely in your pantry.

Breakfast anyone?

Is there any food more satisfying than chocolate? If there is, I don’t what! So continues my adventures in good food. I’m almost certain, I read on WebMD that chocolate was the cure for sprained muscles.

Toujours, bon appétit!
© Kyle A. Nelson

‘T’ is for tart- or is it tatin?

If there’s nothing more American than apple pie, perhaps there’s nothing more French than apple tarts. One of the easiest and most favored in my household is the upside-down french version named after two sisters from just south of Orlèans on the Loire River. It is the tart Tatin-[tah-TAN]. It’s preparation is fairly elementary, but the method varies from book to book. I love everything Julia, but one evening while reading Susan Herrmann Loomis’s The French Farmhouse Cookbook (yes, I sit around and read cookbooks) I saw her method for the tart and it seemed almost too easy. You sprinkle sugar over butter slices in an iron skillet, place your apples atop the butter/sugar, and cook slowly until the apples are tender, basting them occasionally. Top with pie dough, bake, invert and ‘Viola!’ You have a classic french dessert to serve. I am showing a 3-4 serving size in a 6-7″ skillet.

The humble beginnings butter & sugar.

Apple preparation gets underway.

Note: In this photo you can see my method of apple preparation. Top to bottom: Take a small slice off the top and bottom, peel with a vegetable peeler; slice in two, top to bottom, then use a melon baller to remove the core, seeds, and upper and lower sliver of peel. They are ready for wedging or slicing. Try it!

Almost ready for the stove top.

Make the first layer of apples as neat as you can. This will be the ‘up’ side once you invert it to the plate or platter. The next layers won’t really show, so use up the odd-shaped bits.

Bubbling it's way to buttery deliciousness.

While the apples become tender (I check and baste them about every 8- 10 minutes, shaking the skillet to loosen them if they stick- which sometimes they do anyway), I make the crust. If you like, you certainly could use a packaged crust from the dairy case, but there’s nothing like your own with fresh butter. If you have a food processor, it almost forms itself. While the apples get tender in their butter-bath, rest your dough in the refrigerator.

The apple mixture should cook v-e-r-y s-l-o-w-l-y and bubble lazily for 30-40 minutes. Once the apples are tender, roll out your dough and make sure your oven preheated to 425º.

Dough is rolled and ready for placement.

Next is the arduous task of fitting the flat dough into a round form, which is most likely still quite hot from its time on the stove top, but the heat softens the dough and it will conform with some prodding and careful manipulation.

Fitting a flat object into a round opening.

Ready for the oven.

Now it bakes for about 25 minutes until the crust is, as they say, golden,brown and delicious. Once it is, carefully invert it to a plate or serving dish keeping in mind once again the skillet is HOT!

The tart Tatin ready for serving.

Here’s the finished tart Tatin which as Julia might say, “Ain’t gonna win no beauty contest,” but it is delicious. Remember those sister’s I mentioned? Well, they made their living off this tart for a good part of their lives. The rustic quality is part of its charm. If a couple of apple slices stick to the bottom- as they often do, carefully dislodge them and put them back in their place once you have the finished tart situated.

A close-up of the flaky, buttery crust.

While the top may appear burnt, I assure you it is not. It is deeply caramelized and that means deep, unctuous flavor. A scoop of ice cream or whipped cream completes the picture. It’s a very tasty treat indeed.

The tart is served!

If it helps assuage your guilt as you scrape the plate with your spoon to get every bit of goodness, keep repeating in your mind, “An apple a day…..”

Toujours, bon appétit!
© Kyle A Nelson