Sunday, November 24, 2013

Watercress soup

Watercress soup is one of my absolute favorite soups. Like, EVER!

It is extremely simple to make, and does not take a lot of time (the only limiting step is boiling the potatoes, and you can play with that by dicing them really small!), and even though the greens are cooked, they somehow retain their freshness and pungent flavor.

I love this soup, and make it regularly throughout the cold season (which, lucky for me, lasts forever here in the North East).

Try it and let me know what you think!

INGREDIENTS (for 2 people):
- 4 cups chicken broth (can use vegetable broth for vegetarian option)
- 1 large potato (Yukon gold or Idaho are good for soups), peeled and diced
- 2 bunches of watercress, stemmed. Keep a few whole leaves for decoration.
- 1 medium onion, diced
- 2 tbsp butter (or a good splash of olive oil for vegan option)
- salt, pepper to taste
- optional: a splash of heavy cream or a dollop of sour cream

- in a medium pot, melt the butter and saute the onion for 2-3 minutes over medium-high heat (until translucent, not browned)

- add the potatoes, broth, bring to a boil and simmer over medium heat for 20-25 minutes, or until the potatoes are cooked through

- add the watercress and cook for 1-2 minutes

- using an immersion blender, puree the soup until very smooth

- serve piping hot, with a splash of cream
- enjoy!

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Coq-au-vin (French red wine chicken stew)

This is such a great recipe to have in your repertoire! Not only is the dish visually beautiful, it is also the perfect comfort food, Sunday family lunch, dinner party with friends or romantic dinner for two.

Traditionally, it is prepared with a rooster but nowadays it is very common to use chicken instead. It is a very economical recipe: chicken thighs are very often on sale, carrots and onions are super cheap. To be honest this whole thing barely cost me 30 dollars, including the wine and cognac and I'll be eating this for at least 4 meals. It freezes really well, so don't hesitate to make a large batch and freeze portions for future lazy days ;)

The meat falls off the bone and the sauce is buttery, smooth and so tasty!

Coq-au-vin never fails to impress. Try it, and see for yourself :)

INGREDIENTS (6-8 people, 4 people with seconds, 2 people with lots of leftovers)
- 8 chicken thighs, skin on, bone in
- 8 oz button mushrooms bucket
- 1 cup of frozen pearl onions
- 1/2 cup diced smoked uncured bacon (try to avoid strong flavored bacon like maple-glazed)
- 4 long carrots (or just as many as you want in your final dish, I like mine fairly carrotty!)
- 4 plump garlic cloves
- 3 small bay leaves (or 1 big)
- 2 sprigs of fresh thyme (dried works fine too)
- 1 medium onion, studded with 1 clove
- 3 tbsp butter (you can't see it behind the onion!)
- 1/3 cup AP flour
- 1 bottle red wine (if possible use a Burgundy wine, but any red should work fine: I used a Merlot)
- splash of cognac (I used 5cl, or a sample bottle of Hennessy)

- in a dutch oven, saute the bacon in the melted butter, add the thickly sliced mushrooms and the pearl onions and cook for 5 minutes over high heat until golden

- reserve in a bowl for later use and keep the butter and bacon fat in the pan
- in the same pan, brown the chicken pieces over medium-high heat, working in batches

- when the chicken pieces are golden, put them all back in the pan, sprinkle the flour and make sure they are well coated

- flambé the chicken with the cognac

Note: be VERY careful when you flambé! Make sure to tie your hair, tuck all fly-aways, clear any flammable items from your working area like dish rags, paper towels, etc... Do not lean over the pan and shut down the fume hoods. 
- when the flames go out, you can add the remaining ingredients: studded onion, carrots (cut in 1 inch segments), bay leaves, thyme, garlic and wine

- bring back to a boil, cover and simmer for 1 hour and 40 minutes over very low heat

- after 1h40, add the mushroom, pearl onions and bacon back into the pan, stir and cook for another 20 minutes covered over very low heat, until the sauce is thick, creamy, wonderfully flavored and the chicken falls off the bone

Note: in the traditionnal recipe, it is customary to thicken the sauce with the pureed liver and blood of the chicken (or rooster, really), but you can really do without. The fact that we make a roux (butter,  flour and liquid) at the beginning of the recipe makes the sauce silky smooth and thick.
- serve over a bed of fresh tagliatelle, slathered in butter and enjoy with a nice glass of red wine.

- Bon appétit!

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Tartine Country Bread

Hope you guys are ready for a chatty intro!

I have a borderline obsessive relationship with fresh baker's yeast. I'm the weirdo who sniffs (and enjoys) packs of fresh yeast; breweries and bakeries fumes are my friends. And occasionally, I've been known to enjoy the wafts of growing yeast cultures in my lab (I'm a biologist and lucky for me, I've always had a bench close to the incubators).

Naturally, I've always wanted to bake my own bread. But I've never been successful at baking good looking (or tasting) bread, to my utter despair.

A few weeks ago, an innocent conversation with a colleague J. sparked my interest in the Tartine Country Bread, a no-knead recipe baked in a special cast iron dish. Of course, the minute we were done talking, I raced to my computer and ordered myself my very first Lodge cast iron combo cooker. The added benefit of which is that I've also been lusting after a cast iron skillet for over a year. I figured this was just meant to be.

That very same night, I also started a sourdough starter culture, but after a few days, I was perplexed by the foul smell that escaped from my little mason jar (and I work in a lab if you remember, so I'm pretty used to nasty smells), so I just discarded my own starter. Bummed as ever. My awesome colleague J. was kind enough to split her own starter culture with me, and I excitedly proceeded to my baking experiment!

Here is how I did it.

INGREDIENTS (for 2 loaves):
- 700g +50g tepid water
- 900g AP flour
- 100g whole wheat flour
- 200g sourdough over-night culture (recipe coming up soon)
- 1 tbsp salt
- a cast iron pot with a lid (I use a Lodge combo cooker)

- in a large bowl, mix the two flours, the sourdough and the 700g water. Using your hands, mix until combined and the dough is super sticky

- let rest for 40 minutes, in a warm place covered with a clean cloth (I put mine on top of the stove, since the pilot flames keep it warm; otherwise a closed oven or microwave provide warm drought-free environments too)

- after 40 minutes, add 50g of tepid water and the salt, and mix the dough with your pre-wet hand. At first, the dough will be soft and squishy, but will turn harder, springy and very stretchy after a few minutes

- when the dough is stretchy, fold it four times starting on the right: lift the dough from the bottom, stretch it upwards, fold it towards the left and press it down the middle. Do this on all four "corners": right, top, left, bottom. Cover the dough with a cloth and let rest in a warm spot and repeat the 4 turns every 30 minutes for 3.5 hours. This step is the bulk fermentation.

- at the end of the bulk fermentation step, the dough will have risen a little bit, and if your container is clear, you can even see bubbles on the sides, which is a good sign your dough is very much alive!

- drop the dough on a clean surface (not floured!) and sprinkle the top the the dough with a little AP flour. Using a dough scraper, cut in half and flip the two halves upside down so that the floured surface is down and the sticky surface is up. Fold all four corners of the dough back towards the center. The sticky dough should seal on itself and leave only floured surface exposed. Flip again, shape into a ball, cover with a cloth and let rest for 20 minutes.

- after the dough has rested 20 minutes, sprinkle with AP flour, flip using a dough scraper and proceed to folding the dough, from all four corners, flip again and shape into a ball. Repeat for the second piece.

- once your dough has been folded and shaped into a ball, place delicately in a bowl or basket, lined with a heavily floured cloth and let rest for 2 hours minimum in a warm spot

- about 1 hour before you are ready to bake your first loaf, preheat your oven at 500F and place the cast iron pot in the oven so that it gets to temperature
- when you are ready to bake, delicately drop one of the dough balls in the pot (if you are using the combo cooker, that would be the skillet), score the dough with a sharp knife or blade, cover and bake at 450F for 20 minutes

- after 20 minutes, remove the lid and bake uncovered for another 20-25 minutes. Your bread should be beautifully golden and crispy! Transfer on a cooling rack and repeat with the other loaf

- Enjoy your bread, and take a moment to congratulate yourself! ;)