Saturday, November 1, 2014

A Fall Meal & A Few Recipes

I have to admit that every time R calls from Beaune to tell me what he ate for dinner or what he found that was so amazing at the market on Saturday, it’s easy to feel the twinge of longing for all that I love about France and Burgundy.  And that would be mostly, ahem, all that is available to eat and cook.  In addition to black truffles and cèpe mushrooms, fantastic root vegetables and slices of amazing pumpkins, the fall season in Beaune begins a happy rotation of all those beautiful foods that we haven’t seen in oh, nine months.  Definitely a time to rediscover foods that are like old friends, like my favorite root vegetables.  My brain likes to shop in French, and as I stroll through the markets or stores here, their French names always pop into my mind first: celeriac or celeri-rave (celery root), or panais (parsnip). 

Shopping in California for the favorite foods we eat in France is not as difficult as most people would believe.  The foods are here; really good food is here in Southern California, but you have to know what you are looking for, and understand what to do with it.  One day I will be in Beaune more, a lot more, much more of the year.  But for now I remind myself, I am here in Laguna most of the time, and honestly, that’s not so bad~


Last night we had our first rain of the season.  Glorious, beautiful rain.  We are so starved for rain here it’s incredible.  And with one speeding drop of rain, most people stay home, or at least get a late start.  They are probably searching the closet for warm clothes to wear or something; it’s amazing how empty the farmers markets are early in the morning after an overnight rain.  It was a good day to poke around at the Irvine market. 


There was plenty of goodness today; I brought home a bunch of these Crimson Gold apples. They are small, which can be helpful, and they are super tasty.  They are organic of course…and they look to me like what an apple should look like.  Shine them up with a brush of a cloth.


I am always looking for something new and seasonal and interesting at the various markets.  Today I found Sterling Meyers Lemons.  That means they are still Meyers, but they are picked a little early, so they are slightly more sour than sweet, and they have a greenish-yellow peel.  If you let these sit around, they will turn deep yellow.  But for various reasons (like you want a tart and not sweet lemon), it’s great to snap these up now.  These are from the Cal Poly Pomona students.  They know their produce and I love to shop their stand at Irvine market.  A handful of these came home with me.


I had guests for a late afternoon dinner today, so when I got home from the markets and shopping, I got busy.  First up, candied citrus.  You can use one of two kinds of zesters.  The standard ribbon zester is also sometimes called a “stripper” and makes a nice chewy slice; I also use the smaller zester a lot too; this gives you all rind and no pith.  This is a great way to add a hint of lemon without much lemon, in a salad for example.  But today I used it to zest the Meyers lemons.


I used the larger zester to make matchstick-sized pieces of grapefruit rind.


Simmer the zest pieces in water to soften them.  In the case of the fine zest, that’s a few minutes.  For the grapefruit ribbons, it’s about forty five minutes.  You want a little chew, unless you want to make gummy worms.  You will notice that if you cook the grapefruit pieces slowly they will not curl and they will retain their citrus flavor but be soft enough to eat.  Blot dry on paper towels.  Mine looked like this~


Roll the pieces in fine sugar, then let sit about ten minutes, and toss again in the sugar. If you want a less-sweet zest, let the cooked pieces sit for about twenty minutes after cooking; the zest will dry out a bit and less sugar will stick to it.  Save the sugar that is left over, we will use it later.  The lemon looked like this and was subtle and delicious~


I’d put those on top of a nice pastry, maybe a tarte with cream; later in this post I’m going to show you what I did with them today.  The grapefruit, meanwhile, looked like this.  Sweet and tangy…these need to be on your holiday dessert tray…probably with some chocolate.


Today I wanted to put the candied zest on top of some butter cookies.  Are you ready for the recipe?

To be most accurate, for many pastry recipes you should use a food scale.  You can get one for $12 on Ebay with free shipping; this is the one I use, go HERE.  It is great, and converts to grams, ounces or pounds; you can set any bowl or container on top and “tare it out” or reset it to zero with the bowl on top.  It is small and tucks into a drawer….if you don’t have one, I highly recommend it.  Anyway back to the butter cookie recipe; you need:

170 grams unsalted butter, softened
110 grams powdered sugar
6 grams sea salt
180 grams all-purpose flour
small pour of vanilla extract, about a teaspoon or 12 grams

Start by measuring out your ingredients. 


This is a very easy recipe!  It will take you longer to read this post than it would for me to just show you, and so I may have a video version of this for you soon.  You can use a mixer, but the best way to make these cookies is with a simple pastry scraper.  Contrary to what many people think, you don’t need to overwork the butter.  It will take you five minutes to make this dough by hand.  I use a pastry scraper from Dehillerin Paris (hehe of course!) but you can get one for $3 at Sur La Table HERE.  It’s a flexible little tool that you can use to scrape bowls and such, but it’s very handy for pastry.  Do not get the rigid “bench scraper” type of scraper; you want the cheap little plastic variety.  I will see if I can buy some of these from Dehillerin soon and have them shipped over if you want one from Paris.

Place the softened butter in a bowl, and using a pastry scraper, cream the butter lightly; this means, use the scraper to mash and smooth the butter against your bowl; add the sugar and mix in, with a circular motion.  Add the salt and vanilla and mix quickly to blend; add the flour and mix quickly to blend.  It does not have to be perfect and it does not have to form a ball; just get the ingredients to come together. 


Turn the dough out on a piece of parchment paper or wax paper.  It will look like this.  I have a sprinkle of powdered sugar underneath but that’s not really necessary.


Use your hands to form the dough into a log shape.  Roll the parchment paper up around it and continue to roll it like a rolling pin to make the long thinner and longer.  It doesn’t have to be a perfect round shape; you can smooth it out later.


Close off the ends like a candy wrapper, like this, and pop into the refrigerator for an hour or so.  The great thing is that you can make the recipe up to this point and put the roll in the freezer with a little plastic wrap around it….instant holiday cookies when you need them….


Preheat the oven to 300 degrees.  After the dough has chilled, you can refine the shape a little by rolling it again on the counter while it’s still wrapped up.  Try for a round shape.  Unwrap the dough and slice it into discs.  Place the discs on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper.


The twist today is to top the cookies with the candied Meyers lemon zest.  You can also use the leftover sugar you rolled the zest in, which is still slightly lemon-ey.  Into the oven, like this~


20 minutes later….


Today I made a few variations.  I used candied grapefruit in an X-shape, Meyers lemon zest with lemon sugar and poppyseed, and vanilla-lavender sugar with a sprinkle of lavender flowers (my favorite).  You can make lavender sugar by putting lavender flowers and sugar in a jar, grind them together in a mortar and pestle, or just go buy it at Savory Spice Store HERE.  My Dad’s favorite is either the lemon or the grapefruit.  I guess he couldn’t decide, because he at 13 out of 14 of the first cookies I made.  These are great cookies!

While the cookies were baking, I set the table and finished the rest of the food.  Our starter today was an Italian cheese I’m pretty much crazy for….Rocchetta….it’s equal parts cow/sheep/goat milk and it’s soft, mild, slightly tangy and very, very delicious.  Today over a cracker, wilted greens and beets, dressed with a blackberry sauce and topped with more Sterling Meyer Lemon zest (made with a fine plane zester).  I will make this for our Holiday cooking class coming up in a few weeks in Laguna.  Pretty and very tasty…my guests went crazy for this plate, and I was proud of it~


The main event of the day, though, was the falling-off-the-bone seven hour leg of lamb, cooked with homemade stock, half a bottle of wine, garlic and vegetables from the farmers markets.  This will also be part of the Holiday cooking class since this is the perfect holiday meal; tasty for a cool winter day, a make-ahead meal that lets me spend time with my guests, and colorful. 


So yes, eating is still very good in SoCal…stay tuned for more holiday recipes and ideas in the next few weeks….