Thursday, March 27, 2014

Virtues of French Mustard and a new twist on Beef bourguignon

I am mourning my not-to-be-this-year trip to Provence France.  I had this grand dream that I will be eating and drinking my way through a French farm country on my big birthday this year… I could almost taste it, a nursing a whisper of rosé wine in a sunlit glass as I linger at my four hour French lunch in a main square of some medieval village…  Not this year, perhaps never, perhaps someday in a distant future… I am sad, it was a lovely dream.

And while I wait for the lovely dream in years to come, my annual trip to Quebec will just have to do.  Once a year trip to French Canada supermarkets will just have to do to stock up on French culinary inspiration and mustard.  If I could buy this stuff by the gallon, I would, there is probably not a better condiment in the world than the real French Mustard.  It goes far beyond your deli meat or hot dog chaser; it is the ultimate flavor enhancer to just about everything.

If you don’t live anywhere near where it sold ( and I have not the real deal anywhere but in Canada and France), you can certainly order this mustard on-line.

Lovely, pungent and salty, I find a hundred and one way to use it… from making a lovely mustard tart ( which is essentially a quiche flavored with lots and lots of French Mustard, to using it in vinaigrette, pork belly braises and as a flavoring for homemade sausage.

Here are a few examples, but feel free to  experiment… any savory dish that you would add salt to could possibly benefit from a little mustard twist… Just a word of caution, French mustard is extremely salty, so use salt very sparingly or better season after you taste. 

When cooking pork chops add French Mustard to the marinade, than sauté apples and onions dressed with mustard in a little butter and use as chutney for the chops.

Make endless variety of vinaigrette by combining equal amounts of French Mustard, fruit preserves ( raspberry and orange are my favorites) with red wine vinegar and olive oil, whisk well and dress any salad.

Crust the duck breasts in honey and mustard before searing them.

When making egg or chicken salad, mix in some French Mustard with the mayo.

Next time you make a frittata add just a bit to the eggs before baking them

And my personal favorite… a twist on Beef bourguignon.  Stir 2 or 3 or 4 heaping spoonful’s in to the brazing liquid and watch an old classic become just a bit tastier…..

I am not going to give a full recipe for Beef bourguignon here, if you want a good one just stick to good old Julia Child recipe, its perfect, there is nothing to change except stir a few tablespoons of French Mustard into the mix… here is the link to the classic… and here are fun how to pictures….

Sear some bacon or panchetta 

  dry the meat with paper towels, and don't overcrowd the pan otherwise you will not get a nice sear color

Peel some pearl onions ( I swear, when I go to hell, this is exactly what I will be doing for eternity) 

Just like every Jewish recipe begins with 100 walnuts, every French recipe begins with Meripox

Blister the mushrooms

Make a bouquet garni with parsley,thyme and rosemary

Take in the aroma

if I close my eyes and sip rose wine I can be fooled, New Jersey de Provence.... is a new place to be....

Friday, March 7, 2014

The battle of two Napoleons

I have been on a vintage recipe kick, but not just for fun.  Old recipes mean traditions that must be preserved and I have a responsibility to carry them to future generations.  Just this month we celebrated birthdays for ladies who’s legacy I must preserve.  My husband’s grandmother ( Baba) turned 92 and my great-aunt (Lubochka) turned 85.  And these two amazing ladies are still baking …( I am knocking on everything in sight, spitting over both shoulders, may they be here with us forever).  They both have the same specialty cake, the great Napoleon.  Both delicious and widely different… but later about that.

Napoleon is a French Pastry ( in France known as mille-feuille or “thousand leafs”) which basically stacks layers of flaky pastry with some kind of layers in the middle.  Traditionally it is a vanilla custard cream but anything stacked is really passing for Napoleon’s these days.  If you are from Russia, it was a staple of every festive table and every family had one member (usually grandmother or aunt) who baked it.  It was a perfected specialty deserving much admiration.  It is a taste of grandmother’s Napoleon that almost every Russian child holds in their memory and the generation who baked them is nearing  sunset. 

There are probably a thousand ways to make a Napoleon, but in my family, there are only two.  My husband grew up with Baba’s napoleon and will not accept anything else; I grew up with Lubochka’s and to this day, consider it the true thing.  And as I sat drinking to their health this month, I realized that they will not be here forever, that the perfection of both their Napoleons must be carried forward.  That I am the only one who has any interest in continuing the tradition and that I must learn how to bake them now, while they can still walk me through their recipes. 

You got to give it to the 92 year old Baba, when I called her for a recipe, she told me “Why you going to bother, I can make it for you if you want..”  (I want to be just like her when I grow old.) .  As I talk to them and wrote down the recipes, I laughed… these two ladies are so protective of their own Napoleon’s, each has tremendous respect for another, but when the cake is concerned -  it’s a cat fight. Each insists that hers is the “true” recipe and must be made exactly her way and “god forbid” not the way the other one makes it.  I smirked and went on writing.

Also, between the both of them, they break about a dozen pastry rules, but I decided to keep my opinions to myself this time and both cakes were made exactly how they are making them…sacrilegious pastry doing and all. After all they have been doing it for 50+ years…if Escoffier didn’t strike them down with lightning yet, I doubt he will bother now.

Another problem I ran into, is the unit of measure.  They use kitchen cups and soup spoons and god knows what else…so I had to guess at approximate size of their coffee cups, trying desperately to remember what I saw in their cupboards.  The question “how big is the cup you use?” was met with a shrug and “a regular cup not too big, not to small” for an answer… I had my work cut out for me.

One swears by butter for pastry, the other sent me on a wild goose chase for Israeli margarine.  Widely different proportions of all ingredients for the dough.  Baba makes a classic pastry custard cream, but she uses flour to thicken it (major no-no, but it works), Lubochka uses whole eggs for her pastry cream (I almost cried it is so wrong) and mixes it with whipped buttercream.  Even the shapes are different, Baba makes her Napoleon round where Lubochka’s is a classic square shape.  The only thing they agree on is the addition of vinegar to the dough which is a very old fashioned technique of producing a flakier dough.  In all my reading and studying I never came across this trick, but guess what, these old timers still have tricks up their sleeves that I don’t know… I am impressed. 

I obeyed both recipes to a “t”, I doubt I will again, I will probably make small modifications to each when I bake them again and tonight I have two beautiful Napoleons for my friends to enjoy.  But I will not accept votes for one or the other, both are equally precious to me and will be carried forward in their widely different ways.

Baba’s Napoleon:

For the Dough:

Makes about 9-10 layers

200 grams butter – ice cold and cubed

2 – 2 ½ cups of flour

A pinch of salt

¾ cup of ice water

¼ cup of white vinegar

Extra flour for rolling

For the cream

5 cups of milk

5 egg yolk

1 cup sugar

4 tbs of flour

In a food processor or with a pastry cutter, cut the butter into the flour until it resembles coarse cornmeal.  Add salt.  Mix water and vinegar together and add to the dough until just combined into a ball.  The dough will be very sticky.  Shape into a log, wrap in plastic and refrigerate overnight.

When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 400F.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.  Divide the dough into 9 or 10 equal portions.  Roll each portion using lots of flour ( this dough sticks like crazy) and keeping the rest of the dough in the fridge.  You are looking for very thin layers, almost paper like.  Before baking, punch with a fork so the dough does not bubble too much.  Bake for 8 -12 minutes or until just starting to brown. 
If few layers don’t turn out perfectly or rip don’t worry, bake them anyway, you will need a few extras for the crunchy toping.

The layers can be made a few days ahead of assembling the cake.

Make the cream.  Heat 4 cups of milk until hot but not boiling.  Whisk the egg yolk with sugar until sugar dissolves and yolks a light and fluffy, add the remaining cup of cold milk and flour, whisk to combine. 
Add the hot milk a tiny bit at a time while whisking the egg mixture vigorously, you do not want to make scrambled eggs.  When most of the hot milk has been incorporated put the mixture back into the pot and cook on medium heat stirring constantly with a wooden spoon until the mixture thickens.  Do not let it boil.  Transfer to a fridge safe container, press plastic directly on to so no “skin” develops  and let cool overnight. 

When ready to assemble, alternate each pastry layer with cream. 
The last ( top) layer should be covered with cream as well as the sides.  Crumble remaining layers over the top and sides.  Refrigerate for at least 24 hrs before serving.

Lubochka’s Napoleon

Makes about 8 layers

500 g margarine ice cold and cubed

5 ½ cups of flour

A pinch of salt

1 ¼ cup of ice water + one egg beaten + 3 tbs white vinegar

More flour for rolling

For the cream

5 whole eggs

1 2/3 cups of sugar divided

1 tsp vanilla extract

1 tsp cognac

450 g of butter at room temperature

2 cups milk

The technique for making the dough and baking the layers is exactly the same, except I found they bake better at higher temperature -  415 – 420F.

To make the cream, whisk the eggs with half the sugar, add vanilla and cognac.  Heat the milk, but don’t boil it.  Temper the egg mixture by slowly whisking in the hot milk, transfer back to the pot and cook on medium heat stirring constantly until thickens.  Cool fully.

Whisk the butter and remaining sugar until pale yellow and fluffy.  Add the custard mixture to the butter cream one spoonful at a time until fully incorporated.

Assemble the Napoleon the same way as above, alternate the layers with cream, top with crumbled up remaining layers, refrigerate overnight before serving.

And may the one that reminds you most of your childhood win!