Week 8: April showers…

It was a rainy week in Paris. March, that came in cold and threatening snow, left cold and thoroughly soaked. To add misery to misery the French public transport workers went on strike over a pay raise. I’m in full support of workers’ rights but when only 1 out of 3 trains are running on your commute to work, it’s not a pretty sight. We’re fortunate to live close enough that our breadwinner commutes by bicycle but our dear babysitter spent 4 hours in a downpour watching fully-packed trains pass by on her way home.

Good news: today it’s sunny, the strike is over, the weekend forecast is amazing and there’re three great new recipes up at Chez Maureen’s for your weekend entertainment:

Potato Soufflé

(Mock) Irish stew

Poisson en papillote (Fish in parchment paper)

Potato soufflé

If the idea of making a soufflé terrifies you as much as ordering an American-style coffee in a French brasserie, this is the recipe for you. Mrs. Crocker, of Betty Crocker fame, presents it in her International Cookbook as Scandinavian Potato Casserole. It might very well be the Scandinavians who invented it, but no need to divulge the secrets of your kitchen. It looks and impresses like a French soufflé, though somewhat less intimidating in its preparation. Should you have forgotten your soufflé dish at the last company potluck, Mrs. Crocker suggests that it can also be made in a baking dish. I didn’t try that so I can’t promise you that the result will be as awe-inspiring but I would certainly be interested to hear back if you do.

The best, and little known, secret about soufflé is that it is actually quite straightforward. No exotic truffle oils or fancy crèmes, mostly just eggs and, in this case, potatoes. It doesn’t take long to put together and then it’s all up to fate on whether it rises or not while cooking. The only remaining challenge is to get everyone seated around the table to admire the fruit of your labor before it collapses.

Potatoes, 1 kg (2 lbs)

Cream or half-and-half, ¾ cup (cultural note: half and half is an American invention of a 50/50 mixture of milk and full cream that has the added advantage of instantly easing the conscience. It is often therefore offered for use in coffee. Useful to know: if you follow up your half-and-half with 2 rounded teaspoons of sugar or a side of donuts, you might as well have just used straight cream in the first place.)

Parmesan cheese, grated, ½ cup

Salt, 1 tsp.

Nutmeg, ¼ tsp.

Pepper

Eggs, 3, separated (but considering getting back together)

  1. Peel, dice and cook potatoes until tender. About 20-25 minutes.
  2. Preheat oven to 375°F (190°C).
  3. Mash the potatoes until as smooth as you have time and patience for. If you’re a perfectionist or the boss is coming for dinner, keep mashing.
  4. Beat in cream or half-and-half a bit at a time. Stir in cheese, salt, nutmeg and egg yolks.
  5. Beat the egg whites in a separate bowl until stiff.
  1. Take the biggest, flattest spoon that you own. Tip the bowl of stiffened whites into the potato-cream-yolk mash. Fold in the whites. (If you’re not sure what that means, don’t be deterred. I’m sure that Youtube has prepared a number of videos on the subject. If your Youtube is currently busy entertaining your toddlers, here’s the gist: start with your big, flat spoon at the very edge of the bowl. Run the spoon along the bottom of the bowl to the opposite side and the turn it up and over, “folding” the potato mash onto the stiff egg whites. Repeat many, many times. The idea is to minimally damage the whites, but do not be disturbed by the fact that they are, even at their stiffest, no match for potatoes and cream. Just keep folding until the whole mix looks more or less uniform.)
  1. Pour everything together into an ungreased soufflé dish or, as noted above, a baking dish.
  1. Cook about 45 minutes until beautifully browned and wonderfully puffed.
  1. If you serve it as a main dish include a side salad and consider an accompanying dessert, like Tarte Tatin. It would also make a very complimentary side dish for a roast or baked fish. Mrs. Crocker doesn’t include an accompanying wine as that’s not very American, but she does suggest that green Jello with pineapple chunks would go well on the side (true for pretty much all American dishes, by the way).

Potato soufflé

The best, and little known, secret about soufflé is that it is actually quite straightforward. It doesn’t take long to put together and then it’s all up to fate on whether it rises or not while cooking. The only remaining challenge is to get everyone seated around the table to admire the fruit of your labor before it collapses.
Print Recipe

Ingredients

  • Potatoes 1 kg (2 lbs)
  • Cream or half-and-half ¾ cup, see Note below
  • Parmesan cheese grated, ½ cup
  • Salt 1 tsp.
  • Nutmeg ¼ tsp.
  • Pepper
  • Eggs 3, separated

Instructions

  • Peel, dice and cook potatoes until tender. About 20-25 minutes.
  • Preheat oven to 375°F (190°C).
  • Mash the potatoes until as smooth as you have time and patience for.
  • Beat in cream or half-and-half a bit at a time. Stir in cheese, salt, nutmeg and egg yolks.
  • Beat the egg whites in a separate bowl until stiff.
  • Take the biggest, flattest spoon that you own. Tip the bowl of stiffened whites into the potato-cream-yolk mash. Fold in the whites.
  • Pour everything together into an ungreased soufflé dish or, as noted above, a baking dish.
  • Cook about 45 minutes until beautifully browned and wonderfully puffed.

Notes

If you serve it as a main dish include a side salad and consider an accompanying dessert, like Tarte Tatin. It would also make a very complimentary side dish for a roast or baked fish. Mrs. Crocker doesn’t include an accompanying wine as that’s not very American, but she does suggest that green Jello with pineapple chunks would go well on the side (true for pretty much all American dishes, by the way).
Cream or half-and-half: Half and half is an American invention of a 50/50 mixture of milk and full cream that has the added advantage of instantly easing the conscience. It is often therefore offered for use in coffee. Useful to know: if you follow up your half-and-half with 2 rounded teaspoons of sugar or a side of donuts, you might as well have just used straight cream in the first place.

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(Mock) Irish Stew

I keep calling this Irish Stew but it isn’t really at all. While looking for a recipe for a genuine Irish Stew, I came upon a recipe for Venison stew with herb dumplings in a British cookbook. I didn’t have venison and I had no intention of venturing into the world of herb dumplings, but the rest of the recipe fit what I was looking for. Which is to say that I had already bought nice hefty chunks of stewing beef with a nice Irish stew in mind, totally oblivious to the fact that Irish stew is made with lamb. (Despite my worthy contribution to the global ginger population, I am after all only some distant and small fraction Irish.)  To my relief the recipe suggested that the venison could be replaced with stewing beef. And since the recipe came from the River Cottage Baby & Toddler Cookbook, it is specifically designed to be thrown together in the 20 minutes during which an average toddler can handle a parent partially-occupied with the stove top.

To my dismay, however, potatoes are included only as a suggested side. By the time I had realized this grave omission, my 20 minutes were already ticking away, so without further ado I forged ahead (and I recommend you do the same.)

Oil, 3 Tbsp

Bacon, 3-1/2 oz. (100 g), diced or in small ribbons

Onions, 2, finely sliced

Garlic, 2 cloves, sliced

Flour, 2 Tbsp.

Stewing meat, beef or venison if you have it, 2 lbs (1 kg), cut into chunks

Wine, red, about a glass (you decide the size)

Carrots, 2, sliced

Celery, stalks, 2, sliced (The supermarket here didn’t have any celery. I know, I know. Horrifying. How will the children have “ants-on-a-log” without celery?!? I substituted instead a stalk of leek in the stew.  No, not at all from the same family as celery and totally different taste but, hey, pretty much the same color.)

Worcestershire sauce, 1 tsp. (Cultural note #2: for Americans, should you ever travel to England with the intention of passing yourself off as a Brit, avoid using the word “Worcestershire” under all circumstances. You will be outed in seconds. For the British, if you’re in the U.S. and you need some W. sauce, pronounce every syllable slowly or you will languish misunderstood.)

Tomato concentrate, tomato paste, 1 Tbsp. (Interesting note: To solve the eternal dilemma of tomato paste sold in cans that contain always way more tomato paste than you actually need, the Italians (in their most ingenious move since not re-electing a racist, womanizer of television fame to their presidency) put the tomato paste into toothpaste tube-like tubes.  It’s brilliant. Squeeze out what you need, screw the lid back on, store in the refrigerator for months until the next time you make pretend Irish stew.)

Bay leaf, 1

Thyme sprig , 1 (Being fresh out of thyme springs—not again!—I sprinkled in some dried thyme.)

Salt & pepper

  1. Preheat oven to 285°F (140°C).
  2. Heat 1 Tbsp of oil in a large oven-proof casserole. Add the bacon, cook over medium heat. Add the onions and garlic. Lower the heat and cook until the onions are golden or until you are ready for the next step and can’t waste any more time waiting on golden onions.
  3. Put flour on a plate. Add in the chunks of meat and toss around until they are lightly covered.
  4. Heat another Tbsp of oil in a frying pan over high heat. Brown the meat chunks until they are crusty all over. You might have to brown in batches depending on the size of your frying pan. Transfer browned meat to the onion casserole. Be careful with your hands and your toddlers when browning meat as the oil tends to sputter.
  1. Now comes the fun part, deglazing the meat pan. Pour the glass of red wine into the hot pan and gently scrape the bottom of the pan until all the good stuff is swimming in wine. (This step is very counter-intuitive for those of us who came of age in the George-Foreman-grill era. We have been well-instructed to mistrust those juices and crusty bits of fat and meat. But I am here to tell you, this is the good stuff. As an added bonus, a deglazed pan is practically ready to be put back on the shelf. The process lifts off all the stuff you would otherwise spend hours trying to scrape off in the sink.)
  1. Pour the wine-good stuff mixture into the casserole with the meat and onions. Add the carrots and celery and stir well.
  1. Add the Worcestershire sauce, the tomato paste (concentrate) and 500 ml of boiling water to the pan. Follow up with the bay leaf and the thyme.
  1. Bring the liquid to a boil then cover the pan and put in the oven.
  2. Cook for about 2 hours.
  3. Serve with potatoes prepared in your favorite manner. (See sidebar for recipe ideas.)

(Mock) Irish Stew

Since the recipe came from the River Cottage Baby & Toddler Cookbook, it is specifically designed to be thrown together in the 20 minutes during which an average toddler can handle a parent partially-occupied with the stove top.
Print Recipe

Ingredients

  • Oil 3 Tbsp
  • Bacon 3-1/2 oz. (100 g), diced or in small ribbons
  • Onions 2, finely sliced
  • Garlic 2 cloves, sliced
  • Flour 2 Tbsp.
  • Stewing meat beef or venison if you have it, 2 lbs (1 kg), cut into chunks
  • Wine red, about a glass (you decide the size)
  • Carrots 2, sliced
  • Celery stalks, 2, sliced
  • Worcestershire sauce 1 tsp.
  • Tomato concentrate tomato paste, 1 Tbsp.
  • Bay leaf 1
  • Thyme sprig 1
  • Salt & pepper

Instructions

  • Preheat oven to 285°F (140°C).
  • Heat 1 Tbsp of oil in a large oven-proof casserole. Add the bacon, cook over medium heat. Add the onions and garlic. Lower the heat and cook until the onions are golden.
  • Put flour on a plate. Add in the chunks of meat and toss around until they are lightly covered.
  • Heat another Tbsp of oil in a frying pan over high heat. Brown the meat chunks until they are crusty all over. You might have to brown in batches depending on the size of your frying pan.
  • Transfer browned meat to the onion casserole.
  • Pour the glass of red wine into the hot pan and gently scrape the bottom of the pan until all the good stuff is swimming in wine.
  • Pour the wine-good stuff mixture into the casserole with the meat and onions. Add the carrots and celery and stir well.
  • Add the Worcestershire sauce, the tomato paste (concentrate) and 500 ml of boiling water to the pan. Follow up with the bay leaf and the thyme.
  • Bring the liquid to a boil then cover the pan and put in the oven.
  • Cook for about 2 hours.
  • Serve with potatoes prepared in your favorite manner.

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Poisson en papillote (Fish in parchment paper)

This is one of my favorite lunches to quick throw together when time and energy are at a premium. It’s also probable that I’ve put something totally ambiguous on the weekly meal plan like “Wednesday : Fish” and no longer have any idea what my original intention was.

It’s another one of those infinitely adaptable recipes that depends entirely on what you have in the fridge. No potatoes, carrots or apples are required but you can always serve them on the side.

Fish, frozen and thawed or fresh, any variety though I usually use a white fish, 1 filet per lunch guest

Vegetables, thinly sliced vegetables with high water content: spinach, mushrooms, tomatoes, zucchini, etc.

Lemon, if you have some, sliced

Olive oil

Salt & pepper

  1. Preheat oven to 375°F (200°C).
  2. Prepare 1 large piece of parchment paper per filet. Go large. The paper needs to be able to be folded over the fish and the vegetables and sealed shut.
  3. Start with a layer of thinly sliced vegetables. I often use spinach first. Salt and pepper.
  4. Place the filet on top. Salt and pepper the filet and sprinkle on olive oil.
  5. Layer more vegetables and lemon slices onto the filet. Salt and pepper. More olive oil if it looks dry.
  1. Fold the parchment paper around the fish and vegetables and crease the edges for an improvised seal.
  2. Place the packets onto a baking sheet.
  1. Bake for about 10 minutes. The baking time depends greatly on the thickness of the filets and the amount of vegetable you have packed them in. Don’t be shy about opening one of the sealed packets after 10 minutes to check if the fish is cooked.
  2. Serve in the parchment packet for greatest effect.

Poisson en papillote (Fish in parchment paper)

This is one of my favorite lunches to quick throw together when time and energy are at a premium.
Print Recipe

Ingredients

  • Fish frozen and thawed or fresh, any variety though I usually use a white fish, 1 filet per lunch guest
  • Vegetables thinly sliced vegetables with high water content: spinach, mushrooms, tomatoes, zucchini, etc.
  • Lemon if you have some, sliced
  • Olive oil
  • Salt & pepper

Instructions

  • Preheat oven to 375°F (200°C).
  • Prepare 1 large piece of parchment paper per filet. Go large. The paper needs to be able to be folded over the fish and the vegetables and sealed shut.
  • Start with a layer of thinly sliced vegetables. I often use spinach first. Salt and pepper.
  • Place the filet on top. Salt and pepper the filet and sprinkle on olive oil.
  • Layer more vegetables and lemon slices onto the filet. Salt and pepper. More olive oil if it looks dry.
  • Fold the parchment paper around the fish and vegetables and crease the edges for an improvised seal.
  • Place the packets onto a baking sheet.
  • Bake for about 10 minutes. The baking time depends greatly on the thickness of the filets and the amount of vegetable you have packed them in. Don’t be shy about opening one of the sealed packets after 10 minutes to check if the fish is cooked.
  • Serve in the parchment packet for greatest effect.

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And one last encouraging look at that soufflé :

Coming up next week :

An ode and adieu to the carrots : 4 surprising ways to knock off the remainder of your carrot surplus

Karoo carotene soup

Tarte Lorraine aux carrots (Carrot pie)

Gajar Halva (Carrot pudding)

Confiture d’oranges, carottes et pamplemousse (Orange-carrot-grapefruit Jam)

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