Posts Tagged With: French cuisine

331/365: National Bavarian Cream Pie Day

If you’re a pie fan, you’ll enjoy today’s holiday Bavaria much. November 27 is National Bavarian Cream Pie Day!

The day before Thanksgiving isn’t ideal for celebrating a pie, but there’s nothing we can do about that pesky calendar. In a perfect world, we would at least be honoring pumpkin pie, but nope. That one’s coming up later in the year. On Christmas Day, as a matter of fact, which is going to be all sorts of fun because we traditionally have cheesecake that day. Ahh well, by then we’ll just have a few days left in the challenge, and will probably just be glad that it’s nearly over!

Bavarian cream is a gelatin-based pastry cream invented by Marie Antoine Carême, a legendary French chef (he’s a dude; don’t be fooled by that name) who is considered the forefather of haute cuisine and is often called “the chef of kings, and the king of chefs.” He was sort of the Gordon Ramsay of his day, I suppose, only minus a few thousand f-words. It was named after Bavaria, a state in Germany, of course. The first recipe in an American cookbook appeared in D.A. Lincoln’s Mrs. Lincoln’s Boston Cook Book: What to Do and What Not to Do in Cooking in 1884. Fannie Farmer got in on the action in 1896, with her own recipe. While Bavarian cream is delicious on its own, it has since become a popular pie filling that requires two hours of refrigeration and nothing more. Other than the ingredients, time, and labor used in preparing the cream itself and the pie crust, of course. But other than that – easy peasy!

To celebrate, I made a miniature pie, a trick I learned early this year. The Bavarian cream was a simple mixture of cream cheese, instant vanilla pudding mix, milk, and Cool Whip. I used refrigerated pie dough and lined a mini tin with that, baked it (in the toaster oven, no less) and topped with the Bavarian cream filling. It was surprisingly delicious!

Tara couldn’t resist digging into it with her fingers. 🙂

National Bavarian Cream Pie Day

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Categories: Desserts, Pastry | Tags: , , , , | 3 Comments

252/365: National Steak au Poivre Day*

September is moo-ving right along, and the food celebrations continue. The 9th is National Steak au Poivre Day!

It’s also National Wienerschnitzel Day and National I Love Food Day. All of these choices sound celebration-worthy. This blog exists because we love food, so in that regard we’re celebrating our love of the edible all year long. We debated going with wienerschnitzel – there’s a great German restaurant right here in town – but I was intrigued by Steak au Poivre, so we decided to give that one a whirl.

Setting food on fire is always fun!

Setting food on fire is always fun!

So what the heck is Steak au Poivre, besides difficult to pronounce? (It’s ah-pwav-er, but you have to roll your tongue and arch your back and hold your breath while reciting the alphabet backwards skipping every other letter). Just call it “pepper steak” instead. This French dish is made with steak (Julia Childs said,  “This famous dish usually calls for individual tenderloin or loin strip steaks, but other cuts may be used if they are of top quality and tender”) steak coated with cracked peppercorns that form a crust, and then cooked in a hot skillet with butter and oil. It’s served with a pan sauce containing cognac and heavy cream. Yum!

Steak au Poivre is a descendant of Steak Diane, though its exact origins aren’t clear. Several chefs claim to have invented the dish in the 1920s and ’30s, but it was already a specialty at the Hotel de Paris in Monte Carlo in 1910. Evidence suggests it may actually have royal origins: Leopold I, king of Belgium, was a skilled cook who came up with a recipe for beefsteak and peppercorns that certainly resembles modern-day Steak au Poivre.

To celebrate, we turned to the man who mixes science and food: Alton Brown. His recipe for Steak au Poivre looked remarkably simple – and it was! There’s nothing difficult about making this dish; it’s all about the flavors. And these were delicious: the sauce was earthy and creamy, the steak itself, peppered to perfection. We really enjoyed this meal!

National Steak au Poivre Day

Categories: Beef | Tags: , , , , , , | 2 Comments

144/365: National Escargot Day

You’ll have to come out of your shell and display bravery in order to enjoy today’s food holiday. May 24 is National Escargot Day!

Escargot, in case you aren’t aware, is the French word for snails. Land snails, to be exact. They are considered a delicacy in France, and have been a staple of man’s diet for thousands of years. Archaeological digs have uncovered prehistoric caves filled with snail shells, indicating that early man enjoyed dining on the slimy little creatures. Gasp! What Neanderthals! Even when hunting and gathering expanded to include fish, game, and Big Macs, some cultures continued to enjoy snails as part of their cuisine, particularly Greeks and Romans, who considered them not just sustenance, but a delicacy. Kind of like the way we view lobster and caviar today.

There are more than 100 varieties of edible snail worldwide, though two are typically used in the preparation of escargot: Helix Aspersa (or “Petit-Gris”) and Helix Pomatia (“Burgundy snail”). In France, snails are so popular they’ve got their own hunting season. Not all types are edible, though. Some taste unpleasant, while others are poisonous. Snails tend to take on the flavor of whatever they have eaten recently, and can actually become poisonous if they have eaten a poisonous plant, so they are typically “purged” (forced to undergo fasting) for 5-6 days before cooking. They are then removed from their shells, cooked with garlic, butter, and wine, and often placed back into the shells for serving, along with the fragrant cooking sauce and butter.

All of this might turn your stomach, but I have actually tried escargot before. In fact, I consider myself a big fan. During my very first trip to Portland in the early 1990s, I tried escargot at a seafood restaurant, and loved it. Tara, naturally, was less enthusiastic about eating snails. I wanted to make my own, but very few local supermarkets carry snails, it turns out. We tried a bunch of different places, including some European and Asian markets, but came up empty. So we turned to Yelp, and found some suggestions for escargot in Portland. What the heck, it was Friday night – we decided to go ahead and make an evening of it. So we headed to the Hawthorne District to check out Chez Machin, a French creperie that looked promising (and promised escargot). And, they delivered! Now I have to give props to Tara. It is well documented that she is a picky eater, and that has proven to be the case many times during this food challenge. But sometimes she surprises me, and tonight was one of those times. Because she ended up liking the snails. Go figure! (They were pretty tasty, and the garlic butter made a great sauce for dipping that awesome French bread in, too).

Escargot

Categories: Appetizers, Too Weird to Categorize | Tags: , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

81/365: National Coq Au Vin Day*

Today’s food holiday will give you something to crow about! It’s National Coq Au Vin Day, which translates to “rooster in wine.” Cock-a-doodle-do enjoy this tasty French dish!

Coq au vin is a rustic French dish that originated in the Burgundy region and was popular with peasants because the ingredients were plentiful and cheap. Though usually prepared with chicken nowadays – at least in America, where common sense and decency rule and we don’t consider snails a delicacy (oh, those wacky French!) – French commoners did, in fact, use rooster in the recipe because they were dirt poor and couldn’t afford younger, more tender hens.  It was made with red wine because the acids in the alcohol would help tenderize the meat of the rooster (older birds who were all clucked out and could no longer reproduce were put out of their misery this way). Considered a classic, country-style casserole ideally suited to colder winter months – the definition of comfort food – coq au vin was popularized in the U.S. by Julia Child, who featured a recipe in her popular 1961 cookbook Mastering The Art of French Cooking and prepared it often on her television show The French Chef. It became one of her signature dishes, as closely associated with the likable old broad as her husky, distinctive voice. (Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against Julia Child. I remember watching her and Justin Wilson, the Cajun chef, often while growing up. And Yan Can Cook. It’s no wonder I’m addicted to modern cooking shows like Top Chef, Chopped, and Master Chef).

Julia told me to set the brandy on fire. So I did.

Julia told me to set the brandy on fire. So I did.

Fresh out of cock – (must. bite. tongue) –  we opted to make our coq au vin using chicken instead. And decided, since the inspiration for this blog was Julie & Julia, to replicate Julie Powell’s idea for one night by preparing Julia Childs’ classic recipe for coq au vin, found here. Sometimes we are chided for “taking the easy way out” and buying the foods we celebrate from the grocery store or restaurants, but I call fowl on that. First off, we do in fact prepare many of these meals from scratch. Secondly, who cares if we don’t? That was never the intention of this challenge. We are busy with work and kids and, you know, planning a wedding. I think we’re doing extremely well under the circumstances! I just had to get that out there. Most of you have been extremely supportive, and Tara and I appreciate that. I should also mention that today is National Water Day. Now, if we had decided to celebrate that, I too would be screaming “cop out!”

As for Julia Childs’ coq au vin? There was a lot of prep work involved, and very precise cooking instructions with multiple steps, as you might imagine. This meant a very late dinner for us – approaching 9 PM. Luckily, it’s a Friday night, so who cares? And it tasted absolutely DELICIOUS. I can’t emphasize that enough. The sauce was rich and hearty and packed with flavor. This was an amazing dinner!

That Julia Child was onto something. This was incredible!

That Julia Child was onto something. This was incredible!

Categories: Poultry | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

74/365: National Pears Helene Day

Today we celebrate a dessert with all kinds of weird grammar symbols in the name. It’s National Pears Hélène Day! Seriously, what are those weird slash mark thingies over the letter e? And, for that matter, what is Pears Hélène?

An old-fashioned dessert that is rarely seen anymore, that’s what. The dish was created by esteemed French chef and restaurateur Georges Auguste Escoffier, the same fella responsible for Peach Melba, in 1864. (The guy was all over the food map, inventing dishes left and right. We’ll be talking about him again when we celebrate Melba toast). The dessert was inspired by the opera La Belle Hélène, a historical reconstruction of the love triangle between Helen of Troy (“the face that launched a thousand ships and a Brad Pitt movie”), Paris, and Menelas. Escoffier decided that pears poached in sugar syrup and served with vanilla ice cream, chocolate sauce, and crystallized violets would perfectly represent the opera. Over the years the dessert was simplified, with sliced pears replacing the poached ones and slivered almonds standing in for the crystallized violets. Whew! I’d have hated to try and find that ingredient.

Pears Hélène looked, and sounded, complicated when I first read about it, but in reality the simplified version is pretty easy. If we didn’t have plans tonight I might have considered poaching a whole pear, but we decided instead to go the simple route. Sliced pears, vanilla ice cream, chocolate sauce, and slivered almonds. A little bowl at lunchtime. It was decent, though I’m sure using a real poached pear instead of a generic brand of pear halves in lite syrup would have upped the wow quotient.

IMAG0614

Categories: Desserts | Tags: , , , , , | 11 Comments

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