Sunday, May 20, 2012

eat yer greens, grilled

A beautiful day to lounge in the backyard
while cooking and sipping wine.

 I don't know what possessed me. Perhaps it was the bubbly wine getting to my head, but with the grill fired up and ready to go I had a notion to try cooking a head of iceberg lettuce. Iceberg is a rarity in my house to begin with. I have long ago given it up for more interestingly flavored varieties of greens. But for a burst of watery crunch, with a resilient body that holds up to dressings, iceberg can't be beat.

I also happened to have a wedge of Napa cabbage bumming around my fridge so I decided to grill that too. What the heck.

To round out this spontaneous mish-mash of ingredients I rummaged around for a few mangoes to get the singe treatment as well.
I did not want to over cook the two greens (pale, pale greens I might add,) I just wanted to get a few gentle grill marks and capture some smokey flavor.  Keeping the greens in large chunks made them easier to manipulate with tongs over a hot grill. The mangoes got sliced, with the skin still on, along the line of the pit.
Hot off the grill I decided to chop everything up into a large one inch dice and make a tossed salad with the pieces. I don't know what I was expecting, but I was very pleasantly pleased with the results. The iceberg took on a depth of flavor I never would have imagined. It tasted more like escarole, but with a fresh watery texture.
I finished the salad off with a toss of fresh herbs from the garden and a sprinkle of chive blossoms. For dressing - a splash of good sherry vinegar and extra virgin olive oil will more than suffice. I was really surprised and pleased at this improvised experiment. The salad had a complexity of texture and taste with the subtle smokiness I was looking for. The mango's sweetness perfectly combined with the mild bitterness of the greens. So there you go iceberg, you can hold your own!

Sunday, May 6, 2012

attempting puff pastry

Lilies of the valley look especially beguiling next to my
new linen napkins purchased at the Parisian store Merci.
I am so infatuated with my new napkins I can't bear the idea
of anyone actually using them to wipe their mouths! Sigh

When lilies of the valley begin to flower in my garden, I know that Mother's day is upon us. What I did not realize is that lilies of the valley mark a holiday in France too, May Day, or so I am informed by one of my favorite blogs: Paris Breakfast. On May 1st shop owners hand out sprigs of lily of the valley to their customers. A lovely tradition I would say!

These spring holidays are occasions for something special and with this in mind I decided to stretch my skills a bit and take a croissant baking class during my recent trip to Paris. I am not much of a pastry baker; I stick to tarts, pies and crumbles, but I could not resist getting an insider's glimpse of how the iconic French breakfast treat is made on its own turf.

Chef Emmanuelle knows her business and
patiently guided us through the specifics of French baking.
The class was conducted at the cozy and welcoming cooking school La Cuisine Paris, ideally situated on the right bank of the Seine river in the Marais district.  Our pastry chef, Emmanuelle, took a small group of us through the steps of making puff pastry from scratch and then forming the dough into a variety of delicacies including pain au chocolat and pain aux amandes (a chocolate filled croissant and an almond cream filled croissant, respectively). The class was mercifully conducted in English, although I was prepared to put my limited French and pantomime skills to the test. The steps to making puff pastry are many and quite specific, involving precise measurements, attention to ingredient temperatures and a light, but firm technique for rolling out the dough. My style of cooking is more of a free-flow improv and that just will not do when it comes to croissants. Understood.
Getting a little messy was part of the fun. Naturally, eating the results of our hard work was pretty fun too. When asked if we would attempt to make croissants at home my answer was a definitive NO! As much as I thoroughly enjoyed the class, I think it takes years to really master these exacting techniques and I leave it to the masters.  Chef Emmanuelle confirmed that we could do no better than sampling the amazing confections at Paris bakery Pierre Herme.  Indeed.

Students hard at work carefully applying the egg wash to our newly formed croissants

Strolling around during the rest of my stay in Paris I was confronted over and over again with masterwork. Being an expert at something is a worthy pursuit. Perhaps I was being a bit hasty about puff pastry.
The beautifully landscaped Jardin du Luxembourg
The awe inspiring grandeur of Notre Dame cathedral at night.
With all this in mind I am trying to decide what to do for my dearest Mother-in-Law this Mother's Day. She is a fine baker in her own right, so perhaps a side by side baking class might be just the way to honor her. I think I will suggest to her we buy our tickets for Paris right away. Maybe, upon landing, we should head straight to Pierre Herme, on our way to La Cuisine!

For a step by step croissant recipe from
the Fine Cooking website Click Here.