Archive | March, 2014

Classic Bearnaise… the easy way!

30 Mar

Alright. Raise your hand if you love Béarnaise, but dread making it. Also, let’s forget for a few minutes that Béarnaise is nothing more than a velvetty concotion of egg yolks, butter and herbs… As a matter of fact, if you’re a health nut who frowns upon all fatty foods, you might as well stop reading here. This French classic is not for the weak for heart.

Béarnaise is actually the deliciously herbed cousin of Hollandaise. As such, with a bit of imagination, you can substitute this smooth operator any place Hollandaise would go, but keep in mind that its main ingredient, tarragon, is a pretty potent flavor.

A few Summers back, Mr. Farklepants introduced me to the ‘Béarnaise Burger’ at ‘Yard House’, a restaurant chain with several locations in our neck of the woods. It was a hot & balmy late afternoon, and having just finished an 18-hole round of disc golf at one of our nearby disc golf courses, we were both hungry with parched lips yearning for a cold beer. With over 100 beers on draft, the wooden patio at ‘Yard House’ overlooking the Long Beach marina was calling for us.

That Bearnaise hamburger was probably the best burger I’ve ever eaten, and I’m not big on hamburgers to begin with. My French lover consisted out of a griddled buttery brioche bun, topped with crispy fried shoestring onions, a perfectly seasoned grilled patty and… Béarnaise! Don’t be fooled by its simplicity, I tell you, this was to die for.  Béarnaise makes everything better: grilled steak, eggs benedict, fish, vegetables… you name it. 

Thanks to my gratuitous bottle of delicious Vilux tarragon vinegar, we all enjoyed an easy, no fuss Béarnaise! Thank you, Culinary District!

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CLASSIC BEARNAISE… THE EASY WAY!
(in the manner of ‘The Hungry Belgian’)
– 5 farm fresh egg yolks at room temperature
– 6 Tbsp of tarragon vinegar (*)
– 6 oz of good quality clarified butter or ghee
– 1 bunch of fresh tarragon, chopped (approx. 1/2 cup chopped)
– salt & pepper, to taste
(*) You can easily order a fairly large $4.05 bottle taragon vinegar from Surfas, if you can’t find it in your local store. It’s also a delicious base for French-inspired salad dressings!

Clarifying butter is not all that hard. Simply melt the butter over very low heat, and scoop the white foam (protein flakes) off of the butter so all that is left is that liquid gold we’re looking for. If this seems too much of  hassle, check if you store has ghee or order ghee from Surfas (see link above).

In a small sause pan, away from the heat, beat the eggs lightly with the taragon vinegar and season with salt & pepper.

Over low heat, heat the egg mixture whilst whisking constantly, until the eggs start to ‘bind’ or thicken slightly. At this point, in an ever so thin steady drizzle, gently incorporate all of your warm clarified butter. Whatever you do, do not stop whisking! If you stop stirring or whisking, your sauce will curdle.

When the sauce has achived your desired thickness, take it off of the heat and add the chopped fresh tarragon. Et voila.. mission accomplished!

PS: if you add a tablespoon of tomato paste, you end up what the French call ‘Choron Sauce’. You’re welcome!

Crostini, an elegant affair…

9 Mar

About a fortnight ago, one of the broker assistants at my second job asked me if I could cater a few light snacks for a ‘Brokers Open House’ of a multi-million dollar beach property in upscale  Manhattan Beach here. I’ve never ‘catered’ anything in my life, let alone for a crowd of high end realtors. So naturally, I told Christina: “Sure! no problem!”, with wild enthusiasm and feigned confidence… and then I freaked out a little bit I took a deep breath.

I figured I couldn’t show up with just anything at a 5-million dollar beachside palace home, and the more thought I put into it, the deeper that pit of my stomach became. Crostini seemed to be the perfect choice. And with years of childhood practice in schmearing ‘toastjes’ at various family gatherings, my food-mojo started to kick in.

Crostini not only look beautiful and elegant, they’re actually fairly easy to make and very versatile. All you need is fine motorskills time and a bit of knowledge about flavor combinations, but you can truly top these babies with anything you fancy. If you need help, a quick Internet search will yield dozens of fabulous ideas. Crostini are the perfect vehicle to unleash your creativity, they hold up well in a cool dry place outside your refrigerator for  up to a few hours but better yet, they make you look like you spent a fortune… when in reality, they’re fairly inexpensive depending on what you top them with.

For the open house, I crafted a few different choices and arranged them scattered on a black baking sheet so the colors came out bright and it appeared as thought there were a ton of choices.

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CROSTINI
(Inspired by Pinterest and fueled by my own creativity)

THE CROSTINI:
– 1 day-old French baguette
– olive oil

Of course, you have to start with the vessel itself. A good crostini is crunchy on the outside, with a buttery taste. The best choice for crostini is a French baguette, preferably one that is a day old.

Preheat oven to 375F. Slice the baguette into 1/2  inch thin slices and oil/butter each side lightly. Arrange on a baking sheet, and bake at 375F for approx. 5 min on the first side, and another 1-2 min on the other side. Each oven is slightly different, so keep an eye on them so they don’t burn. They should be cripsy and light goldenbrown when they come out.

THE BASIC ‘SCHMEARS’:
Now the fun part starts. Topping your crostini with just dry ingredients will most likely cause the topping to come sliding right off the minute eager hands try to grab them. No, you need a bit of ‘glue’ to keep the topping in place so your crostini don’t become messy to eat or require some sort of super-natural talent to keep them in tact. The usual suspects are: hummus, ricotta, crème fraîche, pâté, blue cheese, cream cheese, goat cheese… anything that is not too wet or runny, but still acts like glue for anything you place on top. Personally, I love the soft creamy goat cheese from Soledad Goat Farms.

TOPPINGS:
You can let your imagination run wild here. Think of good flavor combinations that you’d like to eat. Try to balance sweetness, tartness and saltiness. Crostini need to pack a punch of flavor in a small bite, yet you don’t want anyone’s muscular facial structure to be altered either.

A FEW EXAMPLES:
(each choice makes approx. 6-8 crostini)

Lemon-Lavender Goat Cheese Crostini with Blueberries, Lemon Zest & Fresh Mint:
Combine 6oz soft chevre-style goat cheese with 1 Tbsp of lemon zest & 1 Tbsp of lavender blossoms, stir well and let it sit overnight for the flavors to blend… or, if you’re local to SoCal, give the folks of Soledad Goat Farms a call and purchase their own lemon-lavender goat cheese.

Schmear crostini with the goat cheese, top with a sprinkle of freshly grated lemon zest, fresh blueberries and a small fresh mint leaf, for eye candy.

Cucumber & Chive Goat Cheese with Cucumbers & Dill:
Combine 6oz of soft chevre-style goat cheese with 1/2 cup of very finely minced & seeded skinless cucumber and a 2 Tbsp of finely chopped chives. Let it sit overnight so the flavors can blend.

Schmear crostini with goat cheese and top with thinly sliced Japanese cucumbers (small mini cucumbers) and a sprinkling of fresh dill.

Blue Cheese, Apple & Hazelnut:
Pick a softer blue cheese that you can fairly easily spread out and won’t crumble too much. I used a Danish Blue, but Roquefort or Cambozola would work well too. Let it sit on the counter for 15-20 min, as this will soften the cheese a bit and it’ll be easier to handle.

Core & halve apple and slice one half into paper thin slices. Eat the other half, as it’s good for you! Place the thin slices in a bit of lemon juice as this will prevent the apple from turning an unappealing brown. We’ll counter act the sourness of the lemon with a drizzle of honey later on.

Schmear crostini with blue cheese, and top with a few apple slices, crumbled hazelnuts (or walnuts) and drizzle a bit of honey over the top.

Smoked Salmon, Cream Cheese & Chives:
This one pretty much speaks for itself.

Schmear crostini with cream cheese, and top with a small slice of smoked salmon. Cut a few large sprigs of chives and place over the top for eye-appeal.

Ricotta, Almond & Cherry Jam:
For something sweet, combine 6oz of whole milk ricotta with 1/2 tsp of almond extract, 1/2 tsp of vanilla extract and 1 Tbsp of sugar.

Schmear crostini with ricotta mixture, top with a dollop of good quality cherry jam and sprinkle with a few slivers of toasted almonds.

Mediteranean Hummus, Pine Nuts & Olives:
No explanation needed here… Either make your own hummus, or buy a good quality Mediterranean-style hummus at the store. I bought mine at Trader Joe’s.

Spread hummus out on crostini, top with herb-marinated olives and sprinkle a few toasted pine nuts over the top.

Prosciutto, Parsley Crème Fraîche & Egg:
Since crème fraîche is pretty ‘runny’, I took a half/half mixture of crème fraîche and whole milk ricotta. It still had that creaminess of the crème fraîche, but the texture was thicker and more like ricotta, which is perfect for crostini.

Combine 3oz of crème fraîche with 3oz of whole milk ricotta, and stir in 1/2 cup of freshly chopped parsley and salt & pepper to taste.

Spread crostini with crème fraîche/ricotta mixture, and top with a thin slice of prosciutto and a slice of semi-hard boiled egg. You want the egg yolk to be solid, but not cooked completely dry. I find that if I place my eggs in cold water from the start and then bring to a boil, I have a perfectly creamy egg in 8 minutes.

There are literally TONS of great crostini ideas out there! Don’t be shy and venture out of the box.. Your dinner guests will think you rock!

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