Wednesday, September 30, 2009

A Little Kate + a Little Julia = A Little Bit of Home

I have been a little homesick lately although I am not sure why since I have been busier than ever. I really noticed it last night as I listened to a reading by Kate Inglis from her new children’s novel The Dread Crew: Pirates of the Backwoods. Her first public reading was at Word on the Street which was held on the waterfront this year - only blocks from where I grew up. As she described the setting, it was as if she was catapulting me back to Halifax. If she can do this introducing her reading, I can’t wait to curl up and read the book!

Another thing I have been thinking about is a crepe torte with spinach and mushroom which I used to get at the Italian Market on Young Street. Isabelle’s school was having a quiche and pizza sale today and I thought it might be a good chance to try to make it. I found a similar recipe in Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking, I made some slight changes, mainly in the construction – it was very rich but very good. When I make it next time the only changes I would make would be to add more spinach and mushroom. Making the torte was fairly time consuming but I have an electric crepe maker which made things much easier. To make the crepes, I followed the basic recipe which came with the maker.

Gâteau de Crêpes à la Florentine

About 24 crêpes 6½ inches in diameter

Sauce Mornay (béchamel with cheese), 3 cups

5 tbsp flour
4 tbsp butter
2¾ cups boiling milk
½ tsp salt
1/8 tsp pepper
Big pinch of nutmeg
¼ cup whipping cream (I didn’t add this, I didn’t think it was needed)
1 cup coarsely grated Swiss cheese

Cook the flour and butter slowly together in the saucepan for 2 minutes without coloring. Off heat, beat in the boiling milk and seasonings. Boil, stirring, for 1 minute.Reduce to the simmer and stir in the cream by tablespoons. Sauce should be thick enough to coat the spoon fairly heavily. Remove from heat and correct seasoning. Stir in all but two tablespoons of the cheese. Film top of sauce with milk to prevent a skin from forming.

Spinach filling

1 tbsp minced shallots or green onions (I used salted onion made by Paul and his mom and omitted the salt)
2 tbsp butter
1½ cups blanched chopped spinach (next time I would use more)
¼ tsp salt

Cook the shallots or onions in butter for a moment in an enameled saucepan. Add spinach and salt, and stir over moderately high heat for 2 to 3 minutes to evaporate moisture. Stir in ½ to 2/3 cup of the cheese sauce. Cover and simmer slowly for 8 to 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Correct seasoning and set aside.

Cheese and mushroom filling

1 cup cottage cheese or 8 ounces cream cheese
Salt and pepper
1 egg
¼ lb. (1 cup) minced mushrooms (next time I would double or triple but I love mushrooms)
1 tbsp minced shallots or green onions (again I used salted onion)
1 tbsp butter
½ tbsp oil (I omitted the oil)
3 tbsp grated cheese
½ tbsp butter (I omitted the butter)

Mash the cheese in a mixing bowl with the seasonings. Beat in 1/3 to ½ cup of the cheese sauce, and the egg.

Sauté the mushrooms and shallots in butter and oil for 5 to 6 minutes in a skillet. Stir them into the cheese mixture, and correct seasoning.

Forming the mound
(This is where I deviated from Julia)

Julia says: Butter the baking dish, and center a crêpe in the bottom. Spread it with a layer of cheese and mushroom filling. Press a crêpe on top and spread it with a layer of spinach filling. Continue with alternating layers of crêpes and filling, ending with a crêpe. Pour the remaining cheese sauce over the top and sides of the mound. Sprinkle with the 3 tablespoons of cheese and dot with 3 or 4 pea-sized bits of butter. Set aside.

Cover the bottom of a lightly buttered spring-form pan with crepes (I used 3). Then, alternate layers of mushroom, spinach, cheese sauce and crepes until spinach and mushroom mixtures are finished and a little less than 1½ cups of cheese sauce remains. (For some layers I cut the crepes to fit.) Mine ended up looking more like a cake than a mound. Finish with a layer of crepes, top with remaining cheese sauce. Sprinkle with remaining Swiss cheese.

About 25 to 30 minutes before serving time, place in upper third of a preheated 350-degree oven to heat through thoroughly and brown the top lightly. Remove from spring-form pan. To serve, cut in pie-shaped wedges.

Baked Custard with a Canadian Twist

One of the things I have been enjoying about Isabelle’s new school is the good food. For Isabelle's class each day one family is in charge of bringing a snack for everyone. Just after school started we received our assignments for the first part of the year which for me included cereal and milk, yogurt, bread and jam and, today’s challenge, creme. My first task was to find out what was meant by creme – which includes baked custard, creme caramel, creme brulee etc. So off I went to our favorite cookbook, Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything. I made a few changes to his recipe but I think it turned out pretty well.

Baked Custard

2 cups heavy cream, light cream or milk I used 1c skim milk and 1c half and half
½ tsp each cinnamon, ground and nutmeg, ground I substituted 1 tsp vanilla
2 eggs  
2 egg yolks  
½ cup sugar  
pinch salt  
    about 6 tsp maple syrup

1. Place milk/cream in a small saucepan with the vanilla and turn the heat to medium. Cook just until it begins to steam.

2. Use a whisk or electric mixer to beat the eggs and yolks with the salt and sugar until pale yellow and fairly thick.

3. Preheat the oven to 300 F and set a kettle of water to boil.

4. Add the cream gradually to the egg mixture, stirring constantly.

5. Put about 1 tsp maple syrup into each of six 4-6 oz custard cups.

6. Pour the custard mixture over the maple syrup.

7. Place the bowl or cups in a baking pan and pour hot water in, to within about 1 inch of the top of the bowl or cups. Bake until the mixture is not quite set – it should wobble just a little in the middle – about 30 minutes (mine took closer to 50 mins) Use your judgment; cream sets up faster than milk.