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* Sigh *
Like Sage, I’m not really a fan of doing yet another blog about something sweet. And to be quite honest, when it comes to chocolate (I know, I know, “white” isn’t really chocolate, but anyway), I prefer mine dark. With maybe some sea salt.
So I’m going to tell you about pizza instead. Yes, we’ve already blogged about pizza. Several times in fact. But when Janelle and Deanna blogged recently about cheese pizza, I was inspired to try my hand at the amazing dough Janelle’s been on about. Including her special “retarded fermentation” trick.
But since she’s already told you all about that, I had to do something special to make my pizza worthy of mention.
Oh, I know: oven-roasted tomatoes and sage pesto (with roasted garlic). Yum.
The trick to oven-roasted tomatoes is time. I happened to have a lot of that, which is good. You slice a goodly amount of plum tomatoes in half lengthwise. Place on parchment-covered cookie sheet and add about 1 head of peeled garlic cloves. Drizzle the lot with a good extra-virgin olive oil, sprinkle on some fleur de sel and freshly-cracked pepper, then throw in a 250° oven for about 4 hours (keep an eye on the garlic; it will probably be ready after two hours). I didn’t want my tomatoes completely dried, which would have taken about 8 hours (or overnight).
Roasting tomatoes this way completely concentrates the flavour, giving a burst of rich tomatoey goodness on the pizza.
Sage pesto: blanch a big bunch of sage by immersing in boiling hot water, removing immediately and plunging into an ice bath.
Dry the sage as well as possible and place in a food processor. Add in about half the roasted garlic (put the rest on the pizza itself), about 1/2 C of some toasted nut (I used walnuts – they went really well with the sage). Grate in about 1/2 C of parmesan (more to taste) and add a pinch of salt and some freshly-cracked pepper. Process, drizzling in extra-virgin olive oil until smooth. I usually stuff my leftover pesto into an ice cube tray and freeze it. The next time you want pesto, you’ve got handy little cubes in your freezer.
To my pizza I added garlic-butter brushed prawns (lightly grilled) and some goat brie to tie it all together.
Food can be a powerful trigger for our memories. And that’s why so many of us have particular foods that we identify with the places, and people of our past. The smell of bread fresh from the oven immediately transports me to my grandmother’s house. That first scoop of mashed potatoes and gravy reminds of countless Christmas dinners and the people who were gathered around those various tables. Then there are the meals that we remember because they conjure images of important events in our lives. Now, I certainly don’t consider the first real meal I cooked for my family to be of equal importance to your wedding feast or your child’s first birthday, but it was a life-changing event for me. It was my first step toward culinary adventurism, the day that I realized that there was nothing exotic about food, it was just food I hadn’t eaten yet. For me, the dish that carries this immense load of meaning, the food that triggers these deep currents of nostalgia is Chicken Cordon Bleu. Yes, I know there is nothing exotic about Chicken Cordon Bleu. I know it is a food hopelessly locked in the 60’s and 70’s. But it was the first meal I ever cooked on my own, a pivotal moment in the life of any foodie.
Unlike so many of the foods that we write about, there is no rich history and no charming lore attached to Chicken Cordon Bleu. By my best estimation, it first showed up in the America’s in the early to mid 1960’s. The earliest reference I could find to Cordon Bleu of any description was a 1959 recipe for Veal Cordon Bleu in a syndicated column called Anne’s Reader Exchange. The contributor said the veal was “a specialty of a restaurant in The Hague.” I found a 1965 advertisement in the Washington Post for a Christmas gala serving Cordon Bleu. And a story from the January 11, 1968 Washington Post that detailed how Mrs. Franmarco scoured the city for the supermarket specials to prepare Chicken Cordon Bleu for 8 for under $40. A 1967 United Airlines add for the Blue Carpet Service offered passengers the choice of Top Sirloin Steak or Chicken Cordon Bleu. Blue Carpet Service was coach on United.
How times have changed. The last time I flew United a I got a small package of non-peanut containing crackers and a small glass of Diet Coke. And does anyone remember the Canadian carrier, Ward Air? On a flight to Hawaii, we were served Chateau Briand and unlimited champagne, on real china with real cutlery. But I digress – back to Cordon Bleu. Perhaps turning Chicken Cordon Bleu into airline food signaled its eventual decline into the realm of culinary nostalgia, to be relegated forever to the freezer section between the diet dinners and the frozen hors d’oeuvres or occasionally fresh from the butcher. You’re not likely to find it on a restaurant menu, though it makes infrequent appearances at stodgy conference luncheons. To confirm just how unfashionable Chicken Cordon Bleu has become I checked a couple of the largest prepared food purveyors in Canada only to find that while President’s Choice sells a half dozen stuffed chicken breasts, it does not make a Cordon Bleu and though M&M Meat Shops does still sell Cordon Bleu, they call it “Bistro Chicken Swiss,” thus severing any possible association with the passé.
While I remember vividly the first time I made Chicken Cordon Bleu, I don’t actually remember when I made it last. It’s probably been several years. It’s not because I don’t like it. It’s not because it’s not healthy. But with so many new things to try, it’s difficult to justify wasting a meal on something I’ve had dozens of times before. Happily, Chicken Cordon Bleu is very easy to make and you really don’t need a recipe so it was a pleasure to whip some up for the blog. I decided, however, to not stuff the ham and cheese into the chicken breast but to melt it on top instead. It tasted exactly the same, but I won’t do it that way again. I missed cutting into the chicken and watching the cheese ooze out of the centre. In this case the sight was as important as the flavour. Lesson learned. Never mess with a memory.
Chicken Cordon Bleu
• 4 chicken breasts, pounded flat to ¼ inch thickness
• 4 ounces gruyere, emmental or jarlsberg cheese
• 8 slices Westphalia or prosciutto ham
• 1 cup flour
• 1 tsp paprika
• 2 eggs
• 1 tsp Dijon mustard
• 1 cup panko or other bread crumbs
• 1 tbsp mixed herbs, (herb de provence or Mrs. Dash is a good quick addition)
• salt and pepper
Lay a flattened chicken breast on a board. Lay the ham in the center of the chicken. Place an ounce of cheese on the ham. Fold the ham around the cheese and roll the chicken around the ham. Use a metal or wood skewer to secure while breading.
Season flour with salt, pepper and paprika. Beat eggs with 2 tablespoons of water, Dijon mustard, salt and pepper. Mix herbs with bread crumbs in another bowl. Roll the stuffed chicken in the flour mixture. Dip in the egg mixture and then roll in the bread crumbs. You can prepare up to this point and refrigerate for several hours before cooking.
Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Place the stuffed chicken on a greased cooling rack set over a pan. Bake for about 25 minutes, until crust is golden brown and chicken juices run clear.
There is something quite wonderful about the combination of the salty ham, the texture of the cheese and the crispy crust on the chicken. It’s deadly simple but it works. I know I probably won’t make Cordon Bleu again anytime soon, but I am inspired use this flavour profile in some other way. I think it would make a really great pizza!
When I was a little girl I loved cream puffs more than almost anything. Almost as much as I loved pickles, pizza and Greek food. Every year for my birthday, from ages 2 to, oh, probably, 14, instead of birthday cake, I wanted cream puffs and that’s what I got. As I got older, we would go for Greek food at my favorite Greek restaurant and they don’t serve cream puffs. It was often a difficult choice for me – my favorite dinner or my favorite dessert? A conundrum for the ages.
What is a cream puff exactly? It is a large pastry made from choux paste and filled with sweet cream or custard. Profiteroles are a miniature version of the cream puff and usually filled with ice cream. They can be topped with a little icing sugar, chocolate sauce, or any other flavour sauce one wants, or just left plain. I like my cream puffs to be wee in size. That way, if there are different flavours, you can sample the whole variety. I’ve seen cream puffs or profiteroles filled with sweet whipped cream, chantilly cream, boston cream, vanilla custard, chocolate mousse, lemon curd, espresso cream, maple cream … the list is endless really. Of course, any of the cream based fillings can be flavoured with a variety of booze. Wouldn’t be me if I didn’t at least try.
Past Cream Puffs Worthy of Note:
Eva made me profiteroles once. For my birthday. She’s a grand friend. She knows me well. She filled them with a mango mousse sorbet. They were amazing.
Lemon curd filled mini cream puffs dusted with icing sugar sold at the now defunct patisserie wing of Bon Rouge Restaurant. We called them “Crack Puffs” ’cause we were addicted and went there every second lunch hour to buy some. They were that good.
Last year I made mini cream puffs for Easter. It was my first time making choux paste. Amazingly, after all those many years of loving cream puffs, I had never actually tried making them! Shocking, right? Anyway, it was an adventure, to be sure. My beautiful Kitchenaid Professional stand mixer (wedding gift) upped and died in the middle of making the choux paste (thank goodness it was from Costco and they replaced it with a brand spankin’ new candy apple red better version – but that’s another story). Now, here’s the thing. To make choux paste, you first have to make what is essentially a big ball of roux, and then you have to beat eggs into it. This is not a task that a person wants to undertake by hand! But the batch was half done and there was no other choice. I discovered new muscles in my arms and shoulders that day. Reminded me of that time when I made risotto for 150 people in one giant pot. Such work is generally best done when assisted by copious amounts of vino.
Last Easter I learned that you should use wet fingers to pinch off the choux paste from the pastry bag (it is darn sticky) and that no one else in my family shares the same love of cream puffs as I do. Strange. I filled my Easter poppets with boston cream and with mocha whipped cream. Since it was pretty much just me eating them (and maybe a couple of others) I also discovered that cream puffs freeze brilliantly. Well, I can’t say that I discovered it. To be fair, Costco has known this forever and you can buy boxes of the little pleasure-filled buns without any effort at all. Of course, fresh homemade ones are better.
The National Cream Puff Day Batch:
At any rate, as much as I enjoy, love, adore cream puffs, I confess to being a tad daunted at the prospect of yet more rich bad for me food following on the heels of the Christmas holiday. This year was epic on the food front. We ate so much amazing food for every meal of every day that all I really feel like consuming at this point is raw vegetables and water. My rich food stomach is lastingly full! And seriously, how is a girl supposed to get herself off to a strong start for the New Year when she is forced to eat this stuff?
I made them anyway.
And I ate them too.
This time I used the Larousse recipe for choux pastry and learned that even greasing my non-stick cookie sheet doesn’t keep them from sticking. I had to use a paring knife to scrape them off the sheet and unfortunately mangled one or several. No matter, there were plenty left over. The mangled ones went to the dogs and my kid (who, lo and behold, happens to love them too).
I am actually quite a purist when it comes to my cream puffs, so I didn’t want to muck about too much. I just filled them with a lightly flavoured maple whipped cream and drizzled the smallest amount of chocolate over them for effect. Mostly it was for the picture. When given the option, I will happily use pieces of my choux pastry puffs to scoop up the whipped cream as though it were a veggie dip and the pastry was a carrot. I had planned to make a caramel rum sauce to go on top, instead of the chocolat, but my caramel-loving hubby is out for the night and after all the recent gluttonous festivities, I didn’t really feel up to making and eating a bowl of caramel sauce to myself.
Basic Choux Pastry Recipe for Cream Puffs:
1. Heat in saucepan 1 cup of milk or water (or milk and water mixed in equal parts), 5 tbsp. butter, 1 pinch salt and 2 tsp. caster sugar stirrin frequently until butter is melted.
2. Slowly bring to a boil and then remove from heat and immediately mix in all of 1 cup all-purpose flour. Return to heat and beat with wooden spoon until smooth and pulling away from sides of pan (approx. 1 minute). Do not overmix or pastry will be greasy.
3. Put into your mixer bowl and allow to cool slightly while you wash up from the previous two steps (this should be the right amount of time if you don’t have a dishwasher, otherwise wait another 5 minutes or so).
4. Beat in two eggs and then two more one after the other until the paste is smooth and shiny. To do this, I run my stand mixer on medium-high speed for at least two minutes.
5. Use piping bag (or ziploc with the corner cut off) to pipe blobs of choux paste onto lightly greased baking sheets (approx. 1 1/2 – 2 inches in size) and bake in pre-heated 425 degree oven for 10 minutes, reduce heat to 350 degrees and bake for another 10 minutes (or up to 25 minutes for larger puffs) to allow enough time for puffing up.
6. Remove from oven and break open immediately to prevent steam from making the pastry soggy. Cool completely on wire racks before filling with your filling of choice.
Maple Whipped Cream:
Beat together 1 cup whipping cream and 2 – 3 tbsp maple syrup until stiff.
Caramel Rum Sauce: if I had ended up making it, this is the recipe I was going to use. It’s a pretty standard recipe. I’ve made it before. It’s pretty tasty.
This concludes my entry for National Cream Puff Day. Stay tuned when I return to you on January 4th with National Whipped Cream Day (really the two days ought to be together). I’m off to roll my lardy arse into bed now.