Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Grape Flaugnarde (Flan)

Grape Flaugnarde (Flan) in Baking Dish, Overhead View

An Elegant (But Light and Easy) French Dessert That’s Perfect for Entertaining

Grape flaugnarde is a pie-shaped French dessert that’s nothing more than grapes covered with a flavorful custard, and baked until it achieves a flan-like consistency. (Some people might call this dessert a clafoutis, though that’s technically incorrect, as we discuss below.)

Outside of fancy restaurants, most people in the US would probably just call this a flan because it looks and tastes like, well, flan. With grapes baked into it.

Whatever you call it, this is a great dessert to serve with an elaborate meal — the type of festive fare you might make for company. After a rich dinner, the last thing I want is a heavy dessert. Which is why this dish fits in so perfectly:  It’s fairly light, and not overly sweet.

Although not a heavy dish, it packs tremendous flavor into each slice. And it’s so good that your guests might forget about that big meal they’ve just had, and request a second slice of flaugnarde.

Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Easy No-Knead Homemade Bread

Easy No-Knead Homemade Bread, Slices on Black Acrylic

Shape this Versatile Dough into a Sandwich Loaf or a Boule

Do you shy away from making homemade bread?  Afraid it will take too much time and effort?  A lot of people feel the same way.

Well, fear no more.  Because with surprisingly little effort, you can make a loaf of bread that’s better than any of the commercial packaged stuff you buy at the grocery store.  One that even rivals the pricey artisan bread sold at specialty bakeries. 

When I say a “little effort,” I mean it.  This recipe will take you about 10 minutes of active time.  No proofing the yeast, no kneading (though you do have to let the dough rise for a few hours). 

The result is a yeast-forward white bread with superlative flavor.  You can use it to make sandwiches, yet it’s crusty enough to serve at your fanciest dinner party. And the same dough works equally well as a loaf or as a rustic boule.

Once you taste it, you may never bother with store bought bread again.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Easy and Quick Roast Chicken

Roast Chicken on Platter with Broccoli and Roast Potatoes

The High-Heat Method Produces Succulent Chicken with a Crispy Skin

Few dishes are better than a perfectly roasted chicken.  With its crisp, browned skin and juicy, succulent flesh, it’s so simple — yet irresistible.

But some cooks find the idea of roasting a chicken daunting.  Should you truss it or not?  Baste it?  And if so, how often?  How will you know when it’s done?  Decisions, decisions, decisions!

Well, relax.  There’s a way to eliminate most of those worries:  Just use the high-heat method.  It’s the easiest, fastest way to roast a chicken, and it’s practically foolproof. 

The result?  Superb flavor and nicely browned skin.  And a chicken that tastes way better than those supermarket rotisserie birds.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Roast Potatoes

Roast Potatoes on Plate with Parsley Garnish

So Good You’ll Wish They Were the Main Course

Roasting is one of my favorite ways to prepare vegetables.  The hot oven evaporates moisture, making the vegetables tender and caramelizing their natural sugars.  Roasted veggies are great on their own, and they’re a natural alongside a dish like chicken or pork roast.

Here at Kitchen Riffs, we’re no stranger to their deliciousness. In recent months we’ve made Roast Sweet Potatoes, Roast Cauliflower, Roast Belgian Endive, Roast Asparagus, and Roast Eggplant. Heck, we’ve even done a Roast Strawberry Salad.

But nothing is better than Roast Potatoes. And with the cooler weather we’ve been having, we’re now enjoying the kind of hearty meals at which roast potatoes are particularly welcome. So it’s time to discuss how easy, fast, and off-the-charts-flavorful this dish can be.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Boeuf Bourguignon


a/k/a Beef Burgundy, This Classic French Dish Is Perfect for Fall Entertaining

Julia Child introduced the US to Boeuf Bourguignon in the 1960s. Until then, the few Americans who knew about the dish had encountered it in a French restaurant or on travels abroad.

Then we saw Julia cook it on her PBS television show, The French Chef — and we were smitten! It was so exotic and delicious. And once you got past the fancy French name, it was really nothing more than beef stew. Boeuf Bourguignon instantly became the entertaining dish in the 60s — and for a decade or two beyond.

It seems to have fallen out of fashion in recent years, which is too bad. Because you can prepare most of it a day or two ahead, and then finish it when you’re ready to serve — perfect for entertaining.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Chopped Kale Salad with Creamy Lemon Dressing

Chopped Kale Salad with Crouton Garnish

This Caesar-Style Salad Is Perfect for Fall and Winter

Kale tastes better after it’s been exposed to frost — which is why we see so much of it in our markets starting in October and extending into winter.  Its peak flavor and growing season arrive just when other locally grown greens become scarce. 

Though kale is typically cooked, it can also make a terrific raw salad.  The trick is to finely chop or “shave” the fresh kale. 

Because kale has big, bold flavor, you need to use a dressing that is equally rambunctious.  What could be better than a riff on the classic Caesar dressing?  Here I use extra virgin olive oil and lemon juice to mellow sharp Dijon mustard and pungent anchovies.  This combo creates a dressing that, when tossed with kale, creates a lively flavor combo that dances on your tongue.  Add some sharp cheese and you’ll be blissed out, guaranteed.

This salad is easy to make.  And it’s equally at home served with soup and bread, or as the first course of an elegant meal.  With fall and winter entertaining season here, this is a timely dish you’ll soon learn to love.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Pasta alla Norma

Pasta alla Norma with Garlic Bread and Basil Garnish

Tomato and Eggplant Flavor This Classic Sicilian Dish

Pasta alla Norma showcases the deep flavor of eggplant, combining it in a spicy tomato sauce with basil and ricotta salata to create one of Sicily’s most famous pasta dishes.

But actually, it’s enjoyed all over Italy. Indeed, it’s almost a cultural institution, having been named (reportedly, at least) in honor of Vincenzo Bellini’s opera Norma. Bellini was a native of Sicily and is considered one of its finest composers — and Norma is his best-loved opera. So naming a pasta dish after it was high praise indeed.

Unfortunately, Pasta alla Norma isn’t well known in the US. I sometimes see it on restaurant menus, but not often. Which is too bad, because it’s an exceptionally tasty dish. Fortunately, it’s also simple to prepare, and once you taste it, you’ll want to make it often.

Pasta alla Norma combines all its ingredients to create a beautiful harmony — just like Bellini’s opera.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Roast Eggplant

Roast Eggplant in Dish with Grape Tomatoes and Basil, Overhead View

A Quick, Healthy Way to Enjoy Eggplant’s Peak Season

Chances are you can find some nice-looking eggplant in your market right now — at the best prices of the year. That’s because eggplant’s peak season is from August through October (in the Northern hemisphere, at least). So now is the time to enjoy the rich flavor of this purple-hued veggie.

It’s a favorite around the world. Yet despite its beauty and great nutritional value, eggplant (also called aubergine) isn’t a major player in US kitchens.

Why? Two main reasons, it seems. First, eggplant can be bitter, so you need to spend some time dehydrating it (usually by salting) before cooking to draw out the juices that cause the bitter taste. Second, because eggplant has a spongy texture, if you sauté or fry it (as is common in the US) it absorbs loads of oil — resulting in a sodden, heavy dish.

Well, good news: Roasting eggplant takes care of both concerns! Modern eggplant isn’t that bitter to begin with, but the high heat of an oven evaporates whatever bitter juices may be present — essentially duplicating the end result of salting without all the trouble. And because eggplant cooks beautifully at high heat with minimal oil, roasting yields in a much lighter, healthier dish (one that goes well with roast chicken, beef, or pork).

Best yet? Once your oven is preheated, you can have eggplant on the table in under half an hour. Season it with fresh thyme or basil, and you have a taste sensation that even the most finicky eaters in your household will devour. Then they’ll demand seconds.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

The Old-Fashioned Cocktail

Old-Fashioned Cocktail in Crystal Rocks Glass on Black Acrylic

What to Drink if You're a Whiskey Lover

The Old-Fashioned (often spelled without the hyphen) is one of the oldest cocktails around. Indeed, it’s a pretty good example of how the original cocktails were made way back in the early 1800s (more about that later). In its day, it was the king of cocktails.

Today? Not many people drink it, or have even tasted it. In fact, the only thing many people know about it is that it’s the elixir of choice of Don Draper, of Mad Men fame.

Too bad. If you crave whiskey, no other mixed drink better showcases the deep, rich flavor of good old American bourbon or rye. And few drinks are easier to make: You need only whiskey, bitters, and sugar.

With the weather turning chilly, now is the perfect time to enjoy this bracing piece of Americana. So why not try the drink that your great-great-great-great-great grandfather used to enjoy? Nothing is more old fashioned than that.