Thursday, September 1, 2011

It Was All About The French

As I mentioned on Monday's show, I think so much of our fascination with French food during the 70's had everything to do with our fascination with Julia Childe the decade before. Without going into a great amount of detail about her unique persona which drew the viewer into her show as much as her recipes for French cuisine (if you weren't around then, look up some old shows on Youtube or check out the DVD Julie and Julia) I will only say that before she debuted on PBS in the 1960's anyone who had thought of executing a French recipe would be daunted by the initial instructions for making a sauce out of a sauce that it took half the day to make in the first place. All this before we have even found that bottle of French Burgundy to reduce. She took what we thought would be a day's worth of effort and threw it together in half and hour. (Did I hear someone say 30-minute meals?) But on top of that, she told us we could do the same thing, convinced us that we too could "master the art of French cooking." And we believed her. And so, it turned out, did our regular restaurants on whose menus started to appear things like croissants and Quiche Lorraine. Suddenly fondue pots were the big thing and every home had one. And I think that's a great place to start with my first recipe which comes from a cousin in upstate New York. Mary Brandt comes from a line of home cooks that had an instinct for good cooking and, in the words of my late aunt, "could make something from nothing." It's that kitchen alchemy that fascinates and has me hoping some of it has been passed on to me.

This is such a simple recipe as long as you watch the heat.

Cheese Fondue

1 small clove garlic,
1 1/2 cups dry white wine
1 lb. coarsely grated Gruyere, Pinch red pepper, Pinch ground nutmeg, Pinch of baking soda, 1 tbsp kirsch or other cherry brandy, 1 or 2 loaves French bread cut into 1 inch cubes with each cube having crust on one side. Use 1-1/2 qt pot (enameled cast iron is my choice). rub inside of pot with garlic, add wine, set over medium heat, Cook the wine until bubbles form around the edge. Add the cheese gradually, stirring until the mixture is smooth. Do not allow mixture to come to a boil. Add red pepper, nutmeg, baking soda and kirsch, stirring after each addition. Cook until mixture is hot but not boiling and is the consistency of medium white sauce.

When I took my second restaurant job, I was amazed to see people ordering and eating French Onion Soup. Until that time, I had always considered this to be something that came in a packet to be mixed with sour cream and used as a dip for potato chips. I therefore thought it strange and tacky that people were actually eating it. That was until I saw how it was properly executed and that this was not a soup d'jour but something that was on the menu every day. Of course, like all soups in the restaurant, it was made in house and was very popular. (This was no skid row hash house. ) I think this old favorite from the 70's has fallen out of favor having been replaced many times over with the gazpacho's, the hearty soups of the now-so-popular Tuscan region and whatever the latest hip chef has up his sleeve. Great time to put on Goodbye Yellow Brick Road and broil a few bowls of that yummy goodness.

French Onion Soup

2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
5 medium onions, thinly sliced
Pinch dried thyme
2 tablespoons dry sherry or Cognac
3 1/2 cups beef stock
Salt and pepper to taste
French bread, sliced and toasted
Grated Gruyere cheese

Heat butter and oil in a soup pot and add onions and thyme.
As soon as they start to brown, reduce heat and cook covered, stirring frequently, until they are caramelized, about 40 minutes.
Stir in sherry or Cognac and increase heat, stirring constantly until the sherry or Cognac evaporates.
Add beef stock and simmer partially covered for 20 minutes.
Season with salt and pepper.
Place 8 ovenproof bowls on a baking sheet.
Ladle soup into bowls followed by a a few slices on the toasted bread and a sprinkling of the cheese. Heat under broiler until cheese is melted and brown.

Having left disco in the dust (or so we thought) we were just creeping into the 80's when I had my last restaurant job in Michigan. (A 12-inch spiked Mohawk kept me off the floor and in the kitchen. Small price to pay to be that hip!) A popular hanger-on from the previous decade was our Quiche Lorraine. We made a bevy of these pies every Monday and more than once we had to 86 them before the following Sunday when they became a popular brunch item for that busiest morning of the week.

I don't make these very often preferring a chard or artichoke tart instead. But this is still a hit if you have a little lunch party planned.

Quiche Lorraine

1 recipe pastry for a 9 inch single crust pie
12 slices bacon
1 cup shredded Swiss cheese
1/3 cup minced onion
4 eggs, beaten
2 cups light cream
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1.Preheat oven to 375°F.
2.Place bacon in a large skillet, and fry over medium-high heat until crisp. Drain on paper towels, then chop coarsely. Sprinkle bacon, cheese and onion into pastry shell.
3.In a medium bowl, whisk together eggs, cream, salt, and cayenne pepper. Pour mixture into pastry shell.
4.Bake 35-40 minutes, or until a knife inserted 1 inch from edge comes out clean. Allow quiche to sit 10 minutes before cutting into wedges.

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