Sunday, February 22, 2009

Soupe de carottes au curry--Curried carrot soup

The secret to 10 minutes is buying a 10-ounce package of grated carrots and throwing it unopened into the microwave.

This soup is even better the next day.

10-ounce package of grated carrots
1 quart vegetable or chicken stock in a microwave-safe container.
1/2 onion (pre-sliced or diced if possible)
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
salt (a pinch--1/8 teaspoon)
1/4 teaspoon curry powder (or to taste)
1/8 Cajun seasoning (or to taste)
[optional: 2 teaspoons minced garlic]
[optional: 2 teaspoons grated freshly peeled ginger root]
1 orange
1/4 to 1/2 cup creme fraiche (or sour cream, even no-fat)
  1. Put the carrots unopened into the microwave and cook on high for 5 minutes. (If the bag pops or breaks, no problem.) Put the stock in the microwave to heat also
  2. Heat a fait-tout on high. Chop the onion finely. Add the oil, butter, and onion to the pan and cook on medium high until the onions are softened, stirring often. [add the optional garlic and ginger]
  3. Add the curry, salt, and Cajun seasoning after about three minutes. Juice the orange.
  4. When the carrots are done, open the bag carefully (use scissors or a knife) and add the carrots to the pot, along with the stock, creme fraiche and orange juice.
  5. Puree the soup finely with a blender wand or in a blender (in batches).
  6. Serve garnished with a minced (chiffonade) parsley OR chives OR scallion tops.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

10 minutes really?! Pomiane who? FAQ's

10 minutes, really?!

Yes, I mean 10 minutes. For most of these recipes I mean 10 minutes flat (see index label) or 5 minutes flat (ditto).
  • Other recipes take 10 minutes or less active time, either at the start or the finish or both. So a slow cooker recipe may take 5 minutes at 8 am and then another 5 minutes about 6 pm, to finish the sauce or garnish.
  • There are a few roasts that take 5-10 minutes to start and then from 12 minutes to 45 minutes to finish in the oven. These take some timing--and sometimes some checking for doneness towards the end. But a timer and an instant-read thermometer will get it. These will be best with a starter that you can put on the table while the main is finishing in the oven.
Pomiane who? Do French people really cook that way?

Yes, there is a very long tradition of fast French food. For me, it's summed up in Edouard do Pomaine, author of the classic from 1930, French Cooking in 10 Minutes. Yes. He is part of that grand trend toward health and efficiency that makes the French thin and low heart attack despite the butter and cigarettes. He wrote several books, but the best is FC10M, as I will abbreviate it.

Written in a breezy style, with the funniest, sweetest illustrations, it makes anyone confident of doing one's family right in 10 minutes. I have included many adaptations of his recipes. But it's really just common sense kitchen management. And hey, he was a professor of what we in the U.S. would call home economics, only in Paris in the roaring twenties.

I feel like I'm rushing. I can't cook that fast.

Some people are faster cooks and some slower. I remember our old friend Peter, who could take 5 minutes to peel an onion. Meticulous. I respect that meditative cooking. But that's not me. I like to peel and dice an onion and get on with it. And it's easy to learn how. Here's a video that says it all:

But then you also must learn to hold a knife properly.

And peel an egg quickly.

What else do I need to google? Oh--it helps to keep a jar opener handy.

Another thing is to organize the kitchen. A place for everything and everything in its place. We have what I like to call a one-butt kitchen. 10x10. But oh everything is so so close. Including my J when we're cooking (or, more often, cleaning up after). I really like that set up.

You've got to organize the shopping too. Do some little bit of preparation. Wash and trim vegetables and fruits when they come home from the market. It's easier then.

Keep sauces on hand. Vinaigrette, mayonnaise (homemade or not). Some basic sauces take only 5 minutes to make. They last weeks in the frig. And they make the food taste and look so much better. I try to keep on hand in the frig--in squeeze bottles usually:
  • aioli
  • balsamic vinager reduction
  • beef stock from pot roast
  • chicken stock from coq au vin or pot au feu
  • creme fraiche
Julia Child is turning over in her grave (tombe)!

I hope not. Julia actually has many rccipes that can be done in 10 minutes or less. And she brags about it! She likes to save time too. Many of the recipes I do are adaptations of those in Mastering the Art of French Cooking volumes I and II. And I say so in the recipe, chapter and verse--abbreviating as MAFC I or II.

But for those other recipes--the ones that take hours in MAFC and minutes on this blog--I have to confess that the ones in MAFC usually taste better (but not always). The fact is, I don't always cook fast. When it's a special meal (and I have made the time) I love to do it the old school way. Slow food done slowly is usually great. But fast slow food is also good.

Julia taught me to cook. In college, when I needed to learn and had no-one to teach me, there she was with that weekly show. It was a cheap hobby, a cheap date, and it impressed some women. It also was, well, French. And I loved things French then. Still do.

Why cook French food fast when you can buy it?!

Good question. The French buy frozen and prepared foods at their supermarkets (grands surfaces is a grand word). And this blog uses a number of prepared foods (so does Julia, so does Edouard). But one's own cooking tastes better. And if it doesn't, it's a hell of a lot cheaper. And if it isn't, it at least has more love. And the potential for creativity, surprises, fun.

For me, the food must pass the Big Mac test. An entree has to cost less than a Big Mac and be faster to get (than driving a mile to the closest MacDonald's waiting in the drive through, driving back. Hey, we're already past 10 minutes. 15 minutes. 20.

Hey, you're a guy. Come clean. Who does the clean-up?

I must confess, J cleans up most of the time. Or we do it together while she's making coffee. I have gotten better (haven't I J?) at cleaning up as I cook, even when I'm doing 10 minute French cooking. Replace caps and put the bottle away. Put stuff that goes back in the frig in one place, close to the frig, and then put it all away at once. Keep a towel on the shoulder for wiping up, and a trash can on the floor under the cutting board (that's where Julia kept one, which made people think she was spilling food off the counter onto the floor).

But to be honest, I have a ways to go. Yet there's progress, even, in not resenting the question. Which I don't. At all. Really.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Caviar and Martinis

I bought a copy of Escoffier, the bible of grand old French cooking, on my first trip to New York, in 1973, which was also the first time I ate at a French restaurant. I remember wondering why so many recipes were Russian--until I learned how many great French chefs cooked for Russian royals. Of course they brought back buffet favorites, the grandest of course was caviar.

J likes caviar for her birthday, which was last week. And it is of course very fast. As she is not finicky about her caviar (nor am I), we like whitefish roe from the state to the north of us. I like it as simple as possible, almost. Just some sour cream, chopped shallots or scallions, and chopped egg (another reason why Edouard is so right about having one or two always boiled and ready). We sat around the coffee table and put a bit of each on a cracker, as a way to make the Martinis special.

J likes a Martini most every evening, which is neither Russian or French, but thoroughly American. Cocktail culture began in New Orleans. The Martini was invented in the Bay Area. And come to think of it, the Martini combines Russian vodka with French vermouth. We just discovered Noilly Prat, the queen of all vermouths. (T. S. Eliot had a cat named after it.) We are anxious (in a bad way) to taste the reformulated product, which the cocktail critic J reads (Wall Street Journal Weekend) says is much inferior to the recipe in use for Noilly Prat in the U.S. market for decades. It will be a while before we find out, as a bottle lasts a very long time at a teaspoon a day.

J said she enjoyed her birthday. And as we drank, we reminisced about happening onto the Russian Tea Room by Carnegie Hall and having, for us, a record $16 Martini, surpassing our record from 07 set at the Algonquin. I looked on the Tea Room's web site and noticed there are some amazing specials. J said we need to get back to New York while there is still a financial crisis.