Easter Dishes, Cooking with Fire and Tudor Cooking

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Evan's Souffl-s

There are few dished more suited to an Easter brunch or lunch than a beautifully made souffl-. They are really quite easy to make, especially if you make them in a lower-wider dish where they puff just enough to be dramatic. All souffl-s are made of 3 elements:

  • A base made usually of b-chamel that, a white sauce which is enriched with egg yolks
  • A primary flavoring component such as cheese, a veggie puree like spinach or chicken
  • A base that is lightened with egg whites, beaten to many times their original volume
  • The egg whites hold the air, which causes the souffl- to rise, giving it its characteristic light texture. The base can be made in advance, and then folded in with the egg whites just before popping the souffl- into the oven.

    Remember to have your eggs at room temperature. They will separate more easily and whip to a greater volume.

    Diane Worthington is the author of many books. Her most recent is Seriously Simple. You can learn more about Diane and her many books at www.seriouslysimple.com.

    Lamb Shanks with Merlot and Prunes
    Lamb shanks seem to have come back into favor with their rich flavor and make-ahead ease. These tender morsels require slow, braising, and the addition of California prunes adds a slightly sweet counterpoint. These are excellent served with mashed potatoes flavored with white horseradish cream and roasted seasonal vegetables.
    Serves 6

    • 1/4 cup olive oil
    • 6 lamb shanks, about 3/4 to 1 pound each
    • All-purpose flour for dusting
    • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
    • 2 medium carrots, peeled and finely chopped
    • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
    • 1 celery rib, finely chopped
    • 3 Tablespoons finely chopped fresh basil
    • 2 Tablespoons chopped fresh thyme
    • 4 medium garlic cloves, minced
    • 2 cups chicken stock
    • 2 cups dry red wine, preferably Merlot
    • 1 9-ounce moist packaged prunes, cut into bite size pieces
    • 1 cup canned crushed tomatoes
    • 3 Tablespoons tomato paste
    • 2 Tablespoons parsley, for garnish
    1. Preheat the oven to 325 F. Dredge the lamb lightly with the flour and season it with salt and pepper. Heat 2 Tablespoons of oil in a large Dutch oven on medium-high heat. Add the lamb, in two batches, and brown on all sides, about 8 minutes per batch. Transfer to a large roasting pan.

    2. Reduce the heat and add the remaining olive oil to the Dutch oven. Add the carrots, onion, celery, basil and thyme and saut- for about 6-8 minutes or until the vegetables are tender, stirring occasionally. Add the garlic and cook another minute.

    3. Stir in the stock, wine, the prunes, crushed tomatoes and tomato paste. Bring to a simmer. Pour sauce over the lamb in the roasting pan. Cover tightly with foil and place in oven. Cook the lamb until the meat is very tender and beginning to fall off the bones, about 2 hours. (Adjust the cooking time for larger or smaller lamb shanks).

    4. Transfer the lamb to a platter and tent it with foil to keep warm. Pour the pan juices into a saucepan and bring to a simmer. Reduce the sauce by half to make a thick sauce-like consistency, about 20 minutes on medium-high heat. Adjust for seasoning.

    5. Pour the sauce over the lamb. Garnish with parsley and serve immediately.

    Advance Preparation: This may be prepared 2 days ahead through step 5, covered and refrigerated. Reheat gently.

    Mixed Berry Bread Pudding
    A comfort food insignia, bread puddings have evolved into one of those desserts that have many creative adaptations. From chocolate to Turtle Pie flavoring, caramelized apples to gingerbread or pumpkin bread, there is no one definitive recipe. Served in souffl- dishes, in individual ramekins or in a shallow baking dish, bread puddings are difficult to resist for their old-fashioned homey quality.

    There are a number of things to remember when preparing this delectable dessert. The bread should be good-quality bread like Challah, brioche, raisin bread or even a sweet cornbread. It should be dried out so that the bread can absorb the custard. You can do this by putting it out on the counter overnight or in a 250F oven for half an hour. It is also important to let the custard absorb into the bread by allowing it to sit until you can feel a bread cube has soaked all the way through. Lastly, a water bath is used to control the cooking temperature so that the custard does not overcook and curdle.
    Serves 6-8

    • 8 cups (1-inch cubes) of day-old challah
    • 1 cup chopped dried dates
    • 1 1/2 cups chopped fresh Majool dates
    • 6 large eggs +2 large egg yolks
    • 1 1/4 cups sugar
    • 3 1/2 cups half-and-half
    • 1 Tablespoon vanilla
    • pinch freshly grated nutmeg
    • Powdered sugar, for decoration
    • Cr-me fraiche
    1. Grease a 9 x 13-inch baking dish. Arrange the bread and the dates in the dish, making sure that they are evenly distributed.

    2. In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat the eggs and egg yolks on medium speed until they are frothy. Add the sugar and beat the mixture until thick and lemon colored, about 3 minutes. Add the half and half, reducing the speed to low, and mix to combine. Add the vanilla and nutmeg and mix to combine.

    3. Preheat the oven to 375F. Ladle the custard over the bread. Let the pudding sit for 30 minutes to an hour to help the bread absorb the custard, occasionally pushing the bread down with a wooden spoon.

    4. Place the pudding in the oven and bake for 20-25 minutes. Open the oven, using heavy oven mitts and, with a large spoon, push the bread down. The remaining liquid custard will rise. Spoon the custard evenly over the bread slices. Bake for about 15-20 more minutes or until a skewer inserted into the center comes out clean.

    6. Remove the pudding from the oven, sprinkle it with powdered sugar and let rest about 10 minutes. Serve in squares alone or with cr-me fraiche on the side. It is also excellent served cold the next day.

    Advance Preparation: Can be prepared up to 4 hours ahead, covered and left at room temperature. It can also be made a day ahead and served chilled.

    Velvet Roasted Asparagus Soup
    The first time I made this soup my guests were astonished at how easy this was to prepare and how good it tasted. Velvety in texture from the blender and slightly sweet from the caramelized leeks, this soup is a definite crowd pleaser. Feel free to multiply this and make it ahead. An extra bonus is it is almost as delicious chilled.
    Serves 4

    • 2 1/2 pounds thin asparagus, trimmed and cut into 2-inch pieces
    • 2 leeks, white and light green part only, finely chopped
    • 2 Tablespoons olive oil
    • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
    • 2 1/2 cups chicken stock
    • 1/4 cup sour cream, for garnish
    • 1 Tablespoon finely chopped chives for garnish

    1. Preheat the oven to 425F. In a medium heavy roasting pan combine the asparagus pieces, leeks, olive oil, and salt and pepper and mix to combine.

    2. Roast, stirring occasionally, with pot holders, for 30 to 35 minutes or until the leeks are golden brown and the asparagus are soft.

    3. Transfer the vegetables to a blender and add the stock. Process on high until completely pureed. Taste for seasoning. Pour right into soup bowls and garnish with sour cream and chives. Serve immediately.

    Advance Preparation: This can be made 1 day ahead, covered and refrigerated. Reheat gently.

    The Clever Cook Could: Prepare a double batch and serve it cold for lunch. Reduce the broth on medium-high heat to 1 1/4 cups and serve as a sauce on grilled or poached fish. Add 1 teaspoon of freshly chopped herbs of your choice such as dill, basil, chives or burnet.

    Balsamic Syrup
    I keep this in my refrigerator in a small container. It's great for perking up soups and sauces.
    Makes about 3/4 cup

    • 2 cups balsamic vinegar
    Place in a small heavy saucepan on high heat. Reduce the vinegar for about 12-14 minutes or until it becomes syrupy. Bubbles will begin to form. (Be careful not to reduce it too much or it will become burnt and stringy.) Cool and place in a storage container. Keep refrigerated until using.

    Advance Preparation: This may be made up to 1 month ahead, covered and refrigerated.

    The Clever Cook Could: Use as a marinade for fruit desserts, drizzle it over soups, simple grilled meats or chicken, or use it as a flavor enhancer for sauces.

    These recipes are from Georgeanne Brennan's latest book Great Greens. You can find out about her cooking classes in Provence and her books at www.georgeannebrennan.com.

    Mache and Parmesan Soup
    This is a very simple, very quick to make, light yet with full-bodied flavor. The mache wilts into the soup, retaining its petal shape and slightly peppery taste, while the Parmesan provides complexity for the broth. Serving the soup spooned over garlic-rubbed, Parmesan-topped toasts adds body and reinforces the flavors. Watercress might be used instead of mache, or even baby arugula.
    Serves 4

    • 4 slices baguette or other sturdy country bread
    • 1 1/2 Tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
    • 1 clove garlic, peeled
    • 4 cups homemade or purchased chicken stock
    • 2 Tablespoons dry white wine
    • 1 ounce chunk of Parmesan cheese with rind
    • 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
    • 1 cup mache
    Preheat the broiler. Place the slices of baguette on a broiler pan and broil until golden, 5 to 7 minutes. Remove from the broiler and drizzle with the olive oil. Rub the garlic across the surface of the toast. The irregular, crisp surface of the toast acts like a grater. Set aside.

    Put the chicken stock in a saucepan and add the wine. Bring to a boil, and boil uncovered to reduce by a Tablespoon or two. Add the Parmesan rind and reduce the heat to low. Simmer, covered, until the cheese has begun to melt a bit and the broth is flavored by it, about 25 minutes. Add the mache and cook another 2 minutes. Place a piece of toast in the bottom of each of 4 soup bowls. Sprinkle the toasts with a Tablespoon of the cheese, and then ladle the hot soup over the toast.

    Creamed Spinach Gratin
    Serves 4

    • 3 pounds spinach, any large stems removed
    • 2 1/2 Tablespoons unsalted butter
    • 2 1/2 Tablespoons all purpose flour
    • 1 cup milk
    • 1/2 teaspoon salt
    • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
    • 1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
    • 3 hard-cooked eggs, peeled and halved lengthwise
    • 1/2 cup freshly made, buttered bread crumbs
    • 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese (optional)
    1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add one teaspoon of salt and the spinach and cook it until it is limp, but still bright green, about 2 to 5 minutes, depending upon the tenderness of the leaves. Remove to a colander and rinse with cold running water to stop the cooking and preserve the color. Squeeze the spinach dry between your hands, and then finely chop it. Set aside while you prepare the sauce.

    2. In a saucepan, melt 1 1/2 Tablespoons of the butter over medium high heat. When it foams, remove it from the heat and whisk in the flour to make a roux, or paste. Return the pan to the heat, and pour in the milk, a little at a time, whisking as you go to prevent lumps forming.

    3. When all the milk has been incorporated, whisk in the remaining salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Reduce the heat to low and simmer for until the taste of flour has dissipated and the sauce has thickened, about 15 minutes. If the sauce seems too thin, increase the heat and cook until it is medium-thick, another 2 to 3 minutes. Remove from the heat.

    4. With the remaining Tablespoon of butter, heavily grease a gratin or baking dish, then put in the chopped spinach. Line the egg halves down the center in a row, cut side down. Pour the b-chamel sauce over all and, using a fork, lift the spinach a little for the sauce to run through.

    5. Scatter the bread crumbs and the optional Parmesan cheese over the top, and bake at 450F until the top is golden and the sauce bubbling around the edges, about 10 minutes. Serve hot.

    Braised Escarole
    Braised escarole, like Belgian endive, is frequently served as a side dish in European restaurants and homes, where it's slightly bitter, slightly nutty flavor is much appreciated. The simplest treatment is to braise in butter, with a little chicken broth and aromatics. It is especially good with poultry.
    Serves 4

    • 2 heads escarole, cut lengthwise in quarters
    • 1/4 cup unsalted butter
    • 1/2 teaspoon salt
    • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
    • 1/3 cup chicken broth
    • 3 sprigs fresh thyme
    • 4 sprigs Italian flat leaf parsley
    Over medium heat, melt 2 Tablespoons of butter in a frying or saut- pan with a tightly fitting lid. Lay the escarole in a single layer. Sprinkle it with the salt and pepper, tuck in the herbs, and dot with 2 Tablespoons more butter. The escarole will seem too big to fit in the pan, but will wilt considerably as it cooks. Reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer for about 5 minutes. Remove the lid, turn the escarole, add the chicken broth and cover. Cook another 5 minutes, or until the escarole in limp and translucent. Serve hot.

    Lamb Sandwich with Mache and Aioli
    The bright green color and pretty rosette shape of mache, plus its toothsome nutty flavor, make it a delicious and attractive change from sandwich lettuce. Here it is used with lamb, but it could just as easily pair with chicken, grilled eggplant, tuna, egg salad or any other sandwich favorite. For an alternative to aioli, rub the toasted bread with a garlic clove, and then spread with regular mayonnaise.
    Makes 1 sandwich

    • 2 slices country bread, lightly toasted
    • 1 to 2 Tablespoons home-made or purchased aioli or regular mayonnaise
    • 3 to 4 thin slices cooked lamb or substitute chicken or other sandwich filling
    • 1 handful mache, about 1 cup
    Spread the toasted bread with the aioli. Top one slice with the lamb and the mache, and cover with the other slice. Cut in half and serve.

    Leg of Lamb with A Crust of Fresh Herbs on a Bed of Potatoes
    Leg of lamb is always considered a special dish in Provence, where it is treated to lots of herbs and garlic. In this version, it is baked on top of a bed of potatoes and onions, which absorb the meat's juices.
    Serves 6 to 8

    • 1 Tablespoon butter
    • 2 1/2 pounds baking potatoes, very thinly sliced
    • 1 1/2 pounds large yellow onions, very thinly sliced
    • 2 cups cup beef stock
    • 1 bone-in leg of lamb, 5 1/2 to 6 pounds
    • 1 Tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
    • 1/3 cup minced fresh thyme
    • 1/3 cup minced fresh rosemary
    • 2 Tablespoons fresh minced winter savory (optional)
    • 1 teaspoon salt
    • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
    • 3 to 4 cloves garlic, cut into thin slivers
    1. Preheat an oven to 375F. Using the butter, grease a baking dish large enough to hold the lamb and vegetables. Set aside.

    2. In a saucepan over medium-high heat, combine the potatoes, onions, and 1 1/2 cup of the beef stock and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer, uncovered, for 10 minutes to soften the potatoes. Reserve the remaining 1/2 cup of beef stock.

    3. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the potatoes and onions to the prepared baking dish, spreading them evenly. Pour the stock over the vegetables and bake for 15 minutes. Meanwhile, prepare the lamb by rubbing it all over with the olive oil, salt, and pepper, then patting it with the fresh herbs. Using a sharp knife, make 20-25 slits, each about 1-inch deep, all over the meat. Insert the garlic cloves into the slits.

    4. When the vegetables have cooked 15 minutes, remove from the oven, place the lamb on top of them, and return the dish to the oven. Bake until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the leg away from the bone registers 125F to 130F for medium-rare, about 1 hour to 1 hour and 15 minutes. If medium is desired, roast for another 15 minutes, or until the thermometer registers 135F to 145 F. Remove from the oven. Remove the lamb to a cutting board, and cover loosely. Let stand 15-20 minutes. Cover the potatoes with aluminum foil. Set the oven to 250F and return the potatoes to the oven to keep warm. Heat the remaining cup of beef broth.

    5. To serve, transfer the lamb to a cutting board and carve into thin slices. Arrange the potatoes and onions on a warmed platter, drizzle the reserved broth over them, and top with the lamb slices. Pour over any juices captured during cooking. Scoop up some of the potatoes and lamb slices for each serving.

    William Rubel is the author of "The Magic of Fire: Hearth Cooking: One Hundred Recipes for the Fireplace or Campfire.

    Slow Fishing and the Magic of Hearth Cooking
    The first fishing trip will take place over Memorial Day Weekend, May 24-25, at beautiful Flora Bella Farms, which is nestled below the soaring peaks of the Sierra Nevada, in Three Rivers. James and Bettina Birch, who some of you may know from the Hollywood and Santa Monica Farmers' Markets, will be our hosts for this special tour which will include a lecture and cooking demonstration by William Rubel.

    Saturday evening there will be an outdoor family style dinner prepared by Evan Kleiman and William Rubel, featuring wild salmon, local organic goat cheese, wild greens, and fresh organic produce from Flora Bella Farms.

    What: The Magic of Fire - hearth cooking at Flora Bella Farms, dinner, breakfast, farm tour, trout fishing
    When: May 24-25
    Time: Meet at 1pm on Saturday, May 24
    Cost: $100 per person, and is open only to Slow Food members. The fee includes a signed copy of William Rubel's The Magic of Fire, a lecture, cooking demo, dinner, breakfast, farm tour, and fishing.
    You can place your reservation by emailing Mindy at mindypfeiffer@sbcglobal.net. The event is limited to 50 people so respond quickly.

    Chefs J. Marc Meltonville & Richard Fitch are principals in the Tudor Kitchens project. As part of the year-long celebration marking the 400th anniversary of Queen Elizabeth's death, the historic kitchens of Hampton Court Palace in London are being turned into the kitchens of Elizabeth I. To find our more, go to www.hrp.org.uk/webcode/content.asp?ID=8.