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Thursday, May 28, 2015

It's the Season

Compote.  [kämˌpōt]  fruit preserved or cooked in syrup

Don't let the stodgy image that comes to mind when I say "compote" discourage you from reading on, because folks this compote is as lively as food gets.  One of my favorite things each season is finding (some might say obsessing over) a recipe for a homemade sauce or condiment to keep in the fridge for when you need to liven things up.

Summer is up next, and that me
ans my favorite tomato "vinaigrette" is on deck.  Fall and winter -- all about the roasted pears or some luxurious chocolate sauce.  And, right now, there's spring in all its glory:  think peonies in a vase, buying and eating too much asparagus, sneezing constantly, white jeans and, since we are reaching the zenith of in-season-ness for strawberries and rhubarb, a spritely compote.

For me, the word "compote" brings back bad memories of canned pears for some odd reason.  Is that because canned pears are part of the mix of chopped up mystery fruit in a canned fruit compote?  You know the kind.  A staple of dorm cafeteria meals and always including those super slippery canned peaches as part of the mix with the occasional maraschino cherry added for a festive touch.

Well this is nothing like that.

This dead simple recipe comes to you from Thomas Keller's Bouchon cookbook, via Smitten Kitchen, and even has a clever little twist to brighten things up.  You set aside some of the fresh strawberries and stir them into the cooked sauce as it cools.  In a word....genius.  And here are two more words...SO EASY!
Here’s how it goes:
You chop some rhubarb stalks and halve a couple pints of strawberries. Cook down that mix (reserving a cup or so of the berries to stir in later) with lemon or orange zest and sugar while you listen to some music or read the latest plot summaries for Game of Thrones. When it’s at a jammy sort of compote consistency you like take it off the heat and stir in the remaining fresh berries. Oooooh, now that was complicated.

For this minimal effort, you are rewarded with a compote that’s a sunshiny, sweet-tart of a sauce with many uses. Personally, I would like to bathe in it but you could spoon some over your morning yogurt, play the hero and bring it to your friends’ barbeque with some store-bought pound cake or simply liven up your oatmeal or pancakes one Sunday morning thereby declaring that spring has sprung. 

Strawberry-Rhubarb Compote

approx. 4 cups of compote

1 lb strawberries

1 lb rhubarb
1 lemon
1/2 cup to 3/4 cup sugar

Separate out about a quarter of your smaller berries.  Trim and quarter them and set aside to add to the compote later.

Trim the remaining berries and halve or quarter them, depending on their size.  (You should have about 2 1/2 cups.)  Place in a medium saucepan.

Trim ends of your rhubarb and chop into 3/4 inch pieces (about 3 cups).  Add to the pan with the berries.

Grate zest of lemon with a microplane and add to the pan with berries and rhubarb.
Mix in the sugar and stir to combine.

Cook fruit over medium-high heat, stirring often, until everything is soft and stewy, about 5 minutes.  The fruit will release some juice as it cooks.  Continue to cook for another 5 minutes or so to reduce and the rhubarb is soft.

Remove from heat and stir in the reserved fresh berries and let cool to room temperature. Refrigerated, the sauce keeps for a few weeks.
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Monday, May 11, 2015

Parlez Vous Francais?

An ordinary weekday morning...a Saturday spent visiting friends...your birthday!  All present fine opportunities for some French toast.

Let's be frank here.  Do you actually need a recipe for something like French toast?
But as my mother would say, could you stand to be reminded of a few things?
Of course you could!

So let's get started:

1.  French toast makes people happy.
It just does.  Tell them you're making french toast and watch their smiles light up the room.
Who says 'no' to French toast?
Well, my two-year old niece does.  She says no to everything, but that's a story for another time.

2.  So, about the French toast...let's start with bread.
Just consider this a gentle reminder that your French toast is completely dependent on the kind of bread you decide to use.  So go ahead and use the last two slices of that lame wheat bread you use for sandwiches, but don't expect miracles.  Not in the super-amazing-happiness-bringing category of French toast I'm talking about.  Yours could be good in a pinch, but mine requires a teensy bit of planning:  you've come across a new bakery and they have some beautiful challah!  Go for it.  Or, you're in the bread aisle of your local supermarket* on a Thursday and think:  I could make French toast on Saturday morning...yes, indeed...grab that loaf of brioche and make sure your syrup supply is stocked.
*I'm  not entirely certain about the odds of finding a loaf of brioche in a generic supermarket, but I'm happy to report that finding challah bread in a random Florida grocery store a couple weeks ago on vacation was a snap.

Bottom line:  you want some kind of eggy, rich bread as the foundation for your French toast.

3.  Heavy cream + eggs = French toast perfection
What, you normally use skim milk?  Skim milk is never a part of the makings of first-class anything.  Fine for your coffee (I'm rolling my eyes here) but most emphatically not for cooking.  'Nuf said.
For one loaf of challah bread you'll want to whisk 3 eggs with a 1/2 cup of heavy cream.  (Like how I went from zero to a hundred there?)

4.  Additions
There aren't any.  Seriously.
But, oh, okay, I suppose if you really feel you need to add something here you could go with a splash of vanilla to the egg/cream mixture, I guess.  And then there are those of you out there who feel cinnamon should be sprinkled hither and yon.  Don't let me stop you.  But know this...all you really need here is the bread, the cream and the eggs.  And, right...there's also...

5.   Butter
About butter.  I'm not going to make apologies here  for loving butter.  And I'm not going to cheerfully tell you that you can make this by using olive oil instead.  (Please don't.)  Just know that the fabulousness of this French toast directly correlates with frying it in a nice-sized-knob of butter.

6.  Process
Once you've got your ingredients set up, we all know hoow this goes down, right?  Slice bread 1" thick.  Whisk the eggs and cream together.   Get a pan or griddle HOT over some medium-high heat and add a tablespoon of butter.  Dip a slice of bread in the egg mixture, making sure all the sides are well coated and add to the hot pan.  You want to hear sizzle.  Flip when golden.
This all moves fairly quickly...not more than a couple minutes per side.  Once I get started I pile the finished French toast on a platter in a warm oven until ready to serve.

7.  Toppings
Maple syrup is the obvious choice, but a more offbeat idea I loved as a kid was whipped up by a favorite aunt and uncle when we were on vacation together:  top the French toast with a sprinkle of juice from a freshly squeezed orange half followed by a shower of powdered sugar finished with a garnish of orange slices.  It's an unexpected, but lovely combination.

8.  And, finally, a word about bacon.

Recipe adapted from Food52.
Serves 4.