March Madness Continues: Share and Retweet to Win!

thelostrecipeforhappinessFreebies #2 and #3:  The Lost Recipe for Happiness, by Barbara O’Neal

Contest Dates:  March 7th – 14th

How to Win:  Share and Retweet!

Crowded Earth Kitchen is giving away two copies of this engaging book!  The first copy will go to a randomly selected person who “Shares” a Crowded Earth Kitchen Facebook post.  The second copy will go to a randomly selected person who “Retweets” a Crowded Earth Kitchen Twitter Tweet.  Each “Share” and “Retweet” counts as an entry, so Share and Retweet as often as you’d like!  Have fun!

The Lost Recipe for Happiness was my first foray into Barbara O’Neal’s world of culinary fiction.  I love how recipes are woven into the story, often as very appropriate stand-alone chapters, and am looking forward to trying Abuela Maria Elena’s Posole in my own kitchen. I had barely finished the last page before going online to find more Barbara O’Neal books, and was thrilled to learn she has a new release (The All You Can Dream Buffet) coming out March 4th!

Page after page, readers will find themselves rooting for Jefa Elena Alvarez as she takes on her dream of an opportunity to head the kitchen of an up-and-coming Aspen restaurant.  Readers are given an inside glimpse of restaurant life including both the humor and the grit, the complicated and diverse backstories of kitchen staff, and the realities of working brutally hard in a shockingly wealthy tourist enclave.  Between her elegant, East coast – moneyed sommelier and Maître D’ Patrick, her talented, Mexican-immigrant master saucier Juan, brilliant but unpredictable chef Ivan, celebrity boss Julian, and adorable dog Alvin, Elena sure has her hands full!

The Lost Recipe for Happiness is literary meat and potatoes (or should I say, tamales!) rather than frosting and fluff.  Elena’s had a tough go, getting to this point in her life, and author Barbara O’Neal doesn’t sugarcoat the details.  Small parts of this book are downright dark, and readers may never think of the sugar skulls displayed in restaurants for El Día de los Muertos quite the same way again.  It’s the difficult details, though, that make the reader respect Elena even more for continuing to put one, sometimes painful foot in front of the other, moving forward toward a bright future in both her professional and her personal life.  Don’t be surprised if, at the end of this book, you have a craving for tamales.

***Congratulations to Averyht, winner of our first March Madness giveaway!***

Busy Breakfast Cookies

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Anyone who claims that they never, ever leave the house in the morning without first enjoying a wholesome breakfast is either wearing their superhero cape under their regular-person work clothes or is lying.  Of this, I am completely convinced.  In many homes, if everyone makes it out the door with brushed teeth and two shoes, that’s a victory.  Breakfast?  That’s a bonus…

…but not anymore!  This recipe is fast and easy, tastes great, freezes well, and offers a complete, portable, low sugar, high fiber breakfast.  Tomorrow morning, grab one or two of these as you race out the door.  Have a great day!

picture365Ingredients (makes 16 large cookies)

1 cup whole wheat flour

2/3 cup whole oats

1/2 cup high fiber breakfast cereal

1/3 cup raisins

picture3671/4 cup chopped dried apples

1 tablespoon quinoa

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon allspice

1/4 teaspoon cardamom

2 tablespoons softened butter

2 tablespoons canola oil

1 tablespoon blackstrap molasses

1/3 cup sugar

1 egg

1/3 cup all natural applesauce

1 teaspoon almond extract

picture368Directions

Step 1) Combine first 11 ingredients (all dry ingredients except sugar) in a large mixing bowl.  Blend well.

Step 2) Combine last 7 ingredients (all wet ingredients plus sugar) in a small mixing bowl.  Blend well, and add to dry ingredients.  Stir until picture371just combined.

Step 3) Drop heaping tablespoons of cookie dough onto baking sheets lined with parchment paper.

Step 4) Bake in preheated, 350 degree oven for 12 minutes.  Cool on a wire rack.  Parchment paper may be reused once or twice before discarding.  Enjoy!

A Week in Paris, Part III of III: Soupe à l’oignon

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The Thinker, Musée Rodin

French Onion Soup.  The ultimate peasant food featuring humble ingredients expertly prepared, with a taste that is fit for a king.  It is easy to understand why French cuisine is so revered, when one considers the flavors French cooks have managed to coax from little more than field onions, bones, and stale bread.

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Soupe à l’oignon, café in 17th arrondissement

Interestingly, soupe à l’oignon has fallen out of favor with native Parisians who no longer have economic necessity to build a meal around bones instead of meat.  French chefs are happy to prepare this dish for American expatriates, however, given its healthy profit margin.  It’s a win-win situation, really, as Americans accustomed to canned broth know upon their first taste of this authentic dish that their bowl is well worth the price!

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Soupe à l’oignon, café in 5th arrondissement

While this dish is absurdly easy to prepare, it does require some time.  I recommend beginning this dish two days before you plan to enjoy it, for best results.  The broth itself freezes well.  Sometimes I double the broth recipe, freeze it in 1 quart containers, and spend 30 minutes or so on the last few steps whenever I have a craving for this fantastic soup.

Ingredients (makes 2 main dish servings or 4 first course servings)

1 1/2 pounds of beef bones

picture3291 cup dry red wine

2 cups tomato-based vegetable juice

2 cups water

1 teaspoon whole peppercorns

2 tablespoons butter

picture3732 large onions, sliced thin

4 thick slices of day-old French bread

2/3 cup grated gruyere cheese

Directions

Step 1) Combine bones, wine, juice, water, and peppercorns in a slow cooker.  Set picture374heat to low and simmer, covered, for 24 hours.

Step 2) Strain broth into a large bowl and place in freezer.  As the broth cools, the saturated fat will rise to the top and solidify.  You will be able to “lift” the saturated fat right off of the broth as shown, and discard it.  Your broth will not picture378be completely fat-free, but will be much lower in fat (and have a less oily, more pleasing taste) than if you had skipped this step.

Step 3) 30 minutes before you plan to dine, begin simmering broth in a saucepan over low heat.

Step 4) Caramelize onions in butter by picture380stirring in a sauté pan over low-medium heat for approximately 10 minutes.

Step 5) Divide caramelized onions between 2 large or 4 small oven-safe bowls.

Step 6) Divide bread between bowls and layer on top of onions. Slowly ladle broth over bread to fill bowls within 1/2 inch of picture381top.  (Freeze any extra broth for future recipes!)

Step 7) Sprinkle grated gruyere cheese over top of bread.  Broil (low setting) for 5 minutes or until cheese is melted, bubbly, and beginning to brown.

Step 8) Serve on trivets or other protected picture383surface, as bowls will be hot.

Bon Appetit!

A Blog, A Book, and A Fabulous French Dinner

Lessons in FrenchI hope you’re enjoying the photos and recipes from Crowded Earth Kitchen’s week in Paris!  Have you commented on a blog post yet?  I hope so, because every comment posted this week at CrowdedEarthKitchen.com becomes an entry to win your own free copy of Hilary Reyl’s fabulous book, Lessons in French!    Contest ends March 7th!

What did you think of the Crème de Marron?  Have you tried the Croque Monsieur? Do you have any guesses as to the final dish that will round out our Parisian field trip?  What would you like Crowded Earth Kitchen to bring you next?  Let me know.  Your comments are always welcome here.  🙂

If you’re unfamiliar with Hilary Reyl and this exceptional work of literary fiction, I’ve posted a review and a link for you to explore.

Eat Well, Read Leisurely, Be Happy!

CEK

A Week In Paris, Part II of III: Croque Monsieur

Arc de Triomphe

Arc de Triomphe

“Why do you keep saying ‘Sir?'”

“I’m not.  I’m ordering a ham sandwich.  I think.”

Apparently, I should have spent a little more time with the French language app I downloaded before my trip to Paris.  Oops.

Today’s dish is croque monsieur, which translates roughly as “the best ham sandwich you’ve ever tasted.”  (OK, I may have taken a bit of liberty there.  Back to the language app…)  This is not the ham sandwich found in your American lunchbox, folks.  No, this is how the French do lunch.  Prepare to be dazzled.

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View from top of Arc de Triomphe

View from top of Arc de Triomphe

Ingredients (makes 4 hearty sandwiches)

8 slices of good quality white bread

8 ounces gruyere cheese, freshly grated

12 ounces thick sliced ham

1 tablespoon butter

1 tablespoon flour

picture2973/4 cup hot (not boiled) milk

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1/4 teaspoon allspice

picture298Directions

Prepare your white sauce:

Step 1) Melt butter in saucepan.  Stir in flour, salt, pepper, and allspice.  Cook over low heat for two minutes with constant stirring until mixture is a blonde color.

picture301Step 2) Add hot milk and stir over low heat for 1-2 minutes until thickened.  Remove from heat and stir in 1/4 cup of grated gruyere.  Set aside.

Assemble your sandwiches:

Step 3) Toast 8 slices of bread in the oven.

picture299Step 4) Spread 1 tablespoon of white sauce on each of 4 slices of toasted bread.  Layer with equal portions of ham and half of the grated gruyere.

Step 5) Top each sandwich with a second piece of bread.  Spread white sauce (thick!) on top of each sandwich, and smother with remaining gruyere.

picture304Step 6) Bake sandwiches at 350 degrees for 6 – 8 minutes, or until the cheese inside of the sandwiches is melted.  Switch oven to broil for 1 or 2 minutes, to bubble and brown the tops of your croque monsieur.

Bon Appetit!

A Week In Paris, Part I of III: Crème de Marron

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Eiffel Tower View from Seine River

Ahh, Paris.

The City of Lights.  The City of Love.  Food Lover’s Paradise.  Crowded Earth Kitchen explored the culinary scene in Paris for one glorious week, and is delighted to share three extraordinary dishes with you!

Today’s dish is crème de marron, or chestnut cream.  Prior to my Paris adventure, I had never even tasted a chestnut.  This starchy, earthy tasting nut is revered in France, readily available in markets, and featured in several dishes found in Parisian cafes.  I ordered a crepe filled with crème de marron, and instantly fell in love with the creamy, caramelized, nutty sweetness that is chestnut cream.

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Chestnuts at Rue Cler Market

Back home in the United States, I was able to find fresh chestnuts at a local, upscale market.  I paid $7.49 for 1.5 pounds, enough to make 3 cups of crème de marron (that’s a LOT of chestnut cream… did I mention I fell in love?)

Preparing crème de marron is a labor of love.  Don’t rush this.  Wait for a lazy afternoon, pop in the Amelie soundtrack for inspiration, and take your time.  “Amuse-toi bien!”

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Ingredients (makes 3 cups)

Crepe with Crème de Marron

Crepe with Crème de Marron

1.5 pounds of fresh (shell on) chestnuts

2 cups water

1 1/3 cup brown sugar

2/3 cup white sugar

Directions

Step 1) Using a small paring knife, score an X into the flat side of each chestnut.

picture277Step 2) Add chestnuts to a pot full of boiling water.  Reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes. Drain chestnuts.

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picture282Step 3) When cool enough to touch (but not cold!), peel chestnuts by pulling back on the points of the scored X’s.  Be patient, this takes a little while.  If the chestnuts become too cold and peeling becomes difficult, return them to boiling water for a minute or two.  You will end up with about 4 cups of peeled chestnuts.

picture287Step 4) Combine 2 cups of water, the brown sugar, and the white sugar in a pot.  Heat (low-medium) and stir until sugar dissolves.  Add peeled chestnuts.  Simmer, uncovered, for about 15 minutes until sauce thickens and just begins to caramelize.

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picture290Step 5) Cool slightly and puree in blender.  If you want a coarse chestnut spread, sort of the consistency of chunky peanut butter, you can stop here.  If you want a truly creamy “creme de marron,” proceed…

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picture291Step 6) Using a spatula, work your puree through a sieve.  The puree that goes through the sieve is your finished product.  Depending upon how fabulous or not-so-fabulous your blender is, you will end up with roughly 2 cups of super creamy creme de marron!

Whatever you do, don’t throw the chunky remnants in your sieve away!  Store them in a small container in your freezer – we’ll bake with them another day.  Or, just eat them with a spoon.  I won’t tell.