By Chef Judi Gallagher –
I think of Le Creuset cookware as the Mercedes of the kitchen. Some people invest in expensive cars and stereo systems, I invest in my kitchen and in great tools for cooking. One of the best recipes my mother taught me was her braised brisket. It involved a Dutch oven. In culinary school we made crème brulee in fine enameled bakeware. In my restaurants I noticed the difference in the edges of a lasagna and baked manicotti when I used my Le Creuset as opposed to metal pans.
My husband has spoiled me with French copper pans for flambés and an assortment of the stoneware I love. It keeps him happy with the many dishes I prepare and since he washes the pots and pans after dinner, he prefers to use the heavier French cookware. Copper requires polishing.
While a monetary commitment for some of the larger versions, building sets of Le Cresset for the earnest cook is nearly as important as one’s French knife and boning knife. You invest for the lifetime of your cooking. Here is what I recommend to start your basic collection. And yes, the holidays are coming. I recommend the 6.75 quart signature cast iron Chef Series French oven. It will run you about $400 online, but the investment will last a lifetime of roasts, turkeys, casseroles and apple cobblers.
For families of four, I recommend that you purchase two 9 ½-inch oval dishes to keep for everyday sides. I use mine for everything from roasted tomatoes to creamed spinach. One four quart oval covered baking dish will run you about $100.00 and is that perfect wedding gift for the home cook.
If you are a fan of mix-n-matching your cooking classics, opt for the new palm color. While I have several red and purple dishes and casseroles, the palm color matches my earthtone color palette, especially around Thanskgiving.
Pot-Roasted Chicken with Vegetables
( Serves four)
10 ounces cipollini (about 12) or other small onions
1 whole chicken (about 3-1/2 lbs.)
Kosher salt & freshly ground black pepper
¼ cup olive oil
12 ounces baby carrots with tops (about 12), peeled and stems trimmed to about ½ inch
8 ounces small cremini mushrooms, cleaned, stems trimmed flush with caps
3 cups dry white wine
3 cups homemade or lower-salt chicken broth
3 sprigs fresh thyme, tied together with kitchen string
2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley or whole small chervil leaves
Position a rack in the bottom third of the oven and heat the oven to 400.
Bring 1 quart of water to a boil in a 2-quart saucepan. Add the onions and cook for 1 minute. Drain in a colander, then rinse with cold water to stop the cooking. Peel the onions, leaving enough of the root end intact that they will remain whole during cooking. Remove the giblets from the chicken and discard or save for another use. Pat the chicken dry and trim away any excess fat. Cut off the first two joints of the wings and reserve them. Season the inside of the chicken with salt and pepper. Truss the chicken. Season the outside of the chicken with salt and pepper.
Heat a 5-6 quart Dutch oven or other heavy-duty pot over high heat. Add the olive oil and heat until shimmering hot. Add the chicken, breast side down. Lower the heat to medium high and cook, undisturbed, until nicely browned. Turn the chicken with tongs, being careful not to tear the skin, and brown on the remaining sides, about 10 minutes total. Transfer to a rimmed baking sheet.Return the pot to medium-high heat. Add the carrots, mushrooms, cipollini, and reserved wings. Cook stirring occasionally, until lightly browned, about 3 minutes. With a slotted spoon, transfer the vegetables and wings to the rimmed baking sheet with the chicken. Discard the oil from the pot, add the wine, raise the heat to high, and cook until reduced by half, about 10 minutes. Add the chicken broth and thyme and return the chicken to the pot. Bring the liquid to a simmer, cover, and braise in the oven for 20 minutes. Take the pot out of the oven and increase the oven temperature to 500 degrees.
Add the vegetables and wing tips to the pot, return it to the oven (do not cover) and cook until an instant-read thermometer inserted in the breast registers 165oF, about 15 minutes. Transfer the chicken to a cutting board and tent loosely with foil. Transfer the vegetables to a baking dish, cover, and keep warm. Discard the wing tips and thyme. Pour the braising liquid into a glass measuring cup or fat separator and let sit for 5 to 10 minutes. Discard the fat and pour the liquid into a 2-quart saucepan. Boil over medium-high heat until reduced to about 1-1/2 cups, about 15 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Cover the chicken into breast and leg pieces. Divide the chicken and vegetables among four shallow bowls and our some of the sauce over all. Sprinkle with the parsley or chervil and serve.
Cheese Blintz Casserole
1/4 cup butter, melted
12 frozen cheese blintzes
1 1/2 cup sour cream
1/3 cup sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla
1/4 cup orange juice or 2 tablespoons orange juice concentrate
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Melt butter in an enameled baking dish. Line blintzes in one layer in the pan. In a bowl, beat eggs. Add sour cream, sugar, vanilla, and orange juice. Pour egg mixture over the blintzes. Sprinkle lightly with cinnamon. Bake, uncovered, for 45 minutes, or until golden brown on top.
Gnocchi Mac and Cheese Casserole
2 packs gnocchi, boiled about 3 minutes until they rise to the top then drained well. Make a roux with 1 stick unsalted butter, melted and flour to make a thick paste- cook gently on the stove for 10 minutes to remove the flour taste.
In a separate pot heat one quart ½ and half to hot but not boiling. Gently stir in roux until sauce is slightly thick to make a béchamel sauce. Add 1 cup grated sharp cheddar cheese, one cup grated Gruyere and ½ cup aged Parmesan. Stir well and simmer stirring about 10 minutes until cheese is melted. Season with two dabs hot sauce, ground pepper and kosher salt.
(There will be extra sauce) Cook apple wood smoked bacon until crisp and chop into large pieces. Stir ½ of cheese sauce into gnocchi in a bowl and gently mix well adding crisp chopped bacon, reserving some for the top. Top with ½ cup cheese sauce and shredded gruyere. Bake covered with plastic wrap and alum. foil for about 20 minutes at 350- remove cover and top with panko crumbs that have been tossed with melted butter and heated in a sauté pan until lightly brown (you may add paprika)
Note: you may serve dish with elbow macaroni and use sundried tomatoes instead of bacon.