dimanche 29 novembre 2009

Caramel Apple Pie

This apple pie is pretty much perfect. The crust is flaky and soft, the filling is thick and dense, and the sauce is a balance of cinnamon and caramel.

There are some good tips in this recipe for pie-making in general. First, the apples are sliced very thinly and layered so that the baked pie will be dense and meaty, with no air pockets.

Also, I think the sugar sprinkling on top has quite a nice finishing effect, and requires about 2 seconds of extra effort. After brushing the top pie crust with egg white (which should always be done to make the top a healthy shiny brown--a good pie avoids a dull pallor just like a sorority girl in a bikini), sprinkle on a mixture of cinnamon sugar.

The only tricky step is making the caramel sauce. Be extremely careful not to burn it, which means keeping a close eye and stirring regularly (most recipes say to stir constantly, which is better, but it wastes so much time!). After you have caramelized the sugar, make sure to add enough cream and red wine so that the sauce won’t turn into caramel again when it cools (meaning, hard as glass—that wouldn’t go so well in the pie). The first time I made the sauce I reduced the liquid too much, so when it cooled it hardened into caramel and I was forced to reheat it in order to melt it and add more liquid. By doing this the sauce burned and I had to start over again, with many curses. You should add enough liquid to start so that the sauce itself is liquid, and then continue to simmer until it thickens into sauce consistency. It is essential to taste the caramel sauce before you add it to the pie. If the taste is bitter, you’ve burned it and you’ll have to throw it out and start over.

Another note: the recipe calls for red wine in the caramel sauce, but if you prefer use milk instead.

The Ultimate Caramel Apple Pie

3 cups all-purpose flour
Pinch salt
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, cold, cut in chunks
2 eggs separated, (yolks for the pastry, whites for the glaze)
3 tablespoons ice water, plus more if needed

Caramel Apples:
1 cup sugar, plus 1/4 cup for the top
3 tablespoons water
1/4 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup red wine
1/2 vanilla bean, split and scraped
1 lemon, halved
8 apples (recommended: Granny Smith and Gala)
1 tablespoon flour
1 cinnamon stick, freshly grated
1/4 cup unsalted butter

1. To make the pastry, combine the flour and salt together in a large bowl. Cut in the chunks of cold butter with a pastry blender, a little at a time, until the dough resembles cornmeal. Add the 2 egg yolks and the ice water, and blend for a second just to pull the dough together and moisten. Be careful not to overwork the dough. Form the dough into a ball, wrap it tightly in plastic wrap, and let it rest in the refrigerator for 1 hour.

2. While the dough is resting, prepare the filling.

3. To make the caramel sauce: place the sugar and water in a small pot and cook, stirring constantly, over medium-low heat until the sugar has melted and caramelized, about 10 minutes.

4. Remove the pot from the burner and add the cream and wine slowly. It may bubble and spit, so be careful. When the sauce has calmed down, return it to the flame, add the vanilla bean and heat it slowly, until the wine and caramel are smooth and continue to slowly cook until reduced by half. Remove from the heat and cool until thickened.

5. Fill a large bowl with cold water and squeeze in the lemon juice. Peel the apples with a paring knife, cut them in half, and remove the core. Put the apple halves in the lemon-water (this will keep them from going brown). Toss the apples with the flour and cinnamon.

6. Take the dough out of the refrigerator, unwrap the plastic, and cut the ball in half. Rewrap and return 1 of the balls to the refrigerator, until ready for the top crust. Let the dough rest on the counter for 15 minutes so it will be pliable enough to roll out. Using a rolling pin, roll out the dough on a lightly floured surface into a 12-inch circle. Carefully roll the dough up onto the pin and lay it inside a 10-inch glass pie pan. Press the dough into the pan so it fits tightly.

7. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

8. Slice a couple of the apples at a time using a mandolin or a very sharp knife. The apples need to be thinly sliced so that as the pie bakes, they collapse on top of each other with no air pockets. This makes a dense, meaty apple pie. Cover the bottom of the pastry with a layer of apples, shingling the slices so there are no gaps. Ladle about 2 ounces of the cooled red wine caramel sauce evenly over the apple slices. Repeat the layers, until the pie is slightly overfilled and domed on the top; the apples will shrink down as the pie cooks. Top the apples with pieces of the butter.

9. Now, roll out the other ball of dough just as you did the first. Brush the bottom lip of the pie pastry with a little beaten egg white to form a seal. Place the pastry circle on top of the pie, and using some kitchen scissors, trim off the overhanging excess from around the pie. Crimp the edges of dough together with your fingers to make a tight seal. Cut slits in the top of the pie so steam can escape while baking. Place the pie on a sheet tray and tent it with a piece of aluminum foil, so the crust does not cook faster than the apples.

10. Bake the caramel apple pie for 25 minutes on the middle rack. In a small bowl, combine the remaining 1/4 cup of sugar with the freshly grated cinnamon. Remove the foil from the pie and brush the top with the remaining egg white. Sprinkle evenly with the cinnamon sugar and return to the oven. Continue to bake for another 25 minutes, until the pie is golden and bubbling. Let the apple pie rest at room temperature for at least 1 hour to allow the fruit pectin to gel and set; otherwise the pie will fall apart when you cut into it.

vendredi 27 novembre 2009

Jerusalem Artichoke

Je n’ai jamais entendu parler d’un artichaut de Jérusalem avant qu’une amie française l’ait amenée chez moi pour un dîner la semaine dernière. Je ne l’avais d’ailleurs jamais vu un non plus—c’est un légume hideux ; il a l’air d’une patate qui a poussé en terre radioactive, avec des bosses bizarres et des grosseurs partout ainsi que des poils longs et épais qui l’enroulent. Quand Aurélie a ouvert le sac pour me montrer l’artichaut, j’ai reculé en horreur—quelle création démoniaque était-ce? Mais, elle m’a assuré qu’il n’était pas fétide.

« Mais s’il ne vient pas de l’enfer, d’où vient-il ? » ai-je demandé. « Ah, Jérusalem, surement ! » Aurélie n’était pas sure.

En fait—qui aurait cru—ça vient des États-Unis, de l’est et du centre, plus précisément. L’explorateur français Samuel de Champlain a découvert l’artichaut de Jérusalem au Massachussetts en 1605 et l’a renvoyé en France, mais la plante était cultivée bien auparavant par les amérindiens.

Malgré son nom, l’artichaut de Jérusalem ne vient pas de Jérusalem. Et ce n’est pas un artichaut non plus ! C’est une espèce de tournesol. Comme il est bizarre, cet artichaut !

Je ne savais pas comment préparer l’artichaut, Aurélie m’a donc montré sa préparation en soupe. C’est très simple :

Soupe d’Artichauts de Jérusalem

Artichauts de Jérusalem
Un peu de lait
Un peu de crème de soja (ou crème)
Sel et poivre

1. Peler les artichauts et les couper en dés. Mettez-les dans une casserole remplie d’eau bouillante. Ajouter un peu de lait afin que l’eau soit nuageuse, car autrement les artichauts deviendront noirs.
2. Les faire cuire pendant 10 minutes, jusqu’à ce qu’ils soient doux.
3. Drainer et faire une purée dans un mixer. Ajouter de la crème, du sel, et du poivre.

Il se sert aussi bien en gratin qu’en salade.

L’artichaut de Jérusalem est riche en fer, et il contient aussi du potassium et de la vitamine C. Pourtant, il y a un défaut : ça provoque des gaz intestinaux.


The Jerusalem Artichoke

What is a Jerusalem artichoke? It’s difficult to guess. Is it an artichoke from Jerusalem? Seems logical, but no. Is it (looking at the photo) some kind of cancerous potato? Nope. Is it the ugliest vegetable you’ve ever seen? Likely, but that doesn’t answer the question.

Despite the name, the Jerusalem artichoke is neither from Jerusalem, nor is it an artichoke. It’s a species of sunflower, and here we’re concerned with the edible root. It is found naturally across the eastern and middle United States. In 1605 the French explorer Samuel de Champlain encountered this homely root (it had been widely cultivated before by American Indians) and sent it back to France, suggesting that it tasted similar to artichoke. Hence, 400 years later my French friend Aurelie is opening a grocery bag to show me a dirty knobbled thing with wiry hairs coming out of it and telling me we’re going to have Jerusalem artichoke for dinner.

She served a soup, which was great, and this vegetable would make a great gratin, salad, or side dish as well. The texture is much like a potato, but the flavor is sharper and very distinct.

Nutrition advantage: The Jerusalem artichoke is rich in iron, and is also a good source of potassium and vitamin C.

Social disadvantage: In the words of a 1621 publication Gerard’s Herbal, "which way soever they be dressed and eaten, they stir and cause a filthy loathsome stinking wind within the body, thereby causing the belly to be pained and tormented, and are a meat more fit for swine than men." So might be best to skip Jerusalem artichoke on your next candlelight dinner date.

Jerusalem Artichoke Soup

Jerusalem artichokes
2 Tbsp. milk
Salt and pepper

1. Peel the artichokes and cube. Fill a pot with water and add the milk to cloud the water. It is necessary to cloud the water because if the light reaches the artichokes they will turn black (not appetizing).
2. Add the artichokes and boil until tender.
3. Strain and make a puree in a blender. Add a touch of cream, and season with salt and pepper.

mercredi 25 novembre 2009

Fondue Savoyarde

I just finished une petite soirée with some friends (yes I will be annoying and insert French expressions into this English blog post, because “little evening” isn’t quite as classé), in which we partook of fondue savoyarde, your classic cheese fondue, which happens to come from Savoie, this region of France.

Well, not “happens to come from” because anything with copious amounts of hot cheese plus white wine (i.e. delicious) is from Savoie (Tartiflette and Raclette postings to come).

Fondue is perfect for wintery evenings spent with friends or family. I love a meal that can truly be shared, from one pot. That way everyone is forced to focus on the center—no one can just get up and leave and do something else, or get distracted in talking only to their neighbor. I also love a meal that has to be worked for in some fashion, even as little as sticking the little fork in the cheese and twirling it. It just makes you that much more hungry.

Making fondue is terribly easy, it just requires the table equipment, which may be tricky to find. If you have a portable stove, problem solved. If you don’t, you will have to buy a gel fuel such as Sterno, which comes in round metal tins and use it in conjunction with a fondue pot and stand. If you don’t have a stand, there’s no need to spoil your fondue-fancy, just invent a makeshift one to hold the pot (like I did) in some fashion above the flame with various other grills/trays/pots. I am taking no liability for ruined dinners/scorched tabletops/fires however, on account of not having the proper equipment.

Some fondue recipes call for rubbing the insides of the pot with a garlic clove, I prefer to rub the bread itself. It’s best to use day-old bread, that’s a bit hard and stale, or if you only have fresh bread, throw it in the oven to toast after breaking it into bite-size chunks.

In college I used to work at a Swiss restaurant where fondue was the specialty. I remember a friend going once to the restaurant and ordering the fondue. He was shocked when it came out: “It was just a big pot of cheese, and some bread, and some potatoes!” he complained. “Well,” I said, “that’s . . . what . . . fondue . . . is . . . ? . . .” I still don’t understand what he was complaining about. Usually you don’t even get the potatoes.

Nevertheless, because of this restaurant, I like to serve fondue with roasted diced potatoes, and also a couple plates of vegetables to dip along with the bread. Vegetable ideas: tomatoes, broccoli, carrots, mushrooms, celery, bell peppers, cut into bite-sized chunks. Then your salad is taken care of.

The wine must be a dry white, preferably from the Savoie region for the sake of authenticity. Although no one would know the difference anyways. Also, the kirsch is not totally necessary (but don’t tell anyone here I said that).

Fondue Savoyarde

12 oz. Emmental cheese, grated
12 oz. Gruyere cheese, grated
12 oz. Tomme de Savoie or Beaufort cheese, grated
6 glasses dry white wine
2 Tbsp kirsh liqueur
1 clove garlic
day-old bread

1. Rub the bread with the garlic. If not sufficiently hard, toast the bread first. Cut or tear into bite-sized chunks.
2. Bring the wine to a low boil in a non-stick pot. Add the cheese and stir with a wooden spoon to melt.
3. Turn the heat off and add the kirsch. Sprinkle freshly ground pepper on top.
4. Serve with roasted potatoes and vegetable assortment.

jeudi 19 novembre 2009

Tarte Tatin

Jeudi dernier j’ai commencé à faire un gâteau à la citrouille, et j’ai fini avec un pudding de citrouille. La pâte était trop liquide au début, donc dès que le gâteau a été sorti du four, bien qu’il soit cuit, son centre refusait de sécher. Je l’ai servi quand même ; chaud, moelleux, collant, avec un goût de cannelle et vanille—pas mal finalement, mais il lui manquait beaucoup la texture.

J’étais déçue d’avoir raté le gâteau. « Bon app tout le monde ! J’ai raté le gâteau! » Ai-je déclaré.

« Mais non, » Maxime m’a répondu, « Le gâteau est délicieux comme ça. Tu n’as pas raté le gâteau. Tu as inventé une nouvelle recette. »

J’ai froncé le sourcil. Je ne suis pas tellement naïve, normalement.

« Si, » a insisté Maxime, « Tu sais qu’est-ce que c’est une tarte tatin ? C’était aussi fait par erreur. Et elle est délicieuse quand même. C’est donc devenue une nouvelle recette. »

Hum. Tarte Tatin. Selon l’histoire, en 1898 à l’Hôtel Tatin, le chef Stéphanie Tatin a laissé une poêle de pommes caramélisée trop longtemps sur la cuisinière. Essayant de sauver la tarte aux pommes, elle a mit la pâte au-dessus de la poêle et mit tout dans le four. Dès que la tarte était cuit, elle a retourné la poêle à l’envers et l’a servit. Les clientes d’hôtel étaient ravies avec la nouvelle tarte.

Allez, me suis-je dit, si Madame Tatin pouvait rater une tarte aux pommes et l’appeler Tarte Tatin, moi aussi je pourrais la faire. La recette n’avait pas l’air très difficile.

Bien sûr, la première fois que j’ai essayé de préparer la tarte qui avait été ratée, je l’ai ratée. Dans la poêle, j’ai cuit le sucre à peu près 5 minutes, jusqu’à ce qu’il dore et devienne collant et épais. J’y ai ajouté les tranches de pommes, puis j’ai tout cuit pendant 6-7 minutes de plus, j’ai mis la pâte au-dessus, et transféré la poêle au four. Le problème, c’était dès que j’ai retourné la tarte, j’ai vu que je n’avais pas bien caramélisé le sucre. Les pommes ne se tenaient pas entre elles sur de la tarte, et le caramel a inondé l’assiette. En bref, le caramel était trop liquide.

La deuxième fois que j’ai préparé cette tarte, j’ai bien fait caraméliser le sucre, avec un peu de beurre et les poires, (cette fois-là j’ai décidé à mettre des poires) tout ensemble pendant 25-30 minutes, jusqu’à ce que la liquide ait réduit et le sucre soit devenu marron et très épais. Il fallait cuire en feu moyen/bas. Ensuite, j’ai couvert la poêle avec la pâte et tout mit dans le four pendant 25-30 minutes. Et voilà, quand j’ai retourné la tarte, tout était très attrayant et très bon.

Tarte Tatin aux poires

8 à 10 pommes
150 g de beurre
150 à 200 g de sucre en poudre
200 à 250 g de pâte

1. Éplucher, épépiner et tailler en quartiers les poires.
2. Dans un moule à manqué, mettre le beurre, le sucre en poudre, et les poires. Bien mélanger.
3. En feu moyen/bas, cuire pendant 25 minutes ; faire un caramel brun. Attention à ne pas le laisser trop noircir, cela donnerait un goût amer à votre tarte. Retirer du feu.
4. Abaisser la pâte sur 3 ou 4 mm d'épaisseur en un disque légèrement supérieur au diamètre du moule. Recouvrir les poires de pâte. Rentrer le bord à l'intérieur du moule.
5. Cuire à four chaud (180-200°C) jusqu'à cuisson complète de la pâte. La pâte est presque cuite et le caramel commence à remonter sur les cotés.
6. Au terme de la cuisson, recouvrir le moule avec un moule plus grand, et démouler votre tarte tatin tant qu'elle est encore chaude. Après il sera trop tard ! Attention aux éclaboussures du caramel bouillant. Elle se sert nature, sans crème anglaise, ni crème fraiche, ni glace.


Mistakes in baking usually don’t turn out well. When you mistake salt for sugar in the cake batter, for example. When you get water in the chocolate and it seizes, or when you frost the cake while it’s still warm and the icing melts.

This was the case last week, during an attempt to make pumpkin bread. The batter contained too much liquid, and as a result what started as pumpkin bread ended up, finally, as pumpkin bread pudding. The taste was still there, but the texture was most definitely not.

I announced to the would-be eaters of the bread, “I messed it up. Sorry. Bon appetite.”

I was disappointed. It was a waste of perfectly good pumpkin, cinnamon, and nutmeg, and, more disappointing, a waste of an hour of delicious-smelling anticipation wafting from the oven.

“You didn’t mess up the pumpkin bread,” a friend Maxime told me, exuding French politesse, “You invented a new recipe!” I raised my eyebrows and pointed my chin at the pile of pumpkin moisture on his plate.

“Really,” he insisted, “it still tastes great like that. Don’t you know the story of the tarte tatin? It was made by mistake too, and now it’s a classic.”

No, I didn’t know the story, so I consulted wikipedia when I got home. And so, the story of the tarte tatin:

France, 1898. Two sisters, Stephanie and Caroline Tatin, were running a hotel. Stephanie started to make an apple pie but left the apples, butter, and sugar cooking too long on the stove. In an effort to rescue the pie, she placed the pastry on top of the pan and threw it all in the oven. Once baked, she flipped the pie over and served it. And the guests were, surprisingly (or not, since it is delicious), delighted.

So basically the tarte tatin is an upside-down apple tart. Ok, I told myself, if Stephanie Tatin could ruin an apple pie and call it tarte tatin, then I probably could too. The recipe seemed simple enough.

Wrong. Once again I got it wrong, the tarte that had been gotten wrong to begin with. I started by cooking a stick of butter with a little less than a cup of sugar. After about 7-8 minutes, when the mixture had gotten brown, goopy, and caramel-like, I added the apples and cooked for another 7-8 minutes. Then, I put the pastry on top and transferred the pan to the oven. The problem was, once I took the tarte out of the oven and turned it onto a plate, I saw that the sugar/butter mixture had not been truly caramelized, meaning it ran out in a liquid mess over the plate, and the tarte was merely a crust with sugary saucy apples on top. Not good enough.

The second time I made the tarte, using pears this time, I began with only an ounce of butter with maybe ¾ cup sugar. I added the pears immediately and cooked all three on medium/low heat for about 30 minutes. It was necessary to stir often to prevent anything from sticking or burning, and to cook on low heat to make sure the sugar didn’t burn. After about 30 minutes, the liquid reduced and the sugar started to bubble and turn dark brown. Caramelization achieved. I managed to arrange the pears nicely in a circular fashion within the same pan (or you could simply transfer them to another pan), and I transferred the pan to the oven. When the tarte came out, I turned it onto a plate, and success! The tarte held together nicely, and was perfectly caramelized and intensely sweet.

Tarte Tatin

Pears (a lot, more than you think you need)

Pastry crust

1. Peel, core, and cut the pears into wedges.
2. Over low/medium heat, stir pears, one ounce of butter, and ¾ to 1 cup of sugar in an oven-proof skillet.
3. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the sugar is caramelized, about 30 minutes.
4. Remove from heat, arrange the pears nicely, and place the pastry crust on top. The crust should be a bit larger than the skillet. Tuck the edges of the crust around the pears.
5. Cook in a 400 F oven until the crust is baked and nicely browned, about 25 minutes.
6. Wait five minutes, then turn the tarte upside-down onto a dish larger than the skillet. Do the turn quickly and confidently. Don’t wait until the tarte cools, otherwise it will not come unstuck.

mardi 17 novembre 2009

La Citrouille Mon Amour

Chez nous, l’automne est synonyme de citrouille. Aux Etats-Unis les feuilles des arbres deviennent oranges et les plats sur les tables également. Au début de la saison, on sort avec la famille à la ferme locale pour ramasser une ou plusieurs citrouilles pour ramener à la maison. Cette excursion, elle ressemble un peu celle d’acheter un animal de compagnie. Il faut bien choisir la taille, la couleur, regarder la peau pour vérifier il n’y a pas de taches bizarres, et bien sûr il y a des citrouilles plus mignonnes que d’autres . . . Puis, on apporte nos citrouilles chez nous, on en met au moins une à côté pour couper un Jack-o-lantern pour Halloween, et les restes se trouvent bientôt dans une tarte, une soupe, des muffins, un risotto, ou une infinité d’autres desserts.

Les citrouilles viennent, à l’origine, de l’Amérique du Nord, c’est pourquoi elles sont indispensables chez nous pour les jours fériés de Thanksgiving. Aussi nécessaire que la dinde, on pourrait dire (et plus nécessaire pour moi, comme je ne mange pas de dinde).

En fait, 90% de citrouille en conserve aux Etats-Unis est produit dans mon état, l’Illinois. Imaginez comment je suis fière maintenant d’être Illinoise ! Mais malgré cela, j’ai grandi en ne mangeant pas plus de citrouille que ça. Dommage. Pendant mon enfance, mon expérience de la citrouille était limitée à la citrouille en couple avec la cannelle et la muscade. Ce qui est très bon quand même, mais on oublie le vrai goût de la citrouille seule. Tout a changé en Chine, en 2006, où j’ai goûté de la soupe à la citrouille et de la citrouille frie. Oui, elle n’existe pas qu’en dessert ! Je fournis une recette de risotto à la citrouille pour le confirmer.

Risotto à la Citrouille

500 g de citrouille
320 g de riz rond (arborio)
1 oignon
30 g de beurre
1 litre de bouillon
parmesan râpé
sel et poivre

Découper la citrouille en cube. Couper l'oignon et le faire revenir et suer dans la moitié du beurre. Rajouter les cubes de citrouille et les faire revenir 10 à 15 minutes jusqu'à ce que les cubes se démêlent. Si besoin, rajouter un peu d'eau lors de la cuisson.

Ajouter le riz et mélanger. Mouiller le mélange riz et citrouille avec le bouillon et continuer à mélanger. Rajouter régulièrement le bouillon. Compter 17 à 20 minutes de cuisson.

Lorsque le riz est cuit, éteindre le feu et ajouter le parmesan. Bien mélanger et ajouter le beurre restant et le persil. Servir aussitôt car le risotto ne se réchauffe pas.

Je n’ai pas oublié le dessert—il suit une recette de muffins à la citrouille. On peut suivre la même recette pour préparer un gâteau, mais il faut prolonger le temps de cuisson.

Pour préparer une purée de citrouille, faites-la cuire, en morceaux, dans l’eau bouillante ou dans un four micro-onde et bien écraser les morceaux pour évacuer l’eau.

Muffins à la Citrouille

750 ml de farine tout usage
30 ml de levure chimique
1 cuillère à café de cannelle
½ cuillère à café de muscade
1 cuillère à café de sel
250 ml de cassonade
2 œufs
375 ml de lait
125 ml d'huile végétale
250 ml de purée de citrouille

1. Préchauffer le four à 220°C.

2. Dans un grand bol, mélanger la farine, la levure chimique, les épices et le sel. Ajouter la cassonade et bien mélanger.

3. Dans un autre bol, battre les œufs. Ajouter le lait, l'huile et la purée de citrouille.

4. Ajouter aux ingrédients secs et mélanger juste assez pour humidifier (sinon les muffins risquent d'être durs).

5. Répartir dans des moules à muffins bien huilés et cuire environ 25 mn.

Peter Peter pumpkin eater,
Had a wife and couldn’t keep her.
He put her in a pumpkin shell,
And there he kept her very well.
--from Mother Goose, 1825

I can think of at least four better uses for a pumpkin than Peter did: risotto, soup, muffins, and pie.

Pumpkins are native to North America, which is why they feature so prominently in Peter’s (and his wife’s) early American life. As we all know, there are two guests absolutely indispensable to Thanksgiving dinner each year—those being the turkey, and the pumpkin pie (although for me, the pumpkin pie is actually more indispensable than the turkey, as I don’t eat turkey. Yes, I’m one of those people who ruin Thanksgiving for everyone else by politely declining the turkey and stuffing and insisting that the vegetable dishes are more than enough).

Out of all the processed pumpkin produced in the U.S., Illinois accounts for about 90 percent—imagine how lucky I feel now to be a former Illinoisan! Despite this, I didn’t eat more pumpkin than anyone else while growing up, my experiences being limited to pumpkin/cinnamon/nutmeg combos. Then China, 2006: my discovery of pumpkin soup and fried pumpkin cakes was huge. Pumpkin does exist outside of desserts!

This is why I find risotto to be an especially nice way to cook pumpkin, as after years of pumpkin desserts one starts to forget the distinction between the actual pumpkin flavor and the flavor of cinnamon, nutmeg, and allspice. The texture of the pumpkin is a perfect complement to al-dente risotto, and the vivid color looks great, especially beside fresh sage and parsley.

Pumpkin Risotto

570ml/1 pint vegetable stock
1 small onion, chopped
12 fresh sage leaves, chopped finely
12 fresh sage leaves, whole
4 tbsp olive oil
6oz Arborio (round grain) rice
9oz pumpkin, diced
2oz butter
salt and freshly ground black pepper
fresh parmesan

1.Heat the stock until almost boiling and then keep over a very low heat. In a separate heavy-based saucepan sweat the onion in the oil until soft but not browned. Add the chopped sage and cook for a couple more minutes.

2. Add the rice and mix well for a few seconds to coat the grains with oil, then pour in one-third of the stock and bring to a gentle simmer. Cook until almost all the stock is absorbed. Add the pumpkin or squash and a little more stock, and continue to simmer gently until the stock is absorbed.

3. From then on add more stock a little at a time, until the pumpkin is soft and the rice nicely al dente. You may not need all the stock, but the texture should be loose and creamy.

4. When the risotto is almost ready, heat a little more oil in a small pan and quickly fry the sage leaves until crispy - it takes a matter of seconds.

5. Stir the butter into the risotto, and season well with salt and pepper. Sprinkle with parsley and parmesan cheese.

But let’s not forget our dessert classics either! To make pumpkin puree, cube the pumpkin and boil, then mash, rather like making mashed potatoes. I like to mash the pumpkin in a mesh colander so that the excess water is forced out. Pumpkins are about 90% water, so you will have quite a lot excess.

Pumpkin bread and pumpkin muffins are the same recipe, but the size of the bread pan requires about an hour of baking time, versus about 25 for muffins.

Pumpkin Muffins

1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 cup pumpkin puree
1/3 cup vegetable oil
2 large eggs
1/2 tsp each cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, ginger, allspice
1 ¼ cups brown sugar
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon and 1 Tbsp sugar, for dusting

1. Preheat oven to 350 F. Grease muffin pan.

2. Whisk together flour and baking powder in a small bowl.

3. Whisk together pumpkin, oil, eggs, spices, 1 ¼ cups sugar, baking soda, and salt in a large bowl until smooth, then whisk in flour mixture until just combined.

4. Stir together cinnamon and remaining 1 tablespoon sugar in another bowl.

5. Divide batter among muffin cups (each should be about 3/4 full), then sprinkle tops with cinnamon-sugar mixture. Bake until puffed and golden brown and a toothpick inserted into center of muffin comes out clean, 25 to 30 minutes.

6. Transfer muffins from pan while still warm.

Now if Peter the Pumpkin Eater had used his pumpkins to make these for his wife, perhaps she would never have gone astray in the first place!

mardi 10 novembre 2009

Une Castagnade

L’automne est arrivé sur Grenoble; les feuilles rougies tombent de leurs arbres et s’entassent dans les coins des rues, les marrons et les châtaignes se retrouvent au sol et les femmes ont sorti leurs grandes bottes en cuir du placard.

Si vous avez de la chance, vous habitez prés d’une forêt où il y des châtaignes et vous pouvez en ramasser. Ou, presque aussi bien que ça, vous connaissez quelqu’un qui en a déjà ramassé et vous en a donné. C’est ce qui s’est passé pour moi—Gérôme, le frère de mon copain, m’a donné un gros sac plein de châtaignes. C’était chez lui ce week-end, où il nous avait invités avec ses voisins pour une castagnade.

Le meilleur moyen de cuire des châtaignes est de les griller au-dessus d’un feu de bois. Avant de les cuire, il faut fendre les châtaignes avec un couteau. Mettez-les dans une poêle qui a des trous sur le dessous. Laissez les griller pendant 20 minutes en secouant la poêle de temps en temps. Après, lorsqu’ils sont toujours chauds, mettez-les dans du papier journal et secouez-les vigoureusement pour que la peau s’enlève. Puis, pelez-les et voilà !

Sans feu, vous pouvez toujours profiter des châtaignes. Faites-les cuire dans un four, ou faites-les bouillir.

Comment on mange les châtaignes ? Si vous en avez assez, préparez une confiture.

La confiture de marron (de la part de Gérôme):

Matériel nécessaire :
-un moulin à légume avec un tamis fin (pour ne pas laisser passer la peau de châtaigne,
-un bon couteau, et oui éplucher les châtaignes ça fait mal aux doigts !!
-une balance pour peser les ingrédients
-sucres en poudre (sucre normal)
-extrait de vanille liquide, ou un sachet de sucre vanillé
-bâton de vanille

Tu commences par couper le dessous de châtaignes, ensuite tu mets toutes les châtaignes ainsi coupées dans une cocotte minute et tu les recouvres d'eau froide (quelques châtaignes vont flotter, ce n'est pas grave).

Tu fais chauffer le tout à feu très fort. Dès que l'eau commence à bouillir tu baisses la puissance du feu et tu laisses cuire pendant 30 minutes. Au bout de 30minutes, tu arrêtes le feu. Je te conseille de laisser les châtaignes dans l’eau chaude car elles sont plus faciles à peler.

Donc, une par une, tu enlèves la grosse peau des châtaignes et tu mets ces châtaignes dans le moulin à légume. Lorsque tu as environ 10 châtaignes dans ton moulin, tu les presses (ton moulin doit être posé sur une marmite) jusqu’à ce qu’il ne te reste que la fine peau. Donc dans la marmite tu obtiens une farine de châtaigne et dans le moulin il te reste la peau. Jette la peau et remets des châtaignes dans ton moulin, jusqu’à ce que tu aies fini toutes les châtaignes qui trempaient encore dans l’eau chaude.

Une fois que tout est terminé, il faut peser la farine de châtaigne que tu as obtenue.
Les quantités que je vais te donner sont pour 1kg de farine de châtaigne :

-mets 30 cl d'eau dans la cocotte ou grande marmite
-ajoute 800gr de sucre en poudre en mélangeant
-fait chauffer pendant 3minutes à feu doux (tu obtiens du sirop qui a blanchi)
-ajoute 1 à 2 cuillères(s) à soupe d'extrait de vanille selon ton préférence
-ajoute 1 bâton de vanille fendu
-ajoute la farine de châtaigne.

Laisse cuire 8 minutes à feu doux. Tu dois toujours mélanger, la confiture ne doit être ni trop liquide, ni trop pâteuse (Si elle est trop pâteuse, ajoute de l'eau et du sucre ; si elle est trop liquide tu dois ajouter 4 feuilles de gélatine).

Pendant la cuisson de la confiture, prends des pots vides et passe les sous l'eau bouillante pour tuer les bactéries (pots et couvercles).

Ensuite tu enlèves le bâton de vanille, et mixe bien ta confiture. Puis remplis tes pots (ils doivent être pleins). Une fois remplis, remets le couvercle et pose les à l'envers.


“ Chestnuts roasting on an open fire . . .”

Turns out Nat King Cole was right, roasting chestnuts on an open fire really is great during a chill evening with your family, as I discovered this past weekend in Saint-Genix.

My boyfriend’s brother Gerome and his family had been able to gather a whole lot of chestnuts from the woods and invited us over for une castagnade, which is what the French call an evening of roasting chestnuts.

Yes—they have a name for it, it’s that fun!

In the train stations in Japan I would sometimes see chestnut vendor stalls, who roasted the chestnuts on open coals and sold them in paper bags to commuters.

To roast chestnuts over a fire you need a pan with holes in the bottom. Score each chestnut to prevent explosions and roast them, shaking the pan occasionally, for about 20 minutes. Then dump out the hot chestnuts onto newspaper, crumple into a package, and rub vigorously to loosen the skins. Peel and eat!

You can also bake the chestnuts in the oven, which would be the same process as above, or you can boil them in a pot.

If you have a lot of chestnuts left over, make confiture de marron, which would be usually translated into chestnut jam, but in this case is more like a cream. Try a spoonful of this on toast in the morning, mixed with yogurt for a dessert, or use it for frosting on a cake.

The chestnut flour obtained from this recipe can of course also be used in a variety of other ways, including breads, pancakes, and pastas (chestnut is the original ingredient for polenta).

Recipe for chestnut cream:

Vanilla extract, and one whole bean

First cut the oblong end of each chestnut, then place in a pot and cover with water. A few chestnuts will float; this is normal. Bring the water to a boil, then lower the heat and cook 30 minutes. After 30 minutes turn off the flame but leave the chestnuts in the hot water to ease peeling.

Peel the chestnuts and put them in a vegetable processor or mill that will turn the meat into a flour. The mill should also remove the second, finer skin of the chestnut and leave only the white.

Weigh the flour you have obtained. The following measurements are given for 1 kg of flour, or about 4 ½ cups.

Put 30 cl (1 ¼ cups) water and 800 grams (3 ½ cups) sugar into a pot and cook about 3 minutes over an easy flame, until a syrup has formed. Add a teaspoon or two of vanilla and the vanilla bean. Then mix in the chestnut flour.

Continue to cook over an easy flame, stirring continuously, for about 8 minutes. If too thick, add more water and sugar. If too thin, you must add some gelatin.

When the cream is done, take out the vanilla bean and store in glass jars you have disinfected by boiling.

vendredi 6 novembre 2009


It’s time to take a little break from the European scene and talk a little about my favorite Japanese dish, 天ぷら, or tempura. Tempura is a plate of lightly battered and fried vegetables and seafood, commonly served over steamed rice, soba noodles, or in udon soup.

It’s said that tempura was introduced to the Japanese by the Portuguese in the 16th century. At that time Portuguese missionaries referred to the period of Lent and other holy days with the Latin word temporo, which means “time” or “time period”, these days being a period when they avoided the consumption of meat and instead ate fish and vegetables. Hence the modern word tempura.

Let’s talk ingredients. A wide variety of vegetables and seafood are commonly used in Japan.

Vegetables: green pepper, eggplant, carrot, sweet potato, potato, mushrooms, asparagus, okra, white onion, pumpkin (the Japanese kabocha variety is best), green beans, lotus root (renkon), shiso leaf. The lotus root and shiso leaves make for especially beautiful and delicate morsels, but they might be hard to find outside of Japan. My personal favorites are kabocha and green pepper. Unfortunately our western pumpkins don’t seem to have quite the flavor and texture. You can of course use other vegetables, but I recommend against using broccoli, because it will absorb the oil.

Seafood: Prawns or shrimp, scallops, squid, white-meat fish

Don’t overdo it. Choose only 5 or 6 different items for your meal.

Let’s talk sauce. The sauce typically eaten with tempura in Japan is tentsuyu sauce (three parts dashi, one part mirin, and one part shoyu) with grated daikon. I’m going to assume that you don’t live in Japan and don’t have these things in your pantry, so let’s make a similar salty/tangy dipping sauce using soy sauce, lemon juice, and grated radishes.

To eat tempura, serve the freshly-fried pieces alongside hot steamed rice. Have a small bowl of sauce for each person, and dip each piece in the sauce before eating. DO NOT pour the sauce all over your plate of tempura and rice, unless you like drinking soy sauce. Japanese cuisine is all about light flavors and textures. Dip your tempura, don’t drown it! There is an alternative (or addition) to the dipping sauce. Sprinkle your tempura with sea salt, or salt mixed with seasoning. I prefer salt mixed with curry powder, or salt and sesame seeds. You can also cut the salt with powerded green tea.

Recipe for Tempura

Assortment of vegetables and/or seafood (see above note)
Cold water and ice
Frying oil such as vegetable oil
Steamed rice

For the sauce:
Radishes, grated
Soy sauce
Juice of one lemon

First, you must cut the vegetables into pieces suitable for frying. This means large slices with a lot of surface area. If you fry small pieces you will end up with a lot of fried batter and not much inside. A medium-size green pepper, for example, will yield 4 quarters. Use whole prawns, green beans and whole or halved mushrooms. Cut carrots on a sharp slant to yield larger slices. Cut slices of pumpkin so they curve. To prevent oil splatter, poke a few holes in water-retaining seafood and hard-skinned vegetables such as squid and bell peppers. I learned this the last time I cooked tempura when I almost lost an eye to popping oil.

Mix the flour with cold water. Some stores sell ‘tempura flour’ but you can just use regular flour. The water must be cold to ensure crispiness after frying. To keep it cold, put in a couple ice cubes. Do not mix the batter thoroughly. Lumps are desired to give the tempura its unique texture.

Heat oil an inch deep in a pan to 160-180 degrees Celsius. I don’t have a thermometer so I know the oil’s ready when a drop of batter sizzles and floats.

Coat the pieces with batter and set in the pan. They should sizzle immediately and float. When they are golden take them out and dispose on a platter covered with paper towels. As you fry, remove the little pieces of batter that rest in the oil, otherwise they will burn and taint the flavor of the oil. Use two different pairs of chopsticks to mix the batter and to fry.

Tempura is best served immediately, so if you’re cooking for many people it’s better to take a fry-as-you-go approach rather than prepare a large batch at one time.

To make the sauce, combine all ingredients to taste, using a good amount of radish. If the sauce is too salty, thin with water.

And enjoy! Itadakimasu!

mercredi 4 novembre 2009

German Goodies

Pendant les vacances de Toussaint, je suis allée en Allemagne ; Là-bas j’en ai bien profité pour grignoter toutes les choses allemandes délicieuses.

Recently on vacation in Nuremberg, Germany, I took the opportunity to sample all the German goodness. Between the all the pretzels, sauerkraut, döner-kebab, and Black Forest cake I managed to get in a few other things . . .

Premièrement, j’ai vu cette boîte de bonbons dans le supermarché et je n’ai pas pu résister à l’acheter. Trop drôle ! Sérieusement, qui a pensé à ce nom-là ? Ils ne réalisent pas ce que ça veut dire ? Il me rappelle un ami au Japon qui me racontait le temps où il est allé au resto en Angleterre qui s’appelait Mini-Bite.

While in the supermarket I picked up this box of treats and chuckled to myself for a good three or four minutes. Seriously, who thinks of this stuff? They really don’t realize what this means? It reminds of the time a French-speaking friend told me of a restaurant he had been to in England, which was called Mini-Bite, what a double entendre. . .

Nuremberg, où j’étais, est célèbre pour son Lebkuchen, ou « gingerbread » comme on dit chez moi, une sorte de pain d’épices. J’en ai goûté dans le marché ; c’était trop. bon. Tout doux et moelleux dedans, sucré au-dessus. Pour ceux qui imaginent des biscuits en forme de petits hommes, ou des maisons décorés à la « Hansel et Gretal », le Lebkuchen allemand est différent. La seule forme qu’ils modèlent, c’est le cheval à bascule. Je suis maintenant inspirée pour faire du Lebkuchen . . . la recette va suivre bientôt.

What luck !—Nuremberg just happened to be the home of gingerbread, one of my favorite cookies! But the Lebkuchen, or gingerbread cookies there surpassed all expectations. They are thick and chewy, with pieces of candied ginger and sometimes nuts and fruit inside. Forget gingerbread men and gingerbread houses, the only unusual form gingerbread takes in Germany is a rocking horse (strange I know). I am now inspired to make my own gingerbread, recipe coming soon.

Parmi les grands verres de bière—tous excellent—que je prenais le soir, il y en a eu un qui était différent des autres. C’était Rauchbier, la bière fumée, une spécialité de Bamberg, une petite ville aux environs de Nuremberg. « Une bière fumée ?? » vous vous demandez ce que c’est . . . En fait le nom explique tout ; c’est une bière avec le goût de la fumée. Je ne dirais pas que c’était la meilleure bière que j’aie jamais bu, mais elle n’était pas mal quand même.

Amidst all the glasses of beer I was drinking every night (not to excess, but a meal and a beer go hand in hand in Germany), one stood out. It was Rauchbier, or smoked beer, a specialty of Bamberg, a small town near Nuremberg. “A smoked beer??” you ask. Well in fact it's exactly how it sounds it would be--a beer that tastes like smoke. It wasn’t the best beer I’ve had in my life, but it wasn’t bad either.

lundi 2 novembre 2009

“Du bon fromage, du bon vin, du bon pain. C’est trop français, et c’est trop bon!”

Les américains sont obèses. Selon l’enquête de 2005-2006 du Centre National des Statistiques de la Sante, plus de 66.7% (deux tiers de la population!) des adultes américains sont obèses. Cela veut-il dire qu’ils apprécient la cuisine? Au contraire.

Moi, je trouve que Mr. Tout le monde a une appréciation de la nourriture qui est bien plus développée que Mr. Joe Blow. Si on offre à un enfant français le choix entre un Twinkie et un artichaut . . . que va-t-il choisir? Et un enfant américain, que va-t-il choisir ? OK, les deux enfants choisiront le Twinkie, c’est évident. Un Twinkie a l’air doux et délicieux alors qu’un artichaut pas vraiment . . . Moi aussi je choisirais le Twinkie des fois (non, je plaisante . . . je me respecte trop pour manger des Twinkies).

Mais il est vrai que la plupart des français peuvent choisir un bon fromage, savent ce qu’ils aiment comme vin, peuvent reconnaitre une baguette qui est douce à l’intérieur et croquante à l’extérieur. Même s’ils ne savent pas cuisiner un bon dîner, ils prennent plaisir à en manger un. Cela n’est guère surprenant ; la cuisine française a la réputation d’être l’une des meilleures au monde, en effet, la nourriture et l’artisanat sont fermement encres dans la culture française.

Je soutiendrais que les pluparts des américains n’ont pas la même appréciation de la nourriture que les français. Ils n’aiment pas les légumes. Ils préfèrent manger des chips à une pomme, Macaroni n’ Cheese à du vrai fromage. Ils ne veulent pas goûter les plats qui ne leur sont pas familiers. Franchement, j’en ai assez de cuisiner pour ma famille, c’est désolant. L’été dernier j’ai fait une salade, des tranches du melon enroulées dans des tranches de jambon cru, c’était vraiment alléchant, et personne ne l’a touchée. Apparemment ils sont incapables de goûter la viande crue, les olives, les poivrons, les fruits de mer, les asperges, les tomates non plus d’ailleurs. S’il vous plaît ! Finalement j’ai abandonné et j’ai fait un plat de macaroni and cheese, fait maison. Mes frères préféraient encore la nourriture en boîte.

Qu’est-ce que ça veut dire pour nous, en tant que société, si nous préférons la nourriture en boite a la cuisine faite maison? Si nous préférons les McNuggets au poulet rôti ? Cela veut dire que nous nous développons des mauvais goûts, nous nous rembourrons avec les aliments sucrés, gras et salés. Les conséquences sur notre santé sont maintenant évidentes. De plus, il nous manque la culture de la cuisine. Il nous manque une variété merveilleuse de plantes comestibles, et je trouve cela dommage. Regardez cet imbécile, qui est apparu dans un article du New York Times. Il nous ferait croire que l’on peut vivre heureux en mangeant que des bonbons. Il doit avoir une vie pitoyable.

Lorsque je travaillais comme professeur d’anglais au Japon, une élève qui venait d’étudier aux Etats-Unis et qui était restée chez l’habitant pendant son séjour m’a dit que la mère de famille chez laquelle elle était, n’avait jamais cuisiné. Au lieu de cela, elle faisait les pizzas surgelées ou commandait des plats à emporter. L’élève m’a dit, « La famille ne mangeait pas parce qu’ils avaient faim, ni parce qu’ils prenaient plaisir à manger, mais tout simplement parce que c’était l’heure du repas… »

En changeant les habitudes de manger des américains, je vois deux problèmes. Tout d’abord, nous mangeons trop. Il faut manger modérément aux heures de repas, pas a n’importe qu’elle heure sous prétexte d’avoir faim. Ensuite, nous ne faisons pas les bons choix alimentaires. Il faut encourager les enfants à manger des choses saines des leur plus jeune âge, et effectivement découvrir nous-mêmes le plaisir de manger et de cuisiner. Les Etats-Unis, c’est le pays qui nourrit ses enfants au beurre de cacahuètes Skippy ou JIF, dont le deuxième ingrédient après les cacahuètes est le sucre.

Récemment j’ai dîné chez une amie. Nous avions mangé une bonne tartiflette, et nous nous détendions après-le-repas, tout en discutant avec un bon verre de vin. Son colocataire Maxime a dit, « Du bon fromage, du bon vin, du bon pain. C’est trop français. . . Et c’est trop bon ! »

En effet, c’est trop bon d’entendre ça.


Recently I dined at a friend’s place here in Grenoble. We feasted on a homemade tartiflette, one of the cheesy potato dishes specific to the Rhône-Alpes region, and afterwards stretched out in our chairs and chatted, lingering on the leftover wine bottles and scraps of bread that littered the table.

“Ah,” sighed Maxime, one of the roommates of the apartment, “A good cheese, a good wine, and some good bread. It’s so French—and it’s so good too!”

And so true too. The only thing that could have been more “French” about the scene is if everyone had been wearing berets; that’s how much we connect an appreciation of quality food to the French.

Which got me thinking—how often would you find a group of young 25-ish, predominantly male Americans raving over a meal they’d cooked themselves that wasn’t in bun form or didn’t just get out from the deep-fryer? Not. Too. Often. Can you imagine a young man being excited to see white asparagus in the grocery store? Or taking a good five minutes to make a selection in the wine aisle, scouring the label of each bottle?

French cuisine is well-regarded as some of the best food in the world, and an appreciation of good food and drink is firmly entrenched in the culture. This I find to be sorely lacking in the American mentality. Raised on cardboard boxes full of refined sugar and saturated fats, many Americans quite simply have bad taste in food. We prefer chicken nuggets to Chicken cordon bleu, fried mozzarella sticks to a round of camembert, glow-in-the-dark gummy worms to dried fruit, and we prefer pretty much anything to vegetables. Look at this imbecile in the New York Times, who would have us believe it’s possible to live healthily and happily subsisting on candy alone. His life must be as empty as the calories he consumes.

It’s been established that now about two-thirds of American adults are overweight. According to National Center for Health Statistics in their 2005-2006 survey, 66.7% of adults are overweight, with more than half of that number being obese. Voluntary food choice according to taste (as opposed to other factors, such as cost and availability) plays a huge part in this. This is a country that raises its kids on Skippy and JIF brand peanut butter, of which the second ingredient after peanuts is sugar.

I would argue that it’s their culture of good taste that encourages most French people to make relatively healthful eating choices. To include salads and fresh vegetables in every meal, for example, and to cook at home rather than eating take-out or frozen meals. On the other hand, we all know that French cuisine is not the lightest on earth, making liberal usage of butter, cream, and red meat, and eggs. Which brings me to my second point, that this culture of good food, whether it be healthy or not, nevertheless inculcates values of eating well, appreciating what you eat, knowing food, and taking pleasure from it. Which means that you are more likely to embrace a variety of foods, enjoy cooking, and build eating habits based on selection and quality rather than gluttony.

It’s a darn shame, I think, that Americans for the most part don’t really enjoy food. We are a nation of the largest people on earth, but does that mean we love food so much we can’t stop eating? On the contrary. We are vastly uneducated about and unappreciative of what we eat. We don’t know how to select good quality produce. We don’t know how to prepare our own meals. We don’t know where our beloved boxed food comes from or what’s in it. We don’t even know which foods are good for us and which are bad (as evidenced by the recent marking of Froot Loops with the “Smart Choice” label—how could anyone really buy that Froot Loops are in any way smart, especially with such a gross misspelling?).

While I was working as an English teacher in Japan, one student who had recently come back from a study abroad home-stay in the Pacific Northwest complained to me about the meals she had been served by her host family; her host-mom never cooked, she said, and instead served frozen pizzas and take-out Chinese. From what she observed, she said, the family didn’t eat in the evenings because they were hungry, nor because they took real pleasure from the food, but rather just to fill their bellies—because it was dinnertime and that’s what one did at dinner.

What a shame to eat in this way, just to fill your belly, mindlessly, without pleasure!

Let’s start a love affair with food, real food. And kick those other amateurs out the door: potato chips, frozen burritos, plastic neon cheese. Let’s not compromise our peanuts with sugar or our chicken noodle soups with salt. Start trying new flavors, learn how to cook. Teach your children to like artichokes and spinach. Make simple dishes and taste all the flavors. Enjoy what you eat! And the end of your meal, lean back and say, “Ah, now that was really good…”